Category Archives: holidays

10 Tips For A Low-Stress Holiday

Christmas is ONE WEEK from today, which is… weird.  It’s just really weird.  This was a strange year for me, and the holidays came up quickly.  I had finals for the first time in 20 something years, and Tegan’s play was wrapping up.  When those two things were over (the first week of December), life suddenly exhaled and went “whoosh”, and things got quiet again.

And now it’s one week before Christmas.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have REALLY stressed out during some Christmases past.  Like, truly, severely stressed out.  I held myself to this ridiculous expectation of having to have everything perfect… from the (of course, homemade) advent calendar, to the paper snowflakes, to the photos, to the parties and the light displays and the hot chocolate and the cookie baking and the shopping and the wrapping and the Christmas cards and the new pajamas and the Christmas Eve church services and the big Christmas day spread of food,

and and and and….

And we were going to be happy about it, dammit!  It was exhausting.  I’m exhausted right now just thinking about it.

A few years ago, I decided that that really wasn’t too fun, and I wasn’t going to stress about it anymore.  The first thing that went were the Christmas cards.  And you know what?  Life went on even though we stopped sending Christmas cards.  (The sad thing though is that since we stopped sending cards, we almost completely stopped receiving cards as well… which makes us appreciate the ones we do get all the more).

But we didn’t stop doing everything.   In fact, we still actually do a lot of things on the above list. It’s just that we now do them because we want to do them, not because we feel like we have to do them.  And it has made all the difference.

Here’s a partial list of some of the things I keep in mind every year to keep the holidays (much) less stressful.  I can’t rightly say stress-free, because… well, because life comes with stress sometimes.   But the following surely helps.

1. Adjust your expectations.  Your house doesn’t really need to be cleaned in every corner to have company over.  If it’s stressing you out, skip it!  NO ONE WILL JUDGE YOU IF YOU DON’T DUST YOUR CEILING FANS (and if they do, honestly, are they the kind of people you want to be inviting over in the first place?)  They came to see you.  You don’t HAVE to send Christmas cards.  You don’t HAVE to make 87 kinds of cookies.  You don’t HAVE to read “Twas The Night Before Christmas” just because it’s Christmas Eve.  It’s not going to be perfect.  It never is.  That’s okay.  Let go of whatever’s not serving you. Let yourself off the hook, rid yourself of the need to be perfect, and just enjoy the holiday.  If you’re expecting a perfect holiday, with perfectly coiffed children, and perfectly well-behaved pets, and chestnuts happily roasting in an open fire… you’re likely going to be disappointed.  Instead, enjoy it for all its beautiful, messy imperfections, no matter how they may unfold.

2. Keep your kids a top priority.  This is perhaps the most important thing of all, especially during a time when many parents are finding themselves reacting to stress and/or unusually high energy by controlling, punishing, etc.  This is a time when kids need parents who are patient, calm, and looking out for their best interest.  Are they getting enough rest?  Are they eating nourishing foods?  Do they WANT to go to another holiday party?  Do they WANT to sit on Santa’s lap?  Getting tuned in, staying super connected, and respecting their needs and desires will not only be a great thing for your relationship, but it will also alleviate a lot of the collective holiday related stress.

3. Go with the flow of changing needs and preferences. This was one I had to learn over time, to be sure.  At the time of this writing, my kids are 20, 17, 13, and 9.  Christmas is different than it was when they were little … and that’s okay too.  They’re not interested in the same activities.  They’ve outgrown certain traditions.  Not taking it personally when they say, “No thanks” to driving around the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights goes a long way towards lessening your holiday stress.  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  The upside?  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  A new thing for us this year is that the 17 year old offered to cook Christmas dinner (he’s making lasagnas), and the 13 year old offered to bake some of the treats and cookies.  Which just means that we get to enjoy them in a whole new way.  And that’s really, really cool.

4. Focus on the little things.  In a practice that really should continue all year long, enjoy all the fun little things of the holiday!  Making the paper snowflakes, decorating the gingerbread house, picking up the special drink from Starbucks, watching the favorite Christmas movie for the 87th time, enjoying hot cocoa made from scratch (or from a canister, if that’s more your style!), just being together.  This is the 21st Christmas we’ve had since we’ve had kids, and while we’ve done some pretty cool and big and interesting things during the holidays…. it’s the little moments that I remember the most.  Because in reality, they’re really not so little.  They’re the important stuff.

5. Simplify your gift-giving.  It has taken us a little trial and error, but streamlining our gift-giving has helped a lot in terms of keeping our focus less on just getting a whole bunch of “stuff” and more on picking out the few things that we know someone else will love.  Mike and I stopped getting gifts for each other several years ago (though he does break the rule sometimes :)), mainly because we get what we need throughout the year, and we’d rather spend our Christmas money on the kids and/or other people who may need it more than we do.  For the kids, we generally do “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”  We’re not super rigid about sticking to it exactly, but it is a great place to start, and it’s made us really think about what we’re getting them.  It also feels like it makes each present more meaningful than when we’d get piles and piles of gifts, just to…. get piles and piles of gifts.  We do buy for all the nieces and nephews, but for the adults, we do a name drawing for each side of the family, so we only buy for whatever sibling, parent, or inlaw that we’re paired with.  Which makes it fun, and easy, and lets us think about something that will be meaningful and enjoyable for that one specific person.  Your mileage may vary of course (you do you), but this way has worked well for us, and made gift giving fun again, instead of stressful.

