Grief

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The weirdest month of my life, right here.  March 2020!  My father-in-law fell on February 27 and it turned out, broke a vertebra, and a week later, on March 5, he died.  The next Tuesday, my union went on strike and we were on the picket lines for 3 days.  With COVID19 closures looming we reached a contract settlement and the next Sunday we learned we’d be closed for the remainder of the month preparing for a massive scale distance teaching of children of all ages.  Said preparation was spent with my own two small children at home with me, competing with my husband for work time, and binging on faaaaar too much Facebook.  I let myself indulge in a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. I’ve been eating a lot.  Too much.  Trying to avoid feelings.  Needless to say, my stress levels have been somewhat elevated.

On week 3 of this, we are settling in, figuring it out.  My husband started actually distance teaching; we are officially on spring break so ours doesn’t start for another week.  I’m sleeping kind of better and kind of worse.  I’m walking every day.  Inspired by this post, I’ve been doing little projects that have just kind of sat around forever and it feels good to finish them, use them, put them away, be done.  I’m pushing myself to actually finish up things rather than get close and not see them to completion, and to avoid my old foe of spending time researching and ordering yet more supplies for projects and then not actually doing them.

*****

I left off writing that last night . . . just couldn’t feel out where this was going . . . but I’m back again today.  I have a vague feeling hanging about me, a constant unease.  Maybe, as this article suggests and much more aptly describes, it’s grief.  So many griefs this month, and it feels shallow to admit that the one that feels the biggest right now is this sense that I’ve spent 15 years in a career that I’m consciously choosing to be in said career at this time in my life, but is renowned for its degree of superfluous crap.  The paperwork.  The meetings.  The documentation.  The events.  The committees.  The TESTING.  The TIME.  All of that, in the snap of a finger, gone.  Done.  Don’t have to do it!  Now:  Do only the most important thing (teach) and in the simplest yet most effective way you can given the novelty of the format, etc. and take care of yourself while you do it.  So while my intellectual brain knows that it’s temporary, and because of a very unusual circumstance, I also wonder . . . will I actually be able to go back to that?

“I live aligned with my values.”

I’ve written about some of the thought work I’ve been working on for the last two years or so, and I have a new thought I’m really digging:  “I live aligned with my values.”

What would that look like?

I’d move: walking, biking for transportation and enjoyment, running, hiking, swimming, playing with my kids, skiing, yoga-ing, and dare I say, dancing?  I’d be outside in all kinds of weather:  in the garden, in the yard, in the neighborhood, in parks, camping.  I’d be on screens, sometimes: for connection, for efficiency, for learning.  I’d be off screens most times: for connection, for efficiency, for learning.  I’d be decisive, willing to fail, and imperfect.  I’d be avoiding plastic and new goods wherever possible; I’d be using a bike whenever I could.

I’d be living with less stuff in my home so I wouldn’t feel so stressed out about it, yet with enough to feel abundant and cozy.  I’d be working actively to be satisfied with my material goods, including whatever home I’d be living in, instead of always seeking the greener grass.  When making purchases I’d be taking the time to shop at the hyper local shops I treasure – right now, I could 90% live my daily life within two miles of my home and 99% within 10 miles.  I’d spend money free of guilt and not second-guess purchases large or small – neither being unnecessarily frugal just for the sake of it, nor spending in order to avoid a small inconvenience or more importantly, avoid or create any feeling.  I’d allow myself simply to spend money, and not attach many unspoken and vague conditions in order to grant myself the right to spend.  In doing so, I’d assert myself as a full and equal financial partner in the household with the right to achieve my own dreams and desires regardless of my partner’s level of comfort.  I’d either have to be comfortable with setting aside some of my earnings outside of the household pot and/or earning some more through other avenues in order to control these funds in the pursuit of my dreams.

I’d be fully present without guilt at work when at work, at home when at home, and with myself when with myself.  I’d create community in, well, creative ways and breathe life into some of my many ideas instead of just letting them knock around in my head.  I’d chance to participate in the community life in ways I feel called, while accepting that those ways can also feel hard and give me a bit of anxiety.  I’d embrace the plans I set for myself, whether for daily eating and tasks, weekly schedules, or steps to meet long term goals.  I would keep seeking the balance of being considerate to others while not really caring what they think of me, my plans or what’s important to me in the world.  I’d love my partner in life for who he is, neither putting him on a pedestal nor expecting him to be anything other than exactly just the wonderful person he is.

