Chasing Contentment

Wednesday, November 29

A quick post today... Amanda has this week's Carnival of Beauty at her blog, following an unknown path. I'll be hosting next week's Carnival on the topic of The Beauty of Reaching Out.

All entries can be sent to me at createdbychel (at) I'll need the entries by 7 p.m. Tuesday evening (I'll get to putting the Carnival together well after that, when the kids finally go to bed.).

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, November 29, 2006  ]

Tuesday, November 28

And here's the second part of my plans... the cards.

Chel's Holiday Plan - The Cards

First, take your list (made during the initial Question stage), however long it is, and cut 10 percent. Just delete them. If you've only got 10 names on the list, cut one. If you've got 40, cut four. It's not an unreasonable amount, and quite frankly, it helps me feel like I'm paring down, making things easier for myself. It may only be in my head, but it helps. And never have more than 50 people on the list. That's just unmanageable, I think.

Everything else can be done in small blocks of time, so it's not so overwhelming. I can do an amazing amount of stuff while I watch an evening of television.

1) If you're buying cards, decide if you want plain cards from the store that you can drop a photo into or photo cards. If you want photo cards, start taking those family pictures and uploading them to Snapfish or some such place. Order photo cards early.

2) Plan to address envelopes (or key in labels) one evening watching television. Stick the labels and stamps another evening. You can buy stamps online to avoid the line at the P.O. and to be sure that you get the cute stamps.

3) If you're making your cards (which I never do), make a list of everything you'll need to make them and buy those things all in one shopping trip. Then, decide when you're going to make them. Set aside an hour or two or three or whatever, but do it in one block. And decide that you'll do it all in that amount of time and that whatever doesn't get done, just won't. And that's fine.

4) I always take my stack of envelopes and make two stacks - the folks who get a name signed to the card & the folks who get a short note. And I mean a short note! (If I get photo cards, the note is printed on them, so this step is already done!) Then, I do the signing and note writing.

Because I want my purchases to be positive, I'm trying to make purchases from people or organizations that give back or from people selling their own goods. I've already bought cards from French Toast Girl because she has beautiful cards made from her own artwork and from the M.D. Anderson's Children's Art Project that allows children with cancer to experience the healing touch of art.

When buying, I always go ahead and buy the cute little form thank you notes for Griff to use for his gifts at Christmas.

Now, in all honesty, I usually plan this out for a couple of weeks. If I were sending cards to a big list this year, I'd want to have them mailed by Dec. 11. As it is, I'm making good on last year's vow to only send cards to those people who send them to me. So there.

(Well, you know, I have every intention of following through on not sending cards to anyone who doesn't send one to me, but I can't swear to it.)

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, November 28, 2006  ]

Monday, November 27

Holiday Surprises
I always say I'm not a big fan of surprises, but I think that's not actually true. I don't like those horrible, big public production surprises that, for me, seem less like surprises and more like intentional acts of humiliation.

But the random email from a long-lost friend, the unexpected card or gift in the mail, the smile from a stranger, the compliment from a co-worker... I love those surprises.

A day or so ago I overheard Griff telling Mike that our lives had had lots of surprises lately. He told Mike that it was a surprise when we got Eliza and that it was a surprise when we learned we were going to move here. He's right about both of those things.

My list of surprises above includes all good things, all things that make me smile. But I've found through experience that not all surprises feel good at first, or even in the middle. Sometimes, they don't really feel good until long, long times later.

Sometimes my surprises are simply God trying to teach me. Probably, if I was honest with myself, most times. I think there's value to be learned in even the smallest gesture, if only the lesson that if it makes me feel valued, it would probably make someone else feel valued, too, and thus, be worth sharing.

Griff's right... Eliza was a surprise. The short time I spent carrying her was difficult, and her first year of life was difficult. But she is such a blessing. And I have learned a lot about love through her.

Our move here was a surprise, and as I've written about before, it's not been an easy transition for me. But I've found new sides to my personality (maybe just forgotten sides), and I've found a peace and a freedom in putting all of my trust in the Lord.

