O Canada

Things the three of us have commented on regarding the differences between the U.S. and Canada:

  • Washrooms vs Restrooms or Bathrooms
  • “It’s a long, long way from our house.”
  • British spellings of words (centre, colour, realise, etc.)
  • Metric system (although much American radio and TV is available in Ontario, so you still get Fahrenheit and miles)
  • Inexpensive food and goods at museums and attractions (whereas it’s hiked up tremendously in the states!)
  • Poutine craze vs best local burger or pizza
  • Absence of billboards! Instead, there are many inspirational lines of advice along the road.
  • Lots of honking drivers
  • Cleanliness, even in public bathrooms
  • Labels and signs in both English and French vs Spanish (I was surprised at how much I could translate with my unused, limited knowledge!)

We’re home now, but the road trip to Ontario was entirely fun. I think we all needed a break, and we were in good spirits throughout the week. Nevermind a mild case of extensor tendonitis, there were lots of smiles, giggles and teasing.

IMG_3525Day 1 (Saturday) – We started on the road around 10 a.m. after packing up our pantry into coolers for snacks along the way. Wes did pretty good; he had very little concept of “a long way,” but he got the hang of it after I compared the timeframe to over a dozen episodes of Octonauts. We were nearly in Detroit when Siri/Google Maps took us on a wide goose chase. A bridge had gone out on our route, and we were redirected into a no trespassing zone within a metal factory. Apparently there is a small ferry nearby, but we didn’t stay to check it out. It was so weird. One minute we were on a residential street with houses all lined up in a row, the next we were surrounded by railroad tracks and barbed wire fences.

Once we finagled our way through the detour, we crossed into Canada and drove through Windsor on 401. Our phones lost signal, so we had to rely on our 2008 TomTom GPS, which we haven’t used in ages. (Sidenote, our TomTom was once stolen, and nearly 2 years after the incident, a police officer recovered it and drove it to our house. I still find this amusing.) It was fun to drive through Canadian countryside, watching the many windmills stretch across the landscape. We stopped at an uber-clean visitor center/rest area and got a map to direct us to Niagara Falls, since TomTom was only mildly trustworthy.

We stayed just north (west?) of the Falls at a shady Hampton Inn next to a giant Buddhist temple, but it was comfortable enough. Dinner that night was at a local bar & grill, where we had our first taste of Canadian fish and chips – a favorite Shattuck travel food. Downtown Niagara Falls, ON, though quaint and lined with lighted arches and a clean playground, is not very “happening.” We felt like the only people around, but it looks like it could be more frequented in the summer months.

Day 2 (Mother’s Day) – Wesley was so disappointed that we didn’t get to swim the night before, so I promised him we would swim in the hotel after breakfast and before heading to Niagara Falls. It was such a sweet morning; we had the pool all to ourselves, and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable to start the day. Wes was terribly excited about the water – it was the first time he’s been in a pool since last August! We packed a picnic lunch (that we didn’t end up eating/having), along with my Mother’s Day cards/gifts, then headed to the car for the Falls.

We parked in a free, off-season spot, which was great, but it was also 3 km (2 miles) away from the main strip. We thought it would be fine to walk because we’d been in the car for so long yesterday, and it was – on the hike down river. Wes took some great photos of our trek, and it was fun to see some the sights easily missed: a stranded boat from the early 1900s, an abandoned power plant, blooming cherry blossoms.

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27027175475_bf1a034c7d_zOf course the first stop was the boat ride into the mist on the Hornblower Cruise (Canada’s version of Maid of the Mist). We’d been talking about this upcoming experience for days, maybe weeks, and Wes was almost as excited as Steven was to get on board. The giddy boys threw on their ponchos and grabbed a spot at the front of the boat. Wes got a little overwhelmed by it all, but he still says it was the best thing about Niagara Falls.

His feet were beginning to ache at this point, and we entered cranky-pants phase. Cranky Wes has trouble listening and following directions, so the rest of the morning was a mix of frustration and elation. The original plan to head back to the car for lunch seemed daunting, so we grabbed a quick bite at Tim Horton’s before completing the Journey Behind the Falls tour – where you get extremely up close (and under and behind!) to the falls and extremely wet.

We did have reservations for dinner at one of the falls-view restaurants, but we opted to head back to the hotel to rest after an exhausting day. But first we had to walk 2 miles back to the car. And then it started to rain. Hahahahahahaha. You can imagine how grateful we were to see our car.

26291575214_e8e21c455e_zSince we were didn’t make it to our planned picnic, I opened up my sweet presents from Wesley in the hotel room before we all took a nap. He beamed with pride at the handmade card and bracelet he worked so hard on for me. So perfect.

