Hygge for the holidays

Congratulations to Annie's Lauren on her engagement! Young love makes me at once hopeful for the future and nostalgic for my own family's giddy beginnings. The pronouncements I made! My children would never play with toy guns (no encouraging violence)! We would never go to bed angry! I would always be able to fit into my wedding dress! 

Oh, pish posh.

My current pronouncements involve sure-fire ways to stay connected with my young adult children and to build a  welcoming homebase that will be a haven for them and their future spouses and children. So when an article about the Danish concept of hygge as "drama-free family time" crossed my Facebook feed, I sat up and paid attention. I knew a little about hygge from Annie. A long, long time ago (seven years to be precise), Annie posted about hygge on Basic Joy. Hygge, pronounced hooga, is all about cozy, relaxed gatherings that focus on enjoying the moment -- the spaces, food, and company. "The Secret to Danish Happiness" calls hygge a "shelter from the outside world." 

That. I want hygge -- the coziness, the sheltering, the food. I want all of it. 

During the Thanksgiving holiday, I explained the basic principles of hygge to my kids, but mostly I tried to keep the foundational ideas in mind while planning family activities. Also, sometimes I, ahem, gently reminded them when they were acting in an un-hygglig manner. Maybe I'm a bit late to the game to raise my children as Danish prodigies, but I still find the philosophy helpful in formulating a family atmosphere where everyone feels included and accepted. You can read the entire article here, but the basic concepts are as follows:

  1. Come as you are. Be authentic. "Competition, boasting, and pretense are not bonding, but rather subtly dividing." So there.
  2. Don't be controversial. Hyyglig time is not when we should debate politics or philosophy, so in this spirit dispense with any negativity or judgment of other people's ideas.
  3. Act like a team member. THIS is the best one! Hygge includes everyone contributing to the event and to the conversation. Identify what needs to be done and pitch in without being asked. That seals it. I'm moving to Denmark.
  4. Respect the hygge. Jessica Alexander explains, "Hygge time is about providing a temporary shelter from social climbing, networking, competition, and materialism." So don't do that stuff!! Really. Just stop.
  5. Hygge time is special time. And because it is special, it is limited. By demarcating hygge time from other types of interaction, we can stock up on the warmth, love, and appreciation we need to face the outside world. Now that's what family should be about.

Generally speaking, hygge (and my study is admittedly limited), is about appreciating the moment and the simple pleasures of living. It's about the glow of the twinkle lights, the sweetness in a cup of hot cocoa, the warmth of conversation -- all absent of the motivations,  competitions, or worries of typical American modern life. And it's about helping others to enjoy those simple pleasures alongside us. 

So, not such a big order. Just erase 99% of the cultural norms I was raised on, and I'll be good. What about you? Can we start a hygge movement?

"How shall this be?"

Happy Boxing Day, web-world! We're still enjoying the season's abundance and togetherness around here but the empty boxes, the carpet of crumpled wrapping paper, and the perpetual snack grazing are all starting to feel past ripe. I'm fighting the need to gather up all the holiday over-the-top-ness and revel in the stark simplicity of starting over. (Just me?) Anyway, one last holidayish post before we head into the flurry of the New Year.

Annuniciation, Dante Rossetti

Annuniciation, Dante Rossetti

She cowers on the bed as a young girl would, introduced--by an angel, no less--
to an overwhelming assignment/challenge/blessing.  I feel for this Mary, the initial weight of the impossible evident in her slouch and gaze. 

Moments later she straightens her posture and says “be it unto me” and “behold” but I love that the artist* paints this humanness of Mary’s initial “how shall this be?”

Every year I find something different in the nativity passages of the New Testament to identify with: the seeking wise men, the dazed shepherds, the distracted inn keepers. This year I’ve lingered over the figure of that young Mary and her “how shall this be?” keeps ringing in my ears.

