Since taking our family trip to Disneyland last month, we are embracing opportunities to spend time together with even more frequency. We've seen two movies, in the theater, in the last 10 days, and this past Saturday night we wandered into downtown Portland to pick out some gifts and enjoy a family dinner out. We are ahead of the curve this year, which has meant less stress and more togetherness. It's how I always want the holidays to play out, but this year we are actually making it happen.

The last decade or so I've been gravitating toward a simpler Christmas. Over the past 14+ years we've had numerous discussions with well-intentioned family members about embracing quality over quantity when it comes to holiday gift-giving. Despite my best efforts, most years it was necessary to accept unwanted gifts with a loving heart then donate the items to charity after the holidays (or return them, though they seldom came with a receipt). This year my husband's siblings and their families are meeting at my in-laws' home, which means travel for most of us. Because of that it was suggested we only do small stocking stuffers for one another.  This is a wonderful alignment of ideals, and I'm excited to receive less, spend less, and take on less this holiday season. Besides, assembling gift bags/stocking stuffers is my love language!

With the ongoing goal of a more meaningful, less materialistic holiday season, I've leaned into the idea of mixing homemade gifts with store-bought trinkets; gifting experiences over objects whenever possible; and sharing good tidings with neighbors and friends without adding more stress + expense to an already hectic season. (I am prone to trying to outdo myself every year. It's exhausting)

Over the next couple weeks I'm going to share some tried and true methods for satisfying my perfectionist + overachiever tendencies while preserving my sanity and ability to pay the electric bill. (If for no other reason than to reread these posts when I lose my marbles and need a reality check.)

This first post involves general ground rules I've laid out for myself (or aspire to, anyway). Some are simply thoughts or life lessons surrounding the holidays.

Christmas Cards/Letters // Sending out a yearly Christmas card, in my opinion, is totally optional. Still, I like to share what's been happening with family and friends who live far away, but have never been a fan of holiday letters (writing or receiving them—though everyone is different and so are their circumstances). For many years I have opted to do a 2-sided holiday photo card (Snapfish has great coupon codes). I gather up my favorite iPhone pics from the past year, the ones that most reflect our lives and activities, and let the photos tell our story. This year, for instance, I included a selfie of me wearing a sweatshirt bearing the name of my new grad school. Tale told, little effort.

Coworkers/Teachers/Etc // When Kiddo was in elementary and middle school, he only had one teacher and a small group of support staff that we gave gifts to during the holidays. I would get really elaborate some years, depending on my mood, and it often led to unnecessary anxiety and expense (those gift cards add up!). High school is a whole different beast, so we've moved on from individual gifts. Instead we donate goods, services and money to various school organizations throughout the year. And never underestimate the power of a sincere thank you email.

Instead of gifts, consider organizing a lunch for all the teachers and staff. Websites like Perfect Potluck make it simple to get people signed up, and even the often less recognized staff are celebrated. Similarly, you could organize a cookie/bar potluck where teachers can come and create a mixed plate of treats to take home to their families.

I have a lot of coworkers who have become close friends, and they will receive a small handmade token of my affection. Since changing positions this last summer, I have new coworkers who I am naturally much less close to. I haven't decided what, if anything, I'll do for them, but if nothing comes to mind I'm giving myself permission to just pass along verbal well wishes. (Let yourself off the hook!)

Gifts in Lieu of a Relationship // First and foremost: Don't do it. That being said, I step into this emotional minefield every.single.year. I have a family member that struggles through life. This person has children who also struggle. For the sake of my own mental health, I have to separate myself from the situation and therefore have little interaction with them throughout the year. But come Christmastime I think of the lack of gifts they may receive due to a variety of circumstances and my heart hurts. That's when I start trying to fill the emotional void with gifts. This year was no exception. The gifts have already been purchased, but next year I'm making a promise to myself to send a Christmas card and some kind words.

Giving Trees // They are everywhere and such a great way to give to others. There are two at my work, and I usually pick one tag for each of us to fulfill (though I want to help all the people!). I love watching Kiddo select gifts for another child! Last year I picked a tag for an elderly woman requesting knitting supplies. I no longer crochet but had loads of unused yarn, so I bought a decorative tote and some small knitting tools and gifted her my entire yarn stash. Win-win!

