Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Everything is Significant

There are a few disclaimers before this post.

A: I'm on my laptop and the "d" key is really sticky. Driving me crazy. If some of my d's are left off, you might have to throw one in. This paragraph alone took me about five minutes to write because I had to go back and press hard for all the "d's."

B: There are no pictures in this post. I'm too tire to pull them off my camera, and I haven't taken very many the past couple of days. So if the pictures make you happy, more happy will come next post.

C: I almost din't write tonight because I knew I'd wake up tomorrow and feel fine, and it would be a much better day to write a post. It woul make sense and it would have pictures and I wouldn't be tired and it woul have unicorns. But I owe it to myself to write on nights like tonight. It already feels goo. Or good. Oh, and the unicorns? They're there. They're just sleepy tonight. In the barn, having a rest. But they're there. Always.

*****

I think I shoul begin by saying I sent Lainey to school today with a hot dog in her lunch and my kids had McDonald's for dinner at 7:30. Half of me has a problem with this because I don't think hot dogs and McDonald's are the healthiest things for kids (although that doesn't stop us), and half of me has a problem with this because I care what people think and a torn-up hot dog in a Tupperware on the fourth day of school doesn't exactly send the cool mom vibe I had envisioned (at least I cut an apple to go with it). Heidi picked Lainey up from school today and teased me later, "Dude. What was in her lunch box? If you're going to send a hot dog, at least cut it with a sharp knife. It was, like, ripped." This is true.

Because it was a day. Actually, it's been a bit of a week, and I know what I'm about to say is so enjoying-the-small-things-painted-on-a-plaque, but it feels good. It feels good to be frazzled and falling apart a little bit because I feel like I'm learning a lot. I feel love from friends and family. I feel good to laugh and make fun of torn-up hot dogs. I feel good to surrender to the freedom of hot mess, and I almost want to take it to the moon. Like maybe drop off Lainey for school in the morning wearing my pajamas and dragging toilet paper from my shoe because at least it would be funny. I mean, if you're having a frazzled week, you might as well go big or go home.

Oh look, the "d" is working now.

I asked Brett if I shouldn't mention this on the blog because it's his stuff and not mine and because--well, some things are private and not to be shared. But we have lots of private things (the word private makes me giggle) that we don't share, and he says he doesn't care about this one and that if writing about it feels good, then I should write about it.

Everything's fine now. Just fine. But he had some scary chest pains today and we went to the ER and they kept him overnight to do that whole we-take-chest-pain-very-seriously thing (as they should). They already did a slew of tests, and everything looks great. I'm not worried anymore. In fact, by the time I left the hospital tonight, I was taking awkward hospital pictures and sending them to friends. And if the old man one curtain over in the ER yelled "I need to call Liberty Mutual" any louder, Liberty Mutual would have heard him and showed up.

But earlier today, I was not okay. I was scared and crying and made embarrassing emotional calls to people who don't speak embarrassing emotional (it's a very sloppy language that I need to perfect). I guess nothing makes me freak more than my family in jeopardy. My family. My love.

Because I know mature and pulled-together people stay calm and level-headed during moments like this, I realized today that I must not be mature or pulled-together. I'm going to work on that. What I do know is that you rise to the occassion, always. There's an adrenaline rush that comes with those moments when life feels a little bit like it's in danger of falling apart, and it makes you feel very responsible. To your family. To yourself. Fight or flight, baby, and I'm flying.

Between kindergarten emotions and it-could-have-been-a-heart-attack, I am learning more about myself and my family. What we are capable of. How we need each other. What we can do better. We seem to learn it when life gets sticky.

We may have had happy meals for dinner, but I felt so on top of my game later tonight. I put two girls to bed with clean jammies, made Lainey's lunch, signed papers in her Wednesday folder, talked to the boys about today, had a great chat with their mom, made some calls, took my prenatal vitamins and ultimately decided to write a post.

