Thy kingdom come

I had a Corban update post ready to go for tonight, but it seems inappropriate to write about anything other than what’s been on my mind since shortly after 2 p.m. this afternoon.

I’m usually not one to get all-consumingly wrapped up in breaking national tragedies as they unfold – I’d rather wait until all the facts are out and then think and read about it – but for a good while today I couldn’t peel my eyes away from Twitter and the Boston Globe’s live blog. Maybe it was the gruesome photos that made it seem so real, or the fact that I am (or was) a long-distance runner myself, but the horror seemed so close despite being more than 1,000 miles away.

This morning I logged on to She Reads Truth for the first time in some weeks and read a post that I’ve been thinking about again tonight in light of this terrifying and tragic act. The post was on kingdom praying. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6 he started with, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Kingdom praying is asking God to bring Heaven here to earth, to marry His space with ours, to accomplish His plan. Can you imagine if we started all our prayers here? Matthew 6:33 says to “seek first His kingdom.” What would happen if we didn’t pray for our Earthly needs first, but for those things that matter for eternity?

To be perfectly honest, my first inclination after seeing the blood and hearing the injury reports from the streets of Boston was to thank God for my own safety, my intact limbs and my family safe at home – things I all too often take for granted. But then I remembered what I had read about kingdom praying this morning.

I’m sure many people look at these events and doubt God’s sovereignty, wonder how this can be His will and feel hopeless on this broken, scary earth. Without God’s promise of eternal life, I would too. So I pray for them. I pray that God reveals Himself to those who suffer and grieve. I pray for comfort and peace and that His kingdom comes.

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Image source

Some news

If you know me in real life or on Facebook, then this is old news by now. But if not, I’ve got some exciting new news!

I am 15 weeks along (holy cow!). This pregnancy has been quite different from my first so far, and not in a good way. I could barely eat during the first trimester — everything made me feel sick. It was so bad at one point that I stayed home from work one day, which I’ve never done before.

But right when I hit 13 weeks the clouds seemed to part and my second trimester came as a warm welcome. Now I’ve got newfound energy, a healthy appetite, and honestly, I just feel normal again. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts!

Mini-bump beginning to emerge

Mini-bump beginning to emerge

There are some other differences this time around, in addition to the enhanced morning sickness. For instance:

  • I haven’t been journaling every day and recording symptoms/thoughts/etc.
  • I’ve only taken two official bump photos.
  • I ate a ham sandwich at the airport on Sunday and was like, eh, lunchmeat, I’m sure I’ll be fine
  • I drank a small glass of dry (alcoholic) cider while on vacation, and many sips of others’ wine and cocktails (this was after I hit the second trimester)
  • I haven’t read any of those “your baby is the size of a lemon” updates or downloaded any pregnancy apps
  • I’ve already switched to maternity pants and wore my first maternity sweater the other day (partially this is because my maternity jeans are really cute and comfy, and I want to get use of my winter maternity gear while it’s still unbearably cold)

Just a little bit more laid back this time. I think the main difference, though, is that the first time around I was all-consumed by the pregnancy and ME being pregnant. I couldn’t possibly understand or appreciate what life would be like when the pregnancy stage was over and we had a baby. In some ways, I enjoyed pregnancy because it was this grand anticipation of something unknown, life-altering and slightly scary. It was all I knew at that point.

But now that I’ve been through it all, I have a better grasp on the fact that the pregnancy is just one small part – and not even the most fun part. I will do my best to enjoy this pregnancy as much as I (yes) enjoyed my first, but now that I know how great the prize is at the end, it’s hard not to see pregnancy as kind of a burden to get through (especially when you have morning sickness or when you remember how swollen your feet were in the third trimester). I was just getting used to not being pregnant and not nursing/pumping around the clock when we found out I was pregnant again, so for selfish reasons I wish I could enjoy my normal body for a while. But we chose to have our second be close in age with Corban, and I know that is a good thing (for them if not for us).

So although I’m not as excited for the physical aspect of pregnancy this time around, I think I’m more excited about having a baby (if that makes sense). Knowing how wonderful each stage of new life is makes me happy in a way that I couldn’t understand or imagine before becoming a mom.

Here we go again!

Weaned.

After 14 months, we are officially done breastfeeding.

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All I can think about in summation of that 14 months is WOW — breastfeeding is a wild, emotional ride. I had absolutely NO idea it was so emotionally complex. In fact, I basically knew nothing about it 14 months ago except what I learned in the class I took before Corban was born. I don’t think it’s even possible to really understand all the facets of breastfeeding until you experience it.

I’m so very thankful that, overall, Corban and I had a beautiful experience with it. (And I realize that sounds creepy to anyone who hasn’t done it!)

In the beginning, I had no idea how I would survive the pain, sleeplessness and long hours of nursing.

