Creating a Better Christmas For Our Family

Let me preface this by saying that I love Christmas. I love the cheesy movies, Christmas music, family traditions, decorating the tree, hanging the stockings, opening presents as a family – I’m there for all of it. I really am.

But as I looked ahead to this coming Christmas, I found myself kind of dreading it. Not the moments, but the Stuff. The Stuff that I knew was going to stockpile around our already stuffed house. Our kids are approaching an age where they kind of have it all. They have more dolls, blocks, puzzles, games, dress up clothes, video games and even books than they need. I’ve spent the last few months trying to weed out some of that clutter. We’ve made good progress, but we have more purging to do for sure.

So with Christmas looming,  I found myself seriously concerned that the onslaught of gifts might undo all of the work we’ve done this year of decluttering, setting us even further back. I found myself wondering how I could reinvent this wheel, while still making Christmas meaningful and magical for my children. Specifically – the presents we give each other at Christmas. People always talk about experience presents and I decided that this year I wanted to give the family as a whole one big experience – in the form of a Spring Break trip to one of our favorite local hotel / waterparks, The Great Wolf Lodge.

(As an aside, this is not a Sponsored post – Great Wolf Lodge doesn’t know me – I’m just mentioning them because I felt like it.)

I can hear your doubts – because I had them, too. But hear me out:

How do you give your kids a gift that they can’t actually enjoy until several months later? This would admittedly work better if we were taking the trip during Christmas break. This is not in the cards – but after talking it over with my husband who loved the idea, I decided to give it a shot anyway. I had a puzzle made from a picture of one of our first trips to Great Wolf Lodge that the kids can open and assemble on Christmas morning – so they can have something tangible to open and build hype for the upcoming trip.

Seriously no other presents? Well, let’s be real. They are still going to get presents from their extended family. I also have giant hand knit stockings to fill that I’ll be able to approach with less apprehension since it’s the only thing I’ll be shopping for this year. The key will be not going nuts or I could find myself defeating the purpose. But with some planning ahead and will power, I can totally handle this. I’m actually making a list of stocking stuffer ideas and plan to not purchase most of the things until I know exactly what I’m planning to buy everyone – that way I don’t find myself just one more thing-ing the situation into oblivion. I should have been doing this already probably.. Either way, the kids will definitely have presents to open on Christmas morning. I’m just taking us off the hook for trying to come up with big exciting things to unwrap in addition to stocking stuffers and gifts coming from extended family.

What about the magic of Christmas? There’s still tons of fun things to look forward to. We like to celebrate Saint Lucy Day as a family on December 13. Most years I try to add in other December holidays also. This year I’m not holding back. Advent, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Saint Nicholas Day – even the Icelandic book flood are all on my horizon. The best part is that most of these holidays aren’t going to cost much money at all – the emphasis is really on time together. We’ll also visit a Christmas Tree farm, decorate the tree, watch Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music, bake cookies together – all of the things that I LOVE about Christmas with less of the clutter and commercialism that can make me cranky in one of my favorite seasons.

If this works – it won’t be the last time. I like the idea of small, simple presents that fit in an oversized Christmas stocking – and one bigger, possibly nontangible item that the whole family can enjoy. This could be the beginning of a beautiful new Christmas tradition.

What do you think?

Do you give experience presents to your children?

Has this worked for you?



Independence Day Weekend

This weekend was my first time celebrating the 4th of July without going to the town parade, fireworks, visiting family for cookouts, etc. We spent the entire weekend celebrating with just the 3.5 of us and I have to say it was a pretty nice weekend. Our original plan involved going to the beach on Saturday and making a huge feast on Dan’s tabletop grill, but those plans were rained out. So we decided to go to the beach on Sunday with a modest feast and cook the majority of it at home that day.

Saturday July 4th went a little something like this…

After a french toast with powdered sugar, strawberries and blueberries breakfast (so festive!) we spent Saturday morning mulling around Walmart spending a lot more money than we intended to, but on things we needed (we got the sleeping bag for MM and a great nursing gown for me and BB). That afternoon we had bratwurst cooked over a George Foreman grill (hot dogs for the picky three year old), homemade pasta salad and deviled eggs. I’m going to admit right now that Dan did almost all the cooking this weekend.

