greener grass

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Is there somewhere you feel absolutely comfortable and at ease?  For me, that place has always been smushed between my brother and my sister.  The three of us have a similarly silly sense of humor, and coming together always means lots of laughter, inside jokes, and secret languages.
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My mom’s best friend (aka her sister) started having children when my brother, sister and I started elementary school, and our cousins quickly became like younger siblings to us.  Before they could question what was normal, we shared our silly secrets and expanded our trio to an incredibly happy sixsome.
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You can tell fate brought us Jon (my husband) and Daniel (my sister’s husband) because their quirky personalities make them a natural fit for our family. Where am I going with all this?  The eight of us got together for the Fourth of July, and the entire weekend felt like home.  I know, I know, a weekend can’t feel like home, right?  But the thing is, being with them – no matter the location – feels like home to me. photo (66)
Making something ‘feel like home’ is a pretty important task.  I grew up in Phoenix, went to college in New Orleans, and then lived in Mexico (volunteering), Chicago (graduate school), Wisconsin (husband’s job) and Minneapolis over a period of 5 years.  During that time, my parents moved to Washington DC, my brother graduated school in South Carolina, and my sister bought a home in Phoenix.  Jon’s family lives in Wisconsin and my grandparents and best friends are in Chicago.  Can you see how spread out my heart is?  The people I love are dispersed all over this wonderful country.
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I wish I could convince my nearest and dearest to buy homes on the same street as me, but it’s probably not written in the stars.  Instead, I find all kinds of happiness by bringing everyone together.  That picture above?  A little bit of the greatness – my sister’s husband, my sister, me, Jon, and my baby brother.

Where do you feel most at home?

Graphic made with the Rhonna Designs app.

sprinkle covered sister

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Do you ever get the feeling that you’re exactly where you need to be? If you were offered an instant getaway to Rome or Bali or Paris you simply wouldn’t go because you’re caught up in something that makes you tingle with genuine goodness.  That’s the feeling I got when I watched my baby sister teaching her Kindergarden class to count to 30.  Image
My baby sister, Caity, is a sweetheart with a knack for telling jokes and making people feel loved. She’s worked as a teacher for the past two years, but today was the first time I was able to watch her in action.  And you know what?  She brings all that talent for making people feel special right into the classroom.Image
I surprised Caity’s class with 36 Dunkin Donuts to see what happens what you fill kids with sprinkles and frosting and jelly before 9am.  Start the day off with a sugar high, right?  As you might guess, Caity was (is) the sweetheart and I was (am) the troublemaker.Image
I read her class a story and then I sat back and watched her teach.  As I observed her work, I thought about how proud I am to have such a kind and funny baby sister. Lucky me for making memories with her since 1987.  
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master plan

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What do you want to be when you grow up?  The standard elementary school question makes us think about the future so that we can start working toward our career goals.

But why all the emphasis on what we want to be?  Wouldn’t we be better off considering who we want to spend our days with, how we want to impact our community, where we want to live, and why we want one job more than another?

I recently read an article in the New York Times calling for a new definition of success – one that focuses less on tangible things like money and fame – and places more emphasis on things like personal satisfaction and enjoyment.  The author believes we need a new vocabulary for the way we talk about accomplishment, and says that “we should have an expression that captures the level of success you’ve achieved when you do exactly what you love every day.”

Would rounding out ‘what we are’ with information about ‘who we are,’ ‘where we are,’ and ‘how we are’ help create a more well-rounded definition of success?  It seems to me that you’re already successful if you’re doing what you love and remaining true to your values.

Maybe we’re not all going to end up astronauts or CEOs or surgeons, but we just might find ourselves working on enjoyable projects or pursuing something meaningful – and isn’t that a success in its own right?

full (of thanks)

Jon woke me up this morning with tea, a granola bar, and a kiss.  The breakfast was thoughtful and perfect, but the best part was that he was home — he usually leaves for work at 6, I wake at 7, and then we see each other when he comes home in the evening.  Sharing my morning with him is my favorite way to start the day, and in this case, it’s indicative of something even greater: we’ll be spending the next five days together in Chicago.  As in, five days of vacation, family, food, theater (we’re seeing Wicked!!), and absolutely no working.  Let the laughter and silliness begin.
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make it pop

Is there a more important task than cultivating a grateful heart?  When we learn to recognize the smallest blessings, we’re able to truly appreciate the people and moments that make our lives special.

