A Love Letter to My Friends

Dear Amazing Friends,

I can barely begin to describe the beauty that you bring to my world. When life is busy and the road is winding, each of you provides a beacon of hope and joy. You are the sparks of light along the way that make the journey infinitely more enjoyable. Whether it’s laughter or listening, advice or accolades, you bring exactly what I need when I need it most. You fill my soul and make my heart happy. You inspire laughter and soothe tears. Quite simply, you make life so much more delightful.

And what an incredible life it is getting to live it with each of you. You’ve known me through it all. You’ve been with me through high school homework stresses, college relationships, job struggles, early adulthood adventures, walking down the aisle, and raising babies. You’ve seen me at my best without responding with jealousy, and you’ve loved me at my worst without bringing judgement. You’ve held my hand on important occasions; you’ve held my heart throughout.

I’m really not quite sure what I’ve done to be lucky enough to have you all in my life. As life has gotten ever more complex with marriage and moves and children, I know there have been so many times that I’ve dropped the ball on being the type of friend I want to be, the type of friend you deserve. For that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that it takes me two days to respond to a text, two weeks to return a phone call, and two months to reply to an email.

I’m sorry that I’m constantly tired and distracted when we do finally get the chance to chat.

I’m sorry that my brain these days is frenzied and forgetful and I’ve neglected to send birthday cards or inquire about important life events.

I’m sorry that I’ve missed bonfires and bachelorette parties and weddings because my babies needed me.

I’m sorry that I haven’t always shown up at the times or in the ways you needed me.

It is said that when juggling all the responsibilities of life, its not about never dropping the ball, it’s about learning which balls are glass and which are rubber; which ones will break and which will bounce. I hope, lovely friends, you can continue to bounce with me as I try to find my balance in this busy phase of life. I hope you know how much I value our friendship and would never want to break our bond. For still being there in spite of it all, for loving me anyway, I cannot thank you enough.

Thank you for making me laugh until it hurts and (ice) dance until we collapse in giggles.

Thank you for listening; for truly hearing what’s on my heart.

Thank you for asking the questions and saying the words I didn’t even realize I needed to hear.

Thank you for caring; for remembering the details of my life that even I sometimes forget.

Thank you for lifting me up; for making me feel valued, worthy, and adored.

Thank you for laughing at my corny jokes and off the wall comments.

Thank you for welcoming my babies to join brunches, bridal fittings, and weekends away.

Thank you for holding my little girls, making them laugh, and loving them with your whole hearts.

Thank you for accepting and embracing me for exactly who I am and where I am in life.

I love you dear ones…

Xo,

Court

Advertisements

A Love Letter to my Husband

Dear Handsome Husband,

I know this phase of life feels a little tricky at times. I know that there never seems to be enough time or energy or money to go around. I know our days are endlessly consumed with meeting the needs of small children, with little left for ourselves, much less each other. I know I often forget to tell you how much I love and appreciate you. I know that when we find ourselves completely spent, day after day, it’s far easier to focus on the annoyances than to celebrate the fantastic.

But I know, too, that I am still madly in love with you in a million amazing ways every single day.

The things that make my heart melt these days look a little different than when we first met. They are not all roses and romance (although I did absolutely love those beautiful yellow roses you surprised me with!). What takes my breathe away are the things that make the rhythm and flow of our life, however chaotic, feel a bit more bearable and beautiful.

I love how you show up. For work. For the kids. For me. For your flying community. You are all in and all there, even and especially when there never seems to be enough time and energy.

I love how you work tirelessly to support and better our family. I know you don’t love your job, and the sacrifices you make every day to provide for us cannot be underestimated or over-appreciated.

I love how you support and encourage my dreams. Whether it’s staying home to raise our children or getting out to write, you bend over backwards to help make it happen.

I love how you relentlessly chase down your own dreams. You reach and strive to learn more and become better and grasp you goals, stubbornly rejecting failure.

I love to watch your boyish wonder and fascination with all things aviation.

I love to watch you share this passion with our daughters.

I love how you can elicit laughter from our children with a simple silly face or fun game and turn everyone’s moods around.

I love how you can walk in and breathe patience into a room when I have none left.

I love how you cook for us and am constantly blown away by the delicious concoctions you create in less time and with less mess than I ever could.

I love how you clean up after me. I know I am a walking mess maker, and there are always dirty dishes, scattered laundry, and random clutter left in my wake. Thank you for not nagging me (too much) about it; thank you even more for silently doing the dirty work.

I love how you effortlessly seem to figure things out and fix things to keep our cars, house, and life running smoothly.

I love how you twirl me in the middle of our cluttered kitchen when one of my favorite songs plays, even though dancing is the last thing you want to do.

I love how you still look at me, after all these years and a couple of babies, with desire in your eyes.

I love how I get to glance across the kitchen at your rugged handsomeness, kind dark eyes, and smile that lights up the room.

I love how you seek adventure and and ruthlessly refuse to settle for the ordinary. And I love how you push me to do the same.

I love how you bring me milkshakes and pay the bills and watch our daughter so I can have a weekend away. I love how you clear the drains and shovel the snow and take out the trash. I love how you make coffee in the morning and do bedtime in the evening. I love how you get out of bed to help our daughter and how you stay in bed to snuggle me close. I love your rough hands and your kind heart and your brilliant brain and your compassionate soul.

