Before we begin anew, here's what I want to say:

We won't go out tonight. But if we did go out, I bet the scene would look a lot like this:

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That picture was taken earlier this month before a Christmas party, and Cate and Blake were not happy about our departure. 

Tonight we'll stay home and ring in the new year with neighbors. And this morning, I sit by the tree that I'm not quite ready to take down. I come back to this blog, understanding the need to process the year gone by.

I started 2013 feeling out of sorts—when I read posts from earlier in the year I can really see it. It's much more obvious to me now, reading my words, than it was when I was living them and trying to come to terms with them on the page. 

But I detect bursts of confidence—a slow returning to myself—in certain posts, like Cate's first birthday when I realized that I spent all that time decorating and planning for me. It was something I wanted to do

This was the year that I embraced my yeses and learned that it can be equally rewarding to take a chance on the maybes. The key is staying open.

Sometimes, life calls me to leap, and I do.

But most of the time, I'm in transition. When I turned 39 in October, I suggested that the landing spots we seek are merely resting places, and you responded with YES!

We've had some great conversations here. This blog is a place where we come as we are. Perhaps somewhere inside we all know that it's not about "arriving". We know that it's the walking and living and transition that make up a life, but it's encouraging and freeing when others help us remember that.

This year, my middle child turned 4, and we had the best non-party party ever. And my oldest, who's now almost 8, demonstrated more than once how quickly he's growing.

And I sense: this is when it starts speeding up, isn't it? 

My remedy for that, my solution to slowing down all of this speeding up, is accepting that there is absolutely no remedy or solution for that. Then, I thrust myself into the present moment. It's how I get out of my head and back into my life. 

This year, perhaps I've finally accepted that it's okay to feel out of balance most of the time. I could sit here and stare at this twinkling Christmas tree all day, but it's not going to make the clock stop. Time will continue to pass, as it does. 

So, like every other good thing, I can choose to notice it, breathe in the image and snap a picture in my mind. And I can get up and get on with my day. The tree will twinkle in the background, my kids will do what they do in the foreground. I will clean the house, prep the appetizers and embrace the new year.

I will spend this evening with the man who supports me so passionately behind the scenes, children who send me over the edge and keep me grounded, and neighbors who have become like family. 

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As I transition into 2014, I'll think of this online place...this place where I tell my stories, and you share yours. And I'll say a prayer of gratitude that this year I uncovered the greatest thing I seek in this life. A place that exists outside myself and within myself.

Home.

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I hope you have your moment.

Last night, I sat in my quiet house—my husband was out of town and my kids were tucked into bed—and I made two dozen reindeer out of clothespins. They're for my son's class party:

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I'm tired and recovering from a terrible cold and am totally outnumbered by my children this week (see this Facebook status update for an example), and yet, the task put me at ease: Draw the noses, color the pins, superglue the googly eyes, twist the pipe cleaners. Stuff the snack bags with M&Ms, eat some M&Ms, seal the bags, clip the reindeer to the bags.

As I studied my army of reindeer, I felt it. In a single moment. 

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Christmas. I felt Christmas... the way I want Christmas to feel, the way I always imagine and expect it will feel. It came it a flash and didn't stay long. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be?

Today the bags will be ripped open and those googly eyes will eventually fall off, but I think those reindeer held some magic in that moment by the tree. 

To my friends and readers who celebrate: Merry Christmas. I hope you have your moment. 

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For those days when you lose it

I was stringing lights on the tree the other night, when Cate grabbed my can of Diet Coke off the table, pressed it to her lips, said "Um" (yum without the "y"), and then dropped it on the floor. 

And she didn't drop it in a she's-just-a-baby-it-was-an-accident kind of way. She dropped it in an I'm-totally-finished-with-this-thunk kind of way. 

"Cate!" I shouted, as the fizzy drink oozed out. "No, no!" Then the next five minutes was a series of scolding, mopping, pleading with my husband to get the kids away from me because "I can't get anything done around here." 

And that was the moment when I'd reached the point I promised myself I wouldn't get to. I knew this month would be like this: my husband's crazy travel schedule, my suddenly picked-up freelance work schedule, and well, Christmas. And I'd tried to be prepared, on-the-ball, organized. One step ahead.

And, really, I'd done a pretty good job of it. I was "taking care of business" as I like to say when I'm feeling proud of myself. I'd been feeling pretty cheery, too. Good busy, I call it. 

So when I went all crazy mama over a can of spilled Diet Coke, I realized I had run out of margin. Crazy mama means I've drained my resources and entered a mental state that leaves no more room for error. I can't adjust or sway or roll with it another second. 

And the minute I lose it—each time I feel like I've gone and lost my mind—I instantly feel silly for overreacting. But then I begin to feel better because I've released the energy I've been suppressing. I pull back, slow down, calm down, and start working to build the margin back in. 

Recently, I read the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, and it really changed how I feel about the word balance: 

I feel and fear that the lovely word 'balance' has accidentally become yet another weapon in the arsenal that we use against ourselves - yet another piece of evidence that WE ARE NOT DOING IT RIGHT. 

She goes on to say: 

Here's the thing about balance — it is, and maybe should be, a momentary and fleeting condition. We may reach it at certain instances, and it is glorious in those instances.

BUT:

there's no shame in being mostly out of balance. That's kind of what it is to be alive.

When I finally got back to work on the Christmas tree, I realized I didn't have enough lights and couldn't finish the job, anyway.

And yesterday, when I looked at my to-do list (which included running to Target for more lights), I made a more realistic assessment of what really needs to happen (personally and professionally) before the holidays, and what will have to wait until the new year.

Then, I checked off the list in reverse order. I sat at my desk, drank coffee, caught up on emails and blog posts. I went to the post office and Target, and ate lunch by myself in the food court in the mall. 

And through the course of this day of filling up, breathing and adding the margin back in, I felt a physical difference. It's funny how stress feels so real and forceful and permanent in the moment, but it turns out, just like balance, it can be fleeting too.

Last night, some neighbors and their newborn baby showed up at the door holding a bag of amazing homemade treats. We sat down on the floor in the foyer and talked while I held and loved on the baby. I'm not sure how that happened, how we ended up sitting down, right there on the floor—except that my living room was a mess because I was still trying to get the freaking lights on the tree. The visit was spontaneous and festive, and I felt the difference. 

I felt the margin. The space. I want to live in that world most of the time, but I'm getting better about not beating myself up when I don't. When I can't. When balance feels impossible.

Later, after the kids went to bed, I sat down and had a beer. Yes I did. And then, my husband helped me string lights around the kitchen sink.

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I joked that it looked like Snoopy's dog house. And the sight of it filled me up with a sense of joy and goodness, and I left them on all night (while simultaneously running up the electric bill). 

Even in the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas, the characters are acting crazy through most of it. And then, Linus cues the lights and offers a gentle reminder of what Christmas is all about. Almost instantly, the mood is transformed. 

When I'm losing it, it never feels that easy or simple. But maybe sometimes it really is that easy and that simple.

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