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My Darlings, I Delight in You

My Darlings,

I hope you know, deep in your heart, how much I delight in you. 

I hope you see it. I hope you see past my tired eyes and my distracted mind. I hope you see the love and pride and joy that resides within those weary eyes. I hope you see how they look at you with wonder and adoration. I hope you see how my gaze lingers, just for a moment, between dishes and cooking and pouring another cup of milk, simply to watch you play. I hope you see the spark you bring to my sleepy eyes, the fire you bring to my tired soul, the strength you bring to my exhausted body to carry on another day.

I hope you hear it. I hope you hear beneath the frustrated tone and harsh words and constant commands to “please stop that,” “please do this,” “please just leave your sister alone!” I hope you hear instead the steady voice of delight. I hope you can listen for the sweet song you bring to my life, and let that ring out louder than the strained words. I hope you hear how infinitely worthy and ultimately good you are, regardless of how you act or how I react. I hope you hear the swell in my voice when I talk to and about you. I hope you hear the soothing melody of love that runs through the notes of our varied emotions.

I hope you feel it. I hope you feel beyond my requests for space and pleas for a quiet moment to myself. I hope you feel in the depths of your being how much joy you bring to my world. I hope you feel that there are no other people with whom I’d rather spend my days; no one else with whom I’d rather live life. I hope you feel in my embrace the sheer luck of getting to be your Momma. 

At the end of another long day, when I lay quietly beside your silent, sleeping body, I hope you feel the soft exhale of delight on my breath. I hope you hear the quiet sigh of love. I hope beneath closed lids you dream of the joy we share. Beacause no matter how hard it’s been, I can’t wait to wake up and delight in you another day.

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Home Grown

My younger daughter’s chubby baby fingers dug in the rich, dark soil as my older daughter’s tiny toes balanced carefully on the wooden beam that extended across our small raised garden bed. I sat watching, anxiously, as they crawled and danced and wove between delicate climbing tendrils of a cucumber plant, wide, overpowering leaves of zucchini, and bushy, fragrant tomato bushes. I wasn’t anxious about the thought of my older daughter falling from the low hovering beam, nor the certainty of my younger daughter destroying our tomato crop by kindly plucking the pre-ripened fruit. I was nervous about what was or wasn’t to come. About news from halfway across the country. My phone rang; I answered immediately, with a glance at the girls enjoying this little world we’d created. “I got the job!” My husband exclaimed, his voice excited and breathless through the hundreds of miles that stretched between us on the phone.

We had moved in haste to this little house in the suburbs of Chicago just a few months before, after being booted from our previous rental, located a mere handful of miles down the road. Our landlady had decided to move back into the house we’d been renting the previous three and a half years, the house to which we brought both of our daughters home, and so in a hustle we found a gem of a rental with a cozy floor plan, freshly painted walls, a beautiful back yard, and a 5’x5’ raised garden bed that was hidden in the corner of the yard, heaped with weeds and debris.

After years of living in this area, a Midwestern locale to which neither of us particularly wanted to move nor saw ourselves staying, this quick and unexpected move felt like a renewal. I was tired of living with one foot in and one foot out, waiting for opportunities that may never come. I wanted to put down firmer roots. My husband, on the other hand, approached this latest move with a sense of resignation. After years of investing what little time and money we could spare into pursuing a new and niche career path, it was beginning to look as if none of his dreams would take flight. We had built a good life and community in this unlikely place; it was past time to dig deeper, right where we were.

So, for Mother’s Day that year, a month after making the move and before we’d fully unpacked, I asked my husband to help me plant a vegetable garden. We tirelessly disposed of the debris and pulled up the weeds, spread new, fertile soil, and sunk our hands into the musky dirt as we untangled seedling roots and planted them in the Earth that supported the home and life we were growing together.

Then I tended and I waited. I waited while I tended to the other things growing in our lives – our children, naturally, but also our community of friends that had become it’s own beautifully diverse garden. As the first baby kale leaves emerged, a friend and I pushed our babies in strollers around the lake at our local park. While tendrils of young cucumbers wound themselves around our makeshift stakes, tendrils of deep connection wound itself into my soul with a few friends with whom I could sit, drink coffee, watch our children grow and play, and be myself. When the squash and tomatoes suddenly seemed to turn our tidy garden into a wild place, we were out exploring the wild woodlands with fellow adventurers and best friends.

