Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Best Marriage Advice after Ten Years

When Ryan and I were in Mexico celebrating our 10th anniversary, we started chatting with a honeymooning couple one evening, and they asked if we had any marriage advice for them.  Unprepared for such an important question, we mumbled through something lame--and then all four of us laughed about how we had no wisdom to share.

But the other day as I was cruising in the mini van, singing at the top of my lungs to Adele's new CD, I suddenly knew what my marriage advice would be.  And since I can't go back in time and share it with those eager newlyweds, I will share it with all 12 of my blog readers (and by extension, my children, who I hope will read this someday).

My advice was inspired by Adele's new romantic ballad, "Remedy."  Part of the chorus goes like this:

"When the pain cuts you deep
When the night keeps you from sleeping
Just look and you will see
That I will be your remedy..."

It's a beautiful song and a beautiful sentiment--

But it's false.  And ridiculous.  And I have a few things I want to say about it. 

No one person in this world can be your remedy.  Not your spouse, your best friend, your mother, your baby--no one.  These important people can certainly fill a dark day with a little more joy, but they cannot be the remedy that cures all pain and sadness in your life.

Early on in my marriage, I think I expected Ryan to "complete me."  I think I felt frustrated when he said something insensitive, or didn't seem to notice my bad mood, or just fell short of the expectations that I had from too many years of watching chick-flicks and listening to romantic songs.

He's a human.  He's not a cure-all, or a mind-reader, or a savior, or a remedy. He's a flawed, ever-learning human, just like me.

And beyond that, life is hard.  Pain and heartache will come, regardless of how much you love your spouse and want to protect them from it.  Adele goes on to sing, "Come whatever, I'll be the shelter that won't let the rain come through."  Sorry, Adele--the rain is going to come through no matter what you do for your man. It seems like you should promise to sit by him in the downpour and hold an umbrella, instead of promising that your love will keep the storms away.

I should clarify that my criticism is not really of Adele, and I still love the song and belt it out whenever I am in the car.  The song just got me thinking, and I wanted to add a different image to this conversation about how spouses can support each other amid the heartaches of life.

A few years ago, I read a blog post about parenting that has stayed with me ever since.  The author shared a beautiful quote that is actually about grief, not parenting--but it is widely applicable to so many situations and relationships in life:

".... Grief is a lowly, deep, and violent wound, and the pain so exquisite that every kindness has the potential to be, not consolation for such loss, but perhaps acushion against the writhing."

The image of being a "cushion against the writhing" took my breath away.  To be there for someone.  To sit with them.  Not to take away their pain or be a consolation for their loss, but to merely sit with them as they writhe.  To metaphorically put their head on your shoulder and stroke their hair, hold them close, be a soft place for them to land.

This is what we can do for our spouses--for any person in life whom we love.  In the original blog post, the author wrote about being this person for her children--to lighten their load and help them along, even when she can't solve all of their problems for them.

I have thought about this image when I rock my sick baby in the middle of the night.  I can't take her cough away, but I can be a warm body to lean on.

I have thought about this image when I have spent the day making freezer meals with my sister who struggles with debilitating depression.  I can't take her illness away, but I can make her happy for a few hours, as we laugh and work together.  And when, on a particularly low day, she can't face the task of cooking dinner,  she will have a stocked freezer to fall back on.

I can't solve all of the problems of the people I love--but I can do something.  And it makes a difference, if only for a moment.

In marriage, so often I would like to be Ryan's remedy--his happily-ever-after, his happily-ever-everything.  And I can take it personally when I'm not.  Even with a practically perfect wife like me (wink), he still has grumpy days and disappointments, and I can't expect that every moment of our married life will be bliss.

Similarly, I often would like him to be my remedy and know the perfect thing to say or do to take away my pain.  But I've learned that I need to tell him what I need and ask for help.  And if I hold onto the delusion that he is going to "complete me" and make everything all better all the time, I will be dissatisfied with my marriage.

He will never be the one-and-only cure to all of my heartache--but so often he is a cushion against my writhing.  And that is what makes me love him so much. 

