Tag Archives: Christmas

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!

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The Un-Gift Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough with the Stuff

The holiday season is officially upon us and though the Thanksgiving turkey has yet to be cooked, everyone is in a frenzy to start checking gifts off Christmas lists. Black Friday is in t-minus 7 days, which means we have less than a week to figure out how to get the most for the cheapest. And if we can only just find the perfect gifts for everyone, then all will be well and our holiday season will be perfect too.

I say enough. Enough with the stuff. I, for one, have had enough of the notion of forced or arbitrary gifting for a holiday.

I’ve had enough of the stress, both emotional and financial, of having to show someone you care by getting them physical possessions. Some people are masters of finding the perfect gifts for others. Some people actually even enjoy the process – the hunt for something a loved one will adore. Gifting is their love language. But I am not this person. I am the person who overthinks what I should get someone for weeks, wait until the last minute when I still have no ideas or time, and buy something random that I know the person might not actually enjoy. Yet I feel like I need to get them something. So the dollars fly out of my wallet, and along with them my dreams of owning a house or enjoying a vacation. Because, let’s be honest, gifting is expensive. Even if you plan to keep it small or set budgets, when you multiply the small gifts by all the family, friends, neighbors, teachers, whomever that you need to buy for, it can quickly add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. Of small stuff. Which brings me to my next point…

I’ve had enough of being on the receiving end of gifts that I don’t actually want or need, and that just take up space in my home and life. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I don’t really need another mug / scarf / decorative candle holder. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them, I am blessed with many loved ones who have impeccable taste and give me lovely gifts. But the problem is me. I am woefully disorganized and a trail of clutter seems to follow my every move. This problem is increased exponentially with young children and all the stuff that’s required to keep them fed, clothed and entertained on a daily basis. I wish I was better at keeping things stowed away in their rightful place, but I’m not. So when gifts we may not need come into our house, one of two things usually happens: 1. They get thrown into our office and forgotten because I can’t deal with the task of finding a place for them or, 2. They create more clutter on our floor / counter / life that simply stresses me out. I’m realizing more and more that stuff, and the effort it takes to maintain and put away said stuff, is a huge drain on my energy and joy. Isn’t spreading joy what we’re all striving for, especially this time of year?

I’ve had enough of how consumerism steals the joy and overshadows the meaning of Christmas. Did you know that Christmas isn’t actually about physical presents? Are you aware that Santa and stocking stuffers are not really requirements of a happy holiday? If you come from a Christian tradition, as I do, it might be worthwhile to focus on the greatest gifts of Christmas – the gift of God with us, the gift of grace. Regardless of your belief system, though, it’s so much more meaningful to spend time with the people you love rather than stressing about shopping for them. It’s easy to forget in the fanfare of the holidays what this season is all about. So I’d personally like to quiet some of the noise and the demands to create space and time to focus on family and faith. Maybe it’s necessary to clear away the unnecessary in order to see what’s most important; what we already possess. Unlike Christmas clutter, these are the gifts that last.

I’ve had enough of the wastefulness of buying something for one day that will have an impact on our planet for years to come. This may be the biggest issue that is often overlooked when it comes to unnecessary gifting. The non-renewable resources that go into producing the kitsch items we often give as gifts deplete our land and pollute our environment. An abysmally large proportion of gifts are discarded within six months because they have broken, become obsolete, or were never needed / wanted in the first place. For a fleeting moment of joy, we are filling our landfills for the foreseeable future. I think the most awakening summation of this issue I’ve read comes from this article, which gives the touching advice: “Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for God’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.” Our children don’t need another toy from Santa to know that we care, they need a future where they can continue to enjoy the beauty of the Earth we walk upon.

So maybe this year, instead of rushing off to stores before Thanksgiving leftovers have even be put away, we sit with those we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by just a bit longer. Maybe instead of running all over town, filling our heads with stress, we appreciate where we are and fill our hearts with memories. Maybe instead of adding more clutter this Christmas, we leave space for what matters most. Maybe we can all agree that we already have enough without the extra stuff.

At the risk of sounding like a complete Grinch, I feel compelled to offer some Christmas hope. Here’s the truth, as much as I don’t want to give or receive unnecessary stuff, I’ll still give some gifts, and so will you I’d guess, which is wonderful if done with mindfulness and love. So I’ll be following up with a list of ideas to make your gifting more impactful for those you love and less impactful on your level of stress, finances, and our Earth.

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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Weekend Wandering: ‘Tis the Season

Generally I am a strict holiday purist, preferring to keep my holidays completely separate. I can’t stand when I walk into a store in July and holiday goods are already decking the halls (I mean aisles). To me, the Christmas season has always begun the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas music, decorations, and shopping are held off until we can celebrate Turkey Day in all it’s gobbling glory.