Brett will most likely be home tomorrow, and his follow-up will go back in the private folder where it belongs. We'll move forward and feel grateful and will be making crafts and packing better lunches soon. I will keep thinking about this for a while because I think that's what these moments are for. I'll tone it down beneath "embarrassing emotional" but dial it above "insignificant" because everything is significant. ...it's how we grow.

And I can't wait to write more about Fred's on Tuesday nights, kindergarten progression and a new friend I finally met that rocked my world.

But it's late, and I am tired and it's been a very, very long day.

Monday, August 27, 2012

That First Day

This post was intended to be written on Friday, but Friday swallowed me whole. I was so physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, it wouldn't have come out right--of this I am sure. And in between the first day of kindergarten and new home routines, a little storm called Isaac came rolling in this weekend, intimidating South Florida enough to close schools today. Lainey's thrilled, thank you very much.

So, kindergarten...

After I dropped Lainey off at school Thursday and had my parking lot cry (followed by coffee shop cry, call-to-Brett cry, and call-to-sister/mom/dad/cousin cry, respectively), I set out to find her the perfect pair of gym shoes. It wasn't really about the shoes but more about me needing to occupy my time--a mission I gave myself that subconsciously represented wanting to fix her sadness, wanting to make her happy some way, somehow. So I hit every shoe store in Naples, looking for the perfect shoes. Salesmen showed me their latest and greatest, but nothing said Lainey.

"No, no shoelaces," I'd argue. "She can't tie yet."

Somewhere between the fourth and fifth store, I realized I was being silly and yet that's part of motherhood too. We cope with things in silly ways sometimes, and Thursday I shopped for shoes like my child's acceptance of kindergarten depended on a velcro, thick-soled, quality-stitched, not-pink, adorable pair of tennis shoes.

I bumped into Heidi halfway through my shopping, and she had news from the underground--a text from another mom who had seen Lainey at recess.

"Dina just texted me. She saw Lainey at recess!"

"She did?" I asked, hopeful. "And?"

Heidi's eyes widened and she flashed a fake smile. "And that's all. She talked to her."

Rule of Life #421: When your best friend's lying to you, her eyes get big.

"Oh my God, you're so lying. You're trying to spare me. What else did she say?" I asked.

"Shit. I knew you were going to ask me that." Heidi paused for a minute, carefully planning her next words. "She was crying, Kelle. She was sitting by herself, crying."

And that? That's like taking a bullet.

Heidi started crying before I did. "I'm sorry. This sucks, doesn't it? Let me go up there. Will they let me go be with her?"

"We can't," I answered. "You don't know how badly I want to. But, she's just got to go through this, and it sucks."

Dad, I know I've said shit and sucks in one post, but it's all I had last week.

It sucked.
But then it got a little bit better.

*****

The drop-off was the hardest part of motherhood yet (give or take a couple of traumatic birth experiences, hospital stays, a life-rocking unexpected diagnosis--we can call that a given, right?). I sensed her anxiousness, I felt her grip, I listened to her soft sobs as she begged me not to leave. I hugged and reassured and prayed she wouldn't see my tears. I brought my camera thinking if there's one time to take pictures, it's the first day of school. But the only time I pulled it away from me was to snap a photo looking down-the only photo we have from the morning she started school.

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Two wonderful teachers who know just what to say and exactly how to comfort--they peeled her away from me while she cried, after my last quick hug, and I walked out the door where my friend was waiting. We hugged for a good minute and then sat in her car in the parking lot for another half hour before I sent her back up to check on Lainey. She returned, smiling. A good report: no crying, sitting on the carpet with the other students and a smile from the teacher who looked up from her book just for a moment to whisper "Excellent"--a word she indeed knew would be carried by the messenger back to the mama.

I thought about Lainey all day. I knew it wouldn't be easy--lunch and recess and joining another class for art. I know my girl; I knew there'd be tears. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't imagine some Black Hawk Down rescue--running in that school to sit by her throughout the day--knowing how big she'd smile, how good she'd feel to have me there. I think I surprised a lot of people--even myself.

