Tag Archives: love

My Birthday Project – UPDATE

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This year for my 35th birthday I embarked on a project and committed to doing 35 intentional acts of kindness and giving the gift of myself to others – cuz that doesn’t sound conceited at all. Ha! As of today, three days after my birthday, I’ve completed 27 acts of kindness. I still have eight more things to go and I’m hoping to finish them all by December 31!

It’s been a really interesting experience. It’s been more intimidating than I ever thought it would be, especially for an outgoing person like me. How do you just go up to someone and tell them you’re going to do something for them without them thinking you’re crazy, rude or condescending.

My first shot at the whole thing was on Black Friday. “Perfect!” I thought. I loaded my purse with chocolate and intended to give it out to harried store clerks. My first stop was Starbucks for some coffee. I desperately wanted to buy coffee for the girl behind me, but she was giving off a vibe of “don’t talk to me,” so I didn’t say anything. She was the only person behind me, and there were only two people in front of me, but suddenly the whole store filled up with this gigantic line of people, all of them had angry eyes. They scared me. Seriously though, this one woman came in to pick up coffee for a group and she was going on and on about how she tried to come through the drive through first and a woman tried to cut her off so she flipped her the finger and dared the woman to hit her because, “You will see just what an impolite person I can be.” I nodded and gave a half sympathetic smile, but really I was thinking, “How sad!” This woman had an opportunity to do something kind and instead she chose to do the exact opposite. Ugh. So finally, when my coffee came up I half threw three Take 5 candy bars across the counter and said, “This if for you and the other baristas, I’m sure it’s been crazy!” The barista was super excited and sweet. Whew. But the people behind me still had angry eyes. Oh well.

On the Saturday after Black Friday I was in Target and caving to that unbelievable popcorn smell that I swear they pipe through the store. There was a couple in front of me counting out change to buy a bag of popcorn, a juice and a chocolate milk. I stood there for a bit trying to figure out how I could pay for their things when they were in front of me. Finally I just kind of went up to the cashier and said, “I’m paying for theirs, too.” And the woman and the cashier both nodded at me like they understood, but I could tell they had no idea what I was talking about. So I said again, “I’m going to get popcorn, but I’m going to pay for theirs as well. It’s my birthday in a few weeks and I’m doing kind things for other people.” The cashier couldn’t believe it and the woman said, “That makes me feel like it’s MY birthday!” Win!

One of my BFFs asked me what my favorite act of kindness was so far, and it’s still Lisa. Hands down. Lisa sent me a text on Sunday, Dec. 8 – one of the first days that we got snow this season. She said, “Yay for snow! I am trying out my new boots today.” It totally made me smile. I love thinking of her in those boots whenever it snows.

My experience with Lisa makes up for the awkwardness at the Dollar Store where I took the two older girls to help me place $1 bills around the store. I approached the teenage checker and explained, “I’d like to put dollar bills on items around the story as a project for my birthday where I’m doing kind things for other people.” Confused silence ensued. Finally, she said, “Um. I don’t know if we’re still doing that.” Suddenly, I was the confused one. Incredulously I said, “You mean, there are other people putting money on things for their birthday??” More confused silence. “Um, I don’t know. I’m new here. Let me get my manager.” The manager was nice, but still confounded by what I was asking to do. Finally she got on board, but the whole thing was just awkward and the girls were being seriously annoying and I just felt like my shouting at them in the store, “WE ARE HERE TO DO NICE THINGS FOR OTHER PEOPLE, WOULD YOU STOP GRABBING EVERYTHING,” was a little contradictory with what we were there to do.

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The items the girls picked out.

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The picture is deceiving. I was utterly annoyed with their behavior in the store.

A few other observations: it’s so much easier to do things that involve money. It requires less time and thinking. But I don’t necessarily think it’s better. I think it’s a good thing to spend a little time and thinking. You really mean it then, I think.

Which brings me to my second thought. A lot of my things have involved money because damn, my birthday is RIGHT BEFORE Christmas and there is NO TIME. The no time thing is the biggest reason I dislike having my birthday right before Christmas. You may remember I wrote about that a few years ago (OMG, I sound like such a brat). But seriously, there are so many other things going on, that it’s been difficult to devote as much time to thinking about cool things to do, and instead I’ve opted to go broke spend money. Not tons of money, but still.

Which brings me to my third thought. I guess what’s been to my advantage of doing this around Thanksgiving and Christmas is that there are naturally a lot of opportunities for giving.

