Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Monthly Reflection

A lot has happened since my last post on self reflection; nothing earth shattering or life changing, just a lot of living. I have shared many of these moments with you here in the past weeks. During this time, however, I have struggled with my commitment to embrace the ordinary and live each day to the fullest. I have spent the past month battling myself and my family, and allowing myself to get bogged down by the everyday tasks that need to be accomplished. Several times during this past month I have heard my husband ask me, “What happened to simplifying your life an accepting each day as it comes?”

Yeah…what happened?

I have been contemplating this question for several days now, trying to figure where I’ve gone wrong. Where is the contentment and peace I should be feeling? Why do I feel so overwhelmed? Where is my balance? Maybe I’m not trying hard enough?

Then a couple of days ago I received and email from a blog I follow written by one of my favorite authors, Katrina Kenison. You will find her books listed on my blog under “Books That Inspire Me” and I have also mentioned her in past posts. In her newest blog she talks about the challenge of being the moment. There is a particular line in her post that especially hit home. She is walking on the beach with her husband, contemplating the loss of her children’s childhoods while desperately trying to enjoying the moment with her husband. Reflecting back on this moment in her post, she writes:

“I might have held my husband’s hand and shared my feelings with him, and allowed him to comfort me a little instead of trudging along in silence as I did, convinced that I should somehow be doing a ‘better’ job of walking on the beach.”

 When I read this, it was like a puzzle piece locked into place and I realized that I have been doing the same thing! Instead of really embracing simplicity and bringing balance into my life, I spend the majority of my time thinking, “This should be easier. I can do this better. Try harder.”

So now I felt that I had zeroed in on the problem, but how to go about fixing it? Stop trying. Easier said than done…and what does that mean anyway? When people say “don’t try so hard” are they saying that this is a level of trying that is ok and more than that will tip the scale? If so, what’s the magic number?

The answer to all my questions was sitting in my mailbox yesterday. I subscribe to Yoga Journal (great magazine, by the way) and I just received the May issue. Twenty or so pages in I’m reading an article written by the cover model, who did an entire cover shoot underwater for this issue which is related to water; pollution, conservation, and so forth. The author is describing the challenges she was faced with during the shoot and she writes, “After a few difficult tries, I realized that as I juggled all of these elements, I was missing the most important one: surrender.” Another puzzle piece clicked into place. That’s the answer. Surrender.

Now, you may say, “Well isn’t that the same thing as not trying so hard?” and I would say no, at least not to me. Not trying is giving up. Surrendering is giving in. In my quest to embrace life, I have lost sight of the fact that in order to truly savor each moment of everyday I need to let go and give myself completely and unselfishly to the moment. Instead of actively trying to embrace the moment, I need to surrender; to give in to the experience. AND…I need to surrender to those moments that bring me pain, sadness, and anger as much as to those that bring me laughter and joy, because it is at the difficult times that I will learn most about myself and grow as a human being.

Putting this all into context, my resolve is unwavering. I am still committed to living my very best day every day. However, I have learned two things this past month: as I travel on this journey I will inevitably encounter obstacles, but if I keep an open mind and an open heart, the answers will come to me at the time I need them most. Trust and surrender.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekend in Pictures

This weekend we:

Battled the flu…

Braved through Bath Remodeling Day 3…

Roped Dad into helping with paper mache…


Went shopping at the thrift store and turned these…

Into these…


And brought color into the dreary spring days…

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bathroom Remodeling Day 2

So it turns out my son, Julian, took before pictures of the bathroom.  Seeing how it is his bathroom that’s being remodeled, I can understand his enthusiasm.  Here is a before picture:

Yeah… now you can understand his excitement.  Of course, after demo day 1, it now looks like this:

Anyhow, the lockbox that’s supposed to be on the door so the work guys can come in and out and we can continue going to work so we can get paid so we can pay for this bathroom…never came yesterday.  I had to stay home again today to let the work guys in.  They showed up at about 1:30pm, so a morning that could have been productive…wasn’t. Sigh.  The good news is….they brought the lockbox!!  I should be able to go to work Monday and not have to think about the destruction, I mean, construction of my bathroom.  Sorry…Freudian slip.
Despite the disruption to our everyday rhythm, I do have to say I was impressed with the two guys that came yesterday.  They even vacuumed before they left!  I was almost tempted to ask if they do windows.  Very tempted.  Today it’s the plumbing crew.  I never knew plumbing could be so noisy.  It sounds like they are ripping the pipes out of the wall, not putting them in.  Hammers and saws and drills, oh my!  

