Valentines Day – Another Day to be Grateful

Alright, it’s a little early for a Valentines Day post – but, hey the stuff is already in the stores, so you’ll have to think about it, whether you want to or not.  One of the reasons I started blogging was because of the positive feedback I had gotten from some things I had posted on facebook that were on my heart.  This is a very slightly revised version of something I posted on Valentines Day three years ago.

I spent many, many years single on Valentines Day. As hard as I tried to pretend the day didn’t exist, it was a bit of a downer. I’ll never forget Valentines Day in 2000. It was my first day working at my previous employer, and I had to go to Madison, WI for training. I actually forgot it was Valentines Day and wore a red blazer with a zipper that had a heart on it. Here I was, meeting people I would work with for 12 years, on Valentines Day, accidentally wearing a Valentines Day blazer. I felt like a fool. That night, being out of town, I realized I was going to have to go out to eat alone on Valentines Day. I went through the KFC drive thru and ate alone in my room. In addition to all of that, I wasn’t certain I made the right career decision. It was a bummer!

Let’s face it, the bloom is off the rose for many of us who have been with the same person for a few years, especially for those of us who have small children. The expectation of great romance on a holiday such as this is diminished because it’s just too much effort to get a babysitter, get all dressed up and get out of the house, especially after a day of working. Frankly, I’m glad the pressure is off. My husband and I exchanged gifts standing in the kitchen while he made dinner. The kids got very inexpensive little gifts, and a little candy. It was all just fine and perfect to me.

What struck me this year was my excitement for my son about his Valentines Day exchange at school. It reminded me of when I was little, and how fun Valentines Day was before there was all the pressure of being in a grown up, romantic relationship. It was all about construction paper hearts and candy. But, mostly it can be a celebration of love, and for little kids it’s the love of their friends, teachers and parents. I wish I had looked at Valentines Day differently when I was a single adult.

The way I see it today is that it’s just another day to be grateful. Even people who have a ton of “friends” have a handful of close family and friends who really love us, and to whom we are important every day. These are the people we can count on when things aren’t going well, and to be our cheerleaders when we’ve had something great happen. Married, single, having relationship problems, whatever your status is. . . you have some of those people in your lives. That is something to celebrate.

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Warm and Wonderful Christmas Tradition – The Final Part of a Special Holiday Series

Thank you again to my contributors for sharing your Christmas traditions.  In closing, I thought I would share a few of mine.  I talked about some in a previous post Dealing with Santa and the Elf – from an Apparently Uptight Christian.  Rather than re-hash those, I decided to share some traditions from my childhood that were a little more unique.

As I mentioned in my previous post, when I was very young, we went to my Great Grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve.  She had nine children, and they all lived in the area.  They had children, grandchildren, etc.  So, it became quite a large gathering.  As time passed, there were concerns about the weight of all of the people on the floors of her old farmhouse.  So, we began renting a hall in a small town.  It was not as homey.  But, there was always a decorated tree and plenty of room for the kids to run around and play.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was when we started going to the hall. I’m guessing 7 or 8.  We went there every year until I was 29, when my Great Grandmother, who lived to be 100, passed away.

We did a gift exchange – we drew names in advance.  But, the new babies that year got a present from every family.

That side of my family is Swedish, and that was reflected in the food.  Potato Bologna, Osta Kaka, Lutefisk . . . never heard of or tried any of these?  Don’t worry – I didn’t eat them either.  My cousin and I usually hung out at the dessert table, avoiding the Osta Kaka.  I don’t think anyone ate the Lutefisk.  Too slimy.  However, I am enjoying reminiscing about it.

Some of my relatives would get together several days before Christmas Eve to make Potato Bologna.  The best description I can come up with is that it’s like a sausage.  My parents liked it.  I didn’t as a kid.  Maybe I would if I tried it now.

Osta Kaka is sometimes called “Swedish Cheesecake”.  I’ve also heard it described as a custard.

Lutefisk is just nasty.  My Great Grandmother was a very creative person.  She liked to write plays, stories, songs.  On Christmas Eve, we would sing Christmas carols.  Most of them were the traditional ones.  But, my Great Grandma wrote a couple of them.  One of them was “O, Lutefisk”, to the tune of “O, Christmas Tree”.  I was hoping to get my hands on the lyrics before writing this, but I was not successful.  My cousin found a Norwegian version.  It does not have the same lyrics, but shares the same feeling.  An adaptation by Red Strangeland – here’s one verse:

O, Lutefisk, O Lutefisk, how fragrant your aroma,

O, Lutefisk, O Lutefisk, you put me in a coma.