The other day, I was feeling really depressed.  As I've mentioned, my anxiety is flaring up right now, and I felt so lonely being home with the kids, so overwhelmed by the mess, the hamster wheel of parenting, the never-ending to-dos.  I texted Ryan and told him how low I was feeling.  I will admit that I often send him whiny texts while he is at work (which is a terrible habit that should be the subject of another blog post--ha!). In response to these texts Ryan usually just says, "Sorry, Babe" or sometimes responds with infuriating questions from the personal development books that he is reading, such as, "Is that a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?" (Curse you, self-help books!)  But on this day, he really heard me.  He could sense my desperation. 

So that evening while I was gone for youth group at church, he looked around and found ways that he could soften my writhing.  I had been taking down Christmas decorations that day, and when he saw the boxes, he finished packing them up and put them back out in the garage.  I had intended to vacuum our bedroom, which was littered with paper dots from Sally dumping our three-hole punch, but I had only gotten as far as taking the vacuum into our room before I had been interrupted by a little one in need.  Ryan saw it there and did the vacuuming himself, as well as folding the two baskets of clean laundry that I'd asked him to fold before I left for the evening.

I came home to a clean house, a much shorter to-do list, and the knowledge that my husband hears me, cares about me, and is on my team.  Can he take away my anxiety?  No.  And I don't expect him to.  But just those small gestures of love meant the world to me.

So my marriage advice to those newlyweds in Mexico is this: Look for opportunities to be a "cushion against the writhing" for your spouse.  Consciously make life a little easier, a little brighter for them every day.  Heartaches will come no matter how much you love each other, and it is dangerous to expect that either of you is going to be able to cure everything all the time.  Forgive each other when you say the wrong thing.  Ask your spouse for what you need, instead of expecting him/her to read your mind.  If you eagerly serve and stand by each other, you will have a love story that is even better than the movies.

This photo was taken on the evening of Ryan's and my anniversary.  I had gotten all dressed up for an evening on the town (curled my hair and everything!), and I was giving instructions to the babysitter when Sally suddenly barfed all over me.  Ryan rushed her to the sink, where she continued to puke all over him.  It was so awesome and exactly what we had pictured for our anniversary night! ;)


So we sent the babysitter home, changed into sweatpants, ate the pizza we'd ordered for the kids, and cleaned up vomit, side-by-side.  It was not exactly a romantic date, but hey--there is no one else I would rather clean up barf with than Ryan!

Marriage is so good.  Ryan is my best friend.  And that has only happened because he has been there for me, by my side, in good times and bad--not as the perfect remedy for every situation, but simply as a soft place to land.

Here's to another ten years of growing and learning--and, above all, being there for each other through all sorts of writhings.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Articles on Power of Moms

I thought I would share links to the articles that I wrote for Power of Moms in the past year.  I had a goal to write something once a month, but hey, every three months is better than nothing!

I plan to continue writing for them this year, and I will occasionally share the links.  Thanks for reading!

I have been an avid record-keeper since I started my first “Jernel” at age 7. That yellow binder is filled with crayon scrawlings of some of my deepest thoughts and questions, such as “Today we are going to a picneak. What will I eat there?”

This journaling habit continued into my teens and young adulthood, and, fortunately, my entries became more meaningful over the years. Since becoming a mother, however, it is much harder to find blocks of uninterrupted time to sit, reflect, and write.

If, like me, you want to keep a journal and record of your children's lives, but you struggle to find the time as a busy mother, here are five tips...  {Read full article here.}

A trusted friend once told me, “In motherhood, the hard moments sometimes outnumber the beautiful moments, but the beautiful moments always outweigh the hard moments.” I have developed a few strategies to give the perfect moments in motherhood even more weight so they can anchor me through the hard times. {Read full article here.}

This morning, I found myself lying face-down on the wet sidewalk leading up to my front door.

No, I hadn’t slipped on the dewy grass while going to get the mail or been attacked by a neighborhood mugger; I was down on the concrete on purpose, peering into the garden with my four-year-old son, Noah...

This is why I love my son’s morning routine chart. I love it because it holds me accountable for the things that are important to me as a mother—the things that would probably get lost in the midst of the urgent “to-dos” and daily craziness of motherhood, if they weren’t included in our simple daily chart.  {Read full article here.}

I recently had to face a harsh but true reality: I am an annoying parent.  My ten-month-old daughter is too young to be bugged by me (yet), but my three-year-old son, Noah, could certainly testify that I can be annoying to be around.