I’d be soft on myself when I forget my journey and my vision – when I’m in Target the day after Christmas excitedly acquiring more plastic detritus – remind myself, love myself free of judgment, learn and move on.

A Perfect Day

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I had a perfect little day yesterday.  I was and am overflowing with gratitude.

First, I got to sleep in, then putz around the house unhurried and buying my husband a Xmas gift that I think he will love online for a great discount.  (I have a conflicted opinion of Black Friday, but I do like to take advantage on items I’d planned to get anyway).

After that, we cleaned up/put away the fall decor items and got out the Christmas tree and decorations, and set about getting that all ready to decorate later in the day.  The kids were soooooo excited to see the Xmas stuff come out again, especially their books.

Then we packed up our kiddies and goodies and headed to my sister’s for a belated Thanksgiving of delicious and simple foods, games and play.  I made my family do an activity where we wrote down what we were thankful for and had to guess who’d written it.  We laughed really hard.  I kept them for a future year to look back on, though I’ll admit that may be wishful thinking!

We came home and finished the decorating (which is adorably lopsided), had a yummy leftovers supper and the kids went to bed with zero fuss in my big bed snuggled up on either side of me.  And miraculously, I didn’t fall asleep myself, but just drank in those little bodies snoring there next to me.

I headed downstairs and decided I’d do some crafting, so I got out my Pandora and earbuds and fancy paper from when I actually scrapbooked and all the photos of why I want to lose weight that I printed weeks ago and got my creativity on.  And doing so revealed a big aha!  I don’t necessarily want to lose weight for the loss of the weight itself.  I want to lose it so I can be active, mobile, adventurous for a long time to come.  But I can have activity and adventure now.  And I’ll only achieve the mobility part if I DO have activity now.  I don’t have to wait to lose one more pound.  So today, I went to yoga.

And to top it off, I got lost in the rest of a book and couldn’t put it down until I’d finished.  I had to hide in the bathroom to finish it, but it was worth it.  And since it was a YA novel, I didn’t have to stay up all night to get my lost-in-a-book feeling.

BEST. DAY. EVER.

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My yummy book

 

Mental Load

An illustration of a woman with head held in hands and million swirling household thoughts written in thought bubbles all around here. Photo: www.bellebear.com
Photo credit: http://www.bellebear.com

A Facebook friend shared this graphic recently and I can’t stop thinking about it.  I have to-do lists miles long on the computer, in notebooks, in my head, unspoken, carried around all the time.  I suspect many women, particularly mothers, relate.  She kindly posted an inclusion of dads, but I wasn’t so nice or feeling so accommodating about the mental load men carry, as in most circles, men can simply opt out with no repercussions to career, standing in society or family.  But it was stopping to articulate that thought in a comment to my friend that got me thinking, well, why couldn’t I opt out, too?  So I decided to explore a bit more.

As I’ve written about before, I’m trying to practice new ways of thinking about thinking.  The programs I’ve been a part of use what’s called the Model: We have Thoughts regarding Circumstances.  Our Thoughts create our Feelings which drive our Actions and create our Results.  Our Results always prove our Thoughts true.  We outline this in a graphic organizer labeled CTFAR.  Brooke Castillo, Corinne Crabtree, Kara Lowentheil, and many other coaches trained through The Life Coach School use the Model to teach and coach.

 

Here are some unintentional models I think I have working about mental load:

C – mental load

T – If I don’t think of all this crap, I can’t guarantee it will get done.

F – pressure

A – Constant tasks, constant making of lists, always “optimizing” time and doing errands, orders, thinking.

R – I think about all this crap, but can’t guarantee it will all get done.

Or:

C – mental load

T – Men don’t suffer any consequences if this crap doesn’t get done.

F – victimized

A – Spend inordinate amounts of time in thought about everything there is to do, OR NONE in rebellion – sticking my head in the figurative sand

R – Men DON’T suffer any consequences, but I do.

How about:

C – mental load

T – People will think I’m a terrible mother or an unfit employee or (insert any number of perceptions/opinions of others here) if I don’t stay on top of this crap.

