Dec 31, 2012

Happiness Week 52

Wow! Wow! Wow! 2012 is over and so is my Happiness and Photo Project.

Someone recently asked me if the photo project was my original idea. Actually, I thought it was when I came up with the idea last year. Click here or here to read my first posts. Since then I found people have been doing 365 projects for several years so in fact I'm a little late, as always. I discovered that there are even websites dedicated to the concept that allow people to share their photos, like this one, so if the idea of a 365 project is intriguing to you then you might want to check that out.

I'm sure people have a lot of different reasons for starting a 365 project but probably the one thing they have in common is a love of photography and a desire to expand their photography skills. I had high hopes of getting out on location and shooting for hours. In reality my life is too busy to do that on all but the rarest of occasions and I'm not very good about taking time for myself unless it is "productive". Though, I knew when I started this project that I would probably have a lot of days represented with pretty average snapshots, since my intention was not just about photography but to look for happy moments among the ordinary days and to practice gratitude. I think my photography skills improved some but not as much as I'd have liked. I certainly spent a lot more time shooting using manual settings and experimenting than I ever would have. 

It turned out that after blogging about my days I didn't have the energy to go into greater detail with additional blog posts unless something really big was happening. From that standpoint, I'll be relieved to put this project behind me and get back to regular blogging minus the happy perspective, because this life as a special needs parent is a challenge and being honest about that is more true to my authentic self even if I am attempting to live a happier life. For those of you who have struggled with your own happiness in 2012, thank you for tolerating my weekly posts I'm sure it was annoying at times.

When I started this happiness project I starting paying attention and talking to people and what I hear is that we all have areas that we struggle. I do believe there are a great many people who feel they should/could be happier than they are. I believe it is the human condition but that there is hope. For every person, no matter their circumstances, life could surely be better and it surely could be worse. There are many facets to living a "happy life".  It is not a simple thing so I won't go into it deeper here but do recommend reading the book that inspired my project even if you don't intent to embark on any kind of crazy project. At least consider checking it out from your local library. It's an easy read.

The second portion of my project was to record my days in a Happiness Journal. Boy was it hard for me to stick to the happy moments and not record the bad.  I think my whole life I've been hoping  the normal irritations of life would go away and voila a happy day would be revealed.  You know the kind of imaginary day when you are in a good mood the entire day, no one cuts you off in traffic, you are able to do what you set out to do, your husband is helpful the whole day and you aren't annoyed that you have to stop what you are doing to make dinner or sooth children's tempers, or perform some other list of random chores. I'm finally realizing there is no such day and life truly is about enjoying the little things.

There is an appropriate saying on the cover page for month of December in my journal which can be applied to the search for happiness and the expectation of finding it.
"If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction." -Thich Nhat Hanh 
It may not be possible to "arrive at happiness", but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to go that direction. We will get closer than if we had continued traveling aimlessly.

Stay tuned for my final compilation of all 365 photos to be revealed soon. If you can't wait, click here to see the album.

Daily Happiness Photos - Week 52
12/24 Candlelight
There is nothing as beautiful as candlelight.

12/25 Not Hosting Christmas Dinner
This year I didn't host a single Christmas event and that made me beyond happy. Steve's Dad and wife do such an amazing job serving a salad, then soup, and then a full prime rib dinner. More appetizers and desserts than you've ever seen. English crackers for all. It's always a wonderful time.
12/26 Incense
I've always loved to burn incense. (Though now I have to do it when Ainsley isn't around since smoke is bad for people with trachs.) It smells wonderful. A couple months ago I bought myself a foo dog incense burner at an antique store. I was so excited to finally open it and see what it looked like with incense smoke coming out its mouth. It didn't disappoint. Now I've got another excuse to burn incense.

12/27 1st Casserole
This is the second piece of Italian terracotta I bought myself for Christmas. I'm intending to bake casseroles this year. My first dish: Joanne's cheesy potato casserole. It was delicious so it looks like we'll be adding it to our recipe repertoire. With ham on the side it was like Christmas dinner all over again.  