I love you for all these reasons and so many more that too often go overlooked. I may not be as great at saying or showing it these days, but I love journeying through this life with you and all the everyday joys you bring with us.

All My Love,

C

A Love Letter To Myself

With Valentine’s Day looming on the horizon, it’s a time of great love and even greater expectations. We all want to feel loved, cherished, adored, and noticed. Perhaps we wait with bated breath for someone else to tell us we’re worthy. Perhaps we feel a deep sense of disappointment and self doubt if we either don’t have someone to tell us how wonderful we are, or the person we hope for fails or forgets.

But what if we gave ourselves this gift of love we so desire? What if we took the radical step of seeing and appreciating all that we are and all that we do? It’s so hard to fully love others when we don’t really love ourselves. So maybe we start a revolution and become our own Valentines. Thanks Hallmark, but I’ll just save myself the postage.

IMG_9503

Hello Lovely,

I see you there with your radiant red hair blowing in the winter wind. I don’t care if it hasn’t been washed in days, it still looks gorgeous, as do you.

Let’s talk about your beauty for a second. You are truly beautiful. Your body has grown beauty inside of it, and though you may feel like its left you a little stretched and sagging, in reality you have become so full of the beauty your body has been holding and nurturing over the past four years. Your muscles show the signs of heavy lifting, not confined to the walls of a gym, but every day in every moment in the real world. Your face glows with the joy of living a purposeful life. Your eyes shine with, well, sleep deprivation, but also resilience.

But it’s not just that amazing body I adore, it’s the soul contained inside. You are working tirelessly everyday to better yourself. You’re never afraid to question your own ways and seek new solutions if something isn’t working in your life. I admire how you’ve come to embrace who you are and where you you are in life, yet continue to rise to the challenge of gaining greater knowledge, depth, and humanity. You balance on that tightrope between striving and settling, and on it you’ve found your happiness.

And darling, how the world sings when you let that happiness ring forth in laughter!

Your joy is contagious and I love watching it bloom into the brilliance that is your daughters. They are thriving and smiling and you don’t even realize the incredible role you play in forming them into the beings they are becoming. You pour onto those beautiful babies every ounce of kindness and care and compassion you can muster. And when you fail and yell, as you sometimes do, you embrace them with empathy and grant yourself grace instead of guilt. As you flounder through many moments of motherhood, I fall even more in love with you, knowing that you are learning and doing your best.

I see you. I see you doing the messy and mundane tasks of everyday life. The dishes and laundry and diapers and cooking. The things that so often go overlooked, but that provides the fuel that keeps your family going. I see you trying to be everything to everyone and still coming up short. I see you questioning whether you are being a good enough wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. I see your doubt, and I embrace it all the more. Never doubt, my sweet, the mark that your small but meaningful efforts make.

Even when you feel like you’re failing, especially when you feel like you’re failing, I still love you, my dear. Always remember to hold yourself with the same grace and tenderness that you afford others.

I know you’re tired and spent, but I so admire how you summon the energy and courage to pursue your passion and write. You are learning amazing things with each new word and each new day. I am in awe of how you get up every morning, no matter how early the children wake you or how restless your night has been, and face each day with the potential and adventure it holds.

Keep trying, keep shining, keep showing up.

With Abundant Love,

Me

When Love Is Not Enough

IMG_9493.jpg

The room is dark as I quietly creep in and gaze down at my older daughter’s sweet sleeping face, filled with the peace of a deep slumber. I kneel beside her little bed and touch her lips, pursed in a rare moment of silence, as they have been busy all day forming new words. I stroke her tiny ear, so unencumbered by the hearing aids that rest upon them during waking hours and fill my daughter’s head with all the incredible sounds of the world. My heart is heavy with the weight and depth of the love I feel for this amazing little being.

But sometimes it feels as if love is not enough.

I grew my firstborn inside of me with every ounce of love her small body could contain. My love flowed to her like blood and nourishment, pulsing with the beat of the potential that was her life to come. When she was born into this world, becoming the physical embodiment of that great love, she was pure perfection in every way, except one. On the second day of her life we discovered that she was born with inexplicable hearing loss.

In that moment, it felt like my love was not enough. My love was not enough to grant my child two perfectly working ears. My love was not enough to guarantee that she could effortlessly hear the music that makes our lives sing.

Through the miracle of science and the grace of great clinicians, we quickly got our baby girl fitted with hearing aids to help her fully experience the world around her. At just three months, her little ears blinked with the bionic beauty that let us know that the tweets of birds and rustle of leaves were being amplified and broadcast into her mind. By six months, she was working with the most incredible therapist who made sure she was striving for milestones. And strive she did. As our baby grew into a toddler, and now a little girl, she has amazed us with her ability to thrive in every metric. Her hearing loss, originally diagnosed as mild-to-moderate, faded into the background of our lives as we relished watching our girl grow and learn.

Until a week ago. I sat in the office of our audiologist following a routine screening. The room was loud, filled with the sounds of my own restless children who were hungry and tired and losing patience. I tried to listen as the audiologist explained the results of the test, stating kindly, “It looks like your daughter’s hearing is getting progressively worse. It’s slipping into the category of profound.” My eyes welled with tears and my ears rang as I caught phrases like, “cochlear implants” and “total deafness” and “we just don’t know.”

And in that moment, I was hit again with the realization that my love simply is not enough. It is not enough to ensure that she will one day be able to hear, with her own two ears, the voice of the person she falls in love with or the music that compels her to dance or the sound of her children’s laughter. My love is not enough to ensure that she hears my own voice, right now, whispering how much I love her. And my heart breaks for my girl.

