Here’s the scoop

Oh my goodness, friends. Daily life has been plenty busy lately.  It’s been awhile… I think I was last here before the holidays, so here is an update on what’s been filling up my days and my head.  I am in need of a big-time break. I wish I could whisk myself off to a hotel for a few days. In the meantime, I’ll keep putting my feet up and massaging my hand muscles.

We are just days away from tearing down our home.  Actually, it was supposed to have happened by now, but there have been some crazy weather days here and everything is a little behind.  They are disconnecting electric panels and water pipes today and demo day is Monday. More to come about that soon, I’m sure!

Side note: Aside from the 4 extra weeks of summer we had after the storm, we’ve now had these 2 “snow” days and the Astros victory parade day off of school too.  It was a little absurd to cancel school just because the temperature dropped into the 20s, but Houston is just not prepared for that.  Essentially the entire city shut down since the roads were icy: city buses not running, trash collection cancelled, people working from home.  Plus this happened (see photo above).

We all know that I appreciate family time, but I really look forward to weekdays when my own projects can get done on my schedule in peace and quiet.  A 3-day weekend was expected, but not a 5-day weekend!

We are finalizing the plans to begin building our new home.  I am super excited about it too! I’m going to have a craft room and a small office space off the kitchen. And wait till you see our front porch! Right now what’s happening: we are beginning selections of things like bathtubs and appliances.  Also soil-testing, a property assessment for the construction loan, and the plans are in the hands of a structural engineer, who will also deal with floodplain and drainage issues.

We have moved from the apartment and into a rental home.  It was a hectic December as I packed up the apartment while scheduling all of the house utility disconnections, arranging for movers, and doing what I could in advance for the new house.  We had some rugs and furniture deliveries that went to the old house’s garage temporarily.

On the big day, we went from the apartment (completely forgetting to empty our storage closet there) to the old house to collect a few boxes and those rugs, and finally to the rental house. Our storage unit was delivered to the new house too so we were able to see what we had hurriedly packed up in August.  I paid for 4 people to come the following day just to empty most of the boxes, collapse them, and put them in our attic storage.  Wise investment! Now we have been living in the rental house for about 2 weeks. There is still plenty of stuff to arrange and put away, but at least I’m looking at only a few boxes. And I am slowly making it our home.  We’ll be here for at least a year.

We went on a fun Eastern Caribbean cruise.  Not the best timing really, as we moved the day after we returned from the cruise, but we’d made reservations long ago and it was too late to cancel.  We went to St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Maartin, San Juan, and Labadee, Haiti. We brought home stunning shells we collected, mostly in St. Maartin.

We are in Girl Scout cookie season. Please let me know if you want to order any! Going door-to-door has been difficult this year since our neighborhood is fairly empty.  Even our rental house neighborhood is under construction.

This is more of a “before” photo because I’m working on unpacking the office right now, but it does have my book fair planning stuff on it! The school book fair is coming up. This year it’s a one-day event because of lack of space.  We are in a temporary location this year and it’s a tight squeeze. I’ve had no trouble asking for help with xeroxing and other small jobs and I know the event going to be great.  It’s really a good feeling to be able to do something for our school community. The students really look forward to this every year so I’m glad they get a little piece of it… that’s something normal for us!

I have been assembling furniture more than before! Some instructions are simple and some make no sense.  Mr. B and I put together an IKEA sectional and that was a little much.  I don’t really know what will fit in our new house, so we haven’t spent a lot of money on things for the rental house.  That’s probably part of the assembly frustrations.  These are not quality goods!

I guess it seems frivolous to even say this, but we really have a lot of clutter! This morning I gave myself 20 minutes to collect as many items to donate as I could. I ended up with 3 giant boxes of 3-year-old games, books, toys, notebooks, closet hanging organizers, clothes, stuffed animals, etc. and 2 giant bags of trash. I got those outside just as the trash truck came down the street and felt pretty fantastic about myself! I will be going through it all in the coming days. It really makes moving harder being weighed down with so much.  The kitchen was fairly simple to unpack and put away this time because we’d lost so much.  Rather than a whole cabinet of tupperware, it was 2 items.  The closets and SG’s playroom… not so much.

I’ve been taking “before” photos so I can show you what I’ve been up to here.  Here’s one corner I tackled already:

More transformations to come, along with book reviews, cruise photos, and house updates.  I hope everyone is well out there!

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Wide Open: a photography exploration

I just found this post in my “drafts” folder. It’s from 2.5 years ago, but I figured it doesn’t hurt to post it now.  I actually just pulled out my new camera and the handbook I bought about it so I can start using it.  This post really gets to the root of why I love taking photos.

