This Life

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It doesn’t happen all at once and that helps to make it easy.

The gradual pulling away, the hugs slightly less long, the more of “I can do it, Mom.”

It’s a beautiful thing to see these lives change and blossom into what they will be, growing into the people they are.

A gorgeous sight, when watching your child from a distance, when they’re not aware you can see them.  Watching them hold the door open, pick up the dropped pencil, run to catch up with their friend on the walk into school.

To not only see them grow, but to see their spirit come alive in doing something they love.

To watch them run after the ball, sweat on the brow, captivated with the thought of being the first to reach it.

To see them lying on the sofa, swept away in a tale of wardrobes and lions and white witches, one hand behind her head, the light from the window catching the blonde in her brunette.

This life holds such small moments.  Moments to grasp.  Hear the song playing in the background.  When it comes on again, I’ll remember this moment.  I will remember her small knee peeking out of the blanket, her cheeks with still a little bit of round.

They were never mine to hold forever, but to usher them into this life and show the wonders it holds.

To show them beauty, the vastness, the experience waiting to happen.

Holding all of the love in my heart, pushing it out to her as she walks to her classroom, watching her right toe turn in as she goes.

And as if she knows, the unexpected turn to look at me, and smile, and “I love you, Mom.”

That is what to hold onto forever.

I love you, too.

On Enough

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The cream almost empty, but the jiggling of the carton proves enough for morning coffee.

The broken shoelace, but if removed from one eyelet, enough to tie for a run before buying new.

The market flowers lovely, but the wild ones by the side of the road fill my pitcher.

The tiny hole in the toiletry bag, with a quick whipstitch is made whole again.

Made whole again.

This of mine I give to you.

It opens the space for more.

There is enough for both.

The blanket cannot stretch over the whole bed.

But if you come closer, it can easily cover us both.

And there is enough.

For All of Those Being Dropped Off At College This Week….

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I remember being in the fifth grade and our teacher going around the class, asking everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Each person stood up and said things like, ‘doctor’ and ‘football player’.  And each time, the teacher would say, “That’s wonderful!  Then you should go do that.”  She said the same to me when I said I wanted to be a Supreme Court justice.

I think she was totally wrong to have said that.

Here is what I think she should have said:

“That’s great, Seja!  So you want to be a Supreme Court Justice?  So that means you want to go to university, get into a top tier law school, read until you fall asleep in the library, work to get on the law review, graduate in the top 3 of your law school class so you can get a Supreme Court clerkship, get a job at a top law firm where you’ll easily work 90 hours a week, eventually become a judge and then maybe be nominated by a United States president after which you will go through a grueling week of testimony and questioning by the US Senate, in which they will publicly bring up everything you’ve ever done and said in your life to be a US Supreme Court Justice?”

And many people may have said, “Heck yes! Bring it!”

Not me.

I would have said, “Maybe not.  I don’t think I want to do that really.”

Here is my point, career-deciding people…ask yourself some introspective questions now and it may help guide you to where you want to be.  Questions such as:

What did you love to do when you were a child?

If there is something you are drawn to as a career, are you prepared for all aspects of the work?  (Want to be a doctor?  Be ready for call.  Want to be a nurse?  Be ready for changing bedpans.  Want to be a hedge fund manager?  Be ready to sleep on a cot in the back room of the office.)

Do you want a lot of time for yourself outside of work?

Is money the highest goal?

I thought it was when I was 18.  Until I learned that sometimes when you go after the money, you end up spending all of the money.  (See previous post.) (Also, please remember that studies show that once you meet certain needs such as shelter and food, happiness does not go up dramatically based on increases in income.)  (I know what you are saying…”But Seja, you don’t see people crying on jet skis.”  Just trust me on this one.)

I know, not everyone can do what they love as a career.  Say you want to be a surfer, but maybe don’t have the desire to live out of a camper on the beach and don’t have the skills to win world surfing competitions?  Then maybe teaching is for you – you can have your summers off and only live in a camper on the beach two months out of the year.

As for me, I loved styling hair as a child.  I loved playing soccer.  And I loved making jewelry.

And most importantly…

I loved my time and my freedom.  And I knew I wanted to be able to spend as much time with my loved ones as possible outside of work.  So maybe not a Supreme Court Justice.

I still check in with myself on the questions above.  After all, none of us is the same as we were ten years ago.

