“That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.”

In the hours leading up to the government shutdown, the majority of the 24-hour news outlets had some variation of a ‘Shutdown Countdown’. It was impossible not to draw references from the countdown we experienced just a few weeks prior. Except this time, non-New Yorkers didn’t fill the streets of Times Square, Anderson Cooper reported from the comfort of a studio, and King Julien’s didn’t have a kid-friendly version of the countdown on Netflix. This countdown was different. This countdown was personal.

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Government shutdowns are nothing new. It seems like every fall, the threat of a shutdown looms. Our congressional leaders’ inability to pass a budget is up there with pumpkin-spiced lattes, crunchy leaves, and North Face fleece jackets as a sign that harvest season is upon our nation. The legislative branch of government might as well lean in and wear leggings, flannels, and Uggs as they cater to their special interests while publicly declaring their tireless crusade for justice and liberty for all.

My husband arrived home from TDY overseas last Thursday and received word that his TDY the following morning was postponed due to the impending shutdown. The kids (and myself) were thrilled to have him home for the weekend but we knew it came with a price. Non-essential government workers are furloughed and essential personnel will continue to serve this country without pay. As of this morning, Congress has yet to reapprove the 2013 bill that allows military members to receive paychecks during the shutdown – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected the motion brought forth by Senator Claire McCaskill in the early morning hours on Friday by stating “My hope is that we can restore funding for the entire government before this becomes necessary. I’m going to object for tonight but we’ll discuss again tomorrow.” According to news outlets, it was not discussed the following day (it is noted that as I write this post, this topic is being discussed on the Senate floor).

We’re currently teaching our eight-year-old-son the game of chess. For whatever reason, he has trouble remembering that while pawns can move in a forward direction, they can only capture diagonally. He is constantly questioning why the pawns aren’t offered the same advantages as the knights or the rooks. And we’re forced to answer, “That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.” And the fact that we have to respond the same way when he asks “Why do you still have to wear your uniform and go to work, Daddy?” is absolutely infuritating. He hasn’t made the connection that military members are being used as pawns but I’m sure he will in due time – he’s a smart kid.

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There are about 1,292,000 million active duty members of the military (about 800,000 serve in the seven different reserve components) who reported to work this morning despite the shutdown. The roughly 0.4 percent of our population who swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, will continue to do so even though without the assurance that they’ll be able to support themselves and their families. Right now, there are Americans on dangerous missions – some known, some unknown – risking their lives and upholding their oath. It shouldn’t be too much to ask the government to uphold their end of the bargain. The families of the two soldiers killed in the Apache helicopter crash on Saturday morning will not receive the death benefit entitlement until Congress passes a bill to appropriate such funds. Why is this acceptable?

Military members are no strangers to being used as pawns in the legislative process. In fact, last time we were stationed here in the nation’s capital, there was a shutdown. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept it. The majority of Americans voice support for the military – they’ll applause when uniformed members unveil the flag during a sporting event and they’ll shake the hand of a returning vet and thank them for their service – but does that really count? But I can’t help wonder how many of the fans who cheered the loudest during the pre-game ceremonies at Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field yesterday are contacting their legislative representatives today and demanding action on behalf of the military and behalf of our broken nation.

This morning, my husband laced up his boots, kissed me goodbye, and left for work before sunrise. He is going to continue to do his job, despite Congress not being able to do theirs.

 

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Can I Be a Highly Effective Person?

So I’ve publicly declared that 2018 will be the Year of Intention.

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So now what?

I’m writing this post in the local library because the county-wide two-hour delay shortened preschool to just two hours. It’s amazing what .5 inches of the white stuff does to our nation’s capital – and I’m not even talking about cocaine…ba-dum-tish. This particular library has a lot of natural light with modern architecture details, which I don’t particularly care for – give me old, give me musty, give me those gold lamps with the green shades and chain pulls. However, since browsing through rows and rows of books ranks up there as one of my favorite pastimes – along with hiking, eating cannolis, and drinking witbier – I make do and ignore the geometric shapes on the carpet as best I can.

I decided to thumb through some self-help books in order to gather some ideas of what it may mean to actually live intentionally this year beyond actively interacting and engaging with my life.

