The Minimalist Birthday Party

When you first have a baby, you’re like omgggg I get to celebrate another human’s birthday. Along the way, you celebrate every single week, and month. They make stickers that you just slap on your kid to help with this task. It’s loads of fun. Then, when the first birthday of your firstborn arrives, it feels like a national holiday! You take the day off, you plan for months, there are photo shoots involved, Etsy printables, themes off the chain.

Then you have more kids, and you sleep a little less, and sticker a little less, and track a little less (what day is it?) and some seasons it starts to feel like every other month is someone else’s birthday. And it can get, well, fatiguing and let’s be honest, bank-breaking.  And man, not to mention the emotional labor, how about Birthday Party labor, mamas? Show me a man who has done anything to make his kid’s birthday magical and I’ll cook him dinner. (I’m sure they exist, but not in my house).

I love birthdays, I truly do. I am that mom who fills her kids room with balloons and makes ombre pancakes. But in light of life, and the fact that our birthdays will all keep trekking on for the 50 or so years, if we’re lucky, I needed a more sustainable, manageable solution that still feels magical.

Enter: the magical, minimal, at-home birthday party. Mamas, I’m here to take some stuff of your plate. There will be years when your kids don’t want a birthday party, don’t mention it,  and don’t care. This at home stash of stuff will fly for your husband, your mother-in-law and your 3 year old. You make it special and you make it yours, and you never have to spend money again. I have chosen a primary color scheme because it’s gender neutral, age neutral and works for everything and maximizes the use of these items. I keep everything in a birthday tub, so it’s easy to unpack the bday celebration and pack it righttttt backkkkk up.

The staples:

A birthday placemat: this is the one we have and we love it and it matches the color scheme.

img_1129

A hand-painted birthday plate (or buy one!): I did a whole post on this over here, but this has been a staple in our house and I love that it’s handmade. If you aren’t feeling it, you can buy one. Try to make it gender neutral.

img_1131

 

Birthday hats: the key here is that you buy them once, collect them, and reuse them. These hats have been worn 147 times. I’m only slightly exaggerating. I use them all the time for little kid things and adult things, I schlep them to restaurants, and parks, but you better believe I collect them back and re-use them. Yes, you can buy anything these days for $5, but should you?

img_1127

Banner: this banner has also been used so many times. I recycle it and spell whatever I need. It holds up well, and comes with waxed string to insert and I can attest to the fact that it will hold up for you and spell everything you need to spell from Byeeeeeee, Bandi (Like I did for my Sister-in-law’s going away party) to Happy Fortieth (for my husband) and Lovefest (for Valentines Day).

 

Cake bunting and candles: I collect candles that I find at the Dollar Store, Target, and occasionally at other birthday parties when people are just going to toss them. I have a little ziplock I keep of candle selections and some toppers for cakes like this one from Target. This one is similar and I love it. Resist the urge to over personalize this stuff- stay primary colors/golds! You can pick up a cake from the grocery store and personalize it quite easily.

Number balloons: this is not an item that I would normally buy, but I had the giant 4 leftover from when my husband turned 40. I am in support of getting these because they can be reused and repaired together to form different numbers. Just be sure to carefully deflate them so you can re-inflate them for the next birthday. So, now I have a 4 which I will use again in a few years for the next kiddo.

Other than the decor, the rest of the at home birthday party should fit your style – we always make our kids’ favorite meal or breakfast and play the Happy Birthday mix on Spotify.

I hope that this helps you build up your at-home birthday closet and keeps decision-fatigue low for you, mama, as you encounter many more happy birthdays with your family. What are your tried and true minimalist at-home birthday closet items?  xo

 

 

 

Party Planning: Rosebud Ice Cubes

The first name I had for this blog was “I’ll pour the champagne”….it was a play on celebrating the little wins in life, and the fact that I have a ridiculous number of photos of me pouring champagne, like it’s all I do. Basically, I chase toddlers, but when I’m not chasing toddlers, a high proportion of my #selfcare involves days spent with girlfriends, celebrating big and small things, and pouring champagne.

img_0655

So, when my dear friend Margie introduced me to this idea a few years ago, I bookmarked it in my brain as the kind of small perfect detail I would use over and over again to make events feel particularly special. Rosebud ice cubes are an almost effortless way to ice your champagne for your next event – whether it’s a girls night out, a baby shower, or a bridal shower or luncheon with your besties.

