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Operation UNunhappy Over & Out

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“And that letter hath she delivered, and there an end.”  ~William Shakespeare (Two Gentlemen of Verona, II, i)

SAVboatsnight

This will be the last entry of my “Operation UNunhappy” blog.  For those of you that have read all (or even some of) the words I’ve written over the past two and a half years through this outlet, I thank you and I appreciate your support.  I’m not saying I’ll never write or blog again, but if I do, it will be under a different guise and theme than this one.  I may keep this blog and just change the name, or maybe I’ll start a whole new one in the future…I haven’t decided yet.

What I have decided is that I have come to believe you can’t achieve happiness by constantly seeking it.  I believe that, if we’re lucky, we get to experience small moments of happiness here and there, every once in a while – sometimes they appear of our own making, and sometimes they are pleasant surprises bestowed upon us by others or by fate. I think mostly they’re just a byproduct of regular old life; hopefully just by living your life the best that you can, you have more happy moments than unhappy ones.  But to constantly be on some incredible journey to seek out this overarching, grandiose every-moment-of-life overflowing barrel of happiness – it’s just not possible.  Or advisable, in my opinion.  “Happy in that we are not over-happy,” said Hamlet, one of my favorite Shakespeare lines – even way back then, there was a cautiousness against overdoing it in the search for contentment.   

A few years ago I made some big changes in my life to try to get happier, which was the impetus for starting this blog.  Did the changes work?  In some ways, I’d say yes, definitely.  Has everything progressed the way I’d hoped it would?  I’d say no, not really.  I’m starting to feel stuck again and those feelings of wondering have come back, leading to ruts of anxiety and uncertainty and frustration.  One of the other reasons I don’t feel like continuing this blog series is because I fear it could be on the verge of becoming a constant complaint-fest about all of the many things and people I’m frustrated with – no one wants to read about that, and I don’t think it would be good for me to write about it all the time.  

I do feel like I get more easily and quickly frustrated with the daily intricacies of life than most people.  I don’t know if it’s a genetic thing or just my personality.  Maybe it’s that inner perfectionist that I keep trying to fight, wanting everyone and everything else to be perfect too.  I’ve had fantasies of just being completely 100% honest all the time with people and situations that irk the hell out of me, but I’d probably need to invest in some body armor if I wanted to make that dream a reality.  Why can’t we just say what we’re feeling and thinking of all the time?  (Or at least like 65% of the time?)  I mean, I know why, but it just seems sometimes that we’re so obsessed with being polite and non-confrontational that we’re dying inside of repressed feelings and sentiments that, if we could just free them, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.  Maybe that’s the real key to contentment, but we’re so concerned with how everyone else feels all the time that we continually neglect our own needs of expression, and silently go on in glum survival-of-the-mediocre mode.  God I really must come from British roots after all…

I know I have it pretty good in the overall scheme of things.  Everyone has to deal with many aspects of life that are frustrating, annoying, angering, overwhelming, heartbreaking; if we’re lucky, we have family and friends and captive co-workers to be our sounding boards and help us through those tough times.  If we’re really lucky, we can afford to pay therapists to listen when family and friends get tired of doing it (or when we’re too annoyed with family and friends to talk to them about it). And if we’re broken – well, we all deal with that in different ways…some good, some not so good.  Healing is hard.

I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, and it helped me in many ways to face both past and present challenges.  It was cathartic to write about losses and traumas in my life (I still miss the smell of popcorn paws every day), and I meant every word of the heartfelt Life Letters to My Nephews; being Ant Kristi to my nephews is definitely near the top of the list of what makes me UNunhappy during the good times. Thanks for bearing with me as I waxed on (and on and on) about my trips to England and my fascination with the Tour de France.  And I apologize for those less-than-stellar posts (mediocre movie & croissant reviews, you know who you are). 

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I feel like I’ve gotten out of this blog what I needed to…and I hope it provided a moment or two of occasional entertainment, education, or value (somehow) for you too.  For better or worse, things end; isn’t that one of life’s most important lessons?  Thanks for the words of encouragement during these times of transitions over the past few years.  I’ll keep the blog site active for now and if you stay subscribed, you’ll get any new posts that may come along under a different/new blog name, but it may be a while. 

“Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone.”  (Yes, one last Shakespeare quote, from Comedy of Errors, which seems fitting for a large portion of my life thus far.  You are now freed from any more random Shakespeare quotes!)

Operation UNunhappy over and out.

Ant Kristi

LLTMN #6: Why Books Are Better

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“Knowing I loved my books, he furnish’d me from mine own library with volumes that I prize above my dukedom.” ~William Shakespeare (The Tempest, I, ii)

[This post is the sixth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

Hi Boys, Ant Kristi here again. How can it be that we’re nearing the end of yet another school year and that you’re all growing up so impossibly fast?  And yes I know how old that makes me sound, so hush.

(Today’s topic was spurred by my annual birthday shopping trip with Hudson, 11 years old already this year!  A few days ago we went to a local bookstore, as we do each year, to get the free Kids Club birthday cookie or cupcake they give away in their cafe.  On the drive over there, I’d asked him what he thought he wanted to get for his birthday gift this year; he rattled off a weird sci-fi sounding name of something I had no idea what was [it was a video game, or a Wii game, or some game of a system I’m not familiar with].

