I remember, at nine years old, making a cake for my mom for her 30th birthday. There is a picture of it somewhere. I was so very, very proud of it. I remember a few things about that day: 30 seemed so very, very far away, I was giddy with pride over my creation and though I can picture it perfectly in my mind’s eye (so I am certain when I tell you it was a disaster), my mother treated it as though it had been made of the finest ingredients (not from a box) and crafted by a baker with the most perfect of pedigrees. (it hadn’t) I never suspected she was choking the cake down, though she may have been…..and her smile was anything but false.
I’m sitting in my office staring out my window. All I can see is snow. The cold is radiating from my windows like a living being. I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes. I can’t get warm. There is nothing I detest more than the cold. You know the people who say they love the change of seasons, they love the snow – even for a little while? I’m not one of those people. I don’t even need to see pictures of it to feel complete.
And right now my world is white with the coldest temperatures I have ever experienced in my life. Friends, that isn’t hyperbole. I’m not exaggerating. The outside temperature in St. Louis, Missouri is -7 with the windchill registering at -31. That, my friends, is ALASKA COLD.
My good friend and co-author, Aliza Sherman spent a number of years living in very rural Alaska near the Canadian border as a result of her husband’s job. At one point my husband jokingly remarked, ‘Wow, she must really love her husband. You wouldn’t live there for me”. While I did smile and say, ‘No, I wouldn’t’, (I am aware of my capacity for sanity), he and I both know that I did settle here, in his hometown, far away from the sunshine of Southern California, the friends and family I adore and the ocean that fills me up.
I came here to be with him. And I’ve stayed for him and because our family has settled in.
And we’re happy.
Or at least I am from April through October. I jest. Sort of.
The joking is one of the things that keeps us together and happy. I was reminded what a ‘secret’ this is to a happy marriage as I made my way through my friend Fawn’s new book, Happy Wives Club. Laughter is a thread that binds, it is a white flag in the midst of an argument and the broken ice when things are simply too serious. As Fawn detailed her journey – visiting 12 countries, 6 continents and visiting countless couples seeking the wisdom of their happy coupling – laughter and fun came up time and time again.
The book made me stop and think….just what IS it that makes a marriage work? What would I love to tell my younger self – that bride as she prepares for ‘the biggest day of her life’?
I came up with 12 Secrets to a Strong and Happy Marriage…as I am experiencing them right now.
Why 12? It’s more than ten since ten seems easy. (Marriage isn’t easy) Eleven seems too odd and well, twelve is the number of years I will have been married this year. I guess you could say I’m learning as I’m going. I’m ALWAYS learning.
Laugh Often and At Yourself – If you ask my husband, he will tell you he is ‘the funniest person he knows’. He may or may not be joking. Either way, he makes me laugh every day and he has taught me the value of letting go and laughing at myself. While I’ve always been a ‘happy’ person, you wouldn’t classify me as funny or goofy, but marriage has taught me how important it is to allow the ‘silly’ to take over. It’s hard to stay mad at someone while they are making you laugh.
Go to Bed Mad – I was raised to believe the sun shouldn’t set on your anger. Wrong. When you are in your marriage for the long haul, you have plenty of time to breathe, figure it out, forgive and forget. Early in our marriage, I would push and push and PUSH an argument…desperate for an immediate resolution. Sometimes you both need to walk away to allow for clarity to filter in. Things often seems less dire after both of you have had a chance to calm down.
Listen – Some people are naturally good listeners and well, some people aren’t. In each relationship there is usually one. So, for one of you, this isn’t such a challenge. But for you over there? Not so easy. Work at it. It is important to both of you to be heard and equally valuable to know what is going on in the other’s world. Take time each day to put the devices down, to ignore the TV, (maybe after the kiddos are in bed?) and just talk. And listen. You’ll be amazed at what you might hear.
