Friday, February 27, 2015

Five Special/Out-of-the-Ordinary Things That I Did This Week

1. I read through and edited about 80 pages of family history that my mother put together and sent me. It followed her father's mother's line, and it was fascinating! One of the reasons I love history is because our ancestors lived in that history and helped make it. In this particular line, they lived in and helped settle the area in Massachusetts that I'm from. I'm sure this is one of the reasons I feel such a connection there. Also in that line, I have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War as Minute Men, who enlisted in the Continental Army, who were part of the battles at Lexington & Concord and Bunker Hill, one who fought under Washington at Valley Forge (I had no idea!), one who made a fortune and was a prominent member of one of my favorite towns in the state, and another one who left Salem with Roger Williams and helped settle Providence, Rhode Island. There are also some inspiring examples of women who bore child (after child after child) and lived good long lives despite hardships such as being widowed and losing children. Reading about these people who I'm descended from really opened my mind up to the past in a personal, unique way. It got me excited about family history work again. This summer I'd like to visit ancestral graves, land, houses, and buildings when I'm back East. And I'm looking forward to reading and editing the next family line that my talented mom has researched and put together.

Also, my great-grandmother's sister was named Cora Belle. How perfect is that name!?

2. I read a fun book for my book club (which, incidentally, involved traveling back in time and meeting your ancestors).

3. I watched the season finales for two good shows I like, Grantchester and Sleepy Hollow (which also involved time travel to the past and meeting an ancestor! What was up with that theme in my life this week?).

4. I baked brownies for the teachers at John's school and helped a friend out by doing laundry for her.

5. I registered Sam for kindergarten!

It was a special week!


Friday, February 20, 2015

Five Things for Friday

1. I've found a new favorite pair of jeans that are cute, flattering, stylish, and comfortable enough that I even wear them at home sometimes, instead of only when I'm going out somewhere. They don't have a low waist and I don't even need to wear them with a belt. They can easily be dressed up or down. They're from Gap's new line of Resolution Denim. They're the real deal. If you're in search of a great pair of jeans, get thyself to a Gap store and give these a try. I got the Slim Straights (because I hate skinny jeans!).


2. I no longer like Instagram very much. It's because I can't organize it. I'd love to have separate lists, like a list of my friends, a list of the New England/Cape Cod/preppy types of accounts I like to follow, shows I like, companies and brands I like, celebrities, etc. Instead it's all thrown together in one feed, and that's annoying, unless I have a lot of time to kill, like when I'm traveling. Sometimes I just want to see what my friends are up to. Sometimes I only want to check out retail things. Other times when I'm feeling a little homesick I just want to check out the New England/Cape Cod people that I follow. I really don't like that they give no option for organizing the accounts you follow. So I've found myself going on Instagram less and less (and in its place, Facebook has become my social media drug of choice). It's too cumbersome and I don't have time for that. In the meantime, maybe Instagram will wise up and get itself organized better so that it's more user-friendly for its many users who follow lots of different types of accounts. #mytwocents

3. It's been so bitterly cold this week: wind chills well below zero, two-hour school delays for two days in a row, perpetually dry hands no matter how much hand cream I use. And there haven't been any snowstorms since February 1st, which is so disappointing. Especially as I've watched from afar as my home state of Massachusetts repeatedly get slammed by storm after storm. Why do they get to have all the fun? February has been full of very cold, sunny days in Iowa. My least favorite type of weather is bitter cold and sunshine. (I've always liked overcast days, especially when it's miserable out anyway.) So to soothe my troubled soul I've been reading travel articles and visualizing myself going to places like these:

This is St. Lucia. It's in the top five of my "Places I Want to Go" list.  

Bora Bora. Check out that bedroom view!

 4. Speaking of places I want to go, England is now #1 on my list. For many years it's been Italy (specifically Venice), but England has knocked Italy down a notch. My mom went to England last month and I wish I could have gone too! I've really been enjoying some shows on PBS that are set in England, and I'm falling in love with it more and more. Some of my favorite books and authors are from England. My ancestral roots are strong there too. I MUST GO TO ENGLAND!

