12.20.2014

Chasers of the Light


It started on Pinterest.  I saw one, then two, then three quotes by Tyler Knott Gregson, and that was all it took. I was hooked.  A lot of his poetry is about love, which I adore... But what I like even more are his poems about life.


Chasers of the light is a collection of his poems, typed old-school on a typewriter he picked up at an antique shop in Montana.  I read the book, cover to cover, in a matter of days, and nearly every page was magic.


A few favorites:

"Find the positivity.  Find the grace.  Find it and hold it and cling to it like it is your lifeline and only breath of air before everything sinks.  Find the silver linings.  Hold them in your lungs and search for them in the bubbles and rubble of all that pours down around you.  Find the bright spot in the dark clouds, listen for the sounds of the birds when the winds pick up and tear down the house around you.  It is there, shhhh, it is there, it is always there and it is waiting for you to reach out with both hands, bloody and shaking, and hold tight to it like it is the last thing you will ever learn how to let go.  Find the glory, the glory through the ache, and understand that it is what we can endure that defines who we become.  That it has never been about the punches we can throw, but the punches we can absorb and still stand up from.  It is the standing up, it has always been the standing up and the refusal to lie still and quiet as the numbers count towards ten and the knockout becomes complete.

Rise my soul, rise through the flame and ash, rise through the waters that fill the spaces under your arms as they crawl toward your throat.  Rise and find the grace, for it is all around you.

Find it. Find the grace."

*

"Be gentle,
always delicate
with every soul
you meet,
for every single morning
you wake up,
there is someone
Wishing,
silently
and secretly,
that they
had not."

*

"We are all 
looking
for the right
reasons
to want to
get out of 
bed
each and
every
bitter cold
morning."

*

"Look up more than down.
See more than say.
Listen more than speak.
Hope more than dread.
Believe more than criticize.
Yes more than no.
No more than maybe.
Laugh more than cry.
Love more than hate.
See. More. See."


So now you see.  You must buy it.
Really.

12.19.2014

The Happiness Project :: ETERNITY :: December

I a little bit fell off the wagon of happiness in November. I still did a lot of the things I had planned, but perhaps less consistently than I would have liked.  But I am determined to stay on track, so here are December's Happiness Goals.
  
***
I love this quote.  It reminds me so much of what Gretchen's goal was when she wrote The Happiness Project.  She wanted to "change her life without changing her life."  That's my goal.  I already have a really good, blessed life.  I just want to appreciate that and live it to its fullest.

December's goal area is Eternity.  Gretchen's chapter in the book about Eternity says that great minds encourage us to consider our death.  For death is what makes life so beautiful.  This is a touchy subject for me as a majority of anxiety stems around the idea of getting sick and dying. (And leaving my husband and young children behind.)  But I am determined to do it because I know that if can face the fears, they will diminish and peace will come.


Gretchen started her month on eternity by collecting memoirs to read about suffering, illness and dying.  She explained to her husband that while the books were indeed sad, they were also uplifting.  She found herself extra grateful for her ordinary life.  I had the same feeling as I read Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search For Meaning last week.  It's about his time spent in a concentration camp and his subsequent theories on the psychology of life's meaning.  The book was, generally speaking, depressing.  But I, too, found myself feeling grateful for the things in my life.  Warm showers, enough food to eat, my loved ones being alive & well.  

Reading these accounts of suffering made real the quote by William Edward Hartpole Lecky,
"There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed."

So for the rest of December I want to:

1. Surrender Daily

Let it go & trust God
{remember "It is safe to trust." -Ann Voskamp}
I want to stop fearing bad things that might happen.  
Gretchen reports that this is a great source of unhappiness, 
and I am guilty of it.

2. Keep a daily gratitude journal

Find something about every situation, especially trials, to be grateful for,
& continue with my 1,000 Gifts notebook--
{finding the "ugly beautiful" in my life}

3. Spend some time journaling about death

Keeping in mind that as with surgery, God cuts into our hearts to make us whole.  There's no seeing God face to face without first the ripping. {Ann Voskamp}  As afraid as I am to contemplate my death, I have to go through the pain to arrive at peace.


