The other day I posted impressions from my comfortable home office on Instagram stories which inspired me to write a whole post on it.
While this may be most interesting for any creative working from home, I think anyone who has a desk in their house to call their own can get something out of it.
When we moved into this rental I was upset for a bit that there is no space for a little office of my own. Instead I have a tiny corner in the spare room that also serves as our guest room, as well as my husbands office. Oddly, this has become one of the coziest corners in the home for me. In the past two years I have decreased my office space several times and turns out - you really don't need much at all anyways.
So what makes the home office more hyggeligt, or more comfortable for me? After the poll on Instagram stories came back with 97% being interested in exactly that question I really started to think about it.
Here are some of the things that I can highly recommend brining in to your office space:
Soft light. Here she comes with the candles again you may say. Yes, absolutely! Flickering candle light next to me is immediately bringing me a sense of calm and joy, but there's other light sources to consider. The light of my office lamp obviously provides enough light to help me see the work in front of me, but anything brighter than that I find irritating. What I absolutely adore about morning hours in my corner is the soft sunlight streaming in through the blinds, leaving a soft reflection of the tree outside of the window on my screen.
Time. Ah - time! Who has ever enough of that? Currently I find myself particularly struggling to find time to write, edit and create at all. The kids keep me on my toes from dusk until bedtime. I used to work during nap time, but turns out my toddler is refusing naps more and more often. I also used to work in the evenings, but I try to limit this as well now, in order to make room for self-care, reading a book, painting and other creative pursuits to fill up the empty space within me, the creative vessel that has been drained throughout the day. So when I say bring time into your space I mean bring a set time, dedicated to concentrated work and a set intention. It is so easy to let the minutes slip away browsing the internet, or getting distracted by the sheer length of the to do list. So I try to come in with the intent of getting a task accomplished. I give myself a realistic time-frame and then get to it. Time spent in my home office only leaves me satisfied if I step away with the feeling that I have accomplished something. Big or small. Also, if you can, arrange a fixed time slot with your husband, babysitter or any trusted care-giver, where the kids are taken care of and you can go work. My office has been my "me-time", my "retreat" one or two mornings a week, while a babysitter is in the living room playing with the little ones or taking them outside. For a while I thought it wasn't worth the investment, or that I couldn't make a return on that money spent on a sitter. Turns out, no matter how much professional work I get accomplished during that time - it is money spent on my well-being and my happiness and therefore it is absolutely worth the investment. I took me a while to get here, to accept help (well, to hire help in my situation), but I'm glad I'm finally here.
Inspiration. How does one find inspiration? Sometimes it finds you. And sometimes, we have to go look for it. It is inspirational to me to be sorrounded with beautiful things in my office space. Personal photos, that make me smile and fill my heart. A wonderful macrame wall hanging that a dear friend gifted me. The magazines, that have my published work in them, to give me a sense of achievement. The beautiful calendar I received from a wonderful Instagram friend. Library books, magazines, a framed quote, snippets and torn out pages from old mags...whatever inspires you is good to gather around. Don't decorate your home office space for "style" or "trend" or according to some wonderful images you have seen on Pinterest. Fill it with things that mean something to YOU, because those are the things that will ultimately inspire you most.
Coffee/Tea/Water/Wine. Or all of the above. I regularly start a whole collection of empty cups and glasses on my desk. It is nice to have something to sip on while I work. Black coffee to start out. Tea throughout the day. Water to hydrate and rejuvenate. Wine to end the days work.
Your partner. In our old house we used to have separate home offices and while I enjoyed the vast space to call mine, I realized quickly, that when we retreat to our "offices" after dinner (my husband was working on his degree at the time) we never see each other. Ever since that realization hit me, we have our office corners in one room together. We work quietly side by side. Typically we don't talk to much, or at least try not to interrupt one another when we are really concentrated. However, it is so wonderful to share a quick laughter, something inspirational we have just read, or something that is bothering our soul in between tasks. It is also nice to feel each other's presence and fill the room with the warmth between us. You can work quietly side by side and still feel very much connected.
Then of course there are things, I'd strongly encourage you to leave out of your home office:
Noise. Whatever you do, don't bring noise into your office space. And by noise I mean something entirely different for everyone. For me, noise is anything that distracts me, has me feeling unsettled, or nervous, or simply bothers me. While I enjoy calm tunes during editing, I could never write a word with background music. You however might thrive with Mozart blasting out of the speakers. What we count as "noise" and "distraction" is surely very individual. I enjoy the quiet. Quite literally. I adore just sitting here with only stillness and the clacking of the keyboard. You should drown out anything that you consider "noise".