Kids are just little grown-ups. Like us, they have opinions and personalities. Like us, they get bugged and resistant when people interrupt them, nag them, coerce them, or boss them around. 

Obviously this doesn’t mean that we never potty train our children, never enforce bedtime, and never expect them to help us clean the house; but I have learned that I can be a much more pleasant parent if I simply tweak the delivery of my expectations. Here are three strategies I use... {Read full article here.}

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fourth Quarter: Holiday Haze

In 2015, I decided to write quarterly updates instead of monthly updates this year.  This seemed like a good idea because it meant that I had to blog less often--but the quarterly updates turned into monsters which overwhelmed me and probably anyone who attempted to read them.   So I am going to try a new tactic for 2016.  Or maybe I will stop blogging.  We'll see what happens.

So as my final quarterly update, I'd like to talk about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas--not the special occasions themselves (which I have already blogged about), but the weeks leading up to them.  The last three months of every year really do turn into a haze of holidays, don't they?  

October was pretty low key, but we did put up some super simple decor, picked out beautiful pumpkins at the farmers market, "booed" our neighbors for family night, carved pumpkins at the very last minute (Ryan did this with Noah one evening when I was at a meeting because I realized it wasn't going to happen otherwise), and attended several preschool and friend parties in costume.  Noah was totally over the itchy, hot Grinch costume and makeup by the end of that week, so he actually went as a firefighter to a few events which was totally fine. 

November was our month of gratitude, and honestly, I can't remember if we did anything special with Noah to prepare him for that holiday or not.  If we did, it clearly wasn't that memorable.  Ha!  Fortunately he goes to preschool and his teachers do really cute things with him, and they taught him all sorts of turkey-day songs.  He had a little program one afternoon, and I thought he was the most darling little Indian this world has ever seen.  He was super fond of me taking his photo, as you can tell, but I managed to snap one when he was caught unawares!

December started out right: with a little tree decorating and a letter to Saint Nick.  We had fun putting up ornaments while bopping to Christmas music one afternoon, and another afternoon Noah asked me to help him write a letter to Santa.  He was so specific and particular about what he wanted, so I forced him to include stuff about being grateful for anything that he gets, but I'm pretty sure all of that went right over his head. ;)

Amid all of the expected holiday hubbub of parties and traditions, I was in charge of planning and hosting a progressive dinner for the teenage girls at our church.  It was a lot of work to prepare, but it ended up being a really magical, spiritual night, and I'm so glad that we did it!  We had appetizers at our YW president's house, walked with candles and caroled to my house, managed to seat 20 girls and several leaders in my living room for dinner, and then walked to the Bishop's house for carols, devotional, and dessert.  So much fun.  I love working with these girls and teaching them every week!

For the first time ever, we had an Elf at our house this year.  Noah enjoyed it but wasn't obsessed and I was grateful.  I felt like it was a fun and easygoing tradition that we can continue.  Noah named our elf "Brad" of all things, and Brad schemed up all sorts of mischief in the night--including leaving Noah a "love note" on his face and holding storytime with all of the stuffed animals.

We enjoyed some good snow during the month which got us in the Christmas spirit.  (December is the only month of the year that I actually love getting snow!) Sally enjoyed playing in it for the first time, and she is sweet as can be in the little snowsuit we borrowed from Aunt Alli.

Another day I decided to be an adventurous mom and plan a Christmas scavenger hunt at the mall for Noah and our besties.  Our mall is extremely small and it's not busy even in December, so this was a fun little outing...for the first ten minutes.  Then Sally started running wildly in all different directions, the kids started whining to ride the toys and get a treat (so frustrating), my friend's baby fell and cracked her head, and I was wondering why I ever try to do anything fun with kids!!  Luckily we had a nice visit with Santa at the end, and my kids cooperated for the photo...and then on the way home, my friend's daughter started barfing everywhere with a stomach bug.  Sounds about right!


I will end this post (and year!) with a couple of photos of my kids on the Sunday before Christmas.  Noah wasn't quite as cooperative as Sally for the photos (you can't win them all), but I loved their Christmas church outfits.  These kiddos were the best part of my 2015 by far.  The holidays are so much more fun (and so much more chaotic) with them in my life. 

Goodbye, 2015!  It was swell.  Bring on 2016!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What I Got for Christmas

I got some darn good presents for Christmas.  All of them are making my life easier, and, honestly, is anything better than that?

