Let’s talk gratitude, and not the ‘what we all have to be thankful for’ gratitude but the really deep-down-in-your-bones gratitude. The kind of gratitude that not everyone relates to, the gratitude that can seem a little weird and out of place at times. The kind of things you think to yourself but rarely, if ever, utter out loud. Vivi’s gratitude lies in armfuls of bunnies.

This is worse than Vivi finding out there's no Santa. The alternate bunnies have been compromised. The end is near.

I’ve started to teach Addie about this kind of gratitude, the kind that lets you find little bits of lovely in even the most bleak of situations. Like a perfectly sharpened pencil at the start of a math test or a really comfy dress that looks like a very fancy dress so you feel as though you’re getting away with wearing your pajamas in fancy situations. How about when you get one of those big lettuce hearts in your salad and the dressing has seeped down into all the little crevices and it’s covered in crouton dust (maybe that last one is just me?)

My mother-in-law delights in the little burnt french fry bits at the bottom of the bag. Cody loves it when he gets the last bowl of cereal out of a box and it’s half cereal dust, it apparently makes the milk taste better. I love to shove my face in the fur of a cat who has been sleeping in the sun, the smell of warm cat is intoxicating to me.

I’m grateful when someone my own age calls me hun, darlin’ or sweetie. It means strangers can be friends and not everyone in this world is a terribly cynic.

There aren’t even words for how grateful I am that the heater in my car gets so hot it makes me grumpy. The heater in my previous car didn’t work, which made me grateful that I discovered that wearing big mittens over thin tight gloves kept my hands warmer than any single pair of really expensive gloves.

I’m grateful for my garbage disposal, that’s another one of those things that when you go without — you miss them terribly.

More than anything these days I am painfully grateful for my family. Even though we annoy each other quite often, we are still each others’ favorite people to be around. The relationships that exist within these four walls are each powerful and unique — from the obvious one between Addie and Vivi to the more secret one between Cody and Wink. Having a place to call home, and a home I love being in was never something I grew up with.

Christmas Photo Attempt 2013

I like it here.

Silly as it sounds, I’m grateful for my ability to find the lovely in most any situation. If only everyone would stop and smell the proverbial roses a little more often. We were talking about perspective at church yesterday and one of the more experienced ladies said “A good way to look at your life is to ask yourself ‘Will this matter in 100 years?’”

The time I spend on the floor laughing with my little girls will matter in 100 years, because it will carry over to how they love their babies and their grandbabies. The fact that I spend all this time on the floor in cat hair covered sweat pants?

That won’t even matter next week.

What are the little strange and remarkable things you find yourself quietly grateful for?

What are you doing in your life that will matter in 100 years?

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So grateful (see what I did there?) to be partnering with Hallmark during the holiday season on a series of sponsored posts to talk about all the little ways this season can bring us together and allow us to look at life and our relationships in a new way.  

 (Our holiday photo props are courtesy of Hallmark, more on those later!)

So, I have some autoplay video ad pop up every once in awhile and I’m not entirely sure where it’s coming from. Sorry about that, I’d fix it but then nothing would come up because when I go in my backend things get messy. (See also: Backend jokes will never cease to be funny.)

I was told tonight I need to “Get Help.” in order to “spare my daughter the vicious cycle I am in.” Which is, um, raising her? I guess? You see, I wrote an article about why I put ‘no gifts please’ on Addie’s birthday invitations. I was still kind of in the throes of pneumonia so everything I wrote during that time was kind of grumpy and pessemistic, maybe even a slight bit snarky? (True story, my editor had to have me to make an article a little more ‘perky’ because I sounded like the harbinger of doom in the written word. Oops.) Anyway, when I wrote it I told Facebook I *knew* I was going to get a good solid reaming on it, because Babble. But facebook , oh Facebook, being comprised of people who know me and consider me a friend said nice supportive things like “I think it’s great! You’ll be fine!” Then the random Internet commenters HAD! THEIR! DAY! *pitchforks! RAAAR!*

