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Monday, February 8, 2016

All You Need is Love

Valentine's Day has long been a favorite holiday of mine.  My birthday coincides with the holiday and it has always been one that was full of feminine fun, hopeful thoughts, even romance.  Some friends hate the holiday and I've heard it talked about with disappointment by too many.  That's sad to me.  It has always represented love: of family, of friends, and of self!  

I hope you will take a moment this Valentine's Day to celebrate the love in your life.  I think the idea of "Galentines Day" sounds so fun!  Get together with some girlfriends and enjoy togetherness.  If you have children, make the day special for them.  Mine have long loved our heart-shaped pizza tradition.  

Of course, there have been years that felt more challenging that others to celebrate the love.  It is those years when the unexpected gift of flowers from my parents meant the most.  It is when I was able to hear and receive the sweet and simple love expressed from my then-toddlers.  This is when I feast on the truth found in the sweetest love letter, the Bible.  I am reminded of the great love of God toward mankind and my heart is drawn to respond. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Blizzard That Fizzled

I'm grateful for weekends to regroup, because our weeks just seem to blur all together.  But this was an extra-long weekend, thanks to the blizzard that never was.  We had THREE days of cancelled school.  I had prepared plenty of groceries and stocked up on treats.  There was a never-ending hot cocoa bar set up on our kitchen counter.  We were all home together and relaxed - it was nice, but quite anti-climatic after the build up.  Still, it beats the ice disasters we had last year and I couldn't help but be so grateful that all our needs were filled with a warm home, plenty of food and togetherness we didn't expect.  How did you spend your snowpocalipse?

My daughter turned TEN!  We had to postpone her ice skating party (although, kudos to us for choosing the right theme!) because that was the time there was real, actual precipitation.  But, we invited a few friends for an impromptu sleepover complete with make-your-own waffles and had fun anyway.

I spent lots of time snuggling puppies and the kiddos had homework which still needed to be done.  I enjoyed hanging with my teenaged step daughter and having unstructured time to enjoy coffee/cocoa with her.  Mr. Wonderful was wonderful the whole time!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Winter for Wimps Like Me!

The cold has descended upon us and I'm not fond of it's wintry ways.  When the sun hides for several days, I notice a physical tensing of my neck and shoulder muscles.  When actual precipitation is coming down, I want to hide inside...too often inside my kitchen where I snack on sweet in a futile attempt at feeling better.  Through the years, I've learned to behave better.

This year, I'm allowing myself to embrace the natural ebb and flow in the pace of life.  While early January is often marked by re-entry into schedules and activities, I'm allowing an intentional slow down, as opposed the forced slow downs of accident or illness.  Here is my personal Winter for Wimps Survival Guide:

1) Move Gently - I still struggle to say that I am a runner, but I've been running now for more than six years.  I run more than one thousand miles each year, so even though I'm not super-fast, I'm legit!  But instead of pushing myself hard during this season of resolutions, I'm allowing myself to slow down and power-walk through the bitter cold.  In 2014 I had a major ankle injury and painful plantar fasciitis, but I ran almost 1200 miles.  In 2015 I was much better and continued healing by making adjustments to protect my knees.  I love being without the pain!  So when it just feels too brutal and jarring to run outdoors, I will head out for a power walk.

2) Halt the Influx - I am floored at all the *things* that enter my home!  From overstuffed inboxes to spilling-out closets and cabinets too cluttered to close, I just can't eliminate enough junk to be satisfied.  I'm going to embark on several purges this year but I'm also guarding the gates.  I'm will think long and hard before bringing anything into our home, before signing up for a spam list or text blast.  I want strong boundaries around my personal space mentally and physically.  Cluttered spaces and a cluttered mind drain me of energy.

3) Embrace the Light - Already I feel the slow edging towards a later sunset and it gets me giddy.  Even so, it is usually dark when I step outside each morning and dark before I begin dinner.  Dark, cloudy winter days aren't cozy to me, they are depressing.  So during the brief moments that I can get outside, I will do it whether I have to bundle up or not.  As long as there is no precipitation coming down, I will get outdoors.  While inside, I'm turning on the overhead lights, burning the fireplace and lighting a candle whenever I can.

4) Nourish with Intention - Yes, food does factor into my mood.  I hate to admit that when I'm indoors more during the cold months, I tend to snack more readily.  I won't completely abandon this tendency, so I'm striving to make better choices and stock the kitchen with truly nourishing things.  I've long been a fan of meal planning, because it makes my life so much easier!  But I rarely plan to snack, and it always leaves me reaching for whatever is convenient.  Not now - I have fruit, cheese, dark chocolate nuts and a few other easy to grab snacks ready.  I'm sure I won't always make wise choices, but it's an area where I'm striving to do better.

