It’s my favorite week of the year! All the preparations done, there’s finally time to enjoy the baked goods and pretty lights. It’s also time to reflect on the past year, and start writing my “Best of 2014” letter. My besties and I have been trading end-of-year letters for more than 15 years, and “lessons learned” is my favorite category.
Thanks to Emily Freeman’s What We Learned series, I’ve been noting some of the lessons throughout the year.
Some silly, some profound, here’s what I learned this year:
1. Photos + Words are my love language.
When I shared this discovery with Brian, his response was “Um, yeah. Of course.” But for me, it was a revelation. Have you read Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages? I read it years ago, and while the edition I read was dated, it still helped me understand why we give what we most want to our loved ones, and are surprised when they offer what they most wish to receive. I give books and photos more than any other gift---so, yeah, Brian’s right, it should have been obvious.
This realization also helped me stop apologizing for my photography passion, my need for words, my Instagram love. It’s who I am, and a way I express love for my life and the people in it.
2. The best system is the one you create yourself.
I’m still learning this, and it relates to so many areas, but the magic of customization came to me via my old-school planner. I love technology and apps, but give me some paper and a pen, and I’ll get things done. I’ve always loved planners, but I’ve never used one as fully as this year’s. Because I designed it and set it up the way I actually use planners. A big hat tip to Lara, the Bullet Journal, and Michelle of Raisin’ Cajuns.
Whether it be the way to raise your kids, or how to organize your kitchen, or the best diet, I’ve learned fashioning it to fit the way you live is SO MUCH better than trying to fit into someone else’s best way.
3. Stop using that eyelash curler.
Maybe you can still use it, but I can’t. At Thanksgiving last year, I commented on my niece’s long lashes, and she shared her favorite mascara and her secret---she stopped curling her lashes. In retrospect, it was obvious that the torture instrument (as my sons were convinced it must be) was taking more than it was giving. I still don’t have the thick, long lashes of my niece---I never did. But I’m happy to have retired the curler and gained a few more lashes.
4. “Tell me more” is magic.
I learned this from Julie Ross’ How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years, and she got it from Brenda Euland in Utne Reader. It applies not just to tweens, but anyone you love. Euland wrote: “When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.”
5. The cure for just about any worry is time outside with a dog.
Duke’s joy in life, his easy acceptance of people, his unbounded enthusiasm all teach me. But his greatest gift to me is the way the word “walk” makes him light up.
6. Welcome people into your home before it’s ready.
For one, it will never be ready. For another, hospitality isn’t about impressing; it’s about connecting. Our house still isn’t fully unpacked, but we haven’t let that stop us. Old friends came through our 2nd day in the house, and we laughed among all the boxes. Sean had a friend over, and when his mom asked to see the new digs, I held the door wide and welcomed her into our crazy. We’ve been here two months, and we’ve had three visitors from Moab, Brian’s mom, my cousins, Brian’s brother and family, and at no time has our house been “ready’' or “done.” I’ll clean the bathroom and sweep the floor, heat the kettle, and call it good. Life is short---come on in!
7. The lessons you learned planning a wedding are lessons that apply to everything: things will go wrong---embrace it; choose your priorities; and remember, it’s not all about you.
8. Less is more, and my need for white space is insatiable.
If you’ve read Anna Quindlan’s One True Thing, you can understand why I’m grateful to be married to a “more is more” kind of guy. Brian is naturally organized, and perhaps that is why more---of everything---doesn’t bother him. I am more easily distracted, and white space helps me focus. Moving helped us get rid of so much, and I want to continue on that path.
9. “You are not who I would have you be” is too common a refrain in families.
Have you ever said this to someone? Probably not. Have you ever sent that message though, in your tone, facial expression, the questions you ask?
For years I’ve tried to understand how it can be that we put so much energy into creating close families, while at the same time so many people can’t stand being with their family of origin. People love their family, but often get stressed out about being around them. Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Maybe, but I think this message is a common cause of the unhappiness that exists---even in happy families. Never directly stated, but subtly sent. “Be a little less you.” “I love you, but…” “I wish you were more…”
I think it is natural for children to go through a stage when they feel this way about their parents (and pretty much everyone in their life), i.e.: being a teen. Growing up, though, means accepting your parents and others for who they are.
I’m excited about this discovery. It’s made me more aware. I’ll always be an imperfect parent. I’ll always wish my boys loved baseball as much as I do (there’s still some hope!), and there are times when the world demands we adapt to a time and place. But I want to hold this lesson in my heart and be sure that my children know in their bones that I delight in who they are and the way they are.
I’d love to hear what you learned in 2014, big and small, if you’d like to share below---or more privately, in an email.
Here’s to all that awaits us in 2015!