Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Keeping My Garden Watered

I am a huge proponent of getting out there and going on dates with your spouse. I think that getting out of the norm and making time to spend one-on-one is an important element of any relationship, especially marriage. That being said...sometimes it can be hard to practice what we preach. From the perspective of a mom with a baby under the age of one, it can be next to impossible to get out on a date regularly. But that doesn't mean I can't keep my marriage a top priority. It just means I have to get creative!

So here, to add to the litany of other lists you may have read, (I definitely have read...thank you Pinterest) are a few of the ways I have found to stay connected with my man and "keep my garden watered".
  1. Greet him at the door when he gets home from work. Make a BIG DEAL out of the fact that he is home. (I do this not only so my daughter can get excited to see him, but also so he knows that I am happy to see him as well.)
  2. Be goofy with him. Do unexpectedly silly things that will make him roll his eyes at you. (Thanks to my mom I have a whole soundtrack in my head of made-up songs she sings to my dad just to be quirky.) He probably likes to tease and you probably like to make him laugh. This is a great opportunity for both to occur. (Side note: sometimes my husband thinks I've gone a bit nuts...but I guarantee he'd rather have the goofy me than the super-serious-and-slightly-cranky me.)
  3. Praise his efforts. I must admit, I am not always the best at this one. But it is a constant goal of mine. I try (and often get so caught up in the day I forget) to thank him daily for something he has done. Whether its working hard to provide for his family, being present with his kids in the evening, or even something as small as eating the meal you cooked (or ordered out) without complaining, he notices when you appreciate him out loud...and he notices (sometimes even louder) when you don't.
  4. Flirt with him. For me, this sometimes goes hand-in-hand with being goofy. I try to be a sultry flirt and...lets face it...that's just not me. It will never be me. I blush at PG-13 movies, I will never be able to be R-rated with my husband. That doesn't mean I can't step out of my comfort zone a bit, it just means that my flirting tends to be of the innocent or innuendoed kind. Whatever works for both you and your spouse, do that. You can be spicy or mild, but you'll probably be better at it if you make sure to be yourself. 
  5. Spend time being interested in what he is interested in. Okay, so my husband is into some games on his phone that I find *yawn* BO-RING! But I've found that when I engage with him in those games, asking questions about them or even just watching him play over his shoulder for a few minutes, not only do I find some (limited) interest in what he is doing, but I also make him feel good by showing interest in what he is interested in.
  6. Parent Together. It's not always possible, but we try to make it a point to spend time with our little one together. Sometimes we play with her on the floor, other times my husband plays the guitar while I dance her around but I have found that this family time helps me appreciate my husband in a new way. And for whatever reason, it also helps me feel connected with him.
  7. Make time for the two of you. When our daughter's bedtime comes and we tuck her in at the end of a long day, our brains are often so checked-out that nothing sounds better than a mindless movie to unwind. I don't see anything wrong with that, but once or twice a week we try to switch it up. Sometimes we'll go to bed early and play "would you rather" games (great app for this is Gloo which you can download to your smartphone or i-pad for free!) or use our extra energy from getting in bed early to be intimate with each other and actually be somewhat awake during the process (novel concept, I know). Other things we might do instead of watching a movie might be reading together (or separately in the same room), playing a card game, or just talking about life. 
  8. Always admit he's right.  So I just came back from a typing-break and found this lovely addition to my husband thinks he is soooo funny. However, it made me start to think that letting him know when he is right about something, or gives helpful advice, is something most husbands would greatly appreciate. I know my husband wishes (as evidenced by this addition) I would be a better listener and maybe even take some of his advice. I am working on it! :)
  9.  Make time to talk. It doesn't have to be an hour, just ten minutes of talking (note: I said talking, not arguing, venting, or working out a disagreement....all important but not allowed in this ten minutes) can help you remember why you are still in love with this man. It can be about what happened during your day, a dream you share, or any number of other topics. The point is to just do what you did when you were dating...listen and get to know one another. If you are unsure how to start a conversation, there are 50 great questions to get you started here and I will hook you up with more questions to jump-start a conversation on an upcoming post!
  10. Go to bed at the same time. Some people might not agree with this one, and I'm sure there are many valid reasons it wouldn't be possible. My husband and I have made it a point, however, to go to bed at the same time when it is possible. This has led to some great late-night conversations, fun moments (like when I put my ice-cold feet on him with no warning...good times), and intimacy that may not have happened otherwise. I look forward to knowing that at the end of the day, even if we haven't seen much of each other, I will be able to cuddle up against him (as he whines about his lack of personal space...which oddly makes it that much more fun for me) and fall asleep in his arms. 
So there you have it. Certainly not an exhaustive list and not one I ace every day. But we keep trying and when we fail we give grace. I hope this list helps you to think about how you make your spouse feel special and make them a top priority. I don't know about you, but I want a marriage that flourishes and grows, and I know that my actions and attitude have a lot to do with that. I would love it if you would share some ways you keep your garden watered!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Grass Is Green Where It's Watered

