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.

IMG_3519

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.

IMG_3595 (1)
Here we are with hats and our friends’ baby boy.
IMG_3583
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.

IMG_3624
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.

 

 

I Got My Dream Job

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a marine biologist (what was I thinking? I’m not good at science). As I got a little older, I thought it would be cool to be a journalist in a big city, which morphed into just wanting to write.

By my transition from high school to college, I wanted to be wife and later a mom. I went through college, and eventually earned my Bachelor in English, but I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere; I was restless and thought what I was doing was pointless (deep down knowing it really wasn’t). There was never an academic niche I felt like I really fit in and had a passion for. I knew I could write, but I never thought I was getting anywhere with it. So I hoped and prayed I could have the “job” that I wanted. The one I didn’t always like admitting to people. The one I got funny looks for talking about.

I wanted to work from home. By that I mean be a homemaker and write in between, but it’s hard to do that if you’re a family of one, providing for yourself. So I continued school and my on-campus job, patiently waiting to see what opportunities would be opened to me. God has answered my prayers beautifully. He’s opened up doors for me that let me write, be what my husband needs, what my church needs, what my friends need, and what I need.

Two years ago I found a man that I fell in love with (actually, he found me). Here are our first photos together. 🙂

Thankfully, his job allows me to stay home and be his helper. To most people it’s an old-fashioned, unconventional job.  My husband goes to work Monday-Thursday, and I get to keep up our apartment, cook our dinners (or try to – still working on that one), and make time to help others when they need it. I get to be and feel useful.

IMG_3427
My husband is a forester. I have to share this precious picture of him before work Monday morning. I got to go with him part of the way to work because his work truck was in the shop.

God has allowed our relationship to grow in a beautiful way. It’s a way in which our lives aren’t rushed, and we can spend time growing together in Him. There’s not a better feeling than knowing I’m doing a job that God intended me to do (Genesis 2:18). I’m proud to have a job that can further His kingdom, one in which I get to respect, love, submit to, and work with my husband. Because I married such a loving man, it’s easy for me to submit to him. He doesn’t abuse his headship or leave me out of decisions. We’re equals in our relationship – equals with different and important jobs, and we both recognize this. We both recognize that we’re useful to each other equally. I’m thrilled to see this part of God’s plan working in my life.

Apart from my home life, I still get to write. I get to use my gift to share my life with others in an effort to encourage and inspire. I no longer have to squeeze this kind of writing into my schedule like I did in college, feeling guilty that I never had time in between classes and homework. Writing is something I get to make time for during my day, and it’s something I can do while still carrying out my  stay-at-home wife responsibilities.

11895171_872607106153002_8729459140147426202_o
Wedding photo courtesy of Elles Photography

I’m not a mom yet, but one day I hope to be, and like my marriage relationship, I hope to be a mom who glorifies God. Because it’s all going to be part of my exciting, God-given, life-fulfilling job. I know it takes patience, and my job will always come with its own challenges, but I also know that I can have joy through those challenges with God in my life and Christ in my heart.

Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good for those that love God, for those who are the called according to His purpose.


i-got-my-dream-job-2

Tiny Kitchen Organization

My kitchen is approximately the size of a shoebox.

Exhibit A:

IMG_3405
Excuse the harsh lighting and cluttered grocery lists on the fridge; still a work in progress.

While I’m glad the rest of my apartment isn’t also the size of a shoe box, having a tiny kitchen makes it hard to organize everything you need in a kitchen. Picture the cabinets you see on the top right (across from those are very similar ones) crammed with cans, boxes, and bags of food, plus several spices and other cooking or baking items. It’s filled so much that you can’t find what you need without something toppling onto your head – or to avoid that happening having to climb onto the counters to scrounge through to the back of the cabinets only to find that it was right in front of you all along. That’s the situation I had going on.

Small-But-Mighty Storage

Before I got overwhelmed and first started to tackle the kitchen, I saw some small holes where nails had been along the bottoms of the cabinets over the sink. I realized that I could put nails there myself and hang things on them to keep the counters free from clutter and the items easily attainable. I tried this with some cute measuring spoons, pot holders, and a dish towel (John Mark also hung a mug there). This has worked wonders for me; the towel is easy to grab when I’m washing and drying dishes, and I can always get to my measuring spoons without digging in a drawer. I may even add some more nails where I need them.

