Saturday, January 21, 2017

THE COTTAGE IN THE WOODS: Part I

Dear Olive,

Our street is one of the last brick roads in our town.  At the end of our road is a culdesac of two houses that look straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.  These homes, deemed "the cottages" by our family, are accessible down a narrow cobble stone drive and are nestled in a ravine flanked by trees.  There is a narrow brook circling the left-hand cottage, which my kids call, "the Snow White Cottage."  I've always coveted these homes.  I amble down the path often when walking alone after the kid's bedtime.

My fancy for these structures is so widely known that last week I received a call from a friend who is a relator alerting me that one of the cottages was going up for auction.



I swiftly did an acquaintanceship scan and plotted who I could solicit to be my neighbor with the secret agenda of designing the home's interior.  A mere day later, my lovely friend Amanda and I set out for a showing of the home.

"You'll be Miss Honey in Matilda," I cooed!  "You'll live in a fairy tale!"

We entered the house through crumbling stone stairs and a cracked hobbit door to an estate full of structural and aesthetic problems.  But all I could see was the potential.  Cupboards and nooks, and crannies, and character, I was falling hard.

A few days later, Amanda brought her mom to see the property.   Jason, the kids and I met her there.  The kids created chaos by hiding in all of the cupboards and trying to eat all of the lead paint.  Jason held my hand and listened to me gush.

Lying in bed that night, Jason listened to me wax poetic about the potential of the cottage.  By that time, Amanda's mother had  wisely talked her out of buying it, which any good mother would do.


"You want to buy it, don't you?"  He asked.

"Well, no"... I stammered.  "That wouldn't be very wise.  I mean, it would be amazing,"  I continued.  "We could rent it out while we fixed up the upstairs.  When my parents get older, they could move in so I could take care of them.  That would make me so happy."



"You know, we could probably swing it," He reasoned.

"Hmmm," I mumbled to sleep.  "Wouldn't that be lovely."



That night I had a dream that I found a fortune of war bonds in a purse that had been passed down to me by my grandmother.







Before I awoke, we promptly bought the house.









Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A WAR ON TRAUMA

Dear Olive,

At work this year I've been planning a series of talks and experiences for staff members to keep them thriving in the wake of supporting kids in trauma.  The rigor of dealing with aggressive and depressed kids can get the best of us all.  Empathizing and trying to problem-solve for situations that sometimes seem impossible can feel so depleting.  And at the conclusion of last year, I felt pretty much spent.

I had remembered reading an article about the women who entered the workplace to substitute for men fighting during World War II.  With mothers and home economists out of the home, society had to restructure itself to accommodate for daily tasks that would not get accomplished in the usual way.  So, when women would check into work, they would bring their babies with them.  Not only would they have daycare on site, but they would also bring their laundry and grocery lists.  At the conclusion of their work day, women would collect their babies, clean clothing, dinner, and laundry.  Their errands had been accomplished for them by community volunteers because they were supporting the community with their work.  In this narrative I was struck; not only by the team- mindedness, but also by the awareness that no one person can do it all.


Wrapped in the dichotomy of isolationism and social media, we live in a fast-paced age promoting independence and hustle.  Working and getting everything done to the height of perfection has become a badge and an expectation.  What if, instead of secretly competing against each other's Facebook feed of dinner and decor, we banded together to divide and conquer?

So, this year every Monday, we are giving our staff an opportunity to do or receive something that reduces the rigor and promotes community.  We're teaching skills like life lists, the power of play, how to deal with difficult people, and how painting increases cognitive efficiency.  We're giving away meditation routines, bento boxes, infused water bottles, family dinners, capsule wardrobes, and chair massages.

In such a small way, I hope that this resurrects the mentality that we are better together.  And that we can win the war.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

PARTY TIME: Happy New Year!

Dear Olive,

In a momentous victory, no one was sick for New Years!  Much like a swaddled child post-labor, the lack of pain made the event very sweet.



 We started by inventorying each family member about what they would like to eat for dinner.  They could pick anything.  We landed on wings, shrimp, perogies, and sundaes.


Then, we wrote out the nights activities and put one in each balloon labeled with an hour.  We moved up the clock after each activity was done.


We made party hats, opened the time capsule, filled out our New Years resolutions, and ate our picnic dinner by the fire.  At the end of the night, as the clock neared "12" we read this book and watched last year's ball drop on YouTube.