12/28 Father Son Time
It's been great to have Steve around during the holidays. Evie had a friend over to stay the night so Steve played the Pokemon card game with Adrian. Later they played Risk. I love that Steve takes the time to play with Adrian. It sure makes Adrian happy and I love that boy so much, it makes me really happy to see him so happy. 

12/29 Sleep Overs
Maybe because I never had them as a child, I love it when my kids have sleep overs. I love seeing my kids so happy and getting to spy on them a bit. Both Evie and Adrian had a friend sleep over during Christmas break. I love that they all went outside to swing on the swing set. Lucky kids.
12/30 Photo Frame Project
I started this photo frame project earlier this year.  Finding my favorite 50 pictures among 30,000 was like looking for the proverbial needles in a haystack. It was quite a process but I got it done before the end of the year. I am SO happy to finally have photos up where they will be seen.
12/31 Family Time


Having family time together in the days after Christmas is the best part of the season I think. It's been especially nice this year since Steve's been working so much. We are enjoying the tribute to Dick Clark and looking forward to Taylor Swift performing and toasting to the new year at midnight. Hopefully there will be a lot of family time for us in 2013.
Happy NEW YEAR everyone!!! May 2013 bring you all much happiness!

Dec 24, 2012

Happiness Week 51

Good grief, can it really be that I'm posting the 51st week of my Happiness Photos?!! I just can't believe there is only 1 week to go. Nor can I believe I didn't abandon this project somewhere along the way. I'm much better at starting projects than finishing them.

When I conceived of this project I imagined going out in the world with my camera and taking amazing shots of all kinds of things, especially landscapes. It seldom happened like that. The reality is that my life is busy and very much revolves around my home and children. At no greater time is this true than during the holidays. As the final days of 2012 tick by, busily filled with Christmas preparations, clearly my opportunity for creative photography has passed. My remaining shots are likely to simply be snapshots of these busy days, but perhaps in the end they have just as much value for the ordinary days they represent. Life is made up of a lot of ordinary moments with a few extraordinary ones scattered about.

I think I will break with tradition and post my final post on Tuesday instead of Monday next week so that I can include the last photo of 2012. I will also compile my photos into a final project that will be revealed in 2013.

I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year's Eve. May 2013 bring us all peace, joy and happiness. XOXO - Susan

Daily Happiness Photos - Week 51
12/17 Not Having X-Ray Vision
Because there are a lot of times when that having x-ray vision would be bad. And it would spoil surprises like this one when I went to get a pair of socks and discovered the treats Ainsley had hidden for me: cookies, candies and coins from her play kitchen. I love that girl and all her mischievous ways. She makes me smile when I least expect it. I wish I knew what she was thinking.
12/18 Gifts for Our Village
They say it takes a village to raise a child and boy is that especially true for special needs kids. We have a lot of people that I wanted to thank with a small gift: Ainsley's teacher, aide, her school therapists, her bus driver, van driver, nurses and outside therapists. With Evie & Adrian's too it was 18 people. (That doesn't include family and friends.)  My special secret is Smith's RoseBud Salve. It's awesome to keep in your car and rub into your cuticles and nails while you're at a long red light. You can also use it on your lips. For something that's been made since 1892 and has a cult following the tins turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find (mine's lasted years). But I was able to find them at the last minute and made cute manicure kits(no I didn't make the bags). I was so relieved when it was done and all the gifts went off to school with the kids. 

12/19 Sweet Friends & Treats
The kids are officially on break. Ainsley stayed home with her nurse while I ran errands with Evie and Adrian during the day. I had plans with my friend Mel, but Steve had to work late so she brought pizzas, wine and the most adorable sweet treats from PCC so I didn't have to cook and we could chat while the kids watched a Christmas show.  It was very sweet of her.