November inspires reflection on the multitude of gifts in our lives, and gratitude lists seem to be pop pop popping up on all sorts of social media.  These lists are wonderful, but I think it’s important that we remember to actually give thanks for our blessings.

Today I wrote gratitude letters to a few people who consistently make my life more positive.  To make the project a little more fun, I put the letters inside confetti poppers.  That said, make it pop!
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“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

woo hoo for you

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The US Census estimates the world population at 7,113,000,000.  In terms of birthdays, 19 ½ million people are entitled to blow out candles and eat cake every single day of the year.

With millions&millions of birthdays being celebrated each day, it might seem silly to focus too much on the annual celebration.   When you think about birthdays as an opportunity to celebrate a unique individual, however, it seems like much, much bigger deal.  If that quirky person is your BFF or your sweetheart, you may even want to organize a street parade or a block party.

The people we love bring something unique to our lives, and for one day, we have the opportunity to celebrate how special they are.  It’s so simple and happy, really: a birthday is a reminder to celebrate the unique qualities that each of us bring to the world.  Think about what makes your friends and family special, put on a party hat, and make a toast to their individuality.

I’m having a birthday this week, and kind letters from friends and family have already arrived to make me smile.  Their sweet notes have inspired me to research creative HBD cards.  I zoomed around the web, and this is what I found:

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Quite a variety of ways to a say HBD, right?  Everything from your standard birthday card to a pinata in the mail to a cookie greeting card.  Which card would you most like to receive?

my zips are lipped

Summer months are spent soaking up the sun lakeside, dining with friends on patios and rooftops, and cruising the streets for weekend festivals.  The atmosphere is lively, fun, and spirited.  When the air starts to chill, however, things seem to get a little more cozy and intimate.  We take the party inside, and we spend our time with our nearest and dearest.  In my world, that means a lot of dinner parties, game nights, and movie marathons.

Tonight is the beginning of trivia season, and Jon has been quizzing me to prepare for the season opener: “Who was the last player in major league baseball to hit over 50 homeruns in a single season?” He’s a bit of a sports nut, so his questions keep me knowledge about baseball, football and basketball.  Go ahead, ask me anything about the 2000 Rosebowl.  Do it.

Trivia is just the beginning of game season for us, and our apart(y)ment will be hosting lots of game nights before the new year begins.  To keep things exciting, I’ve started looking for new  games to share with friends.  My picks are below, but I’m anxious to know  you play when you’re stuck inside —  any recommendations?

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home is wherever i’m with you

ImageMy mom and my grandma love baking Swedish pancakes, and whenever my grandma visits, the two of them chat and enjoy the sweet treats before waking me and my siblings for breakfast.  By the time we join them, the house is filled with the smell of butter & jam.

I moved to college in New Orleans when I turned 18, and the experience with the wild&artistic city inspired an incredible sense of wanderlust: I wanted to see everything.  In four years I changed my address 6 times: I studied abroad in Rome, spent a summer au-pairing in Milan, volunteered a year in Mexico, and then moved to Chicago for graduate school.

I associated home with the sound of my sister singing in the shower, my brother yelping loudly when he passed a new level on Halo (an XBOX game), and my parents giggling over inside jokes.  Luckily, none of those things are associated with an address or a building, and so I was able to take my home on the road. Like a turtle, right?

But seriously, roommates singing in the shower reminded me of my sister, Caity.  Dates laughing so loudly that soda spurted out their nose reminded me of my brother, Sam.  I felt close to my mom anytime someone was able to make me feel calm.

My little sister is a kindergarten teacher in Phoenix, and she recently won her dream home in a housing lottery.  What’s a housing lottery, you ask?  It’s a special lottery that allows firemen, police-officers and teachers to buy a house in foreclosure at a huge discount  It’s hard to imagine someone more deserving than my hardworking and kindhearted sister.

Anyway! Caity is moving this week, and I wanted to help make her new house feel like a home.  I decided to make a make a floral wreath out of paper, and calligraph “home is wherever i’m with you” on the inside.  You can see my project below, and maybe, just maybe, Caiters will send us a picture of the artwork hanging in her new home.

