3rd Annual Year in Photos Slide Show of Awesomeness

It’s funny how traditions start. You do something a few times and voila, you have yourself a tradition. It all kind of sneaks up on you accidentally like that. Although, if you think about it, maybe it’s not really funny at all. Maybe all of life kind of sneaks up on you accidentally like that.

Regardless of how this particular tradition formed, and whether it’s funny or totally expected, I now seem to have a year-end tradition of my own. I create a slide show of our family’s year in pictures. I did it in 2008 and 2009, and now here I am at it again for 2010, so I think it’s really official now.

I’m not going to say anything more. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then what you are about to see is a novel. Any more words on my part are redundant.

Happy New Year!

OK, I have a few more words. I want to tell you that early bird registration, which saves you $30 off the course fee, ends New Year’s Day at Crafting my Life. Visit the Sign Up! page to, you know, sign up. The other thing I want to tell you is that my monthly review for December, complete with link-up, runs on Monday, January 3.

Crafting a Life Less Ordinary

Today’s Thursday so I’m Crafting my Life! This month, I’m hard at work on the Crafting my Life e-course. Early bird registration ends this weekend, drop by my Sign Up! page to find out more about that. While I work on that, I’m shaking things up over here. December’s theme is “crafting your life”, in which I welcome guest contributors to share their journey with you. This week, it’s the amazing Alison.

I have a dream.

This dream began as a talk about what my husband Aaron and I envisioned for our retirement; then it morphed to include what we hope to provide for our kids as they grow up. A random conversation evolved into an elaborate picture of what we want our life to be like and I’m serious when I say elaborate. This isn’t just a list of specs for our dream house or the name of our ideal jobs. This is almost a mission or manifesto. It involves how we earn our income, where our food comes from, what our house will be like, what kind of community we want to live in. It prioritizes family and community and includes hopes of gathering multiple generations together in the same place.

One of the problems is that our vision is so elaborate that it sometimes feels like it will always be just a dream. We aren’t sure where to start, we don’t know if it’s too outrageous to be realistic, and we often feel like total weirdos because we aren’t doing what everyone else is doing. In the here and now, prioritizing our family has meant a much lower income. We drive a beat up old mini-van and we are still renting, but the flip side is that I chose to stay home with my kids while they are young and we started our own business so that Aaron could do work that was meaningful to him and set his own hours.

On the days when we wish we had a house to make our own (with a workshop, a greenhouse, and a sewing room); or when our friends take vacations to tropical beaches; or when I’m going stir crazy as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, it’s easy to feel like we’re doing something wrong and that our dream will never be realized.

Here’s the funny part: I’ve actually done this dream building thing before—I should understand the process. One summer, we rather impulsively got married and bought a 40′ school bus to convert and live in (in the middle of Vancouver no less). We spent five years there, living in my sister’s backyard. Over that time, we were able to pay off our student loans, learn the value of community, develop a deeper relationship with my sister and her children, understand the difference between a house and a home (particularly hand built shelter), and appreciate living with less. In short, it was a transformative experience. We had a vision of a life less ordinary and we were able to craft exactly that. Our little sprout of a dream materialized in a way that was exactly what we needed even though we could never have foreseen the end result or the magical way it all came together.

I have this rather stunning example of a time when we went out on a limb in a big way and had it work out. This should be all I need for positive encouragement that we are capable, that we know how to do this, that crafting our lives is an achievable feat. Sometimes that is how it works. Sometimes this example gets me through my doubt and uncertainty.

Other times it isn’t enough.

The reality is that it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you do it or how capable you are, crafting your life is a big scary deal. Crafting your life doesn’t mean following everybody else and doing nice safe things. Crafting the life that you want means acknowledging your individuality. You have specific values and dreams and they may not fall in line with what society tells you is the right thing to do. Putting those thoughts out in the open and admitting that you’re willing to go for it (and even risk failing) also means embracing your vulnerability. While it takes a lot of courage, most of the time being vulnerable makes you feel anything but brave.

My past experience informs my present journey to create the life we want for our family and I draw on it for courage and inspiration. I also draw on it to remind me that this process isn’t about knowing what I’m doing. I expect to feel doubtful and scared and uncertain at times. I expect that creating a life that is meaningful to me won’t always feel comfortable. After all, learning and growing rarely does. So go ahead—embrace your fear. It will be OK.