I'm working on my Christmas presents already, and sometimes it makes me sad. I'll miss seeing the expressions on people's faces as they open my gifts. But as I wrap each gift and pack them for mailing, I imagine the smiles as they're opened. And I say little prayers for each of the recipients, wishing that the surprises they'll experience this holiday season will be blessed.

And I'm working on being thankful - on saying little prayers of gratitude - to God for the surprises He's put in my life and for the work he's doing in my soul.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, November 27, 2006  ]

Saturday, November 25

As much as I love the holidays, I wish I could skip this one. I'm so homesick thinking about all of the things we'd be doing in December if we were still in Louisiana. I miss so many things.

I miss the snowman in Mandy and Josh's yard. I miss making butter mints for Linda and having her yum them up in flash. I miss having lunch with Linda and Aleece and trading Christmas presents. I miss Julie's butter cookies. I miss the Advent services at our church (Mike even said today that he's missing the Hanging of the Green service which will happen tomorrow night at church.). I'm missing shopping with Mandy and having Griff and Mike be close enough to walk to the parade route for the Christmas parade in town.

For the last few years, we had festive dinners each Saturday night in December and invited people over to share a meal with us. I miss knowing people to ask over. I miss the cooler weather (while 77 is pleasant, it's not very holiday-ish). I miss watching people open presents. That look of enchantment of people's faces is precious. It's not quite the same to get that telephone thank-you call.

In general, I'm feeling sad and pitiful and homesick today. If it weren't for the kids, I'd skip Christmas this year. But since feeling at home with the holidays in this new house is important for them (most likely, for all of us), I'm working on it. My plan at this point is going to be to keep us all as busy as possible with all manner of holiday delights.

If there's a free holiday activity in town when Griff doesn't have homework, we're going. And we'll visit church each Sunday hoping for an Advent service. And we'll light our own Advent candles.

I am blessed that my friend, Tara, is coming to Orlando mid-month with her family, and I'm going to get to see her. I can hardly wait!

On the weekends, we're going to go to Cypress Gardens to see their holiday lights and maybe catch a holiday concert. And we're going to go to the zoo in Tampa for their holiday lights, too. And maybe one Saturday, I'll let Mike convince me to do the craziest holiday thing... take the kids to the mall for fun.

I believe completely that my attitude and my willingness to be in this moment in this place will be what get us all through this season with our focus directed to Christ, with our hearts attune to the blessings we have. I know it's okay to miss people at home, but I also know that I don't want to miss these precious moments here and now by keeping my focus too much on what I miss instead of what I have.

[  posted by Chel on Saturday, November 25, 2006  ]

Friday, November 24

A few years ago, my friend, Aleece, confided in me how challenging the holidays can be for her. I told her it was all about organization and having a plan, and she said she didn't have a plan. So I shared mine.

And I'll share it again this year. I've made some minor adjustments to each phase of it due to the move and our change in situation, but it's essentially the same plan. And for me, the beauty of it is that with those adjustments, it can work for her or for me or for anyone. (There are days when being overly organized actually helps.)

Now, traditionally, I do this part of the plan before Thanksgiving, but this hasn't been a traditional fall for us.

Chel's Holiday Plan...The Questions
1. Make a list of Christmas and New Year's traditions (one list for each holiday) that you enjoy. Each person in the family names their favorite two holiday traditions or activities. (Last year, when I asked Griff his favorite Thanksgiving tradition, it was the 'big feast.') Add those to the list. Don't let the list exceed 10 items (unless your family's that big).

2. Make a list of holiday traditions that you hate. Go on, be honest. Ask each family member if there's any one thing that ya'll have done in the past that they don't enjoy. Add those to the list. (Griff said there was too much talking and not enough eating at Thanksgiving.)

3. Make a list of activities you'd like to do during the holiday season... go caroling, attend an Advent service at a church, drive around after dark looking at lights, rent holiday movies. There's no end to this. It's an initial list.

