Everything Else, Writing

At home in the world

Downtown Champaign. Image credit: Vallejo Center for Learning Spanish, Champaign, IL

I didn’t love Champaign at first. Really, I didn’t even want to come here. 20 years ago when it was time for me to decide where to go to college, I didn’t fill out my application to UIUC—I hid it under my pile of first-choices, hoping my parents wouldn’t see. But they found it and I ended up applying, turning in my application a day before the due date, kicking and screaming all the way. I would never go to a state school. I was much too much of a snob for that.

But then my first choice wait-listed me. My second rejected me. And the third came back with a tuition fee that was double what we were expecting. So by default, I accepted my acceptance to U of I and at the end of that hot, lazy, 1997 summer, I reluctantly drove down to East Central Illinois (not Southern Illinois, like I’d originally thought) (oh my goodness I am a child of the suburbs).

The main Quad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Image credit: StudyUSA.com

I don’t remember much about my Freshman year other than that it was a total blast. Sophomore year I met my two best friends, both of whom I’m still close with. Junior and Senior years were spent deciding not to go to med school, adding a major, and graduating with no idea what I was going to do next. After doing a summer internship in downtown Chicago my Junior year, I was terrified to live in the city by myself, so I took a job my professor put me up for in the marketing department of a Champaign publishing company.

I was young and inexperienced and the people there took me under their wing, helping me find my first apartment downtown and teaching me the ins and outs of the office world.  I worked there for three years, during which I met and married my husband. He’s from an even smaller town than Champaign. And that’s why I’m staying.

Not because he told me he would never move to the city. Not because he told me Champaign was the biggest town he was comfortable living in. Not because he’s forcing my hand in any way. But because I want to. Champaign, compared to the city and the suburbs, is simple. Life here is easy in a way I never felt it was up north. Across the street from me is a cornfield. I pass cows every day on my way to work. These novelties were things I only experienced in my childhood when we would drive up to Lake Geneva for a vacation. While I occasionally feel that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses jealousy here in Chambana, I mostly live in the niche I’ve carved out for myself, experimenting with my personal style in dressing and home decorating, driving my SUV around the farm machinery that takes over the roads every spring and fall, and watching as more and more farmland is given up for homes and businesses, watching as the “suburbs” of Champaign move ever closer to the city, watching as even this little town in the middle of nowhere succumbs to the name of progress.

I am now the proud owner of this mug. Photo credit: @shopartmart; Art Mart, Champaign IL

I’ve dreamed of living other places: Chicago, Seattle, Oregon, Florida (or really anyplace that doesn’t have winter). But as the days fly by and my calendar points to May, summer weather and all that brings, I’m thankful for the changing of the seasons. The familiarity of the trees outside my window. The ebb and flow of the planting and the harvest that I now have a front-row seat to. There is a peacefulness to living here that I have not experienced anywhere else. And though I dream of other places, other cities, and other, busier, more glamorous ways of life, this will always be home.

This was written as part of Tsh’s celebration of her new book, At Home in the World, which comes out today. You can read more about it here: http://theartofsimple.net/athome/


On being the magic maker

This Christmas, for whatever reason, I’ve been putting extra pressure on myself to make the season truly magical for my children. Maybe it’s because they’re getting older. Maybe it’s because we’re going on vacation right before Christmas and there will be fewer presents under the tree. Maybe it’s because I finished my clinical a month ago and now I have an extra six hours a week to fill. I don’t know. But I have been doing some crazy, stupid stuff, all in the name of making this the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER for them. For example:

1. We have five advent calendars.
Not one, not two, but FIVE. NO ONE NEEDS FIVE ADVENT CALENDARS. Not even my Christmas-present deprived children. They each have the traditional chocolate one. Then there’s one we hang on the wall that has activities, candy, or small presents for each day. Then there was a Tsum Tsum one that was on sale at Target and who can resist the tiny Tsums? Not me; and definitely not my children. Finally, we have a set of Advent ornaments that I filled with candy and hung all over the tree. Kind of like the Elf, you have to find a new ornament every day. Don’t get me wrong, my children LOVE all these calendars and it makes waking up in the morning so much more exciting when you know you’re going to get to eat a bunch of chocolate for breakfast. But I have to admit I went a bit overboard. It’s like Sophie’s choice though—for next year, which would I eliminate?