And even after all of this, you still don’t know any of the answers to the questions above yet, that’s okay.  Just remember to:

  • live in the present moment
  • follow your heart
  •  don’t worry about the future
  • You’re going to be okay
  • And that if you dial a number ending in ‘PAPA’, you will most likely reach someone who can deliver a pizza to your dorm room.

With What You Have

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An early morning swim at the lake post resignation.

I have to admit, I was taken aback by her question.  It was blunt, to the point, and it caught me off guard.  I mean, we were standing in the chip aisle at Target.  She said, “Seja, I was reading your blog and I have to ask because we’ve known each other a long time and I just have to know…how do you afford to build a house where you guys are and quit your job at the same time?”

Even though this woman and I are not close friends, we have known each other a long time.  She is a nurse in an office I used to call on.  But I have always loved her directness, her transparency, and as she says, her desire to keep it real.  So I am going to bring all of that realness to you and tell you what I told her.

I worked for Merck for a long time – thirteen years.  Most of my adult life.  And it was an amazing job.  It provided for my family and I am incredibly grateful.  I worked for and with some incredible people, too, and I learned a lot.  But I never loved it.  I always felt like the barefoot hippie masquerading in a business suit – not living authentically.

But all of this inauthentic living came with a paycheck.  I mean, we needed that income.  We had a family to support after all.  But it came with a price, too – a thought process along the lines of this:

“Okay, I don’t love my job, but I make this money and I’ve worked hard for it.  So if I want new running shoes every month, then I’m going to buy new running shoes.  And I should be able to walk into Sephora and buy what I want, because I need nice makeup for my job.  And besides, I’ve earned it.  If I have to spend time away from my girls for work, then at least I am going to enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

And there it was.  Working a job I didn’t love and spending a lot of the money that came with it.  We still had a student loan, which I believed was impossible to pay off because of its sheer size, while spending $500 a month at Target on whatever you can walk in and find at Target.  (I mean seriously, a mossy door wreath and brown leather sandals in the same place?  I was hooked.)

And Joe noticed.  A little software program called YNAB (an acronym for You Need a Budget – so aggressive with its name.  You’re not looking at me, YNAB, are you?) tracked each purchase out of our bank account.  Joe would sit at the laptop and shout from the office to the family room, “What did you buy for $26.89 at Target?  What did you buy for $89.76 at Smith’s Sport and Shoe?” Um, Smith’s Sport and Shoe?  I needed shoes to get my sport on, hello?  Something was missing and I was filling it with stuff.

During this time, in 2009, I found jewelry making.  I loved it.  The time I spent designing and creating flew by.  I would go down into my little workspace (a small desk in a tiny office) after I put the girls to bed and the next time I would look at the clock, it would read 1am or something similar.  I was pulled into it.  And even though there were times I took breaks from it, thinking I don’t have time for this between my real job and my family, I always came back to it.

My mind hadn’t put together, or if it did, couldn’t believe, that if I just stopped filling my life with unnecessary things, maybe I could afford to move on to something else.  Maybe I could stay home with my girls.  Maybe we could save enough to make a change.  Maybe I could move in another direction.

Then, while taking a break at a wholesale jewelry show in 2013 (I would go to these shows to buy my materials for jewelry making), I noticed all of the people there buying materials for their jewelry as well.  And how many more people were buying than selling.  So instead of buying materials that day to use in my designs, I bought materials I thought others might like to use.  And that was the beginning of my online wholesale jewelry supply shop.  I would work my sales job during the day, be with my family in the evening, and work the shop from 9pm – 1am.  It went on for two years and it was grueling.  There was no time for anything but family or work.  I had never worked harder in my life – and I loved it.

And in that period of time, of there being no spare time, there was no chance to pop into Target to buy cereal and five other things as well.  There was no time to go buy new running shoes – and most importantly, I realized the ones I had were fine, until there were enough miles on them to warrant new ones.  The feelings of earning a paycheck and the right to spend it on whatever were gone.  And Joe’s questions from the office about my purchases became less and less frequent as well, because I no longer felt the need to spend.

I still appreciate items that bring beauty to a space or are useful. It’s just that now I take my time, I picture where it will go, if it will fit in my wardrobe, if it is practical and most importantly, can I afford it.  Does it have the lasting presence of my great aunt’s kitchen table?  Will my grandchildren be able to use this Dutch oven one day?  Will I still wear this in ten years?  If the answer is no, I walk away.

So that is how we afford to live here having left my job. I own a small online business.  I spend a fraction of what I used to spend.   I’ve traded the stuff for less.   And I will never go back.

Your Best Body

I just ordered a bra.

