Category Archives: Home

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.

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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.”

So this is what they were talking about… (Chicago Winter Woes)

When we first decided to move to the Chicago area, in November no less, every single person we encountered would look at us incredulously and warn us about the frigid cold winters. Even when we were in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the winter temperatures regularly hover below zero, residents pitied the frosty plight that we were to face in the midwest.

So we were prepared. When the first cold front came through shortly after we moved here and temperatures hardly rose above 20 degrees for a week, I bundled up and went about my business feeling proud of my ability to tough it out and power through. But that was nothing…

This week, as a massive cold front swept most of the nation, we got a taste of our first real winter weather, where temperatures have plummeted to zero and wind-chills have gotten down to 35 degrees below zero. This is a cold like I have never known.

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When it started on Sunday, we were still in good spirits. The freezing temperatures blew in accompanied by beautiful snow. We enjoyed the day of rest while we watched the flakes fall, sun shining through, and cozied up drinking endless cups of cocoa. Eventually we got out to shovel the snow from our drive, treating it as a fun new adventure – my first time shoveling snow, how thrilling! 

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Monday was a sunny snow day filled with fun and frolicking. Though the temperatures stayed in the single digits, we alternated playing in the snow and getting out and about with bustling around the house cooking and cleaning and keeping warm. And at the end of the day, we enjoyed the vibrant colors of the sunset contrasting the stark white of the snow.

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Tuesday brought more snow. And more shoveling. Which by this point was starting to get old. But hey, the sun was still shining and this winter weather wasn’t going to get me down. So I put on a pot of soup, simmering with a mix of hearty flavors and a dash of hope for a bit of warmth. I layered on wool socks and knit hats and cozy scarves – just to stay inside.

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On Wednesday I pulled out all the stops to combat the cold. I packed on the layers and devoured the soup and drank the tea. I hovered by our space heater and broke out our new humidifier. I dashed out to the gym to warm up my body. And when all else failed I just crawled into bed early, cranked up the electric blanket, and tried to ignore the wind howling outside of our windows.

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But then came Thursday, and really I’d had enough. It was so cold, and so grey, and so cold, and so windy, and so cold. When I finally pulled myself out of bed, I discovered that there was ice lining the windows. Let me re-phrase that, there was ice lining the inside of the windows.

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Sometime around mid-morning even more snow started. The wind whipped around so wildly that it was impossible to tell whether the icy flakes were coming from the sky above or the already snow-covered ground below.

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By now my coping strategy had degraded to climbing under a pile of blankets, kept company by a marathon of House Hunters International. It was apparent that no amount of soup or tea could drown out the fact that were were living in the world of Frozen. And not in the happy Disney way, but in way that looks much more like this:

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Because we are all just so cold. All the time.

Then, out of the blue yesterday, a dear friend called me. While she lives in (relatively) warmer Tennessee now, she used to live in Chicago and consoled me with the story of her first Chicago winter meltdown (the only kind of melting we’ll be seeing around here anytime soon). She told me about a frigid day when she was walking to the train and she was so cold that she just started crying. Before a warm tear of relief even had the chance to slide down her face, she said, she realized her tear had frozen to her cheek.

Equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, that story was just what I needed to hear to encourage me to keep going. Because, unfortunately, Chicago winter weather doesn’t care about our feelings. So we just have to find a way to (snow) plow forward, making the most of it, and looking towards the warmer days ahead. (Forecast is calling for double digit temps next week – hooray!)

And when all else fails, remember it could always be worse… (I’m looking at you Fairbanks!)

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Merry Christmas from the Moores!

I love Christmas cards. I love opening my mailbox and receiving the beautiful images of loved ones. I love sending them out and letting friends and family know we care.

So on December 5th, I decided it was time to order our Christmas cards and I would effortlessly address them and get postage and mail them within a week. But then my kind husband gave me a reality check which is that I have been more than a little overwhelmed with getting settled from the move, more than a lot tired from growing this baby, and had a long list of pre-Christmas to-dos (none of which had been started of course despite my insistence that this year I will finally have all Christmas gifts done at the beginning of December!). Oh, and I may have a slight issue with time estimation and imagining that it would only take me an hour to address and send all of the cards…

As I was about to hit that order button, we decided that in the interest of saving money, streamlining holiday stresses, and overall simplifying and embracing the imperfection this year, we would forgo the paper cards. Yes, it breaks my heart a little. But at the same time it relaxes my heart and mind knowing there is not yet another task that has to be checked off the list. Instead I can focus on what matters – enjoying time with family, relaxing and taking it all in as the last Christmas season just the two of us, and filling up with that joyful love and happiness of the holidays in order to share it with others.