Make Each Other a Priority – Even if you have children, in fact, especially if you have children, you need to spend time with each other. You need a date night, a vacation for just the two of you, time to cuddle, an opportunity to talk about something other than school, kid’s sports and work. When was the last time you said, ‘how are you?’ and meant it? Your small people are a manifestation of your love for each other, but one day, they’ll be gone and it will again be just the two of you. You will need each other then. Make the effort to prioritize each other now.
Fight fairly – There is nothing worse than a dirty fight – name calling, dredging up past grievances or wasting energy being hateful. Look each other in the eye, be respectful and stick to the topic. I know it isn’t possible to always stay calm and keep your voice down – emotions can take over – but TRY. Once said, words can’t be taken back.
Grow Together – I am not the same person I was twelve years ago. I’d like to think I’m a wiser, kinder, more entertaining version of my 28 year-old self, but I recognize that I probably have less patience, I’m getting a little set in my ways and all of the ‘little things’ that my husband used to find cute and quirky about me are likely on their way to becoming wretchedly annoying. I’m a result of the life experiences I had before my husband and the ones I’ve had since and likewise, he is the same. We are growing together. It is important we respect new interests and changes in our personalities as well.
Be Kind – This isn’t just a marriage rule, this is a life rule. When my small people were very small, I constantly reminded them to ask themselves a very important question when dealing with each other, ‘Am I being kind?’ My husband and I need to do the same. Even when we have had a bad day. Even when we are short on patience. Even when we believe the other is WRONG. Acting and speaking kindly to each other can prevent arguments, smooth over tough moments and fix a day-gone-wrong.
Give More Than You Get – In a word, this requires you to be selfless. And it isn’t easy. We often do it naturally with our children, but sometimes it isn’t easy to do for your spouse. Work at it. Marriage is hard work. Take out the trash, do the dishes, give the kids a bath, make the bed, put gas in the car, shovel the driveway – even if you did it last time. If you are BOTH giving more, you are both getting more. This is a good thing.
Go for the positive – Talk positively about each other. It is one thing to be kind to each other…but something else entirely to be kind ABOUT each other. How many times have you heard a group of women or men talk or joke disparagingly about their significant other? Be the opposite. Be the one who DOESN’T complain about Football Sunday, about the last time he made the bed, about her terrible cooking, her juggling of work and motherhood, her lack of listening ability, about his absenteeism. Find the positive. Share THAT instead. Happy begets happy.
Share the Love of the Game – or food, or wine, or the movies, or mountain climbing. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not suggesting you lose yourself in someone else’s loves and hobbies, that you take up water skiing when you are afraid to swim or watch horror movies when you are afraid of the dark, but express an interest in something because it matters to HIM (or her). Coming in to this marriage I didn’t pay much attention to baseball. Baseball is second to religion in my husband’s family. He had to memorize the inscription on Stan Musial’s statue (St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer) before being allowed to walk in to the stadium as a 4-year old. I am now a fan and yes, cheer right along as our family room mantle is converted in to a shrine for the St. Louis Cardinals each October.
Take Time Alone – When I married my husband, I chose him as a life partner, but I didn’t choose to leave myself, my soul and all of my interests adrift entirely. We both know it is important to continue to do things that matter to us – and sometimes alone. He plays on a baseball team. I take a trapeze class. He likes Saved By the Bell and I love The Princess Bride. Sometimes we have to watch alone. We both enjoy time with friends – together and on our own. It is part of being a couple and being individuals.
Choose It – A few years ago, if you had asked me about the most challenging thing I had ever done, I might have told you it was raising children. Now, I will say it is being married. It is work, but work that is well worth it. We both know that every day isn’t like the day we married: the best day of our lives…but rather some are amazing and some are challenging. Every day you need to choose it – your relationship, your spouse, your family. Every day you must choose to listen, to be kind, to give more than you get and to laugh.
The older I get, the more I’m choosing kindness and laughter. What have you found are the secrets to your marriage – your strong marriage, your happy marriage? For more beautiful wisdom from around the world, be sure to pick up a copy of Fawn Weaver’s new book – Happy Wives Club – it launches this week, so I’m certain you will see her lovely face everywhere! You can also check out her website by the same name: Happy Wives Club – which was the inspiration for this project.
