Monday, January 28, 2013

Live the Life You Imagined

I started reading last month's issue of Sunset Magazine, and I have to say that several different segments are resonating with me. 

First, there was the "From the Editor" letter about the American tendency to set resolutions focused on self-improvement. She speculates that thinking about our lives as "another task to be executed" thwarts our attempts to find true contentment. She says, "adding on yet another layer of self-improvement isn't what will make us happy." Instead, she decides to be more present in the moment and enjoy life around her. 

I am definitely guilty of living a task-oriented life. In fact, I am probably at the extreme end of the spectrum (although I have friends who are farther past me...Maia, I'm looking at you!). And my intentions for this year are all habits that I want to execute on a daily basis in a cumulative way. Reading her letter definitely gave me pause and made me eager to read the main article that she was referring to, which focuses on the "island life" of Hawaii and what makes it the "happiest state in the country."

The article itself did not disappoint. Part of it was a week-in-the-life piece about a family that moved from San Francisco to Oahu. Honestly, their life does sound idyllic. They wake up on Sunday and ask the kids what they want to do. They decide to head to the beach (which is five minutes away). At the beach, they run into the wife's brother and sister-in-law and their three kids. The kids start surfing while the mother decides to get some exercise by walking along the beach. Her brisk walked is slowed down by coming across lots of people she knows along the way.

When she returns, she sees that her kids are still playing contentedly and her close friend has brought a cooler full of lunch and beer. They are invited to join them for an impromptu lunch. 

Afterwards, they go home to put the two year-old down for a nap. In the afternoon, some friends stop by to swim in the pool and they end up staying for dinner. 

Monday after school, the mother and daughter go for a hike up a stunningly beautiful mountain. 

Wednesday, they're able to venture into nature after school again. That evening, friends stop by for swimming, outdoor dinner, music, and homework. 

As I read through the description, I found myself yearning for that kind of life. It's a life full of beautiful nature, good friends, spontaneous community, and relaxation. Those are the things I want to cultivate in my life (without having to move to Hawaii). I'm confident that we'll be able to create something close to "island life" within our little sliver of Austin. 

One of the main reasons we moved from Houston to Austin was to have more access to beautiful nature. While we don't have lush, stunning mountains and awe-inspiring beaches, we do have lakes, rivers, creeks, springs, forests, and hills within easy access. And the longer we live in Austin, the more likely we will start running into people we know when we frequent these places (it's already started happening). 

And then there's the house we're building. It's exactly the kind of place where friends can "stop by to swim in the pool" (once we can afford a pool) and "end up staying for dinner." It's got an open floor plan (kitchen with big island and four stools, large dining room table that will fit 6-10 people, living room with a large sectional couch) and fluidity between the indoors and outdoors (the living room opens out onto a large deck). We've already started meeting families in the neighborhood that we would probably enjoy spending time with. 

As a side note, I don't mean to overly romanticize the life we're building for ourselves. I'm honestly nervous about the crime in our neighborhood, the nearby half-way houses, and the registered sex offender who lives across the creek ("indecency with a child" who was 8 at the time). But living in this neighborhood will allow us to be more connected to the community where I'm trying to build a school, it will minimize our commutes so we can spend more time with our family, and it will allow our children to have nearby friends from school to play with. 

Reading the article helped affirm for me that we're on the right track toward building the kind of life we want for our family, and that my intention for this year--"Put down roots"--is exactly what will help us achieve that life. I really feel like our generation has the amazing opportunity to create the kind of lives we want for ourselves and our families. There are models everywhere of people who are giving up soul-sucking (yet prestigious) jobs and seeking out more meaningful work. I find such inspiration in people like Kelly Rae or John and Sherry or the family who moved to Oahu. We can envision the kind of lives we want for ourselves and make them happen.*

*The caveat to this statement is that I recognize how this kind of freedom is directly tied to socio-economic status (as well as other forms of privilege). It is a lot easier for someone from an upper-middle class background with a college education to take these kinds of risks. That's why I'm so passionate about quality education for all. It seems like the surest route to helping all people have more choice and options in their lives.

Photo Above: The permit from the city finally came in and construction on our house has begun! Pure craziness.

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Naan said...

Happy to read construction has started! The article you write about, also describes a lot of what we missed when we moved abroad. The chance encounters while doing everyday things, that is something I really missed. We just moved back to our roots 10 days ago and already we feel it happening again. Even as we were unloading the moving truck did I run into an old friend of mine!

It's good that you're aware of what your neighborhood will be like, but don't let that make you too nervous. Having a registered sex offender nearby does sound terrible, but trust me: it's better than having an unregistered sex offender living nearby! As for settling your discomfort about the halfway houses: consider volunteering at one of those places. By helping people to better themselves, you help better your neighborhood. Becoming familiar with something will most often eliminate the fear that stems from it. And as a bonus, you'll be growing your social circle by meeting more people. The employees, other volunteers and even the people readjusting to society can be very stimulating contacts.

Best of luck, Sara!

Sara said...

