Sunday, May 29, 2011

"What Happy Neighbors Do"


Quotable words (a book title?) from one member of today's early-sunday-morning-neighbor-crew, a collection of cool folks who embrace and sustain the neighborhood biking/coffee ritual (12.5 miles there … sip, chat, laugh, take-on-the-voice-of-a-male role play, sip some more … then 12.5 miles home … then gather on the patio of Bruess' backyard for more sips, chats, laughs). It's exactly what happy neighbors do: enjoy each others' company and good spirit. Regularly.

Amen! Exactly. No doubt. Yay!

In the infancy of the ritual, it was the neighbor guys who defined it and rode. Today and from here forward, us biker-gals have joined the ranks of the Portland Avenue early morning bike brigade. What have we been waiting for, gal pals?

It's what happy neighbors do! Ritual filled with goodness. And if you haven't already figure it out, it's really just what happy people do.


Joyful conversation. Good times. Super memories. Again and again.

See you next week, Portland people. I'm feelin' super lucky to know you.

- Carol

Friday, May 27, 2011

15 different years, same defining ritual

My hubby and I (Carol) texted each other midday today: "Can you believe we have a 15 year old? So cool. We're old."

Yes, we do, it is and we are.

Faithful readers know well the ritual at the Bruess house: door sign (whether the kid wants it or says he/she likes it or not) exclaiming the birthday child. While a photo was snapped with teen next to "15 OMG!" today, the words out of his mouth even before I could press finger on the button of camera were "You CANNOT put this on your blog." So, I didn't. I took another photo without him in it. Ha. Happy birthday, kid!

And while the defining door sign activity is, as of today, a good decade.5 years old, an activity we begin tomorrow will hopefully be the very first in a long-standing new birthday ritual: community-based-birthday-gifting. Instead of receiving (gifts, events, parties), my sweet teen decided that we would - as a family - give of ourselves and our time to help the North Minneapolis Tornado victims. In honor of his birthday, we give instead of receive.

And I would say, what an honor to be the parent of one very cool teen (whose photo is not included because of course I usually - not really - do as he says).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Couple Company will be there. Will you?

Happy Couple Company will be on display at the Women and Children's Expo! Come check it (and us) out. Fun!

Decorating 101

Life post-dissertation defense has been grand!

The hubs and I (Anna here) are still working on furnishing our home. Slowly but surely, we're making progress. It's been fun and sometimes frustrating. If you recall from a previous blog post, Brent is quite opinionated and involved in the process of creating beauty in our home. This makes the process take twice as long because each idea is proposed, deliberated, researched, and deliberated again. Then, we seek some outside opinions to allow us more depth to our discussion. FInally, a decision is made...

...And then it usually changes a few more times.

But we're having fun making our tastes, preferences, and opinions collide in a new way. Mostly, these projects open up more dialogue in our marriage, allowing us to converse even more, and in new ways. And during our phase of life--you know, the phase where most couples experience a dip in marital satisfaction, due to the high demands of young children--it's been a pretty cool challenge to tackle together. That and gardening. Our marriage loves home ownership!

We're even tackling sewing projects together! We made these pillows under the direction of my mother-in-law. It's perfect, because Thomas needed something to throw around on the porch (ha). I cut the fabric and hand-stitched them and Brent learned how to put in zippers. Sew cool.

Up next? Deciding on living room furniture and picking art. Stay tuned for more updates along the way. Because I know you all were dying to know all about our adventures in decorating, right?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wabi Sabi 侘寂

So, I (Carol) am going to be teaching a study abroad class in Japan next summer. Cool, I know, especially given my love of all things Japanese: gardens, kindness, other-centeredness, simplicity, tradition. Ah … Nihonjinron (日本人論): things uniquely Japanese! I love em all: raked-rock gardens, bowing to respect, neatly wrapped packages and, one of the best: Japanese masking tape. SO cool.

In my preparations for the Japan course I came across a concept that at first struck me as quite profound. This morning as I awoke to the usual Saturdays tasks of laundry, more laundry, gardening (in the rain), the Target list, the grocery list, kids and their homework, kids and the thank you cards that need to be written, kids and … well … reminding them/urging them/prompting (threatening?) them to do all the things they should be doing (helping me with the laundry?), it struck me that Wabi Sabi is HUGELY profound for making happiness in our relationships.

Wabi Sabi? It's one of those concepts that I'm sure I don't quite fully understand - nor ever can - because I'm a U.S. American and I'm not Buddhist. Regardless, I like to try it out in various aspects of my life. Today, I'm trying it out with my family and hubby.

Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic - a world view - which sees beauty in even the "odd" or "annoying" or "imperfect" things. Wabi Sabi is seeing beauty all around, even in those things that are "imperfect, impermanent and incomplete." Ah … marriage! Ah … friendship. Kids! Laundry! Family! Imperfect. incomplete. And because they're always changing and dynamic: impermanent.

