Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It's Getting Real

We've reached a point in this in-between space where the butterflies in my belly come more frequently. The months ahead are starting to take shape and plans are being solidified. In other words, it's getting real.

We booked the movers.
I put in my notice at work.
A yard sale is tentatively scheduled.
My pre-req assignments are well underway.
We signed a lease on an apartment.

I've talked a lot about graduate school and my journey to become a Physician Assistant. I wrote about my acceptance into the Dream Program. But I've never really talked about the details. (Quandaries regarding the complexity of my internet presence, always.)

Along with so many amazing + scary + exciting life changes on the horizon comes the biggest of all: we are moving from Portland, Oregon to Atlanta, Georgia the last week of June.

We are feeling all the feels, and Husband and I have engaged in a fair amount of bickering over the last few weeks. I am the primary instigator. I'm prone to feeling defensive and worrisome and comments are taken to a place where they normally wouldn't be. Where does a cross-country move rank on the list of most stressful life changes? It's up there, and rightfully so.

In between now and then we need to downsize our belongings to go from a 2400 sqft house with attached 2-car garage to a 1300 sqft second floor apartment. (We opted to rent a garage for extra storage, but it's considerably smaller and although close, it's not immediately adjacent to our apartment.

Oh, and my one and only Kiddo is graduating from high school. (Welp.) Fortunately one of our best family friends has offered him an internship at his business, and we are excited for this amazing opportunity. I'm also incredibly grateful that his transition into adulthood is off to a smooth start. (Though there will be many bumps, I'm sure.) It's one less thing to add to the pile during my own transition into graduate school. For at least the first few months after we move he'll be living in California. I have a lot of feelings about that, too. Mostly happy, some sad. Motherhood: the emotional minefield.

Life changes, they are coming in spades around in here.

Most of all, I'm so darn excited for what's to come. When you work for years to achieve your goal—and reach the desired outcome!—then go back to living your normal day-to-day life for the next 9 months...well, let's just say there have been a few moments of impatience on my part. (But also not wanting things to change because we are in a really lovely phase right now. Minefield!)

Spring break week we went down to Atlanta to apartment hunt and explore our new city. We stayed at the most adorable Airbnb cottage right next to the college and had the opportunity to get to know the immediate area. I had set up 6 apartment tours in advance, and we stopped by others sans appointment. By the second morning, 8 apartment tours in, we were feeling pretty overwhelmed. So we went back to where we started—literally and figuratively—and re-toured the first complex. We needed a specific floorplan to accommodate our needs, and as luck would have it someone had given notice that very morning. It's being completely remodeled and on July 1st we will start calling it home. (We decided paying a little more each month for upgrades like granite countertops and brand new kitchen/bathroom cabinets is definitely worth it.) Everything fell into place in that way it often does, and I couldn't be more thrilled. And at only 1.8 miles from campus, it had one of the shortest commutes which is not nothing when it comes to Atlanta traffic.

While we were there we played + ate at Ponce City Market (soooo fun!), brunched at Ria's Bluebird + sampled the gourmet popsicle scene (yuuuum!), and visited Georgia Aquarium (amazing!). We've lived a lot of places, but never in the South, and we are super excited to explore our new region.

Time to start stocking up on shorts.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Seen, Heard & Bookmarked: Life Lately

The ebb and flow of late has felt very different. After travel, life always takes a moment to regain its equilibrium. My work schedule has been lighter some weeks, based on Husband's travel schedule, and I'm feeling like less stress + more time spent being a mom is a lovely way to lead up to a very hectic next phase. So these days I'm more apt to say no to a work schedule that doesn't work for our family.

This weekend I hope to find my way back to the ceramics studio after a month-long hiatus. I'm also taking Kiddo on a long driving lesson to the beach. He's motivated and doing really well, so we are finding every opportunity to get in some practice time. The weather is supposed to be in the 60s and sunny! Little signs of spring are everywhere in the PNW: morning sunshine coming through the bedroom window; blooms popping up along fence lines. I feel like I'm coming alive again after a long nap.

