What makes me happy right now

Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Happiness is one of those things that we're programmed into thinking is a life goal. Do what makes you happy. Don't worry, be happy. Live happily ever after. Happiness is...you fill in the blank.

I like feeling happy, but I also get how fleeting an emotion it is. I've learned to appreciate the depth and breadth of feeling joy - whether I feel happy or not. But happiness isn't something I'm going to turn away when it comes.

There's never going to be a list of things that make me happy that isn't topped by my family. Matt is the most kind, caring, funny, supportive husband. He's the yin to my yang. I'm messy; he's not. I'm a daydreamer; he's not. I drink wine; he doesn't (more for me). I don't like to vacuum; he does. I meticulously sort, fold and hang clothes (when I get to the laundry); he doesn't. I read and sing; he doesn't. I'm not into video games; he is. We also agree on a lot of things - both trivial and critical. 

When Matt walks through the door at the end of the day and smiles, it lights up my world.

Brandon's so much like Matt, it makes me smile. He's got his dad's quick wit and my tendency to tease. It's a combination that keeps us all laughing. But Brandon's also one of the most genuinely sweet children I've ever known. He's still an affectionate cuddler who isn't afraid to tell anyone how much he cares. I hope he hangs onto that as he gets older.

Every time I get a hug from my little guy, my cup of joy gets filled up.

I've spent the last few years focused on writing and stories, so I get immersed in story practically every day. The medium doesn't matter. I love a good story in a song, a book, a TV show or movie, pictures and more. I even make up stories in my head starring strangers around me. Most of those stories get lost in a vault buried deep in some unknown tunnel in my brain. This isn't a bad thing.

Stories help me see new perspectives, explore new ideas, and occasionally escape from the monotony of life.

When I was a kid, I used to think once you finished school there was no more learning. Back then I didn't think this would bother me in the least. "No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers' dirty looks," sounded awfully nice. But somewhere along the way, I realized how much I liked learning and I just kept doing it. There's so much interesting stuff in the world to learn. I want to soak as much of it up as I can.

Learning makes me a better writer and a better human.

I'm also blessed to have so many truly wonderful people in my life, from my family to friends to colleagues. Life is rich in unmeasurable ways when you're surrounded by so much good. Also, coffee. And daisies. Daisies are such a happy flower. :)

It's time for a mindset reset

This week was an anniversary for me, though it's certainly not a big deal. I almost forgot about it, but then something happened. But before I get to that, back to the anniversary.

One year ago this week I started a new job. It's been an experience I'll never forget. And the best part about this experience?

The people. They're talented, intelligent, and willing to try new things. They're also a diverse crew of fun, funky, lovely, loud, and truly likeable humans. I've had a lot of jobs and it's rarer than it should be to find this. 

Life over the past year - at work and outside of work - has been one big transition period (i.e., things is changin'). And change can be hard. It's uncomfortable. But we all have to figure out how to adjust when change happens. Of course, sometimes the feelings around change need to come out and be acknowledged before we can reset and move on.

It can be tempting to wallow in the muck of wishing this or that had never happened and rail at the world for not being fair. Personally, I don't like muck and I would rather spend my time reading than wallowing.

Victim mindset? No thank you.

Back to what happened. 

I picked up Brandon from his summer program yesterday and when our conversation about dinner didn't go quite the way he wanted (he was craving steak and I wasn't going to make any), it led to a tearful monologue about how bad his day was. Translation: He was tired.

But I was tired, too. My kid is sweet, sensitive, trusting and good-natured, but he has a negative streak that makes me a little nuts. I do not want to raise someone who enjoys being a victim. I actually have a rule that I pull out of my annoying-mom toolbox every now and then when his negativity gets to me: For every single negative incident he shares, he has to tell me two positive things.

I told him it breaks my heart that he defaults to thinking about the negative parts of his day. And you know what he did? He hugged me. He didn't want my heart to be broken. 

That's how I know he's gonna be okay. He actually cares. He'll get it.

My ugly truth

Today I picked Brandon up again and when I asked him about his day, he immediately deflated and I knew what was coming. I got a couple words out of him - not negative, but not particularly positive. 

When he didn't expand on his day, I changed my tactic: Tell me something good that happened! 

He thought about it and he told a story about a kid who wouldn't let him pretend to be a Nintendo character when they were playing a Lego Movie game they made up. He said he snickered at the irony that the kid wouldn't let him choose a creative character.

You know what this means, right? My kid totally gets the point of The Lego Movie AND he gets irony. He's brilliant and you can't convince me otherwise. 

