The MORE/LESS approach to resolutions has always struck me as tepid. If you want something, resolve it! Declare it!
However, I think this is THE year for it. Goodbye, for now, to the “read 50 books” and the “host a friend once a month” that I had on my carefully specific list last year.
Once I set about writing mine up I realized I had many mores and only a few lesses. For the things that were under my control of 2020, I’m really happy with the year I had.
I didn’t dare to go so far as to put things like Dinner Parties on there. I didn’t want to risk disappointment that swiftly.
here’s what I came up with…
MORE cocktails: Nine years of pregnancies and breastfeeding really stymies the quest for cocktails. They just phase quietly out of your life for a long while, and you even stop being curious about them. I’m ready to be curious and try new things this year. Ivy Mix’s book Spirits of Latin America and David Leibowitz’s Drinking French look like the perfect places to start.
MORE help with cleaning: as you may have observed, we moved our family from a tiny apartment to an enormous farmhouse. My cleaning standards are extremely low, but I do like things to be cleaned every 10-14 days or so. And it’s a lot of work. Constant, necessary work. I also like to bake bread, make dinner from scratch, read aloud to my children every day, read to myself every day…you get it. So I think I’ll get some help with that this year. Not, like, for the rest of my life. But this year.
LESS judging: An unexpected side effect of the pandemic is how banally we began judging one another. They made THAT decision. She did WHAT. It takes a lot of work, this judging, and I’m not sure it’s really worth any of it.
MORE hugs: Hugs are great and I think we can still do them.
MORE tidy corners: We rented out our house over the holidays, and as a consequence I had to deep-organize more than I had in the past few months (I also had to move my entire closet to the attic but…worth it!). Many of the nooks and piles I dealt with were things I knew where they were going, I just hadn’t done it yet. Like–this goes on the shelf in that closet, but I haven’t put it there. Or–we don’t really use this but we’re saving it so I’ve just decided to stare at it for six weeks.
So I finally put things away or gave them away and I was startled by how dramatically everything visible actually looked better. Results! Quickly! Lesson learned.
LESS seeking perfection: this is a fairly cliche one and it runs off the tongue so quickly you may not realize what you’ve said you want. But what I want is to accept things in their less-than-perfect state as a way toward poking into what they are currently are. Resolved: my family is perfect. This blog post is perfect. My hair is perfect. The way I spent my day was perfect.
MORE long emails: I deleted instagram from my phone for January (and maybe February!). Within a few days, my envelope of emailing-energy had filled up. I reply to notes now, sometimes within 48hrs! And once I write a note and send it off, I have that feeling of expecting a reply. Such a fun feeling and I’d forgotten all about it.
MORE flowers in the garden: Joe and I have found that we really love growing flowers. We love looking at them and savoring them. We liked them more than most of the vegetables we grew this year. So, more flowers.
if you’d like to share some of your thoughts for this year, please do! I found it heartening/startling to see many of my private thoughts echoed in this cheerful poetry by Adam J. Kurtz, and I was thrilled to hear DesignMom is writing a parenting book.
it’s a list lover’s favorite time of year! Here are a few treasures from my 2020.
Julie O’Rourke: I was shopping with a friend (a phrase I can use to describe two hours in all of 2020) and the shopkeeper and I struck up a conversation about wool felting and how we wanted to get better at it because of Rudy Jude. “She’s always doing that,” we said to each other, nodding enthusiastically to make up for the way our smiles were covered by masks. My friend said, “Who’s Rudy Jude?” We both looked at her like she had just told us she didn’t know what rainbows are. A mixture of deep concern and regret furrowed the visible and invisible parts of our faces. And so dear reader, I worry that some among you may be similar! I once insta-responded to Julie that she was “the da Vinci of our time” and I meant it fully.
Airpods: I waited a long time to adapt to these little white plugs dripping gently from my ears like melting taffy pieces. I didn’t buy them when they came out because I was very busy judging everyone wearing them as rude isolationists who were too busy to live. Well, now I absolutely adore them. I love how I can keep one in and actually hear what I’m listening to while doing the dishes. I love how it automatically pauses when I pluck it out of my ear, so I can be a good listener without inwardly panicking that I’m missing great chunks of storyline. I love how it begins again when I place it back in my ear so I don’t have to find and tap my phone with batter-covered fingers. I love how I can listen to something while walking ever-so-slowly at a toddler’s pace around the yard and down the road. I love the way Joe and I can each put one in one of our ears and listen to something adult together on car rides with the children.