F – anxiety

A – perpetual to-do lists, taking on more, proving myself, not fully relaxing/recharging at any moment

R – I’m not a great mother OR employee OR . . .

Here was a surprise one:

C – mental load

T – It’s time to pare down.

F – overwhelmed

A – spin in deciding what to get rid of (physical or mental/emotional)

R – It’s still time to pare down.

 

Here are some Models I’d rather have (Intentional Models):

But what if I tried on:

C – mental load

T – What gets done gets done.

F – Peace

A – prioritize, eliminate, allow unfinished tasks without worry

R – What gets done gets done.

Or:

C – mental load

T – I don’t have to think of everything right now.

F – Permission.

A – relax, or fully finish one thing before starting another.  Case in point: as I’m writing this, my husband popped his head in the door and reminded me I should wake the 3 year old up from a rare nap.  I sat back down and kept writing.

R – I don’t think of everything right now/all at once.

I could try:

C – mental load

T – Maybe I could pare down a little at a time.

F – Curious

A – Cull some low hanging fruit, think about systems to set up/change that would save time and mental energy

R – I pare down a little at a time.

(That one works 🙂 )

Regarding others’ thoughts:

C – mental load (and what I do/don’t get done as a result)

T – What other people think about me is their Model

F – free

A – go about my own life

R – What other people think about me is their Model

 

So what I’m trying to get at with all this gobbledygook, which is meaningful to me but maybe not so much to you, is that 1) I can control my Feelings about all the tasks to be undertaken in an adult life by my Thoughts, and 2) whatever anyone else feels about me as a result is from THEIR OWN Thoughts about the issue, and is not within my control to change.  So: do I need to let mental load be such a problem?  I think I can work on my thoughts to feel more positively about the many things I choose to do in my life.  And maybe part of that IS to pare down/streamline.  And maybe some of it is simply to shift my thoughts, without changing a thing.

How Can I Love Myself Today?

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I’ve been experimenting with a journal prompt that’s helped me beat myself up a lot less.  So basically, I’m learning, the brain wants to missile-seek answers to questions it’s been asked.  If the question is anything along the lines of why am I so dumb? why can’t I get it together? why am I so fat? etc., then those are the answers it’s going to seek, and those answers feel terrible.  And if those are the questions we ask and the answers we get when trying to lose weight, or start a business, or have a better relationship with anyone, or a million other things, if that’s how we react, we’re going to feel like garbage, and we’re going to quit trying, because who wants to feel like that?!  It’s easier to just watch TV or scroll FB or eat a million Tate’s Bakehouse gluten free cookies (*ahem*).  But we can ask any question we want.  So How can I love myself today? helps me be kind to myself, which makes me more likely to take the actions toward the goals I really want to reach, rather than at each failure (of many) beating the crap out of myself mentally.  It’s working . . . I’m still moving forward.  And it feels a lot better.  Try it.  ❤

Brunch on the Patio Plans

It’s a grey, slushy Saturday 2 days post April blizzard, my husband has been with my father-in-law at the clinic all day, and I’m needing happy, sunny thoughts of friends and summer.  So!  I’m going to “plan out loud” right here on the blog.

I’ve been missing a lot of longtime friends in the time since our littles have come along.  Many of them already had their own littles, or have had some since as well.  We have a fantastic back yard with a great deck and now a huge play structure!  So!  I was thinking a few months ago, why do we always stress out about a restaurant that we have to figure out where to go, where to park, and entertain the kids instead of talking and enjoying each other, all at the cost of approximately $1,000,000 for the meal?  We could be enjoying our backyard on unlimited time, a far cheaper meal, and the kids don’t even have to behave.

That time has come!

I want to have a menu that is the same every time, to save on stress, mainly.  The easier this is, the more likely it will be to happen.

I polled the members of a local women’s group about a set menu for friend brunches on the patio.  Requirements:  some kind of main that is gluten free (for me), and pretty much otherwise – just easy.  I posed the idea of an egg bake and they riffed on it.  These lovelies came up with tons of scrumptious ideas for meatless or meat-full, and other customizable ideas like fruit and yogurt parfaits.

