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Joel’s Mug

This is my brother’s mug. He used it every day at work.

Until a year ago.

Now it sits on my nightstand.

The drops of coffee that have dried on the rim seem recent. It makes him seem close.

What will those drops look like in another year? Will they still be the same? Will I?

Joel is frozen in time. He left the earth at 25, so 25 he’ll remain.

I’ll be 25 this year.

This is where we meet, briefly. Then I’ll pass by. Older than my big brother ever was.

In pictures his youth will be preserved, but in my mind he will age with me. I’ll look to him for advice, for his experience, for his responsibility, for his humor… like always. But he’ll have to teach me through cloudy memories, tainted by the knowledge that he wasn’t telling us something, and that it could have been different if I saw him through the lens I have now.

Joel&DarbCO

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I’ll see you again, Joel. Until then, meet me where the drops of coffee have dried. Remind me that your absence here means your presence with Jesus. Save me a spot.

-Darb

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Direct Trade – Costa Rica, Dota

The term “Direct trade” is thrown around quite a bit in the coffee world but doesn’t speak very specifically about the relationship between roaster and source. We’d like to share the story of how we connected with Dota so you can continue on this journey with us.

This photo was taken on my brother's trip to Costa Rica. Our friend Jose is the furthest Left.
This photo was taken on my brother’s trip to Costa Rica. Our friend Jose is the furthest Left.

This is our friend Jose Hidalgo.

Jose is from Costa Rica, but attended John Brown University in Arkansas with my brother Joel. They became very close and my brother visited Jose in Costa Rica after graduating. But the first time I had true contact with Jose was after my brother’s funeral last year. This deep loss connected us. When tragedy strikes, it can leave you grasping for any remnant of your lost loved one. Jose was one of those remnants.

I’ve shared quite a bit about my brother’s death in previous blog posts. Jose connected with each of these, as Joel was his close friend. And as he followed our journey of healing he noticed that we source and roast coffee. Since then he’s been working with us to form a relationship with one of the coffee farms near his home in Costa Rica.

Jose now acts as translator and helps us navigate the overwhelming nationalization process involved with importing coffee. It’s been an amazing learning experience and we look forward to visiting Coopedota (the processing co-op used by the farm that grows our coffee) and the farm in the near future! We hope to experience everything from harvesting the fruit to touring the processing facility.

We want to assure you that this will be a long-lasting relationship

…and our goal is to provide you with as much information and involvement as possible. It has always amazed us how many hands are involved in making each cup of coffee, so bringing awareness to the consumer is something we’re excited about. And the more we are exposed to the people and processes from which our coffee originates, the more we are challenged to uphold a standard of quality when this incredible product finally arrives in Brooksville.

Not only is this an incredible opportunity for us as a coffee roaster, but I love the connection we now have with one of Joel’s closest friends. I still have so much to learn about the loss of my brother and it weighs heavily on me everyday, but I can’t help but think he would be happy to know this is all happening because of him. We want to honor his life, his sense of adventure, his role as a devoted friend, and the support he showed as a brother.

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The Last Phone Call

I had received several missed calls and voicemails from Joel, unusual but not unheard of. He was good about calling to check up on our life here in Florida. I wish I had been just as good about checking up on him. I remember preparing myself to call him back. He mumbled something about apologizing to me. I didn’t know what he meant but assumed he was having some sort of guilt for our relationship as kids. We fought quite a bit and I often felt guilty about that as well. But he sounded frantic. I wasn’t sure what that was about. I prepared myself to assure him that I was equally guilty for any childhood bickering and assumed it would end well, maybe some small talk about all the running and biking he had done lately – I was very impressed by how dedicated he was to managing his emotions and stress through physical activity and hobbies. But that’s not how the conversation went. It was the first time I thought to myself “this might be serious”. …That moment shouldn’t have come so late.

I stepped outside, knowing our conversations were never quite “casual” anyway, and worrying I might give in to some pent-up emotions from our lifelong struggle as brother and sister. Breathing deeply as I dialed his number, I listened for his voice on the other end, hoping to hear a casual “hey Darb”. Then he picked up.

“…Joel?’

(delayed) “yeah, hey”

“How are y-“

“-Stop. I.. “ (Breathing) “I need to say this”

“Ok.” (I could tell he was trying not to let me know, but it was obvious he was crying)

(silence)……………”I’m sorry”

“I’m sorry too -“ (I tried to prattle on about how it’s normal to fight with siblings and how I’m a brat but he cut me off)

“No. I needed…. I need to…” (struggling to get any words out. The silence was huge and painful but we both needed that pause)

“I’m just……….I’m sorry”

……………………..

“You should come see us soon”

…………………….

“k” (his breathing was getting worse, I could tell he wasn’t up for small talk)

“I love you, Joel”

……………..

……”love you”…..

click.

I stood outside for a few minutes longer, collecting myself. I don’t know at what point I started crying but I didn’t notice the tears until I hung up. Such a short conversation but so emotionally exhausting and confusing. But I also felt relief. I needed to know he loved me. Not that I didn’t know, but with Joel it was always hard.

I thought this was a step toward healing. Some sort of check on a list he formed to work through a problem. And maybe it was. Or maybe it was a peace-making because he knew he would be leaving soon. I won’t ever know. So I’ll always fight through this conversation in my head, wondering if I could have known or if I should have pushed harder to find out why he was so upset.

That was in May. I received a text from him on June 22 saying he got the shirt we sent him. 6 days later he died by suicide.

I’m so thankful he called me. I needed to share that moment with him. In 23 years of being his sister I never felt so close to his heart. Yes, it’s a burden I’ll carry probably the rest of my life. But some burdens are worth carrying.

Sharing our story helps me have perspective, helps me learn. And I’m confident I still have much to learn from Joel.

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Mountaineer Coffee Is Getting A New Home

This journey has been a whirlwind. When I think back on the last 4 years it doesn’t seem possible. Daniel and I were engaged and planning for the future, then BAM. We started working for a friend, got married, he handed the business over to us, we got pregnant, had a baby, started roasting, got pregnant again, got a bigger roaster, had another baby, and strive daily to pursue our dreams. Now, our dream is to relocate the business to downtown Brooksville!

There are many reasons for this move and we’ve spent countless hours, days, months, YEARS, considering where and how to make this happen. It’s finally time and we’re so excited to bring you on board for this awesome opportunity.

Our passion is to source high quality coffees from around the world and craft roast them in small batches right here in Brooksville. We also LOVE to eat, so offering fresh, homemade edibles is something we really enjoy. Moving downtown will allow us to focus our energy on doing those two things as well as we possibly can. The new space will be laid out in a way that is most efficient for roasting and brewing the coffee that fuels our passion, and also allows us to bake fresh bagels and pastries and offer a few other signature dishes like our southwest chicken salad.

cold brew coffee homemade bagel mountaineer

We began Roasting about a year after The Coffee Barn officially opened and from the beginning we knew it needed a brand of its own. Mountaineer Coffee comes from Daniel’s grandpa, Richard Lantz, who owned an antique shop in Downtown Brooksville called Mountaineer Antiques. Pop (Lantz) is from West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia University whose mascot is the Mountaineer! We also share a love of the mountains, so the name instantly clicked and the brand feels natural for us. Mountaineer Coffee is in it’s early years but it already has a rich history, and we love that.

mountaineer coffee
“Mountaineers are always free”

We share a vision of potential for downtown Brooksville with Pop, who pursued his dreams in the Verona House on Main Street in the 80’s. Now, we’re excited to add our story to the heritage of downtown.

Sears house verona mountaineer antiques
A postcard from Mountaineer Antiques!

We’re hoping the new location will provide new opportunities for you to actively join us on our journey. This includes tons of educational material, displaying our roaster, interacting with the roasting process, and partnering with other local businesses because we think Brooksville is awesome!

For updates on the move and a sneak peak every Saturday, follow @mountaineercoffee on Instagram!

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A Coffee Addict’s Grocery Budget

budget shopping quality food

We’ve all experienced a time when money is tight. However, if you’re like me you don’t want to sacrifice quality (or your specialty coffee addiction). And let’s face it, once you’ve experienced quality ingredients it’s so hard to go back, especially when it comes to feeding your family.

So I’m going to share with you how we’ve managed to keep freshness and quality at the top of our priority list (except when Daniel is craving McDonald’s… sorry) while sticking to a tight budget.

1) Do It Yourself

This is actually my only point. But it’s HUGE.

When money is tight it’s actually easier to stick to this concept because the box of frozen corndogs that calls my name from across the store is easier to resist when I only have $15 in my grocery budget.

“But Darby, we’re so delicious and you don’t have to cook.”

SHUT UP CORNDOG, YOU DON’T KNOW ME.

I have a serious junk food problem, obviously.

My favorite thing to do is just walk around the store with no plan. I know that drives some of you crazy, but it works for me. I start with produce and meat. Whatever is on sale, I grab.

Not having a specific list allows me to buy higher quality ingredients because I can choose what’s in-season and on sale.

Once I get close to the register I decide what probably won’t work based on the type of cooking I usually do. Then I ditch those ingredients and head for the checkout.

This method has made me crazy-creative in the kitchen and it’s been awesome!

Some of my favorite dinners were born out of a lack of normal ingredients in the house.

One night I only had sweet potatoes, an onion, and a couple bell peppers. I cooked them down in a skillet with some chili powder and a few other seasonings then I served it with a fried egg on top. Cheap. Easy. And probably one of the best dinners I’ve ever made. Ask Daniel if you don’t believe me. He requests this meal OFTEN.

Last week I was even able to snag a pork tenderloin for almost 50% off. Pears were also on sale and I made a killer herb-crusted tenderloin with pear chutney. I would pay a million dollars for that dinner. Dramatic? Maybe. But I love pork. And I’m so happy that we can feed our family delicious food without leaving our kitchen. Because have you ever taken babies to a restaurant? People hate you. And you have to sell their toys to pay the bill.

Now, when it comes to coffee (I know I’m not supposed to say this as a coffee shop owner, but..)

…a latte a day gets expensive FAST. Don’t get me wrong, I think treating yourself to a hand crafted beverage from your favorite coffee shop is awesome. And we love seeing your good-lookin’ face. But if money is tight, it might be time to hone your brewing skills at home. That’s where we can help! You don’t have to drink bad coffee. Please. Don’t drink it. Especially if it’s old.

Once you’ve tasted a fresh roasted, quality product it’s so easy to acknowledge the difference, and so difficult to go back to drinking stale coffee.

The good news is, even buying high quality coffee can save you money if you’re brewing it at home. Check out our home brewing post here for tips and recipes. And find a coffee to fall in love with here . We also have a cold brew recipe so you can make amazingly smooth iced coffee. Brewing at home will cost you around 60 cents per cup. Compare that to your $4 coffee shop drink of choice and you just freed up some serious grocery money. You should definitely reward yourself for saving so much money… probably with a trip to the coffee shop. Life is about balance, right?

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Cold Brewed Iced Coffee (at Home)

cold brew iced coffee recipe

Have you ever made iced coffee at home?

I used to a very long time ago. I’ll spare you the details because it’s shameful and involves returning to a sad little pot of coffee after it was neglected for several hours. Yuck.

However, I’ve discovered the magic of cold brewing and I want to share the recipe with you because I think you’re excellent so you should drink excellent coffee.

The great thing about cold brew is you can make a large batch and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks. This means having awesome iced coffee every single day if you want.

In addition to being ridiculously easy, cold brewed coffee is very low in acidity but highly caffeinated! The cold brew method subdues the natural acidity of some coffees. This makes for an incredibly smooth iced coffee. But I also recommend using a coffee that is not very acidic to start with, like our Single Origin Brazil.

First…

start with fresh roasted coffee that is ground course. Combine 5 ounces of ground coffee with 3 1/2 cups of cold water in a container. Use filtered water for a better end result.

Place the mixture in your refrigerator and let that sucker brew for 12 hours (It can go longer than 12 hours if you can’t drain it right away. It won’t affect the flavor to leave it a bit longer).

Next…

strain the coffee through a paper coffee filter or very fine mesh strainer.

Put it back in the fridge, it’s ready to use! This ratio makes concentrated coffee so when you’re ready to use, dilute by half with either water or milk.

 

Side note:

You CAN make Decaf cold brew. If you have to drink decaf, I respect you. Most of us only drink coffee BECAUSE it has caffeine. You drink it because it’s coffee. That’s awesome. We offer a Brazilian coffee that is decaffeinated using pure glacier water. It’s about as heavenly as Decaf gets, and you deserve good coffee just like the rest of us. Here’s a link, you beautiful soul.

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Shame, Sympathy, and the “S” Word

Suicide awareness

Suicide.

Suicide, suicide, suicide.

Maybe if I say it enough it will start to sound ridiculous instead of scary. Like when you say any word over and over. Most words start to sound funny.

But not this word.

The truth is I don’t even know if I’ve said it out loud since my brother took his life in June. I have managed to avoid it by using more polite terms. And, usually, I try to avoid the subject altogether.

…Until today. I said it out loud to an empty room. It felt heavy as I spoke and it echoed in my head. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this word. It’s just a word. It describes what happened.

But I don’t like what happened. However, I have conflict about that too. I know he was sick, suffering. So I know he was escaping to a place of peace. A place of understanding. But the act itself… I can’t begin to unpack the baggage of deciding what it is.

I know it’s not for me to decide, but I feel like I should have an answer.

Some say it’s a selfish act.

Ok, sure. But which of our daily, human decisions isn’t selfish? Isn’t there a “Friends” episode about when Phoebe tries to do an act of kindness without selfish motivation? It’s hard. And when I think about the reasons that I’m upset Joel is gone I realize that I’m being selfish too.

I wanted him to stay.

I was angry when I saw the pictures of my baby saved on his computer. Why didn’t he wait long enough to meet her? And I think about everything that will happen in MY life and how he won’t be there. Selfish.

They took the easy way out?

I have a hard time with that because I know my brother. He dealt with his anxiety discreetly, not wanting to burden others. Instead of taking medication he exercised and took up new hobbies. He started biking and running, entering races and training constantly. That doesn’t seem easy to me. He was trying to treat his symptoms naturally. Yes, he probably needed medication or counseling. And I wish I had known the extent of his illness, maybe he could have received professional help. But now we’re wandering down the “what if” road and that’s a dangerous place.

joel2

 

joel3

I know that I want him to be alive. I know that ending a life is never the answer. And I want so badly to go back in time and prevent what happened. But I have a weird sense of relief now that I know the pain he was experiencing. It explains so much. And thinking about the torment he felt hurts me in a way that is so much worse than missing him. I know I’ll see him again one day. And he’ll be happy.

So I want to do my part to remove some of the shame associated with the word suicide. It’s a tragedy. It’s far too often the end result of mental illness. It’s devastating. It needs to be prevented. But it should stir compassion and sympathy. It should spur us to show kindness and love to everyone, knowing that some are suffering in ways we don’t understand. It’s a word I want to be able to say, because it’s the result of an illness that took my brother’s life.

Healing After Suicide

So I won’t be ashamed.

It doesn’t mean he was weak, it doesn’t make him more selfish than the rest of us. It means he lost a hard-fought battle. It means he didn’t get the help he needed. So let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s do our part to be aware of the warning signs and to encourage treatment. Let’s say the word with empathy, not shame.

…Suicide.

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Home Brewing Tips From A Coffee Roaster’s Wife

I love coffee. My first college essay was about the coffee shop I would one day own and all the wonderful people I would meet. I might post a copy of that later as proof that Daniel and I are soulmates.

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But I have a disability.

It’s called my-parents-are-addicted-to-coffee-so-I-never-had-to-make-my-own. And then I married a barista who has since become a roaster. I’m a spoiled coffee brat. For the first two years of our marriage I worked almost full time at the shop and had unlimited access to an espresso machine.

So now that Mable joined our little family I’ve been staying home quite a bit, and that means I have to make my own coffee. I don’t know about you, but I need things to be EASY in the morning. I actually like mornings but I have a toddler and a 6 month old who need some serious snuggles in the morning or they turn into crabby (but cute) monsters.

First, I recommend using fresh roasted coffee (within two weeks after roast date if possible) and grinding your beans directly before use. It’s just so much better. More flavorful and fresh. Remember, coffee is a food. So what I do is pre-dose my coffee the night before. I put the correct dose in my grinder, then all I have to do in the morning is press “start”.

My grinder isn't fancy or expensive, but I do recommend a burr grinder as opposed to a chopper.
My grinder isn’t fancy or expensive, but I do recommend a burr grinder as opposed to a chopper.

Find a similar burr coffee grinder here.

Here are my favorite ways to brew, starting with the easiest:

French Press

We use a ratio of 2 grams of coffee per ounce of water and a coarse grind. Using that as a guide, you can adjust for your preference.

Once you figure out the dose and grind, follow these ridiculously simple steps:

DSC_0151

DUMP IT: Place ground coffee and hot water in your French Press

LEAVE IT: Allow coffee to brew for 3-4 minutes

PUSH IT: Using the weight of your hand, push the mesh filter down to trap the grounds at the bottom

POUR IT: Pour into your favorite mug or directly into your mouth (that would hurt but I’m not judging.. Sometimes you just NEED coffee)

I inherited my French Press from my dad’s stockpile of coffee accessories, but you can find one here or at Target… because I always love an excuse to visit Target.

Chemex

My family visited recently and I needed to make several cups of coffee at a time, in this case a Chemex comes in very handy. Also, you’ll note that using a pour over method results in a cleaner, almost tea-like cup of coffee. (Tea-like does NOT mean weak).

Normally in a pour over method we prefer a finer grind, but a chemex brews very slowly using a fine grind. This is due to the filter’s thickness and full contact against the glass. And again, 2 grams per ounce of water is a great reference point but adjust according to your taste preference! (If you grind coarse, you may want to up the dose)

First, rinse the filter using hot water. This removes any paper taste and warms the glass.

Then dump out the papery water and put the grounds in the filter.

Next, pour the hot water using a circular motion. A nice kettle allows more control. Make sure to keep the grounds saturated throughout the brewing process.

Give it a swirl and serve! My favorite coffee to use in the Chemex is our Kenya AA , super flavorful and awesomely fruity.

These are just my favorite ways to brew. My brother uses an Aeropress for hot coffee and a Yama cold drip tower for some AMAZING cold brewed iced coffee. It really doesn’t matter how you choose to brew, as long as you’re using fresh roasted, freshly ground, quality coffee. Let me know your favorite way to brew!

My sister is the greatest. I tell her my vision and she whips up something fantastic every time.
My sister is the greatest. I tell her my vision and she whips up something fantastic every time.

 

I love visiting my family, especially when snow is involved.
I love visiting my family, especially when snow is involved.
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Tis The (Wrestling) Season

Mountaineer Coffee is knee-deep in wrestling season.

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Daniel is a wrestling coach for the local High School. Every year their team hosts one of the biggest tournaments in the state. It would be a big deal for anyone involved, but his family goes all out. His dad started this tournament 34 years ago. His brother, David, is the head coach. Daniel is the assistant coach. His parents run the tournament. They take their 13 year old son out of school so he can help. It’s a BIG DEAL.

wrestling

So, naturally, he wanted to involve the business. We usually provide the coaches breakfast on Saturday morning, but this year we also decided to sell coffee outside the gym. That’s where I come in (with both babies). Luckily one of our baristas was free that morning and offered to help, otherwise I would have been hate-texting Daniel all day.

I hauled in my pack-n-play, set up the booth, plopped Mable down with some toys, and set Freeman loose in the gym. The kids did awesome. Mable took a nap and Freeman checked in with me periodically, usually to request some cold brew. (No, kid. You’re two. Have some juice)

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It was an intense weekend full of late nights, early mornings, and cleanup efforts lasting well into the next week. I’m proud of those coaches for everything they do, because they certainly don’t do it for the paycheck. They’re investing in the lives of these High School kids, and they see value in what they do. That’s amazing. I’m over here trying to block out the High School phase of my life. But they love wrestling. And I love that.

freemanhernando

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Surviving the Holidays

I love the Holidays.