6. Keep only the traditions that are important to you.  When Spencer was born, I went a little crazy with the new traditions we “needed” to follow.  From the books we’d read, to the movies we’d watch, to the activities we’d do.  And because life happens, and things change, and kids grow, I’ve had to accept and realize that not all traditions have to be kept.  We did hang on to a couple though.  Christmas Eve is always sacred, and has been for the past 20 years.  It’s just for our own core little family.  We’ve gone to church some years, we’ve stayed in and watched movies some years, we’ve hung out and had carpet picnics some years…. but we’ve always spent it with just us, and if I have to, I pull out full mama bear protection over that Christmas Eve bubble.  The kids all exchange presents on Christmas Eve too – they do a name drawing among the siblings, and all really enjoy it.  I really, really appreciate Christmas Eve with all six of us, and I know that it’s not something we’ll have forever. We also watch the same movies every year, though not everyone chooses to watch anymore.  There are still a couple of cookies that I HAVE to make too (black and whites and Oreo balls are my specialties.) But other than that, we’re …. fluid, and we let the kids lead.  

7. Don’t be afraid to say no.  Just like with point number 1, there should never be any “have-tos” during the holiday season.  You don’t have to go to that party just because you were invited.  You don’t have to go caroling.  You don’t have to go to that cookie swap or that White Elephant gift exchange.  If you and/or your kids are feeling stressed, burnt out, or like you’ve taken on too much, it’s perfectly acceptable (preferable, even!) to politely decline.

8. REST – I PROMISE you that the world won’t come to a standstill if you take an hour or an afternoon or a whole day to drink tea and watch Christmas movies.  I promise you that the holidays will still come and go and be perfectly fine and lovely and joyful if you ignore the chores one day.  I’d even argue that taking care of yourself and making sure that you rest is every bit as important – if not more so – than anything else on your holiday to-do list. Unless literal LIVES hang in the balance, it’s okay and good and vital to rest, recharge, and take some regular time for yourself…. even during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

9. Live in the present.  One of the lessons I find myself needing to learn over and over again (and have written about several times on my blog) is the importance of living in the present.  This is never more applicable than during the busy and stressful seasons of life.  I took a Buddhism class this past semester, not because I want to convert to Buddhism, but because I needed a religion credit and I always found it interesting.  Lo and behold, I learned some hugely meaningful things in this class, one of them being…. the importance of presence.  There is only right now.  Truly getting this, and LIVING this, is life-changing.  For real.  My therapist, who is not Buddhist, and does not resemble Buddha in any way, has stressed this same point to me many many times.  In fact, one of my biggest take-aways, over 18 long months of therapy, is this:  “Right now, there is no problem to solve.” Problems come when we’re focused on the past, or worrying about the future.  When you’re really and truly in THIS MOMENT, there are no problems.  Including the shopping, the wrapping, the cleaning, the baking, the decorating…. right now, there are no problems, and therefore, no stress.

10. Remember your reason for the season. I deliberately said, “your” instead of “the” because my reason for the season might not be the same as yours.  Christians like to say that Christ is the reason for the season, but I think that it’s important to remember that 1) most of what we do at Christmas time has been adapted from Pagan traditions, not the other way around, and 2) that there are many many more holidays than Christmas, and that they’re all celebrating something different.  I know it’s a cliche.  It is.  But whatever the season means to you, focus on that rather than on the busy, the crazy, the chaos, the stress that the holidays can sometimes bring.  And the rest of the extraneous “noise” tends to fade away.


Just because you’re invited to the stress of the holidays, it doesn’t mean you have to accept.

Wishing you all a calm, peaceful, and stress-free holiday, no matter what it is you celebrate.

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Filed under Christmas, holidays

The Holidays Are For Giving, Not Manipulating

Let me paint a picture for you.

You’re 6 years old.  You just came off the excitement of Halloween.  Thanksgiving is coming, followed by Christmas just a few short weeks later.  You’re going to holiday parties and special events, your schedule is all out of whack, and you’ve been eating all kinds of rich, sweet, and complicated foods.  You’re spending time helping to decorate, and make gifts, and make cookies and other treats.  You’re probably not sleeping very well because you’re excited and everything’s thrown off, and your six-year-old self is buzzing with restless energy, anticipation, and – if we’re being honest – likely some exhaustion and over-stimulation too.