Kids. Granted, this one isn't always possible. And sometimes, when they are older, or still very tiny, or of a more gentle kind, it may work out having them next to you playing while you work. But once they start yanking on cables, tapping on your keyboard, demanding you pull up a cartoon on youtube, turn off the printer, then turn it back on, or simply start screaming in the background you know it is time, to go play and return later. Having my toddler or baby in the office run wild is unfair to me and my work and my creativity. Truthfully, it is also wildly unfair to my toddler and my baby to just sit there while you stare at a screen.
Clutter. I'm a very tidy person. I hate clutter. Stuff, that I don't need right now, as I'm writing this, just distracts me and puts my mind elsewhere when really it needs to be here with me. Now, with that being said, it does happen, that my desk will show somewhat of "creative chaos" that only makes sense to me. Generally, I do believe though that offices are a great place to start simplifying. You really only need one or two great pencils/pens, the notebook you love, your planner and your electronics to get to work. Get rid of pens that don't work, old bills, junk mail, any access that won't help your process along.
Self-doubt. This is by far the hardest thing to lock out of the creative space. That sneaking feeling of "you are not enough". It often comes uninvited and brings along friends like "comparison", "envy", "frustration". When they move in for an office party, they usually leave you uninspired and depleted. The famous quote goes "Comparison is the thief of joy" and it really is. Some days I have a hard time with that, but I'm working on it. Sometimes, depending on my personal mood, it may seem that everyone else and their house cat is not only kissed by the muse, but heavily making out with it. It is easy to fall into thought patterns like "how did he or she come up with this" "why is everyone else a darn genius while I sit here with no ideas left", "how did he or she find the time to do all that", "Why didn't I think of that", or the worst "I will never be as good as...". I'm working on the acceptance that right now is a very full time of my life. My children need me and I don't want to miss out on their tiny moments. My husband is going through a massive career change that comes with long hours and big commitments. I simply won't be able to do it all. And that is ok. I need to focus on what is most important to me and then concentrate on that. So what, if I only have one new blog post a month, when it is the one that I was passionate about writing. So what, if I only have one photo client this month, but it was the most inspiring session? I think we all need to take the pressure off of ourselves a bit. There's always more to be done and there's always bigger ideas. And maybe, if it is the right ones they will wait for us to come around.
Hello, new year said our holiday card this year. Not because I'm the grinch who stole Christmas, but because it was the design that spoke to me the most.
I also didn't plan on writing another post on new year resolutions/plans/ambitions/dreams, but then I opened up this blog template and it just came pouring out anyways. Last year, this post went something like this "...don't stress out, practice more hygge, see if it can make you happy". To read the full story you can click here. It is mid December as I'm re-reading last years words and I feel a slight sense of accomplishment, but mostly I feel that I fell short. I did add more "hygge" to my daily life. The first few weeks with Winter particularly, I slowed down and swam in a sea of newborn bliss. Then, the move happened. I told myself last year, whatever happens in 2017, don't loose your mind, don't loose yourself during this year of transition. And what happened ? I may have just lost my mind a little bit. Or in more self-loving, respectful words - I just haven't found my rhythm in this new Texas life of ours.
There are days, that I feel totally content, secure in my mothering, utmost happy in my marriage and everything from lighting a candle first thing in the morning, to a wonderful steamy homemade meal in the evening is just great. Mostly though, I am mourning the times that could be spent with our friends and family back in Germany and I mourn, that despite my best effort (and you really can't say I haven't tried) I just haven't found a deep, meaningful connection here. For someone who thrives on social contacts, that's not good at all. Chatter at the playground is nice, but it only goes so far towards greater happiness. My children are wonderful, they are my life - but as any mother will tell you, to talk all day about fairies and legos and animal noises just doesn't mentally stimulate you in the long run. I have a hard time adjusting to the climate and the fact that there are no seasons. After all, it's intentional living in the rhythm of the seasons that fulfills my heart. I feel for my husband, who has to deal with my changing moods on top of his stressful new career and the fact, that he hasn't quite found is rhythm either. On top of it all the nagging question: was it worth it? Will it be worth it?
The answer of course is, most likely, yes. Until I get over myself though and find real contentment in our new life, I need to stop being so hard on myself. I need to focus even more on the things that we have, the countless things we can be grateful for.
Hello, new year says our holiday card. It also says:
DRINK COFFEE, GET OUTSIDE, READ ALL THE BOOKS & GET SOME SLEEP.
I put that on there, because it matched the photographs I had picked so nicely. I thought it was smart and fresh. Just the perfect little message coming from us. A little bit more original maybe, than your standard "and a happy new year".
Not until I received the cards in the mail did I realize, that, from an unconscious place, I prescribed myself exactly what I need for the new year. Turns out, I don't think I put that on there for you. I put it on there for me.
