Friday, January 31, 2014

7 Quick Takes

It's been awhile since I linked up with 7 Quick Takes!  I've missed it, so here I am today, brain-dumping the completely random, in no particular order.

1.  My nails seriously dislike winter.  They keep cracking...and then cracking...and then cracking some more.  It is not good. They are now down to itty-bitty stumps so I HAD to polish them, in a desperate attempt to preserve what's left!  Any suggestions?  I try to moisturize them when I think of it, but apparently my efforts have been feeble. HELP!!!

So so short!  But, yay for pretty Zoya nailpolish, at least!
Zoya Dove

2.  My pregnant mad-woman citrus craving is alive and well!  It doesn't even have to be edible!  I've been burning lemon candles, using lemon-scented lip balm...and hoovering clementines and grapefruit (I don't usually even like grapefruit!) like there's no tomorrow.  It's funny, I remember going through a citrus addiction when I was pregnant with Megan, but it was summer time then, so my addiction was mostly limited to gargantuan quantities of lemon Italian Ice. much as I love me some citrus I haven't brought myself to start eating Italian ice just know, Polar Vortex and all.

My beverage of choice this past week: Orange-Aid.  The perfect marriage of orange juice and lemonade.  Dual-citrus-load all in one glass.  Awesome.

3.  My husband has been on a couponing kick lately.  I have to say I am AMAZED by the deals to be had!  He is awesome.  I just do not have the patience to deal with the headache of figuring out the dates and all of the weird rules required to get stuff for almost-free.  I mean, I think I'd rather fold laundry.  And that is really saying something.  But more power to the money-saving hubby!  We're not getting our own reality show or anything like that just yet, but..we may never have to pay for body wash again!  Do you do the couponing thing?

See, I'd rather actually deal with this monstrosity than figure out couponing.  But, not just yet.  I'll just go on writing my 7 Quick Takes a little longer...

4.  I've been doing the happy dance every evening when I notice how it's been staying light out later!  Even if it's still as cold as the planet Hoth (Kevin would be so proud of me right now for that Star Wars reference!), at least gimme a little more sunshine! Winter is beginning to get to me.  I look for inane reasons to celebrate just about anything.  But at least the kids have been enjoying my inane celebrations!

Don't worry...only about 2 more months to go before the temperature rises above 20!

5.  Every year, as Valentine's Day approaches (followed by our wedding anniversary the next day), I always put this weird pressure on myself to do something really nice and special, but can never think of anything!  I scour the internets reading about all of these cute ideas, but none of them really seem to "fit".    I think that means I'm romantically uncreative...or would that make me creatively unromantic?  Well, either way, I think I'm getting an "F" again this year.  We'll probably wind up doing something completely unoriginal like...dinner. 

6.  This past week we've been finishing up Season 4 of Downton.  I liked it, but what can I say...I still miss Matthew (please tell me that is longer a spoiler at this point?  I think everyone must know about Matthew by now, yes?).  While I enjoyed it, I just felt it was missing its usual...oomph.  I'm hoping season 5 will be a bit more gripping.  And, it's not as if we need to wait an entire year for it or anything...oh wait.

7.  Thomas has been going through the Since-I'm-almost-one-year-old-I-only-require-one-nap-instead-of-two thing right now.  I'm not a fan.  I keep trying to foolishly pretend I'm not aware of this new stage, and have been putting him down for 2 naps anyway.  Take it from me, babies cannot be fooled into napping when you think they should.  Let's just say the pre-dinner witching hour has been...interesting around here.

"I may be smiling now, but don't you dare try and bring me up to my crib at 4:00pm again, lest suffer my wrath! Mwahahaha!"

Well, that's my brain dump for the week.  Can't wait to read everyone else's!  If you want to join in the fun, link up your Seven Quick Takes.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Random Thoughts on the Happiness Project

I thought January would be a fitting time to read The Happiness Project, since I had heard such great things about it and it seeming very "New Year's Resolutionish".  It's a great book!  Packed with thought-provoking quotes, fascinating research and personal anecdotes, I highly recommend it, even if you're already blissfully happy and have zero interest in starting a happiness project of your own. There really is something for everyone in this book, I think.