But slowly it got easier. And by six months I couldn’t bear to think of the day when I wouldn’t nurse my baby — or, rather, when he wouldn’t depend on me in that way. Just imagining it made my eyes well up.

But each new milestone and development that seems so distant eventually comes in perfect timing. So last week, when Corban nursed for the final time, it seemed a natural conclusion.

How did we get to that point? I admit, weaning was something that seemed intimidating at first, but we took it one step at a time. Here’s what that looked like for us:

0-6 months: Exclusively breastfed. No food except breastmilk for Little C.

6 months: Start introducing solid foods, but still nursing the same amount as before — almost all nutrition is still coming from breastmilk.

7 months: I go back to work full time (previously was part time) and Corban has two bottles a day while I’m at work. I pump twice a day at work.

10-11 months: I drop down to pumping once a day at work. All this time, Corban’s solids intake is increasing, and milk intake is slowly decreasing naturally.

12 months: We officially begin what I considered weaning. I stop pumping completely, and begin to wean Corban from nursing in the middle of the night. So we are down to nursing right when he wakes up and right before bed, and he has bottles of breastmilk during the day. I also stop nursing him during the day on weekends.

13ish months: He doesn’t seem to be very into the nighttime nursing, so we drop that but still feed him as much breastmilk as he will drink before bed. Still nursing first thing in the morning (my favorite feeding because it’s done while lying in bed).

14 months: By this point, he is nursing very little in the morning and only on the left side. He usually has a bottle after he nurses. We finally reach the very end of our freezer supply of breastmilk. So at 14 months and one week old, Corban nurses for the final time and switches fully to cow’s milk.

To be honest, the real reason we completely quit when we did is because Peter and I went out of town with friends — without Corban — and so that just seemed like a natural cut off point. I sure as heckfire wasn’t going to pump while we were away — and I don’t even think there was much left to pump anyway. Although I did have some times of discomfort at various points during the weaning process (most notably when weaning from the pump!), I didn’t feel anything at the end.

 

On our last morning of breastfeeding, I was a little nostalgic, but it just seemed right. Corban is a little toddler now, and though we both still enjoy plenty of snuggle time each morning and night (and during the day when I’m home), he hasn’t seemed to miss nursing.

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That final morning, Peter left early for a men’s church group, so Corban and I had time to ourselves. He nursed for a minute or so, then sat up. I asked if he wanted more, and he nursed a bit longer, then sat up again. Not quite ready to be done, I encouraged him to nurse one last time. He did, briefly.

When he finished, I just lay there, smiling at his sweet mass of bedhead. He sat on a pile of covers, laughing and making silly faces, and eventually crawling off to climb down and explore on his own.

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A happy new year

I am in such a good mood going into 2013!

2012 was a great year. It will be remembered as the year we attended nine weddings, the year Corban went from helpless, tiny newborn to sweet, lively almost-toddler, our first year as parents and the year Peter worked nearly exclusively from home and I finagled my vacation days to spend one day of almost every week I worked home with Corban. We saw lots of dear friends who live far away in 2012. We met new friends and went outside of our comfort zone. I spent 21 weekends out of town (Peter and C were with me for most of them except for a few bachelorette parties). We hosted more visitors than ever before and our new basement guest bedroom quarters got lots of use. Looking back, my heart is full as I think of all the treasured relationships that were nurtured in 2012.

Looking ahead, though, I feel like 2013 is a crisp, white piece of paper waiting to be written on. The frenzy of our travels for weddings, showers, bachelorette parties and holidays has slowed down and we should have more time to freely choose how we spend our weekends in 2013. It brings a welcome sense of calm and possibility.

I’ll address goals for the year in a moment, but first, some highlights from this very first day of 2013. The year is off to a great start.

Corban slept through the night (until 6:05 a.m., at least)! We let him play in our room while we attempted to sleep in a bit, then enjoyed a pancake breakfast.

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Plain, chocolate chip, blueberry and coconut varieties.

Corban was in a great mood for morning playtime, and impressed us by correctly identifying the sheep from his Little People nativity by bringing it to me when I asked (twice!) I am continually amazed by how much he is starting to pick up on.

After his nap and lunch (and lots of messing around — it takes forever to get out of the house with a one-year-old) we headed over to a local county park for some sledding. I spent many long hours in 2011 training for the Birkebeiner on the cross-country trails of Minooka Park, but had never sled down its giant sledding hill.

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It’s almost too gigantic. It’s great fun going down, but walking back up really takes it out of you. They need a tow rope! We did one run with Corban secured between us on the sled, but it’s a little too steep and fast for him. He didn’t seem scared, but also didn’t seem to love it, so we opted not to risk it any further. (We also may have been too winded after carrying him up the hill to consider repeating.)