2. I offered to host two Christmas parties, two weekends in a row.
HOW STUPID AM I? I love the holidays and I love hosting parties and I feel like Christmas is the perfect time to do it. I get nervous about inviting people to my house—what if they don’t come? But at Christmas, I’m not the reason to come over. CHRISTMAS is the reason to come over. Christmas cookies, Christmas music, Christmas presents, Christmas wine. COME TO MY HOUSE AND I WILL MAKE ALL OF YOUR CHRISTMAS PARTY DREAMS COME TRUE. Seriously. But while I’m getting better with my whole depression/stress/anxiety thing, hosting is still a little bit nerve-wracking for me, as I found out last night when Chris and I tried to assemble 11 tiny graham cracker gingerbread houses at 9 o’clock at night LIKE THE TOTAL CHRISTMAS PARTY AMATEURS WE ARE.


3. I planned a vacation the week before Christmas.
Do you know what happens when you’re going out of town for a week right before Christmas? You have to get all your shit done EARLY. I was done shopping by December 1st. Done wrapping by the 9th. My cards went out the week after Thanksgiving. Our tree was up the week before. We actually have outside lights on our bushes that I didn’t have to nag Chris to put up. I’m not bragging here, I’m saying the holiday rush came a bit early to the Smith house, and now that it’s over I have to spend this week packing for our first family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. Then when I get back I’m hosting Christmas dinner. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF WHY?

It is all worth it, though (something I need to remember when I’m frantically running from grocery store to grocery store looking for milk chocolate stars). Sam is super-into our Elf, Peppermint, and if he wakes up before CJ, he waits so they can go down together and find him. Then he has to tell me where Peppermint is hiding, then bring me into whatever room to show me, just to make sure. CJ is old enough now that he remembers a lot of our little traditions, whether it’s asking me to bake a certain kind of cookie or checking on whether we’ll have ham again for Christmas dinner this year. I get such joy out of seeing their joy; I love making them happy. I love bringing the Christmas magic to them, making this season as special as I can. When they grow up, I hope they can look back on our Decembers with fond memories, and a true love for the magic of the Christmas season. And I hope that some day between now and then, I’ll find a way to be a little more relaxed this time of year.

Everything Else

Thankful for the little things

There is so much going on in the world, and in my little corner of it, that I wanted to take some time to reflect on the all little things I’m thankful for every day. These are the little patches of happiness that bring me unmitigated joy, the seemingly unimportant pieces of my life that put a smile on my face and help me look forward to a morning of errand running, a quiet evening at home, or even a day at work. Before I list the things, though, I want to say thank you for YOU, for reading this, for following along, for commenting when you feel led to. I appreciate your thoughts, your words, and your support through this journey. I am grateful for all of it, truly.

My thankful list:

1. Red cups at Starbucks

2. Feet under the Christmas treefeet

3. Love between brothers

4. A caring touch from my husband

5. A compelling audiobook on my commute to work

6. A surprise package from a good friend

7. Finishing ALL my Christmas shopping early this year

8. The extra quilt on our bed

9. New recipes that turn out right the first time

10. Holiday traditions that our whole family looks forward to

When I notice these things, I pause and take them in. I try to enjoy the moment, to embellish it into my brain, so I can come back to it again and again. There are days when I worry too much about our budget and paying back my school loans and I think to myself, “We have so little.” But the reality is, we have so much.

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.


We got a dog!

So the other day, this happened:


Last Thursday the kids and I drove about an hour to a nearby shelter and brought home this adorable ball of fur. We’ve changed his name from Collin to Biscuit (group decision—when did my family become a democracy, by the way?), given him a bath, attempted to get him groomed (he wasn’t having it AT ALL), and gone on more walks as a family than we have in a long time. Biscuit likes to fetch squishy balls outside in our overgrown lawn, snuggle with us on the couch, and is itching to sleep with us in our bed, but we haven’t gone there…yet. He’s so soft and cute and cuddly it’s hard to deny him anything. We’ll see if (when?) I give in.