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{My goodness – that seems like something mid-2000s Oprah would say, doesn’t it?}

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However, the browsing did do me some good on my journey toward intention. For example, I loved the direct approach to the title of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, blogger at markmanson.net. I do care too much about what others think of me but thankfully, these concerns are lessening with each passing year as I inch toward my 40s. A key concept throughout the book is that life is too short to react so passionately about every little thing – perhaps my Year of Intention is about mindfully filtering through the onslaught of information we encounter daily and tell myself “I’m not taking this on“, as June Diane Raphael so eloquently stated on the Bitch Sesh Podcast.

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Also on the shelves, I found the perennial The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey, which has been inspiring people for almost three decades. After all, you just have to be courageous enough to be proactive! One of the habits is ‘think win-win’, which is a call back to my professional mediator days in northern New York. I checked it out and now have up to three weeks to learn the habits of a highly effective person. And also to learn what is exactly a highly effective person. I do make the bed everyday…does that count?

After thumbing through my library’s offerings, I ventured over to Amazon because it is 2018 and I want to help Jeff Bezos achieve suborbital human spaceflight this year.

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That is how I discovered an entire subgroup of self-help books regarding the making of our own coffin. My favorites in this niche woodworking how-to series include Do-It-Yourself Coffins for Pets and People: A Schniffer Book for Woodworkers Who Want to Be Buried in Their Work by Dale Power and Jeffery B. Snyder and Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself by Dale Power. There is an old adage that you can’t take your work with you when you’re gone but this book proves you can! And these aren’t just pine boxes…they’re fancy coffins. These books remind me of when Ron Swanson won a woodworking award and the in-memoriam portion of the ceremony featured pictures of the coffins the woodworkers made and were buried in. Just yet another example of how Parks and Recreation is applicable in every area of life.

So I suppose that means that my next step in this Year of Intention journey is to report back with my thoughts on 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and figure out where our miter saw ended up this move because my coffin isn’t going to build itself.

2018 – The Year of Intention

On the surface, 2017 was an unexceptional year in our little world. It began in Texas with a minor car accident and ended in Virginia with antibiotics. We existed within the minutiae of work, school, after-school activities, and the mundane tasks associated with running a household. My grandmother passed away and the kids grew bigger and more aware of the world around them. I turned 34 and I’m still growing out my hair from a particularly disastrous haircut. My body isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be but it allowed me to experience some great adventures so complaining about it seems unnecessary.

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In 2018 I will turn 35. I’d like to believe that I am still less than halfway done with my mortal existence but we all know that health isn’t guaranteed. I no longer feel invincible – at least like I did while navigating my late teens and early twenties. My worries now stretch beyond myself and those in my bubble. Will I be okay? Will we be okay? Will humanity be okay? Perhaps that is why the idea of New Year resolutions – at least those in the vein of ‘lose 10 pounds’, ‘survive Whole 30’, or ‘floss nightly’ seem not worth admitting to those around us.

Not that I am discounting the importance of resolutions – quite the opposite. I love resolutions. I love goals. I love starting over. I love lists. I love crossing off items on a list, so much so that I’m known for writing down tasks I already accomplished just for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

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  • Redesign blog
  • Write blog post

Last year my friend, Allyson, declared 2017 to be the Year of Better and her 2018 project is The Year of Living More With Less. I love the concept of The Year of _________ and earlier this month I brainstormed ideas about what I wanted from this year ahead of us and what I wanted to give to 2018.

  • The Year of ME!
  • The Year of Eating all the Pho
  • The Year of Writing More
  • The Year of Not Snapping at My Kids
  • The Year of Green
  • The Year of Not Reading Comment Sections
  • The Year of Exploration
  • The Year of Intention

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Last week, we took the kids hiking in Great Falls Park in 20° weather when school was cancelled due to expected inclement weather. We practically had the place to ourselves. It started to sleet while we were scrambling across rocks but we didn’t let that deter us from enjoying the icy water views and terrain. We couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy to be outside doing something I love with the people I love most. My cheeks stung from the cold wind, we had to tell our daughter multiple times that jumping head first toward the rocks wasn’t the best idea, and our son ran ahead too far for our comfort but it was exactly what I needed because I felt alive climbing rocks with little pellets of ice hitting my coat.

It was an intentional choice to take the kids hiking in not-so-great weather. Now that our children are getting older, in addition to having to watch our language like a hawk, we’re really starting to think about the lessons we want to pass along. We want them to know that we do hard things. We want them to know that there is success in failure. And most of all, we want them to know that while a ship in port is safe, that is not what ships are built for. Life is made up of choices. It is up to us to define a purpose, to set goals, to accomplish these goals, and to learn from the experience. The hike may have seemed like an insignificant family outing, but we’re hopeful that it will be one of the many puzzle pieces that contribute to their overall world view when they leave the nest.