I started with a circle of paper as an outline for the wreath:
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Made leaves out of colored paper:
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Made the task a little easier with pre-made paper flowers:Image
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celebrate others and increase your joy

happiness is on my mind with the interactions taking place in the rah rah rah series (random acts of happiness).  today i took a second to write down my 13 happiest moments in 2013, and they ordered something like this:

  • my wedding day
  • a friend telling me she’s in love
  • another friend telling me she’s in love
  • a friend telling me she’s pregnant
  • another friend telling me she’s pregnant
  • my sister winning a house lottery (!)
  • moving to minneapolis
  • a friend getting a job offer that she’s been wanting for a while
  • a friend dropping everything and traveling solo to south america because it’s been on her bucket list for soo long
  • jon’s parents giddy excitement as they planned their trip to the baltic sea
  • jon’s parents excitement when they announced their retirement
  • my brother-in-law’s college graduation
  • my bachelorette party in austin
  • my honeymoon trip to isla mujeres
  • visiting good friends in new york city

the list suggests that some of my happiness comes from personal milestones, but a great deal of it comes from celebrating the achievements of friends and family. does it follow that we can be happier simply by celebrating the good fortune of others?  the answer seems to make sense– if the people around us are flourishing and happy, then their joy is capable of increasing our own.  per usual, i grabbed my camera and headed to the streets of minneapolis to test my theory.  i approached strangers and asked them to talk about the last time they were happy for someone else:0
the first man i approached was more enlightened than the buddha himself.  he looked at me like i was nuts, and he told me that he’s always happy for others. always? always.  he said that he’s happy because he has 4 grandchildren — ages 8, 9, 15, and 17 — and all of them are healthy and loved.  he said that being around his grandchildren is enough to make him happy for all of his days.  i scribbled down his words, and then he gazed up at the sun and reflected for a bit.  after, he told me that he’s also very happy that the people of minneapolis have such wonderful lakes and sunny skies.

while the rest of the responses weren’t exactly going to make the buddha smile, they did provide further insights into what’s making the people of minneapolis happy:
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“i’m happy it’s my sister’s birthday, and that we’re together at the lake instead of working.” (girl in blue)
“it’s my birthday!!!” (girl in yellow)
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“i am sophie, and i am happy because my sister just got pregnant. she was trying for a couple years, and it was really tough for her, and then she called from work –even though she wasn’t supposed to be on the phone– and she told me the good news.”
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“i’m happy that my son came home from maryland to visit for a while. he hasn’t been home since 2009, and now i have him here for 2 weeks.” (woman in hat)
“i’m happy my mom’s happy” (man in hat)
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“my sister had a job interview today at the school where our mom works — it would be great if they could work together.”
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“friend of mine just got married – they’re an adorable couple and incredibly happy together.” (guy in sleeveless)
“my sister got engaged” (girl in dress)
“a friend of mine has a coffee-date with a coworker” (guy in polo)
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“a friend got married – or, well, a few did – it’s wedding season!”
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“a friend of ours just had a baby–and so did we!”
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“my brother, joe fessler, just dropped a new album. he was working on the mix for over a year, and it turned out awesome.”
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“my dad just started his own company”
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“my daughter just had a perfect baby.”
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“our son is engaged to the most wonderful woman.”

i set out to make others happy, but i was definitely the lucky one today — it was so. much. fun. listening to all the happy moments that people shared with me.  i loved hearing the enthusiasm  and love with which people spoke about their friends and family (and yes, they were all smiling while they talked — mission accomplished).

cracks let the light shine in

the cabin trip concluded with a game of apples-to-apples on the boat and a bonfire under the stars.  as i watched the flames dance below the night sky, i started thinking about how grateful i was for the weekend: the time with family and friends, the easy laughs, the consistent sunlight, and the leisurely days.  thinking about gratitude and starlight reminded me of the leonard cohen quote, “there is a crack in everything, and that is how the light gets in.”  suffering, by definition, is painful, but the experience allows us to develop our capacity for gratitude and joy.  overcoming hardship allows us to see the value of small things with fresh eyes, and to be thankful for the simple, pleasant things in life.

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