Christmas Photo Challenge

When Christmas rolls around, I’m always drawn to books or articles about how to simplify the holidays. Christmas was magical to me when I was a kid, but when Ben and I got married, and suddenly had seven different gatherings to get to in the span of a week or two, the holiday lost a lot of it’s charm for me. I love family and traditions and festivities, but I ended up feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, exhausted, and in need of some quality alone time at Christmas.

One of the solutions to this came from book no longer in print, which basically said, “Cut out what you don’t enjoy, and do more of what you love about Christmas.”

As I was thinking about this last week, I tried to remember the most enjoyable Christmas I’ve had as an adult, and the usual things which came to mind were the traditions we’ve established as our own little family, and the days we enjoy at our parents’ houses, or when the gatherings are a little more spread out, with recovery time in between! But what popped into my mind which surprised me most was a spark of pleasure when I remembered the Christmas I did a 31 day photo challenge in December.

It seems silly – taking more pictures increased my enjoyment of Christmas? But it really did, maybe because photography is one of my favourite art forms, and art is always good for the soul.:) Or maybe it was because slowing down, paying attention, looking for the little things that make Christmas special for our family stayed with me.

Whatever the case, I decided to follow the joy, and started a Christmas photo challenge for this year. This is not going to produce deep, spiritual reflections on the birth of Jesus, or anything like that. We’ll see if that post comes at a different time! Nope, this is just to take a creative breather, have some fun, and capture some pretty holiday pictures to look back on in the future:

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Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:Decorate:

Sweet:

Anika decided to join me, so here are her pictures:

Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:

Decorate:

More to come! What do you do when you need to take a break and relax a little over the holidays?

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This Year’s Family Photos

You guys, every year I think I love our latest family pictures the most. I didn’t think it could happen again this year, because last year’s were my favourite by far, but our friend Morgan was amazing, as usual, and I love them! We explored a little part of Winnipeg I’d never actually been to before, and the fall colours made everything feel just a little bit magical.

And the last one I’ll share is kind of fun – when Kaylia was the age Everett is now, Morgan took this picture of our family:

We saw some steps and decided it was time for an update!:)

All the family feet, complete!

And now I have to somehow choose my favourite for our Christmas cards! I can’t wait to start receiving all the happy Christmas mail with everyone’s family pictures – it’s one of my favourite Christmas traditions.:)

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Anika’s 14th Birthday

This weekend was Anika’s birthday. Ben was trying to put words to the significance of the occasion, and said, “You’re the only 14 year old daughter I’ve ever had!”

Anika responded dryly with, “I’m the only 14 year old daughter you’ve ever had.”

Ben replied, “All the others only reached their 13th birthday…”

Not his best joke, but he always tries.

We’re delighted to have a 14 year old. I’d have to say our first year with a teenager has gone very well.:) There have been some bumps along the way, but looking back, I can see how those were the times when Anika’s growth and maturity really developed and came through, and I love seeing the person she is becoming.

Life is such a weird thing – how can I not remember what life was like without her, and yet so clearly remember the first day we brought her home from the hospital?! I can still feel the panic inside when Ben put Anika’s car seat down inside the door of our little house, and went to get something from the car, leaving me standing there, wondering what in the world we were going to do now. We were responsible for A BABY, and for the moment, she was quiet, but we didn’t have a clue what we were doing! It all seemed very strange and overwhelming, and a little bit scary, but I loved her fiercely. I got nothing done for weeks – I just watched her sleep and cried over how beautiful she was!

Slowly, we figured things out, and everything was okay because she was our baby – we knew her, and she belonged, and we figured out what she needed and liked, and her little personality began to show in all kinds of delightful ways.

For years, we’d hear other parents talking about the teenage years with dread, and I felt a little uneasy about it, but mostly I blocked it out, thinking we’d deal with it when it was time.

We’re only one year in, but I’m already glad for all the time I didn’t spend worrying about it, because it’s not unlike the feelings I had when we were first learning to be parents: we don’t have all the answers, but she’s our teenager – we know her, she belongs, we’re figuring things out as we go along, and the person she’s becoming is showing through in all kinds of delightful ways.

She’s smart, creative, imaginative, wise, motivated, strong, self-aware, capable, discerning, level-headed, funny, and determined. This was the year she started setting her alarm early in the morning, so that she can finish her schoolwork in the morning, and spend the rest of her day writing. She’s pumping out books at a rate which makes me jealous, and dreams big dreams about all she will do with her future.

