A Very Confetti Birthday

I have a 4 year old. Repeat. I have a 4 year old! There is a child in my house who is potty trained, can speak in full sentences, knows how to operate light machinery and can recite the planets to me in order. 4 years old!

Hitting this milestone was a cause for celebration. With August sharing his birthday with an epic holiday (cough Valentine’s Day cough) we knew we’d have to plan early. So way back in December I asked August, “What kind of birthday would you like?” I was expecting an answer along the lines of dinosaurs, legos, robots, animals or space. But not August. He’s always thinking a bit outside the box and of that I’m always proud. “Confetti” he replied. Really? I had to ask him a second time to make sure I understood. “Confetti?” He nodded yes. Alright then! Confetti it would be!

As soon as he confirmed his vision I started collecting goodies for the party. There were tons of New Year’s Eve decorations on store shelves and lots of sparkly colorful knick knacks that would lend themselves to our little celebration. I already have an arsenal of party decor that I reuse from event to event – so that was on the docket too. My kitchen cabinets are loaded with colorful cake stands, bright plates, customizable message banners, fun paper straws and colorful napkins. Perfect! I also knew I had a sizable stack of construction paper that I could tap for a homemade element. I ended up cutting out hundreds of confetti circles and sewing through them with my machine. Voila! Instant party decor.

When planning food for kid parties handhelds are always best. The goal is to keep things nice and simple so the kids can self serve, leaving the adults to have a chance to connect.  Trader Joe’s is always my go-to for party food. The prices are great, the products are delicious AND there are no creepy chemicals lurking about. That’s right! No synthetic additives, gmos or high fructose nonsense.Even the color additives are natural. I’ll take beet and carrot derived hues over red 40 any day! The final party spread included organic low-sugar juice for the kids, coffee, sparkling water and hard cider for the adults, fresh jumbo pretzels, cheese sticks and wheels, cheddar popcorn, peanut butter banana shish kabobs (thanks Pinterest!), grapes, a vegan veggie platter, and of course, cake. The best part? The cake, also from Trader Joes, was covered in confetti sprinkles. Love!

So there you have it. Our take on a very confetti birthday. Happy birthday little August!

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2018 in Review: Changes

Driving down a familiar road made me think about where I was exactly one year ago. It’s really amazing how much can change in 365 days.

In January of 2018 my heart was shattered. My dear Peanut succumbed to prostate cancer, I was still separated from my husband, and I found myself living back with my folks driving 4 hours a day just to get to work. Everything in life seemed to be regressing instead of moving forward. I found myself at the bottom of a valley. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing better by now? Why did I keep moving backwards? Why did things continue to unravel around me? But God had a plan and His timing is always good.

So there I was, living with my parents, running a marathon on weekdays and spending each weekend in an emotional coma. I was burying myself in books, music and prayer just to get through the day. I didn’t know what road I was on, which direction it led, and who was on it with me. But God knew. In the last 12 months the most extraordinary things have happened to completely transform the trajectory of my life. What a difference a year makes!

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Here are just a few of the highlights.


Spring: Home Sweet Home

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I had always dreamed of owning my own place. A nook that was all mine, to do with as I pleased. No landlord, no lease, just property. A place where I could nest, without restraints, that I knew could be mine for however long I’d like. It’s the American dream after all.

Despite the horrendous 4 hour commute, living with my parents afforded me the one thing I could never seem to gather up: a down payment. No matter how much I penny pinched over the years it was just never enough. But living back home gave me the financial space I needed to get my affairs in order, read up on the process, and then finally dive in. And that’s how in March of 2018 I became a first time homeowner.

We now live in a gorgeous vintage condo in Evanston on the shores of Lake Michigan. Literally on the lakefront. I can hear the waves crashing as I sit here and type. We are in a quiet nook with a beautiful park on one side of the block and a beach on the other. We have ample parking, amenities at our finger tips, and neighbors so sweet they can give you cavities. We often feel like we’re living in a vacation resort or perhaps even dreaming. And who would have guessed one year ago that we’d be living in this amazing place!? God knew.


