Culture · Hygge

The Quest for Hygge

Hygge.  Before you waste five minutes trying to figure out  how to say that, it’s pronounced HOO-guh, and it is basically the philosophy that puts the Danes routinely at the top of every study as the happiest nation in the world, despite the fact that it is dark and cold there for most of the year.  Basically, hygge is a concept of family- and home-oriented coziness that strongly features homemade food, comfy clothes, warm socks, blankets, candles, and spending intentional time with the people you care about.  The Danish people have elevated this to a national standard, around which the whole culture revolves.

I started out on my quest for hygge on a whim, really.  Work life was functioning at a resting temperature of HIGH STRESS ALL THE TIME, which left me without the emotional motivation to go out or “be social.”  I just wanted to retreat into the hobbit hole of my apartment and shut out the world.  Wandering around social media in a quest to not do whatever I was supposed to be doing, I stumbled upon this article about hygge.  That article led to several more, which led to a Pinterest board, which led to the purchase (and reading) of The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking.

I read all about the importance of light (and good lighting–no hospital-style, industrial lighting for the Danes, oh no.)  I read about the importance of creating a comfortable and cozy place to relax and simply be. I read about a cultural way of thinking that put the process and journey of spending time with people you care about before anything else.  It’s the idea of “less is more.”  “Quality over quantity.”  The Little Book of Hygge threw out examples like making food with a few friends (even if the end product is a disaster), sitting around the kitchen table and playing games while drinking hot chocolate and eating homemade cookies, snuggling up in sweats with a blanket and a good book.

I was hooked.  I wanted that.  I wanted my home to be a place that was warm and cozy, where people came, and we made memories and shared each other’s lives.  I wanted to slow down my life to make time for things like board games.  I wanted hygge.

My first attempts started out small.  I made the pilgrimage to IKEA and bought a bunch of candles and invited a friend over to make fondue.  We spent a ridiculous amount of money on all the right cheeses to make a real Swiss fondue–and then we sat for two hours around the fondue pot and caught up on the past three months of life.  It was slow.  It was natural.  It was amazing.  And I wanted more.

Armed with this first small success, my book about hygge, and an article from thekichn.com about how to host a crappy dinner party,  (it’s a great article–read it here!), I started making it a part of my life.  Whenever someone suggested getting together–the unspoken American subtext being “at a restaurant or coffee shop”–I always jumped at the opportunity, and offered to host as my house.  I sent out text message invitations for “B.Y.O.S.” (Bring Your Own Slippers) events.  I got out a big pile of blankets whenever people were coming over.  I stocked up on hot chocolate and coffee.  I lit candles–so many candles!  I bought some games at Goodwill and had people over to play Scrabble.  I got really good at fifteen minute cleaning, and told people that, while my house may be a little dirty, it was full of love.

And do you know what?  All my friends really liked it.  They didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t sweep my kitchen floor or that the cream cheese, cherry hand pies didn’t really turn out.  Everyone agreed toward the end of the night that it was fun, and we really should do it again.

I think our lives are so fast and so Instagram-ed, that we’ve forgotten that everyone else is imperfect, too.  Oh, I know when I say it, you think, “Well, duh.  Of course nobody’s perfect,” but in practice, it’s easy to believe that the pictures we see on social media are the way everyone’s life actually is.  You find yourself thinking, “I must be the only person who can’t get it together and leaves my purse and shoes right by the door as soon as I come in” and “I must be the only person who can’t figure out how to hang a really nifty, chic portrait collage wall…”

But really–we’re all in that boat.  We’re all standing and looking at the picture of the cupcakes on Pinterest, then the disaster on our counters and thinking, “Well.  That didn’t work.”  We’re all just little, imperfect people, doing what we can. Messing up.  Making mistakes.  Trying again anyway.

What we need, more than perfect lives, are people who share our imperfect lives with us. I think that, at its core, is what makes hygge so powerful to me.  It’s inviting people in.  It’s dropping masks of things none of us can be, anyway.  It’s putting people ahead of image.  It’s making real memories–not an airbrushed Instagram version.  It’s just–hygge.

Faith · Life generally... · Teaching

Bag Lady

My friend, “Abby,” is our school’s art teacher, and never, but never leaves work with any less then three bags–and I’m not talking about little “fits three pieces of paper bags.”  Oh no.  I’m talking about those giant, metal reinforced Thirty-One bags with monograms and stuff on the side.  Even her purse weighs about a ton because it’s made out of seat belts.