I’m grateful to my friend Fawn for sending me an early copy of her book – I’m so proud of her and this journey she is on. I’ve purchased two additional copies which I know will be on their way to me this week and I’m excited to be giving them to a few friends who I know will love the book as I do.
It isn’t just that red is my favorite color.
Or that red and silver are stunning together.
Or that my small people morph into magic beings this time of year, their eyes perpetually wide, their jaw permanently open in wonder… (though that last one could have a little to do with it).
Quite simply, I adore the holidays. And the sooner I transform my home from standard living to holiday style, the more spirited I feel, the more apt I am to embrace everything special about this time of year.
My favorite room in the house – especially this time of year – is our family room. It is where our tree lives, where we spend the most time and where you will find this mantle.
I fell in love with this mantle before our house was built. It is lovely from January through November, but right now? It is glorious. I could stare at it for days. Because I think your mantle – any mantle – or even a shelf that plays a central role in your main room deserves to be the focus of the holiday room, I wanted to share 8 tips to transform your mantle for the holidays.
8 Ways to Decorate Your Mantle for the Holidays
Choose a Palette – I know this sounds like fancy-decor-speak, but in layman’s terms – choose a couple of colors (rather than ALL of the colors) so the space will be pleasing to the eye when you are done AND so you can easily spot new pieces to buy when you are out shopping. Ideally purple, red, silver, blue, green and gold will feel like too much, so focus on just a couple.
Keep Family Photos in Place– On any given day, our mantle plays host to any number of family pictures – specifically some of my favorites. Keep them in play. Your family is central to the magic that IS the holidays. Use these pieces for their sentimental value and for filling some larger space. If you have Winter or Holiday pictures – the kids sitting with Santa, the morning your puppy arrived, the family on that ski vacation, swap some of these out to make it more festive.
Go Green – I love the texture that greenery can add to any space, but specifically a shelf or mantle. This is your version of bringing the outdoors inside. Much of the greenery you can purchase is evergreen in nature and has pine cones or berries, so the holiday feel is instant.
Incorporate year round decor – Once you have decided to go with certain colors or textures, feel free to move other items from around your home to this center spot to increase the holiday focus. Those red stars? They aren’t only holiday decor….I use them in our house all year. But they are red, they are eye-catching and they add to the overall feel.
Use Ornaments in Different ways – Sure ornaments are beautiful on your tree, but make a change: add some to your mantle instead. Allow your creativity to take over here: put them in a tall vase, set them within the greenery, use them as ‘book ends’ to hold up some of your holiday cards. The key is to choose a theme or feel – blue and white? Green and Red?
Light it Up – This can be as simple as adding a few candles. I like to vary the colors and sizes of the candles we incorporate in this space. But I also love the look of the white lights wrapped in the greenery. (the greenery/lights came together so I don’t spend additional time each year melding the two.)
Highlight Family and Friends – Going to the mail this time of year makes me giddy. I adore seeing the faces of family and friends and want them on display. Consider adding your holiday cards to the mantle to highlight the people you love most this time of year. I know my parents used to put holiday cards on our refrigerator, but I want this loveliness as part of the decor.
Hang Stockings with Care – Now clearly, the holidays don’t include stockings for everyone, but for us, they are a part of the decor and a big part of what turns this space into a Christmas room. When I was a little girl, I had a stocking with my name on it – done with glue and gold glitter – long before personalization was ‘a thing’. Now, I don’t think having the stockings personalized matters as much as having one that represents each member of your family. My small people love to hang these each year.
And then….sit back and enjoy. I love spending time in this room just soaking of the magic of the space. How do you decorate for the holidays? Share links in the comments below – I’d love to see.
