Digesting the Holidays

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Prague Astronomical Clock by Yelkrokayade, CC 2.0.

Are holidays ever as carefree as we expect? For as long as we’ve been married, Thom and I have spent Christmas at the old family house where his mother and aunt live. They are now both experiencing memory and physical issues, and this year’s visit was alarming, sad, and stressful at multiple levels.

I packed as I always do for the trip – a book plus my Kindle, some crocheting, a pad of paper for anything I need to write, some work, my laptop – but hardly touched any of that. There was a lot to deal with and at the end of each day I was exhausted. There was no mental space to be creative or studious.

So it was fortuitous that the weather made us drive home a day early, giving us an entire weekend before the return to work. Freezing rain, sleet, and snow kept us at home for the first day, but luckily our pantry and freezer can always yield some meals without fresh inputs. The coziness of home was a perfect antidote for the chaos, clutter, and stress of our trip.

No one ever knows what a new year holds, but after realizing the full situation of my in-laws (which had not been apparent in phone calls) and how much their mental status has changed since our visit 6 months ago, this year feels more uncertain than usual. In addition to the emotional pain of watching the slow march of dementia, their care is likely to require multiple roadtrips and unanticipated financial support.  The other big question mark of this year will be Mari’s college decisions – where, what, how, and, of course, how much… cost.

I’m not a New Year resolutions maker. I usually try to make change whenever motivation strikes, and that is rarely after our big holiday road trip. But in light of the mental, emotional, and physical reserves that I expect to draw on this year, I have already begun some lifestyle improvements.  My goal is to make my brain more resilient to the aging process now, building habits that will make a big difference today and in the future. I do not want to experience the memory loss that I see in my mother-in-law, who completely forgot two conversations that we had on separate days. I also do not want Mari to be burdened with caring for me in a few decades when she should be building her own adulthood. I watched my parents care for my Oma, who lived with dementia for at least 10 years, during which she slowly lost her memories and her personality.

Some years ago I ran across an article that detailed improvement from various phases of dementia in 10 specific patients. It was a remarkable finding because, as most people are aware, there is no drug that can do this, and no protocol had previously been found to delay or improve dementia. At the time this caught my eye because a cousin was noticing the beginning of dementia in her mother, so I saved the article and sent it to her.

I found that article and reviewed it. Turns out the author is Dale Bredesen, who published the book The End of Alzheimer’s a couple years ago (along with another peer-reviewed article of research findings). I’m reading the book now, but the article was a good head start. I already had a fairly healthy lifestyle, and, like most people, knew where improvement could be made, but this is extra motivation to improve my sleep, diet, exercise, and habits. It turns out that weighing a little less isn’t enough for me to avoid sugar, but avoiding dementia is.

Today will be a beautiful day, sunshine on fresh snow, time with family and close friends. A perfect way to begin a new year.

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

 

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?