So I was extremely and pleasantly surprised when, after most of a peanut butter cup cookie had been consumed by his 11-year old sweet tooth, Hudson agreed to browse the books for a while to look for a bibliophile birthday gift instead an electronic whatever.  He’d told me about a book he’d read recently from the school library that he really liked (something about a secret underground world that’s always dark and a group of kids that had to rally around a cause to save their people from the bad guys and find more light for their city), and that it was first in a series of four; we found the series (The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau) in the kids’ section and I offered to get the remaining three books for him for his birthday gift instead of the game.  I held my breath a little as he looked at the covers of each one and weighed his options; he finally agreed but only after some bargaining – he’d forget about the game but only if I’d also agree to get him a fourth book, a comic book novel.  We struck a deal and we were both very happy about it!

 

Hudson & his birthday books.

Hudson & his birthday books.

Some of the birthday shopping trip gifts Hudson has picked out in the last few years have included: plastic Wolverine claw glove-type contraptions; Lego sets (of course); and model dragons, horses and knights.  All had their appeal, but I was glad he picked something that would encourage a little more brain power this time.

Hudson immediately started reading the comic book novel on the ride home, and as we pulled up to the house, his 9 year old brother ran over to the car, anxiously peering through the window to see what his brother had brought home.  (Before we’d left, Truman had spouted off a few ideas of his own for video games that he thought Hudson should get.)  “What did you get?” he asked as Hudson opened the door; “Books,” said Hudson as he held them up.  “What??  Why?!”  Truman stomped off into the house with a scowl on his face.

Hudson disappeared into the house too and continued to read one of his books for the next half hour or so.  Then little brother Wyatt got home and the first question he asked was “Hudson, what did you get?!” “Books,” said Hudson from his reading perch on the stairs.  Wyatt’s 4-year old eyes got very wide & he threw his hands in the air. “JUST BOOKS?! Nothing else?!”  “Just books, and that’s OK,” I answered since Hudson was lost in his reading.  Wyatt couldn’t take it: “YOU DIDN’T GET ANY TOYS??!  Not even one?  That’s STUPID Hudson!” And he ran upstairs, on the verge of tears because his brother apparently wasted a perfectly good birthday shopping trip by only getting books…)

Ok boys, so now I’m going to tell you why books are better than toys or video games or phone apps.  Books are like Star Trek transporters for the brain – they can beam you to any place in the world, any world, as if by magic.  I’m pretty sure you already know this though – because pretty much each night of your life, starting from the time you were each very little, books at bedtime has been a regular ritual.  (It’s a good one to have, much better than playing a video game or watching an episode of a humdrum sitcom before bed.)  But books can take you anywhere you want to go: deep into space amongst the stars, back into medieval times of knights and round tables, or even into the world of wizards and warlocks.  The sky is not the limit, and you can go there as well.  I know you think games and apps can do this too, but the written word is always more powerful and meaningful than any game you might play.

Books make you smarter, not just by improving your reading and vocabulary skills, but because each time you read a story about another country or a past president or how the West was won, you’re learning about the ways of the world and putting power into your mind that you can use later.  There are many people out there who never learn to read during their life, which is very sad; can you imagine not being able to read your favorite stories and learn about new things all the time?  You’re very lucky that you know how to read and that you’re learning to read better all the time; maybe one day you can go help other people learn to read so you can help them discover all those other worlds too.

It’s sad to me that one day we might not have many more real, actual books to read; it’s very possible that by the time you’re all adults, all books in our society will be online and electronic.  And while progress will march on, I’m glad you’re getting to hold and experience real books right now; there’s just something about being able to hold that adventure in your hands and turn the paper pages yourself, or being able to take that book with you from place to place as a mini-treasure that’s yours and no one else’s.  I have a few books that I’ve held onto for a very long time now that are important to me, and I hope you get to do the same.  Go to libraries every chance you get, because they might not be around when you’re older; it’s fun to look for new books on the shelves that you didn’t even know existed.  It’s like a little library lottery each time you go, because you get to go home with something new and exciting.  It’s a shame they don’t have Bookmobiles anymore (Google it), I always used to get so excited when I’d see that big blue bus pull up to our school.

Books can make you laugh, and cry, and maybe even influence what you end up doing with your life at different times.  A line in a book was what made me decide to go to Africa with the Peace Corps and live there for two years; I read it while standing in a bookstore and I just knew right there and then that I had to go.  Reading books like “Where the Red Fern Grows” when I was a little girl (and “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” as an adult) made me love dogs as much as I do.  In seventh grade a teacher had us read “Rebecca” by Daphne DuMaurier; that may have been the actual moment I began to wonder about and be captivated by England and it’s scenery.  (“Rebecca” is still on my nightstand as I write this.)

Books will make you a better person.  When I was a little girl, books were always what I wanted first and foremost for every birthday and holiday…yes, stuffed animals and model horses also made the list, but it was books that made the best gifts for me.  I was proud to be a bookworm, and I will gladly support you if you want to be one too.

Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

LLTMN #5: Courage

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“You are gentlemen of brave metal; you would lift the moon out of her sphere, if she would continue in it five weeks without changing.” ~William Shakespeare (The Tempest, II, i)

[This post is the fifth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

Hi boys!  I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last LLTMN post, time flies!  Anyway, today I want to talk to you about the concept of courage.  About what it means to face your fears and be brave even when you might be really scared or not sure about something.  Right now when you’re still really young, I suppose it’s pretty easy to be brave about a lot of things…the concept of consequences isn’t quite as daunting as it is when you start getting older.  Bravery and courage are masked by the badges of innocence and naivety when we’re young and for a while, it’s exhilarating.  

