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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

just do it.

It's January. I am sitting 12 inches from a light therapy box and wondering if I move 6 inches closer if  I will be achieve euphoria.

I really have nothing to complain about. This has been a very mild winter thus far and I have been able to run outside (my go-to mood booster) but that also means the snow is sluggish to hit us which makes it hard for skiing. We got some cold weather after Christmas as the ski mountains have been working hard making snow so the last few weekends we have gotten out on the slopes (my winter go-to mood booster) which makes us all happy.

I don't actually have much of a point to make in this post but I really wanted to write something so I decided I would just write a bunch of random stuff. Don't say you weren't warned.

Me and Ella who is closely approaching my height and shoe size. 

My first big news is that I survived a move and 2 major holidays in a 6 week period. I found myself looking around at the chaos and thinking I am doing this. I have not lost my mind and I laughed twice today and I am making this work. 

I love it when life gives you the opportunity to see how kick-ass you are.

I want to tell you, in case I have not beaten this topic into submission, just how profound the process of decluttering and simplifying has been.  We have spent the past 8 months thinning our belongings and it still isn't complete yet the effects on my life are staggering. (I know you are picturing us on the show hoarders but I promise we were just a regular family with too much stuff.) I know where stuff is. If I someone needs it and I don't have it, I don't care. Cleaning is easier (which is always a good thing for a busy family.)

We are almost entirely unpacked and when I can't find a place for something or I look at an item and think you aren't making my life happier or better, out it goes. It is such a process because I am now able to chuck stuff that 4 months ago I thought I needed. My goal is to have our open spaces feel simple and clear and to have the cupboards and closets feel the same.  And because we are living in a much smaller space, that means much less stuff.

My desire for a clear space now far outweighs my want to hold onto things I think I need. When I put stuff in the trash or drop it at Goodwill or give it to some poor unsuspecting person who has the bad luck to know me, I don't feel regret or loss. Instead I have a reverberating echo of YES in my head.

If you are thinking about doing this I can tell you that it is hard but it is entirely worth it. I feel different inside having less stuff. I feel less stressed. I feel lighter, unencumbered.  Dammit, I feel liberated. I know it may sound nuts but I have even gotten rid of some things inside me that were unwanted. Burdens I've carried for years suddenly left me. True story.

In other news, Ella broke her arm 3 days before Christmas and 2 1/2 weeks before her first gymnastics meet of the season. She was doing a back handspring at gymnastics, of course, which means that she has an awesome story to tell strangers that ask in the grocery store.  We asked the doctor if we could pretty please still take her skiing and he said, "Yes. Just be careful." I love that doctor.

Yup. We are the parents that take their casted child skiing. Feel free to judge.

My three girls ahead of me. I love to be last in the line and watch them ski down the mountain.

Maya is skiing with Maine Adaptive this year which is fantastic. This organization is made of up volunteer skiers who help people with varying disabilities ski.  Maya qualifies because of her hearing loss. She and her guide wear a two radio (a Scala rider) like the kind motorcyclists use to communicate when they are driving. It is hard to express how this device improves everything about skiing with Maya. She can actually be taught because she can hear the instructions. We are working on getting one of our own to minimize frustration for all of us.

You may remember Noah who skis with Maine Adaptive because he is a blind skier. One of our favorite parts of going to Sugarloaf is seeing Noah and his parents. 
Skiing is gear intensive and takes some effort and commitment to do but it truly is the first thing our whole family has been able to enjoy together. It makes it all more than worth it. 

How can this be anything but good for you soul?

Noah, Aunt Suzie, Uncle Buck, Noah's guides and the four of us in the pink and blue. 

Probably the girls' favorite part of living with their aunt and uncle is this black ball of love named Jax. It is the perfect way to have a dog. We can play with her and adore her but she isn't our sole responsibility.

Both our girls are on the competitive gymnastics team this year (for any parents who have their children in the toddler or little kid gymnastics classes you should be forewarned about where you are all headed if you proceed. Gymnastics seems to be equivalent to what I hear parents say about hockey- super expensive and very time intensive. If you aren't into it, turn back now!)   But hey, at least gyms are heated, unlike hockey rinks.

And then there are the smiles that make it all worth it. (Ella couldn't compete but she went to support her team.)

Winter in Maine is as beautiful as ever.
Thanks to the inspiration of a very wise 8-year-old named Annalise who coined the term junk-free January a year ago, our family is going without junk food for the month. In true democratic fashion we have decided on some addendums to the plan. We are allowed to have hot chocolate. We are allowed to eat veggie chips and pretzels.  We are contemplating whether Sun Chips are junk food. We all agree whipped cream is not. Neither is wine. 

