Monday, October 3, 2016

7 Happy Things

Like with a gratitude journal, a list of happy things helps life become sweeter and fuller. Here is mine for the month:





1. The yellow hues that dot the late summer/early fall landscapes

We have a lot of green here, which is lush and beautiful and perfect, and then all these cheery yellow wildflowers show up, making everything even more lush and beautiful and perfect. Even the highway is pretty. Thanks Mother Nature.



2. Soccer practice

There's something about ending the day in the fresh air that gave everyone the breath of fresh air they needed. I'm sure Mondays run perfectly in your lives, but they get a little tense for us ;). However, at soccer, the boys ran out their energy. The girl calmed herself to the rhythm of the swing. I could just sit and feel the breeze. Hallelujah.

3. My son is in love with Kindergarten

Not that I ever thought he wouldn't be, but it's always a relief when your child is thrilled to be at the place you are shipping (busing) them off to for the entire day.

4. A freshly painted room

I have hated our family room for almost a decade. It was always awkward and never quite sat right with me. Turns out all I needed to fix it was the right shade of warm, ivory paint. I am so grateful for you- Benjamin Moore 925, and I am so grateful I had the energy to paint the room (before child #4 arrives and sleep trumps household projects, or any projects).

5. Facebook

As in the thing that keeps you connected to people you would probably never contact again. Years ago, I sat next to a lady on an airplane, we talked the whole time, the flight ended, and we parted ways. Except that before we headed to separate parts of the country, we became FB friends. This summer we met up again in person when she traveled my direction for a wedding. How cool is that?

Which leads me to my next happy thing...



6. Getting out in the city

Of course, I had to show her something great about Minneapolis, which means I had to go there myself. I always feel happier after exploring/enjoying a fun part of the city and getting out of our routine a bit.

7. Feeling the baby kick

It's always amazing to feel life move inside you, but this time it's even more fun because my children are totally excited about it. They are all old enough to get a kick out of the baby's movements (no pun intended), and give big reactions with squeals and laughs. It's the best.



What has made you happy this month?







Monday, September 19, 2016

Did Anyone Tell You About the Joy Part?

Garden flowers for my birthday, delivered boy-style, via a dump truck


After one of many summer doctor visits, I entered an elevator, followed by 3 bouncy children. They were all vying, let's say "enthusiastically," to PRESS THE BUTTON! The woman already in there took a look at them, and then my large, pregnant belly, and chuckled to herself.

"You must stay busy!" she said.

"Never a dull moment at our house." I replied.

"Well, I think you must be the bravest woman in the world right now!" she exclaimed. In my head, I responded, "Actually, I think my mother-of-8-boys friend earns that title, but hey, I'll take it! I'll take it!"

"Or the craziest!" is how I actually responded.

She laughed, and then, following our herd out of the elevator, said the best sentence of the day:
"Yeah, aren't they so rewarding though?!"

Of course they are.

Yes, I am tired, sore, overwhelmed, and impatient at times, but the reward is so high. Any struggle falls short to the joy my children bring me. Any analogy of cups overflowing or hearts bursting is not enough to describe this joy.

Before I had children, I didn't know. I heard a lot of "they're worth it!" exclamations, but I had no clue. No grasp, no concept. They sure seemed like an awful lot of work. I always saw lots of messes, yelling to the back of the minivan, mom jeans, and dark under-eye circles. That lack of sleep? No thanks.

I wondered if I was unselfish enough to be a parent.

But something inside did long to be a mother, and I had faith that those future children really were worth it. I'm so glad I didn't shy away from the most fulfilling part of my life because it looked hard.

I was talking to my husband about how little I knew about the joy part, and how I wished more was written or expressed about what it was like. What I could look forward to.

I think that goes for many rewarding things though. It's hard to express the elevated feelings of achievement, joy, or "I can't believe I did that!"  It's hard to understand the sweetness of that moment without trudging through the mucky path that leads there. Contrast is the key player- the harder the challenge, the greater the reward. The trick is to remember this in the thick of the obstacles, even if there's no one there to tell us about the joy part.

I am grateful for the opportunity to do hard things. Right now that mostly involves messes, under-eye circles, and our minivan. However, I never would have earned the "Bravest Woman in the World" title any other way ;).