Anyhow, we will see what the end of the day brings.  I’m not getting my hopes up.  I’m sure it will take several more days before my bathroom disaster turn into the bathroom of my dreams…well, maybe not my dreams, but at least something a little more this millennium.
To be continued…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bathroom Remodeling Day 1

We bought our townhouse about 4 years ago at the height of the housing boom.  We had been living in tiny apartments all of our lives and with two kids eight years apart, a two-bedroom, 1,000 square foot apartment was just not cutting it anymore.  We knew we were probably paying way too much money for our place, but unlike many who bought at this time, we were able to lock in a 30-year fixed mortgage that we could afford, even if the figure was staggering.

The townhouse was built in the late 70s and had virtually no upgrades.  The kitchen was wall papered, the carpet was hideous, and the window panes were practically falling off the frames.  Seeing as we had limited funds when we moved in, we had to be very strategic about which upgrades to do first.  It was really more of a safety and health decision than an aesthetic one. 

The first thing we did was replace all of the carpeting with laminate wood floors.  Both my kids have bronchial asthma and so the carpet was a health hazard and needed to go.  The next year we tackled the windows.  The old single panes afforded little protection against the cold winter, and there were so many gaps in between the window panes and the frames, that we racked up a pretty impressive heating bill that first winter.  Summertime came and so did my new dual-pane energy saver window. 

Since then we really haven’t undertaken any major projects.  We have done some small DYI things, but nothing requiring major planning, money, or household upheavals.  However, this past December we started having plumbing problems in both upstairs bathrooms.  We attempted a quick fix in order to prevent the problem from getting worse, but it quickly became evident that if we didn’t start attacking some of the major stuff we were going to find ourselves in a lot of hot water…maybe even literally!

This is the hole that has been in my living room wall for three months now!

So after some research, a lot of number crunching, and frequent deep breathing exercises, we decided to remodel our son’s bathroom, as it was the most pressing.  Nothing fancy…just the basics with a few minor upgrades (e.g., walk in shower instead of tub, frameless glass door, tile instead of vinyl). Construction started today.  We are told it will be 6-days a week, two-week project. 

As I write this, I can hear the hammering and shattering of tile overhead.  The hole in my downstairs wall is spewing sheetrock all over my living room.  The workers are carting bucket loads of…bathroom parts out the door.  I’m kicking myself for not having taken before photos.  The excitement at having a new bathroom is being overshadowed by the anxiety of having to deal with a grimy house and having my teenage son use my bathroom for the foreseeable future.  Not to mention the apprehension of having strange men coming and going while we are at work and hoping and praying that this all turns out beautiful and within budget.  

Sigh.  I guess I will continue the deep breathing thing and let this thing play out.  Hopefully, at the end of all this, I will end up with a new bathroom, a resolution to my plumbing problems, and a happier family.

Demo pictures coming soon.

We Are Sprouting!!

The first sprouts are in!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Tip

Every once in a while I come across great websites or suggestions for activities, outings, eateries, or just things that make life easier. Thought I would share these finds with all of you in what I hope will be a semi-regular post.

Last week, I was searching for some Spring activities to do with Isabella on Family Education. This is a great parenting website where you can find everything from recipes to printable activities to parenting articles. Anyhow…I was surfing around and found these great wallet-sized seasonal produce lists. They give you a list of fruits and vegetables that are in season and those that are available all year around. They have them for all four seasons; so, if you are new to buying in season, like me, or just need a reminder from time-to-time, you can cut these out and stick them in your wallet for easy reference when you are at the farmers market or at the grocery store. There may be more comprehensive lists out there, but these are a good start. If you know of any others, or if you found this tip to be helpful, please don’t hesitate to post in the comments!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Has Sprung! (Part 2)

When I decided to undertake the project of “Springing up” my home, it also occurred to me that it would be fun to celebrate the first day of Spring as a way to officially welcome the season.  And what better way to plan a Spring celebration than by going online and finding out how other people celebrate.  My search generated a lot of results for Wicca sites and, while fascinating and worthy of further study, their ritualistic nature didn’t seem to be quite the right fit for our family.  Some of the other sites related Spring celebrations to Easter and all that it entails.  While I found a few interesting ideas, it quickly became apparent that I was on my own and I would just have to wing it.

