Beginnings and Endings

Loveys, when I start writing a story, I like to have an idea of the beginning and ending. I don't need to have a perfectly clear picture of what's going to happen (in other words, the exact scene), but I usually know who the girl will end up with (if anyone) and where everyone will be. So I have an end game in mind when I'm writing.

As for the beginning, that part can be tricky. You always want to start strong, of course. I usually have a basic idea of where my character is starting out (both emotionally and physically) and where she needs to go.

It reminds me a little of how I feel here at the start of a new year.

I know where I am, emotionally and physically. And looking back just over my shoulder, I can see the end game for last year. I can see where we ended up. The mystery of the moment now is in wondering where we'll go this year. Where time will take us. Who we will become.

So, looking back, how was your year? How was mine? I don't know if you've ever heard of the One Second App, but I love it and I record one second of every day. I was going through my one seconds this morning, looking over 2017. And I loved so much of this past year for my family.

Starting with the beginning of last year. Then Lily turning two. Michelle and her family coming to visit. A quick trip with Jeff to Virginia (which involved a flight and a road trip with my friend Tammy, then, with Jeff, meeting the president of the United States, making new friends, and getting to see my mom on Mother's Day!). Then school ending and us going to Texas to see my grandmother in the hospital. Time with family. Vacation trip to San Antonio and SeaWorld. My book The Last Summer releasing and a fun party with my lovely friends to celebrate. Another trip back to Texas, this one more heartbreaking as we celebrated my grandmother's life after she passed away.

And then, back home to warm summer days with my family, which is comforting, of course, amid grief. VBS. A trip to Texas to help Michelle. Freelance projects to finish. Backyard campout and s'mores for the kids. My cousins coming to visit and doing all the fun, touristy stuff in Colorado with them. Birthday parties and school starting. One more trip to Virginia with my sister for a double book signing for us! Trick-or-treating with Pikachu, a ninja, and Yoda. Driving to Louisiana for a Southern-style Thanksgiving with Jeff's wonderful family. Black Friday shopping.

Back to Colorado and a visit from my aunt and uncle and her best friend (with a family dinner party and early birthday celebration included!). A visit to see Santa. My sister Laura and brother-in-law Wes coming to visit from Virginia. Feeling the baby kick and hearing the heartbeat of Laura's soon-to-arrive baby (which thrilled my kids! Lily kept saying, "I hear my cousin!"). Trips to the city.

Then my parents arriving and a change of plans, along with a quick, mini-Christmas (with tamales and taco salad and a few surprise gifts). My beautiful family all around my table. Then girls' night out to the Nutcracker with Sara and Mom and Ashtyn. Memories and music. Shopping trips and Hallmark movies and wrapping. Christmas Eve church services. Baking cookies and decorating gingerbread houses. Cooking cornbread and fixings. Christmas morning Santa gifts and plenty of coffee. Then a house filled with family and friends for Christmas lunch. And a quiet New Year's Eve for a worn-out, happy family, staying warm and cozy while it was freezing outside.

That brings us to today. The decorations have been stored away. Grammy's watching Netflix and has the sniffles. We've got a few more days till school starts back up. And this mom is a bit worn out herself right now.

There are some Januarys where I've jumped in, so ready for the fresh start a new year brings. This one hasn't been quite like that. I'm not feeling great. I haven't hopped on the treadmill, determined to fulfill resolutions.

I'm a little weary from a truly wonderful, full holiday season.

And that's okay.

I think it's fine to take our time sometimes. To know when we need rest and quiet. 2018 has started that way for me. There are plenty of things on the schedule already. Doctor appointments to catch up on this month. Birthday parties the kids need to go to. Writing that needs to be done. Bills to pay.

I haven't planned out resolutions, only knowing there are a few things I need to get done one way or another. My fifteenth wedding anniversary is coming up. My sister will be having a baby soon and I'll be an aunt. I hope there's a family vacation squeezed in sometime this year. ...

This year, like other years, my goals are simple. Love my family. Do what I can. (Maybe watch the news a lot less and spend less time on my phone.) Live well. And just breathe.

(It's good to make resolutions on days when you're tired. The expectations are more realistic! Ha!)

As I look back over that list of all that happened in 2017, I realize how much life we lived. There were many days, quiet at home with the kids. But still, a lot happened. My kids grew and learned so much. I worked on some projects I really enjoyed. We were so blessed to spend time with lots of our extended family. The book that had been in my heart for 20 years finally was published.