Summer: So You Think You’re a Spring Chicken

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I wouldn’t describe myself as old, but let’s face it, my body can’t do the same things it used to. And when I say same things I mean mundane tasks, like bending down, lifting and twisting, and hard core manual labor. So perhaps I should have known better than to push my limits during my DIY kitchen renovation. Those Home and Garden shows make it look so easy. And so does my dad. So after 2 months of moving, gutting, installing and decorating, my body gave out. Kaput. I bent down one day and couldn’t straighten back up. I was in excruciating pain, losing consciousness, and paralyzed from my chest down. What in the world?!

Why on earth is this a highlight of 2018? Let me explain.

I spent a day in the hospital, a week on bed rest, 6 weeks with limited mobility, and 3 months of physical therapy. A multitude of tests, including an MRI, discovered that I had a herniated disc, spinal infection, and a cyst at the base of my spine. Lovely. Tangent: Are you familiar with how MRIs work? Your electrons are temporarily polarized. Seriously, go look it up! Science is awesome.

Anyway. Getting those kind of test results is kind of freaky. But you know what? Though I was scared, I didn’t panic. After the journey of the last couple of years I knew better than to go into full alarm mode. “God’s got this.” And then, on top of learning that my resolve was stronger than I had realized, another amazing thing happened: I fell in love again.

Being bound to a bed for a week, with a toddler in the home, is an adventure, but one that’s not quite as frightening when your beau swoops in and saves the day. David and I were not living together at this point, but he dropped everything to come and tend to me, August, and my household. He took care of me, from head to toe, and with such tender affection that I found myself feeling butterflies I didn’t know were still there. I never stopped loving him, and we were already in the process of reconciling, but something about that week made me fall deeper in love than ever before. Sigh. Imagine: He’s cooking, cleaning, taking you to the ER, picking up your prescriptions, wiping your bottom, bathing you, and catching you while fainting…it’s like a true Victorian romance. Except I didn’t die of consumption. Turns out the cyst is benign, I don’t have a spinal infection, I do have a herniated disc (which is a-okay when compared to the other options!). Who’d have thought? God knew. And now I’m madly in love to top things off! Which brings me to…


Fall: A Marriage Restored

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Just over two years ago my marriage imploded. Suddenly, sharply, and without warning. I shared parts of the story here. After our formal separation I became a single mom and embarked on a journey that would change my life forever. Day by day my character was being refined in ways I never imagined. I was an incredibly independent, stubborn and prideful (ouch!) person. Walking this path softened my edges. I learned to accept help from others. I began to treasure relationships I had previously taken for granted. I became more patient, empathetic, and slower to speak and judge. While I was learning to be kinder a miraculous thing happened. I found that someone else was changing too: David.

In the winter of 2017 sparks were flying and there was a glimmer of hope for our marriage. Many many months later we would find ourselves officially dating again, in counseling, and on a path to restore our family. And all that hard work has paid off. We’ve learned more about ourselves, and each other, than we ever thought possible. Drawing back the curtain has allowed us to openly address our flaws, offer forgiveness, and lay a stronger foundation for our relationship. We love and appreciate each other like never before. Truly! And even though we were technically still married over these last 2 years we’ve decided to start from scratch. We want a complete do over. So David proposed. A full on down on his knees “Will you marry me?” proposal. Swoon. And, of course, I said “Yes!” A marriage restored, see? Who would have known?! God knew.


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As I look back at 2018 I am filled with overflowing gratitude. I would never have imagined that I’d have so much to celebrate in such a short period of time. I’m so thankful to my parents for opening their home to me for a season. It can’t be easy to go from empty nesting to having a strong willed adult child moving in with her toddler, dog, cat and foster bird in tow. I’m also grateful to my friends who helped me keep my head above water though some dark times and to my church family for letting me serve, worship, pray and seek their wisdom and support over and over again. And, of course, I’m thankful for David for embarking on this journey with me for a second time.