Snow day tomorrow! I plan to keep a pot of cocoa on the stove all day long. And I plan to eat it with whipped cream, yes I do.

Friday, December 4, 2015

moving: an exercise in inventory

I recently heard someone say that people should move every 5 years just to stay on top of their volume of stuff.

I say save yourself the stress and just go through your shit more often.

I ruthlessly cleared our house out last spring when it went on the market, packing up all non-essentials and putting them in storage and getting rid of a solid quarter of our belongings by either selling them, donating them or giving them to unsuspecting friends when they would depart our house. If you even came over and left with a serving spoon in your purse, now you know why. And yet, when we packed up what remained inside our house it was shocking how much we still had.

We moved nearly two weeks ago and it has been one of the most surreal experiences of my life.  It isn't that I haven't moved before. I moved enough as a child to consider it traumatic; the year I was11 my mother and I moved 6 times in a post-divorce haze of crappy apartments.  By the time I was 23, I had moved 16 times and the Air Force was not involved.

Then I bought my house.  It was a pit that needed a ton of work but was all I could afford on my meager social worker salary. I made it my home. I bought a cute mailbox and planted flowers.  I hung curtains and painted over cracks that I didn't have the skills to repair. I met Sandi a year later and she inherited my pit.  A well worn family story goes like this: Sandi's mom, a builder, came up to help us with some things (such as the fact that there was a ladder where a staircase should be and when you climbed it to the second floor you could see right down to the basement) and when she left she said to her friend, "Well, I can't say Sandi is with her for her money." From then on it was always joked that we were "living on love" since we certainly weren't living on much cash.

We went from wrapping the house in heavy plastic to try to stay warm in the winter, identifying live wires and trying not to burn the house down with a wood stove that practically sat on the living room carpet to a complete remodel in six years. We gutted the house to the studs, replacing everything. We put in new windows, a new roof, new siding, new chimneys and paved the driveway. It became a cozy 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house and we were very happy there with our newborn baby.

When baby number two became a possibility we knew we either needed to move or add on.  Looking around at houses, we decided it would be better to simply build on to our house (a costly decision that in retrospect wasn't the way to go).  After many late nights of laying floor, painting walls and putting up trim while our 18-month-old slept, we had a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house and our family grew to the four it is today.

I was attached to the house.  There isn't a better way to say it. It was the most stable home I had in my entire life, in both years and in actuality.

The decision to sell it was one that I did not arrive at lightly. Sandi, understandably, was not attached to the house and she was long ready to move on.  We had always thought of it as a starter house and most of what we did, we did in consideration of resale value (a nebulous term that means you will likely lose money when you sell). When we considered our long-range goals to possibly build a house, the age of our kids and the opportunity to live with Sandi's sister, Trish and her husband, Brock, in the downstairs of their house while they moved into their newly finished upstairs, suddenly the right time was upon us.

I recently read something Cheryl Strayed wrote in Wild about her intensely conflicted decision to divorce her first husband, "I realized there was nothing left to do but go. So I did."

Change comes to some easily.  It comes to me with the ease of counting specks of sand on a mile long beach.  Even worthwhile and helpful change comes disguised in a costume of doubt, worry and sentimental sadness for losing what was.

Pema Chodron, a Buddist monk, says, "If you're invested in security and certainty, you are on the wrong planet." I continue to wonder why I dwell here.

My life continues to provide me, on a nearly daily basis, with opportunities to learn to live with uncertainty.  Due to "construction time" (the actual time frame it takes for construction to be performed rather than the projected time it should take), the upstairs wasn't yet ready for Trish and Brock when we moved out of our house.  Our stuff went to their house, stacked in towers like a Jenga game, but we didn't. For a week after leaving our house we spent 4 nights at a hotel, 2 nights with Sandi's family and then 2 nights at my sister's.  We were living out of my car and our suitcases and it was hard but we were also okay.  I had glimpses of "this is an adventure" but mostly I just tried to openly be with the people I love with a sad heart that longed for the familiarity and comfort of my home.  (Also, Trish and Brock get major props for allowing a family of four to move all their stuff, which even pared down is like trying to fit a giant into a newborn's onsie, into their space while working 18 hour days to get the upstairs done.)

We have had an endless supply of assistance and love during the grueling process of moving.  (You know who you are- THANK YOU.) My mother and I scrubbed the house into a state of shine the day after we moved out, singing 60's music at the top of our lungs.