So maybe I'll just take whatever 2018 brings. No doubt there will be some surprises. Some twists and turns. Maybe--probably--a little sadness. Good days and hard days. Excitement. Exhaustion. Change. Quiet, monotonous days, too. Fun days with the kids. Long nights when someone gets sick. Milestones to celebrate. Family movie nights. Netflix marathons with Jeff. Pizza on Friday nights. Book club. Freelance projects. These are the days of raising my kids and juggling schedules and time flying by when we want it to slow down.

I'm tired but happy here at the beginning. It's not a bad way to start.

Are you glad to let go of last year, or are you a little sentimental at the thought? Is this the year you're hoping for so much to change, or are you in that sweet spot where life is going as you want? Do you have a slew of goals and things to do, or are you, maybe, a little weary and in need of things to slow down? Wherever you are, you're surely not alone. Lots of us are right there too. Needing change. Needing rest. Or ready to get started on something new.

I'll say goodbye to 2017, thankful for the memories I want to hold on to. Then, like closing one book and opening another, I'll settle in for what's to come.

Happy New Year, loveys. I hope it's your best one yet.

Here We Come A-Wassailing--a Little Women Brunch Party

Loveys, if you're wondering, wassail is a warm holiday-ish drink, a lot like apple cider. My mom would buy these little cartons of 'wassail' from the Hallmark store when we were growing up. She'd mix the spices with apple juice or cranberry juice and warm it on the stove around Christmastime. I loved it. Another tradition from my childhood is watching the Little Women movie. We'd watch the 1949 version with June Allyson as Jo, or the 1994 version with Winona Ryder and Christian Bale. In the latter, the movie starts at Christmas, and the March sisters go walking through the snow (to carry their breakfast to share with neighbors less fortunate) and the girls start singing, "Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green; and here we come a wandering so fair to be seen..."

Both the wassail drinking and movie watching are wonderful memories for me. So this year, when it came time for my annual ornament exchange party, I decided to go with a Little Women theme, since that story is special to me, especially at Christmas. And the truth is that the writer in me loved researching Louisa May Alcott as I clipped quotes for the table and read about the inspiration behind the story. (She hadn't wanted to write the story to begin with, but once she was finally persuaded, she wrote it in just two and a half months!)

The story of Little Women, to me, is a picture of sisterhood--women banding together to make it through difficult times. A woman and her four daughters, keeping things going while the men are away at war. There's love and romance and self-discovery, but also courage and strength and heartache. And this underlying thread of what it is to be a woman with few options but so much capability.

That brings me to thoughts on Christmas. How many moms and grandmothers and sisters make the holiday season extra special for their families, through hard times and good times? (Dads, too, of course, but we're talking Little Women at the moment.) The resolution, and also creativity, of the sisters (and their mother) in Little Women reminds me of so many women I know. It reminds me of my own mother and sisters.

We can do things.

Like Christmas. (Which can get a bit hectic and crazy and exhausting.)

I love hosting this Christmas party. I start planning it out early--lists of things to buy and what I need to do. And I get so excited for every 'yes' RSVP that rolls in. Just a little gathering with food and friends. For several years, I'd host an evening ornament exchange, with appetizers and wine. But the last couple of years I've switched to a morning brunch, with mimosas and a potluck. The main reason for this is that December is so busy for everyone, evenings fill up quickly,  and it seems more doable for most of the women to squeeze in a morning get together. While I really enjoy setting up the table, or going with a theme, I know deep-down that actually, everyone would be just as happy with no decorations and some store-bought cake. Because it's truly about spending time together. The door opens and friends walk in, bringing homemade blueberry French toast bake and savory dishes and donuts and breads and fruit and scones and sweets and champagne and juice and everything you can think of! And everyone wants to help. That's one of the things I love about these women. At every gathering I host, friends are scurrying around, always willing to jump in and help with anything.

Because we're doing all this together.

When it comes to December, we're juggling schedules and shopping and cooking and baking and wrapping and running ALL the time. And when women get together as a group, we pitch in and help. That's how it goes.

When planning out the party, I scoured the Internet for ideas on throwing a Little Women-themed party. There were a few blog posts out there that really helped. (That's why I like to do a recap and share the ideas!) For our party, I paid homage to the book and movie with a few tie-ins to the special Christmas breakfast in the story--oranges and sausages and sweet breads. There were limes for decoration because sharing limes was popular for Amy March and her friends. I printed off descriptions of the four sisters and quotes from Little Women and Jo's Boys for each table setting.