I didn’t bargain for this.  But, like everything I suppose, one event leads to another.  Our conversation might have happened anyway.  But by then, the damage may have already been done, so it was a blessing really.

The blessing was this:

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Oh Self.  How I used to love you.  While I was 21 years old at the Indiana University SRSC, you convinced me it was sane to leave a puddle of sweat at the foot of the Stairmaster.  You told me which alcoholic beverage was the better choice – hello? white wine obviously wins over the margarita (200 calories saved) – like I wasn’t just going to drink whatever light beer was on special that night.  Such a great resource, seriously.

But I’m 39 now.  There is no time for magazine reading and when there is, it’s not going to be Self.  I mean, come on.  I’m married.  I’ve got him locked down.  I no longer need to know about oxygen shots or ice therapy (whatever that is…thank God I don’t have to give precious brain space to all.of.that.).

But I ordered a bra online and -surprise!- I received a free subscription to Self with my order.  And as it turns out, so much more.

My 10 year old loves to get the mail.  It’s seriously a highlight for her.  And since I’m busy reading Outlander for the third time cleaning the bathrooms, I let her relish in that mail-getting.  Until the gem above arrived.  I found it sitting on the kitchen table, both girls looking at the cover.  And then, “Mom, is this yours?  ‘Best Bodies in the World’…why do you want to know about that?”

Hmmm, good question, baby.  The answer is I don’t.  But let’s back the train up and have an open dialogue about this.  Blank stares, followed by, “What’s a dialogue?”.  Okay, scratch that, let’s stay on track and talk about what you see.

So, what is it you see?  A girl, a mention of her ‘dream body’, and letters shouting at us about the ‘Best Bodies in the World’.  So it’s about our bodies. Okay, what do you think is awesome about your body, babe?  Blank stares.  Okay, let me give you a hint.  Today we took a run around campus and you both turned it into a parkour course.  You have these leg muscles that help you to jump on the limestone wall, the stomach muscles to help you slide down the stair railing, the brain muscles to decide to not jump 10 feet into the rocky creek below.  Would you say that’s what is awesome about your body?  Then Maia, “Yeah, but I don’t think that’s what they are talking about, mama.”

Yes, honey, that’s not entirely what they are talking about.  But you have to know something….this girl on the cover?  Even she doesn’t look like that.  They do her hair and makeup and have special lighting to make her look this.  See the girls inside of this magazine?  This may be their best body.  And you have your best body.  Maia, you have long limbs that help you to reach and stretch and run fast.  Maddie, you have incredible balance and coordination…you know where the ball is going to fall before it does.  And these girls in the magazine…they may have those things and they may not.  But here is the key, and I really want you to hear me when I say this – do your best to not compare yourselves to these images.  You will see them throughout your life…headlines for Your Best Body, commercials for the thickest hair, and so on…but know that you have your best body already.  IMG_5484

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It gets you out of bed in the morning.  It lets you run with your dogs.  It gives you the strength to climb the playground at school.  It is your best and it is enough.  And it is beautiful.

Proposed Plans

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We have to have an entry foyer.

This was one of my initial thoughts when thinking about the house we would build on our new land.  This is the natural thought of a person who currently lives in a house with an entry foyer that is 3 feet by 3 feet.  No where to greet guests.  No where to pause.  I would usually greet or say goodbye to guests from the top of the stairs, which you could see from the front door.  I thought, if we are building a house, I want it to be what I want it to be.  Yes, I wanted to simplify and minimize.  But when you have subscriptions to House Beautiful and Dwell – and binders full of tear out sheets from those magazines – and you’re about to build a house, it’s easy to get caught up.

And we still didn’t get it, the ‘living simply’ thing.  I mean, really understand.

We (I’m using “we” loosely here.  Joe was pretty much cool with whatever – he’ll sleep in a hammock outside whenever he gets the chance) knew we didn’t need things like a formal dining room or a guest room.  We figured we could just evict the girls from one of their rooms when out-of-town guests came to visit. But we still had our list.  We wanted an entry foyer,  3 bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, an office, a mudroom… I know there were other items on the list, but don’t even remember what they were now.

We looked online for floor plans and came across one we really liked.  There were a couple of things we wanted to tweak, so we took it to a draftsman to make those changes.  And this is what he came back with:

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2900 square feet.  Over a basement.  Because you know…we have the random tornado in Indiana, and we need a basement.  So over four thousand square feet, because maybe we’ll finish the basement later. Uuhhhmm…not what we had in mind.  More than double the size of what we currently lived in.  Double the heating and cooling, double the cleaning, double the cost…all of the doubling happening here.