"I thought you'd rent a helicopter," my dad admitted. In fact, he sent Heidi to pull me from the classroom that first morning--unbeknownst to me--assuming I wouldn't be strong enough to peel away from Lainey myself. Moments after The Great Peel-Away of 2012, I watched from the parking lot as Heidi, practically in her pajamas, came tearing around the corner in her white minivan, and I had to laugh when she looked shocked to see me standing there. (Sidenote: That damn white minivan always shows up. Always. In fact, if you want to be "the friend who shows up," I'd suggest you start by getting a white minivan.)

Heidi quickly explained. "Dude, I came to get you out of there. Your dad texted me that he couldn't get ahold of you, and he was sure you were in that classroom and never leaving. I'm here on official business. I thought for sure I'd have to pull you out. How did you do it?"

We both started laughing, mine still through tears. "You guys underestimate me. I know this is part of it. I knew I'd have to leave."

*****

I watched the clock all day. Showed up forty minutes early to make sure I got a good parking spot, checked in as a visitor, waited against the wall outside her classroom and watched for the door to open with that final school bell. And when it opened, the first one out was Lainey, holding the hand of her teacher, swallowed by that backpack half her size, smiling her coy little closed-mouth grin when she saw me.

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Lunch and recess and switching classes for related arts is hard and will take some getting used to. But in one day my girl, who last week reported she was "nervous of learning," was proud to tell me that she loves her classroom and adores her teacher. While students walked to buses and made their way to their parents' cars that afternoon, my girl knelt down and unzipped her backback. She couldn't wait to show me the picture she drew at school. "It's me and you," she pointed out, smiling.

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When we returned the second day of school, she still didn't want to go. She cried at recess again, and I cried to hear that. But it was already different. She didn't grip my hand so tightly, she didn't need to be peeled away. I saw confidence that had bloomed in one short day--the same kind of confidence that has appeared, without fail, so many times in my own life when I had to work a bit to find it. It's there.

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Self reflection is so very much a part of these motherhood moments. I have thought about why this is so hard, what I could have done to make it better. We chose not to do daycare or preschool for Lainey, and I don't regret that decision at all, even though it may have made this transition a little easier. I wonder what things we can do to help smooth out these first few weeks, and we are trying lots of fun ideas--some our own, and some wonderful suggestions of yours. The thing is, there are a hundred billion ways to raise a child--to nourish them, to teach them to think on their own, to instill confidence, to show them kindness, to challenge them to be respectful, to educate them, to show them the world. And when you choose a way to do these things--a way that fits and feels good for your family and your child--I think it's only natural to wonder if maybe one of the 99,999,999,999 other ways might have worked better.

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A wonderful friend e-mailed me on Thursday after the morning report, and her reassuring words spoke right to my vulnerabilities:

"This is NOT the report I was hoping for. And yet...it makes sense, sister. You have created such a heaven at home that everything without you is going to feel a bit hellish at first, right? And isn't that sort of perfect? She's gotta find her little slices of heaven without you. She's gotta grow eyes like her mama's eyes--eyes that find beauty in the little things in her own little school life. You've been finding joy for her, and now she has to channel her mama without her mama."

What a challenge that is for all of us as parents, no matter how old our children are or when and where they go to school or how shy or outgoing they may be--encouraging them to find beauty in their surroundings, even if we are not there to point it out. As we get ready for the rest of the week and the four school drop-offs we face in the next four days, I'm thinking about opportunity. For Lainey, of course, it exists in the classroom, through the insecurities, and moment after moment at school when she continually recognizes ways to be happy and learn and make friends and find reassurance in her own abilities. For me and Brett, that opportunity exists at home--in seeking creative ways to talk about school, to role play scenarios of timidness and confidence, to prepare her every night and every morning to give it another shot.

This is all new territory, and hell, are we ever learning. It feels good though. I knew it was coming from the day she was tiny, when kindergarten seemed nothing but a far-off dream.

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And it will come again, soon enough.

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The plus side? Well, there are many of them, one of them being the whole school experience. Like playing house. There will be musicals and school fairs and late night texts to other moms asking what time the field trip starts, and I'm still in that "this is so cool that I have two kids" phase. Because sometimes I don't really believe it.