After much contemplation, I decided that there was really one activity that would work well for my family and, in my opinion, feel like a true celebration of Spring…doing something out of doors.  What better way to honor the changes that Spring brings than by observing it firsthand.  I thought a fun way to do this would be to go strawberry picking at our local farm.  It is a yearly tradition for us to go apple picking in the Fall, so establishing a Spring strawberry picking tradition seemed right up our alley.  Unfortunately, the first day of Spring in So Cal dawned cold, rainy, and dreary, so I had to find a Plan B.  I decided that instead of going to nature, we would bring nature to us. 

Now, I have to say (as my husband will confirm), I don’t do well with plants.  We have no plants in our home because no matter how hard I try to successfully own a plant, at some point I forget to water it and it dies.   So the idea of starting a garden is overwhelming and downright scary.  However, in my quest to try to eat healthier and teach my children to do the same, I decided it was time to try our hand at patio gardening (we live in a condo, so space is very limited).  I bought a 72-cell mini greenhouse kit at Target and some vegetable, fruit, and flower seeds.  We cleared out a space in our garage and spent the afternoon sowing our seedlings.

We prepared the soil…

And carefully planted our seeds (carrots, cucumbers, peas, and cherry tomatoes).

Then we made our markers and placed them in appropriate spots.

Isabella had a great time.  She asked a lot of questions about gardening:  When will they grow?  When can we eat them?  We explained how the greenhouse works.  For at least a couple of hours we forgot all about the rain and enjoyed the smell of fresh, wet earth and the feel of the dirt as we dug our fingers in to make room for the seeds.

I can’t make any promises that this gardening endeavor won’t turn out like all the rest, but this time I feel a little more vested for some reason.  Maybe the fact that we are started from square one – the seed – brings out the nurturer in me.  Maybe it’s because Isabella and I are working on this together and I want it to succeed for her.  Whatever the reason, I am committed giving this my best shot.  We will keep you posted on the progress of the first ever Araujo Family Garden.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Oh...and before I is a picture of our delicious spring dinner:  beef tenderloin with heirloom cherry tomatoes (from farmers market), shallots, and blue cheese, and roasted fingerling potatoes and carrots (from farmers market)...YUM!

You can find the recipe for the tenderloin here.  Happy eating and happy spring!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Has Sprung! (Part 1)

I have never been the kind of person that decorates the house for every holiday.  It used to be that Christmas was the only time I would turn my house upside down to make space for all the accouterments that accompany that holiday.  Since buying our house almost four years ago, I have begun to be more open to the idea of transforming our abode, not necessarily for a particular holiday, but in celebration of the seasons.  Since Autumn is my favorite season, the past few years have been dedicated to shoring up on my Fall d├ęcor.  On Labor Day weekend my house is transformed into a red, orange, and gold paradise.  This year I decided to add another season into the mix – spring!
For the past few years we have been hosting Easter at our place (definitely a future blog).  We have a potluck and the obligatory egg hunt, but we spice it up with a friendly team competition.  We have sack races, jelly bean toss, egg-on-a-spoon relay race, springtime Pictionary, etc.  Last year we even threw a couple of Improv games into the mix that had us all laughing hysterically.  That being said, the idea of stringing plastic eggs in my windows or scattering bunnies and chicks all over my house is not at all appealing.  So for our spring home transformation, I decided instead to focus on the season.  So for the past couple of weeks, Isabella and I have been busy getting ready for spring. 

We started with these fairies inspired by my friend’s blog Mama and the Music Man, because what is spring without some magical garden fairies to liven things up.

Since I improvised based on the pictures Danielle posted, this was predominantly a solo project for me.  (During this project I learned that I am in desperate need of sewing classes.  Something I will have to consider.) However, Isabella gave the fairy her lovely features.

Next we moved on to painting.  There was a birdhouse…

And some butterflies…

And LOTS of eggs!