Egg bake ideas:

  • With hashbrowns for the “crust” so it’s GF – saute the hashbrowns before adding egg & baking
  • Mushroom, asparagus & gruyere
  • Bacon, cheddar & chives
  • Veggie only for vegetarians, breakfast meats on the side
  • Sausage, onions & peppers with or without cheese
  • Tex Mex egg bake
  • Cheesy Croissant Brunch Bake with caramelized onion, brown sugar ham, sauteed spinach, cheese, and croissant crust (though I’d omit that for GF purposes)
  • Biscuits & gravy egg bake
  • Baked eggs with tomato, cottage cheese, Monterey Jack or Colby cheese, broccoli or spinach

Side dish ideas:

  • Cut fruit
  • Bread
  • Yogurt granola cups – bake the granola in the bottom of a muffin cup and top with yogurt, or just have yogurt with a bag of granola and some little bowls/cups
  • Mimosas & bloody bar
  • Baked bacon

 

 

 

Scarcity v. Abundance

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I’ve been pondering a concept lately and that is the idea of financial abundance deriving from frugality or a scarcity mindset, and that of financial abundance deriving from an abundance mindset.

For years, I doggedly pursued frugality as paramount.  I was on message boards where frugality was held up as THE way to early retirement.  Basically, spend ONLY in accordance with your values so that you retain as much as you possibly can in order to liberate yourself from outside employment.  And then often, it became in my mind: spend as little as possible for the sake of doing so.  Case in point:  I was in therapy after my son was born for post-partum depression and part of what was stressing me out that particular day was that we were always arguing about supper – what to have, who would make it, etc.  We were both working full-time in high-demand, moderately high-income jobs with an infant at home.  It was tough in many ways, but we had plenty of income.  When the therapist suggested that we buy an assortment of convenience meals, salad fixings, etc., I remember thinking and maybe even saying, “but that will cost so much money!”  And it was kind of a wake-up call.  I was punishing and stressing myself out for no good reason.  We had tons of resources right in that moment, and I was thinking thoughts that made me feel like a pauper.

With that, I started to spend. I did almost a 180 on spending.  I started buying and even had my word for the next year be “permission,” mainly to get over the feeling that I was not supposed to spend any money at all, OR any money without consulting with my husband, even though I actually earned more money than him.  (Mind you – none of this imposed by my husband.  Allllll me.).

Since I’ve joined The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program, I’ve been exploring money concepts and thoughts again.  Brooke, like many others, teaches about creating feelings based on thoughts of abundance.  I’m not yet super clear on how to apply this to my own life.  I’m not over the idea of early retirement espoused in the voluntary simplicity literature and movement.  I find it very appealing.  But for me, it’s always been about escaping the work world, about NOT having the freedom and fancy-free life I imagine I’d have when early-retired.

So I guess one way I’m trying to live the idea of abundance versus scarcity is in thinking about the business I plan to start (website is still a skeleton, ‘kay?) and WHY.  Initially, it was for reasons like freedom, not to have a boss, etc.  Just like for ER, those reasons are to escape something.  It won’t work.  I will find some other way to feel restricted or constrained in my business.  So I’m trying to envision what I HAVE that I can bring to the business, not what I’m trying to GET.  I will serve.  I will bring my experiences to share with others.  I have everything I need right now, so I don’t need the business to be anything more than that right now.  And from there, I will not be focusing on what I DON’T have, I’ll be focusing on what I DO have.  And even if my trajectory takes the same amount of time, I will feel so much better along the way.

I do have one old and funny story about this, though.  I dated soooo many guys in the ten years leading up to getting married.  Obviously none of them worked out, for so many reasons.  So one day I’d had it.  I threw my hands up – I was DONE dating.  And didn’t go on the dating sites, and quit looking at every man as a potential partner I had to impress, and did my own thing (including, LOL, paying down a ton of debt and locking in some of those frugal behaviors).  Anyway, it was then that my now-husband asked me out.  And I’d known him for 2 years!  But I was never able to see what was right in front of me for focusing on what I DIDN’T have – a good boyfriend.  It was when I released the scarcity that I was able to get the best boyfriend.  ❤ ❤ ❤

I am still finding my way with this concept.  What are your thoughts?

Thoughts on Planning

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I’m feeling a need to do some reflecting on the practice of planning.

