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?

Black Friday, *sigh*

black-friday-2925476_1920

Oh Black Friday.  How I ignored your existence for so many years.  Then we remodeled our house, and needed new appliances, so in 2011 the siren song of your deals sucked me in.  And since then, while I don’t elbow or trample anyone in person, I do participate in the online frenzy.

What I love about Black Friday:

  • Deals, ok?  I love the deals, especially on things I was already going to buy or waited to buy until Black Friday deals came up.  In preparation, I made a good effort to locate all these items secondhand, and was successful on some fronts (I bought my daughter a big load of clothes, and found winter boots for both kids) but not on others.  So:  I bought shoes for the kids, a bed frame and mattress for my daughter, a new vacuum (this year’s killer deal winner), new jackets for the kids that we love from Gap, a few clothes for me, a few stocking stuffers for the family.
  • The thrill of the hunt, looking for the best deal.  Notice that this will also appear below.
  • The gratification.  I delayed it, then I got the stuff.
  • Related to the thrill of the hunt, the stacking of bargains.  For some, I got the store’s discount, then additional $$ back through eBates, and my cashback through my credit card.  Cha-ching on stuff I would have been buying in the near term anyway.

What I hate about Black Friday:

  • The human price of instant delivery.  I haven’t even been able to bring myself to listen to this podcast episode about it because I know my feelings will be horrible.  At some point, I need to (see “misalignment” below).
  • That I was willing to buy things new just because they were on a deal, when if I’d waited longer I could have likely obtained them secondhand, conserving resources and money.  I don’t worry as much about the money as in the past, but the manufacturing load of new items troubles me.  Except, it seems, when the deals are so good.  So that leads me to . . .
  • Misalignment with my values.  Why am I willing to morph into some crazy-consumerist one weekend of the year and not at other times?
  • The thrill of the hunt.  Oh, there you are again.  I wasted a LOT of time that weekend looking for the best deals on beds – and ended up buying one off Amazon for the regular price.  I have been known to “buffer” with online shopping and see this is a negative activity for my overall well-being (“buffering” being a term from Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School and meaning activities we undertake in order not to feel undesired feelings or urges).

How about you?

How I View Money – a Retrospective (Part 1)

money-2724241_1920I’m sure this will be fascinating to many of you, and make others want to lay their head down on the nearest pillow and fall directly to sleep.  Or maybe somewhere in the middle?  Not even sure why I’ve been thinking about this lately.  Probably because in reading all of Ilse’s wonderful posts, I’m reminded of how long it’s been since I “met” her and Stephanie online and where my own outlook on money, frugality, simplicity, intentionality, etc. has meandered since.

So grew up middle class in rural MN.  Mom and dad never talked about money, well, not the details, but we knew we had enough for everything we needed but not quite everything we wanted.  I always had the distinct impression that I should not request designer clothing, for example, which pretty much I didn’t care about – or perhaps I didn’t care because I knew I wasn’t going to have, anyway.  But we were able to do all kinds of school activities, and always had enough food and clothes and medicine and books and toys and everything.

When it was time to go to college, I was determined to do it without loans.  I went to community college concurrently with high school for free, then an additional year there to finish up an Associate’s degree, which I planned to transfer to a public university where I would finish my degree quickly and with no debt.  Until . . . I got overwhelmed by the prospect of that public university and I visited a beautiful private college with its immaculate grounds and super welcoming admissions staff and FREE POP AND WAIVED APPLICATION FEE.  So I applied, and got accepted.  I was so excited!  Then the financial aid letter arrived, with its skillions of dollars in loans as part of the package.  And though I’d stated my goal of no student loans for yeeeeeeeeears, my parents were like, “meh, debt’s part of life.”  And so I signed and waded into my first student loan.

What I also didn’t know is that I needed an additional year at that private college to cover requirements not accepted from the community college.  So.  There are a lot of things a family doesn’t really understand when no one’s completed college.  Now we know.  Transferring doesn’t always equal saving money.

Ultimately I borrowed around $20K in loans, a modest amount to some but an amount that weighed on me.  So after college and a stint working abroad, I got serious about actually taking some action to eliminate these loans.  I’d also wracked up some credit card debt during a year of underemployment, so I had that on my conscience too.  It was at that time that I discovered Your Money or Your Life, and the heavens parted and the angels sang and I drank the Kool Aid and counted all my socks and everything else I owned and was shocked into action.

I started working diligently to pay off all my debt in March of 2006.  I documented my journey on a now-defunct website dedicated to tracking goals.  By this time I had about $34K in student loan debt (I’d also started a masters program), credit card debt and auto debt (because, since debt bothered me so much . . . I had bought and financed a brand new car.  Riddle me that.).  I did all these odd jobs, I had a graph (I just recycled that sucker about a month ago, I couldn’t let it go for years because I was sooooo proud of what it represented).  Finally, in 2011, all of it was paid off, and in the interim I’d finished the remainder of the masters program on a cash basis and taken several trips including India and Hawaii, and gotten married!  Admittedly a dual income definitely helped knock out the last $15K or so.