But as you start to get older, courage will probably start to become more complicated.  Grown-up feelings like doubt, worry and fear start to crowd out the room for courage sometimes.  And yet it’s those times when we feel worried and scared and doubtful that we most need to be courageous.  It’s not easy to be brave!

Luckily you have many examples of other courageous people in your life to follow.  Here’s one: just two weeks ago, your Dad (my brother) did a very brave and courageous thing that most people will never do – he ran for public office to try to make our city a better place.  For many months prior to election day, he bravely knocked on the doors of thousands of strangers and put himself out there in the public eye during untold numbers of candidate forums, interviews, and debates.  He had the courage to express his opinion on all different kinds of issues, knowing full well that many people might not agree with him.  This is not easy!

He did the best he could and worked really hard, but as you know he didn’t win the race.  We were proud of him but of course he was very disappointed; it’s really tough when you muster up all your courage and hopes into something and that something doesn’t happen.  And then it takes even more courage to pick up the pieces and keep going, which might be the most important part of the entire experience.  Let your courage carry you through a sad or bad situation; it will seem awful at the time, but how you react and what you do to get through it will help shape you for the future.

You have more family examples of courage too.  You have great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents who fought in actual wars – I guess that’s sort of the quintessential kind of courage that we all think of.  They fought in ground trenches and airplanes and traveled across oceans to be part of an effort to keep our country and the world safe and stable.  Their bravery took them away from their homes and their families and they didn’t know if they’d ever get to come back.

Sometimes the courage is a more quiet kind, but the battles are just as important; the courage to fight a serious disease (or help someone else who is), or move to a new city to start a new life, or just to try something new that will make you a happier person.  Even just being your own person takes courage – raising your hand in class when you know the answer (even though other kids may not think that’s cool), or standing up for someone who’s being bullied…that takes a LOT of courage.  Along the way, be sure to beware of courage’s crazy cousin: blind courage.  Blind courage is pretty much leaping before you look – it feels like courage but without the forethought of where you’ll be once you land…if you land.  Real courage has a behind-the-scenes parachute that comes with it – a feeling that you’re doing the right thing, whatever that may be.

Courage also comes in all different forms and shapes and time frames.  Sometimes you might have to muster up your courage for a very long time if you’re going through something really tough that lasts for what seems like forever; other times, you might only need it for a few minutes to just get through a particular fleeting moment.  How much courage you actually have inside you can be surprising…just when you think you might be out of courage, more appears as if by magic. 

Courage often seems to be a kind of magic, come to think of it.  It’s a very powerful thing, courage; sometimes people think that courage itself needs something extra, and so they do things that they believe will “help their courage along.”  But you yourself – the person you are and the strength inside you – is the most important determination of your courage factor.  And it’s also ok to be scared – everyone gets scared of something at some time.  There’s no shame in that – even for boys and men!  But when you feel like you’re too scared to do something that is really important – well, then that’s when you dig deep into that “suitcase of courage” to get you to the finish line (or just through the day!).

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And if you ever need help with finding that courage, or just a shoulder to lean on while you’re looking for it, then know that I’ll be here for you during those times. 

Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

LLTMN#4: It’s OK If You’re Not Perfect

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“But no perfection is so absolute, that some impurity doth not pollute.” ~William Shakespeare

[This post is the fourth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

My first and oldest nephew Hudson turned 10 last week – Happy Birthday Hudson!  Already.  Unbelievably.  I literally can’t fathom that an entire decade passed in the blink of an eye since I anxiously waited by the phone for news that you’d made your way into the world.  I didn’t get to see you until you in person until you were three months old, at which point you had this spiky charcoal hair and the cutest little furrowed-brow face when you would concentrate on something – you still do that, and it’s one of my favorite things about you.

babyH3 months cropped

I didn’t move to Austin until you were five and half years old, so I regrettably missed out on so much time during your “younger” years.  But since I have been here, I’ve really enjoyed going to all of your sports matches, spending holidays with you, watching movies with you during sleepovers at my house, and taking you on our yearly Ant Kristi/Hudson birthday shopping trips!  (I really look forward to all of my aunt/nephew birthday shopping trips each year, time with just me and that nephew on a special outing.)

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it was like for me to be 10 years old.  And now that you’re into the double digits Hudson, I wanted to share a little life lesson with you that started way back when I was the same age you are now.  You see, it was around age 10 when I decided that I was going to be PERFECT.  Perfect at everything I did, all the time, no matter what it was:  getting perfect grades in school, being the perfect daughter, performing perfectly in dance class, even having perfect friends.  You name it, and my self-proclaimed job as a kid (and later as an adult) was to be as perfect at it as possible.