After the drop-off Friday morning, a few of us kindergarten mama friends huddled at the front of the school and rehashed. One held a jammied baby on her hip, I held my styrofoam coffee cup, and school procedures commenced around us while we made good mama conversation. I liked it. I felt like I did when I bought a vacuum for my first condo. I just felt--I don't know--like a real grown-up. Because lots of times, I don't.

The moral of the story:

She'll be fine. She'll do great.

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Mark Poulin's cupcake necklace makes things happier.


We all will.

As my sister reminded me last week, "Our job is to prepare our kids for a life beyond us." What an empowering task.

Oh, and the gym shoes? Found 'em. They are perfect. They are Lainey.


*****

Friday Photo Dump:

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Friday Phone Dump photos are taken on the Instagram iPhone app (free) and dropped into a 12x12 collage using a photo editing software (Photoshop Elements works). I am @etst (enjoying the small things) on Instagram if you care to follow the feed.

And your #enjoyingthesmallthings photos. (If you use Instagram and have a photo that makes you happy, share it by using the hashtag #enjoyingthesmallthings. Yours may be chosen to be shared in a Friday post.)

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*****

Dashing Bee online children's consignment shop is returning in sponsorship with a newly renovated site and new inventory. You can search items by size, by brand, by gender and clothing article and get what Dashing Bee is known for--quality, brand name gently used children's goods at a fraction of the price. Dashing Bee updates their inventory daily and is a great place to shop for inexpensive outerwear for the coming season.

A few of my current favorites on Dashing Bee:

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*****

I'm still settling in to new routines. I have clothes to lay out, a lunch to pack and a girl who needs a fully present mama for bedtime tonight. Goodnight.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hallmark: Back to School Style

This post is a Hallmark sponsored post. I am being paid by Hallmark to write it, but all writing, ideas and opinions are mine. Thankfully, Hallmark and I share the same idea--that little moments are to be celebrated and that good people, good efforts and good intentions deserve a spotlight. See Hallmark Life is a Special Occasion for more details, like them on Facebook, and/or sign up for their e-mail messages HERE.


So the first day of kindergarten happened today, and I'm still processing all of the emotions (there's a lot to process). Until I write about how these first couple of days felt for all of us, I'll start with something easy...what we wore.

During first day preparations last night, I happened to check Instagram to see my dad posted photos of my own first day of kindergarten. Which brings me to the notable interjection of why in heaven's name did I show my dad how to use Instagram? It is now only used on his behalf to post photos of the past (my buck teeth and permed bangs) and Photoshopped works of art with my head on other bodies. I digress.

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Looking at those photos from twenty-seven years ago, I can't help but smile. My mama's style is repeating a generation. I love my girls in saddle shoes; I dig collars tucked over layers; and cuffed pants, a good bang trim and hair ribbons are little girl essentials in my book.

I noticed after the comments on a few photos I posted to Instagram yesterday that a little one's budding style whether it be independent or parent-influenced is fodder for mama discussion much like breast feeding vs. bottle or homeschooling vs. public. Some mamas frown on cartoon character clothing while some hold true to "whatever makes them smile." Some mamas love school uniforms for their ease and equality while some love the expression interchanging outfits provide. And all mamas fall somewhere along the line of rooting for our kids' creativity and independent style while still breathing out our own to them, perhaps even unintentionally, by the choices we make. It's why Lainey slips on a Bears jersey on Sunday afternoons in the fall--because she knows it makes her daddy smile.

And my girl's first day of school outfit? It says a little bit about us both. It says I only have two kids right now and can manage to find the time to evenly part hair and tie ribbons. It says Mama loves tweed, Lainey loves red, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree because I see my own mama's style in there too. It says this is probably the last year she'll be happy to wear t-strap little girl shoes with double buckles. It says we did a potty practice in it twice before school to make sure she could unbutton and reposition on her own.