5) Invest in Relationships - When I take stock of my days, it is the people that I care about who matter most.  The number on my jeans, the style of my home, the amount in my bank all take a back seat to the hearts of those I love.  I can see that sometimes I put my projects and performance over my people and I desire to reverse this drift.  I will choose to let the togetherness that winter provides to draw my children closer.  We are reading together, crafting together, playing together and dreaming together.  I will be generous to my husband with my affection and words.  I won't run from the stillness, I'll make it work for me.  I'm investing the the attachment bonds with those who benefit most.  I'm reinforcing our little touches of connection: Sunday morning coffee, Thursday after school Sonic treats, family meals, Saturday lunch dates, back rubs and heart talks.  These are investments that matter.

Winter is my least favorite season, although I do recognize some beauty and benefits.  I acknowledge that I'm sometimes paralyzed by the cold and darkness, so I look for bright spots in the season.  There is always something for which to be grateful  and peace is more noticeable this time of year. Plus, I especially appreciate those sunny days!

Can you adopt any bright spots for gray days?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Yearly Thoughts

I still have a paper calendar and
I'm looking over the goals I set for last year.
Happy New Year!  Mr. Wonderful and I were comparing some of the differences between 2015 and 2016 this morning: No soccer coaching this season is a big change!

It's natural at this moment of calendar change to note what else has changed in life.  I savor the review of the past year and note some things that are working well and some that are not.  Budgets, exercise, schedules and more need to be tweaked. I strive for little changes that may add up to big results because it just feels less daunting for me.  Often, I use the first six week of any year to really assess my goals and shift the trajectory so that by my birthday in February, I'm on track for success (and sometimes even have a head start!).

Mr. Wonderful feels like 2016 will be a year of change, but I'm not so convinced.  Often, I don't have much of a pause during the "in between week," but this year it has been calm and quiet with time for yearly thoughts.  My thoughts about the coming year proved very accurate one year ago.  I'm less certain about what to expect in the next twelve months.

My quick superlative thoughts? (I'm not thinking too hard, just throwing out what comes to mind)

  • Best Memory: When my son was baptized and seeing his faith grow
  • Worst Event: Two car crashes in three days
  • Hardest Challenge: Navigating middle school with my son
  • Greatest Tip: Remember the dogs are just dogs and not stress so much
  • Deepest Disappointment: Missing my children's first visit at Disney
  • Unexpected Surprise: Visit from former sister in law
  • Best Decision: To love Mr. Wonderful everyday
  • Must Keep Doing: Meal Planning
  • Must Stop Doing: Browsing online shops (sales are too tempting)
  • Can't Wait to Start: Grilling Out!
  • Don't Want to, But Doing it Anyway: Visiting Allergist
  • Do More: Hiking with Husband
  • Do Less: Criticizing (even internally)
May you be blessed and joyful in 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Turning the Pages

The time between Christmas and New Year's is most often filled with travel and activities with my children.  This year my travels are done, my children are vacationing with their dad and it is just Mr. Wonderful and I home alone.

Last week I made my way with three children (who were hyped up on Christmas Crazy, out-of-school-Psychosis and sugar madness) to the Midwest to spend time with my family.  We were all able to worship together which was a rare treat.  The children were thrilled to continue Christmas traditions of sugar cookies, gingerbread men, stories and Christmas bingo.  They had a blast with their cousins.  My sister and I took another day trip to visit our grandparents, which was extra special.  We are rich in family heritage and tradition and it did my heart well to be with my people.  

We arrive back in Tennessee on Christmas Eve, Eve and the excitement continued to build.  After a quick trip to the grocery store, we settled in for the holiday routine: Stockings hung, cookies for Santa, Candlelight Christmas service, Christmas Eve feasting, stories in bed, up early for stocking surprises, opening gifts, brunch, lots of playtime and laughter, full bellies and napping.  Then, everything went instantly quiet as our children dispersed with their other parents to continue celebrating.  It's always so hard.

Mr. Wonderful and I give each other space to process the recurring loss, and then use the time to reconnect.  It's always bittersweet, but I'm so thankful that we find the sweetness, even in the bitter moments.  We have spent time cleaning up the remains of a joyful holiday and began un-decorating our home.  We are talking about things 2016 may hold for our family and remembering the highlights of 2015.  I'm journaling, planning and reading and savoring time to do so without interruption.  