4. Make a list of people you'd like to send Christmas cards to. Think about whether you want a photo card or a plain store-bought card with a photo inserted or a card you design yourself. Consider if you'd like to say, 'screw cards.' It's a fine thing to say every now and then. (Attention to everyone who has been on my card list in the past... I am NOT sending cards to anyone who doesn't send one to me first. Just so you know. Email me if you need our new Florida address.)

5. Make a list of all of the people on your gift list. Include everyone you can think of... family, friends, teachers, etc. This is the BIG list from which you can cut.

6. Make a list of charities you'd like to donate time or resources to this season.

7. Make a list of your favorite holiday foods. Let each person add to the list. Be sure to include one take-out or dine-out meal!

After the list is complete, I keep it around and rest for a few days before tackling the how-tos of making the holidays happen for us. Just answering the first few questions put us all in a cheerful state of mind.

This year, of course, since we've already moved past Thanksgiving, we've already put up all of the Christmas decorations, which also go a long way to getting me in the holiday spirit.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, November 24, 2006  ]

Wednesday, November 22

In so many ways, I believe that it's the little things in life that both wear me down and build me up. If I can learn to overlook the little annoyances and celebrate the little joys, I think things will balance out nicely in the end.

And so, my little joy for today is... vowels. In this particular job that I've been doing, time is of the essence, and quick documentation is stressed. We were encouraged not to use vowels in our documentation, which, for me, was really difficult. It took me more time to document files without vowels than it would have if I had been allowed to write freely.

Today, in our training course for the next position, I asked about the documentation requirements and whether or not I'd be allowed to use vowels, and I was told to use them all I'd like. And I should probably be a little embarassed by how delighted that made me. But I'm not. Woohoo, vowels.

And now, I'm going to go consider putting the Christmas decorations up a day early. I do SO love the holiday season!

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, November 22, 2006  ]

Tuesday, November 21

Thanksgiving is my mother's favorite holiday. I like Thanksgiving, too, but for different reasons. In my opinion, Thanksgiving is good mostly because it's a portal to Christmas. And I love Christmas.

But I am aware of the blessings we have been given this year, and I want to make note of some of them, if only to remind myself of the wonderful and not just the difficult of this past year.

I'm grateful that Griff accepted Christ as his Savior and that Mike and I were able to be part of that experience. I was humbled by that.

I'm grateful that Mike successfully defended his dissertation and received his Ph.D. Oh, geez, how thankful I am for that! I am remarkably proud of him.

I'm grateful for this new job of his, this new opportunity for him that allowed him to be the catalyst that removed us from a bad situation. I'm also thankful that he's really enjoying this new job.

I'm grateful for my new job which pays the mortgage and in which I seem to be doing reasonably well. I'm grateful my kids both seem to be adjusting really well.

Mostly, I'm grateful for the friends I left behind who have kept in touch and have supported me so generously in this move. I'm thankful for the hope that I'll have new friends here.

I'm thankful, too, for...
cool night breezes in an open window and warm comforters on a comfy bed...
Starbucks chai lattes...
good books...
church services...
inside jokes...
fake toenails...
unlimited cell phone minutes...
little boy hugs & little girl kisses...
the opportunity to be loved by Mike...
a new home for an old dog...
pretty jewelry...
words strung together happily on a page...
Christmas presents to give...

Happy Thanksgiving a day or so early.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, November 21, 2006  ]

Sunday, November 19

It's finally turned cool enough here in Florida for the kids to dig out their slippers. Eliza's got her first playdate with a Florida friend this afternoon at the park, and the weather should be lovely for it.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, November 19, 2006  ]

Thursday, November 16

I am the heart of this little family. I always have been. It's my love and determination and whatnot that drive the beating of this family. Now, that's not to diminish Mike's input. It's just that he's clearly the brains (though not always the common sense) of the family. But in so many ways, it's the heart that is most necessary, that keeps the family moving forward, that keeps the lifeblood flowing.

As I think about our move and the adjustments each of us have made (or haven't), I come back to the heart of it all. A very wise woman told me before we moved that I would be the one who had the hardest time, if only because I'd be working so hard to make sure that everyone else was doing okay. That makes so much sense to me these days as I look at how well my family seems to be adjusting. And as I consider how poorly I feel like I'm adjusting.