As I watch my baby girl become more and more observant of the things around her, I see her notice the interaction between her daddy and me. Now, I would say that my husband and I have a healthy relationship, and I love being married to him. But there are certainly days when we aren't on the same page or don't click, and it is interesting to see my daughter notice that. She watches our terse interactions with a concerned face and seems less happy-go-lucky than usual. Its amazing to me that at just five months old she has that kind of awareness! And it makes me want to be a better spouse to my husband, not just for him and me, but also for her. 

I don't know about you, but sometimes I let my marriage simmer on the back burner. With work, children, chores, bills, and so on, there are days when my husband and I just don't make time to connect with each other. I remember before we had any children we would have conversations about how we needed to keep our marriage a priority even when it was tough. We may have been a bit naive thinking it wouldn't be as hard as it actually is, but I still think the goal is a good one. The best gift I can give my children, outside of keeping them safe and taken care of, is to love their dad.

I know my daughter is going to watch the way I treat her dad as she grows up, and not only will the way I treat him affect my relationship with her (because if she could marry him I'm pretty sure she would...she is head-over-heels in love with him) but it will also affect her relationship with her future husband. Do I want to show her that love can overcome obstacles? Do I want to show her that even when you don't agree on something you can still give respect? Do I want her to see that even when you screw up royally you can seek forgiveness, and offer it? Yes! It is my job to show her these things. And if I am focused on making sure the kitchen is spotless (and blaming her dad for the dirty dishes) I can't show her that. 

  I am not perfect (shocker, I know) and neither is my spouse. I know that we will have moments (sometimes days) when it is difficult to love each other well. But I want to maximize the opportunities to laugh together, to make memories together, to fight for each other, and to love. If I am focusing on everything but him, thinking that "we'll have time for each other later" than our relationship will wilt. It has to be watered to grow. So maybe my daughter will see moments when her dad and I don't quite see eye-to-eye. But my hope is that she will also see the authentic desire her dad and I have to learn about each other and grow together and to continue to do our best to love each other better each day. Knowing she'll be watching makes me want to keep my marriage on the front burner. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Musings

Today is Memorial Day, which nowadays means beaches, parks, picnics, and barbeques. To be honest, that is what I think of when Memorial Day rolls around. That and, "How can I get a killer tan without burning?" (Deep thoughts, I know. I aim to impress.) What I often don't think about are the families of those who have died in the military. I don't think of the kids who have lost a parent or the wife (or husband) who has lost a spouse. I don't think of the last thought of a man or woman who gave their life serving our country.

Regardless of your stance on the American military, and regardless of your political persuasion, these are people who gave their life, sacrificing whatever future they might have had to fight for what they thought was right. These are fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, neighbors, and friends. These are people who deserve to be remembered.

Maybe I'm a little more aware this year because I am now a parent and the thought of my daughter growing up without a dad makes my stomach lurch. Perhaps I'm a little nostalgic because I live in a military town and I see families who are waiting to get their daddies back...and families who never will. Certainly I am more sappy now as a parent over all things, and wanting to root for and support our military families, as well as remember those who have lost their lives is no exception.