What I really liked about it is that it's not a "recipe for success" type of book written in some cheesy all-knowing motivational guru style.  Rather it's a simple experiment, written in the form of personal anecdotes, on ways the author challenged herself to self-improve.  It's not a book that tells you to do "x, y and z" for insta-joy, but more journal of self-discovery, packed with thought-provoking tidbits of failures and successes along the way.

 Gretchen (we're on a first name basis, now that I've finished the book! Ha!) structured her happiness project based on Benjamin Franklin's "13 Virtues" checklists in which he rated himself daily on his level of success in specific areas.  Having just done a homeschool unit on Benjamin Franklin this past Fall with the kids, this was something I had thought about, long before ever even having heard of the Happiness Project!  I like the checklist idea because, in order for me to reach my goals (the tough ones that feel like drudgery, I mean) I need accountability.  I'm really kind of terrible at holding myself accountable, a procrastinator by nature.  So, checklists sound like a good thing!

Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues checklist

The project is based on 12 monthly themes (e.g. family life, marriage, career, eternity, etc.), which are then broken down into specific goals.  I like this structure because the idea of focusing on one particular area of life at a time seems manageable--not as overwhelming as trying to become "perfecto-person" all at once. (I tend to get just a tad over-zealous with things at times!)  In fact, when I first told Kevin about the idea of a happiness project, he chuckled and told me I would get all obsessive over it and then fizzle out at some point when I felt overwhelmed and deflated.  Humph.  But...maybe balance should be one of my monthly themes???

In addition to the monthly goals, Gretchen also came up with a list of basic governing principles for life, tidbits of wisdom, that I really liked.  Things like: "be yourself, as you actually are and not what you wish you were or think you should be" and "make failure less scary by telling yourself its fun to fail".  (Yes, I think I really need to work on that second one!)

What was neat for me, coming from a Christian perspective (the author isn't particularly religious, although she did explore the subject of "eternity" in one chapter) is that so many of the goals and bits of wisdom she identified are basic tenants of the faith.  Themes like selflessness, charity, forgiveness, self-control and patience came up time and time again.  I found it neat that these truths are so universal, and how people can find themselves seeking them, when coming from a non-religious background.  But what I really loved was seeing how they could be applied to life in very specific "everyday" ways, since sometimes (well, for me at least!) virtues can feel sort of abstract in a day-to-day sense.  I mean, at the end of the day, I don't really find myself thinking, "Hmmm, ok, so on a scale of one to ten, Erin, how was your self-control today?" (Although that sounds like a useful exercise doesn't it?!)

In no specific order, here are some other take-aways from the book that I really loved:

--Don't seek "gold stars".  When doing things for others, be content with anonymity and the joy that comes from giving, rather than seeking affirmation and recognition. 
See what I mean about basic tenants of Christianity?

--Act the way you want to feel. Happiness, to an extent, is a choice.  We can brighten our days by acting the way we wish to be
This one was actually inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux!

--Remove sources of: guilt, remorse, frustration, boredom, anger, envy and shame.  These are happiness robbers.  
Although this may seem obvious, this type of goal is something I tend to avoid as a procrastinator! So, this is an important one for me!

--This quote by Yeats: "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth.  We are happy when we are growing."  
Yes.  Striving brings joy!!

--Don't under-estimate what can be accomplished in even 15 minutes of time.  Spend time wisely. 
While I know this to be true, but I love the reminder that even just a short chunk of time can be really useful.  (I'm looking at you Facebook and Pinterest! Time-stealers!) This one is great because this is actually part of my goal for 2014 of being present.

--Take time for projects and record happy family memories.  
I love this because I am too often tempted to "just say no" to messy time-consuming projects that would be fun to do with the kids.  I need to say yes to the mess more often! (Also part of my "present" goal!)

--There are 3 different types of fun, some more satisfying than others.  They are: Challenging Fun--like learning a new skill, Accommodating Fun--like taking the kids to the playground and enjoying yourself in the process, and Relaxing Fun-- like watching a movie.  The last one is actually the least satisfying, but we crave it because it requires so little effort.  
Challenging fun feels like work, but brings the most joy!  Which brings me to the next point....