I am a member and/or current devotee of three main personal growth programs.  First, The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program (owned by Brooke Castillo) which has a monthly mindset focus.  Secondly, the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year long cohort program to help teachers maximize their time to find peace and be more efficient.  I’ve completed the year but it is so dense and amazing I have rejoined the Graduate program to eek out more value.  Last, I also closely follow Phit N Phat, a weight loss coaching program whose Queen Corinne trained with The Life Coach School, so the philosophies are similar.  While these programs may vary in topic, there is a strong thread connecting them:  effective, intentional PLANNING.

I hate to think of all the years I wasted pursuing a willy nilly approach.  And really, I actively pursued it.  In fact, in college I was a good planner, kind of natural.  The problem was that I also overdid it.  I overpacked my days and I got shit DONE.  I was in a go-go-go mode from about 18-25 years old.  Folks, no one should be burned out at 25.  So I turned to voluntary simplicity readings and study.  And I started cancelling things.  And scheduling less.  And slowing, and flowing.  And often, not planning anything.  And some of that was a gift – until sometimes it wasn’t.  Because in teaching, you can’t really just wing it.  And I tried.  (My poor students.)  I even left the classroom, thinking in a coaching role I could be less regimented with time during my workday.  It was somewhat true, but I also felt I was doing nothing many days.

Once I had kids, I started to really realize I had to make some changes.  I HATED planning meals, planning activities (especially on the weekends), planning basically anything.  And what that got me was being on childcare duty all the time, because my husband DID make plans, and have ideas of what he wanted to accomplish in a weekend, and since I didn’t, he went ahead and did his thing.  And I didn’t like that.  I was also rushing, frantic, and unprepared most of the time at work and at home.  I had to make a change.

It started about a year ago, first with the 40HTW Club.  I was also part of a mandatory coaching program that all probationary educators go through at work, so there was a huge focus on planning there.  We grouped our tasks by time periods (before school, mid day, after school, evening) instead of making strict appointments for each task.  We identified the main task to be done in order to do it first to feel the pride and reduced stress around having that done.  And that started to work!

In the spring, I found Phit N Phat and started planning what I would eat the next day and evaluate how well I’d stuck to the current day’s plan.  And I started to lose weight!

I was starting to like planning again!  It was getting me results, reducing my stress . . . then came September.

I joined Self Coaching Scholars six months ago and the whole focus of one month – September – was to plan out an “impossible” task per Brooke’s scheduling and planning system.  Basically, in this system you break down the whole task, you schedule every component into a set time, and you don’t allow yourself to exceed the time scheduled.  So I did this.  I scheduled the whole ambitious task for the month, and right away realized I hadn’t planned enough time in each slot, and also who-knows-what happened with the kids and I started to miss slots (ANATHEMA to the approach because really, that’s not honoring myself and my word) and got hopelessly behind and did NOT accomplish my planned goal.  So instead of having the desired effect, which was that we would build a ton of confidence and buy in for the planning system, it had the opposite effect for me, which was to confirm for me what I had been (mis)thinking for years – that planning is hard, that it is impossible to follow a plan, and that if you have kids you can forget even trying to have a plan.

I kind of threw up my hands on all personal planning, but did stick to the work stuff.  Thank God, because one day in October or November, I had nothing to do.  Unheard of.  I was caught up.  I was planned ahead.  And I knew I had to revisit planning once more for myself and my outside-of-work dreams.

Well, a few months later, I am realizing I perhaps overdid it in September.  I think I tried to do WAY too much, and didn’t acknowledge my limitations.  I have a new “impossible” goal, and I want to keep making progress toward it, even if in baby steps.  So I’m studying Brooke’s approach further.  She advocates:  scheduling your free time FIRST.  So one thing where I was mistaken in September was that I scheduled the whole month solid – not only did I choose that “impossible” task but it was our first month back in school!  What was I thinking?!  Ok, so now, there will be no scheduling of anything after bedtime.  It just won’t get done.  Or in the morning before school.  And, I don’t want to work all weekend on regimented stuff.  So that will be protected too.

One confusion I have looking forward is that also in Brooke’s system is that you weekly do a brain dump of all the to-dos rattling around in there, and then you schedule time on your calendar to do it throughout the week.  And then you throw away the brain dump list.  Well, I did my first one and cleared out SEVEN PAGES of to-dos.  I can’t do that all in a week – so then what?  Do I put it all back in my brain?  So another part of my planning evolution is that I need to make it work for me, not blindly adhere to any guru’s approach.  So, I need to have a running to-do list bank for a while until I whittle it down/eliminate some stuff from it.  That’s ok.  I will do that.  I had one going that I hadn’t updated in a while and so it must be time to do that if I had seven pages worth in there!