As we were driving home after a trip to pick up some more books for the wee genius, I had some quiet thinking time, remembered the anniversary and began reflecting on everything that's happened in the past year. It's been a doozy for the world, right? As I thought through it, I realized I have been taking on the mantle of victimhood a little bit myself and it's time to let it go. 

Choosing joy 

Someone I know recently started blogging about joy and she's apparently had a good influence on my subconscious. I was at the bookstore and picked up a list journal.

I have a lot of these journals. I use them to get inspiration for my writing. And since I can't seem to stay away from the journals in the bookstore, I doubt there are many I haven't picked up.

As I was driving home, after I picked up the journal, I decided to challenge myself to blog one of the lists each week. 

But check out the cover and note what the inspiration is for:

I can't expect my son to look for the positive if I'm not setting the example - intentionally and consistently. It doesn't mean ignoring the negative because that's not healthy either. But dwelling on the negative is toxic and not productive. I'd much rather be good to myself and bring good things into the world around me.

For the boy who made me a mother

You know those journals that ask you questions or give you writing prompts to tell your life story? I love them.

I got my mom one over twenty years ago and I think she filled out some of it. Then almost 13 years ago, I got a book that we were both supposed to fill out - it was a mother-daughter combo. It wasn't overly long, but it was a Christmas present for her in 2004 when she had just finished over 6 months of copious time spent in the hospital. After I gave it to her, she told me to take it back home and fill out my part first. So, I did. 

That trip was the last time I ever saw her. She died a year and a half later and the still-blank pages of that book make me sad.

Lately, Brandon has been asking me lots of questions about my childhood, so this Mother's Day, I thought I'd answer these as a gift to him. That, and I'll keep working through this book so he doesn't have to stare at blank pages when he's older.

What are your favorite memories of times you spent with your grandparents?

I never knew my grandfather on my dad's side; he died when I was only 8 months old.  And though I was 10 when my grandfather on my mom's side died, I really didn't know him well. He was a very nice man, but for various reasons, I hadn't spent a lot of time with him. However, I spent lots of time with both my grandmothers - they both even lived with my family (at different times). 

My grandmother on my mom's side is responsible for introducing me to Anne of Green Gables. She shared the movies with me and, when I saw they were based on books, I found and devoured them. That series is one of my all-time I-can-read-them-a-thousand-times-and-never-get-bored favorites. And, given that L.M. Montgomery is such a beloved Canadian author, it's interesting that I latched onto her books long before I ever even had a reason to think about moving to Canada.

My grandmother on my dad's side was a storyteller. My younger brother and I used to beg her to tell one particular story about her childhood over and over because it was so funny. And, since you are loving Captain Underpants so much these days, Brandon, you'll like this story, too.

My great-grandfather (my grandma's father) owned a drugstore in south Florida. One day when my grandma was about three or four, my great-grandmother (my grandma's mother) made Grandma a new pair of underwear and she loved them. She was so proud of them, in fact, that she went to her father's drugstore to tell him about it. When she got there, her father was in a meeting with a group of businessmen. But that didn't stop her. She yelled out to her father, "Daddy, daddy! Look at my new panties!" And she lifted up her dress to show him. In front of everyone.

What was your grade school like? What do you remember about your favorite teacher?

My memories of grade school are fading fast these days, but I would say that grade school was mostly uneventful. I attended two different elementary schools because we moved from a small town in central Florida to Tallahassee when I was eight, just before I started third grade. Up until that time, I attended the school where my mom was the special education teacher. Being in the same school as my mom was fine. I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes so the threat of teachers talking to my mom wasn't a big deal since I didn't get in trouble anyway. 

When we moved to Tallahassee, someone decided I should be tested for the gifted program and my mom agreed. I got tested and was put in the program, which meant going to "special" classes that most of my classmates didn't attend. This kept up until I graduated high school.

I have mixed feelings about being in the gifted program. I got a lot out of it, but it had some downsides too. That's a story for another day, though.

Who was your best friend? And what did the two of you like to do?

When I lived in central Florida, I had a best friend, but we lost touch when I moved. From 8 to 13 I didn't really have a best friend. Then Angie moved to town and started attending my school. We became friendly in 8th grade and got really close in ninth grade. We were tight all through high school and a bit of college - distance was hard to overcome back then. We go years now without talking, but she's one of a handful of people that time spent apart doesn't impact our ability to pick right up where we left off.

Angie and I liked to watch sappy movies and write sappy stories. There may be notebooks still in existence that we'd never give up because the memories are important. But we wouldn't want anyone else's eyes on those things.

Angie also happens to be one of the kindest, most amazing women I've ever known. I hope you choose your friends wisely and find good people who try to be as kind as you are, Brandon.