There were supportive comments , but the mean ones were really mean. What bothers me is the people who have no problem calling me a name from behind a screen are probably also raising people — and kids learn a lot from their parents behavior. Three years ago I would have begged everyone who disagreed with me to “Give me a chance! I THINK YOU’D LIKE ME!” but now? Clearly those people don’t know me, at all. Despite the fact I feel terribly inadequate as a parent — I’m doing okay. My kid is well adjusted and if she ends up using drugs and making bad life choices because I asked that her friends come to her birthday party simply to enjoy hanging out and not stress about bringing gifts? Then so be it, I’ll take those therapy bills when they come.

Please, if you disagree with me TOTALLY FINE, but I don’t think you need to call me names or tell me I’m denying my child her childhood simply because she doesn’t need more stuff and most families these days don’t need to be spending more money on other peoples’ kids. I took Addie to see Frozen on Friday and she clapped like a seal and kept her hands clasped right underneath her chin the entire time, which is exactly what I do when I see something I love. We traipsed through a magical forest yesterday and cut down the most perfect Christmas tree ever then danced around like fools to hipster Christmas music as we decorated the tree and put some form of snowman on every flat surface in the house.

She is not being denied the magic of childhood, but you’d never know that if you based your assumptions of me off of the 100 comments from people who do not like me much at all because of one thing. Up until the ‘vicious cycle’ comment my favorite one said “You sure do write about you a lot in your post.” Which would be funny if it was sarcastic, but *whispers* I don’t think it was.

I have wild and vivid fantasies of filling our loft with @lovesac. I've loved them since they first creeped on the scene in Utah when I was a kid.

Oh kid, when you read this someday I hope it is deep within your bones how much I love being your mom and how proud I am of you for being exactly who you are and constantly blowing me away with your ever-developing personality that teems with kindness and empathy. I mean, this parenting gig is no joke, but if I can take even one smidge of credit for how spectacular you are? Then I really did do something right.

(So I just read through this again, and I still sound pneumonia grumpy. I just wanted to say something like “I LIKE ME ENOUGH TO NOT BE BOTHERED BY MEAN STRANGERS!”  “Don’t let one (or 100) stranger’s opinions of you ruin who you know yourself to be!” and “If you disagree with someone either keep quiet or be civil about it, is that too much to ask society?” But clearly you already know all of that because you’re here and you’re all really nice people. I have the emails to prove it. So sorry about that, I have a feeling the pneumogrumps with fade once this fractured rib heals, because OW.)

I’m sure there will be plenty of Christmas list suggestions out there in the coming weeks, I’m sure there’s already plenty out there — but a friend asked me to put mine together again because apparently she and I have similar taste. Mine’s pretty simple, nothing crazy, fancy or super hipster — that’s for sure. There’s a lot of cats as well. Because cats are the best, in fact, this is how Wink slept on my while I made this list, clearly he approves. (By the way, if you have a cat you should get them a Tickle Pickle.)

Things I Would Put On My Christmas List if I Didn’t Already Own Them:

Clarisonic: ($99-$200) Seriously, why don’t you have one of these yet? Mine is almost three years old and there hasn’t been a single moment I’ve regretted buying it.

This Dress From Athleta: ($138) Best. Dress. Ever. Dress it up, dress it down, it looks amazing on every shape, size, color and curve.

Yu Be Lotion: ($24) Once you get over the fairly ugly packaging, this is hands down the best lotion I have EVER found for taking care of rough, dry and cracking skin. I put it on before bed and before I put socks on in the morning and my heels are like baby buttocks.

GlamGlow Super-Mud Mask: ($39-$69) This stuff works better in one application than a month of regular facials. I like the one in the white jar myself. Seriously, best.

This White Balance Lens Cap: ($45-$65) Cody gave me this one in a bigger size, and I can hand hold it over my smaller lenses to achieve white balance nirvana.

