Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sugar Cookies and Sanity

Photo courtesy of Erin Johnson

I love Christmas. Who doesn't, right?
It's just the most magical time of year! Staying warm and cozy inside, where it's beautifully decorated, while spending time with loved ones. Eating amazing food, exchanging gifts, and listening to Christmas music that makes us feel peaceful and nostalgic. It truly is just a fabulous way to end a calendar year.

But let's face it, it's also.... completely insane.

There are A MILLION THINGS to do. There are gifts to buy! And trips to plan! And baking to do! And Christmas cards to mail! And parties to go to! And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Then there's the fact that in the excessively Pinterest-inspired society we live in, we're practically drowning in a flood of cute ideas and precious traditions that JUST ADDS MORE TO DO. 

For example, WHO in their right mind came up with the concept of smearing toothpaste all over their bathroom and propping up a mischievous elf next to it so that their kids can enjoy the idea that their house is haunted by one of Santa's helpers? And then making sure that by the next time their kid blinks, this Elf (who is apparently the Lucifer of the North Pole) is making a brand new mess somewhere in the house for Mom or Dad to make AND THEN CLEAN UP?

I'll go ahead and bet that IT WASN'T A PARENT!

Can we just zoom out and think about this for a second? This is lunacy! Our parents would have never bothered with crap like this, because they were apparently the last generation to be burdened with practicality and common sense.

We, on the other hand, can't help ourselves!
We make extravagant advent calendars that have a different Christmas activity written on little notes every single day, that we have to plan our lives around or miserably fail at! 
We wrap up twenty five books and put them under the tree, so the kids can open one every day until Christmas!
(Let me do the math for you here: $17.99 per book X 25 days = A MILLION DOLLARS. Sorry kids, you're going to have to eat your new books for dinner, because now we're broke.) 
We even make Christmas light scavenger hunts! (Like... what?!)

Here's my point with all of this... we don't have to be like this. 
We don't have to do ALL THE THINGS that we like the idea of, but in all reality actually ends up sucking the life out of us and our families.

You know what we can and should do? Things that breathe life to our souls and families.

My friend Erin bakes and decorates the most unbelievably gorgeous cookies (shown above) that might as well belong in the Louvre. Clearly, she studied baking AT HOGWARTS and you know what? She loves doing it! She doesn't do All The Things, but this is her thing.

Every year, I send and hand out around 150 Christmas cards. Why? Because I enjoy it!
But every year, without fail, at least a one or two people who I give Christmas cards to immediately look defeated and go "Oh geez, you do cards? Ugh. I've never been able to get these done."
(Let's face it Ladies, if Comparison and Perfectionism were olympic events, we would bring home gold medals EVERY. DAY.)
Believe it or not, I didn't actually put makeup on, bathe my children, have a friend snap a picture of all of us, and order a bunch of cheap prints at Costco JUST TO SHAME OTHER WOMEN!
I honestly enjoy sitting down with a glass of eggnog and While You Were Sleeping playing in the background, and stuffing envelopes. It's fun and relaxing for me! It's my thing. 

But you know what wouldn't be fun or relaxing to me? Opening up a new note from a freaking advent calendar every day that gives me some sort of exhausting activity to do right then and there with my hyperactive children. I swear you guys, by day two I would be a walking Jack Nicholson impersonation. 
Not even from Cuckoo's Nest, we're talking THE SHINING here.
Trust me, no one would be having fun.

But I bet that's someone else's thing and it's not a complete life suck for them!

My point, again, is that you don't have to do it all.
Do some of it, do none it, it's up to you. But make sure you're not doing it because you feel like you have to. Do it because it brings you joy. 

And here's my other point: you also don't have to GO to it all.
You know ALL the parties and gift exchanges and relative obligations that you're expected to be at? 
Come close and listen to me....