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And as much as it matters to me--this nostalgic first day and what she wore--my girl sadly doesn't quite get it yet, evident by tonight's preparation for Day Two tomorrow.

After packing her lunch tonight, I held up three dresses for Lainey. "I pulled these from the dryer, and they all smell good. Which one do you want to wear tomorrow?"

She didn't even have to look up to answer. "Nuffing. I'm not going back to school."

I smiled. "Alright then, so the striped one it is. Let's go brush our teeth."

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Do you remember any of your first day of school outfits? What do they say about your own style? And what do your kids' back-to-school ensembles say about you or your child's style this year?

Oh, and I'll be back late tomorrow to talk about the memorable first day. It was very hard for both of us. But in one day...we've learned so much.


To see other Hallmark posts on this blog, click HERE.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Night Before Kindergarten

Dear Lainey,

Well, here we are--the night before kindergarten. You are already asleep, not very far from me. In fact, after you fell asleep tonight, I laid next to you, molding your hand around my finger to grasp it just like you did when you were small.

You're still small.

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Today was special. We spent the day together--just you and me--and because I know that things are changing a bit tomorrow, I couldn't help but think a lot today about how we've had so many of these special days--and yes, we'll have so many more. But I wish I could rewind and feel a few of those baby days again. Maybe even if we only had ten rewinds in our entire lifetime, and we had to choose carefully when we could use one. Well, today I would have bought a vowel. I would have cashed in one rewind and cherished every second of its replay. I would have held you tighter, read one more book, kissed one more cheek, snuggled you in that rocking chair one more minute before I laid you in your crib.

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This isn't the way it works though. Hindsight builds with time which means, baby, I'll be the best grandma ever to your kids. But this week I'll forget again. I might get frustrated or tired or a little impatient when you take fifteen minutes to buckle your babydoll's carseat in the back seat when I'm trying to get out of the driveway to make it somewhere on time.

Let me tell you something though. This feeling I'm feeling right now the night before kindergarten? It's going to come again and again and again. In between the days that parenting is challenging, through the exhaustion, even after teenage arguments. My heart will always hurt loving you.

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I can tell you're nervous. I am too. And I have replayed in my mind so many times what tomorrow will look like. I want you to be happy. I want you to run into that classroom and feel the opportunity that exists between those walls, in those books, through those friends. You might not feel it right away, and that's hard for me. Because I won't be there to hold your hand when you're feeling a little bit insecure, reminding you of your strengths and the happiness that exists around you. And I have been there the past five years.

But I'm here in a different way (Girl, I am always here...you can't get rid of me). Thinking of you at home. Looking forward to your stories. Knowing that we're both stretching and growing together.

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The parts about my character and my own story that I am most proud of? They came with uncomfortable moments when sometimes I had to step out on my own and recognize that I am strong, I am capable and I am full of potential. It exists inside every one of us, and I know you're going to discover so much of it this year.

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I let you choose one of my necklaces to wear tomorrow--a little piece of home you'll have all day. And I think I might wear one of yours tomorrow too.

I am sad that you won't be here every day with me, but mostly I am so excited to watch you soar. It won't be long before you'll be running to the car, excitedly rattling off the days events, who you met, what you made. You'll pull projects from your backpack, and we'll proudly hang them on our walls. You'll correct us when we call your friends by the wrong name, and soon you won't need to hold our hands through the school hallways because you will own them.

Maybe not tomorrow...but soon.

Lainey, the world awaits. Go paint your colors. xo

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Love,
Mom

*****

Grace Adele Independent Consultant, Amy Jackson joins ETST in sponsorship this month, offering an extensive collection of handbags and accessories from large totes in butter-soft leather to stylish clutches, scarves and jewerly.

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Laney Leather Bag (perfect name, if you ask me), Rae Clutch and Envelope Wallet

My favorite?

The super soft studded Rae Clutch, the perfect size for me. It comes with a long chain strap (optional), is easy to grab on the go and holds lipstick, cell phone, keys, a small coin purse with cards, a bottle of essential oil (nausea), and I can even fit a diaper in there.