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The Year of Intention is about being purposeful in word and action. In 2018, I am going to actively interact and engage with my life. I’m not going to be overwhelmingly reactionary – just waiting for something to happen. And one of my biggest goals associated with the Year of Intention is writing here a lot more than I have been in recent years. I may be 15 days late but let’s do this. Cheers to 2018 and all the mornings that will bring new opportunities. I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

The Last Post of the Year

We’re currently en route back home after a quick trip down to Wilmington, North Carolina to spend time with Clay’s family. It had been a couple of years since we were last there during the holiday season and now that we’re calling northern Virginia home, we decided to jet down there when Clay’s scheduled opened up for a few days.

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The last time we were there, our family was patient zero for the stomach flu that eventually made it’s way through the extended family so I am happy to report that we were illness-free this time around. Well – except for me. But thankfully, the massive sinus-infection that overwhelmed my face during December is finally making it’s curtain call thanks to a cocktail of prescribed medication that limited my alcohol consumption during the holidays.

IMG_2395Clay was in and out of town throughout November and December so we did our best to squeeze in holiday traditions when he was home. One we introduced On December 23rd, we saw the Manassas Ballet Theater perform The Nutcracker. It was our first time attending such a performance as a family and we can’t wait to do it again. We will likely move around a lot during the next five years so it will be fun to see the performance in different places around the world.

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Last year, we made the decision to not travel for Christmas – instead choosing to wake up in our own home on Christmas morning and push any travel to the day after Christmas. When it was just the two of us and when the children were younger, traveling with gifts wasn’t an issue but now it just makes more sense to stay home. When the kids are teenagers, I can see us traveling again over the holidays and perhaps even taking an epic trip as our big gift to each other. Our church had a wonderful Christmas Eve service, complete with fiber-optic wands for the kids. Afterwards, we put on matching pajamas and ate appetizers while watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and tracked Santa via NORAD. Speaking of which – when calling NORAD on speakerphone with the kids, I misdialed and somehow ended up phoning a sex line. Obviously, I’m winning a parenting award for my achievements this year.

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Christmas morning featured excited squeals, some surprises, and enough cardboard and wrapping paper to fill the recycling can for the next few weeks. As always seems to be the case, the kids played the most with the $8 worth of Play-Doh that day. My sister and her family came down from Pennsylvania the following day for a couple of days. The kids acted like spider monkeys and us adults maintained our sanity by eating, drinking, and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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After a trip to Urgent Care for me, we made our down to North Carolina, where we celebrated Christmas and took advantage of Clay’s sister’s beach house on Ocean Isle Beach. There was plenty of Clemson gear on display and the six cousins enjoyed playing together. We weren’t there long – less than 48 hours – but I’m glad that Clay’s schedule allowed for us to squeeze in the trip.

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The six grandchildren (ages 4 – 12).

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Hopefully the traffic on I-95 N will be kind to us as we make our way up to the national capital region and we will be home before the sun sets. Our New Years Eve will be a quiet one this year as we say hello 2018 – just the four of us. But if 2018 is anything like 2017, then it will be one hell of a ride. And as the sun sets on this year, I look forward to tomorrow’s sunrise.

Lucky Number Thirteen

We met and fell in love as teenagers and were married the same year that I could legally consume alcohol. Science says that frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until we’re 25, so for making such a major life decision before we were 100% rational beings, things have been turning out okay. Better than okay. In fact, things are pretty freakin’ amazing.

Today marks 13 years of marriage for us. In many ways, 13 years doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to encapsulate the infinite moments that comprise our story. It feels like chump change. I’ve been in love with this goofy, hardworking, kind, courageous, and beautiful man for almost half my life. We’ve gone through a lot together and we approach life with the idea that we are stronger together than as individuals. Together we are unstoppable. We are a team. And a pretty damn good one at that.

Like many other couples, our story is a collection of excitement, joy, and heartbreak. The highlight reel would show the exciting moments surrounding the birth of our children, the moments of anticipation before a reunion, the tender moments spent wiping away tears before a deployment or after a miscarriage, the thrilling moments of a new adventure, and the quiet and comfortable moments that let us know that everything is going to be okay.