Which of course is ridiculous, because no one is perfect at anything much less everything, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.  I wasn’t super-smart, but I knocked myself out for the next 15 years to strive for that 4.0 level of perfection in school; it took me a while, and I didn’t quite get there in middle or high school, but by the end of my academic pursuits, I was valedictorian of my Masters degree class, with the 4.0 to go along with it.  I’d finally made it to the top.  Which, by the way, did exactly nothing for my professional or personal life whatsoever (I can now say) in any realm: career, happiness, income, satisfaction.  That “top” was just a temporary stop on my never-ending pursuit of perfection.  And you know what happens after you reach the top don’t you…you can’t stay there forever, and eventually you start rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, school is extremely important and you should do the best you can – but not at the sacrifice of all the other good things life has to offer along the way, and not to the point where you beat yourself up about it.  I remember being so mad at myself for getting a few “B’s” in high school, and the one and only “C” I got in college shocked and dismayed me.  It was in Genetics by the way, one of the most difficult classes taught by the reputed toughest professor at my university – I should have been thrilled that I passed the class when many didn’t, but instead, I felt sub par, below average – when technically a “C” means average, ok, satisfactory.  But I’d convinced myself that average – in any arena – was the same thing as failure, which of course isn’t true.  And average sure wasn’t perfect (in my eyes), and if I wasn’t achieving perfection, then I was failing.  It’s a dangerous roundabout, the pursuit of perfection, and very difficult to get out of once you’re in it…

I’m ashamed to admit I even quit being friends with some people because they weren’t perfect enough or they did things that I thought would affect my perfect life.  That’s sad.  I caused myself a LOT of stress over the years trying to make everything perfect around me, even if I didn’t have any control over a lot of it – sounds crazy right?  Things that I tried so hard to make perfect – weddings, marriages, jobs, friendships, my health – all ended up in shambles (and made me feel even more crazy).  Mostly because I couldn’t just let go and accept imperfection as a reality.

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You see, trying to be perfect all the time is a kind of self-torture, and I don’t want you (or any of my nephews) to have to go through that!  When you try to be perfect at something and you’re not, you start to feel bad because you didn’t reach the impossibly high standards you’ve set for yourself (or that others have set for you).  You begin to be unhappy and frown more than you smile, because you’re always thinking about how you’ve let yourself and others down by not being perfect.  But once you can realize that it’s ok to NOT be perfect all the time – or even ANY of the time – then you can start to really just be YOU!  Imperfect, quirky, beautiful you – good at some things, not so good at other things, but loved and cherished by so many people no matter what.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes better than I’ve been able to.  It’s still a struggle for me to not want to be perfect or to expect perfection in every aspect of my life, but I do know that I’m definitely more UNunhappy and more fulfilled when I just let those expectations go – and I want you to be happy and fulfilled too, no matter what you end up doing with your life. 

Four years ago when I moved to Austin and started cycling, I bought myself a Road ID bracelet that I know you’ve seen me wear every day.  The last sentence on the ID tag is reserved for a “personal motto” expression – and when I ordered mine, of course I picked the phrase I’d said over and over in my head my entire life:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

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I think it’s finally time to get a new tag, with a new personal motto…maybe “Pobody’s Nerfect?” I really like that one.

And just remember:imperfectAlways!

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

 

 

 

UNunhappy Moments Update (UMU)

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“Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio. ” ~William Shakespeare (Love’s Labour’s Lost, I, ii)

Welcome to a new feature of the operation UNunhappy blog, called the “UNunhappy Moments Update,” or UMU.  Every so often I’ll be doing a brief & bulleted UMU post to encapsulate three recent moments, happenings or events that have made me appreciate life just a little more than usual lately. 

I encourage you to list your own UMU revelations in the Comments section of these posts as well.  Evading those negative crap dodgeballs that life throws at us on a pretty regular basis isn’t easy, so it’s good to take a few moments every once in a while to think about and focus on the positive and actually put it into writing!  (Need a refresher on the definition of UNunhappyClick here.)

So without further ado: (or with much ado?):

  • UMU #1:  By far the best UMU event recently for me happened on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday a few weeks ago, April 23rd; I’m still in awe when I think about it.  I was sitting at work reading about the festivities and fireworks happening in England to celebrate the Bard’s big day, when I suddenly remembered that there was a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio literally minutes down the street from me at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin.  So off I sprinted during my lunch hour to go check it out, looking forward to peering at it through the glass case as I’ve done with other rare copies before (in England, both at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and in London at the British Museum).  I’d never seen a First Folio here in America though.  If you’re not familiar with the First Folio, it was printed in 1623 (a few years after Shakespeare’s death) as the first complete compilation of 36 of his plays – about half of which we would never have even known about if this Folio had not been printed by men who had the foresight to document the Bard’s words for all time.  Only 228 known copies of the originally-printed First Folio are in existence today, and they are widely known to be some of the most valuable books in the world; First Folios in the last decade that have been auctioned or sold go for between $6-$22 MILLION (!) depending on their condition and completeness.  So you can imagine my complete shock when I arrived at the archive center and was told that yes, not only could I see one of their two First Folio editions, but that I was permitted to – I still can’t believe this happened – check one out, hold it in my own hands, peruse the pages, and read the words at my own leisure.  WHAT?!?  I went through the steps of setting up an account, watching a training video on rare-book care & handling, requesting the items I wanted, watching as a staff member disappeared into the bowels of the archives to retrieve my request, and then waiting at a table in a pin-drop-quiet and heavily-guarded room.  As the attendant approached me with a wheeled cart, I held my breath in disbelief – and then he opened a protective case that housed the First Folio and showed me how to place it on a velvet reader stand.  I lifted history out of the box, and closed my eyes briefly, thinking of the many different hands that must’ve handled this treasure over the past 400 years.  I leaned down to inhale the smell of it – an ancient, earthy, weighty scent.  And then for the next hour, I carefully turned through page after delicate yellowed page, looking for my favorite passages and plays, and straining to read the Elizabethan-English introductions to the Folio and tributes to Shakespeare himself.  I had also checked out a very small 1600 copy of ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ upon the inside cover of which was scrawled in an ancient owner’s handwriting “The folio of 1623 was probably printed from this edition.”  When I told my family later about this experience, my 9-year old nephew Hudson said “Wow, did you freak out of your pants when you picked up that old book?” “No,” I answered, leaning in to whisper in his ear, “but I have to tell you, I did almost cry.”  He looked at me strangely, then announced loudly to the entire dinner table “That book meant so much to you that you almost CRIED??”  Hard to explain to a 9-year old…  I had to get a special permit to take pictures of the books, which I did, but was told in no uncertain terms I wasn’t allowed to publish or print those photos anywhere.  So, the few pictures below are from a public domain site (Wikimedia Commons) of another First Folio (these are not the picture I took), but I wanted to give you an idea of what I was seeing…  What a momentous honor that experience was for me and a very memorable way to mark the occasion of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in my little corner of the world.  (UMUs #2 & #3 after the pictures below.)
Shakespeare FF portrait page (2)

