Category Archives: Be Well

Yia-Yia’s Gifts

It was a late summer day; one of those days where the heat and humidity seem to hang in the air like a heavy blanket. I’d had two small sweaty children clinging to me for hours on end and was looking forward to a refreshing break. To say the previous few months had been challenging would be an understatement. I was still adjusting to the balance of adding a second child to our family and so many days felt like simply treading in hopes that I could keep my head above water. Then, only weeks earlier, we’d lost my mother-in-law, an unprocessed grief that weighed heavily on my chest as I attempted to breathe through the daily tasks that needed to be accomplished.

This warm summer evening held the promise of a brief respite. When my husband came home from work, I planned to bike to our local park and enjoy some outdoor yoga. Leaving crying children behind with a pang of guilt I felt a soft whisper saying – you deserve this break, take it, enjoy it.

In the park, under heavy clouds that threatened to drench us, I stretched, relaxed, breathed. As the class was wrapping up and we laid facing the glorious sky above in our final resting pose, I felt a single cool raindrop splash onto my hot forehead. Then another and another. The sky opened, releasing the most beautiful delicate shower. Perfectly refreshing in that moment, bringing much needed relief and healing. A gift from the heavens.

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It was a dark night on the cusp of the seasonal transition between summer and fall. Our children were both sleeping, a miracle in itself, and my husband and I sat on the back deck enjoying the cool evening air. I’d say we gazed at the stars, but the night sky around Chicago twinkles more with light pollution and commercial air traffic than celestial bodies.

We were discussing life. More specifically, the hardships of life without my husband’s mother, our children’s grandmother, the incomparable Yia-Yia.

Just then we saw the clearest of all shooting stars race across the night sky, igniting the darkness. A signal; a gift from above.

It was a crisp fall day. The air was cold and fresh and pure. I had brought the girls out for a walk in nature, one of our favorite pastimes. A chance to collectively breathe.

The chill of the atmosphere made every sight and sound and sensation seem just a bit more poignant. It was impossible not to notice the simple joys of colorful leaves falling slowly from barren treetops and the crunch of dried leaves underfoot. A cool breeze danced across our cheeks and tickled our noses. I relished pointing out each indicator of the changing season to my older daughter, showing her, or perhaps myself, how life evolves and renews even through difficult transitions.

Just then we heard the distinctive honking of geese overhead. Looking up we saw a perfect “V” formation of geese flying. Swirling above, seemingly effortlessly. “They’re heading south for the winter,” I told my daughter who gazed at them, eyes wide with wonder. A reminder that on wings of hope, supporting one another, we can weather this difficult season together. A gift from heaven.

It was the morning of Christmas Eve, a day of excitement and expectation. After peeling ourselves out from the warm covers of our bed, we saw a beautiful sight outside the window. “Snow!” our older daughter excitedly exclaimed.

Snowflakes drifted peacefully from the sky, quickly blanketing the dull grey ground in a majestic layer of white. We were going to have a white Christmas, I realized with glee.

Though our hearts were still heavy with loss, the beautiful renewal that fresh snow brings made the celebration of Christmas seem a bit lighter, a bit more hopeful. The world was new and beautiful. As I glimpsed the delight on my daughter’s face when we ventured out to enjoy the first real snowfall of the season, catching sight of delicate flakes resting upon her dark eyelashes, I couldn’t help but look up and give thanks. Gifts falling upon us from heaven above.

This year was our first without my husband’s mother, my second mother, my children’s beloved grandmother. The hole in our hearts left by Yia-Yia is ever-present, but perhaps even more poignant around holidays, birthdays, and everyday celebrations. You see, Yia-Yia was a woman of great gifts. She enjoyed few things more, I believe, than pouring out her love onto others far and wide. Whether it was the intangible – her unconditional love and acceptance, attention, and affection; the delectable – her amazing and never to be matched cooking; or the physical – the carefully selected goods that would be just what you wanted even if you didn’t know you needed it; Yia Yia’s gifts were always filled with more thought and compassion than I could ever comprehend.