In an ode to minimalism, these silicon ice cube molds can be used for all kinds of things, including other kinds of ice (stay tuned for glitter ice!), and various crafts. I use ice cube molds for sorting with the kids, and as snack trays for picnics and travel (these have lids, which make snack-transport easy.)

img_0635

I made these ice cubes this weekend for a baby shower for one of my oldest and dearest friends. I love how the yellow pops with the gold foil of the champagne. Also, if you haven’t tried it yet, the Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blancs is my new jam for sparkling wine – perfect dry, bubbly and affordable. While choosing champagne last time at TJ’s, I watched five people in a row grab a bottle of this. Now, I buy it by the case, because when you have toddlers, you need to celebrate survival on the weekly.

Rose Ice Cubes

Materials needed: silicon ice cube trays (large enough to hold a flower); boiling water; 12-16 rose buds; 8 hours or overnight.

img_0633

  1. Boil water – we’re boiling the water because if it’s not boiled, the ice cubes don’t freeze clear – you don’t want foggy cubes
  2. Cut buds, and place them in the ice cube trays – in this case, I was a few short
  3. Pour over boiling water
  4. Freeze overnight
  5. Thaw for 10-15 minutes before popping them out
  6. Scatter at the top of a champagne bucket on top of your other ice.
  7. Note: these are not edible, and should not be placed in drinks!

img_0636

Enjoy!

Minimalist Gift Giving

The world is in a temporary Japanese tizzy over Marie Kondo, and 79.9%* of Americans spent their 3-day MLK weekends cleaning out their stuff. The process of going through your items, thanking each of them and purging them is both batshit crazy and cathartic. Taking bins of stuff to Goodwill and giving away all of your worldly possessions feels so good in the moment, and it is, but sticking with the KonMari style of living requires a constant vigilance about what you bring back into your house, and it pretty much means never going to HomeGoods or Target again, am I right?

img_5280

True story: After being a slave to it for years, I gave up my Amazon Prime membership a year ago. I took away my easy access to the goods. Despite the fact that I live in America where anything can be purchased at every moment, because I have two kids, I never get to stores to buy anything. The last time I took my kids they used their tiny devil fingers to drag every single SKU price tag in the grocery store to the end of the aisle so it looked like the stuff at the end cost $1.99.99.1.69.4.29.2.49×1000. And I had to run out and change my name and stop shopping there. But, I digress.

img_6752

Attempting to live a more minimal existence is about a thousand tiny little decisions you make every day, and with kids it is way more complex because you only get caught throwing away your kids’ crap oncetwice, ok three times before you realize you are guaranteeing they will be in therapy one day. I used to think it was crazy when I bought something used and the mom asked me to come under the cover of darkness to pick it up. Like, lady, just tell your kids you’re selling it, why don’t you? Now, I get it. I’m that lady who sells things under the cover of darkness and then collects my mat money the next day.

One of the areas that has had an extra challenge in my life is gifts. Since I Marie Kondo’d over a year ago, a process that took over 6 months, I have become more conscious of the gifts we give and receive. So, when my wise friend Fontaine made a post this week about gift ideas she loves for people, it inspired me to post this list, many borrowed from her and crowd sourced, in an attempt to give you all some new ideas for gift giving all of the KonMariers in your lives. Really, these are just thoughtful ideas for people you love, who have everything, or who are hard to buy for or who you just plain want to make happy.

