The Best Things

Eek…it’s September already! I know that some people get a rush from flipping the calendar page to the next month, but no matter how well I spent my days, I am generally not one of those people. I want to linger a little longer over August.

We’re back in Grand Rapids now, after two weeks away in Florida. (Ian and I were gone for two weeks; Evan just joined us for the last weekend.) I’m still mulling over this vacation a bit, considering the ways it was a strange mix of both disappointment and goodness. Just after we arrived in Florida, my sweet Nanny was hospitalized with a perforated colon and all the complications that come along with that for someone in their 80’s. We had a few very scary and grim days, but I’m relieved to say she’s healing and progressing, and it looks like she may make it out of this whole ordeal without even needing surgery. That seems like a miracle given the initial prognosis we were given. It’s no small thing.

So, this vacation was full of hospital visits. On other days, it was just Ian and me at my parents’ house while the rest of the family was working or visiting with Nanny. (A two year old can only spend so much time in a hospital room, you know?) Along the way, I [mildly] hurt my ankle and spent several afternoons on the couch with an ice pack. So, it was both the big and small things that made this vacation feel a bit strange. In Simply Tuesday, Emily Freeman wrote that we often hesitate to admit disappointments because we don’t want to seem ungrateful, which is exactly how I’m feeling. It’s a cliche, I suppose, but nothing lends perspective like a loved one growing suddenly very, very ill, and I’m so, so grateful that we were in Florida to spend that time with Nanny, and for every other sweet and special moment with friends and family that we had in between trips to the hospital.

On the day we headed back to Michigan, Oliver Sacks died. I haven’t read his books, but I do have a sort of regard for his work and his role in American arts and sciences. I went back and read his NYT op-ed about learning he had terminal cancer. In it, he says,  “There is no time for anything inessential.” I can’t stop thinking about that. Me being me, my initial tendency is to feel guilty about all the ways I might be wasting my time. I start devaluing things left and right, deeming this podcast or that hobby or this blog post inessential. But I wonder if I might instead look at that statement as a benediction, a kind and gentle reminder of the best way to move forward from one moment to the next.

After Evan’s flight arrived on Friday, we left Tampa and drove to Orlando for Amethyst and Glenn’s wedding. I think it was the most wonderful wedding I’ve been a part of. Of course, that’s due in part to how special Amethyst is to me, how valuable and life-giving her friendship has been over the past 16 years (16!), how I admire her so fully that it felt like an honor to be a bridesmaid. But there was also the realization that everyone in the room felt that way: that these are some of the best people ever, and what a joy to celebrate alongside them. The feeling was contagious.

From the timeline of the day, to the vendors, to the traditions included or excluded, all the guests knew that Amethyst and Glenn were acting on that same principle: no time for anything inessential. Faith, family, and friendship…that was it. Every moment felt meaningful.

As the calendar changes to September, I am getting excited for our first autumn in Michigan, but I sense in myself the very easy tendency to get distracted. (I’m thinking a lot about cider mills and cinnamon and decorating with pumpkins.) Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of that; I’m not saying necessarily that they’re inessential (although, maybe).

But I came home from this vacation reminded that ultimately, the best things are still the best things. Faith. Family. Friendship. (With some fun and creativity in the mix for good measure.) It was both the disappointments–my random ankle injury, the difficulty of being away from Evan, Nanny’s hospitalization–and the celebrations–watching my sister have a great week back at work, Ian’s birthday, Amethyst & Glenn’s wedding–that helped remind me of this. Of course, God uses both the disappointments and the celebrations to teach me because He is present with me in the midst of them all.

No time for anything inessential.

My favorite podcasts right now (and episode recommendations)

When Apple released their podcast app a few years ago, I asked on Facebook for recommendations. (At that point, I was listening to the RELEVANT Podcast and Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me.) And…no one had any suggestions! Womp womp. Not long after that, I just started making my way through all the NPR podcasts. Eventually, bloggers I loved started launching their own shows and then, of course, Serial happened, and here we are.

The podcasts I’m really into tend to change quite a bit, but here’s a list of my favorites RIGHT NOW. I also included episode recommendations, because when a podcast has hundreds of episodes in it’s archives, it’s helpful to have a starting point. (Podcast titles link to the iTunes store, and episode recommendations link to the show notes or audio for that episode when possible.)

