Last night we pulled into the driveway after a whirlwind week of holiday celebrations. I'm a little worn out but also really pleased with how our holiday season has played out.

We celebrated our family Christmas Eve last Friday evening, and Christmas morning on Saturday the 23rd. After opening presents and enjoying our usual Christmas morning rituals, we packed up the gifts yet to be given + our warmest winter clothing and made the 8+ hour drive to Montana.

Christmas Eve was spent with lifelong friends who have long since become family. Christmas morning was spent in a hotel room, where we opened our stockings and a few small gifts delivered by Santa. It was intimate and lovely and, despite my previous concerns, I didn't feel like we missed out on anything. After breakfast we hopped back in the car and made the drive to my in-laws' house. After two days spent visiting with family and friends, we were again on the road heading back home.

Tomorrow evening we are headed to a friend's house, cheeseboard in hand, to ring in the New Year.

During those long hours on the open road, and in the hours since, I've reflected a lot on this holiday season. It didn't fit into those tidy ideals I had for celebrating family traditions, but it didn't leave me in want, either. This disparity can be summed up by the title of this post: I stopped being a martyr and allowed myself to view the holidays, and our celebration of them, with a lot more flexibility.

When I use the word martyr, I don't mean to imply that I worked my fingers to the bone for the sake of sympathy. But in years past I did take on too much which inevitably led to stress + misery + resentment. I consider myself a thoughtful gift-giver, which means I put a lot of effort into finding that perfect present. In addition, I'd go above and beyond with the wrapping and the stocking stuffers and homemade ornaments and, and, and. Especially after I went back to work full time, Christmas began to lose its joy at my own hand.

A few tweaks in my expectations made all the difference:

1. This year I made wrapping a family affair. We all gathered in the living room one evening, put on a movie, and wrapped all the gifts for family and friends. Then Kiddo and I did the same for Mario. Then Mario and Jared did it for me. No one person was relegated to the bedroom floor to wrap solo. There was one night last week when I worked until 11p then came home and started tackling a bunch of lingering tasks. That was a little taxing + stressful, but nothing like I've experienced in years past.

2. We have some lovely neighbors who bring over homemade treats and trinkets. We love to reciprocate, but the responsibility usually fell on me to make it happen. This is in part because Husband travels for year-end company meetings and doesn't share a strong affinity for holiday baking. Though let's be clear: I didn't often ask for help. (Which he would have done without hesitation.) Instead I took it all on at the expense of my own enjoyment. This year I picked out three simple recipes: a spicy pretzel-nut mix, gingerbread caramel sauce, and Puppy Chow snack mix. I bought all the ingredients, printed the recipes, and...asked for help. With the exception of the caramel, the boys made the rest while I was at work. Kiddo had a longer than usual Christmas vacation, so it was the perfect way for him to pass the time sans electronic distraction. I didn't feel the need to match our neighbors/friends in effort or number of treats made and that was such a relief.

3. I'll admit this year's Christmas ornament project briefly got the better of me. (This is not unusual; I'm trying to change my ways.) I decided to create some 3" and 4" embroidery hoops. I picked out some cute printed fabric bearing woodland creatures and embellished them with laurel wreaths, flower crowns, and pine boughs. I started early and was able to move through them quickly since they were small and simple in design. It was also my first foray into freehand embroidery, which was fun + exciting. Only, some of them needed to have the fabric pen markings I made rinsed off (+ drying time), then a felt backing attached, then wrapping... I didn't have enough time or hoops for everyone in my life to receive one. At 2a, while cutting out felt circles, it came to me: not everyone in my life needs to receive one. My brother-in-law's girlfriend whom I've never met?  Not so much. My good friend who loves my embroidery and always wants to see my work? Yes! And just like that I'd eased the strain I'd put on myself. As much as I want to please everyone, I can't. Nor should I. (An overarching life lesson that applies to nearly every facet of my interaction with others.) My embroidery hoops are a labor of love and I a) don't want to burn myself out and have it become a chore and b) only want to give them to people who appreciate the craftsmanship (needlepoint isn't everyone's style, after all, and that's okay).

And so goes the story of how I managed to make this Christmas more family-friendly and less stressful. Save for a mild panic that set in a couple days before we left for our road trip, in large part caused by my overcommittment to work in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this year was much calmer than in years past. Fewer presents, more time spent as a family, and less commitment to unnecessary obligations was the key to more peace all along.

Next year will be even more simple, I imagine. I'll be finishing up a grueling first semester of grad school, we'll be living in a new region, and our lives will be very different. Which makes me that much more grateful that we're moving closer and closer toward minimalism with each passing Christmas. Because, as it turns out, simplicity = joy.

Next up: Packing up the holiday decor. Organization, simplification and downsizing.