I think, since becoming a parent, I have branched out from being caught up in "me" to noticing others more. I don't want to say that I was an egomaniac before becoming a mom, because I don't think I was. I just wasn't as aware. Now that I am, its hard not to want to do something.

I met a woman the other day who has two kids under the age of three. Her husband is in the United States Air Force and is going to be gone for the next year. She is moving her kids across country by herself, to head to the base he will be stationed at when he returns. She is missing her husband, feeling overwhelmed at the thought of acting as single parent for the next year, and trying to comfort two little ones who desperately want piggy back rides from daddy. Yet she is thankful that, so far, he is safe and she will get to see him again. "Some families" she says, "aren't that lucky."

So today, whether you know somebody who has lost their life in the military or not, take a minute to think about those who have sacrificed. Send up a prayer for their families. And then, go celebrate your family with a barbeque or ball game. And give them the best of you today.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ready, set, JUMP!

Last night I went to bed feeling anxious. I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life and these days, more often than not, it doesn't rule over me. But there are times when it sneaks up and taps me on the shoulder...reminding me that it is still there. The "what ifs" loom in front of me menacingly, and I feel like life could come crashing down at any minute. I guess the truth is, it could, but is that how I want to live?

So this morning I was thinking of the scripture in Isaiah that says "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace" and even though this wasn't written to me specifically, something about it just calmed my soul. After googling where this verse could be found in the Bible, and seeing "Isaiah 55" pop up several times in response to my search,  I decided to read the whole of chapter 55 in Isaiah. This is what stuck out to me: "Hear me, that your soul may live." Now, I am sure there are many Bible scholars who could be all over my case for taking this out of context, but do you know what I thought when I read that? I want my soul to live! And I didn't mean live with Jesus (I mean, I do want that but I already have a relationship with him), but I want to live fully and vibrantly. I want to remember to let God take care of my anxieties so that I can spend my time actually living my life instead of thinking about every possible scenario that could go wrong in it.

Life is fragile, and I know there is only so much I can do about the outcome. Then I just have to trust God. (Its either that or go crazy and I haven't asked, but I think my husband would prefer a wife who trust God over one who is nuts.) And you know what? I would to. I can make myself sick or I can live with joy.

I see a difference in my daughter, even at this tiny age, when I am living with anxiety verses living with trust. I don't want to teach her to live fearfully. I want to teach her to spread her arms out and jump into her Father's arms. I want her to live life with passion, adventure, and faith. And even though the thought of me jumping with abandon into awaiting arms seems like a stretch, I think I need to spread my arms out and just go...because God's arms are big enough to catch even me. So here I go, "Ready. Set. JUMP!"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Benefit of Friendships

I love the days when you wake up feeling refreshed and almost giddy with excitement for no particular reason whatsoever. Today is one of those days. In fact, I have butterflies in my stomach and no reason for them! Well, except maybe that I am starting a book study of the book "Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches" by Rachel Jankovic with a couple of friends. I am excited not only to read this book but also to connect with friends across the miles through reading the book together.

Maybe that is what is hyping me up. (Well, that and the fact that I am currently gulping a cup of coffee on an empty stomach...probably not the best example to follow.) The prospect of connecting with other women, sharing my heart and hearing the heart of others--it does something great for my soul. I don't know about you but when I dive in deep with others I become a better version of myself. Its one of God's ways of reminding me that I am not alone, that I have things to offer and things to receive, and that we were made for community.

I love my alone time as much as the next introvert (well, that might be stretching it...I actually don't love it that much but I know that I need it and benefit from it so I am going to say that counts) but I L-O-V-E watching women light up when they get together and actually connect. I remember early on in my marriage I was talking with my husband and in the middle of our dialogue (read: my monologue) I stopped and asked, "Are you even listening to me?" He, baffled, replied: "Of course I am. I haven't interrupted, I am quietly listening to your story." I, in turn, replied: "Well that's the point, you haven't said anything at all!" No "Mmm-hmm" or "Oh totally know what you mean!" He was listening like a man but I was used to the feedback I usually got from my female friends! The moral of the story is this: I can't expect my husband to communicate with me the same way women do, because he is wired completely different than them. Also, as much as communicating with my husband is important to me, I need to have women in my life to communicate with because I need the feedback and interaction of that type of communication. (Okay, I guess that's two morals but you get the point).