My final observation for tonight is that this experience has taught me just how conscious of a choice it is to be kind. We can choose to engage with people, or we can choose to just go about our own business. Not that it’s rude, necessarily, to just go about your business, but the opportunities for showing kindness are pretty limited when you don’t engage with people. I’m not saying that we always need to pay for things for other people, but the simple gesture of smiling, making an accommodation, showing patience, engaging in a discussion – those are all worthwhile acts of kindness. And they’re free! But they’re hard. Because sometimes we’re just not in the mood, or we’re having a bad day, or it’s just EASIER to not say anything. My friend Sara thinks that as a society we’re conditioned to not pay attention to other people and just go about our own business. And it is easier. For sure. But I think it almost makes it more worthwhile when we do something kind when it’s not easy, right?

I donated blood for one of my acts of kindness and the tech who worked with me was pretty quiet ­­– straightforward, buttoned up, seemed like she was tired and maybe not having the best day. I could have just politely answered her questions, sat there quietly and donated. But I pushed myself to make small talk. I went out of my comfort zone to keep making conversation even though it made it harder for me. It turned out that we had things in common, including going to the same high school, and we even knew some of the same people. By the time I was done donating, she seemed happier, more talkative and smiley. So even though I’m not counting these types of engagements on my official list of acts of kindness, I am pushing myself to engage with everyone and it really is a choice and it really is HARD.

Here’s my list so far:

  1. Gave Lisa the boots
  2. Gave the Starbucks baristas Take 5 candy bars
  3. Gave the girl behind me in line at Kohl’s my extra $10 coupon instead of separating my purchases into two transactions and using it myself
  4. Bought five pairs of slippers for Dignity Bags that will be distributed to victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee
  5. Waved a driver looking for a parking spot into my spot at Target on Black Friday
  6. Gave a shopper my cart as I was leaving the store when there weren’t anymore
  7. Bought customers’ popcorn and drinks at Target
  8. Donated $30 to the International Justice Mission (the cost of an aftercare bag) on #GiveBackTuesday to help victims of modern-day slavery and trafficking
  9. Bought a $10 grocery bag for the food pantry 
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    Helping put the bag of food into the bin for the food pantry.

  10. Donated a toy to the Cardiac ICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in honor of dear Sadie
  11. Donated $5 to a college student who was short on his semester tuition and couldn’t ask his parents for help because his parents have disowned him for being gay
  12. Donated gloves, a hat and gently used toys to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission’s Joy House (the girls helped me go through all their toys and we ended up with a HUGE box)  
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    Gently used clothes and toys for Joy House.

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    Blankets, hats, gloves, books and art supplies for the kids at Joy House.

  13. Donated change to Coins for Caring at Peace Lutheran for a student’s mom who underwent a double lung transplant (the girls donated from their piggy banks, too)
  14. Donated new toys and new gloves/hat at Allenton Elementary for local families in need (the girls came with me to the store to pick out the hat and gloves) 
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    New toys for families at school.

  15. Donated blood Image
  16. Left 10 $1 bill on items at the Dollar Store
  17. Gave Take 5 candy bars to the workers at the DMV when I went to renew my license (the VERY stoic woman cracked a half of a smile)
  18. Complimented a stranger on her earrings (they were awesome)
  19. Went through our Christmas decorations and donated things that we weren’t using to a friend who was collecting things for her friend who didn’t have anything; I got word today that this woman LOVED the wreath that I donated. Yay!!! 
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    Box-o-Christmas decorations on their way to a better home.

  20. Left a special note for my massage therapist who has been going through a hard time for the last couple of years, and who I felt really needed to hear that she has value and that she is worth it
  21. Paid for a few groceries for someone who was paying with a WIC check
  22. Gave my mom flowers on my birthday as a thank you for going through labor and having me J
  23. Gave my grandma flowers on my birthday as a thank you for going through labor and having my MOM! (my dad rolled his eyes at the whole thing)
  24. Tipped our servers 35% on our family birthday pizza dinner outing
  25. Gave our servers some of the chocolate peanut butter brownie cupcakes my mom made and one of the servers said, “You made my NIGHT!”
  26. Donated my birthday gifts from family and friends to Exploit No More (I think the total is around $300)
  27. Upped the ante on my annual “Make my grumpy UPS man smile,” game and included a $5 Starbucks gift card with the usual holiday package of homemade goodies that I leave for him (really, it’s the least I can do given the number of things I’ve ordered from Amazon.com alone this year)

So, like I said, eight more things to go and 12 more days before Dec. 31. I have ideas for the remaining things, but let me know if you have suggestions!

Oh and P.S. I just realized it now, but I totally didn’t miss opening birthday presents. I really didn’t. I had a FANTASTIC birthday dinner with all of our family members, minus the ones who live far away, and my two best friends and their families. It was perfection.