Holiday Cheer: Saying goodbye to martyrdom + adopting (more) flexibility

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Homemade gifts have become a staple in our house over the years. In the past they were often associated with whatever craft we were exploring at that time—we've since settled on hand embroidery (me) and woodcarving (him)—but the gifts were always well-received and often elicited a conversation about the ins and outs of our chosen craft.

With grad school on the horizon I will probably have to step back from homemade for a few years, but our aspirations for a simpler, more meaningful holiday season will not fall by the wayside. In fact, less time and an all-encompassing focus elsewhere means we will likely lean toward minimalism around the holidays for a period.

Some of our tried-and-true handmade Christmas gifts, which are fun to make + encourage family time + make the recipient feel loved:

Ornaments // My tree is covered in messy, hard-to-identify ornament projects Kiddo made throughout his preschool and elementary years. Every so often they need to be tended to with some glue or a needle and thread, but gosh if I'm not smitten with each and every one of them. Turns out, friends and relatives feel the same way about our adult creations! I've done an ornament project for the last 8 or so years, which we give to close friends and family. With Pinterest and Instagram, inspiration is everywhere. Bonus: it scratches that holiday crafting itch. (You can find some of my past ornament projects here, here, and here.)

Gift Your Hobbies // Over the past couple of years, I've gifted embroidery pieces. In the past it was jewelry, paper crafts, wool felting, crochet, and various other pastimes I explored. Husband carves beautiful wooden spoons by hand, which the recipient always treasures. I'm currently enrolled in a pottery class which includes unlimited studio time, firing and glazing. I didn't take advantage of those benefits in the early weeks of the course, but now I'm in the studio as often as possible which means many of my family and friends will be getting bowls and mugs this year. Will they be perfect? Not a chance! But they'll love them just the same and think of me every time they use that vessel. Whatever you're into (or have always wanted to try!), find a simple project and cross two things off your list.

Bake // We live in close proximity to a lot of neighbors that have become friends. I want to spread cheer to them during the holidays, and do so by making treats. I buy pretty canning jars and other inexpensive holiday containers in various sizes (which are gifts in and of themselves) and fill them with homemade treats like snack mixes, roasted nuts, caramel sauce, and cookies. Bonus: I get to bake without sweets lingering in the kitchen. (This Homemade Almond Roca is a perennial favorite!)

Share the love // If you know a friend would enjoy learning a new craft, make them a kit! With embroidery, for example, I would print a pattern (Pinterest is chock full of free patterns!) and include coordinating thread, the appropriate size hoop, a scrap of fabric, and a pack of needles. (Total cost: less than $5.) You could even make it more elaborate by including a cute tote bag, sewing scissors and/or a needleminder. Same goes for candle-making, wool felting, knitting/crochet or any other low maintenance craft: The supplies are simple, cost very little, and are readily available. (If it's a craft you enjoy yourself, you probably have almost everything on hand.) Even better? Include an IOU for lessons.

Framed photos // I had copies of Kiddo's senior photo printed on high quality matte photo paper and grabbed some simple frames from IKEA. Grandparents and other close relatives will get a photo all ready to hang.

More handmade gift ideas:

Giant knit blanket // This DIY video makes it look very doable.

DIY hanging holiday lanterns, which I think would be cute year-round.

Mini candles // I took a candle-making class recently and loved it! I picked up some mini Ball jars + scents, soy wax and wicks from CandleScience, all of which were relatively inexpensive and make a lot of candles. Every one of us in the class made a Blue Spruce candle—it seems to be a universally loved scent. I've been throwing around the idea of making mini candle trios for when I need a more substantial gift.

Martha Stewart's 54 Gift-Worthy Christmas Cookies

DIY Mason Jar Snowglobes (adorable! + adaptable to be non-Christmas themed!)

Infused Vodkas

DIY Wool Mittens (using old sweaters!)

Give me all your ideas!

Holiday Cheer: Handmade Gifts

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

There's a strange phenomenon that occurs in our household: the only time I will ever experience car trouble is when Mario is (far) away on a business trip. I've been fortunate not to have too many snafus when it comes to my car, but rest assured if it's going to happen Mario will be no less than 1500 miles away.

After working swing shift at the hospital last night, I crawled into bed shortly after midnight and awoke before dawn to get Kiddo up and going for school. We got in the car to head out and...nothing. Google said I have a faulty brake switch which has disable the push-button start on my car. No matter how easy the fix, Kiddo rode his bike to school on a frosty morning and I got to ride in a tow truck. (Which was quite fun + fascinating, actually. A virtual shout-out to Chris, the sweetest, most helpful tow truck driver I'm sure there ever was.)

