Creating a Vision in the Midst of a Quiet Season

Last month, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend a vision board party. The day before the event, I went to Target to get a cute board of some sort – maybe a hexagonal corkboard like our hostess used as an example. Or maybe a foam board so I could write phrases in the margins. As is my norm, I walked the aisles, decided crafting is not at all my happy place, and turned to leave the store. I stopped by the dollar section in one last hopeful sweep and found a small chalkboard for $3.00. I figured it was a small investment so I grabbed it and went home to look for dusty crafting supplies.

The next day, armed with my board and a copy of Smithsonian, I joined a group of women to cut, paste, and dream about our year ahead.

I wasn’t just hesitant because of my crafting skills. I had decided that this was the year to embrace the present. No one word, no tangible goals. I was going to truly live in the moment! So, how do you translate that to a board that’s meant to guide your goals? What would I put on it to invigorate my imagination and keep me on track to success?

As I flipped through magazines, an ad to visit Denali National Park in Alaska jumped out. Its campaign read,

It’s been waiting 56 million years.
Consider this your invitation.

Yes. This is what I needed to spark my imagination. I read it as both an invitation to seek adventure and as a reminder that it’s ok to pause and take things slowly. The world is here and ready, and it always has been.

This past year, I had the immense gift of getting to travel internationally twice. Frank and I spent almost a week in Paris to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Walking the streets that shaped my transition to adulthood reminded me of all the both-ands of life. Living abroad was both amazing and life-changing and harder than anything I’ve done since.

Then, in October I got to travel by myself (for the first time since Frank and I met!) to Israel-Palestine where I met a dear friend for the first time face-to-face. Traveling alone stirred memories and feelings of excitement and adventure that I had forgotten. The trip was impacting in so many ways, but even just the reminder of who I once was grounded it as a touchstone experience.

Now, settled back into “normal” life, I wonder, what’s next? In some ways, those trips opened doors to this next stage of life and parenting. We’re able to leave the girls a bit longer, dig into parts of ourselves that were dormant the last handful of years, and start modeling to our girls who we were before we became parents.

I’m remembering, though, that while travel and adventure defined my worldview, it wasn’t my everyday normal. I still went to bed on time, packed my lunch, and went to work before I had children. I still dreamed big dreams and kept my feet planted in a city that is now firmly home.

In this year of quiet and presence, I want to remember the invitation to go and explore. But I also want to remember that things have been around for 56 million years. Even with an urgency that comes with climate change and political strife, I know this world will be ready and waiting for me. I find comfort in the fact that, when God created the cosmos, humans were the last to join the party. This doesn’t diminish our call to care for this earth but it’s a reminder that, maybe, we’re not as important as we think. That time truly is relative.

As hard as I’m trying to live in the present without a plan, I also know myself and I’m thankful for that vision board party. Maybe my board isn’t going to set me on the path to career success or visions of the next best phase. But I did hang it on the wall next to our coat hooks, where I see it daily as we grab backpacks and put on boots. I see it when I walk to the garage and when I’m switching out loads of laundry. It’s less a vision of tangible things and more a reminder of the person I was and am and will be again.

We’ll see how I feel about vision boards in a year or two or five but for now, this simple reminder is giving me hope and, yes, a vision for the future.

Have you ever created a vision board? How do you set intangible goals for yourself?

Notes from the Middle

I celebrated my birthday this last weekend. It wasn’t a big one or a milestone––just a normal, next year sort of birthday. I’ve been in the process of recovering from a terrible cold since Christmas. It goes in waves and I’ve maxed out on all the drugs so was reduced to napping on the couch, sipping an apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper concoction. Fortunately, after a feverish night, I felt well enough on my actual day to enjoy Frank’s boeuf bourguignon an afternoon of hanging out.

I was talking with a friend about this stage in our late thirties. We’re not really in the young parenting years of the “tired thirties,” though we’re not fully out of them yet, either. Nor are we yet in the world-conquering decade of the forties. Our kids are more independent but not fully. My identity is still that of stay-at-home mom, though I’m seeing a new season quickly approaching.

It’s a year that I could easily wish away, in pursuit of what’s next.