I know I’m not alone. Mommas around the world hold their babies, young and grown, with heavy hearts filled with uncontainable love that spills out onto their children. I know I am a lucky one, for my daughter’s challenge has options and opportunities still; it doesn’t threaten her very existence. There are mommas who stroke their baby’s eyes, with no hope of them ever seeing the beauty of this world. There are mommas who caress delicate legs that will never know what it feels like to run through fields and forests. There are mommas who hold close tiny bodies, waiting to feel their child’s inevitable last exhale. Our stories and our struggles are unique, but we all carry with us the heavy burden that our love is not enough to protect our precious babes from their own fate.

But we go on loving anyway. Because that is the call and the contract of parenthood; to have our love live outside of ourselves. From the moment of conception, we’ve agreed to trust an imperfect world with our most perfect expressions of love – our children. This world will disappoint us, and this world will disappoint them, with the injustice of it all. They will face suffering of all shapes and sizes, and time and time again, our love will fail to save them.

Yet, our love is the only thing that can save them. Our love may not be able to provide health and healing, but it offers glimmers of hope and happiness through the hardships. Our love may not bring a solution to the problem, but it brings purpose to the journey. Our love shows our children that, though life may look or sound different than we had imagined, it is so full of treasures that make the trials worth it. Our love is the strength and the salvation that carries them through it all.

This will be the hardest thing we do as parents – to keep loving in spite of the fact that our love is not enough. This will be the holiest thing we do as parents – to keep loving, in fact, because our love is not enough.

So we face each day with broken hearts; hearts that break open to pour out our boundless love on to our babes. Raw and ragged, the wounds that ail our children seep into our souls, inspiring ever greater love. We carry with us the ache of knowing our love is not enough, and the grace of knowing our love is everything.

As for our daughter, she continues to amaze us every day with the breadth and compassion of her own love. She continues to face each day with wit and wonder. She awakens in the morning and excitedly grabs her “hearings” to ignite her mind with the melodies of life. And she listens, not taking for granted the sounds that others might miss. When she hears something in the distance, she ponders sweetly, “What does that sound look like?” I don’t know what her future holds, in terms of hearing loss or life in general, but I know that I will continue to love her with a wide open heart, and that will be enough.

IMG_9489.jpg

It Starts With Us

In the wake of the unsettling and all too common sexual abuse scandal of yet another famous figure, and the #metoo campaign that entailed, we’ve been forced to face the harsh reality that sexual abuse, lack of respect for others’ bodies, and ignorance of physical consent are rampant problems in our society. As the mother of two girls, this issue both frightens me and and gives me pause. I pause to think – how did we get here, and what can we do about it?

If you ask ten different people, you would likely receive ten different answers to these questions. There are many reasons, multiple hurtles, and, hopefully, a bevy of solutions. Where I am in life, though, I look at the issues through the lens of a parent. I look at what we are teaching our children and how seemingly innocent actions can inadvertently reinforce unwanted behaviors or ideals.

When it comes to parenting, and life, I’m learning that it’s the seemingly small choices that, over time, add up to life lessons. What we model for our children in our day to day decisions regarding respect for their bodies and others’, as well as the notion of physical and emotional consent, are the ideals they will carry with them when they face crucial situations in the future.

There are many ways to teach these lessons and empower our little ones by respecting their bodies and boundaries. I am no expert, and I by no means wish to claim that my way is the “right” way. I’m aware that, to some, my ideas might seem extreme, or a little too over the top. That’s fine. We are constantly refining what works for our family and our children, just as each parent has to do for their own.

Yet, I write this as a reminder to my children, as well as myself, that each day I will strive to respect their bodies and their right to consent, so that they can carry these notions forward in the future.

IMG_9475

Dear Fierce Daughters,

I grew your beautiful bodies in my own, and for that reason I want to both protect and empower you. As you will always be a part of me, I promise to treat your body and spirit with the same care and respect that I would want others to treat me. In doing so, I hope to teach you to do the same.

I will respect your preferences to be held and touched only by those you know and love. I will not pass you off to others when you look at me with quivering lips and tears in your eyes. I will hold you close and embrace your desire to be near your safe haven.

I will not shush you and tell you it’s ok, stop crying, be quiet, when in your world it so clearly is not ok. I will listen to you, between the words, to discern what your little body is telling you. I will comfort you the best way I know how, allowing you to trust your body and express your emotions.

I will give you space when you need it. When you push me away I will remain by your side, but I won’t force words or actions from you. I trust your tiny heart to know how to remedy a tough situation. I will lead and guide, but allow you the space to choose how to use your physical and verbal affections.

I will not force affection from you. I will not tell you to hug or kiss grandma or a friend or a stranger you’ve just met. Or even myself. Even when it breaks my heart that you won’t give me a goodnight kiss when I tuck you in at night. Even if all I want to do is squeeze you at the end of a long hard day. It’s your body and your choice. And it feels so much better to receive the affection you give willingly, filled with love and joy.

I will not tickle you until you laugh so hard you can’t breathe or mutter stop. I know tickling will make you laugh, that’s the point. But I also know that the laughter that comes from tickling can shadow your true feelings and ability to tell me no.  I will work harder and choose different ways to gain your giggles.