She and I agreed it was a concrete way to say goodbye, to wipe the slate clean and to prepare the house for the next family. She spent 2 hours cleaning the refrigerator and told me about all her happy memories in the house, from the holiday dinners to the evening Sandi went into labor with Maya and we had to practically force her to go to the hospital.

The next day, the morning of the closing, I bought a plant to leave on the counter. As I stepped sock-footed into the empty house I was struck by how intimately familiar the house was to me and yet how it was no longer mine.  I knew every corner, every crevice and every mark, but there was nothing there for me anymore. I left the plant and scurried out, feeling like I had seen a ghost.

Later at the closing, we met the husband of the couple that bought our house.  He had kind eyes and a gentle demeanor and I was immediately at ease.  I hadn't realized how intensely I was carrying the burden of who would live in our house, who would become our beloved neighbors new neighbor. He handed us a lovely thank you card and I handed him the letter I had written. (Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to leave it for them.) They were thrilled to have our house and make their life there and my heart rested easy for the first time.

And guess what? They have two girls.

It is still hard to drive down our road. Ella wanted to drive by the other night and to see our house lit from within with other people inside disturbed me.  I wanted to shout, "What are those people doing in OUR HOUSE?!"  It will take time for these intense emotional bonds to sever.  My neighbor Shannon wrote this to me and captured how I feel perfectly: "There's a big emptiness when I step outside of my house, because our space used to be met with yours and that was so comforting. You are so very missed already."  I count the wonderful neighbors among my many life's blessings.

Maya, our neighbor Alli and I got to ride the 1/2 mile in the back of the moving truck.  Definitely a bucket list moment.  Maya doesn't look impressed but I promise she was.  It was totally awesome. 

In guidance this week, Maya made a picture of her family.  In the past this has always consisted of the four of us.  In just two weeks, the world as we know it has changed. I love everything about this picture.  It speaks of the flexibility and open heartedness of children.  I also love how she got everyone's height in relation to each other spot on (although I am not too keen on how closely Ella is portrayed to my height), how she listed all of our ages (thank you) and how she gave Uncle Brock, who has very little hair, a heady of curly locks. 

Sandi and I are women and women like clothes.  We used to have 3 closets for all our clothes.  Now we have one to share and no dressers.  As I tried to perform a magic trick and fit all those clothes into one small closet, I decided I needed to further free myself of the burden of too much and I gave away another huge bag of clothes. Life has reminded me yet again the sheer power of a fresh start.

Leaving my home was brutal and yet totally worth it.  I have felt displaced yet liberated.  I have felt lost yet amazed at the knowledge that "home" is just as much an internal state as a place you dwell.  Each day that passes gets easier to be away.

Moving is hard. Moving on is harder. I'm sure others do it with less pain and more sure footedness but I have come to accept that life doesn't exactly work that way for me.  It hurts to be open hearted.  I used to tell Ella when she was little to be brave to which she would reply, "But I'm scared!"  I told her being brave means being scared and doing it anyway.  This is my exact relationship to life: walking headlong into the fire frightened and willing, crying and smiling all at the same time.

One step at a time, one breath at a time, I am moving on.  There is the flutter of excitement about what we will create from here.  It helps to have a new running partner.  Thanks Jaxie.

Friday, November 6, 2015

dear buyers of our house

I am composing a letter in my head to leave on the counter for the people that are buying our house in 2 short weeks.  It goes like this:

Dear buyers of our house,

Welcome to our your house. I know it seems impossibly empty right now but I can assure you that  yesterday it was full of noise and laughter.  Just five days ago my daughter turned eleven here and three weeks before that my other daughter turned eight. There were parties and banners, balloons and cakes, hugs and loved ones.

This is the place we dreamed up our family, where each mom had a turn lumbering around for nine months, full of baby and possibility. It is the house we brought our babies home to, tucked snugly in their infant carries, where we rocked them, where they giggled their first giggle and took their first steps.

This house has been a place of transformation all the way around.  From its own evolution from decrepit heap into a house that our daughters' friends shyly say,  "I love your house" (perhaps it was just the kick ass playset in the back that has their hearts) to the metamorphosis of those that have inhabited it.  Sandi and I have blossomed from the young women of 24 into the much wiser women of 40 (or nearly). Our girls have transformed from babies to girls to citizens of the world, complete with their own minds and hearts and, lest we forget, iron clad wills.

This structure kept us protected from the elements (except when it didn't and we had to pay people to come and fix that) and gave us refuge from the world. This is the place where we loved, fought, celebrated, laughed, cried and worried.  It is the place we always came home to. My hope for you is that you will feel the same sense of comfort, of home, when you return from a trip or a harrowing day and pull into this driveway, turn the key in this lock and step your foot into this house.  May this place be for you what it was for us, the place where you breathe more easily, where you want to curl up when you are sick or weary, where you know everything will be okay if you can just get there.