--Happiness doesn't always feel like happiness.  Sometimes striving to achieve feels downright horrid in the moment, but achieving the goal brings happiness in the end. 
Yes!  Like Spring Cleaning!

--We tend to take on other people's moods--both happy and sour.  So, be aware of how your mood is affecting others and vice versa.  
Create an atmosphere of joy!

There are lots and lots of other useful insights in the book, too, but I just can't possibly share them all here! 

So, I will be working on creating my own goals for the year.  I'm not quite sure how they will all look just yet.  If you're interested in doing your own project, Gretchen has a bunch of tools to help you get started on her site: here.  She also recommends joining a group--great for encouragement and added accountability.  I would LOVE to start a group, but I'm not sure if it would be possible right now.  Hmmm...I'll have to think more on that one.

So, I hope this inspired you to think about some little ways that you can increase your own happiness, even if you don't want to start an all-out "Happiness Project" right at this moment.  As my thoughts gel a bit more, I'll share more of the specifics on my own project with you!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January Daybook

Things have been quiet here on the blog lately, but that's because I've had lots of ideas floating around in my head!  I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and focusing on being present, my one-word goal for 2014.  

Outside my window...
A beautiful blanket of fresh white on everything.  We had 5 inches of snow yesterday evening and into the night.

frost on the windowpanes this simple and so stunning!

I am thinking...
...a lot about my January re-focus.  I used to kind of hate January--a whole lot of dreary cold and darkness after the  fun of the holidays, but now I actually love it!  It's a quiet time to assess, to de-clutter (both physically and spiritually!), to settle into a more peaceful rhythm which I find I desperately crave.  Trying to spend my time more wisely this year, I've been much more aware of how quickly the minutes and days pass.  I want to make the most of it!

I am thankful...
...for the the many books I've been able to read this past month!  My desire to spend more time reading coupled with a stomach bug which left me in bed has allowed me to 5 books in the past couple of weeks.  An amazing feat for me!  Although I've always loved reading, it usually takes me much longer to get through them.

In the kitchen...
...I've been making an effort to prepare slightly more time-consuming and "rewarding" meals this month, as opposed to the quickie stand-bys I was relying on in December.  And, as always each winter (and really year-round!), I've been on a major soup kick.  I want to try making these lemon muffins soon.  As with all my other pregnancies, I've been seriously craving citrus!  I've been wolfing down grapefruit, oranges and clementines with gusto!

I am wearing...
My favorite stretchy preggy yoga pants from Motherhood Maternity.  I pretty much live in them whenever I'm home!  During my first trimester the tighter panel-type pants always make my stomach do somersaults, so the loose yoga pants will be my uniform until this queasy stage passes (which will hopefully be only another week or two since I'm 12 weeks along now).

I am creating...
I've been in organization and  goal-assessing mode, so I haven't been doing much crafting lately.  What I've been doing is more like "mental planning"...does that count as creating?
Cute little Tufted Titmouse outside my window.  The boys made this bird feeder for me for Christmas. :)

I am going... see a play with a friend in a few weeks that sounds fascinating, called Freud's Last Session.  A blend of psychology and theology--2 of my very favorite topics!  I can't wait!  And bonus--it stars Jonathon Crombie--the actor who played Gilbert in the movie adaptation of Anne of Green Gables.  Neat!

I am wondering...
...about starting my own "Happiness Project" on the heels of reading the book. I really loved this book--so much to chew on!  Has anyone else read it and started their own project?  If so I'd love to hear about it!  I'm intrigued by the idea of monthly goals with daily checklists for accountability (accountability is a very good thing for me!).  I just love the idea of making little manageable goals each month--sounds like a great path to self-discovery and growth.  Plus, it fits perfectly with my one-word goal for the year of being present.  I just finished the book a couple of days ago, so I haven't figured out how this will all look just yet. There's way more I want to say about about this book, so stay tuned! :)

I am reading...
 Aside from the Happiness Project, I've also been reading some fiction.  One of my goals for this year is to include more fiction in my reading.  I tend to gravitate toward non-fiction--memoirs, self-improvement and spiritual growth types of books.  But fiction is great, and I really need to fit more of it in.  I recently finished What Alice Forgot, The Rosie Project, Those We Love Most and Me Before You. I plan to write up a separate post about these soon, but just to quickly mention, my favorite was What Alice Forgot.