New and Notable: I started listening to this group of shows most recently, and right now, I try to catch every episode.

  1. Sorta Awesome: I know I’ve mentioned this show several times, but it’s my absolute favorite right now. The topics are personally relevant, the tone is conversational and honest, and the host, Megan Tietz, has a phenomenal radio voice. I could listen to her read the phone book. Episode Recommendation: All About Friendship (Ep. 14). It may not have made me get all choked up in the frozen section at Meijer.
  2. The Popcast: The Popcast is pure fun, which is just what I need on some days, you know? I’m astounded by the amount of pop culture trivia (and snark) Knox & Jamie have crammed into their brains, but mostly they make me laugh a lot.  Episode Recommendation: Episode 100: Looking Back & Looking Ahead (Ep. 100). I listened to this with my sister while she was visiting, and even though she had never heard the show before, she laughed a lot. I feel like that makes this a good recommendation.
  3. Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert: You are probably most familiar with Liz Gilbert as the author of Eat, Pray, Love. I enjoyed that book when I read it in college, but I have come to love Liz more through her TED talks and the other bits of inspiration she shares on-line. She is generous with her encouragement & compassion. I love the format: one week, talk to a person struggling with their work/art/creativity and offer encouragement as to how they might navigate those issues. On the following week, Gilbert interviews a celebrity “expert witness,” and they continue to discuss the issues and questions from the week before. Episode Recommendation: Cheryl Strayed on Moms: Pursue Your Passions Like a Mofo (Ep. 2). Honestly, though, with only 7 episodes thus far, I’d say you can just binge-listen to the whole show. (Note: there is a language warning at the beginning of each episode, but most actually haven’t had any cursing.)
  4. The Simple Show: Technically, this isn’t new, but Tsh Oxenreider (of The Art of Simple) has relaunched her podcast with a new name and look. I have consistently listened to this show for years. Tsh and her guests (often authors and bloggers) talk through their current projects and adventures, with an emphasis on how they approach intentional living. Episode recommendation: Since the relaunch, my favorite episode was with Amber Haines (Ep. 9), but I recommend digging into The Art of Simple Podcast archives and catching the eye-opening, inspiring episode with Jeremy & Jessica Courtney of Preemptive Love.
  5. Mystery Show: Enter the first podcast to unseat This American Life as the #1 podcast in iTunes in QUITE awhile. The premise of each episode often seems mundane, silly, or insignificant, but along the way, Starlee is able to have the most candid, vulnerable, and important conversations. That’s what makes the show great. It’s a reminder that life’s most significant truths are usually fleshed out in the small and ordinary moments. Episode recommendation: Start with Britney (Ep. 2) and then listen to Belt Buckle (Ep. 3).

The Usuals: These aren’t new, but I still listen to each of them regularly.

  1. Dear Sugar: This is a podcast from Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, the former authors of the Dear Sugar advice column. Note: You can often expect adult conversation and language in this one, and I don’t always agree with them. (I hope that disclaimer is mostly unnecessary.) But again–these are people who are generous with their encouragement, vulnerability, and compassion. Episode Recommendation: How Do I Survive the Critics? (Ep. 6) 
  2. Hope*Ologie: If you know me at all, you know I consume everything Emily Freeman and The Nester produce. I love the light and breezy conversational tone of this show. Episode Recommendation: The Day I Realized I Had a Job (Ep. 9)
  3. The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey: This podcast is like grabbing coffee or drinks with a good friend. The discussions range from the silly to the serious, and I love that mixture. Episode Recommendation: Most recently, I really enjoyed her interview with Jess Connolly (Ep. 47).
  4. Pop Culture Happy Hour: This is one I pick and choose from based on the episode topic, but when it’s good, it’s very good (and often funny). Episode Recommendation: Inside Out and Moms and Dads in Love
  5. The God-Centered Mom Podcast: I appreciate Heather’s podcast because she is honest about her own insecurities and shortcomings as a mom. Her interviews sound like genuine conversations; she’s not just waiting to ask the next question. Episode Recommendation: How to {Really} Parent with Grace (Ep. 55)

The Best of the Best: I think almost everyone agrees that This American Life and Radiolab (along with Serial) are the gold standard in podcasting. I also LOVE StoryCorps and The Writers’ Almanac. These are all podcasts where I go to learn something and broaden my worldview.

