Thursday, January 17, 2019

Love Anyway

"Enjoy every minute!"
"Soak it all up!" 
"It goes so fast!"
"Treasure this time!"
"You'll miss this someday!"

These are all things I've heard, thought, felt, (but thankfully have never said) in regards to motherhood.

I can't stand these statements...but...I also understand the heart behind them. The moms (ok, probably the grandmas) who share this advice intend to encourage us younger mamas. They are trying to share their hard-earned wisdom and perspective, and remind us that life- the wild, crazy, sticky, stinky life we've found ourselves in- is all just a wisp. In the trenches of parenthood (or the thick of a meltdown) things can feel hopelessly bleak, and gut-wrenchingly hard. Bedtime sagas appear never ending, power struggles seem insurmountable. The trials of now seem like they may just go on forever. But these well-meaning women looking at the chaos of those behind them in life (and also the grocery store line) with a disarming mix of a sideways glance, and a twinkle in their eye...they don't mean to guilt, or pressure, or judge. (Well, at least I don't think they do. Most of them...) They mean to lift us out of our myopic reality, refreshing us on the bigger picture, beyond what we can currently see.

But it doesn't always feel like that, does it?

Not to me, that's for sure. When I am having a day with my threenager, or the baby kept me up all night, or my big-kid is serving up some sass I didn't know she had in her, I don't want to be told to ENJOY EVERY MINUTE. That feels impossible, and honestly, downright disrespectful. Enjoy those minutes? Not likely. Enjoy EVERY minute? HA, no.

We all know...we know deep down that our kids are going to grow up faster than we ever thought possible. And as much as we hate to admit it, we'll soon find ourselves standing solo in a checkout line enamored with the unruly cart-climbing brood behind us, and we'll pine for those days. Those days when our clothes were covered in a near proprietary mix of milk stains, stickers, and goldfish cracker dust. Those days when chubby little "rubber band wrists" reached out for us for their every earthly need. Those days when we heard Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, MAHHHHHMMMM! so often and so loud it made our ears ring.

But when we're in those days? We're not pining for much more than the clock to strike bedtime o'clock. We're not interested in soaking up anything other than a bathtime for one (with the door locked, thank you). The idea of enjoying every single blessed minute...of...all of this? It's just. too. much.

So then what do we do?
Do we roll our eyes at these cliches? Begrudgingly accept the platitudes with an insincere nod? Silently seethe from the pain of feeling misunderstood? Internally promise we'll never be that lady doling out unsolicited advice and whitewashing the trials of our own past?

Well...maybe a little bit. Sometimes.
(Eye-rolling is a natural trait- bordering on gift- of mine so that tendency is hard to squash.)

But what I want to challenge myself to do (and mayyyyybe you too, because bossing is also one of my gifts) is to embrace the kind intentions and the spirit of the sentiments. To see the value in what they're saying, even if it's dang hard to actually do.

Because truly, I don't think we're supposed to enjoy every minute. Of motherhood, or grocery shop small talk or...anything. That's unrealistic. But I also don't think we're supposed to wallow in the struggle, excusing ourselves of the call to do more than just survive these (sometimes tough, often monotonous) days.

What I think we're supposed to do is: Love... anyway.

Love it. Love them. Love ourselves...anyway.

When it's hard. When they're annoying. When I'm tired...
When it's hopeless. When they're wrong. When I'm undeserving...
When this, when that. Even if, even though...
Love anyway.

Love despite all the reasons I don't want to. Love people who haven't earned it. Love in situations I don't understand. Love even before I think I actually can. Love long after I think I can continue.

I don't know why this version of the same bigger truth is easier for me to swallow. Am I any more capable of loving (all things and all people at all times) than I am of enjoying every moment? No way! I'm an imperfect mess whose ability to judge comes much more swiftly than my capacity to care. I'm critical of things, impatient with others and unforgiving of myself.

But for some reason, the idea of "love anyway" doesn't feel guilt-ridden. It doesn't seem like an unrealistic hurdle to (repeatedly) clear, or a utopian mindset that I have to will myself into feeling (or faking).
Love anyway is a statement with tension.

Love is the very best of the best. It's pure and transcendent and wonderful. Love is everything I want to be and feel, but beyond that it's a verb. To love is our calling.

Anyway is acknowledgement of context. It's recognition that love doesn't always feel possible. It's honesty that some stuff is really and truly, awfully hard. It's the "yes and" that pairs "I don't wanna" with "just do it". It's real-talk that hears and sees reality, but doesn't enable excuses.


This loving anyway stuff can get really heavy. It means we are to give grace to the least of these (and accept grace when we are the least of these). But it's also an invitation to lightness; an opportunity to smile not because we're ignoring or unaware of the pain but because we think it's worth it to smile anyway.