What did you do as a kid that got you into trouble at home or school?

When I was in third grade, I experimented with swearing for the first time. My first big, bad words were "shut up." Those two words seem pretty tame, but we didn't use them in my family. They were as forbidden as any curse word you could name. But one day at daycare, a little boy just would not leave me alone. I was really upset by whatever he was doing.

I remember shaking which means there were probably tears. I finally screamed at him to shut up. And he actually did. But I was terrified. I was sure the teacher was going to tell my mom what I'd said. She didn't, but I did. After hearing what happened, my mom wasn't even mad. She just talked to me about how I could handle the situation a bit differently if it happened again.

Sometime after that - the same year - a girl in my class did something (I don't remember what) that I felt warranted a scathing note from me. In this note, I decided to use every single real curse word I'd learned. Anyone reading that note could see it was my first time using them.

I don't remember what I wrote, but I remember my teacher talking to me about it and she knew I hadn't ever cussed before. I didn't get into major trouble because (once again) there was understanding that I had been provoked. 

However, I did learn very early that writing things down isn't a good idea. I don't know if the teacher told my parents about this, but now my dad will definitely know about it along with a couple of other people who still read my blog.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

For a really brief time, Christa McAuliffe inspired me to want to be an astronaut. And Whitney Houston made me want to be a singer. In truth, I didn't really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do until I was in high school. Up until then, I didn't really think about long-term plans. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Fortunately, I figured out before I went down that path that it wasn't the right career for me.

Outside of the family, what was the very first job you had that you got paid for?

Because I wanted to be a lawyer, my dad helped me get an unpaid internship at a law office as part of a program I was in at school. When school ended, the firm hired me part-time for the summer.

How did you meet Dad? How did he ask you to marry him?

I met your dad online and I've written about it before. As for the proposal, that's kind of a funny story. I was living in Florida until the week of Thanksgiving in 2000. I received my permanent resident visa from the Canadian consulate about three weeks before and I immediately gave notice at work.

Matt and I had planned for him to drive down in a minivan, we'd pack all my stuff into it, and head back to Ottawa. I still had to work two more days at the beginning of that week and I was filling all my free time with saying goodbye to family and friends - and packing, since I didn't get that finished before Matt arrived. 

On my last day at my job, Matt spent the morning running around to every building on the campus to grab empty boxes from the kitchens where the photocopiers were. After he'd collected as many boxes as he could, he came back to my desk to see if I would just leave already.

Of course, I hate leaving anything undone, so I said I couldn't and kept pushing through. Matt was frustrated - rightfully so - that he couldn't seem to get me alone and I was 100% oblivious to his frustration. At one point while I was working, he got down on one knee and asked right there in my cubicle. As he was about to ask, one of my co-workers was walking by and stopped to talk to me, but she saw what was going on and quickly detoured.

After that, Matt finally got my full attention. He asked. I said yes. Then I went around the office showing my ring to all my friends.

I think about that proposal and it's kinda perfect. It was such a stress-filled time and I love that Matt decided not to wait a second longer. He just pushed forward and did it. Because there's no perfect time and place, nor does there need to be.

What is the hardest thing that you ever had to do in your life?

Definitely moving to Canada. I knew I was leaving behind my family and my mom was living with chronic illness. I was going where I would be way too far away to ever help. I was going way too far away for us to be part of each other's day-to-day lives. I don't regret coming to Canada and my mom and family 100% supported my move, but that didn't make it any less difficult.

What is the greatest compliment that you have ever received?

When I auditioned to attend Florida State University's School of Music, I did so with four hurried weeks of vocal coaching on the two songs that I was singing in my audition. I had sung in choir at church all my life, but I'd never been in choir at school or had any real vocal training. My 18-year-old self had the audacity to believe that I was good enough without training. When I got in, no one was more surprised than I was. After my audition was over, it finally hit me that it was an extremely long shot. But I got in. Then I got an A from the faculty in my first jury. That was an amazing moment.

What is one thing you still want to do that you've never done?

Ever since I learned about Holland from my neighbor when I was a kid (he was from Holland), I've always wanted to go and see all the things in person that he shared with me in pictures and stories. When I finally get around to making that trip, I'm sure you and your dad will be with me. :)

Brandon, I hope you've enjoyed reading a little more about me this Mother's Day. You're the best kid a mom could ask for and I love you so much.


This list of questions came from here and I have to give a hat tip and thanks to my bloggy friend/fellow Spin Sucks Crazies buddy, Paula, for sharing it with me.