I suppose that is one of my favorite things about being married to Clay – that no matter what is thrown our way, it will be okay. For no other reason than because we have each other. As we slide into the downhill portion of our thirties, we find our eyes have more crinkles in the corners. We’re finding gray hairs at an alarming rate and truth be told, it is becoming quite difficult to maintain the flat stomachs of our twenties. But he has never looked better to me. I couldn’t ask for a better partner, a better cheerleader, a better father for our children, or a better man. Not too shabby for a couple in love who decided to get married before their frontal lobes were even fully developed.

Where We Love is Home

My favorite types of homes are those that tell a story. Perhaps that is why I prefer older homes to newer and my favorite way to decorate can pretty much be summed up by put everything on the walls! Home is somewhat of a unique concept for our family. Our eight-year-old son has lived in eight different houses over the years and our four-year-old daughter has lived in four. I may not remember the full addresses of all the houses that Clay and I have shared but all of them have been called home at some point or another. Home is where the heart is…all those needlepoints can’t be wrong, can they?

Recently, I came across an Instagram account that highlighted her neutral-toned Christmas decor – complete with a white Christmas tree and beige ribbon. Another account featured a tree with all new ornaments purchased this year in order to fit with the rustic cabin theme in their suburban home. More power to them. Many find such decor aspirational. But looking at such images just bums me out, which is probably why I’m not an interior designer.

Give me color. Give me kitschy. Give me handmade. Give me history. Give me a story. And most of all, give me love. Our Christmas decor features items collected over our thirteen years of marriage from a variety of locales. We don’t have matching family stockings because I don’t dare replace the stockings I bought for Clay and me in our first year of marriage. Artwork done by the kids is taped on the closet door. And is it really Christmas without at least one paper chain countdown?

Our tree is filled with ornaments from the various places we’ve called home and traveled to over the years. This year, we let the kids put the ornaments on the tree so there are bare spots and it is pretty far from magazine-worthy but it is our tree. And for that reason alone, it is the most beautiful tree in the world in our eyes.

Christmas cards we received are promptly taped on the door. I love how the cards serve as a visual reminder that we’re not alone every time we leave the house.

When my grandmother passed away earlier this year, my dad and aunts ensured that her ceramic Christmas tree ended up in my home. Her mother (my great-grandmother) made them for all the women in the family in the early 1980’s and I’m thankful I am able to now display one in our home. I found the plaid runner in a North Carolina thrift store years ago and no vintage corner is complete without tacky lights around the banister.

On our kitchen table is an advent yule log we made together at church. The bay window holds some of our less-kitschy items but let’s be honest – there is nothing of value on display. If you’re looking for super classy Christmas decoration inspiration, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Our home is full of mismatched furniture, items collected from around the world, and things from Target – lots and lots from Target.

Only time will tell if this will be our only Christmas in this house we are currently calling our home. Our children may not have a childhood spent in one particular house but they will always have a home. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. stated that “Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” We have loved in many places over the years and we have learned that a house is simply that – a house. Flashy appliances, expensive countertops, large bathrooms, two-car garages do not a home make. Home is us. Home is anywhere. Right now, home is a house in northern Virginia built in 1966 with basement laundry, a car port, and mirrored closet doors. And during this 2017 Christmas season, we couldn’t ask for a better place to love.

Get Off My Lawn!

Earlier this month, I put my foot down and declared that our little family will not participate in any sort of trick-or-treating event beyond the actual traditional Halloween night trick-or-treating. In years past, we have participated in so many truck-or-treats (school, church, battalion headquarters, friends, etc…) that by the time All Hallows’ Eve rolled around, the novelty of wearing a costume and asking for processed sugar had worn off. Not even a full-size Kit Kat bar could muster the excitement I felt as a kid dressed an old lady trick-or-treating in 90-degree Phoenix weather.

It’s not that I am against truck-or-treat per se, I’ve had a lot of fun participating in such events previous years. But like most things in the world today, it just got to be too much. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been craving a simpler life for quite some time now. Additionally, I am beginning to notice the effects of having over-stimulated children living in our house, which is why our children only collected candy on one night this year (the horror!).

Look – I think Halloween is a great holiday. Clay and I enjoy dressing up and participating in the festivities with the kids. We watch spooky movies leading up to the big night. We carve pumpkins and hang up decorations. But I know that I can’t be the only parent out there who is getting damn tired of the gluttonous amount of Halloween events leading up to actual Halloween night. I realize that I sound like the crotchety ‘get off my lawn‘ guy in the neighborhood who doesn’t even participate in Halloween festivities but come on…how many times do we actually need to trick-or-treat each year?

Once. The answer is once.