It's big love in big anyways (Supporting a friend even when I have no clue if I'm doing it right...and actually I am pretty sure I'm not doing it right, but I LOVE her enough to keep showing up imperfectly ANYWAY)

And it's small love in small anyways (Oh, Miller-buddy, you thought it would be fun to dot-stamp-marker your face? I'm going to laugh while we unsuccessfully wipe you down, because I LOVE your silly, disobedient self ANYWAY!)

I'm looking for all of the chances to love, in all of the anyways life throws at me, and I'm surprised that I don't feel pressured...I'm actually finding freedom as I shift my perspective.

I can't enjoy my kids running each other over with the library cart, shrieking and colliding through the supposed-to-be-silent halls. (Just a typical Tuesday!) But I can love them in it. I can love that they are fierce, determined spirits who want to try things for themselves. I can love the chance to bring them to a land where books are plentiful and free. I can love that most of the other daytime patrons are either dealing with similar rowdy mini-companions or are nearly deaf and don't seem to mind.

I can't enjoy squeezing my thighs into jeans whose "super skinny" label feels less like a style and more like an ironic taunt. But I can love my body...anyway. (Oooooh, this one is hard. Maybe right now I can try to love my body anyway...) I can love that my legs enable me to (usually) keep up with my kids' boundless energy. I can love that my belly kept them safe and sound for a collective 36 months, even if it's all a little worse for wear now. I can love that (worth every penny) blonde highlights keep the possibility that my hair is going grey a mystery to even me.

There is a lot in this life that isn't enjoyable. There are times we'd rather speed through than soak up. There are moments we will look back on and emphatically not miss. We're not capable of, or required to treasure it all. But loving anyway? Well that just might the very hardest, and simultaneously most marvelous thing to practice.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Ta-Da! It's Christmas!

Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!

I know it's officially January now, so most of the world has moved from Christmas to restrictive eating...but, technically it's not Epiphany yet, so if the Wise Men are still on the road to baby Jesus, I figure I'm still well within bounds for some Christmas reflection.

We had just the best holiday season this year....Maybe I say that every year, but regardless of comparison, it was just so lovely. You might even say it's the most wonderful time of the year! :)

I always love Christmas, but this felt like one of the calmest holiday seasons I can remember. That might be because we had fewer kids than last year...or maybe because this is our first year with all "big" kids...but in any case I just felt much...lighter this year. I was less pressured, less overwhelmed, less frantic. It was certainly a full season, with a packed calendar, and a ton of a fun activities and events, but it didn't come with the stress level that I felt in previous years. I'd love to pinpoint why, so I could share my wisdom (and replicate this again and again), but I'm sure it's a complicated combination of factors. One of the main things that shifted for me, was refusing to do things out of obligation. I know lots of people struggle with this, especially around the holidays- all of the things you "have to" do. turns out, when you get down to it, there really aren't that many mandatories in life. I'm fortunate in this area, because I'm not naturally a people-pleaser, but I struggle with my own expectations and need for achievement, saddling myself with a lot of "shoulds". I feel (/create) pressure to do and be all the provide a magical season for my kids-  to see the sights, to plan the outings, to savor every second of the season... And while that makes for a lot of festive memories it also makes me a wee bit nutty.

I didn't consciously set out to do things different this year...(I kinda wish I did...then at least I could brag about how well it turned out!)- I think maybe as I get older my standards (and energy) are just naturally getting lower. Somehow I just settled into a perspective/approach that I can only describe as: "Let's do it!...if we want to." Truly it's that simple. If it sounded fun- we did it. If it didn't...skip! Now, it may sound incredibly self-centered and entitled to just do whatever you want all the time, and I agree if it's not a great life strategy in general. But for the holidays? A time that's supposed to filled with love and fun and wonder? Well why bring guilt, shame and obligation into that? It's a season designed for love and keep it as simple as it should be, and do things you love and that make you happy.

I saw a lot of "seasonal bucket list" type ideas on Instagram this season, and while I'm no stranger to a to-do list (oooh I love me some check boxes) this time around the idea of setting up a bunch of must-do's made Christmas fun feel like more of a challenge than a pleasure. So I entered the season without major goals, real plans, or formalized itinerary. There were a few events I knew we'd get to, and some traditions I'd never want to miss, but for the most part, I approached things as they came, and went with the flow. Not my signature style, but it suited me just fine this month.

So in lieu of a Christmas To-Do list, I've retroactively summarized our season into a list of Ta-Da's! All the things we actually did...which turns out was quite a lot! Funny how with LESS striving, MORE can feel JUST RIGHT.