Gift Experiences // This has become a big one for us. Instead of receiving material objects we likely won't treasure forever, we create memories that last a lifetime. Is there a place you've always wanted to visit or a concert/play you've always wanted to see? Make that the gift. If you want something tangible to wrap, put the tickets, a map, or related travel necessities under the tree. Very early on in our marriage Mario gave me a gently used first edition copy of Wicked. Tucked inside its pages were two tickets to the show. When I see that book up on the shelf, I still think of that night. It is hands down one of the best gifts I've ever received, yet it lives on primarily in my memory.

If you have suggestions about navigating the holidays with family, friends and acquaintances, I'd love to hear them!

Next time: Handmade Gifts!

Holiday Cheer: Finding and Keeping It

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My husband and I have contrasting personalities. The epitome of opposites attracting, over the years our differences have served to highlight each other's unique individuality, while softening the edges on our respective qualities that could use an evolution. Our upbringings, our life goals, our social dynamics, our parenting styles—it's all so different.

We lock horns with some regularity, but the love is profound. Mario is my safe person; I absolutely adore my husband, quirks and all. We laugh a lot more than we bicker and that's not nothing. That being said, this introvert often struggles being married to an extremely extroverted man. Most often my idea of a perfect Saturday night is curling up on the couch with Netflix and some takeout; much less so for him. A bustling up-and-coming restaurant is more his scene. Still, we make it work. Not only that, we are really good at it most of the time. A lot of compromise, yes, but I also think our interests have merged significantly in the 15+ years we've spent together. I'm a more social, mellow version of my old self, and he's a more grounded version of the man he was a decade ago. We are often told by friends and family how awesome our relationship is and I feel the same way.

We have been immensely successful merging two very different personalities into one marriage—most of the time our differences don't play into our daily life—but occasionally an issue will arise that brings into stark contrast just how fundamentally different we can be.

Discussing our Christmas vacation plans is one such issue; I feel a strong pull to tradition, and he feels a strong pull to his family and friends.

This year I'm feeling nostalgic: Kiddo is a senior and I'm taking every opportunity to embrace the holidays and their prospective traditions. I went all out for Halloween, and even broke my own rule and started decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I want this year's festivities to be really, really special. (Possibly to the point of creating unnecessary pressure + stress for myself.) I want the richness to come from tradition and time spent together, and my goals have not changed in regard to reducing material objects and embracing simplicity during the holidays.

Husband is also feeling nostalgic, but is pushing very hard to spend Christmas with his family in another state. I'll be honest: it has caused a fair amount of discord over the past couple weeks. After a bit of a standoff, we decided to spend Christmas Day with his family. I'll still have my family traditions, but it will look a little different and follow an alternative timeline. It wasn't an easy concession for me to make, but sharing a life involves give and take.

I have no doubt we will enjoy a lovely holiday road trip and time spent with family and friends. We always do. Nevertheless this situation has brought to light a lot of personal conflict that can arise during the holidays. How easy it can be to fall into the trap of consumerism, competition and obligation, all of which rob us of our joy.

The decision has been made and I'm going to work very hard not to ruminate on all those little compromises. Sometimes the vision has to change, no matter how grudgingly that change comes about. This is life and love and goes hand-in-hand with the commitment to spend your life with another person. At the end of the day Mario is what is most important. His happiness and vision count, too.

The tree went up this weekend and I'm creating Christmas-y little corners around the house. My childhood traditions of appetizers-for-dinner on Christmas Eve + cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning will carry on...on a different day. Because at the end of it all it's about family. Christmas morning in a hotel room is still Christmas morning if we are together. Oh, and just because we are seeing extended family on Christmas Day most certainly does not mean we need to abandon our goals of a simpler Christmas by showing up with an armload of presents. (Or likewise receiving them.)

Here's to embracing tradition, with flexibility, and putting others before ourselves. And here's to handmade gifts, embracing new opportunities and making memories. (And to never, ever keeping score in a marriage.)

Some thoughtful articles and ideas I've been reading and taking to heart these past few days:

Stress Less About Giving

Ground Rules + What I'm Really Gifting This Year (Erin has so many wise words on the issue of Christmas and gift-giving.)

Gracious Gifts (applicable to children and adult gift-giving & receiving)

Coping with Holiday Stress (yes!)