I recently got a book by an author I really like about being in her forties but just a few paragraphs in, I knew it was too soon. I’m not there yet. I liked what she had to say and am looking forward to reading it when the time is right but it’s just not yet my season.

I’m learning to be careful about living in the moment. I’m a person who can not only plan for what’s next but also romanticize the next stage. When people say, “Mamas of littles, it gets better!” I suddenly find myself fighting discontentment. I start noticing all the ways it’s not better and looking forward to the ways it will be.

But that’s not reality. Each season has its strengths and struggles and I’m remembering to embrace both. For me, this looks like having endless tea parties with Elle because it’s the last year we’ll have time and space to do whatever we want together. It’s blogging without goals of platform building or book publishing because that’s what I have the capacity for in this moment. It’s remembering the choices I’ve made and the fact that seasons of transition are just as important to embrace as the full-on season itself.

I love dreaming the big dreams and spinning ideas for what life could look like in the next years and decades. It’s fun and energizing. But I never want to take away from this moment. From walking to school and volunteering and having the space to just take a day off to rest or see a movie with the girls. These are unique and precious years, I know.

So just like my one word for the year is not a word at all, I’m starting this next year of life without much of a guide. I’m learning to plant my feet in the space I’m in now, to pursue dreams and ideas while holding them lightly. I’ll both expand on ideas and read more novels. I’ll invest in my community and in my small family. I won’t pick up the half-finished Costco box projects just yet because I’m starting to see the beauty in those games.

There’s something peaceful in sitting with this moment. I’m spinning less, comparing less, and finding more ideas that I hadn’t considered. I’m learning to lean into that freedom and my shoulders are relaxing a bit. Who knows where this year will end––I never do, right?––but for now, I’m thankful for the time and space to stop and enjoy.

What about you? Are you in a season of hustle or pause? Are you pursuing the next right thing or are you breathing in this moment?

Habits I'm Keeping for the New Year

Our year started out wobbly. We all got sick and have passed around a terrible cold that’s going on three weeks. We’ve canceled plans, hunkered down, and lived on a soup diet. While our routines have been off, I’ve been thankful for habits I’ve formed over the past year or so.

While the new year is often a time to start new habits, I wanted to reflect one ones that have been working and that I’ll continue using in this coming year.

Mapping Out My Time
I’ve only done this twice so I’m not sure it can be included as a habit yet but in September and then again last week, I spent a few minutes creating the ideal week. My week rarely goes as planned but I like blocking out times I’ll have to myself and listing possible things to do. I block out other times when I know I’ll be with Elle. Blocking my week like this helps me manage my expectations and keeps me on track when I have moments of space.

Getting Up Early
I feel like I need to start with this one because for so many years, I wanted to create this habit and it felt as if the universe was against me. I’d read books about waking early to write or spend time with God or just to be and I found all the advice so discouraging. But then something shifted. The girls, while still early risers, learned to stay in bed until 6:30. With Bea starting school at 8:00, I found that being ready for the day before everyone rose made such a difference. I get up just 45 minutes before the girls an in that time am able to read, sometimes journal, get ready for the day, and have my bed made. I love knowing that the rest of the day could go completely wrong but those having those things done first thing means even the worst day has started with successes.

Starting the Day with Water and Ending it with Tea
I’ve been drinking a glass of water first thing since I was pregnant with Bea but this year, I started keeping a covered cup next to my reading chair in my bedroom. I fill it up at night and it’s ready to go when I wake up in the morning. Sipping this first glass while I read has changed drinking water from something I need to do quickly before I have coffee and breakfast to something that is slowly part of my wakeup routine.

At the end of the day, after putting the girls to bed, I brew a mug of tea. I started doing this when I went through a bout of insomnia a couple years ago. I was trying anything to trigger nighttime feelings. While the tea wasn’t a magical cure, I did like the way it signaled the end of the day. I sip that mug and either check my phone on last time or read a bit in a book before Frank and I watch an evening show together.