Your Partner

  1. Take the kids away for a weekend or longer and let them have the house to themselves for a bit. Moms- we never get to be in a quiet house- we always have to leave to get peace- amiright?
  2. Pre-arranged and paid for girls or guys night out or trip with friends. This is particularly good for husbands who have great friends but never make plans with them, but always want to. 
  3. Fly in a good friend for the weekend, or vice versa. This is the best. Import a bestie.
  4. A surprise golf/spa/shooting/wine tasting/pick your poison relaxation day.
  5. Pre-arranged date night – surprise them, book the sitter and get a reservation and an uber. I love to tell my husband at 5 pm when we’re both losing our minds to go get dressed, because we’re getting out of jail.
  6. Get their car detailed or install an autostarter for the winter (my #1 gift this year)
  7. A date jar – filled with ideas that they get to choose from for the year. Get creative.

For Friends/Family

  1. Subscriptions: there are so many now. A subscription to a great magazine (I’m looking at you Magnolia Home). A subscription to a clothing service for a friend who has lost weight or has a new job. A subscription to the meat of the month club (it exists!)
  2. A jar of soup! Double your recipes – give a jar away every week – I do this every single week, and I love to surprise people with a jar of homemade soup.
  3. A copy of a favorite book with a handwritten note as to why you thought they would enjoy it, why it made you think of them, etc. I am buying this book for everyone this year. I will routinely buy 4-5 copies of a book I love just to have something to give a friend when I need something. Girl, Wash Your Face is another great gift book, as is Michelle Obama’s book.
  4. A contribution to a charity that you know is meaningful to them. Write them a card telling them you donated on their behalf.
  5. Print out a photo from memorable time together and frame it. HomeGoods FTW. Most gorgeous frames.
  6. For a milestone – a Boombox is a curated box of memories and cards. Long gone are the days of scrapbooking- this makes collaboration so much easier.
  7. A class together: from cooking, to watercolor – classes are much more fun together, and you get to spend time together, too. I got my mom a gift certificate for her and 3 of her tennis friends to go drink wine and paint a canvas this year.
  8. A gift certificate for a few hair cuts- most men have to get their hair cut every 2-3 weeks, and if you know where a woman gets her haircut, you can treat her there

For kids:

  1. Consumables – art supplies, playdough, watercolors, stickers, and crayons or markers. Drawing pads, washi tape.
  2. Homemade playdough- you can make this with your kids with three ingredients and give it in ziplocks with a note added – the making can be a great activity for a rainy day.
  3. Experiential gifts- a day together, a museum or indoor play space membership, classes.

Friends In Need

  1. A cleaning service – this is a huge blessing for those who are struggling and may not need meals
  2. Offer to set up a MealTrain for them – it is free, takes five minutes and can be adjusted/set to their preferences.
  3. Offer to make a grocery run for them, get their list, do the leg work and treat them
  4. Deliver a freezer meal- sometimes when people are in need food pours in, and then it goes dry- a freezer meal with clear instructions can be really nice for people to have on hand for when they need a meal.
  5. A regular “walking” date  (love this one, Fontaine!) is the gift of your time with no obligation for either of you to spend money.
  6. A regular night of support – when a friend’s husband was away recently for a month around the holidays, I put myself on her calendar every Wednesday. It took away the need for communication, and made it easy for me to support her. I brought dinner, and fed our kids.

img_6687

For New Moms

  1. Offer to come and help with housework. Hold the baby while she showers, and do a few loads of laundry, unload the dishwasher. Don’t stay too long.
  2. Offer to watch the baby while the new parents take a walk or go to lunch for an hour. Often, it’s hard to find someone willing. Or, offer to take the baby on a walk while the parents take a nap.
  3. Offer to pick up groceries
  4. Frozen lactation cookie dough balls that can be baked anytime
  5. An appointment for a blow out at a blow dry bar while you walk the baby around in the stroller

img_3694

For a Hostess

  1. Everyone offers to bring something for the meal, but how many people think about the next morning? My friend Emily pioneered the idea of bringing delectable homemade or bakery muffins or croissants and fresh juice or coffee with a little note for “after the guests are gone!”. Your hosts will be thinking of you the next morning
  2. A mason jar of flowers; include the tops to the jars so they are functional once they are done as vessels; you can use old jars from spaghetti sauce and clean them up. One friend likes to give a set of 4 mason jars so they can put little pops of color around the house.
  3. A potted succulent that doesn’t need a lot of maintenance and can be displayed inside or outside.
  4. I love to bring a basket of fresh farmers berries (see above) and a vintage berry basket.

