full of heart

I drove by Lake of the Isles this morning, and as the sun rose over the ice-capped water, snow sparkled in the trees and the clouds glowed a soft pink.  My heart felt so full.  Not only because of the scenery, of course, but the beauty of the landscape seemed to echo my feelings. Rain comforts the sorrowful and soft pink sunrises inspire the grateful.

Our wonderful holiday was filled with family and friends and love and cookies and snow.  The blessings of the season were more than I could have hoped or asked for, and I returned home feeling overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation.  I worked with my thesaurus to find a single word to describe ‘fullness of heart’ or ‘a heart full to bursting’ but my efforts were futile.

I wanted to share a bit of our holiday with you.  Or, more honestly, I suppose I want to record it here for memories sake.  You don’t mind, do you?

Christmas Eve we took a family sleigh ride through the woods.  The trip was as poetic as the thought, and the 5 degree weather ensured we were bundled and sipping cocoa for warmth.ImageImageImageImage
We went to a candlelight church service after the sleigh ride, and, despite the adventures of the day, managed a game of Ticket to Ride before bed.  In the morning, we exchanged gifts and watched how happy people get when you surprise them with something more perfect than they asked for.  They say Christmas isn’t about the gifts, and that’s true, but I’m always touched by the generosity and thought that goes into even the most simple presents.
Can you tell I’m excited about the sewing machine? I’ve always wanted to make my own pillowcases, dresses, quilts, napkins, and, well, you name it, but I’ve never had the necessary appliance — well, guess what I’ll be doing in 2014? I’m already signed up lessons! If you have any favorite patterns, send them my way 🙂

The gift last in this post but first in my heart is a trip to Jamaica.  Before I went into surgery, Jon told me that we would plan a sunny getaway as soon as I came home.  That night, hopped up on meds and bundled in his arms, we watched TravelChannel videos and decided to spend a week in Jamaica.

To make the excitement last a little longer, we decided to book our hotel on Christmas night.  So, as promised, we spent Christmas night reading reviews and planning the details of our Jamaica vacation.  Our hotel is now booked and I’m so very excited about the getaway in just 3 weeks.

I’m forever grateful that Jon suggested the vacation when he did- the thought made me smile, and it gave me something to look forward to during a very scary time.  What a loving heart that man has.

Oh, and you might remember that today is his birthday? I’m hopping offline now, and heading for the kitchen to whip up his favorite cakes and cookies and candies. He opted to work today, but we’ll have quite the celebration when he comes home at 5 o’clock.

Me and my full heart are signing off.  Have a lovely day ❤

ho ho ho

Feeding four grown men three times daily keeps me whisking, swirling, and mixing around the kitchen like a sister of Rachel Ray.  Since the men in question are burly sweethearts from the North Woods, they spent the day chopping wood and building sheds, and they return home with the appetite of Paul Bunyon himself.

My mother-in-law, Jane, has been feeding the men for over 30 years, and so I offer to take over whenever we visit.  Let her spend the day hiking, reading, painting, and enjoying the day far far from the kitchen (for once).

My commitment to feeding the men had me up before the sun to prepare the coffee and the daily menu.  Cinnabons, chocolate-chip banana-bread cookies and muffins were on the table before 8am.  Now, finally, I can sit down to reflect on our Christmas vacation.  Mind if I share some highlights?
Quite the carb fest, right?  Even so, delicious and absolutely necessary when you keep busy from morning to night.  Yesterday we had a lazy morning play Yahtzee in our pajamas.  Jon had never played before, but he secured a massive win with *2* Yahtzees in the first round:
My brother-in-law Ryan is a true woodsmen.  The man can chop a tree and turn the wood into just-about-anything-your-heart-desires.  You need a mailbox? Bam. An arch for your wedding? He’s got that (he built ours).  He’s worked with wood since he was a boy, and when I learned of his craft, I suggested he open an Etsy shop.  I’m working on an official website and bio for him, so I spent the afternoon playing interview in his shed:ImageImageImage
Jon planned to spend the afternoon shoveling snow off the roof of the house, shed, and boat dock, but I convinced him to break and just play in the snow.  What’s a wife for, after all?  Gotta convince the guys to have some fun.
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Can you believe Christmas is tomorrow? I wish it was next week and we could prolong all the excitement and cookies just a bit longer.  What about you? Are you ready for Christmas?

spirits are light

The only problem was that the day wasn’t long enough.  How often do we hop into bed wishing that we had a few more hours to enjoy the day?  Jon and I arrived at the cabin late Saturday night, and we spent Sunday enjoying family, friends, and holiday festivities.  What more could we ask for?