But this year there were no over-sized over-stuffed stockings for the grandkids to joyfully tear through. There were no boxes to unwrap, brimming with hand-picked items that I would never allow myself as indulgences, but Yia-Yia insisted I more than deserved. There were no happy gift cards arriving in the mailbox wrapped with the kindest words of wisdom. There were no meals filled with steak and crab cakes and salmon and more butter and love than you’d ever think could be contained in one beautiful dish. And there certainly wasn’t the same laughter and chatter and hugs.

Yet, I refuse to believe that Yia-Yia is not still with us, not still showering us in new and wonderful ways with her love and gifts. When you’ve lived such an incredible life and cultivated such an amazing soul, it’s impossible that such greatness can simply cease to exist. Maybe those we love, who no longer walk the Earth with us, are able to send us reminders that they are ok, and we will be too. Maybe God can send us gifts, hand-picked by those who know and love us from above, to show us they are still there, if only in a different form.

I’m not always a believer in signs, but over the past year, the above moments of joy and clarity that have cut through the grief and hardship have felt like more than coincidences. They felt like intentional gifts.

Among the million decisions that had to be made following my mother-in-law’s passing, my husband’s sister chose the heart-wrenchingly beautiful poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye titled “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” to be printed on prayer cards for her service. I remember reading the poem in haste at the time, thinking it was lovely. I stashed a couple of extra prayer cards away in my luggage and promptly forgot about them, until six months later when we were back visiting my sister-in-law for the holidays. When the tiny card fell out of my backpack, I stared in wonder as I read the forgotten words:

Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

It’s everyday. It’s the smiles that alight my children’s faces. It’s their deep, soulful, and infinitely beautiful eyes. It’s their dark hair blowing in the breeze and tanned skin shining in the sunlight, reminiscent of the Grecian goddess from whom they come. It’s the bodies and souls of these little girls who I would not be blessed to love were it not for Yia-Yia. These are the things that will never be forgotten. These are the things that do not die. These are Yia-Yia’s everlasting gifts. Infinite gifts from above.

Thank You.

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The Delicate Dance of Joy and Sorrow

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The dance floor is open, empty, inviting. The music swells; a beautiful uplifting crescendo that feels lighter than air. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, longingly anticipating. Suddenly, in waltzes Joy, a beauty to behold as she spins and sails around the room with elegance and grace. Joy dances into our lives in many different forms – a marriage, a new job, a miraculous cure, the birth of a baby. When she invites us to dance with her, we happily accept.

In an instant, the music turns. A heavy crashing of keys, low foreboding notes. Your heart drops as you see the pain of what’s to come. This is the moment you’ve been fearing, desperately trying to escape. You try to look away, but tearing across the floor with heavy, clumsy steps is Sorrow. His form, too, varies – an illness, divorce, layoff, or death – but his intent remains steady. He’s heading straight for you, imploring you to take his hand for this tango. You deny him. Sorrow is not who you want to dance with, not what you want to feel. Your arms urgently cling to Joy, urging her to sweep you away in her beautiful whirl. Sorrow pays you no mind as he steals Joy out from your grasp.

We all want to choose. We wish to accept only the joyful invitations to dance. We wish for our lives to be filled with happy times and our hearts to swell with beautiful moments. Even if we know Sorrow is inevitable, we keep it at an arms length. We refuse to let Sorrow seep in and ruin our precious moments; it must be kept separate, ignored. We want our moment to dance with Joy, uninterrupted. We want to embrace our new husband without acknowledging the heartbreaking miscarriage of our lost baby. We want to jubilantly celebrate the promise of new life, without accepting that a loved one’s life has come to a close. We want to feel the soft breath of our newborn baby without feeling the pain of a mother’s diagnosis, without facing the reality of death.

Unfortunately, life is not choreographed this way. The dance of life is a rich and complex tapestry, inter-woven with Joy and Sorrow and a million other intricate emotions. It’s a delicate weave. Attempting to pick out one emotion, to exclude the hard feelings, risks unraveling the whole thing. The music stops, the dancing ceases. We are left empty-handed and empty-hearted.

So we do have a choice. Not of dancing only with Joy and rejecting Sorrow, but of dancing with all our multitude of emotions or not dancing at all. When we refuse Sorrow, we can no longer fully experience Joy. We cannot turn down one emotion without simultaneously dimming all others. So we must accept the risk of getting our feet stepped on by Sorrow, alongside the delight of twirling with Joy. It may not always be a happy dance, but it will be a whole-hearted one.