 

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

Love wins. ❤

Donate to Exploit No More

Donate to Exploit No More for a Christmas Ornament

Donate to the International Justice Mission

My Birthday Project

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I posted an ad on Craig’s List earlier this week for a pair of Nine West black winter boots in size 11.  I posted the ad a year ago, too, and never even got any inquiries. Probably because they’re a size 11, which is not a common size for women’s shoes. I bought them in hopes that they would fit my size 10 wide feet, but it turned out they were just too big. They were expensive – I think $90 – and they were my birthday present from Eric that year. I was bummed that I had spent so much money on them and then only wore them a few times, but not bummed enough endure sore heels. After putting them back in the box and storing them in the basement, I really didn’t give them a second thought. The money had been spent. It didn’t work out. Oh well.

On a whim, I reposted my Craig’s List ad on Tuesday. I was asking $25 for the boots. On Tuesday evening I had an inquiry from Lisa. She was interested in purchasing the boots this week. She didn’t live near me though, and we agreed to meet in Menomonee Falls on Friday when I would be out shopping after Thanksgiving. But then I found out that she actually worked in Brookfield, near the mall, and would be trying to make it to Menomonee Falls and back to work again on her lunch hour on Friday – on her lunch hour on Black Friday, from one crazy traffic shopping mecca to another. I just didn’t think it was going to work. Lisa and I talked on the phone this morning and I realized that I was taking the kids to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum today and could meet her even closer to her work – today, instead of Friday. She sounded stunned when I offered to meet her today so that she wouldn’t have to drive so far. She said, “Really? Are you serious? That would be so awesome.”

Then she went on to tell me that she just really wanted to get these boots because she had been looking for winter boots for two years and these were really nice quality for such a reasonable price, and in her size (!), and she was afraid that if she waited longer to get them from me, that another person would buy them before she could.

I was thinking that I doubted that anyone else would have wanted to buy the boots given that I got exactly zero inquiries last time I posted them. But she so excited about them.

I hung up the phone and immediately knew what I was going to do. I was going to meet Lisa, and I was going to give her the boots. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I sensed that Lisa didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t need that $25. I decided it was going to be the first thing on My Birthday Project list.

About nine months ago I discovered a group on Facebook called The Birthday Project. The group was founded by a woman who decided that on her birthday she would give the gift of herself to others. The project has exploded (more than 20,000 people like the page), and all over the country people are celebrating their birthdays with intentional acts of kindness and by loving others. And, you don’t even need to go out of your way for someone on your birthday. The group encourages people to be intentionally kind and to love others whether it’s their birthday or not. It’s kind of an amazing group. Gratefulness, kindness, love. All things our world could use more of. The project wants to change the world one birthday at a time.

This year is a milestone birthday for me, I guess – 35. It seems like it should be a milestone, anyway. I decided nine months ago that on my next birthday I would do 35 Intentional Acts of Kindness.

And today was the first one.

It was amazing.

I met Lisa in a parking lot and right away she started opening her wallet. I said, “You probably should try them on just to make sure they fit, right?” And she said, “Oh, okay. I’m sure it will be fine.” She tried one boot on and said, “Yep, they fit!” As she was putting her shoe back on, I bent down to put the boots back in the box and stood up while Lisa was going through her wallet again.

“Lisa, don’t worry about it. I just want you to have these.”

Her face. Stunned.

“Are you serious?”

I told her that my birthday was coming up and that I had decided that I was going to do intentional acts of kindness for others.

I said, “You were just so excited about these boots when we spoke on the phone and I just felt like you were meant to have them.”

And then she gave me the biggest, hardest, longest hug I’ve ever received from a complete stranger. And then she hugged me again.

I told her that she could pay it forward some day and she said, “I will! God bless you.”

After I pulled away, I got a text from Lisa: “I’m just in shock Jen, that anyone would do such a generous thing for me. I don’t know how to say thank you enough. I have been looking for boots for so long.”

To be able to do something like that for someone else and have them appreciate it so much, makes me feel amazing. I’m getting teary right now thinking about how grateful Lisa is to have warm boots on her feet and I’m so happy that I was able to help her.

In keeping with my birthday theme this year, I also decided a few months ago that I wanted anyone who would normally have purchased a birthday gift for me to instead donate it to a worthy organization. I had a short list of organizations, and then a few weeks ago as I was sitting in a church committee meeting, I knew. Exploit No More.

The State of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee in particular, has one of the highest recovery rates for child victims of sex trafficking in the United States. Yes, sex trafficking is a horrific problem in poor foreign countries like India, Congo and Iran. But it’s happening here, in Wisconsin. And it’s not just an urban issue. It’s happening in every county in Wisconsin. Including here, in Washington County, because no one is looking for it here. Sex trafficking is roughly a $32 billion dollar industry worldwide.