Alison spends most of her time with a 2 year old and a 5 year old and is currently gestating a surprise third baby who will be joining the family in February. She and her husband traded in Big City bus dwelling life for a small town and the freedom of self-employment in the shape of GROW tree care. She blogs at BluebirdMama, knits, dabbles in web design and spends one morning a week running the office of a midwifery clinic (to keep herself sane). She is also one of the fabulous interviewees for Crafting my Life!

Dear Universe, Take a Flying Leap

I have often heard other people talk about periods in their life where everything suddenly becomes about one thing. They’re trying to plan a career path, and they meet these fabulous people, or find these amazing books, all at the exact right moment. It’s like the Universe itself, directed by God Almighty on high, is sending you a message in a bottle. Eventually, you can’t not listen, and so you answer the call and you’re ever so glad that you did.

I’m not sure that I’ve had this happen in my life. At least, I can’t think of a time when it has, exactly. Except maybe for this week. This week, as it turns out, is all about Workload Management.

I guess that when you ask what to give up, someone out there takes the question seriously, and decides to press the point. This week I’ve been reading books and blog posts about balance and time management. I’ve heard radio shows and seen TV shows about balance. I decided to take a break myself. Then I decided it was too much of a break. And then, as I attempted to take a break from my break, I got sick.

Me, relaxing post-Christmas
Before I got sick, feeling all cocky and full of myself

Like, vomitously ill.

No, I am not pregnant. I’m pretty sure I caught the same bug that Hannah had on Christmas Day and Jacob had on Monday. And, before you ask, they are not pregnant, either.

As I became ill, all of my, “Oh, I have plenty of time to do things later, and I’ll just work like a madwoman in a couple of days,” talk went out the window. I have to decide, now, what is and isn’t important. I have to acknowledge that vacillating between working my tail off and not working at all isn’t working.

I’m not sure if this really is a message in a bottle from the great beyond. It might all just be a lot of coincidence, as we all reflect on our lives and their state at the end of the year, coupled with an ill-timed stomach bug. But I understand what it’s telling me loud and clear all the same. I need a happy medium, and I need to stop imagining that I will somehow do everything I have to do in the magical land of Later. Because when Later comes, I may be down with the flu.

The Upsides and Downsides of Taking a Break

Look at me, taking a break from my break and posting on a Monday afternoon. I am wild, I tell you. WILD! Maybe later I will rip some tags off some cushions. Or maybe I won’t. I’m not going to say for sure either way, because giving away my next move would not be wild at all. It would also not be in the spirit of non-obligation that I’m trying to establish for myself right now.

I can decide about the cushions in the moment. I don’t need a plan or a schedule or anything like that.

Hannah's beluga snapshot
Yesterday we took an impromptu trip to the aquarium. Impromptu trips are very much in the spirit of non-obligation.

I’ve given myself freedom from my usual routine over Christmas, and I mostly like it. Routine can be good, but it can also become obligation very quickly. It doesn’t take long for, “I usually publish six blog posts a week,” to turn into, “I must, on pain of death (or at least extreme and embarrassing flatulence), publish a blog post every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 6:00am Pacific on the dot.” And then, after a while, you forget what the point of the routine was, but you keep doing it, because it’s just what you do.

My most prized ornament
Stepping back has given me the breathing room to notice and enjoy things, like this 60-year-old ornament on my tree

The first couple of days of my little vacation were good. I read a fabulous book. I knitted. I watched a movie with my husband. When I thought to myself that I should do something, I let it go and decided it could wait. It was great. On Christmas Day in the afternoon I found myself sitting with Jacob on my lap. He was wearing nothing but a hockey helmet, and he practiced his ‘writing’ in my notebook. I hugged him and smelled him and thought, “This, right here, is a perfect moment.”

Jacob practices his writing
Jacob’s “writing”

I haven’t been entirely idle, of course. There was merry-making and eating and visiting family. There was staying up late to make Christmas happen. And there were cookies of all kinds. I enjoyed it immensely – until it all became too much.

I reached that point where I was living on chocolate, and playing video games, and staying up too late because I didn’t have to conform to any routine and actually go to bed. And it didn’t feel good. It felt decidedly not good, in fact. It reached the point of excess where I just wanted a break from all the break-taking.

The boys play hockey
Jacob and his grandpa play hockey

Jacob, every my eager-to-please child, came down with a bug today that saw him spending most of the morning in a vomitous state. Not fun, and not at all break-like. As I write this now, he’s feeling a little better, keeping his food down, and watching Toy Story 3. Hannah is visiting her grandparents, and I am glad to be back in this chair writing. Putting some words up there and letting them all play and assemble and re-assemble themselves in my brain and on my computer screen.

