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.
 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Cheer: Handmade Gifts


Homemade gifts have become a staple in our house over the years. In the past they were often associated with whatever craft we were exploring at that time—we've since settled on hand embroidery (me) and woodcarving (him)—but the gifts were always well-received and often elicited a conversation about the ins and outs of our chosen craft.

With grad school on the horizon I will probably have to step back from homemade for a few years, but our aspirations for a simpler, more meaningful holiday season will not fall by the wayside. In fact, less time and an all-encompassing focus elsewhere means we will likely lean toward minimalism around the holidays for a period.

Some of our tried-and-true handmade Christmas gifts, which are fun to make + encourage family time + make the recipient feel loved:

Ornaments // My tree is covered in messy, hard-to-identify ornament projects Kiddo made throughout his preschool and elementary years. Every so often they need to be tended to with some glue or a needle and thread, but gosh if I'm not smitten with each and every one of them. Turns out, friends and relatives feel the same way about our adult creations! I've done an ornament project for the last 8 or so years, which we give to close friends and family. With Pinterest and Instagram, inspiration is everywhere. Bonus: it scratches that holiday crafting itch. (You can find some of my past ornament projects here, here, and here.)

Gift Your Hobbies // Over the past couple of years, I've gifted embroidery pieces. In the past it was jewelry, paper crafts, wool felting, crochet, and various other pastimes I explored. Husband carves beautiful wooden spoons by hand, which the recipient always treasures. I'm currently enrolled in a pottery class which includes unlimited studio time, firing and glazing. I didn't take advantage of those benefits in the early weeks of the course, but now I'm in the studio as often as possible which means many of my family and friends will be getting bowls and mugs this year. Will they be perfect? Not a chance! But they'll love them just the same and think of me every time they use that vessel. Whatever you're into (or have always wanted to try!), find a simple project and cross two things off your list.

Bake // We live in close proximity to a lot of neighbors that have become friends. I want to spread cheer to them during the holidays, and do so by making treats. I buy pretty canning jars and other inexpensive holiday containers in various sizes (which are gifts in and of themselves) and fill them with homemade treats like snack mixes, roasted nuts, caramel sauce, and cookies. Bonus: I get to bake without sweets lingering in the kitchen. (This Homemade Almond Roca is a perennial favorite!)

Share the love // If you know a friend would enjoy learning a new craft, make them a kit! With embroidery, for example, I would print a pattern (Pinterest is chock full of free patterns!) and include coordinating thread, the appropriate size hoop, a scrap of fabric, and a pack of needles. (Total cost: less than $5.) You could even make it more elaborate by including a cute tote bag, sewing scissors and/or a needleminder. Same goes for candle-making, wool felting, knitting/crochet or any other low maintenance craft: The supplies are simple, cost very little, and are readily available. (If it's a craft you enjoy yourself, you probably have almost everything on hand.) Even better? Include an IOU for lessons.

Framed photos // I had copies of Kiddo's senior photo printed on high quality matte photo paper and grabbed some simple frames from IKEA. Grandparents and other close relatives will get a photo all ready to hang.

More handmade gift ideas:

Giant knit blanket // This DIY video makes it look very doable.

DIY hanging holiday lanterns, which I think would be cute year-round.

Mini candles // I took a candle-making class recently and loved it! I picked up some mini Ball jars + scents, soy wax and wicks from CandleScience, all of which were relatively inexpensive and make a lot of candles. Every one of us in the class made a Blue Spruce candle—it seems to be a universally loved scent. I've been throwing around the idea of making mini candle trios for when I need a more substantial gift.

Martha Stewart's 54 Gift-Worthy Christmas Cookies

DIY Mason Jar Snowglobes (adorable! + adaptable to be non-Christmas themed!)

Infused Vodkas

DIY Wool Mittens (using old sweaters!)

Give me all your ideas!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Seen, Heard & Bookmarked: An Ode To Bloggers


There's a strange phenomenon that occurs in our household: the only time I will ever experience car trouble is when Mario is (far) away on a business trip. I've been fortunate not to have too many snafus when it comes to my car, but rest assured if it's going to happen Mario will be no less than 1500 miles away.

After working swing shift at the hospital last night, I crawled into bed shortly after midnight and awoke before dawn to get Kiddo up and going for school. We got in the car to head out and...nothing. Google said I have a faulty brake switch which has disable the push-button start on my car. No matter how easy the fix, Kiddo rode his bike to school on a frosty morning and I got to ride in a tow truck. (Which was quite fun + fascinating, actually. A virtual shout-out to Chris, the sweetest, most helpful tow truck driver I'm sure there ever was.)

So here I am, perched at a Starbucks adjacent to the auto shop, waiting to see if they can get me back on the road today. Otherwise, Enterprise.  As long as I make my 2p massage appointment. For the love of all things holy, I can't miss that appointment. After pulling a muscle in my upper back this past weekend, I'm still experiencing difficulty turning my head to the left. (You know that most uncomfortable 'I slept on my neck wrong' feeling? I've had it for four days. Oy.)