Dinner was at a local BBQ place we spotted while in downtown Niagara Falls the night before. I had amazing poutine (a Canadian staple dish of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. It sounds gross, but it’s really good. I first became a fan when we visited family in upstate New York several years ago.), which I gobbled up after our fun, long day. Wes got a second wind of energy, so I suggested we drive by the falls at night to get a different perspective. It really was a Mother’s Day for the books. I love these guys.

Day 3 – Toronto day! It’s only a couple hours’ drive from Niagara Falls, and because the route hugs Lake Ontario, it was really fun to site watch: American businesses intermixed with names we’d never heard of, fruit trees of all sorts, street signs in both English and French. I could hear Wes taking a bunch of photos from the back seat of the car.

We had rented an Airbnb in the heart of downtown Toronto, but the instructions for checking in were vague. We ended up waiting an hour at a metered parking space before meeting with the condo owner/host, who then hopped into our car to direct us into the maze of her parking garage beneath the building. The process was strange and so was she, but the place was perfect for us. Giant windows overlooking Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands allowed us to watch every kind of transportation go by: airplanes landing at the small island airport, sailboats racing each other, streetcars on cables, trains transporting thousands of commuters. Wes was stoked and asked to take our photos in front of the city with his camera.

BACKLIT ON A CHEAP CAMERAAA

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Later, we walked to the ferry dock. Wes complained about pain on the top of his feet from yesterday’s walking, but we thought we’d have a shorter amount of walking to do today – ferry (sitting) and bicycle (rented from island). It was a longer walk to the dock than expected, and we took turns carrying our 40 lb guy…whew.

26856931571_261746b2b4_zLots of locals bring their bikes on the ferry to explore the islands. We enjoyed the short ride and the view of the city from the water. During the summer, a children’s amusement park and petting zoo is open on Centre Island. We headed there first, knowing it would be closed, but we were able to find some roaming peacocks on the property. The island is basically a giant state park. It’s very clean and welcoming, with signs everywhere requesting people to “Please Walk on the Grass.”

On our hunt to find a bicycle (I was starting to give up at this point; poor Wes and his feet!), we discovered a pirate ship, multiple playgrounds and a long pier. The wind made it a chilly 50-ish degrees, but the sun was out, and the views were incredible.

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Back at the condo, I helped a wobbling little kid rest on the couch while I rubbed his sore foot muscles and Googled for tendonitis remedies. He thought it all very entertaining. We watched hockey before retiring for the night.

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The boys went on to bed, but I enjoyed a few minutes watching the downtown lights and reflecting on the past year before celebrating my birthday the next day.

Day 4 (Leah’s birthday) – I woke up to all kinds of nice words and hugs. “Mama, I’m so, so glad that you’re my mom. It’s your birthday!” After a thorough inspection of the sore feet, we determined that they had healed enough to endure a walking tour around the world through Toronto’s various neighborhoods. We started off in Chinatown and worked our way through Kensington Market, where we had yummy local food (and picked up a discounted Mother’s Day cake for my birthday dessert later), and on toward Little Italy for Wesley’s first cannoli. I think he liked it.

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I rubbed his tired little feet back at the condo before we crashed hard for the rest of the afternoon. We had a big night ahead to prepare for.

26875610721_597a6e41d5_z (1)Thankfully our walk to the CN Tower was only a few blocks away, and because it was a Tuesday evening, it wasn’t crowded at all. We rode a glass elevator to the “top” (the viewing area is actually toward the middle of its height, but the view is still impressive) of the country’s tallest building and sat down for a 3-course dinner in the tower’s revolving restaurant.

We had a great time pointing out sites seen and recognized – especially along the lake. After our dinner, we walked down a few flights to watch the sunset and experience Wesley’s favorite thing ever: the glass floor.

We came back well past bedtime to eat cake, because why not add more fun to an already fun day? And it ended the best way: with extra hugs and kisses from my loving family. “Mama, I’m so happy it’s your birthday.”

Day 5 – The reason why we picked Ontario for our vacation destination and at this time of year is because Steven’s business sponsored a 1-day donor retention conference held in Toronto. While he attended the conference, Wes and I ventured to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

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Yes, I know of his love of sea creatures and the Octonauts, but I’ve never seen him so mesmerized. He loved watching the fish and sea animals, and he equally loved playing in the indoor playspace built to knock out extra kid energy. We toured the museum twice and spend 3 solid hours there.

We found Nemo and Dory! We saw his favorites: several different types of jellyfish and sharks. Many of them.

