Adventures

When It Feels Like Our Loss Defines Us

A few weeks ago I did something I never thought I’d do. I had the words “Love You” tattooed on my left wrist. I also, quite suddenly, faced something I never wanted to face: Both of my grandmothers died within 18 days of one another.

We have been launched into something new against our will. I’m 36 years old and for the first time in my life I have no grandparents. My parents, for the first time in their lives, have no parents of their own still on Earth.

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Right now it feels like these losses are defining my life. Getting myself and two tiny humans ready for multiple funerals, memorial services, and burials has taken it all out of me. In work meetings my mind drifts to the call I answered from my mom telling me my grandma was gone; and then to the call 18 days later from my dad telling me my grandma was gone.

I am realizing that it’s OK to not totally be OK. No one is expecting me to be. I don’t really know what I should be doing. So, what I am doing is: Turning to my friends, trying to prioritize getting good sleep, praying, running regularly, reading a lot, watching my dear daughters play oblivious to what a real and major loss really means, and clinging to my amazingly strong and calm husband.

The tattoo is the handwriting of my Grandma Mary taken directly off the card she gave me on my wedding day, but also how she signed everything to me in the 36 wonderful years I had her in my life. She was A HOUSE WITH CHARACTER’S most loyal reader and commenter. So that’s why I’m back on here, posting about her, posting about pain, loss, and, at least a little bit of hope.

These losses don’t define me, but the love my grandmothers shared with me and my family does. That is a legacy of love that will live on in me, my daughters, and those who come after us. The loss doesn’t define us. The memories do.

In My House

2020: Make Time

Happy 2020, everyone.

Was anyone else as excited as I was to take down the Christmas decorations and get back into normal living?

Every year despite my best intentions to maintain some sense of routine, healthy living, and normalcy during the holidays, I’m left feeling I have fallen short in that field. I even Google-searched “self-care during the holidays” a few times during this past December.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful holiday season with family and friends, but there’s something about routine and the fresh start of a new year that calms my soul.

So this year I’m not making resolutions, but I am committing to getting back into the routine of regular exercise, self-care, and saying no to the things that don’t matter in order to make time for the things that really do.

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Time to rest: For me, this means getting good sleep (at least most nights) and taking a break to read for at least a few minutes every day. On especially busy and stressful days at work, it also means prying myself away from my office to go for a quick walk and decompress.

Time to just be: It’s safe to say that most of us feel over-scheduled at many times in our lives. Instead of taking pride in being the busiest, we need to allow ourselves and others to say no to requests once in a while without the inevitable guilt-trip.

Time to volunteer: This might be a bit in contrast to that last one, but I still think volunteering and community involvement are hugely important. The key is prioritizing and not saying yes to every single opportunity.

Time for self-care: Many of us are guilty of letting our own health and happiness fall by the wayside in favor of caring for others. It’s difficult to prioritize self-care, but how can we care for others if we aren’t properly caring for ourselves? For me, this means regular exercise, spiritual connection, and an occasional mani/pedi.

Time to hydrate: This is kind of a strange one, but although most Americans have easy access to healthy drinking water, many of us go through life dehydrated. I am leaving my refillable water bottle on my desk at work as a reminder to keep downing the water.

Time to play: What is life without a little fun now and then? Whether it is going to a water park with my daughters, a date night with my husband, or even just taking a moment to play tea party with the fam, laughing and being silly is good for the soul.

How will you make time for what is important in 2020?

Books

Books: The Moment of Lift

Before I read The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, I knew two facts about the author: She is married to Microsoft legend and billionaire Bill Gates, and she is extremely wealthy.

What I did not know, but would soon find out, is that Gates is a compassionate, kind, and strong woman. She is a hard-worker, who, like her husband, has had a great deal of success. Probably most meaningful to me is that she goes to the far ends of the world to use that success to help others.

The Moment of Lift is about what happens when women are empowered throughout the world. Gates writes that empowering women is not only beneficial to women, but to everyone. The Gates Foundation works with underprivileged women in many countries. Gates is passionate about making vaccines and contraceptives accessible, and breaking down barriers to gender equality.

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Gates also writes about the failure of economists to acknowledge unpaid work, especially by women. Statistically speaking, in no country do men contribute the same amount of household (unpaid) work as women. She also writes about even more troubling topics like laws allowing women to be abused and misogynistic practices like female genital mutilation, still widely practiced throughout the world.

Gates tells about her own experiences with sexism, especially within her first few years at Microsoft. She was fresh out of college, a 22-year-old woman in a male-dominated company. Yet, she also acknowledges how fortunate she has been.

