Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday Takeaway

We don't decorate until one week before Christmas. I enjoy the holidays, but I do not enjoy the melodramatic months long build-up. I want to eat my Thanksgiving turkey with a pumpkin on the table, not a pine wreath! I want the holidays to be something fun and relaxing instead of a huge pain in the butt.

Our family has accomplished that balance and I feel like I am becoming quite an expert on low-stress fun holiday experiences. There are so many family traditions and commercially mandated traditions (hello Elf on a Shelf!) that if you tried to do it all you wouldn't have any time to enjoy the company of your friends and family. Parents especially feel pressure to participate in a vast array of traditions that there seems little time to be still. Between chopping down your own forest tree to baking an alarming amount of sugar laden high fat treats, there seems to be little energy left for the things that actually matter.

Since I fancy myself an expert, I thought I would share some tips for making your holidays fun, low-stress occasions.

Traditions -  If moving that little Elf around every night and exclaiming at the silliness is something you want to do, go with it. But try and establish some simple traditions that are unique and special to your family. We have a tradition of breaking plates on New Year's Eve. (long story) Each year we create a plate for each member of the family at one of those pottery places and use it for the year. Then at New Year's Eve we break the plates with the Hammer of Change (long story). The next morning the new plate is there at the breakfast table to greet everyone. Even though it is weird, no one else does it and that is what makes it special. Don't try and participate in every single holiday experience with the worry that your children will be missing out on some important piece of fun if you leave something out. They just want to hang out with you and do something memorable. Keep that in mind! Choose a few things or even just one thing that you will do every year and have that be your tradition. Ignore the extraneous.

Food - If you hate to cook, don't. If you love to cook, don't overdo it. If you have family members that want to help with the cooking, let them. If you prefer a restaurant, eat there. I tend to go overboard with the cooking and baking. This Thanksgiving I had awesome help in the form of my sister-in-laws and we had a great time pie-baking and prepping Thanksgiving dinner. I took a deep breath this Christmas and decided I would dedicate only one day to holiday baking. Know your limits and involve the other members of the family as much as possible.

Gifts - Give gifts out of love, not obligation. It is not a contest.  I don't have much to say about setting a budget or the shopping aspect because that varies so much by family. We do a lot of shopping online and our Christmas shopping consists of taking the kids to the toy store and asking them to point out what they want. One of us then takes the kids out to ice cream or something and the other buys one or two gifts for each kid from the ones they expressed interest in and we are done. My husband and I do not formally exchange gifts. We will typically pick out a few things that we both want and buy those. The best part is we wrap those things up and open them on Christmas morning and act totally surprised! We each have five brothers and sisters plus numerous nieces and nephews and both of our families have developed nice, affordable methods of doing gift exchanges without making everyone feel obligated to buy 30 presents every year. Do not let the stress of gift exchanges dictate what you buy. If you do not have the money to buy expensive presents, then don't. You can let your loved ones know what they mean to you with a nice handwritten letter or homemade gift and if they don't appreciate your efforts than they are surely the ones in need of some holiday spirit.

I feel like I have given a nice long lecture to everyone which really helps me scratch that teacher itch I get now and then. I have many more tips and advice, but I'll stop there for your sake and mine.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


We are pretty lax with the television watching around here. Hubs and I love movies and are surely passing that along to our kids. I find cartoons entertaining and I think if you are supplementing the TV viewing with plenty of other activities that everything will be all right in the end.

Problem is that the boys have been fighting quite a bit lately. And when I say fighting, I mean cage match style.  The uptick in fighting the past few weeks has resulted in several things. I am getting a lot less done because of the need to closely monitor all their interactions, the house has gotten a bit messy because of said close monitoring, and the children have been watching a lot of TV because for some reason the soothing sounds of Yo Gabba Gabba smooth over the arguments.

They are learning how to get along in their new positions. Little Man is not so little anymore and is starting to assert himself as a big boy, while Big Boy wants to keep things the way they were with him in charge and getting all the big boy benefits. They are trying to find a new footing as equals rather than as big brother and baby. Princess B, meanwhile, has had no problem filling her role as the baby of the family.

