Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Difference Between Your Life and Your Work

Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. That’s what I have to say. The second is only a part of the first.

That’s the only advice I can give. When you leave college, there are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living.

But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.
Annie Dillard

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Things I Learned this Fall

1. A New Go-To Meal - Growing up I was an avid brussels sprout hater. Avid. As in it was a food I only ate with my nose plugged so as to mask the taste. But a few years ago, I had them roasted and I discovered that when crispy, these are not your mother's vegetable.

I heard someone raving about a recipe on a podcast recently and I knew that I had to try this three-ingredient dish: brussel sprouts, bacon and eggs. It's cooked in the oven, all in one pan and then you sprinkle a little sea salt on top. It's delicious and a crowd-pleaser - even the kids love it. (Admittedly my kids are fairly adventurous eaters, but even for people who aren't, may I remind you that bacon is a central ingredient).

2. Toys Aren't Going to be Underfoot Forever - I have come to this realization a little late, but children don't play with toys forever. Seriously. While it may feel like the days of stepping on Barbie shoes and Legos are here to stay - they aren't. A day is coming when my kids will ask for electronics, not toys. This point was underscored for me recently when one of my son's classmates came over and asked where our X-box was. I'm going to appreciate our toys a little more, especially the ones that keep the kids occupied for hours on end.

3. Literary Advent Calendars Aren't Just For Kids - Technically I learned this last year, not over the past few months, but it's something I want to remember now as Christmas approaches.

Last year, I did a literary advent for the kids by wrapping all of our holiday books, but I also did this reading for me. Not only did I enjoy it on the cold winter mornings, but it made the days approaching Christmas feel much more intentional.

Check out others What I Learned This Fall over at Emily Freeman.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gift Guide to Toys That Kids Will Play With Again and Again

When my kids were really little, I heard people saying that their kids played with certain toys "for hours." I was always flummoxed because my kids didn't do anything for hours (including sleep). In record time, crayons got broken, stickers got torn and just-out-of-the-box toys got abandoned.

Once we hit preschool and elementary school age though, we found that toys "that can keep kids occupied for hours" isn't a myth - it's an actual thing. And it is delightful!

We rotate the toys in our house, but these toys always stay in circulation, unless, of course, I banish them for failing to be picked up.

These are our tried-and-tried toys. While they are meant to be played with separately, they often get played in conjunction with each other, extending their lifespan and offering unlimited creative uses. Even if it makes clean-up harder, it's great to see a Manga-Tile train station with wooden train tracks running through it because it means little minds and hands are hard at work.

1. Legos - I have a love/hate relationship with Legos, but no matter how many times I swear to "never buy another set," I always do. Legos truly are the gift that keeps on giving: the build possibilities are endless.  If you need some fresh ideas for your Legos, here are a bunch of outside-the-kit ideas.

2. Magna-Tiles  -  These magnetic tiles draw people in, well, like a magnet. They really are fun for all ages - I even enjoy playing with them. These are pricey but worth the extra dollars; there is something soothing about these toys.

3. Dominoes - My kids love Dominoes not just for the game itself, but because the small rectangles are great for stacking, hauling and knocking down. Best of all, dominoes have a really low price point.

4. Wooden Train Sets - We've put this in the attic a couple of times thinking it had been outgrown, but each time, it comes back by popular demand. We have several different sets, but for the money, the Ikea brand (which is compatible with other brands) is the most economical, even if the plastic connectors can be a little hard to manipulate. The trick, I think, is having a lot of different kinds of track/bridges so that a lot of configurations are possible.

5. Tonka Trucks - I still remember the big reaction we got from our then-toddler son over his massive trash truck. Who knew trash could make a kid so happy?  Years later, much to our surprise, the trash truck and fire truck are still getting lots of play. I think there is something about their extra large size that makes these trucks appealing because despite our many warnings not to ride on them, these toys get ridden on by Barbies and people alike.

NOTE: While most of these are "boy" toys, our daughter plays with them just as much as her brothers do. These are just all-around great kid toys.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Difference Between Happiness and Contentment

Joy in the Morning

"Happy?" he asked.