(We were talking last night about our culinary interests and what we thought they’d be etc. I always assumed I’d become this perfect homemaker who cooked amazing dinners, desserts, etc. and basically owned the kitchen. But apart from desserts and the occasional lucky recipe, most of my culinary prospects have been lackluster. I can do a quick, easy main dish like it’s no one’s business but when I try to get fancy, I rarely feel my efforts have been rewarded by an amazing dish. It never feels worth it – you know? Just stressful. Then somewhere in the middle, Dan got interested in bread making, which turned into pizza making, which, with the help of Food Network in the past month and a half, has turned into – he loves to cook. And his food is good, ladies. I am spoiled rotten and I’m not complaining. I actually feel relieved. Sometimes I’m a bit jealous but since I can still kick his butt in the dessert department and I still mostly own the rest of the homemaking gig, I think it evens out and I’m proud of him. So in general, the kitchen belongs to Dan during the weekends especially and more often on weeknights than I care to admit to – but I can play the pregnancy card for now.)

Anyway, this has very little to do with the weekend – so I’ll get back to my little recap. After lunch we spent some time doing MM’s favorite thing – playing with toys. Every day (several times a day) he will come over to one of us and say, “Do you want to come play in my TOY ROOM?” and you know I feel terrible when I am too busy which seems to happen a lot – even more so for poor Dan. So that afternoon we both said a whole hearted YES and spent awhile doing just that. MM was in his glory.

For dinner that night we continued our original menu plan with the second half of our feast – Dan made homemade beef teriyaki – complete with the wooden skewers just like at a Chinese restaurant and oh mylanta, it was Good. We had that with leftover pasta salad and celery with peanut butter and cream cheese and for dessert – lemon bars, homemade right of a Betty Crocker box. I always go back and forth between strictly homemade and “times-a-wasting” and to be honest, this lemon craving of mine is still so new to me that I wanted to try a couple of box recipes first – that I know I can’t likely screw up – so that when I try homemade later when my energy levels return to “normal” I’ll know if it tastes close to right and what things should look like. These came out pretty good – and Dan kicked it up a festivity level with his “plating skills” (all husbands should be required to watch Iron Chef America – I think he secretly scores each of his meals by flavor, plating and originality).

(this picture doesn’t do it justice, I am still working on my food photography and meanwhile the ice cream and whipped cream were melting so I gave up early and got to eating!)

Then on Sunday, our holiday weekend continued…

The weather was gorgeous so we were thinking it would be the perfect beach day. But we set out first thing that morning to Target (which was closed on the 4th) to buy one very special item – Baby Blueberry’s infant car seat and stroller. We got the Graco Mulberry style travel system I’ve had my eye on for months now despite going back and forth a bit, wanting to be sure it was the one, we can now safely say – yes it is, and it’s ours! We had a cheap Cosco travel system with MM that we loathed so much we actually donated it shortly after he outgrew the car seat, vowing to get ourselves something nicer for the next baby. I was worried that wouldn’t happen after Dan got laid off, but with the help of the $100 visa we got, the price was cut in half and we decided to do our sanity a favor and go for it. We’re very happy with it from what we’ve seen so far. By the time we got home the weather was too beautiful to wait any longer.

So we packed up our beach gear and the food we had planned for that day’s lunch and headed to our new favorite beach (not that we’ve checked out any others yet). Dan got to work immediately cooking the rest of the bratwurst and some more hot dogs for MM while MM got to work immediately playing on the beach’s playground.

Then after lunch we headed to the beach. Unfortunately the algae levels were too high or something so the department of health mandated the water be “closed” so we didn’t get any swimming in but the boys still had fun playing in the sand. After a couple minutes building sandcastles Dan taught MM the age old fun of being buried in the sand which he thought was just terrific!

That night we made homemade pizza with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink thrown on top, leftover pasta salad and some watermelon that was leftover from another culinary feat this weekend – we made this delicious watermelon lemonade that I saw on Smitten Kitchen last week. Everything was delicious, making a terrific end to our holiday weekend.

Again with the picture not doing the meal justice.

Happy Mother’s Day: 10 Reasons I Love Being a Mom

I hope you are all having a fabulous Mother’s Day and weekend. We’ve had a busy weekend with the family, trying to enjoy every last minute with them while we can. In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d list my ten favorite things about being a mother, idea snagged from the Graco blog.

