just breathe…

 

 

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Well, the Christmas crazies have hit. I love it. Always have. I think the more celebrations we have in the dead of winter, the better. We need more than one and a half weeks of frivolity! That magical time from December 23rd (I like the build-up) until January 2nd when my tired tree is unadorned, is beautiful, frenzied, silent, exuberant, exciting, hushed, alone, together, and ours to make the way we choose.

 

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Are you wondering what I’m saying? Make your peace with this season and find your happiness. Craft and carve it out so that Christmas Eve is the way you like. And Christmas Day and why not throw in Boxing Day, which is family game day at our home, and then New Year’s Eve Day, the Eve itself culminating in New Year’s Day. Spend some time with family or friends, and the rest of it is yours. Spend some time with you. Doing what you like. And the rest can be given to your family or friends and the people who want you with them. Give them a rested, happy you. That’s the best gift. And for you?

 

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If you want a cozy fire, with classic Christmas carols playing softly in the background, cuddled in a warm blanket, glass of wine in hand with an engrossing book, plan it. If you go to church like we do, plan for that special time. Meditate on what happened on Christmas Day. I look at our creche and sing the songs long known by heart, and I do feel it. My peace on earth, come down from heaven.

 

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Yours might look different. Santa and cookies left by the tree. Or skiing all day and enjoying eggnog at night. We all Christmas differently. If you want to change something to suit you better, try it. Remember that this is the season of giving, but it’s the little things, the smallest gifts that mean the most. A cup of chai tea latte hand delivered. A candle made by your hands. Finding a new song to love and share. Laughing over funny memes. Sharing a slice of cheesecake. Baking cookies and sending them off to neighbors.

 

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Give? Letting that car merge. Giving up a parking space. Opening the door for another human. Most aren’t aware as they wander in an unknown hypnotic state, trying to finish in time. Let’s make sure we walk through the next three weeks aware, awake and able to give, with the wisdom to stop when we feel out energy depleting. Then it’s time to mindlessly play a video game, watch a Christmas movie, or sleep.

 

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I like to look at my trees and look at the ornaments. The family’s favorite tree is the one I named the “family tree” because it has every ornament ever crafted and cobbled together by my children, by me when I was just five and all the “ugly” ornaments from the 1970’s that my mom gave me. We love that tree, more than the stately one full of glass ornaments. Precious, fresh, fragrant and perfect. We choose the imperfections. That brings up armloads of happiness, much laughter and happy memories.

 

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Make the next three weeks fun and restful, exciting and calm. Give a little and save some for yourself. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And it will be if we make it that way, but it’s all a choice. Grab it. Your happiness. Peace. Warmth.

 

I’m wishing you all the happiness your heart can hold…

Until next time.

Light the way…

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For the next few crazy weeks, I’ve decided to post everyday. I hope to inspire you. To find comfort and caring in the middle of a frenzy. And if not a frenzy, then in loneliness. Because I know each person matters. We all carry light or darkness with us as we leave our homes each day. I like light at the windows, so other can enjoy the warmth. Choose light today.

 

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Deciding to deal with the gray of winter, while Christmas, which some days feels like a full contact sport, with us meeting Christmas Day, tired, longing to remain in our pajamas or sweats, nibbling on candy and watching old Christmassy movies till our hearts are full, seems almost impossible. But it’s not. Bring in the fresh cedar tree and even a tiny Charlie Brown tree. I’ll get my morning coffee today and see this Charlie Brown tree and make a choice to see good in others, even in the middle of impatience. Just the way you choose too. What do you want to change? For a better you?

 

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In spite of work, raising families, helping our aging parents if we’re lucky to still have them, in spite of all we need to do, there is time for us. Step out and look at the sky at sunset. I know, it’s awful that the sun sleeps much of the day, but still, the sky is hauntingly beautiful, in a way a December sky can only be. The angle of the sun, the silence outdoors, well I do hear the freeway, but still. Breathe in your day and exhale all the bad. And look around.