I’d love to keep adding to this list as you think of more ideas – so post in the comments or in the comments on the Facebook page and I’ll add!

*completely made up statistic

How We Do: Family Photos

Brittany Maynard Photography-11 (1)

You’ll remember my tirade on Christmas cards, but I’m a true sucker for the family photo shoot. Still, because I can’t not have a controversial opinion on anything these days, between you and me, I’ve been feeling they’re a bit….overdone?

I grew up in a time of high-key photography. My mother is a professional photographer, and she owned her own photography studio for most of my life. She was a master of the portrait, and her studio was filled with props and backgrounds. Back then, we sat on bright white backgrounds held or sat on props.

Brittany Maynard Photography-23

Now, we drag our props into the middle of fields. We sit on velvet armchairs in fields of wheat, curl up our newborns on tufted stools on the beach and casually pose on perfectly antique trucks on Christmas Tree farms.

Brittany Maynard Photography-32

When one friend was looking for a newborn photographer last year, she was told there was an extra cost for siblings, an extra cost if the baby was more than 10 days old and an extra cost for coming to her home. Kind of reminds me of when I stay at a luxury hotel I’m spending way more, but everyone seems to cost extra.

Brittany Maynard Photography-27

Photo shoots have become so stressful that I’m relatively sure there isn’t a husband in America who doesn’t die a little inside when he sees the shared Google calendar invite. True story, I once fed my kids over 300 tic tacs to get through a Christmas Card shoot.

Brittany Maynard Photography-18

So, when I serendipitously met a fellow mama at ballet class for Marilyn, and she happened to be a documentary style family photographer, I jumped at the chance to spend a morning with my family, and her from a safe distance away, doing the things we love to do – exploring, walking, playing hide and go seek in the heart of our new town.  We scheduled the shoot, hastily chose outfits, and spent an incredible morning together. The images from that Fall morning perfectly capture the blessed imperfection of our lives right now.

Brittany Maynard Photography-44

Last Friday, I saw a grown woman in an adult sized floor length tiered pink tutu pull up her minivan, unload a gaggle of tutu-clad little girls, and a sad man dressed in a pink bow tie and head to her family photos. Now, maybe she loves tutus, lives in them, and they’re her happy place. If so, I expect she had a great morning, but I have a sinking suspicion she was on her way to the middle of a field to perch on top of a pink velvet couch.  I’m here to say: it’s ok for your family photos to be a reflection of who you actually are, instead of who you think you want to look like. There isn’t a single photo that you see in a magazine or on social media that isn’t edited. There are untold costs to the perfectly posed images we receive every year from across the country.

Brittany Maynard Photography-29

I urge you to look beyond the annual Christmas Card, and forward to when you won’t always remember exactly how it looked or felt to be in your family. You’ll forget the sassy expressions of your toddler, or the delicate eye raises of your husband. You’ll forget the way you looked at each other when you were trying not to crack up, or pointing out something to your kids. Capturing your family annually should be more than just capturing a still moment in time, it should be about freezing time so you can remember these days as they were.

If you’re looking for a new way to capture your family, I urge you to seek out a documentary photographer in your town. If you happen to live in mine,  Brittany Maynard is offering readers $50 off a family session if you book by March 1st. You can find her and book here. You’ll be so glad you did. 

 

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!

Thanksgiving Game Plan

Thanksgiving is my Super Bowl. It’s how I define my success as a cook, entertainer, builder of traditions in my family. I can never compete at Christmas – I just don’t have it in my DNA, but oh Thanksgiving, oh, I can bring it and enjoy it and still look good doing it. Here are a few of my tried and true tricks for making it through the week with your sanity, your waistline and your relationships still in tact.

