My Thoughts on Christmas Letters, Alumni Magazines and My Tendency to Compare Myself (oh, and My New Year's Letter)

Photo cards from friends and family hang in our entry where we see them often.
I love getting Christmas cards and Christmas letters in the mail. It's so fun to get mail that you can actually hold in your hand and photos that you don't have to download. I enjoy seeing the photo cards, how big the kids have grown, how hair styles have changed, and telling my kids about the people in the pictures. I like sitting down with a cup of coffee, usually after Christmas has past, and re-reading (slower this time) the letters from old friends.

But if I'm honest, sometimes I wonder about the whole Christmas letter tradition. Trying to get a letter out on top of all the other Christmas activities seems to be a little much, which is probably why I haven't written a letter in a while. And I like getting the letters, I really do, but -- is it only me? -- I begin to think that our family is the only family that has any problems because everyone's letters are very impressive... Their kids are geniuses! superstars! supermodels! the next Mother Teresa or Billy Graham! They went to exotic places for vacation! They built their dream house! They got their dream job! They own their dream job!

I read these impressive letters and I am happy for them. Really, I am. But sometimes I get a little bit jealous. I admit it. It's the same reason that I throw away my college's Alumni Magazine without even reading it. I just don't want to read it and feel like I have wasted my education or feel like I haven't done anything with my life. I am fairly certain that I am not what they want to hold up as an example to high school recruits and potential donors. I know that I have "done something with my life" and haven't "wasted my education," but it's what I struggle with when all I see are success stories as the world, and my alma mater, defines them.

Comparing. It's so easy to do. If I want authenticity in my relationships, I need to let others be honest about their successes as well as their failures. I want to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Without comparing myself to them.

I want to let others be successful without thinking I am a failure in comparison.

There. I said it. Sometimes I feel like a failure when others are successful. Sometimes it's hard to see how well people are doing when you don't feel like you are doing very well yourself. That's usually when I have to battle my inner condemner and get centered. This isn't something I'm proud of. I'm just being honest about something I struggle with.

I'm also fairly certain -- because I am somewhat aware of how we human beings work -- that behind every success story there is some amount of pain. And while it is acceptable to share the success stories in Alumni Magazines and Christmas Letters, it's not as socially acceptable to share the pain. It's vulnerable. And mass mailings are not always safe.

So, even as I hear my condemner telling me that they have what I want, my centered self reminds me to be thankful for what I have. Because I really do have a lot to be thankful for. Besides, the world's definition of success is not what I seek. Not really. And because of that, I can truly rejoice with those who rejoice without comparing myself and feeling like a failure. When my focus is on God, not my impressiveness (or lack thereof), I am able to be centered and authentic.

This reminds me of when Jesus told Peter how Peter would die and Peter looked at John and asked, "what about him?" Even Peter was prone to compare himself with others. In response, Jesus said, "if I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (John 21)

I can't compare myself to anyone. Not other alumni. Not artists, authors or bloggers. Not even my own family. If God wants them to remain until Jesus comes - or be super successful while I am super average -what is that to me? I just need to follow Jesus.

We haven't sent out a Christmas letter for a very long time.
I thought I'd write one, but then it became a New Year's letter. :)
This one is not going out in the mail with a Christmas stamp... It's for those of you who visit me here.
(I'd love it if you left a comment so that I know who you are.)

New Year's Eve, 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

I can't believe how fast 2012 came and went. I say that every year. Why is is so hard to believe?

John, Kaitlin and Sarah keep growing. I can't stop them. I wish I could because they keep growing out of their clothes and shoes, which is not good for our budget. (Although Kaitlin and I can now share clothes, so I don't have to buy clothes for myself anymore. I just need to make sure that I buy her clothes that I like...!) As of this writing, John is just a fraction of an inch shorter than I am. Not for long. And Sarah, my baby!, will soon be out of children's sizes.

