The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season has become a time of year I dread. This year I am having an especially hard time. I literally feel like the Grinch – which is so unlike me! Unfortunately, my mental illnesses have a grip on me this time around that no amount of meditation, yoga, baths, water, or wine has been able to remedy.
With so many commitments, the days fly by. Personally, this makes the time we spend with others feel less authentic and more like we’re just going through the motions in a valiant attempt to make everyone happy. Always watching the clock for the next place we need to be. Small talk. Eat. Small talk. Games. Next event. Repeat. Sound familiar? Not necessarily my style. Certainly not a series of events that is good for my mental health when I’m running on empty.
Some years I have the strength for this routine with a genuine smile on my face and in my heart. But to be candidly honest, this year is not one of them. My Advent Calendar is counting down the days until all of this is OVER, versus a countdown in anticipation of the magic of Christmas. With so many large group interactions on the calendar (my worst nightmare) paired with an already depressed outlook over the next few weeks I can feel my brain joyously preparing to overanalyze and vilify each moment, making me the bad guy in every situation. If this doesn’t happen to you, trust me, it’s the absolute worst and is only amplified by the weight of the holidays.
For me, getting through this period will require taking one day, one event, at a time. Attempting to be kind to myself following interactions that I have major anxiety about and reminding myself to be realistic about them along the way. I’m holding on to the hope that if I continue to come from a place of kindness with no intentional malice (it’s none of my business if someone reads it that way), no matter what I say or do should be OK. I’ll just have to show up as I can and give what I can. Which doesn’t feel like a lot at this point!
I wanted to share my experience with you before the holidays because I hope that it encourages a sense of empathy within you towards those in your life who have a known mental illness or are simply acting a little “off” this holiday season. We all carry a certain level of stress during this season, but for someone with a mental illness, that stress can trigger feelings that send them spiraling into a blinding black hole. <Slowly raises hand.>
Sometimes you can seemingly “have everything to be thankful for,” but when you are dealing with mental illness, gratitude for what you have can be hard to feel and express. Being surrounded by lots of family can be suffocating. Simple interactions can feel too heavy. A lot going on, in general and in the moment, can completely drain someone.
Here are a few things I’d love for you to keep in mind this holiday season as you spend time with family and friends who may have a mental illness:
Although my view of the holidays may be through tainted lenses right now, believe me when I say I do truly hope you all have a wonderful holiday season that fills your heart with happiness and joy!
Joel and I recently celebrated our NINTH wedding anniversary! We’ve been together almost thirteen years total. I have repeated this fact to myself over and over again the past few days. It seems surreal. Especially since I never thought I’d get married in the first place! But goodness, am I glad I did.
We always take time around our anniversary to stop and reflect. Escaping for a few days to explore, our favorite thing to do together.
This year was one of the best anniversary trips we’ve taken! We traveled around Iowa and Wisconsin over five days, our primary home base being my family’s cabin in Lansing, Iowa.
Before I dive into what we did, I want to tell you how the morning of our vacation started before we left because I think it’s important that some real life gets thrown into this shiny, happy post! We got water in our basement. A LOT of water. The dogs lost their minds at the vet, Madison had to get muzzled. I had a nail in my tire that needed to be fixed before we left. The dogs lost their minds again at home and pushed a glass platter down the stairs, breaking it. Something come up at work that they needed to contact me about. All before noon. After some big breaths and an undying will to continue on as planned, we made it out of the house!
We started out in Madison, Wisconsin. We both love Madison. Great city. College town. Pretty hip. Lots to do. We didn’t have much time to wander around this time because we were in town to see Jeff Tweedy from Wilco perform at an art museum. I had been to a Wilco show before and Joel is constantly listening to them so I had a good idea of what we were getting into. But wow. What a show. I was in tears several times. Jeff is a king lyricist. And for as serious as his lyrics are, he’s actually a pretty funny guy. Time flew and neither of us wanted it to end!