I stayed up late for hours one night recently to watch the rest of Season 5 of Downton Abbey. I was tired the next day, but I did not regret my choice. (And can I just say that I've been a fan of this show since the very beginning, before it had become really big in the U.S. I get the local PBS TV guide each month and I go through it and circle what I want to watch and write down in my planner to program those shows into the DVR. I did this back in 2011 when I first saw Downton Abbey advertised. I thought, "That show looks good!" And it was. It drew me right in. This was before all of the hype it got, so I like to think of myself as one of its earliest American discoverers. Ha ha ha.)


Grantchester is a good new mystery show with an intriguing main character.


I've also been enjoying the Miss Marple mystery shows. She is one smart old lady. It's fun to read the books (by Agatha Christie, another brilliant Brit) and watch the shows.

PBS has some other good shows coming too, like Poldark in June...


and Wolf Hall in April. I love good TV! Especially British shows, apparently. They've got the U.S. whipped!

5. This was my lucky find of the week: 


I was at the consignment store yesterday picking up some things, and I happened to see this beautiful framed Thomas Kinkade picture, "Spring Gate," which has been a favorite of mine since high-school. I rarely shop there so I really think it was fortunate that I saw this. It's a very welcome and lovely addition to my house!

I wanted to do more blog posts this week, but it turned out to be a very busy week. It's been a particularly busy month and it's gone by fast. I'd like to do some posts next week if I have time. 
Have a great weekend and stay warm!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Five Things for Friday

1. I'm jealous of the huge nor'easter Massachusetts got this week. I love big winter storms. They're one of the few things I love about winter. The winter storms in the Midwest are nothing compared to what they can be back East! Oh well. At least our Cape house got to experience the fun. And we don't even have to shovel!


This is a real scene from a town in Massachusetts this week. Perfection!


2. Speaking of Massachusetts...similar to winter, I've never been a big football fan. I don't really understand the appeal of the game with all of its stops and starts and tackles. I think it's funny when the Patriots lose because it upsets Peter (what a nice wife I am), but I was glad that they won their play-off games and made it to the Superbowl, which is a change from my usual indifference. The whole "Deflategate" thing last week was pretty amusing, and as a native New Englander, a little annoying. Why do people love to hate the Patriots so much? They really are a good team--with or without deflated footballs, I might add. I saw this "Embrace the hate" thing on Facebook and thought it was funny. Go Pats! I actually hope they win! (But if they don't, I'll have something to laugh about! Sorry, Peter.)


3. I've really been enjoying watching Season 5 of Downton Abbey since its U.S. premiere on PBS at the beginning of the month. It's a highlight of my week, every week. I pre-ordered the Season 5 DVD and it arrived this week, so I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the season soon. I'm too impatient this time around to wait and watch as it plays out week by week when I could find out what happens sooner! 

There is one newer character on the show who I'd really like to see go. I can't stand Sarah Bunting. In fact, I really kind of hate her. The unbelievable way she behaved at dinner in last week's episode was the last straw. It made my blood boil! I can't stand it when people are judgmental know-it-alls, convinced they're right about everything, who take it even further by throwing it rudely and ungraciously in people's faces. She's the perfect embodiment of that, and it drives me nuts. I've come to dislike any scene she's in, and I really hope she doesn't make it to Season 6. Tom can do so much better than her. He NEEDS to do so much better than her, for my sake!


One of my favorite characters this season is Lady Rose. I think she's lovely in every way.


I also really like the friendship and very entertaining banter that has developed between Violet and Isobel. 
They crack me up!


4. I've been unable to stop eating these. Heart-shaped York Peppermint Patties. Peppermint and dark chocolate! Help!


It's a good thing they're only sold once a year. For some reason it's easier to ignore the regular circle-shaped patties. The heart shapes do me in. I'm a sucker!

5. The sky on Wednesday evening as the boys and I were driving around was beautiful! I couldn't stop looking at it! I told them that if I ever die, I want them to look at sunsets and other beautiful things in nature and think of me and of how much I loved those things and to remember that they are gifts of nature and gifts of God and that they can feel close to God and to me by appreciating their beauty. I really know how to turn something beautiful into something a little bit morbid and depressing, don't I? Ha ha.

These pictures are 100% unfooled around with (I stole that from the Tropicana orange juice commercials), no filters or editing or enhancements or anything. They don't need it!