I will not stand idly by while others, unaware of our ways and just trying to have fun, tickle you. I will put myself in the awkward situation of having to tell a well-meaning friend or family member that we don’t do that. Hopefully this will help you avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations to come. Hopefully this will teach you how to use your own words to stand up for your own body, even and especially if it’s awkward.

I will try at all costs not to force your body into places or positions or clothing that you don’t want to go. When possible, I will respect your choices and your timing. When it’s not possible, due to safety or time or circumstances, I will strive to always handle your body with calm and your emotions with gentleness. I am listening, even when I can’t always accommodate.

Your voice still matters. Your choice always matters.

Love your fierce advocate,

Momma

I write these words to my daughters because, at this time, I only have girls. Yet, if I one day have sons, I believe it will be equally important, if not more so, to instill these same values in them. In order to change, our world needs girls and boys who know what it means for their bodies to be respected and to respect in return. We need young women and men who grasp consent because they’ve always been given a choice and a voice.

It starts young. It starts with us. It starts with the seemingly innocuous choices we make for our children everyday. So maybe, hopefully, it can end with us too.

Happy Hygge-Days!

Christmas may have come and gone, but the long, cold winter still stretches endlessly in front of us. We have sixty more days of this snowy season, to be exact. People love to hate winter; complaining about the cold seems to be a favorite national pastime. And I get it. I live in Chicago, so when it comes to winter weather we have plenty to complain about. Our winter is not limited to December through March; we remain firmly bundled from October to May, or even beyond. When it snows here, it doesn’t just stick around for a day or two before being plowed or melting away, the white stuff fades to a dingy grey and becomes a permanent fixture for weeks. And it’s not uncommon to have days on end where temperatures hover in the single digits and even the sunshine decides it’s too frigid to make an appearance. Yes, I know the hardships of winter through and through.

Yet, I still kind of love winter.

Why? Because as I watch the snow fall quietly outside my window, blanketing the world anew, I can’t help but let the beauty and magic of it seep right into my soul. Then, as I look back inside our little house, I can’t help but be overcome by the love and warmth and togetherness that fills our home. There is an inexplicable feeling of coziness that comes from snuggling close with those I love most while the cold winds rage outside.

This warm-hearted feeling of coziness, I’ve discovered, has a name. It’s a Danish concept known as “hygge” (pronounced hoo-ga), and while there’s no direct English translation, according to the website Hygge House, the word is used to describe “a feeling or moment, either alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, as cozy, charming, and special.” Basically, hygge boils down to slowing down, enjoying the simple pleasures, creating intimacy, and being present in the ordinary moments of life. The Danes created hygge as a means of surviving the cold and dark of their own harsh winters; and something has to be said for a nation that weathers one of the worst winter climates, yet still consistently produces some of the world’s happiest people.

The idea of hygge, and embracing a more “hyggeligt” lifestyle of slower days and greater appreciation, has truly transformed the way I feel about this admittedly cold and dreary and sometimes limiting season. As freezing temperatures and swirling snow have swept across much of the nation this week, reaching all the way down to my friends in southern states, I thought I’d share ten tips for adding a little more hygge to your life and warmth to your home.

1. Light a Candle   Lighting candles is perhaps the most essential element in the Danish art of creating hygge. The soft peaceful glow that comes when you dim the bright overhead lights and spark a small wick brings instant warmth, calm, and closeness. I find myself captivated by the delicate dance of the tiny flame, and the intimacy it ignites inspires ideas and conversations. Conveniently, lighting a candle also happens to be the easiest thing you could do to up the hygge in your house. Most of us have a couple (or a couple dozen) spare candles lying around the house and an old set of matches tucked away in the bathroom. Dig them out, light them up, and enjoy the beautiful burn. My husband, in fact, became the unwitting cultivator of hygge in this regard. A couple months ago, as he grew increasingly annoyed at the unused candles that sat around our house creating more clutter, he started burning them religiously. As soon as he walks in the door, he lights a candle in our kitchen. His motivation, however, is more purposeful and less hyggeligt – he hopes that by burning the candles, we can finally get rid of them once they’re extinguished. Alas, new candles will always find a way to sneak in and add a little hygge to our home.

IMG_9470.jpg

2. Wear All the Wool   Wool clothing has become a recent obsession of mine, and quite frankly a necessity living in such a cold climate. This Christmas, approximately seventy-five percent of our gifts were something wooly. Our children got wool base layers and pants, my husband got wool socks, and I received a comfy wool shirt and the most incredible wool slippers. My husband and I joked that we should just become sheep farmers with the amount of money we’ve spent on woolen items. But really, it’s the perfect winter fabric – natural and renewable, moisture wicking and odor resistant, soft and comfortable, but above all, insanely warm. For padding around the house, slip on a cozy wool sweater, leggings, and the thickest wool socks. If you feel like venturing outdoors, simply throw on some boots and a coat and you’re ready to go. There are few things cozier than clothing yourself like a sheep.

3. Indulge in Comfort Food and Drink   Break out you crock pots and Dutch ovens, it’s soup and stew season! I’m all for a good juice cleanse, but I think I’ll save it for the heat of the summer when I can’t even stomach a hearty meal. Right now, though, bring on the beef and potatoes, the roasted veggies and the rich gravies, the steamy soups and creamy sides. Besides, I like to tell myself, my body needs all those extra fats to keep warm… I’m just trying to save on our heating bill! Truthfully, there are few aromas I love more than a roast that simmers all day, enhancing in intensity as the day wears on and the flavors combine. By the time the sun sinks below the horizon, at 4:00 pm, you have a delicious meal ready to fill the bodies and souls of your household as you gather around the dinner table.

