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I love entertaining people but I hate having them in my house.  Does that make me weird?

We bought our place just before we got married.  The plan was to live here for a year, maybe two, then sell and buy a house.  Unfortunately the economy took a downturn five months later and the value of our property decreased so much that selling was no longer a reasonable option.  Combined with the fact that starter houses in our area cost roughly $375 000, with a requirement of at least 5% down – and you have our now expanded family of four (plus a dog) sharing a two bedroom apartment-style condo, 6 1/2 years later, with no immediate plans to move.

I’ve always been a little bit self conscious about where we live.  Our place is is nice (it’s completely renovated!) and I actually love the location (all of our favourite places are walkable!) – but still.  We’re in a tiny condo instead of a sprawling house, and we’re on the “wrong” side of the Henday.

We’ve lived here for more than six years but have never really decorated.  We have a forty-year-old hand me down couch (I’m not even exaggerating.  Nathan’s mom did the math – she bought it before she married his dad!), a second hand TV stand that goes with absolutely nothing, an Ikea table with mismatched chairs, and a grand total of three pictures on the walls: a canvas from our wedding and two collage frames that I absolutely despise but they were gifts so I felt obligated to display them.  We’ve always talked about moving and we’ve always been saving our pennies for something, so decorating was never a real priority.  Besides, Nathan and I are total opposites when it comes to style:  He’s all about the neutrals and I like bright colours, he’s a packrat and I appreciate a more minimalist look (less stuff means less to clean!).  I’ve never felt like it was worth the fight!

Now that I’m home all the time, though, the state of our place is starting to get to me.  A few months ago I invested in my first “home decor” book:  The Nesting Place, by Myquillyn Smith (aka The Nester) – and I’m making changes.  They may be small changes, and I may be on an extremely limited budget – but they’re changes nonetheless.

Two things I’m learning:

  1. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.
  2. Focus on the beauty that’s there, not the imperfect and undone.

I want our place to be our home.  I want it to be welcoming and comfortable and real.

And I really, really, really want a new couch.

Back in the Saddle

Anybody who knows me knows that I love horses.

I grew up riding – I was a total “barn rat” as a child, spending every available waking moment at the barn.  When my parents couldn’t afford riding lessons, I worked out an arrangement with my coach:  I cleaned stalls, painted fences, raked leaves,  picked rocks in the outdoor arena – whatever it took!  When I was fourteen I started helping with beginner lessons, when I was seventeen I started teaching by myself, and when I was twenty-one I moved to Alberta to attend the Equine Science program at Olds College.  I wanted to live and breathe horses – and for awhile, that’s exactly what I did.

Then real life happened.

My $10/hour stable hand job didn’t cut it when it came to paying off my student loan so I quit in favour of a job that paid better, with more regular hours.  I spent my days in the office and my evenings and weekends at the barn, taking lessons and auditing clinics.

In September 0f 2009 I found out I was pregnant, and two months later my doctor told me to stop riding.  Nathan took lessons so I was still at the barn at least three times a week – but life wasn’t the same.  Being grounded was hard.  Riding was something I had always loved and something I had always done, but I took my role as a new mother seriously.  I wanted to do everything I could to protect my unborn son so I behaved myself and waited (albeit impatiently!) for the okay to ride again.

Topher was born in May and after a lot of complications with his delivery, I had to wait to start riding again until the first week of September.  My horse was injured in a bizarre pasture accident on September 8th – and on the 9th I made the hardest decision of my life when it was time to have her put down.  I leased one of my coach’s old school horses for awhile, shopped around for a new horse for awhile – and then I just … gave up.  My heart wasn’t in it anymore.  I was struggling with the loss of my horse  as well as adjusting to life as a mother.  I wasn’t sure if I was going back to work when my  maternity leave ended – and if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be any room in the budget for a horse.   I loved horses and I loved riding – but I decided it was time to take a break.  It was time to focus on my family.

* * * *

That was four years ago.

A lot has changed since then:  Nathan and I were able to scrimp and save and pay off approximately $30 000 in debt (student loan, car).  We added another little one to our family.  I quit my cushy office job in favour of working from home.

I love my life, but I’ve always felt like something was missing.

Like a part of me was missing.

Last summer Kim offered me a horse.  A sweet, beautiful thoroughbred filly – but I said no, because the timing wasn’t right.

In September, I had the opportunity to have another horse – this time a paint filly – but again I said no, because the timing wasn’t right.

But then I started to ask myself (and my poor, patient husband!) – when will the timing be right?  When the kids are older?  When they’re both in school?  When we have a house?  When we have a second car?

The timing will never be right.

