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April 2019

2019 Second Quarter Goals

Tomorrow is April first.

That just blows me away….it seems like it was just Christmas, and here we are, already one-quarter through 2019.

It seems like a good time to check in with my goals and to establish some new ones.

What I accomplished:

Hiking. In January I set the goal to hike 3 times per month. I barely fit it in, as I did my third March hike today, but I’m happy to say I accomplished this goal. One of the hikes was in a national park I’ve never been to, Congaree in South Carolina. One of my favorite hikes was the day we hiked Squaw Peak. This is a hike Kendell and I have done together many times, but it was our first time doing it in the snow and it was fairly amazing. Easier in some ways, harder in others. This was my first winter of hiking consistently and I am so happy to have discovered snow hiking.

Winter hiking

Running. I intended on trying to run three times a week, but I didn’t accomplish this goal.  Partly this is because this part of 2019 was so full of difficult things: my mom’s last illness, death, and funeral, and then the long process of going through her things. Partly it’s because I was lazy. Partly it is because I’m still figuring out my new limitations with my knees. But, I did get in at least one run every week, and several weeks had two, and a couple of weeks had three. And I’ve slowly upped my mileage, by about 3-4 miles per week on average. So, while not perfect, at least I pressed on.

Running on the prt march 2019

Writing. I started the year with a goal of writing more poetry with one of my writer friends. I wanted to write a new poem every three weeks or so, and to polish and perfect what I wrote. I wrote one and a half poems. Which is a little bit dismal, but is more than I wrote in all of 2018, so it’s a start. Again…it was a difficult three months, so I’m not going to berate myself here. Also, I was happy with the talk I wrote for my mom’s funeral. A few blog posts. Not enough writing, but I am glad I managed a little.

Reading. Here’s another ball I dropped. I intended on reading one poem a day from a print source. I went in spurts with this but never got consistent. I'm not sure why, as I read some beautiful, amazing, moving, funny, intelligent poems. I also get several poem-a-day emails, so I did still read a lot of poetry. But the "from a print source" is an important part of the goal. I interact more with a printed book than an email, especially as for this goal I am reading my own copies (rather than library books), so I can underline and write and respond.

Creativity. I made one scrapbook layout and one baby quilt. Hmmmmm...

Baby rag quilt folded

There was one goal that I failed at spectacularly. I wanted to exercise every day that Nathan was at boot camp. Not run every day, but do something. I made it five days...and then I got a cold. Three more days, then my knees were hurting. A few more, then my mom got sick. I REALLY wanted to be brave & strong for him, and out of all my goals, not accomplishing this one is the one I am most annoyed at myself for not completing.

Goals for the upcoming quarter:

Hiking. Continue with three hikes a month. This might have to be on the same trail for awhile, the rockiest one, as the trails are super muddy right now. I’m looking forward to the wildflowers starting to bloom!

Running. I am going to very carefully train for a half marathon. We’ll see how it goes, and if I have to bump down to a 10k, that will have to be OK. But I need a race to train for to keep me motivated. I also think I need to work on some of my emotions about running. I need to accept that I will likely never be able to just run, but will always have to take walking breaks. In theory I know this doesn’t make me weak, or less of a runner, but in my heart I feel like I am less of a runner. For my sanity I need to figure out how to embrace this new reality.

Writing. Two words: WRITE MORE. Also recommit to my poetry-writing friend. And apologize for being such a flake.

Reading. Take up my poem-a-day goal again. And be more devoted to books, by which I mean: leave my phone in another room when I am reading, so I don't get distracted. I only read two books a month during the first part of the year, so my reading goal is to bump it up to three a month.

Creativity. I think this fell by the side because I spent so much time working on my mom’s house. One of the biggest parts of that project was working through all of her fabric. She had so much. I took enough of her fabric to make a quilt or two. Her style was very different from mine, but I think what I will make will be a good blend of her and me. I’m excited to make it. But I also have a quilt to make for Jake and one for Kaleb, and there are FIVE upcoming babies to quilt for. So for a little while, I think scrapbooking might not happen as much. I still want to make more than just ONE layout in three months though! So, the goals: finish Jake’s quilt, Kaleb’s quilt, and the baby quilts. Spend one afternoon a week making scrapbook layouts, including printing the pictures from Christmas and our trip to South Carolina. And take more pictures!