My abilities as a gardener seem to echo my tendencies as a friend. I grow friendships deeply, but slowly. I’m often overwhelmed by the pressing demands of life and don’t have a much time or energy left in my introverted soul to tend to the delicate intricacies of nurturing new friendship. I pull weeds about as sporadically as I return texts. I try my hardest to remember to water, to call and make plans to gather, but, to my own disappointment, I find myself forgetful and distracted, exhausted and lazy. Yet, through all my ineptitude, as a gardener and a friend, I found myself with a small but beautiful harvest of the heartiest bunch around. The plants and people who were able to understand snd forgive my tardiness to pulling weeds or play dates, who accepted that my tending and communication (or lack thereof) was not a reflection of my connection and commitment, who, through it all, felt my deep love for and heartfelt laughter with them and allowed that to become the basis upon which our friendship thrived.

My husband’s words through the phone on that muggy, late July afternoon soaked me in a sweat of disbelief and relief – for him and this long-awaited opportunity. There was excitement at the prospect of a new adventure. Still, there was the quiet whisper in my mind, as I gazed at my small but proud garden, at my children who grow relationships equally slowly and carefully, at the budding bounty that was newly emerging – but it’s harvest time.

In this northern clime, and with the delay caused by my lazy gardening, we had just begun to reap the ripeness of a few tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. Meanwhile, I had watched as my hesitant and shy older girl began frolicking with a few close friends, hands clasped together. Meanwhile, I experienced the glistening beauty of the strong bonds of friendship forged in the steel furnace of new motherhood, shining in the summer sun. Meanwhile, we tasted the sweetness and ease of our slow-grown community.

As my husband and I discussed the logistics of an expedited move, I knew that we would have to leave harvest-ready fruits behind to fester on the vine. I knew that we would have to break the subtle yet strong tendrils that children’s fingers had woven together. I knew that I would be uprooted from this diverse group of women who, each in their own way, had helped me grow in this new and unfamiliar place and space in life.

We found ourselves at the farmer’s market in our new, small town in Maryland on a balmy early-October afternoon. It was the end of the market season and the local farmers were eager to offload the last of their wares – some late-season green beans and kale and enough green peppers to last us through the winter – and I was eager to make a connection to the Earth, and community, upon which we had recently planted ourselves. The previous week we closed on our first house of our own after six weeks of separation that took the girls and I through eight states as my husband settled into his new job. 

The air was rich with the fragrant possibility of fall – sweet pine in the cool breeze, earthy pumpkin patches and tangy hay bales, musky leaves that turned from green to gold to brown as they fell away and revealed barren branches stretching across the mountains that encircled our new home. Meanwhile, we set forth on the rocky but hopeful path of building a new life. We worked. We piled all our furniture in the living room and piled all our selves into a single rotating bedroom while we slowly, in stolen hours, set about cleaning and patching and painting the vacant rooms. We explored. We meandered along mountainous trails that traversed the landscape around us; we walked along the creek-side path that paved the downtown of our new locale; we checked out festivals and events, checked off seasonal stops and activities. We put ourselves out there. I toted the kids to every library class, park play date, church mom’s group, forest school, and local event in a frenzied attempt to meet new people and make new connections. I reached deep into my pockets, gathering every last seed I could find and threw them with wild abandon into the soil of this new place. Grow, I commanded. Grow, I implored. Grow, I pleaded with exhaustion and desperation.

But the ground was fallow, the air was cold, my patience was short, and my connections felt weak. I was exhausted and discouraged, busy and lonely in equal measure. What’s wrong with my seeds, I wondered, what’s wrong with me? So focused was I on the ground in front of me, the expectations of what and when and how I believed things should bloom, that I completely overlooked the impact of an unyielding environment and the necessity of time. The seasons had shifted and I fought an uphill battle against the ebb and flow of nature.

“I haven’t seen you write much recently,” a few kind friends commented throughout the fall and winter and spring. I laughed it off, claiming I had been busy. It was true – tending to the relentless needs of young children, working through the accumulating pile of projects that comes with purchasing an as-is house, and accommodating my husband’s new schedule that took him away to conferences and necessitated some weekend work was a full time job. But in reality, it was something more: my internal life felt as devoid of creativity as my external life felt of connection.