When it comes to drinks, you can choose the route of numbing the bitterness of the season with alcohol, but I find that I’m feeling numb enough already with all this cold. Instead, I crave something that will warm me up and ignite the flames within me. I want to sip something that will stimulate my senses and leave me feeling simultaneously invigorated and calm. Our kettle gets quite the workout this time of year as we brew coffee in the morning and tea in the evening, with hot cocoa thrown somewhere in between. Grab an old favorite mug, fill it with your warm beverage of choice, and savor it slowly, truly tasting the flavors.

img_9687

4. Bake With the Kids   If you’re a mother (or father) of young children, this may be an activity that you actively avoid doing with your little ones. Baking with kids is much less efficient, much more messy, and often less enjoyable than going it alone. Not to mention the results may leave something to be desired. But that’s kind of the point when it comes to hyyge. Baking becomes both an experience and experiment rather than something else to get through. Choose a day and time when you don’t have anywhere to be or anyone coming over, when the time spent and the mess made won’t matter. Then just slow down and try to enjoy the chaos of it all. A few weeks back, my husband decided to bake a cake with our daughter based solely on proportions, an idea I’m not even going to try to explain… but they worked together as he let her choose some of the random ingredients to include. The result? Less than perfect since he accidentally added only half of the recommended sugar. But the idea? Brilliant. They had fun and made something together that they were both proud of, despite the questionable taste (which was easily remedied by adding extra-sugary icing). Enjoy the fruits of your labors with your hot beverage of choice for the ultimate hygge moment.

5. Enjoy Simple Family Traditions   Most people associate traditions with holidays, but I feel that simple traditions are all the more meaningful when brought into everyday life. Traditions build in moments to pause and reflect and connect in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day. We still often Light up the Night. For your family it could be a board game played together or completing a puzzle. Perhaps it’s a dance party or a tea party. Or maybe it’s simply sharing a meal together in the evening. The point isn’t to create yet another task that you have to do, but to celebrate the ordinary things you’re already doing. Cherish that togetherness.

IMG_9463

6. Take Family Naps   This is, perhaps, my favorite family tradition that we’ve added to the mix. Our children are still young enough that they, gloriously, nap during the day, and most of the time we can even manipulate them into sleeping at the same time. When this happens we don’t usually run around the house trying to get everything done, instead we make the conscientious choice to tuck ourselves into warm flannel sheets and snuggle close. As the soft afternoon sun warms the room and I wrap my arms around our sleeping baby while listening to the soft exhales of our toddler’s breath, we drift off to sleep, all together. Sometimes the peace lasts mere minutes, but on a good day we all wake up after a couple of hours, feeling rested and refreshed, and reconnected in the cozy comfort of our shared bed.

7. Have a Movie Night   Generally speaking, I’m kind of a crazy person when it comes to TV with my kids. I try to avoid letting them watch it much because I feel that there are so many more interesting things they could be doing with their time and minds. Also, selfishly, I can’t stand it. I find all the loud noises and bright colors, of kids’ shows especially, way too stimulating for me, so I can only imagine how my children’s tiny brains feel. But of course it’s a balance, and in winter, between the constant sicknesses and sub-zero temps that keep us indoors, we need a little something to break up the day. Still, TV time is usually limited to a single 20 minute show, during which I frantically try to do everything I can’t when I have kids needing something from me every 3.5 seconds. So movie night is a special time for our family. We try to pick something we will all (mostly) enjoy, and sit down together intentionally, limiting phones and other unnecessary distractions. We make popcorn. The real kind. Not the kind that inflates a bag in the microwave, but the tiny kernels that produce that distinctive lovely popping sound on the stovetop before being drenched in way too much butter and salt. Then we snuggle together under a blanket and indulge in entertainment.

8. Read a Book   When temperatures drop, it’s easy to stay on the couch and binge on Netflix. And certainly there’s a time and place for that in this snuggly season. But there is something wonderfully cozy about holding a book in your hands, feeling the weight of the pages as you let the words inspire your imagination. Whether you are snuggled with wee ones beneath a fuzzy blanket reciting Dr. Suess, or curling up on your own with that novel that’s been collecting dust on your bookshelf, let yourself focus and dive fully into the beautiful new world that a book brings to life.

9. Create Something   As we allow the pace of life to slow down and relax into the simple pleasures of ordinary days, you may find that you now have more time and space to pursue a creative passion. Though it can feel limiting to spend so much time indoors, it also provides the perfect platform to work on a passion project. For me, that is writing; for my husband, it’s working on and flying his plane. Our interests may differ greatly, but the common thread is allowing ourselves the reflective insight to find what we love and the intentional cultivation of a quieter season within which to toil. With children, you may pull out the paints and play-doh; or finish that craft project you’ve been talking about for ages. Besides, if you look through a new lens, winter is not merely a season of dead leaves and barren trees. It is a fount of inspiration – from the glint of the midday sun glistening across fresh snow to the soft afternoon rays casting shadows on the landscape, the rare sight of a red bird in flight or the quiet stillness of a dark cold night – the wonders are surely there if you only stop to see them.