I'm a hot mess, in case you couldn't tell.

In an attempt to look at the bright side, had this not happened I'd likely still be sitting on the couch doing absolutely nothing of value. Instead, I'm perched at coffee shop listening to the complete works of Chris Stapleton (I'm obsessed!) and catching up on my neglected blogroll.

The blogosphere is chock full of beautifully talented writers, crafters and decorators. (These days the 'blogosphere," to me, includes platforms like Instagram.) After all these years I'm still awed by the artistry. Here's to you, bloggers.

Gingerbread men with character via The Pretty Bee (my mother-in-law is gluten-free, so these cookies may be making the trek to Montana with us this Christmas)

Clarks Shoes + Star Wars via Dominique (because girls love Star Wars, too)

Gourmet syrups, honey + condiments via Sprouted Kitchen

Drawn to the Long Sleeve Harper Tunic via Reading My Tea Leaves (+ these heeled clog boots!)




Are We Living In a Culture of Flakes? via Camille Styles (thought-provoking!)

Dynamite Plant Power Sushi Bowls are on my short list, via  Pinch of Yum              

how i shut my mind off lately via Free & Native (some I already do, others I'm going to try)

Nut Butter Coconut Chocolate Tart via A Cozy Kitchen (delicious-looking + dairy-free!)

Buttered Hot Cocoa via Tales of Me and the Husband (I've yet to try the coffee trend...)

Have a good week!

(Note: Apparently this post was published but only half the content was saved! I should be better at this by now...)

(Update: In case you were wondering, my "Steering Column Lock Actuary" went kaput. Apparently it's super common in cars with push-button ignitions. It disables the whole car and (welp) cost $1200 to replace. In lieu of gifts, this year we'll just take turns riding in my car.)


Friday, December 1, 2017

Seen, Heard + Bookmarked: Saying Goodbye To Fall


The leaves of the Pacific Northwest are having their last hurrah this week. The landscape is still alight with reds and yellows, and I'm absolutely loving this extended autumn we're having. We're on our third round of raking leaves in less than a week, and I have since decided to let the trees go bare before attempting another yard cleanup.

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving with good friends and their lovely extended family. In the days since, the turkey bones have become broth, the tree has been dressed, and those little embroidered gifts I'm planning this year are in the works. Late fall/early winter are a calmer, more reflective time for me + the weather encourages nights in wearing comfy clothes. (Hurray!)

Husband has his usual end-of-year business travel, which means we will see his face once in two weeks. Fortunately my current position at work allows me the freedom to tailor my schedule based on the needs of my family, so I worked half my normal 8-hour shift this week and was home in time for dinner + bedtime.

Also, can we have a moment of gratitude for the inventor of the CrockPot? Ingredients thrown in before work, dinner ready when I get home. I wish I'd maxed out its potential earlier in my adult life.

And speaking of dinnertime, I've had my game face on this week. I started to refocus my nutritional goals earlier this month, but now I'm fully in Whole30 mode. I food prepped like a boss on Monday and had all the ingredients necessary to get through the week cheat-free. What I love about Whole30 is the ability to pick it back up at any time; I feel the benefits in just a couple of days; and I can bend the rules and still be successful (i.e. date night dinners out, a touch of soy sauce or sugar when absolutely necessary, etc). Every time I get back to eating this way, I immediately wish I'd never stopped. It takes a fair amount of effort, but it's totally worth it for me. And honestly, the more consistently I do it the easier/more intuitive it becomes. (The Whole30 breakfast tacos pictured above are so good + easy.)

Here are some things I've seen, heard and bookmarked lately:

Golden Soup (It was simple, Kiddo ate TWO servings, and it was satisfying. I subbed chicken broth for water to add some oomph. A second batch is in the works.)

The most darling face to hang on a wall.

I made this Crockpot Mississippi Pot Roast last week and it was a hit! (I served it over mashed potatoes.)

Came across a new (to me) clothing website. Loving this and this. (any experience with them re: quality, etc?)

My favorite dairy-free coffee creamer. (It has been difficult to find at times, but I think it's becoming a mainstay at my local Whole Foods.) Nutpods is a very close second.

Gift giving has been on my mind (and this blog) a lot lately. This article on changing or ending gift giving habits is awesome.

Adding Cherry Chocolate Nut Cookies and  Lemon Drop Candy Cookies to this year's Christmas cookie rotation.

The softest sweater to run errands in. Resisting the urge to wear it every.single.day. (I'm wearing it today.)

Digging the whimsy of glitter accented ankle boots (still not sure on what occasion I will wear them, but alas). I recently came across styles at both Toms and Anthropologie (my personal fave).

Loving these locally-made smocks, aprons and pinafores for holiday baking.

A Crispy Jalapeno Popper Dip recipe to add to our Christmas Eve appetizer rotation.

This Embroidery Hoop Wreath Tutorial is swoon-worthy.