The details:
  • Get a tree: We got our tree earlier than we ever have (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) which is fine with me- more time to enjoy it! The place we went the last two years has closed now, so we tried out a new spot- Cackler Family Farms which we really liked! We saw a donkey, rode in the sled, enjoyed the 50+ degree weather and got a good fir (Douglas? Fraiser? Who knows?) Piper complained that we were too pick and that the whole process took too long (she's not wrong) but everyone was in mostly good spirits (the "sandbox" full of corn, and the free candy canes didn't hurt). Despite all the hassle and mishaps that come with cutting down your own tree, it is still one of my absolute favorite traditions and I'm glad we made it happen.
  • Send out Christmas cards: Another love of mine this season. We took a break from mailing these last year but are now back in the game. I managed to get this down super early as well, using photos pulled from our recent family video session- I ordered from Chatbooks and got them before Thanksgiving (which gave me extra time to address and send the before things got too busy) I got 100, not knowing exactly how many we needed, which worked out to be just about right. I think we received more cards than ever this year...which I attribute mostly to people reciprocating our mailing- which I'm fine with! It makes me so happy to see all the fun art and smiling faces displayed around our home.
  • Drive to look at lights:  Ok...guess what...this is ANOTHER one of my favorite things to do each year! It doesn't rank too high on Dustin's list, but he's become much more tolerant over the years, and barely even muttered a bah humbug. We did it up right this year, making popcorn and hot chocolate for our outing (with fancy Christmas tree marshmallows!), and pulling out a bunch of blankets to snuggle over everyone's carseats. We hit up all the houses we know that typically do a big show (though several seem to have gone into full or semi-retirement from the lighting game) and checked out a new house which ended up being a big hit (their lights coordinated with music, and they had Santa on a big screen through the window!) We did an encore night with friends after hearing about a neighborhood near us where all the houses sync up to a custom radio station. We also went to Franklin Park to see their lights and gingerbread house tour. Dustin was out of town for that (conveniently, as he didn't really want to participate in another light-related outing), so my mom and I took the kids, and loved it. Light up flamingo topiaries AND a rainbow light tunnel? YES! And for the first time, we attended the Westerville Tree Lighting Ceremony...which left me, in a word: underwhelmed. (What we didn't do? Wildlights at the Zoo, or the Fantasy of Lights...maybe next year!)
  • See Santa: twice! Much to Dustin's chagrin (are you sensing a theme? He's not a total curmudgeon, but I will say our Ta-Da list would be a wee bit shorter if he were leading the charge) we trekked downtown for a Santa sighting which ended up being a super fun day (Crafts, face paint, a band...!) It wasn't the most convenient location (downtown parking + rain) but the Santa was legit, and it was such a lovely kickoff to the holidays.
  • Set up a train: I picked up a train on super clearance after the holidays last year, so we surprised the kids with it after we set up our tree. It's nothing elaborate, but it's a fun little addition to the set up this time around.

  • Craft, craft, craft: oh DID WE EVER. I became the unofficial art teacher of our unofficial home school, as the girls requested endless crafty activities. (Every time Miller went down for a nap, Fin was immediately by my side raising her eyebrows and asking what I had planned). We tried salt painting, (so easy!) mirror decorating (so borderline dangerous!), Gingerbread ornaments (fun process, terrible results), melted beads in cookie cutters (it probably goes without saying that was a disaster), shrinky-dinks (total fail- maybe I'm not qualified for oven related crafting?), and wood+marker ornaments. Between all the supplies and resulting "masterpieces" I didn't see the my countertops for a month straight, and it was equal parts awesome and stressful. We had a blast making it all, but then I was almost as happy to sweep most of those treasures into the trash.
  • Read books: oodles of books! Stacks of books! A different Christmas book every night! Some favs: Mooseltoe, Santa Mouse, and Gingerbread Mouse (apparently my kids have a thing for animals). I've never met anyone who complained their parents read to them too much when they were little, so I give myself permission to go all kinds of crazy on bedtime stories, especially at Christmas.
  • Make Christmas lists and send them to Santa: Another double check! When we visited Santa downtown there was a special craft station to make letters, and a big mailbox to send them to his workshop. Piper mailed hers then, Fin insisted on bringing it home for later, and Miller jumped back into the line to show Santa right then. Our town also has a fancy Santa mailbox that we've visited the last two years, so we headed there early on Christmas Eve to drop off some drawings (I didn't want to do lists that late in the game...can't have them springing new things on Santa last minute- even if he is magic!)