And then, right at the breaking point, right at that moment when what’s needed most is some collective down-time, some deliberate slowing and reconnecting and a heap-load of grace….. your (probably well-meaning) parents tell you that a magic old man is watching your every move, that if you make any missteps he’s going to know about it, and that if you’re not good enough, you’re not going to get any presents at Christmas.  And then, lest you don’t believe it, they install cameras, just to be sure you’re properly submissive.  Or afraid.  Or both.

Surely I can’t be the only one who realizes how completely manipulative, not to mention illogical, this is?

In Christmases-past, I’ve written about my issues with the Elf on a Shelf, but I’m new to the whole concept of Santa Cams.  When I first heard about them, it was in the context of ornaments for the tree.   Cutesy little balls painted like cameras, sold by about a million different vendors on Etsy.   The premise is as simple as it is creepy; Santa watches you through the camera, and if you misbehave (a word I can’t stand, but am using for the sake of illustration), you won’t get any presents.  As if those weren’t bad enough, someone recently brought my attention to the more insidious – and much, much creepier – version: cameras that are meant to mount on the child’s bedroom wall or ceiling.

You guys, I cannot overstate how disturbed I am by these Santa Cams.

Because there are just so very many things wrong with them, and because I think better in lists, here are my top five reasons to – at a bare minimum – carefully consider whether or not you want to instill (and install) something like this in your own home.

1. It teaches that giving is conditional

Let’s just start there.  No one should ever have to “earn” their gifts, Christmas or otherwise.  By definition, a gift is something that is given freely, without condition, and without expectation.  Something that – ideally – comes from the heart and the generosity of the giver.   Teaching your kids that they need to behave a certain way in order to get Christmas gifts not only destroys and mocks the whole premise of giving, it ensures that their future relationship with giving will be a warped and unhealthy one.  I want my kids to give because they want to give, not because someone jumped through some requisite hoops in order to be deemed worthy.

2. It encourages behavior that is driven by extrinsic (rather than intrinsic) motivation

So let’s get this question out of the way.  Do Santa Cams “work”, in terms of getting children to behave in a certain way?  Quite possibly, depending on the kid.  But just to be clear on what’s really happening:  They’re being driven by something external. They’re performing strictly because of the promise of reward and/or the fear of punishment.  That’s it.  It doesn’t actually teach them anything, except that gifts are conditional, that it’s okay to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do, and that the only reason to behave reasonably is because a jolly fat man might take away your stocking if you don’t.  Take away the promise of presents, and what motivation do they have then?  People, of any age, should act according to their own inner sense of right and wrong, their own innate wisdom that informs them how they want to behave, and how they want to treat others.  Children by nature are incredibly giving, and loving, and kind.  They are, by nature, good …. until and unless that natural inclination is squashed and skewed by things like punishments and rewards.

3. It’s manipulative.

As parents, we know that there is no literal Santa Claus that lives at the North Pole.  We know that if our kids are going to get presents, we’ll be the ones providing them.  We know that the Santa “camera” is nothing more than cheap plastic (and, if we’ve splurged on the fancy one, a set of AA batteries for an LED blinking light).  We know that our children are already overtired, under-rested, and all hopped up on sugar and adrenaline.  The kids know none of that.  They just know that they’re excited.  They know they want fun new presents on Christmas morning.  They actually believe that Santa is watching them, because that’s what their parents told them.  Parents take advantage of that trust and that naivete because they know that by controlling them through the threat of punishment and the promise of reward that it will make their lives just a tiny bit easier.   It is the very definition of manipulation, and manipulation isn’t nice.  Which brings me to:

4. It is damaging to your relationship

Nothing good ever comes from taking advantage of and manipulating someone in a relationship.  Ever.  In fact, people spend entire lifetimes trying to recover from being manipulated by parents, partners, siblings, friends, churches ….

Relationships, including, or especially!, between parent and child are precious, and need to be treated with care.  Once trust is broken, it’s a tricky tricky thing to repair.  That is not to say that wounds can’t be healed, or that wrongs can’t be righted.  Sometimes they can, and sometimes the damage is just too deep.  But given the preemptive choice to do the unkind, manipulative thing, and to… well, NOT do it, the latter is always the better option. The age-old adage still holds true:  treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.

5. It raises some serious and confusing messages in the realm of privacy and consent.

I saved this one for last because it’s at once the most disturbing, and the one most likely to prompt people to say, “Oh come on, you’re taking this way too far.”  But I beg you to hear me out.  Hearing that this was something that people were actually hanging in their children’s bedroom raised major, major red flags for me.  In this current climate under a president who brags about “grabbing women by the p*ssy” I think it’s safe to say that there’s a really grossly blurred line when it comes to privacy and consent.   I think it’s also safe to say that it’s more important than ever to talk about these issues at home, whether you have boys or girls.  Kids need to know about privacy.  Kids need to know about consent.  So I ask you, in all sincerity, where does a peeping, spying old man fit into a healthy model of consent?  How do you ever reconcile sending your young kids the sickening and confusing message that it’s okay if someone watches you undress and sleep if they hold the power to give or withhold presents??  Yes, they’re not actually being watched.  But the kids don’t know that.  The kids believe they’re actually being watched.  They believe their parents know about it.  And they believe it’s okay because it’s a benevolent old guy with a magic sack of gifts.