Using Screentime Settings
I’ve started using Screentime and Downtime settings on my phone and they’ve helped me be more aware of my consumption. For apps I enjoy but also know can be a waste of time, I set limits for the day’s usage. At 8:00 all my apps go to sleep and Frank and I spend that hour before bedtime reading or watching a show together on our television in the basement. Staying off my phone for that hour and a half before bedtime has helped in the wind-down process.

What about you? What are some old habits you’re keeping for this new year?

Pouring Champagne at the Potluck of Deconstruction

I’ve always loved starting meals with champagne, whether at home or out at a restaurant. There’s something so special about beginning a meal with a drink typically reserved for celebrations. Over at SheLoves Magazine, we’re talking about the journey of faith deconstruction and what we bring to the table. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over and join the conversation!

One of the most memorable dinner parties I attended while in college in Paris was a gathering hosted by a British couple who had lived in the city for years. I knew them from church, though the guest list was curated by a close friend of mine. Because they lived in a neighborhood I didn’t often visit, I padded my commute time on the metro. I arrived about fifteen minutes after we were told to be there with a box of chocolates from my local chocolaterie in hand as a hostess gift.

Unsurprisingly, I was the first to arrive. In a culture of French-British-American views of time, promptness was an interesting cultural idea to navigate. Our hostess greeted me and poured a glass of champagne. We settled in on the couch to chat as her husband put the finishing touches our multi-course meal.

We chatted for quite some time before I realized I had completely gotten the time of our party wrong! I accidently planned my route a whole hour before we were supposed to be there! I gasped out an apology to our hostess who graciously waved it away as she topped my champagne flute with sparkling wine.

That simple act of filling my glass and keeping the conversation going has stuck with me. How can I extend such easy hospitality to those around me? I remember feeling as though she had wanted me to come early, just so we could get to know each other a bit better.

This social-faux pas-turned-life-lesson in gracious hosting came to mind the other day as our SheLoves editorial team chatted about the “Potluck of Deconstruction.” We had been talking about popular imagery of building longer tables, of moving toward picnics in the woods or on the shore or in an open field. We wondered who would bring food to this potluck; someone has to provide the goodies, after all.

My first thought was that I would bring champagne, of course. It’s a rare day that we don’t have a bottle of bubbles in the fridge, ready to celebrate. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What would you bring to the “Potluck of Deconstruction”? How do you celebrate what you’ve learned along the way?

Starting the Year Without a Guide

Last week, Frank and I were sitting at the chef’s table at one of our favorite restaurants, watching pizzas being thrown together, Brussel’s sprouts slung in and out of the deep fryer, and zesty cannoli shells filled and plated for desserts. Our backs were to the rest of the diners and we were able to really focus on each other and our conversation.

Frank asked if I had a chance to think about my “one word” for the year. It has been a wonderful break but one in which I just never found much time for journalling and reflection. I took a sip of my white negroni and shrugged. “I don’t know. Next year feels like there are a lot of unknowns. Maybe my word should be status quo.”

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

My eyes got teary as soon as I said that. I don’t really think my life needs to remain at status quo. We talked about other words that could embody the idea of rest, peace, and contentment. But none of them really rang true or sparked excitement.

This coming year is full of change for our family. Nothing major but as the girls grow older, our schedule seems to get fuller. And then, Elle will be starting full-time school at the end of summer. While that’s still eight months away, it adds a major layer of unknown to my own plans and dreams.

As a planner, I love goals and ideas and dreams. It’s hard to simply live in the moment and not prepare for what’s next. But maybe this is what I need to do, at least for the first part of the year. This doesn’t mean I’ll just ignore things that come my way, but I think I need to live right in this moment, not in the future – even if the future is just months away.

Reading through this essay, I see a handful of words that would be perfect for a “one word” of this year but I think what I need to do is not even assign an intention. Maybe part of my challenge for the year will to be a bit less intentional, less focused, less goal-oriented.

We’ll see how this goes. A word or intention could hit me mid-February and I’ll run with it. But for now, I’m going to enjoy this moment. I’ll volunteer and write and dream. I’ll spend my Thursdays enjoying a day without commitments with Elle. I’ll read and pursue ideas. I’ll get discouraged by the monotony and encouraged at just the right moments.