I am overflowing with joy and thanksgiving for all the amazing things God has accomplished in the last 365 days.

Happy New Year!

Peanut: Saying Goodbye

One year. Two years. Two milestones in the same week. And who would have remembered if not for the algorithms of Facebook pushing memories back into the present? 2 years ago I became a single mama and just 1 year ago I received the devastating news of Peanut’s cancer diagnosis. Eek. June has had a bad track record in recent years. But it’s not all bad news. Within the last year I also realized my lifelong dream of becoming a homeowner. See – there’s so much to share and catch up on, but let’s begin with Peanut.

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One year ago I shared about Peanut’s health diagnosis. That same day, through the tears, I wrote what would become a bucket list of activities that would carry us through the summer. And what an incredible summer it was. Peanut’s twilight months were filled with adventures, pup cups, cruises, barbecues, and extra snuggles with the people he loved.

Peanut was my first dog and my canine soul mate. Adopted from a local shelter in 2008 he stole my heart with his larger than life personality and supersized ears that matched. He became my study buddy after taking the leap to go back to school to finish my degree. He was my companion as I navigated the waters of launching my own indie business. He stood beside me as I sorted out my career path. Peanut’s slew of health problems and training needs built the foundations I’d need to transition into the field of animal welfare where I found my life’s calling. Peanut taught me how to be bold, compassionate, and ever so patient. He was my little shadow and one of my best friends.

 

After receiving the diagnosis I was committed to celebrating our remaining time together. I thought that the months ahead would prepare me for his departure, but they didn’t. Peanut’s condition declined in late September and though his spirit remained intact, his body was slipping. Our pain management plan was no longer effective, he was completely incontinent, and though he still enjoyed walks and snuggles, the pain attacks that would hit were growing more frequent and intensifying. I couldn’t watch as he suffered but couldn’t manage the timing of making “the call.”

In the midst of this decline I made the decision to move my little family in with my folks. Talk about changes. No one, no matter how great their relationship with their parents, wants to move back home with a toddler and 3 animals in tow. But I was fatigued by the rental lifestyle and knew there was no other way of saving up to buy my own place. So the moving commenced. After weeks of packing and stashing belongings between family members’s homes I was ready for the final move. That last day in my apartment was also the last day I would spend with Peanut. Choosing that day to be our final one was, single-handedly, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. From the drive down, to the procedure, to the gut wrenching sobbing that followed, it was earth shattering. It was not peaceful, how I’d imagined it would be, and I was completely wrecked. Here I was, surrounded by colleagues, a veteran in animal welfare, and I was a mess. Peanut had always been a fighter, so I should have guessed that he’d fight, even in the end, but the reality of that moment caught me off guard. Even having been present in many procedures with other animals – this was completely unexpected. But that was Peanut through and through: Always surprising me.

I was absolutely unprepared for what I was about to experience for the next several months. Despite a surge of condolences and shared tears, I fell into an abyss of grief that completely caught me off guard. For months I lived my daily routine through a cloud of sadness and silently wept into my pillow every night. I kept thinking about him, kept dreaming about him, and couldn’t let go. It felt surreal. He couldn’t be gone.

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In recent months I’ve read a lot about grief and animals. It takes most pet owners an average of one year to process a pet’s loss. The journey is emotional and messy. I knew all of that, and yet, even though surrounded by animal lovers I still felt some kind of silent stigma. How dare I mourn like this when there are others losing family members, children, spouses or friends? Why am I so consumed by this loss? And how do I change that? I cried through many prayers begging God to numb the pain, to make it go away, but it was a valley I had to cross. Like our favorite children’s book, Going on a Bear Hunt, “You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.” And that’s exactly what I did. I accepted the pain and gave into the healing salve that only time could bring.

