Six Lessons for the Short Days of Long Winter Months

I’ve been learning a lot in the past six months. Really, I should say that I’m unlearning a lot. I’m unlearning things I thought I knew well, unlearning history and even my own beliefs. There will be more to write about these things in the future but right now, I’m letting these unlearnings settle and sort.

For quite a while, I was content leaning into this space and holding it quietly. Writing has been put on hold as I let these ideas and shifts weave their way through my thinking. But I’m also starting to get that itch to write regularly again. Jumping back in after months of sporadic posts seemed overwhelming so I’m starting with a list of things I’ve learned this winter.

Some of these are big things, others are small reminders of what works during these long months of short days.

What I’ve Learned This Winter

What I've Learned This Winter: Six Lessons for the Short Days of these Long Months in a white text box. The background is a stock photo of snowy mountains.

Routines Make Me Happy
It seems that every winter my sleep cycles get disrupted. When the girls were tiny, I blamed it on their six-month growth spurts but now everyone is sleeping through the night and I still wake up at 2:00, thoughts whirling. I’ve always been a routined bedtime person but in an effort to optimize my sleep, I’ve become stricter. Even adding a few more boundaries to my bedtime and wake-up routines have made my days better. Maybe the middles don’t go as planned but I know that I’ve bookended the day well, which makes me happy.

Learning Something New Is Good
Frank and I are heading to Paris in May to celebrate our tenth anniversary so I’ve broken out my old Rosetta Stone curriculum, downloaded Duolingo onto my phone, and subscribed to the Coffee Break French podcast. Every day, I practice French – somedays more than others but it’s rare that I skip a day’s practice in some form. I don’t know if this counts as learning something new, as it’s been more of a review but I love remembering things I used to know. After our trip, I’m eager to switch over to Spanish and continue this language adventure.

Experiential Dates are Essential
Frank and I have found that starting tax season with a series of experiential dates sets the tone for these three months of busyness. One year, we took three weeks of cooking lessons. This year, we spent two weeks learning the Cha Cha. Spending two hours fumbling through unknown steps, looking at each other in the eye was exactly what we needed in a season that’s so easy to miss fun connections.

When Stretched, Turn to the Wisdom of Others
I was recently asked to share my story and then pray for the MOPS International board members. Sharing my story is something I’ve practiced and felt comfortable doing. Praying in front of a group is something I’ve never enjoyed. I’d much rather pray one-on-one than in front of a crowd, especially of strangers. So I turned to Jan Richardson’s phenomenal book of prayers and reflections, In the Sanctuary of Women. Starting my own prayer with the wisdom of another woman gave me the words and courage to continue on my own.

Elle, a fleece-pajama clad 3-year-old with purple bifocal glasses is using her hands to stretch her mouth into a "silly face."

Embracing the Moment Doesn’t Mean I Can’t Dream of the Future
Elle has officially given up her afternoon nap and it’s been quite the adjustment. Suddenly my quiet afternoons are gone. In some ways, I like this – we can run errands and catch up on things that felt rushed in our morning hours. I’m remembering that the next year and a half before kindergarten is going to zip by and I’m embracing these “unproductive” moments. I’m also eagerly awaiting the next phase, remembering the both-and of motherhood.

Filling the Well, Turning the Compost, Leaning into the Quiet is Uncomfortable
As I’ve said, this has been a season of unlearning. I’m leaning into this time of growth and turning and yet I’m antsy to just learn the lessons! I want to step forward and apply all I’ve gathered. I know this process takes time and I’m holding this tension, sometimes gracefully and sometimes with impatience. I wish I could draw conclusions quickly and profoundly but I’m a slow processor and so am remembering that this quiet season will produce fruit.

What about you? What have you been learning this season?

Inspired by Emily Freeman’s quarterly question, What Have You Learned This Season?

Champagne for Breakfast

As I learn more about the church calendar, I’m trying to be more intentional about leaning into the different seasons. I’m remembering to pause and breathe in Advent before the celebration of Christmas, to feast for Epiphany before the fasting of Lent, and to really think about what it means to be “Easter people.”

When I hear the phrase, “Easter people,” it usually is in the context of the biggest Sunday celebration – hymns and hallelujahs, fancy dresses and elaborate dinners. We proclaim the risen Christ! And then go back to life as normal on Monday.