  • Snowflake Castle: This is a big event put on by our town, but I've never been, or really even known much about it. All I knew is people go crazy for it, and tickets sell out in minutes. So...naturally I figured we needed to go! I set an alarm on my phone and logged on as soon as sales opened up...and still only weekday mornings were available. So- Thursday at 9AM it was! (We let Piper go to school late that day...hopefully she won't suffer too much academically from her mom's misplaced educational values). Turns out it was totally worth the hype...we got to meet Santa (and Mrs. Claus!), sit in his sleigh, and build+paint wooden toys in his workshop.The kids were so proud of their creations...Piper even wrapped hers up to give to G'mi (the other two were displayed through the holidays but might have gotten swept up in the post-Christmas purge). Everyone there was so nice, and really went all out to make it special, and it was a really fun little memory to share together. 
  • Candy Cane Lane: Fin's school runs a market for the kids to shop for gifts for their families and it's the CUTEST. I got to volunteer for the first time this year, walking kids around helping them pick out gifts for everyone on their lists. Fin wanted to shop for Miller and Piper, so she chose a PJ Masks stuffed animal (Catboy!) and some American Girl Doll clothes. She was so excited to wrap them up, and could barely wait to give them to her siblings. We had to put them in the basement so she would stop asking every ten minutes if they could open them now! She managed to wait until Christmas, and both gifts were a big hit. 

  • Kids' program at church: When our church called for volunteers for the elementary school Christmas program my girls were pretty emphatic about what they wanted to be: Piper wanted to be Mary (and nothing else) and Fin wanted to be a King (because they wear crowns and don't have to talk). Apparently the competition for Mary was fierce, but Piper's name was drawn out of a hat, so she won the coveted honor. Fin's role came with a stuffed camel to hold, so she was equally thrilled. They both performed their walking, smiling and not-speaking flawlessly, and even learned sign language to one of the songs. But Miller pretty much stole the whole show by wearing a bow tie and looking all around adorable in the preschool performance of Oh What a Glorious Night. (Dustin gets a shout out for helping to run sound, and we had an extra bit of fun leading worship together before and after the program.)
  • Watched (terribly) good movies: I fully embraced the cheese this year with a bunch of "Hallmark-esque" Christmas movies on Netflix. "The Princess Switch" was exceptionally good, "Merry Kissmas" was nearly unbearable and there were a few sappy/fluffy gems somewhere in between. 
  • Wear festive jammies: I'm a sucker for spirit wear, and had stocked up on a few new sets after Christmas last year, so the kids were all decked out. They love having special pj's, and might have worn them just as much in the day as the did at night. 

  • Decorate (and undecorate) the church: because you can take the girl out of visual merchandising, but.... I've volunteered with the decor team each year since we moved here and it's always way too much work and a ton of fun. We all agreed to keep things simple this year, and very nearly kept our promise. I roped Dustin into tying strings on 300 custom paper ornaments, got my kids to help bake four dozen cookies, and helped manage the set up team for a frenzied weekend of manger staging, tree fluffing, garland lighting, and photobooth building. It ended up looking beautiful...if not for the smell of the gym lockers, you'd barely know our sanctuary is actually a middle school! 
  • Advent calendars: This had to be the easiest win all season- reusing jokes from last year's advent calendar! The kids even actually understand them sometimes! I also had Frozen themed advent calendar stashed away from last year's clearance sales (another theme to our holidays- stockpiling discounted merch!) which the kids tore into every day at breakfast. 
  • Read the Bible: My absolute favorite new tradition. I printed out the Jesus Storybook Bible advent plan and clipped it to a garland above our dining table so we could read an entry each day while we ate. We weren't perfect, so some nights had us catching up on an extra story or two, but the kids really got into it. It was such a sweet time to spend reading about the different stories and events leading up to Jesus's birth, and talking about it all together. Miller still asks me to read the bible during dinner, so it might become a more regular event. 

  • Hot chocolate: We embraced hot chocolate in all of its forms- with marshmallows, an ice cream float, frozen yogurt, special flavored m&m's and limited-edition cookies. Plus the kids' Christmas Eve gift was a wooden hot cocoa set that has already gotten about 12 million hours of playtime. 
  • Give gifts: What's Christmas without the presents?! I gave some cat-related gifts to my coworkers (gotta celebrate working on a pet brand!), made teacher gifts at midnight because sometimes that's just the best you can do, and did another year of Secret Santa gifts with the kid cousins. (Fin and Hailey got each other...Fin was over the moon with her unicorn mask and fuzzy socks. She's barely taken it off since). 
  • Snuggle: We did our fair share of this each evening, but the most noteworthy snuggle-sesh had to be meeting my brand new baby niece. Nothing like that new Christmas baby smell. 
  • Class parties: I read a book to Fin's jammie-clad class at their "Cozy Christmas Eve" day (Dustin supplied the cut out sugar cookies for the kindergarteners to decorate), and played games with Piper's class (I picked up Holiday Spot It for the occasion because I just didn't have a homemade Pinterest-level idea in ended up beloved by all!)