In the meantime I'm working my way through an assigned medical terminology class and rediscovering how I study best. Too loud, too hot, uncomfortable chairs, no food...the journey to find the perfect coffee shop for optimum productivity is a challenge.

I hope you all have a great weekend! Here are some things I've seen, heard and bookmarked lately:

Right after we got back from Grand Cayman I underwent oral surgery due to the dental trauma I mentioned in my last post. Part of the post-op protocol is a hefty round of antibiotics. My body is still struggling to recover so I'm downing all the probiotic-rich food and drinks I can. Happy Mountain's Peach Blossom and Townsend Tea's Lemon Ginger Cayenne kombucha for the win.

Starting a ketogenic diet on Monday. I consider it an elaboration on my Whole30 habit, but hopefully with a little more fat loss. This cookbook explains everything and the recipes are delicious no matter how you eat.

I couldn't resist these Desert Friends slip-on shoes.

I came down with a wicked upper respiratory infection at the end of our trip. Starbucks' Medicine Ball Tea came to my rescue before our flight home and many times in the days to follow.

DIY abstract painting

Falling in love again with the Calm app. I bought a year-long subscription last spring and it has been worth every penny. Sleep stories for those restless nights; guided meditations to help me achieve my mindfulness goals.

The Boys Are Not All Right (As the mother of a young man, this was gripping + made my heart hurt.)

Date Night Mushroom Fettuccine (um, yuuuum!)

After falling down an iPhone game rabbit hole this past week, I'm switching to grayscale and making a concerted effort to avoid excessive screen time. (Which makes me feel icky both physically and mentally.)

A Woman, Her Body (short but  profound)

This lovely but neglected notebook set just became a brand new set of gratitude journals.

Finished this novel last night. It was riveting + confusing + odd + introspective. I'm still digesting my feelings and interpretations. Next up is this book, chosen from a prerequisite reading list. (But looks really good, assignment or no.)

Watching this movie, also the subject of a prereq essay assignment. (I read the book for a class my sophomore year of college and was utterly fascinated.)

Coconut Carob Bars (sugar-free!)

Starting Sunday, we are going to each choose 3 things to donate, sell or throw away each week. Hopefully this will lead to better habits, less clutter, and a less stressful relocation. Loving this article, 32 Items In Your Home That You Can Get Rid of Right Now

In early February I decided to get a closed earring hole re-pierced. While waiting my for my turn at the parlor I started looking at a model showing all the different ear piercings. Twenty minutes later I left with a very spur-of-the-moment "daith" piercing that is still pretty sore. Trying this cleaner based on the reviews. (Advice? Should I just take it out?)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Grand Cayman Saves the Day(s)

Early and mid-February gave me a run for my money. Work was particularly trying in so many ways; I was in a bit of a personal funk (ennui, perhaps); someone backed into my car, breaking the taillight and bumper; I experienced a dental accident that was extremely traumatic. (I'm sure I'll write about it once the personal tragedy of it all wears off a bit more.)

In the middle of all this arrived our yearly trip. Husband's company, a luxury goods company of sorts, puts out an incentive trip every February for their clients who meet or exceed sales goals. Since Husband works at the corporate level we are asked along. Aside from the company's 5-year trip hiatus during the recession, we've been going every year since our mid-twenties. These trips have allowed us to explore the world; places we would probably not have seen otherwise at this point in our lives...or maybe ever.

I'll be honest: these trips can be socially fatiguing for someone like me who requires regular periods of solitude. Hundreds of people, some familiar some not, chatting you up during every waking hour. (Often to talk to you about your husband's many merits.) If you are walking to the beach sans makeup, sunhat pulled low, chances are someone is still going to recognize you.

I've certainly become more social as I've advanced through adulthood. Being partnered with an (extreme) extrovert for 15 years has changed me a lot in that regard, but so has maturity and a dwindling sense of shyness. My thirties have made me more comfortable in my own skin; I relate to others in social settings with a fluency I ever thought possible way back when. Because humans are humans are humans: we are all pretty much the same when you get down to it.

If all else fails three glasses of red wine make for a snazzy social lubricant.