12/20 Gingerbread Cottages
I think we have a few too many family traditions. I was going to skip Gingerbread Houses this year but the kids love it so much. I saw Martha Stewart's video on Graham Cracker "Gingerbread Cottages" (no baking) and thought maybe. Then when I saw a squirt can of icing so I decided try it.  We already had tons of candy and I'd bought Gingerbread Peeps so it would be easy-peasy, right? Wrong. Of course we ran out of icing (making the royal icing and putting it in piping bags is the part I hate the most).  What should have been super easy took over 6 hours from setup to cleanup (sprinkles everywhere). But live and learn. Each year I learn what not to do. They sure turned out cute though. The tent is Ainsley's. Adrian's is the colorful one in back. The one with the girl in a skirt and the Vanilla Toosie Roll mailbox is, of course, Evie's.

12/21 Polar Express Hot Chocolate Scene
We watch the Polar Express every year. The hot chocolate scene is our favorite. It's so fun.

12/22 The First Gift of Christmas
Due to my family situation we celebrate Christmas 4 times each season. Today the kids opened their first gift of the season which means Christmas is here. 
12/23 Making Fun
Today I loved seeing that my kids can make their own fun when called upon to do so. Without TV, electronic devices or fancy toys. They played hand games, gave horsey rides at Grandma S's and fed Grandma J's birds peanuts and played with a ring on a string and hook in her garage for hours.


To view a slideshow of the entire Happiness Photo Project click here. Confused about what this is or why I'm doing it? Click here for an explanation of what it's all about.

Dec 22, 2012

Merry Christmas!

 The month of December has been a whirlwind. I wish I'd had time to post photos earlier. I've run out of photo storage again, so I'm getting used to doing it in a new way which makes it a little harder to post. So I'm trying collages made with my scrapbooking software. I hope it works more easily and that I'll have more photos for you soon. 
Today we are off to Christmas Celebration #1 of 4. Ready. Set. Here we GO!
I hope you have a lovely holiday.
We squeezed in a trip to the Red-Wood Tree Farm which luckily for us is just down the road.  It's a destination, people come from all over. They are so friendly and helpful. Not to mention they have beautiful trees. As a bonus they give out free hot chocolate and candy canes. It doesn't get better than that.  The paths are lined with broken glass that the kids think are treasures. They found a few giant chunks. Adrian found a tree branch that looked like an umbrella. We (Adrian will take credit.) found the smallest Christmas tree in the world. And the perfect tree for our house (of course not in the U-cuts, they are too small.)  that wasn't too big or too small. 

We also had a fabulous time at my friend Darcy's Santa Brunch. She does such a lovely job. If you need a realtor look her up. Maybe you'll get an invitation next year. We got there after the first wave and the kids were hungry so we sat down before visiting Santa. Ainsley was so cute, as we sat down she clearly saw Santa and was entranced. As we ate our sausage and blintzes and other treats she kept waving. He would jingle his bells for her. Over and over.  It was the sweetest thing.

Dec 17, 2012

Happiness Week 50

Like me, I imagine your week started off ordinarily enough. Perhaps you were preoccupied with Christmas preparations. Perhaps you were busy at work. It seemed like an ordinary enough week.... until Friday morning. Steve planned to go in to work late because Taylor Swift tickets went on sale at 10:00. As we logged on to buy tickets we were horrified to see the headlines about the Sandy Hook shooting(I don't like that M word). We had a few minutes to attempt to digest the news before we had to scramble for the countdown. Ticketmaster, who sells the tickets, was a disaster. At 10 o'clock on the dot their on-line system found ZERO tickets for sale. How they could possibly be sold out the moment they went on sale?!!! It made no sense. We tried 4, 3, 2 tickets. Nothing worked. I got through on the phone and as I was confirming the purchase of 4 crappy tickets in section 16 B their system had technical difficulties, disconnected me and I lost them. So then Steve called on his cell phone while I called back on the home phone and at the same time kept trying the on-line sales system over and over again. All they had left was two tickets four seats apart. For something that should have been so easy, it wasn't. An hour later the ticket ordeal was over, Steve left for work but I kept seeing the minute by minute updates about Sandy Hook. I felt sick. I was pretty much a basket case for the rest of the day.  My heart is absolutely broken for the parents of those children. I am afraid for them and all of the children who survived about how they will find the strength and courage to go on.  I think even the rest of us will be forever changed. Somehow I wish we could just press pause. It feels wrong to do ordinary things at such a time and yet there is no way to stop life from moving forward.