IMG_3412

The Dreaded Food Cabinets

I usually think I’m pretty good at organizing – I can at least figure out how to do it, even if I don’t go buy the things necessary to carry the task through. I had spent a lot of time on my step-stool, getting down to business with these cabinets, thinking I had finally figured it all out. I was determined that we had plenty of space to store everything without using all of my energy finding and getting it back out to use it! There aren’t many organizing situations in which I’m completely burnt out and at a loss for ideas, but these cabinets held me hostage. As many of you can imagine, this was a disaster for me. So, naturally, I spent countless hours pinning my dream kitchen and organizing hacks in an effort to spark some kind of inspiration fitting to my shoe box kitchen (no pun intended). But, honestly, nothing beats finally texting your mom with that “will you please come help me organize my kitchen cabinets??” text.

I knew she would figure it out.

My parents just so happened to be passing through on their way to see my brother last weekend, so they stopped at our apartment for a while. My mom had told me that when she came, she’d help me with the cabinets. John Mark and I ate breakfast with them and visited for a while…then I just let her go and do her thing with those cabinets. I walked in the kitchen every few minutes to check on her – by “in” I mean “right outside of” because we wouldn’t both fit with such a big mess in there. At one point I walked in and the counters looked like this:

A lot of random stuff, right? It always gets worse before it gets better.
A lot of random stuff, right? It always gets worse before it gets better.

This pile eventually dwindled down to nothing, and everything had a home – more on this in few minutes. Now, I had two main cabinets I was worried about: the one above the counter that holds our un-refrigerated food, and the one above the stove that holds baking-related items (it used to be a store-all kind of thing).

I had already bought a couple of storage containers at Bed Bath & Beyond that are wonderful (one of the ones I bought is a two-tiered shelf system), but I didn’t think any more would fit without still having some trouble getting in and out of the cabinets. So, while my mom was working in my tiny kitchen, she figured out a way to organize these containers and the surrounding food items still left over in a way that wouldn’t be a hassle. Before we go any further, you need to know that my cabinets are a little warped. They hold things just fine, but the bottoms of some of them are slightly concave, so if you need to store something a little top-heavy, it won’t stand up correctly. So, we needed to find a solution for this next – I hadn’t even realized there would be a solution to this.

John Mark and I received a lot of cutting boards as wedding gifts. I only use a few of them, so she found a couple that would fit the width of the cabinets and leveled out the bottoms so I could put boxes, cans, or bottles on top of them. Here’s what it ended up looking like (I know you’re dying to find out):

On the top left is a bin with boxes of baking soda, cocoa, etc., and the right is the stackable shelves with small spices.
On the top left is a bin with boxes of baking soda, cocoa, etc., and the right is the stackable shelves with small spices.
Below the bottles, you see a magical, leveling cutting board.
Below the bottles, you see a magical, leveling cutting board.

She modified it even more after this. We used to keep bread on top of the refrigerator because there was just no place for it to go in the cabinets. I went back to the kitchen another time, after it was under control quite a bit more, and found her looking for another small cutting-board-leveler. When I found her one, this is what she did with it:

The peanut butter and jelly aren't knocking each other over now!
The bread fits, and the peanut butter and jelly aren’t knocking each other over!

Plastic Bag Solutions

I had absolutely no clue what to do with the three kinds of plastic bags I own plus the aluminum foil and Crock Pot liners. I had read about attaching them to the insides of cabinet doors, but couldn’t figure out a practical way to do it. The only thing I didn’t think of was tape! 🙂 We decided to tape the flaps of the boxes to the insides of the bottom cabinets where we store pots and pans (which is still a work in progress).

It originally looked like this. A horrible place for them, can't you tell?
It originally looked like this. A horrible place for them, can’t you tell?
Surprise! So much easier.
Surprise! So much easier.

The aluminum foil is now standing by itself, and the Crock Pot liners are inside the Crock Pot. This was a pretty easy fix, and it took hardly any time. We used packaging tape because it holds better than regular tape and is more attractive than duct tape.

Refrigerator Makeover

Like I said before, we used to keep bread on on top of the refrigerator. I also stashed John Mark’s Clif Bars, all of our baking and sweet potatoes (in a Veggie Sack), and anything else we couldn’t find a home for on top of the fridge, as well. This has changed…mostly. There are still things on the refrigerator that shouldn’t go in the cabinets, but they’re so much more attractive now.