The traffickers make very strategic moves to form relationships with vulnerable girls. Many times the girls feel like the pimp is their boyfriend. The girls are manipulated to think that their pimp is the only one who loves them and that the girl’s family will never want them back once they know what they’ve done. The pimps regularly ply the girls with alcohol and other drugs because they don’t want the girls to be thinking much about what they’re doing.

Again, it’s not just an urban issue. There are websites and message boards where pimps brag about their ability to lure young affluent white girls.

The youngest girls get the highest price.

Girls as young as 10 or 11.

It just makes you sick.

I started following this issue on an International level about a year ago, and when my church started a committee to address the issue locally I felt like it was something I was meant to be a part of.

Exploit No More was formed in May 2013 by a number of Milwaukee-area churches wondering how the church could impact local children affected by sex trafficking. This summer the group hired its Executive Director. She is the only paid staff person. You can read more about all of Exploit No More’s goals, but their biggest effort right now is to raise funds to purchase a home for long-term residential aftercare for girls rescued from sex trafficking in the Milwaukee metro area.

What Exploit No More heard most from law enforcement was, “Why should we keep rescuing these girls if they have no place to go afterwards. They just end up going back because they don’t know what else to do.”

Exploit No More is hoping to change that. Exploit No More wants to have a safe place where these girls can live and recover for at least 18 months. A place where the girls can be deprogrammed and learn that they are loved and they do have value.

I realize this is an awful issue. Everyone involved realizes it’s an awful issue. It’s not easy to talk about. Certainly not something to discuss at your Christmas party or the dentist’s office.

But my God, I just cannot imagine a world where my three daughters could end up victimized and enslaved that way. I just cannot imagine it. And I don’t want anyone to have to endure it.

Which is why this year I’m asking all my friends and family members who would have gotten me a birthday gift to instead donate that money to Exploit No More so they can get their house and start helping girls.

When I was thinking about doing this, I asked myself – “Are you really sure that you want to give up the fun of getting gifts for your birthday? Are you going to be disappointed?”

Because believe me, I’m no martyr. I love my birthday. I love getting gifts. Who doesn’t?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized – I have everything. I don’t need anything. And with Christmas right around the corner, would I really rather stockpile gift certificates for massages and facials, more jewelry and scarves, over giving some girl a warm bed and a positive person in her life telling her she is loved? No. I would give up all the facials in the world if it meant someone could be freed of sex trafficking and taught that they have value.

If any of my friends or family members who wouldn’t ordinarily have gotten me a birthday gift feel inclined to donate to Exploit No More, that would be wonderful. In fact, right now they’re giving away these awesome Christmas ornaments to everyone who donates a minimum of $25.

I really wish there was a way to track the donations people are making on behalf of my birthday, but unfortunately there’s no way to do that unless I use an outside organization that would take a percentage of the donations. I think it would be fun to know the final tally, so if you donate and you feel inclined, send me a Facebook message or email at jenovotny(at)gmail.com and let me know so I can keep track!

I still need to make up the rest of the things on My Birthday Project list. I have a few ideas and I’m going to scour The Birthday Project Facebook pages for other ideas. If you have any idea for me, let me know!

I know sometimes I feel like the problems of the world are so overwhelming. That there’s nothing I could possibly do to change or impact anything.

Exploit No More’s Executive Director left us with this quote:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

When it feels overwhelming, I will remember Lisa’s face and her hug. I will think about her wearing those boots in this cold and snow. I will remember her gratitude and how easy it was to make her feel valued for nothing more than the fact that she’s human.

Love and peace.

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. Literally, just as I was proofreading this and getting ready to post it, I got an email from Lisa:

Jen,

Still in such amazement. Just got home from work and looked at my new boots again. Wow. I believe it must be the Lord God you hear leading your heart to be so generous. You really understand every syllable of “thanks” & “giving”.  May He return the blessing 7 fold.

Hope you & children had a terrific afternoon at the museum.

Lisa”

Love wins.

Donate to Exploit No More

Donate for a Christmas Ornament

Dad-o

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I happen to think that I picked one of the best men around to be the father of my children.

Side note: I happen to know tons of women who think they picked a pretty awesome guy to be the father of their children and that makes me really happy. I have a lot of gratitude about that, and I think it’s pretty cool that my friends have such great husbands.

Awesome dad exhibit 1: He jumped rope for them.

Awesome dad exhibit 1: He jumped rope for them.

Awesome dad exhibit 2: He wore these bunny ears while feeding the baby.