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Eh, you like my marker stains? So I did a little coloring today with Lainey.

Check out the other great products Amy offers with Adele Grace.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A School Decision

I left off last Wednesday on a solitude sand booby high. And I do believe I went so far as to throw in that world-is-my-oyster stuff, which is true, yes. But so is reality, and the endcap to last week has been--well, I'm going to go with funny.

I had a little scare with the baby (went through this again, but everything's fine), had several days of bad nausea (I'm telling myself it's at a peak which means it's about to fizzle soon), and I've been wrought with emotion over decisions regarding Lainey's school this year. It's been a good experience in accepting that there is so much out of our control; sometimes we just need to ride the wave.

While there have been numerous decisions we've made since Lainey was born, school feels like the most important one so far. With important decisions come many opinions. We've heard so many people who truly care about Lainey tell us what we should do--send her to kindergarten, homeschool, wait a year, send her to a different school, etc. I've considered them all and had lists of pros of cons written out for each choice. To be honest, any of them would have worked. But I had a first choice scenario that I felt was the very best fit for my child and our family, and it involved waiting and back-up plans and hoping. That's a bit vague, but I'll leave it at that.

Today, everything worked out perfectly--so much that I had a good grateful cry. Lainey will start kindergarten later this week, and I am a little bit sad and a lotta bit excited. As the week progresses, I'm sure I'll have more to share, but tonight I am feeling this rush of motherly confidence. I listened to my own voice and overcame a few obstacles to obtain what I really wanted for my child. It worked out, and I feel so good about this choice.

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I have a few emotions now to smooth out before our first big day. I will miss being with her--that's the hardest part.

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But I'm going to pack some damn good lunches and ask good questions after school. I'll give big hugs when she runs to the car, clap the loudest at school musicals and make my presence known in every way I can. I will explore new ways to love--ways that involve letting go, standing back and cheering from the sidelines. I'm still there, and she will know that.

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This one's going to miss her sister though.

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A few pics from our weekend:

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Lainey's buddy Aleena's birthday party

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Nella makes this face every time right before she dumps water on Brett's head

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After several days lounging around not feeling well, I decided it's time to do something. A trip to Michaels and a few sheets of felt later, Lainey and I made the first little seasonal swag. I know. It's August. But a girl's got to have something to look forward to. More to come.

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*****
Friday Photo Dump:

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Friday Phone Dump photos are taken on the Instagram iPhone app (free) and dropped into a 12x12 collage using a photo editing software (Photoshop Elements works). I am @etst (enjoying the small things) on Instagram if you care to follow the feed.

And your #enjoyingthesmallthings photos. (If you use Instagram and have a photo that makes you happy, share it by using the hashtag #enjoyingthesmallthings. Yours may be chosen to be shared in a Friday post.)

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*****

New Sponsor: Jamberry Nails Independent Consultant, Samantha Fryer

After my first nail shellac earlier this year, I instantly fell in love. Thing is, keeping up with it is too expensive, and it eventually ruins your nails. Enter new sponsor, Independent Jamberry Nails Consultant, Samantha Fryer. It's a candy shop for nails. Jamberry offers over 150 styles, colors and patterns of vinyl nail shields that can be easily applied to your own nails (or acrylics) at home with a little heat (a short blast of a hair dryer).

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Jamberry Nails last longer than regular nail polish (1-2 weeks for nails, 3+ weeks for toes), and stay shiny throughout wear.

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Each nail shield is cut before applying, so one sheet supplies 2-4 wears.

Available in a wide range of collections (bridal, fun in the sun, metallics, neutrals and charity patterns such as Autism Speaks), Jamberry offers a fun and easy way to accessorize your fingertips.

I have argyle on the mind for fall.