But Abby is not alone.  My mother, also a teacher, has a bag with those suitcase wheels because it’s so big, and half the time, I think my dad has to get it out of the trunk for her because it’s too heavy.  I have secret theory that one of our sixth grade teachers converts each of her children’s old diaper bags into an additional “for work” bag–needless to say, I think she’s got four kids.  My male colleagues (not enamored of the Thirty-One fad of their female counterparts) still walk out of work with a bulging messenger bag or backpack.  Not even I, myself, am immune.  In my defense, I only have one teacher bag…and that bag of music for my voice lessons…and the bag with all the scores for choir rehearsal…and the reusable grocery store bags in my trunk…Okay, okay! So I have a problem!

Conclusion?  Teachers are bag junkies.

I don’t know why, really, since the common thread I glean from most teachers is that we never do any of what we bring home in those bags.  We choose to do other things, feel mildly, naggingly guilty about it, but we don’t actually do it.  You think we’d get wise–leave it at school for when we head back into work where we will actually do this stuff.  But no.  We keep lugging the same seventy-five pounds of student work and professional textbooks and school laptops back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Maybe it’s just that we’re eternal optimists, who truly believe that this time, this time, we’ll decide we’d rather dive into those forty essays on Of Mice and Men than go out to coffee with our girlfriends.  Or go to the grocery store.  Or sit in a semi-catatonic state on the sofa and binge watch Parks and Rec for the fifteenth time.  Seriously.  What is wrong with us?

Mostly, I just think we’re nuts.

I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism and the minimalist movement lately.  And while I think some of it is kind of extreme (skip having a bed frame and just have mattress on the floor…don’t have anything hanging on your walls anywhere…) there are some things I really think resonate.  The theory behind minimalism is that the more stuff you have in your life (the more stuff on your counters, in your closet, in your head, in your heart) the more stressed and the less happy you actually are.

There’s a really valid point here, I think.  So many people I know live in these crowded worlds.  Dresser drawers crammed with clothes they can’t find and don’t like, rooms cluttered with the dross of a “them” that vanished years ago,  minds crowded with regrets about pasts they can’t change and worries about futures they can’t control.  I find myself doing it, too.  I take home work I “should do” sometimes.  I let myself get talked into doing things that absorb the few precious hours of free time I had earmarked for “me” in the week.  I pray that I will be less stressed out about X-Y-Z, and be able to just allow God to do His thing and be in charge of it.  But then, rather than trusting the God I purport to believe implicitly, I find myself lugging all my little worries around with me–just like my bags.

It’s really exhausting being a bag lady–the physical or the emotional kind.  So lately I have been trying to not be one.  Throwing out that stack of old papers on my desk.  Actually folding the blanket I’ve just used (even though I know I will use it again tomorrow.)  Sticking to my guns and not letting myself stress out about things I can’t control, and I know that God’s in charge of, anyway.  Not feeling guilty for saying no to things I am too busy (or don’t want) to do.  Looking at the things in my teacher bag and think, “Am I actually going to do any of this?” And when the answer is, “No,” just leaving it at school.  Because it will keep.  The sun will still rise.

So take the challenge.  Stop freaking out about the stuff that you have no control over for just the time it takes you to drink your morning coffee.  Clear out one dresser drawer of all the clothes you keep “just in case” you need them, but secretly hate.  Just for one night, leave the teacher bags at school.

Try it out.  You might just like not being a bag lady.

Life generally...

Old Fashioned Birthday Cards

img_1127I have a wall calendar hanging in my kitchen.  It’s hanging right over my coffee maker, so
I’m guaranteed to look at it at least once a week.  This is an important calendar to my life, because the only dates marked on it are birthdays.

And once a month, I make the pilgrimage and buy birthday cards for all the birthdays on my calendar.  I bring them home, write a little birthday note, address the envelope, put on a REAL stamp and put it in the REAL mail.

There’s nothing really special about them.  They’re not expensive or particularly special, but they’re real, paper-and-ink cards.  And in our social media-saturated world, in which we are absolved of any responsibility for actually remembering the birthdays of anyone remotely close to us, and a flippant “Happy Birthday!” on a digital wall lets us feel we’ve “remembered” people, there is something nice about a good ol’ fashioned birthday card.

In my view, putting it in the mail is also important, even for the people who I see at work on a daily basis.  I know there are some of my fellow Frugal Peeps out there who will say, “But you could save 49¢ and just hand it to them!”  This is true.  But there is a certain amount of forward planning and intentionality involved in the traditional mail.  What I hope people think when they get my birthday cards is that there is someone who cares about them–who went out and bought the card, who looked up their address, and put it in the mail so that it could be there by their birthday.  I don’t have money to buy nice gifts for all the people who are important to me, but I am hopeful that thoughtfulness can make up for a lack of finances.