  1. This American Life. Episode Recommendation: I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. The first I’d recommend is “Three Miles,” which is very eye-opening and conveys SO well that the problems causing America’s educational inequality are complex and require complex solutions. The other one I would recommend comes with a disclaimer: it is graphic and difficult to listen to at some points, and it also contains adult language. BUT, if you want to think more about the challenges facing police officers, the biases they may or may not hold, and the conflicts between white police officers and the black citizens of their districts, I highly recommend “Cops See it Differently,” Part One and Part Two.
  2. Radiolab. Episode Recommendation: Juicervose. I think there’s a lot of discussion in America about what may or may not cause autism, but there is less discussion about the realities for families living with it. The stories in this episode have stuck with me.
  3. StoryCorps: StoryCorps releases a new episode every week, and they are all being archived in the Library of Congress over time. It’s too hard to choose just one; any or all of them are worth your time. All hail the power of storytelling!
  4. The Writers’ Almanac: This 5-minute show produces daily episodes. Garrison Keillor tells you what happened on this day in history, and then reads a poem. It is short, sweet, and a phenomenal way to start your day. We all need more poetry in our lives.

Anything good I’m missing out on??

Dear Ian (2 Years Old)

Dear Ian,

Lately, you love the number 3. You say you have 3 eyes and 3 hands, 3 cars and 3 blocks. If anyone asks you how old you are, you proudly respond “tee!” But let’s not rush things, ok? Tomorrow you turn two years old. I can’t believe it.

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Can I tell you a story? We have a Progressive Snapshot plugged into our car right now. It’s this little machine that monitors our driving. If Progressive deems us safe drivers, we’ll get a discount on our car insurance. One thing it does is beep 3 times if the driver brakes too quickly. We were driving in the car with Nanny & Grandma while they visited last week, and your dad slammed on the brakes. Before that pesky little Snapshot even had a chance to catch it’s bearings, you shouted, “Beep, beep, beep!” We all died laughing, but I was completely in awe that you understood exactly what that beeping means.

You constantly surprise us with the small details of life that you’ve been paying attention to, the tiny lessons you’ve been learning. Almost every day, it seems we’ve got a different kid on our hands. But you know what? I feel like a different person, too. As your birthday approached, I found myself thinking not just about what you’ve learned, but what I’ve been learning, too.

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I have learned about teamwork. Your dad and I have very different strengths and weaknesses, but parenting you has been the best lesson in how we each get to use our strengths (and support once another’s weaknesses) to build this little family. You help me understand how well we compliment each other and where we have room to grow.

I have learned about exhaustion. Seriously. All-nighters during finals week have nothing on chasing you up and down the stairs 25 million times while 7 months pregnant. (Also? This seems WAY harder than the newborn phase, but maybe I’ll feel differently once your brother arrives in November.)

I have learned about judgement. I’ve learned how it feels when other people judge my parenting decisions, so I am far less likely to make assumptions about other people’s parenting. Ian, try to always give people they benefit of the doubt, because everyone is doing the best they can.

I have learned about forgiveness. When I lose patience with you, bump your head on the door frame, or take a toy away, you are always back for more hugs, kisses, and snuggles before long. As someone who carries a critical comment or slight offense around like a ball and chain, there’s a lot I can learn from you in this regard. You teach me how to let the tiny things go.

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I have learned about fun. My default approach to life is a pretty serious one. With you, I’m learning that sometimes, all it takes to encourage cooperation is a loud silly noise and crazy facial expression. We have dance parties in the living room, tickle fights before bed at night, and we hide under blankets…a lot. Life is more fun with you in it.

I have learned about grace. The truth is, buddy, I don’t like to fail. Meanwhile, I make parenting mistakes (whether big or small) every day. Just yesterday, I pinched your belly in your carseat clip. This is the kind of small mistake I used to let ruin my day, but I never want you to be afraid to risk, experiment, and challenge yourself. I never want you to beat yourself up for a small mistake. Jesus never holds me to a standard of perfection, so I don’t have to hold myself to that standard either. And for the record, I will never expect you to be perfect. There is plenty of grace for my mistakes and yours.

I have learned about determination. Most days, you wake up with an agenda. You know what you do and do not want to play, where you would or would not like to go, and what you will or will not eat. You challenge my patience and consistency every day. What I’ve learned from being married to your dad is that what I could call “stubborn,” I can also call determined, resolute, and loyal. I see those qualities in you, too.