So here I am, perched at a Starbucks adjacent to the auto shop, waiting to see if they can get me back on the road today. Otherwise, Enterprise.  As long as I make my 2p massage appointment. For the love of all things holy, I can't miss that appointment. After pulling a muscle in my upper back this past weekend, I'm still experiencing difficulty turning my head to the left. (You know that most uncomfortable 'I slept on my neck wrong' feeling? I've had it for four days. Oy.)

I'm a hot mess, in case you couldn't tell.

In an attempt to look at the bright side, had this not happened I'd likely still be sitting on the couch doing absolutely nothing of value. Instead, I'm perched at coffee shop listening to the complete works of Chris Stapleton (I'm obsessed!) and catching up on my neglected blogroll.

The blogosphere is chock full of beautifully talented writers, crafters and decorators. (These days the 'blogosphere," to me, includes platforms like Instagram.) After all these years I'm still awed by the artistry. Here's to you, bloggers.

Gingerbread men with character via The Pretty Bee (my mother-in-law is gluten-free, so these cookies may be making the trek to Montana with us this Christmas)

Clarks Shoes + Star Wars via Dominique (because girls love Star Wars, too)

Gourmet syrups, honey + condiments via Sprouted Kitchen

Drawn to the Long Sleeve Harper Tunic via Reading My Tea Leaves (+ these heeled clog boots!)

Are We Living In a Culture of Flakes? via Camille Styles (thought-provoking!)

Dynamite Plant Power Sushi Bowls are on my short list, via  Pinch of Yum              

how i shut my mind off lately via Free & Native (some I already do, others I'm going to try)

Nut Butter Coconut Chocolate Tart via A Cozy Kitchen (delicious-looking + dairy-free!)

Buttered Hot Cocoa via Tales of Me and the Husband (I've yet to try the coffee trend...)

Have a good week!

(Note: Apparently this post was published but only half the content was saved! I should be better at this by now...)

(Update: In case you were wondering, my "Steering Column Lock Actuary" went kaput. Apparently it's super common in cars with push-button ignitions. It disables the whole car and (welp) cost $1200 to replace. In lieu of gifts, this year we'll just take turns riding in my car.)

Seen, Heard & Bookmarked: An Ode To Bloggers

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The leaves of the Pacific Northwest are having their last hurrah this week. The landscape is still alight with reds and yellows, and I'm absolutely loving this extended autumn we're having. We're on our third round of raking leaves in less than a week, and I have since decided to let the trees go bare before attempting another yard cleanup.

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving with good friends and their lovely extended family. In the days since, the turkey bones have become broth, the tree has been dressed, and those little embroidered gifts I'm planning this year are in the works. Late fall/early winter are a calmer, more reflective time for me + the weather encourages nights in wearing comfy clothes. (Hurray!)

Husband has his usual end-of-year business travel, which means we will see his face once in two weeks. Fortunately my current position at work allows me the freedom to tailor my schedule based on the needs of my family, so I worked half my normal 8-hour shift this week and was home in time for dinner + bedtime.

Also, can we have a moment of gratitude for the inventor of the CrockPot? Ingredients thrown in before work, dinner ready when I get home. I wish I'd maxed out its potential earlier in my adult life.

And speaking of dinnertime, I've had my game face on this week. I started to refocus my nutritional goals earlier this month, but now I'm fully in Whole30 mode. I food prepped like a boss on Monday and had all the ingredients necessary to get through the week cheat-free. What I love about Whole30 is the ability to pick it back up at any time; I feel the benefits in just a couple of days; and I can bend the rules and still be successful (i.e. date night dinners out, a touch of soy sauce or sugar when absolutely necessary, etc). Every time I get back to eating this way, I immediately wish I'd never stopped. It takes a fair amount of effort, but it's totally worth it for me. And honestly, the more consistently I do it the easier/more intuitive it becomes. (The Whole30 breakfast tacos pictured above are so good + easy.)

Here are some things I've seen, heard and bookmarked lately:

Golden Soup (It was simple, Kiddo ate TWO servings, and it was satisfying. I subbed chicken broth for water to add some oomph. A second batch is in the works.)

The most darling face to hang on a wall.

I made this Crockpot Mississippi Pot Roast last week and it was a hit! (I served it over mashed potatoes.)

Came across a new (to me) clothing website. Loving this and this. (any experience with them re: quality, etc?)

My favorite dairy-free coffee creamer. (It has been difficult to find at times, but I think it's becoming a mainstay at my local Whole Foods.) Nutpods is a very close second.

Gift giving has been on my mind (and this blog) a lot lately. This article on changing or ending gift giving habits is awesome.

Adding Cherry Chocolate Nut Cookies and  Lemon Drop Candy Cookies to this year's Christmas cookie rotation.

The softest sweater to run errands in. Resisting the urge to wear it (I'm wearing it today.)