A house is a building, a skeleton.  A home is its heart.

This house has some serious heart.  It could tell you secrets: of what it means to love so much you bleed, of being broken open and then stitched back together, of giving up everything to care for another.  This house carries the echoes of family dinners, of dance parties, of countless holidays, of tantrums fueled by the stamina only a fiercely stubborn child possesses, of phone calls bearing scary news, sad news, wonderful news, of laughter so loud and joyful it is still reverberating.  These walls would whisper about heartache and redemption, of hurt and healing, of wonder and joy, of miracles.

It is surreal to turn this house over to you.  I do it willingly, even happily, but with a heavy heart.  I want you to know,  just to be clear, that what we have sold you is our house.  Our home we are taking with us. You will have to build your own home in this house.

A few other instructions: please know our your neighbors are top shelf and treat them accordingly.  They will be beyond good to you but only if you deserve it so make sure you do.  The neighborhood block party is held in July each year in this backyard so you might want to get on board with that.  A harsh winter makes the kids of the neighborhood a little nuts and they like to jump off the back balcony into the snow so keep an eye on them. The wood stove burns best when it is cold out and tends to smoke in November and April. The hardwired smoke alarm in the kitchen (which is connected to the basement and second floor smoke alarms) is heat sensitive and tends to go off every night while you cook dinner if you don't put the vent fan on. I have always thought of it more as a dinner bell than a nuisance because each time it goes off the kids yell, "Dinner's ready!"

Also, know that if you peek in on your sleeping child, avoid the floorboard three feet straight ahead of the door in the kids' room because it always creaks.  And if you have a kid sick with fever the corner of the living room is the best place to snuggle.

Every goodbye is also a hello, every ending also a beginning.  Although we have only communicated between two realtors in the language of home inspections and negotiations of who will pay for what, please also know that I honoring our goodbye with your hello, our ending with your beginning as we also begin again.

I hope you will be as happy here as we have been. If you are then you will count yourself among the very lucky as we do.

Best of luck~

The Carver Girls

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Besty Rand, photographer adored

This spring we did ourselves a huge favor and booked a photo session with a woman we absolutely love, Betsy Rand. She also happens to be a gifted photographer. This is what happens when you mix a lively family of four girls with someone as talented as Betsy.  

Ella pulled a brilliant move on me while we made a mad dash for clothing we could wear to compliment each other. She has been desperate to get a jean jacket for some time and casually walked over to me at Old Navy with these matching jean jackets and was like, "So...what about these?"  Always good to have a fashionista in the family. 

Maya insisted on this. I swear.

Our little Ella gymnast. 

We all left the evening we spent with Betsy with joyful bubbles of love popping around inside of us.  When I look at these pictures, it is the fun and the love and the giggles and the silliness I remember.  They aren't just photos to me.  They are moments captured forever.  Betsy Rand, thank you. You are a genius.

(Note: former photo credit to Betsy for the picture of Maya in the previous post.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

heart-expanding, hair-pulling, coffee-drinking, patience-testing, stamina-inducing = the parenthood of Maya

My baby is about to turn 8.  I am not all that keen on it. I would like a different menu to order from, please.

Maya came into this world like a rocket. She was born with 4 swift pushes and we joke that if no one had been there to catch her she would have gone sailing right across the room, bounced off the opposite wall, gotten up and said, "Hey! When does this party get started?"

Here is a typical day in the life of Maya:

-wake up at 6 A.M. and read or color or create some elaborate art project
-occupy a solid 15 minutes to get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, etc., then either continue elaborate project or beg to watch TV and complain that there is nothing to do if TV is denied
-leave for school 8:20, be an engaged learner (we hope) until pick up at 3
-come home and play, do homework or complete elaborate project (or likely all of the above), followed by a 90 minute gymnastics practice, a run down the street, dinner and a shower and then complain that she is bored
-in bed 8 or 8:30, staying up to read by flashlight until 9

The house breathes a collective sigh of relief when Maya is finally in Slumberville.  I have always felt Maya and I were well matched for stamina.  This year she officially surpassed my supply and I drink copious amounts of coffee.

If only you could bottle this:

Maya is silly in the truest form of the word, finding play and goofiness where other people experience pedestrian life.  A trip into a public restroom becomes a game of, "What if this was our house?" Cleaning the toilet with the bowl brush gives way to exclamations like, "This is SO fun!" complete with dancing and wiggling around. Mopping the floor is an unparalleled joy.