A bonus goal: I have spent way too much money lately. Online shopping has been a sort of comfort to me. Which is dumb, of course. Especially when I think about the excess stuff at my mom’s house we had to get rid of. I don’t need anything. But there is just something about getting a package in the mail. It brightens my heart when I see something waiting for me. Scrapbook supplies, books, workout clothes, fabric. So I am setting myself the goal of NOT SHOPPING. And of using the stuff I’ve bought: make the quilts, use some pretty paper, and keep running and hiking in my beautiful new Skirt Sports skirts. HOWEVER!!! If you want to keep shopping, you should use my discount code at, because a deal AND a package on your porch is pretty awesome. The code is SSA57Amy for 15% off regular prices.

One More bonus goal: next to fall, spring is my favorite. It’s just so beautiful. So my last goal for the next three months is to savor spring. The flowers, the gardening, the return of warm sunshine. This means sitting outside to read, and talking to my trees, and keeping the blinds open and my heart wide. My mom was always happy when winter ended and spring came back, and I’m sad she didn’t get to see yellow daffodils one more time, or sit on the grass next to blooming purple hyacinths just to smell them. So I’m going to do that since she can’t.

Do you have any upcoming goals?

Book Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Favorite Quotes: “And yet, I will think of the future, to remind me that the present is not forever…what is the present without the future?” (Vasya)


“It is not for men and women to presume what the Lord wishes. That way lives evil, when men put themselves too high, saying, I know what God wants, for it is also what I want.” (Sergei)

Winter of the witchFirst off: this will not be a traditional book review. Partly because it’s difficult to review the third book in a series without spoiling the previous two. To that point, The Winter of the Witch is the story of Vasya’s further adventures in medieval Russia. She interacts more with her brother Sasha in this novel, but less with her sister and niece. The way the story played out helped me to understand that the second book, The Girl in the Tower, was the story of Vasya’s adolescence, and her mistakes and faults there were the function of learning how to be in the world. In this third part, we get to see her learn from her mistakes, find her unique strengths, feel grown-up emotions in many forms. I also felt that the story struck a good balance: Vasya is not a girl in distress waiting for a man to rescue her from her trials (this makes me crazy), but she is also not impossibly bad-ass (which also makes me nuts). Instead, she does some things on her own and in other experiences, learns to use the resources she has, including other people and beings, to assist her.

I was not disappointed by the ending of this series, and am I so glad I started it despite my initial misgivings.

But what I really want to write about is how some books resonate within a life. I haven’t given her a name yet, but I have invented a Greek goddess of reading. Her role in the Pantheon is to bring to pass the matching of stories to souls. Not always, not all moments in a life and not all books. But sometimes she bequeaths the perfect book at the perfect time, and for me, The Winter of the Witch at this exact moment in my life—the winter before I turned 47, when my mom died, when I have begun to feel like I am on the other side of some intense struggles and so in a time of figuring out what I learned from them—was one of those moments of bookish auspicious grace.

This is because of the time of life I find myself in. My main topics of thought revolve around the fact that I am turning 47 next month. Somehow, 47 seems much older than 46. So much closer to 50. If I am lucky, I have two decades of life left, maybe two and a bit, and they will be full of bodily failings. My body will do whatever it does, but joints and wrinkles and failing eyesight feels out of my control. If you had asked me when I was 20 what my life would look like when I was almost 47, I would have described successes. I wanted to be a mother, and I am blessed beyond measure that I got to do so. But I also thought I would achieve other things, and honestly, I didn’t. My 20-year-old self might be disappointed by me (although I think she’d be delighted, if not a bit surprised, at how much I love running and hiking). And my relationship with my religious faith is, right now, deeply conflicted. I think it always has been, but while I was so deep in raising my family I didn’t stop to really question, to let the conflicts rise to the surface, and that itself has done damage.

