Happiness is the Key

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There never is a right time for wrong things to happen. Or worse, happen to your children. Events, troubles can happen to them that you cannot undo. And short of following them around with a giant hammer to protect them from anyone who can hurt them whack-a-mole style, you can’t protect them forever. Life, we all go through it similarly but never the same.

Take the seasons: The buds of spring that unfurl with tender fervor and the green that turns a brown-gray world into Technicolor wonder. The sultry blaze of summer that induces relaxation and long days of memories made. Standing on a hilly scape of pumpkins as far as you can see flanked by trees in gold and orange and bronze autumn glory. Winter with its cold and coziness, curls of snow drifting deliciously by with holidays meant to be spent with the ones you love.

But seasons, like life, are ever changing. For you and for your children. How can you help them when trouble arises? When a vicious late summer hurricane comes to them in the middle of spring?

What is done cannot be undone, it cannot be whacked into oblivion. But by opening the lines of communication from knowledge of your seasons, your love for them can be a solid haven through the iniquitous storm.

 Consider that even the darkest and harshest storm will end, and how appreciative we can be when the sun comes blazing back.

I tell my kids that happiness is a choice we make every day. This doesn’t mean that only good things will happen to you, and sometimes other emotions will take over while you deal with life. But ultimately, happiness is the key to embracing all the seasons as they come. From spring’s violet and green gentleness to summer’s sunshine and storms, through autumn’s vivid blaze and to winter’s icy bluster, endure the bad moments to treasure the great ones.

😉 Julie

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October 27, 2016 · 12:12 pm

Let Magic Inspire You

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Magic.

What pops into your head when you read that word? A white rabbit? Santa Claus? Hagrid’s charred voice saying, “You’re a wizard, Harry” ?

Chances are, the word alone evokes some thought or emotion. Thesaurus check lists “enchanted, thrilling, powerful, supernatural, exquisite, incantation, mystery, illusion,” among dozens of other alternatives. The actual meaning is a little more obscure, because it is different for all of us.

For children, magic is everywhere. A realm where imagination is the key to limitless possibilities.

Occasionally an instance, a memory, a story, an old object from our youth, can take us back for a moment to that special place. But growing up creates more rules, boundaries, different meanings for magic. Adulthood and the misty area between it and childhood relegates magic to smaller doses, to moments.

Moments which may not have seemed “enchanting” in childhood, but are arguably every bit as magical.

Like seeing my daughters’ boundless imagination and how they care for one another. In church the other day, they just all linked hands for no particular reason at all. It made me smile. And how they had a monster competition, each sketched a monster and the oldest two sewed them out of little scraps of fabric and buttons.

Or when I sit for days typing and deleting passages and suddenly my fingers are flying across the keyboard and the story reveals itself.

When I see random people doing kind things… shaking a police officer’s hand, or a veteran’s, and thanking them for their service. Taking an extra moment to pick up trash instead of leaving it for someone else. One customer sharing a coupon with the person behind them in line.

Painting something new and brightening someone’s day with it. Receiving photos of art in the client’s space.

Running the bridge over the creek in my neighborhood and stopping to see a heron taking wing above a family of otters gamboling in the water.

These very different instances enrich us in small increments which change the bigger picture. They inspire us to appreciate where we are and where have come from, to choose more bravely our future, to live.

There is always magic in the world, sometimes in places unexpected and sometimes before your eyes. Let this magic inspire you and see where it leads.

 

😉 Julie

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October 11, 2016 · 4:14 pm

Truly Blessed Beyond Measure

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How do you measure happiness?

First, you have to know what is happy when it is staring you in the face. Because, as a mother of a busy family, happiness can look a lot like chaos. Sometimes it is disguised as dust balls coating a nicked wood floor. Or a pile of laundry that mystically grows LARGER every time you begin folding it. It can be a toddler screaming at the top of their lungs in the middle of the produce aisle or a nearly-tween daughter putting her hand on her hip and declaring that you, in fact, know nothing.

One place I can always count on finding and measuring happiness is in the kitchen.