Digging the whimsy of glitter accented ankle boots (still not sure on what occasion I will wear them, but alas). I recently came across styles at both Toms and Anthropologie (my personal fave).

Loving these locally-made smocks, aprons and pinafores for holiday baking.

A Crispy Jalapeno Popper Dip recipe to add to our Christmas Eve appetizer rotation.

This Embroidery Hoop Wreath Tutorial is swoon-worthy.

Seen, Heard + Bookmarked: Saying Goodbye To Fall

Friday, December 1, 2017

Since taking our family trip to Disneyland last month, we are embracing opportunities to spend time together with even more frequency. We've seen two movies, in the theater, in the last 10 days, and this past Saturday night we wandered into downtown Portland to pick out some gifts and enjoy a family dinner out. We are ahead of the curve this year, which has meant less stress and more togetherness. It's how I always want the holidays to play out, but this year we are actually making it happen.

The last decade or so I've been gravitating toward a simpler Christmas. Over the past 14+ years we've had numerous discussions with well-intentioned family members about embracing quality over quantity when it comes to holiday gift-giving. Despite my best efforts, most years it was necessary to accept unwanted gifts with a loving heart then donate the items to charity after the holidays (or return them, though they seldom came with a receipt). This year my husband's siblings and their families are meeting at my in-laws' home, which means travel for most of us. Because of that it was suggested we only do small stocking stuffers for one another.  This is a wonderful alignment of ideals, and I'm excited to receive less, spend less, and take on less this holiday season. Besides, assembling gift bags/stocking stuffers is my love language!

With the ongoing goal of a more meaningful, less materialistic holiday season, I've leaned into the idea of mixing homemade gifts with store-bought trinkets; gifting experiences over objects whenever possible; and sharing good tidings with neighbors and friends without adding more stress + expense to an already hectic season. (I am prone to trying to outdo myself every year. It's exhausting)

Over the next couple weeks I'm going to share some tried and true methods for satisfying my perfectionist + overachiever tendencies while preserving my sanity and ability to pay the electric bill. (If for no other reason than to reread these posts when I lose my marbles and need a reality check.)

This first post involves general ground rules I've laid out for myself (or aspire to, anyway). Some are simply thoughts or life lessons surrounding the holidays.

Christmas Cards/Letters // Sending out a yearly Christmas card, in my opinion, is totally optional. Still, I like to share what's been happening with family and friends who live far away, but have never been a fan of holiday letters (writing or receiving them—though everyone is different and so are their circumstances). For many years I have opted to do a 2-sided holiday photo card (Snapfish has great coupon codes). I gather up my favorite iPhone pics from the past year, the ones that most reflect our lives and activities, and let the photos tell our story. This year, for instance, I included a selfie of me wearing a sweatshirt bearing the name of my new grad school. Tale told, little effort.

Coworkers/Teachers/Etc // When Kiddo was in elementary and middle school, he only had one teacher and a small group of support staff that we gave gifts to during the holidays. I would get really elaborate some years, depending on my mood, and it often led to unnecessary anxiety and expense (those gift cards add up!). High school is a whole different beast, so we've moved on from individual gifts. Instead we donate goods, services and money to various school organizations throughout the year. And never underestimate the power of a sincere thank you email.

Instead of gifts, consider organizing a lunch for all the teachers and staff. Websites like Perfect Potluck make it simple to get people signed up, and even the often less recognized staff are celebrated. Similarly, you could organize a cookie/bar potluck where teachers can come and create a mixed plate of treats to take home to their families.

I have a lot of coworkers who have become close friends, and they will receive a small handmade token of my affection. Since changing positions this last summer, I have new coworkers who I am naturally much less close to. I haven't decided what, if anything, I'll do for them, but if nothing comes to mind I'm giving myself permission to just pass along verbal well wishes. (Let yourself off the hook!)

Gifts in Lieu of a Relationship // First and foremost: Don't do it. That being said, I step into this emotional minefield every.single.year. I have a family member that struggles through life. This person has children who also struggle. For the sake of my own mental health, I have to separate myself from the situation and therefore have little interaction with them throughout the year. But come Christmastime I think of the lack of gifts they may receive due to a variety of circumstances and my heart hurts. That's when I start trying to fill the emotional void with gifts. This year was no exception. The gifts have already been purchased, but next year I'm making a promise to myself to send a Christmas card and some kind words.

Giving Trees // They are everywhere and such a great way to give to others. There are two at my work, and I usually pick one tag for each of us to fulfill (though I want to help all the people!). I love watching Kiddo select gifts for another child! Last year I picked a tag for an elderly woman requesting knitting supplies. I no longer crochet but had loads of unused yarn, so I bought a decorative tote and some small knitting tools and gifted her my entire yarn stash. Win-win!