Poetry Unbound: a man with deep Irish accent reads a poem, discusses it, and reads it again. He references peacemaking, relationships, affection, sexuality, parents, neighbors, expectations of self. The poems are so good and all of them are written by modern authors who are alive. It is short and unmatched in how quick it cuts to the quick the things that drive us. One caveat: I love listening to this show with my airpods, I have a hard time catching his words when played over the speaker or in the car.
Lazy Genius: with episodes about actually using your iphone photos, how to structure your day, plotting a fall reading list, and how to begin using your instant pot without getting overwhelmed, I find these 15 minute pep talks do wonders for re-scaffolding my approach to things.
a Sunday afternoon babysitter: When we moved to Vermont two years ago, we gave up on babysitters entirely. Not only did we not know anyone in the area, but we were about to have a baby. Reflecting that she would likely be my last baby, I decide to commit to nursing her exclusively. Even tethered to her nutritionally as well as emotionally, I suspected her first year would fly by. It did! She passed the one year mark just as full quarantine set in, and naturally we had no where to go at that point anyway. Late summer, a friend suggested that a nearby neighbor would likely be able to handle babysitting our gaggle. Knowing that half the mental energy of working with her would go to schedule doggling, I asked if we could just do the same day and time every week. We decided not to bother with bedtimes because what our children desperately needed was someone else to talk to. We settled on a late afternoon early dinner time slot. I’m so thankful we got to have her in our lives this fall and winter, thank you Izzy!
An excellent email newsletter: my friend Meredith shared Laura Olin’s newsletter with me back at the tippy of the pandemic and I’m always sparkle-struck by how Laura finds and emails exactly the type of link list I was in the mood for.
Here is a totally fascinating random bit: when I googled Laura to tell you more about her newsletter, I learned that she’s an incredibly savvy digital social media manager, a primary player in the 2012 Obama campaign. I felt I knew her from her newsletters, knew her taste, her natural sympathies, knew the way she liked cocktails and poetry and internet tv shows. But I also didn’t know her at all!
Laura pointed me to AOC’s beauty routine recording that she made for Vogue. I think about it every other day or so ever since watching it. She also pointed me to the You’re Wrong About episodes about Diana and the Royal Family–which are AMAZING.
Company in the Evenings: It feels odd to admit but I do have fond (fond!) memories of those March/April pandemic days when we were all scrambling to adapt and no one really believed 300,000+ people would die and healthcare workers would be asked to sacrifice everything their entire lives and essential workers (which we soon learned meant meagerly paid hourly workers like grocery stork clerks and gas station attendants) would fall sick in droves. As our community around us quickly shuttered, we turned to distant old friends, and family. I began talking to my two old best friends from high school. We love talking to each other, but had completely fallen out of the habit of it. When we did talk, I hated that I had grown so clueless about their day-to-day lives that I had to wade through constant catchup to even begin to relate again. We began talking once a week, and I was astonished by how quickly our friendship flame grew stronger by these little bits of kindling. So grateful for that.
And then there were the two or three times when my parents shipped three bottles of wine to all their kids’ households, and we sat on zoom and “tasted them ” (downed them) together. A couple of times our conversation and themes were guided by Ryan + Wine zoom wine tastings ($25 per session!), and it was fun to learn something together. Afterward, we would stay on zoom, laugh, and talk, some of us signing off to go to sleep, some of us staying up late talking. I cherish those memories.
I’m sure, despite how awful this year was, there are more. Just now I think of the way libraries morphed to get kids books again, the thoughtful mail that came, the nostalgia of past adventures that welled up and reminded me of all the memories I had to treasure…and I will try to keep writing them down! But that’s all for now.
Dear friends, a nonprofit that I follow closely was recently presented with a startling need: 1300 Syrian refugee families living in homes with no heat, no mattresses, no blankets.
A big part of my winter life in Vermont revolves around blankets. I spend every single evening tucking our two youngest girls under blankets–draping the blanket just over that invisible line across their shoulders, straightening the lines, running the tips of my fingers over the folds. We have plug-in heated blankets piled on couches, waiting for someone to snuggle under them. The girls have large bedspread blankets that they consider their favorites and often drag downstairs to setup the boundaries of a game, or their space for an afternoon. And then there is the three layer cake approach that I like to keep on our bed: a lightweight quilt, then a wool blanket layer, and then a fluffy down comforter layer on top.
This nonprofit, Partners Relief & Development, is one of those small-team, rapid-action, quick to the disaster operators. I always have the feeling that once my money is deposited with them it is immediately withdrawn to purchase a bag of food or give a reusable feminine hygiene kit to a woman anticipating her next period that very day.
By their estimate, $35 will buy enough blankets and mattresses for one family of five. And another $35 can buy a diesel heater to heat their space. The temperatures where these families are in Northern Syria is very similar to Vermont right now: 30s and 40s.