It is with a sad heart that I post my pictures this week.

Daily Happiness Photos - Week 50
12/10 Using Stuff Up
Have you heard that Americans throw away 40% of their food? That percentage seems a bit high, but none-the-less it makes you think. We do eat our leftovers but sometimes I do find myself getting busy and not using things up before they go bad. I hate that. It seems so....well, wasteful. I've been trying to be better and when I see I've got an ingredient I try to plan a meal that uses it. I also have been trying to use up my dry foods before I buy more. Tonight's dinner used half and half that would have gone bad, a big bag of macaroni I've had for awhile, garlic crouton crumbs for topping (seriously so good) and Dubliner cheese (which rarely goes bad since it's so delicious). With a pear and Spring mix salad it was perfect comfort food for a cold winter night.
12/11 My Favorite Christmas Ornament
If you came to my house and saw all the Christmas decorations and festivities you might not believe it, but in all honesty this ornament is my favorite. There, I admitted it. Okay, if the house was burning down and I could only pick one ornament to save this probably wouldn't be it. But it is my favorite to hang on the tree. Especially when I really just want to go to bed. I must be a little happier this year because I didn't place it prominently smack in the front and center.

12/12 The Finished Christmas Tree
I've been collecting ornaments since I was a teenager. My mom gave me a number of hers. Some are made from the painted wood nursery rhyme mobile that was above my crib. Some are 1950's glass balls. A few are from the turn of the century. I have a jointed celluloid Kewpie doll that was on the tree when my grandfather was a boy. Steve and I have collected an ornament or two each year for the 20+ years we've been a couple. Others are special to the kids. We have a LOT of ornaments and it takes a few days to trim the tree. I was very happy when we finished and the kids could get to bed.  

12/13 The Swaperoo
The kids ask first before they open the advent calendar each day. The thing I love about our advent calendar is that that the boxes are drawers that I fill myself, so if I change my mind I can swap out the contents at the last minute. At the end of a long tiring day we were supposed to make paper snowflakes. Instead I pulled the swaperoo and put in a new scroll: watch Christmas video (kids choice Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town) and eat gummy Rudolph noses.  Look for them at the store, they're delicious. I think we all enjoyed ourselves far more than we would have making snowflakes.

12/14 The Kids Home After School
Like (almost) every other parent in America I was so grateful to hug and love on my children when they got home from school today.

12/15 Oster Speed Lines
None of the kids have had a salon cut, ever. It saves a lot of money but not a lot of time. After 9 years of cutting Adrian's hair my clippers needed replacement. They weren't great clippers in the first place but now were pulling his hair making the process even less desirable.  After a little research I ordered these but they weren't due to arrive until next week. All 3 kids needed a cut for Santa photos, and just as I was about to get started with the first cut the doorbell rang and there were my lovely new Oster Speed Lines. I love their vintage style.

12/16 The Nutcracker Live
Unbelievably I'd never taken Evie to the Nutcracker. She's loved ballet since she was 2. We'd watched it on DVD many times but never seen a live performance. I think the fact that Ainsley came along around about the time Evie was old enough to go was a big part of it. That, and sadly the holidays are often a busy time at work for Steve. One of Evie's BFF's dances at Cornish Prep and we were able to get last minute tickets to the sold out show. Evie got to watch her friend perform and sit next to another of her BFF's. We held hands. It was a really special night.

To view a slideshow of the entire Happiness Photo Project click here. Confused about what this is or why I'm doing it? Click here for an explanation of what it's all about.