Biscuit is a rescue; they think a Bichon Friese mixed with poodle. We were told he’s 5, but don’t have an exact birthdate (the kids are desperate to find out so we can throw him a proper party). Biscuit has kind of thrown a curveball into our predictable family routine, but it’s one we expected and one we were more than ready for. Chris and I joked early on in our relationship that we like to do something every four years: we got married and then four years later had CJ, then four years after that had Sam. Sam turns 4 next week, so it felt like we were ready for something new. Plus, CJ has been begging for a dog for months and I’ve been longing for something tiny and cuddly to snuggle with and talk baby talk to. With Biscuit, we got everything we wanted and more.


He sleeps in our room at night and I worry over him. He makes these noises, snuffles and snores, and I have yet to identify what they all mean. When CJ was hungry, he woke up full-on crying. Sam sniffled and grunted like a warthog looking for grub. He never cried for food. Other things, yes, food, never. Biscuit will go from the quietest sleep ever (the kind where you peek on them to make sure they’re still breathing) to a loud, high pitched bark whenever he hears something unusual. The other day I was trying to take a nap and the kids were in their rooms for quiet time. Every time one of them would open their door he would run out to the hall and bark them back into their rooms. He is already so loyal (mostly to me, but still).

I realize dogs are a lot of responsibility, and we did not enter into this lightly. Getting a dog is something we’ve been thinking about for a very long time. I didn’t tell a whole lot of people we were considering it, mostly because I didn’t want to be persuaded or dissuaded based on someone else’s experience. I get so caught up in what other people think sometimes that I let outside opinions sway me more than I should. This was a decision I knew I had to make completely on my own. If it was right in my heart, I knew it would be right, period. And it so, so is.



Day trip vs. overnight

This weekend we took the kids to the Indianapolis Zoo for a day trip. It’s a little over two hours from hour house, and I wanted to stay overnight, maybe get a hotel with a pool and free breakfast, but Chris talked me out of it in the name of saving a few bucks, and I’m so glad he did. See, we did an overnight trip this summer and I was STRESSED OUT. Did we have everything? Did everyone have enough toys/snacks? Did we have our confirmation number? Did we get a clean room? Did we lose the room key? Did we wake up in time for the free breakfast? So many concerns with an overnight in a hotel. And yes, there’s that element of fun, that feeling of taking a vacation, but for only one night, it doesn’t last long.

Zoo collage

I don’t love driving in general, but I don’t hate it. I usually listen to an audiobook or a mixed CD of my own creation (long live the mix tape!) and it’s pretty Zen. But with two children and another adult to contend with, the day can get pretty long. My no-fail formula for the day trip is this:

  • For the drive there, bring snacks for the kids. LOTS of snacks.
  • Do the kid-centered activity first
  • Eat a big lunch
  • Do something you wanted to do on the day trip, like go shopping (or another equally adult activity)
  • Head home and pray the kids nap in the car

Of course, it doesn’t always go so smoothly. Saturday I packed a huge lunchbox full of snacks and they were gone after an hour and a half. The bounty of snacks was supposed to last all day! Luckily I found a candy bar and half a stick of gum in my purse or we would have never made it through that 20-minute drive from the zoo to lunch.

But what I’m reflecting on today is how much less stressed I was doing a day trip vs. staying overnight. I didn’t have to pack bags for three people. I didn’t have to worry about whether I remembered to bring my toothbrush. Or my pajamas. My stress didn’t boil over and start to affect the mood of our trip. I was fine. And best of all, I got to sleep in my own bed when we got home. Sure, I slept like a rock and Chris told me later I was snoring like an old man, but that’s OK. We got home, put the kids to bed, watched some TV, and went to bed ourselves. It was a long day but a good day and I’m so glad we did it.