 

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Do you see the peonies I found? Peonies mean springtime, when possibility lands at your door every morning. But today I found a spot of spring in the middle of the longest nights of the year. Find a way to relax. Hallmark does have happy movies on right now. Twinkle lights make me feel less alone, when I’m here, by myself. Put up twinkle lights. Choose your color. Blue? Go for it. I’m into a classic white this year, and I’m not sure why. New house and all? I guess I have to figure her out.

 

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You have to know I follow Jesus. I choose that. So I may pepper my posts somedays with Jesus. But he brings light, just as much as my snow laden tree does. Why do we crave light? The candles, the fire, fire pits, the Christmas lights thrown everywhere? To feel less boxed in, to feel up when the darkness yanks us down? Is that it?

Choose right now, until Christmas, and if you don’t celebrate that, then until New Year’s Day, choose to light your early mornings or evenings with meaningful and purposeful light.

 

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Make a choice to put up a strand of twinkle lights. More if you have the energy, and take time out to look at them. Enjoy them. That’s my wish for you today. Light. Take it in. And send it out by showing kindness today.

I’m wishing you all the happiness in the world….

Until tomorrow then.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy ThanksChristmas…

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I’ve returned to my senses. Back to feeling up and happy, And you? Are you getting ready for the big dinner heading your way in a little more than a week? I am. I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving since 1997. Bittersweet, because my father-in-law died that year, one week before Thanksgiving, and my mom-in-law wasn’t up to having the dinner at their house. So, I offered and it became tradition.

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I went overboard that year and shelled the chestnuts by hand, for the stuffing. My fingernails were nubs by the time I had all those chestnuts ready for chopping. And I had to have a fresh floral centerpiece, created the night before so it wouldn’t wilt. Now I just run in to the floral shop and grab a centerpiece, leaving me time to bake all the pies.

I’m ready to set my Thanksgiving table. But the dishes would be dusty by next Thursday and the wine glasses would be too,  so it’s probably too early to set my table. Maybe I’ll lightly dust the day before? No? Not palatable? Okay.

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We will gather around this table in the one room my daughter asked not to be changed into my Christmas decor. It’s tough! I’m ready for the change. I’m jealous of our cousins across the Atlantic who do not have Thanksgiving, and are setting up for Christmas. I love Thanksgiving, don’t get me wrong, but the Canadians just might be right about having it in October. Why? I love the twinkle lights that grace our descent into the dark days, where it feels like night most of the time.

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Don’t say a word to my daughter, but before I head out of town for six days! Six! To see my family out East, I’m bringing in Christmas. Room by room. The second I have my trees up, you’ll know! I think I found everything I need in boxes in the basement. It’s tough to know really, because the movers put all my winter boots and shoes in the basement, and I just found them yesterday, if you can believe that. I guess Master Bedroom written on the box screamed Basement to them! Who knows? But I found them in the nick of time. It’s now a game for me. Where are the kitchen utensils? And yes, I just found them yesterday too. In the basement by my husband’s workbench. Makes perfect sense and really I was missing my ladles and rolling pin. Maybe that’s why I’m so happy. I’m finally finding the rest of my stuff. In the basement.

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When I come back, I’ll have to shop right away. Maybe I should grab the turkey this week?? What do you think? And then I’ll bring out the Christmas trees and listen to some Snoopy music (the Peanuts music from the Charlie Brown special?), and I’ll… wait! she will be so upset. My eldest. The rest don’t care where I place all my Christmas trees, and we’re not even talking about the real one I buy each year from a cold and frosty grocery store. You should see the Hallmark moments my husband I share choosing a tree in front of the store under the glow of parking lot lamps.

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Random lavender, but oh so pretty. Back to Thanksgiving and Christmas… which one do you prefer? Are you itching to place garland across your mantle? I am! My kids crack me up. Christmas for me is an event. Yes, I celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus! But I also make a game of placing trees wherever I like in the house, and my husband says anywhere is fine as long as he can see the football games from the kitchen. The kitchen, you say? Yes! I place a tree in the kitchen some years.