You glance up again as Joy and Sorrow step and shimmy their way across the dance floor. With fascination and relief, you realize it is not the horrendous scene you expected. While the heaviness of Sorrow certainly overshadows Joy at times, you notice, too, that Joy uplifts Sorrow, making the dance more bearable, even beautiful. Though not the perfectly choreographed piece that might grace a stage, there is a delicate balance, a rawness and realness, to their march. As they make their way back around the room, inviting you to join, you stretch out two hands, grasping tightly to both Joy and Sorrow, and you dance.

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Let Them Go Outside

As modern day parents, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of it all. It’s easy to find ourselves stuck inside all day, frantically trying to check off endless tasks on our to-do list while our little ones simultaneously undo our progress. There are days I find myself quickly shuffling from one activity to the next and come to realize that the only outside time my kids have experienced is the mad dash from the car to the door.

But when I make the simple but purposeful choice to let us enjoy the outdoors, it is a literal breath of fresh air that feels both rejuvenating and revolutionary. I need it. They need it. From tiny infants to busy teenagers, the call of the wild beckons, inviting their presence and igniting their growth. We don’t need a bevy of toys cluttering our house to let our children learn and play and develop, we simply need the natural wonders that lie just beyond our doorway. So open the door, and let them go outside.

Let them lie on the ground. Let the grass be their blanket and the clouds be their entertainment.

Let them crawl with the feel of the earth supporting their small but mighty strength.

Let them toddle over uneven natural terrain.

Let them run through fields and race through forests.

Let their toes feel the tickle of grass and the squish of mud.

Let them jump off logs and jump in puddles.

Let them climb up trees and climb down creek-beds.

Let them get dirty. Let them come running back to you stained and smiling.

Let them feel the change of the weather. Let their skin tingle with the warm embrace of sunshine, the sweet kiss of a raindrop, and the thrilling chill of a thousand snowflakes.

Let them listen to the beautiful background noise of songbirds chirping, wind rustling through leaves, water trickling in the distance.

Let them find stillness and stimulation, wisdom and wonder.

Let them inhale fresh air and exhale adult expectations.

Let them know their own strength and find their own confidence. Let them dare and let them dream.

Let them discover. Let them learn. Let them explore.

Let them be free. Let them be wild. Let them be alive.

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Broken Kitchen Cabinets

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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?

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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.

Small Gratitudes

It’s the month of Thanksgiving. The time of year when we see grocery store aisles brimming with turkey and stuffing and Facebook feeds filling with daily reminders of gratitude. Many people partake in a lovely tradition where they record and post one thing they are thankful for each day during the month of November. I think this is a beautiful practice, but I’ve never been able to maintain it with any consistency. You see, I’m woefully forgetful and far too easily distracted, so I make it to about day three before my efforts begin to taper off.

Instead, I decided to practice a day of gratitude. Rather than finding 30 things I’m thankful for over the course of the month, I decided to challenge myself to find 30 things to be thankful for in a single ordinary day. The thing is, its in the ordinary, the mundane of everyday life, that we can often find the extraordinary. But we must be willing to slow down, shift our perspective, and notice.

These are just a few of the many magical moments sprinkled throughout my day that often go overlooked, but for which I am so thankful:

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1. Tiny baby fingers grasping my arm and snuggling warm in bed in the dark and cold of the early morning.

2. The magic of a toddler growing in independence. Getting out of bed and going to the bathroom by herself and amazing us with what she’s learning every day.

3. My husband going in just a little late to work so he can share breakfast with our family.

4. The all too loud sounds and overwhelming mayhem in the morning that mean our house is bursting with life.

5. A warm cup of coffee with a perfect swirl of cream and just the right amount of sweetness.

6. A baby who stops nursing just to look up at me with the most gorgeous gummy grin.

7. The music of little pots and pans clanging together in a play kitchen.

8. My daughters sitting on the kitchen floor, without caring how dirty it is, playing joyfully together.

9. The cold damp air on my cheeks as we head out for a misty morning walk.

10. Moving my body and stretching my legs as I breathe in the peace of the outdoor world.

11. The smell of fall. Not of artificial pumpkin spice, but of peaty fallen leaves and dewy grass.

12. The wonder of a child discovering an acorn or a worm on a walk in the park.

13. How excited the dog gets to see a squirrel. Tongue out, tail wagging wildly as she can barely contain her fierce energy.

