Friday, March 31, 2017

It's Official: I'm Growing Out My Bangs

Things you'll most likely never hear a woman say pretty much ever:

"Bangs are just soooo easy to style and take care of!"
"I love how great my bangs look while I'm trying to grow them out!"


"I have never, EVER regretted getting bangs."

The fact is, bangs take a lot of maintenance, styling, and constant upkeep in order to look good, much less great. If you're wanting blunt bangs that fall within a centimeter of a certain location near your eyebrows, you're looking at trims every 4-6 weeks, meticulous blow-drying, and the constant commitment to never just "letting the bangs be."

Then there are the other problems that no one seems to talk about (so maybe it's just me)---the awkward gaps between where my bangs start and the rest of my layers in back come in, the fact that half the time, my bangs always initially get cut too short (making me look like I'm about 11 years old), and the fear I have of pulling my bangs straight back from my face when growing them out because I have a wide, high forehead that even Tyra Banks would be jealous of.

So why on earth have I followed a meticulous cycle of cutting blunt bangs EVERY SINGLE TIME I went to get my hair cut for the last, say, five years?

Because I'll look at photos like THIS (circa 2014):

And THIS (circa 2012):

And I'll be fooled into thinking that my bangs will ALWAYS look like that (not to mention conveniently forgetting that I was about 15-20 pounds lighter in both of these pictures thanks to rigorous training for a half marathon and marathon, respectively, thus giving me the most defined shape my face will probably ever be).

But somehow, now, over the past 7 months, I was able to retain in remembrance my distinct love/hate relationship with bangs (instead of just always giving them the benefit of the doubt right before the scissors started snipping), and when I got my hair cut a week and a half ago for the first time in about 7 months, I DID NOT HAVE MY STYLIST CUT BANGS.

(I'll wait while you applaud wildly for my good sense.)

Coincidentally, these pictures were taken BEFORE my haircut, but as I didn't change much other than my color (by going a bit darker), 
I think you'll still get the general idea that I don't look much different than myself. Cuz duh-- I am myself, just now with a more dark and mysterious hair color. Fine, it's basically black. Please see this post and feel free to flick my ear next time you see me.

So here I am, with bangs that are finally (!) long enough to tuck behind my ears, rejoicing in the knowledge that I don't need to panic if I forget to blowdry my bangs before going to sleep with wet hair and that I can now leave the house without ALWAYS taking a straightener to those suckers.

And here I will stay, for *at least* six more months (or however long it takes until I bother to get my hair cut again).

I'm a whole new woman, I tell ya.

Where do you stand on the issue of bangs?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Library is Basically Running My Life

(the current state of my nightstand)

A couple of years ago, to save ourselves space, sanity, and money, I made an important decision---

I was only going to let myself buy books that fit one of the following three criteria:

A) Books I have read and loved and planned to reread again (usually nonfiction, since there are very few fiction titles I reread nowadays),

B) Books that I want my children to have ready access to, both picture books for now and YA novels for later (either books I've read myself or books that are award-winners or that look interesting and age-appropriate)

C) Books I haven't read (once again, probably nonfiction) that I have perused enough to know that I will love and will want to have on hand for reference (and want to make notes in)

Furthermore, last October I did a little inventory/budgeting exercise wherein I discovered some pretty shocking numbers when it came to our spending habits (one of those categories being books). I'd already been drastically cutting down the amount we were spending on books from what it used to be, but when I realized we literally own hundreds of books that I haven't read yet (but that I want to), I basically put a blanket ban on buying books for myself unless it was with gift money.

All of this is to say that since we've been drastically cutting down on our book buying, I have been dramatically INCREASING my use of our public library (since I apparently am unable to just stick with reading only the books we own).

When I first moved to this town almost twelve years ago (!), I was a freshman just starting college as an English major, and since I was already assigned to read around 1,000 pages a week anyway for class (no exaggeration---some weeks/semesters I averaged closer to 2,000), I hardly had time to read anything for pleasure, and thus saw no real need for a library card (and was buying any books I really was interested in reading someday, anyway).

After getting married, my non-library-using, book-buying habits were pretty ingrained in me by that point, so with a new husband who loved reading (nearly) as much as I do, we only fueled that particular bookwormish fire to buy, buy, buy as many books as we could readily find for decent prices, which led to us needing to acquire a new bookshelf about once a year (seriously).