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Back to my daughter. I told her a few years ago that my wrapping paper “theme” was plaid, using greens and reds only please, and she actually brought in her gifts wrapped in “The Little Mermaid” Christmas wrapping paper! She told me she searched for weeks for a properly ugly Christmas wrapping paper, just so my theme would be ruined. I love that! Now she has most unfortunately brought the other daughter to the dark side and they bring in their gifts a week before Christmas, and laughingly place them under my tree next to my beautifully color coordinated paper and bows and gift tags.

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Oh, this? All the books I buy that I mean to read, but if I read them all, I would have no life at all. Do you know I have two shelves dedicated to Christmas books? Yes, I love the season that much. But I’ll keep the pilgrims, oh no! I just remembered they’re not out, and I’m not sure where I saw them. The guest bedroom closet? The coat closet? This moving thing is tricky. Now I have to find my porcelain turkey, and I haven’t seen him since last year. What to do?

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I’ll think “autumn” and inspiration will follow. Don’t you love the holidays? Feeling competitive with your neighbors, craning your neck as you drive or walk past their windows and you see it. Their tree is all up and lit beautifully! I make it competitive! Isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Getting that perfect Instagram pic? No? You’re right. It’s about gathering together or huddling with your besties and thanking God for all he has given us. For seeing us through this year. Good and bad times. All of it. And we eat and celebrate and reconnect. And that’s beautiful…

And then the it’s a game of who flips on their Christmas lights the earliest on Thanksgiving night. Game on! Count me in!

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The fun, crazy season is almost upon us. Why don’t we grab a slice or two of pie and enjoy what’s to come. I’ll try not to get too hung up by the beautiful crusts, latticed perfectly, and browned to perfection that I see in my magazines. Thanksgiving is not a competitive sport. Christmas might be, but I think I’ll grab a glass of wine at about eleven a.m. on Thanksgiving and enjoy the people and the food. Green bean casserole will be next to me on the table.

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I have to go and find my pilgrims. I hope you have a beautiful week, and are anticipating the fun of Thanksgiving.

I’m wishing you happiness wherever you are…

Until next time…

Free flowers and bourbon…

 

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December descended upon me and the first flakes of snow surprised my upturned face, and I began to hope for a very snow-filled holiday. While spending time over some very good bourbon with my husband, we began deciding where to travel next, but for now I’m happily tucked away at home, buzzing with energy and happiness. Is it the hot coffee I cradle each morning or the excitement of the season? Do you feel caught up in the fun? Are you merrily preparing for Christmas or Hanukkah?

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I’m back on a happiness hunt and finding it so many places my head spins round. I found these gorgeous flowers at the store and half of them were thrust in a shopping cart labeled “free”, and I grabbed the gift. It’s not about presents but about being fully present in the moments that make our days happy. My daughter came over and made a gingerbread house while I played with my free flowers.

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Have you noticed it’s the small things that bring us happiness? I love Snoopy and always have, and after the dog decided to ravage him last year, I replaced him and he sits, lovably, with all my bears. Small thing, discovering this Snoopy at the grocery store. (I know! My grocery store sells the most interesting things and I love it.) I’m creating a teddy bears’ picnic under one tree and sweet Snoopy crashed their party. I’m happy fussing with my trees and their themes. So…what’s your small bit of happiness today?

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These pretty pillows add to the Christmassy feeling. I know one of the guys in our family is going to comment on the impracticality of a pillow with jewels attached, but I’m on a tartan plaid hunt, and the reds are luscious. Everyone on my list is getting tartan flannel pajamas, and the reds turned my head. Red feels warm and this cold weather has me reaching for anything that brings warmth and beauty and comfort.

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These flowers look beautiful. And I have a few more secrets to share…

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This luxurious Advent calendar sits under my “main” tree and every day, after I’ve spent time reading and sipping hot coffee, I open another day and find a pretty treat. I’ll take these little treasures on trips since they’re perfect for packing on a flight. It’s a small bit of happiness, I know. But sometimes that’s all we need.