Theologian N.T. Wright talks about how the church is really good at remembering and practicing Lent, of taking time to fast and prepare. But we aren’t as good at remembering the 40 days of Easter celebration. He says,

No, we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

(exerpted from Let the Easter Parties Begin! by Internet Monk)

I’ve written before about things that are saving my life. I love that mid-winter practice when it is easy to forget that so many small things bring joy and comfort. But it also takes on a connotation that life itself is not saving me. That I am bogged down. So, in this Eastertide, I want to remember five things that are bringing smile-to-my-face JOY. That are filling me with laughter and hope. That help me remember we are an Easter people.

IMG_85821) My Little Free Library
I had been wanting a Little Free Library ever since we moved into our neighborhood. Our house is on the corner of a cul-de-sac, right around from a busier intersection that leads to our elementary school and is on the way to the middle and high schools. We get a good amount of foot traffic and I wanted to encourage community through books. Last month, my dad built and installed our library and the girls helped paint it. I love watching the ebb and flow of books and the way it’s connected our neighborhood in this short time.

2) Sweet Sister Time
IMG_8615Lately, the girls have been on an awesome streak of playing together and caring for each other. Of course, we still have our sibling moments, but their bond is growing and it is so awesome to watch these girls become friends. They read together, imagine together, ride bikes and hold hands. We were at a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s the other day and they were content spending the entire morning together. Elle misses Bea while she’s at school and can’t wait to pick her up. She runs to Bea, jumps into her arms, and Bea swings her around as they both say, “Sisters!!”

3) Writing Friends
It’s just been in the past few months that I’ve really started stepping into an identity of “writer.” (I know, I know. If I write, I’m a writer. Easier said than done.) I’ve had the opportunity to chat with other moms who are writers, to help friends on their pretty amazing writing project, and am even dipping my toes into bigger and more serious ideas. I still don’t introduce myself as a writer but I’m getting closer…

(Side note: If you want behind-the-scenes news about projects, sign up for my monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap. I also started an author Facebook page and would love it if you gave it a “like.” These things help!)

4) Rosé in the Basement
One of my favorite springtime celebrations is drinking rosé and eating runny cheese out in our yard while the girls run around. For Easter, Frank stocked us up with fun bottles and they’re just waiting for the end of tax season. Even though they haven’t made their way to the fridge yet, just knowing they’re ready and waiting gives me hope and happiness.

5) Generosity of Friends
I know that our community makes every single list of lifesavers but it’s for a good reason. I am blown away by the people who take care of us. A friend took Elle for the morning so I could make traction on a project and those 3 hours made all the difference! We’re heading to the mountains next week to get away and unwind after the tax deadline, thanks to the generosity of other friends. I am always amazed at how well our community cares for us, especially during these stressful seasons.

What about you? What is giving you JOY in this season? What keeps you smiling, even when you don’t realize it?

Small Things That Are Big Lifesavers

We’re partway through winter, though it’s hard to believe around here. Maybe the groundhog’s prediction of six more weeks will mean that we’ll have an actual winter? Though we’ve had a couple snowy days, it’s been an incredibly dry and temperate couple months. While I’m not complaining during our daily walks to school, I know we’ll wish for more snowmelt during those dry summer months.

IMG_8319I’ve loved looking back on the past few years of participating in Anne Bogel’s question, What’s saving your life? From lotion to neighbors to habits and learning, each year brings small things that are keeping me sane. I like keeping these lifesavers a bit mundane – things that happen nearly every day, that are reminders that life is good.

Online Book Clubs
Last fall, I made the hard decision of quitting my book club of over a decade. A lot of factors contributed to this decision and it was a good choice for our family. But I miss the camaraderie of reading a book in a community. There’s something about going deeper into a text. Enter: Facebook. I took over an online book club last year and it’s been incredible picking books, leading discussions, and digging deeper with women from all over the globe. I’m part of another Facebook book club that does a quarterly read-along. During the last week of the quarter, questions are posted on an event page and we discuss a book together. This quarter, we read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a stunning novel set in 1920’s Alaska. It’s a book worth reading on its own but I got so much more after discussing it!

Bold Lipstick
I’m not much of a makeup person at all but I read somewhere that a bold lipstick draws attention away from tired eyes. Yes, please! I wanted to look more put-together, even on days where my only outing is the grocery store. I’m still not much into makeup, but my two shades of bright lipstick have given me an unexpected confidence boost!