I have learned about love and joy and patience and self-control, and I have learned that I have so much left to learn.

Being your mom is the best, Ian, and I’m grateful for each moment of it.

Happy, happy birthday, cutie pie.

Love you forever,

Mama

What I’m Into (July 2015 Edition)

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I’m one day late, but I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I was into in July. I’m still tweaking the way I format these posts and what sections I include. I had so many great links I wanted to share that I considered making them a separate post and focusing on books here, but I stuck with it for now. I also decided to add two sections: one for a quick recap of things we experience in our new home and one about what I’m most looking forward to next month.

I’m convinced that half the enjoyment and appreciation of my life comes from both reflecting on what passed and anticipating what’s next.

As I thought about what to include here, I kept thinking, “Not much happened this month…” but truly, a lot happened. We had several visitors: both Evan’s parents and my sister Kelsey stayed with us for a bit, and one of Evan’s UCF coworkers visited with his girlfriend on their way through MI. I celebrated my birthday, and we crossed a few more restaurants and Western Michigan to-dos off our list. We are making slow but steady progress on our Summer Bucket list.

We’ve also been wrestling hard with homesickness, which seems to kick-in whenever a visitor leaves or when something happens back in FL that we wish we were around for. I remind myself that we only moved a few months ago, and that maybe just like in Inside Out (which I saw for a 2nd time this month), we don’t have to resist sadness, but just sit alongside it some times.

All that said, here’s some of the best of what July had to offer:

Read & Reading:

About Go Set a Watchman:

Why I want to read it and why I hesitate to (I will read it but only after I reread To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it. I will probably read it from a writer’s perspective, thinking of it as TKAM’s first draft, and considering how Harper Lee got from GSAW to the book we all treasure so much.)

About Work & Worth:

An alternative to believing in yourself (Seth Godin)

The noun and the verb (Austin Kleon)

Reevaluating how we define “good days” (Design for Mankind)

My new mantra has become, “I am not an airplane.” (Sarah Mackenzie)

According to Strengthfinders, three of my strengths are learner, intellection, and input. That’s great, but I always need reminders that practice is learning, but learning is not practice.

Ahh, here they are again: those pesky ideas about Sabbath and rhythm and work that just won’t leave me alone.

The hard parts of writing and mothering. “Girls, we are way beyond living easy. We get to live grace.”

And miscellaneous:

Verdana for the win.

I’m thinking about who my yes people are. (Honestly, it was pretty easy to figure out, and that’s something to be grateful for.)

A voice for the voiceless. “A tired trope, isn’t it? a voice for the voiceless. The problem with this is, of course, that so few people are actually voiceless. The problem isn’t their ‘voicelessness,’ it is that we are not listening. We don’t value their voices and so we do not listen.”

My book reading has been slow this month, but I finished Daring Greatly (Brown) and State of Wonder (Patchett). I’m currently working my way through First Impressions (Lovett), Offshore (Fitzgerald), The Glass Castle (Walls), and The Jesus Way (Peterson). So much for only reading one book at a time this summer. For my birthday, I received Pioneer Girl and the Puffin In Bloom editions of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. They are the most beautiful books I own, and I love them.

Music:

For me: Not much new. I’m just as obsessed as ever with Joy Williams’ album. I also love, love love the You are the Avalanche EP from John Mark & Sarah McMillan, and Psalms from Sandra McCracken.

For Ian: We’ve been listening to Seeds Family Worship. This is basically Bible verses, word-for-word, set to music. I love the idea that Ian is hearing and learning Scripture. (And it is far less annoying than nothing by Laurie Berkner songs all day long!)

Podcasts:

New subscriptions: Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert,1 Year Daily Audio Bible, and Mystery Show

I am anxiously awaiting a new Mystery Show episode. If you haven’t started listening to this podcast, it is so great. I recommend you start with the Britney episode and then listen to Belt Buckle.

I really enjoyed listening to Jess Connolly on The Happy Hour. Since I heard that episode, I often tell myself, “I am taking myself out of the running.” It’s become a new mantra of sorts.