Gardeners appreciate the delicate nature of transplant shock on plants that are designed to stay in one place, where they put down roots deep and wide, and have difficulty adjusting to growth in new environments. Farmers recognize the benefit of fallow periods in their fields for the future growth of healthier crops, re-balancing and re-establishing nutrients in the absence of yield. Anyone with a basic knowledge of biological principles understands that seeds must have certain conditions to grow, and even then, first grow hidden roots in the dark safety beneath the soil before the first delicate buds boldly, tentatively, push upward into the light of the sun. Yet, it is only in hindsight that I’m able to see, and appreciate, these obvious forces of nature at work in my own life. It is only with the passage of time and renewal of seasons that I can see the truth of these forgotten words I wrote during the difficult months following our move:

Perhaps, when it comes to connection, I’m chasing the wrong thing. Maybe I’m starting at the end rather than the beginning on my journey to get where I want to be. Instead of reaching out for a stranger and merely hoping a connection will turn them into a friend, maybe I start by reaching into myself and finding that connection of inner friendship and love. Roots must grow downward and anchor into a firm foundation before branches can grow upward and outward; showing beauty to the world. 

It was already too late in the season when I dug my shovel through the scruffy, weed-speckled grass and into the rocky soil of our still-new property. Sweat soaked through my shirt as I spent more hours than seemed worthwhile digging up a small corner of our yard. Weeds yielded to my determined strength as the tilled orange soil shone in the midday sun. My daughters sunk their fingers into the warm dirt, poking tiny holes into which we gently placed seeds – cucumber and squash, tomato and zucchini, peppers and beans. 
The hard work and delayed timeline didn’t deter me, the priority of other projects and the call of daily chores didn’t distract me. I needed to dig in, to dig deeper. I needed to feel the worth and the strength of the Earth upon which we had settled ourselves. I was ready and energized and, once again, hopeful. It was time to plant and sow.

Then I tended and waited. Meanwhile, as the seeds slowly and silently stretched their roots beneath ground, I nurtured the roots of connectedness within myself. I relaxed into yoga and hiking and meditation. I carved out small moments to breathe and read and (sporadically, privately) write. I spent idle time watching the soft movement of our river birch in the breeze and felt the mirror of thoughts and emotions moving through me. I tended to those rich relationships that our move had brought us close enough to see on a regular basis – the soul sisters an hour away who never cease to make me laugh and cry and feel truly known. And somewhere deep within the buzz of creativity was finding new life. 

Ever so slowly, and somewhat surprisingly despite the work and waiting, green sprouts began to emerge from the soil. Small, hopeful buds at first. But once emerged, once they felt the warmth of sunlight upon their willowy stems, the plants seemed to be propelled towards growth. Cucumbers climbed along the fence, beans and zucchini became bushy, and poorly placed butternut squash reached it’s vining tendrils halfway across the yard. Meanwhile, I saw the buds of connectedness showing up in our new community. I went on a camping trip with our forest school group that we’ve come to adore. I invited friends over, even though I don’t love to host, because their company is joyful and genuine and worth it. I lingered with new friends by the creek as heartfelt conversations began to flow. 

A year later and hundreds of miles from where we began, it’s harvest time again. We race to pluck the bush beans before aphids devour them. We part large leaves and find overgrown zucchini. We anxiously watch tomatoes slowly turn from green to red. We taste spicy peppers and juicy cucumber. 

Meanwhile, we sit and laugh with new friends over cold beer in the afternoon sun. Meanwhile, we go to birthday parties and watch as our children play and grow together. Meanwhile, we frolic in the sun-warmed water of our local lake with the beauty of mountains and friendship encircling us. Meanwhile, I glimpse my daughter perched on a log next to a new friend, shoulders brushing, heads tilted slightly together as they look out upon the world together.

And I see – the harvest is here. The sweet taste of companionship and true connection, grown slowly and purposefully, is worth the effort and worth the wait. New beginnings, very often, must take us back to our roots, dark and quiet and full of doubt as they may be, before we’re able to fully bloom anew.

These First Five Years

“I vow to lift you up when you are down and soar with you when you are in the clouds,” he said.

“I vow to always rise to your challenge and strive daily to better myself and our relationship,” I responded.