This photo was taken by my friend Ashleigh Coleman. I have an Advent meditation and series of photographs by her to share with you below. She and I want to direct energies toward getting these families supplies to keep them warm. The sooner, the warmer! To that end, Ashleigh will send a 5×5 print of this photograph^^ to anyone who donates to Partners Relief’s blankets campaign.
To receive a photograph in the mail, email a screenshot of your donation (you’ll receive an email receipt shortly after you donate) and include your mailing address to me at rachael.ringenberg(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Or, if you have a google account, upload a screenshot of your donation and share your mailing address with me right here. For the sake of matriarchal holiday sanity and to give the USPS any break we can, these prints will be mailed in January. If you don’t need a print, but would like to have your donation noted in our collective whole, you are still welcome to share your donation receipt with us.
And now, for Ashleigh’s mediation on Mississippi monarchs and Advent, accompanied by 17 images from her lockdown this spring:
This is not your typical advent reflection. This is not our typical year.
Anticipation and waiting mark this season. But every day since March has been a practice in waiting for answers, in anticipating life returning to normal. So maybe this is a traditional reflection, but instead of holly and lights, I’m meditating on raising Monarchs.
During March and lockdown, we began walking almost daily. It gave us a combination of burning off anxiety for me and freeing energy for the children. It also unexpectedly became a tether to hope. These encounters with the wonders of the natural world reminded me to holdfast to what I know is true and good.
One late afternoon, the sun low on the horizon, we saw a lone monarch lilting across the top of the meadow grasses. Having visited Rachael and Joe the previous summer and seeing their monarchs, I immediately looked more closely at what was growing.
Milkweed. And 100s of tiny monarch caterpillars munching, unaware of the global disruptions. Thus began seven weeks of raising monarchs from microscopic eggs to instars to velvety fat caterpillars to shockingly colored butterflies on their way north.
It had been years since I was so obsessed. Each morning brought a new note in my journal on the changes in these miraculous insects. I prowled the fields. I watched. I waited. I squealed with delight when a chrysalis would form and then again when a monarch would emerge fourteen days later.
Now I keep the chrysalis husks hanging in my dining room— an ebenezer of anticipation. Waiting. Wonder.
Ashleigh Coleman is a Mississippi based photographer, and mother of three. Most recently her work has been featured in A Yellow Rose Project (click that link, it’s an incredible project!) and she was recently named a 2020 Southern Arts Southern Prize & Fellowship recipient.
I asked Nikaela Peters and Ashleigh Coleman if they would share photos of Advent here in December. I meant it as a ropey, generous, large theme: photos that make you think of Advent. They graciously agreed, and today I have Nikaela’s to share with you. Quietly personal but effusively in-love is how I think of Nikaela’s photography. (There are a few by her husband Thom here too.) The photography she shares on her blog often feature great blessing shafts of light, but these Advent photos are different, basking instead in the darkness, semi-darkness, and glowing dim that this season is for most of us in the North.
She shared these photos and then I wrote some thoughts to go alongside them, below. Thank you Nikaela! and I hope you all enjoy.
Our Thanksgiving was a lonely one and this time is terrible and I can’t wait, my children can’t wait, until we’re back to not having overflowing hospitals and exhausted nurses. I’m following the vaccine news a bit and I feel optimistic about April (my birthday month!).
And I’m including a photo of our graham cracker houses from last year but Joe built these, I did not. I made the royal icing, which was really fun to make with dangerous egg whites, but I did not cut graham crackers precisely, with an exacto knife. Just so you know.
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones was given to me when I was pregnant with our first daughter. I have read it aloud to all of the girls through the years, but perhaps more importantly, I’ve played the audiobook for on repeat over the years. The audiobook is wonderful. The cds are often included in the purchase of this illustrated Bible (look for “with CDs” in the listing). The storytelling approach and enthusiasm in this retelling is the best.
Finally the topic I have been waiting for Joanie to tackle: denim! And not just because almost all of my jeans have big knee holes right now (checks Joanie’s notes: I guess I’ve been washing them too much). Denim trends are mysterious and unexpected, but as a category they are one of my favorite types of clothing. I learned a lot reading her thoughts and dared to imagine wearing a few different cuts, I hope you enjoy!
The long awaited and hotly debated topic, denim!
Denim is a very personal style choice. So take all my picks with a grain of salt and try them for yourself. Denim trends can shift dramatically, high to low rise, skinny jeans to wide leg, cropped, flare, baggy, tight, etc but it’s my personal belief that if you find a pair of jeans you love, you should wear them forever regardless of style. That doesn’t mean you should not try other styles, I think you should push your limits!