I am so grateful for this perennial opportunity to spend time with my sweet husband in his element. He is universally adored, but sometimes I can get caught up in the less glamorous moments of marriage whilst single parenting + working during his business trips or sharing a home amid conference calls being conducted in the adjacent room.

A free vacation somewhere warm and sunny in mid-February . . . I am forever filled with gratitude for this privilege. I won't likely be able to attend the next couple years, so this trip was extra special and cherished.

I'll admit: when we departed for Grand Cayman I was not at my personal best. In fact, just a couple days prior I was displaying a drastically uncharacteristic lack of resilience. Husband had spent the previous weekend quite concerned about my mental fitness and I was questioning everything. Fortunately it (mostly) passed after a few intense days and a change of scenery was much obliged.

The water was unrivaled: jewel-toned blues and greens that sparkle and mesmerize. The locals are lovely and kind. The beaches pristine. My marine biology-loving self kissed the head of a baby sea turtle and the "lips" of a stingray. Grand Cayman is what you see when you imagine paradise.

The third night in we were to attend an event and I was experiencing mild apprehension stemming from lingering emotional upset. Mentally I still wasn't totally present. Once we got to the venue I had a cocktail...and then a few more. Before I knew it I was chatting and dancing and letting go. Finally. Letting go of all of it. After the event we hit up a local bar where I met a group of locals who were kind, welcoming, and generous with their life stories. And just like that I had a new perspective. My life is good and those crappy moments in time are so extraordinarily temporary. Not everyone has that luxury. I needed to have my grit stoked and boy did I get it.

I came back home motivated, re-energized, and ready to prepare for all the exciting things to come.

For so many reasons, Grand Cayman will hold a special place in my heart. Specifically, it helped me get my groove back.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Seen, Heard & Bookmarked

I have an hour before my last pottery class and all I want to do is blog. To put virtual pen to paper. And so here I am, tucked into a corner table at a little coffee shop down the street from the studio, perched in front of my laptop. This certainly won't be my opus, but gosh it feels good—like a long stretch after you've been curled up on the couch.

Last week I made a trek to Texas to interview at a potential grad school. It was a 2-day affair and as I made my way home last Saturday night I found myself feeling tired, teary, and emotionally tangled. I also felt conflicted.

Sunday morning I woke up to absolute clarity. A good night of sleep and my instincts were back on point. My gut told me the program that accepted me back in October is The One. And my gut hasn't wavered for one single second since. I am relieved and feeling confident now that the decision has been set in stone. This week I started my deep dive into all the assigned pre-work and it has been onward and upward ever since.

Wednesday brought my first 11a-11:30p shift at work. Let's just say I'm not a fan. That time frame seems to combine the worst parts of each shift into one. I agreed to try it for this schedule but imagine it will be a short-lived affair. Though I want to work, and more importantly make money in this interim period, I have other priorities too. Like my sanity, my preliminary coursework, and my family. So while my goal is still to work about 24 hours/week, I'll be looking for a different combination of hours to achieve that. Sometimes you just have to say no.

We are leaving for Grand Cayman in about 3 weeks, and I'd like to spend the time we have before that re-centering my wellness routine. (Establishing a solid routine, more like.) Husband and I are each going to pick a couple recipes to prepare for the upcoming week and I'm committed to wholesome (mostly Whole30) eating for all 3 meals. That way I won't get too derailed due to our vacation and can transition back into good habits when we return. I've stopped waiting for everything to be "just right" before starting these things. Right now is as good a time as any.

In the meantime, here are some things I've seen, heard and bookmarked lately:

Justin Timberlake + Chris Stapleton forever and ever amen. I first became acquainted with this unlikely pairing a few months ago when I stumbled upon their awesome CMA performance on YouTube. And now they have a new single which I'm equally smitten with. (The music video is good.) I'm not a country music fan by any stretch, though my music preference has a wide range, but I've been listening to the complete works of Chris Stapleton on Spotify often. His voice hits me deep down in my soul.

Egg Roll Soup (Come. On.) It's on the menu for this week.