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It’s another great venue for people watching. Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city I’ve ever visited, and it was most evident in the school groups on field trips that day. Kids of all different skin and hair colors, faiths and dress – playing together. I loved it.

Wes had expressed his interest in riding a streetcar for the last few days, so when Steven asked us to meet him later at the convention’s after party, we embarked on an adventure with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). First we walked to the streetcar station across the street from the condo, but there was no way to purchase a ticket or token there. Google told me that we had to purchase fares at Union Station, which was a 20-minute walk away, and Wes’ feet couldn’t possibly handle that. I finally found a convenience store within a large professional building that sold tokens. After trying to explain what we wanted to do to the clerk, who looked at us like total foreigners, we headed back the way we came. The tokens are smaller than dimes, and it ALMOST got lost within my wallet of change because Canadians like to give $1 and $2 CA coin change instead of dollars, but we managed to hop on.

The TTC stop by our condo is one of the first before heading north, and we quickly realized that our timing was terrible – it was the evening rush hour. People crammed into the car like sardines, and of course we got stuck in an area where someone had spewed their lunch of chicken noodle soup. After an unpleasant 15-minute ride, we made it to the restaurant. Wes still thinks the streetcar trip was worth it, even if it wasn’t quite the magical experience he dreamed about.

The three of us walked through University of Toronto campus and spotting a local pizza joint for a quick dinner.

Day 6 – The morning was a little crazy because, since we were living like locals with Airbnb, the condo management company didn’t exclude our car from mandatory evacuation for a garage floor powerwash. We had to move the car by 8 a.m. What luck, huh? It was even better when we got stuck in Toronto rush hour traffic for an hour. Lucky for us, there’s a Tim Horton’s donut and coffee shop in any direction you look, similar to Starbucks here, which does help to soften the blow a little.

We drove another few hours west and stopped in Sarnia and Port Edward, which is the southernmost point of Lake Huron on the I-69 Michigan/Ontario border. We stretched our legs and snapped some pics before cleverly using up the remaining Canadian cash on gas (to the exact cent!). We crossed back into the US and drove through rainy weather until home.

Screenshot 2016-05-15 at 10.49.48 PMThe guys did well this trip, but they both have bouts of homesickness, and they were so grateful to roll into our garage. Before bedtime, we played a round of Candy Land at the kitchen table while eating popcorn and listening to music.

“Mama, I really liked our vacation, but I love, love, love our house.”

Check out the full album of photos here, and Wesley’s unique camera shots here.

Posted: May 15th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Birthday Eve

I know I should be heading to bed right now, but perhaps I’m still awake because I’m sitting in a quiet living room in downtown Toronto, listening to my littlest snore peacefully and my handsomest ruffle the bedcovers, while I have this view:

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Or maybe it’s just because it’s the eve of my birthday, and I tend to reflect about the past year and the one ahead during the last few pre-birthday hours. Probably both.

It’s Year 33, the same age that Jesus died after 3 years of ministry. I remember vividly thinking/worrying about this during my 30th birthday: How can I live well for others in his honor and glory? And now: Did I accomplish much in 3 years?

I know I can’t change the world, but I can give time, kindness and love to others. Last year was difficult, and I soaked up wonderful time with my immediate family. Steven and Wes give me encouragement and strength to conquer anything. Their support gave me the desire to “pay-it-forward.” In January, I made a commitment to be more present for the people in my life. I’ve enjoyed going to recitals and birthday parties and regularly meeting up with friends. I’ve made an effort to carve out time to address even the smallest needs at work and at home, and it’s made me feel needed and valued.

And while I still struggle with occasional feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, they have developed into more consistent feelings of assurance, trust and faith.

I feel confident in my profession and career.
I am comfortable in my skin and appearance.
I dearly love my husband and son, and we’re close.
I trust God for the direction of our lives.

Yes, I can always be a better wife, parent, family member, friend or coworker. I know I still have much growth and life ahead of me, but today – in Toronto with my loved ones – I feel like I can take on the next year.

(These sillies are the best things.)

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Posted: May 9th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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10 Months Later

IMG_3134The house. We’ve remained pretty busy during the colder months, and as of last week, we completed last year’s summer project list with the fence repair! Whew. It felt so good to cross off that last, important item.