But it does mean that you can feel free to wear what you like regardless of trend. I know a friend who has been wearing flares for the last 10 years because they look good on her and they fit her personal style, despite skinny jeans being the required denim for 6+ years.
I also want to encourage you to get your denim altered, and not just the hem. I bought a pair of vintage Levis’ five years ago for $95. I had them slightly tapered and taken in at the thigh by a half inch, it cost me about $50 and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve worn those jeans 1,000 x because they fit me like a glove. Denim is designed to last you for years, so take the time to get them altered exactly as you want them. If you’re getting them hemmed: I would highly suggest asking them to keep the original hem. It’s not always possible based on how much length you’re getting taken off, but it makes a big difference in how they look. The original hem has distressing and thread that is hard to duplicate.
A note on cropping, if you’re buying a pair of cropped jeans, more than likely you’ll need to get them altered because they are probably designed for someone 5’ 8” +. Cropped pants should hit above the ankle bone, showing that bone creates a very flattering line that you won’t be able to get if the pant covers your ankle. This small adjustment makes all the difference. You might try on a cropped pair of pants and they feel all wrong, tuck the hem in a couple of inches and the pant should look much chicer. And if you’re cropping them, you’ll also want to taper them slightly to maintain the original design.
I know denim with stretch is all the rage and I like it too. But, there is a case to be made for 100% cotton denim, they will feel stiff at first but once they’re broken in they will mold to your body and they will last forever. They also hold their shape beautifully. There is a reason that Levi’s from the 70’s still look great.
A note about washing, don’t over wash your denim! I rarely wash mine, especially darker colored ones, they wear much faster with lots of washing. Spot treat them and hang them up if they need to air out.
P.S. If you’re wanting that classic vintage Levi Mom jean look and you’re shopping vintage look for 501’s. Look at the color of the denim and make sure that’s what you want, the rest can be altered but the fading/color can’t be changed.
P.P.S. I link to Shopbop several times because they have fast and free shipping and very easy returns! If you’re a prime member they give you free two day shipping.
And a way we go!
a. I own these jeans and I really, really like them. I wasn’t sold at first but they have become a favorite. They have several great washes and even a couple with holes in them, if that’s your thing. I am personally not a fan of buying denim with holes in them. The holes end up landing in strange places and they don’t look natural. But that’s a personal preference. They will stretch, for sizing if you want them to be snug order your normal size, I ordered one size up for a relaxed fit and can wear them comfortably all day.
b. Hate the name but love the fit on these Levi Wedgie jeans. They’re high waisted, thick fabric and hold their shape really well. I would order your normal size and one size up. They will give slightly with wear.
c. AGOLDE denim deserves a mention for many of their styles. If you haven’t checked them out, I encourage you to do so. The have the Riley crop and they come in several colors, but the “Air Blue” gives you the most classic denim look. The Nico style is the one to pick if you want a classic skinny jean style.
e. B Sides
d. Here is a great wide leg option if you want to test the waters but don’t want anything too wide or dramatic. I like the idea of getting them in black and pairing them with a fun high shoe for going out (when we can do that again). I like the look of dark denim with a fancy cropped sweater of jacket for evening.
e. I’ve been a big fan of B Sides Jeans for years. They are a Brooklyn based company that makes one of a kind pairs with vintage denim and several years ago they launched their own line. The are going to be a bit on the trendy side but the quality of the denim is top notch. I find their jeans to run a bit small, so if you’re in-between, I’d order up. I like their Plein jean for a year-round white/cream denim option. Would be very chic in the winter with a black turtleneck and a big belt. Their jeans often say “sold out” but put your email down to be notified as they do restocks.
f. Order these before they sell out! I bough a pair of these last summer and they are a go-to for me and sell out quickly. They have a similar feeling to the wildly expensive Jesse Kamm pant. They are so comfortable and flattering and look great worn styled many ways. They are long but I took my kitchen scissors and cut them to the length I wanted, no need to pay to have them altered. They run slightly big. I ordered my true size, 4, which fits well but I could have done a 2 for a more fitted look.
g. Citizens of Humanity
i. Madewell skinny
g. The only time I’ve ever stopped a woman on the street to ask her what denim she was wearing was with the Citizen of Humanity Charlotte jean. These have a slight vintage look but feel very modern and incredibly chic. They are expensive but the quality is great and they should last you years of almost daily wear. I like the gray color as it’s unexpected but they come in a variety of washes and I also love this classic look.
h. A cute boyfriend jean option, Size down one or two sizes and if you’re on the shorter side expect to get them altered or wear them with a big cuff. Boyfriend jeans are supposed to be casual, oversized and relaxed so don’t stress over the fit too much. Pair them with a fitted top or a cropped sweater.
i. Rounding out this round up with a pair of can’t-go-wrong-skinny-jeans from Madewell. I personally love the 10” rise, it sits above the hip bone, which I like. I’ve owned these jeans for 5+ years and still wear them regularly. You won’t regret them! They come in three lengths which is very helpful.