I hope you have a great weekend! My plans include nothing special really, and that's fine with me. Boring, quiet weekends are good to have every now and then!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Organized, Focused 2015

I'm happy to report that 2015 is off to a good start in terms of being organized, productive, and on top of things. I'm an organized person by nature but I've always struggled with feeling properly prioritized and unstressed in my life. As a perfectionist I've often fallen victim to feeling unorganized and out-of-whack if everything's not, well, perfect, but over the last year I've been able to let go of that impossible ideal and it's been truly freeing. I think I've finally found a way of getting the things done that matter without feeling overwhelmed and overly busy. I'm not going to go into particulars here, but these things have been very helpful:

1. The Mind Organization for Moms (M.O.M.) program from Power of Moms. I was skeptical about this program for a long time because I had organizational systems that already worked pretty well for me, but I finally decided to give it a try last fall. I'm so glad that I did. It's greatly added to my system of being organized and getting things done by filling in the cracks of what wasn't working with my own methods.

2. My Frankin Planner. I've been using it since college, and I have no plans to stop. A lot of people are going digital with their calendars and lists, and there are some really cute paper planners out there, but my Franklin planner works so well for me, so I see no reason to change it. I don't know what I'd do without it. #franklinplannerforlife!!

3. I read the book The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson last year and I'm re-reading it month by month this year. There are valuable lessons in that book that have helped me to simplify and live a life that is more true to me and to what I value.

4. A few weeks ago I read The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. It's really been helping me in my quest for simplification and prioritization, and it's helped me to realize the true power of focus and of narrowing your focus to the essentials. I've decided that 2015 is going to be a year of focus--focusing on getting things and projects done that matter, focusing on what really matters, focusing on simplifying so that I can focus better on what really matters to me. Focus, focus, focus is the name of the game.


The next book I'm going to read on this topic is Essentialism by Greg McKeown. One of my New Year's goals is to simplify, and it's off to a good start this month. For some reason I thought that with simplification there'd be less productivity, but the opposite is true. I'm getting more done than before, and I have more free time. Although I can't quite articulate the "how" of it, I think I'm finally finding the magical formula of organization, productivity, balance, and overall good, happy living--ALL AT THE SAME TIME (for the most part)--that has eluded me for so much of my life. It wouldn't necessarily work for everyone, but it works for me.

These are some of the projects I got done in January:

  • Decluttered from Christmas, found places for the new stuff from Christmas, and did a much needed cleanout and reorganization of the playroom.
  • Started cleaning out and organizing my project room (this is going to be a yearlong project).
  • Cleaned out and organized all of the kid books in the house (we have a LOT of kid books!).
  • I started regularly teaching Sam to read. I believe that most kids pick it up organically when they're ready if they're read to frequently, which mine are, so teaching them to read has never been a big priority for me. However, Sam is a little sponge who loves learning and activities so I decided to see how he'd respond to actual literacy activities (like letter and word puzzles and the BOB books), and he really likes it, and it gives us some good one-on-one time together, so this is something we'll continue with. 
  • I took care of putting together Yogi's mementos and pictures and things. In the past this is something I would have put on a list and procrastinated doing for a long time because of its emotionally difficult nature and because I'd want to do it perfectly. No longer. I felt much peace and closure in remembering Yogi in meaningful ways in the weeks after his passing.
  • Cleaned out my 2014 emails.
  • Made blog books for 2013 and 2014.
  • Started taking fitness classes at a gym for the first time ever, at the encouragement of a friend who was doing it. I've never been a gym person so this may or may not stick, but it's fun to try something new and I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would.

I was able to do these things while keeping the house clean and organized (not perfectly, but at a level that made me happy), and doing the "everyday" things like cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, making meals, etc. I also had time for fun stuff, like reading, Pinterest, and bubble baths, all things I want to make more time for in my life because they make me happy, and a happy me makes me a happier mother, wife, and person.

So I guess this is all to say that 2015 is going well, and I'm excited about the year to come!