On this day five years ago, my husband and I threw these promises, these hopes and ambitions, into the universe when we committed to spend our lives together. We didn’t know then the peaks of joy and depths of sorrow that the universe would throw back at us. We didn’t know how life would take our words and hold them up as mirrors, reflecting the most breathtakingly beautiful and soul-crushingly difficult parts of ourselves and each other. We knew only of vague references to good times and bad, richer and poorer, sickness and health, without the foresight to see the unpredictable ways these notions would take shape into our own realities.

Five years seems so minuscule, but these handful of years have already held what feels like a lifetime of celebrations and tribulations, learning and growth, adventures of the ordinary and extraordinary. We’ve climbed ice-capped glaciers and sailed sparkling seas. We’ve flown planes over lakes and valleys, and we’ve traversed more miles in cars than we’d like to remember. We’ve moved and settled, made new friends and said goodbye to old ones, and started all over again and again. We’ve skied and swam and laughed and danced. We’ve relished in the good life and the abundant love.

We’ve also suffered together. We’ve mourned the loss of a child we would never know and the passing of a mother we could never imagine living without. We’ve seen dreams shattered and hopes let go. We’ve been forced to face demons, both individually and relationally. We’ve been pushed to give up vices and push back against our own bad habits, our own default defenses, as we’ve walked down rocky roads of our own making. We’ve mustered the strength to offer outstretched arms to one another, even when it felt like our own pain would overtake us.

And we’ve lived the redemption of life’s miracles. We’ve held the world in our hands as we’ve stared into our daughters’ eyes. We’ve watched how they change and grow and force us to do the same. We’ve been daily overcome by their needs and nightly redeemed by their pure love. We’ve given up sleep and time and money for the sake of this family we’re building. We’ve wondered at times if it’s all worth it and reassured one another during those dark nights of frustration that it absolutely is.

Still, we’ve seen how the roots of this life we’re growing together can push into the foundation of our marriage and form cracks of resentment. We’ve felt the frustration of never having enough time and always having too much work, and the alienation of miscommunication and misunderstanding. We’ve glimpsed how, left unchecked, this resentment has the power to crumble our core. And we’ve been diligent about reinforcing our souls against the false assumptions that silent fears can breed.

Through it all, we’ve persevered. We’ve experienced the ache of putting in just a little more time, just a little more effort, just a little more prayer. We’ve waited, sometimes seemingly endlessly, for the payoff. We’ve held each other through and held each other accountable as we’ve waited and worked – for a job, for a move, for a family, for a home, for a happy marriage, for a simple life. For all these things that we’ve built and are still building together daily.

We’ve held on to the roots of love that brought us here.


“But most of all I vow to love you… A love that I will actively work towards each day as we grow together, through good times and bad, allowing grace to infuse and strengthen our marriage,” I said.

“I vow to love you until that is the last emotion I can feel,” he replied.

Photos by Leah Bullard Photography

The Hard Goodbye

Since deciding to make this latest move, I’ve realized that my excitement for this next chapter has been tempered with a twinge of sadness. I noticed that I was dragging my feet on preparing, and as I packed it was with heavy hands and a heavy heart. Even though we felt this move is the best choice for our family and believed that our new location would be a good fit for our interests and lifestyle, I still wasn’t feeling 100% on board. Even though we never intended to settle in the Midwest and our current locale is a bit too congested and a smidge too flat and way too far from family, I still wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

I’ve moved many times in the past – 16 to be exact – and I know in my heart that I’m adaptable and my kids are resilient. But something about this move feels heavier, harder, despite the fact that Chicagoland isn’t where we envision our future. What is it about this move that seems all the more difficult?

I’ve slowly come to realize, it’s not the place, but the people who are so hard to leave behind. The people who welcomed us into their homes and hearts when we moved here without knowing a soul. The people who have shepherded me into this whole new world of motherhood and encouraged me every shaky step of the way. The people who have held and loved my babies, and have held and loved me through life-shifting transitions.

The people who have shown up with food and laughter and adult conversation. The people who have come over in the middle of the night to snuggle with my toddler as we welcomed a new baby. The people who take care of my children when I have an appointment and childcare falls through and I have no one else to call. The people who invite us over to eat good steak and drink great wine. The people who invite me to simply sit on their floor and sip hot coffee and talk about life. The people who spur me to leave my comfort zone and embark on a hike or a beach day or a trip to the city or a camping trip. The people who make life an adventure and add so much to the journey.