Awesome dad exhibit 2: He wore these bunny ears while feeding the baby.

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Awesome dad exhibit 3: Then he let the kids ride on him – which they do ALL. THE. TIME.

In addition to being an awesome father, my husband also made me feel pretty special on Mother’s Day. Special like, took all three kids to the grocery store on a Saturday morning so he could make me French toast. Then sending me off for a pedicure with strict instructions not to return for several hours. And when I did finally return, not only did he make me chocolate chip cookies, but he also made me scotcheroos. I’ve never, ever, ever had anyone make me chocolate chip cookies. I’m always the one making them for other people – usually my family – and I LOVE doing it. But I would often jokingly complain that no one ever made ME cookies. And then he did. His first time ever. And they were awesome.

So I knew that I wanted to make Husband feel really special on Father’s Day. And I did make him a favorite dessert and get him a cool T-shirt and some of his favorite snacks and a gift certificate for golf. BUT, my favorite parte was something the girls and I worked on over a month ago. I asked them all the reasons they loved their daddy, or things they wanted to thank daddy for, and this is what they came up with.

Daddy …

  1. I want to thank you for making our bunk beds. (Bean)
  2. I want to say thank you for helping me do my best each day. (Monkey)
  3. I want to say thank you for cleaning up our toys downstairs. (Bean)
  4. I want to thank you for getting out our playhouse. (Bean)
  5. I want to thank you for picking up all the sticks in our yard. (Monkey)
  6. I want to thank you for covering us back up with our blankets at night. (Bean)
  7. I want to thank you for making food for us when we’re sick. (Monkey)
  8. I want to thank you for the special Mother’s Day for Mommy. (Bean)
  9. I want to thank you for buying us toys. (Monkey)
  10. I want to thank you for building our wood playhouse. (Bean)
  11. I love it when you give us hugs and kisses at nighttime. (Monkey)
  12. I love it when you snuggle with me at nighttime. (Monkey and Bean)
  13. I love it when you wrestle with us. (Monkey)
  14. I love it when you eat at the table with us and we’re all together. (Bean)
  15. I love it when you give us rides on the lawnmower and let us steer. (Monkey)
  16. I love it when you push us high on the swings. (Bean)
  17. I love it when you help me ride my bike. (Monkey)
  18. I love it that you help me in swimming class. (Bean)
  19. I love it that you help me pick up the apples from the apple tree. (Monkey)
  20. I love it that you help me with puzzles. (Bean)
  21. I love it when you give us horsey back rides. (Monkey and Bean)
  22. I love it when you take our pictures. (Monkey and Bean)
  23. I love it when you give us a bath and you let us throw toys at you and squirt each other. (Monkey)
  24. I love it when you play hide and seek with us. (Bean)
  25. I love it when you hold us. (Monkey and Bean) 

Daddy, these are the reasons why we love you!

I also had the girls answer these fun questions about their daddy:

 

All About My Daddy

By Monkey (age 5) and Bean (age 3)

 

My daddy is 17 feet and 40 inches tall

He weighs 40 pounds

His hair color is brown

His eyes are blue

His favorite TV show is baseball

He likes to go to Qdoba

His favorite food is Hello Dolly bars

His favorite drink is soda

For fun he likes to play with us

I love it when my daddy gives us piggy back rides

My favorite thing about my daddy is when he plays outside with us

I ❤ MY DADDY

Father’s Day 2013

Husband they love you sooooo much. They adore you. You are so important to them and this family and I am so grateful to have you as my partner in the most important job of our lives.

xoxo

They will always be daddy's little girls.

They will always be daddy’s little girls.

Set This Circus Down

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It’s hard to know where to start when trying to sum up 10 years of marriage, not to mention the six years of togetherness prior to marriage. Husband and I just celebrated 10 years of marriage a week and a half ago, and our wedding day seems like yesterday.

May 16, 2003. Bliss.

May 16, 2003. Bliss.

Until I actually flipped through all of our photo albums since we were married … and then it seemed like a lifetime ago.

Ten years. Our wedding day, up to that point, was the happiest day of our lives.

Everyone who came talked about what a fun party it was, and at the gift opening the next day, Husband and I promised that we would renew our vows and have a big anniversary party for our 10th anniversary.

And then our reality happened.

So much for a special "family" celebration on our 10-year anniversary - crabby, hungry kids and screaming baby.

So much for a special “family” celebration on our 10-year anniversary – crabby, hungry kids and screaming baby.

So I guess our vow renewal and super awesome anniversary party will have to wait a few more years.