DRINK GOOD COFFEE (continue to gain more knowledge on craft coffee // keep watching my handsome husband experiment with his brews // sit down together and analyze the taste, developing our palate one sip at a time // mainly, join together in conversation at our table // invite others to join us // togetherness.)
GET OUTSIDE (the Texas heat sucks // but I need air to breathe // the kids NEED room to roam // seek out places that fill our soul // find that wildness tonic )
READ ALL THE BOOKS (unplug // nourish your mind // stop feeling sorry for myself for not knowing about the ways of the world, but educate myself // remember how good written words makes you feel and soak it in // screens off)
GET SOME SLEEP (whenever you can, take a nap // the things I think of as important aren't nearly as important as my sanity // go the f to sleep // you need it mama // I will never feel good in my skin, if I keep up this sleep deprived mess that I am)
So without knowing it at first, I made some resolutions after all. Did you?
p.s.: I wrote the draft for this post in mid-December. It is the first week of January now and oddly, with the new year came a sense of newfound positivity and cheerful outlook on the months to come. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep these energies flowing and make 2018 a happy one.
Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, has always been a very special time for me. My mother, long before the Danish concept of "hygge" was a trend and slow living was a movement, incorporated an array of wonderful traditions into these grey winter days and had a knick of making these weeks very memorable.
Now, that I have two little ones of my own, I try to do the same. This is my wish for them: My babies, I want you to enjoy Christmas and the cold winter days, as a magical, warm time filled with connection and simple joys, rather than writing endless lists to Santa about which consumer items you'd like to receive.
In one of my favorite German Christmas carol the second verse goes like this:
In dem Herzen ist's warm, still schweigt Kummer und Harm, Sorge des Lebens verhallt: Freue Dich, Christkind kommt bald
In our hearts we feel warm
Free from worries and harm
Cares of life fade far away
Come soon dear Christ-Child, we pray!
That to me is really the essence of this time. But how does this translate into a fast paced world, where everyone is running around hastily to get all errands done before the Holidays?
For me it is about rituals and togetherness. These are a few things we do during Advent, to fill our lives with some extra hygge:
Candles, lights and the scent of spruce
Always, a fan of candlelight, I really lay the candlelight on thick during Advent. I have candles in every possible spot, where the kids can't reach them and then some on the table, where they can reach them. This way, we can light them together first thing in the morning and enjoy the soft warm light during our cozy breakfasts. I'm a big believer in teaching children safety around candles and fire early on, instead of opting for LED's. There's just something to be said for real candlelight - the softness, the crackling, the smell when you blow it out. It is all part of the magic.
Besides, lighting the candles, I start out our mornings by putting some spruce or pine scent into my essential oil diffuser to fill the house with the smells of Christmas.
Almost every evening, after it gets dark, I pack up the kids in the stroller and we walk around our neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. It is wonderful to walk the quiet streets and see the lights of the Christmas trees shimmering through curtains and blinds and to wonder what festive preparations are being made inside. It winds us down for bedtime and it fills my lungs with the fresh crisp air and it feels so good.
Of sheepskin and cozy corners
We don't have our own Christmas tree this year, as we are traveling back to Europe for the holidays, but I put up our homemade tipi in the living room instead, filled it with sheepskins and decorated it with string lights. A wonderful nook to play, read and snuggle.
It is finally cold enough in Texas to add our sheepskins onto our dining room chairs again, as well as add some wool blankets onto our linen bedding. Christmas time to me is all about feeling those soft materials and to feel warm and cozy.
Tomte Tumetott and other winter stories
Advent is the perfect time for stories. Wether it's stories from our own childhood, or old stories from our grandparents that we can share now with the kids. Ours are still a bit to small to dwell in anecdotes, but my husband and I share stories about Christmas traditions and fond memories. Just last night, we asked our dinner guests to share their favorite Christmas stories with us.
In December, I put all of Smilla's and Winter's books away and replace them with a few Christmas books that we continue to acquire over time. Most of them, still from our own childhood. I try to read stories about winter, snow and Christmas time every day to them. Wether it is the actual nativity story (which I think is important for them to learn about, no matter where you stand in terms of faith), or cute books about winter. Later, I can't wait to share Christmas traditions around the world and holidays throughout the different faiths with them. This year it makes me squeal with joy, that Smilla is old enough to enjoy my collection of Astrid Lindgrens Christmas stories. The one were Pippi Longstocking is wearing a christmas tree on her head bringing cheer to little Pelle, Bosse and Inga is her favorite.
Oh Tannenbaum! and other songs
This is the perfect time for music. All day long our vinyl player is spinning our three Christmas records on repeat. In the evenings, EVERY NIGHT, before bed, we come together as a family and sing our favorite Christmas carols. Smilla, although not even three, can sing most tunes with us now. It is by far my favorite seasonal bedtime routine.