It’s creepy.

It’s disgusting.

It’s dangerous.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, regardless of where you stand politically (I’m already wondering if I’m going to kick myself for including the Trump reference, not gonna lie), regardless of how you do or not celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus … I hope that we can agree that the holidays should be about love and kindness, giving and generosity.

Which should never, ever include manipulating the people we love the most.


Filed under control, holidays, mindful parenting, respect

To The Fathers

I have a great dad.  My dad played with me.  He helped me make sense of my math homework.  He patiently sat on the floor to assemble new bikes and toys and puzzles.  He taught me not to take life too seriously.  He taught to me to hang spoons from my nose.  He taught me to play softball, and he cheered me on at horse shows.  He taught me to have a sense of adventure.  He passed down his artistic ability, his love of television and his borderline unhealthy sense of stubbornness.   Oh the stubbornness.  He also taught me to be impeccable with my words, to live with integrity, and to dance like nobody’s watching.

I love my dad.

It wasn’t until I became a parent myself though (because really, I didn’t have most of my life-altering realizations until I became a parent myself) that I truly got it. That I truly understood what it meant to be a father.  How much he loved us.  How much he sacrificed for us.  How hard he worked for us.  How proud we made him, and at times how much we hurt him 🙁  It’s a realization that now, watching my own husband be a wonderful father to our own kids, almost takes my breath away.

Being a good father is no joke.

So I salute you today…. my dad, and my kids’ dad… for a job well done.  And to the rest of the dads that I have the pleasure of knowing and watching:

The brand new dads, who are still figuring this whole thing out, and loving more fiercely than they ever knew possible

The veteran dads, who are daily learning from their triumphs and their mistakes

The single dads, who have to work twice as hard to do what so many of us take for granted

The gay dads, who have the added obstacle of prejudice and intolerance

The dads who are struggling, and making a decision to do better

The dads who are working hard to take care of their families…. outside the house, inside the house, or as the stay-at-home parent

The dads who are tirelessly advocating for children…  for their children, and for all children.

The dads who work with their kids, play with their kids, read to their kids, listen to their kids, cry with their kids.  The dads who comb peanut butter out of their daughter’s hair, step on legos in the middle of the night, and show their kids how to safely play with matches.  The dads who play catch in the backyard, Marco Polo in the pool, and never complain when the oil change takes 3 times as long because their kids are helping beside them. The dads who aren’t afraid to make a fool of themselves if it makes their children laugh.  The dads who play princess and tea party and Storm Trooper.  The dads who sing loudly, quote old movies, and never, ever pass up an opportunity to make an ordinary moment extraordinary.

The dads who say “I love you,”  “I’m sorry”, and “You can say anything to me.”

The dads who really KNOW their kids.

The dads who go without.

The dads with sick children, who have more strength than most of may ever know.

The dads whose children are no longer with them, and the dads who are dads in their hearts but don’t yet have a child in their arms.

To all those dads, I thank you.  Your kids thank you.  The world needs more people like you.

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Filed under holidays, parenting

Christmas, presents, and why I want to be like Carrie Bradshaw


I’ve never been very good at fitting in with one group.  Never has this been more clear to me than it has been since the advent of Facebook, where I can SEE right there in black and white just how very different my friends are.

I have friends who are Christians, friends who are Atheists, and every other religious flavor in between.  I have friends who are unschoolers, and friends who are strong supporters of the public school system.  I have friends who are extremely liberal, and friends who are very conservative.  Friends who… well, you get the idea.  A lot of different opinions.

And I learn from, and appreciate,  each and every one of them.

One of the things that I love most about blogging is that (provided that you’re doing something at least a little bit right) it really does become a community … one in which people can come and gather just as they are, differences and all.   And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been needing that.   Because the amount of division I’ve been seeing lately is making me crazy.  Christmas season – which most people would agree should be a time of family, fellowship, and goodwill – seems to bring out an odd side of a lot of different folks.

It’s like December 1st hits, and it’s time to Deck the Halls!  Time to shop!  Time to be merry!  Time to …. squabble like little children.   I don’t think I ever see people sweating the small stuff quite as much as I do at Christmas time.

In one corner is the “It’s MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holidays” crowd, which has grown tenfold since I posted about it.

In another is the “Christmas is too commercialized/secular/greedy/materialistic/just plain wrong these days” group.

There are those who let themselves get swept away into the “Christmas is just so STRESSFUL” train.

Some decide to do away with the tree and the presents and the lights altogether, in order to focus on other things.

Then there are the people who take personal offense to any or all of the above, and/or people who let themselves feel guilty because they shopped at Walmart, didn’t hand make their gifts, and didn’t use eco-friendly recycled freshwater stream Martha Stewart biodegradable toilet paper gift wrap.

My head hurts.