The Holidays: Less stress, more compromise.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Last Thursday I was scheduled to interview at a prospective grad school in the Southeast. However, having been offered a spot at one of my two Dream Programs, I ultimately decided to cancel any upcoming interviews. (I still haven't decided if I'll interview at my other top choice program, given the opportunity.)

And though I'm absolutely sure of my choice, and have formally accepted and financially secured my seat in the program, it felt wrong to turn down an opportunity. Any opportunity. When you've worked toward something for so very, very long, taking all those classes to earn that degree, years spent working in the field, carefully considering and writing each and every admissions essay—pouring your heart and soul into all of it—writing a Dear John letter to a prospective grad school (who wants you!) is a scary thing to do. About 10 days of anxiety + mild wretchedness ensued.

But I believe in the dream. It's happening. Now it's time to relish the relief and profound honor that comes with a) achieving your biggest life goal thus far and b) having the admissions board of one of the top programs in the country unanimously decide that you should attend their institution. (so.much.gratitude.)

These next 7-8 months before life gets turned on its head, as it has many times before in our journey through life, are precious and I'm treating them as such. Family time comes first these days, over work and those niggling obligations that arise in everyday life. Let's be real: Life + parenting + work + marriage can be taxing, and it's easy to get caught up in all of that. I'm making a concerted effort, everyday, to put tradition, motherhood, love, and creative endeavors first.

And while I'm working very hard to say no to commitments that are not mutually beneficial (going  into work at dinnertime, without notice, because they are short-staffed—no), I'm working equally hard to say yes to opportunities that will bring about joy (a friend calls and asks if I can come over and talk + needlepoint with her for a couple hours one evening—yes).

So instead of racking up 5000+ airline miles in 36 hours going to an interview I no longer needed to attend, we used that time to take a mini family vacation. In less than two weeks my solo interview morphed into 3 days at Disneyland with the boys. (A shout-out to Mario for being like-minded and supportive when it comes to whimsical vacation planning and unscripted adventures.)  We used those 5 days to reconnect, unplug, and focus on being with each other. There was plenty of bickering, as travel can often bring about, but for the most part it was just plain magical. (Spontaneous hugs + impromptu conversations about life with a teenage boy is the definition of magic.) It was the reset we needed both as a family and as individuals.

Here's to saying yes to those moments that could easily pass you by. Here's to saying yes to a little extra expense and a little time off for the sake of family. Yes to family, always. 

Oh, and yes yes yes to edible sequins on your churro. 

Saying Yes (to Mickey Mouse)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A couple Fridays ago I hosted Craft Night at my house. A group of nurses/coworkers and I decided to start getting together on a regular basis to work on existing projects and teach each other our respective hobbies. This was our second meeting, and we've yet to craft a single thing. The conversation flows, as does the wine, and before we know it the night is over. It's rather wonderful.

Since it was my turn to host, they got to see my various embroidery projects for the first time. All the hoops I've kept for myself are hung around our room and the upstairs loft area; colorful reminders of the evolution of this craft in my life. I'm thankful every day that I finally (!!!) found my ideal creative pastime; seeing my embroidery projects from their perspective was a reflective experience.

It all started two years ago when I decided to take on little 3" hoops for my annual Christmas ornament project. Only, I'd never embroidered before.

I came across some Sublime Stitching patterns and floss at my favorite craft store in Portland, snagged some muslin remnants, and went to work. They were so simple! I read a couple tutorials + watched a few how-to videos and back-stitched my way to some very cute little works of art by mixing and matching different elements and tracing over handwritten words I lightly etched on the fabric with pencil. The Sublime Stitching patterns can be found here and here, but the deer pattern is no longer available from Amelie Henrie on Etsy. (Though maybe she'll relist it for the holidays?) Fortunately my iPhone photography skills have improved since that time as well...

Feeling confident fresh off my ornament-making success, I also decided to stitch a sweet 6" deer hoop for my mother-in-law as a Christmas gift that year. It was still beginner-level, but a good way to expand on what I'd already learned.

Wild Olive's ornament patterns are also a favorite!

I'm posting this now not because Christmas tunes are are already playing in our home—I'm an after Thanksgiving holiday season purist—but because now is the time to start these sorts of projects. Especially if you're a total novice like I was.

Email me your suggestions and favorite pattern artists and I'll add them to the list! Also! I'm certainly not an expert, but I'll tackle any questions you send my way.

Neede + Craft: How the love affair began

Saturday, November 4, 2017