  1. It’s hard not to love being a mom when you have such a great kid (soon to be kids!) – my son makes motherhood different, fun and exciting on a daily hourly constant basis.
  2. Learning about myself through learning about them. Sometimes you don’t even realize something about yourself until you see it reflected (or the opposite reflected) in them.
  3. The pride of watching them learn something new, especially if I helped them learn it. It seems like just seconds ago MM was rolling over for the first time. Now he plays make believe, can say just about anything, is learning to spell… it’s miraculous to watch how much they are capable of learning.
  4. They don’t stop loving you, no matter how often you yell at them (they so know they deserved it) or they don’t get their way. Give ’em a few minutes and the cuddles come right back. I’m going to guess this will be less true during the teenage years, but I’ll try to love being a mom then anyway! This kind of unconditional love is reserved, I think, for spouses and parents / children.
  5. You get to be a kid again! When they get new toys, it’s like you got new toys, too! You get to play bubbles and play dough and color pictures to your hearts content and then some. It can get wearisome after awhile but it can also be a welcome relief from the rest of life.
  6. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the “I love yous”… Kids have the purest form of affection and thus the most coveted in my book.
  7. Every moment of your life now can be experienced in a new way. Maybe you’ve celebrated Christmas a gazillion times, been to an airport or on a long road trip before once or twice, but once you’ve done it with a child, it’s new and exciting again. And, okay, maybe a little more tiring, until you stop and smell the roses occasionally from their height. They smell much better from there.
  8. Sometimes you wanted to have macaroni and cheese and hot dogs – their favorite foods can be a sweet indulgence – and if you are making it for them it’s like a totally selfless act suddenly, no matter how much you wanted it, too!
  9. Being a mother gives your heart new focus – it shows you that love is not a thing which can be run out of, there is always room for more to grow. I’d imagine I’ll be learning this all over again when BB comes this summer.
  10. Being a mother connects you in a new way to your mother, mother-in-law, grandmothers, and mothers everywhere. You learn to understand all these fabulous women in a way you never could. When you experience something, you realize, they’ve experienced these things, too. They’ve lived it, survived it, loved it. It gives you a connection you wouldn’t even notice hadn’t been there until is.

To all the mother’s reading this, Happy Mothers Day and have a great weekend!

Happy World Poetry Day

Today is World Poetry Day. According to wikipedia:

World Poetry Day was declared by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1999. The purpose of the day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world and as the UNESCO session declaring the day says, to “give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements.”

World Poetry Day has existed in some form since at least 1505, according to the National Poetry Day Committee, which was based in Florida, USA, in the early 1990s. It was generally celebrated in October, sometimes on the 5th, but in the latter part of the 20th Century the world community celebrated it on October 15, the birthday of Virgil, the Roman epic poet and poet laureate under Augustus. The tradition to keep an October date for national or international poetry day celebrations still holds in many countries. Alternately, a different October or even November date is celebrated.

Regardless, is there ever a bad reason to celebrate poetry? I didn’t think so. So without further adieu, here are some poems that I’m digging right now…

A Dream Within A Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow–
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

i carry your heart with me by E. E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

When I Was One-and-Twenty by A. E. Housman

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

I assure you, I could go on. But I’ll spare you. What are some of your favorite poems?

Mamalicious Monday: A Valentine’s Bouquet

This is my first time participating in Mamalicious Monday a fun Monday meme hosted by Heather @ The Gift Closet. Here’s hoping I don’t screw it up!

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today was (big surprise) Valentine’s Day! I’ve been superly excited about VDay for a couple weeks now, mostly because we were planning a trip to the new local Mexican restaurant that just opened up (at least we just learned about it). I looooove me some good Mexican food so I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t disappoint. I’d been craving enchiladas and deep fried ice cream for weeks in anticipation of the most romantic holiday of the year. So I was taken by surprise when my husband started the holiday a few days early and brought home this:

So, not only did he notice flowers and buy them for me, he gave them to me while quoting one of our favorite family films, Shrek.

I saw this flower and thought of you because it’s pretty, and, well… I don’t really like it but I thought you might like it ‘coz you’re pretty. But I like you anyway.

Très romantique, non? So for the past several days I’ve been having fun taking pictures of my beautiful bouquet from every angle I can come up with.

MM has been busy enjoying the flowers, too.

And to top it all off? The mexican food was absofreakinglutely delicious! I cannot wait to go back there soonish for more fantastic food! All in all, it’s been a fantastic Valentine’s Day indeed.