For our one-year anniversary, the traditional gift is paper, and I had the brilliant idea that Husband and I should forego an actual gift in favor of each writing down our memories of our wedding day (on paper — get it?). So naturally, I wrote down TWENTY-FIVE PAGES of memories — bulleted, single-spaced, 12-point font. And I wrote down my memories not just from the wedding day, but the five days before it and one day after it. Husband wrote down 11 pages worth of memories, double-spaced, 18-point font. I’d say that’s quite an achievement for a guy who doesn’t like to write!

Jen and Eric First Anniversary-3

Reading memories of our wedding day on our first anniversary.

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Going back to the church we were married at on our first anniversary.

First anniversary dinner.

First anniversary dinner. We look like little kids!

A couple of highlights:

  • When I woke up in the morning I said to my cousin (who’s like my sister), “I don’t want the day to start because I know it’s going to be over before I know it.”
  • Making the very short drive to church from my parents’ house felt like forever. There was such anticipation. When we were driving up the big hill into the parking lot and I saw all the cars, I got nervous for the first time and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! People actually came!” I don’t know why, but I genuinely was surprised that there were people there. It finally started to feel real, and not just like a dress-up game.
  • My mom saying, “Well, Jen, I have to tell you — I take back that you’re going to be late for your own wedding, because you’re early!”
  • When we said our vows. We both had memorized them and we were both so confident. I thought I would cry, but I was just so happy.
  • The same cousin (whom I dubbed the “Cousin of Honor” for the wedding) was dying of starvation by the time we made it to dinner. During the entire meal she made food noises, and said things like “Oh, this is so good. Oh yum. Yum, yum, yum. This is sooooo good.” (this still cracks me up)
  • All day long I said to my BRAND NEW HUSBAND, “We have so much to look forward to.” And I wasn’t just excited about continuing our wedding experience by going on a fabulous honeymoon/vacation. I was talking about all the years we would spend together, having kids, watching them grow up, going on adventures, living our lives together forever.
  • My BFF and maid of honor ended her speech by saying, “May your dreams of today be your realities of tomorrow.” This has always stuck with me (and as far as google can tell me, she made that up all on her own).
My grandma made this cake with her own two hands. It's so lovely. I still love this cake.

My grandma made this cake with her own two hands. It’s so lovely. I still love this cake.

What we felt that day is almost indescribable. We felt SO INCREDIBLY LOVED. It was like nothing we had ever experienced before. Every single person who was there, was there for us. We both felt completely honored that people would come and be there just for us.

We had people warn us about how expensive weddings are and how afterward we would wish that we hadn’t “wasted” all that money on a wedding, and instead used it for a down payment on a house. They told us that we would wish we had eloped.

For us at least? Never, ever, ever, ever in a million billion years. We wouldn’t have given up that wedding day or how we felt on that day, for anything in the world. It was exactly what we wanted, and the feeling was more than we could have imagined.

***

Husband and I got engaged in August 2001, and a few months before that, Tim McGraw released his album, “Set This Circus Down.”

Tim and his wife Faith Hill (I like to think we’re personal friends) have always been two of our favorite artists. For our wedding slideshow, I chose Faith’s song “She’s a Wild One” (one of my faves) to go along with the photos of me, and Husband chose “Indian Outlaw” for the photos of him. For the photos of us together, we chose “Set This Circus Down.”

The song has such a literal and figurative meaning for us:

Sometimes this road it just keeps winding, round and round and back again
But you’ve always kept me smiling
Over every hill round every bend

Baby you’re the one smilin’ with me
When the sun comes up
I got the wheel,
You got the map and that’s enough

Chorus:
And we go rollin’ down this highway
Chasin’ all our crazy dreams
I’ve gone your way and you’ve gone my way
And everywhere in between
One of these days we’ll find a piece of ground
Just outside some sleepy little town
And set this circus down

Sometimes I lie awake just thinking
Of all the horizons we have seen
And as another day is sinking
I thank God you’re here with me

‘Cause baby you’re the one laughing with me
When the sun goes down
Livin’ on faith and holding on tight
To the love we’ve found

And we go rollin’ down this highway
Chasin’ all our crazy dreams
I’ve gone your way and you’ve gone my way
And everywhere in between
One of these days we’ll find a piece of ground
Just outside some sleepy little town
And set this circus down

And set this circus down
Baby, one of these days
Gonna set this circus down
Set this circus down
Baby, one of these days

Two days after we got engaged, Husband and I embarked on this crazy adventure where he literally had the wheel and I had the map. We packed up a tiny U-Haul truck with all our crap and moved to North Carolina for me. He left a secure job, a home and all of his family and friends, for me and my dream.

EXHAUSTED after driving across the country for about 16 hours straight.

EXHAUSTED after driving across the country for about 16 hours straight.