10. Go on Winter Walks   Lest you think all hygge activities have to be limited to snuggling under a warm blanket, it can actually be a cozy experience to venture out into the cold world. I personally cannot stay inside too long. My mind and body and soul have no regard for the freezing temperatures; I need to breath the fresh air and feel the chill of the wind against my skin and experience the sights and sounds that only exist in the natural world. I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” So we put on layer upon layer of wool (see above) and get outside. We walk and play with friends at our weekly Wild Child group until we can’t feel our fingers and our faces are frozen with the smiles that come from reconnecting with the fun of nature. Or we trek down to our local park and run like crazy around the deserted ball field, making snow angels and throwing snowballs and ignoring that the thermometer reads zero degrees. Then we come home with cold hands but warm hearts.

IMG_9409.jpg

These are just a few of my favorite hygge things. Your ideas and activities surrounding hygge may look completely different, and that’s the joy of it. Slow down, allow yourself the time and space to just be, to relax into the simple pleasures that warm your heart and captivate your soul, and to enjoy and find joy even in the cold and grey and everyday of this season.

The First Ten

Today marks ten years since I first met my husband. A decade. A third of my life I’ve now spent with this man.

img_0389

When I think back to that fateful night ten years ago, it feels like the time that’s passed is both a lifetime and a blink. In the span of the last decade there have been countless moments and memories that have shifted and shaped us, both individually and as a couple. We’ve grown up and grown out of bad habits and grown into ourselves and grown together. The evolution of it all is wondrous.

There was the beginning. There was the late night with too many drinks and bad dance moves and his irresistible dark eyes and sweet crooked smile. There was our first date. My sick day off work and my warnings of being contagious and his reckless abandon as he kissed me anyway. There was my move halfway across the world and the awkwardness of saying goodbye to something that was still nothing. There was the crushing loneliness of knowing no one in a new land and spending hours at a European Internet cafe just hoping I could connect with him. There were entire nights spent chatting online because we were young and had all the time and energy in the world to burn. And thousands of miles couldn’t dim our spark. There was him flying halfway across the world to visit me. The glimpse of a familiar stranger in a foreign place. There was the love that sprouted as we traversed new territory, even though we weren’t yet brave enough to give it a name.

There were the adventures. Oh, the adventures! There were the 7 countries we trekked through, devouring food and culture and experiences and laughable moments. There were the countless states across this great nation, stretching from the southern tip of Florida to the furthest reaches of Alaska, upon which we’ve made our small but meaningful marks. There were planes, trains, and automobiles; and mopeds, gondolas, and donkeys too. There were missed trains and sleeping outside on station benches. Or airport floors. There were broken bones and crutching over cobblestone. There was the warmth of the Grecian sun kissing our skin and the chill of ancient ice glistening on a glacier. There were alligators and pythons and orcas and eagles. There were mountains climbed and vistas viewed. There was the magnificent flying, just the two of us soaring  high above lakes and rivers, hills and valleys. The most unique and beautiful way to experience this gorgeous Earth. There were more places and people and experiences that have taken our breath away as we’ve explored the world together over these first ten years than I could ever hope for in a lifetime.

There were the places we came home to. There was Maryland and DC, Florida and Tennessee, and now Illinois. There were crowded college houses and quaint city apartments. A tiny travel trailer and abodes shared with relatives. A house covered with dog hair and a home filled with all the joys and messes of children. There’s our conflicting zest for more travel and adventure mixed with our fervent desire to settle somewhere we love.

There were the leaps of faith. The jobs left and the passions pursued. There were the foolish but fun choices and and the vehement refusals to live according to someone else’s plan. There were the moves and the upheaval; the packing and the unpacking. There was the striking out on our own and encouraging the other to blaze their own unique trail. There was the catching each other when we fell and supporting each other when we floundered. There is the seemingly reckless but ultimately unwavering faith we have in one another to pursue our best lives; together.

There were the life transitions and momentous milestones. The moving in together and rearranging our lives for one another. The walking down the aisle and rings exchanged and vowing to love each other for the rest of this life. There was the heartwarming joy of growing new lives together and welcoming our children into this world. There was the heartbreaking grief of shepherding life out of this world and figuring out how to go on living.

And there were the heavy and hard times. More than we’d probably care to admit. There were the dreams shattered and hearts broken. There were the harsh words spoken and tears brought forth. The blame and shame and resentment and restitution. There was the bickering and the fighting. The honest miscommunications and the blatant bitterness. There was the questioning of whether this relationship could be or should be. The wondering if we were broken, and if we could be repaired.

Then there was the learning. The learning how to give and how to take. The compromising. There was the pushing and pulling to bring out the best in each other. The seeing through the broken cracks to discover new light in the other. The calling out of that light and trusting the person and the process. There was the embracing what truly matters and letting go of the rest. There was the realization that we’re in this for the long haul so we have to put in the effort, because nothing good ever comes without a little (or a lot) of work.

And there was, and of course still is, the love. Always the love, ever evolving. First burning hot and fast under the guise of desire. Then steadfast and righteous and ardent, followed by raw and vulnerable and real. Now all of those things combined, faded slightly in intensity, into the comfortable commitment that comes from spending a decade together. Strong and steady and simple. There were the small seemingly insignificant daily acts that formed the love song of our life. There were the million moments when we chose us and chose love, when we could have chosen something different.