Frozen Soundtrack: ($14.99) Bought this yesterday, listened to it on repeat 14 times today. If you’re a Broadway nerd? Idina Menzel. If you’re a Disney nerd? Disney.

Brookstone Nap Blanket: ($39.99 BOGO 50% off) I have two of these and Addie and I fight over them constantly. I could easily replace every blanket, surface and piece of bedding in my house with this fabric. The best.

Kindle Paperwhite: ($119-$139) Tiny, self lit, easy to read in the bright sun, easy to read in the dark, easy to navigate. Love it way more than my Kindle with the buttons at the bottom and prefer reading on it over a Kindle Fire or iPad (but if we’re talking Candy Crush, iPad all the way.)

Bite Beauty Lip Pencil: ($24) Pomegranate is my favorite, and people have been posting pictures of them with their Bite color of choice on Instagram and they all look amazing. The pigment in these pencils is a DREAM. (Plus they’re gluten free, cruelty free and food grade.)

This Jacket from Athleta: (Nevermind, in the time it took me to write this post this jacket sold out. But I swear to you it was magical (clearly, because sold out.))

A Cat: Everyone needs one. I thankfully have two.

Things On My Christmas List This Year:

National Geographic Magazine Subscription: ($15) I want it for the pictures. It’s been too long since I’ve had National Geographic in my hands on a regular basis.

This Book of Mary Blair Art: ($30) I’ve seen actual Mary Blair art at the Animation Research Library twice, and while a book will never come close to the real thing, I’ve never seen something of hers I haven’t loved.

This Cat Hoodie: ($54) Because, duh.

One of These State Pride Necklaces: ($42)How pretty are these? I have a pair of Kris Nations earrings that I love and adore. I’d also take one of their new bracelets. They do good work.

Another Cat: There’s just so many that need homes, and I can’t really cover myself in cats until I have enough to actually cover myself.

Things That Would Be On My Kids’ Christmas Lists if They Didn’t Already Own Them:

(Vivi) Toddler Sized Shopping Cart: ($29.99-$49.99) This thing gets played with daily. Bunny rides in it, she shops for diapers with it, sometimes it even becomes a party wagon for every random animal in the house.

(Addie) Snap Circuits: ($20-$80) Addie found out about these from her cousin last year and they’ve been one of the few toys that holds her attention and teaches basic science, physics and electronics without her even realizing she’s learning everything. Sure, Goldie Blox are getting all the press, but this is something that is good for girls or boys.

Addie is currently obsessed with Legos, the big huge kits with thousands of pieces and full novels in place of simple instructions. Vivi is obsessed with play food and dishes. I can tell you that both their Christmas lists reflect these obsessions this year.

She will make you food, she does not take custom orders, you will say please, you will eat it, and you will say please for more.

I also made this list over at Babble about 20 toddler toys you could buy for a boy OR a girl. No pink powertools here, folks.

My dad is also selling his handmade ornaments again this year, he has a special 4 pack of ornaments for $20. You can get a 20% discount with the code MERRY20.

*****

I’m quite satisfied with myself to have completed all of my holiday shopping before the calendar even moved into December, which means I can hibernate from now until March with nary a worry (except for food. These people still need to eat, and while I have an impressive collection of freeze-dried and emergency meal rations, I don’t sense them being satisfied with powdered milk and MREs for the next four months.)

If you need a giggle, I present you with these 18 quotes about toddlers that are dangerously accurate. (Lately if Vivi sees me either holding pants or near her dresser she screams “NO. I DON’T WANT TO WEAR PANTS.” and when it’s time to go to bed she yells “NO. I DON’T WANT TO GO TO BED. I WANT TO EAT YOGURT.”

I’m not feeling very brave lately.

I don’t like myself very much right now, but I don’t admit that out loud partly because saying something out loud makes it more true and also because I’m trying REALLY hard to be a good example to my girls. But to be honest it’s chewing away at me and despite knowing I’m a pretty decent human I still just feel inadequate — physically, mentally, emotionally, culturally, educationally and all they other -lly adjectives I can’t think of right now. I’m really tired.