The kids are doing well in school, all of them getting very good grades. They keep us busy running to and from different sports practices and games. John plays football (quarterback/safety), baseball (shortstop/pitcher) and Minecraft. Kaitlin plays volleyball (she aspires to get a scholarship at a school in Southern California!), Facetime and KROC. And Sarah plays softball, basketball, soccer and Moshi Monsters.

They are all showing a knack for creativity, too, which makes me happy. John has discovered a talent for photography and videography. Kaitlin loves all sorts of design, from fashion to interior to makeup and hair. Sarah is a talented artist as well as a creative writer. Her drawings decorate our house.

I really enjoy the ages that the kids are now. It's fun having middle schoolers in the house. I love laughing with our kids. They all have such a great sense of humor. I love talking to them about their (and our) issues. They all seem to tolerate each other pretty well. Although they can do the sibling rivalry thing pretty well, too.

JD continues to be the area director for FCA. He's seen much growth in the ministry and in the individuals he works with. Ministry can be tough because of the spiritual warfare. It takes a toll. You see some people come to Christ, others fall away.  It's sad when seeds fall on hard ground or when people get sucked away with busyness or love of things that won’t satisfy. Leadership can be lonely and challenging.  We are seeking God’s direction and clear vision. We trust Him for provision and guidance.

I'm working at a low income elderly apartment complex as property manager. It's not something that I ever saw myself doing (I always wanted to be at home with the kids and doing something creative), but I am thankful for the job. It's a way that God is providing for us. And I do enjoy being able to work with the elderly tenants there, honoring them.

Sometimes my heart aches over not being home when my kids get home from school - and honestly I was mad at God about it for a while. I am thankful, though, for the years that I was able to be at home with them and in ministry with my husband. Things don't look like what I thought I wanted them to look like. They rarely ever do. I'm learning to embrace things the way they are, even if they are not the way I wanted them to be.

JD and I celebrated our 18 year anniversary this past summer. We are so grateful for God's grace in our marriage and to our family. We feel like newlyweds in many ways as we learn to love each other better.

We've found a great church that we've been attending for over a year now. It is a church plant, so it began very small but is growing steadily. We like it because we feel like we have finally found a place here where we can be "real" without fear. The kids like it too, which is huge. So glad for that. For a place where we can grow and learn and enjoy and be real.

As 2012 draws to a close, I think about the beginning of 2012, when we prayed for a year of Jubilee. We wanted a jubilee, we needed a season of rejoicing. We prayed for a certain relief and release, but it did not come to pass in 2012. Still, we can look back on 2012 and rejoice in what God has done in our own hearts and minds. 2012 was a Jubilee year in our hearts.

I wish you a wonderful 2013.

Anne B.


<< my week in review: 12/21-27

"I'm gonna need that back."

I went to the doctor last Friday for a med check and the doctor told me that I am pre-diabetic and have high cholesterol.
"But," he said, "your bad cholesterol is low and your good cholesterol is high."
So I guess that's a good high cholesterol?

I also ended up needing a couple punch biopsies on some moles on my back that he didn't like.
While he was punching my moles, he said that I should tell my kids that 
I couldn't wash the dishes due to the biopsies.
I said, "can you write a prescription for that?!"
So he did.

I hung it on the refrigerator as soon as I got home.
JD said that as long as I did the third thing the doctor prescribed, he would make sure I received the first two things prescribed.

I like my new houseshoes.
And I also like letting Reggie lick the pan.
He thinks I'm giving him a treat, but really I'm letting him do the scrubbing.

Kaitlin and her friends like to give each other Sharpie tattoos.
I figure there could be worse things.

I scored big time when I found out that I had Discover Cash Back money at Amazon's checkout.
It was like free Christmas gifts! (...that we've been paying interest towards...)

However, I learned to check the weather before ordering gifts in the mail.
Never order gifts with a snow storm in the forecast.
It could change your 2 day shipping into "I hope it comes in time for Christmas."
The gifts arrived on Christmas Eve.
Phew! That was close.

Sarah is ready for the Christmas Eve celebration,
plucking out Joy to the World with her doll by her side.

Pomanders and puzzles on Christmas Eve.

Can you see the happy pomander?