I want to trust, fully, God's plan for my life, and stay focused on the positive.
The new year holds good things.
I just know it.

***

12.18.2014

On My Nightstand

For October I made the {small} goal of reading four books.  At the time I thought it was a reasonable goal.  And I got through the first two books rather quickly.  But I just finished Outlander (two.months.later) and still haven't finished Unconditional Parenting.  But the goal of reading {more} was accomplished, so I consider it a win.

Then for my birthday, Josh completely spoiled me with $100 Amazon gift card for books.  And his sister, my bestie, also sent me $ for books from Barnes & Noble {my favorite!}, so after Thanksgiving I sat down and gathered all my notes and wishes about books I wanted to read, and began finding them on the interwebs.  {Also for my birthday, my mom sent me Chasers of the Light by Tyler Knott Gregson, but that book deserves its own post, so keep an eye out for it!}

Said books have been rolling in ever since, and it makes me SO happy!

***

In addition to finishing Outlander, I also finished Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  Man's Search For Meaning was a very timely read considering the loss of our pregnancy and the uncertainty of our future. I really loved reading about the psychology behind his theories and how positive his view of humanity was despite all he went through in the concentration camps.

This morning I started Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult.  My mom had told me about at the end of the summer, so we both got it and are reading it together. I'm excited to be able to talk to her about it as we read!

And now, on to the books on my shelf. 
Oh how this sweet little collection makes me smile!

Novels:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Winter Street by Elin Hildebrand
Matchmaker by Elin Hildebrand
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Sister by Rosamund Lupton
The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Little Face by Sophie Hannah
Don't Let Me Go by Susan Lewis

Non-Fiction:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford

After Leaving Time, I would like to reread The Giver.  Josh and I watched the movie for date night last week, and it made me want to read the book again.

I also hope to finish Unconditional Parenting.  I am looking very much forward to Josh's Christmas vacation (3 weeks, baby!) so I can get a little more reading done than I have in the last two months.

What are YOU reading & loving?
Please share!

12.16.2014

Good & Bright

{So loose it was crooked!}
Right now I am in this weird place in parenting where I'm not needed like I once was (to help in the bathroom, to dress them or to feed them) but I'm also not quite to the point where I can get things done simply and without "help".

{"I crunched it out with that cookie!"}
{All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!}
 Instead of brushing their teeth, I am playing "Tooth Fairy."  Instead of airplaning food into their mouths, I am trying to shove kindness and consideration down their throats.  It's a bit strange.

They are more independent now than ever, and also more capable of pitching in.  But with that maturity comes some things I wasn't prepared for.  Embarrassment (for example, before we did the Just Dance game we borrowed from a neighbor, Jack insisted we close the windows) and also frustration (for example, when we tell them they have to do something they don't want to do).

***

Lately there have been many days spent inside with cold and windy weather (but still no snow!) so we have pulled out all the stops.  Play Doh was my secret one afternoon.

I love how they will protest at first, but before they know it, they're making pizzas...

ice cream treats...

and candy to "sell".

We've also been doing a lot of coloring, which I enjoy.  We'll sit at the table, the four of us, with Christmas tunes playing in the background and we will color to our little hearts' content.  A favorite lately is our Elf on the Shelf color book that I got from Target.com and made copies of.

In addition to coloring and Play Doh, we spend a lot of time doing chores.  The boys have mastered putting away dishes,

and folding laundry.

They also take out the trash for me, and put the laundry in the wash.  I love how helpful they are, and that they are old enough to pitch in.  They occasionally complain, of course, and I remind them that in our family, it's all about TEAMWORK.  Daddy works to make our family money, mommy works to feed our family and keep the house clean, and their job is to help out wherever necessary.  This usually turns their attitudes around. 