And that is a title that sure carries a lot of joy.



What hard things have brought you fulfillment?


-Nicki


Monday, September 12, 2016

Simplifying Family Meals

Brooke Lark via


A good family friend of my in-laws spent some time with them when he was young, and he jokes that they always ate tacos, spaghetti, pizza, and more tacos, spaghetti, and pizza. My mother-in-law, who raised 6 children, laughs, and says that's not entirely true.

But maybe a little true.

After many failed attempts to cook for my family, trying to please this picky eater and that picky eater, and ending up with more dinner battles than I can count, I started to think her menu made a lot of sense.

Cooking is a great creative outlet, and I love it. I don't cook gourmet meals, but I would love to learn. I love really nice food. I love eating out. I love trying new things. But throw young children in the mix and a husband who has many food opinions, and the whole thing suddenly becomes a huge frustration.

I found myself dreading meal planning, and dreading all those moans and groans at the dinner table.

In wanting to embrace my inner chef, I put pressure on myself to try new recipes. They would rarely work out. At some point, I realized- "Hey, maybe I need to scale back, and just simplify this whole thing." 

Simplicity truly was the key. Preparing simple meats, basic sauces and sides, and cut up fruits and vegetables started to make our dinners much more pleasant. I stopped looking into recipes that were new and different, and found the ones that were tried and true. Or, I didn't use a recipe at all. Instead of trying a whole new chicken casserole with various ingredients that some may squirm at, I would change my approach to: I know my family likes chicken, how should I prepare it today? I know we have a lot of lettuce, how will my family eat it? You guessed it-with Ranch. 

I still have a love of cooking, and I still look at food blogs (like awesome Suzanne's). Every once in a while, I'll introduce something new and see how everyone takes it. Sometimes, they surprise me, and it's a hit. Everyone's palates can grow and change... at times.

Mostly, our weeks go like this:

We have some sort of pasta.
Some sort of taco/burrito/quesadilla.
Some sort of stir-fry.
And, if I want to make a dinner everyone goes crazy for, I'll cook chicken in some BBQ sauce, add plain rice, and heat up frozen peas. It's pretty exciting. 

There's always a pizza night too.

Overall, not a far cry from my mother-in-law's meal planning...

Maybe, in time, with lots of gentle nudges, my children will learn to appreciate a fine soup or a balsamic vinaigrette.

For now, I'm am accepting the pickiness of my little eaters, and trying simple, healthy, home-cooked basics.

That has made life much smoother.





PS- it was nice to read that Ann Romney relied on lots of "boy-friendly" spaghetti/tacos/chicken fajita meals too. I think lots of moms, famous or not, can relate ;)



What is your approach to family meals?


-Nicki


Monday, September 5, 2016

One Thing at a Time {The Power of Focus}



"If you want your life to have impact, focus it!" Rick Warren


I have given a lot of thought to the power of focus this year. It started with some great passages from Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life." His advice is (essentially) to find your strength, channel it to some good purpose, and make that your life's focus.

I love that!

I love it so much that I've cut a lot of things from my life, and reevaluated the way I approach goals. I have more focus when tackling household projects, spending time with my family, or even just getting through the dishes. Focus is a great ally.

I've also used focus when trying to improve mentally or spiritually. I have a word of the year (adventure, by the way, but not in the typical sense... you can read about it here). Having one word to focus on is so liberating. I loved the idea so much I even started a secondary word of the month for myself (mainly on Instagram). It was great having a specific reminder in the back of my head all month. It gave me mental structure.

Until, it didn't.

Months go by SO fast when you are older! I hear they just get faster and faster.

I would come to the end of the month, and want to share some amazing thought on how, since I had ALL month to dwell on my word, I had improved and learned and grown. But that just wasn't happening. I often wanted to just carry that word into the next month, because I hadn't mastered any part of it yet.

I once read about a psychologist's husband who would pick one flaw to improve, and work on it for years. He wouldn't get distracted by other flaws, or discouraged that he wasn't improving faster, he would just take all the time he needed and keep plodding along. I found a lot of wisdom in his example.

I've come to this realization that I am not superhuman enough to handle even one word per month. I mean, sure, I can reflect on different things and try my best to incorporate them. Real change just takes more time.