She always amazes me with her ability to cut right to the root of a problem and determine the solution. I will forever love our long talks, and this last year she was finally able to graduate to the passenger seat for our drives to the city. She spends most of the time drilling me with questions about Myers Briggs, and wants to figure out everyone’s personality types, in real life as well as all the characters in her books. The rest of the time, we talk about boys.;)

14 years of loving her. I’m so glad we get to celebrate our Anika!

photo credit: Morgan Braun

 

 

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Never Stop Swinging

When I was a kid, my dad designed and built play structures. It had a lot of perks – we had a really great play structure in our own backyard, and my sister and I loved to play on the new ones as they were being built, because it was always fun to try something different.

It seems as though a large number of my childhood involved those play structures. We would haul out all the blankets and build houses on the structure railings. We would try to teach our cats to walk across the top of the monkey bars. We would climb and dangle and twirl on the various bars. And we would swing. I remember the feeling of swinging so high, it felt as though I would soar right off into the air.

There was a huge lilac bush beside our play structure, and when I think of my most beautiful childhood memories, I remember sitting on the lawn swing with my mom, memorizing Psalm 23 while the dusk crept in. We smelled the lilac-scented air, and my mom would say, “Let’s see how high we can swing!”

One day when I was in high school, I was sitting on a swing, deep in thought, when my dad walked by. He said, “I miss the days when you girls would swing so much, the grass could never grow underneath the swings, because you would always wear it out.”

After he continued walking to the house, I got down on my knees and began pulling up handfuls of grass, trying to make the dirt show through, even though I didn’t swing enough to wear it out anymore.

I don’t know when I stopped swinging.

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The summer before Everett was born, Ben set up a play structure in our backyard. We’d been debating about it for awhile, wondering if our girls would get much use out of it, but when we were surprised with another baby on the way, we decided to get the structure, because there would be many more years of use with our little guy on the way.

In the beginning, both girls would swing together, shrieking delightedly when they were “double dating” and their swings were perfectly in sync. But slowly, over time, Kaylia often ended up on the monkey bars or in the sandbox, while Anika kept swinging.

I’d notice her going out to swing more and more. She’d take a break from school work to swing. She’d head out there the second we got home from a busy afternoon away. She would swing in the rain, the snow, the dark – it didn’t matter what kind of weather or time of day, she had to swing. I loved to watch her out the window, because she’d usually be smiling to herself, deep in thought as she stretched towards the sky.

It’s been a couple of years since Anika started swinging, and the grass still never grows under her swing.

She had a growth spurt this last winter. In the span of a few short months, she changed from being a little girl, and people started to mistake her for me. She almost looks me in the eye, and she’s borrowing my clothes. She spends hours a day writing fantasy books, and talks about being published, but whenever she’s stuck for an idea, she heads out the door to go swing. Morning, afternoon, and evening, she is out there on her swing.

Because she’s almost my size now, that little play structure built for small children was getting worn out after the intense workout she’s been giving it for three years. It was creaking and groaning, and Anika complained, “It makes so much noise when I swing, people are starting to turn and look from the sidewalk! Dad needs to fix it!!”

So last weekend, Ben finally built a new swing set (with his usual little helper!). He built it adult-size, so there will be no need for our girl to stop swinging.

We planted lilac bushes by the play structure, and maybe someday, the smell of lilacs will also make her think of evenings on the swing.

We tease Anika a little, because she’ll go off to college, and need to find the nearest park so she can swing and de-stress from college life! She says she’ll know she’s found her soulmate when she meets a boy who will swing with her.;)

We were at the chiropractor at the end of summer, and after finishing Anika’s adjustment, he came to me and asked, “Do you have her doing some kind of athletic activity?” I told him she took dance lessons during the school year, but hadn’t been doing anything during summer.

He said, “She’s in great shape – she must be very active!”

I smiled and said, “Well, she swings for a few hours a day.”

He looked confused. “She swings? Like on a play structure?”

I described to him how she swings many times a day, and how she’s gotten muscular from all those hours of pumping.

The chiropractor was amazed. “Her spine is very strong and healthy – she has the body of an athlete!”

And so Anika has proven that even something as simple as swinging can be good for the mind and the body.

I think of all those phys.ed classes when I was in high school, where I was taught that volleyball and basketball were everything, and competitive sports were the only way to be athletic. There was no value for the things I loved to do, like going for walks, or riding my bike in the sunset.