I want to say as sort of a general, blanket statement that you are the one creating your Christmas experience.  It doesn’t have to be stressful.  It doesn’t have to be commercialized.  It doesn’t have to be materialistic.   And for that matter, it doesn’t have to be homemade either.    Decorate, don’t decorate.  Give gifts, don’t give gifts.  It’s all the same to me.  But please don’t think it has to be either/or.   When I recently asked on my Facebook page if you thought there was something wrong with gift giving at Christmas, one thing I saw come up again and again was that Christmas should be about giving to others, not about getting lots of stuff.  And absolutely, I agree!  But why should giving to someone outside your own family hold precedence over giving amongst yourselves?  Why not do both?  Why would there ever be something wrong with giving a heartfelt gift to a spouse or a child or a parent, whether it’s Christmas, or a birthday, or a Tuesday?  And yes, almost everything most much of what we give are not needs, but wants.  We live in a ridiculously abundant world, to be sure.  If you’re reading this right now, it means you have internet, or a smart phone, or access to a public library… all of which are far, FAR more than many, many people around the world are privileged enough to have.   But is it wrong to have them?

A couple of months ago I got a new phone that does amazing things.  It’s like a robot.  I don’t need it, but I’m happy and thankful that I have it.  Is it more important than God or my health or my kids or my relationships or giving to others?  Of course not.  It’s a luxury.  And the few presents we’ve gotten our kids for Christmas are luxuries too… luxuries that I’m happy and excited and thankful to be able to give them.   Giving them doesn’t mean we don’t give to those outside the family though.  It doesn’t mean it’s the most important part of our celebration.  It doesn’t mean we don’t remember the true meaning of Christmas, and it doesn’t mean we’re greedy and materialistic (two other words I’ve recently seen a lot of).  To me, greed and materialism mean putting ‘things’ ahead of people.   And if you’re giving with the spirit of… well, giving… isn’t that the opposite of greed and materialism?  It shouldn’t matter then if the gift is a gift of time, or a picture, or a good deed, or a homemade bauble, or yes, even a mass produced something or other from a big bad department store.  If the giver is giving sincerely, in love, shouldn’t the old adage, “it’s the thought that counts,” still ring true, no matter how little OR how much something does or doesn’t cost?

I was watching the movie “Sex in the City” yesterday, and there was a scene about halfway through that completely (and surprisingly) made me all leaky-eyed.    Jennifer Hudson’s character gives a small gift to Carrie, and Carrie graciously accepts it before going into her room and returning with a gift of her own, something extravagant that she knew she would really love.  Just watch.

That to me is what gift giving should be about, whether it’s done on Christmas or any other of the 364 days of the year.  Two people sharing a moment with each other.  Two people GIVING to each other, with their whole hearts.  It didn’t matter that one gift was a $14.99 DVD and one was a however much those fancy name-brand bags cost.  They were both given, and accepted, with genuine warmth and happiness.  That’s what I want from my gift-giving… whether I’m giving a plate of cupcakes or a pressure cooker or a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Finally, as I was deciding how to end this post, I saw the following quote on Facebook that summed up the spirit of giving more than I ever could:

Christmas gift suggestions:  To your enemy, forgiveness.  To an opponent, tolerance.  To a friend, your heart.  To a customer, service.  To all, charity.  To every child, a good example.  To yourself, respect.  ~Oren Arnold.

Words to live by, for sure.  And we can’t give any of the above if we’re wasting time and energy worrying about Christmas particulars that at the end of the day just shouldn’t matter.


Filed under Christmas, holidays, life, not sweating the small stuff, perspective

‘Happy Holidays’ and other four letter words

The cashier was pleasant and friendly.  He joked around with the kids, and easily made small talk while he lovingly rang up our toothpaste and toilet paper.  He carefully bagged our baubles and breakables, and he made sure to ask if we wanted the drinks we’d just grabbed from the cooler left out.  He offered the three year old a sticker.  He smiled amiably while he handed me my cash register receipt, and he told me to come again.

And then, he said it.

The thing that would cause me to roll my eyes and hurry home to write the store a scathing letter detailing exactly why I would be hereby boycotting their store forever.

He said, “Happy Holidays.”

In front of my children.  How dare he say such a thing to me?  How dare he try to take the Christ out of my Christmas?  What is the matter with our stores, and our society, today??  I felt so offended and disrespected that I couldn’t even utter a word.  I angrily snatched the receipt from his hand.  I gathered the kids as quickly as I could, grabbed my groceries, and hightailed it out of there.  I vowed never to return again.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

No.  What I actually did was smile – sincerely – and thank him.  I wished him a happy holiday as well.  I got my groceries, counted my kids, and went about the rest of the day…. feeling good about a friendly and positive interaction with a kind stranger.