I have had several “how shall this be?” moments in my life.  They happen (for me) in that margin between the advent and the acceptance of a challenge or opportunity, especially when things don't go according to plan. Part wonder and part panic, these thoughts are evidence of the gap between my faith and knowledge, the difference in perspective between the microscopic view and the vast one. 

There are times when I simply can’t see how shall this be.  And really, doesn't being a parent sometimes feel like one big universal how shall this be proposition, from the moment the little quick pregnancy test stick says "+" to beyond those moments when our kids pack up their things, wave goodbye, and transition into their adult lives? Every day is a how shall this be?

Each holiday season nudges me to learn it again. That’s why I love this young, pausing Mary—she’s at the brink of realizing how wonderful and weighty it really shall be.  It's the just-right bridge for me between Christmas and New Year's Day for me, too, as I turn my thoughts to possibility, change, and the hopeful audacity of resolutions. [Finish dissertation? How shall this be?] 

.  .  .

*By the way, the artist Dante Rossetti used his sister Christina as the model for the painting of Mary above. And Christina Rossetti was a writer in her own right and wrote In the Bleak Midwinter.

Hard candy Christmas

photo (1).JPG

Last year I introduced my kids to Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas, which, by the way, is one of the finest Christmas songs of all times. You might have thought my crew of millennials would have turned their noses up at Dolly's work, but no . . . they took to singing it everywhere they went, loudly, often in harmony. Jordan downloaded the piano music, and we stood around the piano belting out "Oh, I'll be FINE and DANDY, Lord it's like a hard candy Christmas!" We'd make serious faces while singing about getting away or losing some weight, and then smirk about getting drunk on apple wine. But that refrain: "I'm barely getting through tomorrow / but still I won't let /  sorrow bring me way down," really got us somewhere deep in our gut.

The funny thing is that my kids know absolutely nothing about a hard candy Christmas -- that is, a Christmas when they might have only received a penny bag of candy. But really, Dolly's song is all about acknowledging the trials and inconveniences and frustrations of life and choosing happiness anyway -- and there's something universal and hopeful about that sentiment. And just singing it made us feel soulful and maybe even a little more compassionate towards those around us.

Monday's e-mail from my French-missionary-daughter reminded me of the hope of the Christmas season. Here's a bit of what she wrote:

Someone that I love once told me that they loved Christmas because they liked how we take the darkest, gloomiest, coldest time of the year and brighten it up with twinkling lights and hot chocolate and gingerbread. I love that too. When I walk down the FREEZING streets of Chalon at night, it doesn't seem so sad and cold when you see red and green lights strung from all the balconies. These tiny lights can brighten up a whole night. 

We always talk about Jesus Christ being the light of the world. As a missionary, I've seen very clearly how the light of the gospel can illuminate an entire person's life. I know that is what Christ does for people. He lifts us up, he brightens our lives. 

So, yes -- she's a keeper. And, yes, we are all wondering about this person she loves who is handy with twinkling lights and gingerbread. My sister is hoping that it's her, but she's a scrooge so I'm pretty sure she's wrong. But I'm also thinking that if my barely 20-year-old daughter can find joy this Christmas in the frigid streets of Chalon, then certainly we can do our part here. We're starting with french toast and working up our courage from there.

What about you? Any hopeful light-spreading this season?




Managing expectations

Christmas village 2013.

Christmas village 2013.

I'm wrapping up Christmas-prep 2013 over here. Because of our plans, I need Christmas ready-to-go a few days earlier than usual. Fear not, I've got things in hand nicely, which is to say I'm woefully behind on my work-work. My play-work? It's going great-guns.

I happened to catch wind the other day that Parker was expecting an iPhone for Christmas. Even though I'd told him repeatedly he was not getting an iPhone for Christmas, he'd somehow dreamed up that my denials were an elaborate ruse to distract him from the big surprise -- AN IPHONE.

But guess what? Parker is not getting an iPhone. So . . . that's kind of a sticky situation.