Gift Experiences // This has become a big one for us. Instead of receiving material objects we likely won't treasure forever, we create memories that last a lifetime. Is there a place you've always wanted to visit or a concert/play you've always wanted to see? Make that the gift. If you want something tangible to wrap, put the tickets, a map, or related travel necessities under the tree. Very early on in our marriage Mario gave me a gently used first edition copy of Wicked. Tucked inside its pages were two tickets to the show. When I see that book up on the shelf, I still think of that night. It is hands down one of the best gifts I've ever received, yet it lives on primarily in my memory.

If you have suggestions about navigating the holidays with family, friends and acquaintances, I'd love to hear them!

Next time: Handmade Gifts!

Holiday Cheer: Finding and Keeping It

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My husband and I have contrasting personalities. The epitome of opposites attracting, over the years our differences have served to highlight each other's unique individuality, while softening the edges on our respective qualities that could use an evolution. Our upbringings, our life goals, our social dynamics, our parenting styles—it's all so different.

We lock horns with some regularity, but the love is profound. Mario is my safe person; I absolutely adore my husband, quirks and all. We laugh a lot more than we bicker and that's not nothing. That being said, this introvert often struggles being married to an extremely extroverted man. Most often my idea of a perfect Saturday night is curling up on the couch with Netflix and some takeout; much less so for him. A bustling up-and-coming restaurant is more his scene. Still, we make it work. Not only that, we are really good at it most of the time. A lot of compromise, yes, but I also think our interests have merged significantly in the 15+ years we've spent together. I'm a more social, mellow version of my old self, and he's a more grounded version of the man he was a decade ago. We are often told by friends and family how awesome our relationship is and I feel the same way.

We have been immensely successful merging two very different personalities into one marriage—most of the time our differences don't play into our daily life—but occasionally an issue will arise that brings into stark contrast just how fundamentally different we can be.

Discussing our Christmas vacation plans is one such issue; I feel a strong pull to tradition, and he feels a strong pull to his family and friends.

This year I'm feeling nostalgic: Kiddo is a senior and I'm taking every opportunity to embrace the holidays and their prospective traditions. I went all out for Halloween, and even broke my own rule and started decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I want this year's festivities to be really, really special. (Possibly to the point of creating unnecessary pressure + stress for myself.) I want the richness to come from tradition and time spent together, and my goals have not changed in regard to reducing material objects and embracing simplicity during the holidays.

Husband is also feeling nostalgic, but is pushing very hard to spend Christmas with his family in another state. I'll be honest: it has caused a fair amount of discord over the past couple weeks. After a bit of a standoff, we decided to spend Christmas Day with his family. I'll still have my family traditions, but it will look a little different and follow an alternative timeline. It wasn't an easy concession for me to make, but sharing a life involves give and take.

I have no doubt we will enjoy a lovely holiday road trip and time spent with family and friends. We always do. Nevertheless this situation has brought to light a lot of personal conflict that can arise during the holidays. How easy it can be to fall into the trap of consumerism, competition and obligation, all of which rob us of our joy.

The decision has been made and I'm going to work very hard not to ruminate on all those little compromises. Sometimes the vision has to change, no matter how grudgingly that change comes about. This is life and love and goes hand-in-hand with the commitment to spend your life with another person. At the end of the day Mario is what is most important. His happiness and vision count, too.

The tree went up this weekend and I'm creating Christmas-y little corners around the house. My childhood traditions of appetizers-for-dinner on Christmas Eve + cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning will carry on...on a different day. Because at the end of it all it's about family. Christmas morning in a hotel room is still Christmas morning if we are together. Oh, and just because we are seeing extended family on Christmas Day most certainly does not mean we need to abandon our goals of a simpler Christmas by showing up with an armload of presents. (Or likewise receiving them.)

Here's to embracing tradition, with flexibility, and putting others before ourselves. And here's to handmade gifts, embracing new opportunities and making memories. (And to never, ever keeping score in a marriage.)

Some thoughtful articles and ideas I've been reading and taking to heart these past few days:

Stress Less About Giving

Ground Rules + What I'm Really Gifting This Year (Erin has so many wise words on the issue of Christmas and gift-giving.)

Gracious Gifts (applicable to children and adult gift-giving & receiving)

Coping with Holiday Stress (yes!)

The Holidays: Less stress, more compromise.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Last Thursday I was scheduled to interview at a prospective grad school in the Southeast. However, having been offered a spot at one of my two Dream Programs, I ultimately decided to cancel any upcoming interviews. (I still haven't decided if I'll interview at my other top choice program, given the opportunity.)