Before
Before
After
After

Since the fridge is really one of the first things you see when you look into the kitchen, this two-tiered basket really helps to make the room look less cluttered (it’s from Target). We put the Clif Bars in a medium-sized Pyrex bowl – I had plenty of Pyrex to spare, and the Enjoy Life Chocolate chips I use for baking and fruit dips in a jar that we already had – they won’t melt on top of the fridge!

Final Touches

The last couple of things that needed a home were my aprons. My grandmother and a friend both bought me aprons, and we just hated to have them crammed in a drawer somewhere where I couldn’t get to them if I needed them. We bought a two-pack of Command fancy-looking bath hooks to hang those on (similar to these, with a brushed nickel look). They also added some much-needed color to the room that I thought would never be there.

IMG_3414

Tiny Kitchens Have Hope

There has been some serious progress happening in my kitchen. I feel like I can cook and breathe at the same time now! Even the smallest and bare-est of kitchens can be dealt with and made warmer – mine is proof, although I still consider it a work in progress. What else can you really do to a rental, you know? If you’re struggling with organization, it really pays to brainstorm and use simple things you already have in your home. We only ended up buying two items for organization purposes that day and still accomplished so much! It’s a relief to have an organized, simplified kitchen.

How I Make Mornings Easier

There’s almost nothing on this earth I love more than a put-together home. A put-together home leads to a more organized life. I’m a routine person, but I am not a morning person. There’s not a whole lot I’ve been able to do to fix this quite yet, but I have found a couple of things that make it a little easier.

When I was in college, I was used to waking up early for class, and even enjoyed getting up before dawn to go to on-campus yoga classes and run with friends in the Campus Rec, so my built-in alarm clock woke me up by 9 even on Saturdays. Well… I have no more classes, and being a stay-at-home wife makes it way too easy to sleep in until 11 or 12 on the weekdays. (Oh how I wish I could get myself back into that routine when I would get up and practice yoga into sunrise – there’s something so energizing about that). So I’ve been trying to set my alarm for at least 8 am, usually 9, for the past week or so to make sure I don’t oversleep. This way I feel refreshed enough to get things done during the day and I haven’t been lazy when I could be getting things done, and 9 is a good time for me since we don’t go to bed quite as early as we would like to. Actually, your body is healthier if you get roughly the same amount of sleep every night, and you get better sleep, or so I read somewhere….

I skip the coffee or can of coke (not actually Coca-cola for all those non-southerners out there) to wake me up – caffeine usually has negative effects on me, so I try to keep it to a minimum, especially when I’m trying to refresh myself for a new day. It just doesn’t make sense to start the day negatively. It feels better to slowly let my body wake itself up instead of jump-starting it with a jolt of unnecessary energy.

So, after I wake up I go ahead and take a shower and get ready for the day. I mean full-outfit, fixed-hair, put-on-makeup kind of ready, even if I don’t have anywhere to go. There are occasional stay-in-my-pajamas days, but I’ve found that I’m much more productive when I look like I’m ready to be productive, so I’ve cut those to a minimum. Granted, when John Mark and I first got married, I was still in my pajamas with unwashed hair by the time he got home. I’m still a work in progress in this area. Now I usually wash, blow-dry, and straighten my hair (or put it up in a bun) and put on a simple layer of makeup – I haven’t been doing the full face look with eyeliner and layers of eye shadow as much anymore because it just takes up too much time. I finish up by brushing my teeth.

Once I’m done getting myself ready, I get the bedroom ready. I always, always make the bed – sometimes I do this before I get ready, but most of the time I can do it much more cheerfully after I’ve woken up a little more. My only exception to this rule is Sundays, when I usually take a nap in between morning and evening worship services, and because we’re usually rushing around trying to get ready. Making the bed just makes the room look put together and makes me feel like there’s less to do cleaning-wise. Thanks to my mom for teaching me this nifty trick. 😉 I only really adopted it a few months ago, and it’s been a game-changer.

While doing these things haven’t magically changed me into a morning person, they have helped alleviate the grumpiness I have when I wake up, especially with that new 9am wake-up call. It’s my morning organizational therapy. I firmly believe in that, by the way; it’s kind of my thing. Maybe this can give you ideas or spark your morning creativity when if you’re not a morning person either. If you’re already there, what do you do? I’d love to know!