We had to venture home after staying the night in Madison because Twins had a show in Des Moines. So on our way back we hit up Chris Farley’s childhood home in Madison and then the Field of Dreams in Dyersville! I had never been to either, so it was pretty neat.
The following day we traveled to La Crosse, Wisconsin – our favorite Wisconsin city hands down. We hit up our regular haunts, napped in the park (beyond relaxing), and then ended the day taking a walk with “Mark Twain” as he told us about the Mississippi River. This one man, outdoor play was wonderful. I never realized that Mark Twain was a humorist. For a humorist, he was quite an insightful man. Some of the lines spoken were extremely moving and very relevant in our current political state.
We finished the trek where three different rivers intersect at the end of the La Crosse river walk. Mark Twain said this is a sign of a sacred space according to Native Americans. We were in a hidden garden. The sun was setting over the water. Ducks were peacefully swimming nearby. I was with Joel. Mark Twain was standing in front of us. A sacred space indeed.
On our last day before packing up to go home, we went south into Wisconsin. We checked out some spots just outside of and in Prairie du Chien. We stopped by an apple orchard/pumpkin patch, walking away without any fresh fruit, but with a bag of fresh bakery items instead! Then we ventured into an area that we hadn’t been before, off the beaten path. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but essentially we found a large equipment graveyard. I may have broken a couple of rules and committed a minor crime while we were there, but I made it out without being arrested!
We were also excited to find an antique shop we hadn’t seen before. If you are in that area and like reasonably priced antiques, check out Checkers Antiques! Nice people, amazing selection, open for 50 years – so they know what’s up.
Overall, it was a very relaxing trip. In between adventures we made sure to reaffirm our commitment to one another, celebrate victories, learn from challenges (like the five in a row we experienced before leaving!), and look into the future.
I’m lucky for this man and all he brings to my life. We seem to feel happier each year we are together, which I am immensely grateful for. Being by his side is my favorite part of living. We’ve built a simple yet incredible life together that only keeps getting better. Here’s to staying aligned and in love for many more years, J! Glad you’re on my team.
If you haven’t seen The Greatest Showman yet, you need to. I’m completely consumed with it right now. The soundtrack is on replay at work, in my car, and at home. I feel swept away. And I like the places my mind is being taken.
There’s one song in particular that I can’t get enough of: A Million Dreams.
I can’t get through it without crying. It speaks to me on the deepest level.
I’ve always been a person that goes my own way. My mom never misses a chance to profess that I never listen(ed). I have to do things on my own. Experience life my own way. See everything with my own eyes. Even if the outcome would have been better if I had listened to those around me.
I take pride in this characteristic. What fun is there in living a life based on the experiences others have had? I need the lows to appreciate the highs. My mistakes have brought some of the best learning experiences. I’m a better and wiser person because of what I’ve been through. There’s more to me because of it.
A lot of why I am this way can be attributed to my dreamer mentality. My head is in the clouds a majority of the time. Huge portions of my days are filled with daydreaming. I have list after list, sketch after sketch of the plans and projects I want to accomplish. I have my own agenda laid out. Always have, always will. If what you’re telling me doesn’t jive with how I have things aligned in my mind, it’s probably not making the cut.
Some may call this being stubborn. And I suppose I’d agree with that to a certain point. I mostly look at it as being an independent person. Someone who knows themselves, what they want, and the direction they’re going in. We shouldn’t be apologetic about that.
When we “veer off the beaten path,” follow our instincts in spite of others’ opinions, experience things on our own with open eyes, hearts, and arms – people sometimes think that is crazy. Because what we’re doing doesn’t match up with the agenda they have laid out. And that’s something we should rarely concern ourselves with. Which is hard to do. So that’s why we should strive to create and nurture our own “world” to retreat to. A world that fills us up, reaffirms our heart’s desires, and allows us to get lost in our own joy.
What’s even better is if we can find someone to build that world with. A spouse, a friend, a family member, a child - even a pet. You choose who and what is allowed in your world. People who share your dreams, or are inspired by them. Hobbies and projects that make you feel capable and unstoppable. A place that only you can see and feel.