And though I'm absolutely sure of my choice, and have formally accepted and financially secured my seat in the program, it felt wrong to turn down an opportunity. Any opportunity. When you've worked toward something for so very, very long, taking all those classes to earn that degree, years spent working in the field, carefully considering and writing each and every admissions essay—pouring your heart and soul into all of it—writing a Dear John letter to a prospective grad school (who wants you!) is a scary thing to do. About 10 days of anxiety + mild wretchedness ensued.

But I believe in the dream. It's happening. Now it's time to relish the relief and profound honor that comes with a) achieving your biggest life goal thus far and b) having the admissions board of one of the top programs in the country unanimously decide that you should attend their institution. (so.much.gratitude.)

These next 7-8 months before life gets turned on its head, as it has many times before in our journey through life, are precious and I'm treating them as such. Family time comes first these days, over work and those niggling obligations that arise in everyday life. Let's be real: Life + parenting + work + marriage can be taxing, and it's easy to get caught up in all of that. I'm making a concerted effort, everyday, to put tradition, motherhood, love, and creative endeavors first.

And while I'm working very hard to say no to commitments that are not mutually beneficial (going  into work at dinnertime, without notice, because they are short-staffed—no), I'm working equally hard to say yes to opportunities that will bring about joy (a friend calls and asks if I can come over and talk + needlepoint with her for a couple hours one evening—yes).

So instead of racking up 5000+ airline miles in 36 hours going to an interview I no longer needed to attend, we used that time to take a mini family vacation. In less than two weeks my solo interview morphed into 3 days at Disneyland with the boys. (A shout-out to Mario for being like-minded and supportive when it comes to whimsical vacation planning and unscripted adventures.)  We used those 5 days to reconnect, unplug, and focus on being with each other. There was plenty of bickering, as travel can often bring about, but for the most part it was just plain magical. (Spontaneous hugs + impromptu conversations about life with a teenage boy is the definition of magic.) It was the reset we needed both as a family and as individuals.

Here's to saying yes to those moments that could easily pass you by. Here's to saying yes to a little extra expense and a little time off for the sake of family. Yes to family, always. 

Oh, and yes yes yes to edible sequins on your churro. 

Saying Yes (to Mickey Mouse)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A couple Fridays ago I hosted Craft Night at my house. A group of nurses/coworkers and I decided to start getting together on a regular basis to work on existing projects and teach each other our respective hobbies. This was our second meeting, and we've yet to craft a single thing. The conversation flows, as does the wine, and before we know it the night is over. It's rather wonderful.

Since it was my turn to host, they got to see my various embroidery projects for the first time. All the hoops I've kept for myself are hung around our room and the upstairs loft area; colorful reminders of the evolution of this craft in my life. I'm thankful every day that I finally (!!!) found my ideal creative pastime; seeing my embroidery projects from their perspective was a reflective experience.

It all started two years ago when I decided to take on little 3" hoops for my annual Christmas ornament project. Only, I'd never embroidered before.

I came across some Sublime Stitching patterns and floss at my favorite craft store in Portland, snagged some muslin remnants, and went to work. They were so simple! I read a couple tutorials + watched a few how-to videos and back-stitched my way to some very cute little works of art by mixing and matching different elements and tracing over handwritten words I lightly etched on the fabric with pencil. The Sublime Stitching patterns can be found here and here, but the deer pattern is no longer available from Amelie Henrie on Etsy. (Though maybe she'll relist it for the holidays?) Fortunately my iPhone photography skills have improved since that time as well...

Feeling confident fresh off my ornament-making success, I also decided to stitch a sweet 6" deer hoop for my mother-in-law as a Christmas gift that year. It was still beginner-level, but a good way to expand on what I'd already learned.

Wild Olive's ornament patterns are also a favorite!

I'm posting this now not because Christmas tunes are are already playing in our home—I'm an after Thanksgiving holiday season purist—but because now is the time to start these sorts of projects. Especially if you're a total novice like I was.

Email me your suggestions and favorite pattern artists and I'll add them to the list! Also! I'm certainly not an expert, but I'll tackle any questions you send my way.

Neede + Craft: How the love affair began

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The last couple years I've scaled back on the hubbub around holidays. Fewer presents, less decor, more handmade, and simpler celebrations. This year, however, I'm focusing a little more on traditions. As a result I found myself in the garage digging out the holiday decor bins. I put up a few Halloween-related things. Then a few more. Our house is pretty darn festive right about now and I'm not the least bit sorry.

I think this craving for holiday traditions stems from the realization that this is Kiddo's last year at home before he adventures into relative adulthood—whether that be work or college has yet to be determined—and I want to squeeze every last joy out of this phase in our lives. Grad school acceptance means tunnel vision for the next few years; all the more reason to enjoy these moments in the meantime.

Here are some fall-related things on my mind:

Our neighborhood participates in "You've Been Booed," where you leave a basket of goodies on a neighbor's doorstep and they do the same for others. It's such a fun tradition!