Adding collagen to my daily routine for a number of reasons, primarily joints + skin. (I went with this one.) I'll report back.

Saving this Spätzle and Cheese with Hot Dogs recipe for one of those comfort food kind of days. (Very occasional cheating is a-ok.)

5 Hairstyles for Short Hair (Mine has vacillated between chin length and shoulder-skimming for the past 2 years and I don't see that changing. It is my hair's perfect length.)

Ben & Jerry's Non-Dairy ice cream. So many new flavors, kiddo loves them!

How to Supercharge Your Dopamine Levels

This Loaded Kale Salad looks right up my alley.

Decided to try blue light blocking glasses to help with electronic eye strain + sleep hygiene. They help so much! The ones I ordered on Amazon are out of stock, but these are very similar.

Obsessed with these apple (and pear!) chips.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Organization, simplification and downsizing.

This year I was especially prompt when it came to putting away the holiday decor. Though I totally understand those who leave their tree up throughout January (a less jarring transition into the New Year and glum First Month weather), I like to make the transition a quick one for practical and emotional purposes.

This year is a little different. We are facing the likely prospect of apartment or condo living for a few years starting this summer. We will be living as close to my grad school as possible to limit time spent commuting, which places constraints on our housing prospects since both programs are in very urban areas. Plus, we are feeling a strong pull to simplicity: someone else mowing the lawn; a smaller area to clean; walking distance to amenities; an on-site gym; etc. But that also means whittling down our belongings to fit in a significantly smaller space. The plan is to have a yard sale this spring/early summer, but a lot of sorting has to occur and decisions have to be made before that can happen.

I decided I wanted to start this process early and tackle it as organically as possible as opposed to putting aside entire weekends to sort through all the totes in our garage. So last fall I resolved to go through our holiday decor as we put it out and took it down. This past weekend I sorted through everything we didn't use and put items into boxes labeled for donation or a yard sale. Then I carefully packed up the stuff we do love and use and put them into labeled totes. What was once many boxes and totes with zero organization became a succinct storage system so we will know where everything is when we go to look for it in the future. (One tote for fall holidays, one for Easter, several for Christmas and so on.) What we were left with was a fraction of what we had before and I feel just fine about that.

This is absolutely the way to tackle the problem of stuff! We usually do it just prior to moving which inevitably ends in copious amounts of stress and a good dose of arguing. Four days before a cross-country move is NOT the time to be deciding the fate of that box of broken ornaments from your childhood. (Our previous moves have felt like last minute adrenaline-fueled affairs and I'm eager to do away with that particular habit.)

And just like that a project I've been avoiding for years was completed in a couple days. Because it seemed so much bigger in my head than it actually was.

I've had Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in my nightstand for a year but have yet to read it. (I'll get to it next!)  Still, I've seen enough interviews and read enough articles about it to understand some of the core principles. A big one for me is taking the time to evaluate individual objects while sincerely considering its value in my life. I also have to be honest with myself about why I hang on to certain things: is it really the love of an object that keeps it in my life or an unhealthy emotional tie I need to sever? I went through that process, briefly, as I put all the holiday decor away and cleaned out totes. Do I love this? Do I see myself using this for years to come? Is it going to hold up? and other such filters crossed my mind before deciding its fate. It works.

We did a giant stuff purge when we moved from New Hampshire to the Pacific Northwest 3 1/2 years ago. And yet so much still remained. (Enough to have a lucrative yard sale this past year.) We also have to consider that we are going to be transitioning from a 2400 sf house to something, well, much smaller, so we will have to be even more committed to letting things go. Which can be so very hard + anxiety-inducing. We have accepted that we will likely need to keep a storage unit for a few years, but we don't want that to be an excuse to keep stuff we aren't passionate about. Our future selves will thank us for tackling this now.

I got the ball rolling early on and that feels good. Now it's just a matter of keeping up the momentum as our moving date grows nearer. There are so many question marks in our lives right now that I don't want to add more stress to the mix. Slow and steady is the key, I think.

This year I resolve to be surrounded by only the things I love, to have less clutter, and to spending less time worrying about the state of our stuff.