Pictured above, a few Advent calendars I noticed this year. Number 6 is a link to Walmart, highly irregular! But it is a Spanish chocolatier and I was so taken with the illustration with brown-skinned people (unfortunately rare in American nativity illustrations). It’s hard to see clearly in the photo, but Walmart is the only online retailer I found carrying it in the United States. And yes, the Vosges one is $145 but yes they are one of American’s finest chocolatiers. And female-owned!
I have such affection for Advent Calendars. I love looking up all the options, in particular the ones with edible gifts, or useful ones like pencils or paperclips, or ones with just bits of paper.
(By the way, I’ve never seen the Present and Correct paperclip calendar available, it must sell out November 1st, but I take such joy from their web shop anyway.)
I mentioned in my homeschool newsletter last week that Wednesdays are peak-energy days for us. From the earliest crest of morning I am loading up the car with all sorts of things for the class I teach, reminding the girls not to forget their things, changing Esme into new, post-breakfast clothes and for once washing her face well, packing a group lunch and separate snacks, jumping into the car with my coffee half drank and chilled (but preciously, preciously saved for the drive). The day carries on in this way like a merry rattling wooden cart driving through a parade until we pull back in to our drive around 5pm and spill out, papers and crafts asunder, into Joe’s arms.
At which point I am ravenously hungry, tired, proud, and socially spent, already eager for 7am the next day when I won’t be getting out of bed.
In acknowledgment of the vortex of Wednesday, I’ve been treating myself (the cook) and us (the collective household) by making its dinner the night before. I make it alongside whatever I’m making Tuesday night. It’s twice the dishes, twice the sizzling pans on the stove, and often feels it, but then two dinners are done.
I’ve been making: Dorie Greenspan’s mediterranean shepherd’s pie.
My friend Rachel is the only person I know who has lived the capsule wardrobe philosophy for years. She wears simple colors in gorgeous trendy silhouettes and mixes them with one or two bottoms. She buys higher-end items and resells them while they are still in excellent condition for their next owner. Before I met her, I honestly didn’t believe that there were people who actually pulled that off.
She has also worked remotely for over eight years and is one of the few women that I know who does her work each day, and then logs off. No guilt, no second-guessing the day. I so admire this!
This September we were in Maine together and she had already started wearing turtlenecks (whilst remote working on the porch, with a glass of lunch wine). I realized this might be my window into the clean lines of the capsule mind. She agreed to share her favorites! Here they are…
Turtlenecks have sustained the test of time. My mom recently sent me my kindergarten school picture. Guess what I was wearing? A turtleneck! Guess what I am wearing right now? A turtleneck! Between the months of October through April, you will find me in a turtleneck. Now that I think of it I wear mock-neck tanks in the summer. Something about the cut feels sophisticated, chic, and slimming (because I can easily cover my double chin!)
Growing up in Southern California, I would seize every opportunity I could to wear a turtleneck during “winter” (78 degrees in the dead of January), but when I moved to New York City turtlenecks became a necessity. 7 years later I’m writing blog posts about them. What is life!
This post will mostly be a highlight reel of my favorite turtlenecks, places to find quality turtlenecks and the best material to look for when purchasing your own sacred turtleneck. I also want to highlight how available some of these more expensive pieces are secondhand. I have bought the majority of my higher quality cashmere and wool winter staples from Poshmark + Noihsaf Bazaar. The beauty of buying high quality pieces is that you can resell them listed as “worn once” when really they were worn 150 times… but who could ever tell! I have a capsule wardrobe so I cycle through 15 pieces of clothing per season, so buying quality fabrics is important to me and my closet that is only 2 feet wide.
The last thing that I think is very important to note is that turtlenecks can also double as a mask. Two birds, one turtleneck!
I’ve been checking travel guides out of the library. I love the thorough, encyclopedic nature of them. I love the way you can flip around, end up in a new Arizona city, and to read it about for a paragraph. I love the way I can read a concise page when I catch a few moments on the couch by myself.
I love the bright blue boxes offset from the rest of the text, summarizing a deeper topic. I love the way guidebooks feel parental, like shepherds. Concerned, but chipper.