I used to read in the Bible where it said that women had to go outside of the camp when it was "that time of the month" and I would be so offended for them. I would think "Well gosh, if somebody told me I had to leave my house just because my body is doing what it is supposed to do I would tell them where they should go...and it wouldn't be as nice as 'outside the camp'!" In retrospect, I think it was a brilliant plan. I mean, there these women are, possibly moody and irritable and needing not only a good cry but also companionship and empathy, and they get to escape the chores of day-to-day life and spend time with the other women in the community! Talk about therapeutic, sign me up! Whatever your take on this particular scenario, the point is that stereotype or no, we benefit from being relational with other human beings.

All that said...possibly ranted depending on your take...I am being intentional about making sure I am in connection with others. Sometimes it means I have to be brave and put myself out there. At times I might be rejected, but in the end I know that I will be a better mom, wife, and just a better me when I am intentional about connecting with others.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

And This Is Why I Like Coffee...

I have been ruminating on my last post and have this nagging feeling of it being unfinished. You see, while I do have a love affair with traditions and want an abundance of them in my family, I think that the day-to-day realities of life are often far more influenced by the rituals we create. 

This became crystal clear as I went to grab a cup of coffee yesterday morning and *gulp* the creamer container stood...empty...on the counter. Oh. My. Word. I look forward to my little one's nap-time for the express purpose of holding that warm, aromatic cup, breathing the smell in deeply, and taking that delicious first sip. I realize that you non-coffee lovers are perplexed by my affinity...okay lets just call it what it is...obsession of this strong and bitter beverage, but those of you who are coffee drinkers are raising your cup with a hearty amen! For me, there is something about a cup of coffee that just starts my day off right. And though my taste buds do dance in delight at the flavor, I think it has more to do with the ritual of drinking a morning cup of coffee than the taste or the caffeine. 

Rituals help keep us grounded in the chaos of life. I can be adventurous and at times love nothing more than an unplanned getaway, but in the ebb and flow of day-to-day life it is reassuring to have a few things we can count on. Whether it be my morning cup of Joe, reading stories to my little one before her nap, a big hug from my man when I finally see him at the end of a long day, or washing my face right before bed (side note: I had a friend in college who had the need to wash her feet right before bed...I never could decide if I thought it was weird or biblical) the rituals I follow help keep me grounded.

So, in honor of all those OCD list-makers out there, (of which I am proud to say I am a member),  I have put together some ideas of Traditions AND Rituals you might consider for yourself. You can take any or none of these ideas for yourself, whatever you fancy! Also, I would love your input on traditions and rituals you have that might be an inspiration to the rest of us!