I think my very biggest thought work and logistics item is where to actually find time to do anything beyond my 8-4 and co-run the household.  We have two young children, and three aging parents – and two of them live an hour away.  I have an autoimmune disorder that is under great control right now and sleep is paramount in maintaining that.  My personal goals feel so insignificant in comparison to this day to day pressure.  I am puzzled about where to find more time.  I may add an afternoon a week of after school care for my oldest who is at my school so I can have an hour to do some business work.  I may do a go-out session every weekend to get some focused work time on it.  So I have a few ideas, but they involve escaping my family, so I don’t feel great about that.  But I also think it could be preferable to what I’m doing now, which is trying to sneak time, diverting my attention from them, parking the kids in front of the TV, and really getting not much of anything done anyway in the end.

Also, I need to make the weekly scheduling process inviolable.  If I reference my brain, my bank of tasks and actually DO make a realistic weekly schedule, I WILL start to honor it, make progress, reduce the amount of pending items, and feel better overall.

I’ll keep you updated!  Thanks for reading my novel!  It helped to write it.

 

How I Did – and Didn’t – Live My Values This Christmas

How I did and didn't live my values this Christmas - a post at SnowshineCottage.com

So, Xmas.  Another December 25th has come and gone.  I thought it would be worthwhile to review how I did and did not embody some of my personal values this season.  I’d love to hear the same from you in the comments!

Less waste & reducing consumerism

Wins:

  • Bought some secondhand plastic toys rather than buying new.
  • Several gifts given and received were things we needed anyway, just maybe with the fun factor ratcheted up a bit – superhero undies, for example.
  • Conscious effort to restrain what we bought our kids knowing our lovely family would shower them with goodies.
  • Laying the groundwork long ago that secondhand gifts would be welcome and enjoyed – extended family gifted some secondhand items as well.
  • Several consumables given and received – candy, candles, bath bombs.
  • About 1/2 the gifts wrapped in reusable wrapping – gift bags, drawstring bags, tins, etc.

Not-so-greats:

Family togetherness & connection aka FUN

Wins:

  • Attended and enjoyed Xmas Eve at my BILs.  Brought the Santa suit along for my 4 yo to wear and his 9 mo cousin sat on his lap.  Hilarity.
  • Had my side over to our house for Xmas Day.  Made a fire and made s’mores in the fireplace.  Had a bunch of favorite desserts and foods.  People felt they could arrive well ahead of lunch – surprising me a bit, but happy they feel at home in our home.

Not-so-greats:

  • None here yet!

Egalitarian workload – emotional labor and otherwise

I’m trying not to own every detail of our married life.  It’s hard, because it’s easier for my husband to let me do that, and often easier for me just to do it.  Add the invisible societal expectations around it and it just seems like a no brainer to be “in charge” of Xmas.  But I don’t want it to be all me.  So I’m working on that.  (P.S. I always feel I have to give the caveat that my husband is very active in home life.  But the fact that I feel this way says that it’s still a force at work if I even have to point that out:  “Hey!  But my husband is an amazing anomaly!”)

Wins:

  • Refused to be the gatekeeper of the number or types of gifts for the children.
  • Created a shared gift idea list in the app we use for sharing our grocery shopping list.
  • Sent suggestions for what I wanted in my stocking.  I guess that was kind of providing emotional labor though.  But I was happy with what I got.  LOL
  • Co-planned Xmas hosting, using co-developed lists to communicate tasks and check them off.
  • Not extending more emotional labor than necessary when my brother waited until the last minute to obtain a contribution for Xmas Day and didn’t feel he could find what I suggested and wanted further discussion and suggestions.  So I told him whatever he wanted or nothing at all.

Not-so-greats:

  • Constantly having to pay attention to this.
  • Having to set up the things like shared lists like the gift ideas in the first place – and then to find out the other day he didn’t even know I’d shared it.
  • Coordinating/reminding/hounding my immediate family to declare what they would contribute on Christmas Day.
  • Husband declared that he would not ever be texting anyone on our babysitter list (developed by me, of course) because he doesn’t want to be creepy.
  • Total abandonment of sending Xmas cards or even electronic greetings.  Just too hard this year.