The people who have invited us to join in their family birthdays and holidays and celebrations; where we’ve looked up to discover the humble blessing of being the only ones not related. These friends who have truly become family.

It’s these sacred souls who have made this unfamiliar place a home. These faces that I can’t bear to picture in the rear-view mirror of my life. It’s the abundant love that they’ve poured into our lives and our children, how they’ve become our village, our pillars of support, as we venture through parenthood together. It’s this small but significant community of friends that make it feel impossible to say goodbye.

And so, in the midst of the overwhelm of packing and prepping and planning that has overtaken our lives, I’ve been been intentional these past couple weeks about savoring my time with these wonderful people who have embedded themselves in my heart. I’ve left boxes unpacked as I try to squeeze in just one more play date. I’ve met friends in the rain to explore the park and the zoo because the company matters more than the weather, and I don’t have a day to waste. I’ve lingered longer on picnic blankets under the shady canopy of trees as our children play chase and we leisurely talk about nothing and everything. I’ve welcomed offers of help with packing, less because I needed it and more because I just wanted to spend a little extra time with friends. I’ve watched the shadows grow long in the backyard as we invite friends to stay just a little bit longer. I’ve seen the sky slowly fade to darkness as bare feet run across grass and the kids get to stay up just a little bit later to play together. I’ve meandered slowly home from a drawn out dinner with friends, looking for any excuse to spend a few more minutes together.

There never seems to be enough time to soak it all in. I convince myself if I can see these friends just one more time before we leave, it will make the goodbye easier. Realistically, I know these people will still be here. Realistically, I know that it will probably be a very long time before we come back again. Realistically, I also know that great relationships cannot be limited by distance, though their shape may shift.

I’ll miss the time spent with these great friends in the deepest part of my heart. I’ll miss the smiles and hugs and words of encouragement. I’ll miss the ease and the comfort of our friendship and the laughter that our children share. But I am so immensely grateful to have gotten to know such incredible people. I’m eternally thankful for all they’ve brought to my life. I’m so very glad to have shared something special enough to make parting sorrowful. And I know, there are parts of these sweet souls that I will carry with me through all the adventures that lie ahead.

So thank you, dear friends, for embracing me with nothing short of love and grace. Thank you for the countless ways you have made my life and my time here infinitely better. Thank you for all that you’ve taught me and all that we’ve shared. Thank you for making this unlikely home so hard to leave.

On the Move Again

Question: What is more fun than moving twice in six months with two young kids?

Answer: Anything.

And yet, this is what our family is doing. Unpacked boxes still decorate the floor of our current house as the real decor remains un-hung. A short four months ago, we packed up our humble home and hauled our life five miles down the road. This was a seemingly simple but actually overwhelming feat. Now, with the dust of the last move still settling, we’re filling boxes once again and making moves. Except this time the distance is 670 miles rather than 5. In a somewhat unexpected, but long anticipated, turn of events we’re moving halfway across the country to Frederick, Maryland.

So why are we doing this again? Why are we going through the stress and overwhelm of packing and moving and managing the transition with kids?

Because opportunity comes knocking on its own timeline. And sometimes you have no choice but to open the door to possibility.

Because dreams need to be chased, even across hundreds of miles.

Because the mountains are calling and we must go.

Because when we found a place that felt both new and familiar, a place that our souls could settle, we decided to call it home.

Because our kids have the opportunity to run and grow and play with their cousins and we see the light that brings to their faces.

Because living closer to and leaning into the love of family can make a world of difference.

Because our adventurous spirits cannot turn down a chance at something, somewhere, that’s new and exciting and invigorating.

Because as hard as it is to say goodbye, the bonds of true friendship can span the endless miles.

Because hope so often lies hidden in the unknown.

Because we refuse to shy away from a challenge.

Because sometimes, oftentimes, the hardest choice is the best choice.

Because our children are watching and learning and this is what we want to teach them: That it is worth it to tirelessly pursue dreams at all costs. That life was meant to be an adventure, and it’s only through the hardship and struggle of change that joy can reveal itself. That resiliency and adaptability and flexibility will serve them well in so many of life’s circumstances. That, as a family, we’re all in this together, supporting each other every step of the way.

Have these weeks of preparation been tough? Yes. Will there be times when we doubt our sanity in making this all happen? Probably. But do we have faith that, looking at the big picture, this will be the best choice for our family? Absolutely.