She writes “Some of you might be thinking “Oh no, the privileged lady is tired of being the last one in the kitchen all by herself. But she doesn’t have to get up before the sun. Her kids don’t have to take the bus. Her childcare support is reliable. She has a partner who is willing to help with the kids and do the dishes. I know. I know. I’m describing my scene not because it’s a problem but because it’s my vantage point on the problem.

The Moment of Lift brings to light the fact that women are still second-class citizens in much of our world. Yet, there is a great deal of hope for improvement when people seek to empower one another. That’s not something we need to be billionaires to do.

In My House

Mama, Let’s Look at the Tree Together

Lately in the evenings my two-year-old daughter has a request around bedtime: “Mama, let’s look at the Christmas tree together.” So almost every night we spend a few minutes, just the two of us, in a room lit by only sparkling white lights while we admire the variety of ornaments.

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She giggles as I throw out names and descriptions of the ornaments, asking her to locate them on the tree. “Where’s Buzz Lightyear?”

I point to a ceramic baby carriage with “2017” engraved on it and she knows it is hers from when she was “tiny.” (She still is tiny.)

I smile as she recognizes and kisses an ornament that features a photo of my beloved late grandfather who she never knew, but would absolutely have adored her.

It’s no secret that Christmas time has a tendency to exhaust me. I do not think I am alone in that. Although I love the meaning of Christmas, traditions old and new, and the time with loved ones, I also thrive on minimalism, organization, and routine, none of which the holiday season seems to feature in abundance. These simple moments like enjoying the beauty of the tree through the eyes of a young child, are the moments that matter most.

In My House

Gifts That Give Back

In this season of giving, what can be better than a gift that, when purchased, also provides a charitable donation? Here are six gifts that give back. Happy shopping.

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1. Toms are a favorite of mine because they’re cute and comfy, but the company also provides a pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair of shoes purchased. The company does a variety of other charitable work as well. (Toms) 2. These adorable animals are a bit pricey, but every purchase helps battle childhood hunger. Each animal has a name, birthday, and favorite quote. (Cuddle + Kind) 3. These colorful stackable bracelets make a great gift and benefit a variety of great causes. (Pura Vida) 4. Kohl’s Cares stuffed animals each come with a book and purchases benefit the local community. The price point is usually between $5 and $10, making them a great inexpensive gift. (Kohl’s) 5. Each bottle of One Hope wine purchased benefits a different charity. (One Hope Wines) 6. A portion of the purchase of these celebrity-designed spatulas goes to St. Jude Children’s Hospital and No Kid Hungry. I have purchased a few of these. They are sturdy and can withstand high heat. (Williams-Sonoma)

Books

Books: The Testaments

How about a little feminist dystopian literature to kick off the holiday season? I am ashamed to say I only just read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time a few months ago. It rocked my world in a way only the genius of Margaret Atwood can. I have read some of her other work, and the woman is just downright amazing.

I haven’t watched any of the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale (and likely won’t) so this review is strictly based on the two books. Despite being late to the game to read Atwood’s classic novel, published in 1985, it did prepare me to read The Testaments, the follow-up novel published this summer.

The Testaments places the reader back in the dystopian world of Gilead (formerly the United States) and alternates between the points of view of three different women. You might think from the beginning that one of them is Offred, the main character of The Handmaid’s Tale, but that would be wrong. Gilead is a place where women are regarded as objects merely for reproductive purposes. They are executed regularly and abused on a daily basis.

Atwood creates this place and the characters in it with dark artistry. Her dialogue is clever, like one narrator saying: “Torture is like dancing. I’m too old for it.” After finishing The Handmaid’s Tale, most of us were left wondering what happened to Offred and if she was ever reunited with her family.

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Mild spoiler alert:

Just when Atwood has us thinking there’s no hope, she has an evil character do good, and reunites a mother with her two children in some of the most beautiful writing I have ever encountered.

“She smelled right. It was like an echo of a voice you can’t quite hear.”

In true Atwood style, much is left up to the reader’s interpretation, but I finished the book certain that Offred’s fate was a relatively happy one and that Gilead would surely fall.

 

 

In My House

Six Festive Advent Calendars

I love advent calendars. When I was little my great-grandmother would give my brother and me the cardboard ones filled with delicious chocolate pieces, always with a festive scene on the front. Now, there are so many candy and non-candy options out there when it comes to advent calendars. These are a great way to celebrate the holiday season every day of the month while also keeping in mind the true meaning of the entire Advent season.

