Christmas on Breaking Tradition

This year “Breaking Tradition” was the theme of our Christmas.

First off, we made kind of a spontaneous decision not to travel up north.  We made this choice for various reasons, and we will be making the trip in the summer.  This year, it was time to do something different.

So we were on our own for the holidays.  This the first time in our marriage that we haven’t visited relatives for Christmas, and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t depressing.  Drawing on our success from Thanksgiving, we created a holiday experience that was uniquely…us!

We wanted a real tree, but none of them were small enough.  So we bought the last artificial one at Family Dollar.

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The stockings were hung over the settee with care…

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Beanie got some “Reindeer food” from school, so she spread it over the bow to help Santa’s reindeer find us.

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Notice the low tide.  Boarding was difficult, even with the ladder.

Beanie awoke at 5 a.m. (yes we were up already, because we were so excited!) and chattered to us about the thudding sound she heard when the reindeer landed on the boat, and the sleigh bells.  (For those who don’t know, Santa comes through the hatch when he delivers presents to boats).  Finally, at 6, we let her open her presents.

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She had to open the big one first…

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Because her stocking was filled with homemade mixes!

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My present came in a cardboard box with “Apple” written in faux-Cyrillic.

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I had lost my beloved iPod to the depths of Clear Lake back in October.  Rob found a broken one of e-bay and repaired it to like-new condition.

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Beanie has wanted a Hide Away pet, and we found a new one at the ICM thrift store.  That’s also where we found the Easy Bake Oven, for $4.

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A shave kit for Rob.  I also got him a Maggard razor, but couldn’t find where I’d hidden it!  He found it later, stashed in the bathroom.

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And a pipe rack, with a few pipes…

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Beanie enjoyed her numerous e-bay and thrift store finds.

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Back when we lived in Michigan, Beanie had a suitcase filled with costumes.  Since she was outgrowing them, they got left behind during the move, and Beanie has asked about it many times.  So I stocked up on 90% off costumes after Halloween, and found a suitcase at Goodwill.

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After opening presents, we headed over to my parents’ apartment (they were in Michigan, so we were house-sitting) to enjoy some hors d’voures.

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And yes, Beanie’s Easy Bake Oven and costumes came along!

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Every year that Rob and I have been together, we have made a cookie house.  We began by making them from scratch.  Then, after we got married, we started buying kits.  Now we buy a kit and hot glue it together!  Here’s this year’s creation, which is mainly Beanie’s vision:

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So that was our Christmas!  Spending it on the boat got us thinking about our future and our plans, which still include eventually cruising full-time.  And while that is at least a few years down the road, we have started brainstorming ways to make that possible.  In that spirit, I have begun experimenting with various projects to use my writing to help support us.

As I try new projects, I will, unfortunately, be spending less time with you here.  But fear not–Journey to Ithaca will continue until the day we leave port.  (I already have my last post planned out, but that will be quite a few years from now!)

As far as immediate plans are concerned, our winter break is far from over.  Tonight, Beanie and I will visit the zoo and look at the Christmas lights (here’s hoping that it warms up and doesn’t rain!).  And tomorrow we’re heading to Houston’s Jellystone Park to celebrate New Year’s.  This campground is cheaper than the one at Canyon Lake, but our accommodations will be much more rustic.  I will be posting pictures.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday as well!  I will meet up with you in 2015.

 

 

Our Unconventional Thanksgiving

In 2009, we did Thanksgiving on our own.

My family had their festivities earlier, and Rob’s parents were staying in Florida.  So we went to the home up north, where we always had the feast, and tried our best to prepare one of our own.

The spread was beautiful, albeit smaller than what we were used to, but something about it was still incredibly depressing.  Because it wasn’t the food that made Thanksgiving what it was.  It was the fun of having everyone there, and all the memories of the goofiness from the past.

So you can imagine how I felt when I realized we would be doing Thanksgiving on our own this year.

A little research, though, and a little willingness to continue to break from tradition, helped us to create a new tradition.  We found a Yogi Bear campground in the San Antonio area, where we could rent a cabin, take Beanie to numerous Thanksgiving activities, and even attend a potluck feast at the end of our stay.

This would be our first trip out of Houston, other than the drives up to Michigan.  We were excited about the prospect of spending a week in a small house, with real beds, a full-sized kitchen, and our own bathroom.  And getting out of the city would be fun too.

So, over the river and through to woods, to Canyon Lake we went!

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To spend a week at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park!

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We love to pack light on most trips, when we’re taking the long drive to Michigan and bouncing around from here to there.  But we carried the majority of our earthly possessions with us this time.  We were staying in one place for a week, and we wanted to get the most out of our luxurious, spacious get-away.

Here’s our cabin:

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Rob brought his tall bike along.

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And, sure enough, we enjoyed snuggling up in real beds!

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I did our Thanksgiving cooking in a real kitchen.

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There were plenty of fun activities to keep the Bean occupied.  She got up bright and early to meet Yogi Bear…

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Took lots of nature walks…

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Visited the playground and game room…

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Frequented the jumping pillow across from our cabin…

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Took a “hey hey” ride in the afternoon…

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And many at night!

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S’more after the hay ride…

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And a visit from a friend…

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Beanie’s favorite activity by far, however, was arts and crafts.

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With Ranger Ana, her best buddy!

With Ranger Ana, her best buddy!

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All in all, it was a great new tradition, and anything but depressing.  We loved our week away, and were also very happy to return home.

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How was your Thankgiving week?

Holidays Without the “Humbug”

The pictures are from our  night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The pictures are from our night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The holidays–Christmas, in particular–seem to be doomed for failure.