Around Grand Rapids:

-For July 4th, we braved the crowds and went to the beach! We drove out to Grand Haven and finally saw Lake Michigan from the Michigan side (as opposed to from Chicago). It really is just like people say: a white sandy beach with waves. You might as well be looking at the ocean. The only exception was the COLD. It was easy to spot the Floridians because we never even took off our cover-ups. We also went downtown for fireworks on the 4th, and it was a pretty impressive fireworks show!

-We finally bought an annual membership to Meijer Gardens, so we’ll be taking advantage of that more often. Ian loves the children’s garden there: going in and out through the little child-sized door (he cries when you finally drag him away from it), splashing in the fountains, playing with the boats, and climbing around the treehouse.

-We’ve eaten at The Mitten Brewing Co., The Omelette Shoppe, Wolfgangs, and Hopcat. (Food Network Magazine rated Hopcat’s french fries as among the best in America, and I must say: they are pretty darn good.) Ian was obsessed with the jam at The Omelette Shoppe (some kind of yummy, house-made cherry jam.) He kept dipping pieces of toast into it like ketchup and saying, “Mmmmm.”

-I finally got a Mitten Pop from Love’s Ice Cream, which had been on my Michigan bucket list. So yummy, but mostly just fun.

-We barely squeaked it in yesterday at the end of the month, but Ian and I went blueberry picking with our neighbors. Last night, Ian was running around like a crazy person saying, “I want blueberry!” over and over again.

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What I’m Looking Forward to in August:

Bringing Evan along for more blueberry picking, celebrating both Evan and Ian’s birthdays, meeting Evan’s coworkers at a lab BBQ, spending almost two weeks in Florida, celebrating Amethyst & Glenn’s wedding, hopefully signing Ian up for swimming lessons, more prenatal yoga. So much good stuff, guys!

Here’s to a wonderful August.

The Danger of “I Want”

In our upstairs hallway, a cardboard box labeled “donate” is overflowing. A few days ago, I handed off a 2-inch stack of scrapbooking paper to my neighbor and condensed all my paper from 3 drawers down to one. When it came time to move all my patterned paper to the smaller container, I was so pleased to realize how little was left and that each piece is truly one I love. I won’t struggle to find a use for it, and I won’t need to rifle through a bunch of paper I feel “meh” about to find the good stuff. (I totally realize as I’m writing this that some people are going to think, “Wait, what? Patterned paper? This is a thing people own? And love?”)

Not long ago, I found freedom in having an abundance of options: plenty of coffee mugs and water bottles and shoes and cardigans and–of course–patterned paper. I always had plenty of choices to address my current whims. Instead, I now find freedom in having fewer options but knowing they are as close to perfect as they can get: I love them, they bring me joy, I don’t often have reason not to use them, and they suit my tastes and needs just right.

At the same time, I’m beginning to recognize something that’s unsettled me a little bit, and it’s this: I am really uncomfortable with how often I think, “I want…”

“I want” creeps into my thoughts while wandering Target, while grocery shopping, while deciding what to wear, while browsing Pinterest, while following someone new on Instagram, while praying, while journaling, while reading. I am embarrassed to admit how thoroughly “I want” has invaded my consciousness, how it has become like a song stuck in my head and a refrain I can’t stop singing. It reeks of selfishness, greed, and materialism. It reveals discontent and distraction. I hate it. (One day, I thought about making a list of every time I caught myself thinking it, but I decided that might be too depressing. Or too eye-opening? Probably both.)

We visited Mars Hill a few weeks ago, and the sermon was about the Parable of the Sower. It’s one I’ve heard many, many times, but I shouldn’t be surprised by the way Jesus continues using it to teach me new things. Here’s the passage that sparked this whole thing:

When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” –Jesus (Matthew 13:19-23 MSG)

I am that seed cast in the weeds. Now, each time I catch myself hearing that pesky and familiar phrase, I’m left with a yucky feeling inside. It’s not a shame-riddled, feeling bad about myself feeling, but just a recognition that there must be a better way. I’m praying about this constantly, and I’m keeping it in my ind each time I read Scripture, wondering what else Jesus might say about it. And of course, I’m asking, “What do I do about it?”

“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6, MSG)

So, some super practical ways I’m tackling this (though it’s all a work in progress): 

-I’m avoiding the Target dollar section, home decor aisle, and stationary aisles. I know we all joke about how we just can’t leave Target without spending at least $50, and that’s fine, but I don’t really want that to be true of me, and I don’t like the way I feel in Target, honestly.

