Chronicles and Reflection of This Holiday Season

I’m dreaming of a 75-degree, rain-soaked Christmas. Where the weather is, indeed, frightful, but the family is delightful. A Christmas filled with laughter and love and home-cooked ham. Where the gifts are many, but the spirit is more. A busy, busy Christmas that can make you exhausted in only the best of ways. Far-away family returns for a meal and a swapping of gifts, and children come to you with big hugs and bigger hearts. In this Christmas, families and friends are united, the days are merry, and the homes are ever-bright with both Christmas lights and thankfulness.

This was my Christmas. But before we can get there, the rest of the season has to preface. Christmas isn’t just a day to me – it’s a whole, month-long holiday season (as I briefly mention here) that starts with overwhelming love and thankfulness.

Home is Where the Christmas Trees Are

John Mark and I had a long Christmas, starting with decorating our little home (which may explain why I’ve been so quiet the past couple of weeks). I think it’s important for couples to start their own traditions after they marry because traditions can help them bond even during the busiest and most stressful times if they keep it up – that goes for anyone! Our first new tradition (which I hope will stick) was to buy a live Christmas tree, even though our apartment would probably be considered too minuscule for most people to house one, but we determined to make it work.

So, after I had sufficiently decorated the rest of the apartment, we set a day to drive down the road to the little Christmas tree lot we kept passing. When that day came, we got in the car after he came home from work, went to buy Christmas lights, and then drove to that Christmas tree lot. This is something I’ve only done once, so it was exciting to be able to pick out a live tree to put in my apartment. (A real tree! In my house! I’ll never be over it). We picked out a tree within our price-range that looked perfectly symmetrical and perfectly green and perfectly perfect in every way, and we brought it home. As soon as the tree hit the tree stand in our apartment, I was opening boxes of lights and ornaments, completely ready to go. I was finished decorating it by that night, and could not have been more proud of our first tree. Something about the twinkling lights giving off the only light in the room makes my heart happy.

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A Surprise Birthday Party and Other Shenanigans

We have a couple of birthdays in the family thrown in right before and right after Christmas, so we always take time to celebrate those, as well. John Mark’s is one of them. His comes a week before Christmas, and I was determined to celebrate. My friends and I threw him a “reverse surprise party.” This was a last-minute, thrown-together, completely hilarious little party that I would definitely repeat. While John Mark was at a Bible study (in the home we would be having the party), my friend Bess and I went to a few stores. Read: way too many stores for our time slot. We picked up ice cream, cupcakes, candles, helium balloons, party horns, and sports-themed hats. While she drove us back to her house with a very sleepy, unhappy baby in the back seat, I assembled 29 candles in the ice cream (yes, the ice cream), which is his favorite – Blue Bell Cookies ‘n’ Cream. Bess and I got to the house completely flustered and we told her husband and another friend we were there, and that they needed to come outside. As we were all outside getting ready, John Mark was watching the baby inside the house. So we donned our party hats and horns, clumsily walked to the front door, gathered like carolers, and rang the doorbell. It took him a minute, but eventually he opened the door, and we immediately started singing “Happy Birthday” to a very embarrassed and thankful John Mark, after which we made him put on a hat and blow out his candles.

Later in the week we went home to spend some quality time with our families, celebrate his birthday another time, watch a dear friend graduate from nursing school, then we came back here for his actual birthday. (Oh, you thought that already happened? Nah). That Sunday we went to worship services as usual, and I made him a cake before he opened his present from me. Which, by the way, was all six of the Star Wars movies that are already out.

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Here we are with hats and our friends’ baby boy.
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John Mark with the cake I made him

And So Christmas Begins

The next week we planned for Christmas. I had already bought and wrapped most of the presents, so I just had to get ready to leave (more about that here) and, because we were going to be staying for over a week with our families, we had to make sure all of our overnight plans for the week of Christmas were in order. We had picked a day out of this week to spend Christmas as a couple – something extremely important to me. We opened our gifts to each other that Thursday night by the light of our tree, and planned to do stockings the next morning. When we got up the next morning we both opened our stockings, which was very much like an extra Christmas morning and children excitedly chattering about Santa’s arrival.