Lovely family and friends, we hope you still enjoy our electronic Christmas card, with a few snapshots and words from this extra exciting year. Wishing you all things peaceful and wonderful this holiday season and beyond!

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Weekend Wandering: The Perfectly Imperfect Christmas Tree

Though I’ve been in the Christmas spirit for a while, we still stuck with tradition and waited until after the joy and mayhem of Thanksgiving to start the Christmas decorating. But this weekend it was time, so we set off to find our shining beauty – the Christmas Tree.

To save time and money, we planned to go the easy route this year and pick from the pre-sorted, pre-cut selection of firs at a local lot. But when we pulled up and learned that even the puniest of trees on the lot were going to run us a whopping $80, that wasn’t going to happen… So we made a last ditch decision to continue our tradition from last year and headed out to pick and cut our own tree at Larson’s Family Farm.

We drove an hour west, leaving the suburban sprawl behind and winding through midwestern farms and cornfields. When we finally arrived, we has less than an hour of sunlight left with which to pick our perfect tree. Though the sunset made for a beautiful setting, it also served as a stressfully ticking clock on my indecisiveness.

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I darted frantically from the firs to the pines to the spruces and back again searching for what would be the perfect symbol of our holiday cheer. While Larson’s had a vast selection and beautiful variety, every tree I came across seemed too short or too sparse or too crooked. In my eyes, one tree was not full enough while another was not green enough. As darkness began to descend, I fretted that we had driven all this way and I would still not find “The One.”

Then my husband, in his simple but infinite wisdom said, “They’re trees. They’re real and living, so they’re not going to be perfect.”

Ah yes, how I so easily forget that to be real and living means by default to be imperfect. And that’s not only okay, but wonderful. Because isn’t it far better to have the type of beauty and essence that is real and living than to strive for some artificial idea of perfection?

This season more than any other, I think it’s easy to forget the beautiful reality of life in our quest for perfecting the holidays. We strive for the perfect tree and the perfect gifts, for the perfect house for hosting parties and the perfect treats to share with friends, for the perfect Christmas card picture and the perfect gift wrapping. We can become so blinded by the sparkling lights that we forget what this season is truly about – the birth of a grace and love that allows us to be perfectly imperfect as real and living humans.

So with the sun descending below the stalks of corn, I finally decided to forget perfection and pick a tree that had a beauty and charm that we loved. We went with a pine, mostly because I loved how Andrew called them the “furry trees.”

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It’s shaggy and sparse in areas and a bit wonky at the top, but in our eyes, it’s taken on it’s own kind of real, imperfect perfection.

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Tips for a Joyful Move

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Over the past few years, I have moved more times than I care to remember. From hopping around college housing (including a stint overseas) to apartments in the Washington, DC area, a travel trailer that took us to Florida and back to Tennessee, a few houses there and now up to Illinois. By now you would think I’d be an expert, addicted to the art of packing and unpacking and creating new abodes. In honesty though, while I love new experiences and places, I really hate the process of moving.

I’ve finally found that there are a few things that help me keep my sanity, and keep tears to a minimum, when drowning in bubble wrap and boxes.