And at the end of the day, faith is just what we need to take a leap.

In Defense of Weeds

I have a confession. I secretly love weeds. This is a statement that, as a newly minted gardener, I’ll probably be regretting in a few weeks. But for now, I welcome the wild weedy flora scattered about. Since, historically, my thumb has not proven to be green, I love the tiny buds and blooms that crop up on their own in unexpected, even unwelcome, places, providing a natural delight.

While many others spray and pluck and dig in an attempt to keep their lawn a uniform green, the specks of white clovers and yellow dandelions and and purple violets that sparkle in a sea of green are so much more beautiful, in my eyes. When my husband went to mow the grass at our new house recently, he discovered a weedy patch of daisies trying to push their way through the fresh spring soil. We couldn’t bear to mow them down, annihilating their innocent yet stubborn presence. So now they stand taller than our youngest child; an exotic island in our yard that waves like sirens in the wind, beckoning us to stop and enjoy their wild beauty.

And maybe that’s what I love most about this rogue vegetation – a weed’s stubborn resistance to adhere to the rules and regulations of where and how it should grow. Weeds grow wild and free and in defiance of all expectations, which seems shockingly similar to how my children grow. If allowed to grow naturally, resisting the urge to pluck them and prune them in an attempt at perfection, you might just get to experience the beauty blossoming within. Sometimes they’re prickly, sometimes they seem to completely overtake whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but if you take a step back there’s a simple, natural grace that emerges through their reluctance to be tamed.

So give me the daisies with their delicate breezy sway. Give me the dandelions with their irresistible downy heads and magical soaring seeds. Give me the violets with their colorful flair. Give me the honeysuckle with its sweet perfume and delicious nectar. Give me the reckless and wild weeds that add their own beauty and flavor to the garden of life.

Moving On

“It’s like we were holding onto a different phase of life,” my husband mused as he hauled yet another box of our old relics off to Goodwill.

“That’s because we were in a different phase of life when we moved into this house,” I responded wistfully.

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A few weeks ago, we found out we would have to move out of our current home. Since then, our life has been a whirlwind of decisions and house hunting and sorting through stuff, scattered with sickness and birthday parties and visitors. Its as if we’ve pressed fast forward on the already breakneck speed of our life as we attempt to prepare and pack for a move that’s less than two weeks away. So moments of reflection about where we’ve come from, where we are now, and where we’re going are limited to pockets of conversation that crop up between the daily tasks.

The thought of moving has been met with a mix of excitement and hope alongside fear and uncertainty. We are always up for an adventure, even if it is just five miles down the road. A new (to us) house is a fresh start and a blank slate, a novel place where we can dream and build memories and cultivate life together. Then there’s the fear and overwhelm of figuring out how to get everything packed and moved when our kids already seem to consume all of our time and energy. And there’s the uncertainty of whether we will like our new neighborhood as much as our current one, how everyone will adjust to things being a bit different, the small but sure step outside of our comfort zone.

Suffice to say, moving and saying goodbye to this old house is certainly bittersweet. Although we always knew our current abode was just a temporary home, and though the house is not exactly what we want, it’s still a place that has seen us through some major life transitions. We have transformed from somewhat carefree young adults to tried and true parents in our time here. We brought home a baby, and then another, and have watched them and ourselves grow and change so much in the space between. We’ve welcomed life and we’ve mourned loss within these walls. We’ve built a family, we’ve struggled with stagnation, we’ve felt beaten down by circumstances and lifted up by daily joys in this place.

We’ve witnessed exploratory crawling and first tentative steps on these floors. We’ve heard these walls echo with first laughs and first words and heartfelt conversations. We’ve filled this backyard with endless evenings of running and chasing and laughing until we collapse on the grass, watching the clouds and planes drift overhead. We’ve watched our daughters’ faces light up with the morning sun that shines through our kitchen window as they laugh and play together. We’ve wondered in awe how we’ve come this far in only a few short years of living here.

We will be moving out of this house different people than we moved in. We’ve been a bit more shaken by life, both the good and the bad parts, than when we first stepped over this threshold. We’ll carefully pack up our necessities and memories, tossing out what no longer serves us and cherishing what we have instead. And we will carry with us just a few momentos from those earlier days of our previous selves as we boldly stride into this next phase of life.

It’s time to move out and move on.

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.

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!

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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).

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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.

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

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.”