It's true.
You do not have to be overwhelmed by the workload of packing or baking or shopping, if it's just prepping you for your next nervous breakdown.
You do not have to go into debt to show people that you love them.
You do not have to put up with the racist grandma or perverted uncle one more year, just because someone will be offended that you didn't show.

You not only have permission, but a responsibility, to prioritize your mental health over people pleasing.
Especially if this time is already hard because of grief or depression or broken relationships. Be kind to yourself. We are all human, which makes us a lot more fragile than we like to think we are.

You also have permission prioritize your own family over all of the invites and obligations.
A sobering thought that I think about often as a parent is that I only get so many Christmases with my kids. 
And then they're gone! 
They'll be grown and will have their own lives and families and maybe they'll celebrate some holidays with us, but they certainly don't have to. And either way, it won't be the same.
I really try to take that into account every holiday season. How am I going to remember these little years? Will I be resentful that I shared too much of my precious time with them? 
How will they remember me? Will they associate Christmastime with their crazy, stressed out mother acting like someone who should be institutionalized? I really hope not.

As fun and magical as the holiday season is, there is lots of wisdom in taking a deep breath and giving ourselves grace. In keeping perspective and not getting swept up in it all, as if we're completely out of control (which were not.)
That if we literally say NO to everything, and the only thing that we do this whole month is take a moment to thank God that He sent a baby, who will be coming again as a grown man to fix ALL OF THIS, then that is enough.

And most importantly, we can have hope that someday...
 Elf on the Shelf will finally meet his maker.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Current Faves: Fa La La Edition

Hello and Happy December! 

I don't know about you, but by end of November I'm feeling about as heavy and stuffed as the Turkey I prepped on Thanksgiving morning. 
This is compounded for me by the fact that my husband goes hunting every November, and the way I choose to spend my alone time is by vegging out and consuming around 10,000 calories each day between all of the bread, wine, cheese, and chocolate.

(In case it wasn't obvious, my spirit animal is an old, fat, Italian man.)

I try to include my friends in on this healthy, inspiring lifestyle, especially the ones whose husbands are also gone hunting. My friend Danni and I have made a tradition of getting together for Fancy Food Night every year when our husbands go up north together, where we let our kids play and watch movies, while we savor a homemade menu of delicious appetizers, desserts, and wines. (While wearing sweatpants and oversized hoodies.). 
This year we ate stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, sausage puffs, and brie pastry bites (shown above), one topped with wine-soaked blackberries, and the other with dried cranberries and fresh rosemary. 
It was all to die for and worth every extra chin we now have because of it.

I also got the special treat of having my dad in town the same week Luke was gone, which was so fun. He flew here for the week to sing with his old music ensemble, and in between his rehearsals and performances, we took advantage of every moment of our precious time together by doing nothing but watching Jeopardy! on Netflix, only stopping for bathroom breaks or to get another beer.

...I know. 
We are basically the quintessential father/daughter relationship that everyone is striving for.
But on a related note, we are both now super ready for a career move into competitive trivia, as soon as Alex Trebek calls.

"TEXAS...with a dollar sign next to it!"

Name that quote and I'll be your best friend. 
(Which is honestly not that great of a prize, considering how horrible I am at texting people back.)

My mighty, bearded hunter eventually came home, along with two dead deer and the stench of someone who hadn't showered in 4 days. 
(A hygiene lapse rare for him, but what people like me tend to call 'Tuesday'.)

He then proceeded to hang these dead animals in our garage and we butchered them together know, the way I was raised to help my future hunter/gatherer husband.


I took pictures of him with the hanging animals, but I decided not to post those here because even though I am now a full-fledged country wife who has become too dead inside to be grossed out by these situations, there's still hope for you! So get out while you can!

Anyway, once all of the vegging/eating/bonding/butchering was over, I've been trying to get back into my healthier eating habits again, so that by Christmas and New Years I can feel free to consume all the cookies and roast beef and champagne to celebrate the season without feeling like I'll have to buy new pants because of it. Because everyone knows that shopping for new jeans is just Satan punishing us.