2015 Unfinished Summer Projects:
Repair rear fence
Remove wallpaper: 1/2 Bath ([still] TABLED: Steven has hinted enough that he actually likes the wallpaper!)
Remove wallpaper: 3rd Bedroom
Paint: Master + Bath, Entry/Stairwell, Dining Room, Family Room

Sofa slipcover in Living Room

In January, Steven had the wallpaper removed in the 3rd bedroom and the walls painted for the beginnings of my own craft/painting room. Because the room gets the most amount of sunlight than any other in the house, I picked the same soft white paint color as the entry – mainly so I would have enough extra paint to do the family room myself. I still need to organize some things, but doesn’t it look like it has potential??
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In March, I decided to jump into the thick of it and start painting the walls and trim in the family room – the only room in the house with original brown trim and crown molding. The project took 2 weekends and nearly 20 hours, but it was so worth it. I found dried paint in my hair two weeks later.
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For giggles, this is what the family room looked like when I was a kid.
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(Yeah, so there’s a story behind the photo on the right of my sister and I. My grandma, who had dementia, was in a goofy mood that day; she posed us and then snapped this pic. Great memories.)

THEN Steven and I went to find new bedroom furniture for Wes. We found the best set(!) that he’ll use for ages and ages, and it looks great in his room. Here’s an adorable photo of Wes spinning around in his room right after the furniture truck left.
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While we were shopping for bedroom furniture, Steven spotted this wonderful small sectional and fell in love. After we bought the bedroom set and left the store, I called them back and added this piece, because why not? I hate that we said goodbye to the beloved couch of my grandma’s (which for the life of me I couldn’t find a slip cover to fit!), but it was a good time to move on.
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And now the fence is fixed! We didn’t want to replace the whole thing – just the sections with holes to keep the dogs contained. I mean, you can clearly see where the new sections start, but nothing a little spray paint can’t hide.

Now that we’re “done”… naturally I need to put together THIS summer’s project list, right? Believe me, it won’t be nearly as aggressive. Here’s what we’d like to do this year, and we’re already off to a good start.

Summer Projects:
Paint: House Exterior, Porch, Trim, Doors
Replace porch furniture
Kitchen Drawer Pulls
Weeding & landscaping
Replace interior doors

We’ve been outside every nice weekend day and weeknight to start cleaning up from the winter and clear out some overgrowth. Some of the “weeding and landscaping” is/will be fairly extensive – removing old roots, stumps and dead ash trees. I’m not planning on planting much of anything new this year, but will instead get ready for next summer’s possibilities.

I guess the exception is Wesley’s new addition to the yard: Tree-Rex. We received this baby Shumard Oak from the Indiana Earth Day Festival last weekend, and we planted it where an old fir tree had been removed. Wes is in love with this little tree and even gave it its own birthday party.

We hired a company to paint the exterior of the house in June, which is super exciting and nerve-wrecking. I feel like picking the right colors is essential. Did you know that painting consultants exist?! Sherwin Williams is scheduled to come to the house this week to look at the roof line, other homes in the area and our building materials to help me choose paint colors.

It’s amazing what some elbow grease and new furnishings do to make a place feel like home. Our evening walks have started up again, which helps us meet more neighbors and feel even better about our decision to move into this space. We’ve definitely settled in to a rhythm here – our little place in this city. We’re loving it.

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Posted: April 27th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Confessions from an Aging Off-Brand Consumer

tasteeosI’m one of those people who buys things on sale, uses coupons and frequently purchases store brand items to save some money. This is one of the things that drives Steven most nuts because he has a specific preference on many items. Throughout our marriage, I’ve learned it’s best to go ahead and buy the $4 box of Cheerios, but I still skimp on products that only I use.

The ironic thing here is that I’m an advertising graduate in a marketing and communications career. You’d think I would be highly brand loyal, but with the exception of make-up and soda, I’m all over the place.

However, the last several appointments to the dentist, eye doctor and hair salon have led me to make major changes, including brand non-loyalty. I realize I’m not old, but man, I’m starting to feel oldER based on the scolding I’ve received in the last few months. And everyone asked me what products I was using.

“Your teeth are fine, but you have gingivitis pretty bad. If you don’t change your dental hygiene, you could lose your teeth in a few decades or less.”

I guess I’ve always known that I could treat my gums better, but this was a wake-up call. I ditched my 6-month-old toothbrush and bought an electronic Sonicare 2 Series with plaque control. I’ve liked it so well that I bought the kids’ version for Wes (and it has an app, of course!). Twice daily I use dentist-recommended POH dental floss and follow up with Listerine mouthwash, which replaced my Target brand substitutes.

“Your corneas are pitted along the bottoms of both eyes. It’s reverseable, but if you don’t change your habits…this is how people lose their eyes.”