My world includes my little family. Joel, our pups, our home. In our world we forgive quickly, strive to make each other smile - even better, laugh - daily, support each other's goals, work as hard as we play, hug big, breathe together, and take moments to feel grateful for all of it. We create, we dance while we clean, we find treasures that make us smile, we look for contentment in the things we are fortunate to have.
By starting to think about my life as the world I create for myself has changed the way I see everything. It makes life feel more manageable somehow. Maybe because it takes the time limit out of the equation. Breaking my experience on this Earth down to the bubble I create, the experience I choose live, makes me feel more ownership over the small corner of the big world we inhabit. It makes each decision I make feel personal and purposeful.
How is your world taking shape? Who do you want to share your dreams with? Let them in. What makes you feel like you're in a world all your own? Do more of that. Let's build the best worlds for ourselves. In the end, it's all we have.
We had a pretty nice holiday at the Sires' household. We soaked in the glow of our Christmas tree, watched lots of holiday movies, snuggled in with our pups, and indulged in too many treats!
To balance out the peaceful calm, we threw some chaos of our own making into the mix. As usual, we were the people out shopping for ALL of our gifts the week before (up to the day before) Christmas. Never fails. We never mean to wait so long and we're not unthoughtful people, it has truly just become a laughable tradition of ours. At least we're experiencing the madness together!
This year was a little different for us because some of our normal traditions with family shifted slightly. The shift meant that we had Christmas Eve completely open, no commitments. (!!!) We tried to be intentional about what we chose to do in hopes of creating one or two new traditions that we could carry into the future.
It was a pretty laid back day. We slept in, rose slowly, had brunch, wrapped the last of our gifts, napped, took a walk, and went to church in the evening. The pace was dreamy. It felt so strange to have such a leisurely day in the middle of the busiest few days of our year, but I think we both welcomed and needed it.
My absolute favorite part of our Christmas Eve together was our walk. We took a walk around our property, taking time to stop, look around, and breathe in the crisp air. We fell in love with our acreage in the winter, so winter always feels an extra kind of special around here. Our dreams for this place took shape in the quiet, cold, and snowy months before we made it our home.
This type of reflection as a couple is undoubtedly the best new tradition that sprouted from our extra eight hours together during the holidays. My love for him, who we've become as individuals and as a couple, and the life we've built together has never felt stronger than in those stolen hours.
I hope you embraced new traditions along with the old this holiday season and were able to be present in both. Wishing you a wonderful holiday and happy new year!
Here are some “family photos” we attempted on Christmas Eve! Attempted being the key word. No amount of treats can persuade our dogs to take a photo!
Our family has grown by one member! Meet Homer:
Homer is a one-year-old Australian Terrier that we adopted from the Cedar Bend Humane Society on Friday, August 4. We originally went in intending to get another German Shepherd, Tango, who was a male version of our current shepherd and favorite girl, Madison. But after seeing Homer (previously known as Joker) and taking him outside for a walk, we were immediately smitten! The good news is, Tango got adopted the same exact night so we got to see him going to a new home as we walked out with Homer in our arms.
All I can say is we got LUCKY. So lucky. Madison was our first adoption nine years ago and she was an angel. We feel just as spoiled with Homer. House trained, social, quiet, playful - and get this - he doesn't need to be on a leash. He sticks right by us at all times. He's our new little buddy that we love very much. A little ray of sunshine that we didn't know was missing from our family.
Here's a few more photos of his cuteness since I can't seem to stop taking them...also pictured in a couple shots is our beauty girl, Madison. She's slowly taking to her little brother. Some things just take time!
We love when we get to spend one-on-one time with our nephew, Max. He makes us so happy just being himself. Energetic, talkative, smart, musical, loving and quite the cutie (as evident in the photos below).
Recently, we took Max to Adventureland in Altoona, Iowa. Joel and I hadn't been to Adventureland since we were younger and were looking forward to seeing the park through Max's eyes.