-I’m using Pinterest to look for specific things or pin something I saw elsewhere but not to browse aimlessly.

-I’m unfollowing most shops & stores on Instagram. I’m only following people and organizations I find interesting, inspiring, and entertaining. No more follows just for interesting products that I might want to buy. And yup, this means I’m avoiding most giveaways.

-I’m not visiting a store just because I’m bored at home with Ian. Instead, we’ll go to the library, park, or just to a different room in the house. I’m setting aside certain activities and toys just for those moments.

-I’m unsubscribing from promotional emails. (I thought i had done this awhile ago, but it’s amazing how quickly and subtly they creep back into my inbox!) I don’t want to go buy something just because I have a coupon. My only exception to this is Shutterfly, because I actually use their 101 free prints & free address labels often would buy those things anyway. (If Evan & I decide we need something, I can resubscribe and wait for the right coupon to show up then, and only then.)

But mostly:

I am trying to pay more attention to my thoughts, taking them captive to Christ. My hope is that each time I think, “I want…” I can instead pray, “I am enough and Christ is enough for me.”

The truth is, minimalism and simplicity have a lot less to do with how much stuff I do or do not own and a lot more to do with how often I think and say, “I want…” The condition of my heart is not necessarily going to change just because I drop off another box at Goodwill. The condition of my heart will only change when I allow Jesus to do the good work of tilling the soil of contentedness and uprooting the greed that threatens to choke it out.

Why vacations are good for me.

When Evan and I went on our honeymoon, we unknowingly established from the get-go what would become our vacation routine. It goes like this: we pick a large city and spend the entire vacation eating and walking around the city as much as possible. We’ve had good luck booking hotels on Priceline: we’ve usually booked 4 or 5 star hotels in the heart of the city’s downtown area for less than $200/night. (We did try airbnb once, but Evan doesn’t love the idea of staying at a random person’s house.) We usually throw in a sporting event, museums, and parks. And that’s that.

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I love it. I am much more of a city person than a beach or outdoors lover. I like to see culture and architecture, and I like access to lots of coffee and food. We enjoy taking public transportation whenever possible. I have a feeling this routine will change eventually, especially when we’re looking for summery escapes from Michigan’s winter and we have kids who just want to play all day. (Admittedly, I am SO looking forward to the days when my kids are old enough to entertain themselves, and I can spend a vacation curled up with a good book.)

It’s been several weeks since we went to Chicago (almost a month already!), but I’ve still been thinking lots about that trip. I felt totally refreshed when we got back. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about the importance of novelty in increasing our happiness, and I think experiencing big cities is my favorite way to seek out novelty. I always feel invigorated after taking in the sights of a new place, and I come back with greater appreciation for home.

But while thinking about Chicago trip, I think I’ve uncovered another, unexpected reason why vacations are good for me. A vacation forces me to say what I need.

Under normal circumstances, I hate admitting out loud that I need or want something. It’s a frequent issue in our marriage. More often than I care to admit, I passive-aggressively stew because Evan didn’t help with something or failed to acknowledge a need I didn’t even express. The solution is so simple: if I want help with the dishes, all I need to do is ask him to help me. When I ask, he then knows something is a priority for me in that moment, and because he loves me, he’s more than happy to help. He can’t know when I don’t tell him. (I’ll even do things like this when I’m hungry or hot or cold…it’s craziness, I readily admit.)

As I went through the reGroup process, this issue came up again and again within my small group. So often, one of us would say, “The whole situation could have been avoided if…” or “I would feel much better if…” or “If only I had been brave enough to ask that…” At one point, my friend Kailey looked around at us and said, “Why is it so hard for us to say what we need?”

For the most part, I don’t want to seem selfish, self-involved, or needy. It’s rooted in my constant need for approval: I subconsciously think people will like me more if I’m not too needy, because they will need to do less for me. Ironically, my love language is acts of service. So basically, I am getting in my own way all of the time by not giving others a simple opportunity to care for me well. (I’m mostly thinking about my marriage here, but I’m sure this applies in other relationships as well.)

When I’m at home, I’m caught up in my own routine and for the most part, I can do my own thing and meet my own needs. If I’m hungry or thirsty, I can just walk to the kitchen and get myself a snack or drink. If I’m cold or hot, I go upstairs to grab a sweater or open a window. Because I’m responsible for grocery shopping and a lot of other errand-running during the week, if I decide I need something, I usually just get it.