P.S. As part of my newfound focus on priorities, I will still be blogging, but it won't be as frequently as before. I'm going to do it when I have the time to do it instead of feeling like I need to do it every other week or whatever like I did before. It will probably be about a week a month on average, and it will probably vary in frequency depending on the month. We'll see what happens!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Countryside Christmas Tree Hunt

When we went to get our Christmas tree last month, we were out of luck (which was in keeping with how last month went for us!). We went to the place that we always go to pick out a freshly cut tree, but they were completely out of pre-cut Frasier firs. They'd pretty much sold out the previous weekend--the weekend after Thanksgiving--which is when we normally get our tree, but we were in Florida that weekend. When we saw the slim pickings, we ventured out into the field of uncut trees to see if we could find one. We didn't. But the views were nice!

I love the contrast of (Christmas) trees and bales of hay. Country living has some nice perks and Iowa is more beautiful than the rest of America realizes.





Watch out for the cute little baby trees!

There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about Christmas tree farms that I love. It feels like stepping back in time.



 

There's a fun little train there that the boys (especially Sam) like riding on each year. It's old and rickety but it goes fast and they painted it a nice festive red this year. Unfortunately, it stopped working just before the boys were going to ride it (of course). They didn't really mind, though. They'd been on plenty of rides in Florida the week before. They were content to sit for some photos.




It was a nice outing but a fruitless one as far as getting a tree went. Peter found a good tree later that day at Lowe's, a nice big one that turned out to be our tallest tree yet.

The finished product, finally!


It all turned out fine, but we learned our lesson. We may not go away for Thanksgiving this year just so that we can get our tree earlier!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Weekday Mornings

My weekday morning routine during the first hour when I get up usually goes like this: 

The alarm goes off at 6:20. I almost always hit snooze.

When it goes off again ten minutes later, I get up, take a shower, and get dressed and ready. 
(If I'm really tired or feeling particularly comfortable or lazy, I'll hit snooze one more time.) 

I'm usually done getting ready by about 7:10. The timing has to be pretty precise because I need to be downstairs to start serving John breakfast by 7:30 so that he can eat and leave for the bus on time. Before I start my day downstairs, if there's enough time, I sit on the ottoman in our master bath and read my scriptures. I like starting the day out like that, before I go downstairs and start the morning school day routine with the kids. It gets one of the most important things to do in the day done, and it starts the day out on the right foot and with a good perspective. Last year I usually did my scripture-reading after the kids went to school, but it's working out better for me right now to do it earlier in the morning.

Sometimes as I read, there's a pretty view out the bathroom windows of the sunrise sky:


As I start my day, nature is busy starting hers.

I find that the routines of daily life can be very comforting and peaceful, just as the routines of nature are.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Good and Mostly the Bad in 2014