14. Conversations with a neighbor. Dreaming together of exotic vacations with sunny skies and sandy beaches.

15. A friend getting my toddler a cup of water at storytime since my hands are so full and my mind is so frenzied.

16. The most caring librarians who always remember the children’s names, have the patience of saints, and engage the kids in such fun programs.

17. A kind compliment from a stranger telling me I’m handling my children so gracefully when in that moment I feel the exact opposite.

18. A hot meal out shared with my daughter, which feels like such a special indulgence, as we smile at each other across pot roast and mac & cheese.

19. The luxury of being able to buy groceries and feed my family.

20. Running through cold rain and climbing into a warm car to escape it.

21. An easy nap time. The rare and beautiful gift of my toddler drifting off to sleep without a battle.

22. The quiet and sacred breathing of both children sleeping simultaneously.

23. A meal eaten in silence and solitude. And consumed in one sitting.

24. A baby who won’t stay asleep without me nestled beside her, because it means I have no choice but to take a much needed break.

25. My daughters entertaining themselves and each other as they play so I can cook dinner in relative peace.

26. The warmth of a bear hug from my husband when he walks through the door.

27. Dancing while cleaning the kitchen as my girls stare at me with wide eyes and big smiles.

28. Little wet footprints on the floor after my daughter climbs out of the bath.

29. The sweet smell of clean babes with wet hair and snuggly pajamas.

30. The even sweeter taste of chocolate devoured after the kids are asleep.

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In the noticing of these little sparks of joy, the day actually felt so much more peaceful, happy, and slightly magical. Each challenge I met throughout the day provided an opportunity to look for the positive. The seeking was like a reset button, reminding me to step back and gain perspective.

While none of my moments were anything earth shattering or momentous, they were glimpses of the happiness that can often be overshadowed by busy schedules and grocery store meltdowns and sticky floors. They are the small wonders that lie between the mess of daily life, which at the end of the day is what its all about.

As one of my very favorite quotes by one of my very favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, reminds me:

“Maybe life doesn’t get any better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what we’re willing to find: small wonders, where they grow.”

Strengthening the Soul

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It’s that time of year again.  The time of year when we all head to the gym in an ambitious frenzy vowing to show up, build our biceps, test our endurance and reach our fitness goals. And that is so great – I’m a firm believer that health and wellness and simply getting out of your mind and moving is intricately linked to becoming your best self.

But if your goal for the new year is to become a better more whole more loving you (and who’s isn’t?) then you can’t neglect your spiritual and emotional health.  I’m no expert, but here are six elements I have found through personal experience to be essential to the betterment of my inner being.