A few hours later we were on the road to home once again! We split the time as evenly as possible with our parents and stayed part of the week with both. Our family Christmases didn’t start until Christmas Eve, but we spent some relaxing time with his family for the first few days. Once Christmas Eve hit, we were hit head-on with that that crazy-busy Christmas I described way up at the beginning.

Where do I start?

It was an odd Christmas this year. Most of the week we (mostly just me because I’m nervous about bad weather upon hearing it might come) watched the weather because of tornado warnings and heavy, heavy rain. We spent Christmas Eve with John Mark’s dad’s side of the family. We gathered for a meal and gifts, the next day was Christmas morning -there were three different celebrations that day: Christmas morning with my side’s immediate family, then my mom’s side (described here – scarily accurate again this year), then back to John Mark’s parents’ house for his immediate family. The next day we met his mom’s side of the family for a lunch get-together, and then went back to my parents’ house for my dad’s side of the family. Not only was Saturday Christmas on my dad’s side, it was also his birthday! We had a two-in-one Christmas and birthday party that night. He has a selfless heart, so he never likes to pair his birthday with Christmas – he just wants to let the family open presents without the attention on him, but we always have a cake and presents for him anyway. Are you dizzy yet? Me, too. In a wonderful, beautiful way.

I’ve always loved how just a simple meal can bring about the happiest of conversations and the best memories. It’s rarely about the food when we get together for holidays; it’s about the hearts and souls coming together to share love and light during a special time of year. We had family of all ages, and we enjoyed every bit of it. All of us different, but all united in purpose and love. I couldn’t help but sit back and be thankful for overwhelming amount of family we have. The word “overwhelming” takes on a different meaning when you change your mindset. So many people complain about how busy their holidays are because of how much family they have to see and how busy they’re going to be. Those things are true! I understand the stress. But once you realize that all of the “overwhelming” family is there out of love, you’ll think of it a little bit differently. I tried to take on a slowed down mindset and applied some of these principles even during the busiest of days because it’s the best kind of stress. It’s the kind that’s only harmful if you let it be harmful. I chose to sit back, soak it in, and let it be.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, birthdays to holidays, it was beautifully busy. Now, it’s time to turn over a new leaf, and I wouldn’t have had the year end any other way.

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Merry Christmas and a happy new year from us to you!

 

 

 

3 Ways To Declutter Your Life This Holiday Season

During this busy time of year, it’s easy to let things get in the way and clutter our lives  – for me that leads to stress and anxious feelings. If I let clutter happen without trying to make positive changes, it will completely alter my mood. It can escalate until I just don’t want to get anything done and have mountains of laundry, dishes, and undone to-do lists engulfing me. A friend asked me last week what I do get rid of the “winter blues.” One of the things I talked to her about was environment; managing my environment well is one of the biggest factors in keeping the blues from creeping in.

In this context, I’ll define “environment” as anything surrounding me, both physical and emotional, that can work to either help or hurt me. Here’s what I do:

1. Keep your environment light and cheerful.

I mean “light” both literally and figuratively. One of the things that helps me the most is to open the blinds and let in natural light – even just pulling back the curtains lets in enough light to brighten a room. I do usually keep a few lights on in the room or rooms I’ll be in the most, but something about natural light just makes me feel more connected to what’s going on around me. Plus, there’s nothing worse to me than sitting or working in a dim room for hours (it also helps to cut back on the light bill since I’m not turning on every light in the house). I try not to watch too many dark or heavy TV shows and movies, lighten up the mood with cheerful music while I get ready keep the decor fairly simple. I love pillows and blankets, so I like to have those ready next to me if I’m relaxing and need a couple of them. If I’m not using them, they warm up the space even just sitting folded and pretty. Right now I’m all about holiday-themed throw pillows and blankets! If there’s something  small that cheers you up and keeps you going, use it to your advantage – even just as a decoration.