When the weather gets cooler, cozy house clothes are my jam. Especially when I can run Kiddo to school in them and still feel somewhat put together. These joggers and this pullover are the newest addition to my comfy clothes arsenal. (so soft!)

Husband will be out of town on Halloween, and Kiddo is too old to trick-or-treat, so we'll be passing out candy together. I decided we should dress up just because. LLama + The Flash...hold on to your hats, kids!

I made this easy peasy pumpkin french toast a couple times last fall and it is bonkers good. It's back on the menu.

Watching Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time, as I often feel drawn to do in the fall, and adoring this mug. (Am I dating myself to admit I watched all the seasons for the first time when they were on television?) Also, this mug!

An adorable DIY paper haunted house. (Made into a pumpkin diorama!)

Trying this Slow-Cooker Butter Chicken. (Thanks, Bridget!)

Putting together a skeleton paper doll kit by Paper Source. (Bought locally and not available online...similar here.)

Searched high and low for the perfect couch blanket—a binge-watching-Netflix kind of blanket—and I finally found it! Garnet Hill's Plush-Loft blanket is the winner. We love this blanket! I routinely have to stop Kiddo from smuggling it upstairs...

A sweet autumn embroidery pattern I'll leave up on the wall year-round.

Stopped into a shoe store in Portland the other morning after pottery class and bought a pair of Joules Wellibob ankle rain boots. It was love at first wear and they've been on my feet almost every day since.  (Mine are the Clematis floral print, but I also love the other color options. Bees!)

Happy (early) Halloween!

Seen, Heard & Bookmarked: Embracing Fall Traditions

Friday, October 27, 2017

The last 8 days have been a whirlwind.

Literally and emotionally.

Last Sunday I woke up much too early and boarded a plane to make the 2500+ mile trek to a grad school interview. The one I was invited to back in June. The interview that was postponed by 5 weeks due to Hurricane Irma. The one that I had thought about every single day for over 150 days.

Irma didn't care that I had been anxiously awaiting that interview for four months. Or that I'd been rejected by one of my backup schools and waitlisted at another. It was the only invitation I had lined up at the time. And it wasn't just any program: it was one of my Top 2. The pipe dream school; the Ivy League of my chosen academic program.

The universe, in this case a violent weather pattern, has a way of putting your priorities into perspective. Of reminding you that your problems are First World, at best, and that there is real suffering. By the time my interview date rolled around I had a much healthier perspective regarding my chosen path and the inherent obstacles associated with it.

Monday morning I woke up bright and early, ate dusty hotel eggs, put on a suit, took a few deep breaths, and headed into my interview.

And for the very first time I felt like I could be myself. I talked about my life, my loves, and my passions. I may have even joked a time or two. Just like that the fire was reignited and all those rough patient care experiences, late night study sessions and days spent away from my family melted into the background.

I was pursuing my life's dream and had nothing to regret.

That evening I boarded a plane and flew back home. The next day I worked. And the day after that.

Those fancy interview shoes, though comfortable and well made, didn't hold up to an exceptionally long campus tour involving steep stairs, hills and a lost sense of direction for our poor tour guide. As a result I've spent the last week nursing some painful foot injuries. We're talking toes wrapped in blisters and many layers of skin sacrificed. (A shout out to Husband who has been an AMAZING medic and a coworker who patched me up after I bled through my socks on shift. They are my heroes.)

Thursday morning, while Husband and I sat chatting in our room, my cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was the director of admissions: By unanimous board decision, I had been accepted. There is a seat with my name on it.

And that's when the tears started.

That first day I burst into tears no less than a half dozen times, and in the days since there have been many more. While driving in the car, while laying in bed at night, while taking a shower, tears. Happy tears, of course, but also healing tears. Tears of reconciliation: I deserve this. My best was enough. My dreams are coming true. The past 9 years of hard work, struggle, mom + wife guilt, of feeling pulled in too many directions . . . it was all for something.

I did it.


Never give up on the dream.

Monday, October 23, 2017

This week has been calm. Parenting is parenting, of course, but otherwise life has shown me a quieter way to live over the past few days. Less work, lots of embroidery, creative learning, and plenty of baths. No complaints here.

Tuesday was my birthday, and although I'm a year older and eager to move on to the next phase, I'm not sweating my advancing age or the passage of time. Time is fleeting, always, but my burgeoning appreciation of the present has led to a greater focus on the everyday. Lately I've spent less time waiting for something to happen and more time exploring opportunities as they arise. And although I have a long way to go in terms of personal growth and fulfillment, life is already a lot sweeter without the anxious anticipation that comes with always looking ahead.