I really want them to have a good work ethic, to not mind a challenge, and to dive into a hard job with a smile on their face.  One thing I do when they're working is let them listen to music, either on my phone or on the ipod we have.  I truly believe music can make a crappy job feel less crappy.

***

Another perk of them getting older is that they are hilarious.

I taught Jack the word "jog" a few weeks ago when it was in a book he was reading.  He now consistently calls it "hogging" on accident, and I think it's hilarious. I was telling my sister-in-law that if he ever saw me jog, he might think it should be called hogging.
-
We were talking about my grandma's sister who passed away, and Logan said if I died he'd kill himself to be with me.  It was so sweet how intense his eyes were, like that would solve the problem.  So we talked about how the people left on earth miss our loved ones, but our loved ones are happy in heaven with God, and that there is still joy to be found on earth.  Such deep talks I find myself having with that boy.
-
One afternoon Wyatt wanted to know, "Mom, what does "pitied" mean?" I asked him where he heard it and he said, "The lion pitied the mouse."  He heard it from Aesop's fable on ABC Mouse.  So I explained (to my three year old) what pity is. This kid astounds me.

For probably a year now, Wyatt forbids kisses.  This of course, makes him seem more kissable than ever.  I will kiss his cheek, his neck or his owies, and he will proceed to "wipe them off" aggressively.  Then he says, "No kisses!"  Once in a blue moon he will kiss my forehead if I ask for a kiss, but never on my lips.  And rarely can we sneak a kiss on that doesn't get wiped off.
-
One day while he was naked before baths, he asked, "What holds your body on? Glue?"  It was adorable.  I explained that our skin kind of keeps it all together.  Sometimes he stumps me.
-
I was shocked the other day when the twins were talking to him about right & left (we talk about it a lot since the twins are mirror twins-- Logan is left handed and Jack is right handed.  In addition to that, Josh is left handed and I'm right handed, so we talk a lot about handedness) and we discovered that Wyatt knows his left & right! No one even taught him. He just picks stuff up!

He can also count out items, like crackers or guys.  He's not always accurate, but he's always enthusiastic.  "It's five. That's my favorite number!" is what we mostly hear him say.  Even if there are twelve. Or two.  He says, "It's five! Mom! It's five! That's my favorite!"


I said before that with Logan I often find myself having very deep conversations.  The other night at bedtime I was laying with him and he said, "If you started when you were young, maybe you could go visit God."  He likens heaven to another planet, thinking it is "light years" away and takes a long time to get to.  He reasoned that if he started really young, he would make it back before he was an old man, ready to die.  He is desperate to get to heaven to see Josh's baby sister Margaret.

Another night he asked me, "Does your belly stay big after a baby?" and also, "What if all three of us were in there together? Could you walk?" I laughed and said, "Barely, I bet!"

While it's true that most of my heaven and God talks are with Logan, Jack has been asking questions more lately as well.  I think it's all the talk of Jesus' birth in our Christmas books.  The other day, after my grandma's sister had passed and I shared the news with them, Jack asked, "Why can't God bring us back to life?"  I gotta tell you, this is the tough stuff of parenting.

***

The next few pictures are from my *new* instagram account.
(Sorry for the repeat if you're a follower!)
I am so happy to have finally joined!
Check it out:
alaska_babyham
I bribe the twins with Wii time in the afternoons if they stay in bed until the light is green in the morning.  The light turns green at 6:15am.  It makes for some long days, but bedtime is at 7:00pm sharp, so that's a bonus!

They love Super Mario Brothers, which takes me back to my childhood.  We love Yoshi around these parts!

 The other day for school we did this awesome calendar that Kymberlee got us at the start of the school year.  This time we did the circulatory system.  We worked our way through the parts, naming them and learning their functions.  When I asked what the heart does, Jack told me it pounds.  And Logan said tentatively, "It's where the love is?"