Friday, January 12, 2018

All the feels in the New Year

The first part of January was over in the blink of an eye. Kiddo had a gloriously long Christmas break, and Mario and I each took a week off of work so we could focus on family time. I remember sitting in the living room on January 1st reflecting on how perfect this break seemed; the first in a long time to really stand out. I felt so connected to our family. Before I knew it the decorations were being stowed and life resumed its normal rhythm. Kiddo went back to school, I went back to work, and Husband left this week for an extended business trip.

At one point during the drive home from Montana my belly exploded with butterflies thinking about the year ahead. Mario just accepted a promotion at work and is chartering a new(ish) course in his career; Kiddo graduates from high school in about 5 months; and the culmination of nearly a decade's worth of work means my life's goal will be realized starting this summer.

For all the anxiety and frustration that has bogged down periods of my life, I look back and see how fortunate I've been. This life and my relationships have afforded me some amazing opportunities: the ability to stay home with my son (and also work, when the time was right); to travel; to attend college (and now grad school); to explore my many creative interests; and to establish rewarding, lifelong friendships throughout the country. I didn't often see it for what it was when I was in the thick of it, and sometimes I find that regrettable. Life could have turned out so differently, and not necessarily for the better, a realization that has instilled a deep appreciation for the less sunshine-y periods in my life. Because they were important, too.

Over the years my memories of the hard times have softened—the sharp edges becoming rounded—and what is left is profound gratitude. Gratitude for a husband who becomes more beautiful with time, both inside and out. True story: the other day I was meeting him for lunch in downtown Portland. I looked up as I entered a crosswalk and met eyes with a man whose attractiveness nearly stopped me in my tracks. A half second later my brain processed that it was my very own husband. It was an impactful moment and I've mentally relived it numerous times since that day. Because, you know, daily life and work and dish duty sometimes get in the way and you forget just how enamored you are with each other. The fact is, my fondness for that man has grown exponentially since the day we said I Do and I don't take for granted the fact that not everyone is so fortunate in their relationships. I have total equality, love and support from Mario and I strive everyday to make him feel just as loved. (Though my intensity makes me considerably less easy to love, I imagine.)

Last weekend we met up with some friends for an afternoon. We played pool (flashback to my friend's basement rec room in high school!), ate, and chatted. There was so much laughter. On the drive home my heart ached with the thought of packing up and leaving the life we've made here. We are uprooting ourselves again for all the right reasons—for the sake of an amazing future—but the heartache is real. I love the PNW, Portland, and all the amazing people we have in our lives because we chose this place to call home. Feeling equal parts excited and heartbroken is a strange place to live emotionally, but I'm trying to let all the feelings have their moment of recognition as they pop up.

Work has been tough lately. The end of the year is the busiest for the surgical services department, with people scheduling procedures before their deductible resets in the New Year. January has been busy, too, with flu season raging and traumas and unscheduled procedures. Last week I stayed several hours past my shift to assist with a deluge of emergency cases, finally crawling into bed at 2a feeling mentally and physically depleted. Yet I feel this intense responsibility to work more. To pick up all the extra shifts, to change my direct deposit to savings, and to throw money at our account for my remaining months in the workforce before school starts. This pressure is solely self-imposed, but powerful nonetheless.

In a matter of 6 short months I want to pay off every cent of debt we carry and have a savings account that is bursting at the seams. Come July I want to set all of our bills to autopay and not think about them once while I'm in school. And yet, that's completely unrealistic. An unfair expectation that only serves to create more stress and strife. The fact is we are in the best place we've ever been financially, making it the perfect time to leave the workforce for a few years. But the subject of money is complicated and emotionally charged and I am prone to overextending myself for the sake of possibly stowing away a few extra dollars. I imagine a lot of it originates out of guilt: I'll be taking on significant debt in the form of student loans and relocating our family for the sake of my dreams. (Mario doesn't feel this way at all, and reassures me all the time. Though guilt is guilt is guilt.) That internal drive that has led to my successes in life has a dark side: it often provokes me into putting unnecessary pressure on myself to make everything just right. It's an overarching lesson in self compassion I work toward perennially. Perfectionism aside, this coming endeavor is a big one; an undertaking that will require a great deal of time, money, and sacrifice. I am working to mentally prepare for all it entails, as much as one can having not yet personally experienced its intensity. In the meantime I need to cut  myself some slack and prepare in a realistic way, which means accepting imperfection for the sake of sanity. As much as I'd love to enter school with zero life interruptions and every possible scenario and snafu accounted for, it's simply not how life works.