Speaking of New Years, I feel like all of my current favorite things could be a blessing somehow to your holiday season or the fresh start we all appreciate getting at the beginning of a new year. 
Here they are:

1. ) Gay Girl, Good God

Not to be dramatic, buuut... the worst possible decision you could ever make in this life is to not read this book. 

I honestly cannot over-emphasize what a treasure this is.
Jackie Hill Perry (who I've followed for years) (on social media, not in real life) shares her incredible testimony, including the neglect and abuse she experienced growing up, her life as a lesbian, and Jesus calling her for Himself.
This is no story of someone responding to an altar call and cleaning up their act so that they can be a pretty, little christian. This is no testimony of how wonderful and righteous Jackie is or became.
This is a story of wild love and scandalous grace. And it's all Jesus, baby.

In addition to the work that God has done in her life, He has also given her an UNREAL gift in writing. Her writing style is so raw and breathtaking, it's almost... upsetting! You just don't read many books today that thread vulnerable story-telling, poetry, and bold truths together so exquisitely. While I was reading it, I kept thinking:
  'This is like if Maya Angelou and C.S. Lewis had a black, female, millennial baby.'


Please, pleeeeease read this book. 
Read it if you are gay or straight, christian or non-christian.
Read it to be in awe of God's goodness, over and over again.
Read it to be encouraged and convicted, like I was, to find all of the pleasure and satisfaction that I desire in Him.
Read it so that we can love our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters better than the Church has done in the past.
Read it to rid our hearts of religion and find freedom in the Gospel.

I'll stop there. No more spoilers. 
Order it HERE and then email me and tell me what you thought! 

2.) Salt Fat Acid Heat

Last week, in the middle of a rough day dealing with a head cold and some delightful anxiety, I sat down to rest and randomly turned this on, having no idea how much I would end up enjoying it.
Salt Fat Acid Heat is the most charming, relaxing, fascinating blend of a travel show and a cooking show, hosted by Chef Samin Nosrat, based on her bestselling book. In each of the four episodes, she takes you to a different country around the world, exploring the component of the episode's title, and how the quality and beauty of different foods and ingredients make dishes extraordinary.
This show is really unlike any other. Samin is such an endearing mixture of kind and fun and down-to-earth, and also so smart and well-educated. (Plus, not that I have anything against white, peppy, southern women who host cooking shows, I think we can all agree what a breath of fresh air an IRANIAN AMERICAN is to the food-TV universe. Thank you Jesus.)
Just trust me and go watch it on Netflix. It is so unique and inspiring, and will refresh your love for food and cooking and hospitality and the beauty of other cultures.

3.) Bible Reading Chart 

I’ve used this bible reading chart for the past two years and I love it.
 I love that it’s not a pre-made reading plan, but just a chart that you can use to track your reading and/or make your own plan with. After plenty of years of failing reading plans (by the way, who was it that decided that we all needed to read the whole bible in ONE YEAR? And why? Why one year? Why not 18 months or 2 years, huh?!), I had finally figured out some of the factors that made me constantly struggle with the type of consistency it required of me. 
First of all, setting up an entire year’s worth of daily bible reading has felt like making a meal plan for an entire year. Which would be so unrealistic! Because by week 2 or 3, life happens, and someone gets sick or you have company in town or you have to make unexpected trips, and plans change! And then getting caught up with The Plan becomes overwhelming and discouraging and it's all too easy to just give up. When that happens (which it has to me many times) it becomes more about The Plan, rather than the point of the plan. 

Which is to get to know God!

If He really is the author of creation, the One sovereign over everything, an unmatched, holy being who is powerful enough to wipe us all out and yet extends His love and mercy to us through His grand plan of redemption… WE NEED TO KNOW THAT GUY. 
And there’s no way we can walk away from any experience with God (and synonymously His Word) the same as we were before. 

Our motivation should ALWAYS be about our relationship with God, rather than a duty to a religion.