After the epiphany I had a few years back where I decided that I really didn't want (or need) to be buying so many books when we already had soooooo many to take care of and store and organize, however, I finally buckled down and got myself a library card, but I didn't use it much. (In fact, there were a couple years there where I mostly just went to the library a few times a year for the movies and to thumb through the magazines they had that I didn't currently subscribe to).

Then I made another life-changing decision (although I didn't realize at the time how drastically it would alter my life until later)---

I decided to just let myself read whatever the heck I wanted, instead of worrying about books that were off of recommended reading lists or that would in some way make me more literate/productive/wise/artsy/etc.

Couple that newfound decision with my obsession with the podcast What Should I Read Next?, and you've got my current formula for some serious library dependence.

The problem is, I don't have a very good system for putting books on hold at the library. Basically, if I hear about something I'm interested in (usually from the podcast or from that same woman's website, Modern Mrs. Darcy), I immediately go online to see if our library has the item. If they do, I put it on  hold. 

This wouldn't be a problem, say, if this newfound literary freedom I feel to read whatever I wanted was limited by the fact that I wasn't interested in much...

But that's not how I roll.

After years of reading only what was "literary" or a little more on the "intellectual" side, I'm feeling the need to play a little catch-up with all those titles that everyone else has been talking about forever but that I never tried. 

Plus, I've always had a rather wide net of interests, so anytime I hear anything under one of those categories I'm interested in, it's off to the library website I go. (You know you have a problem when you have your library card number memorized. Never mind that I don't have any of my credit or debit card numbers memorized and have to double check with my husband every time what his social security number is, I KNOW MY LIBRARY CARD NUMBER, dangit!)

This was all working just fine for me up until about a month ago, when ALLLLLLL the books started coming in all at once (from the ones I'd been waiting for for literally months and months to the ones I'd just reserved a few days before). 

I'm currently in the middle of reading 4 library books, which are due back to the library at varying points within the next 2.5 weeks. I actually had to get out the calculator when I picked up the last couple to calculate the rate I'd need to read at in order to be able to finish them all before they're all due back (for the record, it was about 70 pages a day).

Well, I wasn't freaking out too bad at that point---I mean, I usually do about 50 pages a day without trying too hard, so 20 more didn't seem like such a big deal...


So, friends, I might have finally reached the point where I am forced to behave as a rational human being and STOP PUTTING BOOKS ON HOLD ALREADY.

Anywho, you will likely find me spending massive amounts of time with my butt on the couch (or in bed) this week, my nose burrowed into the pages of a book, and with the slightly frantic expression of one who just doesn't know when to quit.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Why I Need to Plan for Fun

I once read a blog post a long time ago (and of course, I can't for the life of me remember where) that people tend to fall between two tendencies---the tendency to favor work, or the tendency to favor play. For those who favor play, it's best that their to-do list comprises items that they need to do for work, so as to balance out their natural tendency to want to have fun. For those who favor work, however, it's actually more important to plan for fun and activity and spontaneity, since people who lean towards being more productive tend to get the work done anyway.

I am definitely one who leans more towards work---I have a hard time just relaxing and doing nothing, and I loooooooove to make long lists of productive tasks I want to get done (just so I can have the satisfaction of checking them off one by one by one).

While I'll probably never give up my traditional to-do lists, I DO acknowledge the importance for me of planning for fun. For some people, fun and play come as naturally as breathing, but since I usually favor productivity if I have any pockets of spare time, it's important for me to create some balance in my life by literally putting fun stuff on my to-do list.

I kind of put all this together by accident, over several years of experiences that taught me that this is just how I am. Various tragedies and hard circumstances taught me to value the people in my life while I still have them and to appreciate each day for its small but special moments, and many years of experiences setting goals and resolutions and making to-do lists have shown me that I tend to favor making myself needlessly busy rather than slowing down and enjoying.

This is one reason why last year, as part of my new year's resolutions, I set apart a whole category devoted just to "pleasures." While it is all too telling that many of those resolutions in that particular category went unfinished or only partially completed, one of them has stuck with me since its inception in January 2016, and that's the resolution of having a monthly "day adventure."

Day adventures don't have to cost money or be something super elaborate, but they do have to be intentional, planned activities (preferably something we've never done before) that will be fun for everyone and that will help us to create positive, joyful memories together as a family. Very often, we will invite other people along with us to our day activities, which only increases the pleasure that we take in them.