It’s easy to get caught up.

And then we remembered.

We remembered why we were moving.  We remembered that we wanted more time outside, less time inside.  And we remembered we didn’t want to blow through our retirement savings and the girls’ college funds to build this house part of keeping it simple, was to keep the cost low and the footprint small.

I also remembered my Babi and Deda’s house (my grandparents on my mom’s side.)  They farmed.  They had a simple home.  And when you entered the house, you walked right into the kitchen.  Because when you are carrying a chicken who has recently had its head cut off, it’s handy to just walk into the kitchen.  And when guests would come over, it’s easy to sit and have a drink, because you’re already in the kitchen.  And their home was warm. And they were happy.  Here they are:

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So we made a decision and we came back to the initial thoughts that excited us.  Build a small house.  Do a lot of the work ourselves.  Have nice finishes (because there is a better chance of being able to do that when the house is smaller).  And fill it only with items we love.

So here we are.  Finishing the inside of our 1600 square foot house.  It is a cape cod style house, so it has an upstairs that is unfinished.  We will eventually finish it, but not anytime soon.

And my entry foyer?  No, no entry foyer in this house.  We enter through the kitchen.

Our messy, beautiful world

Our world is not a neat and tidy place.

If you’ve been in my family room, you know.

But outside of my little home, it isn’t neat and tidy there either.  There are not baskets and bins to separate emotions and beliefs and, most importantly, people.

We all live here together, doing the best we can.

Our world is full of love, hope, anger, pride, fear…men, women, children…everyone has their way of dealing with the differences.  Some love it, some don’t, and most of us want to make it neat and tidy.

I know my brain can’t function well when there is a ton of clutter around.  Of course, it’s adapted over time with 2 kids and a husband who likes woodworking tools and camping gear and jackets…I know, I don’t get the jacket one either, but he’s got a thing.  Anyway…I literally just had to step away to clean up spilled nail polish all over my kitchen floor.  It happens.  Like I said, a mess.

It is human to want to understand the world and make it straightforward.  We study, we have a scientific method, we have a control and a variable.  And as we go through life, we see the world around us and get used to its images.  But then, we see something we’ve never seen before and our brains can’t process it immediately.  We try to figure it out.  And if we can’t figure out, a few things can happen.  We either:

– ignore it

– investigate it and try to understand it

– feel threatened by it and make it known that we think it’s unacceptable.

It’s so simple and clean when you can look at an image, and you can see it’s blue.  We understand that.  It’s blue.  But then 5 other people come along and say, no, it’s green.  You keep looking at the image and you don’t understand how someone else can be looking at the exact same picture and see something else.  We feel uncomfortable.  We want to know why we see blue when others are seeing green. I mean, take that whole internet dress color thing for example.  It was just a dress and people all over the world were flipping out.  Is the dress white or is the dress blue?  What is it?!  We need to put a label on it!

What I actually loved most about the dress color internet phenomenon was that an article was posted about the eye’s cones and rods reading color differently and whichever you have most of, that is what determines the color.  And then it said, the dress is actually white.  Um, what?  Why can’t it be both? You see it as white, I see it as blue.  It is a dress all the same.

My daughter, Maddie, has always been into boys’ clothing.  It’s what she loves and what she feels comfortable in.  She also has short hair.  With the two combined, she looks like a boy to most people.  When meeting someone for the first time, be it a new friend or the person helping her try shoes on at the store, they may refer to her as ‘him’.  I used to correct them.  I would say, “She’s a girl.”  And they would apologize.  And of course, I would say it’s fine, no problem.

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Then one day, I asked Maddie how she felt about them calling her “him”.  And she said, “I don’t really care.”  And with that, my 8 year old taught me something that changed my outlook forever – it’s okay to live in a world of not knowing.  Our society’s need to put a label on everything – to plant ourselves firmly as a Republican or Democrat, as a Methodist or Baptist, a boy or a girl.  I don’t care anymore if she’s mistaken for a boy and I no longer say anything when someone refers to her as “him”.  Our world is a free-flowing mess of light and energy.  It’s okay for it to not be neat all the time.

But that’s life, isn’t it?  It’s messy.  And you can consider all of us being different…men, women, white, black, gay, straight, ..we all live here together.  We can’t put each other into an organized Ikea shelving system with labels on each bin.  And that is what makes it beautiful.