Portrait Page of the First Folio

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Title page of ‘The Tempest’ from the First Folio

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Catalogue Page of the First Folio, listing the plays contained within.

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“To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR, Mr. William Shakespeare: AND what he hath left us.” – First Folio

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“FINIS” page of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – The First Folio

  • UMU #2:  For some reason I got great pleasure out of hearing about the new Star Wars VII announcement a few days ago that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill would be reprising their original roles in the next movie (due out in 2015).  Apparently it wasn’t a surprise for those true sci-fi aficionados who’d been following the trail, but it was a surprise for me!  I like those kinds of surprises (which are so rare in this spoiler-heavy online world we live in now) – like when Michael Scott showed up in the series finale of The Office…I literally yelled at my TV when that happened.  For those of us that grew up during the first epic Star Wars era (in a time that now feels very far, far away), saw each movie at the theatre multiple times, dreamed of being Mrs. Han Solo (or Mr. Princess Leia), and played with all the original action figures and toys for hours on end, it brings waves of nostalgia over us to realize those movie heroes from days gone by are still capable of bringing it!  Kudos to the producers of the movie for roping all of us 70’s and 80’s kids back into the franchise with this move.  It takes a LOT for me to willingly shell out the insane ticket price at the movies these days, but this is definitely one that I’ll be lining up for. 

S7AR_WARS

  • UMU #3:  Some members of my family try to meet up for a family dinner one night a week.  This past week we met at a nearby restaurant, and when my 3-year old nephew slid into the corner booth and saw me sitting across the table, his eyes lit up, he flashed a big smile, and yelled out “KRISTI!!”  I said “Hey that’s Ant Kristi to you mister,” but my insides went all mushy that he was so happy to see me and so unabashed in his reaction – I love how little kids don’t know how to filter their actions yet and how they pretty much just go with their first-gut feeling.  It’s nice to know that someone is genuinely happen to see you!  And it doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty much the cutest kid on the planet right now…
Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Well there you go, this week’s 3 moments of UNunhappy.  Helping to balance the positive and negative scales between the realms of dark and light…and using the force for good instead of evil.  Until next time, may the UNunhappy force be with you too.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

Let Them Eat Marshmallows

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“To be young again, if we could…” ~ William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, II, ii)

Yesterday I took my two oldest nephews and their father (my brother) to a kid’s improv show at a local comedy theatre.  Both of the boys had a good time, although the almost-8-year old was much less inhibited while the 9-year old is starting to exhibit signs of a brooding pre-teen and was a little more embarrassed about getting on the stage in front of everyone.  On the way home in the car, I told them they should act silly for as long as they can while they’re still young and have a good time doing it.

The 9-year old said (who was also upset at a no-electronics ban for the day) grumbled from the backseat “what’s so great about being young, why can’t I just become a grown-up as fast as possible?”  I glanced at his trademark furrowed brow in the rear-view mirror and wished I could make him understand.  I guess we all thought that way when we were little and wanted to be big.  They made a whole movie around that yearning premise, after all.  I answered him by saying something to the effect of it’s nice being carefree when you’re young and not having to worry about things like money and houses and cars. 

When we’re little we never know how good we actually have it, right? (Even after we’re official adults, sometimes we still don’t realize it, something about always wanting that greener grass…and no, not the kind you can find in Colorado or Oregon.)  Or as Andy Bernard said in the finale of the ‘The Office’ this past May: “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.”

And there is no better reminder of how good the young have it than around the holidays.  This past week I looked into the pure, innocent eyes of my 3-year old nephew as he recited what he wants Santa to bring him and nodded seriously that yes, he’s been a good boy (I’ll vouch for him, Santa), and marveled at how completely happy he seems to be almost all of the time.  I listened to the almost-8-year old sing every word to Feliz Navidad along with the radio while in the backseat – no holding back or second thoughts, just his joy at singing a favorite Christmas song (in perfect pitch and Spanish accent I might add).  I watched as a friend’s twin toddlers ripped tissue paper to tiny shreds that had accompanied their present and laughed at their cute baby giggles as they played peekaboo with the gift bag (holiday tip: just give the 1-year olds in your life some bags full of wadded up tissue paper and they’ll be perfectly content for hours).