 I'm definitely still getting used to the focus options on my new camera, but I still wanted to include this picture anyway 
since it's one of the few I got of Raven trying to "chase" the fish through the glass

This particular day adventure--a trip to the aquarium last Saturday--has been in the works for months, actually. For Christmas, by delightful chance, we gifted my in-laws a trip to the aquarium (when we would take Raven for the first time), and they gifted us tickets to the same. Originally, we had planned for the trip to happen back in January, but on the very weekend we were supposed to go, Matt's dad ended up in the ER in life-threatening circumstances, and we had to postpone the trip indefinitely.

Last Saturday, we were finally able to go.

Every month, it takes energy and effort and planning upfront for our day adventures, and it often requires coordinating with other people's schedules and planning out our budget more carefully and moving around our regular schedule with Raven. But one thing that I have no doubt about is that it's always, ALWAYS worth it.

I'm so grateful we were able to finally make this excursion happen, especially in the light of everything that's happened (and I'm glad that Raven really seemed to enjoy herself for 85% of it, at least until she got really, really tired from her skipped naptime). Creating these kinds of memories is really what I want our lives to be all about.

And now, I'm feeling all sorts of excited because we actually have our next TWO day adventures already all planned out :)

Happy happy!

Are you one who easily takes the time to have fun without thinking about it? Or do you need to plan it in for it to happen (like me)?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Our New Addition

For the first time since we found out Matt's Dad was in the ER back in January, I went a whole week without blogging.

I think that's kind of how it is, though---

I post the initial post about what's going on (see exhibit A about Matt's Dad and exhibit B about my miscarriage), then a follow-up post about how we're still surviving (exhibit A and exhibit B), and then...

I just kind of drop off for a little while. Recuperate. Think. Regroup.

I had meant to blog on Monday about Matt's grandma's funeral last Saturday---a beautiful service that left me inspired to be better, to be kinder, to be a little more patient with myself and others. When I was younger, I used to dread going to funerals (and even feared them), but as I've gotten older, I've grown to appreciate the special kind of spirit that's only present at the celebration of a life well-lived, and the renewal of faith and testimony that always seems to accompany such a memorial.

But I just didn't have the heart to, even though we came off of last weekend feeling full of love and peace and the strength of family ties.

I'm hoping that this week-long break will be what I needed to get back to myself, so I plan to be back here bright and early next week on my normal posting schedule.

But for today, what I really wanted to do was introduce you to Herb's successor:

Our new camera!

Back in 2013, we bought our first DSLR camera, an entry-level Nikon D3100 that I was seriously giddy over. (No, but really---I couldn't even sleep that first night that we got it, I was so excited.)

And, over the past 4 years, I have diligently worked and worked and worked at improving my photography and learning more about composition and post-processing and creative effects, which led to me opening a (very small) photography business as a little side job.

I had been planning on upgrading my camera this year anyway, but thanks to a veeeeeery generous tip from my last photography gig, we were able to get it much sooner than planned.

It's funny, because I just figured that since I'd grown so adept at using our other Nikon, this new Nikon (their D7100 model) would be a cinch to figure out.

Well...that hasn't exactly been the case.

While the learning curve hasn't been nearly as steep as it was with our very first DSLR, I was humbled hard and fast upon first turning on the new camera and realizing that there's still an embarrassing amount of stuff I don't know/understand about cameras.

So that's what I'm looking forward to this weekend---trying to get a better feel for the new model and convince myself that I am, in fact, capable of operating a camera this nice.

Wish me luck. (And expect me to come back on Monday with an embarrassingly huge amount of photos on my SD card.)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Because Even While Waiting, Life Goes On

Before I go into any other thoughts I had today, I wanted to thank everyone who has sent love and support and prayers our way since I posted about our miscarriage. While it's still not the path we wanted, we feel very fortunate to be surrounded by so many people both in "real life" and people we know through the Internet who have been so good to us. So thank you!

That said, we are now back in the waiting game, a place we grew to know all too well when I was just waiting, waiting, waiting for my autoimmune disease to go into remission so I could go off my medications (and thus get on with our original plan of trying to expand our family).

First there's the wait of the actual miscarriage itself to fully complete, since we've opted for now to let it happen on its own.

Then there's the time the doctor has told us to wait to let my body heal.