Honoring the spirit of the season

I feel I have few wins in this area outside of the family time stuff.  To me, this value is about giving to the broader community (didn’t, despite my best intentions) and engaging in worship or acknowledgement of the birth of Christ (ahem, a big fat zero in this area).  The best I did was to get a few of my families from school included into the schools Giving Tree, ones who hadn’t been included in the program previously.  So, big room to grow in this area.

How about you, dearies?  If you are a celebrant, are you happy with how you honored your selves and your beloveds this holiday?

Family Holiday Traditions: How We Do the Season

background-2937873_1920Kelli says:  I was thinking it might be nice to get and share some ideas for traditions that work well for younger kids and older kids and how they might change over the years.  So Ilse and I have put our heads together to share some our favorites, and at least in my case, sticking points with developing traditions with my younguns.

Daily-excitement-in-December traditions – aka Advent Calendars or Elf on the Shelf

Kelli says:  We have an advent calendar, which we are filling with activities written on tags, but the 4 year old has emptied the calendar (frustrating me, because a few of the activities are meant to go on certain days), and also has expressed his distaste at the apparent unexcitement of some of the already-revealed activities.  So I’m discouraged. We might not put it up next year but rather offer simple activities on nights where we all can handle them. I want there to be magic without pumping them full of sugar (candy’s the easy hit around here, but they are weirdly obsessive about it) and without filling the house (and planet) with more plastic crap.

We do not Elf due to our own overload but I think my kids would have liked it better than the Advent calendar anyway, which hasn’t been much easier to pull off.

Ilse says: Mari painted a wooden Advent calendar one year; it has a small drawer for each day and came with tiny paintable ornaments that fit in the drawers.  We’ve also printed easy activities for each day – such as, “decide which house on the block has your favorite lights,” or “make pancakes for breakfast.” More complicated activities can go on the weekend days.  

Activities in the community

Kelli says:  We’re strongly entrenched in the Santa years, so a visit is always a must.  We’ve let go of the professional photo Santa visit though as the price kept climbing and climbing.  I think this year we’ll see him at the Rec Center attached to school next week. My home town, where my parents still live, has a lighted parade and tree lighting just after Thanksgiving and that was really fun to kick off the season this year.  I think that’s a definite repeat. I’d like to add in simple things like sledding at school and ice skating, too. We live just two block from a rink with free rentals, but it’s not ready yet this year.

Ilse says: I’ve learned to aim low over the years when it comes to activities.  We’re a family of introverts and we all need some down time after the work/school week.  We’re usually pretty happy to spend time in our house reading, cooking, crafting, listening to music, and just being.  So while we live in an area where there are many fun activities of all kinds every weekend, I always ask myself what we would all enjoy the most at any given moment.  Just getting outside is a huge pleasure after a week in buildings; today we walked on a sunlit, frozen lake with our dog jumping around, delighted with the snow.

Travel

Ilse says:  Our biggest holiday tradition is the annual drive over the river and through the woods and then over the river again, across hundreds of miles of cornfields, past two windfarms, to grandmother’s house.  It’s always an adventure to travel in the Midwest at this time of year. One year, as we were driving home very slowly through freezing rain, I proposed that we visit Mari’s grandma in the summer instead, and both Thom and Mari expressed disbelief that I could even suggest such a thing. We don’t have any family in Minnesota, so this is Mari’s chance to be around some of her cousins, as well as to load up on attention from Grandma and a ridiculous quantity of sugar.  The extended family has a Christmas Day brunch, during which Mari and her younger cousins used to run around like a pack of coyotes, but now she reads a book while waiting for the adults to finish talking. Grandma lives in an old neighborhood, and our dog goes along, so we take lots of walks at all hours of the day in all directions and admire the holiday decorations. This year, Mari will be able to help out with the driving!

