Advent(ures)

I’ve been searching for meaning. Meaning in a season that seems to revolve around Santa, elves that do the parenting for you for a few weeks, spending money you may or may not have, stress, weight gain, zero downtime, and a lot of musts and shoulds and expectations. I know that it’s supposed to be magical, but it hasn’t felt that way for me for a long time. Christmas seems less about Christ’s birth than ever. Ask my husband and he’ll give you a spiel about Paganism, Saturnalia, fire hazards and lying to your kids about a fat man breaking into your house. Sorry for anyone who has been to a Christmas cocktail party with him in the last, er, lifetime, he can be a bit of a (historically accurate) buzz kill.

When I had children, I resolved to resolve some of the inner turmoil I was feeling. I felt that, in order to be a good parent, I had to really believe in the season, and strive to create traditions for them that would feel like…home. I wanted to be able to explain to my kids why we celebrate the way we do, and why we are celebrating in the first place.

Whether you eat braised short rib lasagna on Christmas Eve (looking at you Gina, and wow was that a Christmas Eve to remember), or Chinese food after Mass, or whether your traditions revolve around Santa, cookies, Jesus, elaborate gifts or more, your traditions must mean something to you. You must be able to defend them.

Why are those traditions important to you?

Growing up, Advent was synonymous with a chocolate calendar with little perforated doors. My sister and I alternated days of putting that little wafer of molded milk chocolate on our tongues. When I started my own my family, I identified Advent as a season of anticipation, and I have always been an anticipation-junkie.

For me, waiting for a vacation, or anticipating a reunion has always been as sweet to me as the actual event, so it makes sense that Zac and I have centered our traditions around Advent, as a way to reconnect around the values that matter most to us: togetherness, undivided attention, quality experiences, memory making and giving back to the people who hold up our little family.

The Medium

 

Your calendar can be elaborate, it can be virtual, or it can be a small DIY project that you put together during a naptime. My friend Starr has an Advent calendar that is an elaborate wood structure, hand-painted, a work of art. My friend Katharina has a gold and white inspired tree with sachets attached that glitters in the way only German Chirstmas decor can do. My friend Megan made one herself that matches her stunning winter white and gold decor scheme. My sister-in-law Carey made one from solo cups once that inspired me before I even had kids. Mine is from Pottery Barn kids, and takes two seconds to hang and fill with paper. Because our advent season centers around experiences, I don’t need for it to hold much.

What follows is a template for advent, should you choose to take on this tradition with your family.  You can mix and match these to create a calendar that works for you and your family, and I’ll let you in on a secret, you can switch up the papers/days as the month goes along – the key is being flexible. This is not meant to be something that adds a lot of extra work to your plate – if it does, it shouldn’t be a tradition in your family. I want you to revel in your traditions, question them, reform them so they constantly work for you, and include your family in them as much as you can as they grow. As a mama, it can feel like the work of the holidays falls straight onto your shoulders alone, and that can be really lonely.

The Mix

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The mix that I’ve come up with has 6 categories. Use these 6 categories to choose your activities, and assign them to days. If you are working parents with kids in school, the bulk of your experiences will fall during the weekends, where the weekday activities will be light. If you are home with kids all day and looking for ideas, you may center more of your experiences during the week and keep the weekends light, as holiday month weekends are always busy on their own. As the month goes on, you can always adjust these. In our home, the majority of our celebrating will be done in the days leading up to Christmas, and the day itself will be mostly lazy, with 1-2 gifts, and a lot of snuggling and eating, playing and FaceTiming with family.