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1. The Rifle Paper Company artwork on this little tree makes it truly special. (Anthropologie) 2. This wooden box features piece of a Nativity scene, perfect for remembering the true meaning of the season. (Meri Meri) 3. I love anything to do with The Nutcracker Suite, including this handsome soldier. (Pier 1) 4. My daughters absolutely loved this Playmobil Advent calendar last year. You can reload the pieces to use again year after year. (Target) 5. This calendar is a miniature mountain with a tiny colorful tree for each day of Advent. (Anthropologie) 6. Why should the humans have all the fun? This Advent calendar has 24 tasty treats for dogs. (Williams-Sonoma)

Adventures

Disneyland

It has been almost a month since we boarded a plane for a few fun-filled days at Disneyland with my husband’s family. I was excited, and determined to have fun despite the inevitable monkey wrenches that traveling with two small kids can throw at a person. It was a success!

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This was my first time at Disneyland and I absolutely loved seeing my daughters’ reactions to all of the magic.

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Halloween is a great time to visit the park. My five-year-old braved the Haunted Mansion with her dad while I hung out with our two-year-old.

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We met Woody, Bo Peep, Mickey, Minnie, Moana, Milan, Cinderella, Elsa, Anna, Captain Hook, Goofy, Snow White, and Ariel.

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We spent time two days at Disneyland and one day at Disney California Adventure Park. We stayed at Disneyland’s Paradise Pier and loved it there.

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We kept our expectations fairly light, started each day early, and left the park by mid-afternoon to return to the resort for naps or pool time.

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I probably got just as excited as my daughters did to meet some of the characters. I have no shame.

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My two-year-old could’ve spent hours on the park carousel.

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Overall, it was an awesome trip. My legs were tired from the walking, but overall, I felt rested and rejuvenated after some amazing time with family.

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Until next time, Disneyland. We love you.

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Adventures

The Roller Coaster: When Everyone Else Chickens Out

Our sixth wedding anniversary fell during our Disneyland vacation. That meant we spent the big day at Disney California Adventure Park with my husband’s family. I awoke that morning excited for the anniversary dinner he and I would get to have that evening while my mother-in-law babysat the girls. I was looking forward to a leisurely meal, a bottle of wine, candlelight, and no cutting up food for anyone but myself.

What I was not expecting was to ride a huge roller coaster for the first time in my life. This is not me. I don’t like heights. I don’t usually choose to partake in something that is making others expel blood-curdling screams.

We could see the roller coaster from our hotel room window, and my husband was excited about it from the moment he saw it. His plan was to convince our nine-year-old nephew to go along. As we stood in front of the roller coaster that morning, every other family member tall enough to ride it backed out of going along.

But guess what? Marriage is all about being there for the other person. It is about maybe surprising them now and then, just when they think they have you pegged.

“I’ll go with you,” I said to my husband, almost in an out-of-body-experience sort of way. Did some adventurous, spontaneous gal just climb into my body and say that? Once I saw the surprise and delight in his eyes I knew there was no way I could stay on safe ground.

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We got in line and because it was early, didn’t have to wait long. I was sweating as I put my sunglasses in the little pouch in front of my seat and tugged on my harness at least a dozen times. Then we were off on a wild ride. I screamed and giggled so hard that I cried. I had a death grip on my harness like I was sure it was going to come loose. Even if it did, my grip wasn’t going to control gravity as I fell to my death.

But I didn’t fall to my death. I actually had a really good time and so did my husband, which made it all worth while. Riding roller coasters isn’t necessarily going to be my new thing, but this ride was a memorable way to kick off our next year of marriage. Later, we celebrated with the aforementioned romantic dinner.

There will be many times throughout our marriage that we face exciting or frightening times. There will continue to be times in which one of us must venture outside our comfort zone for the love of the other. On that particular day, the roller coaster served as a good reminder of that because, in the end, roller coasters and marriage are both about being there when everyone else chickens out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In My House

Some Fall Favorites

Fall is in full swing so I thought I would share a few items for this wonderful time of year. We had snow here over night, but I’m holding out hope we’ll continue to see some beautiful fall days ahead. So light a candle, put something yummy in the slow-cooker, load up on Halloween candy, and go ahead and order yourself a pumpkin spice latte.

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1. I have been burning this Golden Chestnut candle as the days have started turning colder and it smells amazing. (Yankee Candle) 2. I love the colors of this $20 felt wreath. (Target) 3. I like sending Halloween cards and the artwork on this is too precious. (Rifle Paper Company) 4. This is a spoiler alert on the hubby’s Buzz Lightyear Halloween costume for this year. He’s such a good dad. (Target) 5. I bought these booties a couple of months ago and am excited to pair them with tights and dresses this fall. (Report, available on Zappos) 6. A cozy plaid scarf is a go-to item all fall and winter. (Gap)