Dec 10, 2012

Happiness Week 49

It's hard for me to believe that there are only 21 days left of 2012. Wow. That's all I can think of to say.  I have little on my mind but getting ready for Christmas. I hope you have a fabulous week!

Daily Happiness Photos - Week 49
12/03 A Wild Goose Chase
As I drove across the valley on this gray day to meet Evie's bus at the house, I spied a gaggle of geese in a field. "Evie, do you want to go somewhere real quick I asked?" I asked her, unwilling to answer her questions of where and why until she committed. I grabbed my camera and off we went on an adventure, a wild goose chase, shooting pictures from the car. Okay, so I'm taking liberties with the expression, we didn't actually get close enough to try to catch them but it was fun hunting for a safe place to try to snap some pictures (it's a busy 45mph road) before I had to meet the nurse and Ainsley back at the house. We felt like the paparazzi. There were hundreds of them(the specks on the green), and I so badly wanted to see them take flight as a group.

12/04 Pomegranate
They are so beautiful and fun to eat. They may provide many health benefits. We should all eat and enjoy them more often.

12/05 Organized Christmas Printables
I was being rather self-congratulatory that I was getting prepared Christmas much earlier this year. Then I found this website and was rather aghast to find there are people who have been on a 3 month plan. I'm going at my own pace, one holiday at a time, but I did find all kinds of cool FREE printable forms to help get myself organized. I wish I'd found this website years ago.  

12/06 Friendly Cardinal
I love this friendly little cardinal and decided to place him in my entry way this year(after replacing his dead batteries). He tweets and shakes his tail every time you walk by. He makes me smile.
12/07 Letters to Santa
I loved Adrian's letter to Santa this year! How refreshing.

12/08 A Real Party Like the Old Days
As we've grown older there are few raging parties these days but my friends Steve and Wendy still throw one every year. We arranged for "a sitter" (my sister Sheryl provides respite for us) so we could go. I'm glad we did. It was so fun and I had the perfect opportunity to regift these lovely earrings (metallic plastic flowers in a Tiffany's box) for their "Tacky White Elephant Gift Exchange". They actually looked quite nice on the lovely lady shown above and the irony was that she knew Kay, the quirky friend who gave the earrings to me at my wedding shower. They'd been passed around the group so it was high time to get them back in circulation. The much coveted mariachi lamp was stolen from me, instead we went home with a couple of used movies (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and A Guide to Better Sex). You can imagine how thrilled I was about that.

12/09 Hair of the Dog
Today was tree trimming day (I've got the whole month planned out for the advent calendar with lots of days of just candy. Those are the best days. We went to the tree farm yesterday, perhaps I'll post photos later.), but Evie had to build a 3D model of a plant cell (she did a post sized watercolor of an animal cell yesterday). Of course that took nearly all day. It was late when we got to trimming and by that time I really just wanted to sit on the couch. But after a little "peppermint snow cone"(my own concoction) I was feeling pretty good. We have too many ornaments for too small a tree so after several hours we are only half done so the kids whined and pleaded to stay up but I made them go to bed.

To view a slideshow of the entire Happiness Photo Project click here. Confused about what this is or why I'm doing it? Click here for an explanation of what it's all about.

Dec 3, 2012

Happiness Week 48

As a stay-at-home-mom my life obviously revolves around my children. I chose to leave my job as the accounting manager for a high-end general contractor when my oldest child was 1 1/2 because it was what I wanted.....that is true. I know without a doubt that raising my children is the best, most important thing I will ever do. I want to be at home. But I'm not living the life of an average SAHM because of the added responsibilities that come with a medically complex special needs child. I have more thoughts to share on the subject that I will save for another time.