To be clear, I celebrate Christmas.  I have celebrated Christmas all of my life.  I love Christmas.  But it doesn’t even begin to bother me when somebody – be it a person or a website or a store – says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.  For that matter, it wouldn’t bother me if someone mistakenly thought I was Jewish and wished me a Happy Hannukah.  Why?  To begin with, I take it for nothing more than it is: a hopefully sincere and friendly good wish from one person to another.  They’re showing me a kindness and they’re wishing me happiness.  Which really, is supposed to be the whole point of the season (and for the whole year, if we’re living the way we should aspire to be living)

More than that though, is the fact that nothing anyone else says can take away MY meaning of the holiday.  Nothing anyone else says will change what I believe.  Nothing anyone else says will damage my own personal walk as a Christian.  “Happy Holiday” wishers are not – as so many believe – “taking the Christ out of Christmas.”   The only one who can take my Christ out of my Christmas is me.

Let me say that again, rephrased:

The only one who can take your Christ out of your Christmas is you.

How do you take Christ out of Christmas?  You take Christ out of Christmas every time you:

Don’t take the high road.

Are less than loving, and patient, and kind.

Gossip, complain about, and judge others.

Are slow to listen and quick to anger.

And yes…. grump and moan and cry about everyone taking Christ out of Christmas, instead of simply showing the people kindness and goodwill and grace, and letting them see through your actions that Christ cannot be taken out of your Christmas because Christ is living in you.  No one can take that away from you, no matter what they believe or what they celebrate or WHY they celebrate.

And if you’re going to split hairs about who should and should not celebrate Christmas, it’s worth noting that 1) Jesus was most likely NOT born on December 25th, and 2) most of what we all do at Christmas time – even as Christians – are things we borrowed and adapted from pagan traditions, not the other way around.

Every year I hear more and more people complaining about what’s become of Christmas, how commercialized it is, how far it’s gotten from its true roots…. which very well may be true, but is making a big stink about it really the answer?  If, like me, you believe in Jesus and His birth, then simply live it.

If you believe in having a simple Christmas, then have a simple Christmas.   If you believe in giving, then give.  If you believe in kindness, be kind.  If you believe in boycotting big businesses and Black Friday sales and midnight deals, then by all means, stay home.

But don’t forget that “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.”  (Emerson)

Just a couple of hours ago, I saw a Facebook photo of a group of tents set up and camped out at the entrance to a Walmart, waiting for the Black Friday sales.   One of the commenters said, “People like that are nothing more than disgusting, materialistic losers.”   That there is some real holiday spirit.  Now I can think of about 7,253 things I’d rather do than camp out in front of a Walmart (or in line for a Twilight movie opening) but you know what?  If that’s your thing, I love you just the same.  I happen to think that the world is big enough for all of us, with all our beliefs and our differences and our traditions and our celebrations.

The best thing I can do to honor my God and my beliefs and my Christmas is to live my life the way I purport to want to live it, and not worry about what anyone else is, or is not, doing.  There are actual problems in the world, and whether someone says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is not one of them.

And don’t get me wrong.   Since you know that I celebrate Christmas, I would love and appreciate a “Merry Christmas” from any one of you.   But I would love and appreciate a sincere “Happy Holidays” just as much (and the diehard Seinfeld fan in me would be ever indebted if you wished me a “Happy Festivus” while you were at it.)

The Christmas cards we send every year say “Peace, Joy, and Love” on them…. partly because that was the default greeting on the design we chose several years ago and it resonated with us, and partly because it just sums up the meaning of the season – and our lives – in three simple words.

I know it sounds trite, but I really do wish you peace, joy and love… whether you’re a believer, a non-believer, or even a Walmart parking lot camper.


Filed under about me, Christmas, holidays, perspective, religion

Nano, Thanksgiving, and a Favor


Ten days away from the end of November, which means ten days until Nano officially ends, which means ten days until I’ve actually written 50,000 words or I haven’t.  Each time I’ve done it, it’s been a journey… this year perhaps more than any other.  I love fiction writing.  I always have.  It makes me come alive, and it inspires and entertains me.  This year though, I don’t know that my heart was really in it.

I had a kernel of a good story, but unfortunately it’s heavily buried under a steaming pile of cow manure.  Such is the case most Novembers, but that’s sort of the point of the exercise…. to just get the story out, and worry about editing, slashing and re-writing later.  This year feels different though.   I’m not sure I care enough about the story to even want to finish it, let alone clean it up later.

And right now, ten days from the finish date, I’m faced with asking myself if it would be more personally liberating to just get the rest of my 14,000 words into the computer and finish what I started, OR giving myself permission to just say, “Not this year,” peacefully calling it quits right now, and appreciating the fact that I’m secure enough in myself to be okay with not finishing what I started.

In other news, I’ve spent the past 21 days working on something else as well.  Every time I felt burnt out on my story, and felt like I just couldn’t write another description or narrative or bit of dialogue, I worked on outlining – and eventually writing – a pair of e-books:  one on unschooling, and one on gentle parenting.  I am very excited about the project, and I can’t wait to share it with you all… hopefully in early 2012.