I grew up in central Wisconsin on a dairy farm. Our only spices were salt and pepper and the common ingredient of potato was in nearly every meal. This did not stop me from dreaming big. After picking black caps—more commonly known as blackberries—in the woods (and escaping a raging bull named Harvey with an impressive vertical over a barbed wire fence at the tender age of 8,) I decided to make a stellar dessert that would propel my status of average middle child to master chef.

The fact that we had few ingredients in our house and my entire knowledge of making dessert was opening a package of Oreos was of little matter. I set a bowl on the counter, gathered everything that I knew to be sweet (maple syrup, crushed wafer cookies that were more than likely past their expiration date, cream of tartar—cream is sweet, right?) and a big spoon. Pulling a chair up to the counter, I climbed up and mixed the merry concoction together with stars in my eyes. I knew for certain this would be the perfect topping for our vanilla ice cream that evening. No one would even THINK to ask for the chocolate syrup. I crushed the berries with my spoon, ignoring the leaves and bits of thorn that were included, and squeezed in the right amounts of all of the ingredients without even measuring. This was bliss!

To my parents’ credit, they somehow got the blackberry stains out of the formica countertop, cupboards, laminate flooring, and ceiling AND kept a straight face while “enjoying” the perfect dessert. (My brothers’ reactions I will reserve for another blog entry.)

When I met the man of my dreams to whom I am now married, I invited him over for a meal in my small apartment as our fourth or fifth date. The only thing we both remember me fixing is the green beans—which were freezer burned so badly it is a wonder we weren’t poisoned. To his credit, my future husband asked for a second helping with tears still in his eyes from the first helping.

I smiled and said, “I know they’re awful, you don’t have to eat them.”

He didn’t say, “THANK GOD,” but the words hung unspoken in the air between us.

Luckily, he married me anyway, though he has never told me anything other than the unvarnished truth since that day. (Ask me about The Great Chili Divide another time.)

Birthdays have always been big for me. I used to bake box mixes in metal pans and frost them for friends, adding sprinkles so they knew how special they were on their big day. Then came my first daughter. I had a strong desire to try something new, bake a cake from scratch. But I remembered the blackberry delight and the green beans. Sighing, I asked a friend to make her cake.

For a subsequent event, I had to make chocolate chip cookies and forgot to purchase the refrigerated roll at the store. Anxiously, I paged through a cookbook and found a recipe, but was in such a hurry that I substituted some ingredients and mis-measured others and…

Monster Cookies were thus born. In their 9 years of existence they have inspired marriage proposals in the dozens, been shipped overseas to soldiers resulting in the best “Dear John” thank you letter ever, and rained joy on countless individuals.

These days I don’t measure when I bake or cook. My associates are my willing taste testers and my husband is my severest critic. I think even he will admit that I have come a long way since the green bean days.

And such is happiness. Generally, happiness can be measured in the thrown together chaos of life much more easily than some carefully regulated recipe made by someone else. The blurs of weekends spent together with family or going to church or having 4 minutes to find a birthday present or rushing to events or even collapsing together on the couch to watch an eighties classic movie with popcorn… this is where you will find that you are truly blessed beyond measure.

 

😉 Julie

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September 26, 2016 · 7:26 pm

Create Work You Enjoy

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“There is nothing new under the sun.” Sherlock.

If everything has been done before, where does that leave the artists, the writers, the dreamers?

I took my girls to a fall festival in Midway, Kentucky. We saw so many booths filled with crafts, creations, designs, and wares. Countless people come every year to this event and others like it. There was an overall air of merriment and creativity in the picturesque small town in the Bluegrass with the soft breeze of autumn. There were so many unique designs; wind “sculptures” that twirled happily around their serene designer, Christmas ornaments repurposed from old toys in the most lovely way, pumpkins made from boxes and snowmen from palettes, paintings and fudge and bourbon honey lemonade, books, jewelry, fairy gardens, and scarfs…

It was an extraordinary event. All of these items may not have been “new under the sun,” but they certainly sparkled in the sunlight that day. I could see my girls filing away different ideas from all of the creative bliss to be used later in their own designs. It’s always fun to see what rouses the associates, whether it be the holiday décor, the jewelry made from spoons, or how the electrical element of a porch sculpture works.