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I’m trying to enjoy each day. My cat thinks the “kids” Christmas tree is his personal play land and climbs the branches, batting at the “toys” hanging so deliciously. For him (or so he believes). I know it’s not his tree, really. But watching him enjoy Christmas makes me think how we need to find happiness today. Grab a book and head for a quiet spot. Watch those Hallmark movies. Head outside and embrace that cold and the skies that are the color of snow.  Ice skate again. Hike. Sit indoors with a little bit of bourbon and watch Netflix.

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Make this your happiest holiday ever. I’m wishing you skies full of snow and a basket of free flowers for the taking. Until next time…

Delightfully December…

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We’ve made it. Arrived. December sits at our feet and what do we do with it? Rush around, picking out the perfect tree, lit with fifteen strands of lights at least, baking perfectly homemade cookies, while attending holiday events looking incredibly composed even though we feel slightly crazed, desperate to create the perfect holiday (as if that exists), with Christmas cards written and sent before December 25th.  I forgot the gifts! Shop for the perfect gift for everyone on our overly long lists, including the mailman, as long as the monetary value is less than $20 per regulation. But not me. Not this year. I’m embracing a form of simplicity. I decorated with eight Christmas trees because that is my thing, but I let other tasks slide. Store-bought cookies taste great. That’s why I buy them.

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The point is to do the things you most enjoy. Christmas brings out the tree fanatic within me, but my neighbor rocks an outdoor colored light show each evening, and my friend bakes long into the nights, sharing her assortment of cookies with us every year. What do you like to do around the holidays? What makes you happy? Focus on that. Bring your brand of beauty to December, and the other stuff is just stuff.

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Christmas is not a competitive sport. No one wins an award for doing it all, even if we did it all well. Which isn’t humanly possible. Here’s a secret to my eight trees: I don’t adorn every one with ornaments even though one year my mother decided to bring a U-Haul filled with Christmas to me, as a surprise. I have enough ornaments (massive understatement); I just don’t feel the need to place them on every tree. Though the first year after the U-Haul I did re-create a Santa tree, and all my kids said that year was how utterly creepy the Santa heads with full beards and no bodies were. And I placed the Santa-head tree in the front room so everyone had a month of laughter each time they strode through the door. Not quite the look I was going for, but, I laughed too.

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In dark December, I crave light, and my trees bring that to me. I have different lights on each tree and the glow makes my soul warm even in this terribly chilly month. Candles, fires, lanterns and lights bedazzle my eyes and I don’t feel the dark descending upon the world. I love the soul who places a lit Santa next to our winding, heavily treed road, and this year Mrs Claus joined him. I smile every night and wonder how many extension cords they needed to plug in the Clauses in the middle of their woods.

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Embrace December, regardless of your beliefs. Be willing to change traditions. I don’t know how this started, but after going to church on Christmas Eve, my family loves to go to China Town Buffet. So we do. I only have to produce one dinner then, as expected on Christmas Day. But if you don’t do Christmas, go to the movies (though I think that is becoming very popular), or stay all day in your P.J.’s doing what you love. Spend these dark nights with those who light up your world.

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And even better than that; spend some time with others who struggle with bills, loneliness, bad health, and face a bleak winter. Give. Give away your manicure. One December, I really wanted to take a romantic horse ride through the city, but decided to hand the cash to a homeless man. I’m so warm thinking of his smile. I feel it years later. Find the beauty in this month. She might be hiding a bit, but search for her.

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I’m back on the hunt for beauty and happiness, and it feels so good. Spread the warmth. Light up your soul. My goal this month is to set aside the time to read a good novel. Iced tea and a book, even if December brings more cold and cloudy days.  I’ll sit by my Christmas forest and smile in sheer contentment. I’ll be back in a few days. We have so much to look forward to…together.

The wonder of wandering…

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Who takes a trip to see family in mid-December, with plenty of wrapping, baking and card writing waiting back home? Looking at all the people in the airport today, swirling with moms soothing toddlers and couples sitting this-close to each other and the long lines of passengers waiting for a cup of patience, either at the bar or my personal favorite, Starbucks, I’d say a good many do. My oldest had time between semesters,  so a trip back east sounded perfect.

We begged my dad to show us some honest to goodness Amish farms, and out there in the country we found a pond, freezing over. Another week of very cold air and some lucky kids can skate and slide until their toes turn frosty cold.

