A New Chapter

A few months ago I shared that Blake decided to end his career as a chef to pursue something that allowed him to be more focused on our family. It was a change that I welcomed, even though it came with some uncertainty. A few months ago, Blake told me he wanted to own a gym, and through determination and fearlessness, I am happy to report that today he signed the paperwork to purchase our very own gym.

One may ask how someone goes from being a chef to a gym owner, and while it seems to be a 180 degree change, for Blake, it makes sense. See, about a year and a half ago, Blake got really into fitness. He got serious – he started going to the gym just about every night, he lost 40 pounds and wound up in the best shape of his life. The change in him made him happier and made us stronger. And so I think that experience inspired him to be part of the transformation in others.  This new career also makes sense because after over a decade in the kitchen (and aside from it being a true testament to a strong work-ethic), he knows how to manage people, run a profitable business, survive in a stressful work environment and be customer-focused – and all of that translates perfectly into going into this kind of business for himself.

Obviously, there are some benefits for me with this change. Most notably, he can no longer use the excuse that he’s been in the kitchen all day (and therefore does not want to be in the kitchen at home.) Nope. He’s done with that one. No more late nights and all weekend shifts; no more “busy times” that interfere with holidays and special events. Yes, he’ll be working hard. Yes, he’ll put in his fair share of hours. But working for himself means it will be on his time…. our time. And I am so, so looking forward to that. I am looking forward to our family not just being his number one priority in theory – it will now be reality.

In making the decision to own a gym, we looked at a few different deals. And I have to admit that some of them made me nervous. And while I know that it takes risk to see reward, I was having trouble with biting off the amount of risk that appeared to be inherent in some of the deals. But then I prayed about it. I prayed to find peace with it. I prayed to be supportive even if I had my doubts. I prayed that it would all work out. And then out of the blue, a new deal presented itself that was better than we could have ever imagined. A deal that was less risky than the others, already profitable and 6 miles from our house. In the 9 years that Blake and I have been together, he has never worked 6 miles away from our house. It was like God heard all of my fears and gave us this deal to say, yep, I was listening.

I am so excited about what is ahead for our family. I think it’s easy to take family time for granted, but after spending so long where he was all but absent, I hope I never do. I hope I continue to appreciate our time together, and the freedom that this new venture will afford us. I’m feeling blessed and looking forward to this new chapter.

Our family

What five years of marriage have taught me

Five years ago, it was a cool fall day in Georgia and I married the love of my life. Like many others, my marriage is not perfect – but I don’t expect it to be. It ebbs and flows but I am lucky that there are more good days than bad. I’m lucky to be in a healthy (again, not perfect) marriage where we respect each other (most of the time), love each other and most days, really like each other. This five-year milestone has got me thinking about all I’ve learned about love and marriage along the way; advice and perspectives that have made us work, and that if only I (we) could actually do day-in and day-out, would make us even better…