* * * *

On October 10th I had my first riding lesson in three years and ten months.  It’s the longest period of time I’ve been out of the saddle since I was seven years old – and believe me, I felt it!  Walking was painful until Wednesday after only twenty minutes of walk/trot work and transitions.

But I felt like me again, for the first time in a long time.

For the time being, I’m taking lessons once a week, though there’s the possibility it could turn into more since the owner of the horse I’m riding wants someone to ride him a few times a week over the winter.

It’s going to be hard.  I’m the most out of shape I have ever been in my entire life (!!) – and  it’s already proving difficult to juggle my crazy schedule with my coach’s.

It’s hard to leave Topher and Ellie at home with Nathan when I know they all want to come with me, and it’s hard to have them at the barn because they’re city kids who are not remotely horse savvy and I’m worried they’re going to get killed.

And it’s expensive.  We’re still trying to save for a down payment on a house, and at times I feel guilty for spending money on something as frivolous as riding lessons.

But horses aren’t a hobby, they’re a lifestyle – and one that I don’t feel I can give up.

So I’m taking a tip from my fifteen-year-old self:  I’m going to do whatever it takes.  

 

* Photo by Right Lead Photography

Autumn To-Do List

* Bake something every week (The beginnings of my list include pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, pecan pie, and chocolate chip cookie pie!)

* Carve a jack o’lantern

* Visit the corn maze

* Go to the museum

* Teach Chloe a new trick

* Explore new indoor playgrounds

* Spend a day at the water park

* Jump in a pile of leaves

* Take family photos

* Go to the Telus World of Science

* Learn how to do Ellie’s hair three different ways

* Learn how to do my hair three different ways (straight and in a ponytail don’t count!)

* Find time to ride at least once/week (I rode last Friday and today is the first day I haven’t been in agony.  I’m so out of shape!)

* Complete the 30 Day Shred (even if it’s just Level 1 for 30 days!)

* Take Topher mini-golfing

* Wash the windows

* Come up with a better routine for our mornings

* Learn how to make something with eggs that the kids will eat (feel free to send suggestions!)

* Write (for myself) more often.

What’s on your autumn to-do list?  

Sand in His Shoes

His face was red, his nose was running, and tears were streaming down his cheeks.

“But Mommy,” he sobbed.  “I need you to help me!”

“No you don’t, bud,” I said, in what I hoped was a calm but firm voice.   “You can do it yourself.”

“No I can’t!” he wailed, slumping to the kitchen floor.

“That’s enough!” I snapped.

He didn’t agree.

The tantrum had started approximately 23 minutes earlier, when I asked Topher to take off his shoes  and wash his hands after coming home from the playground.  He’s four years old:  He takes off his own shoes and washes his own hands multiple times every day.  I saw absolutely no reason for his anguish.

I sighed, trying to ignore the howling so I could concentrate on what needed to be done for dinner.  Cooking creates stress for me on a normal day, never mind when there’s a screaming child at my feet!

Finally – when I could take it no more – I crouched down to his level.  “You know, buddy, there are more comfortable places to sit.”

“Like where?” he sniffled.

“Like your bed.  My bed.  The couch.  Why don’t you go and sit on one of those?”

“Okay,” he agreed – and scampered away, wiping his nose with the back of his hand as if nothing at all had happened.

I, however, remained frazzled for the rest of the evening.  I had done the right thing, hadn’t I?  I had done what the parenting books said!  I was calm, I was firm, I stuck to my guns.

Later – much later, after the dishes were done, the laundry was folded, the kids were in bed, and Nathan and I were relaxing on the couch – I learned that my husband had had a talk with Topher.

“Do you know why he was so upset?” he asked.

“Because I wouldn’t help him take his shoes off,” I said, still angered by the whole incident.  “He knows how to take his own shoes off!”

“He wanted you to help him,” Nathan said.

“I know,” I replied.  “But he can take his shoes off.”

“He can,” Nathan said slowly.  “But he had sand in his shoes and he didn’t want to get it all over the floor.”

Oh.  

I had been congratulating myself for handling the whole ordeal “properly” when all along, my son had a completely valid reason for wanting my help.

It was a lesson in patience, a lesson in communication, and a lesson in grace.

I’m not Supermom.  I don’t always get it right.  No matter what the parenting books say, sometimes I make mistakes.  I mess up, I snap at my kids, and at least once a day I find myself asking for their forgiveness.

Topher shrugs it off in the same way  he dismisses his tantrums.  “I love you, Mommy!” he says every night before bed.  Little Ellie just opens her arms for a hug.

I’m thankful that they are both so full of grace!