Party City
I’m not a crafty person at all. But I’ve slowly found myself looking for reasons to celebrate small and big holidays. We have some random hooks behind our dining room table and I’ve started hanging decorations from them – ornaments at Christmas, stars for Epiphany, hearts for Valentine’s Day. I don’t have decorations for every holiday because there’s something wonderful about an empty space most of the year. But during these winter months, I love having bright kitschy hearts hanging from those hooks. Because I’m not going to make them myself, I’ve found that Party City almost always has what I’m looking for – inexpensive, a little bit gaudy, brightly colored. Now that Bea understands the calendar more, it’s fun to feed into her excitement for new decorations.

Meal Planning
I wish I were creative and confident enough in the kitchen to just throw a bunch of stuff together for a fantastic dinner. Even typing that sentence caused some stress. We’ve been meal planning consistently for a while now but I was recently reminded what a stress reliever it is, knowing I have everything I need for a week’s worth of meals. Especially now that tax season is here, having our meals planned is one less stress.

Grace
We’re in an interesting season with the girls. While it’s still very hands-on, they’re also getting to be pretty independent. We’re establishing good routines and I’m feeling more comfortable leaning into new opportunities and adding goals to my plate. Of course, the moment I decide we’re in a good place to add something, life gets hectic or someone’s sleep patterns shift, or we need to huddle in as a family. I’m learning to give myself grace in those moments. It’s not that I need to scrap my goals or commitments but I’m allowing myself to mess up a little. To not always give as much time and attention as I imagine I can. And I’m learning that things continue; that no one cares as much as I imagine; that my commitments are still met and everyone is just fine. I’m learning that the circumstances will never be perfect, so what can I do in the meantime? It’s given me a lot of permission to continue pursuing opportunities without stressing about perfection.

I know there are many more things saving my life right now – from near-daily conversations about life and theology through Voxer to the accountability and care of our neighbors to my community gearing up for tax season with us. My life is constantly being saved by those small but big things.

So, as we’re on this downward slope to spring, what is saving your life right now? How do you pause in the midst of winter to reflect?

Linked with Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy for her annual life-saving linkup. 

For the curious, here are my lifesavers from 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Books Referenced in this Post:

41w+Snjfi-L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Spring is Saving My Life

After the winter that barely was, spring is here. Trees are blossoming with bees buzzing around; our backyard fountain is running again and birds are splashing and drinking; our hyacinths have bloomed and our other bulbs are pushing out of the ground. The windows are open. At first, just in the afternoon but now for longer and longer stretches.

SpringI know that we very well could get a blizzard or two in April and even into May, but after such a mild winter, I wonder. For now, I’m enjoying this spring weather. As Leo Tolstoy says in Anna Karenina, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.”

While there is nothing like cleaning the house with all the windows open, I’m more energized by the seasonal projects we look forward to. It’s still too early to actually plant anything in the garden, but we start to dream as we sip gin and tonics outside during nap time. We start to plan our camping trips and what Life After Tax Season will entail.

I love this idea of spring cleaning and planning and projecting. Dreaming about our next literal season as the warm weather and longer days are tangible is an important part of soul care, I think. Taking time to connect our bodies to the seasons, to remember that we are part of nature and in that, recognizing the need to shift our spirits with the seasons.

That’s what I love most about Lent and Eater aligning with springtime and new life. It seems natural to pause and take stock of where I am spiritually as I’m tidying and reorganizing my physical environment.

Just as I find the practice of stopping to take account for what’s saving my life midwinter, I love the practice of remembering that in spring, everything is saving my life. This is a time when I live out all my winter mantras and ideals. This is when life is blooming and I’m excited about our next season – both in decisions our family is making as well as the actual next season of March-June springtime.

So, as ice melts in my glass and I savor an afternoon of dreaming and list-making with Frank, I’m grateful for these spring moments of cleansing and renewal. Of a glimpse into what is to come, even if we do have another blizzard or two waiting.

Has spring come to your part of the world? Do you take time for soul spring cleaning? (And are you an actual spring cleaner?)

Midwinter Lifesavers

It’s that time of year. January and its resolutions and catching up is over, February the longest shortest month of the year is ahead. Tax season is looming. It’s a good time to stop and remember all the things that are saving my life this winter.