I was floored. I’ve never had eye health issues other than needing contacts/glasses. I started to blame it on my 2-month delayed appointment and I made my contacts last that much longer, but this new eye doc quizzed me well. How long do you wear your contacts? How much screen time in a day? How long do you use the same contact lens case? She asked these AFTER she noted my pitted eyes, and then firmly told me to change what I was doing.

Did you know that you’re supposed to use a different contact case every two months? I’m also guilty for keeping solution in the case for far too long. I swapped out my off-brand solution for her recommended BioTrue and now regularly insert Refresh Tears eye drops to keep my eyes moist until they heal.

“Yeah…your hair could be healthier.” (This was the nicest of the recent “fear tactics” by far.)

I don’t often get my hair cut, but I’ve had an unusual amount of breakage that I’ve never attributed to less-frequent trims. I blame it on last fall’s Atlanta escapades, where I lost my toiletries and had to use hotel products that possibly ruined my hair. Possibly my hair was already ruined?

This week I started a hair repair strategy with Argan oil – replacing my drugstore, whatever’s-on-sale shampoo. It involves a hair mask procedure, which tacks on an additional 10 minutes, but until I chop off several inches later this year, my fingers are crossed that it will help. I’m using nothing fancy here, just something I found on Amazon, but again…hopeful. I also pulled out some (rare, in the cabinet name-brand) products I haven’t used in a while – Kenra Blow-Dry Spray and Silkening Gloss.

Never have I felt dirtier and more embarrassed. Each doctor/specialist assured me that my hygiene wasn’t bad, per se; rather my body has been able to tolerate a lot over the years, and now, well, it can’t. Next month is another birthday, and I’ve got to get my body into shape by changing not just the routine, but the things I use. Did you SEE all the name brands above?!

Steven jokes that my time spent getting ready in the morning and before bed has more than doubled, but I’m really trying to make good, healthy choices before things get out of control. This extends into other areas of my life, too, as I leave my early 30s and enter mid 30s. Somehow that slight age difference seems older, scarier and more permanent.

My hope is that next appointments will be full of praise, but I’ll probably still buy off-brand cotton balls and bandages and the occasional “Tastee-Os” to offset the cost of my new splurges.

Do you have experience with any must-have product I need to try?

Posted: April 10th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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When the Cat’s Away

Steven has been traveling frequently – I think I’ve counted 13 days/nights without him in the last 3 weeks – which makes it increasingly difficult and less motivating to clean, cook and keep normal routine. Getting out the door in the morning is harder than ever. It’s not like Wes and I have been lazy, though; in fact, we’ve been plenty busy:

12809601_10103279786348868_651774396093999713_nCatching up with friends and family. A few weeks ago, we met Rachel for dinner and then brought her back home to hang out for several hours. Wesley so desperately wanted to have a pajama party and was disappointed that she didn’t think to bring some to change into.

And at least twice in the last month, we’ve met the Reynolds clan at the mall food court because the indoor playground is like the kids’ mecca. Wes loves to play hard with B & J, and Julia and I get to hang out while kids are entertained.

I’m including FaceTime chats in this category because there’s been a lot of that recently, too – with friends far away, birthday greetings to cousins and giggles from Wes’ bed to Daddy’s hotel room before lights out.

Being crafty. Move over, Octonauts! Wes now requests to watch Amazon Prime’s Creative Galaxy on repeat. When we’re sick of TV, we get out crafts supplies to make our own projects. It’s great that he understands basic terminology (“that’s called action painting!”) and finds freedom in artistic expression. He usually adds commentary when painting or gluing something together. “This is a chocolate tornado that used to be a tree, and I changed my mind about this thunderstorm – it’s actually a white, fluffy cloud.”

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“Isn’t this SO COOL?! Daddy’s gonna love it.”

Finishing projects. It took me 20 hours, but I’m finally at a stopping point in the Family Room. Over the last handful of weekends, I painted the trim, crown molding and walls to match the entry and foyer. Whew.

Making music. Wes keeps finding random, small instruments I’ve collected: jaw harp, harmonica, recorder. And he wants to learn how to play them all. He actually has pretty good rhythm for guitar/ukulele strumming, and he doesn’t hammer piano keys like many kids do. We like to make our own “garage band” in the Living Room. And if we’re not playing instruments, he likes to pop in old cassette tapes of mine and my sister’s that were left at the house by my parents.

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Snuggling and lounging. Yes, lots. Especially on weekends without Daddy. It’s fun to rent a RedBox movie or find one on Netflix and share a blanket together. The dogs, Jake and Lucy, are professional snugglers. They’re the best at keeping us company (especially me at night).

