All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018

“All is calm, all is bright.” It’s a delightful sentiment, though not typically how I’m experiencing the world these days.

That’s why I’m making it my motto for Advent.

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, tends to hold a lot more anticipation and magic in childhood. These days, I struggle to find ways to make it special.

To me, Christmas has a “true meaning” indeed. It has nothing to do with Santa, giving or receiving presents, and it’s definitely not about shopping.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. A real live baby boy who changed the world. God walking on Earth. The man who was persecuted, whose body couldn’t be found in his tomb three days later, and who appeared to hundreds of people – people who became martyrs in dedication to his kingship.

It’s world-shattering stuff.

Worthy of pause. Reflection. Introspection. Action.

Every year I struggle with how to do this.

I don’t particularly enjoy tradition and ceremony for its own sake. It’s too easy to go through the motions.

I want to be intentional about Advent. But how?

I heard of the idea of adopting a “Christmas motto” on the podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. One of their listeners shared the concept of choosing a theme for Christmas. The theme could impact what you’ll prioritize during the season – which activities you’ll do and which you’ll skip, how you want to feel, what kinds of gifts you’ll get for people, etc.

Gretchen announced that her motto for this Christmas season would be “Tis the season to be jolly.” The co-host, Gretchen’s sister, Elizabeth, chose the motto:

“All is calm, all is bright.”

Elizabeth’s choice resonated with me. I would love to feel calm and bright this Christmas.

This is not typically a calm season. There’s a lot to get done before the year ends. There can be duties and obligations, busyness and to do lists that get overwhelming. And in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where I’ll be celebrating with my family, the days are short and often dreary at this time of year. On top of those things, there’s a looming ugliness that seems to be hanging over our world, constantly in the background, these days. Not exactly bright and cheery.

So my focus this coming month is going to be on simplicity. Simplifying my schedule. Minimizing how much I take on. Leaving space for rest and reflection, spontaneity and relationships.I also came across an Advent series put together by World Relief called Listen For Your Yes. They send out a weekly audio file with a guided meditation. Here’s the promo that made me sign up:

“What if you could move beyond feeling overwhelmed and hear clearly from God about the one thing you’re called to do? Our 4-part audio series, “Listening for Your Yes,” helps you slow down and find space in this crowded and busy season.”

So that’s where I’m starting.

Confession: I started writing this post on the overnight train from San Diego to Salem last week. But the first weekend of Advent has come and gone already, and I don’t feel like anything has slowed down or simplified yet…

Do you have favorite practice during Advent? How do you stay calm and bright during Christmas season? Let me know in the comments below.

Michelle’s 35 Things Update

It’s been an eventful year so far – we both turned 35 and celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with an extra dose of travel. With roughly 2 months left in my 35th year, I wanted to take another look at my “35 things to do in my 35th year” bucket list.

I was able to complete most of the things on my list without a problem. But I found that there were a couple things I resisted. One thing I’ve recently learned about myself, thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies, is that I am a Questioner. That means I only meet expectations that I have rationalized to myself are important. So I expect that the reason I resisted the 35 thank you letters task is because 1) I’ve never really appreciated the tradition of thank you cards in the first place, and 2) it was a popular birthday activity for others that I felt like I should do even though I wasn’t excited about it, and 3) it was overwhelming to choose 35 people and write 35 letters.

So I may end up replacing that one if I can’t find a way to align it better to my own style and personality. There are a few others I might need to adjust as well. Here is my current progress:

  1. Complete 30 days of daily sun salutations
  2. Visit Italy with Jedd 
  3. Finish the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series (almost done, waiting on the library)
  4. Create a list of 35 of my favorite quotes (almost complete )
  5. Complete a daily hand-lettering challenge, writing some of my quotes 
  6. Visit Spain for the first time 
  7. Hand-write 35 thank you letters – need to adjust?
  8. Visit Portugal for the first time 
  9. Contribute the full amount to our Roth IRAs by the end of the year – TBD
  10. Celebrate each day of Advent 
  11. Memorize the countries and capitals of Africa 
  12. Learn a choreographed dance – may change this to learning a new song on piano?
  13. Visit Malaysia for the first time 
  14. Send postcards each quarter to The Aunties 
  15. Do a zipline for the first time – updated: Float down a river in an inner tube 
  16. Take a personal retreat (full day or overnight)
  17. Return to Hoi An, Vietnam for at least a month 
  18. Learn to say “hello” in 35 languages (almost done)
  19. Double my collection of gospel music 
  20. Travel to a new continent (New Zealand/Australia!) 
  21. Host a reunion for our 10th anniversary 
  22. Wear my wedding dress again and then donate it (worn yet to be donated)
  23. Make croissants from scratch 
  24. Find my favorite tea to drink on a daily basis 
  25. Sleep under the stars
  26. See a chiropractor for the first time (Malaysia or Thailand) – need to replace
  27. Get a skin cancer screening (Malaysia) 
  28. Schedule a dental cleaning (Malaysia) 
  29. Take a monthly “screen sabbath” 
  30. Create a video recap of our year of travel – coming soon
  31. Continue blogging at least once a week 
  32. Read 35+ books (on book 29 so far)
  33. Try at least 10 completely new dishes (only 6 so far)
  34. Keep a capsule wardrobe 
  35. Save money for a real estate investment – need to make this a more concrete goal

So that’s my quick update on the birthday list. Hopefully I’ll be able to work out the remaining goals before the end of September!

Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List

I promised myself that I wouldn’t actually be old until age 75. But turning 35 means I’ve left my “early thirties” behind, which makes me feel that I no longer fit in the “young adult” category. I’m doing my best to accept this shift in identity without dragging my feet.

I confess that one of my biggest fears about aging is that life will somehow go downhill. I realize that the physical obstacles will increase – I’ve had chronic pain and headaches since my mid-twenties, so I don’t have much hope of anything getting better in that regard. But my real concern doesn’t involve bodily functions.

I remember as a Continue reading “Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List”

When You’re Not Saving Money at That Sale

Sale prices. Who doesn’t like to save money and get big shopping discounts? You walk into your favorite store and see a bright sign above some nice T-shirts: “45% off today only!” You may think to yourself: “That sounds like a good deal; I don’t want to miss out.” But I wouldn’t be so sure.

Unfortunately, sometimes those sale prices aren’t actually saving us money.

Intentional Spending

Being aware of how we spend our money is a big part of intentional living. Continue reading “When You’re Not Saving Money at That Sale”

Life Updates from J + M | Intentional Travelers

As you may or may not have noticed, we’ve been posting a bit less on this blog lately. We’re shifting our focus toward our travel blog (now travel business). We do plan to keep posting “simply intentional” reflections here but most of our travels and adventure updates will come from IntentionalTravelers.com, like our life update below:


 New Transformational Travel Business

As we’ve mentioned briefly over the past month or two, we are in the works of launching a business around transformational travel. We are passionate about seeing our culture grow in understanding and appreciation for the world we live in, and be inspired by its beauty and diversity to become more generous, responsible, passionate global citizens.

The primary aim of our business is Continue reading “Life Updates from J + M | Intentional Travelers”

The Latest From J + M

In case you didn’t see the latest update on our travel blog, we have a few pieces of recent news to share:

  • A Worthy Peace Corps Partnership ProjectPhoto credit: Dreamspace CollectiveOur friend, Jordan, a Peace Corps Volunteer who is now serving in our same host community in Jamaica, is raising funds for a project at the community center where Jedd used to work. They plan to create a community garden and demonstration plot that will serve low-income neighborhoods. Learn more and donate here to support this sustainability project!
  • Where To NextOahu
    We’ll be traveling again soon! Our next adventures include Oahu, Vietnam, and Japan – our first time West of Hawaii – and we’re getting all our flights by travel hacking. The main reason for this extended trip (2-3 months) is to help Jedd’s parents make a big move from Hawaii to Japan! As many of you know, we take our freelance work with us on our laptops wherever we go and we’ve got a number of projects going on, so we expect to have our days pretty full this Spring.
  • A New Business VentureScreen Shot 2015-01-23 at 8.03.46 AM
    We’re in the process of forming a travel coordination/consultant business for meaningful, transformational travel. We’re operating under the umbrella of our generous mentor’s travel agency, Travel Team Brokers. Hopefully we’ll have something more solid to share soon, but in the meantime, we’re testing the waters of helping people book travel and starting a network of other travel professionals who are involved in intentional, transformational trips. If you need help booking a vacation of any kind, let us know. You can also help us get connected to people you know in the travel industry who might align with our mission.

Photo Credit (pictures 1 and 3): Ben and Connie of Dreamspace Collective

2014: Year In Review Video

2014 was another eventful year, and we are so thankful for all the people and places we encountered! As usual, we’ve put together a short video of clips from our adventures. You’ll see footage from Peace Corps Jamaica, some road trips and National Parks, France and Switzerland, and more. We hope you enjoy!

The Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

We wanted to share this recipe in honor of being back from our Peace Corps experience in Jamaica. It’s fun to look back on the pictures of us making big batches of these delicious treats for our Jamaican host sister’s wedding.

According to Facebook, many of you actually tried these out at home last year! For my family (Michelle), cinnamon rolls are a traditional part of our holiday celebrations, and I’m looking forward to sharing these rolls with my family in both Oregon and Hawaii this Christmas. I like to make the miniature-sized rolls for this recipe to counteract the generous helpings of cinnamon-sugar and cream cheese frosting it calls for.


Continue reading “The Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls Recipe”

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