  1. Stay home for Thanksgiving: In our little family, we have made it a tradition to stay in our own home for Thanksgiving every year that we’ve been together. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but we snatch up this little holiday as a 4 day staycation in [insert whatever town we are living in] and we fill it with a million of our own traditions. We prefer to travel to see family during times that aren’t so expensive/busy and we have found we enjoy those trips even more. We have filled our home over the years with friends and sometimes family who come through, but through it all we’ve stayed home, and kept it sacred. I love to cook, so I get to control the menu, and he who controls the meal controls the leftovers. Bonus.
  2. But, invite buffers: We host our dear friend Anna every year for Thanksgiving. Not only is she a master storyteller, epic kid-entertainer, ultimate go-with-the-flow girl and night owl (which gives Zac a late night movie watching companion when I turn into a pumpkin at 10 pm), but she gives us a reason to make the holiday special. In short, because Anna is here, we put on pants. We use the fancy silverware. We dress it up.
  3. Keep the rest of the day’s meals simple: Our traditions are eating pigs-in-a-blanket which we prep the night before and wake up and bake early and munch on throughout the day, and a huge veggie tray. Last year, Zac’s sister outdid her self with this veggie turkey tray that we fell in love with and will make every year. We keep it very simple, avoid cheeses and breads, and nibble throughout the day on these crowd pleasers.  We watch the Wizard of Oz sometime on Thanksgiving every year because it’s my mother-in-law’s favorite and it reminds us of her, and makes the perfect backdrop to the day (after all, there’s no place like home, right? Even when we don’t appreciate it?)
  4. Don’t cook on Thanksgiving (other than your turkey): We eat our meal at around 4 pm.  I cook everything in advance of the day, using a game plan that is as detailed as “thaw corn” and “peel potatoes” – I mix in the tasks throughout my week, doing a few things each day during naps and while I prep dinner, and other than the turkey, the gravy and the roasting veggies which take 5 minutes to prep (I cut them earlier in the week), I don’t cook on Thanksgiving. Weird, huh? The day flies by with checking on the turkey and making the gravy, watching toddlers and spending time with friends who have joined. The kitchen can be really lonely on a holiday unless you’re surrounded by your aunts and sisters, so I don’t want to spend the day in there alone and this is my answer.
  5. Cook a soup the night before: The night before Thanksgiving used to be for dive bars and hook-ups with exes. Oh, how times have changed. Now, I make a filling but healthy soup the night before, in the Instant Pot of course. It feeds a crowd and doesn’t mess up the kitchen the night before the big day. We roll the piggies for the next morning (great toddler activity) and get to bed early.
  6. Leftovers: Be strategic about leftovers. Over the years, I’ve found that I really only want the “second meal” once or twice, and then I want it all gone. What I want is leftover turkey. We make two turkeys (one is smoked) so we have plenty for Turkey Pho and Turkey tettrazzini, which is our family’s leftover jam (recipe to come), but we don’t make 20 million pounds of sides because they rarely get eaten. This year’s Cooking Light issue has great ideas for using leftover ingredients (instead of leftover cooked items) – check it out for genius uses for carrots, butter, apples, sweet potato, sourdough, shallots and half and half.  I will make plenty of turkey and roasted vegetables, but as for the rest, I don’t max out. Friday morning it’s back to the gym and onward through the holiday calorie season gauntlet.
  7. Get outside: Not being stuck in the kitchen all day on Thanskgiving means we can always make time to get outside and be active. Run a 5K Turkey Trot, throw a football, take a family walk, or hell, do all 3. Move your body, you will feel better. I know Americans make a sport of eating on Thanksgiving, but you can be active, eat an amazing meal and you’ll probably sleep better and feel a little more human the next day.
  8. Skip dessert: Coco Chanel said it best – “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one accessory off.” I say, take one accessory off. Thanksgiving just doesn’t need dessert – it’s a gluttonous meal and most people will eat dessert if it’s around, but do we really need it? I realize this is controversial, but in our family, we skip dessert. Dessert can shine on another day, and it cuts the work in half. Ice cream is always in the freezer if someone has a sweet tooth.
  9. Incorporate kids: Every year, the kids help me make the place card settings. It’s their way of putting their stamp on the table, is minimal and costs barely anything, and gives my table a homemade feeling. Two years ago, we used their handprints as turkeys and then embellished them with feathers. This year, my mom will do watercolors with Marilyn the day before as placecard holders. You could have your kids color on craft paper, make napkin rings, or collect leaves  – it’s a great and useful tradition.
  10. Finally, don’t forget to reflect: The tradition of giving thanks is ever-present at Thanksgiving tables. Don’t forget to reflect upon your year, count your blessings, and share them. Whether or not your Thanksgiving is spent in sunny Florida eating stone crab, or in snowy Ohio surrounded by relatives, and whether your year has been incredibly wonderful or incredibly tough, Thanksgiving is a time for renewed hope, and sincere gratitude for that which we do have.