Looking back, I’m not surprised he did it. But I am surprised at how easily he made that decision. It really wasn’t a decision — we were young, we were in love, the world was our oyster and we had no real responsibilities at that time that were holding us to Wisconsin. He came with me and chased my crazy dream, and we always knew that we would come back home eventually to be with our family and friends.

When “eventually” turned out to be six months later, because we (mostly me) was so homesick and my dream job was not all that it was cracked up to be, we packed up and came home — despite the fact that he had just gotten a new job in North Carolina.

On our wedding day, when I kept telling him over and over again, “We have so much to look forward to,” I didn’t really have any specific ideas of what that would look like — what our home would look like, what our kids would look like, or how many of them we would have. I don’t know that I could have imagined anything anyway.

Marriage has been both infinitely better than I thought it would be, and also infinitely harder than I ever imagined. Before you get married you think you know that you’ll have your ups and downs; that you’ll have battles; that you might go through a rough patch or have a crisis or two. But here’s the thing — you don’t really know. You’ve heard all those cliché pieces of marriage advice like compromising and fighting fair and trying not to go to bed angry and yada, yada yada. You don’t really know. You think you know what it means to make a lifelong commitment to someone in good times and in bad. But you just don’t really know until you’re in the trenches, making that decision to be in it, in good times and in bad, every day.

But, like I said, marriage also has been infinitely better than what I imagined, because we have built a life together. I have a partner — in life and in everything — and he is a kind, warm, generous, strong, gentle, funny and selfless man. And despite how very hard it is on some days, we have love, respect, faith, laughter, and this:

What 10 years will bring you. This is our circus.

What 10 years will bring you. This is our circus.

We set our circus down, literally in a sleepy little town just liked I’d always hoped, and my dreams of yesterday have most definitely surpassed my realities of today. I couldn’t have dreamt this. I feel so lucky and so blessed. And while I can’t even fully dream tomorrow, I feel certain that my reality will surpass my dreams.

Husband, like I’ve told you countless times before, as we travel this crazy journey, there’s no one I’d rather be traveling with than you. Thank you for our circus, and thank you for being my partner. I thank God you’re here with me.

10 years later, at the church where we got married.

10 years later, at the church where we got married.

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10-year anniversary dinner.

10-year anniversary dinner.

Bonus Baby

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This is my first post in seven months. My baby is seven months old. I have so many fragments of posts floating around in my head and what prevents me from writing them down is always this feeling that posts need to be made in chronological order, and how can I fast forward and write about something seven months after the birth of our Grand Finale, without actually writing about her birth or anything else right after that?

(sigh)

But nothing will ever, ever get posted if I follow that rule. Someday I will go back and post about Grand Finale’s birth and the days directly after that period, not because it’s particularly earth shattering or might apply to someone else, but mostly because this blog is an online memory book for our family and I’d like to be able to go back and read it someday.

This post, on the other hand, may be applicable to someone else, and I think it every single day:

Adults generally use the term “bonus baby” as a tongue-in-cheek way to refer to a baby who wasn’t exactly planned. A happy accident. An oops. A bonus baby.

While Grand Finale was very much planned, I very, very much consider her to be my bonus baby.

Every single day, I look at her and think to myself, “What if you never came to be? What if we had been too scared or too nervous to say yes to what we felt in our hearts? What if we had convinced ourselves that we couldn’t handle it, or that we wouldn’t have enough time or money?”

And then I look at her and I THANK GOD that she came to be.

Every day. That’s what I think.

She is SO MUCH a cherished and beloved member of our family. Her sisters adore her. They dote on her, care for her and help us to entertain and occupy her. And she reciprocates with BIG grins when she sees them.

Sisters

Sisters

WE adore her. She is such an easy baby. She was sleeping 11-12 hours a night by the time she was 8 weeks old. At 7 months she’s still very mellow. She’s by far our most snuggly baby.

As Monkey said one day, "She's a cute bug."

As Monkey said one day, “She’s a cute bug.”

When I look at her, I try to picture our family without her — would we be happy? Sure! Would we love our other two kids to death? Of course! Would we parent the same? Pretty much.

If we had remained a family of four, I think there be less chaos, more order, two little girls who would grow up to be BFFs forever and who would be used to receiving more attention and things. I probably would be more stressed out trying to maintain my version of parenting “perfection” (because with “only” two kids it seems more doable).

I think our family-of-five dynamic will be more chaos, less order, three girls who will grow up to be BFFs forever, and who will have a greater understanding of sharing, more selflessness and compassion, and hopefully more appreciation for things because there will be less of them. In place of things, they’ll have what I believe is the greatest gift we could have given them — a sibling.