Max was eagerly awaiting us when we arrived to pick him up. Bags packed, he was ready to go! He's a good road-tripper as long as you have good music, drumsticks and snacks on hand.
We got checked into Adventureland Inn (which was very nice, highly recommend) and hopped on "Molly the Trolly" to head to the park. Max's excitement was contagious and we both felt childlike anticipation for what the day had in store. Holding each of our hands, Max led the way, taking in everything as we entered.
Max is four, so I had a little concern that there wouldn't be a lot for him to do. I was completely wrong! On most of the rides, if an adult is along, little ones can hop on. We didn't do any crazy roller coasters or anything like that, but there were a few rides that freaked us out while Max was beside us laughing hysterically! Like the two pictured below:
The thing Max was looking forward to the most was the Adventureland Bay waterpark. It was pretty impressive and Max had a blast! He wore a little life jacket so Joel and I showed him how to kick his feet to swim back and forth between us. He also learned a valuable lesson about closing your mouth before jumping in the water!
When we were done at the waterpark, we were all pretty beat. We finished up on some rides he mentioned he wanted to try on the road trip down, had some treats and enjoyed a juggling show before we headed back to the hotel.
Our hotel room was poolside so we took one last dip to end the day. When we asked Max what his favorite part of the trip was he replied, "Two pools!" And the first thing he said upon waking up the next day was, "That was a really fun day." My heart swelled up to about 10 times its regular size!
Needless to say, it was a fantastic little weekend getaway with our favorite little guy! Joel and I actually want to go back again soon because although there is a lot to do with kids, there's much fun to be had by adults as well!
I've been thinking a lot lately about memories. The legacies we leave. The things we remember about those that have touched our lives. The things they remember about us.
I tend to remember the little things. Character traits or quirky actions that are probably missed by most, but to me, are things I look back on and tear up about. Because they are the things that help me remember why that person is special to me and how much I love them.
One of the smallest yet significant examples I will share is about the sound of my grandpa's shuffle. I would eat dinner with my grandparents once a week, and today, still eat dinner each week with my grandma. One night after dinner was done and my grandpa left the table to refill his iced tea, I heard the shuffle of his feet and pants dragging on the ground. His pants were a little too long and he was in his socks. In the moment, I thought it was so cute, and realized it's a sound I had heard so many times before, but never really listened to. It's a sound I can still hear. And it makes me miss him so much, but reminds me in a million different ways how much I love him.
My sister's laugh. My mom's voice when she's happy. My dad's scent. My grandma's graceful demeanor. My husband's warmth. The way my uncle wraps his extension cords. These are just a few of the countless number of small things that make my heart swell.
We're lucky to exist side-by-side on this Earth. Human connection is so beautiful, especially when every inch of it is appreciated - including its flaws. Here's to noticing not only the big things, but the little things, too. I truly believe the little things are keys to knowing and remembering what real love feels like.
The image above captures me transitioning. Preparing. Taking stock. As the Thanksgiving holiday closes and the Christmas holiday approaches, time seems to disappear. Our lives become a blur. So much to do, so little time.
We have lists of lists. Overlapping events on the calendar. Food dishes to prepare. Presents to wrap. Cards to send. Joy to bring.
Because I've taken time to think about what's to come, my hope is this: I'll forgive myself if everything doesn't get done. I'll slow down long enough to savor the moments I am able to squeeze in with my family and friends. And I'll let the warm feelings of knowing 'I am loved, I am taken care of, and I have so many good things to be happy for' wash over me.
Aside from food and gifts and stuff, I want to bring the best version of myself to every gathering I'm blessed enough to attend throughout the holiday season. Because it's the memories that last. That means digging my heels in if I need a moment. That means self love and deep breaths every day. That means letting things go that I don't have time for, and being OK with that.
I hope you're preparing yourself for the flurry of events to come over the next month like I am. Let's make a pact to make room for the good stuff and let go of the things we can't get to or are distracting us from the joyful feelings this season brings. Namaste and Happy Holidays my friends!
It always amazes me that no matter how many times we explore and re-explore areas of Northeast Iowa, it never gets old.