  1. Face Facts – You know when you step on the scale and convince yourself that all of those extra pounds are merely the result of the boots and heavy sweater you’re wearing rather than the daily dozen cookies you ingested from Thanksgiving through New Years? Well looking at the state of your soul can be like that. We don’t want to see our faults, we make excuses and blame others and tell ourselves everything is fine because it’s painful to face the truth. Terribly painful. And that’s okay – because growth comes through pain. Like a field left fallow, nothing good is going to grow until that hard layer of earth is ripped open and plowed, allowing the best parts to come to the surface and sifting out the hard and fruitless pieces.  It is only through seeing our truth that we can transform.
  2. Know You Can Do It – When you take a deep look at who you are, you’re going to find so many faults with yourself. My faults could fill a list from here to the moon and back. To realize that can be completely daunting and make you question, “Can I really change all this or am I doomed to be a bad/unworthy/insecure (etc., etc.) person?”  It’s enough to make you lay down and give up. Don’t. Don’t believe the lies – live in the truth of your goodness and your unique beauty. Because the truth is you are good. You are human and you are broken and you are full of faults, but essentially you are good. If you believe you are a bad person, you will be. But if you believe you are a good person, nothing in the world can stop you from becoming your best self. No one ever succeeded in running a mile when they convinced themselves they couldn’t.
  3. Feed Your Soul – Just like eating a burger isn’t exactly going to propel you towards the gym, ingesting negativity will inhibit your spiritual strengthening. So block out the messages that make you feel empty – log off Facebook, quit complaining and comparing. It’s true what they say, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  Feed your soul with encouraging and uplifting words and images. Not sure where to start? If you’re a Christian, the Bible or a good devotional book (like Jesus Calling) are a great places. If you seek something more secular, Eckhart Tolle and Brene’ Brown are incredible teachers. There are so so many honest and encouraging and uplifting blogs out there to turn to. Some of my personal favorites are: Momastery, A Cup of Jo, The Happiness Project, Marc and Angel Hack Life, and The Happsters. Or just Google “inspiring and uplifting blogs” and you’re bound to find something great. Whatever resonates with you personally is what you need to read, and re-read, and re-read, and read one more time just for the heck of it until it sinks in and becomes a part of your being.
  4. Work Hard Every Day –  If you go to the gym once and walk on the treadmill for a half hour, that’s great, but it’s not going to make a lasting difference. You have to be willing to drag yourself up, pull your brain and heart out of the numbness of daily living and really work – read, write, meditate – whatever works for you. And don’t be mistaken – it will be hard work. Your calves may not ache and your biceps may not throb, but your heart will ache and your head will throb. But that’s okay, that’s part of the process. I’m a firm believer that all truly good things come through truly hard work. So make a commitment to put in the effort, block out time everyday and do something, anything that strengthens your soul and sense of self.
  5. Seek Out Support –  There’s a reason that programs like Weight Watchers and group fitness classes are so successful at attaining and maintaining results – they provide a support system and accountability. Though strengthening your soul may feel like such a personal and solitary journey – uncovering parts of your personality that you may feel ashamed to share with the world – it’s still so important to have support. Support of others who truly love you allows you to uncover those tough parts of yourself, while still knowing that you are loved and good at your core. Support helps you work through your fears, doubts, and weaknesses by providing a perspective outside of yourself. Support holds you accountable to making and sticking to the necessary changes in your life in order to become your best self.  Opening yourself to support allows others to believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.
  6. Stick With It –  Not seeing the results you want? Remember that life is a marathon, not a race. Even if you’ve been working out consistently for a month, it can take weeks upon weeks before you see noticeable change on the outside. But with each step you take, your insides are becoming incrementally healthier.  Again, strengthening your soul works in much the same way – transformation starts from the inside out. So though you’ll face times of frustration and setback, stick with it; then stick with it some more.

Often like an uphill climb, becoming your best self and cultivating true strength within your soul is not guaranteed to be an easy journey. But those glimpses of truth, beauty, and hope you’re sure to experience along the way make the struggle so very worth it.

Keep climbing friends – we can grow in strength in solidarity together!

Why I Write Cards

Yesterday I was at the store buying a few last minute (or overdue) birthday cards for my father-in-law, brothers-in law, and best friend when the woman behind me in the checkout line commented, “What a nice girl you are.”

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Sending hand-written cards and letters has largely become a lost art among my generation, and I am certainly no exception. Little did that kind woman in checkout know that this was probably the first batch of birthday cards I’d bought in months (ok maybe years).  But as I sat down to the seemingly tedious task of writing my own personal message in the cards, I realized that there is a great reason to write.  And, for me, that reason is really pretty selfish…

Of course the point of sending a card is to make someone else feel good on their special occasion, but I have to admit that I revel in the joy that writing cards brings me.  When I write a heartfelt card to a loved one, I’m instantly reminded of all the great qualities they possess and how lucky I am to have them in my life.  I’m reminded of the unique joy that particular person brings to the world.  As I’m trying to think of kind things to say, I’m instantly flooded with the fun, funny, sweet, and sentimental memories, big or small, of my times spent with this person. And sometimes on a lonely day, that’s just what you need.

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So feeling down or a bit lonely? Pick up a pen, put it to paper and let your loving thoughts take flight. It doesn’t matter what you write – your letter recipient will be so grateful, and I’d be willing to bet you’ll feel a whole lot better too.

ps – I know I have been out of the world of writing for far too long, but planning a wedding, honeymoon, etc. can overtake one’s life just a bit. Here’s hoping my writing days will be more frequent!