* * * * *

So I rejoined Instagram.  (Let’s be friends!)

I heard of Henry Lohmeyer first as the Camera Men half (with Shutter Sisters) of Our Collective.  Then someone on Instagram mentioned that he was about to lead a short photography exploration.

He was offering a 10-day class called Wide Open: photography and vulnerability, and I signed up right there.

From Henry: “Each photo that I take is about what I’m processing, what I’m feeling, what I’m being. If you can concede to this notion and completely believe that each photo you take is about your own personal journey, what’s in you, then anything you see becomes a photo worth taking, a feeling worth expressing.”

Through photography and the photos I take—that quiet place that allows me needed pause in connection – I’ve had time to heal and to know that there’s not a moment in my life when embracing my frailties and all the thoughts that linger in those deep recesses do not bring me closer to whole. Through the vulnerability I’ve learned the ability to love the imperfections in all I see and most of all, in my own self.

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Bless the Yes

Before we get to the point of this post, I have to first tell you that I was doing an excellent job in slowing down and enjoying life. That lasted for about 4 weeks and I definitely plan to get back to it as soon as I can.

This isn’t really the point either, but it will only make sense if you know that I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.

  • Tear down our house in 2-3 weeks. 
    • Remove curtain rods and ceiling fans and light fixtures and anything else we plan to put in the new house
    • Empty the attic
    • Disconnect electric and gas – work with the City on making that happen before this century ends
    • Remove all mosquito system nozzles and cut the lines
    • Save the alarm system transmitter and sensors.  Cancel account.
    • Sell the a/c units and other appliances
    • Order cover for the pool and install temporary pump
  • Pack and move to a rental house – We are excited to move into a bigger space, with a yard and extra rooms. This is happening now instead of March because I thought that having the winter break to unpack and get settled would be good. I forgot we were going to be away some of that time. I didn’t consider when the house was being torn down.  Once I realized all this, we had already signed the lease.
    • Forward mail, change/transfer utilities, arrange for movers
    • Deliver storage unit – We are going to get our things back from storage, which is exciting.
    • Find boxes and get them all up to our 3rd floor
    • Order rugs and some furniture we need to replace. Coordinate delivery.
    • Clean the apartment/maintenance requests
  • Finalize contract with the builder and make selections for the new home while processing the paperwork for the construction loan.  This is sort of self-explanatory, but I’m getting confused between planning for the rental house and for our future house.
  • Pack for a poorly timed cruise.  We move the day after we get back, so there’s some planning involved. And our house may be torn down while we’re gone.
    • Purchase needed items – for example, somehow we moved to the apartment with only 1 swimsuit for SG. Snacks, etc.
    • All preparatory paperwork/documents/flights
  • Regular life
    • SG school tests/special presentation/thank you notes
    • Sold a few art pieces at a gift market
    • Take the Girl Scout cookie manager training
    • Purchase and wrap birthday, Chanukah and teacher gifts
    • Plan a school book fair that happens a few weeks after the holidays/demo/vacation/move

OK on to the point

 

Tuesday I had a little encounter with the apartment gate. Let’s just leave it at that.

Later that day, I pulled into the gas station before school pickup and the word of the day on the pump screen was “frenetic.” 

Wednesday, the kitten knocked my iPhone into a sink filled with water.

I am beginning to wonder what the universe is trying to tell me.

 

I’ve been frazzled trying to do it all. Remember to tell the builder this.  Ask the tax accountant that.  Call the a/c guy.  I have lists of my lists.  I can’t seem to fit everything into my schedule and get it all done.

A friend told me the other day about her theory called “Bless the Yes,” which involves naming your main priorities. Once you identify what those are, it’s easier to say no to everything else.

When I think of “letting go,” first I imagine what its opposite means.  It means getting stuck on an ideal and not being able to get past it, holding on to expectations and “shoulds.”

Productivity: Since I can’t do everything I’d like to, I had to let some things fall off the to-do list.  Selling the house appliances will have to wait. Cleaning the apartment will happen after the move.  Some things will not be as organized as I’d like them to be.

For the book fair, I’ve been able to create all our fliers ahead of time and have asked others to copy them.  I even sent them home with another volunteer, ready for January, so I don’t lose them.  I created the teacher and the volunteer online signups. I’ve also been asking for help where I can. We’ve simplified this as much as we can and that’s really nice.  There is only compiling 29 teacher wish lists by next Thursday, but that’s doable. I will hopefully be able to focus on house things in January and not worry about book fair prep.