It’s old-fashioned, but that’s okay, I reckon.  Sometimes the old ways are good ways.

Baking · Kitchen Culture · Kitchenware

Bake it off

There’s always that one person.  You know–the one who insists  on doing it the long way.  You know them, because they’re the one who would rather spend twenty minutes trolling around the grocery store looking for something rather than ask someone who works there where to find pizza sauce.  Or the one who spends twenty-five minutes doing math longhand because it’s “just too much trouble” to get out a calculator.  The person who still has a Rand McNally Road Atlas.  Like I said.  You know the one.  And I’m here to tell you…

…I’m that one person.

I’m sure there’s some really smart, psychological reason probably linked to when I learned to walk or the fact that I refused to eat peas until I was 20, but I prefer to think it’s because I’m a rebel.  I have to go my own way–march to the beat of my own drummer.  Put the wind in my sails and sail off toward the horizon.  It’s all very romantic and much more dramatic than, say, potty-training.

So, tonight my old, Watch-Me-Be-Difficult self did it again.  I decided to bake this peanut butter, chocolate chip bread I found on Pinterest to take into work tomorrow.  I got the stuff, pulled up the recipe tonight and it told me to use…an electric mixer.  Now, I do (somewhat begrudgingly) own this pretty hip, 1949 handheld mixer that weighs about a ton, but I will be honest with you.  The prospect of cleaning the darn beaters means I avoid using it for anything short of meringue.

So when this recipe suggested I use a mixer for a quick bread, I instantly decided that a spoon would be fine.  I have this one wooden spoon I got at a garage sale when I was fresh out college.  It’s a great spoon–it looks like it’s about a million years old, it has a nice long handle–and it is my official “baking spoon.”  So I got out the Baking Spoon, laughed in the face of this recipe, and stubbornly insisted on blending peanut butter, brown sugar, and two eggs by hand.

Well, I can tell you it worked just fine.  It took maybe three extra minutes, but I don’t care.  My friend, Kelly, has this spoof on the Taylor Swift song “Shake If Off” hanging in her kitchen, that popped into my head as I was mixing this batter.  I’ll be diplomatic and say that T. Swift is not exactly in my top ten favorite artists of all time…or any time…but tonight, after successfully defeating a “mixer only” recipe, I found myself literally dancing around my kitchen singing,

“Players gonna play, play, play, play, play…And haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate…but I just bake it off, bake it off!

 

IMG_1156
Behold! The Spoon of Victory!
Uncategorized

Words dripping out of my head…

The moment when I sit down behind my computer write, something happens to me.  I don’t know what it is.  I mean, I spend all day going, moving, accomplishing…I talk to people, I teach people, I run errands, I check off to-do lists, I pay bills.  I should be able to sit down and just start going.  My issue, really, should be too many ideas.  I should be sitting here, agonizing over which thing I should write about since I can only write one! Is it that pithy conversation I had with the guy who tried to be a jerk to me at the store?  Perhaps an inspirational  snippet of a life-changing moment I got to share with a student?  Or maybe  tales of my latest kitchen misadventure?  I mean, I’m going enough, this should be easy.

But no.

I sit down, ready to go.  I power on my computer, ideas bouncing around my skull.  I open my blog and open a fresh post page and…nothing.

I don’t know what it is!  I am telling you, I sit down, and the words literally drip out of my head.  I suddenly can remember nothing worth writing about!  And before one of you smart, writer-y types suggest it, I in fact have a list of semi-completed drafts I can go to if I’m in a bind, but you know what?  I always think, “But some other day, I’ll be more strapped for time,” or (and this is by far the most frequent) “I don’t feel like writing about that right now.”

I guess this is why singing and music are my primary passions and writing is my hobby.  I make myself sing because I know it’s good for me.  Writing is something to do when I “feel like it.”  (This also may be why all my novels are unfinished…)

But seriously.  Why is that?  I should just be able to sit down and slam one of these babies out–boom!–and move on.  I mean, I’m a busy girl.  I’ve got a rehearsal tonight from 7.00-10:00.  I don’t have time to be wasting!  I need to get this checked off!  And the minute I write this all out, I suddenly know the reason why I can never think of anything.  And it’s so obvious, I’m not quite sure why it ever baffles me.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not the most naturally reflective person.  I’m good at lots of things–and one of the things I’m good at is being “in the moment.”  In the words of Lion King, “You gotta put your past behind ya.”  My college voice teacher told me that it’s live performance.  Mistakes happen.  Beating yourself up about a mistake that already happened, that you can’t fix, is only going to cause you to make half a dozen more mistakes in the meantime, because you know what?  The song didn’t stop.  The music is still going on.  And life is kind of like that, I reckon.  You can’t undo what is done.  You make amends where you can and move on.  It’s really a great quality, and I know this is a gift.  I know I’ve been able to do what I’ve done, and I know who I am because of this.