  • Marriage is 100/100.  I read a book soon after I got married called Love and Respect. It is an awesome book. One of my favorite pieces of advice from it is that marriage is not a 50/50 deal – it’s 100/100.  Because 50% only gets you to 100 if your partner is also giving their 50 at the same time you are… and how often does that really happen? But if you look at it differently, like your commitment to marriage means you give 100% to your spouse no matter what, the results can be amazing.
  • You can’t be selfish.  Learning to be truly unselfish can be a very difficult thing.  It is really hard in a “me, me, me” society to take you out of it and just do what’s right for your spouse.  Especially if they aren’t pulling their “100.” It’s easy to go down the path of, “well he’s not thinking about me in _____, so why should I think about him!” But this is dangerous. This will get you on the Crazy Cycle (also from Love and Respect).  I think to really make a marriage work you have to spend more time focusing on what your spouse needs or wants, and less about you. And you know what? An interesting thing may happen – your spouse may start to be less selfish too. Win-win.
  • Let the past be the past.  This one is hard too. But if you want to move forward with your relationship, you can’t be consumed with the past. You can’t bring it up every time you need it to win an argument/make a point/make he or she feel bad because you feel bad. And while I don’t always follow this one, my logical not in-the-moment brain thinks that you have to look at issues in the past in this way: is it a deal-breaker? If it is not, you move on. If it is, well, then that’s a whole ‘nother story. It’s like the ole adage, “shit or get off the pot.” And by the way, when was the last time bringing up the past actually helped you win an argument??  It usually doesn’t. It usually puts the other person on the defensive and closed off to work things out. So leave the past in the past and focus on the future.
  • Be on the same team.  This one is particularly hard for me. Blake and I are naturally competitive – and in particular, we compete with each other. We try to one-up, prove each other wrong (for the sake of each of us being right), and sometimes we will disagree just because.  But when we get going down this path, we have to recalibrate and realize we are on the same team. This is easy on the big stuff – we’re each other’s cheerleaders when it comes to careers, passions, etc. – but it’s the little stuff that has us fighting like brother and sister (okay, maybe that’s a little weird, but it’s really that type of rivalry).  So when we can step back, be less selfish and less worried about always winning (individually) and realize we are on the same team, it can make a world of difference.
  • Speak kindly to each other. When you’ve been married/together for a long time, sometimes the niceties go out the window. You’re comfortable, and therefore you say whatever is on your mind with little regard to your spouse’s feelings. I caught myself doing this more often than I’d like to admit and so I started asking myself the question, would I talk like this to one of my co-workers?  And often the answer was no. And it made me wonder, why is it that I take the energy to be polite and appreciative at work, but at home, I don’t show the same respect for my husband? I don’t know the answer, but I’ve tried to use this question as the litmus for how to speak to the hubs.  It really can be quite baffling how the person who means the most to you in the world sometimes gets the worst of you just because we get lazy and inconsiderate.
  • Make each other a priority.  Make the time for each other, even when there isn’t much time. Think of all the other things you’d sacrifice for, and then do a little sacrificing for your spouse. Because if the job needed you to work late, you’d do it, and if the kids needed you for something, you’d be there. But sometimes the needs of a spouse can be silent, and so it’s easy to put them on the backburner while you give all of your attention to the other squeaking wheels in your life.  So go on dates, buy each other gifts, take trips (with no kids), and maybe let the dishes sit every once in a while.  Think about what’s most important in your life and adjust your energy accordingly.
  • Respect.  So Love and Respect focuses on a husband’s need for respect. I don’t disagree, but I really think that respect goes both ways. And while for a man, it may be their main source of happiness and validation, I think when it’s a two way street it flows easier both ways.  Respect in a marriage is as important with the little things as it is with the big things. It’s important to respect each other’s ideas (big and small), each other’s passions (career, family, personal goals), each other’s quirks (love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay) and each other’s faults. Especially the faults. When you build people up it will come back 10-fold. Because when you feel appreciated and understood, your natural reaction is to reward the person who made you feel that way. It’s a chain reaction that can go on and on.
  • You can’t change your spouse.  It’s cliché, I know. But sometimes a cliché got to be a cliché because it’s true. This, to me, is one of the hardest things about marriage.  If you didn’t discover this before you said “I do”, you will likely learn within at least the first five years of your marriage that your spouse is not perfect.  Well crap. What do you do now? Nothing. You live with it. You respect it. You don’t try to change them. If this imperfection is not a deal-breaker, that’s really all you can do.  You have to realize that you really only have control over you. And so all you can do is change your way of thinking about your partner’s imperfections. And maybe they will feel loved and supported and want to make a change themselves; or maybe they won’t. The outcome is actually irrelevant.

And there’s my two cents. I know it, but I don’t follow it all the time. My husband is going to read this and think, man, can the lady that wrote this please be my wife?? Well babe, I’ll keep trying.  It’s easy in theory and hard in practice.  It’s marriage – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And like parenting, there is no owner’s manual. We are all imperfect beings, most of us trying to be the best spouses we can be. And most of us will fail miserably at times. But the important thing is that we keep trying; that we never give up. A marriage is what you make of it; your happiness is relative to your effort and your expectations. Get both of these in check and in my opinion, things will be just fine.

And so I hope in my next five (or fifty) years of marriage that I will continue to learn lessons and keep trying to improve. I want to be less of a nag and be more supportive. I want to be a good example of a loving marriage to my kids. I want to not be lazy. I want to be more in love each and every day. I’m up for the challenge.

Wedding day

I love you babe – happy anniversary.