The futility and stress of anger

I have a tendency to react before I think through events that have happened. My mom used to say I was "cutting off my nose to spite my face," and I pretty much ignored what that meant until I was well into the process of adulting my way through life.

I'm trying to remember at least one situation that I made a choice in the heat of the moment that I later regretted. I know it happened - more often than I'd like to admit back in my teens - but I can't seem to dredge up any examples from the depths of my brain. After all, this year, my teens are officially over 20 years ago. (Whoa.)

The thing is, I learned this response from both my parents. My mom and dad both had strong views and reacted with equal strength at times. They weren't hotheads, getting angry at the least little thing. There was usually a good reason, but their reactions weren't as measured as I believe either of them would have preferred to be. It didn't help that my mother had to take steroids as part of her treatment for neurosarcoidosis. I'm pretty sure we're kinda wired to have strong feelings, too. That doesn't mean it has to be the default reaction, though.

Mom eventually mellowed, partly due to a therapist that helped her figure out how to look at things differently so that anger and irritation weren't the default response. (Frankly, when you're chronically ill, is it all that shocking when there are bursts of anger from time to time? Because that's a sucky way to live.) My dad has mellowed, too. I think living just gives you a different perspective in these situations if you're open to it.

Being with Matt for the past 19+ years, I've mellowed too. Matt is ridiculously slow to anger - in fact, I've only seen him get truly angry a couple times and it comes nowhere close to what most people think of as an anger response. It's been humbling to watch how he reacts and compare myself to him. I never went to therapy but watching others in potentially charged situations has helped me learn the value of taking a step back to breathe and think.

My son has been the best possible teacher in this. He does such frustrating things. Try to imagine someone who's more stubborn than my son and you probably won't succeed. (Well, unless you know someone who thinks very literally, black-and-white, wrong-and-right about the world.) Communicating with him about various issues and events can feel like you're driving in circles and can't find a single exit that goes to your destination - or even close to it. 

I've had to remind myself that there's a reason for his response to every situation. When I remember to stop and talk to him about it, I get to understand him better so I can help him navigate similar circumstances when he experiences them in the future. And I've reinforced those ideas for myself in the process. 

One thing I've started to do is go to trusted friends for a gut check. That one step of describing a situation and asking for their input has made an enormous difference. Especially when I'm advocating for my child. 

Report cards came home recently and I have yet to sign and send his back because of one teacher's grades and comments. They're infuriating, particularly since I had no warning, despite meeting with her just a few weeks prior. I've done several gut checks. Described the situation to friends who are removed from it. I've talked to a friend who has two children in classes with this teacher - one is Brandon's best friend. 

My view has been validated, but I haven't gotten to the point where I don't want to swear when I talk about it, so I'm waiting a bit longer to address it. Because I've learned how much anger stresses me out and that it won't help me to get what B needs from school. Instead, I want to use it to drive the right actions to make things better for him. 

Anger's not a bad thing. But I think we have to be careful how we express it and when. You never want anger to undermine your ability to get the right response and you certainly don't want to regret decisions, actions, or words you make, take, or say in anger.

Overcoming creative paralysis

When I started the year, I had every intention of spending a lot of time writing. And I have, but pretty much only for work. Not that I don't love writing for work because I do. It helps that I'm still somewhat ridiculously happy to have the title "writer" in an official capacity instead of being an assumed role. It's not like this is the first time I've ever been paid to write, so it's a little silly that I'm so happy about it. But I am and I'll enjoy it until the shine wears off.

The thing is, I feel so weird about the world right now. My anxiety spikes when I look at the news for very long. So I avoid it. Then I feel guilty for being uninformed. So I go back to looking at the news and I feel scared, sad, disappointed, scared, and anxious. 

Even engaging in conversations with friends about current events feels like a minefield I don't want to go near. Emotions are high. Opinions are strong. People are hurt and scared and so very divided, even where intentions are good.

I have so many thoughts that I'm uncomfortable sharing because of the charged atmosphere we live in today. It took me a while to be okay with that. I think it's important to speak up but if it's going to create even more anxiety than reading the news because of the divisive nature of these discussions then I can't be the one to speak up. And I can live with that. 

Now that I've gotten past the constant tug of war in my head, I feel like I can finally write again. I can't use most of the ideas I've had over the past two months but more will come. Besides, I've had some ideas for bigger projects that I'm excited about in the long-term. The kind of projects that end with many words on many pages surrounded by a cover and secured with binding. 

I need to find and focus on the positive. If I don't, I get blocked and anxious. I love that so many people are speaking up about the wrongs being done, though. We need them. And I appreciate them more than I can say. 

I just can't do what they do.