We recently joined Jerry and Nancy (my father and mother-in-law) on their annual trip to visit original Sires homestead properties along with graves of Sires family members that I only know by the stories Jerry tells us. Our trip took us through several small towns, the primary ones being Dorchester, New Albin, and Lansing. This was our second year going along and it was so much fun!
Jerry is passionate about history in general, but especially when it comes to his family. Although he's talked us through the family history before, it's extremely neat to have him tell us about it in the actual places his family was born, raised, and in some cases, still inhabit.
My favorite part of these trips is visiting the cemeteries. Many of them are small and tucked away in the woods. And a lot of the headstones are very old, so they are weathered and beautiful. Such a peaceful setting to reflect on life then and now.
The house pictured below is located on the homestead of all Sires homesteads, the cream of the crop. This is where it all started. It's the most beautiful home (to be clear, not the original house) in the most beautiful location. We also made a few new friends, see the pups off to the right.
Along the way, we made some pit stops at antique shops and pumpkin patches, ending the adventure at the Irish Shanty for a Gunder Burger...and a half n' half! All in all, a wonderful day with some people I love an awful lot. Can't wait to do it all again next year!
Joel and I had our first sleepover with our sweet, three-year-old nephew, Max, this past weekend. We were mostly excited and a little nervous. We've never babysat a child overnight before, so it was uncharted territory.
We anxiously awaited Saturday morning when we were set to pick him up. We discussed an itinerary full of the fun things we could do together. I bought everything we needed the night before - kid-friendly food and craft supplies.
His parents are great, Joel's brother Harper and his wife, Sara. They do a wonderful job of preparing Max for new adventures he goes on so he knows exactly what to expect. He's a really smart little guy, too, so he understands everything they're telling him.
When we arrived to get him, he had picked out two "Minion" buttons from the store - one for each of us. He had his bags packed and he was ready to go!
We started off the day at Bloomsbury Farm (highly recommended if you're looking for a day trip somewhere that is sure to keep little ones entertained). There were activities galore (some pictured at the end of this post), and Max loved it all. He took a little snooze on the way home and when we got back to our house he settled in with Joel to watch a movie before noticing that I was working outside (I needed to water my flowers). He wanted to "work hard" so he asked to help me, which of course I said "Yes" to! We did a little work and explored our property before coming in for supper.
Bath time and bed time were a breeze - and get this - he actually wanted to go to bed...How much more perfect can this kid get?! Joel read him stories until he fell asleep and he slept like a log all night long.
We enjoyed a pancake breakfast, pumpkin painting, and "band practice" before leaving for a family member's birthday party where we were set to drop Max off. We made a pit stop at the mall to walk around and ride the children's rides, including the cool train that drives around Crossroads Mall. It was the cherry on top of a great weekend with Max.
Throughout our adventures in babysitting, we both made some interesting observations that gave us some insight into what being a parent might be like. The primary observation being we now understand how some couples can become "disconnected" from each other when there are children involved. Obviously, the joyful experiences that children bring outweigh the bad and make everything worth it, but because your focus is so much on the happiness and well-being of the child, it's easy to lose sight of your partner, their happiness and well-being.
We noticed this in two days. In our minds, I know we both multiplied that disconnected feeling by 18 years. That was eye opening for us, who at this point in our lives, are so connected we literally can predict each other's thoughts and actions 99.9% of the time.
I'm happy that we both observed the same things, took time to reflect, and discussed how what we observed made us feel. We both agreed that although we had an absolute blast, returning to our "me and him" normalcy was welcomed.
We treated ourselves to some activities that he and I like to do together to top the weekend off. Library, movie, dinner, Hulu. I think we both had a renewed feeling about how much we mean to each other, how lucky we are to have each other as a best friend, and how happy we are doing our own thing as a two person family right now.
There's nothing wrong with being thirty-somethings with no kids. To each their own. Maybe tomorrow, next week, next month our tune will change - but in this present moment - we have each other and that is enough.