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to be intentional — reflect upon the aspects of the day that you love, try to disconnect from traditions that leave you feeling drained (I’m looking at you crazy holiday travel), and start traditions that will keep your kids coming home for years to come, bringing friends, and making memories that are seared on their brains forever.

Thanksgiving Crudite Platter Recipe

Assorted raw vegetables: bell peppers, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.

Ranch dressing

Sour cream

Peppercorns (for eyes)

Round Tray

Arrange cut crudites in a fan pattern as the “feathers” of the turkey, keeping colors together, and building from the outside to the ceter of the platter. Adjust platter size based on the amount of people you are serving, keeping in mind that you can always use up extra raw veggies in a day-after Thanksgiving chopped salad. Using one of the bell peppers, cut off the side so that the pepper becomes the waddle of the turkey.  Fill a small bowl with ranch dressing, plussed up with sour cream to make it extra thick and rich for Thanksgiving.  Cut two carrot feet and a nose and arrange with your red pepper waddle, and drop in two peppercorns as eyes. Voila!

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. 

Succulent Pumpkins (Minimalist Halloween Decor)

It’s incredible how fast and furious trends can be. One day you’re saving your allowance for slap bracelets, a decade later everyone has the same Steve Madden black wedge shoes and bootcut black pants, and now no one can announce a pregnancy unless they have a felted block letter sign.

Succulents are one of those current trends. As my favorite podcaster recently said, you can’t walk past a succulent wall without taking an insta. California was rife with succulent plants, and rightly so, as Californians have been in a drought since I was living there back in the 80s as a child. My teeth-brushing habits were forever changed. But, I digress.

Succulents are just that…. so succulent. They are earthy and natural. They put just the right kind of green pop into every season, while remaining utterly low-maintenance. They seem to just match everything and make everything look and feel more organic. I’m already seeing them in Thanksgiving table decor ideas, and I’m not surprised.

I hate decorating for the holidays. I love the feel of Fall, and the feel of Christmas, but the decorating aspect to me has always felt costly, both in time and money. Buying, storing and hanging decorations exhausts me, and yet, walking to a Home Goods this time of year also makes me feel depressed about my life. Why don’t I have pumpkin-themed throw pillows? Where are my platters that say thankful in a thoughtful script? Following minimalism and embracing it over the past year has helped me come to terms with my decoration-hating, and find my own place where my home can feel festive without the angst of buying and storing in massive tupperwares and dedicating weekends to the turnover between seasons.

Where holidays and minimalism have met for me is in decorating organically, using neutral items that have a shelf life. For me, this means fresh flowers in the Spring, and on my table throughout the Summer and Fall. It means multiple pots of fat mums and awkwardly shaped pumpkins during the Fall, and a lot of pine cones and holly in the winter with fresh evergreen.