In some ways I am more at peace with myself than I could’ve imagined at 20. In other ways I am anxious and troubled and saddened by the ways I failed and the mistakes I made.

Really, my midlife-crisis-style questionings have absolutely nothing to do with a young woman in a medieval Russian fairytale retelling. But there was something that happened as I read the book; a deep sense of peace and of being heard, somehow, settled over me.

It has to do with those two quotes. Vasya is right: a big part of the present is influenced by the future. I’ve always been a person who thinks about the future. Just one example, I remember telling my grandma Florence, who I loved dearly as a little girl, that I couldn’t wait to be a grandma just like her. She looked at me quizzically and said “but you’re still a little girl, you should enjoy being little.” I do try to live in the moment, but I am also prone to imagine the future. For so long, the future I looked forward to was full of things I would do or experience, but now it feels like what is left is witnessing what happens to other people.

I will not always be almost-47. Knowing the future is coming makes me love right now, even with its complexities, because I know everything will change, and because I also know that I cannot imagine what will happen in the future. Even while my decisions in the now shape the future. So I am deep in pondering: what, given how my current life really is, should I do with the time I have left? How can I learn, like Vasya, from the mistakes I made and then use that knowledge to shape the future in different ways?

But it’s also deeply entwined with religion. Or faith. Or belief in something other than this world. I’m feeling so prickly about old men telling me what God thinks. Especially since so often it bumps hard against what I think God thinks. Or what God wants me to do with my life. Or what I want to do with my life. There are many religious characters in The Winter of the Witch, and they respond in different ways to the turbulence of their time; the ones I respond to best are the ones who are flexible in their thinking. What is good? What is evil? What is the best way for me to act? How can I be a good person? There are plenty of old men who are willing to tell me what they think, and when I’ve followed their ideas blindly I have found myself in places I didn’t want to be. Not necessarily evil, but uncomfortable. Not the right fit for me. In fact, I feel like I have been pretending for far too long—my analogy of the bloody dress—and I just don’t want to anymore. I want to believe in a God who loves me not because I am good but because I am myself. I can’t pretend to know what God wants for anyone, even, sometimes, for myself, and I no longer want to justify anything by thinking “it’s what God wants.”  Fitting that into the structures of my life is one of my main focuses, and I will freely admit I have no idea how to do it.

Winter of the Witch didn’t really give me any answers to the questions I have. It entertained me; I loved the world building, the concept of Midnight, the interaction of ancestors’ choices with ours, Vasya’s growth, the resolution. The horses and the history mingled with fairy tale. The way the plot is led by questions. I will forever think of Ded Grib when I eat mushrooms. Most importantly, though, it felt like an answering voice, a story entirely like my own that still told me that my own questions and future are also important.

Design Tips for Rag Quilts (along with a bunch of other rambling ideas about quilting)

One of my reactions to my mom’s enormous fabric stash was the desire to finish more of my quilting projects and to share online more of what I make. The process of making something is, for me, just as fun as the actual finished object, and sharing online helps me feel like I am a part of a larger conversation. It’s a way of taking the solitary act of making out to the larger world.

(I also realized: I have many thoughts about quilting and creativity and emotional health and a happy life, and I almost never blog anymore, which probably applies to, what, 97.35% of all bloggers. But the new impulse isn’t really “blog more” but “write more,” meaning: my mother’s material horde is inspiring me to share my writing in different ways. But, I digress.)

Yesterday there was a baby shower for one of my neighbor’s daughters, so I made a baby quilt. My go-to baby quilt is a rag patchwork quilt. Baby rag quilt patchwork
I know: rag quilts are great projects for beginning quilters, right? But I’ve been quilting for a long time (ever since I was pregnant with Kaleb), so why am I still making them?