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Instead, Peter headed out for a loop on skis, while I played with Corban in the snow (he loved crawling), then pulled him around in his little red sled, which he loves speeding around in.

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We warmed up in the car while Peter finished, and then it was my turn to go out on skis. Believe it or not, the last time I cross-country skiied was the 34.5-mile Birkie race in 2011! Being out there reminded me not only of how woefully out of shape I am, but how much I enjoy getting out and enjoying the snowy trails. We will have to figure out a way to fit more skiing in this winter (a significant challenge with a baby).

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening just being together at home, watching Corban be his hilarious little self and snuggling with the cats. What a perfect few hours in time.

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Back to goals. First let’s look at last year’s and assess how I did:

  • Work out at least 3 times each week. I did great with this for the first half of the year. I drew three little boxes in my planner each week and checked one off for each workout. Then I went back to work full time and, honestly, fitness dropped off my radar. Not only did I feel I didn’t have the time or discipline to keep it up, but I had no desire. My priorities changed, and I accepted that working out just wasn’t one of them anymore. I’m OK with this for now, though I’d like to add just a little something back into my routine.
  • Read 20 books. I really thought this was the year I would accomplish this goal! But, alas, I only made it to 14. I did have more diversity in my reading list this year though. It included parenting books, Christian books, a historical non-fiction book and, of course, good old fiction. I should also note that one book I read was 976 pages (“The Pillars of the Earth”) so maybe that should count as two!
  • Run a half-marathon. Nope. Just didn’t happen. See first goal, above.
  • Eat dinner as a family at least 3 times a week. This wasn’t really practical for most of the year, since it’s hard to sit down together with an infant. New parent goal-setting fail!
  • Be more present and stop to appreciate the now. OK, so I actually DID meet one goal from last year! This one is hard to quantify, and I know there are many moments I got stressed or wrapped up in and didn’t appreciate until after the fact, but for the most part I felt this goal was accomplished. Each night nursing Corban before bed… playing on the floor with him… standing on the altar in a friend’s wedding… holding hands with Peter on a road trip… that’s just a sampling of little moments I stopped to savor, and that made them all the sweeter as they were happening.

For 2013, I decided not to create a list of goals, per se. In this family-building, new parenthood stage of our lives, it’s just not realistic or even important to me to set and meet goals for fitness, cooking, reading, etc. Instead, Peter and I came up with a list of things we want to do this year. A 2013 Sherwood To Do List that should be mostly fun to check things off of. Here’s a sample of some items on our list:

  • See at least one play.
  • Save $[a certain, lofty amount of money]
  • Have the neighbors over
  • Paint the kitchen
  • Get a massage (this one is just me… and I have two gift certificates that I just need to give myself permission to use!)
  • Go on one date night OUT each month (like, hire a babysitter and do something just the two of us)

I still do love resolutions, so if you made any, please do comment and share them or the link! It’s inspiring just to read others’ goals.

Happy New Year!

12-month update

One!  Year! Old!

And yet, life goes on as usual. Turning one seems like such a big milestone for a baby, but I think it’s actually a bigger milestone for the parents. Corban continued to do his little almost-toddler thing all week, while I found myself replaying the week before Corban was born over and over in my mind. Each day I would think, exactly one year ago today I was [fill in the blank]. 

The most vivid parallel moment for me was driving home from work Thursday night, thinking about how exactly 52 weeks prior, I drove that same route at that same time. In 2011, I was on the phone with Peter, trying not to freak out about the fact that I was going into labor. When I hung up the phone, I just drove silently, a million thoughts, lists, questions racing through my head as I wondered what the future would hold.

In 2012, again I was on the phone with Peter, but this time asking how Corban was doing, if he had eaten dinner, how long he had napped. When I hung up the phone, I drove silently, remembering the past, reliving that night 52 weeks prior, my last drive home before my baby was born, and the year that followed.

What an amazing year it has been.

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But back to the present… here’s the quick take on Corban’s 12th month:

Age: 12 months
Weight: 23 lb. 1 oz.
Clothes: 12-month and 18-month
Diapers: 
Size 3 during the day, size 4 at night
Teeth: 
Two on top and four on bottom (one new bottom tooth this month)
Sleep:
 Same as last month — asleep around 7 or a few minutes after, most often wakes up between 2 and 4 a.m., then up for the day around 6:30 a.m.
Naps: Morning nap is getting later (10:30ish) and afternoon nap is starting to disappear
Noises: Makes little “vroom” noises for cars and airplanes; no clear words yet but lots of noises
Nursing: Last month before starting to wean 😦 So, still 4-5 times a day, but that will be changing soon.
Pumping: One pumping session a day when at work (around 1 or 2 p.m.) Will probably be stopping that this week, though.
Solids: 3 meals a day plus snack some days.
Mobility: Climbs up stairs like a pro; can climb down with some help; learning to climb down from couch; no interest in walking.
New skills: Pointing, throwing a ball
Favorites: Dancing, balloons, turning pages of books, eskimo kisses, slides, plastic tupperware

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Making baby “vroom” noises with the paper airplane.