You smell so strong, you look like glue,

You taste just like an overshoe,

But Lutefisk, come Saturday,

I think I’ll eat you anyway.

Yummy!  Makes you want to try it, huh?  None of this food has made its way into my traditions now that I have my own family.  But, thinking about them does make me want to tell my kids about them, so at least they will live on in that way.

After our family gathering, we would often go to church.  It was a church in a tiny town.  They would line the sidewalks with little lanterns.  I think they were just candles inside of paper bags that were open at the top.  They looked beautiful at night, especially if there was snow on the ground.  I honestly don’t remember any of the sermons.  But, I remember the lights were turned down.  We would sing Christmas carols.  We would each have a candle.  One person’s was lit, and the next person would use it to light theirs until everyone’s was lit.  It was really special.  The extraordinary in the simple.  Something I aspire to always cherish.

In this time of busy-ness, I hope you will take the time to enjoy the extraordinary in the simple.  We want to make everything perfect and sometimes we go over the top.  God came to be with us in the most humble of ways.  In a stable.  Turned away by many.  But, the most beautiful, wonderful, and extraordinary gift of all.

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Easy Elf on the Shelf Ideas

More very easy Elf on the Shelf Ideas.  Need I Say More?

Checking my Son’s Homework
Being Eaten by a Dinosaur?
Hanging from the Curtain
Hanging out with the Christmas cards
Changing the Thermostat
This might seem creepy if our elf was a boy. But, Cookie is a girl. Nothing weird about a girl brushing My Little Pony’s hair!

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Warm and Wonderful Christmas Traditions – Part IV of a Special Holiday Series

Welcome – and thank you for joining me for Part IV!

Claudia blogs at Sweet Then Sour.  She was kind enough to share her traditions.  Her family celebration starts late Christmas Eve.   After midnight mass they come home, change into their pj’s and have a VERY late night snack or meal, depending on preference.  They open gifts together, and are up ALL night, going to bed around 4 or 5 in the morning Christmas Day. Christmas Day they usually wake up slow and take it slow, maybe a movie, maybe bowling or just laying about at home watching TV.

When I was younger, I would have loved staying up on Christmas Eve opening gifts.  I am naturally a night owl.  But, now that I have young children, I would not be able to stay up that late!

Jessica blogs at life family etc. (love the name, by the way).  She has allowed me to reference some of her traditions from her blog.  I have a couple of favorites.  They do a twist on the Elf on the Shelf that I love.  I think we will have to try it!  When they unpack their decorations, the person who unpacks the Elf gets to secretly hide him anywhere in the house! Then, throughout the month, if you find the Elf, you secretly hide him somewhere else (and then brag to the family that you found it and re-hid the Elf). The bragging is the best part, so please don’t forget that step.  I think my kids would really enjoy this.

Jessica gives her daughter her own Christmas Tree. She can touch it, decorate it, and even get special ornaments each year as stocking stuffers! This gives her a way to get into the Christmas spirit without ruining mommy’s dream of having a perfect tree in the front window (that she’ll still manage to get to). Jessica received an AWESOME felt tree from  PreciousCargoDesigns and it’s absolutely perfect! Her daughter is obsessed with decorating (and re-decorating) the tree a hundred times a day! The ornaments can be stored in the little presents at the bottom of the tree, but she likes to keep her ornaments on display.

I have seen similar felt trees and other felt toys before.  I have always thought they seemed like a good idea – but I thought I had to make them myself!  Now, that I know I can buy one, this may change the game.

Sara has a bit of a spin on the topic.  She is a running/fitness blogger at My Life as an Aspiring Ultrarunner.  Her traditions include a race on Christmas Eve, a Christmas morning run and combining fitness and family time. That is some serious dedication to fitness!

If you have stuck with me so far, you have read about some extremely varied traditions! For my next, and final post in the series, I plan to share some of my warm and wonderful (and maybe slightly bizarre) traditions with you.  Thanks for reading!