  1. Rag quilts come together really quickly. The piecing and the quilting are combined into one step! Plus, you don’t have to put together the top, the batting, and the quilt back, which is my least-favorite part of the quilting process. You can actually make an entire rag quilt without even pinning, if you’re so inclined.
  2. I love working with flannel. It’s just so soft.
  3. They are versatile. I don’t think I’d attempt intricate triangles as a rag quilt, but you totally could. I’ve made rag quilts with strips, patchwork, improv, log cabin blocks. After typing that sentence, I want to try some half-square triangles in a rag quilt.
  4. Precision is not essential. I’m not sure if it’s my personality or my sewing machine, but I struggle to be completely precise. In a rag quilt, it doesn’t matter as much, because the fluffy fringe the seam creates when you wash it hides imprecision.

There are a million tutorials for how to make a rag quilt, so I’m just going to give a brief summary of the process. 1. Cut the fabric (strips, squares, whatever your pattern choice is). Cut at least TWO of each necessary shape, one for the front and one for the back. If I want the quilt to be warmer, I cut THREE of each shape: the front, the back, and then a middle “batting” piece that is almost always white flannel. Other quilters I know use a batting square for the second layer, but I’ve never made one like that. 2. Assemble the pieces into mini quilt sandwiches: back, middle (if you’re using it), front.  3. Sew the pieces by putting the BACK sides together (not the fronts, as with usual quilt tops), so the seam is on the top. Assemble into rows and then sew the rows together, always with the backs together. 4. Snip the seams. I use a pair of scissors designed to snip rag quilt seams (there are many) and since I make rag quilts often, these we definitely a good purchase for me. 5. Wash and dry the quilt. This is where the magic of the rag quilt happens. The snipped seams fluff together and create a beautiful texture.

Baby rag quilt folded

Whenever I am making a quilt, I think of a conversation I had with a friend. She said that she wanted to start quilting, but the thought of making a mistake kept her from ever making anything. It is a little bit scary when you first start, because fabric is expensive. But my quilting philosophy goes along these two lines: 1. Fabric is a flexible medium. It’s OK if it isn’t EXACT. In fact, I think the idiosyncrasies of each quilter’s different skills and knowledge add to each quilt’s beauty and uniqueness. 2. Expensive or not, it’s still just fabric. If you mess up, you might be able to fix it by changing something in the pattern or adapting that square in some way. Worst possible outcome is you have another scrap to add to your future scrap quilt. (Because, yes: collect your scraps!)

While I was making this weekend’s quilt, I thought of that conversation, but I also thought of the following tips, which are really pretty random. (I’m realizing that this post is turning into its own kind of scrappy quilt.)

Mixing fabrics. Part of my own quilting esthetic is that I love scrappy quilts. I love figuring out how to combine pieces that at first might not seem to go together. Here’s the secret: pick one thing that is the same, and then everything else can be different. Usually for me, this is color. You can have stars, stripes, hearts, flowers, frogs, dogs, and elephants all in one quilt if the colors are all the same. By “the same” I mean: a color scheme. Repetition of color unifies the disparate patterns. I like to have three colors in my color scheme. The quilt I made for yesterday’s shower was blue, green, and yellow. There are pieces of each color, and then there are other pieces that have two of each color (so, for example, a blue background with green frogs). As you select for color, make sure the tones match—for example, if you’re using pinks, try to only use all cool pink tones.

Consider your neutrals. Fabrics are either white or off-white. If you use a unified neutral, the quilt will feel balanced. Neither one is better than the other, but stick with your choice. Also consider the stronger neutrals, which are grey and brown. Grey goes with white, brown goes with off-white.

Toss in a few surprises. It might seem chaotic at first…but there really is a method to the scrappy madness. If I have fabric that repeats, I try to not put the same fabric in the same row or column. I try to spread out similar colors. And I always add one or two fabrics that break the rules slightly. In this quilt, I added a few darker squares. The tones of the dark blue squares are the same as the lighter ones, but the tint is just more intense. I also think that sea-themed piece (third row, fourth column) is a surprise because it adds just a titch of pink.