  • Making Things: clove oranges, popcorn garlands, cotton ball snowmen, homemade snow globes, cutting snowflakes, signing Christmas cards, coloring wrapping paper, painting ornaments, watercolor place card settings, or any number of crafty crafts you can find – this is not my forte, but I can google stuff and if it’s not too messy, I can roll with it. I love to host these as play dates so there are more adults around and the supplies can cover multiple kiddos
  • Baking Things: holiday appetizers (to be frozen and popped in the oven for impromptu guests), your family’s favorite cookie, classic sugar cookies, instant pot lemon curd, freezer biscuits, monkey bread for Christmas morning, rolling pigs in a blanket, making egg nog, making a gingerbread house or scene
  • Giving Things: cookies for the mailman, goodies for the UPS/FedEx delivery men, teacher gifts, assembling kits for the homeless, shopping for kids for the Angel Tree, sending care packages to the military stationed abroad, delivering gifts to those in need, volunteering at a local shelter
  • Dollar Store Things: dollar store, dollar section at Target – I’m talking stickers, window decals, light up necklaces, gold chocolate coins, coloring books,
  • Big Days Out: tickets to see the Nutcracker, plans to see a Christmas parade, attending a Christmas concert, caroling, a wagon stroll to see Christmas lights, visiting Santa, attending a live Nativity, ice skating
  • Chill Nights In: decorating the Christmas tree, unwrapping and setting up the Nativity, opening up the box of Christmas books, reading Twas the Night Before Christmas, watching a Christmas movie with popcorn, dancing in the house to Christmas movie

Here are a few of our Advent highlights from last year:

Opening new ornaments

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Making a Christmas appetizer together

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Holiday cookie baking (peppernuts!)

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Wrapping for military kids

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Caroling at a Nursing Home

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Seeing Madeline’s Christmas

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Making pine cone ornaments

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Hot Chocolate for breakfast

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Holiday Light Stroll

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Ornament Making with friends

 

Seeing the Nutcracker

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If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’re thinking about the traditions that are important to you, and if Advent is the one that resonates with you, I hope you’re inspired by these ideas. I’d love to hear how you anticipate Christmas in a meaningful way – let me know in the comments or on the Facebook Page.

Cheers,

Sarah

 

 

Byeeeee November (hello, Nut-ville, er December)

I swear it was just yesterday that I was trashing 15 lbs of my kids’ Halloween candy. Where the H did November go? We survived Thanksgiving mostly intact, although a bug swept through our household and pushed us over like dominoes one-by-one. This led to an exorbitant amount of down time. Lazy time is not something I am really good at, but it did leave me restored and slightly ready to face Cyber Monday and the onslaught of December antics headed our way.

Before we’re hit full on with December, I thought I’d take a few minutes to re-cap what I did in November that worked and preview what I’m thinking I can wedge into my life for December. My goal is to make you feel like you can take things off of your list, change the paradigm for something in your family, or make your life more simple and joyful during this season of musts/shoulds!

What worked:

  • Cooking Thanksgiving in advance was a hit. We enjoyed the day with pigs-in-a-blanket and the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. Everyone who wanted one took a nap. There was a lot of champagne consumed. The day was very low stress (although significantly more work for my mom who cooked the turkey while I curled up in the fetal position with the stomach bug)
  • After dinner, I put the turkey carcass directly into the Slow Cooker covered with water and added the remainder of herbs and set it for 20 hours – it yielded 3 lbs of additional meat and an unctuous turkey stock which became the basis of meals for days.
  • We ziplocked all leftovers in gallon bags. This made it way easier to pitch them when we were sick of them and made stacking easy in the fridge
  • We resisted the urge to decorate for Christmas, and spent a few extra days enjoying our Fall decor. It made the weekend feel a little longer and more indulgent.
  • I made the following meals with our leftover turkey meat and bones: turkey pot pie (from Ina’s recipe – makes enough for two, so half the filling is frozen and will make a great December meal), turkey soup (filtered stock, all of the meat that came off of the turkey carcass, celery, carrots and egg noodles; plussed up the broth with a little better than bouillon); split pea soup with a smoked turkey leg was divine and perfect (from the new One and Done cookbook); and the remainder of the turkey is going in turkey tetrazzini (my grandmother’s recipe gets a fresh makeover).
  • I made potato cakes for breakfast using leftover mashed potatoes – added a cup of flour to two cups of mashed potatoes and one egg and some salt – fried up in olive oil and served topped with fried eggs
  • I ditched the corn pudding and stuffing – I’m not even sure I’ll make these sides next year- roasted veggies and mashed potatoes were perfect.
  • I sent an email to our families about gifts – posing the question – is the tradition of buying gifts important to you? I suggested a few things – pooling our money and donating to charity, setting a limit and picking a name, or focusing on a family experience together. I sent another email about experiences > things letting grandparents know that if gifts were important to them, we’d love museum memberships and gymnastics and swim lessons. I feel like every year I wait too long to send this message, and then it’s off to the races. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted just starting the conversation.
  • I solidified our “No Santa” plan with the husband — we need to be careful about the way we talk to the kids this year, and what we say and how we ensure that the kids are respectful to other kids. Even after telling our almost 4 year old that Santa doesn’t come to our house and that he’s a fictional character, she was still excited to see him at the Ice Rink Opening last week. The magic can still be there, folks, even if he’s a character. Food for thought.
  • I ordered gift cards for teachers using credit card rewards points. That is $500 I won’t have to shell out this holiday season and my points were sitting there doing nothing! Score.
  • We made our famous family bread – gruyere popovers – two days after Thanksgiving and served them with turkey soup. We have always made them with the Thanksgiving meal but they have to be served hot straight from the oven and they’re quite filling, so they kind of add stress – two days later they were bliss with soup.