2014 was a pretty difficult year in a lot of ways, from start to finish. Here's a list of the things I survived in 2014, starting at the very begining of the year and ending at (what else?) the end. I don't normally have a pessimistic, negative outlook on things, but my attitude towards last year is mostly pessimistic and negative (and for good reason!). I don't want to be overly critical so I'm adding parenthetically to the ones that are appropriate some good that came out of the debacle/challenge/adversity.
  • Being stranded in Washington, D.C. for two days without our luggage. (But we had a fun time exploring D.C., which is an amazing city.)
  • Our cat Bentwood got really sick with some kind of a virus that apparently had been lying dormant in his system his whole life. He was sick from February until August, with wheezy breathing and a diminished appetite. As the months wore on, we were increasingly worried that he wasn't going to get better. (But he did, and he's in great health now.)
  • Getting food poisoning in New York City and having to travel home on my own with my kids that day. (But I got to witness the kindness, helpfulness, and sympathy of others as we traveled from New York to Chicago to Cedar Rapids when they saw a very pale, weak woman traveling with her children.)
  • Getting painful shots in my feet that crippled me for a couple of days and made me literally hobble around, trying to avoid walking on the balls of my feet. They were quite possibly the most painful shots I've ever received in my life. (But they did help to destroy some of the plantar warts on the bottoms of my feet.)
  • A few painful canker sores, one of the banes of my existence. (NOTHING good here!)
  • I backed into a fence post at the Cape and put a ~4-inch rip in the back of my SUV. 
  • Major seasonal blues when we returned from Massachusetts in August. The second half of August is my annual personal hell. I go from being seaside almost every day in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, with my family there, to being cooped up in my house in landlocked Iowa because of seasonal allergies that flare up for me from mid-August to mid-September, with no extended family for company, and summer (my favorite season) almost over. It really bums me out, and it was particularly bad this year. I need to come up with some kind of a preventative plan this year to combat this! 
  • I didn't have a baby, which was no big surprise since that hasn't happened for us in over five years now, but it's always a hope. (But I do love having two boys--there are many benefits and blessings of having two children of the same gender and a smaller family. We really like it. However, I'd love to have another baby, boy or girl. Either way, I totally trust in God's plan for us.)
  • The tragic, sudden, and somewhat traumatizing death of our beloved dog Yogi. Making it even more difficult was the fact that it all happened when Peter was traveling for the whole week, so I handled everything by myself, and it was so hard, emotionally and logistically. Yogi's death was by far the hardest thing that happened in 2014. (But it brought us closer to the Savior in a special and significant way at Christmastime.)
  • I got the flu the week of Christmas. I was so sick for my favorite day (Christmas Eve) and time of the year. (But now I should be immune for the rest of the season. I better be!)
  • December was a horrible month. It was the worst in recent memory. In addition to the above two things, our DVR box malfunctioned and we lost all of our recordings, DISH dropped Fox News Channel (a mainstay in my life; I truly missed it until it was restored last week), I couldn't find John's piano recital location (his first ever piano recital) and we got there late (but in enough time for him to play), the Christmas tree farm we always use was totally sold out of good trees, and more--it was just one thing after another, some small and trivial, and some very hard. (But we came out of it and we were fine. I lost about ten pounds due to my worry and grief over Yogi and then the flu. My mother came to visit for a few days after Christmas because of everything that had happened, and that was really nice. And then the year ended, which was also really nice.)

It feels a little cathartic to get all of that out of my system and onto a list. I love lists. (Even when it's a list of the crappy things that happened to me.) So here's another one, although it's shorter. There were some good things that happened in 2014, too...

  • We love to travel, and we went on some really fun vacations: two to Wisconsin Dells (we switch off between our two favorite indoor waterparks there); Hershey, Pennsylvania; and Orlando, Florida. I got to go out to Cape Cod by myself for a nice weekend in May to shop my happy little heart out for the house and get it ready for summer.
  • And of course, our annual summer stay in Massachusetts and on Cape Cod. This was our tenth summer on the Cape and the first time having our own place. It was wonderful. It's a beautiful blessing to have the ocean practically in the backyard and a sweet little house of our own in a place that has become very special to us over the years. I love the Cape and the ocean more and more with each year that passes.
  • We had the basement of the Cape house remodeled and the transformation was beautiful and amazing. 
  • My sister got married in New York City's Central Park! The boys and I got to go out for the wedding and it was so special. (Except for the food poisoning I got!)
  • I did a unique copyediting project for a family member of a friend in which I got to exercise my old political science and international relations muscles from college. The author is a former FBI agent who wrote a book about understanding Islamic fundamentalism, something he knows and understands very well through his work in the FBI. This was when ISIS was in the news a lot in the fall (the beheadings, trying to take over cities and countries, etc.). After going through his manuscript, I understood so much better why these fundamentalist groups are doing what they're doing--where their justification and motivation come from and why they're really doing it. It really is true that understanding history helps you understand the present much better. It was a good and helpful experience to edit this manuscript. And an interesting side note: when the book gets published, if he includes me in his acknowledgments, he can't use my name, just my initials, because he said that terrorists will read this book and try to retaliate against it. Crazy! But kind of cool too (in a crazy way).
  • John made some significant achievements and progress in school. I really like the kid he's growing into (...most of the time. He still definitely has his moments! But I guess we all do.)

2014 was also our last year of having no children with an age in the double digits. John turns ten in less than two months and that's crazy!

I'm sure there are other things that I could add to both of these lists that I'm not thinking of right now, but these are the things that come to mind first. I wasn't sad to say goodbye to 2014. Usually I'm at least a little nostalgic, but not this year. 2014 was full of hardships, but I realize that there were many good things in it too, and I know that I came out of it a stronger and better person than I was before. I'm looking forward to 2015 and am very hopeful that at the end of the year, its good list will be a lot longer than its bad list!


