The Best Christmas Present You Will Ever Buy Your Family

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This post is sponsored by Storyworth.

This past weekend marked the tenth anniversary for this blog. There are so many things I’ve gained from blogging from connections made with readers and people who share stories to this amazing outlet for my bleeding creative heart. One of the bonuses from blogging, though, is working with companies and sponsors who both help support the time and effort of keeping this blog alive and introduce us to products and services that help make our life a little easier and more colorful. Some of these companies we already loved and used their products; others we’ve been so happy to discover–hidden gems that are now part of our home and routine. Storyworth is one of the latter. Storyworth’s creator and founder, Nick, reached out to me two years ago, wanting to work with me, explaining what his company does and why he created it–to collect and preserve the stories of his father for his son. And as a lover of stories and one who knows just how precious the experiences and ideas that are buried in each and every one of us are, I knew I wanted to work with Storyworth. I signed up for a subscription for Brett’s dad, and after realizing how many wonderful things he had to share that we might have never known had Storyworth’s questions not pulled them out of him, I bought a subscription for my grandmother six months later.

Here’s how it works. Every Monday, Storyworth sends a story prompt to my grandma–a question that’s either randomly selected from Storyworth’s library of prompts (they’re so good!), one I hand-selected from their library (you can select and order them for the entire year in one sitting) or one I wrote myself. All my grandma has to do is open the e-mail and answer the question in her response. She can keep it simple, elaborate as much as she wants, write a four-page novel if she’s feeling it and even attach photos. Once she sends it back, Storyworth saves it in her story archives to be printed in a book after one year. But the best part? Our family (everyone I chose to receive her stories) gets an e-mail with her story–which is why Mondays aren’t so bad anymore because I know my week will begin with a story from my grandma. Look at these beauties I get to scroll through:

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The things I’ve learned from her this year, the stories I never knew, the prized advice that’s buried in her memories, the connections I’ve made to my family, the insights I’ve gained about motherhood and marriage and aging–I can’t put a price on it. And to think, we might have never known these things had we not dug for the treasure.

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I’ve cried reading them, I’ve laughed, I’ve highlighted things she’s written and shared a few on Instagram stories. And my grandma? I know it’s been a gift to her. I know she looks forward to Mondays too, to having the opportunity to share with her kids and grandkids things she humbly keeps tucked away unless asked to share.

These stories are our family. They are part of us and our heritage. I want my kids to know the things I’ve learned–that in the Great Depression, my great-grandma heated Ball jars of hot water and tucked them in my grandma’s bed to keep her warm. That my grandma’s tiny rocking chair I remember from my childhood came in a pasteboard box with other toys, a gift from the church because my great-grandparents were struggling during those difficult days. I want to learn the tune to the song my great-grandma sang to my grandma when she was little–the one I never knew about until reading in my Monday e-mail:  “Chickadee, chickadee, happy and gay, chickadee, chickadee flyyyyy away.” I want to pass on relationship advice with the added validity of “You know what grandma says–” and remind my kids that so many of the things they love and the talents that fuel them come from a deep legacy that runs through their blood and is buried in their bones–hymns, the Midwest, telling stories, creating magic with little means, gratitude for the little things like “swinging on the patio early in the morning with my first cup of coffee,” one of Grandma’s answers to “What simple pleasures in life do you truly enjoy?”

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Of all the gift ideas I’ve shared on this blog, I might be most passionate about this one–a subscription to Storyworth, an invitation for your loved ones to share their stories, a subtle “You are important, and I want to know more about you.” Not only is that invitation a gift for your recipient, but it’s a gift to everyone you choose to receive these stories. If you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for your parents, your grandparents, your beloved aunt who raised you, your in-laws, your person you look up to more than anyone…might I suggest you buy them a Storyworth subscription. You can sign up here (yay–no shopping! Stay in your p.j.’s) and choose the date your recipient will be notified of your gift. And then the fun begins…the ax pick hits the treasure chest, the box is opened, the stories unravel to reveal gold, gold, gold. Of all the sponsors I’ve worked with, I hear back from readers about StoryWorth the most: “Thank you for telling me about StoryWorth. Our whole family is learning things about my grandpa we never knew, and we are seeing a new spark in him–so happy to find purpose in sharing with his family the things that are important to him.”