Second of all, as important as it is to read ALL of God’s word, and not just the parts that we like or make us feel good, there ARE going to be plenty of times in life when we do need to focus more on certain areas of scripture. Whether that’s for a bible study, or searching for wisdom that speaks to a hard situation, or we're in a season that pushes us to lean on specific truths like our lives depend on it. Not only is that okay, but there should be plenty of room for that in any “plan” we do. 
Because again, this is about relationship, not religion. 
Which means that God is not only privy to, but INVOLVED in all of those hard spaces of our lives, and His word will be living water for our thirst.

As cliche as it can sound, God’s Word really is spiritual food. And just as with actual food, life is going to call for different types at different times. There are going to be busy days when we grab a granola bar before heading out the door. There will be days when we are sick, and can’t handle anything more than tea and soup. There will be days when we will feast on rich, filling meals that we have the time to savor and enjoy. And then there will be all of the other days in between, when we will (ideally) eat consistent, healthy, and delicious food.
Our bible reading is going to look very similar to that fluctuation, because the only predictable aspect of life is that it's unpredictable. But that doesn't mean that we have to fall into patterns of ALL OR NOTHING with the habits in our life that nourish our souls and bring us peace.

Saying all of that to say, if your personality type or season of life lets you thrive with the help of pre-made bible reading plans and you're able to read through the whole bible once a month, keep on rockin' it. (And please share whatever steroids you're on.)
But if this has been an area of struggle with inconsistency and discouragement, know that you're not alone (Hi!) and that there are other ways and methods out there that can genuinely support and encourage you in your daily fight to know truth and grow into someone more and more like our Savior.

HERE is the link for this colorful and pretty reading chart that you can print out for yourself, and HERE is the link to a bunch of other different plans (including this chart) that could be exactly what you're looking for. 

4.) ThirdLove Bras

(If you're a dude, feel free to continue reading if it helps you shop for your wife for Christmas.. if not, Adios!)

Okay, I'm sure you've heard of this company because whoever is in charge of marketing over there totally slays on social media, and we've all heard of these people.
BUT I am here to tell you that all of their campaigning about being the most amazing bra out there is actually....COMPLETELY TRUE.
I've been very passionate about 'correct but comfortable' bra fittings since I was around 18. Because when you're fortunate enough (sarcasm font) to be shaped LIKE JESSICA RABBIT, you sort of have to be. For most of my life, I've been a really uncommon bra size, which has made it hard to shop for something that doesn't look bad and/or feel uncomfortable all day.

I ordered a ThirdLove bra a couple of months ago, after taking their My Fit test about which bra would fit me best, based on my body type and breast shape. It felt like a pretty big risk considering that their Classic T-Shirt Bra (which is the one I was matched with) runs at $68 each, but I took the leap of faith after seeing how many factors they took into consideration in their fitting test.
It came in the mail, and I immediately loved it. It is seriously the most flattering AND comfortable bra I've ever worn, and was worth every penny.
Which is their company's goal and mission: that you shouldn't have to sacrifice sexy for comfort.

I honestly just love their whole company.
I love that this company and these bras were created by women who wanted to help other women, instead of men who wanted to give other men something nice to look at.
I love that these women want to help every woman find the right size and fit for her and that they do free exchanges. I love that 100% of the exchanged bras get donated to organizations who help with disaster relief and the homeless population.
I love that ThirdLove is fighting hard to change the societal standard of beauty by including all types of shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities into their campaigns, through the models they use and the sizes they offer.

 THESE are the type of women who should be called "angels".
(See what I just did there?)

Go HERE to take their My Fit test and order your future favorite bra through them. You will not only love what you get, but you'll be supporting a wonderful company and good causes through it.

Well that's all for now, I hope you're enjoying the holiday season and are able to keep focused on what's good and life-giving, amongst all of the crazy busyness.

If not, just take a deep breath and watch some Jeopardy!.