Maya is insanely competitive which is very difficult for her noncompetitive sister or any other human being living in our house.  Maya constantly says things like: "I got in the house before you. I win." or "Let's see who can get their pajamas on fastest!" She trash talks when she plays Candyland and playing UNO with her is not for the weak at heart. We have learned that she is a kid who needs constant challenge and stimulation and it takes two very present and invested parents to keep her from making everyone in our house crazy.  Recently, Sandi had Maya upstairs for a while so I could work downstairs.  When they came down Sandi said, "Thank you for all the times you keep her occupied.  And you are welcome for all the times I do."

We joked that it will be interesting to see what kind of partner Maya ends up with who can actually keep up with her since it takes two of us and a very engaging school experience. Sandi said, "She will probably need more than one partner when she grows up.  One might not be enough."

She is a spitfire, a live wire, a firecracker.  She is a risk taker and a free agent. She stomps her foot and argues like a trial lawyer if she feels her independence is being violated.  I can easily see her being the dictator of a small nation when she grows up.

The other night, she got distracted from clearing her spot at the dinner table in favor of doing her homework.  In her hurry to get to the couch with her homework sheet, she abandoned her backpack and folder on the floor in the middle of the busy kitchen.  I asked her to pick it up and she told me "not now" (a parents favorite answer).  I tripped on it again and asked again and she began to yell at me.

Now, if you are a parent I'm sure you can picture how this went down.  I was trying not to yell so I selected my "strong" voice and went for annunciation.  With significant pauses for effect between each word I said, "Maya. You. Need. To. Pick. Up. Your. Backpack. Right. Now."  Maya capitalized on every pause to get her point across to me.

Our debate sounded like this:

And then Sandi stepped in. Again, two parents required here for this job.

She is also a compassionate girl who will stroke your cheek and give you a hug if she thinks you are crying when really you have just yawned.  If our family needs to take separate cars she is always concerned about the parent who gets left riding alone (despite our attempts to convince her that sometimes parents really like to ride alone). Her writing at school is often centered around how much she loves her family.  Maya is in a constant struggle to tell us she loves us more than we love her so that she now says, "I love you more than you love me times infinity and I can't hear what you are saying back!" and she covers her ears. She will look out for the kid in her class that needs some extra assistance, loves to help out with family projects and will always root for the underdog.

Maya is the only child I know of who sleeps with a sneaker on her headboard so she can practice tying shoelaces before she falls asleep.

Maya is my baby, the one who couldn't always do what her older sister could do, who had to be watched more closely because she was smaller, the one who had frightening airway issues and who had to be rushed to the hospital, the one who I last held in my arms.

We have come to always expect the unexpected where Maya is concerned. 

One particular morning I had to wake Maya up for school and she was not impressed.  She delivered me this note: "I want to go back to sleep!"

Throughout first grade, Maya would come home from school everyday and play, you guessed it, school.  She was ALWAYS the teacher.  

This was the night Maya finally convinced me to duct tape her to her chair to help her stay seated during dinner. 

People think Maya is adorable, wild, unruly, hilarious, silly, irreverent, or sweet.  Often we are asked, "Is she always like this?" which could refer to any of the above qualities.  We just nod, high five and pour another cup of coffee.

It turns out it is a very fine line between breaking a kid's spirit and allowing that same free spirit to roam untethered.  It is a slippery, moveable line and we worry every day about falling on the wrong side of it.  The consequences of failing are massive either way.

So, as classic parenting wisdom says, we pick our battles.  We strive to allow creative expression and personal freedom and keep entitlement and inflated assertions of power in check.  We have more wrinkles and have learned to laugh more easily because, when you live with a child like Maya, laughter is first on your list of things to do. Hair pulling is a close second.

Twister, Maya-style, means I spin the wheel and call out the commands rapid fire.  She loves to get twisted up in knots and when the game demands more than her flexibility or stature allows, she just pulls the mat in so she can succeed. In some circles this is called cheating.  In her world it is called modified success. 

The other night it was just Maya and I (playing Candyland, Chutes and Ladders and the aforementioned Twister) and she was talking about how her birthday was in a week.  I told her I wanted her to slow down and not grow up so fast.  She replied, "I will still think of you when I am 100.  I will visit you when you are in heaven.  But don't worry. I will probably stay with you until I am 30.  You have a bunch more years."

And just as my heart is trying to figure out how to beat again, she added, "I will always be your baby."

photo credit to Betsy Rand Photography