Earlier this week I received an email from my program. It has our class roster, complete with the photos taken during our interview session, and several essay assignments. We are roughly 7 months out from our start date and already there are books to read, documentaries to watch, and a 17-week medical terminology course to complete. Upon reading the email it all became very real. Soon we will be shopping for new technology (switch to a Mac?!), tools of the trade, and a white coat (with my very own name on it!). There will be financial aid packages to negotiate and a house to pack up. Where will we live? (Apartment/condo vs house?) What plans will Kiddo make post-graduation? (Work, college or both?) What will life look like for us this fall? What do I do with my houseplants? When do I give my notice at work? Butterflies + anxiety. Butterflies + anxiety. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Compounding matters is a choice I made about a month ago: I accepted an interview at another program. There were two pipe dream schools, you see. A year ago when I was compiling my list of potential programs in preparation for the upcoming application cycle, I had a definitive Top 2. I thought I'd likely be invited to interview at one of them, and I was right. I have a seat with my name on it and have been absolutely over the moon since finding out. Mid-December I received an invitation to interview at my other top choice program. In the end I decided to go for it. Next week I will once again hop on a plane, suit in hand, to go through the arduous interview process just one more time.

Here's the thing: this second program costs $30,000 less overall and is in a state with no income tax, which combined would save us tens of thousands of dollars over the course of our time there. If I am accepted (the big IF), and my gut tells me there is a clear winner, money will not factor into my choice. However, if I'm presented with equally excellent options I'll likely be changing programs. Which leaves me feeling unsteady and uncertain. And more than a little guilty for even considering somewhere else in light of the amazing opportunity already awarded to me. (Again with the guilt!) In the end this is the absolute right decision and what is meant to happen will come to be. My life goals are too important to not thoroughly vet every amazing opportunity that comes my way. In addition to being nervous, I'm also incredibly proud of myself and humbled by my fortune. I've worked really hard and it feels amazing to have these highly competitive programs recognize my efforts.

At the end of the day these are First World problems, at best. As word gets out at work that I was accepted to PA school, I have been inundated with questions and comments by my coworkers. The physicians tell me how hard is it to get into a program (agreed) and others lament about how much they want the same opportunity. ("Yes, grades matter." "Yes, you have to have a degree first." "Yes, it's very competitive." and so on.) I am one of the fortunate ones who had the drive and ability to jump over the many hurdles this process has presented. (And the stamina to keep pursuing The Dream, always.) The fact that I have a rock solid support system in place allowing me to take on this venture hasn't escaped me for a second. Some have it easier, but there are many, many more who've had it harder.

And so I'm feeling all the feels and thinking all the thoughts. I'm putting the impending assignments on hold until the final decision has been made. Instead I'm actively trying to focus on the right now. Parenting a teenager, holding down a job, learning to throw pottery, and trying not to look too far ahead. There will be a time and a place for that.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Holiday Cheer: Saying goodbye to martyrdom + adopting (more) flexibility

Last night we pulled into the driveway after a whirlwind week of holiday celebrations. I'm a little worn out but also really pleased with how our holiday season has played out.

We celebrated our family Christmas Eve last Friday evening, and Christmas morning on Saturday the 23rd. After opening presents and enjoying our usual Christmas morning rituals, we packed up the gifts yet to be given + our warmest winter clothing and made the 8+ hour drive to Montana.

Christmas Eve was spent with lifelong friends who have long since become family. Christmas morning was spent in a hotel room, where we opened our stockings and a few small gifts delivered by Santa. It was intimate and lovely and, despite my previous concerns, I didn't feel like we missed out on anything. After breakfast we hopped back in the car and made the drive to my in-laws' house. After two days spent visiting with family and friends, we were again on the road heading back home.