These succulent pumpkins were my foray into decorating minimally last Fall, and I assembled them, along with my mom, in an afternoon for less than $100 total. I relished giving them away to dear friends, and I pretty much beamed with pride having mine as my centerpiece throughout the holiday season (bonus points for the extra muscle I gained moving it out of the center of the table before dinner most nights.)

When I first saw them, I was convinced that they were carved terrariums – with potting soil, but when I dug deeper, I discovered that they required no carving, no knife skills, simply a glue gun, a handful of succulents of varying shapes and sizes, and some store bought moss to shore up the pumpkins, make them flatter, and give a forest-feel to your pumpkin.

These days, a lot of people sell succulent cuttings for super cheap on Craig’s List and NextDoor, and you can buy moss on Amazon. Here are the how-tos.

Succulent Pumpkins

IMG_4270

(pictured are our materials- spread out)

pumpkin(s) – based on how many you want to make- it’s as easy to make 5-6 as it is to make 1 – white pumpkins and fairytale pumpkins make great canvases

1-3 packages of moss (we got ours at a nursery, but you can buy it on Amazon or at most craft stores)

spray adhesive like this

a glue gun

a variety of succulents and/or air plants

First, use moss to create a base on the top of your pumpkin, using the spray adhesive  to affix it somewhat evenly in the center in patches.

Next, place succulents around the center, turning the pumpkin as you work to ensure your composition is even – work in groups of three for balance. Remember, you can always move or adjust. When you are satisfied, use the glue gun to affix them to the moss.

To finish, use moss, or succulent tendrils, or even eucalyptus branches as a final touch.

Spritz your succulent pumpkin every few days with water, and it will last forever (if you want it to). We removed the succulents from ours in February and used them again in a wreath.

IMG_4274

Fall Meal Planning: Tools & Hacks

 

 

 

Summer was fun. We traveled, we ate at food trucks, we brought over all of our random scraps and melded them with another families random scraps and called it dinner. We grilled things with two ingredients and called it dinner. We got away with murder. It was good, but it’s time for things to get real again.

I love the rhythm of meal planning, the knowing, the doing, the never scrambling, but I know that it can be very overwhelming for some, and so I want to share some of the things that have worked for our family.

Our goals are to:

  1. Cook once, use it or eat it twice (or more)
  2. Eat healthy, diverse food
  3. Minimize processed ingredients
  4. Minimize waste

I think our goals are the same goals that most people have, but achieving these requires a little bit of work at the beginning of the week, a willingness to eat leftovers, and a general rule that everyone in your family eats the same thing. People ask me all the time about how I feed my kids, how I get them to eat what they eat, and my answer is very simple: I only make one meal. Period. Ever.

You can tell me “my kid will never do that” – but I will say to you, if you only ever make one meal, and there are no alternatives, your children will eat what you eat, and they will be omnivores within a matter of weeks. Will there be tears? Maybe. In the long run, you will save time and money, and you will raise tiny humans who eat more than fries and chicken nuggets.

This plan works for our family. I would love to hear what works for you family.

Saturday and Sunday: Lay out your week, visually, and see which nights you need meals. Factor in business trips, nights out, and if you’re cooking for another family this week.

Sunday: Slate your meals into your schedule, and make your shopping list and grocery shop (if you can) or plan to shop early Monday or pick up groceries. I am a huge fan of the pick-up spaces at the grocery store – they come and load my car. I am picky about produce, so usually don’t order it. We buy most of our meat in bulk at Costco and we rarely eat processed food, so grocery shopping is a little easier.

A typical schedule for us looks like this:

Sunday: Cook something more elaborate/homey-something I wouldn’t make on a weeknight, it’s a good night to try a new recipe

Monday: Cook twice. I make a soup in the InstantPot that I will eat for my lunches all week. Cook a meal for that night.

Tuesday: Cook a meal with leftovers.

Wednesday: Cook a meal

Thursday: My MIL coined the phrase “Ditto” night – it’s when you empty all of the leftovers from the fridge onto the counter and you let everyone choose what they want. This means that everything gets eaten before the weekend, minimizing waste and maximizing freshness.