I have gotten in the habit of letting them watch TV whenever the fighting starts to be more than I can take. A few days ago I decided it was time to turn off the TV and make them work this thing out like proper gentlemen instead of through reruns of 1960's cartoons. I stuck them in their room and said, "Play together nicely. If you fight, you have to work it out alone. I don't want to be involved." I then went downstairs and waited for the punches to start.

But they didn't. At least I don't think they did. There has been some crying, but I think they are figuring it out finally. Today they played together all day long. I heard a few arguments, but they seemed to have worked them out. There were markers, sugar, a bottle of syrup, and electrical outlets involved. But if the mischief was achieved with a sense of brotherly bonding and cooperation, then I'll take it.

I know having two boys so close in age is going to lead to fighting and it is no where near over, but I am hoping that the fighting and the playing will bond them together and when they are adults they can look back on it all and have a good laugh.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Whatta Man, Whatta Man

I had my birthday this week and once again my husband has gone out of his way to make the event memorable. He has always been able to surprise me and his favorite method is to whisk me away for an adventure.

When we were dating he surprised me with a trip to NYC for New Year's Eve and even though I knew before then that there was something very special about this guy, when he did that I knew I wanted him to keep surprising me over and over again.

There was the time when he told me he was taking me out to dinner and we ended up at a Shoney's an hour and a half away from our house. He told me he had heard there was something great about this particular Shoney's. Turns out it was the closest restaurant when dinner time hit and we were actually on our way to Virginia Beach for a weekend away.

Or the time when our anniversary snuck up and he decided that an impromptu getaway to Seattle and Portland was in order. We booked tickets and were on the flight four hours later. It was a magnificent trip.

Or the time he loaded us in the car and took us all to West Virginia where we toured a coal mine. Or the birthday where he put gifts in the trunk of the car and stopped every ten minutes on the side of the road to make me open them one by one.

There was the 30th birthday party that was completely unexpected and totally appreciated. There's the beautiful necklaces he has given me to represent each of our children. And of course, this past couple of days where we had so much fun family togetherness that I thought I was going to vomit. It was great.

I am glad that his surprises are the good kind and that in all other regards he is dependable and predictable. I know he will always be around and I know he will keep surprising me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Say Uncle!

We are settling back into a routine after having an amazing Thanksgiving week with our family visitors. We hosted my husband's brother and his wife, his sister and her three kids, and his other sister. It was a full house, but we had such a great time.

People are typically surprised when I share that my husband and I both have five siblings. Our families are very similar in some ways. This is probably one of the things that makes us compatible. We have very similar expectations about what family should be like. Things like having dinner together at the table every night that we can, spending quality and quantity time together, and making decisions based on what is best for everyone and not just one person. We both grew up learning about sacrifice and compromise.

We are still working on our own family and I highly doubt we will make it to six as our parents did, but I am very hopeful that when our kids grow up they will have the relationships with each other that Brian and I have with our siblings.

My kids have nine aunts and uncles, including many excellent bonus aunts and uncles, that love them rotten. (for those that are counting, I have one brother that is deceased, but I am sure if he were still with us he would also love my kids rotten) These are the type of aunts and uncles that not only take the kids to the playground, but actually play tag with them. Aunts and uncles who will sit on the floor and read a book over and over and over. Aunts and uncles that are willing to correct their behavior when we aren't there to do so. I wish they all lived closer.

And with these aunts and uncles come numerous cousins. My kids have a cousin who is 18-years-old that was more like a cousin to my little brother and is now more like an aunt to my kids. (if that makes sense) They have a cousin currently growing in a belly in the Virgin Islands. They have big boy cousins that pick on them just enough and little baby girl cousins that help them learn how to be gentle. There are 13 cousins in all and that number is just going to grow.

There are many reasons for having a large family and I can definitely see the benefits of keeping a family small, but for us I think bigger is better. Now that I am an adult I can really appreciate the gift that siblings are. I know not all adults enjoy close relationships with their siblings, but I hope that we are able to nurture close relationships between our children so they will have close relationships as adults.