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Make a Handy Wrapping Box

My kids are at an age when gift bags just won’t work.  Too tempting to look inside when no one is looking.  Gift bags weren’t around when I was a kid.  I used to try to peek in between the gaps of paper on the wrapped gifts to see what was inside (sometimes I actually did figure it out, and that did spoil things a bit during gift opening).  So, no to the gift bags for the kids.  Which is too bad, because they are so very easy.  I still use them for adults, but I have to wrap every one of my kids gifts, and I like to do it as we buy them.  This saves me from having to find a hiding place.  Plus, I like how festive the tree looks with the wrapped gifts.

So, I spend many nights, after the kids go to bed, wrapping just a few gifts.  It’s kind of a pain, and I found myself constantly trying to find scissors, tape, etc.

Last year, I decided to make it a little easier on myself.  I just love pretty boxes, don’t you?  I bought this one for a few dollars at Dollar General.

The front
The top

Isn’t it lovely?  I really like it.  I put scissors, a few bows, some ribbon, tape and gift tags inside.  I even include a few Christmas cards in case I need to put together a cash gift, gift card, or want to include a card with a gift.  Unfortunately, I can’t fit the paper in there.  I keep that all together in a box in the entry closet.  Still easy to get to.

Inside

I like this so well, that I made a smaller version as a gift for my Secret Santa recipient at work.  The box is a Christmas decoration itself, and saves me from putting away, and then digging out all of these little items night after night.

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Warm and Wonderful Christmas Traditions – Part III of a Special Holiday Series

Thank you to all the bloggers who have shared your traditions with us.  I have enjoyed reading them and am adopting some of them.  I find myself getting into the Christmas spirit from reading about how people spend time with their loved ones.

Jenny, who blogs at In the Kitchen with Jenny, has shared an original and clever idea.  Years ago, Jenny started a tradition of decorating gingerbread houses with her niece, nephew and oldest daughter.  The next year, the price of the gingerbread house kits had doubled, so she got creative.  She asked her Dad to make houses with similar dimensions out of plywood.  Not only did this save Jenny from throwing away money (and the gingerbread houses) every year, but they are much sturdier than those that come in the kits.

Jenny purchases inexpensive gum drops, fruit slices, candy canes, hard candies, etc.  She freezes whatever is not used for the next year.  On the day they decorate their houses they also have time to make and decorate sugar cookies with their grandma, and decorate her Christmas tree.

Jenny also reflects on childhood Christmases.  Growing up she and her family always went to her great grandma’s for Christmas Eve.   They would stop first at her town square to watch Santa come in on his sleigh, and wait in line for a tiny bag of candy and to say hello to Santa. They did this every year, no matter the temperature!  After, they would go to her house for supper and gifts.  After she passed away, Jenny’s Mom decided to take on the Christmas Eve supper and gift tradition.  Jenny’s sister and her family join them.  To keep it simple they have soups, sandwiches, finger foods and holiday treats, most of which is made ahead so they aren’t rushed.  They eat, open gifts and then go home to have a good night’s rest before their own family’s gift giving time in the morning.

I appreciate that they keep the meal simple.  Sometimes we get so focused on the preparation of the meal, that we forget the importance of focusing on spending time together.

Shelley, who blogs at Shelley Writes, tells about her Christmas breakfast tradition for her family.  She and her husband shuffle out of bed in their pajamas, brew some coffee, and get busy while the rest of the house is quiet.  They go all out with bacon. cookies, eggs, just about anything you can think of, including baked oatmeal.  Shelley shares her baked oatmeal recipe here:  A Holiday Tradition:  Baked Oatmeal.

Thank you to Kate, who blogs at Viva La Me, and shares her traditions.  They go for a walk after dark on Christmas Eve and look at the Christmas light displays in their neighborhood.  Kate lives in Australia, so it is hot on Christmas morning.  They go to the beach and go for a swim!  In addition to what Kate has shared here, she offers 12 Family Christmas Tradition Ideas on her blog. 

Thank you again to my contributors, and thank you to my readers.  I hope you are finding this series as enjoyable as I am.

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More Easy Elf on the Shelf Ideas

For all of the overworked Moms out there – here are a few more easy Elf on the Shelf ideas!