Crafts, baking, and the wonderful scent of orange slices
What a perfect time for daily crafts. It is not something fancy every day. Some afternoons, we simply draw on paper. Some days though, we go all out and craft starts, snowmen and other symbols of the season. I think one day I'd like to pop corn and string the popcorn - maybe next year, when we will have our own christmas tree again. I did make a garland of orange slices again this year. Although, it immediately attacked bee's (!) - in December - oh Texas.
While I haven't done very much baking this season, we have decorated a few gingerbread cookies. Well, I have decorated and Smilla was very focused on licking the frosting.
Once we travel to Germany I would love to bake some more traditional cookies of my childhood and have Smilla at it with the cookie cutters.
In the end, it is important that you don't feel obligated to do any certain number of Christmassy things. If you hate baking, don't feel obliged. That's when it becomes stressful and overwhelming.
Find what you can fit easily into your daily routine. Create a simple daily habit for the whole family to enjoy and count down the days until Christmas.
Have a peaceful time.
It has been on my mind for a while to share some wonderful brands, that create beautiful high quality clothes, while valuing the materials, the workers and the process. We live in a fast world and it is easy and cheap to buy fast fashion. Aside from the problems this creates for society and the planet, I believe it also creates an emptiness in the people that wear it. You may not even notice it is there, until you think back. Do you remember a specific clothing item from your childhood?
For me it was a red, wool winter coat, with an elegant black collar. I remember it wasn't cheap, but more so I remember the feeling I felt when I wore it - proud and special. That was in rural Germany of the early nineties. I bet you anything, that my mother growing up in Germany in the early fifties, remembers every pretty dress, every skirt, every neat blouse she has ever owned as a child. There were less clothes available and less money available to buy them and so items were often handmade, taken care of, t r e a s u r e d and then handed down.
Nowadays, a lot of young families dream back on those moments and those feelings. We want to have that grandmother, that is sending loads of beautiful hand-knitted items in the mail. We wish, we had the time, the skills and the resources to spin the wool, dye the yarn, and knit that special jumper for our children. But if you are anything like me, you have let excuses about time-management and not least really bad fine motor skills stop you from making it happen.
That is why I'm particularly happy and a little proud that the Austrian label Van Beren is the first brand I am introducing in this new blog category. For two reasons:
One, they make timeless, vintage-inspired knits that are absolutely beautiful.
Two, and maybe even more valuable (and more sustainable!) in this fast-paced world - Van Beren offers knitting workshops in their WOOL SCHOOL. Creating a safe space to learn and to connect. There's a community there. New friends to be met, new skills to be learned. Knitting, a modern hobby, a daily mindfulness practice.
(Below, I'm listing their upcoming events, and I'm very bummed that I live thousands of miles away, but if you find yourself in the Graz area - be sure to stop in!)
The story of Van Beren is simply beautiful. Heike, the owner, came up with the idea when she was pregnant with her third child. She felt an immense need to make something with her hands as an expression of her infinite love and devotion. She wrote to me that it is important to her to value things not for their monetary worth, but rather their emotional one. She took old knitting patterns from the 50's and 60's, adapted them to meet her vision for design and comfort and recruited a team of talented knitters that are finishing the Van Beren pieces order by order. Housewives, single mothers and elderly ladies are all on her team, being able to earn a bit extra and pass on their passion for knitting - multigenerational.
Van Beren also offer KNIT KITS, that provide you with the yarn, buttons, needles (if needed) and instructions to create your very own Van Beren piece. So if you are looking for a great way to spend some cold winter days ahead, you can dream up a picture of a fire place, a hot coffee and you going wild with yarn and needle.
Every piece that Van Beren sent me feels soft and luxurious, yet reminds me of simpler days. Days from the past, when I was out in nature with my family, exploring freely. The BILLIE hat and the LUCA gloves remind me of the old photographs, shot in heavily orange Kodak film, that shows my toddler self and my sisters pulling a wooden sled through the snowy winter days of our childhood.
The cozy knitted items are made of 100% Merino Wool. Temperature regulating and super soft, it has an antibacterial effect, self-cleans, dries quickly and is flexible, giving the baby and toddler freedom to play and move. In the photographs Smilla and Winter are wearing the RAMONA jacket and the STEWART romper. The collection also includes cute dresses, booties, bodysuits, and pullovers. All items are hand-made in Austria for babies and toddlers from birth to 3 years. I like that the color palette relies heavily on neutrals (if you have followed me for a while, you may have noticed the absence of bright colors) and some very powdery, yesteryearly blushes and blues.
If I had to pick one piece out of the collection, that I'd invest in any day it is the comfortable TEDDY suit. It keeps baby snuggly and hyggelig while being pushed in the pram, or exploring being carried by mama or papa. And then theres the Van Beren BEAR ....