  • Catch up with old friends: bonus- I didn't even have to travel- they came to ME! I partied with a friend I've had since my preschool days, and stayed up WAY too late with high school buddies. (I also had outings with moms from Piper's kindergarten class, and my monthly Supper club. Make new friends, but keep the ollllddd!)
  • Go to Christmas Eve church: This night always has a very special place in my heart
  • Listen to Christmas music: all day er'y day. The kids particularly enjoyed "I" (even though they can't never say it correctly enough for Alexa to play it), "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" (that Kacey Musgraves version is actually tolerable) and "I Have a Little Dreidel" by Bare Naked Ladies (because spinning and "naked" are endlessly funny). Piper also learned a few Christmas songs on the piano: Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Jingle Bells (with TWO hands!) and Good King Wenceslas. She's working on Go Tell it On The Mountain (might get there by Valentine's day). 

  • Enjoy new toys: Santa brought the must-haves of the year: a "cry baby" (yes, her face actually leaks), American Girl doll Jeep, and a PJ Masks car. But there were lots of other favs, like messy crafts: bath bombs, hair chalk, slime necklaces, and paint your own squishies. Classics like playdoh, magnetic tiles, and their first set of LEGOs (With a storage bag, because I'm silly enough to think I'm not still going to continue to find pieces to these underfoot for the next 15 years). We tried to rein in the gifts but still probably ended up spoiling them (it's so hard to resist!). Each kid got around 6 things- but a few of those were necessities like pajamas, jeans or socks. There were a few gifts for them all to share, and of course they were extra spoiled by extended family. All in all though, they were thrilled with everything, and were as grateful and non-greedy as you can expect youngin's to be. (Funny side note: I scored 4 sets of Lego Friends on Facebook Marketplace- because I refuse to pay 97 billion dollars for teeny tiny puppy shaped pieces- but when we were missing a couple pieces, I had to confess to Piper that they had been "Pre-played with". She totally saw the value, and happily announced, "Mom, when I'm a grown up, I'm going to get all my kids used toys!" Atta girl!) 
  • Eat yummy treats: There was NO shortage of eating this season but the highlight may have been a triple bread bowl. YOU. HEARD. THAT. RIGHT. It's not technically Christmas-related in the traditional sense, but it does teach that dreams really do come true. 
  • Giggle: Non-stop. Well...unless we were arguing. The Bowden sibs pretty much have two speeds. 

  • Get fancy: It doesn't get much better than a Christmastime wedding. We were honored to be a part of Jennie and Mark's big day. 
  • Deck our halls: Kept things REAL simple (yeah, right). I bailed on garland, and embraced (ok, went nuts over) ornament collecting. 
  • Cheers: We shared a flaming cocktail for a bestie's bday, enjoyed a beer or two (or maybe more) together while we wrapped/quilted/worked/vegged out, and toasted in the New Year with beloved friends. 
  • LOVE: so so so so much. 
And just to round it out- we also....Set up a giant gingerbread house, watched Fancy Nancy Christmas in the bathtub, celebrated a bunch of birthdays, put too many sprinkles on cookies, ate out for too many meals, weathered some tough times with some great friends, forgot we left food on our porch for the reindeer, and watched the Netflix fireplace (birch log edition) on a near endless loop, and stayed home together for 12 straight days and lived to tell. A Very Merry Christmas indeed!

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Vid-mas

Somehow it's turned into an unintended decorating palooza around here...feels like all I've shared recently are decor oriented posts. But this stuff is fun for me to document- I like being able to look back on how our spaces changed (or didn't) over the years. And a Christmas tour has been a tradition on some level since the early days of Bowdenisms. I don't share every year (it'd be pretty redundant sometimes...) I did it up big for our first Christmas in Columbus, but then didn't share another full photo tour until last year (mostly it was more of the same in between there...just amassing more and more trees over time). And if you go way back- I shared what Christmas looked like in the early days: 2008, 2010, 2012).

I sort of flip flop between totally LOVING decorating for Christmas, and not wanting anything to do with it. Back in my retail days I was super scrooge-y, but after setting up 10 jillion trees for work before it was even Labor Day, I wasn't exactly eager to do it all again on a personal level. Since then things have balanced out a little, and I've gotten back into the spirit. A few years I've actually (admittedly) gone a little overboard...I got a little carried away when we first moved in- moving into a new house had me all sorts of inspired, so I dressed this place from top to bottom. Then last year we had our foster girls, so I wanted to make Christmas SO SPECIAL for all of the kids.

This year I've landed back in the middle somewhere. I'm super excited for Christmas, and can't wait to do all the activities, eat all the snacks and make all the crafts, (as you know...Christmas is basically my Halloween) but I don't necessarily feel the pressure to go all out with the decor part of things. That might sound silly coming from someone who has set up 7 trees this year, but "how much is too much?" is pretty subjective. Basically, I'm putting up anything that makes me super happy (trees! Christmas cards! lights! more trees!) and skipping anything that feels like more work than it's worth (

We normally use Thanksgiving weekend as our decorating time, but it was super early this year and I thought it would be nice to have a bit more of a break between the madness of Halloween and the chaos of Christmas. So I thought I'd wait until December to decorate  But then...about five minutes into Black Friday, I realized three day weekends don't come around often, so if we wanted to get things done, this was probably our time. I still thought we'd wait to get our (real) tree until later in the season. But then...we had a Sunday with no plans and the world's most perfect weather, so we just went for it. ("Get while the getting's good" tends to be my motto with children).