It seems like Corban’s communication skills really took off this month. Even before he was pointing with his fingers, he would stretch his arm out toward things he was interested in, or reach his arms up if he wanted us to pick him up.

He started to really quickly pick up on our actions and imitate them. I showed him how to comb his hair once, and now he wants to do it every time he picks up the comb (even if he’s not very effective).

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He started initiating games, like shaking his head back and forth (then it’s our turn to do it, etc. — yes that is a game to a one-year-old) or sticking his face in a tupperware container to play peek-a-boo.

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And I just love that he understands how books work and loves to flip through the pages, even on his own.

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Of course, it’s even better with Mama or Daddy reading, but you have to read really fast because he doesn’t like to sit for long on most pages. Exceptions are the page in “Spot Says Goodnight” when Spot is in the bathtub (playing peek-a-boo with a lift-the-flap towel) and the page where Cookie Monster is popping bubbles in this book called “Bubbles, Bubbles.”

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“Bubbles, bubbles, float on top. Bubbles, bubbles, pop, pop, pop!” We have been reading the same 4-5 books before naps, and I have all of them memorized.

We had some incredibly nice days this month (for Wisconsin in November/December), so we got a few more trips to the park in, and let Corban slide a few feet by himself (with Peter and I at both ends, of course). The boy loves free falling.

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Also loves: dirt.

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Caught with his hands dirty.

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He has become quite good at entertaining himself these days. Dirt, a ball, a toy or a good view out the window are enough to keep him content if he’s in the right mood.

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Of course, he still has his moments where he doesn’t want to be put down, and with those newly pointing fingers he can get a little bossy.

This month also brought Corban’s first real sickness. Poor baby. We did enjoy lots of snuggles that weekend though. There’s nothing quite as sweet as a soft mop of hair resting on your shoulder.

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He felt better just in time for his first Thanksgiving! After several days of barely eating, Corban feasted with us at the Thanksgiving table. He loved the turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and green beans.

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I was a tiny bit worried that he’d attack the Christmas tree, but he has been fairly disinterested so far. He did try to eat an ornament, but I was sure to put only baby-safe ornaments at the bottom.

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This bell, however, was a huge hit. At least until he started to get curious and try to pull the ringer out of the inside.

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I have felt this way at every age so far, but I am just loving where we are at right now. Corban is so curious, enthusiastic and full of joy, and it’s so much fun to be able to engage with him on a slightly deeper level now. I know it will get even more fun as he develops further.

On workdays, I don’t get a lot of time with C, but it’s still the best part of my day. As I’m trying to get him into his pajamas, he squirms away and crawls around his room in his diaper. I think he realizes it’s his last chance to play before bed, so he gets extra energetic. I’m often sucked into his happy world and end up playing with him for an extra few minutes until he can’t resist rubbing his eyes, and I know it’s definitely time for bed.

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Now that we’re at the one year mark, we decided it’s time to start weaning. He already is, technically, weaned during the day when I’m at work, so the first step is me weaning from the pump (we have a LOT of breastmilk in the freezer, so we still have a while before transitioning to cow’s milk). I can handle the idea of that, but the thought of him not nursing first thing in the morning or right before bed makes me all teary-eyed. For now I’ll just enjoy those sweet moments and try not to think about it!

On a happier note, we celebrated Corban’s first birthday with a little party this past weekend. I’ll write about it in another post, but here he is eating refined sugar for the first time:

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I’m kind of obsessive about him not eating anything remotely unhealthy, so there won’t be any more cake in the near future, but on his birthday I couldn’t have been happier to see him create a sugary mess.

So there you have it. Month 12. My son is now a year old, and it doesn’t feel any different. Unless you go back a year. Everything’s different since then. Different, but better.

Dear Corban, on your first birthday

An excerpt:

Dear Corban,

One year ago today, I held you in my arms for the very first time. I looked at you with wonder, not yet knowing the creases of your hands or the smell of your skin. I had no way of knowing at that moment just how profoundly you would change my life.

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When I look back on this first year with you, I don’t recall very many bad times. Yes, there was sleep deprivation, and there were days when leaving the house was just too big of a challenge. But when I reflect on the past 12 months, I see scenes of laughter and games, development and discovery. I see you smiling at the sound of my voice, giddy when I walk in the door after work. I hear you laughing hysterically as I blow bubbles for you for the first time. I feel your impossibly soft newborn hair, and silky, round tummy.