The brands philosophy states "Sometimes we feel delighted by nostalgia but we always think about the future. Because we want to take responsibility for the generations to come. This is what makes Van Beren special."
Van Beren definitely lays on the nostalgia quite thick, but creates clothing that is made for the everyday, the nowadays, the I-find-beauty-in-the-ordinary-days. And hopefully, for the tomorrow; the younger brother, the tiny cousin, or the box that reads "for baby no3, just in case".
It's (only) 8 p.m. and I'm beyond tired. Both kids are down - for now. I have dark rings under my eyes, my hair style is non-existent and I've just detected a scratch in my throat. Great, days of sleep deprivation left me defenseless.
Mothering one child can be tough. Mothering two children can be rougher. I'm not sure if simple math applies. One plus one equals double the stress? I don't know. I guess, it depends on the kids and the days and the weather. It certainly doesn't get easier adding more to the mix though.
So why even bother? Why not just have one, spoil it rotten, celebrate all the milestones that come with parenthood (first birthday shindig - bouncy castles; oh he's walking - bring on the balloons...) - do it big, but do it only once? Possibly save yourself some time and some stress, some grey hair, but certainly save yourself some money.
I would never judge anyone that is done after one baby. For whatever reason. It's probably even a smart idea keeping world population, college tuition and relaxing evenings as a couple in mind. I however, was crazy enough to have two. So many out there are crazy enough to have three, four, five, more.
9 months in, I full, truly figured out why. It was nice, doing pregnancy again. Feeling the miracle of life growing inside me. The second birth was ...
Pause. I actually just had to leave the desk, because one was asking for milk, the other one was screaming from teething pains.
So, where was I? The second birth was quicker, more intense. Seeing another baby grow has been wonderful. Watching my husband love another one so strongly has been beautiful. All these things though, we had experienced before and even though, I enjoyed it just as much the second time around I can understand how this wouldn't convince anyone to have another one.
Yesterday though, we went apple picking. Out of nowhere Smilla (a toddler who thinks sharing is a total waste of time) took an apple and held it up to Winter. He grasped it with his tiny baby fingers and gnawed on it. She said "I want my brother to have one, too".
"I want my brother to have one, too"
And the love she has for him poured out of her eyes and out of her heart and out of her mouth, onto the apple and his fingers, his hands and his tiny body. The love got bigger and it made its way into the grass and flooded through the fallen leaves. The love went up the trees and into the sky and around the sun. And when he looked back at her, his love for her and his eagerness to be loved by her sparkled in his eyes. Big waves of love rushed through the orchard and washed over me then.
And even tough, we couldn't know of this - I think this love they have for each other, is what makes it worthwhile.
The kisses she gives him. The tiny baby hand that reaches out for her.
Last year, when my father passed and I was finding comfort in the tight bond I share with my sisters, my best friend - an only child - said "I just realized, that if I loose my dad, 50% of my family is gone". That's some brutal math. Yet, there is no perfect multiplier out there, to make a family feel whole, or to protect them from feeling the great loss of loosing a parent. Every family has to find a good number for themselves. For many, three is a charm and that is good. For us, four has been feeling "rounded". Winter has filled a void we didn't know existed. Complete? I don't know.
Having a baby drains you. It drains you until you are completely empty and then it fills you back up with love and patience and kindness. Having another does that all over again. Twice as much.
So when people (and a lot of people ask me) ask me "Can you recommend having another?" I can't really give them a perfect answer. Logically? No, absolutely not. But, then again, are the most logical decisions always the loveliest? I'd have Winter again in a heartbeat. And I put his tiny clothes away in a box to keep - just in case.
What can I say. These three. They may just always be my favorite family to photograph. After maternity and newborn sessions, this is our third session together. To be continued.
The quiet hour is the time each day, that I spend loving on my son. It's the precious time that I have alone with him, while his older sister naps peacefully.
When I first had Smilla the "quiet hour" sometimes was a whole day. A lazy day spent with baby snuggles. I was able to focus on her all day, every day. Winter has to share my attention with his big sister. He is tiny and quiet. She is wild and loud.
My baby deserves our peaceful time together and just as importantly, I deserve to be still with him. Just belonging to the moment and each other.
I lay down with him and feel the softness of the linen beneath us. A soft breeze coming in from the window. We doze off together, or just lay there gazing at each other. The coziness of a light blanket surrounding us, the minutes spent somewhere between sleep and awareness. I feed him and he drifts off into a milk coma. I let the love I feel for him wash over me and forget about the stress of moving and timelines and to do's. Just well deserved, pure togetherness.
It's always an honor when another photographer asks you to take their family photos. It is wonderful and a little bit nerve wrecking. This family has spent three years in Germany and wanted to have their home-life captured before moving back to the US. What a wonderful gallery to send them off with.