2. Keep your space neat and fresh.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, having a tidy, clean home is important to me. I can’t focus well unless it’s clutter-free. Not only that, but I don’t like living every day in or around filthy rooms. When I don’t get my cleaning done, I feel like I’ve fallen down on my job. My home isn’t always clean – just like everyone, I have those days when I’m a little lazy or I just don’t get much done. But I know that when I do keep my home neat, clean, and fresh, it will help me physically and emotionally in the long run.

Usually, to help further freshen up, I’ll diffuse essential oils (lately I’ve been loving Young Living Christmas Spirit, Clove, and Tangerine – either a blend of all three or just a couple). Diffusing makes the room smell delicious, and it has great health benefits. I even do this while I’m cleaning to help motivate me to get it all done so I can relax and enjoy my clean house for a while. You could light a candle or spray a room-freshener (I have a homemade Tangerine spray I use on occasion) – anything that works to make you feel cozy and comfortable!

3. Keep your calendar open and breathable.

Don’t overdo it! I don’t like filling my schedule to the brim with places to go and people to see. I like to keep in touch with people I have relationships with, and seeing those people face-to-face is extremely important in order to properly maintain a relationship. But I get mentally and emotionally exhausted very quickly in social situations, to the point where I even get out of breath and can’t wait to go off by myself (this is an extreme example, but it has happened). So, in order to keep mental exhaustion from leading to worse or physical exhaustion, I have to make sure I’m not packing my schedule too full. In order to keep the groups from becoming so large and overwhelming that I can’t visit with everyone there, I like to spread out the days I see people – and I try not to make every encounter a big event. Sometimes the best thing you can do is slow down, have a cup of coffee or tea, and simply be with a friend or family member. This can be hard to do during the holiday season because we want to do as much and see as many people as possible!

I do understand that a lot of people can handle a fuller schedule than I. But I believe it would help everyone to find his or her limit and stop there to recuperate.


 

Of course, these are just three simple things that help me, especially when I’m needing a boost. Maybe there’s something you can add to my list! If you’ve got something, let me know in the comment box. 🙂

I hope the beginning of everyone’s holiday season is cheerful and stress-free!

 

We All Need To Slow Down

We’re going home for Thanksgiving with our families this week! After tomorrow, I’m going to be taking a break from the computer for a few days to spend time with them.

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time of year in which families can get together (some for the only time all year). It’s a time in which we have the opportunity to free up our schedules and simply be with the people we love, thanking God for the blessings in our lives. I talk a lot about how much I love Christmas, but to me they go together. I think the holiday season coming up is one of love, thankfulness, and joy; it’s all one big reminder that there’s so much more to life than we remember sometimes.

Especially after recent world events, I’ve been thinking harder lately about the blessings in my life. It’s caused me to realize that I need to slow down. I took a step back and looked at my life. I have overwhelming, undeserved blessings. I have good health and a roof over my head. I have a husband, friends and family who care for me, a new family to be a part of, and material blessings that I can’t count.

We all need to slow down. Our society lives life frenzied and rushed, seemingly only thinking about things that won’t matter once this life is over. Materialism lures us in, only to cause stress and busyness. Which leads me to this: Life is a gift; it’s not certain. Take the time to to stop and breathe – to count the blessings you have and thank God because all good and perfect things come from Him (James 1:17). The world is far from perfect and far from peaceful, but no matter the bad, God is love. He brings peace.

We shouldn’t rush through life, taking everything around us for granted. As of now, I’m choosing to live an intentional, purposeful, slow-paced life because that’s what I need. I need to focus on the big picture and take everything in. I firmly believe it’s what we all need. We’re not meant to take up our time rushing and worrying from one day to the next.

Try it; put busyness aside and, with a clear head, spend time with your loved ones – make it intentional. Take a day (or two days!) to take care of yourself and nourish your soul. Spend time in prayer and in the Word. Appreciate what you’ve been given. Make a habit of being grateful, and take time to slow down – just see where that leads you.