Gah, I love that kid!

Wyatt has a queen size bed. Obviously not because he needs one.  It's just what they had here in one of the storage lockers when he outgrew his crib.  That kid uses every.inch, I tell ya!  He is never where I left him.  I wonder what he will do if we ever have to downsize him!

Last night Logan was telling us that he wishes he and Jack got to sleep in that bed.  I asked if he meant taking turns, and he said no. Like last summer, how they shared a bed. He wants to do that again.  When Josh and I asked him why, he said, "Because then if I have bad dreams, when I wake up, I know Jack is right there with me."

Heart.melt.

source

***

PS- I noticed, looking back at my Ten on Ten post, that the twins dressed the same that day.  They did it on purpose. I love when they are adorable like that. For the most part, when we're in Alaska, I let them wear whatever they want. I don't care. Most of the time this produces different outfits.  But occasionally they will decide to match. They love it. It's so cute.

12.15.2014

Liebster Award//Eleven Fun Questions

I was offered the opportunity to go for the Liebster Award from Kelly, a friend made recently online. 

 The Liebster Award is a way for others to discover smaller blogs like mine. The nomination means I am supposed to answer eleven questions about myself and my blog.  I am also supposed to nominate other blogs to do the same, but I'm not going to. (Being lazy... sorry!) But if you feel like answering the questions (some of them are fun!) feel free!  


1. How did you decide on the title of your blog? My blog started as The Cunningham Twins because the twins were the reason I started this blog.  Then it morphed into The Cunningham Family, when we added Wyatt to our brood.  And finally, when we landed in the rural village of Marshall, Alaska four years ago, it changed again, this time to The Cunningham Family in bush Alaska which it has been ever since. 
2. What is one word that sums up the heart of your blog and why? Family.  This blog is all about my life as a wife and mother.  It covers relationships with loved ones near and far, and dipped most recently into my struggle with a miscarriage and the loss of those dreams about Babyham #4.
3. What are your favorite pastimes other than blogging? Reading, hiking, swimming & camping.  (the last three only when I am in Washington)  I also enjoy crafting-- scrapbooking, cardmaking & letter writing.  
4. What is your favorite aspect of blogging? I love sharing my story, particularly when others can relate.  And now that I live so far from family (I am closer to Russia than I am my hometown) the blog is a great way to keep them abreast of everything that's happening.  
5. Which project, recipe or idea on my blog would you most like to try yourself? I'm not one to love new recipes (too stressful) and the last few treats I tried to make on Pinterest were awful... so I'm once burned, twice shy... but I would like to someday try knitting. I even got a kit from Purl Soho, but have yet to dive in.
6. Where does your blog inspiration come from? My own life. Namely my children and where we currently live.  I had three sons in three years, so life here is loud and parenting is non-stop.  From breaking up fights to talking about heaven, these three boys keep me on my toes.  I also enjoy writing about living where we do, the perks & the challenges, in hopes of helping others who are planning to relocate to rural Alaska.
7. What is one country in the world you would like to visit? Why?  I do not have wanderlust.  I have little if any desire to travel.  Josh and I have talked of wanting to visit Yellowstone someday with our kids, but that's about it.  We are content to spend time with our family in Washington in the summer (camping at the lake, swimming at the river, and visiting my grandparents at the beach) and having our adventures there.
8. If you have children, what are there names? If not, what are your favorite girl and boy names?  We have identical twins named Logan Henry & Jack Sawyer.  They are currently six and a half.  We also have a singleton son named Wyatt Nathanial.  He is three and a half.  The girl name we have had since our engagement is Bailey Kate.  But now I'm not sure that's the name we'd go with if we ever did get a girl.  
9. A long-lost relative leaves you a large sum of money. What do you do with it? We would pay off all our debt (credit card & student loans).  We'd also like to buy a house.  I think that's about it!
10. In your opinion, what are the best blog posts you’ve written so far? (Include the links!) Our Journey, which is the story of how we came to be in rural Alaska.  Perspective, which is about how fleeting our time in the nuclear family is.  And Every Feeling where I discuss my emotions post-miscarriage.  
11. Where do you see yourself in five years time? This the question I've been grappling with since the miscarriage.  In five years, will we have added to our family? Will we still be in Alaska?  Will I still be homeschooling? I have no idea.  At this time in my life, I am best suited to just put one foot in front of the other, and let the future come a day at a time.