Early in December, we got a TV.  This was a big deal for us because we haven't had one in about ten years.  Honestly, I didn't want the TV in order to watch it...I wanted the TV in order for my kids to watch it. (Mother of the Year?)  It has been soooo nice to keep the kids busy for a bit during the day.  Sally's favorite show is Little Baby Bum on Youtube, and she will actually watch it for a solid half hour while I get ready for the day.  Hallelujah!  Noah's favorite is Octonauts on Netflix, and he would watch it all day every day if I let him.  I don't. ;)

Ryan and I still don't watch much, but it's nice to have the option when we want to rent a movie or catch up on Downton Abbey.  Overall, I'd say this was a great purchase, and Noah was so excited about it that he invited two of his friends over to watch a show with him, and I think they were a little bewildered, like, "What's the big deal?  It's a TV."  Ha!  What can I say...we've finally entered the 20th century.

That early Christmas present was certainly enough, but as the weeks approached Christmas, Ryan was fretting that he hadn't gotten me anything and didn't have any ideas.  I told him, "All I want for Christmas is a day off every month for the year--so I can write and work on projects uninterrupted!"  I wasn't sure if he would follow through, but he did. 

Could there be a more heavenly gift?  I used my January day-off last Saturday, and I went to the library and got so much work done, sorting photos and videos from 2015, writing blog posts for Power of Moms, catching up on an online class I am taking...I mean, it was astonishing how much I got accomplished in those several hours and reminded me why I was able to "do it all" before I had kids.  Those little cuties are sure time-consuming! (But worth it!)

My little sister's present might take the cake for best present of 2015--or ever. I've mentioned before what a huge stress meal-planning and cooking are for me.  I am not kidding when I say that these tasks can be paralyzing for me and are a constant source of stress in my life.  Well after hearing me complain about it for years, my little sister Laura decided to take matters into her own hands.  As my Christmas gift this year, she made me an eight-week meal plan with corresponding grocery shopping lists!!

Isn't that just the greatest thing ever?  You can buy meal plans online, but I haven't had much luck with any of them because the recipes aren't familiar to me or they are too complicated.  Laura's meal-plan includes many of our easiest family-favorites, and it's so doable and convenient.  I have been using her meal plans for the past few weeks, and it is incredible.  I wake up on Monday morning, grab my meal plan binder, and head to the store.  Zero stress.  For the first time in my life, I've had hot meals on the table by 6:00 every night.  Life-changing.  And isn't my shopping buddy cute?

So now I have a TV to occupy my kids for a little while during the day, a day off once a month to work on my hobbies and projects, and a simple system for meal-planning, grocery-shopping, and cooking for my family.  Yeah, I'd say I hit the jackpot for sure.  Merry Christmas 2015 to me!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Home for the Holidays

We were fortunate to get to spend time with both of our families this holiday season!

We spent Thanksgiving in Pocatello with the Nielsons, stuffing ourselves with my mother-in-law's amazing feast, snuggling all the babies, breaking up fights between the toddlers, trying to get the little ones to pose for photos...all the usual. ;)  It is always chaotic but oh so fun.

In the midst of the mayhem, we also managed a trip to Lava Hot Springs for swimming, a tennis clinic for the Nielson siblings and parents, and a couples' ballroom dance class that my in-laws scheduled just for us in the church gym (we didn't get any photos of this, which is too bad because we looked pretty awesome doing the cha-cha!).  Funnest!

At the end of the weekend, my mother-in-law gave me my Christmas gift: a beautiful quilted Christmas tree skirt that I love!  What a treasure!  When Noah saw the big wrapped present, he was convinced that it must be an electric train, and Uncle Derek of course encouraged this belief.  When Noah opened the box, his reaction was priceless.  He frowned in dismay and said, "A blanket??"  Pretty funny.  I love my blanket!

A few weeks later, we headed to my home in Colorado for Christmas.  It was equally chaotic and equally fun.  Lots of little kids, lots of mess, and of course a horrible cold which everyone passed around.  It wouldn't be the holidays without a contagious illness making its way through the ranks, would it?  Poor Noah got it the worst and had a high fever and was wiped out for several days.  You know he doesn't feel good when he takes three-hour naps and still starts sobbing at dinner that he just wants to go to bed.  He literally went to bed at 6:30 p.m. several nights in a row--such a bummer when all he wanted to do was play with his cousins! 