Looking forward:

  • Look for an Advent post on Friday of a full list of experiences /ideas for your advent calendar. It’s not too late to celebrate advent and infuse the whole month with quality time with your family.
  • We’re planning to adopt a family and shop together for kids the same age as our kids
  • We’ll do a toy purge/donation before Christmas to emphasize the needs of others and make way for new things
  • We’re planning to stick to this rule of thumb for our kids: 4 things: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read
  • I’ll have a post on teacher gifts- I like to combine something tangible (gift cards) with something homemade
  • I’ll post about our family cookie recipe which uses an entire 5 lb bag of flour – scared?
  • I’ll share some of our favorite traditions around the holiday menu
  • I’m planning a post about what toys we are eyeing for our kids this year for Christmas with a focus on imaginative play and family/evening games
  • I’ll do a post on easy apps to have on hand for impromptu gatherings
  • I’ll share my thoughts on Bullet Journaling– I’m a month into the practice and finding it is helping me organize for the holidays in a really fantastic way

What else would you like to see? Let me know in the comments here or on the Facebook page!

I Just Can’t: Christmas Cards

A few years ago, I got on my soapbox on social media about Christmas cards, and I’ve never really lived it down. This was of course before kids. Now I’m way too busy making sure my 2 year old doesn’t climb on the counter to “pour” me a cup of coffee into a wine glass to worry about what other adults do. But, I digress. I was bemoaning the fact that out of the over 150 holiday cards I received, only three of them were signed personally. I dug in my heels and got into a comment war on a post that didn’t end until somebody using the C word and once that word is said, you can’t exactly gracefully retort (Cancer, not the other word, get your minds out of the gutter.)

Now acutely aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into signing and writing a note on each and every holiday card, I still feel the same way I did all those years ago. I wish I could tell you that I’ve changed my mind, but my friend Emily still signs her card to me every year with a note basically saying she’s afraid to be on my shit-list. Close friends know that this remains my soapbox….and it’s only getting taller.

I think that my strong feelings on the subject really get at the heart of how I’m currently feeling about holiday cards. Here’s how this goes every year:

  1. Shop for months for outfits for children that don’t cost a million dollars, reflect timeless style and will somehow “go” without “matching”
  2. Hire photographer and choose location that hasn’t been used before by anyone I know, or by me
  3. Block a Saturday during the busiest time of year
  4. Wake up family at an ungodly hour. Bribe children relentlessly with leftover Halloween candy so that they will wear the outfits.
  5. Choose husband’s outfit. Ignore eye rolling.
  6. Choose my own outfit. Note: this usually happens less than an hour before we leave the house because during the whole process I never stop to consider what I will wear.
  7. Endure family photos. If you’re lucky, these are fun; we’ve gotten really lucky in recent years and we’ve chosen photographers who we adore being around. I always order a canvas of our holiday photos, so this part of the process is totally worthwhile, but for me, it’s more fun to do it during a less crazy time of year.
  8. Shop for cards. Sift through the hundreds of deals offered during the holidays. Put them in the cart 4x and then freak out at the price and start over another day.
  9. Time ticks. Ticking. Ticking. It’s December 15th at this point if I’m lucky
  10. Update contacts in my address book. Discuss who has moved. Because we are in the military and we know a lot of folks in the military, this is usually 1/3 of our list. Text folks for addresses. Nag the husband to do the same. End up having some good catch ups with friends that were much needed.
  11. Ask husband to mail merge because, toddlers, and print the address labels.
  12. Finally take the plunge and order cards. Cringe when I give my credit card.
  13. Cards come. For the next 11 nights, we will each take our stack, label them with addresses and sign and write personal notes. At this point its basically Christmas Eve. Husband makes fun of my handwriting. Most people get notes that say “hope to see you in 2019” which is totally sincere and the whole reason I keep up this whole charade.
  14. Post photos to Facebook. Who can resist this step? Just got photosssss back bitches. Outfits “go” and don’t “match” – gotta share. So many poses. Must share. Please like. And love. And fireworks.
  15. Drop major cash on stamps. Seriously – nothing makes me feel older than seeing how much stamps cost in 2018.
  16. Stamp these MF cards. Mail them. Must drive around and drop them in multiple mailboxes because there are so many.
  17. Never hear anything. From anyone. And Scene.

This is how it feels to me. Now, the reality is that many of you love receiving cards. You have elaborate gorgeous set-ups to display them and some of you even keep these little works of art up all year long. I know they are enjoyed by many of you, and I hope that my terrible handwritten note means something.

I just can’t help thinking about how this time, money, effort could be better spent. Rather than co-signing cards, I would rather be beating my husband at Scrabble in front of a fire. Rather than posing for photos, I’d rather be shopping for our Adopt-a-Family or spending the morning outside to counteract the zillions of holiday calories. There are upsides to family photos, upsides to an annual communication to your mailing list, but I’ve totally lost the joy this year, and I’m not sure I can go through with it, readers.

Maybe it’s the Minimalism Bug. Maybe its the cost of postage. Maybe its the fact that everything feels so transparent on Facebook. Maybe I want my $500+ back. This year, I’m driven to change the paradigm around holiday cards.

So, I have decided to try something. We’ll call this a pilot program. if you’re on our list this year, you’ll be getting an email from me with our new address and a simple question – do you want to receive a holiday card from our family?  I am going to print a handful of our stunning family photos (stay tuned for a post about these) using Social Print Studio. They make it so easy to love them with their adorable square prints and easy ordering app. The upside to ordering these is that I can use them throughout the year. I usually keep a dozen or so prints on hand of the kids, and I include them in thank you notes throughout the year.  If a holiday card with a photo is something you cherish, nothing would make me happier than dropping one in the mail with a handwritten card. It may take me until February, but hey, that’s life. I would rather send 15-20 cards with intention than blanket my mailing list this year.

I realize that this will be controversial. Still, I want the world to know that I will love receiving a holiday card from you if it brings you joy to send one to me, or if it’s a tradition that is special to you. I’ll open each one with joy, show them to the kids at night, tell a funny story about that one time I beat you in a push-up contest, and display them until New Years Day.  I wish I was the sentimental kind when it comes to cards and paper, but I’ve learned after years of saving things that I rarely look back at such items. My kids routinely find their art in the trashcan and pick it out and approach me tearily, so please don’t take it personally that your card will only be displayed for a few weeks.

I’m going to try something new, and see how it makes me feel. Maybe I’ll hear from more folks this year that they really missed our card. We will see what happens with this experiment. In the end, I’m writing this to say that I hope that the act of sending your holiday cards (or not sending them, or sending an email, or whatever your tradition maybe) brings you joy. I simply can’t pretend that mine do anymore.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on the Facebook page – what do you love about this tradition? What do you hate? I promise no comment wars.