Tomorrow evening we are headed to a friend's house, cheeseboard in hand, to ring in the New Year.

During those long hours on the open road, and in the hours since, I've reflected a lot on this holiday season. It didn't fit into those tidy ideals I had for celebrating family traditions, but it didn't leave me in want, either. This disparity can be summed up by the title of this post: I stopped being a martyr and allowed myself to view the holidays, and our celebration of them, with a lot more flexibility.

When I use the word martyr, I don't mean to imply that I worked my fingers to the bone for the sake of sympathy. But in years past I did take on too much which inevitably led to stress + misery + resentment. I consider myself a thoughtful gift-giver, which means I put a lot of effort into finding that perfect present. In addition, I'd go above and beyond with the wrapping and the stocking stuffers and homemade ornaments and, and, and. Especially after I went back to work full time, Christmas began to lose its joy at my own hand.

A few tweaks in my expectations made all the difference:

1. This year I made wrapping a family affair. We all gathered in the living room one evening, put on a movie, and wrapped all the gifts for family and friends. Then Kiddo and I did the same for Mario. Then Mario and Jared did it for me. No one person was relegated to the bedroom floor to wrap solo. There was one night last week when I worked until 11p then came home and started tackling a bunch of lingering tasks. That was a little taxing + stressful, but nothing like I've experienced in years past.

2. We have some lovely neighbors who bring over homemade treats and trinkets. We love to reciprocate, but the responsibility usually fell on me to make it happen. This is in part because Husband travels for year-end company meetings and doesn't share a strong affinity for holiday baking. Though let's be clear: I didn't often ask for help. (Which he would have done without hesitation.) Instead I took it all on at the expense of my own enjoyment. This year I picked out three simple recipes: a spicy pretzel-nut mix, gingerbread caramel sauce, and Puppy Chow snack mix. I bought all the ingredients, printed the recipes, and...asked for help. With the exception of the caramel, the boys made the rest while I was at work. Kiddo had a longer than usual Christmas vacation, so it was the perfect way for him to pass the time sans electronic distraction. I didn't feel the need to match our neighbors/friends in effort or number of treats made and that was such a relief.

3. I'll admit this year's Christmas ornament project briefly got the better of me. (This is not unusual; I'm trying to change my ways.) I decided to create some 3" and 4" embroidery hoops. I picked out some cute printed fabric bearing woodland creatures and embellished them with laurel wreaths, flower crowns, and pine boughs. I started early and was able to move through them quickly since they were small and simple in design. It was also my first foray into freehand embroidery, which was fun + exciting. Only, some of them needed to have the fabric pen markings I made rinsed off (+ drying time), then a felt backing attached, then wrapping... I didn't have enough time or hoops for everyone in my life to receive one. At 2a, while cutting out felt circles, it came to me: not everyone in my life needs to receive one. My brother-in-law's girlfriend whom I've never met?  Not so much. My good friend who loves my embroidery and always wants to see my work? Yes! And just like that I'd eased the strain I'd put on myself. As much as I want to please everyone, I can't. Nor should I. (An overarching life lesson that applies to nearly every facet of my interaction with others.) My embroidery hoops are a labor of love and I a) don't want to burn myself out and have it become a chore and b) only want to give them to people who appreciate the craftsmanship (needlepoint isn't everyone's style, after all, and that's okay).

And so goes the story of how I managed to make this Christmas more family-friendly and less stressful. Save for a mild panic that set in a couple days before we left for our road trip, in large part caused by my overcommittment to work in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this year was much calmer than in years past. Fewer presents, more time spent as a family, and less commitment to unnecessary obligations was the key to more peace all along.

Next year will be even more simple, I imagine. I'll be finishing up a grueling first semester of grad school, we'll be living in a new region, and our lives will be very different. Which makes me that much more grateful that we're moving closer and closer toward minimalism with each passing Christmas. Because, as it turns out, simplicity = joy.

Next up: Packing up the holiday decor. Organization, simplification and downsizing.