So...that's how I found my house fully (but not FULLY) decorated for Christmas by November 25. Wasn't the plan, exactly, but I'm loving it. We've had Christmas music playing pretty much non-stop since then, and I've already burned some pretty big puddles in my evergreen candles. It's good stuff.

As for the tour- honestly, not a lot has changed since last year, so instead of sharing a bunch of nearly identical photos, I thought it would be fun to do a quick (relatively speaking...nothing is ever actually quick with me) video tour instead. This way you get a sense of the space, some of the "color commentary" on different things, and a couple cameos of my kids being wildly unsupervised 

I give you: The Bowden Home: Christmas, 2018

Sharing Christmas- 2018 from Courtney Bowden on Vimeo.

And now, a couple of notes for posterity- really just for me to look back and fact check myself when I'm setting things up next year:
  • I had to rewire my beloved silver tree after two strands went out (and no amount of replacing fuses was fixing it). It took two trips to the store because I underestimated the number of lights needed (Christmas lights follow the military mantra "two is one and one is none", which just means I've learned to buy twice as many as I think I'll need, and it will always be just barely enough). At Home (the worst name for the BEST store) no longer sells this tree or my other "favorite" (they're all my favorite) gold tree, so I've been trying to be a little more conservative with how much I use them. That is to say, I keep them on only about 18 hours a day instead of my preferred 24.
  • The aforementioned "7 trees" are as follows: Bedrooms: 1-4, Kitchen, Living room (our only live one), and a modern one without lights in the bathroom. That one isn't shown in the tour, but is a lovely little silver number that wiggles and shines whenever the kids mess with it. Which is always.
  • We keep it simple outside, and just do a wreath with white lights on each of our 3 main windows, 1 over garage, plus a red and a green spotlight. But after years of being on the fence on these tacky/awesome light projectors, I've determined I'm totally in the market for a snowflake version, so we'll see if that gets added to the mix in the next few weeks. I did had to rewire one of the wreaths- which I'm nearly sure is the second one in two years. I should probably spring for LED strands so I don't have to keep up this song and dance every year, but to get them to match I'd have to rewire all thanks. 
  • I am trying really really (really) hard not to buy any more decorations, and for the most part I'm staying strong- unless you count the glass food-shaped ornaments that keep finding their way into my cart on regular errands. (New on my kitchen tree: a taco, burger, french fries, popcorn and pizza. Also a flying pig, which isn't edible, but still delicious in her own way). 
  • I'm also rendered completely powerless by Christmas books and tiny priceless-artsy-memory-making-but-will-want-to-throw-away-nearly-immediately-upon-completion crafts. So....those are filling any of the void left by my lack of garland. And then some. (This is technically supposed to be a note to future me, to explain that we're all set, and I need to chillllll, but if I know anything about future me, I know that she's not prone to listening to that kind of fun-killing sensible advice, so...yay books!)
Once I get going here, I kinda can't stop, so I'll force the wrap up here, and just say that if you want to see more...COME OVER! It's a cluttered-up, loved-in, wonderland of beauty and nonsense, and we are so very blessed to have it.

OH- and while we're getting all multi-media with things, here are a few of the playlists and songs we've had on rotation year:

My go-tos: 
Acoustic Christmas (so much goodness. The Oh Hellos. The Civil Wars. Other great bands that start with The) 
Christmas Songs (a pretty standard pop playlist that is picking up where my expired Pandora subscription station left off)
Branches- Songs for Christmas (gimme banjo all day)
A Johnnyswim Christmas (because I don't say #goalz but if I did, they'd earn it) 
What a Glorious Night (One of the songs from our kids' Christmas programs that I just CAN'T STOP SINGING!)
Olaf's Frozen Adventure Soundtrack (I forgot this was a thing and legit squealed in delight when I stumbled upon it again this year)

Some new mixes I found by @BevCooks (full of non-traditional awesomeness)
Twinkline Tinsel and Evergreen Mix
Cookies and Milk and 'You Serious, Clark?' Mix

P.s. For all things merry, check out all of our posts of Christmases past here on the blog, or on Instagram: #bowdenschristmas. And if you're here for the quality film making (sarcasm emoji!)- you can catch up on our other videos on Vimeo.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Little Update for a Big Boy

Well, try as I turns out I couldn't keep my sweet baby from growing up into a (still sweet) little boy. And as much as I didn't love it, it recently became time for me to face the fact that he wasn't going to be a tiny nugget sleeping in a crib forever. Truth be told, he was still happy as a clam in is "fib" (as he calls it), so I wasn't in a hurry to move him, but once he was potty trained it felt like a toddler bed was the right next step. And so off came the bars...and in came the design dilemmas.