I can't wait to follow your home-building process, and I know that you inspire so many of your readers to live the lives that we imagine for ourselves, precisely because we see you doing it!

KRISTIN said...

Have you heard of Brene Brown? She has a few books out. You can also find her TED clip on youtube. Something tells me that you would love her thoughts on courage and authenticity. You can visit her blog here:

Rach said...

"It's a life full of beautiful nature, good friends, spontaneous community, and relaxation." I think this is a lovely dream of a life, especially with Hawaii as the backdrop. But it's sort of a fantasy. It's really important to make the best of what you currently have, of your current situation, and enjoy moments as they come, or you will always just be striving for a fantasy and never feel the satisfaction of being truly happy. I know this blog is a place for you to record your hopes, dreams, etc., but at times it seems like you are fixated on planning to be happy and fulfilled (and planning the house/purchases/trips/philosophies that will get you there) while living in limbo in the meantime, somewhat unsatisfied with your current living situation. Harsh, but what if life ended tomorrow? Would you be happy that you spent time wishing that you lived as these people in Hawaii do, and planning how you could accomplish that kind of life (which may or may not, in actuality, be any happier or more fulfilled than yours), or would you wish you had played with your son, walked your dog, chatted with your husband...

Carrie said...

Sara, I see Rach's point, and I think I've had a similar comment in the past about not letting the day-to-day good stuff pass you by.

Also, I wonder if other readers are curious about plain old day to day life in the Cotner-Bradford household. How are things with Matt? Is he supportive of all of your (or are they all shared?) big dreams? Does he have big dreams, too? What if the big dreams conflict? You don't write very much about him here. I wonder whether things are ok or whether he doesn't want you to add him in to posts or whether there is another reason. You are so open and honest that I would think you would write about marriage stuff sometimes. It's cool, of course, if that's just not where you want your content to be focused. :)

That Hawaii life sounds awesome. In our new small town we've become very close with another family of 4 (who are also both professionals with 2 kids our kids' exact ages), and the types of things that happen with the HI family have started happening to us, too. In the summer, we go for a walk and end up in their backyard with the 4 kids on the swingset and beers in our hands. We meet up at craft time at the local bookstore, and they walk back to our house for snacks and hanging out. I wish those kinds of friends on everyone. It feels great! I hope you are able to find that type of community in Austin.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Rach!

Thanks for sharing your perspective. A couple things come to mind: 1) I definitely need to work on cultivating "in-the-momentness." I'm a planner to the very core; I love thinking and dreaming and dwelling in possibility. For example, for me, planning a vacation is just as fun as going on it. I'm definitely working on grounding myself more in the moment.

2) When I sit down to blog, I tend to gravitate toward topics that let me dwell in possibility (because, like I said, it's fun for me). Blogging is something I do in my free time; it's a hobby. I would rather spend time planning for something upcoming than summarizing something that has already happened. I think that gives a skewed perspective into my life. I actually do make plenty of time to play with my son (I pick him up at school every day at 2:45, and we make snack and then go to the park until Matt gets home). On weekends the three of us enjoy family time (in addition to in the evenings from around 5pm until Henry's bedtime at 6:30). Matt and I chat every night (with Henry) over dinner, while we work or enjoy different activities before bed, and then at bedtime. I also take Hoss for hour-long walks by himself at least twice a week.

Every night before I fall asleep, I take a moment to express my gratitude for everything I have in my life. I'm overwhelmed by my blessings. I don't mean to give the impression that I'm in limbo or that I'm waiting for my real life to start. I don't think that "a life full of beautiful nature, good friends, spontaneous community, and relaxation" is a fantasy. I think it's something we have to work toward. That's why we moved to Austin (way more nature than Houston), and it's why I'm working hard to make new friends in a new city. The spontaneous community and relaxation will come from me developing more in-the-momentness.

The only thing I'm really discontent with right now is our rental house. It makes me feel physically uncomfortable. But even then, I try to focus on all the things I love about it: the most amazing neighbor ever, a beautiful park right outside our back door, a farm right in our neighborhood, etc.

@ Carrie: I don't think I let the day-to-day stuff pass me by; I just don't think I tend to write about it here. I tend to do summaries of how everything's going in my monthly post related to goals for the upcoming month (for example, I recently talked about how sick I was for the entire month of November and how hard that was on top of my first trimester).

To directly answer your question: things with Matt are good. Our shared dreams are the house and the baby. The school is my dream. He's nervous that being a principal will pull too much of my energy away from our family, but he understands that it's important for me to follow my passion. We talk about ways that I can ensure work-life balance.

The life I described in this article really resonates with Matt, too. We've definitely already started working toward elements of this life now (dinner with friends several times this month, spontaneous dinners with his brother, hiking, etc.).

I tend to write more about the compromises and strategies of marriage at 2000 Dollar Wedding.

Thanks for commenting, Everyone! I'm sorry I don't always have as much time to respond as you deserve.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sara - I find your posts really inspiring and get excited every time you write a new one. Great that you are making so much progress on the house :)

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