Oh to be young again, if we could…  To not have to worry about paying the nonstop bills, or enrolling in the new government healthcare plan, or trying to figure out why you have a new ache or pain every other day.  To not have to stop buying bread and cheese to shed those stubborn extra pounds, or deal with the dynamics of intricate family politics, or calculate the least-damaging tax structures for your financial situation.

Oh to be young again, if we could…  To fly down the stairs each morning looking for the newest spying spot of their Shelf Elf.  To sing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs and dance like a lightning bug with your hands in the air.  To dream about that new toy or game that you just have to have, that will just totally make your life complete.  To eat handfuls of Christmas cookies and drink endless cups of hot cocoa (with mounds of marshmallows of course). To eat more handfuls of more marshmallows even after you’ve run out of hot cocoa…

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The growing-up part will come soon enough; in the blink of an eye actually.  And I think we expect kids to be more than just kids these days – we expect them to be young grown-ups, perhaps because they have more in terms of resources and technology and opportunities than any generation before them.  But at this time of the year, we should remind ourselves that it’s fun to just watch them be excited, hopeful, wide-eyed kids.  Let’s help them, as much as possible, realize that they’re in the good old days right now.  I  know, easier said than done when they’re screaming and shrieking and running around the house like sugar-whacked banshees…(deep breaths).

Life moves on despite the holidays, and sometimes brings hardship instead of happiness.  My father’s aunt passed away a few days ago, some friends and family members are having some health struggles, and a close friend of mine is mourning the recent loss of her beloved dog, so my thoughts and condolences are with them.  If someone around you is having a hard time this holiday, be sure to try to bring them a little extra cheer if possible (flowers are always nice, if I do say so myself).

schnauzer flowers

And if you do celebrate Christmas, I hope you are with family or friends this week and experience a relaxing, UNunhappy holiday.  I recognize that not everyone is fortunate enough to be in that situation or that we don’t all celebrate the same occasions, and so I wish peace for you too, in whatever form that may come. If you yourself need some cheering up, then this video about super-cute penguins in Santa suits is for YOU:

March of the Santa Penguins (Click to view)

March of the Santa Penguins (Click picture to view)

Mele Kalikimaka! (I think that’s my favorite Christmas song by the way and I’ve never even been to Hawaii…)

hohoho

Joyeux Noël et À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Life Letters to My Nephews #3: Perseverance

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“I am able to endure much.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry VI Part II, iv, ii)

Dear Nephews,

This letter is about a big word with a big meaning: perseverance.  It’s also a bit difficult to spell, but take the time to learn it – not just because it may pop up in a spelling bee one day, but because it’s a good character trait to have that will help you out in life as you get older.

Persevere

You see, perseverance means that you don’t give up, even when something is difficult or tough.  Perseverance is hard; it doesn’t always feel good at the time, but can often to lead to great things.  However, you have to be the one to decide when to persevere through hard times or through a challenging situation.  No one else can make up your mind for you, because you are your own person and you have your own thoughts and dreams and wishes.  Which means you get to make your own decisions (well, maybe not right now, but you will when you get older!).

When you are faced with hard times, or a tough job, or a situation that you don’t like or enjoy, you’re probably going to have a few different options.  One of those options will be to choose do something else instead.  And sometimes, that may very well be the best option, depending on the circumstances.  Another option however will be to endure the challenge and persevere through the difficulty – this too is sometimes the best option.  How could this be?  Why would you choose to do something that’s hard or not pleasant or doesn’t make you feel good?

choices

Well sometimes boys, you have to go through something bad to get to something good.   You’ll probably hear many people say as you get older that “nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.”  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do think it is true that you usually have to work hard and make some sacrifices to get what you want and where you want to be in this life.  And hard work is not usually very fun, but it is honest and earnest and a sign of good character.

But try to keep things in perspective while you’re persevering – don’t lose sight of what’s really important, and keep in mind the end goal of why you’re really doing something.  Seek advice of those who are important to you and listen to what they have to say.  Weigh the positives and negatives of what you’re doing and then make up your mind of whether or not to keep going down that same path, or to take a different road.  If the sacrifices become too great or start to cause harm, you might need to change course, and that’s ok sometimes.

Just yesterday I observed one of you get very frustrated that you couldn’t find a toy you were looking for; you were upset and angry and after only a few minutes, declared “Forget it, we’re never going to find it, it’s just gone and it’s no use searching.  Just never mind.”  It is pretty easy to give up sometimes, but you don’t usually get what you want.  And it doesn’t usually make you feel any better; in fact, most of the time you’ll feel worse when you give up on something important to you.  (And look at how nice it felt when your grandmother persevered and found your toy a few minutes later – she didn’t give up!)

I’ve been in a few pretty difficult situations in my life; sometimes I persevered, and sometimes I chose that other road.  When I lived in Africa during my time with Peace Corps, I thought about quitting from time to time; it was indescribably hot every minute of every day, the work was slow and frustrating, and the flies just about drove me out of my mind.  But those were just the bad parts – there were many good parts too, and in the end, I’m so glad I stayed and stuck it out.  I’m proud of my service there and I feel that I gained as much (if not more) than I gave.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that perseverance is about choice, and you’ll often be faced with what choices to make when you come face to face with things that are overwhelming, or challenging, or just plain hard.  I believe each of you to be strong and creative and capable – capable of doing great things in your lives and becoming amazing examples of character and originality.