You see, nothing is simple with me (I know this...I admit this...I cannot change this...) so updating Miller's bed quickly evolved into a "need" for a complete room overhaul. Home decor tends to have a bit of a domino effect (or maybe a "Give a Mouse a Cookie" effect- a.k.a. how a leaky bathroom in our old house turned into a full kitchen renovation) with me, so one minute I'm changing out his crib wall for a side rail, and then next, Dustin is trying to talk me out of swapping out all the furniture on the second floor.

After a bit of discussion (and some over-dramatic tears over "MY BAYBEEE") we agreed that it didn't actually make much sense to change everything in Miller's nursery to fit his updated needs. The smarter plan would be to move Miller into the other bedroom; it's bigger, has a dresser (vs. a makeshift changing table) and can accommodate a twin bed easier (when the time comes). But I was hesitant over the shift because I was trying to keep the foster room intact...partly because I just love it but also because it had been designed and put together for such a specific purpose. When we transitioned it from the guest room, I did it with intentions and visions of the kiddos who would use felt strange to change that up and plop Miller in there.

I know that might not make sense to most people...a room is a room, and a nursery is a nursery, right? But that's just not how I see it. Rooms for me are so specific to those who will inhabit them. Even when the occupant is still a bit of an unknown. I don't always have the luxury of planning a full custom bedroom for each of my babies (Piper- absolutely! Fin...ummm...sorry sweetie...) but regardless of scale, in some form or fashion I put my heart into the details of their spaces, and those touches make those rooms so meaningful to me. So Miller's nursery may not have been a perfect vision come to life- but it was his. It was hard for me to wrap my heart around the swaps even though my head knew they made sense.

But sooner than later, my practical side (+Dustin) won out over my sentimental side, and I got on board with the "Trading Spaces" plan. But you know I couldn't just toss him in there and call it done. No no no no no. Sure, by design, the foster room was neutral enough to work for a boy or a girl in a pretty wide age range, but now that it would specifically function for this particular boy, I wanted to make some tweaks to make it more personalized to him.

But before I get 2,000 (more) words deep on the specifics, let me unveil the update.

It’s a pretty small space and a little awkwardly shaped, so it's tough to really capture the full vibe in photos...but hopefully you're getting it? The room has already had about four different iterations in as many years, and working with mostly existing pieces made it challenging for it not to feel like a hodge-podge of things that were just cobbled together based on necessity or availability. But after some real uncertain moments (and massive amounts of overthinking things, as always) I really love how it turned out. To me it feels like a kid's room that could have existed in the 1960's. Minimal, but rich...simple and just enough "boy" while still having a bit of sophistication. I love that it can grow with him too...nothing is too juvenile, and it has a lot of potential to add and change things over the years based on his interests or needs.

I’m an overthinker for sure, but I’m also a girl of quick action, so once we moved Miller’s bed in there, the rest of the transformation happened in the matter of a week or two. I didn’t want to rush into decisions, but I also didn’t want things to linger on and remain half-done forever (I’ve got enough of those spaces in my house already!) I know that it doesn’t have to be 100% perfect, and no room is ever truly “done” but I wanted to make a few quick changes to get it close enough, so it didn’t feel like he was in hand-me-down limbo. Plus, if we are going to welcome any more foster kids (yes, we’re back “on the list” open to placements…more on that later!) I knew I wouldn’t ever have more time than I do now, so it seemed wise to just go after it while I can!

The vast majority of the space was untouched. We didn't change the paint color, and kept most of the furniture/accessories (including the built-in desk + shelves, obviously). My main goal in the revamp was to make it a little more masculine, which mostly meant we needed to swap out the rug and the artwork for something a little less fluffy and a little less...purple-y. But then as I started to tweak things, the room began to feel less "neutral" and more "stark", so I knew I had to find a way to inject a bit more color and texture.

So that’s where I started, but before I could really plunge into purchasing stuff, I had to determine the theme for the room. I didn’t want an obvious- You Must Really Love P.J. Masks kind of theme (no shade if that's your thing!) but for kids' rooms especially I think it's fun to have at least a loose "tie that binds"...a few common elements that repeat and play off of each other. I debated a few different directions based on Miller's current interests, but also didn't want to hinge everything on his fav de jour (and end up with a You Must Have Really Loved P.J. Masks At One Point type of room). We considered superheroes, animals, Star Wars, travel... before eventually landing on sports. Specifically classic sports, with a mid-century aesthetic, and a retro twist incorporating classic books and toys. You get it? Kinda? I didn’t pull together inspiration in advance, but if I had, it would have included lots of navy blue, washed jersey knits, touches of sleek gold, rich wood tones, and bright- but well worn- graphics. In my head, I wanted a classic “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” kind of feel- with alphabet blocks, trucks, illustrations, balls, and any other “thing that makes boys happy” element piling in to create an easy-to-live-in spot for our little guy.

