Tag Archives: joy

Happy First Birthday Sweet P!

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Oh my Sweet P, my little baby, where has this year gone?

I remember anxiously awaiting your arrival as you took your sweet time to greet us. I remember wondering how you would fit in to our family and how my heart could expand to love another child. I remember questioning my ability to be the best Momma to both you and your sister, meeting both of your constant and often conflicting needs. I still question this.

I remember how, after making us wait a whole week, you burst into our lives at lightning speed. I remember holding your tiny wet and warm body against my chest. I remember the crushing worry and loneliness when they whisked you away to the NICU to make sure you could breathe. I remember my overwhelming joy and relief when you returned to me, perfect and beautiful, taking my own breath away.

I remember bringing you home on Easter Day, our very own blessing of new life. I remember how you then became our own symbol of hope as we received difficult news. I remember how we loaded you into the car, tiny and just ten days old, and drove halfway across the country so you could meet your Yia-Yia. I remember the abundant joy you brought to the hardship, the light you brought to a dark time.

I remember how you seamlessly melded into our family and rolled along with our busy life. I remember how you went with the flow on our endless adventures, even though you hated your car seat with a fiery passion. I remember how I wore you close, feeling your breath on my chest, watching you drift off to sleep under my chin, as we went about the day together. I remember how my heart swelled beyond measure to make room for all the love I had for you.

I remember how you made your sister’s eyes light up, and how you tolerated her poking and prodding you with toddler fingers. I remember how you watched your big sister in awe as she attempted to entertain and soothe you. I remember when you found your smile, and later your laugh, you used them to delight in your sister’s wild antics. I remember watching as you girls learned to play together, trying to manage to push and pull and ultimate support of sisterhood.

I remember how you would light up a room with that gorgeous gummy grin, how you made our world sing with your lovely laughter. I remember how you paid attention to the world around you and honed your focus on what you wanted – reaching and grabbing and enjoying your own accomplishments. I remember how you took your time learning to crawl, but then became a happy and unstoppable explorer. I remember how you danced in your highchair between bites as you filled an appetite that rivaled your father’s. I remember how you found your voice and began to assert your desires with shrill screeches, much to the disappointment of my eardrums and sometimes sanity. I remember how you would use that squeal in excitement to welcome me whenever I returned home.

I remember pacing creaky floors with you in the dark of the night when you were sick or teething or merely restless and sleep just would not come. I remember how your tiny toes pushed against my soft tummy and your head wriggled in the crook of my arm until you found a comfortable place to snuggle into my body and rest. I remember the synchronized rising and falling of our chests as we slumbered together.

I remember worrying if I was overlooking you, if I was able to give you enough attention as I strived to meet all the demands of motherhood. But then I remember how you would command my attention, swatting the phone from my hands, crying out or clinging on, or simply staring at me with your dark, soulful eyes. I remember how we would remain, locked in a gaze together as you filled my soul with all your love.

There is so much I probably have and will forget about this first year with you, my second baby. Your milestones may not be as meticulously documented as your older sister’s and I may have skipped a few of your monthly photos. But these things I will not forget. I will remember, forever and always, how in just one year of life with us you have brought so much more love, laughter, and heartwarming happiness to our family than we ever could have imagined.

Happy birthday Sweet P! I hope you always remember how much your Momma adores you.

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The Delicate Dance of Joy and Sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Love Letter to My Friends

Dear Amazing Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you dear ones…

Xo,

Court

A Love Letter to my Husband

Dear Handsome Husband,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All My Love,

C

A Love Letter To Myself

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

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

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Hello Lovely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep trying, keep shining, keep showing up.

With Abundant Love,

Me

Happy Hygge-Days!

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

Yet, I still kind of love winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

First Flakes

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Over this past weekend we got to enjoy the first beautiful snowflakes of winter. I know I’m going to kick myself for saying this in a few weeks when the cold and snow become relentless, but I truly love seeing snow fall.

There is something so magical and peaceful about watching each unique flake float down onto the earth. Charting it’s own path through the sky. Living for a few moments with fierce individuality before melding with the other flakes on the ground or simply melting into the warm earth.

And who can deny the beauty of snow falling? White flakes flittering against a dark night sky. Or when a small bit of sun shines, radiating through these tiniest of prisms. Nature’s perfect decoration – snowflakes delicately adorning our hair as we stand still, looking upward in awe of this blessing from above.

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Then of course there’s the excitement and the pure joy that snowflakes bring. As I breathe in the cold air and taste the icy crystals, I’m inadvertently filled with something far greater – a swirling mix of hope and anticipation.

While leaving the grocery store this weekend, I saw a mother with a bundled up crew of small children trailing behind her. The mother trudged towards the car, but when the children saw the flakes that had begun to fall, their faces lit up, their steps slowed, and they exclaimed simply, joyfully, “snow!”

I hope I can hold onto that same childlike wonder whenever I see those miraculous little white flakes falling.

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