Isabella also made a felt bird mobile that I found at Michaels for a couple of dollars…

While I worked on an idea for some hanging decorations using disposable cups and flower petals left over from the fairy project.

Lastly, Isabella planted some spring grass, daisies, and sunflowers from kits I found at the dollar bin at Target.  This was practice for the seedlings we will be planting this afternoon (more on that later).

So now that our home is showing small signs of spring…

We are ready to welcome the season and all of the new life it will bring!

To be continued…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reading, Family, and Pickles

My daughter, Isabella, has recently started reading chapter books.  She is very into Junie B. Jones books, which are absolutely adorable.  She sometimes reads on her own or we read a chapter at bedtime.  The other night, in our chapter of Junie B. First Grader, Cheater Pants, Junie B’s teacher is having them write a particular type of poem called a cinquain.  For those that don’t know (which I didn’t until I learned about it in Junie B.), a cinquain is a poem that follows a set pattern.  There are a few types of patterns, but Junie B. was using the following one:

Line 1: The Title
Line 2:  Two words that describe the Title
Line 3:  Three action words that describe the Title or –ing words
Line 4: A four word phrase that express a thought or feeling about the Title
Line 5:  A word that means the same thing as the Title

In the story, Junie B’s teacher Mr. Scary (Yes, that’s his name, but he’s not scary) gives the class an example of a cinquain using Pickle.  It goes like this:

Bumpy, lumpy,
Crunching, Munching, lunching,
Cucumbers makin' you pucker,

Bella thought it was silly, but she really got into it.  I asked her what the title of her cinquain would be if she were to write one.  She thought for a second and said, “Family.”  This got me thinking that this might be a fun exercise for her to practice her spelling and grammar, so the next day we sat down and Bella wrote her first cinquain.  Lines 1 thru 3 were all her.  She got a little help on 4 and 5 from her dad and brother.  Here is what she came up with:

I told her to decorate it and we taped it up on the storage unit in our family room.  I plan on framing it and making it a permanent piece…and we plan on writing many more cinquains in the future :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

7-Year-Old Wisdom

Word of the Day:  Imaginated

Definition:  To use one's imagination.

What a wondrous place the world would be if only we imaginated more!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Rat Race

Hectic morning.  My son had a 9am ortho appointment in south Orange County (from home it’s a 30minute drive on So Cal freeways…not happy times even on an early Saturday morning), and my daughter was trying out her first day of Taekwondo at 10am back home.  Luis is in class on Saturday morning, so it’s all me.  We almost didn’t make it to Taekwondo.  Thankfully, they took her in even though we were almost 10 minutes late.  Bella absolutely loved the class and very animatedly insisted “sign me up right now” after class was over.  Here she is trying on her uniform as soon as I had handed over the check and we were back at home:

So now I have made a commitment to take her to taekwondo class two weeknights per week.  This is a huge commitment for me seeing as I work full time and don’t usually make it home until 5:30pm-6pm on week nights (Luis works until 6:30pm, so we are well into our evening by the time he gets home).  Now with this Taekwondo class twice a week I will have 45 minutes to an hour to get change, make dinner, feed the kiddos, and get Bella across town during rush hour to her class.  Not to mention that we will have to adjust our homework schedule, and every other week we will also have her Daisy meeting.  Whew!  I’m tired already and we haven’t even started!

In the midst of all this I’m thinking…where does this leave me with my new take-life-one-day-at-a-time approach?  The thing is, there is our plan, and there is life’s plan.  I can’t very well tell my daughter that she can’t do Taekwondo because I’ve made a resolution to simplify my life and racing around town two nights a week (three when we have Daisies) just doesn’t fit in with my plan.  So now I have to figure out how to live life simply and in the moment while giving in a little more to the rat race.  How do I maintain my balance when life is forcing me to move at warp speed?  How do I balance my need to do less with the needs of my children to try everything?  I guess I will start trying to figure that out come Monday!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Food Troubles

I have an obsession with food. It started out as a phase and has become a fixation. I can’t remember what sparked it, but over the past year it has developed and grown and, frankly, I don’t know what to do about it. I am not a health food nut or a label reader. I don’t scour the grocery store looking for the words “organic” or “whole grain.” But I have become increasingly concerned about what I put into my body and my kids’ bodies. The statistics on childhood obesity and diabetes are staggering, not to mention the impact of food and lack of exercise on adult health. And let’s not even get into what modern food production is doing to our Earth. The most disheartening thing of all is that even faced with the certainty of ill health and a shortened lifespan, people continue to make poor eating choices day in and day out. We can’t plead ignorance anymore…we know exactly what we are putting into our bodies and how we are affecting the potential health of our children by feeding them unhealthy foods…and yet we can’t seem to stop ourselves.