What a bland world this would be without the inspired people. These dreamers who are bold enough to share their unique perception of the world. To look past the criticisms, the harsh realities, the current trends, beyond the flashing screens of distraction and just create. To listen to the small, singular voice inside… and share it with the world.

Create work you enjoy. Consider that whole civilizations are lost and the only traces left are works created by people no more remarkable than we, but who were brave enough to set their ideas in stone. (Or marble, or clay, or parchment…) Because just as there is nothing “new” under the sun, in the progression of life everything is new once. And you have it in your power to be that “new” for someone, and create an inspiration that may last a lifetime.

 

😉 Julie

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September 18, 2016 · 7:34 pm

Be Brave and Soar

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So many emotions racked me this first week of school. It’s like being forced to assume a brand new identity. From the days of driving them to school to all of them being in school to all of them taking a bus to and from a new school… this mama is wrecked. It is hard to let go. From the moment I found out I was expecting, my life has centered completely around them. That part, as stressful as it could be, felt so easy compared to this new realm. 

Letting go. Trusting that you did enough. That you gave them the tools to go out into this world. This world that is so much scarier as a parent than it ever was as a kid, a single person, married without kids… You are vulnerable in a different way because you love these tiny people so much more than you ever knew was possible. Even when they remind you they aren’t babies. 

“You all will always be my babies,” I assure them. 

Cue the eye roll… times four. 

Setting limits, enforcing consequences, letting them make mistakes, these are just stepping stones to the real world. The one that begins when they climb on that big yellow bus in the mornings. The complete silence of the house without them is terrific for catching up on artwork, cleaning and letting it stay clean, and writing. But there is a constant catch in my throat as I pick up a favorite dolly from years past, see crayons in unlikely places, or find an “I Love my Mommy and Daddy” drawing, or put away a t shirt that is too small for my smallest daughter.  

I ask them every morning as we wait for the bus to do something nice for someone today and share it with me at snacktime when they get home. They have all made new friends and their days have had ups and downs. My youngest had to deal with a bully already.  

“Guess what I did nice, Mommy?” she proudly told me yesterday. “I made friends with the bully!” 

Now she calls her by name and claims she is her best friend. 

It’s a small step, but one that we all go through watching our children grow up. Everyone always said it would go by so fast. But those words aren’t severe enough for the emotional toll that speed takes on you. I am so proud of the special big girls my babies have become. How brave they are. And how high they are soaring.

 

😉 Julie

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August 18, 2016 · 5:00 pm

Seek Happiness in Thankfulness

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One of my favorite sounds in the world : the tearing crackle of Velcro waking me up in the middle of the night. Even when I can’t go back to sleep until the alarm goes off, I am so thankful for that abrasive sound. It means that, for a few hours, he is safe.

You never really know what it is like to walk in another’s shoes. Even your husband’s. I tell him often I could never do his job but that I appreciate all that he does. Even when it keeps him from special events, or anniversaries, or holidays, I know that he is following his calling to make this world a better place. I am thankful for him on so many levels, beyond his profession. He is a good man, friend, husband, father, a stand-up guy that my girls and I are blessed to have in our lives.

Best birthday present ever : a phone call in the middle of the night alerting me to the fact that my 3 month old daughter had pooped. Even though diapers are a thing of the past, I still recall the tears of joy and the thrill of such a wonderful blessing.

As a third time mom, I thought myself experienced. But no one could ever have prepared me for the dark journey of a NICU stay, of your tiny, sick little baby whose life is precariously in others’ hands. Of being torn between your healthy toddlers at one place and waiting in a cold room as your 5 lb. baby is operated on and told that she probably wouldn’t make it. Then hearing she would have a bag attached to her, possibly forever. Of having to watch this sweet baby fight so hard just to be “normal” and being unable to share anything but words of love and carefully scheduled snuggling. And although there were a world of scary diapers after that first one, I have been secretly thankful for each one.

