Tuesday, January 10, 2017

dad turns seventy // our time in mn

On Christmas Day we started our drive to Minnesota, my home state, to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday.We decided to just pack up and leave a day early so that we could break up the twelve hour drive and stop at a hotel with the kids.

Cormac : I like hotels, Mom.  Not because of the pool.  Because of the cool furniture and beds!

We all enjoyed our night swimming in a ridiculously warm pool, with apparently "cool" furniture and beds and then arrived the next afternoon at my parents' farm.

This is the same farm where I grew up from age eight to eighteen - amidst woods, "pet" sheep, misbehaving cows, and farm cats.  It is always nice to be able to go back to that space and regain a sense of myself that gets lost sometimes in my far-away adult world : the kid, the dreamer, the romanticist.

The farm is beautiful and private, and I think my parents appreciate the property now more than ever. The grandkids can visit and roam and we can can all remember what it was like to be so free.

A few years ago my dad built a playhouse out of the wood from our huge red barn that had blown over in a fierce storm.  The barn has actually been reincarnated in all our homes - as a fireplace mantle, a coffee table, beams in the kitchen, and art.  But the playhouse always is a central focus for the grandkids when they visit the farm.  Grandpa heating water on the wood stove for hot chocolate, making snow cones flavored with Kool-Aid, the play kitchen, the loft, the pulley, all their measurements and handprints on the wall...things they will remember as they get older.
the playhouse
For his birthday celebration Dad didn't want a big party, but just all of us together at the farm.  My brothers both still live close-by, but my sister and her family traveled from Montana, and we, of course, drove from Kentucky.  We all see each other maybe once or twice a year, if we are lucky...so this was special time.

Our little fam stayed at a hotel in town, but drove out each morning after breakfast to spend the rest of the day and evening at the farm.  Our kids basically got to stay up until 10pm every night during the trip, running around like crazy with their cousins and stealing sweets (or, in Finola's case, "flat cheese") pretty much all day long.  It should have been a complete nightmare, with the kids being somewhat sleep-deprived and sugar-loaded,  but somehow it worked out okay and we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

We celebrated Dad by all going to a little restaurant nestled by a frozen lake.  Oh, yes -- there was plenty of snow on our visit!  A treat for us "southerners!"  

The dinner out was loud and warm and tasty, ending with us singing Happy Birthday while Grandpa was served an ice cream sundae.  He shared it with all the kids, and then we headed back to the farm for another dessert and present opening.  Dad received books and a whole lot of beer - two of his favorite things!

We treasured our time there, arriving home New Years Eve with tired kids and the same Christmas mess we had left.  Totally worth it.

Here are some of photos I got from our trip...
The kids brought their backpacks which they had packed with toys and art supplies -- travel lifesaver!
Finola shares my love of cheese, clearly.
My sister Heidi helping Cormac write one of his "books." 

obviously we all love to rock our hats!
Grandma getting some snuggles with Finola.  Sometimes you just have to grab her face and kiss it!
A frozen lake is a thing of beauty - at least if you're a Minnesotan.
kid table!
we never take our kids to restaurants if we can help it.  I am surprised at how well this went!
the birthday guy enjoyed some lobster tails.
A happy man -- with seven of his eight grandchildren (Finola refused photos at that time.) 
Dad with his kids!
Mom and Dad
Finola appeared suddenly as soon as ice cream appeared.
In fact, all the kids wanted a taste.
Grandpa shared willingly - even though he has always had quite a sweet tooth.
I love this pic I snapped for my Instagram story!
my kids weren't huge fans of the snow or cold.  they mostly had to be towed on a sled or carried.
everyone went on a family walk around the woods for some fresh air!

this is my happy place - right here.
sledding on the cornfields

Finola helped the guys make breakfast our last day there.

cracking eggs (her newest skill) with Grandpa

We made our way home the day before NYE, stopping halfway at one of those hotels with an indoor water park.  The hotel was pretty bad...but the kids loved the wave pool and slides -- so I'll count it as a win!

Here is the video of us singing Happy Birthday to my dad.  It was a treasured week of family time.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 // in words

Before I post a recap of 2016 in photographs - which will show the joyful, fun, exciting, peaceful moments from our year - I wanted to share the deeper thoughts on my heart as I reflect on this most recent trip around the sun.