But on vacation, that’s not doable. Everything we’re experiencing, we’re experiencing together. We don’t have a fully-stocked pantry or access to our closets, and I can’t just help myself to what I need. I actually have to say out loud, “Hey, I’m kinda thirsty. Let’s stop somewhere and get a drink.” I have to admit, “I’m freezing. Let’s do something indoors.” Because I was pregnant in Chicago, my requests came even more frequently than they normally would: I need to sit down and put my feet up, I really want something sweet to munch on, I need to use the bathroom again.

Don’t get me wrong: independence has it’s upside, obviously, as does sometimes putting the needs of others before my own. But as an approval-seeking, codependent, recovering perfectionist, I have to ask myself where my desire for independence is coming from. Do I simply enjoy the feeling of taking care of myself? Or is that that I want to appear selfless and flexible so that others will think better of me? I recognize how silly some of this sounds because–hello–I’m a human being, and no one would expect me to not be hungry or thirsty or tired once in awhile. Still, like always, it’s the simple things that trip me up.

Exploring a new place pushes me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but I’m realizing that it’s not just about the culture or architecture or sight seeing. It’s about the ways it forces me to lean into and rely on the people I’ve chosen to adventure with, to personally acknowledge what I need and readily say it out loud.

Ian Right Now

Ian turns 2 next month, which is something I simply can’t believe. I know when the time comes, I’ll be thinking more and more about the little boy he’s turning into. A few months after that, his little brother will make his arrival into the world and into our family.

But RIGHT NOW? Right now, Ian is so fun and funny and sweet. He is changing and learning and blowing me away every single day, and there is so much about this time I don’t want to forget.

I want to remember the way your voice sounds when you say, “Hi, Mama” when I come into your room in the morning.

I want to remember how every day, your dad and I are required to say “Good morning” and “good night” to all your favorite stuffed animals (a blue polka-dotted monkey and Yale bulldog).

I want to remember how you call your blankets “good night.”

I want to remember how when your Gram was visiting us, you were suddenly inspired to try lots of new foods: kiwi, scrambled eggs, pancakes, guacamole.

I want to remember the first little joke you told. I taught you the “Orange…Blue!” chant from Gator Games. We were doing it together one morning: I said “Orange,” and you looked at me with the funniest, most mischievous little smile, and suddenly yelled, “Green!” Then you and I both fell down on the floor laughing hysterically.

I want to remember how exciting it is that you are learning all your colors, and love to point them out: blue, red, green, orange, yellow, black, and white.

I want to remember that when Grandma Shannon sent you a gift, you had no interest in unwrapping it until you saw a car printed on the package. “I want car!” you exclaimed, and started to tear the paper off.

I want to remember how you love to point out “Mama, Dada, Ian!” in family photos.

I want to remember how I need to be strategic when I plan outside playtime, because once we’re out there, it’s very hard to get you back inside.

I want to remember that you call animals by the sound they make: woof woof, ooh ooh agh agh, roar.

I want to remember how you lean into the phone and computer to give kisses when we are Facetiming with your grandparents.

I want to remember that you think it’s hilarious to answer questions incorrectly and then exclaim, “No!”

I want to remember how much you love Pete the Cat books, despite how much the repetition drives your dad and I crazy after awhile.

I want to remember the way you yell “House!” whenever we turn onto our street, and how you start saying, “Dada! Dada?” when we drive by your dad’s work to pick him up.

I want to remember how you immediately start heading a few doors down when I ask, “Want to go play at Sophie’s house?”

I want to remember how you will say hi to squirrels, ants, and lamps, but not to people who say hello to you.

I want to remember watching fireworks on July 4th. You were a bit afraid of the loud noise, but you kept whispering the colors of the fireworks in my ear.

I want to remember that “I want moon, moon, moon,” means you want to listen to a Laurie Berkner song, but it’s usually not actually “Moon, Moon, Moon.” “Pig on Her Head” is your favorite right now.

I want to remember how when we first started attending story time at the library, you wouldn’t participate at all, but you are slowly warming up to it.

I want to remember the way your sweet voice sounds when you say, “No thank you,” and how funny it is when you sometimes say, “No please.”

I want to remember YOU: chubby and energetic, sweet and stubborn, full of ideas and plans.