Kelli says:  We have all our immediate family within an hour of here, which is nice.  Some extended family lives several hours’ or days’ drive away, but we’ve never really gotten together at the holidays, and that’s ok.  We are both teachers, though, so we do tend to like a mini trip over the Xmas break. This year we are thinking about a hotel near the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  It’s close to us, but not super duper close, so the idea is go to the holiday lights, swim in the hotel pool, sleep over, get up the next day and swim some more, then join some family for brunch on that side of town.  Last year we were at a condo with my in-laws and my parents and happened to be able to get in a visit to Bentleyville.  So I guess a mini-break is kind of turning into a tradition.  Before kids, we loved going to Tettegouche Camp over the break, but we haven’t tackled the 1.5 mile walk in with the kids yet.  We are waiting until our youngest potty trains – so maybe next year we can go again?

Gifting

Ilse says:  We make and buy gifts for friends and family, but our gifting has been drastically simplified over the years, with fewer people in our exchange circle. This year, our family gift is the one thing we always want most in January, which is to leave Minnesota for a few days for a warm, sunny place. Not frugal, not simple except that it doesn’t require shopping trips or wrapping paper, but something that we will all thoroughly enjoy.

Kelli says:  This has been the hardest for us.  I think we have finally settled on having a stocking of gifts from Santa, and 1-2 big gifts from mom & dad and from each sibling to the other under the tree.  Last year we waaaaay overbought and I suspect we have this year as well, though we’ve stuck to mostly stuff they need anyway (fun undies, new socks) and books rather than toys.  They will get plenty of those from rellies. Which reminds me – I kind of want to make an annual toy purge part of the December traditions. Kind of a pre-Christmas cleanout, so to speak.  

I fantasize about homemade Xmas gifts but the reality of the past few years has been a big fat NO WAY.  Luckily, all of the adults in our immediate families are off the gifting train now, so it’s not too many people to whom we need to gift.  I’m thinking of getting back on for teachers – but as a teacher, I know how nice it is to get a big fat gift card, too. So this year, that’s the route we went.

Making

Ilse says:  For a number of years, Mari and I worked on Christmas crafts together.  Sometimes they were gifts for others, and sometimes they were decorations for our house.  That was something that we both enjoyed doing, and now we have them to remind us each year of that time together (now our co-crafting time tends to be more focused on making gifts for our individual friends).  Some of them took multiple holiday seasons (i.e., years) to complete, but the idea was the time spent together, not the product.

Kelli says:  This year I had Norwood paint his own wrapping paper for the gifts he’s selected.  They do like making and so does their dad and so do I. Maybe something to integrate as they get older.

Togetherness and relaxation

Kelli says:  Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas are a must, and conveniently for having little kids, we have both of them on DVD – and VHS!  (Ok, tangent: Ha! That’s right! We are still VHS users). We also have a wood burning fireplace that we’ve used ONCE in living here for over 5 years now and I really want to make fires part of the holiday season.

Ilse says:  Mari and I decorate our tree and bake holiday-special cookies (her favorites are spritz, for which we use her great-grandmother’s cookie press), and she and Thom hang lights outside.  Sometimes two or three of us will play holiday songs on various instruments. We always watch particular Christmas movies and cartoons (and Kelli, we watch Charlie Brown on VHS also!).

Food!

Ilse says:  Some families have a lot of holiday food traditions.  Our holiday meals vary from year to year. When we’re at Grandma’s, I do all the cooking, and it’s a change-resistant audience, so I stick with reliable favorites.  But there are some food traditions that come yearly: the package from my parents, Mari’s out-West grandparents, filled with cookies I’ve been eating since childhood, my parents’ rendition of my great-grandmother’s stollen, and the fudge my mom’s made every Christmas since the 1970s.

Kelli says:  We just lost my husband’s mother in November.  Her cookies were a highlight of every holiday. Sadly I cannot find the copies of her recipes that we had.  I know they are somewhere . . . but we might have to have “close enough” recipes for this year. She always made sugar cut-out cookies, Mexican wedding cookies/Russian tea cakes, and some kind of amazing cookie rolled in nuts.  She also always made a potica nut roll, but I’m not sure we’ll tackle that one. The adults have always enjoyed chili and grasshoppers on Christmas Eve.

In the past I did peanut brittle in the microwave and it was amazing.  Maybe I should resurrect that with the kids – it’s fun to watch it foam, and easy to make.

Your turn

What simple traditions have been the most memorable over the years for your family?  How have traditions changed over the years that may have been cherished – or difficult – with young children?