It's a unique dynamic being all together at my Dad's house because my mom isn't around to help with  meal-planning, clean up, or the kids.  Without a Mom running the show, we all really have to pitch in with the cooking and cleaning, and it's exhausting but also strangely bonding.  Laura will probably kill me for posting this flattering photo of her on the worldwide web, but I have to document it since it pretty much sums up what we did the whole week: dishes!  (She has horrendous eczema so she has to wear gloves when she does dishes, but she makes them look gooooood.)

It doesn't matter what I do with my family--I always love it.  Even cleaning the kitchen fifty times a day is fun when I am with my sisters!  And we did end up fitting in some legit fun, such as stories and crafts with the kids, a fancy Christmas Eve dinner planned by my brother-in-law the chef, a super cute Nativity with the kids, carols around the piano, and a trip to Granny and Grampy's to play with their car tracks.


Sarah indulged me by snapping a million photos of my girl with her nice camera.  I am obsessed with this baby.  She was so good on the trip and just kinda wandered around and played with toys and charmed everyone.  She has a major crush on Uncle Sam for some reason and wouldn't stop hugging him and sitting on his lap.  Bapa was jealous!  She really is a ray of sunshine.

Another highlight of the trip was spending a lot of time with my grandparents.  I love them both so much.  They are getting old (86!) so every time that I am home, I try to soak up my time with them.  They came for dinner several times, and they went with us to see the play White Christmas one night. I will never forget sitting next to Granny at the play, my arm around her frail shoulders, as she sang along with the performers in her shaky, high voice.  She is truly THE cutest.  I will also never forget how amused she was to show me her driver's license.  They made a mistake at the DMV and she is listed as being 8'0" tall! This is even more hilarious because she is actually 4'10"!  Cutest teeny Granny.

My grandparents really show individualized interest and care for each of their fourteen great grandkids--I love it.  Granny still gets on the floor and plays with them, and Grampy oversees all of the fun from his recliner.  He loves to have a little one on his lap for tickling and a treat.  Can you tell from these photos how much we adore them??

Christmas morning was magical, as always.  I just love the tradition of having the kids wait at the top of Bapa's big stairs until we give them the go-ahead, and then they run down together to see what Santa brought for them.  My sisters and I did this as kids, and I love seeing our kids do it together.

Noah had been hoping for an electric Polar Express train, but it was too expensive and he is too little to take good care of it, so I got him a plastic push version instead.  I was a little worried that he would be disappointed on Christmas morning, but I underestimated him: He loved his simple train, and he loved all of the excitement of the morning, regardless of what he got.  Good boy.  His favorite presents by far have been his "big boy" Legos from Santa and his Titanic ship from Bapa--both have gotten so much use already and will be beloved for years to come!

Miss Sally only got a cup and a candycane from Santa on Christmas morning (ha!) but she was perfectly content with both.  Her big present was waiting at home in Idaho: a play kitchen!  I worried that she is too young for it, but she seems to really like it.  She even cooked up a little Dirty Diaper for dinner the other night. ;) (She pulled it out of the trashcan when I wasn't looking--nasty!)

Noah was thrilled to give Bapa our personalized version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  They snuggled together and started to read it aloud, and then Noah said, "Stop, Bapa!  I have to tell you something important!  Any time you see a Grinch in this story, it's actually me; and any time you see a Lou Who, it's Wally!"  Ha!  So glad he clarified!  I must say, there is something about Noah being sick that makes him unusually sweet.  He was really cute the whole week, between hacking coughs and fits of fever.

We had a great time in Colorado, and the fun wasn't over yet.  We rested at home in Twin Falls for a few days, and then we headed to Sun Valley with the Nielsons for New Year's weekend.  It was a winter wonderland, as always, and we spent time tubing beside the cabin, going for walks and pulling the kids in sleds, and then warming up in the hot tub and making gingerbread houses with Grandma!

On New Year's Eve, my pyromaniac father-in-law put on a spectacular firework show.  He was so funny, lying in the snowy field and watching his beloved firecrackers exploding overhead. ;)  It was a fantastic end to 2015!

So the months of November and December were a blur of fun with family, but we made the most of it.  I can't imagine celebrating the holidays any other way!