You, Corban, make me so happy.  It’s impossible not to feel joy when I’m around you, no matter how bad a day I’m having.

I could postulate about what kind of man you’ll become based on your current preferences and skills. You’re learning to throw (athletic?) and you enjoy pounding on the keyboard (musical?). You love being surprised or frightened (adventurous?). But when I think about your future, there is only one thing that matters. Above all, I pray that you will love the Lord and walk with Him throughout your life.

Corban James, you are a delight. God has blessed me immensely by entrusting you to me. Your first year of life has been one of my very best so far. Happy birthday, my dear son.

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Love,

Mama

Day in the life of an 11-month-old (and his working mom)

Ever feel overwhelmed by all the thoughts and ideas racing through your brain? I have had a list of about a million things on my mind this week and have had no time to focus further than the one that needs the most immediate attention at any given moment — the daily deadlines at work, the one year photo album I had to finish in time for Corban’s first birthday(!!) party, scrounging just enough food out of the empty fridge to satisfy current hunger needs (truly pathetic). I opened a fresh Moleskine notebook yesterday just to dump a bunch of one-liner ideas for work into it – otherwise I would have risked losing them in the jungle of my brain.

I realized today that despite the dizzying pace of my life these past days, weeks, months, I am enjoying it. I don’t feel like I have enough time at home, or at work, or with friends, or with Corban, or with Peter, or by myself – but to make more time for one would mean cutting time with another. What a conundrum.

I will go with the theory that more time spent with any of the above would make that time less valuable. Maybe my current situation actually is ideal. (OK, more time with Corban would definitely be better, but let’s just be positive for now.)

Speaking of time… that post about our predictable schedule I mentioned that I had started writing right before C got sick and our schedule went out the window? Here it is.

I wrote this typical day out at about 11 months. It’s changed slightly since then. It’s always changing slightly. That’s one reason I have been wanting to write this post – to capture a moment in time. I also wanted to write it because I love reading other bloggers’ day-in-the-life baby posts. It’s fun to look both forward and back at babies’ routines and needs at different ages.

Here’s what a typical workday is was [at the time of writing] like for me and Baby C.

4 a.m. Corban wakes up and I nurse him. No, he still isn’t always sleeping through the night (though some days he does), but a quick 4 a.m. nursing session is barely a burden at all anymore (sometimes it is at 2, which is tougher). While a bit of CIO (cry it out) has worked for us for naps, neither Peter nor I have the energy to do it at 4 in the morning, so, whatever, I feed him.

6:30 a.m. C is up for the day. Peter gets up and brings him into bed with us and I nurse him while lying down and trying to get some more shut eye. I love this part of the day! If he ate a lot at 4, it will be quick though. We try to keep him entertained in bed with a pacifier and snuggles for as long as possible.

6:45/7 a.m. By this time, bed usually isn’t cutting it for him, so we let him crawl around on the floor of our room and explore while we attempt to sleep for a few more minutes. We are not morning people.

7:15/30 a.m. We change Corban’s diaper and I hustle into the shower while he plays in our room. He also loves pulling things off the shelves in my closet and opening the bathroom drawers or playing with the scale.

7:40 a.m. I get ready while playing with/entertaining Corban. Peter showers and gets ready.

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8 a.m. I get C dressed, then it’s breakfast for us both. Followed by more of me getting ready mixed with some playtime.

8:30 a.m. Our nanny arrives and takes over Corban duties while I pack my lunch and update her on anything newsworthy. Peter retreats into our office to start his work day.

8:40 a.m. I’m off to work (ok, usually it’s a few minutes later). Corban and our nanny’s son start to play, play, play (or eat breakfast if I didn’t have time to feed him).

9:30 or 10 a.m. After some quiet reading time and a pacifier, it’s nap time, usually for an hour and 15 minutes at least.

11:30 a.m. Right after his nap, he has a bottle of breast milk. Then the three of them go for a long walk – about an hour – and sometimes stop at the park or the library. Or they play inside.

12:30 p.m. Pump break for me. I can be in and out in about 15 minutes, but I try to take this time to relax in the middle of the day and not rush. It’s my Google Reader (on iPhone) time.

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12:30 p.m. Lunch for Corban. Then it’s more playtime (our nanny loosely structures some activities for them) or a walk if they didn’t go before lunch.

2:30 p.m. Nap time for C, or at least soothing time so he can start napping around 3.

3:30/4 p.m. Corban wakes up from his nap (this is a shorter nap usually – like 45 minutes to an hour) and has a bottle of breast milk.

4:30 p.m. Peter is off work and makes the long commute from the office to the family room to take over Corban duty. Our nanny leaves and Peter and Corban spend some quality time playing and calling me at work to see when I’ll be home.