Last year, my list included walking and the Mamaroo; the year before the list had a TV show and nesting into our new home. This year, we’re in a different stage with the girls and a different season as a family. In many ways, things seem a lot easier and we’re in a good life-groove. In other ways, the girls miss Frank a lot more, which makes this time of year and its schedule tougher for him.

I’m loving this practice of taking note and reflecting on the things that are saving us right now. So, in no particular order, here are my new lifesavers:

1) Cooking Classes
For Christmas this year, I gave Frank a series of 3 Sur la Table classes called Becoming a Confident Chef. Each Tuesday we met with others to chop, sauté, and learn all those skills that make cooking easier. Having a set date night three weeks in a row, right before tax season was probably the best gift I could have given. I could see making this an annual tradition. Bonus? We made friends with our hotplate partners and have already had dinner at their house. Serendipities definitely save my life!

img_32922) Neighbors
This made my list last year and I hope it will make my list every year. Our neighbors are truly incredible and I’m so thankful to have a community during these cold, hibernating months. From texting with my across-the-street friend to shoveling snow with our neighbor who owns a snowblower to checking in with Elle’s favorite, “Jooji” I remember that we have people in close proximity who are looking out for our family. It’s pretty incredible.

3) Facebook
I know, these past few months have seen most people renouncing Facebook and closing their accounts. (At least, temporarily.) And, while I’ve put tighter boundaries on my consumption, I am thankful for this crazy online world. I’m inspired by my friends who are out marching and protesting. I’m stretched by my friends who pose different opinions. And I’m reminded that ultimately, we are all in this together. I’m not sure I would remember that without this loud conglomeration of strong opinions all in one place.

4) Whole30 Habits
It’s been about 3 months since we finished our Whole30 challenge. In that time, we went back to Philadelphia for a week, had a month of holiday celebrations, and have started scheduling dinners and brunches with friends before tax season really hits. And through it all, we’ve been pretty good. Of course, we’ve had more alcohol, eaten more cake, and have ordered pizza for movie night. But we’ve also kept a fairly good meal planning schedule and have included a lot of our favorite Whole30 recipes in the rotation. I’m sure we’ll be doing a reset in May, but I also feel like we’re starting tax season with healthier habits in place.

5) Listening to My Gut
I’ve made some decisions lately that logically were easy to rethink. But, my gut kept telling me to make space, to slow down, to focus on this moment. It was hard to listen to this tug, but I am so glad I did. I feel like I need to be open to this year. I’m not sure what that means or how that will actually look, but by making these shifts and changes, I feel better positioned for whatever comes about.

What is saving your life right now?

Linked with Modern Mrs. Darcy – check out her linkup for more mid-winter lifesavers!

What is Saving Your Life?

Last year, Anne Bogel posed the question, What is saving your life right now? Taken from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, the question is used to reframe our winter doldrums mentality to one of something more positive – more life-giving.

Five ThingsLast year’s reflection stayed with me. As the seasons changed, I wondered what new things were saving my life in that moment? I started practicing the idea of marking a moment, an event, even a possession that helped me through a season.

Anne is asking the question again, a year later. It’s a good time of year to reflect and take inventory. The holidays are over; the lights are finally off the house; it’s a season of slowing down, snuggling in, and reflection.

So, here are five (new) things that are saving my life. (I think the old ones are still applicable, but I liked the idea of adding to the list.)

1) Learning Something New
I usually depend on nonfiction books to fill my need for learning. But, the 6 month-18 month stage of life is pretty nonstop. From sitting up to standing to walking to discovering, we are entering a very active year that needs a lot of supervision. (Because of that, I’ve set no reading goals for myself.)

While books may be a bit tough at the moment, I can do self-paced lessons and videos while Elle is playing next to me. Earlier this year, I signed up for Micah Murray’s Clumsy Bloggers’ Workshop. Each week, a new lesson is delivered to my inbox and I can complete it at my own pace. It’s been great for tweaking the look of my blog to learning about social media to becoming part of an encouraging Facebook group. While I’m happy with the low-key-ness of this space, I always like learning new things and this has helped.

A friend and I also signed up for Skillshare, a website that has thousands of 1-2 hour long lessons on a variety of topics. I watched one on how to market yourself as a freelancer (not very applicable but so interesting) and just started one on calligraphy. I’ve saved lessons on how to code and build my own website to a knife skills class. I love the idea of learning something completely different and out of my natural focus, and Skillshare has opened up that opportunity. (If you use the links to sign up, I think we both get a free month.)