After 9 months of grieving I can now write this post. That’s what I call progress. Being able to openly talk about this loss, and how I uniquely processed it, shows evidence of healing. And though the sadness still pricks at times, more and more I’m finding joy in remembering the unique creature that was Peanut while also allowing myself to enjoy the newness of my current journey. I’m now a home owner and the caretaker of an incredibly toddler and two amazing animals. I’m learning to let myself enjoy Butter as a single dog without a cloud of guilt hovering overhead. “It’s okay to be happy,” I keep reminding myself.

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I write all of this because, it’s cathartic, and also I want others to know it’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to grieve and feel this depth of loss. And it’s also okay to get help. I plan to join a local pet loss and support group to continue my path of healing and would encourage others to do the same.

So there it is – my first update in a long long time. Looking forward to sharing reflections on recent milestones in the coming weeks. In the meantime, hug your pets a little closer, and don’t be afraid to shed a tear for those you can’t.

Peanut’s Bucket List: Canine Cruise

Just a couple of days after Peanut’s diagnosis, and the development of his epic bucket list, we had the opportunity to knock #1 straight off his list: Go on The Anti-Cruelty Society’s Canine Cruise!

I’ve been wanting to take Peanut on a dog-friendly architectural river tour for years and just kept putting it off. After learning that his condition was terminal, I knew I had to had to get him into the next ship to set sail. That’s when I signed him up for the Canine Cruise!

Part fundraiser, part pooch adventure, the Canine Cruise took off on a pleasantly cool Saturday afternoon on the Chicago River. Facilitated by Mercury Skyline Cruises, the tour took us down the river and back, and then on a little tangent into the open waters of Lake Michigan. Peanut loved ever moment of it! He enjoyed freshly baked doggie biscuits and pupcakes from Chicago natives High Hopes while soaking up the sun and smells. Surrounded by fellow rescue pups and dog lovers, the cruise was a dream for canines and owners alike. I can’t think of a better way to have spent our Saturday afternoon.

Peanut Loves Butter: Upcycled Cotton Bowtie

Next up on Peanut’s Bucket List:

Go for a car ride with a Starbuck’s pup cup.

Peanut’s Bucket List

Owning a pet is one of life’s greatest joys. The snuggles, the licks, the late-night chats, the antics, and of course, the unconditional love. Our pets provide affection unlike any other. Their devotion is untainted by our mistakes, short-comings, or blundering. For that very reason the prospect of losing that bond is heartbreaking. I’m prepping myself for that loss now.

Peanut has been a part of my life since June 2, 2008 when I adopted him from PAWS Chicago. He had been transferred in from Chicago’s Animal Care & Control, where he had arrived as a stray, emaciated, and with cherry eye in both peepers. PAWS transferred him in, got him neutered, fixed his third eyelids, and popped him onto the adoption floor. I came in the very next day, saw his pitiful little face and the blazing spirit lying under the surface. I fell in love instantly. I brought him home that same day and my life was forever changed.

We’ve spent the last 9 glorious years together. The first two it was just him, my hubby, and the cat. We’d spend hours on the lakefront, just relaxing, reading and strolling. In 2011 we adopted his best friend, Butter, from The Anti-Cruelty Society and the two have been inseparable since. Years later we also adopted a bunny so had quite the motley crew at home. Over the decade he’s tolerated many house guests, including rescued wildlife, street kittens in heat, and countless of fostered shelter dogs and cats. And the biggest adventure of all came in 2015: the new human. He took even that in stride.

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Deeply opinionated, always energized, communicative, and prone to mischief, Peanut provided the daily spice of life that always kept us on our toes. He’s now 11 years old and the fire hasn’t dissipated one bit.

Despite his continued zest for life, Peanut has not been feeling well. After many weeks of testing, it was confirmed last week that my sweet senior has prostate cancer. It’s rare in dogs, very aggressive, and there’s no effective treatment. Radiation can extend his life span by a touch, but the stress of the process would negatively impact his quality of life. So the plan is to provide veterinary support in keeping him comfortable for as long as possible. It could be weeks or a  months. My vet will be giving me a tighter timeline in the next few days.