Wabi Sabi is a way of thinking, seeing, believing and being. It's an appreciation of the "ingenuous integrity of natural processes." Ah … natural processes! LIke relating to and living with other people for years and even decades. Like marriage and long-term partnership. Like dirty laundry and lists and needing to eat three times a day. At times they're all annoying (so many meals to make; so few ideas!). But with Wabi Sabi, they are beautiful … even when they're irritating.

What if we had a Wabi Sabi world view on all the little things that drive us crazy about our children, spouses, partners and extended family? They wouldn't actually drive us crazy, that's what. We'd see their natural uniqueness, gentle beauty, and inherently wonderful while incomplete qualities (lying on the sofa while we do the cleaning; avoiding writing thank you cards until they see the veins pulsating out of mother's forehead; throwing clean clothes down the laundry shoot because it's faster than hanging them in the closet again).

What if? What if??? I'll keep you posted on how it's going for me. For now … I'm signing off to go enjoy some of that imperfect and really stinky laundry. And accept the transience of the tasks that lie ahead on a beautiful, warm, humid rainy Saturday morning in Minnesota.

May you find some Wabi and Sabi in your life too.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

P + H + D = HUGE news!

If you add these photos together, what do you get?

It's Anna D. H. Kudak … but now with a few very cool new letters behind her name!

Yes, it's true! Dr. Kudak smoothly and successfully defended her dissertation last week at the University of Kentucky and now joins the not-so-glamorous but oh-so-fun community of us crazy academics. Anna, on behalf of the Happy Couple team and your friends and family … HUGE congratulations on a HUGE accomplishment. Yay! YAY! Wooo hooo!!!

In celebration, the neighborhood first crafted a sign for her front door. Next? We're planning a party, of course. And what do you bring to a PhD party? Something that begins with a "P" and "H" or a "D" - of course. (Pinot Noir … Hot dogs in a blanket … A Display of Delightful Desserts …?) The possibilities are endless. Yaywhoohooyippeee for Dr. Kudak!

Monday, May 2, 2011

New Love: It's so ... duh ... novel (and the lessons for all of us other couples)

The world seems abundant with images of "new love" and the excitement, authenticity and giddiness of humans as they gently/kindly/giddily create new lives together.

Need I mention the new royal couple?

I (Carol is typing here) was trying to discern my simultaneous lack-of-interest in the big event (no, I would never miss sleep to watch it live) and my sheer, child-like, warm-hearted enjoyment in the images of the couple strolling about the palace hand-in-hand (probably my favorite moment of the entire "event") before they escaped to enjoy some very private time together. I also was captured by the sweet whispers they shared throughout their big day (even as they walked down the aisle .. and stood above the throngs of well-wishes), the content of which no one but them will ever know. It's just, well, sweet! It's the sights and sounds of "new love" ... fresh, fluttery, fantastic, ENERGETIC! Ah, if only we could all have a little dose. At least once a year or ten.

I witnessed the same giddy goodness today as a student of mine told me today - in radiant speech with a visible glow about her entire being - about her engagement this past weekend. My cheeks hurt as I smiled so wide I thought I might bust. It was pure, sincere enjoyment witnessing her telling and experiencing of "new love!" Ah ... it's so, well, darn sweet! And lovely. And magical. Ah, I want a sip!

And then it dawned on me why the "new love" capsule is so intriguing to me lately ... someone who is about to celebrate 20 years of marriage to my still-lovely groom.

I think it has to do with what researchers find and therapists suggest to couples who seek to "renew" and "refresh" (read: find a little "new love" flutter in their "older love" flatness). What is it? Tell! Please, already.

The rather simple suggestion: Do something NOVEL together. New. Something you've not done before.

Gasp. Isn't that the antithesis of ritual?

Well, yes, rituals (the familiar) are the essence of What Happy Couples Do. But equally important, especially to reignite some novel-fluttery (the glow) in your relationship, is something not-all-that-novel: NEWness. Together. Novelty in your patterns. And in fact, it's something rituals can indeed embrace and encourage.

Now, take note: the something "new" should be something you both at least sort of want to do. But no matter the form, it will - no question - create new opportunities for conversation, endorphins, perspectives, and ... well ... fresh energy between and within your couple.

I have to say: I think it's working in my own marriage lately. And all thanks for a sweaty room full of scantily clad people. For about a year or two I've been urging my dear spouse to try hot yoga. Finally: he's headstanding, side-crowing, and chatarangua-ing with the best of them ... and on the mat right new to me. No birds-of-paradise yet ... but it leaves something to which we, old married people, can look forward to. Ommmm.

For more on what researchers know makes for happy couples, get yourself a copy of one of my favorite new "sources" (a book written for a lay audience; you'll love it): Tara Parker-Pope's "For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage."

And three cheers for love ... whatever the age!

(No, the images below are NOT of me and my guy ... but hey, goals are good, eh?)

For more photos like these - their source - check out