And yet, long after the phys.ed classes are over, those are the things that remain. There are many ways to move and live and feel your body connect with the moment. What I want for my kids are those beautiful moments of enjoying whatever it is they want to enjoy. To see the value in the unexpected. To find strength and beauty in simple things. To do what clears the head and gets the blood pumping. To smell lilacs and see sunsets, and to feel strength in their limbs and to get outside.

If they enjoy competitive sports, that’s great. But even more importantly, I hope they find ways to relax and move through life in small ways, all by themselves, when there’s no team around and without fancy equipment. I hope they keep balanced and active for the simple reason that our bodies were made to thrive that way.

If Anika still wants to swing when she’s an adult, I hope she does. I hope she never feels silly for loving it, because she’s found the secret for clearing her head and connecting her soul to the peace of the moment.

 

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Why Ben and I Are Like Levitating Unicorns

It was our anniversary this last weekend. Seventeen years, and we don’t feel that old, but here it is.

The kids were at Ben’s parents’ for a sleepover, and we had the most relaxing time, eating out, going to the park, and talking about anything and everything, which happened to include me asking Ben for anniversary blog post ideas. It’s tradition, and I’ve done all kinds of things in the past, like anniversary ABCs, five things you might not know about us, 13 things I love about Ben, etc. I was feeling a bit dry for ideas this year, though. I thought it might be fun to interview Ben, but he thought that was too last minute and too much pressure, so I made him promise to do it for next year.:)

For this year, he thought I should write about personalities and marriage, and why our personality combination has been compared to”levitating unicorns”. He was referring to this blog post I sent him awhile back about why our Myers Briggs personality types work so well together:

For every Myers Briggs personality, there’s a counterpart that makes an almost perfect fit. The key is in the functions. Relationships struggle if people don’t have similar functions, or dominate functions that guide them. ENFP and INFJ being both highly intuitive people would struggle with someone who is more dominated by sensing. These two thrive on metaphors, abstractions, and the creative — trying to get them to be normal and grounded is like trying to make a levitating unicorn made of rainbows do your taxes.

I loved this article, because it described our relationship very well, but I’m also interested in the idea that everyone has someone who fits them just right, whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship. At our house, Anika and I are finding it fascinating to look up different personality types to find out what type is their best fit – everybody has their own levitating unicorn!;) It’s possible to be friends with all kinds of personality types, but there’s one, sometimes two types that fit just right.

I’ve discovered a friend who has the same personality type as Ben, and it has been one of my greatest delights to get to know her – it’s as effortless as it is to spend time with Ben. To make it even more interesting, her husband has the same personality as me, so as couples, we’re just the opposite, and it’s been very interesting to understand our spouses better as we talk about things from a slightly different viewpoint.

But my favourite unicorn of all will always be Ben.:) Here’s a bit of what the article had to say about why Ben and I fit well together:

Both the INFJ and ENFP will feel instant attraction to each other. They both have pieces the other one desires. The INFJ wants to be understood and needs help coming out of their shell because they are the most rare personality making them feel constantly like their ideas and feelings don’t fit in with the rest of the way the group feels. The INFJ also struggles with being quiet because their dominate function is introverted intuition — their first objective is to take information introspectively. Until this hits their emotional center and their can translate the information out-loud empathetically, they tend to keep information to themselves. ENFP are primarily information gatherers, but through extroverted intuition. To the INFJ, the ENFP talks in the way the INFJ is taking in information. This is all very pleasing and creates an ESP effect.

The ENFP on the other hand feels a strong Fi-Si loop that they can stuck in. The ENFP is the champion and is wanting constantly to involve people, spread ideas, and get things in motion. But there’s this other more introspective side they have that they don’t always know how to convey, if they should convey it. The INFJ in being more introspective knows how to help the ENFP with their emotional growth. The INFJ knows how to encourage them and let them know it’s okay to have dark thoughts, to be a little serious, to have the crazy kind of depth. Both are obsessed with people and gathering information about people because their in the NF temperament.

One article described the attraction between our types as “a moth to a flame”. When I shared this with Ben, he immediately said, “You were the moth, and I was the flame. There was no way you could resist me.” But since my personality type is very rare, I’m pretty sure it was the other way around – he couldn’t believe he’d finally found an INFJ, even though he had no idea what that meant at the time – our inner unicorns could just sense each other.;)

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This does not mean our marriage is always perfect, though. When people say “Opposites attract”, this is true, to a point. It is also true that opposites can be annoying or frustrating sometimes. The same goes for the expression, “Variety is the spice of life.” Having no spice is boring, too much spice is gross or fiery, but just the right amount of spice is fantastic.