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Reading. We keep visiting the library and bookstore to add to our collection. Our current favorites on rotation are Officer Buckle and Gloria, The Kissing Hand, George and Martha, Caps for Sale, Mary Alice Operator Number 9 and Tikki Tikki Tembo. Sometimes when it’s just the two of us at home, we’ll read more than our normal 3-books-before-bedtime because why not?

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When Wes goes to bed, I read until an atypical hour and kick myself in the morning for staying up so late.

Playing. Dance parties, board games, being outdoors. On Saturday we invited my parents to join us for an Easter egg hunt at Broad Ripple Park. Though the weather was bad and the “hunt” turned into picking eggs from a large tub, it was still a perfect time. Once we went to see Zootopia for an extra special treat. Speaking of treats, it’s best to partake in ice cream as much as possible.

While we do know how to entertain ourselves, these little “mice” are always anxious to welcome Steven home from his travels.

Posted: March 21st, 2016
Categories: Leah
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The Vague Social Media Post

I didn’t do it intentionally – in fact, I often poke fun at the posts you see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter that (seemingly) purposefully give just a hint of information but leave out details to make the reader wonder and ask questions. The result is what the poster is looking for – attention. Right? You know what I mean:

“I can’t spill details, but could really use positive thoughts right now!”
– “What’s the matter?! I hope you’re ok! Do you need anything?”
– “You’re in my prayers! XOXO!”

It usually drives me nuts to see stuff like that. But I fell into the trap last week with a post that apparently came off as vague.

IMG_2924The photo corresponded with text something like this: “I’m cranky today and feeling the weight of big decisions on the horizon. And yeah, my email is nuts. Psalm 46 is a good reminder of higher blessings.”

I thought people would think it was funny because of the sheer amount of emails unattended to! Or maybe sweet because I referenced a verse? I don’t know. I certainly didn’t expect people to negatively respond. (Should I have used exclamation points or emojis for less downer effect?)

Steven jumped on Google chat and quizzed me. His phone was blowing up with concerned text messages from friends. For Pete’s sake, people! I’m alright! We’re alright. I deleted the post to prevent others from worrying. A few nights later, it came up in conversation at a dinner with Steven’s coworkers (apparently deleting the post was an even BIGGER mistake), and now I feel like I have to explain myself.

In retrospect, the “big decisions on the horizon” aren’t anything life-or-death critical, but they DO involve a lot of research, planning and faith. I’m already this far in, so here’s what’s been on my mind. Get ready to be underwhelmed.

School. I thought I had the better part of a year to figure out applications and open houses and ease myself into a new school calendar. Last week, Wes’ preschool teacher strongly encouraged us to consider Kindergarten this fall. It surprised me, not because I don’t think he’s intelligent enough, but because I figured he’d do okay in preschool one more year before Kindergarten. I still think it’s better if we wait – he’d be a very young Kindergartner and because both of his parents struggled in school, likely from maturity level (I ended up being held back in 1st grade during the middle of the school year, and though it was traumatic and hard, it made all the difference for my success), Steven and I think it’s too soon to push him. But now, it seems we need to switch preschools anyway because the curriculum would be the same as this past year. He needs to continue growing. I began the application process for several schools last week, have several tours lined up, but I’ve already missed a few deadlines.

Church. After many months of prayer, we made the difficult decision to leave our church in December. We’ve been visiting several congregations since, and it’s an overwhelming and emotional process. Wes hates the weekly change, and that makes it even worse. We’re so ready to find a place to call home and settle in, but I don’t think it’s one of those things where bells will be ringing and bright lights will shine and we’ll know right away. I wish life worked like that, though.

So, there you have it – my vague social post. I promise I didn’t mean to scare or annoy anyone. Attention was certainly not what I was after, and I didn’t even realize I was being vague! Haha. I do feel loved, though. Thanks for caring. 🙂

And would you pray about my big decisions ahead? You know, because I’m the only person to ever have to deal with change. Just kidding.

Posted: February 15th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Sunday night concert

Age 4 is great fun. We have a blast (nearly) every day. We spent an hour playing various instruments and then received a personal concert of various tunes made up on the spot – on piano, ukulele and harmonica – clad in underwear.

Here’s just one piano composition that made me smile from ear to ear.

Posted: January 31st, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Tidings of Comfort and Joy

I’ve been enjoying small comforts of home and friendship these last few weeks. Sometimes the value of loved ones is forgotten, especially when so focused on internal struggles. I know that I haven’t been the best friend to many of my own this year, so I’m consciously making an effort to reconnect with those who love us regardless of our absence.

First off – here’s this year’s Christmas card! I know that I didn’t get it into everyone’s hands that I typically do; please accept my apologies if you didn’t receive a paper version. Pretty proud of my design of our instagram accounts.