And now, as promised, 
here's John making some musical noises (for real):

Did you notice the GrippIt hanging from the chandelier?
It shows up in various places throughout the house.

Oma, Opa and Aunt Betty came over for Christmas Eve dinner & presents.

Christmas Eve meal = Cheese Fondue.

Cheese Fondue = so much better than lutefisk, which I grew up having on Christmas Eve.
(If you don't know what lutefisk is... it's white fish soaked in lye that, when served, resembles fish jello.)

My Three Kids.

Pom pom packages.
I ran out of ribbon, so I made due with some yarn.
I didn't label who this package was to, but Kaitlin knew it was for her because of the zebra salt dough star.

I had plenty of left over salt dough stars from the Birthday Party for Jesus.
They made good gift tags.

Christmas memories I want to remember but didn't get photos of:

John.... unwrapping his very large present from Aunt Bethany....
....he pulls out the items in the large box surrounding the smaller box inside...
.... bags of popcorn... John looks amused.... 
Bethany says, "yeah, um, I'm gonna need those back...."
.... glue sticks for a glue gun... John holds them up questioningly.... 
"I'm gonna need those back, too," says Bethany....
.... wooden frames from IKEA... Bethany says, "Oh, I forgot about those...."
.... John says, "you can't have these back..."
.... the smaller boxes inside of each other, wrapped with more tape than paper.... 
.... containing a very small gift the size of his iPhone.... an OSU cover, just what he wanted.

Opa... unwrapping the present wrapped by Kaitlin...
.... wrapped in contact paper... without the backing.... stuck to the present...
....laughing so hard... "Did you do that on purpose Kaitlin?...."
....."No! I didn't know! It was in with the wrapping paper!...."

John... giving a play by play while unwrapping his gifts....
.... "This one is a small rectangular box, wrapped with red and white paper...."

...everyone's Ohio State University gifts from John...
 .... including matching wine glasses with the OSU logo for Oma and Opa....
.... which were really difficult to unwrap from the bubble wrap....

Christmas morning Reggie got a rawhide candy cane.
(And the bowl of sugar that Sarah left out for the reindeer.)

We used to have Christmas candlelight breakfasts,
back when we lived in Europe, 
where the sun rose later in the morning than it does at our current latitude.
Now we have Christmas candlelight dinners because some of us don't like to wake up when it's still dark.

On Christmas day Sarah helped me draw the name for the giveaway I did last week.
I wrote down the names on a sheet of paper, 
cut them up and put them in Sarah's new monster hat from Oma.
Then Sarah picked the winner:

That was so fun!
I might just have to make giving away some of my favorite things a regular thing.

And you know what was serendipitous?
I didn't know it yet,
but the same day I contacted Amy of Bubbles by Brooks to see if she would be willing to donate a gift in exchange for some likes on her Facebook page,
she had drawn my name as a winner of some soap in a giveaway she was doing!

I got my soaps in the mail this week.
Oh my goodness! 
My skin and my nose are so happy!

Have a wonderful week as you say goodbye to 2012 and welcome 2013!

I'm @annebickle on Instagram.
Linking up with Jeannett at Life Rearranged.

life rearranged


<< my week in review: 12/14-20

Good clean fun.

I'm not a hat person.
But if you need to run errands and you haven't done your hair, hats are useful.

Talking with my honey over warm drinks. So cozy.

The girls and Oma and I went up to the cities to the American Swedish Institute.
I hadn't been there since they added the new Nelson Cultural Center.

I was kinda sad that we couldn't go into the mansion anymore.
We used to get in without paying because we'd just go into the store and coffee shop.
Yet still, we'd get to see the beautiful and ornate details of the mansion as we were shopping.
The Nelson Cultural Center is nice, though.
Exhibiting more of the modern Scandinavian sensibility.

We went there to meet my mom's sister and my cousins and kids for our annual 
Nelson Girls Christmas Get Together.
My mom's side of the family is big into our Swedish heritage.