I think this year is going to be one of discovery. It may be the year I step over the threshold – my word of 2019. When I think about stepping into the new year without much of a plan, I feel open and relief. Maybe this is exactly what my perfectionist tendencies need – a chance to go with the flow.

What about you? Do you pick a word to guide your year? How do you start the new year?

Best Books of 2019

This year was a slower year of reading. Part of this is that my time has shifted, as it does every year with school and seasons. Partly it’s that I read longer and deeper books, which I needed. I still finished 66 total and of those, 20 were 5-star reads.

I won’t share all of those best reads here (you can check out my Goodreads page for all my reading lists and reviews) but I wanted to highlight some of my absolute favorites and am aiming for a mix of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

It’s interesting doing year-end reviews. Some books that I gave 4 stars, I remember with 5-star fondness. And some of my 5-star reads aren’t as memorable as I thought they would be when I finished reading. But I never go back and change reviews. I like to trust the process and the fact that I felt something at the time after finishing a book. So, these are the 5-star books that stuck with me and that I’d recommend to almost anyone.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
This book had been on my radar for a while but after taking an Indigenous Voices class where it was highly recommended by both our teacher and a guest speaker, I knew I needed to read it sooner. I had read The Lost City of Z by Grann and loved his style. Killers of the Flower Moon did not disappoint. Delving into the Osage murders that happened in Oklahoma at the beginning of the twentieth century, Grann combines incredible research, solid journalism, and engaging storytelling to remember the lives of those who were murdered. He also weaves in the formation of the FBI and its role in the investigation. This is a must-read for many reasons––Indigenous history, a perspective on a powerful institution’s beginnings, and a reminder that we must continue to pay attention to stories that aren’t part of mainstream history classes.

Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart by Alice Walker
I started the year reading much more poetry than I ended the year, which is something I’d like to remedy. I loved starting my morning with a mug of coffee and a poem or two as we eased into the day. Alice Walker’s most recent collection of poems were quite political but they made me think. Walker helped me look at the news through the lens of people who don’t look like me, who aren’t in my same socioeconomic bracket, and who are impacted by policies and decisions that don’t necessarily impact my own life. The format of these poems made me pause and reexamine in ways that only poetry can––opening the eyes of those who are looking.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I hadn’t read an epic generational novel for a while and Pachinko didn’t disappoint. The plot follows four generations of a Korean family who moves to Japan before World War II, and who stays through its reconstruction. Lee tells their story in a way that helped me understand a region and history I hadn’t known about before. She also wrote in a way that I could connect attitudes toward immigrants in my own country, regardless of how long they’ve lived here. Lee’s storytelling and ability to connect the past to current events makes this book feel like a timeless classic.

Voice of Witness Oral Histories by McSweeney’s
There are about ten volumes in this series, ranging from stories of those locked in solitary confinement to refugees who have settled in the United States to those who survived Burma’s military regime.

I read three this year: Palestine Speaks, edited by Cate Malek was in preparation for my trip to Israel-Palestine. The stories were powerful and mostly from the perspective of Palestinians living in the region, though Malek chose to include two narratives from Israeli perspectives, which strengthened the collection.

Underground America, edited by Peter Orner followed the stories of those who have come to the United States and have stayed without proper paperwork. Some stories highlighted how easy it can be to extend a temporary visa; others were about human trafficking; and still others were about those who make the treacherous journey across deserts for an “illegal” border crossing. All of these stories helped build empathy and made me remember that there are no easy answers when it comes to undocumented immigration.

Lastly, I read Hope Deferred, edited by Peter Orner about the lives of Zimbabweans living under the terror of Robert Mugabe. I was especially interested to read this, as we have dear friends from Zimbabwe. They would allude to stories but I never fully grasped the terror of those decades of violence and disruption. This was the hardest of the books I read in this series. Many of the governmental crimes are unimaginable and, while none were described in a gratuitous way, it became difficult to read after a while.

I’ll be returning to this series in the new year. My hope is to read a couple of these books a year, to gain perspective through the power of listening (or reading) the stories of those who have lived through what have become political stands.