You can type your own message to go along with your StoryWorth gift notification, but if you’re struggling with what to write, here’s an example you can borrow:

Grandma, I didn’t know what to get you for Christmas, but what I want you to know more than anything is that I love you, and that you mean so much to me. I am so proud to be your granddaughter, and I know that part of who I am comes from you and all the lessons you’ve lived through. What I really want to give you is time–to sit for hours and ask you a million questions and hear about everything you’ve lived through and what you love. Hopefully we have many years to do that. In the meantime, I found to help us out–this story subscription. I want to know more about you, I want to hear your stories, I want to learn from you and preserve every precious experience you’ve been through. This subscription will help. Every week you will receive a question about your life and who you are, and all you have to do is answer it. Tell me the stories of your past. I will cherish them forever, I will learn from them. and I will make sure our family knows them. I love you so much and cannot wait to learn more about you.”

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So put your “I don’t know what to get her…” anxiety to rest and begin your holidays with the gift of knowing that there are beautiful stories about to unfold.

North Pole Party

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It was a whirlwind weekend here, with holiday festivities that left our house a wee bit glitter-dusted, but the result was holiday magic. (sidenote: I will never bake another cookie again in my life.)

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Saturday evening kicked off our 7th Annual North Pole Party, a celebration that began years ago with nine kids and some Santa hats and has swelled, with time and more friendships, to a gathering of 36 little ones spanning from “first Christmas” to middle school, and a kitchen full of moms recalling this same celebration when their footie pajamas were much smaller.

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It’s one of my favorite nights of the year, and every year we celebrate this, the scene ignites this deep gratitude–the kind that almost takes my breath away–for this window of motherhood I feel so honored to enjoy.

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We celebrate Mrs. Claus style–with cookies, milk and cocoa–and in our pajamas while the rest of the magic spins itself because that’s what happens when you bring kids and twinkle lights together.

With no further ado, some moments from our evening…

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Even Latte had Christmas pajamas.

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Our reindeer food bar:

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Ornament making:

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And my dad’s reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, this year, the Cajun version (my friend brought it from New Orleans)–it’s hilarious.

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Each child brings a $10-15 gift to exchange with another child. In past years, this is the part where everyone laughs because it’s been a hot mess–trying to call out names without missing someone, matching gender/age appropriately, not having some kid end up with their own gift, etc. I finally got some sense and matched up names well before the party so everyone knew who they were buying for, and–praise the heavens–it went smoothly.

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Lainey’s happy with the babies which is exactly how I was when I was her age.

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From the archives, our North Pole parties of the past: Last year, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011,

Grateful for all these friends we love and another year of memories….

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10 Years of Blogging Anniversary: A Few Words to My Readers

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I realized something this week–tomorrow marks the ten year anniversary of this blog. Ten years ago, new to motherhood, I sat down, typed my first blank page and released it to the void with horrible design choices, crappily edited pictures, music that annoyingly auto-played when you opened the blog (what, doesn’t everyone want to be force fed Coldplay’s Viva La Vida while looking at pictures of a stranger’s kid?), a title I chose without a lot of thought but….Passion! Gosh darnit, was I ever passionate about starting that blog.  As I wrote in that first post that I’m not even going to link to because my enthusiasm embarrassingly exposes the fact that I am a 10-year-old secretly living in a 38-year-old’s body (sshhh….don’t tell), “It’s a blank canvas I can’t wait to paint on! It’s a new Hello Kitty diary complete with colored gel pens that I can’t wait to write in! It’s an empty scrapbook that is begging to be filled. It’s a thousand dollar shopping spree to Michaels! So, here it is…a blank page. My hands are shaking! I can’t wait to fill it… with the little things that make me happy.” Perhaps that sums up what admittedly may be on my tombstone someday: “She wrote with exclamation points.” I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but there you have it, how it all began–with exclamation points and reference to the craft aisles of Michael’s. Little did I know my proclaimed affection for Hello Kitty and gel pens would lead to a blog post where I would expose the bones of my soul and admit I was shaken from something that changed the course from the perfect dreams of motherhood I had spent so much time spinning in my head to the heart of real life–you can’t plan it all, sister, but you can paint the feck out of life with the brush you’ve been given. Of course, when I wrote it, I thought maybe twelve people would read it. But more showed up, and if there’s anything I learned from sharing that post that will forever keep this blog close to my heart, it’s that the people behind these screens? They are real, and they are wonderful, and we need each other’s stories.