"When are you going to start being happy?"

"Oh, I was happy this morning when I got off the train and saw you. But now I'm contented."

"What's the difference between happiness and contentment, wise guy?"

"Well, happy is like when somebody gives you a big hunk of something wonderful and it's too big to hold. So you pull off a piece from time to time to hold in your hand. That's being contended. Anyway's that's the way I look at it."

Betty Smith, Joy in the Morning

This is one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books. There is so much to love about Carl and Annie; I've always been especially taken with her idea that you can hold happiness in your hands. May you do just that today.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Hope I Choose to Believe In

Five years ago, I saw my daughter's picture on a waiting child adoption website. With much fear and trembling and excitement, we made the decision to adopt that little girl. That decision forever changed the trajectory of our lives in ways have that have been beautiful and transforming, and sometimes, impossibly hard.

Around that same time, I saw a picture of another older little girl on that the same waiting child website. Periodically, I would check back in, specifically looking for that child. She was always still waiting.

Recently I learned that, five years later, this little girl has a family. When I heard the news, I cried big, ugly tears. They were tears for this little girl and for her new family and they were tears for all children who long for a home and don't have one, but even more so - they were tears for me. Because this is the kind of inexhaustible, indefatigable, impractical hope I choose to believe in. I believe in it for me and for my children and for my children's children.

And, I believe in it for him, my little friend still waiting for a family.

I believe in it for you, too.

We are fallible and imperfectible but we are also beacons.

No matter what, we can always bear witness to hope. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Making Your Vote Count When You Don't Support Either Trump or Clinton: Evan McMullin

So I intended to spend the month of October writing about money, but that didn't happen for a variety of reasons (all of them painfully boring).

But I'm back here in my writing space today because there's something I need to say. As we are all excruciatingly aware, there is an election next week, and I, like most Americans, just want it OVER. Come what may, I just want it done.

Regardless of our individual feelings about the candidates, this election cycle has left many of us feeling resigned about politics in general. It's hard not to feel cynical when the people running for POTUS won't even conduct themselves with the basic decorum expected of Little League players (ie: to shake hands).

I'm not voting for Hillary or Trump. My reasons are myriad, and I'm not going to list them here because I don't think that at this point they'll convince anybody of anything. Sufficient to say, I don't believe that either of the major party candidates is deserving of my vote. I don't need a president who agrees with me or who passes a litmus test on some single issue. I need a president who—irrespective of party affiliation, religion or gender—shares at least some of my core beliefs about the fundamental role of government, both in the big picture and in everyday life. Neither candidate does that for me.

Repeatedly over the last few days, we've heard Republicans say things like, "I'm voting for Trump, but I'm not endorsing him." Come again? What is a vote if not an endorsement?  This is the kind of troubling double speak that only politicians can spout with a straight face. It's reminiscent of the now infamous "I smoked pot but I didn't inhale" or "I voted for it before I voted against it."

I can not and will not vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, to do so violates my principles, my values and my ideals. So where does that leave me?

That leaves me voting for third party independent candidate Evan McMullin. A candidate who called my vote what it is - "a sacred thing." Evan McMullin's candidacy is a (very) long shot. It is premised upon him winning in the state of Utah to tie the electoral votes and sending the vote for president to the House of Representatives (where he has no guarantee of winning either).

Do I expect Evan McMullin to win? I do not. But I don't think that a vote for him is "throwing away" my vote. I think it's a vote for a man who has served for over a decade in the CIA, including as an operative hunting for Bin Laden; who has worked in the business sector in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs; and who most recently was a senior advisor on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

I'm voting for Evan McMullin because I like his policy positions, but also because he doesn't think that being President of the United States is a trophy or an entitlement or a bully pulpit. He believes that it is a position worthy of respect, dignity and unbridled expectation, and the America where the president is both a mighty leader and a humble public servant is the America I want to live in.

NOTE: McMullin is not on the ballot in every state. He's a write-in candidate in many states. Go here to figure out how to vote for McMullin in your state.