Then there's the waiting to see if and when we're able to get pregnant again.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how life is like a car that was built without a reverse option---it can only be put in drive. Sure, you can take detours, you can idle for awhile, you can even have some breakdowns along the way. But the car can only go forward, not backward, and so it is with life---

It's a relentless march forward, whether we're ready to or not.

So I've been coaxing myself to embrace the idea of moving forward, to do the dishes and fold the laundry and go outside to see the ducks rather than eating all the chocolate and taking all the naps and moping all the mopes.

Sure, some days I still feel like eating everything and nothing all at once, or I feel like staying in bed and just pulling the covers over my head and just calling in a sick day. (Except parents don't really get a sick day, which is inconvenient, really, because I really DID get sick this week with the whole sore throat/body aches/congestion thing).

But we're trying to move on, as much as we can, though we're different from before.

I'm choosing to use this time to pay extra special attention to Raven, to enjoy this time together (as long as it lasts) of just the two of us at home together on most days. 

I'm choosing to use this time to read (even) more than before because if/when I do get pregnant again, I know from experience that my reading habits tend to suffer greatly.

I'm choosing to use this time to both tackle my to-do list and take more intentional breaks, which is why you would have found me yesterday burning through a chick flick and a half while folding ALLLL the laundry in the house (while Raven, bless her, actually went down for a decent-length nap for once).

I'm choosing to use this time to connect even more with Matt, to do daily little check-ins to see how he's faring, because I think sometimes people forget that he lost our baby, too (not to mention his grandmother the day before).

I'm choosing to use this time to let myself feel everything that comes, which is why you would find me sobbing my eyes out (yet again) at the end of Toy Story 3 this week (although, let's admit it---hormonal or not, I've NEVER made it all the way through that movie without tearing up at least once).

All I know for sure is that we're going to be okay. For awhile there, it felt like 2017 was doomed to just keep getting worse and worse and worse, with tragedy piling up on top of tragedy on top of tragedy.

But I've seen too many little miracles and silver linings and beautiful moments over the past 2+ months to buy into that pessimism. The fact is, even when at times it can be tempting to ask God why He is asking this of us, He has shown me sooooo many times over the past two months that we have never been forgotten or forsaken. He has shown it to us through the actions of earthly angels, He has shown it to us through the burning of faith in our chests as we study and pray and try to understand together, and He has shown us through many daily tender mercies that even in our hardest times, He has numbered the hairs on our head, He knows when the smallest sparrow has fallen to the ground, and I know that He knows the eternal destiny of us all, from our tiny lost baby to the grandmother who just passed.

I want it to be said of me that no matter what I was given to go through, that I did so with faith.

And so we're moving forward, trusting that in the eternal plan, everything will work out.

It doesn't mean that it's easy to go through or that we're not hurting or that we suddenly have come to this great understanding of why this had to happen to us, right now.

But we trust in the One who DOES know, and that's enough for us.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Our Other Loss

I mentioned in yesterday's post that it had been a weekend of both loss and celebration for us, but I hadn't mentioned another loss that we sustained (in addition to the passing of Matt's grandma)---

The loss of my pregnancy.

It seems awfully hard that the first news that most of you hear about my pregnancy is also the same news that it has ended early, but so it goes sometimes.

I would have been 8 weeks along yesterday.

I perhaps should have recognized earlier on than I did that my pregnancy wasn't going to go full-term because I felt SO GOOD compared to when I was pregnant with Raven---my symptoms were mild, I still had a hearty appetite, and I was still able to go to my exercise classes three times a week.

Then, about a week ago, all of my pregnancy symptoms (subtle though they'd been) abruptly stopped, and I started cramping pretty consistently. Not one to worry *too* much, I didn't think too much of it at first, but then started to get increasingly anxious about the pregnancy the longer it went on. Because we'd wanted to announce to our families that I was pregnant last weekend (since most everyone was going to be around because of everything going on), I felt like I'd better get a blood test done just in case to make sure that everything still looked okay.

I found out I was having a miscarriage mere minutes before Matt got home from work on Friday, just before we were heading out of town for the weekend.

I don't know if it was due to pessimism or a premonition or what, but I've ALWAYS felt like I was going to have a miscarriage at some point (not with this pregnancy, per se, but just period). I'd hear about other women's experiences with them, and I just had this feeling that someday, I would know what that pain felt like.