Jon and Amber
Jon and me on Christmas Eve

It turns out that writing is what I do. Maybe I don’t have to always do it in the same way, on the same schedule. Maybe I can switch things up and around and it will still be good. But giving into sloth and not doing it at all doesn’t make me happy. It’s important to know that, I think. To understand where the line is between finding room to breathe and feeling like I’m at loose ends so I just eat more chocolate and play more video games.

Hannah checks out her kinder lyre
Hannah with the pentatonic kinder lyre I stayed up late building

I’ve learned a few things this holiday season. I’ve learned that too much of a good thing is too much. I’ve learned that if your kid wants a pentatonic kinder lyre, it’s worth spending the extra $30 and getting it pre-assembled. I’ve experienced my first truly pukey kid, and discovered it is just as icky as you would imagine. And I’ve found that I don’t really need to take a break from writing, because writing is my break. These are all good things to know.

What about you? Where is your line between a nice breather and too much lying about? And what was your Christmas been like? I’d love to hear!

Holy Night

It’s Christmas Eve. Frantic last-minute purchases are being made. Cookies are being decorated. Holiday meals are being cooked. Wine is being consumed. Children are writing notes to leave out with a plate of treats for Santa.

I am doing my best to soak up the holiday. I am striving to look beneath the surface and the busy-ness, to find where Christmas actually is. That quiet, that beauty, that wonder, that mystery. It’s there if I look for it. The kernel of holiness in the midst of the consumer craze.

Amber built the gingerbread foundation
Me, Christmas 2007

As an adult, it’s easy to forget about this peace and beauty. Christmas can become one big carnival of stress and obligation. We’re trying to so hard to make Christmas that we can forget to feel it and live it. It took a holiday-related breakdown of my own, but this year I’ve managed to slow down. I’m allowing myself to dwell in the wonder, even as I struggle to assemble a pentatonic kinder lyre.

Jacob supervising gingerbread house construction
Jacob, Christmas 2008

I suppose that it comes down to acknowledging that I am only one person, and I can only do so much. I’m OK with that. In the midst of the incredible hairiness that is my life right now, I’m becoming more and more OK with that all the time. I suspect that maybe this is what these busy times are here to show us. That we can’t do it all, and more to the point, we don’t have to. That we need to lay aside the obligations and marketing messages and horrible traffic, and find the part that’s Good and Right. It’s there, if we look for it.

Playing in the new sleigh
Hannah, Christmas 2005

I am not going to keep up my regular posting schedule over the next week. I am letting go, just a little. Just enough. Hopefully, when I do, I’ll find what I was looking for. Permission to just be, instead of constantly needing to do.

If you celebrate, let me wish you a very merry Christmas. I hope that you are able to find your own moments of peace and wonder in the midst of your holiday-ing. Joy to the world – and to us!

Crafting “Me”

Today’s Thursday so I’m Crafting my Life! This month, I’m hard at work on the Crafting my Life e-course. Advanced discount registration for people on my email list ends this weekend, so sign up at CraftingMyLife.com if you haven’t already! While I work on that, I’m shaking things up over here. December’s theme is “crafting your life”, in which I welcome guest contributors to share their journey with you. This week, it’s the fabulous Sarah.

A large part of my life is spent working with others. From the kids at the preschool, interacting with clients via email, phone or in person, to keeping the daughter happy and healthy, and loving the husband (and friends and family), there’s not a lot of down time. Yeah, yeah – I’m not alone. I know most of you are crazy-busy people living the same type of life. But, when do you make “me” time? Really. When DO you make time for yourself? I want to know so I can do it, too!

Well, I started thinking about it, and decided I should figure this out myself. I shouldn’t rely on others to help fix me – I need to be able to fix myself. You see, I was starting to twitch a bit, to not be so shiny, and be a bit ornery. Let’s face it. I was a lot ornery.

Something had to give. It was time to change my ways and really get serious about taking care of me. “I” should be a big part of my life, just like working with others. At the end of the day I feel so fulfilled and proud to have helped and encouraged others in a positive way. It’s awesome to be working with young minds promoting creativity and healthy self-esteem. I’m glad that others find my writing informative and educational, and want to read and use my ideas. Most nights I sleep pretty snug-as-a-bug in my bed with a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside.

But, I was still getting a bit rough around the edges due to lack of “me” attention.