Also, in the midst of my monthly words, I kind of lost track of that "adventure" word. For now, I'm okay going back to a word of the year, and, well, not losing focus.

This fall I will be having a fourth baby. That is adventure enough for me, and I am going to focus on embracing it! It won't be long before another year will be in front of us, asking for another word to take on.



Do you have a word of the year, or something that helps you focus on your goals?


Monday, August 29, 2016

August Links




As I browse the internet for the very best posts to share, I don't find all of them written in August. Some are posts that have stayed with me months and months after they are read, and I hope they stay with you too. Happy reading!


Surviving as an Introverted Mother by Kristen Howerton for Quiet Revolution
For all the introverted parents out there (including me), and why we should stop guilting ourselves.

Dress for the Day; Dress for Life from Modern Mrs. Darcy
As you start thinking about fall wardrobes, does it cross your mind what your outfit portrays to others about your intentions?

A Very Happy Brain by Dr. Sood
This charming video clip perfectly illustrates how to make the brain happier and healthier. A must see!

Why You Should Read 50 Books This Year (And How to Do It) by Stephanie Vozza for Fast Company.com
It seems all of the most successful leaders are avid readers. Here's how these busy people build the habit.

Comparison Among Moms: A Practical Solution from Design for Mankind
Such an encouraging and thought-provoking post. A great reminder for anyone struggling with comparison (isn't that all of us, at some point?!). 

Monday, August 22, 2016

4 Ways to be Closer in a Marriage



This month, my husband and I celebrate 10 years of marriage.

In reflecting on all our time together, I am filled to the brim with happiness, and lots and lots of gratitude. Marriage is the best part of my life.

I have also reflected on marriage in general, and why some relationships can endure seemingly forever, and others crumble apart. I've thought about what gives a marriage quality and joy. Yes, there is loyalty, fidelity, forgiveness, tolerance, compromise, and just plain hard work. But another word came to mind in my pondering this month:

Bonding.

Marriage is our greatest chance in life to form the deepest, strongest, most enduring bond we can with another person. And, usually, when that bond is authentic, marriage is successful.

As I've observed marriages that are happy and healthy, all of them have couples that share a strong bond through 4 main ways. There is a closeness and security to their relationships that make them sweet and desirable. 

So what bonds us to each other? What creates bonding in a marriage?

1. Spouses bond by spending time together.

A no-brainer, right? However, couples can easily drift apart when they don't make an effort to do this. I've seen it happen with my very own eyes. Some couples forget that married life is not single life, as their calendars still fill up with buddy and co-worker outings, or hobbies that take them away.

Now, I write this as my husband is off playing flag football, a game I would never dream of attempting. I am typing and typing at the computer, an activity he is not interested in, and we certainly could not do together. We all need our individual hobbies and space. But those should take up a small percentage of our time. Prior to this morning, we spent most of our evenings together, and even enjoyed a date this week.

As opposites frequently attract, it may take effort (or sacrifice) to find common ways to spend time. But couples who do have memories and bonding experiences that will last a lifetime.

I have a sister and brother-in-law who are really good at this. They are always off on some adventure together. They workout together. They cook together. They shop together. And they are best of friends! Their bond is obvious. They know what it means to prioritize each other.

2. Spouses bond by working towards common goals.

While watching the Olympics, I noticed the closeness between teammates and coaches. Their TV interactions were brief, but they all seemed like family, or even closer.

How could they NOT have deep bonds? These Olympic teams work so hard, day in and day out, toward their common goal. I certainly remember these feelings from high school teams.

This summer, for the first time in 10 years, we planted a garden as a family. We've had many gardens before, but we always split the jobs and completed steps separately. This worked fine, however, I realized that we were missing out on an opportunity to bond as a family. So this year, we marked a day on the calendar to ALL create our garden together, and we did. My husband and I dug trenches for our chicken wire fence while the children placed the plants, dug randomly in the dirt, and a gathered a mammoth pile of worms. Yes, some worked harder than others, but we all had fun and enjoyed the satisfaction of the end product. We bonded, and we have felt the pride in our joint accomplishment all summer.