  1. Weekly Tradition: Saturday Morning Sleep-In! Have everyone pile into mom and dad's bed for 15-20 minutes on Saturday mornings and have a family cuddle-fest. (This might not go over so well with teenagers but when I was five I was SO into this!) A variation for families with older kids might be a big Saturday breakfast together.
  2.  Weekly or Monthly Tradition: Family Game Night! Pick a day of the week or month and make it a point to play games together as a family. No TV allowed (unless you're playing Scene It of course). Maybe you make this a junk-food night too. If kids don't normally get hot dogs and cookies maybe this is the monthly exception.
  3.   Monthly Tradition: Giving Back! Find a cause in your community that your whole family can get behind. Maybe its helping out at a shelter serving food, maybe its cleaning up a park, or maybe its visiting a convalescent hospital and reading to the patients or playing games with them. Whatever works with your family, spend time together serving others.
  4.  Yearly Tradition(s): There are so many to choose from! We've got the standard Christmas Carol sing-alongs, checking out Christmas lights, we've got pumpkin carving and Easter egg hunts...but I also think establishing unique family traditions can build some family pride in children. Maybe its the traditional Smith Family Cookout every August, or maybe its the annual (Fill-In-Your-Name-Here) Family camping trip. Or maybe its a beachhouse getaway or a yearly family Olympics or a skip-school shopping day or hiking day with mom or dad. Money doesn't have to be an issue, just create something for kids to look forward to every year. Better yet, a couple of somethings, life is short!
  5. Coming-of-Age Traditions: Here is where it pays to get creative. I had a friend whose whole family gifted all the sons with sword sheathes when they turned 13. They were taken out on a "mans adventure" with all the family men and given an encouraging talk about what a man of honor was. They were told they would get the sword to put in the sheath when they became men. This would work for a daughter as well with a sword, or a purity ring, or a key to a chest. I also really like the idea of taking your son or daughter out on a date when you decide they are old enough to start dating. Mom or dad gets to be the official "first date" encouraging their son or daughter to be wise and discerning as well as telling them how proud they are of who they are becoming as young men or women. Maybe each child gets a pet when they turn a certain age, or maybe their curfew gets later, or maybe they have specific privileges added. Whatever it is, celebrate it!  
  1. Praying before meals (and on that note, making it a point to eat together as a family at least a few times a week).  
  2.  Tucking your kids in bed each night. Maybe it involves a bedtime story or sitting on the edge of their bed recapping their day together. Use this time to wind down and remind them you are their biggest fan.
  3. 15 minutes of quiet time for yourself...maybe its a morning cup of coffee and time in the Word, maybe its a lunch-break walk around the block and quick stretch, just make it a point to spend time focused on something you get refreshment from and do it each day so you can look forward to it when things are tough.
  4. Getting more creative...maybe you have a family white board where you write notes to everyone each morning. Or maybe you slip a smiley face with a "thinking of you" in their lunches (note: husbands like this too). Daily let your family know that you love them and are thinking about them.
  5. One word: Affection. Don't forget those hugs and kisses, hair tugs and pats on the back. Your kids may go through fazes where they don't want to be smothered, but a shoulder squeeze and "I love you" can go a long way in teenage-land. Make sure you are giving generous daily doses of love to your family. 
I'm sure there are many, many more ways to incorporate traditions and rituals into your family. Which ones you chose depends a lot on your specific family. The Annual Summer Loogie Hocking Competition isn't for everyone (that's so gross, I can't believe I just thought that up in my will not make it into the collection of Wallaert family traditions I can assure you) but there are ways you can connect with your family daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Make it a point to do so. I promise you won't regret it (unless you go for the aforementioned loogie hocking...then you might regret it deeply). In any case, hope you got some good ideas and inspiration! Spend time enjoying your family today! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Family Traditions = Connectedness & Memories

I love traditions. I get giddy thinking about them. Reminiscing on past family traditions and thinking about future ones both set my heart aflutter. I'm not sure what it is about traditions that gets me so googly-eyed. Perhaps its because the sharpest memories I have of my childhood often revolve around traditions. Perhaps its because of the sense of bonding one gets from "their" family traditions.

I had a friend growing up whose family put a glass pickle in their Christmas tree every year. The first kid to find it got an extra present. I always thought it was a funky tradition, but that's the thing about traditions. You can own them. What works for one family might not work for another. Sometimes traditions are passed down from generations, sometimes they are cultural, and sometimes they just happen.

Every year since before I can remember my family would rent a house at the beach for a week. I don't know that it started off as something they intended to make a tradition, but it stuck. (It also seemed to be tradition that somebody always got hurt on the trip, but that's another story). I have many fond memories of our beach house adventures, and hours of reminiscing around the dinner table have ensued. Experiences like these help me feel connected to my family, and help me feel like no matter the time past or the miles separated we will always be a family.

Looking back on my family traditions gives me an extra push to start traditions in the family my husband and I are now growing. I want my kids to someday look back and be able to laugh and roll their eyes at the traditions they grew up with. I want them to get flutters in their tummy when they see Christmas lights because they remember driving around with hot chocolate and blankets looking at them. I want them to light up when they see an explosion of fireworks in the sky as they remember family picnics and barbeques on the 4th of July. I want them to have a desire to thank God for all he provides and go to him when they are dealing with uncertainties in life because they have seen the thankfulness and trust their parents have shown in God.    