I’ll bring you my married life journey in a future installment, which I’ll link here when it’s up!

 

On Comparison

Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m sitting here in my warm house, in front of glowing candles in the fireplace and – in my eyes – a Better Homes and Gardens-worthy mantel, reflecting on the day.  We went to my brother-in-law’s beautiful new lakeside home to celebrate our first Thanksgiving since losing my mother-in-law just last week.  She was a timeless hostess.  She’d stepped back from doing the big meals the last few years, but it didn’t matter today.  She and her ever gracious hostess presence was warmly remembered around the table and more than a few tears were shed.

Now, my little family does NOT live in a brand new lakeside home.  We live in a 1926 Tudor in a beautiful neighborhood in St. Paul.  When we moved in, it felt palatial.  We’d lived in a matchbox of a 1917 bungalow with an awful layout and really lived in about 600 square feet of it and deposited our junk in the other 300 barely usable square feet upstairs.  So to get a 1400 square foot house felt amazing.  But when I go to my brother-in-law’s, the thoughts of comparison start marching through my mind . . . I wish I lived on a lake.  No cracks in the plaster here.  I bet he pays less in property taxes on a house twice as big.  They have so much space!  The fact that he has to drive an hour to work is kind of lost in all the comparison.  Or that they have to clean that whole place.  Or pay for it . . . for how long?

Emotionally, life’s been a little hard lately, and so also lately, I’m kind of obsessing about home improvements – stuff that should be low on the current priority list.  Painting the living room/dining room/sun room/stairway.  Getting a big girl bed for my daughter who I’d really rather keep in the crib anyway.  Scraping the popcorn coating and skimcoating the ceilings because it’s clear WHY they put that popcorn up in the first place – to cover the humongous fissures in the plaster.  (See how I wrote “should be low on the priority list?”  Bear with me.  That’s important later.)

I suppose it’s easier to window shop online and browse Pinterest for paint colors than to be sad that my mother-in-law died, or to face that I’m really not committing to losing that weight, or to admit that no matter how bad I would like to be a self-employed person I’ve taken no more steps toward doing so than making some lists of ideas in my journal, or that it’s generally grey and dark right now and I’m kinda sluggin’ it up around here.

So I’m starting to indulge in this dangerous game of comparison.  It’s a thief of joy, or should I say of feeling my emotions fully?  Because I’m not really trying to escape joy here, am I?  So then I’m letting these thoughts of envy lead me into activities and thoughts that distract me from feelings I need to feel.  I’m letting it lead me into imagining it would be better to trade up the whole house rather than spend a few hundred bucks on a paint color I like better and that we could actually wipe clean or maybe a few thousand in getting properly sized furniture for the quirky layout of the living room.  AND WHAT IF I MISS THE BLACK FRIDAY DEALS ON THE BIG GIRL BEDS?!?!

I’ll allow myself to make my home the way I want, but I’m gonna force myself to make a decision.  No more bed browsing.  Now I know that the bed I want exists, and when it’s time to get it, we will.  No need to worry about Black Friday.  There will be another sale.  No more fantasizing about paint.  I’ll buy it and hire our handyman to paint, or move on.  I’m getting better at this decision making stuff.  It’s all a journey.  I’m learning how to recognize when I’m envious, when I’m distracting myself from needing to feel, and when – gosh darn it – I’m just actually really tired of the handprinted, penciled up paint color and want something fresh and new on the walls.  And it might cost money.  And that is allowed.

On Insecurity

I’m in a group coaching program that is forcing me to look at how my thoughts create my feelings – big time.  Some days it feels like too much to open the lid on my brain and take a look.  But look I must, because I’m not fully pleased with all the aspects of my life.  And that’s why I’m here today with this particular post.

I’m here because part of my plan to allow and feel the feeling of insecurity is to make more posts on Snowshine Cottage.  You see, my jam has been setting up the backend of this blog and thinking of ideas.  And there it stopped.  And I’ve let the awesome posts that Ilse and Stephanie have been doing intimidate me.  Their intentionality and dedication is inspiring me to step up and actually do what I committed to do – a post a week.

I do angst pretty well, so get ready.  LOL – just kidding, but only a bit.  My angst meter has been turned way down since joining the above-mentioned program, but I still indulge in a bit now and then, which tends to be when I like to write.  🙂

I took Facebook off my phone

And as a sorry FWP, I had real anxiety about it.  I’ve spent innumerable hours scrolling Facebook in the last four years since I had my first child and have been nursing or pregnant (aka exhausted) pretty much constantly since.  It’s getting better now, and I decided it was time to let this crutch go.  I still get on it on the computer, mainly for garage sale groups and three other groups I belong to that I find useful.

I didn’t think just taking it off my phone would do much.  I thought I would log on via the phone’s web browser.  But I haven’t.  And it’s been glorious!  I pick up my phone probably 75% less, and am on FB itself 90% less.  I don’t feel beholden to my phone, imprisoned by it, ready to chuck it in a lake anymore.  And I’m not particularly doing anything that amazing with that time, but I don’t feel so time scarce, as Ilse mentioned in one of her recent posts.  And I’ll take all the time I can get.