I may have salivated a little bit over some of the Swedish stuff.
Both the modern and the more traditional, though I seem to have only taken photos of the Christmas nic-nacs.
I look at them, then look a the price, and then I say to myself, "I could make that."

We hadn't been in the gift shop for two minutes when my daughters asked when we were leaving.
I felt for my cousin-in-law who was corralling three littles, more energetic than mine.
Whoever decided on having our get together in a gift shop and museum hasn't had littles for a long time, I think.

So we changed our plans and went to my cousin's house.
It was much more family friendly.

My cousin took out her lefse for our spontaneous get together at her house.
Kaitlin buttered and sugared it just right.

Kaitlin said, of the get together change of plans, "that was pretty crazy."
And I said, "yeah, that was pretty typical, actually."
You gotta just go with the flow when you're at a Nelson get together.

And always have lefse ready to pull out at a moment's notice.

As long as we were in Minneapolis we had to go to this place.
 It's like a beacon in the foggy, rainy night calling to us to come in and buy candles and napkins.
You can never have too many candles or napkins.

John's been collecting pennies.
On Saturday he started building the Lincoln Monument out of pennies, but went to bed before he was done.
He left this note:

Don't touch ->
<- Don't take
(God is watching)

Unfortunately he built the Lincoln Memorial on our kitchen table and we were having our small group over on Sunday night.

After the cookie decorating, we went caroling.
It was interesting to see our neighbors' responses to our caroling.
One generation loved it, they sang along.
Another generation appreciated it, they listened with smiles.
And another generation avoided it, they peeked out the window then ran away. 

Jesus is my hope.

A lot has been said and written about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.
I don't believe I can do my feelings and emotions justice by trying to write a post about it.
Just.... my soul cries. 
For the children. For the families. For our nation. For humanity.

When I talked with Sarah about it, 
I asked her if she had any questions or concerns that she'd like to talk about.
She said, "yes, I'm concerned that Satan could take control of someone and make him do that to kids. That's scary."

So, I will say this:
As long as we are on earth there will be evil. (1 Jn 5:19)
And evil is scary.
But "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 Jn 4:4)
If we have Jesus in us, we have hope.

Thank goodness for the cross, for Jesus' death and resurrection, 
for his victory over sin and ultimately his victory over Satan. (1 Cor. 15:50-57)

This world is not our home. (Phil. 3:20)
One day there will be no more tears. (Rev. 21:4)
It's all right there in the bible, we know how it ends (Rev. 20:10)

That gives me hope.

Driving home in the dark is a bummer.
But it lifts my spirits to see the Christmas lights.

I told my kids one night how I really wanted them to turn on the Christmas lights before I got home from work.
Because I want to see them lit up when I drive up the street to our house. It just makes me happy.
"Make your mama happy," I pleaded somewhat jokingly, somewhat desperately.

After that, my husband and kids have made it a point to have the lights on for me when I get home.
It makes me feel loved when I turn the corner and see those lights on.

And this! 
O my GOODness!
I came home from work on Monday and the table was set! 
With napkins!
And Kaitlin was cutting potatoes to mash!
That made me feel so loved too.

This is me, naturally.
On this particular day I didn't have much time to get ready, so I just dried my hair curly.
Except that I when it's curly, it feels more like messy to me.
So then I round brush it out which takes even more time.
(Not to mention the time I took to get a picture of it...)
Every time I get my hair cut, the ladies tell me how great my curl is. 
And, I'm sure it is. I just don't know how to style it.

That's me without makeup too.
I kind of feel at a loss when teaching my girls about beauty because I don't really know how to do the whole hair-styling and makeup thing. 
I just wing it, really, and hope it's okay.
But one thing that I hope that they get from me is that they do not need makeup to be beautiful.
Sometimes I go out in public without makeup just to let them see me do it. 
Confidence is beautiful and you don't need makeup to be confident.
But it does help me to look not so tired.