Being as sick as I was for as long as I was really did a number on me — once I came home I got a formal diagnosis of pneumonia, and that was after a week of antibiotics on the ship.

One more week of antibiotics, coughing so hard I did something drastic to my ribs and an Albuterol inhaler that makes me shake and I’m not so sure how strong I’m capable of being in the face of illness.

I just feel, blech. I haven’t really wanted to say anything about it because it’s getting old, this whole back and forth of “I’m good! Just kidding, no I’m not.”

I do seem to be functioning at a slightly higher level, albeit on autopilot. I’ve already finished all of my Christmas shopping and I’ve planned, ordered and finished everything for an actual birthday party for Addie four weeks before the big day. This kind of planning for me is unprecedented.

When pouring out my woes to a friend via email this came out “I’m okay. I wish I had more friends close by me, but I’m okay. Well, I mean, I feel like I’m a complete and total failure to Addie and that she’s going to have an eating disorder and unhealthy relationship with food, money and materialism for the rest of her life…but thankfully I don’t even know where to even start with that one so I just eat my own feelings on the subject once she’s in bed. (Currently my feelings taste like peppermint ice cream.) Toddlers are nice, you can’t totally screw them up just yet, or at least you can’t tell where you’re screwing them up for a few more years.”

Copyright Cody and Casey Est. 2001

And that pretty much sums up where I’m at. I have no idea what I’m doing so I keep doing the best I can and planning my apologies for all the damage I inevitably do.

My very wise friend wrote this back to me: “I have a hard time believing that you are failing Addie.  She is incredibly polite and she’s really an empathetic girl.  She got that from someone-  these are traits that don’t just spring up on their own.  All I can say is be consistent with her and try not to fear her anger.  She gets mad at you because she knows you’re a safe person to be mad at- you’re going to love her forever, no matter what.  So all the school related girl angst, the stresses of life, and everything else all come to a head when you say no to her and they bubble out.  All over you.  She still loves you under her anger and, if you hold true to what you say to her, she will respect you- begrudgingly and eventually, but she will.”

If you don’t read her blog already, you should. She’s quite possibly the most wise and wonderful woman I have the privilege of knowing.

So that’s where I’m at. A lot of you have been wondering, thanks.

Did you know that cruise ships are designed to withstand and recover from a 45 degree tip in either direction? But the most degree of tip any regular passenger can handle without ralphing over the edge is about 4 or 5 degrees. I am full of so much random cruise ship knowledge I barely even want to be friends with myself right now.

In case you haven’t been following along, I spent last week on the maiden voyage of the re-imagined Disney Magic and am currently on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. TWO CRUISES BACK TO BACK? LUCKY! Well, kind of, yes. It’s become a myriad of first world problems for me, “Please, no more filet and lobster, I’ve had enough.” and “I didn’t pack enough sunscreen for all this sun!” and “Sometimes a girl just wants to take a nap without having to unmake her bed, AGAIN.”

I’m doing very real research for my very real job while here but I also managed to come down with a very real sickness that landed me in the ship’s version of an ER. They’re still not quite sure what happened to me, but something inside me went terribly rotten and my lungs all but gave up functioning the night before last. My blood pressure tanked, my pulse ox was the equivalent of a C+ and I landed myself in an area of the ship not often seen or even thought about by most passengers. I received some crazy high doses of antibiotics (HURL!) and my first ever nebulizer treatments. (Which I do not like. At all. I mean, I’m all for feeling better, but nebulizers are rough. Solidarity to all of you who have to administer them to your little kids.)

This morning I woke up actually happy to be alive for the first time in four days and practically skipped off the ship straight to a butterfly farm where this happened:

"Please just take the picture, this is terrifying. I can feel it licking me." - @cb_ute

His exact words were “Please hurry up and take the picture, this is terrifying. I can feel it licking me.” Did you know Cody’s fear of bugs doesn’t just end at spiders and moths but carries over to butterflies as well?