IMG_9883.jpg
Bonus: Warm weather in January

2) Our Neighborhood
Right after I posted my blog about planning for tax season, our neighbor texted, We’re all in to help during tax time! That night, we had dinner over at their place while the girls played. I could not have imagined more amazing neighbors if I had tried. Moving to this area may not be the trendiest place in town, but I don’t think we could beat it for the community we’re forming. Even in the middle of January, our kids bundled up and rode bikes around the cul-de-sac before dinner. It makes me look forward to summer months and these guys growing up together.

3) Mamaroo Bouncer
This has been saving our lives for the past six months. Friends lent it to us and Elle spends quite a bit of time snoozing in this space-age “swing.” If I had one, I’d probably sleep as much as she does… (Future parents: Definitely register for this or check it out used. It’s amazing!)

4) Saying “no”
This has been the toughest one but the most important and, perhaps the one that is most life-saving. After years of being in multiple book clubs, I’ve pared down to one in town and one online. (If you’re looking for great books and discussion from the comfort of your home, checkout the Red Couch, hosted by SheLoves.) I’ve had to say “no” to other things, but these book clubs were part of my identity and it feels a bit weird to step back.

5) Weekly Walks
I’ve written about my walking buddy, Robyn before. We have been meeting weekly for years and I can’t imagine getting through life without these moments. Now that it’s tax season, my parents take the girls and we do a three-mile loop from their house. That hour of adult time, without a baby strapped to me or a preschooler interrupting, is what I need to make it through the week.

What about you? What is saving your life right now?

Linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Five Things Saving My Life

I don’t usually get the winter blues. Yes, I’d prefer sunshine over gray skies, but in Colorado we have about 300 days of sunshine each year. This means, even if we get a gray streak, sun is just around the corner. That being said, the colder weather, tax season, and general post-holiday laziness definitely affects my mood in different ways than a sunny June day.

Anne, over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, recently asked the question, What is saving your life right now? Taken from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church, the question is meant to switch from the mentality of what is killing us to what is giving life. I like the idea of looking at the little things that are life-giving right now, in this moment.

1) A nook of my own
We have a large upstairs landing, and my little desk fits perfectly in one corner. While I don’t always write or journal here (though I did for this post), I love having a little space in the house just for me. At our old house, we had a combination guest room-office and it never felt like it was a place for me. Having this small area makes me happy.

My landing nook
My landing nook

2) Painting
The previous owners of this house had some… unique… decorating ideas. (Lots of sharpie murals…) While the decor was unlivable, it pushed us to paint rooms quickly, and our house is feeling more and more like our own. We decided on a few rooms that had to get done before tax season: The basement living room, Bea’s room, and Frank’s office. So far, my favorite is Frank’s office. It’s a partially finished space in the basement. We added carpet and painted over the concrete walls. Frank’s walking desk and weight equipment fit perfectly. What I love about it is the symbol of more family time during tax season. Even though hours will still be crazy and most will still need to be done at the office, late nights and weekends can be done from home.

3) OK to Wake Alarm Clock
With the freedom a “big girl bed” offered,  Bea’s wake-up time was pushed as early as 5:45. Not OK!! This clock came highly recommended by a variety of friends and I love it! It works most of the time, and Bea is so proud of running into our room at 7:00, clock green and ready to go. It’s definitely made my mornings more pleasant!

Alarm clock + Bea's mural
Alarm clock + Bea’s mural

4) Parks & Rec
With winter, tax season, and pregnancy brain, watching reruns of Parks & Rec on Netflix have been a perfect way to unwind each night. We needed a light, short show to watch after clean up and a bit of reading. I love that there’s only a 20 minute time commitment, meaning we still get to bed at a decent hour. Plus, sometimes dramas are overrated and we just need to laugh.

5) L’Occitane Lotion
This is a total splurge that always finds its way into my Christmas stocking. During the summer, I don’t mind using grocery store lotions but there’s something about smearing rich shea butter into my hands each night that helps me sleep a little better. Especially in the dry Colorado climate, this lotion keeps my hands from over-drying through the night.

What about you? What are some things that are “saving your life” right now?

Linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcy.