Wrangler Dani

Writer, editor, marketer and communication strategist. I'm also a wife, mama, hiker, cowgirl and experimental cook living in beautiful Central Oregon.

Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

December 19th, 2017 by Dani

Taking a Breath

There’s a whoosh and a whistle in the air today, pushing out the warmth of last few days and bringing whispers of coming snow. There’s a dark wall of clouds hovering near like a conquering army, looking down at us as they ready themselves for a swift invasion.

This year I find myself taking deep breaths, like the clouds who are going to start snowing on us in a couple of hours but aren’t quite ready just yet. Adelay is thrilled by Christmas this year, wants to drink in everything with her usual exuberance. Isaiah is impossible to buy for and dazzled by the simplest things. We like to joke that he is our model baby Jesus, and since he seems mostly impressed by the smiles of those who love him, there’s probably a lot of truth there.

I find myself longing for a moment to myself and then missing my children the moment they aren’t with me, like a crazy person. I want to go shopping but I also want to purge my house of junk. I want to love people and also drink a cup of coffee by myself. This two kids thing feels like it might be overwhelming me sometimes, like the coming snowstorm, but then I recall that snowstorms are usually only beautiful and rarely scary. I just have to scrape my windshield and remember to wear thick socks, those are do-able things. Sometimes it’s necessary to give myself grace, to remember that I don’t have to be good at everything, that parenthood is a refining fire.

I find that people talk about parenthood in two ways – there are the grandparent types who have (perhaps willfully) lost recollection of late nights and toddler spills and tantrums, and smile beatifically at me with misty eyes. “Treasure these angels,” they say and pat me on the arm with kindness. Then there are the frustrated moms who are, by their telling of it, raising tiny demon-possessed mess-makers who do nothing but disobey and vomit in the car and wipe their noses on the tablecloth.

Neither of these is true.

I know this but I have to remind myself of it. Love is messy and so are children, even the forgetful grandparents know that. God’s love is perfect but our human variety is not, and we are often forgetful or judgmental or overly simplified. We yearn for snow and then spring and then snow again. We want love but offer harshness to others, we need hope but don’t know how to find it.

As I write this I see the wall of clouds advancing, making their move. My longing cannot make them move faster or slower, they will come and they will do whatever they are supposed to do, regardless of how I feel about it.

So today I am embracing snowstorms and taking a breath. Christmas sometimes feels like a sprint, and while I love all the hustle-bustle, there is wisdom is letting storms come and go, watching the trees sway from the window, treasuring the perfection of God’s artwork, the frost on the trees and the crunch of frozen gravel under my feet.

December 14th, 2016 by Dani

Snow Day

family hike in the snowIf you know me, you know I love Christmas. I love the whole season – I play carols and bake cookies and pull out the candles that smell like fir trees. I love to savor Christmas – I like to pick a particularly cozy Christmassy book to read every year, and no Christmas is complete without a reading of A Christmas Carol, like a predictable conversation with an elderly friend, one that somehow manages to surprise and delight even when you know exactly what will be said.

This year, Christmas has felt less like a quiet, sanctified season of traditions and more like a flurry of activity. I haven’t even met up with Marley’s Ghost yet and Christmas is a week away! I am running, keeping up with my toddler, my growing business, my personal projects, my list of responsibilities. I am on the edge – I might burst into laughter or tears, I might make a lovely braised beef shank for dinner or I might leave it on the heat too long and make a charred doggie treat for Guinness. Adam took us out for a lovely weekend getaway for my birthday, and I let myself fall into relaxation like a giant snowbank, only to find myself back in the frenzy within moments of returning home.

And then, today, like a miracle, like a kiss – we get a snow day. Just like that, all is calm. School is canceled, the barn is closed. Meetings begin to drop off the calendar and I hear the fire calling me, asking me to slow down and sit a while. I heat up a cup of coffee and watch the snow fall. Unlike rain, which either patters drearily or beats down with fury, snow just falls. Whether heavy or light, the first or the last snow of the year, it’s all the same in its perfection. It covers up ugliness, it silences the rattle and bang of a storm. Old cars and new alike look quaint when covered in snow, wipers propped up by wise owners. Christmas lights glow cheerily, tree branches hang down, heavy with beautiful white blankets. You can’t drive fast in the snow. Stores close early, hand-written signs grace small restaurant windows: “Snow Day”. You text your friends with cheery words of wisdom: “Drive safe! Stay warm.” I’m reminded of how blessed we are to have a warm fireplace and a full pantry on a day like today.”Though our sins were as scarlet, we are washed white as snow.” Snow hearkens of Christmas, because we need grace at Christmas. I need to be reminded that as much as I love the parties and presents and traditions, grace is what matters. Grace for today – snow on my roof, on my old car, over the places in my life that I’m not proud of and the things that I’ve tried so hard to make beautiful. Snow covers it all with the same grace and peace. Thank you, God, for snow days.

December 4th, 2016 by Dani

Keep Going!

Addy has a little walker that talks. She doesn’t use it much any more, unless I start talking about putting it away, in which case it becomes The Most Favorite Toy of All Time. Anyway, it talks when it senses movement, and it’s got a jumpy trigger finger, because said movement can be any person walking around the house, no matter how far away.

The other day, I walked by it and it chirped out “Keep going!” I laughed to myself and then thought, I need this little voice all the time.

Because I need to hear, “Keep going!” Because, and I’m being honest here,… is anyone else tired?

I used to get on Facebook for cute photos of my friends’ kids and puppies, and now I get on in fear and trembling that I will see another apoplectic political post. (I brave them for the pay-off of cute baby/puppy/Christmas tree photos but I’m just saying – it’s gotten a little hot out there.) I need reminders to keep going, that relationships are important and valuable, even when I’d rather check out and protect myself.

I need to hear “Keep going!” because all too often I hear the opposite. I hear that I’ll never be good enough or cute enough in Spandex, so I should quit going to yoga. I hear that I’ll never get a book deal, so I should stop writing. I hear that adoption is only a tragic choice and not a beautiful one. I hear that my choices for my kid is questionable, that my beliefs are silly, that my life is small and foolish.

At Christmastime, I hear that my love for this sparkly season is silly. I hear that my joy at big bows and perfect presents and hot cocoa on a snowy afternoon are childish or materialistic, silly or thoughtless. But I do love Christmas, because it is the season of foolishness. It is the season of “Keep going!”, don’t you think?

It is a season when we should be awed and not calloused, when we embrace an infant Savior, an angel choir singing to dirty shepherds, a blazing star in the sky. I’m daring to believe that God sent Jesus to tell us “Keep going!” that we don’t have to do this alone, that we have Emmanuel, God with us. Every time I walk past that silly plastic talking toy, I’m going to thank my Creator for the gift of wisdom through a child’s toy, hope through tragedy, joy to the world when it feels like it’s falling apart. After all, he didn’t say “endurance to the world” or “clenched teeth to the world” or “anxiety to the world” – I’m going to believe that the God who came as a helpless baby into a wartorn, oppressed country isn’t too scared by the troubles of 2016, and that he meant for us to live in joy despite them.

The angel said, “I bring you good news of GREAT JOY for all people!” JOY TO THE WORLD. Keep going!

December 22nd, 2015 by Dani

Christmas Tension

This is one of the most sparkly Christmas seasons we’ve had in years. It’s been snowing off and on for weeks, our baby girl is amazed by Christmas lights and shiny bows, and we have every excuse to throw ourselves into merriment with abandon. Life is good, Christmastime is lovely.

But you know what’s really beautiful about Christmastime? That it is lovely even when we don’t feel lovely. Last year I wanted to run away to some distant sun-kissed beach and forget all about this season, but it came anyway, and its story redeemed me when I felt way too weary and failed for redemption. This year I want everything about Christmas – I want the cookie-baking and Santa-seeing and heartfelt hymns – and it’s still redeeming me, reminding me that our savior was born into a dirty, poetic and hurting world, that he is present whether I am in joy or pain, whether my Christmas feels full to bursting or quietly somber.

It’s pleasant to think about the Baby Jesus, particularly when I have a baby of my own to marvel at. But isn’t it wonderful that he is not actually the perennial infant we celebrate? He doesn’t actually need to “sleep in heavenly peace” or remain “tender and mild”, wrapped adorably in his mother’s arms, clean and sweet-smelling and cooing softly.

No, this is the Mighty God. Mighty to save, to redeem, to give hope and light. The miracle of his birth is breathtaking, but maybe it’s more amazing that we remain so comfortable with his smallness, with sweet lullabies and adorable manger scenes. We’ve seen him at work and yet we still want to remember him as a baby boy.

This Christmas, I am embracing sparkle and celebration. But I am also remembering that this baby Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. This is the God who was big enough for me when I thought my heart would break under the weight of its own longing and who is big enough now that my heart might burst with gratitude.

This is the beauty of Christmas, the tension of now and not yet. We are still becoming who God has made us to be, even as we walk hopefully into our purpose. We are redeemed fully now and more redeemed every day. We are celebrating a child and worshiping an almighty King of Kings. Merry Christmas to you, my friends. May the tension and divine mystery of this time be beautiful, heartbreaking and breathtaking to all of us this year.

December 14th, 2015 by Dani

Thoughts from “The Messiah”

Saturday was my 32nd birthday, and my sweet husband showed his absolute devotion and studliness by taking me to a three-hour opera to celebrate. I love Handel’s Messiah, but have never heard it live, and our little 1940’s-era theater downtown was hosting a performance.

It was a magical evening and I left feeling very inspired – not only because the music and singing was incredible, although it was. I was inspired that our little town of 100,000 people has a group of 40 or so “mastersingers” who devote their free time to being really good at opera. It’s an odd hobby for a Central Oregonian, in a place that values exertion over art, and the latest trendy vibe over 250-year-old songs of Christendom; yet here is a broad swath of humanity – young, old, light, dark, male, female – who are all excellent at their craft and share it unabashedly with us. The musicians must spend hours and hours practicing an odd instrument – the oboe or the upright bass – just so that when the time comes they may lend their skill to something really beautiful. They get their names in the program but no spotlight, no payment or other recognition for their art. All we know is that we would miss them if they weren’t there, that the music would not be as beautiful without their labor.

The world is a scary place, sometimes, and it’s easy to feel small and foolish in my little pursuits of beauty. I want to say something inspiring and honest, and yet I even scoff at my own ambition. Who am I to dare to believe that my creativity could make the world better, brighter? Do I really believe that a world of refugees and war needs my voice?

But I watched a beautiful woman with long gray hair pulled back in a sensible bun step forward and give the most earnest sonata I’ve ever heard, just because she can, because her heart would burst if she didn’t. I watched a young man clear his throat before his solo, straightening the bowtie of his tuxedo and holding his sheet music book just so, devoted to excellence despite his nerves. They dared to believe that their art could make the world a better place, that singing a 250-year-old chorus in a 75-year-old theater could matter.

The program had a quote from George Frederic Handel, which said, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.” It seems to me that watching “The Messiah” was our attempt at being better. We are beating back the night with beauty, giving standing ovations for earnest solos and small-town violinists, reminding ourselves that “unto us a child is born” and this is indeed a reason to create, to rejoice, to sing with fervor and to give each other hope.


December 15th, 2014 by Dani

New on Trochia: Waiting with Joy and Hope in the Advent Season

“Grandma is coming!” “Santa is coming!” Children are great anticipators, and are easily swept up into awaiting “comings” with joy and enthusiasm, sticking little noses against frosty windows and bouncing up and down with excitement on Christmas Eve. We can learn something from a child’s excited anticipation in this season of Advent.

The word Advent is actually an anglicized version of the Latin word “adventus”, which means “coming”. It is a season of waiting and expectation, of looking hopefully like little children watching for grandma’s headlights or Santa’s sleigh.

We can learn from children because as we grow older, we forget about the joy of the coming, and focus instead on the long and painful wait. We wait for the weekend, for medical test results and important phone calls. Waiting is tedious and what we wait for isn’t as magical anymore – it’s much less fun to wait for our tires to be rotated than it is to wait for Grandma to arrive.

This is why I love Advent, and the Christmas season. Because it reminds me that our waits can be holy and hopeful, full of joy and anticipation, not simply a long, boring, often painful season.

– See more at: http://www.trochia.org/hope/waiting-with-joy-hope-advent-season/#sthash.sox6WgMv.dpuf

December 1st, 2014 by Dani

Gratitude and Advent

I’ve been thinking about Advent this year, more than usual. Maybe it’s because I’m preparing for motherhood, and I long to make Christmastime a holy season in our family, and give us moments for reflection as well as joy. Also, this year’s holiday season feels bumpier than most – we are still in the middle of home improvement projects, we didn’t get to go to Texas like we usually do for Thanksgiving, our Christmas celebration will be condensed because of work obligations and other plans. None of these things are bad, of course – our kitchen is lovely and looking more beautiful every day, although we missed our Texas family we had a great time with our Oregon/Nevada one, and those obligations are a positive thing – after all we are grateful for jobs and weddings and friends.

But upheaval means that the traditions we can keep; the reflections we can make, are even more valuable. I think about the practice of gratitude, and how it spills directly into Advent, the season of hopeful waiting, of “adventus” which means “coming”. Sometimes the wait can cause our hearts to burst with joy, but more often we find ourselves despondent in flickering fluorescent light, paging through five-year-old magazines and wishing we were anywhere else.

So how do we hold to our thankfulness while we wait? Where do we find gratitude in long cold nights, when our plans don’t work out like we hoped and we wonder if God is listening, anyway?


I wrote that question and then sat here and looked at it for a while. To be honest, I’m not sure. I know the ache of the wait very well, and I also know the joy of a grateful heart despite the wait, the power that comes through faithfulness on a long road, the peace that’s possible, even in the dismal waiting rooms of life.

So I guess I’ll take my inspiration from Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah struggled to have faith and stumbled on the way, discouraged by his long wait, but he also gave us one of the most beautiful welcomes to the Messiah, Jesus:

Luke 1:68-72 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant…”
This year, I’m sitting in the tension of gratitude and expectation – holding my long wait with the knowledge that God keeps his promises, redeems his people and saves us from our enemies. I’m not going to paper over this Advent season by stripping away the wait or failing to acknowledge the joy and difficulty of long expectation. I’m praying for a December that surprises me with its power and brings streams to the desert of my weary soul. I’m praying that gratitude and generosity, hope and love, joy and sorrow, can fill my heart and make me ready for the next chapter God is writing. After all, in the ways that matter, the wait is over: love has come, God is with us, we can indeed rejoice. Sounds like a good place to start the Advent season to me.
December 5th, 2013 by Dani

Texas, in Beverages

It’s a giant Coke Zero at the Movie Tavern, refillable without leaving your seat, (what magic!) companionable because it’s with family, and it’s what Ashley and I both get, along with a shared bag of popcorn. It’s coffee in the morning, sweetened with everyone’s favorite flavored creamer and accompanied by holiday week indulgences like pigs in a blanket. It’s evening coffee in a worn reindeer mug that I remember fondly from the very first Thanksgiving I spent with the Nichols, and from-scratch homemade apple pie that made you want to sing Hallelujah and have another piece.

It’s craft beer in a hipster watering hole, laughter with an old friend, disbelief that we’ve really known each other that long. It’s getting my father-in-law to try craft beer, and the joy we have when he likes what we do. (Don’t judge, but he’s a Budweiser man.)

It’s fall sangria – a magical mix of oranges and cinnamon and apples and red wine – paired perfectly with Thanksgiving fare. It’s the sampler pack of Shiner Bock that Adam bought for our pork loin feast at my mother-in-law’s – a new adventure with an old favorite. It’s a purple plastic cup with holograms of “Fear the Frog” emblazoned on the side, filled with Diet Dr Pepper, drank in-between cheering loudly for TCU and jumping out of our stadium seats in excitement. It’s coffee with whipped cream on top in a fancy mug at a supposedly funny movie. (I cried at “Delivery Man”. I know, I know).

It’s a fishbowl of beer, served to me as I sat on a saddle barstool in the Stockyard Hotel bar, feeling swanky as could be. (The two gentlemen next to me were real rodeo cowboys, who stopped into the bar for college football updates. They were very chivalrous to me, and I think I impressed them with my “saddling up” abilities. (That’s a lie, they thought I was going to fall to my death off that barstool.) (So I’m clumsy.)).

It’s a flimsy plastic cup encrusted with salt and filled with a hastily concocted margarita, sipped while singing along to Texas Country at the World’s Largest Honky Tonk. It’s a salted caramel latte that greatly confused the Starbucks barista, much to Ashley’s and my merriment. It’s Diet Coke and shared queso. It’s “Dani and I will split this bottle of red wine!” at a dinner on the rooftop (we did finally decide to let Adam have a glass too).

It’s laughter and sharing and family and a week of Texas. Cheers and bottoms up.

November 27th, 2013 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Hospitality

At Thanksgiving, I always think of the Holmes family. I was 18 and feeling lonely – here I had boldly taken off for parts unknown, but once I found myself in a warm Texas fall with what felt like no end in sight, I was inexplicably homesick for Oregon chill and my own family’s traditions. Megan and I sat next to each other in our freshman Bible class, and after a disastrous group project we knew we’d each found a kindred spirit in each other. When she heard I had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, she insisted that I come home to Dallas with her. On the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, we piled pillows and suitcases and sweatshirts into her tiny, sensible white car and made the three-hour drive to the Metroplex.

I quickly discovered a couple of important things about Megan – she is an amazing conversationalist (something I always value in a friend), she is unbelievably generous, and she is a truth-teller. When I met her family, I was instantly enveloped in the same loving honesty and generosity – quickly making me feel comfortable and like part of the family. I was not excluded from jokes and teases, nor treated like an honored guest – I helped make shrimp cocktail, do dishes, set the table and light the candles just like all the other Holmes kids – and it was the best thing that ever could have happened to my lonely heart.

I went back to the Holmes every year for Thanksgiving until we graduated, and a couple of Easters too. Every weekend I spent with Megan and her family was another lesson in friendship, kindness and hospitality done right. Whether it was late-night chick-flicks in the living room, long talks, helping with dinner preparation, driving all over the Metroplex, going shopping or after-turkey adventures in the neighborhood park, they overflowed with playfulness, friendship, hospitality and sincere generosity.

I credit Megan and the Holmes family for teaching me how to host, how to welcome with open arms and how to exude warmth without losing honesty. Years later, I still tell people about them, and every fall, I get a twinge of homesickness for the big stone entry-way, and Megan and I tumbling into the house in an giddy, breathless pile of laughter and curly hair, met with hugs and smiles from her mom, jokes from her dad, and invitations to shop, talk, and cook from the rest of family, in a flurry of holiday energy. I’m so grateful for their friendship and influence on my life. Megan had no idea that her simple invitation of Thanksgiving dinner to a out-of-town acquaintance would blossom into a deep friendship and a long tradition, and today, I’m so grateful that she took the moment to invite me anyway, and teach me about hospitality by example.

November 21st, 2013 by Dani

Gratitude Project: In-Laws

You know how Mother-in-Law jokes, go, right? It seems that everybody has a horror story, a difficult situation or a trying circumstance with their in-laws. Families have their own social order, their own systems of government, their own normal and their own standards, and marrying into one of these complex ecosystems is a daunting task for any mortal.

We took Mom and Warren to Tumalo Falls and Shevlin Park when they were here! It was a little drizzly, but still pretty.

We took Mom and Warren to Tumalo Falls and Shevlin Park when they were here! It was a little drizzly, but still pretty.

I count myself among the blessed, though, because my in-laws are truly remarkable. Adam’s dad loves to tell the story of how he told Adam not to let me get away, and from the first time we met, they have treated me just like one of their kids.

They are generous, fun-loving, caring, hearty laughers and amazing cooks. When both sets of parents came to visit this summer and fall, they jumped into our lives with joy – we had several breathless belly-laughs, multiple great conversations and made memories that will last forever.

Floating the river with Dad and Katie this summer.

Floating the river with Dad and Katie this summer.

I’m constantly amazed at God’s goodness – he knew that I would love Texas, and let me marry the perfect Texan for me, in an amazing family that envelopes us in love – I’m so grateful that I got two more sets of parents, an incredible sister (and soon a brother-in-law!) and an amazing extended family.

I know that everyone isn’t so blessed with their in-laws, but for me, they are one of the many incredible by-products of being married to the love of my life.

In a couple of days, we’ll be in Texas with them for a week, and while many people dread a long visit at the in-laws, I can’t wait! I’m so proud and grateful to be a Nichols.

Ashley and I after TCU won the Rose Bowl. We might have cried. ;)

Ashley and I after TCU won the Rose Bowl a couple of years ago (we need to take more pictures, Ash!). We might have cried. 😉