I found out I was pregnant on Valentine's Day morning, when I took a test three days early (doubting that anything would show up, but eager to give Matt a very special surprise if it did) and was exceedingly surprised to see a definite plus sign show up on the stick.

I had bought a newborn onesie just in case my "plan" worked out, so Matt and Raven unwrapped the above surprise first thing on Valentine's Day morning.

We took our first picture together as a newly formed family of four (with the fourth member being too tiny to see, but still happily welcome), and I rejoiced to think that, though we'd had to wait longer than we'd originally wanted to because of my autoimmune disease, we were still able to get pregnant relatively quickly (and for a baby due in late October, which is literally EXACTLY what I've wanted for awhile now).

After finding out about the miscarriage on Friday, I have gone through the gamut of emotions, it seems---I have crumpled into a ball on our kitchen floor and sobbed my eyes out; I have felt relief that I at least know that I wasn't going crazy for suspecting something (since one of the nurses I called to request a test was not super kind about it and seemed to think I was just being ridiculous for requesting one); I have felt hope that there is a greater plan in store for us that we cannot see now but that we maybe will someday; I have felt uncertainty and fear that I may never have a viable pregnancy again.

One thing is for sure---

It is hard.

It is hard to see a dream slip away from you, knowing there's absolutely nothing you can do.

It was hard to go in for an ultrasound yesterday only to find that there was no visible baby to even mourn---just a seemingly empty sack attached to a still-working placenta (otherwise known as a blighted ovum miscarriage).

It was hard to think that for this last month, while we've nursed this happy secret and tried to make healthy choices and thought about the little soul I was sharing my body with, my pregnancy was over almost as soon as it had begun, and we just didn't know it.

We have hope there will be other pregnancies, other babies to celebrate.

But we still mourn the loss of this one.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Weekend of Both Loss and Celebration

I won't deny that 2017 has been a turbulent year for us so far, full of joyous highs and terrifying lows, sometimes within mere hours of each other.

This weekend was another such indicator that our lives can have both joy and sorrow simultaneously living side by side, and it's been a 96-hour period marked with both tears and laughter, sadness and triumph, uncertainty and hope.

On Thursday afternoon, we received the news that Matt's maternal grandmother had passed away.

While not unexpected, we had made plans to go see her one last time on Friday night while we were down in the area, and we both felt a great sorrow that we hadn't been able to make it down in time to visit with her before she passed. While I have lost all four of my grandparents, this is only Matt's second grandparent to pass away, and even though we have a bright testimony that she is in a better place and much happier, it is still hard to go through that process of grief and pain.

On Saturday, we welcomed home Matt's dad from the hospital, where he's been for almost two looooong months. He came home without one of his legs, but we're still giddy with relief that he came home at all, and that he's been doing so well.

It's still a long road of adjustment and recovery ahead, but we're praying that the worst is now over (since I'm not sure how much more our family can take).

 Raven had a one-track mind the whole time we were cheering her grandpa's safe return---all the balloons everywhere. That's one great thing about having kids is that they remind you that while you may suffer loss and sorrow, there is always something in the present worth being happy about and grateful for.

Additionally, it was my stepdad's 60th birthday this weekend, so we held a surprise party for him at a local restaurant (and about jammed it to capacity with how many were in the group). Though loud and noisy and a little chaotic, it was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate my stepdad, who has always been so generous and so kind and so good to us.

(It was also my younger brother's birthday that same day, so we were kind of doing double-duty with the celebrations!)

Then, as if that weren't enough, on Sunday we held yet another party with my side to celebrate ALL the March birthdays in the family, which includes my niece Zoe, too. (This is a relatively new tradition we've started this year of getting all together once a month to celebrate all that month's birthdays rather than trying to congregate together for every separate birthday occasion.)

The time we had to just relax and eat tacos and play games and visit was a nice (though brief) respite from everything else that's been going on, and we were glad we were able to make it down.

That wasn't all the weekend held, but I'm saving the rest for tomorrow's post, and I figured that with all this, you had enough to be getting on with.

One thing's for sure---despite the ups and downs of the year so far, I feel immensely grateful for the goodness of family and friends and neighbors who consistently show support and love and thoughtfulness. There's a lot of good in the world that often goes unnoticed, but I've been reflecting a lot this weekend on the fact that there's a lot to be thankful for right this very moment, hard stuff and all.

Hope you all had a good weekend.
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