*****

I have a lot of soaking up to do before school.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Enjoy the Silence While it Lasts

I am undoubtedly a people person. I come alive in airports, on dance floors, crushed between bodies at concerts. I call people in the car on a four-minute drive so I can talk my way from my house to the nearest Publix, and I hug instead of shake hands. It’s not that I don’t like to be alone—I dream of island hammocks and quiet mountain hikes. It’s that I’ve forgotten how to really be alone. I’ve fallen victim to bad habits that have trained me to think I need to be stimulated—my kids, my friends, my phone, my iPod, my house, my work. I need to be doing something because there’s always something to be done. And when I’m alone, I twitch. My solitude muscles have atrophied.

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It was Brett’s idea for me to go away alone. I had been complaining that I’m having trouble focusing, I can’t find a lengthy enough chunk of time to really unravel some things I’ve been thinking about, and I haven’t challenged myself recently in writing. I’m too comfortable. I’ve been writing simply what I know and what feels good and easy, and while that’s great, that’s not the kind of writer I want to be. Sometimes, yes. All the time, no.

I knew this little retreat wouldn’t just be for my writing though. I’d be quiet and still, and in that quiet and stillness maybe I’d find a little part of me that’s been forgotten—the part that whispers “Hello? I’m here. Listen to me.” I don’t really know what the perfect scenario for having a conversation with that little voice looks like because it’s been a while, but I imagine it will happen on the beach when I’m sitting alone in the moonlight wearing something flowy. So I pack my white skirt.

I’m staying twenty minutes away from my house, but in this palm-corralled piece of heaven, I feel like I’m far away. I arrive Monday afternoon, welcomed at the lobby desk with, “Ms. Hampton, we have a gulf-view suite upgrade for you at no additional charge” which, translated, means “Ms. Hampton, if you’ll just hop aboard this unicorn, we’ll fly you to your room.” Not one to argue, I oblige.

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My suite is beautiful. Wide-plank wood floors, endless light, a massive bed with soft white linens and pillows perfectly stacked in three pairs. It feels more like a Tahitian villa than a free staycation upgrade twenty minutes from home, and as soon as I’m in the door, I drop my bags and collapse into the bed like one of those trust exercises where you close your eyes, stretch out your arms and fall backwards into arms that hopefully catch you. I stare at the ceiling, the clock, the cuticle I ripped off my middle finger earlier this week, the chipped polish I meant to fix on my toes before I left. Who cares, there’s no one but me to notice.

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I am twitchy, so excited yet overwhelmed with the possibility of three days alone that I feel like five minutes on the bed is wasted time. And it bothers me that I think this because it defeats the purpose of this entire experience. I know that rest and recharging and just being still are as important to creative productivity as the act of creating itself. I open my laptop and stare for a bit, waiting for the flood gates to open because that's what's magically going to happen on a writing retreat, right? But instead I notice my bangs are crooked in the computer screen reflection.

I brought a stack of my favorite books, and I pull one out and head to the outside deck to read for a bit. Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod, definitely a randomly-flip-open-to-any-page-and-get-something-out-of-it kind of book. So I do just that and find the following:

“You have to find a way of working that makes it dead easy to take full advantage of your inspired moments. They never hit at a convenient time, nor do they last long…Conversely, neither should you fret too much about “writer’s block, “artist’s block,” or whatever. If you’re looking at a blank piece of paper and nothing comes to you, then go do something else. …If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough.”

I’m enjoying the silence while it lasts. I grab my room key and walk down to the beach bar where I order a virgin Pina Colada and suck it down like Lindsey Lohan, ripping the cherry off the stem at the end. And then I order another one because I feel like the world is my oyster and I am its pearl—its clueless pearl who doesn’t realize virgin Pina Coladas are only a buck cheaper than the real thing.

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It takes me a little while to really settle in and wean myself of overstimulation (alright, I failed to give up Instagram—that motherfreakingInstagram), but two hours after my arrival, I’m already drunk on solitude. “Look at me! I’m alone at a hotel with nothing to do. Free Bird! Free Bird!” I want to sing all Fraulein Maria as I twirl in the hotel courtyard. And when I pull my computer out because the noise returns soon enough, I choose not to pay the extra $10 for Internet service because I know I’ll toggle between Word and Google, Word and Facebook, Word and E-mail, Word and awkwardfamilyphotos.com.