I swear I didn't pick all of these because they color-coordinate in various shades of red and salmon!  What a weird and funny coincidence!

I am hoping...
...I'll be getting my energy back soon!  This first trimester has really wiped me out--especially in the evenings.  I mentioned before that part of the reason I've been reading so much lately is that I was sick...well, the other reason is that I've been going to up to bed super early to lay down because I am just about done by 8:00pm! (So so sad, I know.)   Poor Kevin has barely seen me at night lately--I go to bed around the same time the kids do LOL!

I am looking forward to...
...diving into several new projects--organizational, self-improvement and the like.  When we moved last year we were in such a hurry to un-pack everything before Christmas and before Thomas was born, that we didn't really do the greatest job with organizing closets and drawers.  I'm excited to just go through everything thoroughly.  De-cluttering and organizing is such drudgery, but I always feel so great afterward!

I am learning...
Quite a lot about Europe in the 1600s.  That is the area of focus in our homeschool history studies right now, and it is fascinating!  I love learning right alongside the kids!

A favorite quote for today...
 "For the love of God and [others] I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.”--St. Therese of Lisieux

The Happiness Project expounds on this quote quite a bit.  It's had me thinking about how often joy truly is a choice, and how much it can bless others when we choose joy.

One of my favorite things...
Each evening I've been happily snuggling up with this cozy throw I got for Christmas.  It's so warm and wonderful--like wearing a stuffed animal!  LOVE it.

A peek into my day...
Thomas has been making this hilarious scrunchy-face lately!  He gets really into it and even exhales really loudly while he's doing it.  So so funny!!

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Capturing Beauty {a picture recap of 2013}

As I was looking back on the photos I took in 2013 I was thinking about how much I truly enjoy capturing God's beauty with my camera.  It's a way for me to pause in amazement at the wonderment all around, all the time.  So, I wanted to bundle together some of that beauty here, in this space, all in one post.  Want to have a look with me? 

Capturing a bit of Valentine cheer against the backdrop of beautiful white.

My favorite tree in our backyard.  I love to watch the changing of the seasons through this tree.  It's always beautiful, whether bare-branched, covered in snow, bright green or autumn yellow.  Such a gift this tree is to me.

It's sometimes a challenge to find the beauty in the often dreary dark days of winter, but I love capturing the everyday bits of cozy and comfort in our daily rituals.  And I've always been a lover of steam in sunlight. :)

There is such beauty in the dishes we create!  The color!  The art!  I love snapping a few shots of kitchen beauty made.

Amidst the waking of Spring, the kids were blowing bubbles this sunny afternoon.  Bubbles are always stunning!

The first violets of Spring lovingly picked and given to me by the kiddos. :)

This picture was taken at the park while feeding the ducks.  I love the reflection of the trees on the water, and it also makes me chuckle because, right in the center, is an ENTIRE slice of bread my daughter hurled into the water, as opposed to tearing it up into little bits.  So funny. :)

Springtime always makes me wild for a bit of green.  Seedlings on the window sill--perfect.

Whenever the buds start to turn all pink and irresistible I find myself wanting to capture them all on camera.  Such a symbol of newness and such balm to my winter-weary soul!

more buds!

I've always loved ferns, and these bright cheery fiddleheads popping up all over make my heart sing!

I've always been a sucker for the beauty of flowers.  I mean, they're just BEGGING to be photographed!

Field of clover in the of the benefits of putting off mowing ha-ha!

These tree stumps are happily perched at the foot of our backyard.  I love to watch the kids hop about them on green afternoons.

Peonies--one of my favorite flowers.  They were my mom's favorite, too, so they always make me think of her. :)  I especially love this pale pink variety.

Just a little helicopter seed amidst the grass.  Love finding the simple beauty all around.

Gorgeous hilltop view at one of our favorite parks.

This picture doesn't even do justice to the sea of green that was this swamp.  It was breath-taking to be there in person.

Along with flower shots, I'm also a sucker for shadows!  So simple and, quite literally, always around! :)

bouquet of clover the kids brought me.  (The perks of not mowing frequently give all summer long!!)