A highlight of the day was learning that I had my very own Christmas stalking hanging above the fireplace.  This is my second Christmas with Jon’s family, but the *1st* time I had a matching stalking — his mom sewed it up to match the stalkings she made her children 20 years ago.
My mother-in-law, Jane, planned a rah rah rah project to spread Christmas cheer to the neighbors.  The plan was simple but capable of spreading lots of joy:  festive ornaments would be placed in the surrounding woods to bring a bit of happiness to passerby.  What do you think? Gorgeous, right?
Then we finished decorating our own tree:
Jon and I got competitive with battleship:
Lucky me, I got an early Christmas present:ImageImage
The day came to an end with one of my favorite things: Christmas baking! Good news everyone (selfish news), this time I was baking baking just  for my family (as opposed to the other two times I baked cookies for strangers and friends).  Finally, at long last, I can dig into the sweet treats filling the kitchen:
Also, I received a free sample from Ginger Mail.  I love illustration, calligraphy, and design, so the surprise package absolutely made my day:
Alright, time to rejoin the cabin festivities – sledding in the morning, board games in the afternoon, and movies tonight.  I think we might have a sleigh-ride scheduled for the morning?  Anyway, with all the warmth and cuddles and snowfall and presents, I’m betting that today will be another day that I’m left wishing would go on and on and on 🙂

merry & bright

What did the doctor give Santa when he broke his leg falling down the chimney?  You guessed it – a candy cane! Bah, a good joke, right? Or absolutely terrible? You be the judge.

You’re probably wondering why that joke ever entered my head.  I mean, what was this girl thinking about all day?  Truth be told? How to best decorate a bus stop with candy canes.

Cane after cane went up in the little bus stop, and soon enough I’m wondering why they are called candy canes in the first place.  At the same time, I’m fielding calls from doctors & nurses about tests results and upcoming appointments. Candy cane experiment meets girl in recovery and poof! – A Christmas joke is made.

Minneapolis temperatures have been hovering around 0 the past few days, and so I wanted to give holiday treats to people that could use a little cheer amidst the cold.  Waiting for your ride with a candy cane is better than waiting for your ride without one, right?  Hopefully the rah rah rah experiment worked to make a couple people smile:ImageImageImageImage
Bus stop decorated, I spent the rest of the day decorating the apartment and getting ready for Christmas (the countdown is officially 1 week). The stalkings went up, the decorations came out, and Kinzie got a new scarf.  I know, I know, a scarf for my dog? I just couldn’t resist.
Also, how cute is this DIY? Not my own, but just might get some wood while we’re at the cabin and make something incredibly similar. Should be simple, right?
Are you ready for Christmas?

come sail away

What if I told the truth when people asked me what I wanted for Christmas?  Would people be shocked if I revealed my true desires, or would they just think I was rude — or worse, joking?

Riding in a hot air balloon has been on my bucket list for a while not, but as requests for my ‘christmas list’ fill my inbox from mom, grandma, mother-in-law, and sister, I find myself wanting to tell people that I’d like a hot air balloon.

Not as a ride, per say, but as a mode of daily transportation.

Something to sit in my garage, next to my car, and ready for me to fire up (literally) whenever I’m craving some scenery and adventure.  How lovely does that sound?  Should I be honest about my wishes?  What would you ask for if cost weren’t an issue?

Aside from daydreaming about sailing over cornfields, mountain ranges, lakes and oceans, I’ve been getting into the holiday spirit by shopping for others and getting our Christmas cards ready to go.  Little Kinzie got a sweater as an early gift:
Jon’s mom sent us this sweet ornament for St. Nick’s:
We bought ourselves Ticket to Ride, and then had friends over for a game night:
And, best of all, I convinced Jon to leave work and have lunch with me at The Depot. I was craving fish tacos and my sweetheart, and, well, we ended up getting to have a festive holiday lunch.  ImageImage
The Depot was decorated for Christmas, and when Jon started taking pictures of me in front of the tree, a nice man wandered over and asked if he could take pictures of both of us.  UM.. Yes! Thank you! He took a couple and now I’m making one of them into our Christmas Card.  Which do you like better?
Anyway, y’all, happy holidays, and remember:

searching for jingle bells (literally)

Confession: I’m incredibly selfish.  So selfish, in fact, that simply making this confession makes me feel like a weight has been taken off my chest.  Besides, now we have one less secret between us.

My selfish behavior sparkled bright this weekend when Kaitlyn and Sarah suggested that I join them in baking cookies for a cause.  Cookies are my favorite, and the only thing better than giving them to others would be, well, eating the cookie dough.  My point here is that I’ll bake cookies for just about anyone – not because I’m nice, but because I’ll thoroughly enjoy eating so much of the batter.  Do you blame me?

I spent most of Sunday (read 5 hours) baking with my good friend Brittany who, for reference, could be related to Betty Crocker.  The assortment of cookie cutters, sprinklers, and icings in her apartment made me feel like I was visiting the Keebler Elf factory.  We decided to make gingerbread and sugar cookies.