Rag-quilt-specific ideas. Use a 5/8” seam; it’s just big enough to make the ragged part fluffy without being too big. (Make sure to take this into consideration when planning how much fabric you buy.) Sew the seam intersections (where four seams meet in the corners of the squares) open or closed, it doesn’t really matter, but just be consistent. (I sew all of mine open.) Snip the corner intersections at a 90 degree angle and the rest of the seams at 45. Part of the backing will show around each square, so think of it as a sort of outline of the pattern, and choose your color accordingly. If you use a dark backing with lighter patterns on the front, wash the backing fabric first so there is less chance of the dye bleeding through. Always wash your rag quilts (any quilt, actually) with a Color Catcher the first time you wash it, just in case. When you are drying the quilt for the first time, stop the dryer often and clean out the lint trap; that first washing makes a lot of lint that’s full of little threads. Despite what I said about loving to work with flannel, it is 100% awesome to combine both flannel and regular quilting cottons in your rag quilts; it adds some different textures and besides, not every print I love is available in flannel. If you want to spend extra time, you can bind a rag quilt with double-fold French binding like you might bind a regular quilt. Or you can also just bind it by sewing a 5/8” seam around the edge and then snipping that seam as well.

Mass production. One of the keys to having a really scrappy quilt is having a lot of different fabrics. But even if you just buy fat quarters, you’ll end up with enough squares for more than one quilt. So, embrace that and do your cutting with the idea of making more than one project. Right now I have a box of 6” squares ready to make into future rag quilts, and each time I make a new quilt, I cut a few 6” squares to add to it. For this quilt, I wanted to try 7.5” squares (because one of my recent, from-my-mother acquisitions is a 7.5” ruler), so I bought a bunch of 8” strips of flannel, gathered some other larger scraps, and started cutting. I now have enough 7.5” squares to make several baby-boy quilts, and with all the cutting already done, they will come together really quickly.

Until next time, happy quilting! (Or reading or scrapbooking or running or bowling or whatever else you love to do.)

Thoughts (of the rambling sort) on International Women's Day

One of the complicated experiences I’ve had in connection with my mother’s death has been the process of cleaning out her house. It has brought me sadness, frustration, surprise, happiness, grief, joy. And memories—so many memories. I have found photographs of my ancestors that I have never seen before, and even a postcard written by my great grandma Amy (who I was named for) to her daughter Florence (my grandma) during the weeks after my mother’s birth. I found an amazing black-and-white photo of my dad’s mom, Elsie, riding a horse, and learned later, when I told my uncle about it, that she didn’t only love cats; she loved all animals and was a skilled horsewoman. Elsie on a horse 6x8 edit

I have wondered why we have so many more photos of my grandma Florence’s side of the family than we do of my grandpa Fuzz’s; I would also love more photos of my great grandma Emma.

Sometimes I have felt the presence of my female ancestors gathered around me, sharing something of themselves with me. Like being hugged by a ghost.

I have been reminded that women writing their own life stories is a radical feminist action.

Florence Simmons Kay Nelda May Simmons Christensen Amy Daniels Simmons

I’ve read ever little scrap of a story written on the back of a photo in Florence’s or Elsie’s handwriting. I’ve had a secret hope that somewhere in my mother’s house I would find a notebook or a journal or even just a few loose pages written by someone, by any one of those hovering ancestors. To read and so to remember and carry with me something they felt, or learned; an opinion about a war or a politician or a neighbor; an impression of a sunrise or a flower or snow falling at midnight.

I didn’t find anything like that. When I told one of my sisters what I had wished for, she said “women didn’t have time to sit around writing their stories back then,” which only made me sadder. Men had time to write their life histories (I know of several in my family line). Many times they were assisted by their wives. It’s not that they didn’t have time. It’s that they weren’t given time, and they didn’t know their lives also held worth and so they should take the time. So their voices are lost, and all I have left are their black-and-white images, their precise cursive on the backs of photographs. Their wavering, ghostly embraces.

What I did find was a catalog of objects. Pretty dishes, statuary, trinkets. Jewelry by the boxful. Clothes, shoes, scarves, coats, jackets. Unfinished porcelain dolls. Almost-finished afghans. Pieces of quilts not yet assembled. Yarn. Old dolls. Old pans, an ancient pressure cooker, a pair of ice skates. Dusty framed pictures. An envelope with my mother’s hair and her baby teeth. Photographs, in no discernible order. A box full of Elsie’s bills from the 1950s and 1960s. Christmas ornaments, Halloween decorations, plastic Easter baskets scrawled with each grandchild’s name.