Our Christmas cards came in the mail this week, so I'm spending my evenings addressing envelopes.
We have 150 cards to send out, but I still want to address them by hand.
(Maybe they should have been New Year's Cards.)
I love handcrafted artisan soap.
Not only does it look nice and smell good, but it's also really good for your skin.
I'm giving away a box of my favorite soapmaker's best sellers!
It's good, clean fun!
Be sure you do!
The odds are in your favor since I don't have a lot of readers. 
I'm @annebickle on Instagram.
life rearranged


My Favorite Thing: Bubbles by Brooks Giveaway!

I am so excited about this post I can't even contain myself. Here's why: I have a giveaway for you!

It's Christmas time I love giving gifts + a super product that I use daily = a gift for one lucky reader of mine!

I have a thing for soap. 

For handcrafted natural soap specifically. It's so much better for your skin than commercial soap. Commercial soaps (let's just call them detergents, because that really is what they are) use chemicals and alcohols that strip the skin of it's natural oils and leave it dry and itchy. That's why you need to slather your skin with lotion. 

Did you know that commercial soap/detergent makers remove large amounts of the glycerin, which is a byproduct of the soap making process and is a natural moisturizer, then use the glycerin to make other beauty products such as lotions? So, basically, they take the moisturizer out of the soap so that they can sell you soap and moisturizer, two products instead of one.
I discovered Bubbles by Brooksartisan soap when we moved to Rochester in 2007 and have been using it ever since. My favorite fragrance is Minnesota Lady Slipper. And Wildflowers. And Almond Milk. Actually, I love them all.

Bubbles by Brooks is a small, local family business and I like supporting family businesses. In fact, I think it's very important to support small business. One of the benefits to buying small is the quality of the product and the service you get. It can't be beat. 

Besides the artisan body soap, I've been using the Head to Toe shampoo bar instead of traditional shampoo for over a year, now. I love it. How do I love it? Let me count the ways: 

  1. One Head to Toe shampoo bar lasts as long as a 24-oz. bottle of most shampoos.
  2. I don't need conditioner anymore because it doesn't strip my hair of it's natural oils.
  3. It's saving me money to not have to buy both shampoo and conditioner.
  4. It lathers up so nicely that I feel a little bit decadent while I'm using it.
  5. It smells great! 
  6. It's not packaged in plastic bottles, so I am being eco-friendly, which is important to me.
  7. It's all natural ingredients are great for my hair. (My hairdresser tells me my hair is really healthy. I smile when I think of the expensive salon shampoos they try to sell me. If she only knew how little I spend to have my hair be so healthy!)
  8. It's easy to travel with.
I discovered the Shaving Soap when I thought I was going to teach my daughter how to shave her legs on our Mother/Daughter weekend. It turns out she had already shaved her legs. So I kept the soap for myself! It's so amazingly moisturizing I wanted it all for myself.

All this is to say, I use the product in this giveaway and I love it. And I want you to try it and love it too. 

You can get natural handcrafted soaps from lots of places, of course. But Bubbles by Brooks soap is pretty special. I fell in love with the soap first, but then I met Amy Brooks a couple years ago at an art fair and I fell in love with her while we talked at her booth. I want her to be successful.

She is a cancer survivor, you know. She had Leukemia and the treatments left her skin in terrible condition. She noticed that a handcrafted soap someone had given her was actually helping her skin more than the lotions that her doctors had recommended for her skin. That's how her passion for soap making was born. (Her skin looks great today, by the way.) A portion of all her profits from all her products is donated to The Mayo Clinic's Cancer Research, non-animal testing. How awesome is that?!

I contacted her about this giveaway and she was happy to help me with putting together a gift for one of my readers. She doesn't really even know me, but she is willing to do this for you. Isn't she just the best?

Here's the gift she put together for you. It's the BB Sampler, all their top sellers in a to-go box. It contains:
  • 1 guest soap bar
  • 1 guest head-to-toe soap bar
  • 1 soothing lip balm
  • 1 bath sea salt crystal sample
  • 1 women's shavings soap sample
  • 1 ounce solid lotion
  • 1 herbal bath tea
(Sample soaps weigh 1.3 ounces each)

Here's how to enter to have a chance to win the BB Sampler, a $15.00 value:

Do both of these things, then leave me a comment on this post letting me know that you did.
  1. Like Bubbles by Brooks on Facebook.
  2. Like Anne B. Good on Facebook.
I will announce the winner on Christmas Day, my gift to you.