Generally, I don't talk much about my husband's military career. For obvious security reasons, but also, because although it is a big part of my life, it is not necessarily what I identify with as an individual. However, every few years our way of life sends us in a new direction. A new assignment typically means a new zip code, a new country and perhaps, a new continent even.
In four weeks time, our home will be completely packed up in boxes, put into crates and shipped across the Atlantic. My husband will start a new chapter in his career and the kids and I will spend the summer with my family in the south of Germany, before re-uniting in our new home for the next year: Del Rio, TX.
This is hard. Really, hard on me.
Texas (and please don't take this personal) is not my first choice. Mostly, because I'm very fair and Texas is very hot. I kid you not when I quote my dermatologist "Texas? I'm sorry, but Iceland wold be a better choice for you".
In the end, the problem is not where we are headed - it's the simple fact that we are leaving.
The only "home" my daughter knows. The "home", I birthed two babies in. The "home" we became a family in.
Three years ago we left the Seattle area (a place we loved) for Germany with euphoria and a tiny baby growing inside of me. I felt giddy at the prospect of spending a few years "back home". Looking back, the time spent here was full of happiness, and sometimes, full of sadness, but it was always very full. We had Smilla, traveled to countless countries, enjoyed every second with my childhood companions, and miraculously conceived another baby. We made wonderful memories with my father, and then, were by his side, holding his hand in the hours he left this world.
Sure, I married a traveling man and I knew what I was in for. My twenty-five year old adventurous self marveled in the prospect of experiencing different parts of the world. However, while I still feel the want to travel somewhere deep inside me, becoming a mother has made me a person with the desire to nest. I feel deeply rooted here.
There are obvious adjustments that come with moving. I have to find a new home, new friends, new ways around new towns. Then, I have to find my new self in a way. You see, every time I leave a place, I leave some part of myself behind and I take some of that place with me instead. It is engrained in my heart, my ways, my attitude. My growing self needs tending to, re-discovering and nourishing.
It is what it is. Come September, I will be living in "the middle of nowhere" Texas, right by the Mexican border.
I know we will be fine. Everything always turns out fine.
In the meantime, I try to look at the bright side (hello, Enchiladas!). I try to mend my breaking heart and say my goodbyes with gratitude.
And then there is always that old French Proverb that helps
Wherever life plants you
bloom with grace
Last week I was all by myself with my two littles for the very first time. I went from the luxury, of having my husband and then his parents around to help, to all by myself day and night. Surprisingly, the week went pretty well and I not only survived, but actually emerged from it relatively relaxed and with a new sense of self-confidence.
I find that mothering two is not so bad. That is, if mothering is all I do. By the end of each day, I just plopped on the couch with some tea, or even a glass of red and just let the sounds of not-so-high-quality TV wash over me.
So my conclusion from last week is, that two things help me tremendously in this new role as a mother of two: I can't stress over tasks uncompleted too much (a bit of whining about it is totally natural) and I have to have little "hygge" moments throughout my day in order to keep my sanity intact. Little isles of calm.
I let the light in. I have a window in my bedroom that can't be fully closed off and so the morning light can come right through it. Waking up to natural light has felt so good lately. I don't mind that its early, either. It gives me time to wake up in peace, before Smilla screams at me from her crib, or baby demands his milk. So I just lay there a few moments with my head towards the morning light and think about the day ahead. I stare at my son next to me and watch him sleep a little longer. Some mornings he wakes up smiling at me. The mornings are simply wonderful, when I get to stare at this little being breathing next to me.
I'm mindful about the things I'm grateful for. I didn't come up with this genius idea. I'm certainly not the first one to write about it. However, now that my planner has a designated weekly spot for "good things that happened" I'm finally jotting down just that. After a hard day in the motherhood, it is a gentle reminder of how beautiful life is. I have a new appreciation about the rough moments and can stay calmer through them. Just yesterday, I showed Smilla a new dress I bought for her and she ran away screaming, then there was crying, then she banged her head against her wooden toy drum (what?) and all this, because of a new summer dress. It was horribly frustrating at the time, but just a few hours later it moved into my "these are the moments I want to remember" part of the brain.
I turn on sweet sweet melodies. Music makes everything better. Miles Davis, while making coffee in the morning. Gregory Alan Isakov for the afternoon play-doh time. Coltrane for winding down on the couch at night. The right tune, at the right time does wonders to my mood.
I send warm thoughts to my friends. Hygge is all about togetherness, but lately I have found it hard to make time to be in touch with all my dear ones. Hopefully, they will be forgiving and understanding towards me and still be around once I get done with changing nappies and breastfeeding one day and have the mental capacity to talk about adult things. In the meantime though, I think about them - a lot. I send them good vibes and wishes and a whole lot of love. Hopefully, this quantum physics thing is all true, and somewhere, on some deeper level they feel all that, because I just don't find the time right now for long phone calls and long messages, but I do really love them very much.