***

12.14.2014

Christmas Favorites

I love the holidays.  I love them more now that I have kids, but I find myself overwhelmed by all the amazing ideas I can't possibly squeeze into one month of celebrating.  So instead of focusing on the hundreds of things I wish I was doing, I am trying this month to really love the things we are doing.  I thought I'd share those few things with you all.

Favorite movies:

{for me}

{for the kids}

I adore Christmas movies.  The good feelings they evoke and the memories of my own childhood (particularly with Home Alone) make this time of year nostalgic. I could watch The Family Stone everyday.  I love the family, and I adore that there is a deaf character and all the other actors learn how to sign in the movie.
For our boys, the whole month of December we spend movie night (which for us is Saturday night) watching Christmas movies.  It creates anticipation for the holidays and we all love it.

Favorite traditions:

Decorating the day after Thanksgiving
Christmas Eve Movie Night with new pj's
Grandma Beverly's Cinnamon Rolls for Christmas breakfast
Daily Advent with gifts hidden throughout the house

Some traditions have come and gone in the eleven years Josh and I have been married.  But these five have stuck.  We always put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving, we always watch a movie in new pajamas on Christmas Eve and we always have my Grandma Beverly's cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.  Since the addition of our three boys we have added Elf on the Shelf to our holiday, as well as a daily advent that counts down from December 1st.  I love these couple of traditions and that the boys look forward to their arrival.

Favorite Music: 

Mariah Carey :: Merry Christmas
*All I Want For Christmas is You

Amy Grant :: Home For Christmas
*Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)

Idina Menzel :: Holiday Wishes
*Baby It's Cold Outside feat. Michael Buble

Dr. Suess' How The Grinch Stole Christmas Soundtrack
* Where Are You Christmas by Faith Hill

Christmas music for me is the essence of the holiday.  I start playing it in early November and don't stop until well after the new year.  I play it during school with the boys (we have music channels from Dish, and I am loving the Holiday Instrumentals channel for school time); I play it while I'm doing dishes and I play it when we're doing crafts.  I think at first the boys were like, "Ugh. Mom. Seriously." Complete with eye rolls. But now they've adjusted, and the other day I even found them singing Jingle Bells in their playroom.  Made my singing-mama-heart so proud!

Favorite Books:

{new favorites}

{old favorites}

My boys like funny books, so Tacky's Christmas and The Night Before The Night Before Christmas are just up their alley.  I grew up loving Scratch & Sniff books, so the two from my childhood (A Christmas Celebration & The Sweet Smell of Christmas) are forever favorites.  I also love the illustrations by Joan Walsh Anglund on A Christmas Celebration.

Grown Up Christmas Books:

Winter Street by Elin Hildebrand

I think it was our second year of marriage when I got the Christmas Treasury of Chicken Soup for The Soul, and every night me and Josh would read one of the inspirational stories aloud.  It was one of my favorite holiday seasons.  I loved sharing the joy of the season each night before bed.
This year I am looking forward to reading Winter Street by my favorite "summer" book author, Elin Hildebrand.  

***
"This is love: 
Not that we loved God, 
but that he loved us 
and sent his son as an 
atoning sacrifice for our sins."

1 John 4:10

12.13.2014

Thanksgiving 2014

{Jack & four of Josh's students}
For Thanksgiving this year we celebrated at the school the day before, and at our house the day of.  The schools' Thanksgiving feast is one of my favorite activities of the year.  The food is amazing, and I always love to see all the students.