I can look back on periods of my life (such as my twenties) and say that I was a fairly static character. I was pretty selfish, busy, self-absorbed.  I worked a lot, studied and read voraciously, spent a lot of time by myself, socialized only when it was convenient and did not interfere with my introverted tendencies.   

I ignored a lot of really big issues in my life, issues in my psyche that needed love and attention. I ignored them and told myself I'd be fine.  Or settled for being "not fine." 

My thirties have brought me to a whole new level of self-awareness...and awareness of those around me.  Having children forced me to deal with issues from my adolescence that I had buried unconsciously - probably under the guise of survival.  There is nothing like seeing your own negative tendencies in your children to snap you into a realization that you need to fix some things about yourself in order to be the best parent you can be for them.

So in 2016 I made some pretty significant adjustments to my life, though at the time I had no idea how profoundly they would affect me.  In the spring I signed up for the women's elective Bible study at my church, which happened to be Pricilla Shirer's Armor of God. In 2015 I really struggled with my depression/anxiety, and at the start of 2016 I was still searching for a good and healthy way to cope.  

I knew God was using this aspect of my life, my mental health, to bring me back to Him.  However, as many people do, I had dug in my heels for many years, calling myself "Christian" and praying to God (and probably complaining more than necessary) but not really nurturing or building my relationship with Him.

Raising tiny, sweet babies had appeased my soul and pushed aside any inner struggles for a while. But as they got older - dealing with noisy toddlers day in and day out - I was struggling for mental peace and searching desperately for answers in how to survive it all.

The Armor of God study, going to church those Wednesday nights in the early spring and never missing, even when I didn't feel like going -- that was a turning point for me.  If you ever think one small choice - like attending a Bible study at your church - can't make a significant difference in your life, boy, let me tell you : it can.

I'll admit, I felt uncomfortable sitting with my small group those nights, some of them very outspoken Christian women who are at a level in their faith that I am nowhere near.  I struggled to verbalize my relationship with Jesus and honestly just felt unworthy sharing my faith -- my inner struggles and past mistakes being used by Satan to silence me.  I was shy and very quiet, as I can be when I feel completely out of my element.  But I kept telling myself - this is good, Greta.  This is where you need to be.  You should be the quiet one, the learner, the listener - you have to be.  

Spring of 2016 changed me.  During that study, I started dedicating my early mornings to time to God...reading Armor of God, the Bible, and talking to Jesus, actively. Getting up, brewing my coffee, and being with Him became a habit that, if missed, threw off my whole day.  Those thirty or more minutes with Him became crucial.  They still are.

Not that it solved all my problems, making this switch from blogging or checking social media first thing to being in the Bible and prayer.  It did prepare me and help me in dealing with other issues, though.

Another big change in 2016 was that I finally found (or perhaps, God led me to) a counselor that I click with.  I am a huge proponent of therapy and attending to your mental health.

Even if you don't feel like you need "therapy" I will say that, as a mama, things can be overwhelming (ya'll know what I am saying) and sometimes it is essential to have a non-judgmental third-party to vent to.  A "drain," if you will.  I needed this - need this - maybe you do, too.

Anyway, I have tried over the years to connect with many different mental health counselors, and never found one that I felt "got" me.  In 2016, though, I did.  Hurray!  For a while I was going once a week, but recently I've been going about once a month.  I have learned more about myself and how to cope with certain situations (or radically accept them) over the past year than in my entire lifetime.  I have let go of more ugly thoughts in 2016 than I can say -- and for that I feel lighter.

So the past year I started making time for God every single morning, opened myself up to relationships, ended unhealthy relationships, found an amazing female therapist to help me vent and get through issues, and survived another year of motherhood!  

There is always room for growth.  I still feel overwhelmed a lot.  I still need to drink way more water and eat many more vegetables.  I still sometimes regress and get caught up in the social media comparison game and have to check myself.  I still don't know whether or not we should have another baby, or call our family complete.

Maybe 2017 will provide some answers?  Maybe not.  I am excited to see.

How do you feel?  What has changed in the past year for you?  What is still the same?

Whether you are focused on meeting goals, making changes, or simply survival - be hopeful, pray fervently, and never give up.

Happy New Year from our family to yours!