Fall and Winter are my two favorite seasons, consecutively. However, in Florida, there are only two seasons. The first contains slightly fall-ish temperatures mixed with random 90 degree days and a few chill-you-to-the-bone damp, cold mornings. The second, beginning with a mass exodus of all the elderly “snowbirds” (please take me with you), is just one long, hot mess with hurricanes and a daily torrential shower around 3:00. I basically live in the rainforest.

manatee1
The first Christmas Daniel and I were married, my family visited and we saw manatee on the Weeki Wachee River. It was pretty exciting, I’ll admit.

This is probably the exact opposite of Oklahoma (my homeland), whose seasons are both fickle and extreme. I have this sick obsession with dreary skies and ice storms. Maybe because it’s wedged in the middle of a beautiful progression from crisp fall days full of colorful trees to the holidays and always-exciting snow days. And then when you think you can’t handle another day of the bitter cold.. BAM. Wildflowers, bumblebees, and 60 degree weather. It’s bliss. (Please don’t ask me how i feel about summer, there’s a reason I neglected to include it in my seasonal fantasy).

Freeman's first snow
Freeman’s first snow

So I have a lot of adjusting to do.

But not just because of the weather.
I know this isn’t my first holiday season in Florida, but this year it seems more permanent. We are now settled into our house (still renovating, but at least we feel settled), have two kids, and the craziness of running a business has become ordinary. Things are still crazy at the shop around this time of year, and we still feel like we’re barely keeping up, but this is our third Christmas as The Coffee Barn and as a married couple (and the second year with Mountaineer Coffee up and running). So the madness feels normal.

We’ve found that the holidays are so much more fun with kids. We even sat down and talked about the different traditions each of our families had over the years and agreed on which ones we thought would be fun or meaningful to continue with our own kids. We finally feel like our own family. It is an exciting and distracting feeling. Distracting from the fact that this is the first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Year…. First everything without my brother.

You're a goof, Joel. I miss your shenanigans.
You’re a goof, Joel. I miss your shenanigans.

I have mixed emotions about how I’ve handled the holidays so far.
On one hand I’m relieved to have the distraction of adorable babies experiencing all this wonder and excitement, and the busy but happy task of creating a memorable experience for them while helping Daniel keep things running smoothly at the shop amid all the chaos.

But on the other hand, the hand I like to ignore, there is so much guilt.
Guilt because the rest of my family doesn’t get to be 1000 miles away from the hurt. Sure, they’re distracted by my babies. But they have to figure out what their traditions are going to be for different reasons. Are they going to continue celebrating the way we always have? Or are they going to try something totally different. Because, without Joel, things are obviously different.

famchristmas

And that’s another level of guilt.
Is it ok that I’m trying to make Christmas and all the other holidays a happy time and separate from the painful thoughts of what they would be like if he was still here? Or the scariest thought of all: would it even change anything if he were still here? That hurts. What if I started moving on a long time ago? There’s a flood of guilt and pain and remorse following that thought. I’m not ready for thoughts like those. But they happen anyway. It’s one of the many thoughts that I have to put away to work through later. And, of course, there’s guilt accompanying sadness as well. It’s not what he would want. He’s free of pain and suffering now. And it’s not fair to the wonderful people around me who are trying to be sensitive while enjoying their holiday traditions.

The older I get, the more I realize that these special times have so many layers. When we’re young it’s pure excitement and there’s rarely a cause for complex emotion. Happiness is good. Anger is bad. But the pain in our lives gives a bitter edge to joy. “Am I allowed to feel true happiness about this?”. However, it can also make us cling to joy as it’s made all the more sweet when compared with pain and sadness. We desperately need these happy times to give us hope. See? Complex. It’s very inconvenient for someone like me who has a very loose grip on their emotions. Those stupid Folger’s commercials get me SO BAD. But there’s beauty in things we don’t understand. They make us look outside ourselves. And when we know who holds the answers, we find comfort every single time.

So I’ll be adjusting to new weather, new babies, new traditions, and new (very complex) emotions this Christmas. If you have any tips for managing any of these, or if you have any weird traditions in your family, please share. You know I love the weirdness.