Ben is the perfect amount of spice for me, but that means there are ways in which he challenges me, and our differences provide opportunities to learn how to communicate better, and how to appreciate and take advantage of the other’s different strengths.

Ben is great at coming up with wild and crazy ideas, so he’s always helping me look outside the box, and see things from a different perspective. I’m the one who likes to think forever about all the details, so I can help him improve his big ideas, and ask questions that help him figure out how to make his big ideas work in real life.

He is more focused on connecting people and helping everyone have a good time, while I am more task-oriented, and focused on getting things done. Sometimes this leads to very different expectations and frustrations if we don’t communicate properly. I remember the first day after we got back from our honeymoon – Ben wanted a slow, relaxing morning, as if we were still on vacation, and I wanted to get up early and go shopping for a kitchen table, and get our little apartment in order. I’m sure the issue had come up before when we were dating, but it was our first married life example of how differently we approached things that needed to get done.

I am much more relaxed and less stressed than I was when we first got married, and Ben has learned to close cupboard doors and push in his chair at the table.;) Lots of give and take, and real life stuff happening in between our levitating unicorn moments.

So to sum it all up, I love Ben like crazy, and thoroughly enjoy him as much as when we first got married – actually, I think I enjoy him even more. We’ve been able to work through some of the bumps and challenges in our differences, and I’m so thankful for our relationship. He really is the most wonderful person to be married to – my beloved spicy unicorn!

Curious what personality type you are, and who is your perfect match? You can go to 16 Personalities, take the test, and then google your type + “best matches”. And don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t surrounded by people who are your “perfect” fit – like I wrote, we all need some variety! There are ways for all personality types to connect and find some common ground, and I’m finding Myers Briggs to be such a helpful tool for doing this!

 

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Sibling Love

My chicks are all back in the nest, where they belong.

Everett is delighted to be reunited with his “girlies”. Kaylia was at camp for a week, and then Anika was at camp the next week, and it felt like two weeks was a long time to be missing a family member. My thoughts keep going to my cousin, who lost her son in an accident this last week, and my heart feels heavy for moms who can’t be with their children.

These are the days to hold them close, and enjoy this stage. But at the same time, I always want to keep in mind that the whole point is for them to grow up, and eventually leave the nest, and I don’t want that to be a depressing thought. I want to learn to be fully present, and enjoy each stage, being able to look ahead with excitement and anticipation, and lots of trust that God has good things in store for the future.

But right now, it’s good to have them right where they are. There’s been some fighting already, but it warmed my heart to look out the window and find them chatting together in the play structure – so much to catch up on!:)

Other than the play structure moment, my favourite interaction would have to be this one:

Anika: Locked in her room, reading her book and wanting to be alone.

Kaylia: Knocking and repeatedly begging to play.

Anika: Repeatedly ignoring her.

Kaylia: Made Everett come to Anika’s door with her and started feeding him lines. “Tell Anika to open her door.”

Everett: “Anka, open my door!”

Kaylia: “Tell Anika to let you in her room.”

Everett: “Let you into my room!”

Kaylia “Tell her you want to hug her.”

Everett: “I want to hug you!”

Kaylia: “Tell her you want to kiss her.”

Everett: (long pause) “No. I not saying that.” And stomped down the hall. A kiss was going too far.

May you have better luck with your kiss requests this week. Have a happy Monday!

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Summer Bucket List

I made a summer bucket list with the girls a month ago. They had all kinds of fun ideas for what they’d like to do this summer, but I had only one item to add to the list – family float time at the lake. We used to do this before Everett was born: a hot summer afternoon + something to float on for everyone, and a few hours later, I had my all-time favourite summer memories, every single time.

But it’s been three years since this has happened! We’ve had some great weekends at the cabin since Everett was born, but we’ve never had a HOT weekend! It’s been rainy and on the cooler side every time we’ve gone out there the last two summers, and I was starting to get desperate! How was it possible to miss out for so long on my favourite summer activity??!

We finally got our hot weekend, and our family floated, and now I don’t care what happens for the rest of the summer, I have been satisfied.

We stayed at the lake until Monday so that we could drop Kaylia off at camp, which is five minutes away from my parents’ cabin. It’s her first time going, and we’re all pretty curious how this will go! It’s been awhile since we’ve only had two kids in the house, so Anika and I have a list of chick flicks to get through, and Everett is missing his little playmate, so he’s filling his time with “helping” me, which we all know is outrageously helpful. Although, he did empty the whole cooler when we got back from the cabin, which was legitimately helpful, so maybe it will turn out okay!

I hope your week is off to a wonderful start!

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