I should have realized that the holiday season was going to be hard for me, that it was going to make me sad all over again. I knew that as Mandy drew closer to having Olivia that it would get harder for me to be away from them, but I hadn't anticipated that the timing would coincide with the holidays.

I'm a big fan of routine. I can remember Linda and I both having conversations with our families at one point and us reminding them, "I like things a certain way." As I told Mike tonight, nothing is the way I would like them. Nothing is as it was before.

Not only did we move away from almost everyone I know, but I also changed professional fields. Everything about my life now is different.

I used to know my kids' teachers well, and now the teachers all know Mike better because my job isn't flexible. We used to have a set morning routine, and now we have a M,W,F routine and a T/Th routine thanks to Mike's class schedule. The joke was always that nothing happened in our lives if it wasn't recorded in my planner. Now, I don't have a planner. I have a big monthly wall calendar hanging in my closet with nothing written on it.

In the years that Mike and I have been married, I can count the times he's paid the bills on one hand, and now he's completely in charge of our finances. I haven't looked at the bank account in months. I drive the truck to work, shifting all the while. I've been doing it so long now that I can talk on my cell phone while shifting gears.

Previously, I had this organized yet reasonably creative job. Now, I have a structured though not organized, not at all creative job. Nothing that I do in my job is even remotely similar to what I did before. And so, from the moment I wake up in this starkly painted house to the moment I get to work where I know the surnames of about three people to the moment I get back home, nothing is familiar.

And for a girl who thrives on structure, this is very disconcerting. And now, I need to go set playdates for both of my kids who have already made friends. I've been working really hard to make sure everyone's settling in reasonably well. As the heart, I am pleased with how well everyone else is doing.

And that's the mama's job, right?

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, November 16, 2006  ]

Monday, November 13

This illustration was on French Toast Girl's blog, and I loved the painting and scripture that went along with it. She quoted 1 Corinthians 13:12...

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face.
Now I know in part; but then I shall know, even as also I am known.
There are so many things about this time in our lives that I don't understand, but I stand firm in the belief that God has plans that I can't imagine and that He is at work in our lives.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, November 13, 2006  ]

Sunday, November 12

My first craft fair was this weekend, and while it wasn't a financial success, it was an experience. I was grateful to have Chuck, Stacy and the kids come down for the day, and Stacy sat with me at my poorly visited booth all day, which was sweet. I have been blessed to have had her close by me throughout this move adjustment. It's been really wonderful to have a built-in friend in her.

Mike had worried when I signed up for this fair that it might not be my crowd, and he was right. The overall grouping was really... well, old. I saw more fannie packs yesterday than in all my life before! And, as it turns out, fannie pack people don't buy groovy jewelry.

But on the positive side, I now have tons of jewelry for gifts this holiday season. And one of the organizers suggested that my jewelry was less 'craft fair' and more boutique or 'art fair,' and she encouraged me to apply for a juried at fair that the town hosts in the spring.

Now, right now, I'm thinking I'm not up for another craft fair for... well, ever. But maybe that's the fatigue talking (Eliza was up at 3 this morning with 102 fever), so I'll revisit the idea later in the week.

I did manage to buy a cute, homey gift for Griff's teacher for Christmas, and I bought stocking stuffers for the kids. And Stacy and I saw some of the silliest people during the day... like the guy with the parrot on his shoulder and the guy with the statue of a gator holding a big beer that said, 'it's 5 o'clock somewhere.'

Clearly, not my group of jewelry buyers.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, November 12, 2006  ]

Wednesday, November 8

Monday evening, I stood in my kitchen, and I told Mike that I wanted to go home. But it feels like I'm limbo, without a home. This house, with its white walls, doesn't feel like home. And the little old house in Louisiana with its richly colored walls isn't mine anymore, as there's a little old lady living in it and putting odd monkey statues on the front porch.

Not my finest moment, I admit.