How to Be a Happy Parent

Parenting is hard and it’s easy to find yourself stuck in a rut with all the damn dailies.  But I believe that happiness is relative to your expectations.  We all have this romanticized idea of what parenting will be like before we have kids… and then we have them and realize some if it’s not so glamorous.  Managing your expectations and keeping perspective is key to finding all the joy that parenting has to offer. Juggling your children, your marriage, a job (perhaps), and the stresses from the outside world (strangers, other parents, the media, the “experts”) can be downright stressful.  Hey, no pressure, you’re only doing the most important job in the whole wide world and raising another human being!  Below are my 15 keys to being a happy parent:

1.)       Have realistic expectations – If you expect that parenting is going to be awesome every day, that your kids will always listen and that you’ll always know what to do, be ready for some serious disappointment.  Instead, modify those expectation, account for the hard days and when they happen they will be much easier to handle.

2.)       Focus on the end goal – Isn’t our goal in raising children to develop independent adults who are productive members of society?  So when some days all you can muster is the energy to clothe them, feed them and get them off to school, remember you are working toward your goal! And when they are stubborn and strong-willed and want to do it all themselves, think of it as a preview to the independence you one day want them to have.

3.)       You don’t have to be perfect at everything – Every parent has their “parenting gift”. Whether it’s keeping calm, discipline, dinner, homework, birthday parties, snacks, fun-filled activities or communicating with their children, all parents have some part of this job where they excel.  But no one, let me repeat, no one is perfect at it all.  Attempting to be is a futile effort.  So figure out which part you’re great at and be at peace with the fact that you won’t be perfecting all the others.

4.)       Don’t compare yourself to other parents – Just because other parents do it doesn’t mean you should too! Sound familiar?  What works for one family doesn’t necessarily work for another, so don’t even try to compare.  We’re all different parents and we all have different kids, so comparing your adequacies next to another parent just doesn’t make sense. Own your own parenting skills!

5.)       Do the best that you can – At the end of the day, this is really all we can do.  So if you can finish each day knowing that you did the best you can, then who cares what craziness took place? Who cares if you got dirty looks from the bystanders at the grocery store for your screaming kids? Be the best parent you can be and don’t worry about the rest.

6.)       Factor in some failures – If we can all go into this parenting job knowing that we’re going to fail miserably at times, it really just takes some pressure off.  I’m not suggesting we lower our standards, but let’s be real, it’s not like this is all within our control anyways.  Think of failures as learning opportunities for you and your kids, and try to make the best of them. They will happen, so it’s up to you how you react.

7.)       You won’t always make the right decisions – There is no crystal ball with kids. You can’t tell if the punishment you dole out is going crack their code or send them into a tailspin.  There are so many decisions in parenting – public, private or homeschool? How much screen time? Finish your plate or not? Stay at home or work? Their friends… their extracurricular activities… their bedtime… It is impossible to get all this right.  And even if you make the “right” decisions, it probably still isn’t “right” for all of your kids. So what to do?  Look back to #5 and pray.

8.)       This too shall pass – Every parent goes through a phase (or two, or three) with their kids that seems impossible to overcome. Not sleeping through the night, wetting the bed, separation anxiety, temper tantrums, etc., etc. To keep your sanity, just remember, this too shall pass.  These times are fleeting.  Not only will the not-so-desirable phases not last forever, but before we know it our kids will be grown and we’ll probably miss it.

9.)       Maintain your own identity – Don’t forget about you.  Make sure you have an outlet, something that makes you happy. Whether it’s a job or a hobby or an hour of solitude to just think (or sleep), just do it. Making time for you will make you a better and happier parent.

10.)   Don’t let the kids overrun your marriage – Make time for your spouse. Go on dates. Take trips.  Buy each other gifts.  Talk about something other than the kids. Make each other a priority. Don’t blame the kids for why you can’t be a good spouse (“I’m too tired…”).  Remember that one of the most important things you can do for your kids is to keep your marriage strong, so don’t let your marriage come second to your kids.

11.)   Don’t impose your dreams on your kids – It’s only natural to have dreams for your kids… just don’t be so caught up on those dreams that your kids not fulfilling them brings disappointment to you. Give them opportunities to pursue whatever dreams they have and take your expectations out if it.

12.)   It’s okay to be like your parents – One day you will probably find yourself acting just like your parents.  Don’t fight it.  You turned out awesome, right?

13.)   Find someone to clean your house – Now I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but if you can make sacrifices to make this happen, do it. However, be warned, once you start, it will be hard to ever stop. It is shocking how much stress is removed from your life when you don’t have to spend your weekends cleaning.  The extra time with your kids is simply priceless. This one will really, really keep a parent happy.