All of the contents of a person’s house, to sum up. The gathered collection of a life’s worth of accumulating stuff. And, yes: this sorting has been complicated. I can’t keep everything, my sisters or their kids can’t keep everything. But every object we choose not to keep feels like a rejection of her, somehow.

And in this process, one of the most overwhelming categories was Mom’s fabric. She had so much fabric. Like Smaug’s horde, only calico and florals and flannel baby prints instead of gold. (That sounds judgmental, and while her fabric stash made me deeply sad, I’m really not judging her; I understand the impulse of buying stuff you’re going to make something with. I mean…have you seen my scrapbook supplies?) The story of sifting through her fabric horde deserves its own post, but to sum up: everyone we know who likes fabric took some. One of my mom’s friends, me, Becky, Suzette; our nieces; our nieces’ friends, my friends, my friends’ sisters. In the end, we still had five packed-to-bursting boxes full of fabric that we are donating to various charities.

Yesterday, we took a box of brightly-colored flannels to an organization called Days for Girls. They make menstruation packs for girls in developing countries, to help them so that they are still safe and comfortable going to school when they are having their periods. When we dropped it off, they gave us a little tour of their space. There were about fifteen women working there, all volunteers. Sorting fabric, cutting, sewing, serging, assembling the bags. When the bags are taken to the girls, they are given individually, by an actual person, and the girls also receive education about their bodies, pregnancy, consent, and, if appropriate in the country where they live, some self-defense skills.

Days for girls board

I held my mother in my heart as I learned about this project.

I had all of those female ancestors whose faces and bits of stories have been with me for the past six weeks, gathered at my shoulder.

And in front of me, an image of the girls and women my mother’s fabric would help.

Those ancestors shaped her, she shaped me, and my little part in helping will shape, in some small way, the lives of women I will never meet.

I think feminism is one of the most misunderstood concepts of our time. Men misunderstand it on purpose because it threatens their power structures. Women who misunderstand it do so, I believe, from a place of fear that is also tangled up with power. To find your own abilities and strength—your own power—you do have to first disconnect yourself from whatever power was controlling you, and that is sometimes a naked feeling, especially at first. I also think there is fear of being too strident, of coming across as a man-hater or as power hungry or, God forbid, as ambitious.

But my experiences this year have reinforced my belief in the power of women. We only need to realize that we are also worth something, independent of other sources of power. Our stories, voices, talents, experiences matter, and not in an oh-you’re-sweet kind of way. There is power in embracing who you are and then sharing it with the world. We each influence each other. I have learned from women writers, teachers, mentors, friends, family members, neighbors. Strangers. Other runners in races whose encouragement has kept me going, our lives so briefly connected for two or five minutes but yet changed for the better despite the briefness.

We have what we have: knowledge, skill, emotion, intelligence. Our interests, our history, our way of doing things. Even our possessions. And when we turn outward to help each other, we are claiming our power.

Suellen, Florence, Amy, Emma, Merle, Annie, Lizzie. Becky and Suzette and Michele. Haley. Cindy, Anna, Kayci, Lyndsay, Jacqui, Brittney, Breann, Madi, McKenzie. Chris, Wendy, Jamie, Julie, Margot, Midge. Reading friends and quilting friends and scrapbooking friends and running friends. You reading this—you reading this. Women making lives better, in small and large ways: There is a richness here that is burbling and growing and will continue to change the world.

Winter 2018-2019: Recap, Part One, or My Belated Thoughts on Christmas

Yesterday it snowed here in Utah. I’m guessing this will probably be our last snow in the valley (although, sometimes we get surprise snow storms as late as May, so who knows), and already it felt like a spring snow, not a winter one. I walked outside to feel the cold air. The still-naked trees bent a little with the weight, and with every breath or step I took, a little flurry would fall down. I felt like my trees were throwing snowballs at them. (I know I might sound nutty but I don’t care: I love my trees. They know I love them and they each have a different spirit.)

Spring is coming.