I knew I wanted to keep the collection of square frames (which previously housed my grandmother's antique scarves) so I thought t-shirts would be an easy (and cheap) swap out. And as much as I loved the hanging “pocket watch” of my grandpa’s, that focal wall needed a little bit more color and punch, so I landed on three big frames to house some more graphics. I took a couple trips to Once Upon a Child and bought every t-shirt I thought might have potential (wading through more cocky slogan T’s than I thought could possibly exist. What in the world are we teaching our boys with the “prepare to be humbled” messages we’re emblazing on their neon jerseys? Another topic for another day...). So after a lengthy sorting/sifting/evaluating process, I landed on my top picks.

Again- it was important to me to keep the theme somewhat subtle, so while the art is all sports related, I avoided adding other overtly sporty pieces to the rest of the room. Previously I had beige curtains, which felt nice and soft in a nursery, but weren’t quite right for a little boy’s room, so I brought in some blue options, eventually landing on a printed version.

I tried and tried to get a large rug to work in the space (I fell in love with one from Ikea), but for a variety of (very boring) reasons, it wasn't going to happen. Rooms based around a crib have a lot of floor space, so it feels necessary to fill that up with color and texture, but eventually we'll have a twin bed in here, so that need won’t be as great. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a solve that likely won’t be needed later, so I made a compromise on a small ($5!) rug just to ground the space a bit for the time being. When we do upgrade to a twin sized bed, that will cut down on the visible real estate of this way-past-its-prime carpet, and the bedding will have more impact as well. (I've already got plans in the works for a big quilt when we make that transition and I’m so excited about how that will add another layer of pattern and personality to the space.) The twin bed frame we select could make a difference too- I'm thinking something like this has a trundle for sleepovers!...but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

After the art and curtains were in place, I just did a few quick rotations of some décor items, and called it “done”. It’s been a few weeks now, and it’s a little less photogenic, and a little more lived-in, as we’ve added some of his toys (so that he’ll actually like being in the space his mom cares so much about) and necessities like a hamper, etc. (And now, we’ve also decorated his room for Christmas- tour of that coming soon- which is making me fall even more in love with it! Maybe an “evergreen tree” could be a part of the permanent décor?)

Oh- and of course all the switch-ups meant there were a few little tweaks to Miller’s old nursery, to get it ready for a potential new placement. We officially opened our home back up about a month ago, but have only received one call so far. We’re on the list for only one kid at a time now (as much as I have a heart for sibling sets, it’s just not logistically realistic for our family right now) ages 0-2 (to preserve birth order with our other kids). That’s quite a shift from being open to up to 2 kids, ages 0-5, so I’m not shocked that we haven’t been flooded with calls this time...but it is still hard and a little confusing to wait, especially when we know the need is so great. But whenever the time is right, we’ve got a sweet little room prepared..

The changes we made in here are super's really just swapping some decorations around (removing anything specifically "Miller" oriented, in favor of neutral messages and items). All of the furniture and art stayed as is, but we added the rug.

So there you have the saga and the triumph of my latest decorating adventure. I cared more than I should have (which will likely be my auto-biography subtitle someday) but I'm not sorry in the least (potential sub-subtitle). I now have a boy far less squishy than I'd prefer, but he's got a super duper cute room to keep growing in, and that's a small win in the fight against his ever-increasing lankiness and general grown-up-itude.

Many of these are listed in the original post about the foster room, but here's the updated list:
Curtains: Hobby Lobby
Rug: Five Below (seriously!)
Crib: Amazon (can't rave about these enough...we have three!)
Toddler bed rail: Amazon (Purchased after a near disastrous crib to bed transition with Piper)
Faux wood frames: Michael's
Storage bench: old Ikea
Baseball art: Homegoods
Ok to wake clock: Amazon
Stuffed friends: Sadly, his favs are discontinued (fear not...I purchased a backup "Blue Jelly" on ebay and it's hiding in his closet in case of emergency), but similar here: Pillow Pet, Jellycat dog, (his Jellycat bunny "Peanut" is still available)
White album frames: Urban Outfitters
Handmade: Globe pillow, quilt 
Vintage/second hand: Suitcases, blocks, dresser, chair, chalkboard, t-shirts turned art
Old target stuff: Lamp, drawer pulls, whale, Grey felt bins, white dog bank, yellow pillow

P.s. If you still can't get enough home-related fun, check out all of our house posts/tours here on the blog, or on Instagram: #houseofbowden
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