This is where the favor comes in.  One of the things I want to be sure to cover, in both books, is a good reader-friendly FAQ chapter.  I’m working with several questions I’ve gotten in comments, emails, etc, but if you have one (or two or three) that’s been burning on your mind that you’ve never seen me cover, I would love to hear from you!     Please feel free to either comment here, on Facebook, or send me an email.  And since I’m asking for favors, I would also love it if you share my blog with others (assuming you actually read and enjoy it :)).  I have gotten a couple of very nice emails the past few days from new readers, and I can’t tell you how much I love to have an excuse to procrastinate on the laundry even longer connect with all of you!  You guys are awesome.

And finally, Thanksgiving is in three days, and the holiday season is officially upon us.  I love Thanksgiving.  Love the feel, love the smells, love the food, love the laughter.  Last year, we ended up having to leave early because the little one was sick, so I’m mostly wishing for health this year  – says the person who has single handedly gone through an entire box of tissues in about 12 hours.

I wish you all a beautiful day on the 24th, whether it’s Thanksgiving for you or just another Thursday.



Filed under about me, blogging, holidays, writing

20 Years

Mike and I met on August 3rd, 1991. Two years and 4 days later – on August 7th, 1993 – we got married. I mention this lest you get confused if, in four days, I make note of an anniversary again. “Didn’t she just talk about that??”

I don’t really have any special posting planned for our wedding anniversary, but I didn’t want to let today go by without at least a brief mention, because 1) It’s been TWENTY years, which is really really cool, and 2) in some ways, I remember the day we met with even more fondness than our wedding. Don’t get me wrong, our wedding was nice and lovely and everything, but I don’t know. I was wearing a big poufy dress, and everyone was looking at me. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but I’m just not a wedding person. MARRIAGE, I like. Weddings, not so much.

I digress.

But that day we met! When everything was so new and exciting and full of butterflies and hope and promise and all those other mushy things? That’s the stuff of a romance novel right there.

Weren’t we cute?


I first saw him on the porch of the main building at camp.  I liked his eyes.  His friend pointed me out to him, not because he found me in the least attractive, but because “Hey, look.  You can see through that girl’s shorts.”

And The Path Less Taken was born.  Romantic, no?  By the end of that week, we both knew we’d met “The One.”

It drives me crazy when people publicly gush about their spouses (no idea why, probably for the same reason that I don’t like weddings, whatever that is) I don’t want to be the person that announces on Facebook, “20 years ago, I married my best friend.”  But, since it has been twenty years and all….. and twenty years is a big deal….

He’s my rock.  And the love of my life.


And he really is my best friend.


Filed under about me, holidays

To The Dads

Happy Father’s Day to all of the Fathers out there. To the new fathers, who are getting to experience the sweet, heartbreaking feeling of a sleeping newborn for the first time.

To the experienced fathers, who have been changing diapers, braiding hair and throwing footballs for many years.

To the great fathers.

To the fathers who are doing the best they can.

To the fathers who are vowing every day to do better.

To the fathers who are not fathers through birth or adoption but who have taken on the role for a friend or a relative or simply a child who was in need.

To the single mothers, who through choice or circumstance have acted as mother and father both.

To the fathers whose babies are no longer with them.

And finally, to the fathers at heart, who don’t yet have a child in their arms.

Today, I honor and appreciate all of you.

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Filed under holidays, parenting

Note to Self: Maybe you don’t like it for a reason.

I don’t like shellfish. I’m really not a fan of seafood in general, but shellfish brings up the rear. I’m kind of the family weirdo in that regard, because Mike and all four kids LOVE it – all of it – and could eat it every day of their lives and never get sick of it. But as much as I’d like to like it (it seems like such a fun and fancy food) the texture grosses me out, the smell puts me off, and truth be told I’m not really keen on even looking at them…. all those little piles of shells and legs and eyeballs and bits on the plate when they’re done. Ick.

I do still try it occasionally though. I know tastes change, and palettes mature. And like I said, I would love to be able to enjoy it.

You can imagine then, given my lifetime quest for irony, how thrilled I am to discover at 37 that

I am in fact allergic to shellfish.  My first-ever known allergy.

But I’m getting little ahead of myself. Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and we had a really lovely day at home. Mike and the boys cooked me brunch, we had Luna for a few hours, and otherwise just enjoyed a lazy family day with nowhere to be.

My favorite:  chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream

Towards the end of the day, Everett and I were feeling a little house-bound and stir-crazy.   I suggested Chinese food.  We wanted to find someplace new, so after a little bit of searching, we decided to try a local buffet that came recommended.  Ironically, we almost didn’t go.  Tegan was having a rough afternoon (have I mentioned that she’s three, and that  being three is hard?) and was having a difficult time transitioning from playing half naked at home to getting dressed and getting in the car.  We did eventually get everyone out of the house, and we headed off – excited – for our nice dinner out.

The food I normally go for was unfortunately very mediocre, but there was a ton of seafood options, so the boys were absolutely thrilled.  They went up to the bar again and again for clams, crab legs, crawdads, cold shrimp, fried shrimp, spicy shrimp, sushi.  They loved it, and seeing them enjoy it was more than enough of a Mother’s Day gift for me.