(Again, doing this stuff is fun for me. The party would be just as fun with all of us eating bagels, drinking champagne, while hanging out and wearing messy buns and pajamas.)

One of my favorite decorations this year was the wreath above my chandelier. My aunt was in town just before the party and she made that for me. It was absolutely perfect and went with the theme of greenery and garland that I was going for.

A girlfriend who's been coming to the ornament exchange for several years walked in and said, "Our party seems to be growing this year!" I loved that. We were squeezed together and running out of room over here this year, but I enjoyed every minute. My husband ran to my neighbor's house the night before, to grab extra chairs. (Thank goodness for neighbors.) I'm thankful for every person who could come, and I missed every person who couldn't make it. (December is crazy, loveys.)

One of the reasons I love this particular party every year, is that while there may be work parties to go to and kids' class parties to attend, not all of us have the opportunity for a low-key get together with our girlfriends. Or maybe we seem to be on the edge of every group of friends, and we're never quite sure if we'll receive an invitation. That's okay. (Trust me, lots of women are living on that edge. I know that edge well.) For myself, I love Christmas. And I love food. And I love holiday music. And I love parties. So I'm going to have a party and hope some people will come hang out. (Win win!)

Friends and food and Louisa May Alcott--these things made up the ornament exchange this year.

I look forward to it for so long, then in a blink, it's over. The truth is, I know how much I love to open my inbox and find an invite to some type of gathering, it's for this reason that I love to throw a Christmas party every year. Sometimes I start saying to Jeff, maybe in late September or early October, that I probably won't do a party this year. Jeff just shakes his head and smiles and says, "You're going to throw a party. I know it. You know it. Vegetable lasagna knows it." (Yes, he quotes Seinfeld, and truly, I love that guy so much and couldn't do any of it without his help.) It doesn't have to be fancy, lovey. A party is just people coming together, sharing their time and space with each other. Maybe December is too hectic. A January get together or night out would be just as fun, a chance for friends to share their hopes and dreams for the new year.

Now it's on to class pajama parties and more family coming to visit! Christmas dinner and presents and carols on Christmas Eve. We saw Santa this week, and I felt like I was mentally checking off another thing on my to-do list. Santa? Check. Ornament party? Check. Shopping? Christmas cards? Check. Check. And on it goes until December 25th.

But we hold on to the memories that come with these days. I was sweeping late the other night, preparing for my sister and brother-in-law to arrive, and I turned on Christmas in Connecticut to watch while cleaning up. One of my favorites. And I love it because my Mimi introduced that movie to me. It was almost as though she was with me. She made Christmas special--cooking for her family, buying gifts for her grandchildren, welcoming us into her house--she loved these things. And that reminds me, the memories last long after the moments have passed.

I love Christmas.

For sure there's stress. A crowded schedule. Too much to do. Tired kids. Tired parents.

But woven through all that, there are these moments that are making imprints on our hearts that will last. I hope my kids remember how it feels on the nights where we bake cookies, or watch a Christmas movie, or decorate the house, or read the Christmas story.

I know I do.

Merry Christmas, loveys. I hope this holiday is extra special for you and your families.

Goodbye October, Hello November! Living Out Who We Are

Loveys, October was so much fun. My kids love dressing up and carving pumpkins and Halloween candy (me too) and cartoon specials. How was October for you guys? For us, there were trips to the mountains for ice cream and rushing rivers and seeing the fall colors. Freelance projects. Tutoring. Martial arts. Flu shots. Lots of homework happening. Monster Mash dance at school. Poldark and Outlander and wine. Book club. Basketball nights. Taking dinner to a friend. Cheesecake date with sister.  

All good things.

It seems like it's a busy life for all of us. Connecting with each other. Living out the day to day. Keeping home and family running the best we can. Even when we want things to slow down, sometimes it's not possible when juggling schedules. We get tired. We push through even when we're worn out. Or we get sick and need help. Or one of the kids has an accident and we're headed to Urgent Care. It's just real life. (I made a minimum of eighteen peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches last month. Real life with a first grader.)

Here's something I've been thinking about lately. I sometimes feel like I'm living in this constant paradox of wanting more adventure in my life--and also wanting to stay home in my pajamas.