 

Simplicity: There is SO MUCH stuff in our apartment to pack. I don’t like having this many possessions.  We lost so many items because of the storm and we sent much to storage, but there’s still a lot in our apartment.  It makes it feel cramped and makes packing difficult.  I feel weighed down with it all.  So I am literally letting go of all the clothes I don’t ever wear, holiday decorations I don’t use, all these extra cups and glasses. I will do the same with whatever we have in our storage unit.  My goal is to have a place for things and not to keep things we don’t use.  

Being surrounded by boxes and unorganized belongings everywhere makes me feel unsettled.  So today (after I got the side mirror fixed and got a new phone) I put all the empty boxes in one spot and stacked up all the packed ones so they are mostly not intrusive.  Then I put all the little odds and ends that are scattered all over the place in one spot to sort through.  I feel better! I hope to keep this up as we open Chanukah gifts.

 

The important things:

  • Show up when and where I’m supposed to
  • Feed family and take care of basic needs
  • Pay bills, be responsible, don’t run into any more gates
  • Pack slowly and without stress. Put on music.
  • Enjoy the process and think of things from a larger perspective

If a bed doesn’t arrive on time or a gift is given late, that’s ok too.  That is not “failure.” To “Bless the Yes,” I’ve got to have faith that meaningful things rarely happen quickly.  I have to trust that what is meant to happen will come to be without me worrying about it.  And it’s all not so important really.  I mean, who am I to fret over such awesome things such as moving to a bigger space and building a new house, let alone going on vacation? Those are the high-level “yeses” and everything else is just detail.  

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Nov books… some strange overlap

After I finished How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (see last month’s review), I started reading The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis. Both books discuss discipline and how to elicit the behavior you’re seeking. In children, punishment can lead to defiance, unworthiness, and revenge issues. We deprive the child of the inner process of facing his misbehavior and possibly the natural consequences of his actions.  There are many ways to encourage kids to act responsibly.

In cats, we similarly aren’t really teaching anything through punishment.  I had been tapping our new kitten, CoCo, on the nose when she pounces on our other cat, Mo, or spraying her with a tiny bit of water.  Not only did this not stop the behavior, but I learned in the book that she can’t mentally connect the two.  I was actually teaching her to dislike me.  For both children and cats most of the time, the less attention we give the problem behavior, the better. What I need to do is notice positive behavior, tie it to a signal or word, and reward it immediately with a treat. (Just like when SG got a 100 on a spelling test and we celebrated with ice cream. Now she’s asking me for help practicing her words for the next test!)

Both books talk about brain development.  Children are actually physically incapable of some reasoning skills and they may truly not hear you sometimes when you talk to them.  Cats brains are largely the same as their pre-domesticated wildcat brains were.

In both cases, understanding motivations and priorities helps a great deal.  When they want to do what we are asking is when we’ll have the most success.  And, cats and children live mostly in the present.  Cats don’t have the capability to reflect on the past or plan for the future.  They both don’t think much about what we (the adults) are thinking.

Anyway, I learned a ton from this book and I’m still not finished reading it. As we are moving into a rental house, I’ll need to read more about smooth transitions for both cats.

* * * * *

As if that weren’t coincidence enough, I read 2 “living and renovating in Paris” books:

Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson (recommended by Cheryl last month) and L’appart by David Lebovitz.

Carlson’s goal was to find investors, move to Paris, and transform an old French café into a vintage American diner called “Breakfast In America.” Along the way, he sources his “exotic” ingredients, has staff challenges and huge cultural differences in labor laws, figures out the French banking system, makes love connections for his employees and for himself, and forms a true community and extended family in his restaurants.

Notre Dame is so much lovelier from behind. And seeing it now, its grandeur stirs my soul more than ever. I wonder if this feeling is the closest one can get to understanding the unfathomable. It makes me think of all those who passed over this bridge before me…of how short life is…how it moves on, like the Seine below, with or without us. And I think of how important it is to seize the day, to be grateful for every precious moment while we’re alive.

I loved Carlson’s sense of humor and irony, as well as his sharing of his thought processes and vulnerabilities.  We learn what really matters to him. Recommend.

In Lebovitz’s L’Appart, the chef from San Francisco decides to move to Paris and having been there for a few years in a rented apartment, figures that he should buy an apartment since he will be living there long-term.  It is very surprising how difficult it is to do any kind of construction work in Paris!