In between frosting and sprinkling and cutting, we ate plenty of cookie dough:
As we baked, Brittany neutralized my selfish tendencies by suggesting we give the cookies to the Salvation Army Bell Ringers.  Sweet girl, right?  I immediately agreed.  The next day we took our finished goods to the Minneapolis Skyway, and we offered cookies to the volunteers that try to make the holidays a little nicer for others:
The number of cookies baked greatly outweighed the number of bell ringers  (okay, okay, probably not if everyone got on a scale, but as an expression) and so we gave the rest of the cookies to people keeping warm in the plaza center:
A wonderful day spent spreading Christmas cheer, all because of this girl:
Spread some sweetness of your own and vote for Kaitlyn & Sarah in Cooking Light’s Bake a Second Batch competition.  Hope y’all bake treats for others and get to eat all the sweet cookie batter 🙂

wishes grow on trees

My greatest argument in favor of the Christmas wish-list comes from my allegiance to Angel Trees.  Instead of ornaments, Angel Trees are usually decorated with little angels that contain a name of a community member in need, their age, and a short list of what they want for the holidays.  I’d bet $5 that you could find one of these trees at your local church, Salvation Army, or city hall.

I worked for a community action agency that used Angel Trees to collect gifts for families living in homeless shelters, and, let me tell you, the gifts collected from the simple holiday drive truly bring joy to the people who need it the most.

If you’ve never participated in an Angel drive, it can be a little daunting adding another Christmas Wish List to your already packed shopping trips.   The reality, however, is that you probably haven’t seen a holiday list so sweet and humbling in quite some time.

Last year, Jon and I shopped for a single mom with two children, and the mom requested bath products, the son requested socks and art supplies, and the daughter requested warm pajamas.  Simple, right?  We picked up all the items at Target, and felt warm fuzzies knowing that the family would have fun opening the gifts on Christmas morning.

Do you shop for families with Angel Trees? Or do you have a different tradition for giving back during the holidays?

a very merry scrooge

The Deadweight Loss of Christmas chronicles the poor economic choices inspired by holiday giving.  The economists behind the article suggest that most givers ‘use their best guess’ to shop for friends and family, and about approximately 10 percent of these purchases end up being a “deadweight loss” – a result of the recipients not actually wanting the presents they receive.

In my book, these economists are akin to Mr. Scrooge himself for not considering the thoughtfulness that goes into each of the gifts.  What’s wrong with the recipient not truly loving the gift, as long as they understand the sentiment behind the purchase?  If my sister buys me a book I already have, I’m happy that she thought of me – not upset that I’ve already read it.  Hopefully I can return the book and get something that I haven’t read the next day.

This is a pretty long setup for the real topic I wanted to bring up today:  Christmas Lists.  Growing up, my family always took a ‘thoughtful’ approach to gifts and spent a lot of time making, crafting, and, well, guessing what everyone in the family wanted.  Jon’s family, however, makes the economists smile by embracing the all-important Christmas Wish List.  A few days after Thanksgiving we all exchange a list of our Christmas dreams, and, well, they usually come true under the tree on December 25.  Convenient, right?

What do you think – should we exchange gifts based on intuition and thoughtfulness, or should we rely upon carefully crafted list of our wants?

sippin’ sweet tea

Bits and pieces of memories fade, resurface and transform when we recall important moments from our lives. The happy thing about photographs is that they have the transcendent power to capture these memories, to immortalize the visual details, and help ‘paint the scene’ when we ‘remember the times.’

The absence of a photograph, however, speaks just as loudly, perhaps providing even more detail, than an album of memories. How is that so, you wonder? The undocumented moments occur when we’re too caught in the moment, too busy laughing, enjoying, and just, well, being, that we forgot to snap a photograph or 7. And you know what? Those moments, despite my love for photography, are my favorite kind.

Fill my days with laughter and activities and people that make me forget about my phone and my camera. Give me sunshine that begs to be enjoyed rather than documented. Let me sit in the grass, read away the morning, and then spend the afternoon hitting balls with my brothers. I’ll drink sweet tea and chat with my baby cousins as the sun goes down.

I boarded the homeward bound train wishing I had photographs of Thanksgiving in Chicago, but as I muse about my lack of documentation, I am grateful for the special moments that made me forgot about my camera. Those moments helped make memories more valuable than a collection of photographs.

full (of thanks)

Jon woke me up this morning with tea, a granola bar, and a kiss.  The breakfast was thoughtful and perfect, but the best part was that he was home — he usually leaves for work at 6, I wake at 7, and then we see each other when he comes home in the evening.  Sharing my morning with him is my favorite way to start the day, and in this case, it’s indicative of something even greater: we’ll be spending the next five days together in Chicago.  As in, five days of vacation, family, food, theater (we’re seeing Wicked!!), and absolutely no working.  Let the laughter and silliness begin.
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