 

 

It’s Probably Because of Nonnie

Here I am around five years old.

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It was cookie day at Nonnie’s. Every year, the week of Christmas, all of the grandchildren gathered at our grandparents’ house to bake cookies…or I should say, Christmas cookies. 🙂 We had fun rolling out the dough and tossing red and green sprinkles over the tops of sugar cookies. I don’t know about everyone else, but this was one of my very favorite parts of the holidays.

I mean, look at that face. I’m ready to completely plow you over if you come near my sprinkles or Christmas tree cookies. Not to mention, those red and green overalls and pigtails with matching ponytail holders (notice the white one has a gold star attached to it). I couldn’t get any more serious about baking if I tried.

I always say that my love for (read: obsession with) Christmas came from my Nonnie’s festiveness.

If you don’t know Nonnie, she’s a very small woman who has a big personality and an even bigger heart. She always manages to look fabulous – even if she’s wearing pajamas and a robe, shuffling around in her slippers. I think she even wore her slippers to my engagement party. Any less fabulous? I think not. Hats are her thing – if you sit behind her at church, you might need to scoot over because her hats are straight out of fashion magazines. Her wit is sharper than anyone else’s I know, so if you think she’s being serious, you’re probably wrong. She makes the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had and can make ice cream sandwiches into a sneaky whipped cream covered dessert casserole and no one will ever know it. She wears long sleeves in the summer because she’s always cold, and needless to say, she rocks that look. She eats ice cream or oatmeal almost every day, and you’ll never leave her house empty-handed.

And Nonnie loves Christmas.

Usually, by the beginning of December, holiday cheer is starting to envelop her house. She fills almost every room with Christmas trees, wreaths, candles, reindeer, little Christmas villages, bows, and Santas. When I say filled, I mean exactly that. Her table is decked out with Christmas china and German blown-glass trees. You know “Deck the Halls”? I think it was written about her house.

When I lived at home, my brother and I used to help her decorate her tree. By decorate, I mean “hang the ornaments evenly on every branch so that they dangle perfectly, reflect each tiny lightbulb with all of their might, and fill the inner depths of the tree with all the joy you have. And then place the Santa on top.”  There’s never a naked branch to be found or a bare spot under the tree. It looks like a Hallmark Christmas card that pictures don’t do justice. Let me give you a visual from an old phone camera:

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Now, she doesn’t stop with extraordinary tree decorating. Oh, no. It doesn’t stop there. Nonnie probably has 100 collectible Santas lined across tabletops all over the house. If you visit her at Christmas-time and comment on her Santas, she will, without a doubt, show you the first Santa she ever had. This is the one that’s fading to orange and looks more loved than all the others. She’ll press a button and make battery-powered Santas sing and dance to Christmas songs, and she’ll sing and dance right along with him – probably one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, continuing right on to Christmas day, when she never fails to wear a giant, glittery gift bow on her head, looking like a flapper in the 20’s. Remember what I said about her fabulous style?

She means business.
She means business.

And all of this comes in a whirlwhind the day after Thanksgiving. She turns on 96.9, the local radio station back home, and she gets excited. She knows the words to all of the songs and isn’t ashamed to sing or make us sing too (especially “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which used to be a terrifying, put-you-on-the-spot Christmas day tradition for the family). Since last Christmas, Nonnie has had a little dog. This year I don’t doubt sweaters will be involved – quite possibly even bells.

Most importantly, Nonnie loves to give and she loves her family. Her generous, hospitable spirit is probably what makes Christmas so wonderful for her. Even to this day, she makes Christmas goodies and takes them to her neighbors. Not a Christmas goes by (or a regular day for that matter) that she doesn’t think about someone else.

Two years ago, Christmas day
Two years ago, Christmas day

So, yeah, it’s November 6th. “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet,” says everyone. But I’m gonna listen to the Michael Buble Christmas album, watch those Christmas movies, and I’m gonna get excited.

It’s probably because of Nonnie.