I got this first idea from another blog – Lemons and Laughs.  It seriously doesn’t get any easier.  I overheard my children finding it.  My son:  “Do you think that’s funny?”  My daughter:  “Yeah!”

This one may be a bit boring, but the kids liked it – the Elf in one of the gifts.

We did gingerbread houses – which the kids really loved.  They happened to be Minion themed, so putting the elf with the minions was super easy.

The kids have a toy kitchen, so I placed Cookie to fry up some bacon and eggs.

This seems a little harder than my usual placement.  But, it took less than 10 minutes.  I used wrapping ribbon to loop this Nerf-type plane to the light fixture, and to tie Cookie to the plane.

Cookie needed a doctor’s visit.

Make it easy – and enjoy the holidays with your elf!

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Warm and Wonderful Christmas Traditions – Part II of a Special Holiday Series

firs-235169_1920-copyThank you for joining me on what I have found to be a rather heart-warming series.  If you would like to read the introduction to this series, as well as some lovely Christmas traditions, you may do so at  Part I.

Emily, who blogs at A Little Something Sublime, has shared some of her traditions:  “We buy our little one a new set of PJs and a book to open on Christmas Eve. That way we can read her the book at bedtime and she can snuggle in for the long haul in her comfy new pajamas. We also make salt dough ornaments for the tree and put together small gift bags for the residents at the local nursing home.”

Christmas PajamasThe tradition of giving the kids pajamas on Christmas Eve has come up more than once.  I like it so much, that we have decided to do this with our kids this year.

I especially love Emily’s family activity of putting together gift bags for nursing home residents.  I have gone caroling at nursing homes, and I have seen that the attention is appreciated.  The extra touch of spending time together to prepare the gifts makes it an even more meaningful tradition.

Claire, who blogs at A Life in Practice says, “We always open just one present each on Christmas eve. This is a tradition I do with my kids/husband because it’s one I cannot remember not doing! My mum started it with my brother and I when we were very young.” 

I see a theme of opening a gift on Christmas Eve, and, more importantly, carrying on the traditions we grew up with.

Hanna blogs at DIYfamilygarden.  Her family always makes the same cookies every year.  At noon on Christmas day they have a rice porridge for lunch with one almond in it. Whoever gets the almond gets one Christmas present but has to play a scavenger hunt to find it.  How fun!
Christmas Traditions
Hanna makes a homemade ice cream with cream, egg whites and vanilla drops and then roughly cuts down Toblerone chocolate and adds it to the mix. She puts it in the freezer for a couple of hours. I love chocolate and I love ice cream, so I can definitely get on board with this tradition!
Thank you to my contributors!  Stay tuned for more Christmas traditions, and feel free to comment with your favorite traditions!

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Warm and Wonderful Christmas Traditions – Part I of a Special Holiday Series

Christmas TraditionsLast year, we went to Florida for Christmas.  We had great weather, enjoyed the beach, and also visited family there.  But, I decided that I like to be home for Christmas.  When I was a kid, we did the same thing almost every year (a few times, I remember going to South Dakota to see my Mom’s side of the family, but most years, we stayed in the area).  I started reflecting about why I like to be home for Christmas.  There’s just a special feeling that comes on the day, and I didn’t have that feeling being on the beach.

Like most kids, I loved Christmas.  Unlike many adults, I still love Christmas.  People tend to get disgusted by the commercialism of it.  I understand that.  But, like most things, we have choices about how we handle the negative in the world.  I choose to enjoy my children’s excitement, and the opportunity to spend time with family.  Most importantly, while we know Jesus was likely not born in December, it is a time to reflect on, and rejoice in His birth and what that means for us.

In a way, it sounds boring to do the same thing every year.  But, as a kid, I looked forward to it.  I want that for my kids.  Isn’t that what tradition is?  Doing the same, special things, over and over?  Perhaps passing that on to future generations?

I decided to reach out to other bloggers and learn about their traditions.  While I love continuing the old traditions, I think it’s also special to add some new ones along the way.  My hope is that these will give you some inspiration to enjoy reflecting on your own traditions, and maybe give you ideas for starting some new ones.

firs-235169_1920-copy My first contributor is Jaclyn Bree.  Check out her blog Jaclyn Bree – Living the Rocky Life.