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Spending a large amount of quality time with many of our closest friends and family members in the last month has been a source of healing and renewed strength. Truly, it began around Thanksgiving-time, when our friends and godson came to stay with us for several days. Time with them jump-started the season of gathering with loved ones.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

Cookie baking and decorating with my BFF Rachel. We baked Christmas cookies once when we were in high school – in fact, we made a music video about it – and I don’t know why we’ve waited so long to do it again. Once inseparable, we now live two very independent lives, and we find that we miss each other too much too often. Time together is one of the best things in this life.

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Visiting downtown lights, Potbelly dinner and MORE cookie decorating with the Reynolds family was another favorite evening. I love this family – their friendship now extends into a second generation, and it’s wonderful to see our kids enjoy each other so well.

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Friends Thanksgiving/Christmas with our friends from college has been going strong for more than 10 years. While we don’t see them often, I look forward to this time of year to catch up and strengthen our friendships even though we live miles apart.

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The days leading up to Christmas were fabulously warm – 60 degrees and higher! Wes and I went to the park, played outside and even raked leaves. Crazy.

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We were offered complimentary seats to an Indiana Pacers game in the Varsity Club, including a buffet dinner with a front-row seat to the game! While there we ran into Tyson, and Wes just about exploded from excitement. To top it off, “Hickory” Boomer and Santa both came to visit.

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Christmas with family members is always busy, but I feel like the kids are getting old enough to grasp the season of giving and love. It’s been fun to watch my nieces and nephews love on each other, play with each other and anticipate seeing each other again. It wasn’t all about the presents, you know? And time with my sister is getting harder and harder to “schedule,” so I love hanging out and goofing off with her during times like these. It’s the best. I even got a chance to properly catch up with many of my cousins I haven’t seen in a while – we used to be so close, and I’ve often felt disconnected.

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The whole Shattuck clan                                  Dad and the boys play with circuits
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          Shattuck cousins  |   Wes & my grandpa exchange gifts      |        Sisters

Earlier this week, Sarah and Levon invited us to take Santa back to the North Pole via the Polar Bear Express Train. The boys were ecstatic about the train – more so than seeing Santa and Mrs. Claus! Sarah is one of the most thoughtful people I know, so generous. Levon and Wes are great playmates and it’s yet another reminder of how precious friendships are to me.

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There’s no photo evidence, but visited with several old friends who were in town (from Alaska!) and/or visiting my parents (to check out the new condo). There’s something especially comforting about friends who grew up with you. I regret that I wasn’t able to see life-long friend, Megan, who’s due to be a mom in January, as we had planned for earlier in the month, but I DID get to see her parents who were in town this week (almost as good), and I’ll go down to visit once baby girl arrives.

And one night, Steven made a pot of mussels for recently engaged friends Muhammad and Kylie. That’s like, the ultimate demonstration of affection. He’s perfected his recipe and loves hosting, so you might expect an invite sometime soon.

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Though it looks like we’ve been busy, we have had our fair share of staycation – LEGOs, trains, Octonauts and Mario for several days in a row. Steven badly hurt his back last week, so we have taken it easy overall this holiday season. The “forced” time inside and together has been a form of healing in itself. Lots of snuggles, pjs, baking and snacking over here in our new-old house. I’m pretty sure I’ve read 5 books this past month. It’s been fantastic.

As yucky as 2015 seemed most of the time, there have been wonderful reminders of comfort and joy – especially these last few weeks. We’re ready for you, 2016.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with Wesley’s latest obsession: singing Christmas carols over and over and over again into his camera-voice recorder…

Posted: January 1st, 2016
Categories: Leah
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A Heart Like Hers

mary_jesusIt’s Christmastime, and Mary, mother of Jesus, is constantly on my mind. She pops into songs on the radio (even though I loathe “Mary, Did You Know?”), she adorns front yards and window displays of nativity scenes, and she even makes appearances in the YA book I’m currently reading (The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz) – even if it’s only because the narrator is obsessed with the Blessed Mother.

I find it intriguing that the meaning of the name Mary is “bitter,” yet so much warmth and purity is surrounded by that name. Her response to Gabriel shows a unique and humble spirit of willingness. Today, she is honored not only as the mother of Jesus, but also as his very first disciple.

This week I’m diving into Mary’s life. It’s fitting because of the time of year and because I can learn much from what we know about her. It’s my own form of advent, I guess. I’m not saying she was perfect. I know she wasn’t – she’s human. But I do think I can gain insight from her responses.