Ok, off the soap box and back to my food obsession…I have struggled with weight and high cholesterol all my life. Although I have never been thin, I was able to control my weight and cholesterol as teenager through diet and exercise. This basically meant eat less and move more. That wasn’t really a problem until I had my son. After my son was born I developed hypoglycemia. I went to see a nutritionist who basically gave me a crash course in how diet impacts our blood sugar. Eating less was no longer an option. Now I had to eat smaller, more frequent meals and I had to learn to combine my sugars and proteins so as not to cause sharp peaks in my blood sugar levels. In a nutshell, I had to radically change the way I eat. No more one big meal a day or skipping breakfast! So, in order to keep my blood sugar under control without gaining weight or severally impacting my cholesterol , I did what every other good American does…I started looking for low calorie, non-fat, low sugar packaged foods that I could snack on throughout the day. I did also slightly increase my fresh fruit and vegetable intake; however, the packaged foods were getting me through the day.

Then my daughter was born. I guess looking back I think perhaps she was the reason for the beginning of my shift with food. When it came time for her to start eating solids I vowed to do better by her (my son is a very picky eater and it wasn’t until fairly recently that he started being a bit more adventurous with his food). I bought a mini food processor and made her baby food from scratch. It was a lot easier than I had originally thought it would be, and it made a world of difference when it came to her eating habits compared to those of my son. I wouldn’t say she eats everything (I think many kids go through “picky” phases throughout their growing up years), but she eats a much more diverse diet than my son ever did. Yet my “good food” intentions flew out the window when she started nursery school and began eating the school-provided lunches. I have made a million excuses about not having time to pack her a lunch or not knowing what to put in her lunch and not wanting her to eat the same thing every day (she has become more of a picky eater since she started eating school lunches), but really it’s about choosing what is easy over what is right.

Therefore, for the past year or so I have tried to begin the transition to eating and providing healthier foods for my family. However, aside from my firm belief in real food over processed (including the fats and sugars) and moderation, I am at a complete loss. I have read articles on sustainable agriculture and eating locally. I have researched community supported agriculture and community gardens. I have flirted with the idea of planting a small garden on my patio and ordering grass fed beef online. I have tried buying all my produce at my local farmer’s market. However, at the end of the day all I am left with are feelings of frustration and disappointment. Why is eating healthy so hard?
There are no community gardens in my area and starting one is not something I feel I can take on with house, husband, kids, and a full-time job. My farmer’s market is rather small and, while it takes care of the basics, doesn’t provide me with the variety I am looking for. I started baking more and buying less packaged foods, but my life really doesn’t allow me to bake my own bread or make my own yogurt. We made the transition from margarine to butter, but to make my own? Not possible. I have, on occasion, attempted to purchase my groceries at places like Sprouts and Whole Foods, but the cost to feed a family of four at these stores is outrageous! And my daughter is still eating a school lunch. Sigh.

So, in keeping with the theme of 2011 of taking life one day at time, I have decided to accept what can’t be changed and embrace what can. I will continue baking and making what foods I can from scratch. I am trying new recipes all the time and welcome any that are passed along my way. I have made a new commitment to my farmer’s market and will begin going every week if only to get the basics. I have found a CSA that is starting up in my community and am excited to give that a try, and I will remain open to any new opportunities as they arise. And this summer when my daughter goes to summer camp and I am forced to pack her a lunch, I am going to make every attempt to get her to eat as many fresh foods and try as many new foods as possible (I can really use suggestions for healthy brown bag lunches). I realize we won’t be eating a 100% super healthy diet, but maybe we will at least begin to change the way we think about food.

My first Farmer's Market bounty!!