I seek comfort under the covers. When life gets to fast, I try to retreat under the covers. Nap-time cuddles with Winter have such a rejuvenating effect on me. I need them and he needs them, too. Plenty of kisses and tickles and stories under some wool blankets with my Smilla are soothing and plentiful these days. I need these moments and she, more than anything, needs these moments alone with me, too. Lastly, snuggling up together in the evening, talking about the things life throws our way with my man is so very important. Even just laying together in stillness is comforting. I need that, and my man really needs his wife, too. So, really, the whole family needs to get "hyggelig" with blankets and pillows and soft feathery goodness under our heads.
I light my candles. Every time I write anything about hygge, it seems candles are on the list. Rightfully so. The soft, yellow glow is soothing after a long day of being mom. I close the curtains, light some candles and know the day's work is done and it is time to relax.
I forgive myself. I used to be very hard on myself. About the laundry, about the dishes, about the toys, about the unwritten words and the unedited photos, about so many more things. Now I'm trying to practice acceptance and forgiveness towards myself, as I am a beautiful mother to two beautiful children, but I'm also only human and I have to face it - I can't do it all.
The beautiful woolen shoes you see in the photographs are made by "WoolenClogs". I found Aiste's shop on etsy and was thrilled she agreed on collaborating with me. Aiste is another great talent and maker from Lithuania. Lately, I have been so impressed with the small shop owners there and how wonderful and friendly they are, besides being incredibly skilled. Aiste told me her day job left her reeling and in need for some personal space and quiet and that is when she started working on "WoolenClogs". The work with natural materials, creating warmth and coziness with her own hands helped her relax and so eventually she created her own hygge workplace to help others get more relaxed and comfy (and her shoes are oh so comfy!). Now, the store is her family business and she loves having her husband work side by side with her all the time. Her slippers and clogs are really worth taking a look. You can follow along with her on Instagram @luckyaiste
Historically, women have passed on the tradition of how to rest postpartum from mother to mother, from India to Mexico. The deep understanding that to care for the mother is as vital as to care for the baby is - unfortunately - something, that seems to have gotten lost in the Western societies of twenty seventeen.
Nowadays, mothers feel the urge to "bounce back" to their normal lives, their pre-pregnancy bodies and their daily routines as fast as possible. It seems almost like a race, with the mother who is out and about first, winning the supermom trophy. Particularly in the Unites States, where paternity leave is much less than Europe, women go back to the "daily grind" much faster. At what cost?
The few weeks after having a baby are a unique and special transitioning period that needs special attention and care. We go from "life before baby" to "life with baby" and being a mother, wether it is the first child or the fifth. The mother's body, who has magically expanded over nine months to grow a child and has had the ability to birth it, needs rest and special attention in order to heal and restore energy and strength. Birth and the hormonal transitions right after come with blood loss, sleep deprivation, hair loss, night sweats, headaches, and more. A mother's breastfeeding journey often comes with difficulties, but in any case with the feeling of "being drained" of one's energy. Not to mention the emotions every mother feels in these first few weeks - love, happiness, anxiety, angst, more love. It can be confusing to identify one's emotions, even if you are someone normally in touch with your feelings.
Many cultures around the world still honor this time as a special, if not holy period in a women's life. In Korea "samchilil" is a twenty-one to thirty day period of special maternal care. In Malaysia's "pantang" the mother receives massages, exfoliations, baths and more to restore the life source in her womb. Forty day rest periods are honored in Jordan, Egypt, Palastine and plenty of other countries. In Zambia, women are banned from all work around the house until the umbilical cord falls off. In Vietnam, parents wont introduce their babies to strangers for six whole weeks. There are so many examples around the world of how a woman's transition to motherhood can be made a period of rest and well-being, rather than stress, pressure and anxiety. It is believed, that the rest postpartum is an investment in future health - healthy pregnancies, better skin, easier menopause, less signs of aging just to name a few examples.
Personally, I remember the first few weeks after my daughter was born as the most wonderful time of my life. My husband and I retreated from the world to get to know this new life and this new addition to the family. We hardly welcomed people into our home and only went out for leisurely walks or short outings to our favorite coffee places for the whole first month. A time from which we emerged with feelings of deep love for each other, confidence to parent this baby, physically rejuvenated and generally relaxed. I will always cherish these three weeks as some of the best of my life.