And if you ever need help persevering through those tough times, I’m here for you.  Always.

dont-just-fly-soar

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

LLTMN #2: Bullying – Don’t Do It, Don’t Take It

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Dear Nephews:

Today is the first day of school for all of you except Wyatt; Hudson you’re starting 4th grade (which is everyone’s favorite in elementary school), Truman 2nd grade, and Andrew is beginning kindergarten!  Wyatt we celebrated your 3rd birthday yesterday at the pool with friends and family and your little girlfriend Ella.  You’re all growing up so fast!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people treat each other, and now that you’re starting a new school year, you’ll be dealing with this a lot too.  New friends, new classmates, new schools for some of you, new sports teams.  I think that most of the time, most people are decent, and nice, and respectful of the other people around them.  But not always.  It’s kind of a scary world out there right now, and sometimes people are not going to treat you the way that they should.

Sometimes, you’re going to run into bullies.  Or they’re going to run into you – on purpose, with a jab to the ribs.  And they’re not always who you expect them to be.  But all bullies do have some things in common:  they’re going to be mean to you, they’re going to try to intimidate you, and they’re going to try to make you feel bad.

Don’t let them!

First:  If someone is bullying you at school, or at practice, or anywhere else, please tell someone! Talk to a grown-up who loves you, who is supposed to protect you and that you trust: a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a teacher.  But tell someone so they can know what’s happening and can help you make it better.  It may take a while for the situation to improve while things get worked out – but if you never tell anyone, it might never get better.

Second:  Bullies LIKE to see you upset.  If you can ignore them and be the better person, sometimes that’s enough to make them just stop and go away.  It’s not easy!  Sometimes bullies can be so mean to you that you might want to cry or yell or say something you wouldn’t normally say.  And I’m not saying that there aren’t times when you would need to defend yourself and fight back if necessary to protect yourself.  But most of the time, bullies just want a reaction out of you – and if they don’t get one, then in a sense, YOU’VE WON!

Third:  This one is really hard  – but sometimes being nice to bullies can also make them nicer people.  You have to use your judgment on this one – again, sometimes it’s just best to ignore the bullies and avoid them – but, it’s my experience that bullies usually do what they do because they’re sad, lonely, miserable people.  They haven’t been treated very well in the past, and so they tend to treat other people bad too.  They think that’s going to make them feel better (to be mean to others), but actually it just makes them feel worse, and then the cycle starts all over again.  If you have the chance to be nice to someone like that, they’re usually not expecting it, and sometimes it’s just what they need to “shock” them into also being nice to someone for a change.  They then get to experience how THAT makes them feel, which is very different from their usual. 

Just be careful with that one – you don’t want the bully to think that you want to be a “bully friend” and also bully people along with them – don’t ever let them talk you into also being a bully!  Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that the bullies are the “cool crowd” and that you want to join them – they’re not, and you don’t want to be a part of that!  No one – and I mean no one – likes a bully.  Instead, be a part of the really cool crowd that helps the other kids and people who are being bullied – stick up for them, say something to someone to help them out.  Never just stand by while someone else is being treated badly.  Stand up for GOOD – be the superhero!

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I also think bullies are mean to people because they are jealous of something you have, or something you are…they treat you badly because you have something they want, or they think you’re smarter or better-looking than they are, or you get to do something that they can’t do, like play a certain sport or travel to places they want to go.  This isn’t your fault – you are who you are, and if a bully doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, not yours.  But be humble – don’t flaunt what you have or be arrogant about it.

I guess I was pretty lucky that I was not bullied at school very much when I was little like you guys are now.  But I have run into plenty of bullies at other times in my life – surprisingly, mostly as an grown-up!  Yup, that’s right boys – you have to watch out for the bad guys (and girls) even when you get older.  I wish all little kid bullies grew out of their meanness, but some people are unlucky and unhappy enough to grow up into big adult bullies as well.

I remember being bullied sometimes by a girl who lived in the same sorority house with me in college.  I won’t say who she was, but I’m sure some of my friends will remember exactly who I’m talking about – she was icy and harsh and would get right in my face to try to intimidate me if she was upset about something (which seemed to be most of the time).  I hadn’t encountered that kind of meanness very much in my life before, and I was scared of her!  I usually just tried to avoid crossing paths with her.  I hope she is a happier person now!

I’ve been bullied by a few bosses at some of my jobs.  One of those bosses lived in California, so our stormy relationship was conducted mostly over the phone.  But bullies can bully even over phone lines; he would yell at me, and he was unreasonable and uncaring.  Most bullies are their own worse enemies however, and this was the case with him; I only had to wait him out (although it was a stressful wait), as he made many bad choices and eventually got fired for using drugs at work.  (NEVER DO THAT KIDS!  NEVER DO DRUGS PERIOD!)

Another boss I had here in Austin actually threatened me; she would try to intimidate me because she was worried that my work would make her look bad.  This woman had something very terrible happen to her a long time ago which I suspect made her a very sad and unhappy person.  But boys, just because you’ve gone through something really bad doesn’t mean you then get to treat other people badly for the rest of your life.  Life is very unfair sometimes, yes – but to let it make you into a mean person who then bullies others is not the answer.