Merry Christmas, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

UPDATE: Congratulations Stephanie Rawlins, whose comment got lost, but not forgotten...!


<< my week in review: 12/7-13

It's beginning to look a lot like December.

Santa and I went for a spin.
He rode shotgun.

I found this Santa in the back room at work.
No one wanted to claim him,
so I thought it would be pretty funny to bring him home 
and see what my family would do when they saw him in front of our house.
See, we're the family who drives around to look at Christmas lights and when we see 
a yard full of plastic light up Santas and what-nots, 
my kids call it the "scary" house.
I laughed out loud thinking about JD's reaction when he would come home to see a three foot lit up plastic Santa on our front porch.

JD didn't even notice the Santa!
"Did you see the Santa out front?," I eagerly asked him.
"No," he said slowly, cautiously.
"What!" I said in disbelief. "How could you not have?" 
Because it glows! Like Rudolph's nose!
I took him by the hand to the front door window to show him what I had put there.
He just laughed and shook his head. 
"Oh Anne," he said.
"It's vintage!" I assured him.
As if that made it okay.

The "Year End Ask."
When you raise funds, it's a necessary evil.
And yet... it's not really evil if you believe that there is blessing in giving.
It's not evil if it's how God provides.
What is evil is the fear that people will not like to be asked or that God will not provide.
The Year End Ask is kind of an emotional thing to have to do.
A humbling thing.

So many names on there that bring so many thoughts to mind.
So thankful for those who have been faithful supporters for so many years.
I thank God for them as I stick the labels on the envelopes.

[bonus feature:]

I'm a beast at mailings.

I have a little system to make it go faster.
It involves configuring the items to be assembled in a way that uses the least amount of energy.
I've had many years to develop this system.
I've been doing mass mailings since 1986 when my parents became missionaries 
and assembling their newsletter mailings was a family night activity.

I actually enjoy the whole process.
There is great reward in seeing a pile of completed envelopes ready to be mailed.
At one time I thought I would start my own newsletter mailing business...
but I am not a beast at entrepreneurship.

[end bonus feature]

Guess what we are talking about at church?

It finally came. 
The long awaited first snow.

This is only a theory based on my own opinion and no scientific data, but
I think that snow's prettiness has to do with where it falls in relation to Christmas:

snow in October = kinda pretty, only because it's the first snow & the holidays are coming.
snow in December = very pretty, everyone sing: "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." 
snow in January = pretty tired of snow, there's no use for it now that Christmas is over, let's move on.
snow in March = pretty depressing actually, I am so done with snow. Ugh.
snow in April = pretty much "why did we choose to move back to Minnesota?"

Still the first snow is pretty, whenever it comes 
and this one came in December, which is a little late, but Hey! I'm not complaining.

So now it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. 

I love the snow on the tree branches lining our street.

Sarah wanted to get right out there and shovel.
Look at her.
The shovel is as big as she is.

When she and John were done shoveling, I looked out and saw Sarah building something in the snow.
It occurred to me that I don't know if I've ever made a snow man with her.
So, even though we had company coming and my house needed to be cleaned,
I went out to make a snowman with her.
Totally more important than cleaning my house for guests.
But she said she didn't want to make a snow man because they were building forts on opposite sides of the driveway for a snowball fight.
Obviously I helped Sarah build her fort and then lobbed a few snowballs in John's direction.
My guests didn't even know that I didn't dust.
It really is not smart
to go against a 
baseball pitcher 
in a snowball fight
if you throw like a girl.

And finally, I caught my son singing while he did the dishes.
Actually, I don't know if I'd call it singing. It was more like making musical noises.

Except that wasn't the video of him making the musical noises.
 I accidentally deleted it.
That's the video of him after he found out that I was videotaping him singing.

I'm @annebickle on Instagram.

life rearranged


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