These first weeks with baby Winter have not been quite so relaxing, as is to be anticipated when you also have to take care of your toddler. On top of that, we all came down with horrible colds, which meant that I got out of bed a lot sooner and helped out a bit more around the house than planned. Also, because Winter arrived twelve days past his due date, the visits we had arranged with family members and friends fell right into our first forty days, providing us with much needed help, but also a bit more commotion in the house. Despite all that, I have made sure to enjoy these first special weeks to the fullest. I firmly believe, that it is not just every mothers right, but duty to honor this restful period, to get pampered, cared for and to take time to heal and to bond with the new soul that she created. Also, it is important for all fathers to be able to take some time off, to get to know the little being, be included in all aspects of caring for this new life and to restore strength after the emotional and physical (yes, even for the father or any birth partner) experience of birth.
Every family needs their "slow weeks", as I would like to call them. Historically, geographically and personally there are many different ways to celebrate a new mother. To me, a few things are particularly important and we have tried to incorporate these into our life these past few weeks.
A "cozy nest" for starters. We spend so much time preparing a nursery, but what about the mother's bedroom and living space? After all, a woman most likely spends much more time in bed, or on the couch than in the nursery in those first few weeks after birth. Me and my husband made sure our home was clean and prepared for Winter's arrival. Due to having a home birth, we spent the first ten nights on a comfy mattress in the living room, as it adjourns to the kitchen and a bathroom and therefore I could avoid climbing stairs so soon after birth. It was nice to watch my toddler and husband play, my mother prepare healing food in the kitchen and the baby snuggling with me, as I was bedded in a comfortable, cushiony place by the window light. Once we moved back upstairs into our bedroom loft, I put on the soft new linen sheets I had previously purchased with the "laying in" period in mind (in German we call this time "Wochenbett" - which loosely translates to "weeks in bed"). I placed cherry tree branches in a vase next to my bed, in order to bring spring inside. It serves as my cozy retreat in the evening, and during naps. After an emotionally and physically challenging day it is my safe place to retreat with the baby for extra skin-on-skin time and bonding moments.
I read, that in Chinese medicine it is believed that a lot of a women's "jing" is lost during childbirth (one big reason being blood loss). In order to restore it, a diet of exclusively warming foods and drinks is recommended. In the last few weeks, I mainly stuck to healing soups, comforting stews, and a lot of hot tea (a mix of fennel, anis and carraway is my breastfeeding power drink, as you can read here). One day I was craving a salad for lunch and didn't think twice about it - the whole day I felt shaky and significantly less energetic. For breakfast I have particularly enjoyed a steaming bowl of oatmeal, topped with a variety of nuts, seeds and fruit.
Speaking of warmth. In the book "the first forty days" I have read that "At the foundation of many mother-care protocols is the practice of preserving and building warmth in the body. A woman's blood volume almost doubles during pregnancy to support her growing baby; after birth, the loss of this excess of warm, circulating blood, combined with her open state, means that heat must be recaptured and circulation boosted to optimize healing.". To me this was the perfect invitation, to cuddle up in my blankets and comfortable cardigans. Since I tend to have cold feet, I made sure to always wear my cozy wool slippers.
One thing that is hard to do in our busy lives is to remember to rest, rest, rest during these "slow weeks" and beyond. I try to lay down at least once during the day, preferably snuggled up with my new baby. It takes quite a habit shift to accept help and take time out of our bustling days. Family nap time is very much valued in our house. It restores me and gives me strength to be the relaxed mother I want to be for the remaining hours until bedtime. Sleep loss is a big thing to get adjusted to, during pregnancy and in the weeks and months after adding a child into the family. Instead of numbing the feeling of exhaustion with coffee, it is important to make room for some down time throughout the day. This is easier said then done, but I'm working on being very good about my "rest time".
It hasn't been easy to refuse invitations to the cafe, or to the park. I'm not used to saying no to social gatherings. The nice spring weather has lured me out to do more than I had planned to do at this point. However, I still try to retreat from the world and "regular daily life" as much as I can. It will still be waiting there for me, once I'm healed, rested up and ready to take my son (whom I will have gotten to know a whole lot better then) out into the so big, so blue, so beautiful world.
The beautiful linen you see in the photographs are made by "Magic Linen". The wonderful Vita who creates them, told me linen were always part of her life, wether she looks back on her grandparents tablecloths or her mothers dress. She remembers the unbelievable durability. Lithuania, were Vita is from, has a deep tradition of growing, weaving and sewing linen. She tells me it is something in their blood, that was a bit forgotten in the last century, but is now fashionable again. She is proud to have started this small company and the people in it, that make these wonderful linen goods by hand. Linen fabric is breathable and possesses rare healing properties, reduces gamma radiation, is anti-bacterial, thermo-regulating and extremely durable. The sentence that stuck out to me the most when communicating with Vita over my linen order was "In the times of mass production, consumption, rush, we all turn to seek for something natural, crafted with love, long lasting, REAL." - how true. Vita's work has hundreds of joyful feedbacks and I hope you go take a look at her beautiful store.