Cleaning my kitchen calms me like a combination yoga routine/wonder drug. Whether it is post cake creation when there is fondant hanging from the ceiling and peaks of white powdered sugar almost large enough to ski on, or when I am scraping bits of paint off the granite or hardwood after an art party with friends, it is always a time of reflection for me. A silent moment of thanks being given for a time well had and a delicious memory being made.

Although to be clear, my house is neither the most orderly or spotless on the block. Or the county. Maybe even farther. While I like putting my kitchen back into order, “Better Homes and Gardens” would probably have a hard time finding much to photograph in our home even after I dub it “clean.”

Then there are quiet post-bedtime nights writing… seeing a heron in flight or a small family of otters meandering along the shore of the creek on my morning run… laughing with friends while standing in the heat of the day at a neighborhood yard sale… seeing all four of the girls crowded at the small picnic table in the backyard that their daddy built for them when their little legs didn’t even reach the ground… unexpected meteor showers on a very dark night… the smell of fresh banana bread that your oldest daughter takes pride in baking… hearing the “Star-Spangled Banner” before baseball games… cubes of lucsious watermelon on a hot summer day… there is always, always something to be thankful for.

And that thankfulness is where true happiness is found.

 

😉 Julie

 

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August 7, 2016 · 3:20 pm

Always Remember Your Worth

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There was a time when I wasn’t sure I would ever be a mommy. There were the amazing moments that I saw my daughters’ heartbeats on a monitor for the first time, felt and saw their acrobatics in my belly, held them in my arms. And when I chose to be a work from home mommy, I had no idea the incredible love, isolation, frustration, and guiding factor it would have on my life.

It was incredible to be there for their first steps. To teach them their letters and get messy with crafts. The holidays have never been as special as when I could see them through their wonder-filled eyes. I learned to bake and decorate cakes so that each of their birthdays would be as special and unique as they were. When it became clear that I couldn’t keep up with them physically, I became a runner. My artwork became centered around childhood themes. They helped pick out the cover artwork for my books. We do a summer school each summer with fun themes to learn new things. In short, I totally immersed myself in being their Mommy.

The isolation of being a work from home mommy was something I didn’t expect, as I have always been a shy sort of loner. But there is a difference between working outside the home amid people your own age and working from home. Days, maybe weeks would go by that I wouldn’t speak to anyone in person aside from my husband, a casual hello to the grocery store clerk, or answering questions from the pediatrician.

Then someone would say, “How are you doing?”

And that simple question shocked me a bit.

Me? What did I matter?

“Fine! You?” I would say on a good day.

On a bad day, the answer would be riddled with my kids’ latest accomplishments or baby talk or BOTH.

“Good! Up to my eyeballs in baby spittle and boo boos, but my oldest gave up her paci so that’s new!” Then my eyes would get big, so would theirs, and we would move on. Me feeling like a failure, and them thinking that I was probably quite insane.

As my children grew and I started going out with other ladies on a more regular basis, I improved somewhat on the baby talk thing. But I guess I’m still a loner. I like people and I enjoy listening to their lives, hobbies, interests, but I still feel like when I open my mouth I get that glazed look of pity for my social ineptness.

Frustrating? Sometimes. I wonder if I had other interests, organized sports or PTA or what have you, I would fit in a little better with my peers.

Though I am so grateful for my life and of course, my associates. I wouldn’t trade those four for the world. (Even when they’re nutty and I threaten to sell them to the next traveling circus that goes by.)

Finding a balance is a struggle. Most days, loosely controlled chaos is what we get.

I wouldn’t be the same person if I had chosen a different path. If my life didn’t center around my children, I really don’t know who I would be.

The one thing I do know, there is always time for a snuggle with my sweet girls. Because that moment always reminds me that to someone very special, I am worth it.

 

😉 Julie

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July 21, 2016 · 12:00 pm