On the one hand I don't want him to be disappointed. On the other hand, I'm not getting him an iPhone. (My hands often are uncooperative.) My reticence does not lie in the money or his lack of responsibility or anything like that. I just don't want my twelve-year-old to have unfettered access to the Internet. I know lots of your kids probably have iPhones, and I'm completely nonjudgmental on the subject -- I just don't feel it's right for us. When he's 20 I'm sure I'll change my mind.

On top of this, we are traveling over Christmas. Because our kids are older, we are trying (keyword trying) to transition from giving toys and things in favor of providing family experiences. Theoretically the kids are on board with this, but they are also accustomed to a big show on Christmas morn. So, even though we've warned them they are each just receiving a few gifts this year, I'm worried they will ultimately be disappointed.

So. How do you manage Christmas expectations?

No, really, tell me.

For Parker, I actually sat him down and dispelled the iPhone myth. I explained our current family policy and reiterated that there would be plenty of time for iPhones later. I then asked him if there was anything really special he was still hoping for. We talked about a few options, and he seemed pretty happy with the discussion.

As for the Christmas morning predicament, I figure that one is just going to have to work itself out on its own. I'm crossing my fingers that the location and activities will create their own air of excitement, and if they don't, if there is momentary disappointment or sadness, I'm resolved to let them work through that as well. And then, I'm going to tell them to BUCK UP and BE GRATEFUL. 

But generally, they are appreciative, kind kids, so I'm thinking everything will work out just fine.

Any words of wisdom on managing expectations? Anyone?

Looking up

Hello! I'm waving to you from the wintry north, happily hunkered down with our little family in a cabin in the woods--which completely makes up for all the flight delays (including one particularly deflating 24-hour delay) on our journey here. And I ran into my brother Chris in the LA airport of all places! Neither of us knew the other was traveling that day...such a happy serendipity.

Anyway, here we are. We have been making the rounds--catching up with family, unpacking, stocking up, and doing holiday things. No Christmas tree yet, no decorations, and a significant amount of shopping still to be achieved. In the midst of that bustle, I was reminded of something I wrote a few years ago and decided to look it up and post it here, mostly to nudge myself to try to take a deep breath, relax the grip on the to-do lists, and enjoy it. 

Pieter Brueghel, The Census at Bethlehem

Pieter Brueghel, The Census at Bethlehem

See that woman in the middle?
The one alone
With the white hat and broom
Head down, sweeping
Or digging, maybe.
That has been me.
Focused on the depth of snow in front of me
And my need to dig out.

To the boisterous gathering over there
And to the snow-stuck wagon behind me,
Where my broom could be put to better use.
Unaware of the simple miracle
Of a young woman on a horse,
Almost hidden by winter clothing
And seeking a place,
The holy significance lost in favor of
Bristles and snow.

I’m putting down the broom
And looking up.
Join me?

. . .

It’s easy to get caught up in the “doingness” of the season. What are your traps that prevent you from experiencing what Christmas has to offer? Is there a certain work of art, literature, or music that is especially speaking to you this season?

Finding the meaning of Christmas

Yesterday I took my 37th trip (of the Christmas season) to Target for "just a few things." When I rounded the corner into the parking lot I immediately noticed more cars than usual -- many more. But I stilled my inner agoraphobe and pressed on. I picked up what I needed and then 23 other things and made my way to the check out.

So. Yeah. They had four lanes open. FOUR. And there were long snaky lines making their way past the aisle in front of the check out area. Using my spidey sense, I tried to ascertain which of the lines would move the fastest -- then I chose another one (because I'm ALWAYS wrong). I waited for about ten minutes. Suddenly the heavens parted and another employee began opening a register. She pointed at the woman behind me and said "I'll take you." I was stunned but remained silent. The lady behind me looked me in the eye and said, "You go first." I squeaked out a thank you and then started throwing my selections onto the counter. As I was leaving the store, I turned to her and said "thank you" once again. She just smiled and said, "Merry Christmas!"