I’m tempted to call friends. They would love this—this suite, this couch, these pillows on the floor, these adirondacks lined up in the sand. And my girls—there’s room for them here. They would love this pool.

This is my time though.

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So I write. I write in the bar, I write by the beach, I write in plush chairs in hidden corners of the lobby. I write in my room, I write wedged between jagged rocks on the shore because it seems a very Thoreau thing to do (it’s a stupid idea, I scratch the hell out of my thighs).

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By write, I don’t necessarily mean fingers madly skipping across the keyboard. Some of that is thinking or staring or closing the screen and watching the tide. I read a little bit, I walk, and I take breaks to swim and wander the property and yes, answer phone calls even though I swear I won’t. Brett calls the first night, after my first five hours alone, and excitedly asks, "So? Do you have, what--like, fifty pages written now?" because he thinks my retreat is going to magically transform me into the Bionic Writing Woman. "Brett, that's not how writing works," I explain, "I can't just rattle off things. A lot of writing is thinking and learning and talking things out in my head. I have a page and a half, okay?"

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This time away has been incredibly productive, at least in my subjective definition of "productive." I’ve seen three sunsets in a row now. I've watched from the bar, a curtain of sea oats between me and the ocean stage where the spectacular show takes place every night. And when all I want to do is grab someone to share the beauty with me--to point out to the sky and say "Isn't it incredible?"--I say it silently to myself.

While I thought that three days alone with nothing to do but think would have me reevaluating all life’s rituals, I am surprised by how clear my mind has been. Actually, I take that back. Last night I called Brett to catch up. He told me how Nella emptied the silverware in the dish washer again, how she passed each fork and spoon and how she smiled when he said "thank you" after every one.

“I miss her," I followed. And then, out of nowhere, "Babe? Am I a good wife?”

He laughed. “Yes, why?”

“I don’t know, I’m alone, I’m thinking. Am I the kind of wife that, after twenty years, you’d say—,” and I couldn’t even finish my sentence because I started laughing, realizing I’ve gone all Oprah after only one day in solitude.

Brett yawned. “Babe, I’m watching Shark Week here. Can I like, let you go and you can write?”

Of course.

So, what did these few days accomplish?

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Well, for starters, I faced my shark fear (during Shark Week, coincidentally) and briefly swam in the gulf after the sun set because Brett swears I'm wrong in thinking all dusk swimmers get eaten by sharks. (P.S., I lived.)

I did write--some personal writing I've been wanting to do, a little bit of project writing, a little bit of blog stuff. I evaluated the process of writing too--how it's easy to fall in the "careful" trap. Don't offend. That could be misinterpreted. Who might be reading? I don't necessarily have anything specific in mind that's controversial, and I'm not suddenly going to start writing political rants or polarizing posts. It's just my writing needed a little defibrillation, and maybe my soul did too. Anything we seek to give--our words, our art, our talents, our voice, our ideas--must have time to grow first. If we value our gifts and our passions, we will take care of them. I understand more deeply right now the importance of solitude and how it feeds the creative soul.

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I will make more efforts to be alone and to rest. And the Solitude Retreat of 2012 is the first of many that will follow.

And look--a few guests join me on my last night.

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From the Tahitian villa twenty minutes from our home...goodnight.

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Matilda Jane Independent Trunk Keeper, Kelly Ewbank, joins in sponsorship this month, appropriately timed with the Character Counts clothing line released by Matilda Jane today. Matilda Jane has long been a favorite of mine--since Lainey was a baby--and my girls often wear their fun patchwork patterns, ruffled pants, striped tights and girlish designs.

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Lainey's outfit from the Serendipity and You & Me collections

Shop any of Matilda Jane's collections, use Trunk Keeper #302 with your order, or contact Kelly through her site and she'll guide you through your order.

Nella's already wearing Lainey's old Matilda Jane pieces this fall (in perfect condition still), and a few new pieces have been added to Lainey's closet.

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Some nice sand boobies to end the post.

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