Here are some things I've seen, heard and bookmarked over the past week:

Wishing I could sew a quilt right about now. (I took my very first sewing lesson on Tuesday! I made that drawstring bag!)

Been coveting these shoes for years, finally took the plunge. Worth every penny.

Husband bought  me Half Baked Harvest's new cookbook a couple weeks ago and it may single-handedly end my dinner rut. (Making this beer bread to go with tomorrow night's dinner.)

The new "it" tree? (I still love you, Fiddle Leaf Fig.)

I was terribly sad I couldn't make the Makerie weaving retreat this month. (I attended the April 2017 retreat and it was magical.) In the meantime, this DIY weaving loom tutorial looks like a great project to pass the time and get me weaving again sans retreat.

Finding your flow. (Thought-provoking.)

I impulse-bought a Plexus wheel to stretch my stiff back muscles after seeing it on IG. The sensation is intense, but holy moly does my back feel better! I'm telling you, it's legit! Has anyone else tried it?

An unlikely pairing which produced a beautiful, moving performance.

A portable facial peel for those times when my skin is looking dull but I'm a) traveling or b) don't have time for my trusty 3-step brightening system. (Sampled two packets and loved the simplicity + results.)

Homemade sprinkles!

Happy weekend!

Seen, Heard & Bookmarked: Loving the in-between.

Friday, October 13, 2017

These days I am actively practicing the art of letting go. And by active, I mean it's work. When your default response to adversity is anxiety, changing a fundamental, ingrained reaction is no easy feat.

Kiddo's math grade has slipped into failing territory for the umpeeth time. Breath; don't yell. Don't go to that place where you imagine him failing out of high school. (Which he is not in danger of, by the way, but fear is fear and motherhood is fraught with it.)

The barista forgets to make your latte with almond milk and you're a mile away and running late before you realize. But you desperately need the caffeine . So you drink it despite the likely onset of belly discomfort and spend the morning wondering why things can't just be easy. For once! (A lot goes right, but in the moment it all feels hard and yucky.)

I'm not sure if I can reprogram a mid-thirties brain, but I'm sure trying. Better sleep hygiene, a meditation app, and the near-constant quest for personal and creative fulfillment are all steps toward less anxiety and stress. Let it go has become my mantra.

A major contributor in my quest to be less angsty has been hand embroidery. It started two years ago when I decided to create mini hoops for my yearly Christmas ornament project. Only, I'd never embroidered outside of the (very) occasional cross stitch project in middle school. In the process I fell hard for the craft and, unlike all other crafts that came before it, my interest hasn't wavered for nearly two years.

Since that time the projects have become more complex and I've mastered at least a dozen stitches, but there is still so much for me to learn! (As my husband often says, "Sarah isn't happy unless she's learning." He's so right.) Etsy is overflowing with patterns and YouTube has a plethora of awesome tutorials. The options are endless, yet it's a very unassuming hobby. It can be as easy or hard as you want to make it; is incredibly portable; and you can embroider while watching television, standing in line, or flying through the sky.

I find that when I embroider I engage the part of my brain that tends to ruminate on stressful topics when left to its own devices. Using my hands to create something intricate yet simply composed occupies the section of my subconscious mind that likes to focus on the What Ifs and worst case scenarios. And unlike dinking around on my phone, it doesn't increase my anxiety or take my attention from the room and the people around me. I can embroider and still fully engage with my family and friends. Oh, and when something goes awry or doesn't look quite right, you simply snip out the offending strands and start over. No harm, no foul, no stress.

I'm so enamored with this craft that I sold everything but the bare minimum craft box essentials at last spring's yard sale. I didn't need all those supplies pertaining to other crafts anymore and it felt good to purge all the stuff I had long since neglected (but likely hung on to out of guilt). And, bonus!, not only is embroidery compact, it's also super affordable. Hoops are a couple bucks, embroidery floss is about 50 cents a skein, and fabric can be next to nothing and a little goes a long way. It takes up very little space in my home, tucked into an end table drawer for instance, but also looks nice when displayed. (More on the storage aspect soon.) And if you need to walk away from a project for a while, it'll keep. It's one of the few things you can seamlessly pick back up when the mood strikes.

I keep most of my creations and hang them collage-style on my bedroom wall, but embroidery hoops make for lovely gifts. I've given them for nearly every occasion: holidays, baby showers, and during times of encouragement. People are so touched when you create for them!

In the two years I've been developing my love of embroidery, I've found some favorite products, stores and influencers that inspire me to step outside the lines and use my creative intuition. Although this is a niche topic, I would love for this to be the first in a blog series celebrating this craft. A place where I can share my favorite people, places and things associated with embroidery.

I wrote a post early last year with some of my favorite tools of the trade. You can find it here.

Needle + craft: A love declared.

Monday, October 9, 2017