I’m itching for warmer days, when I can come home from a morning run, make a protein shake, and then work in my yard. Weeding and pruning and planting some new flowers, greeting the perennials as they take turns blooming. I’m looking forward to bright yellow daffodils and that bright, happy fragrance of hyacinth flowers.

But before spring happens, I want to look back and record this winter. It was an important one in my life history and I don’t want to forget the details. Because of all that’s happened in the past three months, I haven’t had much blogging time. But I’m going to make time over the next few days to write about the last three months of winter.

First off, Christmas. This Christmas was so different from any Christmas we’ve had before. Partly this is because I was having a dark spell with my depression. Partly it was because of how my family is changing. Haley stayed in Colorado because of work and travel expenses, and her greatest need was help paying for her med school applications. I made a Christmas quilt for her (because she wasn’t putting up a tree and I thought it would be nice to have something Christmasy in their apartment…but that backfired because I didn’t get it done fast enough), and sent some other things, but her gift was money. Nathan was leaving for basic training the week after Christmas, so he didn’t need anything. So mostly I shopped for Jake and Kaleb. It took almost no time at all to wrap gifts this year, and Christmas morning was so low-key, as no one woke up until 11:00.

In early December, on the night we put up the tree, I got in an argument with Kendell. (Glad this happened after the tree was up and we had a fun time with the five of us together decorating it.) He had been teasing me about how there were too many ornaments to fit on the tree. And I didn’t even mention the other box of ornaments I hadn’t even brought out. This lit a spark in me (because really…almost no argument in a marriage is ever only REALLY about the argument’s topic) because of what the ornaments represented. Not just the Santas and stockings and bears and angels and snowflakes themselves, but tradition, and time, and a last little bit of myself as a young mother. So once we got to a spot where there was really no point in talking anymore, I went for a drive in the mountains. I stood outside and looked at the stars and the cliffs against the midnight-dark sky and I cried and then I processed. Why was that little bit of teasing so intensely painful? What did it mean?

When Haley was a baby, I bought an ornament at a craft fair, a little ceramic tennis shoe with her name painted on it, and thus I started the tradition of giving my kids an ornament every Christmas. I did this because my Christmas tree was so bare. I had made some quilted balls when we were first married, and I had some bells and a few other little things, but my tree had almost nothing on it. I bought that little shoe thinking of our future Christmases together, and how each year we’d add more, and then my tree wouldn’t be naked. It would be full of memories. But I also started it so that when my kids grew up and had their own trees, they could start with memories from their childhood Christmases and then go from there. My intention was always to give them their ornaments when they were ready for them.

A few years ago, I realized something: as each kid became an adult and took their ornaments, my tree would be bare again. So, I started watching for ornaments for myself as well. Mostly angels. And as more years passed, and each year at least four (but usually five or six) more ornaments were added, the tree did start getting crowded.

So here we are, twenty-something years later, and my kids are adults but they’re not ready for their ornaments yet. (Which is 100% totally fine, no guilt-trip intended.) And the tradition I started so long ago stopped making sense. Kaleb really didn’t care. Nathan didn’t care. Jake didn’t care. It just wasn’t a big deal to them.

So in December 2018, I bought exactly zero new ornaments.

And the modifying of traditions didn’t stop there. I also gave up on Christmas Eve pajamas. And sibling gifts on Christmas Eve. I didn’t decorate the banister in my kitchen and I got out only about half of my decorations. And while there was sadness in this transitional Christmas, there was also a sense of…relief, maybe. Christmas and all it entails has been one of my favorite parts of being a mom. I did as much as I could to make it magical for my kids and I loved doing it. But it is also stressful. Because let’s face it: I am not a magical person. Santa has bajillions of elves and magic to help him. I just have me. And I think for the last couple of Christmases, I was continuing to make the magic because I felt I needed to, not necessarily because my kids needed it. They still need (and Kaleb, as the youngest, still deserves) a happy Christmas morning. But it is OK to be in this place, when things are changing. It is OK to adjust traditions and take some away and add some new ones. And I am grateful I was able to process enough to see my way through.