5 p.m. I try to wrap up at work if possible, but I’m usually not heading for the door till it’s at least…

5:30 p.m. I collect my junk (why do I seem to cart so much with me to and from work each day?), grab the pumped milk and pump parts from the lactation room (I leave the pump there during the week) and head home.

6 p.m.* Reunited with Snuggleface! He is overjoyed to see me. We play on the floor for a few minutes.

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6:15 p.m. Dinner time for Corban. Peter and I usually eat too while he’s in the high chair.

6:40 p.m. More playtime and some dinner cleanup.

6:55 p.m. PJs on, some quiet play or books in the nursery, then nursing and sleep for Little Boy.

7:05 p.m. Corban is down for the night. Commence adult time to tackle to-do lists, more work, relax and prepare to do it all again tomorrow.

*The days that I get home late (after 6) from work are especially painful. Even just 20 minutes late can cut my Corban time in half for that night. Then I find myself missing him after he’s asleep. Thankfully, this grind is broken up by my strategic use of vacation days, which I’ve been sure to use spending my time 100% focused on my baby C.

Happier at Home: Marriage

Recall that last month I started reading “Happier at Home” by Gretchen Rubin, the sequel to her bestseller, “The Happiness Project.” Here’s where you can read my initial thoughts on the book and the overall concept.

October was focused on marriage. Gretchen’s mini resolutions to help intentionally bring some extra happiness to her marriage were to kiss in the morning and at night, give gold stars, make the positive argument and take driving lessons. Kind of an odd assortment, and I can’t really remember what the driving lessons had to do with marriage, but instead of rehashing the chapter let’s just skip to my thoughts.

Marriage is hard.

It’s also wonderful, beautiful, fun and absolutely worthwhile. But it’s not easy.

To be honest, I read this chapter quickly at the beginning of the month, and then promptly forgot about it until the end. I wish I hadn’t. I actually think October started off as a particularly challenging month for our marriage, not for any specific reasons, but just because. It probably would have been made easier had I put into action some of the things Gretchen did during her October. But instead, I took the easier-in-the-short-term route and didn’t hold back any of my complaints, criticisms or sarcasm from Peter whenever the mood struck. That never brings happiness.

Kiss in the morning, kiss at night

Gretchen suggests that routines and rituals are important to adults as well as children, and kissing can be a simple, yet effective, ritual to add intimacy and joy to your day. Since day one (or night one) of our marriage, I’ve made sure that I get a goodnight kiss from Peter. Even if we’re both half asleep, I still lean over for a peck. It’s one daily ritual we never, ever skip – a small gesture, but it ensures we end our days on a good note. Any ritual that involves affection is bound to bring an extra bit of happiness into your life.

Give gold stars

In short, giving gold stars can be anything you do to serve your spouse – texting a cute picture of the kids while he’s at work, being accommodating, focusing your attention on him when he’s speaking, thanking him, etc. This can, at times, go against everything I’m naturally inclined to do. It can be painful. But it’s right and good, and because it doesn’t always come naturally, I know I need to work on it. To have a loving, happy relationship, you need to take the first steps to be loving. Even harder than giving gold stars is holding back “black marks,” as Gretchen calls them. Sarcastic comments. Eye rolling. So difficult to refrain from at times! I don’t think I did my best at being intentional about giving gold stars or holding back black marks this month, and that’s probably why the beginning of the month wasn’t the greatest our relationship has ever been.

Make the positive argument

Toward the end of the month, I think I subconsciously started to put “make the positive argument” into effect. The idea is that you can find evidence to support both sides of opposing claims, depending on which you choose to embrace. Whenever Gretchen heard a voice in her head making a negative claim about her husband, she would reverse it and look for evidence of the opposite (“Jamie isn’t very thoughtful” became “Jamie is very thoughtful,” and – surprise – she was able to come up with thoughtful behavior to support it instead of dwelling on the negative). When I intentionally think about the things I love about Peter instead of dwelling on the things that bug me about him, it makes me happy. It also makes it easier to be kind and cheerful when we’re together. Pretty simple, but it’s amazing how I can fall in love all over again just by dwelling on the positive.

Take driving lessons

Gretchen got over her intense fear of driving in this chapter, and somehow it related to marriage. Doesn’t entirely connect with me, but I did willingly drive almost the entire way back from St. Louis in mid-October, while using every ounce of strength to stay awake at the wheel. That probably fits more in the gold star category though.

As I grow older, I’ve become more and more aware of my innate inability to be a “good” person. This is good in the sense that I realize just how much grace I need. But sometimes it causes me to want to just give up. Looking back on this chapter reminded me that although I will never be perfect, my efforts are not futile. Putting forth work can still reap benefits and work is necessary to have a happy marriage.

November’s theme is parenthood. Should be interesting to see how much applies to parenting a baby!