There is that hush-hush conversation that starts to happen around this time of year among parents of children of a ‘certain age’. How much longer do we have? How many more years of the magic …of that deep-set belief in all things glorious surrounding the holidays do we possibly have. I, for one, am clinging to it the way my newborn babies held my fingers when they drank milk.
My small people have a sparkle that flashes in their eyes as they begin to count down the days until first Freddie, our Elf on the Shelf, and then Santa visit. Their little chests puff up with excitement, their cheeks flush and the words tumble out of their mouths as they recount the mountains of memories that have been built in their few short years. There are gifts to be given, lists to be made, cookies to bake, gingerbread houses to build, families to adopt, trees to decorate…a full year’s worth of holiday moments to pack into just a few short weeks.
I’m out of breath just thinking about it. But, friends, I am SMILING. And I am smiling because I feel as though I know the secrets to keeping the magic alive AND staying stress free as the holidays approach. And I can’t wait to share them with you:
Live the Magic: Those moments that your children believe, embrace them. Open that inner-Santa – give more, thank more, love more, BE more. Your small people don’t do as you SAY, they do as you DO.
Be A Kid: Join the kids as they build the gingerbread house, take the time to decorate a few gifts, and stop and LAUGH. During the holidays we rush, rush, rush to the point of exhaustion, but if we take a cue from our kids, we’ll see that they are the ones reveling in the moment: they are stopping to watch the snowflakes fall, to stare in awe as the sugar cookies rise, to giggle when the Christmas tree is only decorated by small hands from four feet down.
Let it Go: It is impossible for everything to be perfect: for you to remember the scotch tape, to buy every gift on your list before December 24th, to remember that you were supposed to record Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas on the same night. You aren’t aiming for perfection – you want memories. And you are creating them with the people you love.
Play Music: Holiday music makes everything better. I know it starts early, but the truth is, we only have a limited time to listen to it… enjoy it while it lasts. Allow yourself to feel the spunky and serene moments of the holidays as the music dictates.
Stick with Your Traditions: When I was a little girl, my dad read T’was the Night Before Christmas to my brother and I every single Christmas Eve (even when we were teenagers) and now my husband does the very same with my small people. I can’t get enough of it. It is by FAR one of my very favorite traditions
Buy Batteries: No matter what, don’t forget the batteries. As a mother to two small people, I have only made this grievous error one time and I will never, ever do it again. When your child opens the toy of their dreams, but cannot use it on Christmas morning because you have neglected the ONE thing that will make that toy work…well, you drop from the BEST MOMMY IN THE WORLD to….. well, the opposite. This is the one place where planning ahead is a beautiful thing.
Our tree and decoration are up…the holidays are in full swing in our home. When does the season start for you? And what traditions are your favorite? I cannot wait to hear how the magic visits your home.
We put our Christmas decorations up early this year. Usually we deck our own halls the weekend after Thanksgiving, but something about the spirit hit us the weekend before and we couldn’t help it. And I don’t care. I love our home at the holidays. I love the additional spirit of magic that comes with the tree, the stockings, the memories that fill our tree.
I love that this time of year reminds us to take stock of everything that matters most to us as well the many things that we have to be grateful for. To this year’s decorating, we have added a ‘Gratitude Tree’. My small people started by listing the things they think matter the most: their family, their friends…. and of course, their dog, Shortstop.
We don’t have one of those perfect trees decorated solely in red and white or blue and silver. Our tree, instead, takes stock of the moments that matter to us. Each year, we collect another photo ornament that represents that year….so our small people love everything about reminiscing as they trim the tree. We also have ornaments from every city we visit so decorating is a trip down memory lane.
As cliche as it sounds, I’m grateful for my family – my small people bring light, love and joy to my world every single day. My husband is the most supportive person I know – he treasures every wild and crazy dream I have and pushes me even when I’m not sure I can carry on. I’m beyond grateful that I get to do a job I love, that I have friends who listen, laugh, support and make my life better.
I could go on and on…. but I won’t.
I’m going to take it offline today and take even more stock in person.
Wishing you a beautiful Thanksgiving, my friends.