  • She quickly got over fear.
    Duh. An angel would scare anybody, but she listened intently to his message. I feel like I live every single day afraid of the unknown. I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on anything spoken to me.
  • She didn’t ask many questions.
    But she did ask one really good one – HOW?! And when the answer was “nothing is impossible with God,” she knew she didn’t have to keep questioning. No doubting or speculating.
  • She accepted his will and rejoiced.
    Understanding this was a miracle, and that SHE was chosen for it replaced any hesitations she might have had. I would surely jump to what will Joseph think? Will he believe I didn’t cheat on him?? She praised God and announced her servant-hood. And yet remained humble about it all. No boasting.

As much as I admire her willingness, the concept of Mary’s new motherhood has been a struggle for me. I was so on-edge and nervous during my pregnancy with Wes, and I never related to Mary on that level of “awe” and anticipation. Christmas seems to be a time when people announce pregnancies and family growth – or you find out someone is expecting by simply seeing or running into them. It’s been surprisingly hard on me. I have been on a roller coaster of emotions regarding our family size over the years. Right now it’s particularly low, and I find that I’m actually a tiny bit jealous of Mary’s round belly, and later, her cooing little baby.

It’s no secret that this year has been the pits. I explained to a friend a few months ago that I felt like every pillar of my “house” felt weak and unstable. Usually one or two can (and does) lean a bit, but the rest of the foundation is intact enough that the ground settles within time. For whatever reason, God has chosen to shake things up everywhere in 2015 and test my/our ability to duck and roll with punches.

Speaking of, what were Mary’s thoughts when she saw her firstborn son beaten by the people he came to save? Remember that scene in John 19 where Jesus, while hanging on the cross, introduces Mary to John as his “new mother?” What ran across her mind? Surely she knew it was the end of his life at that point. A couple years ago, Wes had an asthma attack during the Easter weekend, and it scared me to the core. I remember reflecting on Mary’s amazing ability to trust God in spite of the world crashing down around her.

This week and leading up to Christmas Day, I aim to have a heart like Mary’s. It’s tiring to be fearful and sad. I’m sick of worrying and doubting. I desire to be willing, trusting and humble. Full of awe.

My prayer is that I look past this year’s terrible distractions and instead “bring” Jesus into my world by expressing his character, power, forgiveness and grace. He’s the best thing we’ve got.

Posted: December 15th, 2015
Categories: Leah
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Decking the Halls

How we spent the evening of December 1.

I’ll preface by saying that I’m in the beginning stages of a sinus infection, groggy and loopy on medicine, and Wes is in a super talkative-to-the-point-of-disobedience mood. And Steven is craving pizza.

Drawing family portraits on paper placemats at the “pizza restaurant.”
Wes asks 356 questions during dinner.

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Putting on Christmas jammies in anticipation for season decorating around the house. (Don we now our gay apparel)
Mine from last year shrunk and are now too short in the legs. Wes asks another 15 questions.

Pulling out the Christmas tree.
Steven sets it up in the living room while I find Christmas music on Pandora (“Ugh, not ANOTHER Cold Play holiday song!”). Wes starts to complain that his jammies are too itchy and strips down to his underwear. “Why don’t you go put on some new jammies?” “NO, I don’t want to.”

Finding funny Christmas decor and accessories. (Tis the season to be jolly)
Steven throws Wes a pair of too-small elf slippers and Wes, nearly naked, strives with all his might to put them on his feet. He cries and asks for help. We try to explain that they won’t fit. I find a snowman hat and put it on my head.

Decorating the tree.
Wes helps me put up the lights and strings of beads. Steven battles the tree topper. Wes celebrates getting the slippers to fit his feet. Steven and I exchange glances that say how much we love our funny child without a single word. I find my favorite ornaments and start hanging them up. Wes drops and breaks our Union Jack ornament from Harrods that we purchased during our honeymoon in London.

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Cleaning up.
Wes asks a million questions about the delicacy of ornaments. We all sweep the floor. I sob internally and tell myself it’s no big deal and then tend to the dishes that have been sitting on the counter for two days. Steven puts all the boxes away.

Snacking on brownies. (Follow me in merry measure)
We’re all quiet for a few minutes. Snuggles on the couch.

Going to bed. (Fa la la la la la la la)
Wes, still in his underwear and elf slippers, refuses. I send him to Time Out. He apologizes a million times and says “I love you, Mama.” He says goodnight to the Christmas tree, which looks disheveled…and beautiful. We read a Christmas story together. I fix some tea, write this post and look forward to cozy flannel sheets and a book.

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I love this messy, unpredictable little family.

Posted: December 1st, 2015
Categories: Leah
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