Spencer got an S-shaped shrimp. 🙂

I tried my once-every-few-years token bite of shrimp, and a whole little clam.   Paxton gave me a small taste of his crab leg too,  so I added that to the mix.  Less than half an hour later, I started itching.  First around my face, then on my stomach, then ALL OVER.  And it was crazy itching… the kind of itching that makes you want to claw your skin off, and the kind of itching that is impolite to address in a public place.

But the time we were heading out to the car, joking about making a return visit, my lips were tingling and my throat felt weird.  We briefly talked about the Emergency Room,  but decided to try some Benadryl first.  I wasn’t having trouble breathing, and despite the insane itching, I barely had a single hive.  We stopped at CVS, Mike ran in for the pills, and we drove the rest of the few minutes home.    A half hour after the Benadryl, none of the symptoms were abating, and an hour later I was starting to feel sick to my stomach as well.    I called our insurance co’s 24-hr nurse hot line and told her what was going on.  She was very upbeat and nonchalant as she told me, “Okay, I need you to hang up and call 911.  Since you’re not getting any relief from your symptoms, and it’s now affecting your stomach, it sounds like it’s become systemic.  That could turn  serious very quickly.”

Happy Mother’s Day to me?

Five minutes later, we heard the siren.  Our little living room was suddenly filled with 4 fire fighters and all their equipment, 2 of our kids, Mike, and myself… pathetically sitting on the couch in my pajamas, uncontrollably shaking and heart beating wildly (later they’d tell me that in addition to the allergic symptoms, I’d probably also gotten “amped up” from the Benadryl.  Most people it makes sleepy, but in others it has the opposite effect.  I’m apparently one of the latter.)   And yes, I was also high on adrenaline, freaked out from the “Hang up and call 911” instruction.  Once they determined that my breathing wasn’t compromised, and that my blood pressure wasn’t too low – it was actually on the high side – things moved slowly.  They got me set up with an IV, kept reminding me to calm down and breathe, and called an ambulance to get me to the hospital to get checked out fully.

All told, I spent 4 hours at the hospital.    They pumped me with more antihistamines, anti-nausea meds, steroids, and pepcid.  They hooked me up to the monitor to watch my blood pressure, respiration, and oxygen.  I watched the little screen as everything kicked in and returned to normal.   My throat still felt weird and swollen (and still does a little bit the next morning)  but I was no longer nauseated.  I’d stopped itching, stopped tingling, stopped shaking, and my freaked out heart rate had come back down.   I took an hour long nap, which did not go unappreciated.  I finally came home at 3:00 this morning, with 3 prescriptions in hand, including one for an epi-pen that I hope to never have to use.  I have to take some medication for 5 days just to be on the safe side, and to ward off any potential rebound effects.  After that, I should be as good as new.

Lessons learned:  1) I will hereby officially avoid shellfish (and likely Chinese food in general for awhile)  and I will be unapologetic about it.  2) Life really IS all about the detours, and 3) Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

All things considered, it truly was a very nice Mother’s Day…. and it’s definitely not one I’ll be forgetting any time soon.

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Filed under health, holidays

14 Things

I have been a mother for 14 years.  To celebrate my 14 years of motherhood, here are fourteen (of many) things I love about MY mother.  I wouldn’t be the mother – or the person – that I am if it were not for her.

My Mom and my Spencer

1.  She is beautiful, inside and out.

2.  She’s a klutz, just like me.  No really, that’s a good thing.  It’s important not to feel alone.

3.  She loves to learn new things, and try new things, and isn’t afraid to jump in with both feet each and every time.

4.  She is the best cook I know.  Her apple pie is beyond compare.

5.  She drops everything and comes running when I have gall bladder problems.  And kidney problems.  And babies.

6.  She’s supportive of my choice to homeschool… or at the very least, she keeps any negative opinions to herself

7.  She raised me to have deep appreciation for good chocolate, good wine, good coffee, and God (not necessarily in that order)

8.  Once when I had a really, really bad day in high school, she let me take the next day off as a “mental health” day.

9.  She came to every concert, every recital, every play, and every sporting event… even if I was sitting on the bench the whole game.

10.  She moved across an entire country to be nearer to her children and her grandchildren.

11.  She made me wine glasses with elephants etched on them.

12.  She left me with a lifetime supply of inside jokes, funny memories, and crazy family stories.

13.  She treats my husband like her own son, and has done so ever since the first day I brought him home 20 years ago.

14.  She treats my kids with patience, kindness, and respect.  She gets down on the floor and plays with them, which is far and away more important to me than any of the above.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I love you more than you know.  And Happy Mother’s Day to ALL the mothers out there, and especially to those mothers whose babies are no longer with them, and to those mothers who are still waiting for their babies to arrive.   I am thinking of all of you today.

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Filed under about me, family, holidays, memories