 

 

My father obliged the two of us and we wound through the hills, knowing the farms would be magical, thinking we knew best and then… we fell in love with the winding road that brought us to some mid-century homes complete with electricity, tucked into the hills and hollows of the land. I think sometimes we go out searching for what we think will make us happy and are taken by surprise when our heads are turned in a different direction.

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The Amish farms were sedate and quiet on this Wednesday, so we wandered further afield and found an afternoon filled with pure joy! I spent the day with my dad and daughter and wandered around aimlessly until the car turned into a quaint village, almost like the town from It’s A Wonderful Life. I fell in love with the shops, and while my dad made friends at the pub down the street, my eldest and I discovered a shared love of all things vintage. Who knew? We sampled teas and chocolates, oohed over fragile glass ornaments that couldn’t possibly be taken home, and found treasures in the $5 and under closet at the men’s haberdashery. I bought a tartan blanket, some Christmas signs and potpourri. Purchases that would arrive home intact and ready to make our homes feel cozy and festive.

 

 

By the time we turned back to wend our way to the pub, our fingers were cold but our hearts were warm as toast. Then the pub topped off the day, so sweetly. We all ordered off the menu and ate our dinner while watching the attached hotel fill up with travelers and other shoppers seeking respite. My mom waited back home, but we knew she needed a little break from us (can you imagine?), so we chatted up the bartender while we feasted on fish and chips.

 

 

I drove home, since coffee and tea were my choice yesterday, and the twinkling lights and small towns called me back to the places where I once played, long ago with cousins and a grandma who fried chicken for dinner with no thought to cholesterol. And when I felt my heart burst with gladness, we topped off the night with a movie. Dad dropped into sleep rather early, so we sought out my mom who regaled us for hours with stories of Christmas in the 1940’s. Do you find moments of wonder in the unexpected? Isn’t it beautiful to listen to the ones who came before us? Who might know secrets we have yet to discover? Listen. Ponder. Wonder. Wander.

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December can drive you crazy and the finish line is New Year’s Day, when you collapse in a heap, vowing to make next year’s holiday better. More efficient. I say you could go the other way. Do something unexpected this December. Take a side trip to some out of the way place. Put off the cookie baking (you can always buy them at a local bakery) and watch the pond, the rivers or the woods. Find a space in the city away from the noise. Hang out in a cafe, tucked away from the world. Who knows what you might discover?

 

 

I desperately wanted to see the Amish farms, since they are slowly being devoured by subdivisions. I longed to see a buggy with proud horses trotting gaily down the same roads I used to drive. But the Amish stayed hidden this day. The corn fields stood quiet, almost sullen. No wash hung out to dry. So we took different roads home and stumbled upon something different, and our day was better for it. We found what we were looking for in another place. Do you do that too? It’s there. This very moment…

Revel in the magic of the end of the year.

The very trappings of happiness are so elusive. Really. We’ve had frugal Christmases in our home. That’s when we focused on other things. The dinner with whatever family members decided to ride out Christmas in frozen, snowy winters up north. You would find us in the kitchen, close to midnight, singing along with the songs on the radio. The Carpenters and Frank Sinatra. Half of having happiness is making your own happiness, filled with a good measure of kindness.

 

 

I hope this December has brought you lapfuls of contentment, but if you’re struggling, you’re not the only one. You have a lot of company.

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Don’t fight the twists and turns. They’re leading you somewhere better, someplace beautiful. We have so much to learn.

There’s an old Icelandic tradition on Christmas Eve, where they exchange books that evening, snuggle up in warm chairs together and read, while they eat chocolate. Chocolate! That’s my kind of holiday, and we’re doing that this year. I told my family I must have Icelandic roots, because books and chocolate would keep me happy for days.

Grab onto your traditions. Even if it’s a new one.

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Look for the beauty down the road. It’s there. You might find yourself standing in the middle of a road you never thought you’d be on. There might be something to learn, something to savor or something to celebrate. Grab your slice of happiness and bring a cup of it to someone else who needs that right now.