In order to get the butterflies on our fingers they gave us a little cup of rum punch to dip our fingers in. “Don’t worry about giving the butterflies rum, they’re already the most drunk insect out there — I mean, who’s ever seen a butterfly fly in a straight line?”

Two points to the funny English butterfly farmer in St. Maarten.

Five points went to our tour bus driver who said “Over there is a nudist colony, they all wear their birthday suits, but none of them are ironed very well.”

In what I figured would be a stroke of brilliance I decided to bring a smaller laptop that doubles as a tablet with me on my latest adventure. Travel light! Multitasking technology!

It’s a PC. I normally work on a Mac. We’re learning how to get along but it’s bumpy, PC knows none of my passwords and the biggest problem is neither do I. I also brought along the Nikon I used in New York a couple of weeks ago. I normally shoot with a Canon, so basically the technology I’ll be using on this trip is the equivalent of going on a trip with another woman’s husband, I’m sure he’s nice and I’ll figure him out eventually, but he’s not my husband.

I started with everything packed in a very small carry on, I’ve done two weeks in one carry on before! It can be done! But then I moved everything to a slightly larger carry on because things were a little too tight in the smaller one. Then at 4 in the morning, the time when all good ideas are born, I decided I needed to give up and move everything into a slightly larger bag. So while I can do two weeks in a carry on, I didn’t really want to this time.

It’s kind of like how Cody ran a marathon last week, just because he can do it doesn’t mean he actually enjoys it all that much and if given the choice he’d probably take a half marathon over a full, just like I’d rather pack more than one pair of pants.

Marathons and packing light, a totally equal comparison.

Before I left this morning I went into Vivi’s room while she was still asleep, I wanted to pick her up and rock her and smell her and kiss her but I knew if I did she’d wake up and be a grouchy miserable creature for the rest of the day, which wouldn’t exactly be fair to Cody.  She was all curled up with bunny in her arms so I grabbed one of the bonus bunnies from her closet, kissed it, hugged it and then slid it into her arms as I took the still-warm bunny she had been sleeping with and tucked it inside my jacket to hold onto its Vivi-warmth for as long as possible.

I couldn't bring myself to pick her up before I left this morning, so I took her still-warm bunny with me and replaced it with one I hugged and kissed. I hope she could feel it.

He’s currently sitting next to me in my hotel bed. He smells like her, a little stinky, but all that stink is from pure baby love. Addie gave me one of her baby blankets to take as well, nothing like being a 31 year old woman travelling on business and pulling out a pink butterfly blanket and raggedy bunny in business class to take a little nap.

It’s going to be a very good week indeed.

A few weeks ago I took Vivi to an apple orchard for the afternoon. We got apple slushees, apple donuts and a big bag of freshly picked honeycrisps to make a pie. As we sat outside in the sun I was hit with this overwhelming sense of loneliness. There was a group of moms sitting under a tree right in front of me, their kids all playing together as the moms talked about tantrums, marriage and the best kind of cookie from Target. Another group of moms walked behind me with their kids, it was clear they spend a lot of time together because you couldn’t even tell which kid belong to whom, they all just sort of went together like some sort of modern day sister-wife arrangement.

While I’m grateful for all the friends who live in my computer (hi, you) there are times I am terribly lonely in real life. Where does one even meet mom friends in real life? I’m also a sort of strange hybrid of mom friend myself, I travel a lot and I work from home, but I also have a toddler and school age child. Many of the people close to me with a toddler and third grader have a few other kids in-between. I don’t really know anyone else in real life with the 6-7 year age gap. I have really great friends in Indy (and all over the world), but the biggest struggle is all of them are more than a 30 minute drive from me, which makes it hard to get together on the spur of the moment.

Bests. #ClickRetreat

Mom dating is hard, because not only do you have to get along with your new mom friend and share some sort of interests — your kids have to get along too. It’s the worst when you like a mom but your kids don’t really get along, or vice versa. I know there are moms that live by me, ones I am friends with — but they’re really busy. I’m really busy. Addie has to get off the bus, Vivi has to nap, I have to work….