Do you know the feeling? (Tell me I'm not alone in this!)

Life is filled with all these monotonous things (see above about the PBJ situation) and we sometimes feel the desire for more.

There's also that thing about being tired and not having capacity for much more.

Where does that leave us?

(Usually watching the Food Network, or maybe that's just me.)

So sometimes I think we need real adventure. Like a change of scenery. An out of the ordinary experience. Something new. Something different. Something exciting. I think those are good things and sometimes we have to seek them out. (Take the one million years it takes to prepare the family to go somewhere and actually load up the car. Or find a sitter and put makeup on and do something with your hair that hasn't been washed.)

And other times it's okay to just hope and wish and plan while we go about everyday life. For me, there are four other people to consider when thinking about anything. And three kids who come first to me. So it's a balancing act (that constantly tips one way or the other).

You know what--adventure is good for them too.

So is routine and steadiness and consistency.

It occurs to me that the Jeffster needs adventure too. Just a little. Every now and then. :)

People talk about having white space on our calendars. In other words, leaving room to breathe. But sometimes I look at our calendar and wonder where they find it. Something has to be cut, I suppose. Maybe some people can look at their calendars and they know lots of things that could be cut for breathing room. For others, it's like looking at your budget, trying to find more money. Not so easy.

Every year my kids get older, a few more things get added to the calendar, and I feel that's just real life too. I want them to learn. And to be able to do things. To experience life with us and the people around us.

While I was growing up, my mother was a teacher at the small Christian school we went to, and my dad was a police officer who worked extra security jobs to make ends meet. We were very involved with our church. And looking back, life was very busy. It seemed like we were always at the church/school.

Life is busy. Then and now.

But my feeling from growing up was that the majority of the time, especially during childhood, our home was peaceful. There wasn't a lot of fighting ever. My dad was calm and steady. My mom is beyond capable. They loved each other and they loved us. My dad would bring my mom a rose home. He'd kiss her hand when they sat next to each other in church. My mom was funny and nice and everyone always liked her. She has soft hands. She likes to have fun.

Memories of holidays and Saturday nights and shopping for banquet dresses and watching movies like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, my dad coming home in his uniform, my mom falling asleep grading papers--it was not perfect, but it was safe and peaceful and loving. And having a family of my own now, I know that that is the goal. Not perfect. But really good.

And that's what has stayed with me.

We can be busy and we are right now. That's life. But this home can still be peaceful if Jeff and I are peaceful. If the goal is loving and safe and peace-filled--I think we can manage those things. (P.S. Some years it's harder to achieve this than others, but it's a good goal for me.)

October has passed and we flew into November. I was looking at my calendar last night, and it's looking full. Sunday lunch with friends, movie night with Jeff, Thanksgiving lunch at the school, a wedding to go to, holiday with family, one project I still need to finish . . . and all the other stuff we have going on with the kids.

In all of that, it's a month to focus on being thankful. If my heart starts there, I think it's going to be a really good month.

I'm thankful for friends and people to do life with. I'm thankful for these kids, and we'll juggle whatever they need us to. I'm thankful for Jeff, so we'll make time for each other. I'm thankful for the holiday season, because I wait all year for it and it's awesome.

November means Christmas is literally a gasp away.

So I'm party-planning for December and I'm listening to Christmas music (no apologies, I've been listening off and on since July, so there).

Here at the start of November, loveys, what do you want for your holiday season? What's a must on your checklist? (My list is already too long.)

I want this holiday season to be memorable and heartwarming and the kind you never want to forget. Maybe a little adventure. Maybe squeeze in time for romance. Maybe cut down on gifts and go for just a few really meaningful presents. Make it about love and joy and peace and sacrifice--those things we say but sometimes let go of.

Make it whatever you want because you can.

I'm all in this holiday season. Starting right now with gratitude this month. And giving and sharing joy and peace and love in December. This week on the way to school, Ashtyn told me that her favorite thing about the holidays is being with family. (Such a precious girl!)

It's about giving and sharing who we are with others. I've been working on a proof lately for a publisher. The book is all about loving the people around you. Your neighbors. Your friends. Your family. Choosing to love those people like Jesus loves us. I told Jeff, I'd cried four times by the time I reached chapter five. I'm choosing that this year. Choosing to pour into what I have. 

It's officially the holiday season, lovey. Go grab an eggnog latte in a Starbucks holiday cup and dive in.