However, it does mean I tend to never, well…stop.  Life is full.  Analysis is for people who like things like math and build bridges and buildings and stuff.  Analysis is important because you don’t want that skyscraper to collapse in a light breeze.  My life…eh.  I’ll get to it.

Sitting d0wn for these posts is, often, the first time in my day when I actually stop.  I can’t think about what to write, because it’s the first time in the day where I’ve just sat.  Done nothing.  Sifted through the day and separated the proverbial wheat from the chaff.  What did I do today?  What actually matters?  What conversations are worth thinking about, remembering, and (darest I say it?) analyzing?  What happened versus what happened?  

So, you know.  The whole “thoughts emptying out of my head” thing is probably not such a bad deal.  It gives me (forces me?) to think about things.  I have to get serious and analyze what is happening.  I have to focus on those moments in my day that are important–those experiences I have that are shared by so many people.

So, my fellow writers, don’t fear the blank screen!  Let your brain do its thing!  The words will come.  So breathe.  It will happen.  (I mean, look at me!  I seriously just wrote an entire post about not knowing what to write about…it can happen!)

Life generally... · Writing

Restart Button

As any person who has ever gotten into shape, then gotten out of shape, then back into shape again will tell you, getting into shape is hard.  Getting back into shape is a million times worse.  My theory is that when you first start, everything is painful and hard and awful, but you think, “It’s okay.  This too shall pass. I can go farther than yesterday.” (Even if going farther is only going an extra five feet.  It still counts.)  Getting back into shape, on the other hand, you’re shuffling along, wheezing with every muscle in your body screaming at you, and all you can think (well, all I can think, anyway,) is, “This used to be so easy!”  From my perspective, the temptation to give up is much higher with the Get-Back-Into-Shape process.

And I should know.  I am flying to Alabama to run a half marathon with a friend who lives down there.  I have two sets of running shoes that have been staring at me accusingly for the past three months, because I have laced them up and run…hm…once?  It’s bad.  I know I should run.  I know I need to.  I know that I may just die on the side of the road in Tennessee if I don’t.  But…I also know what’s coming my way.  I know how awful day three is.  I know how gross that “one hill” is (every route everywhere has that “one hill”) when you’re not in shape.  And so I keep putting it off.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize (with growing trepidation verging on open panic) is that I need to re-start a lot of things.  I need to restart to eating actual dinner–I’ve been subsisting very well on a diet of popcorn and tortillas.  (Last week, I impulse-bought a bag of cheese curls, which I proceeded to eat for dinner three times…until I ran out of cheese curls.  How appalling is that?)  I need to restart a regular cleaning schedule, rather than my current “I’ll clean it when a.) I have company coming over; b.) it looks dirty; or c.) I can no longer remember the last time I cleaned it” method.

And then there’s my writing.

Right now, I have three different friends who are varying levels of mad at me because I let them read manuscripts for the books I’m writing.  Books that don’t yet have a single finished manuscript.  Books whose status and length has not changed significantly for anywhere from eight months to four years, depending.  Like I said, I have some people who are mad at me.

And like the running and the cleaning and the cooking, I know that I should get back to it.  I know that I need to.  Occasionally, I’ll even start turning around ideas in my head.  I’ll talk a dialogue out loud on my commute home from work.  Rarely, I even open the darn manuscript and stare at it a while.  I don’t know what my deal is.  Writing a rough draft shouldn’t be this hard.  You just write it, even if it’s crap.  It’s in the editing that writing turns into a novel, after all.

But increasingly in the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling the internal pressure to get back behind the keys–to put metaphorical pen to paper, as it were. I need to tell stories and be creative in a vein that is not my career (which, for me, is music.)  In the same way I need to just lace up those running shoes and force myself out of the house, I need to sit behind and keyboard and force myself to write.  Write anything.  Write it even if I hate it.  Even if it dead ends.  Even if I just toss it all in six months anyway.  Write to write.

And for me to do that, I have to get out of my house, out of my city.  Away from all the things I use to distract me–laundry, kitchen, friends, family, work–all the things that occupy all of the time.  I need to get away, to be still, and to find my voice again.