On Writing by Stephen King
I try to read a couple books about the craft of writing each year and King’s had been recommended by a variety of writers and readers. This book, which is part memoir and part guide, is a reminder of just why King is such a successful author. His storytelling is incredible and his attention to detail impressive. On Writing inspired me to pick up more of King’s work and I plan to read more in the years to come. I’d recommend this to anyone, regardless of an interest in writing.

Runners Up (Because it’s hard to narrow down such awesome reads!)
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Calipso by David Sedaris
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney
The God Who Sees by Karen Gonzalez
Circe by Madeline Miller

For 2020, I want to read another book on writing, dive into the idea of pilgrimage in faith, literature, and poetry, and read a scholarly book on something. (I’m not yet sure of the topic!)

What about you? What books stood out for you this year? What are your reading goals for the coming year?

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Keeping Christmas Magical

I have no memory of believing in Santa Claus. Apparently, there was a party and a Santa with whom I wasn’t impressed and so quickly ended that magical relationship. I don’t know that I really missed out on anything. “Santa” gave us a present each year and I still believed in the Christmas spirit.

Now, my girls believe in Santa, though not rabidly. There’s a peripheral acknowledgment that they ask him for gifts but I’m not sure they actually believe. Bea is getting older and I expect it’ll die down sooner than later, which means Elle will follow close behind.

This past weekend, we took the girls to the mountains to ride a Santa Train. We’ve done this a couple times before and it’s a great way to enjoy a Christmas market, ride a train through the snowy mountains, and include Santa in the experience without making a visit with him the main focus. This year, after waiting in line to get on the train, waiting for Santa to make his way to our car, and then waiting for Santa to slowly work his way down the aisle for each family’s photo op, Elle was done. To top it off, Santa had the audacity to give Bea a high-five but gave Elle a tickle instead. She reluctantly told him she wanted a violin and a harmonica and then wanted off the train.

It made me wonder if this is our last Santa train experience. I enjoy our family excursions but also wouldn’t be too sad about moving on. What I do want to keep is the magic of Santa. I’m not sure if I’m ready to replace this piece of cultural mythology solely with the historic Saint Nicholas, though we have already introduced him.

Last week I saw a tweet about how the Little People Nativity set is rooted in white supremacy. It’s true, when I look at ours, Jesus is depicted with blond hair and the only people of color are the wise men, who shouldn’t even be part of the scene. But I’m not quite ready to give up our inaccurate set. The girls love playing with it and I’ve loved watching the story evolve over the years as they hear it told again and again.

One day we’ll trade our set for something to get us through the next developmental stage and will maybe even buy extra figurines to round out the actual cast of characters but for now, I want my girls to interact with this story on a magical, play-based level. I think it’s important to actually play with our nativity set and these plastic figures can’t be mistaken for anything but toys.

Like Santa, I grapple with how to best present the Baby Jesus to my girls. The story is rooted in history and yet there is a lot of storytelling that has evolved and captured our collective cultural imaginations. We’ve imagined the holy family to be quite alone on this journey of new parenthood, in a stable, surrounded by Northern European farm animals. For my young kids, I’m not too worried about this mythology. The point is that a baby was born and this baby grows up to be the Messiah.

One day, I hope my kids read the nativity story critically and through a lens that is different from their own North American culture. I hope they will question the accuracy and I hope that I will be able to give them tools to research and grapple with their own spiritual journey.

For now, I want them to focus on the magic of a baby born in Bethlehem. Maybe some shepherds from a nearby field really did visit. Maybe they were surrounded by women who had given birth before, encouraging and coaching along the way. Maybe they were alone, savoring some quiet moments of becoming a family. None of those details really matters, in the end. It adds to the story and creates a scene we can imagine but I don’t think those details are the point.

As Christmas approaches, I want to remember to balance magic with history, mythology and storytelling with critical thinking. I’ll fill the stockings with chapstick and new pens and chocolates from Santa Claus and we’ll keep imagining the story of Jesus with our plastic Little People figurines. We’ll keep cementing family traditions and add new experiences. And we’ll remember that this story we are living is always a dance between fact and fiction, between proof and story.

Did you believe in Santa growing up? How do you balance the magic of a story with its historical accuracy?