I’m saddened by the news in many ways, but am deliberately choosing not to dwell in my despair. Instead, I plan to celebrate each day that we have together. I want to celebrate his fiery spirit so he can go out in true Peanut fashion: With a bang.

So here it is – Peanut’s go-out-in-glory bucket list. It includes some over-the-top adventures as well as more subdued routines that I know will make him smile. My hope is that focusing in on these fun-filled tasks will prevent the sadness from taking hold of our limited time together.

Peanut’s Bucket List

Peanut Loves Butter: Upcycled Cotton Bowtie

  1. Go on The Anti-Cruelty Society’s Canine Cruise
  2. Go for a car ride with a Starbucks pup cup
  3. Scavenge at the farmer’s market
  4. Hunt down the Fido to Go canine food truck
  5. Take a walk on the beach at sunset
  6. Enjoy a vanilla custard cone from Lickety Split
  7. Eat a mini burger from Hamburger Mary’s
  8. Barbecue at my parents house (steak included!)
  9. Go for a boat ride with grandpa Andrzej
  10. Chew up a Polish kielbasa
  11. Eat a homemade batch of High Hopes pup cupcakes
  12. Get a doggie massage from the Chicago School of Canine Massage
  13. Take a trailer ride by the lake
  14. Eat a Chicago-style hot dog
  15. Celebrate life at our DIY lakefront “Peanut Party”

I’ll be posting updates of our bucket list adventures here on the blog as well as on Instagram. Thank you in advance for your love and support.

Here’s to making this the best summer of Peanut’s life!

Learning to Abide

a·bide

əˈbīd/

verb

1a :  to bear patiently b :  to endure without yielding 2:  to wait for :  to remain stable or fixed in a state


I am fast approaching the one year anniversary of what would signal the dissolution of my marriage of 10 years. The last 365 days have been both joyful and harrowing, exciting and discouraging, successful and defeating. Yet, through the ups and downs, hilltops and valleys, one constant remains: God.

I came to faith just shy of 18. I’ll have to come back to that story at a later date as it’s a doozy. Fast forward 15 years: I’m 33 and have suddenly become a single mom. Not the way I would have planned things. But you know what? 15 years ago, God knew. He knew that I would become a prodigal shortly after coming to faith. He knew that I’d fall in love, marry an unbeliever, and have a beautiful little boy in my early thirties. He knew that one day I’d wake up in bed, alone, still wearing my wedding ring. He knew.

I, in contrast, am far from knowing much, but this I do know:

God is with me. He always has been, and He always will be. And the thing He wants most from me in this season of life is to abide.

But what does that actually mean? How do we live out a life that waits on God to move? How can we remain steadfast when there’s so much uncertainty, so many questions? How do we endure when faced with the unthinkable?

In these last 12 months I’ve learned that the Lord doesn’t just want a surface-level encounter with us, He wants us to go deeper than we’ve ever been. To have an intimate relationship with us. To achieve this level of closeness we first have to develop spiritual disciplines to create a solid foundation of faith. Praying, studying the Word, and meditating on it. That’s the winning trio right there. When your emotions are overcoming your rationality, when you’re drowning in defeat, when you just don’t feel like getting out of bed, it’s these three things that will reorient your gaze off of yourself, off of your circumstances, and straight onto God.

This is where abiding begins. Leaning into the Lord, everyday, throughout the day, one-on-one.

What do those daily disciplines look like in my life? Here’s a snapshot:

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. (and/or my cat steps on my face – whichever comes first). I flick on the light. I grab my Bible and I flip to the latter Psalms and, out loud, read a chapter that ascribes praise and glory to the Lord. I then close my Bible and say a prayer of thanksgiving. Then I begin the daily routines of life.