There is the now. There are the sleepless nights that a decade ago were spent drinking or dancing or talking and now are spent caring for sick children. There are the soothing messages with scented lotion that have been replaced by the tender smoothing of vapor rub on our always sick and tired bodies. There are the beautiful babies and jubilant laughter and simple pleasures. There are the heavy burdens of responsibilities that accompany adulthood, and especially parenthood, and the effort not to let them consume us. There are the extraordinary joys we’re creating that often go overlooked in our ordinary life. There is the continual choosing, every day, to love one another and to carry onward on this well worn but still entirely unpredictable path together.

Here’s to the next ten, and the many more to follow.

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 1.28.12 PM

Light up the Night

Yesterday was the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. Or the longest night, if you’re an optimist. The sun set at 4:22 pm, which meant as my children were waking up from their afternoon naps, the sun was already slipping below the horizon.

This can make winter feel like a limiting time. Especially for someone who needs copious amounts of outdoor time in order to feel sane, seeing the sun begin to set by midday can be a bit depressing. When it’s dark and cold and you have small children, you can feel trapped indoors. And with enough of those indoor evenings, the walls start to close in and merriment seems to creak out the cracks of the drafty doorway.

So a few weeks back, when the days began to grow shorter and our patience seemed to as well, our family started a new tradition to mix things up. It was born partially out of a need to force ourselves to get outside in the evening and partially out of guilt for not wanting to do all the Christmasy things, but still wanting to add a little magic to our kids’ lives.

I dug through our holiday box in the basement and found an old string of Christmas lights. Balancing a baby on my hip, I haphazardly wrapped them around the railing on the back deck. A speaker blasted Christmas tunes as I gathered popcorn and hot cocoa to sustain us on a cold winter night. As the sun set, we excitedly counted down – 5…4…3…2…1… LIGHT UP THE NIGHT!

fullsizeoutput_5498

Was is magical?! No. The first night we did it my daughter complained that her cocoa was too hot (it was lukewarm) and she was too cold (it was 60 degrees).

IMG_9715 2

But we stuck with it. Not every night, because consistency is not our strong suit, but those nights that we remembered or had time or just realized we really needed a break from the evening craziness. Some nights we dance to festive music, some nights we snuggle under a blanket and share popcorn, some nights we simply stare at the night sky as my two year old excitedly exclaims, “The sky is SO beautiful!”

And I’ve come to love this simple holiday tradition that adds light and love and togetherness into a busy season of the year stacked upon a busy season of life. Years from now I doubt I’ll remember that I failed to bake dozens of festive shaped cookies from scratch. I probably won’t recall that my kids missed out on 12 days of Christmas crafts and I missed the order deadline for that perfect gift. And I don’t think any of us will be too torn up over the fact that we didn’t run all over town partaking in all the merry celebrations and cozying up to every Santa iteration.

What I hope we do remember are quiet ordinary evenings spent outside listening to the swirling sounds of jolly music, our children’s laughter, and the world around us. I hope I recall a time when my two babes were small enough to sit together on my lap, and the inherent kindness in my older daughter tucking a soft blanket around her baby sister to keep her warm. I hope we hold onto the magic and merriment of how a simple string of lights can bring warmth and joy into our world.

IMG_9332IMG_9327

Here’s to the simple pleasures of the season. Here’s to joy always overcoming darkness. Here’s to lighting up the night!

Broken Kitchen Cabinets

IMG_9343

The day started with a cold and dark awakening. Eyes open before the sun even began to peak over the horizon. I was squeezed in bed between two tiny bodies with a chorus of echoing cries; my children’s needs already pressing in on me from both sides.

As I dragged myself out of bed and began the marathon of racing from one emergency to the next as two children needed something and everything all at once, I realized it was not going to be one of those days where I could embrace the joys of motherhood. The darkness of the early morning never truly yielded, but simply faded to a cold grey; a staple of an unrelenting Chicago winter. The weather settled in for the day, reflecting the mood of our household. Smiles were overshadowed by tears, laughter drowned out by screams.

I wasn’t able to be in a space of responding to the kids, thinking and processing with depth and compassion. There was no time for all of that on this dark day. I was merely reacting, attempting to put out fires before another cropped up.

The day wore on and the needs of my children continued to pummel me incessantly, an attack on all senses. The sound of deafening screams exhaled from tiny bodies. The feel of little hands endlessly grabbing for and lashing against my own body. The smell of diapers that needed changing and a house that needed a good scrub. The sight of tears and chaos all around.

One child finally went to sleep, the other awoke. No break. No space to breathe. It was all too much.

I set a crying baby on the floor surrounded by a pile of toys. Grabbing myself a glass of water, I shut the kitchen cabinet a bit too hard. The sharp thwack of wood hitting wood, the freedom of swinging my arm with all its strength felt strangely liberating. I opened the cabinet door and slammed it again. And again. And again. The kitchen cabinet graciously granted me five swings before it’s fifty year old hinges finally gave way. The solid maple door landed with a heavy thud on our hardwood floor. Then a moment of silence.

I looked up, stunned. Glancing out the window I saw our dog in the backyard staring back at me. She had heard the thud. “Are you okay?” her soulful eyes seemed to be asking me through the smears of our dirty door panes and my own tears. Was I?

IMG_9810

Sometimes motherhood feels like this. Heavier than a kitchen cabinet. Darker than a winter night. Harder than I ever could have imagined. Often it feels as if I, like that cabinet, am being slammed by needs over and over and over again. Sometimes I wonder if the hinges will hold me or if I, too, will break. And there are days where I find myself broken.

