Congratulations! If you’re reading this, it means that you survived the month of January, and if your month was anything like mine, that’s a feat worth celebrating. This January brought all the usual mid-winter challenges to our home (an unending string of colds, sluggish moods as we restarted school after a long Christmas break, and frozen temps that kept us home more than we would have liked), as well as some unexpected circumstances that made this January tougher than most.
It’s in months like the one I just had that I’m thankful for small rituals that point me back to all that has been good and useful in a rough season. For years now, I’ve followed Anne Bogel’s lead in taking time at winter’s midpoint to recognize and celebrate the things that have been saving my life when life has been hard.
This list could easily consist of tried-and-true items, routines, and people that are always saving my life: all-family quiet reading time; our Roomba vacuum; my very inexpensive gym membership (childcare included); regular texts with family and friends; a cozy robe and slippers; our minivan; cinnamon candles and hot tea; journaling; grocery pickups; inexpensive HEB flowers; and the space heater and microwavable heating pad that move from room to room with me in winter. But there are also some new additions (or newly appreciated items) that have been particularly life-giving this early winter of 2024.
1. A weighted blanket. I’ve wanted one of these for years, but they were pricey and I never could figure out quite what I was looking for in terms of weight and size, so I held off. Luke—ever mindful of my cold blood and endless efforts to stay cozy in winter—surprised me with a very heavy package for our anniversary, and the blanket he chose has been perfect. The weight and softness are ideal for afternoon naps on the couch or snuggling with kids during movie or reading time. An unexpected added bonus is that the blanket is too heavy for the kids to steal for their blanket forts, so I’m never having to hunt my blanket down when I need it!
2. Comfortable and functional workout shoes. I’ve been rocking my winter uniform of leggings, an oversized sweater, beanie, and boots all January long, but boots and beanies aren’t ideal for working out, so when I head to the gym I swap out the head- and foot-wear for a ballcap and these Nikes that I received as a Christmas gift. They are comfortable and great for walking and elliptical workouts, plus they are SO cute and totally pull together an otherwise lackluster outfit.
3. Making my van an earbud-free zone. It can be tempting, when chauffeuring my kids all around central Texas, to pop in one earbud and catch up on podcasts or audiobooks while we drive. This worked when the kids were younger and happy to listen to CDs and observe the scenery while I “did my own thing.” As they’ve gotten older, the car chatter has increased, as have the musical preferences and various other “needs,” and I found myself getting frustrated with how often my listening was interrupted. These days I’m learning it’s in the best interest of ALL of us to leave the earbuds out when we’re all together in the car. We all decide on playlist to enjoy together and we sing on the road, or we turn off the music and talk. This has become a nice bonding time with my kids, and while I no longer get through as many podcasts or audiobooks, I am glad for these extra opportunities to connect as a family.
4. New kitchen gadgets I didn’t even know I needed! My kitchen is one area of the house where I feel I have all the tools I need, without any superfluous appliances or gadgets OR any gaps in the necessary cooking arsenal. But between stocking stuffers and anniversary gifts, Luke proved me wrong this December by spoiling me with a handful of items that weren’t on my radar but have been very helpful in the kitchen. Among the items are a pizza stone and a pizza cutter (this is SO MUCH EASIER than trying to use a knife to slice a pizza baked on a cookie sheet); silicon handle grips for my Dutch Oven (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve burned myself on hot handles pre-grips); wooden storage lids for our mason jars (these make it much easier to access the snacks we store in jars in the pantry); and an adorable butter dish (because I’ve finally come around to the idea that my butter doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge). These items may seem gimmicky or unnecessary, but I’ve happily welcomed them into my kitchen and I can truly say each item has been making cooking life more enjoyable this month.