Monday, January 12, 2015

Our Sweet Boy Yogi

We got to have you in our lives for four wonderful years


You were so friendly and sweet to us and to anyone you met


You wanted to be friends with everyone you could


Your sweet gentleness and patience were a blessing to our home



Your energy and zest for life, especially when you played with Boo Boo, were so fun to watch


We'd cheer you on in your wrestling matches; your rough-housing skills always impressed us!

     

You loved to stretch out and take long naps, usually near Boo Boo and laying in a warm sun spot if possible; you had perfected the art of the nap 




You liked to chew holes in things--doggy toys, your kennel bed, our deflated bounce house (!!)



But you rarely got in trouble for anything because it was just in your nature to obey and behave well



We've never had such an easy, pleasant dog.



You loved food, treats, and leftovers, sometimes too much, stealing Boo Boo's if you could


You were always especially attentive and hopeful during snacktimes and mealtimes, especially when Sam was involved





You didn't like rain, and thunderstorms scared you, and you disliked coming into and out of the house through the laundry room when the washer and dryer were going, which drove me nuts, but now how I miss this quirky habit of yours.

You were always happy and excited to see us when we came home, even if we'd only been gone for a few minutes. We miss seeing you eagerly waiting for us in the driveway.



We miss your paw prints in the snow; two sets were better than one



We will miss you in all the seasons of our lives.







Your presence in our home was calm and companionable


We miss your sweet personality, your beautiful silky black brindle fur, the way you walked and ran, the clicking of your paws, and your soft melodious bark



We miss stroking the soft fur on your head and playing with your floppy silky ears



We miss seeing you every day and having you here



You gave our family and home love and peace, and we tried to give you the same 



We adopted you and Boo Boo and tried to give you the best life we could, the kind of life you deserved



It was one of the best choices we've ever made.



It doesn't feel the same without you here; you leave a void that cannot be filled by anything but you



We looked forward to many more years together, but it was cut short much sooner than we ever thought it would be


Your last days here were very hard for you, but you endured patiently and courageously for as long as you could, until you knew that it was time to move on to a better place.

One week before he passed away.
Now you're in heaven, where you came from, and where you belong (angel that you are)


You've moved on to a better place, free from pain and discomfort and restored to your wonderful, beautiful prime



Happy and healthy and whole once again and forever.

We hope that our sweet angel Yogi will come visit us once in awhile


We miss you so much and we want to feel of your happy, peaceful presence, because we can't see you for awhile



Please watch out for us, for our home and family, which you always did so well



One day we will be with you again and then it will never come to an end

God is not far and neither are you



You have left your paw prints and your gentle example of goodness imprinted on our hearts forever


Thank you for being you; you were perfect

Thank you for being such a blessing to our family and to your beloved best friend and brother Boo Boo




Thank you for always being there in the background and forefront of our lives, a gentle, reassuring calming presence that we didn't realize how much we'd miss until it wasn't there anymore.


We can't wait to see you again and be with you forever, and what a joyful reunion it will be,



We miss you so much, and we love you even more,

Our sweet boy Yogi.




********

Yogi died from complications of a malignant brain tumor on December 12th, exactly a month ago. He was about 5-1/2 years old. We'd only found out two days earlier that he had a tumor. He hadn't been himself for about a month, but we had no idea that it was something as serious as what he had. We thought it was a treatable infection or condition of some sort. When we found out about the tumor, we didn't know that it was malignant, and we planned on getting him radiation therapy and doing whatever we could do for him, but we didn't get that chance. We didn't even get to say goodbye before he passed away because he was at a specialized vet hospital two hours away and he died suddenly in the middle of the night. It has been very hard and heartbreaking to lose him. Our knowledge of and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us much comfort and peace because we know that he still lives and we'll be together again. And now that it's been a month, I can say that time really does help take away the jarring shock and the painful sting of the loss of a loved one. I'm not good at writing poetry but writing this poem and putting together pictures with it have been therapeutic. I wish I could do Yogi better justice, but this is my best effort on his behalf. He was a wonderful dog and we were and are so blessed to have him in our family.