Jaclyn grew up with what she considers to be pretty basic Christmas traditions.  She is from Canada; I enjoyed learning about her traditions because they are a little bit different than in the U.S.  Her family would drive out to the forest a couple of days before Christmas, have a bonfire, cook some marshmallows and drink hot chocolate.  They would find the deepest snow possible to lunge through to check out each and every tree.  They would eventually pick out the one that they all agreed was the perfect tree for the year, cut it down, and haul it home.  That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

They would decorate on Christmas Eve Day with completely non-traditional ornaments.  They would decorate sugar cookies and it was imperative that her Dad make one that looked absolutely ridiculous and they would all crack up over it.  On Christmas Eve, they would open one gift, which was always pajamas.  On Christmas morning, they would work together to get her Dad out of bed.  While he was taking his time, they would get the gifts from their stockings.  Once he was finally up, they would take turns opening presents.  They topped it all off with a delicious turkey dinner.  Jaclyn couldn’t imagine that the day could get any better.

I love Jaclyn’s traditions..  When she sent the message to me, I could feel the joy in her telling.  They are picturesque, simple and about the enjoyment of the people, which is exactly what traditions should be about.

I asked Jaclyn if she still continues these traditions, now that she has her own family.  She and her parents, along now with her sister, husband, and all of their children continue to get the tree together.  They still decorate cookies, but now it is often her husband who decorates the absurd and ridiculous cookie.  They continue with the traditions and the family she grew up with.  But, they have started some new traditions with her new family, which includes her daughter.  They have now started giving a pillow to sleep on for Christmas Eve.  I think this is an original and beautiful idea!  Thank you, Jaclyn for sharing your traditions, old and new.

boxLucy, with Real Mum Reviews, has allowed me to mention a tradition from her blog.  Here is the link to her post about her traditions:  My Christmas Traditions!  Lucy focuses on the new traditions with her daughter.  My favorite is the Christmas Eve Box.  It’s a box of fun gifts, the same gifts each year, given on Christmas Eve.  For her daughter, this has included festive pajamas, a pair of slippers, a Christmas themed DVD and a treat.   Her daughter wears the pajamas that night, and they watch the movie before she goes to bed.  I love this sweet tradition!

lightsKerry, who blogs at Money Saving Journeys, was kind enough to share some of her traditions. During the season, they go to the theater; this year the show was Grease.  On Christmas Eve they go looking at decorations in town.  What a fun and festive way to spend the evening!  They also put out a mince for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph, even though her kids are older.  Hey, it’s tradition!

I have loved reading about all of these traditions, and I hope you do too.  I love them because, while they are very different, they are all about spending special time together.  The response for my request for traditions was so great, I had to make it a series or it would be far too long for a single post.  It’s wonderful that people cherish their traditions and want to share them.  Merry Christmas!

 

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6 More Easy Elf on the Shelf Ideas

As I have mentioned before, I am a tired Mom!  This is our third year doing Elf on the Shelf, so sometimes it’s hard to think of new ideas for Cookie, our Elf.  In addition to being new, they must be easy and fast!

Cookie appeared on the Friday night after Thanksgiving.  We had decorated, but some of the Thanksgiving decorations were still out.  So, I thought saying goodbye to Thanksgiving for the year, and hello to the Christmas season would be a good first appearance.

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My son just had a birthday.  His cube Transformer balloon was still inflated (I never saw a square balloon before – I thought it was pretty cool!).  If you’re really desperate for an idea, you can go to Dollar General and buy a latex balloon for $1.50 or so.  Obviously super easy, and the kids liked it.

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I had just dragged the wrapping paper up from the basement to wrap a gift for work.  So, I just stuck the elf in the end of one of the wrapping paper rolls.  It doesn’t get much easier than that.

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My kids have had this car ramp for a very long time.  It seemed like a good slide for Cookie!

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You don’t have to have a monkey-themed bathroom to hang your elf from the shower curtain, but it helps!

Elf on the Shelf

My kids made me flowers out of paper streamers for Mother’s Day.  My son is in first grade, and his reading is really taking off.  It’s fun to use something they made, and I’m enjoying leaving notes, now that at least one of my kids can read them!

dsc_0192I’ve found that my kids get as much amusement from the simple placement of Cookie as they do the elaborate, time-consuming set ups.  So, I look for the fun in the ordinary.

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