 Everyone was in bed by nine, including my husband, but I wouldn't have changed anything for the world!  Hoping next year is just the same!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

HOLIDAY MAGIC


Dear Olive, 


 I find that in these, the most magical of holiday seasons, it takes intentionality to decompress and restore oneself in the midst all of the hubbub.  

This season, I am looking forward to quiet nights with the glow of Christmas lights and wood burning fires


To walks outside with families and the fun of finding the most worthy of discount trees to murder,


Looking forward to some solo dates with each child


And to the joy of the season.  


Sometimes, in the anticipation of all of these things, I trick myself out of being present and focus instead on the minutia of aesthetic perfection or on the work of gifts and "shoulds."

What a shame it is to look back upon perfect photos of all of the memories only to recall the stress and angst I felt over not aptly reaching the finish line.  

This year, I intend to get some things wrong.  To forget to send the Christmas cards and to drop the ball on a few other things.

Instead, I want to take the time to be curious about who is waiting in line next to me, instead of running down my "to do" list ad nauseam.  

I want to savor the sticky hands and mismatched socks.  

Recently, I re-read this post about the narrative in our heads.  I lack the muscle memory to practice self care and effortlessness.  This year, I intend to exercise.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

UNCLE JOSH: ANIMAL WHISPERER

Dear Olive,


Reason #23423 why my brother is cooler than me:


He is a scientist, writer, and traveler who is a big wig at the zoo and sends my kids these gems weekly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

MAGIC WORDS: How to Be Pretty

Dear Olive,

Lately, Ella has been asking if we think that she is beautiful.  This image-consciousness rose up unexpectedly for me, but shouldn't be such a surprise.  I vividly remember playing a game with my childhood friend called, "I'm her."

At what must have only been six years old, we would spend afternoons in a sun-drenched Victorian pouring through catalogs with images of women in suits and evening gowns.  The object of the game was to locate the most beautiful women among the photos and put your finger on her photo as a placeholder of ownership to her loveliness.  By quickly reserving the photograph of the most striking model, you somehow absorbed the status of that image.  And even at such a young age, it was evident that beauty was power.  These shiny magazines were visually priming us for the secret society to which we would someday gain membership.  But they were also programming us to the dangerous competition of image ranking.

Like most, I mentally outlined a matrix of the narrow box into which the criteria of beauty fit.  From this seed, the fruits of perfectionism, scarcity, and materialism flow.  Finding my way to discover beauty in imperfection and joy in the common was not an easy road.  I fear that the avatars of social media and visual stimulation of society's, "shoulds" will make this resolution nearly impossible for Ella.  When she looks in the mirror I want her to see her value and strength instead of inventorying her imperfections.

Her query as to my impression of her beauty took the wind out of me.  I looked into her deep brown eyes and knew that a disclaimer of beauty being unimportant would be contrary to what she had deduced of the world...just as a blanket decree of her being the fairest would eventually leave her mistrustful of my judgement.  Instead, I responded that I knew kind girls to be the most beautiful.

"Think about it Ella", I said.  "Isn't Grandma beautiful?"  "Isn't your teacher?"  They are beautiful because we love them.  Because we are joyful around them, all of the light that fills those happy moments casts a softness of beauty.

Ella has been practicing kindness as the secret to loveliness.  She thinks of it with 1:1 correspondence and asks me if her hair is glowing after helping someone with a task or errand.  When I catch her feeling confident or proud after being especially helpful, I tell her, "Ella, you look absolutely beautiful.  Were you especially kind today?"  She smiles and spins for us.

I can't dissuade her from buying into the allure of striving to feel pretty, but I hope to outline the dimensionality of true beauty and to look to herself, rather than to culture for that definition.        


"If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that's all that you really are.  Time erodes all such beauty, but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind: Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage.  These are the things I cherish so in you."

-- Marmee, Little Women

Sunday, September 25, 2016

DESIGN MOM FEATURE

Dear Olive,

About a month ago, Gabrielle Blair graciously invited us to share a little about our home and the motherhood journey on her award-winning site Design Mom.  Gabrielle is a designer and mother who rotates between the States and the French countryside.  Her work was praised as a "Website of the Year" by Time Magazine and a "Top Parenting Blog" by the Wall Street Journal, Parents Magazine, and Better Homes & Gardens.

So honored to have worked with Gabrielle.  Check our our  feature here.