I hope you are somewhere cozy and safe tonight sweet friend. Be happy.

 

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Midnight singing with sunny blues skies…

Waking up before dawn, I witnessed frost covering every twig, leaf and blade of silvery grass. I didn’t have time to take a picture, since I was rushing around trying to get too many December errands done, but I thought about the frost all day. It is beautiful, and we can only find it in the quiet season, this time of rest. And yes, you’re probably laughing at the irony of it, that at the very time the earth slows down and offers up time for us to not plant, not weed, not water the grass, we might be up to our ears in busyness.    And if that’s true, know that it’s just a season in life and one day you’ll have the time to look up at a December sky and see the palest baby blue you’ll ever know.

 

And while those days of herding little ones through the wonders of Christmas are gone for me, I don’t mind. I’m happiest seeing what’s just ahead of me and enjoying life as it hits me. Can you settle into your days? Enjoy where you are? If you’re working crazy overtime, walk outside and enjoy the sun, even for a minute. If the only time you can break away for a breath of fresh air is at night, then do it. Yoga at sunrise? Sure. A stolen glance at the evening stars? Take it! When I had little ones, and then they turned into teens (no one told me about babies changing into hormonal teenagers!), I had a super secret stash of dark chocolate in my closet. When I needed a boost of serotonin, I would hide in my closet and unwrap a delicious chocolate or three, and that would hold me steady for the next five minutes. Until I could get my hands on a cup of hot Starbucks.

When I lived in Wisconsin, the only time I could get out for a walk or a run was after sunset. Long after. And for a season, we lived in a subdivision that had one street, going in a circle. One circle? One mile. I would bundle up and begin the first mile around in the very dark that only a place without streetlights brings. This place was out in the country, away from city lights, and one half of the circle had houses decorated merrily that dared the dark to dwindle their glitter and shine. But the other half of the circle? No one decorated for the holidays, except for one house that had a limp ornament hanging halfway off the tree, and it tinkled one Christmas carol, over and over.  Every mile I ran meant a pass past the tree with the somewhat dissonant music chiming away in the dark, with only me to bear witness. I got chills from it. And not the “oh it’s twenty below and I’m freezing here” kind of chills.

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Ever since then, I decided to bring color and shine and glitter into each December.  I smile when I see Christmas everywhere in my house, and up and down my street. We all throw on our lights each night and dare the cold to snatch away the same happiness we felt when silky June evenings whispered to us.

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See that cute sign I picked up for a song? Anything that glitters has my rapt attention. Wonder. This is the time for wonder. Wonder felt when a neighbor gives us a plate of Christmas cookies she labored over late at night. Wonder at the excitement of children waiting for Christmas Eve to finally show her face. Or the kind of wonder that wraps you up this time of year, remembering holidays long past. The warmth of family. Traditions carried forward. Wonder at the trees casting hauntingly beautiful shadows across snow. Across brown leaves that we reveled in a mere month ago.

My first year out of college found me working in a major city a long way from home, and at the last minute I decided to fly home, on Christmas Eve, as soon as I could scoot out of the office. I desperately wanted to make it back in time for Midnight Mass, because I knew my mom would be singing, and I wanted to be there in the warmth of that night. But a busted engine on a plane in Detroit kept me stranded until almost ten o’clock. I went to join other weary souls at the bar in the terminal, and while I sipped a festive drink, I started my own singing of the carols right there. I might have been missing the church choir in all their regal splendor, but we all piped up and joined in and shared Christmas Eve together. When I straggled into church a bit past midnight, my mother spied me tiptoeing in and when we finally hugged, I noticed her tears. We were together. I was home! Wonder of wonders, that plane took me to Syracuse in time for Christmas.

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I hope this finds you somewhere warm and happy. Even cold, as long as you are happy. But I’m learning about happiness and her secrets. Somedays you have to make your own kind of happiness. It might mean sneaking into your favorite stash of candy or a drive-through hot chocolate with extra whip, or it could be hanging out another strand of lights. Find the wonder and you’ll find a good measure of happiness there too.

Have a beautiful week sweet friend.