5. Our church. I’ve already dedicated a lot of words to the story of our family’s transition to a new church last summer, but it continues to be an incredible blessing. For the first time in years, my spiritual life is in alignment with my church life as we engage in worship and service at a church that shares our family’s own spiritual values and mission. Luke and I have both enjoyed getting involved with the men’s/women’s midweek Bible studies this winter and between this study and my time serving in the nursery each Sunday, I’m getting to form new friendships with wonderful women who are also on fire for the Lord. I am still amazed by the journey that led us to this church and grateful to God for the winding road that landed us at the Grove.
6. The Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz. This is certainly not my first time reading through the Bible in a year, and it’s also not my first year spent with Father Mike. But after taking a break from the Ascension reading plan in 2023, I’m back to listening to the daily podcast (featuring a Bible reading and commentary) each morning. I follow up my listening by rereading the passages in my own Great Adventure Bible from Ascension press and journaling my responses. The best part about this time through with Father Mike is that Luke is also following along! Last year we both read through the Bible along with the Bible Recap and we loved following the same reading plan so that we could discuss what we were learning, so it’s great to be reading and listening together (though separately) again this year. Regardless of what plan I use, God always teaches me new things with each journey through Scripture. I love how His Word is living and active, fresh within each new year and stage of life.
7. Nightly prayer time with Luke. At the start of the year, Luke set a goal for the two of us to spend ten minutes talking and praying together every night before bed. We did these things before, but not with any regularity, and the new rhythm has been a true Godsend to our marriage. Even on days when we’ve already spent quite a bit of time together, there is something special about this bonus time at night. I feel closer to Luke and to God through this practice and am so thankful Luke thought to initiate it! An added bonus is that we’re getting to bed earlier each night to make space for our new practice PLUS we usually cuddle or exchange massages afterwards, which I would say is a win all around.
8. Chatbooks. I’ve included Chatbooks on previous Saving My Life lists, but they are making an appearance again this year because recently the kids have been SUPER into these books! We keep them on a shelf in the office and all three kids love pulling out a book or two to look at during the day. This perusing leads to fun reminiscing and questions (the twins are quite curious about the books from the time before they were born), and combined with our digital picture frame, these books are a great way to help keep their memories alive. I’ve gotten into a rhythm of adding pictures to my book every time I capture a good photo or post to Instagram, then ordering a new book every few months, so this has become an easy alternative to scrapbooking that I actually keep up with and that the kids really do enjoy.
9. The kids’ growing independence. I miss a lot about the baby and toddler years with my kids, but I am loving the increased independence that has come with their getting older. All three kids are now old enough to play in the backyard on their own (our security camera allows me to keep an eye on things from indoors), climb into their carseats in the van, entertain themselves for large stretches of time, and even dress themselves (including socks and shoes, woohoo!). We’ve been able to remove the baby locks on the twins’ dresser and closet so they can get their clothes out on their own, and we’ve taught them to stay in their bed in the mornings until the music on their Sonos turns on at 6:00, when they are allowed to play in their room (but NOT wake Mommy and Daddy, which isn’t a big deal on weekdays when I’ve already been up for a bit, BUT has allowed us to start sleeping in on Saturdays!). Now that he is nine and an official big kid, Charleston is better able to monitor his own schoolwork and chores and help out with reading to the twins or getting them snacks or access to toys. In some ways, I find older kids to be MORE challenging (it’s certainly more mentally fatiguing), but I am for sure celebrating the bigger-kid benefits these days.
10. Kiddie bouncy toys. My in-laws got the kids the most adorable bouncy toys for Christmas and they have been the go-to toys in our home all month long. The kids race up and down the hall on their bouncers, and Charleston likes to bounce on his when reciting math facts or working on verse memorization. They’ve been a great way for the kids to expend their energy when it’s too chilly to play outdoors, and though the noise and the chaos they bring can sometimes be a little much for me, I really do love seeing how happy these toys make them. Since getting these toys, I’ve talked to quite a few other families who also love their bouncers, so if you’re in need of a gift for a kiddo in your life this may be just the thing.
I’ll end as I always do by turning the question over to you: what is saving YOUR life this winter? I hope that you are staying healthy and sane in this often-difficult time of year and that your home is full with plenty of celebration-worthy lifesavers!