Goals in marriage can be huge and lifelong, like raising successful children. Or they can be small, like saving for a weekend trip or painting a room. Either way, the more we work together, the more we will feel connected in the life we are building side-by-side.

3. Spouses bond by supporting each other through hard things.

Have you heard the old advice to take your date to a horror movie or rollercoaster ride? There's something about that adrenaline rush that instantly creates a bonding experience.

Real life may not be as dramatic as a horror movie, but it certainly has plenty of challenges to navigate as a married couple.

There is a definite bond that comes from catching each other's eyes over your child's hospital bed, or comforting each other through physical or emotional pain, or just simply getting through a weekend of crazy/busy schedules.

Marriage has built-in hardships. The key to turning them into bonding experiences is to lay aside blame and bitterness when things go wrong, and welcome in support, mercy, love, compassion, and the team spirit mentioned above. An inevitable love and admiration develops for the person that is by your side in the lowest moments of life.

4. Spouses bond by being open, transparent, and vulnerable with each other. 

In healthy marriages, spouses create a safe space for each other where they can share more vulnerable feelings openly and freely without negative consequences.

This safe space has a balance to it; each spouse must feel loved and respected, but also be willing to accept guidance. Sometimes the only person that can truly help you see where you need to improve is your spouse, and we do have a responsibility to correct each other (in the kindest way, hopefully). There also has to be trust in confidentiality. I've always appreciated how my husband never spills sensitive conversations.

Things like stonewalling, venting to others about a spouse, pride, insensitivity, and poor listening skills can kill this bond. Sometimes it takes practice to develop trust and get comfortable with the vulnerability, but emotional closeness is worth the effort!




There are many other ways to bond with a spouse, but the main point is to prioritize and love each other above all else. Through our 10 years of figuring this out, we have enjoyed a very happy, peaceful place through bonding in our marriage. Sometimes that has required work, changing habits and routines, sacrificing personal interests, and challenging each other. But the reward is priceless.

Our 10 year marriage is still young, but I hope it continues to get better with time!


How do you grow closer to your spouse, or what have you observed about closeness in marriage?



-Nicki





Monday, August 15, 2016

On Fear, Diving Boards, and the Power of the Mind


"Mom - I'm a little nervous about going off the diving board."

I heard that phrase about 5 times a day for 12 days; every day of a 2 week swim lesson session. 12 mornings where his first question was if today was THE day. A little nervous didn't begin to describe the anxiety inside- the kind of fear that results in tears and poolside meltdowns. We'd been through this before.

I couldn't blame him. I felt the same way about diving boards and that deep, vague water when I was his age.

However, life is about conquering fears, even when you are only 5. 

As his parents, we wanted this to end the best possible way. No tears, no meltdowns, no backing down the stair rungs. We wanted accomplishment, pride, and self-esteem. We countered with everything we could.

"It's just like jumping off the side, which you love to do."
"Your teacher will catch you, don't worry."
"It's not that high. You are higher when you jump off the swings."
"The board is kind of like a trampoline!"
"Dad is coming, but only if you promise to do it."
"We will get you ICE CREAM!!!"

I'm sure all our talk just sounded like empty chatter. Weak solutions unfit to erase the dominant emotion of fear.

Friday morning arrived, and I had one last card to play. I led him into a quite room, sat down, and took his little tanned face in my hands.

"We are going to imagine for a minute. You are standing in line at the diving board. The ground is warm, and you hear the waves of the pool splashing against the sides."

In our minds, we watched each person ahead of him climb and jump, climb and jump, until finally it was his turn. We gripped the rails, stepped up each rung, and walked to the edge of the plank. The sun beat warm and the deep blue was laid out beneath us. We took a big breath and jumped.

Water engulfed, and then two strong hands lifted, and all we heard were cheers.

"Mom, I'm a little nervous about going off the diving board."

My response: "Guess what? You already went off the diving board, you just did it in your head."

"Oh...   Yeah!"

I am proud to report that my little guy overcame his fear. There were still a few nerves, but there were no tears, no meltdowns, not even hesitation. There WAS lots of ice cream.

“When you explore your fears then you set yourself free.”
― Stephen Richards,
Releasing You from Fear

Have you taken a plunge recently? Did you use visualization, or other methods, to help overcome fear?

Nicki