But I hold on. And I realize that broken can often be a passageway to better, rather than a permanent state of being in which I must reside.

I learn. I learn about limits, both my children’s and my own. I learn about grace, for what I have done and what I can’t do. And I learn about fixing, what needs to be repaired and what needs to be let go.

At the end of the day, even the worst days, comes help and hope. I lean into my need for help, whether it’s a hug or a listening ear or a hand with the kids. I hold onto the hope that tomorrow we can be a bit calmer, tomorrow will be a bit easier for all that we have learned today.

My husband came home and fixed the broken kitchen cabinet, skillfully refastening the door without question or judgement. Words weren’t necessary to know that he was there for me, believing in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. His arms embraced me in the reassurance that even on my broken days, I’m doing okay.

The Un-Gift Guide

I recently wrote about my distaste for the tradition of forced gifting for the holidays and the unnecessary stuff that comes along with it. But I know, too, that gifting brings immense joy, and a carefully curated present can be a heartfelt expression of love. I’m also aware that there are some societal pressures around gifting and, right or wrong, we will all probably still want a few things to wrap up for others. So I’d like to think outside the (Amazon) box when it comes to gifts and give some alternate ways to spread joy and cheer. Think of it less as a gift guide, and more as ideas to inspire your own unique and meaningful giving.

Ask for a wish list. Yes, you may want to show that you’re the mastermind of creativity and able to read minds to discern the perfect gift. But you’ll save a lot of hassle if you just ask someone what they want or need. If they say nothing, respect that too. Not everyone needs (or even wants) a gift.

Do a gift exchange. Rather than struggling to find a million small or meaningless gifts for everyone, see if your family or friend group would be open to an exchange. That way you can focus more effort and money towards something specific that your gift-ee might enjoy. My sister-in-law suggested a gift exchange for our family gifting this year and I could not respond “yes!” fast enough!

Give the gift of time. In today’s fast paced world, it seems like we never have enough time. Finding a way to help loved ones feel like they have a bit more time, especially in this season of busyness, can be such a blessing. Whether is offering to babysit so a couple can have a rare date, driving carpool so another momma can focus on herself or her other babies, or bringing over a meal so a neighbor doesn’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning. A few more minutes and a few less burdens are what we all need.

Share an experience. Living far from family, I can tell you there is no greater gift than time reconnecting with my favorite people. It could be sharing a cup of coffee and cozy conversation with a friend or enjoying a pedicure with your sister. Maybe it’s simply taking your grandchild to play at the park or taking your mom out to lunch and truly connecting. These are the gifts that will last. Memories made and relationships strengthened.

Give something consumable. Food is love. Coffee is life. (Or maybe it’s should be the other way around…) In any case, food, coffee, brownies, cookies, cake, etc. are perfectly acceptable and often preferred gifts in my book. If you give someone something they can enjoy in the moment, but doesn’t have to take up space in their home, it’s the best of both worlds.

Make something. Many of us have creative talents that are lying dormant just waiting for an opportunity to blossom. What better excuse than Christmas to brush off your crafting skills and make something with your whole heart. Bonus points if you can use what you already have on hand. You may feel like you don’t have time or talent, but even if you just bake a batch of store bought cookie dough, it’s something that you’ve had a hand in creating and is made with love.

Support local artisans. If getting your hands dirty for gift making doesn’t strike your fancy, it’s very likely there is someone else in your vicinity who has already done the dirty work of creating something beautiful. Maybe you have a talented friend you would love to support. Or scout out a local craft fair and connect with the person behind the wares. You’ll not only be giving your loved one a one of a kind gift, you’ll be giving hope to a budding business in your community.

Support a cause. What do you give to someone who already has everything? A gift for another who truly needs it. There are big organizations like Heifer International where you can donate an actual animal (or part of one) to help a family in need in another part of the world. Or if you prefer to keep it local, there are countless community charitable organizations that could use your aid. Our church hosts a really cool concept called Spirit Village, which allows you to stroll through a decorative Victorian marketplace, complete with caroling and live animals, and shop for unconventional gifts to support domestic and global outreach, ranging from donkeys of firewood to shoes and school uniforms for underprivileged children overseas. It’s a win-win-win in my opinion – family fun, supporting the missions of our local church, and gifting for those we love while giving to those in need.

Write a note. It can be words of encouragement, a note of thanks for being so incredible, or a love letter. As a writer I believe words are powerful and lasting and windows to our soul. So what greater gift could there be than something written from the heart?

Embrace the gift of nothing. I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating. Sometimes it’s ok to just not give a gift, regardless of what society may think. Maybe some people on our list also feel a sense of lightness and relief in not receiving a gift and feeling pressured to respond in kind. Maybe we can all agree that our love for one another does not have to be wrapped up and put under the tree. Maybe our giving and showing of love does not have to be limited to one day or season. Maybe I’ll find something I know you’ll adore next week or next month or next year and I’ll send you a happy little mid-year surprise. Or maybe not, because I’m forgetful and distracted and busy and don’t really love shopping, and I hope you know that it’s no reflection of how deeply I care.

A gift from the heart, no matter how small, bears infinitely more value than a million meaningless tokens masked in beautiful wrapping. Give with love and you will have always selected the best gift, even if it’s not something you’ll find under the tree.

What are some of your favorite alternative gifting traditions? I would love to hear more ideas and inspiration for spreading joy and cheer!