I’d never left my home country before, except for an occasional vacation, and hadn’t considered all that was involved in making a definitive move overseas.  To say that I was unprepared would not be an exaggeration. The learning curve was so steep that I often fell off with a thud.

I thought it was interesting, though after reading the previous book about the restaurant, I was a bit tired of reading about all these problems.  Definitely recommend though.

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The silver lining

As part of a class I’m taking, I have been trying to bring to mind any life experiences that I perceived as negative at the time they occurred but that ultimately brought about blessings, or at least good things that would not have otherwise happened.

When we live our life moving forward from one decision to another as time naturally unfolds, we do not have the perspective to know if we are making wise choices. We do our best with the information and circumstances at hand and usually don’t spend much time in reflection until much later in life, if at all. However, when circumstances give us an opportunity to call a “time out” and to take a look around at our life thus far and where our choices have taken us, it can be a priceless gift.

* * * * *

Our immediate response to the recent damage to our home was to reassess. We began small, but our thoughts and ideas quickly grew to larger perspectives and eventually we were questioning much more than just a house. We started thinking, “If we were unattached to this physical location, where would we like to be?” We both felt that we weren’t particularly attached to Houston so we considered what it would be like to live in a few of our favorite cities. Mr. B probably doesn’t know that for 5 minutes, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to live abroad for a year. Ultimately we focused solely on moving to Austin. We spent a couple of weeks looking at neighborhoods, talking with friends there, and seeing what houses were on the market.

I noticed that in my thinking about moving there, I felt free from the limitations I have felt in Houston. I was excited to imagine filling my time there with art, meaningful study, and healthy living. Mr. B was excited about the physical terrain, being near close friends, the large Hill Country homes on beautiful properties, as well as its music scene.

We got somewhat far down that thought experiment path when I remembered that the sole reason that we chose to move to Houston 11 years ago was that my family is nearby. Now, once again, I came to the exact same decision. No amount of music or natural springs could ever replace the value of being able to have an impromptu Sunday visit with my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. Especially since Sweet Girl is an only child, we want her to have those close relationships with her cousins. I’m also amazingly blessed to still have my grandparents right down the road and I enjoy meeting them for lunch or facilitating their relationship with their great-granddaughter.  Family is just one of those aspects of life that is irreplaceable. Nothing else matters nearly as much.

Once we decided to remain in Houston, we thought about living in other areas of town, considering what daily life, the schools, and the houses available there would be like. Each time, I noticed that I’d get really excited to envision making new friends, having more free time, being outside on the walking trails every day with my camera.

I’ll spare you all the other considerations because we ultimately chose our very same city, our same plot of land, the same school and friends and environment. However, in choosing again what we naturally ended up with as a result of many tiny life steps, it reaffirmed for me that we are happy and secure in our physical placement and that we are pretty good at making decisions that lead to contentment and peace of mind. All those choices were the right ones for us, and that knowledge makes me feel pretty darn good about our judgment and content in trusting ourselves to continue making the right decisions.

At one point, we thought that if it were “just the two of us,” we would leave Houston in a heartbeat. We thought that we were choosing to stay so that SG would be close to our family. But we weren’t thinking of the amazing friendships we have made here (ones upon which I have relied heavily these past few months). We didn’t consider what a close-knit school community we are part of, and we forgot that our neighborhood itself is fairly unique.  And it was only after this storm experience and it’s aftermath that I realized what a richness of humanity we have in our very own City of Houston. We would have been searching for something that very much resembles what we already have. 

Thinking of what would be best for SG also led to a large shift in my parenting perspective. Until 3 months ago, I had been far too reluctant to set clear boundaries and expectations with her. Finally at a breaking point, I sought professional help and heard the words I have been hoping were true for 9 years now: “It’s not supposed to be this hard.”

With this too, I can begin again, but in a different way. I am finding my path with what kind of parent I need to be for my curious, creative, smart young girl. It probably seems like no change at all to her, but I feel a drastic shift.  In fact, had I been ready to make this shift years before, we might have 3 kids by now! I am appreciating her for exactly who she is, rather than comparing her behavior to some imaginary expectation I have. By doing what this child and this momma need, life is smoother and much simpler. That is going to be true no matter where we live.

I was also aware that in making the decision of whether to move to Austin or not, my primary focus was on making my husband happy.  He has made it a natural thing to think of me before he thinks of himself and I usually feel that I have a ways to go to catch up to him in that regard.  However, in this instance, and in a few since then, I’ve noticed how strongly I wanted him to be somewhere where he felt content, happy, and far less stressed.  I wanted that for him so much more than I wanted anything for myself.  Ultimately, I think he realized that he could be all those things regardless of where we live and he has been taking steps to get himself there.