And even as I sobbed and told Mike all of these feelings of loneliness and longing that I've tried to bottle up inside of me, I still knew that this is where we need to be. And so, there's my continual feeling of not being quite settled. I'm still in a bit of a life limbo.

Something about this picture of Eliza reminds me of how I feel some days. Everyone loves a brown eyed girl... even when she's standing in the kitchen and the storm-clouds of tears are showing in those big brown eyes.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, November 08, 2006  ]

Thursday, November 2

Mama Mandy, November
Hey, Mandy...
I thought I'd surprise you and be on time this month. The first thing, of course, is that we are delighted that you've made it to 32 weeks and that you and Olivia are both still doing well. I know you were worried about Olivia those first 12 weeks, but I have to admit, Mike and I have been more worried as you've approached the point at which I had Eliza. And we breathed a big sigh of relief today when we talked about you being past that.

Now we both hope you carry Olivia right on up to your 40th week, but there's a big relief in knowing that if you were to have her early for some reason, she'd be okay. Think of it... you saw Eliza when she was born... that's how big Olivia is now in your tummy. How amazing, crazy, terrifying is that?!

Other than that, there's not much advice to give you at this point. You're getting bigger and probably more and more tired and more clumsy and feeling more like your body is taking on this odd cumbersome feeling. And that's the good part. You're not going to be sleeping as well, and you'll have to pee almost as often as I do normally. And that seems like a really lousy Mama Mandy letter to write.

So hand the computer to Josh. I'm done with you for the moment.

Hi, Josh.
Welcome to your first (and most likely only) Daddy JDG letter. Surprise. Now, don't get too excited. I asked Mike to contribute (I know... you're wondering if I was doing crack at the time... Mike? write a sweet letter?), and that turned out about how you'd expect. So these are my observations with a few of his mixed in... you'll be able to tell them apart, I'm sure.

You're on this crazy journey with Mandy, and it's just beginning. The pregnancy is nothing compared to the joys and hardships and just general wackiness that will come with being Olivia's daddy. I know you're so very excited about meeting this daughter you've waited for for so long. But take a little time in these next couple of months to really enjoy Mandy because things will change dramatically when Olivia arrives.

Go see fun grown-up movies at the theatre. Rub Mandy's tired feet (tell Mandy I said she'd better let you!). Sleep (I know you'll take me up on that one!). Trust Dr. A. In general, whatever he suggests for Mandy is what you suppport, regardless of what Mandy says.

Mike suggested that one as we discussed Eliza's early arrival. Mike says that at this point in the pregnancy, you love Olivia but you adore Mandy. You know Mandy. He and I came at Eliza's arrival from completely different perspectives. He was worried about my health with little regard for Eliza while I never once considered what the illness might do to me. I just kept asking about Eliza. Right now, Mandy is responsible totally for Olivia, and it's a huge obligation. You, on the other hand, are responsible for Mandy. Having loved Mandy, too, I know that your job is far more difficult.

You're going to be a great daddy, you know. You're kind and compassionate and caring, and little girls need daddies who are like that. She's gonna have you wrapped around her little finger before she starts daycare. And it'll just get worse through the years. And you'll gripe about it, but secretly, you'll love it.

On Sundays, you'll take her to church and let all of the little old ladies hold her (if Linda lets her go) and then you'll take her home and prop her up on the sofa between the two of you to watch football, and it'll crack you up to have both of your girls with you watching tv. And you'll take pictures and send them to us. You've taken a ton of pictures of our kids; I can't imagine how many you'll take of Olivia (no naked pix, though, ok? give the girl some dignity).

Now. You've got work to do, Mister. Put down the laptop and go tell Mandy you love her. Tell her that you are in awe of the work her body is doing by creating this whole new person. Tell her that she's the strongest woman you know (because she's certainly in my top three). Tell her that you respect her in brand new ways because of the way she's handling this pregnancy. Better yet, tell her that you'll love and support her even if she goes back to covering cops after Olivia's born. Tell her that the three of you are going to be a fantastic family, if only because Mama Chel said so.

with all our love,

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, November 02, 2006  ]