This picture screams 4th of July!  I just love the memories it evokes--BBQ with the family, hot sticky happiness. :)

Fore is endlessly captivating.  I could stare at it for hours!  (But it's hard to photograph!)

This shot was taken at a children's museum with the kids.  I'm continually amazed by the God's beauty reflected in man-made art.

Sunflower against a brilliant blue sky.  End of summer awe.

Marsh grass.  So simple.  Amazing.

These budding morning glories in our backyard were so serendipitous!  Since it was our first summer at the new house, I had no idea what was planted anywhere.  All summer long I thought these were just weeds that but then, one day in August, they burst into bloom!  They lasted well into the Fall, and I just loved watching them open and close each day.

Morning Glories in all their...well, glory!

A last bit of summer's wildness as chilly Fall nights start to make there way.

Late summer is one of the best times to capture amazing sunsets!  Every evening the kids and I would run outside to catch a glimpse of the sky on fire.
More baked goodness.  A gift of deliciousness, enjoying the last of the season's blueberries.

End of summer is also an amazing time to catch the moon looking GIANT and amazing. (Another toughie to photograph without a DSLR!  I do what I can with my point and shoot.)

While on an afternoon walk with the kids at the pond down the street we happened to see this swan.  So beautiful!  We were lucky enough to catch him visiting a few more times throughout the season.

I LOVE succulents.  Always have.  This beauty is extra special to me because it was given to me by one of my oldest friends at her wedding.  I will always treasure it. :)

Stunning view from atop a lighthouse while on vacation in North Carolina.

Amazing sand dunes on our vacation.  I love to see how God's gifts of beauty differ so much from location to location.

The ocean--one of the most amazing of God's creations.  So vast.  So powerful. Always changing.  There's something therapeutic about sitting and watching the waves for hours. I always feel renewed.

Aaaah...Fall bursting in all it's technicolor splendor.  This shot was taken at a nearby apple orchard.

One of my favorite fields down the road from me.  I love to see how the seasons change the view throughout the year.  Here it is a lovely golden brown as the last of the golden rod dies off.

Nature silhouettes are always so much fun to snap.  I love the simple shapes, without all of the color.  It's such a different way to see beauty--through outlines.

Another one of my favorites in nature are colorful gourds!  Lit up by afternoon sun, they are breathtaking.  Each one is so unique.

A bit of Halloween yum I made for the kids' birthday party that past Fall.

The leaves were falling, and we spent the afternoon soaking up the late-autumn beauty at the park.  It's amazing how things still look gorgeous, even as they're dying.  The muted browns and spent seedpods have a rustic beauty of their own.

More late autumn beauty.

We were delighted to find this Praying Mantis at the park!  We watched it for a very long time.  God's creatures are so amazing!

Autumn path on a sunny afternoon.

Jack-o-lanterns!  So much fun!

Feeding the ducks on a chilly November day.

My favorite backyard maple turning a late-autumn golden yellow.  This tree turned colors long after most of the surrounding trees had already faded.  It was extra special that way!

More evidence of the beauty in nature, even as the colors fade.

This gorgeous sky was greeting me right outside my backdoor!  I ran to grab my camera before it floated away!

I love finding mushrooms on trees.  The patterns they make are captivating.

The first snowfall of the winter, at sunset.  Amazing.
I just love Advent.  The calmness.  The stillness.  The anticipation.  The sense of renewal.  Though it's a challenge to make room for the quiet in the midst of obligations and to-dos, each year I fall in love all over again with this 4-week season.  It was extra special for me this past year, since it was the first one settled into the new house. (Last year Advent was all about unpacking, since we'd moved in at the beginning of December!)

December afternoon moon.

We were lucky to have quite a bit of white this past December (pretty unusual in Connecticut!)  I just love how snow highlights the shapes of everything (much like silhouettes!).  Whether it's the first snowfall of the season or the fifteenth, snow never ceases to look stunning.

Aaaand, that's all!  It was wonderful to look back on all the ordinary everyday beauty I was privileged to capture these last 12 months.  It's so much fun to wrap up the year and all its changing seasons in one post like this--a first for me.  Thanks for looking with me! :)  I can't wait to see what everyday beauty 2014 brings.


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