My boys love it just as much as I do.  

We have a great time.  This year I was blown away by their manners and how calmly they sat and ate beside me, not even attempting to get down and run around with all their friends.  I was so proud.

***

The boys were equally excited to host Thanksgiving for the Marshall staff this year.
All day they kept asking if it was 3:00 yet.
I made a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, olives, pickles, brownies & pumpkin pie.  Everything was delicious and the company was wonderful.  I was so grateful to have a house full of people.  It helps distract me from the fact that I am over 2,000 miles from my loved ones.

*

This was the first year I dug out the wishbone to wash and save for the twins to break.

They were really excited!!!

So excited in fact that they both admitted they forgot to even wish for anything.

Luckily it didn't matter because instead of breaking with one side larger, the extra top piece busted off and flew under the table, so the twins were left with bone fragments the exact same size as each other. Josh and I laughed so hard.  

*

This year I found myself thankful above all for Josh.  For my birthday I got Tyler Knott Gregson's new book, Chasers of the Light, and when I found this poem, I instantly thought of my sweet husband.

"You
are the poem
I never knew how to write
and this life
is the story
I have always 
wanted 
to tell."

Tough as the last few months have been, I wouldn't trade any of it.  
This life we have, these beautiful children we've made... they're worth it.
And I'm so grateful for all of it.

12.12.2014

Teacher of the Year... Literally

Wyatt is so proud of his daddy.
Let me tell you why.

At an assembly last month, 
Josh got awarded with what I think is the greatest honor a teacher can have.  

Teacher of the Year.  

For the 2013-2014 school year.

That man worked his tail off last year, balancing family, his masters degree classes, his internship, his classroom and his students.  I choked up a bit as he walked up to accept this beautiful recognition that all he does does not go unnoticed.  

To tell you the truth, the crowning moment for me as the wife of a teacher, was the day in early November when Josh came downstairs wearing his first Ugly Sweater.  

The best teacher cliche there is.  

The award is nice, but this sweater proves to me that he's a teacher through & through!

***

12.11.2014

Courage to Continue

{Untouched photo of the sunrise out my front door}
Tuesday night, after my first good day in a long time, I walked over to the church for Women's Bible Study.  It's just myself and two other ladies, but our time is treasured.  You would imagine that a walk in the dark in Alaska would be peaceful.  And it was.  But it wasn't quiet.  The wind was whistling through the trees, making my insides feel hollow.  The dogs in town (there are probably as many dogs as there are people in Marshall) were all barking and howling at the giant moon that hung heavily in the sky alongside a scattering of sparkling stars.

As I trudged loudly along, ice cleats crashing on the ice with each step (we still don't have snow, just frozen dirt & ice patches) I braced myself against the cold, only my eyes peeking out between my hood and my scarves. (Yes, I wore two scarves.  It was that cold.)  The ambient temperature was 16, which is tolerable.  But with the wind blowing at 23 mph, it felt like -2 degrees.  It took my breath away!

The relief of making it to the building and slowly peeling off the layers is unlike anything else.   You can finally take a deep breath without it stopping halfway through your lungs because the air is so cold.  Your shoulders, once tightened up near your ears begin to come down; and your body, once tense in a fight with the invisible frigid air, begins to melt into the warmth the bright room offers.

It's the same when anxiety leaves you.  You are struggling, against the wind, uphill, when suddenly a break comes, and you can't believe the weight being lifted off your shoulders as the layers peel back and you are left with hope that perhaps the long journey is over.

I know I still have a long road ahead of me.  It's only been six weeks since the D&C (I got a bill in the mail today for my $500 copay.  Now I'm going to have a monthly payment plan to ever so kindly remind me of my loss) and I have a lot of healing left to do, but I can feel the weight lifting.  And I can feel my hope for a good future returning.


I believe Winston Churchill said it best,

"It is the courage to continue that counts." 

And so I will carry on.

***