* * * * *

When you have big choices that weigh on you and you can’t talk or think about much else, it’s exhausting. It was such a relief to come to some decisions and then take action knowing that we are on solid ground again. (There’s a pun in there somewhere.) Through it all, I was trying to tap into what we were “meant to do” and nothing was coming to mind. It felt like my intuition was on vacation.

I’ve come to believe that there is no huge “right decision.” There is only taking the next small step. Just like driving a car and being lost with no idea where you are, it’s only in making some movement in any direction that the GPS will show you a path. It may be slightly outside of your original intention, but you will end up in the same place.

Throwing open the doors of possibility and giving myself the chance to determine what I want for myself and what we want for our family has been one of those good things that come out of a negative circumstance. It’s not like I watched the rising water 13 weeks ago and thought to myself, “Oh good. I’m going to really assess where I am in life and the choices I’ve made.”

But what an opportunity! Why not go out more often to hear live music because it makes us so happy? Let’s spend more time appreciating and cultivating our relationships with the people who mean so much to us and with each other. Let’s give our time to projects and people and experiences that directly fill us up.

When I truly thought about my life and what I want from it, everything was crystal clear. I don’t think I would have otherwise examined it this way. I’m not grateful for the storm and such devastation, but I can take something invaluable from the experience.

I am not being Pollyanna-ish about this, I don’t think. I have been before in that utterly hopeless place where nothing makes sense, everything feels personal, and darkness hovers, inescapable. Actually, having endured that thrice before, a damaged house is no big deal. Fixable.

I don’t have a lot of free time these days with all the logistics that go into shuffling our possessions all over the city and now us moving to a rental home, let alone the long process of designing and building a new house, but what time I do have is spent deliberately.  I am focused on the blessings and not the inconveniences.

* * * * *

I believe that we always have a choice in how we respond to a situation.  Think Nelson Mandela not letting the walls be an enclosure. How do we approach daily life? What is our mindset toward the people we interact with every day? How do we think of our body? Do we see the good or the not-so-good in every minor situation?

If you really think about it, it is our mindset that affects most of our daily life. My dad gave me a little gold metal card when I was about 16 that starts with “Life is 90% attitude.” It’s a reminder that our mental framework has the power to shape our reality. Maybe there’s some chance or luck tossed in, but primarily we get to decide how we view the external world.

A travel delay could be just the time you need to catch up on something or with someone. A broken ankle could cause you to slow down and start making different choices. I don’t have any answers for why awful things happen in the world, but for this particular event, though it’s an enormous headache and hassle, it’s also helpful (for me) to think of it as having a silver lining.

It’s exciting to be able to shape your own future, to take the reins and decide what you want your life to look like. There are so many possibilities. It’s a real life “choose-your-own-adventure” book.  Sure, it needn’t take a natural disaster to bring about such a profound shift, but it often does take something big to shake us up enough that we get some perspective and reevaluate.  I wish for each of you that you too will find the silver linings in your life.

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First-world problems

I’m going to a 4-day Mussar conference. As soon as I come back, I have 14 pieces for sale at a school holiday market fundraiser, a kickoff Book Fair planning meeting (agendas and calendars ready), and 2 intimate birthday parties for SG: one Saturday (favors – check) and one Sunday (kitty decor and supplies ordered), plus cupcake toppers for the cupcakes we “have” to take to school, immediately followed by Chanukah.

Let’s add to that that our house plans are done so it is time to pick materials and meet with the builder to finalize the contract and also the bank construction loan, as well as shutting off electric, gas and water to our home so we can demo it before the end of the year. I’m arranging to take down light fixtures we want to keep, as well as sell our air conditioners, oven, and wine fridge. That is enough, however there’s more: we are looking for a house to rent for a January move in. In the last three days we have seen a lot of homes!

So picture me trying to schedule rental house showings having lost my voice (Mr. B says I sound like Demi Moore), driving all over town from one house to another, to the grocery store, to Target, trying to get everything arranged for Mr. B before my trip, hunting down special items at craft stores, and doing it all with glue and paint on my hands.

All that being said, I’m pretty organized and so it’s all mostly taken care of.  The birthday and Chanukah gifts are wrapped and numbered and hidden in my closet.  The art is almost done.  The house rental application is completed.  Lots of hoarse phone calls have been made. I do have a list of other things to accomplish, but it’ll all get done in time.  I’m ready to enjoy my time away and possibly get some rest.

Oh wait… I’m not packed…

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