Now, push ahead to the end of the day. August is in bed, the critters are settled in, and I’m washed up and in my pajamas. My phone is now in airplane mode (which drives friends and family crazy – sorry!). I get down on my hands and knees (it’s amazing what a posture of submission can do for a prideful soul) and pray aloud. I confess my sins, my slip-ups, my shortcomings. I acknowledge His awesomeness, His goodness, His God-ness. I thank Him for the blessings of the day. And then I ask. I pray for friends, for family, and of course, for myself. Then I settle under my covers and hop into the verses or book that I’m studying at the time. And then, before putting my Bible aside, I meditate on what I’ve read. And then I pray again. 

Phew! That seems like so much when typed out – but when you consider how much of our day is spent eating, texting, talking, typing, driving, what is it to spend 10 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening with our Creator? It’s really a drop in the pail, isn’t it? But it’s these very spiritual disciplines that time and time again reorient me towards the Lord. I start my day out with Him and I end it with Him.

And that, my friends, is how we learn to abide in the Lord. Because when He becomes the center, no matter what happens to you, or who happens to you, you see things through His eyes. You find rest in knowing that He is with you and that He knows your future. So when asked how it is that I’ve gotten through the last year, this is how I now answer, “I learned to abide in the Lord.”

What are some of the spiritual disciplines you’ve developed that help you steer towards God and away from your daily struggles? What does abiding in the Lord mean to you?

The Big T-W-O!

Oh my goodness – when did it happen?! When was I suddenly the mother of a full-fledged toddler?!

This past Valentine’s Day we crossed the milestone. August turned the big T-W-O! My little bundle, my baby boy, is now a floor stomping, bug poking, soil slinging mini man. He’s independent, fiery, curious, and addicted to routines. Thankfully, his tantrums are few, and his appetite is still big, so I’m clinging on to those two baby hold overs for as long as possible. His vocabulary is expanding in an exponential rate as are his physical capabilities. I’m telling you – mini man. Mini man.

To celebrate his passage into this new phase of life I hosted a small shin dig in his honor. As I’m quickly learning with this stage, less is more. Instead of busting out all stops for a big hoopla of a party, I planned an intimate breakfast bash with family, friends, and some of his toddler buddies. “Keep it simple sweetie” – definitely the way to go.

For the decorations I stayed away from a true theme and instead pulled together some basics in a variety of colors and textures. I also fell in love with a gold “Yay” Mylar balloon I found at Target – so threw in a few more metallic elements to bring it all together. Add a few bright floral bouquets and a smattering of wooden animal figurines and wallah! My apartment was birthday party ready!

For the food spread I, again, kept things simple. I filled up a cutting board with a variety of cheeses, including the standard brie and blue, both of which August promptly took whopping bites from. See my Instagram for video proof. I filled several bowls with berries, yogurts and granola, and set out jams and other condiments for spicing things up. Putting my collection of cake stands to work, I piled up mini omelettes, freshly baked mini croissants as well as towers of silver dollar pancakes skewered with berry kabobs. Do you see a pattern yet? Mini, mini, mini. One thing that was full sized was August’s birthday cake: A delightful chocolate ganache that we purchased from Whole Foods which I then topped with fresh cut flowers, a wooden animal figurine, a sparkler, and of course, two candles. For drinks I also kept things minimal and served orange juice, french pressed coffee, and organic milk boxes for the kiddos. The food was definitely a huge hit!

As seems customary at kid parties, I had an activity planned, but in the hub-bub of guests, food, and toddler antics, there was no opportunity to introduce it. Aka, I totally forgot. Oops! I had bought the supplies to have the kids make their very own seed bombs which they could “plant” somewhere in their neighborhood. Since I have the wildflower seeds and peat rarin to go – I may host a spring themed play date to give the littles a chance to get their hands dirty while teaching them some horticulture basics. But I digress.

730 days old. Quite the milestone and so glad we had a chance to properly celebrate. Now to start plans for Easter!