Wrestling With a Dream

I woke up in a cold sweat last night.

I dreamt that I had sent an e-mail to the entire congregation of our church – and had included a link to my blog in my signature.

It took a few minutes for the panic to subside.

It’s okay … It was just a dream … It didn’t really happen …. 

Whew. 

But I still couldn’t fall asleep.

Why the panic?

* * * * *

I’ve been blogging since before blogging was a “thing”.  Back then we called it a “weblog” and you typed your entries in your index.html file and uploaded it manually every single time you wanted to update.

I blogged to have a voice.  I was a quiet kid growing up in a small town.  Everybody knew who I was and there were certain expectations that came with my last name.   I don’t know that I had anything to say, really, apart from the usual teenage angst and stories about boys I was too afraid to talk to – but writing was therapeutic.  It helped me figure out who I was and who I wanted to be.

Then, when I was in university, my sisters stumbled upon my blog.

Again, it was before blogging was really a “thing” – before everybody and their dog had a blog – and of course my sisters thought I was crazy to share so much of my life on the internet.  My oldest sister was paranoid and my middle sister was downright mean.  She actually called me “Holly.Com” for awhile (and by awhile, I mean more than two years!)

I didn’t have my own computer when I moved out west and I didn’t have much money so I let the domain and hosting lapse.

I was tired of being Holly.Com …

But I missed blogging more.

So I bought back my domain and started writing in this space again.

* * * * *

Writing has always been an intensely personal thing for me, which is odd given the fact that I’m a blogger.  I have no issue sharing my deepest thoughts with strangers but I shudder at the thought of someone I know stumbling across my little corner of the internet.

And I have no idea why.

I have a handful of offline friends who read my blog.  Granted, it’s an Ellie-sized handful, but still.  They’ve been nothing but kind, nothing but supportive – but I’m still afraid.

I think it’s because I’m more open in this space than I am in real life.

I share what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m learning.

And there’s no time for that in real life.

* * * * *

I want to be brave with my writing.

I want to be open, I want to be honest, and I want to be vulnerable.  I want to encourage and inspire others …

But most of all I just want to be brave.

Oh Your Gosh

This past week has been less than spectacular.

Both kids have been sick so I’ve spent the majority of my time wiping noses, running baths, administering Tylenol and snuggling muchkins on the couch.  We’ve watched Frozen and Cars, read countless books, and played sleepover in the big bed.

It’s The Cold That Would Never End.

Ellie is finally starting to feel better but Topher is feverish again, and Nathan took yesterday off work because now he is sick.  I’ve managed to escape illness apart from a sore throat, but moms don’t get sick days anyway, so I won’t complain.

Weeks like this, it’s easy to get tired.  It’s easy to feel frustrated and grumpy and overwhelmed by my needy little dictators.   It’s easy to dismiss the entire week as a write-off:  Everyone was sick, I didn’t get anything done, my house is a mess, I’m up against the deadline for an important writing project that I have no idea when I’ll be able to finish –

But instead of being stressed (which is SO the norm for me!) I’m trying something different.  I’m looking back at the past week and picking out some of my favourite moments to remember.

  • Ellie hates to be alone when she’s not feeling well.  She wants all snuggles, all the time – to the extent that she will wrap her arm around mine and hold on so tightly that there is absolutely no way I can put her down.  When the going gets tough – hold on tighter.  
  • Topher started skating lessons last Saturday.  He was so proud of himself after his first lesson – not because he did anything particularly amazing, but because he went with his class all by himself.  (We’ve been having issues with drop off at Sunday School and preschool …)  We bought him a cookie at Cookies By George as a reward for being brave, and now he expects a treat of some sort whenever he does something good.  He had two good days at preschool this week – and requested ice cream sundaes at the end of both.  It’s a good thing he’s so active!  “I was SO good, Mommy!” he told me when I picked him up on Thursday.  “My teacher didn’t say I was good, but I was!”
  • We celebrated Ellie’s half birthday with a half cake.  She was sick so barely ate any, but she seemed to enjoy what she did have.
  • Topher has started saying “OHMYGOSH!”  Ellie had a runny nose and Topher was watching as Nathan wiped all the yucky off.  “Oh my gosh!”  he exclaimed.  Then Nathan pulled Ellie’s soother out.  “Oh YOUR gosh too!”
  • And one more laugh:  Topher was watching Cars and less than halfway through asked me to put Frozen in instead.  “Mommy, do you know why I like Frozen so much?”  “No, why?”  “Because there’s more girls than cars.”
  • We let Chloe sleep on our bed for a few nights earlier this week.  One night she had an accident on our bed, scared herself, ran into the wall, and fell off the bed.  It was 2:30 in the morning, Nathan and I were exhausted – but we had a good laugh as we changed the sheets.  I’ve never seen a dog look so embarrassed!  Needless to say, now she sleeps in her kennel.
  • And Ellie came up with a new use for all of the empty Kleenex boxes lying around the house:

Ellie’s new shoes

 

The past week wasn’t a write-off:  I spent time with my family.  Our house isn’t messy, it’s lived in.   And writing will happen when writing happens, as it always does.   You can’t rush brilliance anyway, right?  That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself …

Link Roundup

Here are some of my favourite posts from the past month or so:

The quote Lesley shared in her post, You, You Work, stopped me in my tracks.  “When something you make doesn’t work, it didn’t work, not you. You, you work. You keep trying.” – Zach Klein

I love just about everything Ashlee writes, but a recent favourite? On Making Room.  I still haven’t gotten around to decorating Ellie’s half of the kids’ room …

I really relate to Kerri’s post, Gold Stars in Motherhood.  Some days I want to make myself a sticker chart and post it on the refrigerator!

Hilary shared A Story About Learning.  We don’t need to be afraid to re-learn.

Shauna Niequist is working on a new book:  Present Over Perfect – I can’t wait to read it!  “This is life, this is family, this is the great beautiful brave spectacular adventure that is plain old everyday life, and it promises to remind you over and over that perfect is a myth, and that perfect breaks our backs and breaks our hearts.”

Kathleen shared her struggle with Contentment – something I constantly find myself dealing with.  How do you fight for contentment?

I’m a big fan of Coffee + Crumbs, and I loved Clare’s post, Toast In Her Hair.  Nathan’s mom loves to tell me how easy Nathan was as a child so I feel  like a complete failure whenever I have a difficult day with Topher.   I’m not perfect, but I’m learning to cope.  And I’m looking forward.

What are some of your favourite posts of late?  Suggest something for me to read when the kids are asleep! 

Frozen

Tonight  Nathan and I watched Frozen with the kids.   It was the perfect ending to a chaotic day.  Topher was snuggled in on my left, Ellie on my right, each with their pile of blankets and babies.  As I pulled them both closer, I found myself thinking that if my world was frozen in any one season, whether for a few days or a few months or even longer – I would want it to be this one.

This season of life.

In the days before Topher heads off to school for the first time.   When he’s still a little boy who bravely climbs to the top of the jungle gym, yet still reaches for my hand when we start the walk home.  He loves to hug and refuses to go to bed until I’ve squeezed him as tightly as I can possibly squeeze him.  He has an adventurous spirit and can be convinced to go on any errand as long as I tell him it’s a mission.  “What’s our adventure today, Mommy?” he asks when he wakes up.  He loves to run, he loves to play, and he thinks the fact that his feet smell horrible is just about the greatest thing ever.  “Smell my feet, Ellie!” he tells his sister, and then falls over laughing when she actually does.

In the days when Topher boldly shares his faith with his friends while jumping in a bouncy castle at a birthday party.  “Do you want to hear the story of Jesus?” He asked between jumps.  I hope and pray differently but I’ve worked with youth enough to know that there may come a day in the not too distant future when the story of Jesus just doesn’t seem “cool” enough.

And in the days when Topher is still innocent.  We spent the afternoon at a memorial service for one of our youth.  Topher knew that somebody Nathan and I loved had died but we deflected his questions when he asked how.  Someday all too soon his eyes will be opened to the fact that sometimes people kill other people – but for now, Topher can fall asleep knowing that he’s safe.   He knows nothing about a twenty-year-old murder suspect awaiting his first court appearance on Thursday.

I’ve always loved September.  The crispness, the newness.  The excuse to purge my house, organize my schedule, and purchase school supplies.   

But this year I’m fighting it.

I don’t want life to change.  I don’t want Topher to change.

I’m not ready for my little man to grow up.

Summer Photo Dump

Yesterday’s post was pretty heavy, so I figured it was time for something lighter:  a photo dump!  Here are some of my favourite pictures from this summer.  Enjoy!

summer1

RAWR! Topher the dinosaur!

summer2

Ellie and the dandelions

summer3

Topher learning to ride his big boy bike

summer5

It was the summer of smoothies …

summer4

The kids on Canada Day

summer6

Ellie and her cucumber

summer7

Good times in Calgary

summer8

This is always how I find the kids after my shower …

summer9

Ellie is made of awesome!

summer10

First rollerblades

summer11

Ellie loves the indoor playground!

summer12

I signed him up for skating lessons. He thought he was drafted by the Oilers.