Breathe the fresh spring air

April 1st, 2016

If there’s one thing I love to do when the birds begin chirping and the flowers start popping up, it’s opening the windows to the fresh spring air. That’s step number one to beginning my spring.

(Second for me, of course, is grabbing a lighter coat and racing outside.)

go outside in spring. or bring outside in

Opening windows wasn’t a ritualistic part of my life until I moved to Germany. I’d walk down the Berlin streets and see apartment buildings full of wide open windows and balcony doors. It didn’t matter if it was the retired woman with lace curtains or the young man who could stay up all night playing techno music and drinking beer—they all welcomed the fresh breeze … especially in the spring.

You’ve probably heard that the air in our homes is more toxic than outdoor air, even in the city. Our furniture, cabinets, and carpets are slowly releasing nasty toxins like formaldehyde. If we don’t open our windows, those chemicals stick around, and we keep breathing them.

When we make hot tea, take a shower, line dry clothes, or do anything else that adds moisture to the air (including our breathing), we’re also creating an environment that’s conducive to mold. It loves warm, damp environments. As construction technology makes our homes tighter, the problem grows.

Then there are all of our cleaning products—you know, the things with labels like “toxic” and “hazardous”.  These products are supposed to be getting rid of bad stuff in our homes, and they do! But if we don’t get a little air circulating through our houses, I’m afraid they’re adding bad stuff, too.

If you notice your eye water, your nose runs, or you can’t kick a headache, it may be a big red flag: you need some fresh air.

We crack our windows open a little every day. I have to channel my inner German when it’s -30 degrees Fahrenheit during the Montana winter. But now? That frigid weather is gone. Spring is creeping in, and I hope you join me in letting it blow into your home.

Feel European if you want; I know you’ll feel a little more alive.

Springtime also means I’m taking time to:

Gustav Mahler was an Austrian composer who said, “Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again.”

And when I can’t get out of the house, I’m opening my windows.

* * *

This month’s essay is a part of an on-going study of gratitude and joy, which all began with the creation of this gratitude journal. If you’d like to receive monthly stories published on Making This Home in your inbox, sign up here.

17 gift ideas for new moms

March 4th, 2016

17 gift ideas for new moms

A lot of my first months of parenting felt like a blur—but the kind gestures people extended to me didn’t go unnoticed. I know I couldn’t have survived without help. Here are a few things that people either did for me or that I would have loved to have done.

Save this list for when someone you know has a baby, so you know just what she might need.

  1. Change and wash her sheets and baby’s sheets. She probably doesn’t remember when this was last done.
  2. Hold the baby; let her take a long shower or bubble bath. Or just eat a snack or even a whole meal. Most likely, she doesn’t remember when she did these last, either!
  3. Bring her that commonly referenced frozen meal. She probably won’t even want you to put it in her freezer.
  4. Fold some laundry and get another load started. Don’t make funny faces when you come across her and her husband’s underwear in the basket.
  5. Un-decorate her Christmas tree (or whatever holiday or seasonal decor and household things she needs done. Put screens back in her windows for summer? Pull out the winter clothes?
  6. Give her this baby book. I designed this book with the busy, baby-holding mama in mind. You can fold the book flat, and jot down quick notes in response to the fun writing prompts when time is limited. The ring closures make it simple to tuck in treasured mementos.
  7. Sit down and simply visit. She’d love the company.
  8. Bring her coffee and baked goods from the bakery. She probably can’t get out of the house yet, so treat her.
  9. Bring groceries and make her lunch in her kitchen. Clean it up. And leave leftovers. She might insist you take the leftovers; ignore her. You both know she could use them.
  10. Unload and load her dishwasher. She had no idea this little task would become such a bottleneck in her life.
  11. Refill her soap dispensers. When baby came home, the family was washing their hands like crazy.
  12. Take care of the baby while she goes through bills and gets caught up. The phone company doesn’t really care if she’s just had a baby.
  13. Tell her she looks beautiful and mean it. As Megan at Sorta Crunchy pointed out, its easy to feel un-beautiful when you’ve got babies and still don’t fit into your pre-maternity clothes.
  14. Take out her trash.  Run the recyclables to the recycling center.
  15. Walk the dog. We don’t have a dog, but believe me, if we did, the poor thing would be desperate for some outside time right about now!
  16. Upload her photos to a photo printing site for her, then print a few and give them to her.
  17. Give her a hug. Look her in the eye and tell her you’re there for her.

* * *

This month’s essay is a part of an on-going study of gratitude and joy, which all began with the creation of this gratitude journal. The words here are based on a post I originally wrote for The Art of SimpleIf you’d like to receive monthly stories published on Making This Home in your inbox, sign up here.

Why “Thank You” are my favorite words

February 5th, 2016

As my new friends in Germany and I walked out of our classroom, I looked our teacher in the eye and said, “Vielen Dank!” (Thank you very much!)

“Why do you always do that?” my friend asked in broken German. “Why do you thank the teacher every day?”

why "thank you" are my favorite words

I paused … why wouldn’t I say thank you? I was a 20-something year old woman who’d just moved abroad, and that teacher was giving me the gift of a new language necessary for my immersion in Berlin. Nobody else in my class spoke English, and I certainly didn’t know any of their languages. Because of our teacher, I was making new friends, communicating with strangers, and performing everyday tasks where language was needed. Granted my German involved a lot of really awkward conjugations and arm gestures. (It still does!) But that teacher’s enthusiasm to guide my classmates and me was amazing—a treasure I’ll never forget.

“It’s her job to teach,” another friend said.

I was stunned by their perspective on gratitude. We had a lot of differences that often came down to cultural perspectives and certainly lifestyle preferences. I won’t even tell you their reaction the day I blew my nose in class!

To me, “thank you” are the most powerful and important words in our vocabulary. I’ve learned that the more gratitude we pause to celebrate, the more joyful our lives become. No one is perfect. We all struggle with worthiness. We wonder if we’re doing enough and if we’re good enough. I know I should argue that external validation shouldn’t make a difference … but it does. It matters to the person receiving it and the person expressing it. When someone pours her hearts into something—as imperfect as it may be—the gift of thanks is a wonderful treasure. We’re telling her: I see you and I appreciate you.

And by making gratitude everyday practice in our lives, we benefit, too. The ordinary moments in our lives hold all the joy. If you think about the things that make you happiest, they’re actually not the big events like your wedding day. They’re the good morning kiss or random text to say, “Hi! And we need more eggs.” When we lose those little moments, they’re what we miss most. (Here’s a perfect, beautiful example from Humans of New York.)

A gratitude practice makes you thankful for what you have, and so often, the best things are the people in our lives. I haven’t been perfect in my gratitude rituals. In fact, sometimes I’ve been the opposite of grateful. It’s easy to think we’re entitled to more and better. Maybe that’s part of being human. But I’m going to keep on trying.

My German teacher pulled me aside one afternoon. “You always say thank you to me, Katie.”

I started organizing German vocabulary in my head to explain myself, but she kept talking.

“I really appreciate it. Thank you.”

* * *

This essay is a part of an on-going study of gratitude and joy, which all began with the creation of this gratitude journal. If you’d like to receive monthly stories that are published on Making This Home in your inbox, sign up here. If you have thoughts or stories on gratitude, please share below.