  1. Purge Everything – Before you start packing, take a day and go through all of your stuff and get rid of anything you don’t absolutely need or love. Then do it again the next day. With a fresh eye, day by day go through your things until you’ve narrowed it down to manageability. I have to admit, this process is really hard for me. While I’d like to be a minimalist, I tend to err on the side of hoarder – finding it hard to part with that sweet birthday card or that shirt that I might decide to wear in a year. But it’s so refreshing… and you don’t miss the stuff nearly as much as you would think.
  2. Take the Time to Properly Pack  – In my younger years packing and procrastination went hand in hand, meaning that at the last minute I would just throw everything in non-sensical order into boxes. This caused a lot of heartache and shattered glass as things ended up, unsurprisingly, broken. Since we are now apparently adults and have acquired nice stuff and beautiful wedding gifts, with this move I took the time (and recruited my wonderful momma) to wrap and strategically pack breakables. Bubble wrap is your friend. Packing paper (more than you think you could possibly need) is your friend. And a mom who is much more knowledgeable in this field is most definitely your friend.
  3. Label, Label, Label – Again, throwing everything into unmarked boxes is not the most efficient or effective strategy (unfortunately it took me many moves to learn this). You will save yourself a lot of time and headaches on the other end (unpacking) if you take that little bit of extra effort to properly label. I prefer labeling specifics of a box, rather than simply “kitchen” or “living room,” so that I know where to find exactly what I’m looking for. This method helps to decifer which boxes actually need to be unpacked immediately in order for to cook pasta or sleep on clean sheets and which ones can wait patiently in a corner. Thus saving you from living in an endless sea of half-unpacked boxes.
  4. Unpack Everything – Unpacking is the more fun, but no less daunting, part of moving. This is where you get to organize and decorate and make your new house (or apartment or trailer) a home. I prefer to do this slowly, taking time to figure out where I want each piece. However slowly you do it though, it’s important to sort through each box. Confession: I failed to do this on our last move and we ended up with what we not-so-affectionately referred to as our “Room of Shame” – an unused bedroom that remained filled with unpacked boxes for the duration of our time living there. If there are boxes with momentos or seasonal items that you’re not using in the near future, fine, throw them in the basement or back of a closet. Otherwise, unpack those boxes baby! Anything you find you don’t need or have a place for, revert to #1 (toss it). Remember, just because you moved it hundreds of miles doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it now.
  5. Be Really Really Gracious to Your Husband and Father (or whoever helps you move) – This point is especially important if you’re pregnant and can’t actually move much and your role consists mostly of watching them do the (literal) heavy lifting. Both Andrew and my dad were a Godsend. They quickly and without complaint managed to Tetris all of our stuff into a couple trailers, then drove hours (through snow) and unpacked everything on the other end. So yes, I am endlessly grateful for the help of these two great men! All that to say, when people offer to help you, accept their assistance with gratitude (a few beers will usually do the trick) and no matter how haphazard the packing job may look (see image above), trust their superior skills.

Though we hope to be here a little while, this will surely not to be our last moving adventure. With each move we learn a little more and it becomes slightly less painful. Teamwork is everything. If moving with a partner or family – work together, be patient with one another, and chip away at it bit by bit. You’ll get to that happy home dear friend!

Settling In

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After a long couple weeks of packing and a crazy couple days of loading and moving, we’ve finally arrived at our new home outside of Chicago! Though we still face the arduous task of unpacking and making changes and improvements to make the house feel like home, we’re really loving this place already.

When we came to house-hunt, we spent a whirlwind couple of days seeing what seemed like every rental property within a 30 mile radius of the city. Though we know living in downtown Chicago would be an incredible experience, and I especially love the culture of city living, we decided that where we are right now in our lives (growing family, big dog who loves to run, desire for space, ease of parking and driving in the chilly winters, etc.) called for a more suburban locale. In the end, we decided on a little old house in Darien, Illinois, about 20 miles southwest of the city. (Fun coincidence: our landlord’s father built the house when he moved from Tennessee to Illinois).

We’re oh-so-happy with the location so far. At the end of our street is a lovely park with a walking path, sports fields, and playground – perfect for strolls with Bella or taking our little one to play. Just across from the park is a beautiful enormous library that just beckons me to come explore as the days grow colder. Within a few miles of us we have any convenience we could need – grocery store, Target, restaurants, shopping, train to the city – but our street is still quiet and feels tucked back from the hustle and bustle of it all.

And the neighbors – the wonderful neighbors could not be any nicer. Our first day moving, they came out and welcomed us with kind open arms and midwestern charm. They offered tips and recommendations on things to do and places to eat, and an endless supply of information on the area. Within 20 minutes I had been kindly provided with a guest pass to a local gym, offered a job, and met a potential future babysitter. Yes, I think we can be great friends. Moving to a new place and being immediately surrounded by a sense of community fills me with relief and hope and excitement for the future.

That’s what gets me through each box I slowly and carefully unpack – the excitement of making this unfamiliar place home. I can’t wait to share more about our adventures – past, present, and future. I have big hopeful plans!