But then I moved to a place where by mid-November I’ve seen snow falling more days than not, the temperature has scarcely risen over freezing, and one of the few radio stations I’ve found has already started playing Christmas music 24/7. So yes, it already kind of feels like the North Pole up here.

Still, I think I could have remained strong had it not been for this one magical Chicago Christmas tradition. A place that combines three of my favorite things: craft vendors from around the world, German food and drink and atmosphere, and Christmas (of course). Christkindlmarket. A mecca of all things cozy and Christmas-y and wonderful!

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The traditional German-American holiday market kicked off this past weekend in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, so of course I had to drag Andrew into the city to experience the joys of the holiday season, European style. Though the market was admittedly crowded – it’s a pretty small space, taking up just one square block – who cares when you’re filled with good cheer and Glühwein (alkoholfrei for me).

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We browsed the vendors, taking in the delicately crafted glass and wooden ornaments, handmade cuckoo clocks, and traditional German pyramids and nutcrackers. And of course we had to sample all of the delicious food offerings – from bratwurst and sauerkraut to potato pancakes and pretzels, and anything you could imagine dipped in chocolate – the options were endless.

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Once we left the Christkindlmarket, we continued in the Christmas spirit by heading to the Magnificent Mile Light’s Festival to enjoy their Christmas parade. The weather had warmed up a bit from the frigid temperatures of the proceeding week, making parade watching more bearable. We enjoyed seeing the fun floats, giant balloons, and talented performers.

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However, being at a big parade in person is a different experience than watching it on television; involving annoying street closures, lots of standing around, being packed into crowds, craning to see over others, and waiting a while between floats. So it was a fun experience, especially since we’re new to the city, but let’s just say next year (to avoid becoming Scrooges) we’ll stick with the Christmas Market and skip the crowds.

Though this week is still all about Thanksgiving, I have to say I enjoyed getting a little head start on the Christmas season. There’s no reason these two holiday siblings can’t share the love, right?

Happy (early) Holidays to you, friends!

Weekend Wandering: The Hunt for the Perfect Christmas Tree

What are you up to this weekend? We’ve got holiday parties, gift making, and card sending to look forward to. Last weekend, to get into the Christmas spirit, we went on a little adventure to find our first married Christmas tree!

Since it’s our first Christmas as Mr. and Mrs., we decided to do something a little more special than pick a tree from the Kroger parking lot.  So we headed out in the country to Bluebird Christmas Tree Farm in Heiskell, Tennessee to chose and cut our own tree.

IMG_4041Though it was a cold and overcast day, it was so much fun to get to wander around and see all the beautiful trees.   IMG_4034It brought back such joyful memories of childhood when my family used to visit local farms to pick a tree.

IMG_4055Everyone in the family seemed to enjoy it, so here’s hoping this is a Christmas tradition we can keep!

Another wonderful thing about visiting a Christmas tree farm are the choices! Who knew there were so many beautiful varieties of trees to choose from?

Of course there is the traditional Frasier Fir, also known as the “Cadillac of Christmas Trees.”

IMG_4046My team was not so impressed by the Caddies. Beautiful, but we wanted something a little different from the norm. (sidenote: Frasier Firs grow best in higher altitudes, so Bluebird Farm brings them in fresh daily from a friendly farm in North Carolina).

Next we had lovely Leyland Cypress.

IMG_4035Which was a top contender and obviously Bella’s favorite…

IMG_4040Then there’s the diminutive Norway Spruce.

IMG_4043As with most things we do, we were a little late in the game to getting our tree, so all the taller spruces had been picked over.

Finally, our favorite was the unique yet beautiful Arizona Cypress.

IMG_4052With it’s perfect shape, spindly branches, and silver-green color, we found it to be stunning.

IMG_4048 Though it’s not everyone’s style, for us the Arizona Cypress was the perfect balance of traditional style, with a twist of something just a bit different thrown in for good measure.

IMG_4049Besides, our first Christmas as husband and wife calls for something unique and special right?

The handsome husband set to the tough task of sawing down the tree.

IMG_4053IMG_4057While Bella and I helped of course…

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IMG_4054And… Success!

IMG_4060We left the heavy lifting to the man of the house.

IMG_4062Once home, we got her all lit up and, I know I’m a bit biased here, but I think she looks pretty fantastic.

IMG_4074Though someone’s not so happy about having to compete for attention…

IMG_4077All in all, our first annual Moore Family Hunt for the Perfect Christmas Tree was an overwhelming success! Looking forward to many many more.