What traditions make you sigh a little sigh of contentment? What do you want the future generations in your family to say as they talk over potlucks and campfires? I, for one, want to instill a feeling of being safe, having a blast of a good time, and the knowledge that my family was well-loved and loved well. Here's to traditions, the impressions they leave with us, and the ways they shape us.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

That Darn "D" Word

Discontentment. What's the deal with it? Why is it so easy for us to fall into the trap of that darn "D" word? I would like to take a sledgehammer and exuberantly erase it from my vocabulary...or at least from my inward talk. Yet that sneaky little bugger seems to weasel its way back into my thoughts time and time again.

It is easy to focus on the things we wish were different. "If only..." and we have endless ends to the sentence. If only our kids were more obedient, our spouses more helpful, our jobs less stressful, our households more organized, our debt less all-consuming, and on and on it goes. It can be, if we let it, a never-ending cycling of the hamster wheel. I try and try and try to make this thing or that thing better and oftentimes I just end up more frustrated and more discontent.

 I was struck by the words of Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Happiness Project, "I had everything I could possibly want, yet I was failing to appreciate it. Bogged down in petty complaints and passing crisis, weary of struggling with my own nature, I too often failed to comprehend the splendor of what I had. I didn't want to keep taking these days for granted." That is me! Letting the "If only's" blur my vision so I can't enjoy the real moments of my real life! There are not enough moments to burn so many with pettiness and wistful thoughts.

Lately, I have been making it a point to make a conscious effort to live a life of contentment. This does not mean my circumstances are always glowing and it certainly doesn't mean that I don't have moments where I lift my eyes to the ceiling and wonder, "What is NEXT!?" What it does mean is that I am making a point to enjoy the real life moments. My baby girl's look of joy as she begins to master rolling over, the shining microwave that my husband cleaned last weekend (I didn't know it could get that clean honestly), the quiet moments of reflection I get between the chaos of the day. It also means that I am trying to laugh more. I have always considered myself a good-humored person, but discontentment takes the funny right out of a situation! You know what I'm talking about too--it is so much about our perspective. We can choose to see the humor and good-naturedly  tease one another about situations, differences, and the like. Or we can get frustrated and fed-up with our kids, spouses, and lives because it doesn't match up to our perceived notion of how things should be.  

So Discontentment, I have some words for you. You sir, are not welcome in my heart, mind, mouth or life. I am through with you. And though I am sure you will come knocking at my door in desperation like a past lover who can't move on, I am MOVING ON! Because mister, you don't hold a candle to my real life. It is much better than you, Discontentment, lead me to believe. And even on the days that seem like they will never end, I know that without you clouding my judgment I can find things to appreciate. And I plan to do just that. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Well hello again, long time no see!

So about ten months ago, give or take, my pregnant self was enamored with the idea of creating a fantastic and helpful blog for families. In my mind it was going to be of the "Top 100 of 2012" with glowing reviews and poetic flow. Reality is that I am a bit of a procrastinator. Grand ideas fill this mind of mine and I get giddy inside like a child at Christmas, but then real life knocks on my door and says, "Umm...there are dishes in the sink and err when is the last time you scrubbed the toilet" So, deflated, I return my attention to real life and my great aspirations of reaching millions with the written word are drowned with bleach and toilet scrubbers.

Now, all this may sound familiar because I know for a fact I am not the only one with dreams and desires that gets sidetracked along the way. And I love the life that God has chosen for me and blessed me with, dirty toilets and all. I also know, however, that the same God who has given me toilets to clean and dishes to put away has also given me a desire to express myself through writing. When it gets right down to it, the goal isn't to reach millions...the goal is to find a moment to use the desire God has placed in me to do something, and let Him take care of the rest.

So what are your dreams? Desires? Great aspirations? Do you think God placed them there? If he did, then what are you going to do about it? I, for one, am going to try to fit in a little time each week (each day might be a bit lofty for this season of life) to immerse my creative self in doing that which I find joy. So here's to hoping that the next blog post is not another ten months from now...and here's to hoping that you begin or continue taking a little time to do likewise. 

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." ~Eleanor Roosevelt