For my family, Christmas is an overtly religious holiday, and we try our darnedest to convey that to the kids. But regardless of your religious persuasion (or non-persuasion), I think the Christmas season a fabulous opportunity to up the kindness game -- to try even harder to become better people. I showed this video to my kids the other day:

I challenged them to give one "gift" everyday. My gift yesterday? When Becca called me from the high school, and said she needed her black flats STAT (for her choir concert that we were attending just 20 minutes after the call), I replied, "No problem," and ran them quickly to the school. (Well, technically, I drove them to the school.)

No reprimand. No sigh of disgust. Just a happy, "Here you are!" 

That's my challenge -- one gift a day. Report back on your progress.

One of my favorite quotes from Dickens' A Christmas Carol embodies this sentiment of doing good:  “'But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'” --Jacob Marley 


Guys, I'm a bit under the weather. Nothing major. . . probably just too little sleep over the last few days. But fear not, I'm posting a little essay I wrote last Christmas season on my personal blog (which I promised I would keep up after I started Nest & Launch, and therein proved that I'm a big, fat liar). This is the moment where I decided to poll the kids for their top Christmas activities. Also, here's where I show you that sometimes I'm materialistic, and sometimes I like to punish myself psychologically. And sometimes I just put it all down and take a nap. Enjoy! (P.S. I'm 87% finished with my Christmas shopping. What about you?)

wool felt balls.jpg

During our Thanksgiving trip we did some shopping near downtown Austin. There are a couple of places we like within walking distance to each other: Book People, Anthropologie, Paper Source, West Elm, and then Whole Foods for treats. The West Elm store is the BEST EVER. It's huge. It has more stuff than our West Elm...and it's merchandised in just such a way that screams in my ear. Want to know what it says?


And I really, really want to live my best life, so I listen so, so carefully. I plan little vignettes of West Elm-y stuff in my head. I exhort myself (forcefully) to CLEAR OUT and SIMPLIFY, so that every room is serene, and clutter-free, and studded with just the right amount of mercury glass and natural fibers. On that particular trip I got it in my head that I NEEDED a faux deer head mounted above my fireplace JUST FOR CHRISTMAS. Because then, under the benevolence of those faux horns, it would be the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

I'm going to come right out and tell you that the deer head was $99. The price wasn't necessarily a deal breaker -- seeing as how I somehow spent $74.23 just the other night at HEB on the stuff for homemade pizza, some chocolate covered pretzels, and shampoo and conditioner for the girls. But still, those $99 deer heads add up and pretty soon the serene and the clutter-free is completely covered up with faux animal parts and my bank account is suffering.

And so I find myself endlessly see-sawing between simplicity and excess, between practicality and frivolity, between meaningful Christmas and magical splendor. I talk myself in and out of each end of the spectrum several times a day...and it's plumb tiring.

Just last night I wanted the whole family to watch the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. Come on people, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Christmas carols, some sage words of advice about remembering Christ this season...all with popcorn. Now THAT'S Christmas, right? And it was okay. Except I yelled at one kid for texting and had to continually shush Parker and Sterling who were threatening to break into fits of rough housing. In the end I was grouchy. Hmmmm. Maybe the deer head would have helped after all.

After some thought this morning, here's my grand plan. I'm going to sit the kids down and we are going to orchestrate our BEST CHRISTMAS EVER. Meaning everyone gets to pick one or two favorite activities and then Sterling and I will do our darnedest to make them happen. Also, I settled for the (pictured above) wool-ball garlands in lieu of the deer head. Simplicity folks. That's what will make my best life ever, and I'm going after it with the vigor of Santa's elves the night before Christmas.

Except with a bit of mercury glass and natural fibers.

P.S. Here's a fun Christmas wall paper for your computer. I downloaded it and it's making me feel a bit festive.