My usual post-Christmas frenzy is so much more relaxed, and it feels right and intentional to be thoughtful.  What are your thoughts during this in-between?  Do you make New Year's resolutions, goals or plans?

The children will all be back in the house on New Year's Eve, so we're sliding toward the end of our quiet season.  Happy New Year!  

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Dark Days of December

Not every memory of December is a joyful treasure.

I'm learning to hold the darkness as a pointer toward the light.  The actual physical darkness is a challenge that I can overcome with adequate time in the sunshine, but the soul darkness often creeps in when I least expect it.  Illness. Separation from family.  Disappointment in relationships.  Lack of money for gifts, lack of finances for necessities. Pain of a child.  Unsolved problems.  Unfulfilled dreams.  Unresolved conflict.  Fear, stress, sadness.  These tug our hearts into un-merry territory.

I have enjoyed a season where I was able to let go of my holiday-expectations, and it was truly peaceful and joyful, even amidst the difficult and sad.  I've learned to allow my grief and discomfort to live alongside my joy.  For so long I believed that joy was only possible in the absence of all fear, sadness, disappointing.  What an awakening it has been to allow full expression of the melancholy to live alongside the merry.  Acknowledging one doesn't discount the other, as this article to skillfully describes.

If you find yourself edging a bit toward the melancholy or struggling to find sense of our abundance while others lack so much, accept the full weight of your thoughts and feelings.  It's a challenge for me to reconcile the greater world's view of Christmas next to the American commercialized version (wonderfully described here: O Holy Night).

But I will take my daughter to Christmas Tea and my son ice skating downtown.  We will enjoy an amazing Christmas concert and silly holiday movies.  We will decorate our home and wrap gifts, though fewer this year than in years past.  Along with this, we will hand out "Helping Bags" to the homeless people who we pass on our way to church, and take the time to invite them to come along with us (no one has accepted that offer, yet).  I have been more intentional to shop in ways that may contribute to welfare of those seeking to improve their lives: Mercy House, Ethical Chocolate, Scarves.  I sent something special to a single mom who may not have others that think to purchase for her.  We acknowledged our often-overlooked traffic officer at school and tried to overtip a waitress.  We don't get it all right, but we are trying to notice those who may be overlooked this season.


By the end of the month, I will have attended concerts and funerals, traveled through seven states by car, visited with family and missed others.  We will open gifts and we will pray for those without.  It's a lot of highs and lows all jumbled together.  No wonder December often leaves me overwhelmed and a bit undone!  Yet daily, I find peace within through remembering the promise -

Free vintage postcard images:
I hope your December brings much joy, deep peace and hope fulfilled that you may have never expected.  If you find yourself dealing with darkness when you expected only light, don't be afraid to allow that full expression.  Merry Christmas, and much joy to you and yours!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Modern Family Holiday Helps

From dealing with your ex to embracing new traditions, Christmas time brings out the wonderful and the woeful.  I hope that you find a way to cast your gaze on the goodness that abounds in this season and let go of the frustrations that drag you down.  The calendar can get a crazy and finances may turn into a fiasco.  Try to notice the many points of light and joy, even in the hectic times.  Capture some precious memories while running through the holiday paces.

It's okay if not every ornament makes it to your tree this year.  If you don't have time to put the lights outside, that's alright, I skipped it, too, but we really enjoyed a trip to the local light show.  I'm not sure when we might do our holiday baking, but we have enjoyed seasonal candy treats.  The memories are the moments more than the activities.  It not just one day that makes the season, the longing and shuffle are part the tradition.

So take pictures with the decor that makes it up this year.  Record the Christmas concert and holiday recitals.  Enjoy some extra fine dining or just store-bought dessert.  Whatever works is okay - you're doing a great job, Mom!  Most of all, remember the simple first Christmas and take peace in knowing that all our troubles are the reason Christ came.  Reach out to help someone, if you are able, and reach of and ask for help, if you need it.  I'm grateful to have been in both positions.

Holiday Tips for StepMoms

Holiday Survival Guide

Let Go of Expectations This Season

Blending Traditions and Schedules

From Me on The Blog:

Traditions in Our Blended Family

The Christmas Magic is YOU!
The Christmas Magic is Christ

Home Alone at Christmas

Holidays Without Your Children

It's Better This Year

He Came for this, He came for me