14.)   When all else fails, have a dance party – Everything going wrong? Kids in a crappy mood? Dinner was burned? It’s nothing that turning up some music and dancing like a fool with your children can’t solve.

15.)   Avoid taking your kids out in public – No, just kidding. I couldn’t resist. Although, it is tempting sometimes :).

Happy Momma

You’re Inspiring a Blog Post

So I have a new saying in my house – you’re inspiring a blog post.  My latest remark to the things my boys (husband included) do that make me shake my head.  It came out naturally the other night when my husband Blake asked me if I’d seen his cell phone. I told him it was upstairs on my nightstand. Fast forward an hour or so and I asked him if he found his phone. His response – it’s not on your nightstand.  A couple of things to know here… 1) I have a photographic memory and 2) Blake has established a reputation for not being able to find things that are right in front of him.  I mean to tell you that if something isn’t front and center, bouncing around with a spotlight on it, he can’t find it. No lie.  So I was naturally skeptical. I followed him upstairs to investigate the situation and what do I find? His cell phone, on my nightstand, underneath a clear plastic bag. My immediate response to him? You’re inspiring a blog post.

Jess and Blake Caricature

Ever since I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, I look at my day-to-day life determining what is story-worthy.  It’s been a refreshing experience. Sometimes I have to really think about it, and sometimes I’m handed little gems like that. Thank you honey.  I began my blogging journey very open to wherever the inspiration took me. I honestly thought it would be more about food with occasional anecdotes about the kids.  So far it’s been the opposite.  A couple of contributing factors – I’ve had a lot of thoughts on the adventures of parenting floating in my head for a while, and this blog provided the platform for me to articulate them. Secondly, while I do cook most nights, it’s not always blog-worthy.  It is hard to cook a real meal when you have a screamer hanging on to your leg.  So weekday food experiments may be hard to come by.  Who knows where this thing will go. I have no idea how often I’ll post – it probably won’t be consistent. One thing I do know is that it will always be authentic. If I don’t have anything genuine to post, I just won’t post. Thank you to everyone who has given such positive feedback – this has been a great outlet so far!

The things I used to take for granted

I write this post from the plane, on our way back from a much-needed vacay to Vegas for my husband’s 30th birthday. This was a kid-free trip, and while I knew we needed to recharge, I was reminded of the simple things that we used to take for granted – before we were parents.

Sleep. Uninterrupted sleep that begins and ends when you say so. There is a tiredness associated with parenthood that is incomparable to any other cause of fatigue. Yes, you can be tired from a late night of partying, an all-nighter studying or an overnight shift at work. But the parent version of tired is different because it is unending – there is no reprieve in sight. Pre-kids, I never fully appreciated the luxury of sleep. I do now, and so every sans kid vacation for the foreseeable future will allow me some time to sleep more than I can at home.

Free time. Having nothing to do and no one to take care of was awesome. At home, even when there is “free time” it’s not really free. If you manage to steal away an hour while the kids are sleeping, even if you’re doing nothing, the weight of responsibility for all the things that you could or should be doing is always present. The cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, household projects, yard work, work related work, and the list continues. This too I took for granted before babies. I used to think I was so busy! Ha!

Eating. Eating where you are only concerned about feeding yourself. Not fixing plates, cutting up food, teaching manners, cleaning up messes, wiping mouths, refilling drinks, encouraging good eating, and getting to take a bite only in between feeding the little one who will squeal (and by squeal I mean high-pitch scream) when he wants more food (more on this fun behavior trait in a later post). No, before kids I never thought that eating a nice dinner with only adults would be such an indulgence. But it is, and we enjoyed it!

Food in vegas

Time with the hubs. Let’s face it, kids are stressful. They can create stress in even the best marriages. Sometimes you need to just be spouses again and not have to play the role of parents. A lot of our conversations were still centered on the kids, but we didn’t have to deal with the in-your-face responsibility of the kids. There were no “not it” conversations around the dirty diapers, no figuring out who will give baths. When we were a family of two, I did not fully appreciate this time. But I welcomed it on this trip. It was just us, being the “us” that we were the five years together before we had kids. It was great.

We always knew we wanted to be parents. We wanted to have kids right away and were pregnant before our one-year anniversary. It turned out for us that the grass was greener – being parents is awesome! We wouldn’t trade our side of the pasture for anything. But it is nice now and again to hop back over the proverbial fence and enjoy some of those green patches too.

Jess and Blake in Vegas