In fact, I needed a lot of assistance all over the place. My wardrobe consisted of clothes from 1990, my hair hadn’t been cut in quite awhile [Amber: 6 months for me], and I actually didn’t own any closed-toe shoes. Being a mom is awesome, but it totally sucks out all my motivation to be a hot-mama. I’d lost my internal drive to look good. It just didn’t matter anymore.

It was time for a “me” intervention.

I started by making an appointment at a salon and blocking off time for the husband to take care of our daughter. Both of these things instantly made me feel guilty (typical). But, I was determined, so I stuck to the plan. I shared with friends and family my intentions of getting to know “me” again and caring for myself. I figured if I told others about my plan, I would be more inclined to keep up with it (you know, that internal fear of disappointing others…).

The hair cut went well and it felt great to do something without the babe. I also did some shopping all on my own and purchased a real pair of shoes that didn’t go flip-flop. I gave myself an internal pep talk and promised myself I’d keep it up. It only takes a couple of minutes in the morning to toss on a quick application of mascara and shiny lip-gloss, right?

I stuck to it for a week. Then I was back in the yoga pants and living mascara free.

No, I didn’t fail. I finally realized that, yeah, I would love to look kick-ass every day of the week, but I don’t. How I look on the outside doesn’t change who I am on the inside. I’m not in high school anymore and even though the majority of the world
still judges the book by its cover, I’m a happy and well-adjusted human being.

My husband thinks I look hot, so I should, too.

During my “me” time experiment, I learned that it is important for me to make a date with myself once a month. I totally benefited from taking the time to do something just for me. But, putting extra stress on myself to “look the part” wasn’t
necessary. The kids at preschool don’t care that I’m not wearing the latest winter-trends. They just want to squish clay. My clients don’t care where I picked up my eyeliner. They want motivational articles.

So, at night when I’m all tucked-in-tight, I still fall asleep with a smile on my face and am way less testy the next day. I’ve found the way to balance my “me” time with my regular routine – and it’s working.

I’m still wearing the tinted lip-gloss, though. It makes me smile a little bigger.

Sarah is a part-time stay-at-home-mom to her daughter and part-time preschool teacher that likes to write a lot. When she’s not doing fun art activities with her babe or making something yummy in the kitchen, she’s busy cleaning, organizing, diapering, and working toward world-wide peace. Sarah has a degree in art education and has worked with kids of all ages for over 10 years. In her free time, Sarah likes to read books, take naps, and eat chocolate. You can find more of her writing at sarahlipoff.com.

Maple Walnut Ice Cream

As you may already know, I have an ice cream maker and I use it constantly. Ice cream has always been one of my favourite foods, but now that I make my own I think my diet may be 27% ice cream. Which is really quite a lot of ice cream. But not too much, because there really is no such thing as too much ice cream.

Given my love of making ice cream, it’s really no surprise that many people on my Christmas list will be receiving a frozen confection from me. I’ve made several kinds of ice cream, and even some dairy-free sorbet, for those who swing that way. But my current favourite has got to be maple walnut.

Making maple walnut ice cream
I buy my walnuts pre-chopped, because I’m lazy like that

I got my maple walnut love from my mother and grandfather. I remember them ordering it whenever we went out for ice cream. And it didn’t seem that hard, in theory, so I read a few recipes and then improvised one of my own. I used real maple syrup from Quebec, of course. I suppose you could try artificial, but it doesn’t really seem in keeping with the whole ‘homemade ice cream’ vibe, and it may actually be a violation of Canadian law. We take maple syrup and hockey very seriously. 😉

4 pints of maple walnut
4 pints of maple walnut, in jars and ready to go

Anyways, if you’d like to try some maple walnut of your own, here’s my recipe:

Amber’s Maple Walnut Ice Cream

* This recipe has always been gluten-free!

Ingredients:
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups cream
1 1/2 cups maple syrup
1/2 Tbsp vanilla
3/4 cups finely chopped walnuts

Finished ice cream

Preparation:
Whisk the milk, cream, syrup and vanilla together until well combined.

Prepare the ice cream following the directions on your ice cream maker. In mine, which is a countertop electrical machine with a freezer bowl, it took about 25 minutes. 5 minutes before the ice cream is finished, add the walnut pieces. Once it’s reached the desired consistency, serve it up and freeze the rest.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

I was inspired to write up this recipe by the Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap over at Farmer’s Daughter. Drop by for even more yummy ideas!

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