A friend called me tonight and said she’s felt a tapping on her heart that she needs to find some ladies out there who need friends, friends who aren’t afraid to get together in sweatpants and no makeup. Friends who need a friend that can admit that life is sometimes really hard but friends can and do make it better. She was nervous about asking for my help, but every word she spoke went right to my heart. This isn’t an online thing, this is a real life thing. This is a ‘put down your phones and let’s all talk about how we used to cry for hours because we were so tired with a new baby’ thing.  This is a let your flaws become your greatest and most charming asset thing.

Neither of us know how to do it, how to bring these women who we know are out there and who need other friends together. Her exact words were “I don’t know what it will look like, but I know what it will feel like.”

Grave Digger pit stop, somewhere in NC.

So do I.

And it’s kind of scary, what if they don’t like us? But it’s also kind of thrilling — finding other hearts out there you were meant to be friends with in this life.

We both said we’d pray about it, leave it up to God to put us where we need to be to find these ladies — or maybe — we were just meant to find each other for now. Regardless, if this is something that speaks to your heart (and really, we don’t give a lick if you talk to God or not as long as you’re a nice person) maybe you could join us? We’re not sure how or when, but we are sure it needs to happen.

Holy whoa.

When you have a waterproof camera, you have to remember you're waterproof too. #ClickRetreat (photo by @ohhbetsy)

If you follow me on Instagram then you’ll know I’ve had a crazy busy October already, I started out in Ohio for the I Heart Faces conference which was the perfect little inspirational kick in the pants I needed to keep poking along with photography. From Ohio I flew to NYC then drove to the Hudson Valley with Nikon and Subaru to give their new AW1 a shot (pun!) It’s a waterproof and shockproof interchangeable lens camera and believe me, it is waterproof and shockproof because I not only stuck it in a lake with fish, I ran around in the rain with it, climbed a mountain with it, swam in the ocean with it and jumped in a pool with it.

More on that later.

After New York I headed straight for the OBX (Outer Banks, North Carolina) for Click Retreat — which is exactly what I needed after a few physical and emotional bumps and bruises acquired in New York. There was also a stop at Virgina beach (nope) and a layover in Orlando which made my grand total of states visited 10 by the end of my adventures.

Whew.

I head back out on the 27th for two straight weeks of ‘Holy crap this is my job? YAY.’ then maybe things will slow down? Maybe?

I’m happy to be back with my babies, Addie is on fall break and we’re having fun hanging out in our pajamas playing games and not doing much besides hanging out together. She helped me make her wig for her Halloween costume and I learned real quick that clearly the person who did the wig making tutorial online was not contending with two cats and a toddler as she made her wig because making a yarn wig with two cats and a toddler around is pretty much like trying to paint a frog’s toenails.

Vivi headed downhill slowly today, waking up with a fever after her nap. I’m on high vomit alert with extra pajamas, bedsheets, bath towels and bunny at the ready. I hope it doesn’t happen — and with how prepared I am for it to happen, it for sure shouldn’t happen. I even tied her hair back so she wouldn’t end up barf filled hair if something does go wrong tonight. Where’s my best mom award for that forward thinking?

I may be terrible at yarn-wig making but I am pro when it comes to vomit.

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Over at Babble I wrote a letter to those who choose to remain childfree.

I also wrote about my side of Cody’s and my near divorce, you know, in case you wanted to see my heart popped open and spread out all over the floor. This one is kind of a must read for anyone who has married or may ever marry anyone else ever.

And 9 reasons why teachers leave me feeling like a terrible human. (Like you thought you’d get away from Babble without a slideshow.)

While more time alone may seem like the one big benefit of back to school, here’s 6 things I love now that Addie is back. (#BusStopVivi is clearly one of them.)

This post by my friend Diana is just so YES, you’ll just have to read it to see why.