Steve is headed into another busy work period (with a new company) which I know from previous experience will make the holiday season stressful. So this week we did what we could to try to get a head start and (hopefully) make the season more enjoyable (for me, it seems everyone else has been enjoying it just fine).  We discussed getting an artificial tree but in the end the family decision was not to. Otherwise we are decorated. Lights are on the house. I even bought some presents and Steve started doing some wrapping. Wrapped presents on Dec. 2nd?! THAT is something new! We are determined that THIS is the year we won't be up until 4am wrapping presents (like we say every year, for real).

I hope you have a good week whatever you are up to and that you are able to find your own happy moments amid the daily stuff of life.  Here are this weeks pictures. Enjoy it while it lasts. Only 4 more weeks to go.

Daily Happiness Photos - Week 48
11/26 Two Buck Chuck
I've been an avid Trader Joe's shopper for years and yet somehow I'd never tried the infamous "Two Buck Chuck" (Trader Joe's own label of wines). Finally I did and I agree it's pretty good "everyday wine" especially for the unbelievably low price of $2.49.  Let the wine floweth.
11/27 The Idea of Prayer
What the heck, prayer can't hurt. I also still like to wish upon a star. Honestly I think they are both about as effective, but I will pray if someone asks me too. Truly, I even hope it will work even when I'm doubtful.  There is a special mom of 2 named Tricia with Cystic Fibrosis whose husband is asking for prayers, people all over the world are praying for her. She needs a second lung transplant and was removed from the transplant list due to fragile health. Please pray for Tricia that she is able to get on the transplant list right away. It can't hurt and I really hope it works.

11/28 Getting an Early Start
I have a confession....I'm a procrastinator. Or a horrible time manager. I often think I have more time than I do. I'm trying so hard to be better. Especially over the holidays which really should be joyful, not stressful. I'm sure many of you have had your Christmas cards for months but not me. Having Christmas stamps in November, well that is kind of a miracle. 

11/29 Poop
We've been working on toileting for yyyyyearrrrs. Ainsley's been doing pretty well. If we take her (she needs total assistance), she'll go. Except for poo. I remind her to tell me and then she goes and hides until it's too late. But today she signed "potty" so I took her and she went. It gives me hope that some day we will be able to get her out of diapers (though she will still need a lot of help in the bathroom.) If she goes I do the "potty dance" which she thinks is the funniest thing in the world. I really hope seeing me make a fool of myself will motivate her.

11/30 Blogging
It may seem like a weird thing to share intimate details of your life with the world. Once upon a time I didn't understand why people did it. I started this blog as a way of sharing medical news with family and friends back in 2008. In addition to that it's also been a great outlet because I like to write.  Having a child with special needs is isolating. Blogs are a great way for people to learn about each other.  I often hear from people who say they've found my blog to be helpful, inspirational or informative (Seriously, how many blogs have so many medical topics covered in one place?!). If I've helped even a handful of people by sharing bits of our journey then I am happy. 
12/1 Good Role Models for Girls
I'm so thankful that Evie (and her friends) have such a great role model as Taylor Swift (instead of a few others which shall remain unnamed). Though I don't necessarily want Evie to play the guitar until her fingers bleed like Taylor did at her age. She has inspired Evie to start writing songs and learn to play guitar (she got one when she was 7) because she thinks if Taylor was writing songs at age 12, so can she. She had a friend stay the night and there was a Taylor Swift special on TV. How lucky is that?! Oh to be 11 again with unlimited possibilities before you.

12/02 Early Decorating for Christmas
We got an earlier start decorating this year, hoping to reduce some of the holiday stress since Steve will be working a lot of hours again this holiday season. We need a tree but the rest is done. I especially love decorating my entryway for each season. I am pretty proud that as crazy as our life can be that we've managed to have the kids' photo taken with Santa every year (even the year Ainsley was born and came home from the hospital 2 days earlier). Last year I took the picture myself (at my friend Darcy's Santa's Brunch) and it's my favorite one. It's so fun to see how the kids have changed from year to year.


To view a slideshow of the entire Happiness Photo Project click here. Confused about what this is or why I'm doing it? Click here for an explanation of what it's all about.