Friday: Either pizza night at home – we use Cali’flour pizza crusts and keep jarred sauce and toppings on hand always, or we do a no-cook charcuterie and cheese board with a good bottle of wine.

Saturday: Eat out

If I’m following this plan, I need five recipes a week, one of which is almost always a soup. I keep a list on my phone of my family’s top 10 recipes – at least two of my recipes are almost always repeats that vary by season, and usually two recipes are new. This minimizes the amount of new recipes I’m trying per week and how much time it takes to find them. One of my favorite hacks is taking a cookbook to the playground (either from my collection or the library) – I take photos of the pages of things I want to make and upload them to a shared album on icloud so they are easy to find when I’m making my weekly plan.

Last, I use this pad and this one for my Saturday/Sunday week and meal planning. And really last, we use the Our Groceries app to make our grocery lists by store. The app syncs to my iWatch and to my husband’s phone, so even when we’re grocery shopping together we can both be crossing off items. It organizes our lists by store, and keeps us from overbuying.

Birthday Present Closet

 

img_5498.jpg

The birthday party hiatus is over. School’s back and that means that every other Saturday, you’re likely to be found at a bounce house, a city park, or an indoor play space standing around in a semi-circle having awkward conversation with other parents while your children run around in grippy socks getting high on pizza and cupcakes. The birthday party circuit gets real this time of year.

I’m digging the trends on kids’ birthdays these days – many invitations are calling for no gifts, and even more kids are donating their birthdays to charities and causes. These millenial offspring are embracing minimalism in droves. Still, chances are some parties will still call for presents, or that inescapable mom tick will take over – can. not. show. up. empty.handed.

So, today I’m sharing my favorite birthday party present hacks. Ain’t nobody got time for a Target run every weekend.

The three tenets of the birthday gift closet are:

  1. Buy in bulk
  2. Buy on sale
  3. Wrap minimally

Let’s unpack this.

Buy in Bulk

Choose several items and buy them in quantities of 4-5. More than this, and you’ll risk seeming like a one trick pony, less and there will be too much decision making involved every time there is a party. Choose items that are popular for kids at or above the ages of your kids. Remember, there is more risk in buying something that is too young for a kid, but I’ve never met a mom who didn’t love pulling out a game 6 months later that their kid is jussssttt ready for.

Buy on Sale

Say it with me: Prime Day. Every year on Prime Day,  Black Friday and during other close-out sales, I stock my gift closet. Melissa and Doug and Green Toys are often on sale on Prime Day, as are a lot of board games and popular books. Last Prime Day, I bought 5 Sneaky Snacky Squirrel games, 5 Sum Swamps, 5 Camelbak water bottles, and 5 copies each of Rosie Revere Engineer and Iggy Peck Architect. Each of these toys fell right in my perfect price point, and among the 2- and 3-year old subset, most kids don’t own board games yet, so I knew the gifts would be valued and used (eventually). No one can ever own enough water bottles for kids, and favorite books are always a win.

Wrap Minimally

Wrapping minimally is about reducing decision fatigue, time spent, and maximizing the personalization factor. I own one huge role of craft paper (so many uses). I own multiple giant spools of twine in neutral colors. Every year, I order a new pack of personalized stickers (my favorites are from Tiny Prints, and Erin Condren has adorable ones too). This reduces the need for cards and means I never have to go searching for the right kind of wrapping paper, tissue paper or any other items. I apply this wrapping philosophy to gifts for all occasions. Bottles of wine get a sticker. Tupperwares of food get a sticker. Gifts get a sticker. Stickers are affordable, memorable and minimal.

If you’re looking for a solution to gift giving, you can apply these hacks to your life. Maybe you love giving your kids favorite books away- if so, buy 5 copies of 5 books. Maybe you enjoy making homemade playdough for your kids friends- if so, stock the ingredients and bags so you can easily make them in bulk. Putting in a little bit of time and money up front will keep your birthday party game running smooth for the year.