Happier at Home: Possessions

I picked up a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, “Happier at Home,” from work last month (our books editor gets sent lots of books to review, and some of the rejects end up on the “up-for-grabs” counter, as I like to call it). I haven’t read her book that skyrocketed her onto the New York Times bestseller list, “The Happiness Project,” but I was vaguely familiar with the concept behind it – intentionally making small changes in your life that overall add up to more happiness. It sure sounds like an interesting experiment, right?

So I opened up “Happier at Home” and started reading. It’s the same concept as “The Happiness Project,” only focused on home life rather than life in general, I suppose. The book is divided into chapters by month – each month Gretchen focuses on a different aspect of the home and sets several goals or changes to make to see if they result in more happiness. Lest you write this off as navel-gazing, I should note that Rubin does an excellent job of incorporating research in with her anecdotes and personal feelings, so it reads as more than a diary. At least so far – I’m only one chapter in, ha.

Conveniently, the book starts with September, the beginning of the school year – oh yeah, and the month the book was released. Before this starts to sound like a book review of a book I’m only one chapter into, I’m sure you can see where this is headed. Seeing as it was September, and I love a good personal challenge, I decided to maybe, kind of, sort of go along for the ride with Gretchen and partake in some of her goals each month.

Now, before I continue, let me get one thing out of the way: I’m not entirely comfortable with her use of the word “happiness.” From what I’ve gathered so far, her philosophy is that happiness is a thing to be pursued daily, and that pursuit is, a lot of the time, in the small details of everyday life. I totally agree that it’s the little things each day that determine a lot of my mood and enjoyment of life. But I believe that true happiness is something that comes from above. No matter how hard I try to achieve happiness on my own, I’m still broken and in desperate need of a savior. I can have all the little details of my life nailed down and be miserable without God’s mercy. On the other hand, I can live in chaos and physical despair, but have peace in my heart because of His love. (Side note: what a comfort that my hope is found in something much greater than this world!)

So essentially, I think if Rubin is searching for true happiness, or even a mere glimpse of it, she’s looking in the wrong places. But if we’re just talking about improving quality of life, as long as the activities of this pursuit don’t become idols – that is, essential to your happiness – then I think this project can be useful.

That’s the tough part though. It’s a fine line. John Calvin wrote: “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” We’re so naturally inclined to put anything and everything before God that I struggle with whether any sort of “happiness project” that doesn’t involve God is right. There’s no black and white answer.

That being said (wow, this post got a lot deeper than I originally intended! Funny how that happens when you stop to really think about what you’re thinking about), I’m going to treat this book as good motivation to focus a little more on some things that can help make my life easier and more pleasant, and be aware that in and of itself, this project will not lead to true happiness.

OK, so back to September…

Rubin’s first month’s topic is possessions. An interesting place to start, right? Possessions can bring much joy, but they also can weigh you down. I’m not going to go into too much detail on the chapter, but the three resolutions Gretchen set were cultivate a shrine, go shelf by shelf and read the manual.

Cultivate a shrine: Rubin said her goal was to “transform areas of my apartment into places of super-engagement.” She did this through tasks like swapping out photos in frames, displaying meaningful mementos and reorganizing her workspace.

My take: I am just awful at printing and displaying photos. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve gone years at times with frames displaying the generic black and white photos they came with. In fact, I’m staring at a giant, empty collage frame I bought for like $10 on Black Friday, um… three years ago? Maybe four. Oops. So, while the collage frame escaped my newfound motivation to just put some darn photos in the frames (I guess it’s just become a natural part of the scenery in here, so I didn’t even notice it. Pathetic.), I was inspired to make use of some empty frames on my desk and fill them with a few nice, recent-ish photos. Now I can gaze up at friends and family while I’m browsing the Internet. How lovely, and long overdue. I still have some progress to make in other rooms, but this little photo frame task has made a worthy impact on the pleasantness of sitting at my desk at home.

One source of stress I’ve noticed in my life surrounds my morning routine. When my closet and bathroom are messy and disorganized, I get frustrated while trying to get ready for the day. So this month I “cultivated a shrine” in my closet and bathroom (that just doesn’t sound right!) This move was actually inspired by my mom and sister, who both recently created very shrine-like closets for themselves, but it fits right in with this chapter of the book. I’ll save the details for a separate post, but I made a few simple changes that dramatically impact the overall agreeability of my morning routine.

In thinking about this idea of making your favorite areas in your home really comfortable, I also came up with a plan for our sunroom, which is a lovely space that doesn’t get used to its full potential. It’s the perfect spot to relax with a book (something I wish I did more of) so why don’t we keep our books in there and turn it into a mini library? I’ll keep you posted on how this plays out.