Spring break is coming up in a few weeks.  I have the time.  Maybe I should go…

Well, fast forward twenty minutes.  I walked away from this post to book a cabin in a cute, touristy area a few hours from my house.  I’m going to go.  I’m going to lock myself in a snug little house with only comfy, un-cool clothes, my computer, and all the coffee.  I’m going to sit at the keyboard and just start writing.  I’m going to remember my voice.  I’m going to remember my love.  I’m going to hit the re-start button.  And while I’m at it…

…I’ll probably take my running shoes.

Hygge · Uncategorized

The Ambiance of Reading

 

I am a bibliophile.  I love books–I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember.  At age five, I turned down the Barbie doll suggested by Santa in favor of a bookcase, because “then I won’t have to sleep with all my books under my pillow anymore.”  Yes. I was that kid–the one who had her Book-It goal met in the first seventy-two hours of the month. (It also meant we got to go to Pizza Hut so I could claim my prize of a free personal pan pizza–does it get better than pizza and books?  I submit that it does not.)

I grew up to be an adult who never has less than four books going simultaneously at any one time (the logic is I will always be in the mood for one of them.)  I fantasize about having a library in my house with one of those ladders with the wheels on the bottom that you can roll around the room.  And I know I preach to the choir when I say this, but, let’s be real here–the book is always better than the movie.

So, suffice it to say, reading matters to me.  Ambiance also matters to me.  This is why I am offended by people whose homes don’t have any sort of personality.  To modify the words of animal rights activists–Rooms Are People, Too.  And I believe strongly in creating rooms that are a haven against the crazy, busy, never-slow-down-y world out there.

Occasionally, I go on these Pinterest binges in which I create extensive boards of rooms and houses and decorating I love (but will never be able to afford.) There are a lot of idyllic, romantic reading nooks on these boards, if we’re being honest.  They usually involve bay windows and soft, muslin curtains and masses of pillows…or roaring fire places and top end, hand-knitted Merino wool blankets and steaming mugs of Fill-In-Hot-Beverage-of-Your-Choice-Here…and books.  Lots of books.  Lots of old, hardbound books.  Lots of old, hardvound books that smell of that peculiar blend of wood and vanilla.

Ah, it’s all beautiful, I tell you.  And when I get around to marrying a rich man and get my manor in the English countryside, I will get right on all of this.  I will have a million book nooks in all the places.

But back on Planet Earth, where I work for a living and call a little one-bedroom apartment home, it’s not quite that simple.  I do have the advantage of at least living in a building built in the 1920’s, so I have arched doorways and a real, old-fashioned party line phone on the wall, so I do have some of that old-fashioned charm.  But there aren’t a lot of “nooks” to speak of.  I don’t really have enough space to have nooks.  Nor do I have a bay window.  And a fireplace is right out.

IMG_1153But as of yesterday, I officially have a real reading corner–it’s not hidden away in a secret corner (superior, naturally, for its obvious Gothic novel overtones), and I didn’t “discover it.”  My reading corner has been evolving over the past several months.  It had a lot going for it from the start–the big window, the hand-me-down wing back chair, its proximity to the bust of Persephone on my bookcase (all very Grecian and classical–clearly English manor-worthy.)  But I’ve been adding to it.  I recently got into the joys of candles.  (Thanks, Hygge…) The lamp behind the chair was a big find–an impulse stop at Goodwill that gave me with that warm, buttery glow which masks how much light it actually produces.  (Eat your heart out, Design on a Dime.)  Then only yesterday, I finished crocheting and stuffing that poof on the floor. It may look funny to you, but that, my friend, is a 100% homemade, made-to-match ottoman–it is impossible to have a reading nook, as any sensible person will tell you, with your feet on the floor.  They have to be curled under you, or flung carelessly over the arm of a chair, or up on a footrest.  It is a reading nook must.

For the maiden voyage of my reading corner, I had to pick something appropriately lengthy and classic and beloved.  Hardbound binding is an unspoken requirement.  (I mean, if you’re going to go for it, you have to really go for it.)  You can’t tell from the photo, but the book resting on the chair is, in fact, Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring–it fits the whole “wing-back chair, English country manor” motif, I think.

There will of course be other, shorter, and probably more inconsequential books read on that chair, ones that are fluffy, ones that have great voice, and ones that won’t.  There will be ones I don’t like.  But I’ll tell you what.  That reading nook is the kind of place where great books get read.  Can’t you just see someone finishing War and Peace in that chair?  (Not me.  Someone else.  I can’t even get through the book jacket synopsis of that book without losing interest…) But great things can happen in a corner like that.  Great ideas for books yet unwritten can happen in a spot like that–I’m telling you, it could happen.

Like I said, I’m a big one for ambiance.  And books.  All the books.