The world of blogging has changed so much since I started, and while I miss the days of intimate story-telling that used to characterize the mom blog world, I embrace the changes of the Internet, our family and the creative challenges that lie ahead.

(inserting a few favorite pics from the 10-year archives here)

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A few things I’ve learned from writing this blog that I want my kids to know:

1. You Are Not Alone.
What you’re going through, the way your family looks, the things in your mind that haunt you, the way you think, your guilt, your love, your pride, the things you think you’re failing at…you are not alone. You are not the only one who can’t keep the house together or loses permission slips or has experienced pain. There is a community out there of people just like you–rooting for you, cheering for each other. To find your community, share your story, speak up. To be the community, look around, listen.

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2. Put Your Art, Story, Songs, Voice Into the World…WITH HEART.
Don’t wait for an invitation. Don’t wait until you’re “good at it.” Time’s a ticking, get it out. Let your story and song and vision and art seep out of every cell of your body wherever you are. Own it. Share it honestly and with passion. As Hugh MacLeod wrote in one of my creative Bibles Ignore Everybody, “Whether you’re writing to an audience of one, five, a thousand, a million, ten million, there’s really only one way to truly connect. One way that actually works: Write from the heart. There is no silver bullet. There is only the love God gave you.” Give that love to the world by voice, pen, hands. Don’t worry about what the world gives back (although a boomerang of love is guaranteed, eventually).

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3. Make Mistakes.
The only way to overcome the fear of not being good enough which holds so many people back is to just be brave and practice being not that good. Be responsible, kind, thoughtful but know you’re going to make mistakes. Let the little ones go (grammar, spelling, that one time I posted a picture of me wearing the baby carrier wrong and everyone laughed), but learn from the big ones and let them change you for the better.

4. Don’t Compare Your Insides to Someone Else’s Outsides.
You know what happens if you’re driving on a road alongside a cliff and you look too long at the beauty on the other side of the cliff? Your car moves with you, and CRASH, you are dead. Focus on driving your own car. 10 and 2, baby. Your course, your destination is your own. How empowering is that?

5. By Golly, Have Fun.
This is it–the reason I keep blogging. Because I’m having fun. Because there are so many wonderful little things in the world to collect and be inspired by and celebrate, and I love having a designated jar to put them in.

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And then there’s you, the people who take the time to click and read. I’ll take this ten year anniversary as an opportunity to virtually hug you. Thank you for showing up here, for taking interest in things I care about. Thank you for celebrating little things with me but also for embracing the big things–for advocating with us for people with special needs, for donating to the fund raisers we share with you, for sharing your stories in e-mails and comments, for the “me toos” you let me feel. Thank you for high-fiving red lipstick and children’s literature, Midwest summers, stocking stuffer guides and, Dear God, let’s not forget my love affair with Christmas.Thank you for reading about the sponsors we share and allowing us to make them a part of the blog too. I try very hard to let story, love and enjoyment of happy little things guide everything I do on this blog, and I make great efforts when incorporating sponsors to make sure those things stand out and to respect my readers. And when the hard and heavy things come along, I aim to share them too–enough of them to remind us that life isn’t a ride on a Lisa Frank unicorn.

I hope this space is always a place where you feel welcome, supported, inspired and connected; and as I continue to write here, my goal remains to create an inspiring space that feels a little bit like home–or a colorful classroom where Mrs. Frizzle is wearing a weird outfit that is both questionable and cool. New goals for this space for next year are coming, but for now, let’s toast to ten years. Thanks for coming along, friends.

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