If we had never had Grand Finale, we would have been a happy family of four.

But we would have never known what we were missing. Even in her seven short months, Grand Finale already added so much depth, richness and perspective to our family.

Love.

Love.

The baby is frosting. And I’m just so, so, so thankful to have her. I’m so happy we trusted our gut, and also so grateful that things worked out and that I had a healthy pregnancy.

And for that reason, although she was very much planned, she is my bonus baby.

And my takeaway to you, is that if you’re feeling like you want another child, but you’re just not sure if you can “handle” it, or if you have “enough” time or money, DO IT. You won’t regret it. That’s how I felt six days after Grand Finale’s birth, and that’s how I still feel today.

A Monkey Turns Four

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A Monkey Turns Four

1. What is your favorite color?

Orange and purple

2. What is your favorite toy?

Baby dolls and my strollers

3. What is your favorite fruit?

Strawberries

4. What is your favorite TV show?

Team Umizoomi

5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch?

Smashed potato (with butter, ham, cheese, peas and corn)

6. What is your favorite outfit?

Dresses!

7. What is your favorite game?

Candyland. And I want you to buy me a Dora game, too. And if you find any Team Umizoomi games

that is going to be super fun, because we love Team Umizoomi.

8. What is your favorite snack?

Cheetos and pretzels and goldfish and strawberries

9. What is your favorite animal?

Fishies

10. What is your favorite song?

Taylor Swift (Also, on a separate occasion she told me that she wants to play all the instruments that Taylor Swift can play: banjo, guitar and piano)

11. What is your favorite book?

A Team Umizoomi book or a Dora book

12. Who is your best friend?

Braelynn

13. What is your favorite cereal?

Reese’s Puffs

14. What is your favorite thing to do outside?

Swing

15. What is your favorite drink?

Chocolate milk

16. What is your favorite holiday?

Easter! And I love Christmas too.

17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night?

Petey and lovey

18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?

Pancakes! And strawberries.

19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday?

Hot dogs

20. What do you want to be when you grow up?

A mama and a girl fire fighter. Can you be three things when you grow up? Then I want to be a mama, and a girl fire fighter, and a teacher.

(sigh) I just love her so much. I’m so proud of the person she’s becoming.

Birthday morning surprise.

She was especially thrilled that the bike had a basket for a baby.

Totally spontaneous smile. Iconic.

Friends party at the Y!

Pure joy.

They love each other so much.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Monkey!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxooooooooooooooo

Unanticipated

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I don’t normally feel “old.” But I was especially reminded of my age and impending birthday (the big 3-3!) at Monkey’s first school Christmas program.

I stood there, holding back tears, thinking, “I can’t believe I’m the one holding the video camera.”

I’ve always watched the parents holding the video camera taking videos of the kids, and I was always one of the kids!

Now I’m the one with the camera.

I thought, “I can’t believe I’m old enough for this. I can’t believe I’m responsible for two children.”

I can’t believe I’m the mom.

It’s funny how motherhood still catches me by surprise sometimes.

Monkey looked like she was on the verge of tears when she filed into the room with the rest of the kids. Finally, our eyes met and I could see a look of relief on her face.

Monkey got over her initial shyness and then went on to be su-per loud during this Beatles-esque “Shape” song. Good lord.

Monkey and Bean post-performance with Nana and Mimi.

Incidentally, I guess b*tching on your blog about how people overlook your December birthday really pays off.

😉

A week before my birthday Husband came home with flowers and proclaimed it birthday week. We had a wonderful date on the weekend before my birthday (which honestly made all the difference because we weren’t trying to cram it in on the same weekend with all the Christmas festivities), and even though we both got sick with a horrible stomach virus, the week ended on a high note with a lovely dinner with our families.

Monkey with her Great Grandma, or GG, as we call her. So sweet.

By the time my actual birthday came on the 16th, I felt like I had already celebrated a marvelous birthday!

And then my cousin-who’s-like-my-sister showed up on my doorstep with a birthday morning Starbucks! And a hysterical card about carrot cake, which is only funnier because that’s my favorite kind of cake and the one my Grandma always makes me for my birthday.

Do you get it? Carrot cake. His nose was a carrot. Tastes like boogers. Sooo funny.

The carrot cake that my Grandma made me.

I couldn’t have been more shocked.

And then my awesome neighbor stopped by with a smoothie!

Plus I got two of the sweetest and most unexpected cards in the mail. Truly, so unexpected, so sweet and they made me feel so special.

I was very humbled. And thankful.

It made me realize that I need to put my money where my mouth is and make sure that I’m following through on making birthdays as special for other people as I expect it to be for myself.

Cheers to another year!