Go shelf by shelf: Gretchen had some useful tips for clearing out and reorganizing her house. Things like: clean as you go, abandon a project that you know you won’t finish, buy what you need and clear surfaces. I liked her recognition of the difference between something that wasn’t used and something that was useless. It’s OK to keep something for purely sentimental reasons. Just don’t keep everything!

My take: Gretchen has way more time than I do to actually go shelf by shelf, but I did make a tiny bit of progress. I purged our shoe closet of flip flops I hadn’t worn in years. I cleared several piles of junk off my desk (you can see the surface again!) Throughout the month I continuously added clothes and objects to half a dozen bags I plan to donate (now to just take them to Goodwill…) I recycled old boxes I had been saving and got rid of or filed a bunch of papers. These were all small steps, but any little dent helps in keeping your possessions from overtaking your home, and even a little bit of clutter-clearing gives me a sense of satisfaction.

Read the manual: Funny how just taking a few minutes to properly learn how something works can make life so much easier. I can’t think of any specific examples of how I put this to work last month, but it’s a good piece of advice to bear in mind.

I feel like I could stay quite busy concentrating on these September goals for the rest of year, but alas, it is October, and this month’s topic is marriage. Yikes. I’ll write another recap at the end of the month. Care to join me? Grab a copy of the book and let me know your thoughts!

Some things are better with kids

Zoos. Aquariums. Sledding hills. Swimming pools.

Those places are all fun no matter who you are. But after  years of going to the zoo, the pool, etc. with only adult companions, I have to admit, they’re even more fun when you’re sharing the experience with a child.

Also like that? The Wisconsin State Fair.

I love the fair in and of itself. There are farm animals, ridiculous products being sold, cheesy entertainers and every kind of fried food you can think of (on a stick, of course). Last year I was pregnant during our trip to the fair, and as we wandered through the crowds, getting jostled by strollers and cut off by little kids, all I could think about were our future trips there with baby in tow. Today those images came to life and Corban had his first taste of fair fun (on a stick).

He is still too young to really appreciate it, and probably would have been just as entertained hanging out in our backyard, but today Peter and I had a great time showing the little guy what the fair is all about.

Oh! And before I go on, I should mention that the fair  has nursing baby areas, and they are nice. There is one in the expo center, one in the Journal Communications building (represent!) and one in a trailer by Herb Kohl’s milk stand. We hit up the latter one, a private, air-conditioned room with four nice, new recliners (thank you, Steinhafel’s). Even just for a diaper change, it sure beat the bathrooms.

Going on a weekday morning was key. In the past, we’ve gone on the weekends, and it’s just packed and hot and exhausting, so I can’t imagine doing that with a baby. With the much cooler temps today (70s?!) it was stroller central, and Peter and I enjoyed scoping out some double stroller varieties for future reference. We also vowed not to be those parents who struggle to push a huge stroller carrying a kid who is way too big to need one.

We started the day with a trio of beer sorbet. Yep. Beer sorbet. At 10 a.m.

Orange-dipped witty, lemon-dipped hefe weisen and chocolate-dipped Bavarian brown. I really liked them all, especially the hefe weisen. The sweet coating offset the slightly bitter sorbet nicely.

Then, of course, we couldn’t pass on Herb Kohl’s 25-cent flavored milk. Root beer, strawberry and unpictured chocolate.

The next two hours were spent walking around in the hopes that Corban would nap in the stroller. The goal: keep moving. This is actually a really good goal to have when you plan on enjoying some fried food later in the day. He fought it for a good hour and a half, but eventually, the little man gave in. For about 30 minutes, at which point a blaring pan-flute band woke him up.

That was OK though, (well, not really, he needed sleep, but…) I was eager to show him some baby animals.

He mildly enjoyed watching 3-day-old piglets (!!!), a baby lamb, goats and fuzzy chicks (one of which gave his finger a tiny peck when he grabbed the cage).

Lunch was had in the Wisconsin Products Pavilion, which is where you should go for real food at the fair. I had a sliced lamb leg sandwich with a cucumber sauce and it was perfect. I love that you can bring food and non-alcoholic drink into the fair, so we also split a banana I had brought in case we felt like feeding Corban solids here (not worth the effort).

Dessert was something I had been eyeing for the past couple years.

As with most deep-fried foods, it was good, but didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I guess when you anticipate something for two years, it’s likely that it won’t.

We finished off the afternoon in the small animal palace, where Corban made some bunny and bird friends.

Navigating a stroller in that joint was a mess, so we took turns taking C around to see everything.

He showed no emotion when a rooster cock-a-doodle-doo-ed at him, but he was fascinated by the tags labeling each cage.

All in all, great fun! I’m sure it will get even more fun in years to come.

And while some things are more fun with kids, outdoor showings of “Zoolander” aren’t… so on that note, our babysitter is here and we’re off to the Milwaukee Lakefront for Fish Fry & a Flick!