I’m being bullied right now in my job.  There is a person there who has decided, for whatever reason, that they don’t like me, and so they decided to bully me because of it.  I’ve been nothing but nice to that person since day one, but we are also very different people and I think they feel threatened by this for some reason.  So this person insults me, and intimidates me, and does things to make things more difficult for me while at the job.  This makes me very sad; I took the job to explore my interests and be UNunhappy and now I have to deal with this bullying barrier.

So far, I’ve tried to ignore that person’s meanness and just continue to be civil to them while trying to do the best I can at my work.  Remember how I said that bullies usually just want to see you upset and get a reaction out of you?  I can tell they are waiting for a reaction, so by refusing to give them one, I’m actually taking away some of their power that they think they have.  Your PaPa has told me many times that in this situation, you must “be the better person, take the higher road.”  That’s good advice boys, remember it.  

Getting along with people is one of the great skills that you’ll need all your life.  It’s been one of my own personal challenges for a long while now, but I’m working at it.  I’m so grateful to have all of you in my life to help me out with it too – being your aunt is both a challenge and a blessing!  If you’re ever having trouble getting along with someone or especially if you’re being bullied, I hope you know you can also come to me as one of your safe people anytime.  I’ll help you.  I’ll protect you.  Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

Life Letters to My Nephews #1: Being Your Aunt

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Author’s Note:  This post begins a series called “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN for short.  Each letter will focus on a different topic and contain observations, sentiments and advice about life that I hope my nephews may one day find useful or interesting.  Hudson, Truman, Andrew & Wyatt:  I write these letters to convey how much I value, admire, and love each one of you!

Dear Nephews:

As you know, I don’t have any kids of my own.  There was a time in my life when I wanted to have a child and be a mom, but it just didn’t work out that way.  But that’s ok, because now I think that one of my main purposes in life was to try to be a good aunt to you instead!

(By the way, if you’re wondering why my name is written “Ant” Kristi instead of “Aunt” Kristi, click here to find out the reason.  Hudson, you were probably too young to even remember the story, but you’re the one behind it all!)

I remember when each one of you was born like it was yesterday.  I was very happy to actually be there at the clinic when Wyatt was born, but for the rest of you I still lived in Albuquerque then, and had to wait anxiously for someone to call me on the phone to tell me that you were finally here.  I remember holding each of you for the first time when you were babies and smelling your “new baby” smell (until it turned to needs-a-diaper-change smell and then I handed you back off to your Mom or Dad, which is an aunt’s prerogative).

wyatt onesie

Wyatt at 1 day old!

I remember one time Hudson when you were about three and I was visiting for a weekend; you had a pretend kitchen set up by your room with a whole tub full of plastic fruits and vegetables and other foods.  You took me by the hand and said “Want to play restaurant with me?”  I said “Of course,” and for the next hour, you walked back and forth across the room between me and the play kitchen asking me what I wanted to order.  I’d say “a hamburger please” and you’d go pretend to cook it and then bring it to me: “Here you go.”  Then you’d take it back and ask me what else I wanted.  “A slice of tomato on a banana please,” and you’d bring them over.  We went through each piece of plastic food about 28 times.  You never got tired of it and you had such polite manners every time.  It’s one of my favorite aunt memories and I loved it

I also love that each one of you is so different.  And it’s good to be different – if everyone were all the same and did the same things as everyone else, the world would be a very boring place.  Always be your own person and be true to yourself.

When I finally made the decision to move from New Mexico to Texas a few years ago, the main reason was because my family is here and because I wanted to be an active part of your lives.  Now that I’m here, I love watching each of you grow up, although it’s going by way too fast!  It seems like it was just a few days ago that we were all sitting around a table on a beach in Florida discussing what the first baby’s name would be, and now all of a sudden Hudson is 9 years old as I write this.  It doesn’t seem possible. 

Sometimes I just watch each of you and think about what you’ll be when you grow up:  a teacher, a police officer, an artist, a songwriter, a baseball player…or maybe a professional wrestler, a pirate, a zombie, a lawyer, a rodeo clown…the possibilities are endless really.  I wish for each of you that you find things to do in life that make you full of joy and spirit and comfort and peace, whatever they may be. 

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Nephew Corner on my refrigerator
(The paper says “Happy Brithay to the bestes ant en the world.”)

I love being your aunt because you all make me laugh and make me think on my toes.  I love being your aunt because you challenge me in many ways.  I love being your aunt because you each add purpose to my life and that makes me UNunhappy.  And yes, I love being your aunt because I get to give you back to your parents after you’ve tired me out for the day.  🙂 

If I’m sometimes strict with you, it’s usually because I’m looking out for you and your safety.  Sometimes it’s because I see how much you have to offer and I want you to live up to your incredible potential.  But it’s always from a place of love and concern for you as a person and my nephew.  You are my family, the closest things to children of my own that I’ll ever have.  I may not know how to really be a parent, but I’ll always try to be a good aunt for you.  I might mess up sometimes, but I’m giving it my best shot.

So if you ever need anything, just let me know.  I love all of you and would do anything in the world for you.  Well almost anything….I won’t eat meat for you, even if you cook it yourself – I’ve been a vegetarian for 19 years now and it’s too late for that.  Also, I probably can’t kill any bugs for you, they freak me out too much (especially moths).  And I will never buy you a real motorcycle, they’re too dangerous. 

But most anything else, you can count on me.  Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

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