We’re sold this image of a happy, idyllic family decorating the house as only Martha Stewart can do.  In the morning, the children wake up to a mountain of presents beneath the tree, and are delighted to find that they’ve received that toy they’ve been hoping for.  At dinner time, all of the extended family comes over for a visit (or they’re spending multiple days!) and is treated to a lovely spread that took hours to prepare.  And, most importantly, everybody gets along.

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And we all know that this ain’t reality.

And so, in our frustration, we get grouchy and stressed.  We become bitter, we complain, and we take up “causes” in an effort to change things.  And in doing so, we miss out on the joy and fun that this season really does have to offer.

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How can we bring the joy back to holidays without turning into a Scrooge?  Here are some tips:

1.  Let go of some of the expectations.  You’re not going to do it all.  So decide which traditions work for you, and create some low-stress traditions that work for your family.  Accept that it’s not going to be the Christmas you had as a child–change is inevitable.  We’ve ditched big dinners in lieu of pizza.  We draw names for gifts, or give only homemade food items. We make our own crazy decorations and keep the focus on having fun.

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2.  Stick with the traditions that you LOVE.  I’m crazy about Christmas music, pumpkin-flavored-everything, the smell of baking apples, and cheesy seasonal movies.  So we do a lot of those things.

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3. Plan for stress “hot spots.”  You know what stresses you out every year.  So plan a little extra self-care during those times.  Focus on delegating, get enough sleep, drinking lots of  water, and eating as healthy as you can.  For example, the trip to visit our relatives in Michigan can be stressful for me (although I do enjoy seeing everyone!).  So we stay at nice hotels on the way, make sure that there is a healthy choice at each meal, and make sure to focus on relaxing!

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4.  Be patient with the gift “issue.”  We used to be greeted with a mountain of gifts at every Christmas gathering we went to.  And a lot of these ended up eventually being donated.  We gently explained our lifestyle choices to our families, and the gifts slowly decreased in number (or included more edibles!).  Things improved even more as I began writing about minimalism (and we stuck with it for a couple years).  Since we’ve made the move to Texas, people mainly  give us money, memberships, and treats.  Change takes awhile, so be patient.  And remember that they are giving you the gifts because they care about you.

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5.  Be ready with gifts to suggest when they ask.  Your loved ones aren’t going to give you “nothing.”  So be ready with ideas.  Do you live near a children’s museum or zoo?  Would your child like a membership?  Are there any restaurants you love? People want to give you something, so it’s up to you to provide them with some non-material options.

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6.  Accept that it is what it is.  Christmas trees will come out in stores before Halloween. People will trample each other at Black Friday, and the sales will start on Thanksgiving.  There is no need to get angry or stress over this.  You get to choose whether to participate or not.  I have to confess, I was kind of excited to see the Christmas trees, although we haven’t decorated yet.  And Black Friday?  We’re going to spend Thanksgiving at a state park, camping in a cabin.  So I’ll probably be making s’mores.

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7.  Leave the politics behind.  When people are stressed, they get angry about silly things.  People celebrate for different reasons.  For some, Christmas is a deeply religious time, with midnight mass and “Silent Night” taking center stage.  For others, it has a more secular focus, with the emphasis on having fun with family and friends.  Some families celebrate Chaunakah and other families have incorporated ancient traditions from Solstice celebration.  It means different things to different people, and raising a fuss about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” isn’t going to “convert” anyone to your way of doing things.  If there is anything that every faith can agree upon, it’s kindness.  So let’s remember to use that as a starting point.

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Begin with that retail worker who just wished you a happy holiday.  They’re not thinking about how great they want your holiday to be.  They are thinking about how stressed they are, at work during the most hectic season of the year.  Buy them a chocolate when you go through their line.

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Life is too Short for Holiday Stress

Two years ago, one of my friends was talking about all the stress involved in the holiday season.  It was the usual family drama, the over-booking, and the anger over having to do too much, to give too much.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob's brother and his wife, on Sunday.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob’s brother and his wife, on Sunday.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Christmas is a bucket of stress.”

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And I was right.  It WAS a bucket of stress.  First, I had to shop and buy presents that we could not afford.  We went so far overboard, because we wanted to make sure that our presents “matched” everyone else’s, that they gave to us.

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Then, I bought “evening up” gifts, so that one person’s gift wasn’t “bigger” than the next.  I kept some extra gifts on hand, in case someone gave us something unexpectedly.

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It was stressful, and it took all of the joy out of giving.

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Then, there was the food.  I gave everyone “food gifts” as well, because I thought they were sweet and fun.  But I went overboard, making orange cordial, breadsticks, biscotti, carmel corn, and spiced nuts for everyone on my list.  Not only did it get expensive, but it also kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to do the activities I wanted to do around our house.

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And now let’s talk about the parties.

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I worked up until December 23, at my old job, so we had one day to get ready.  We would do our Christmas, with the mountain of presents, filled stockings, and a large home-made gift for the Bean.  That same day, we would head to one of our parents’ homes to celebrate with them, before Beanie got a chance to play with her toys.  Then, within the week, we would see my parents, both of my grandmas, both of Rob’s sets of aunts, uncles, and cousins (one set living 3 hours south of us), and celebrate with Rob’s family at their home on Thunder Bay (3 hours north of us).

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We wanted to be easy to work with, so we told people any date would do.  So, once year, that had us celebrating with my grandma an hour away from us, driving 3 hours north to celebrate with Rob’s family up there, then driving back 3 hours the next day to celebrate with his aunt and uncle who lived near us.

Notice the traditional cranberry goo....

Notice the traditional cranberry goo….

And keep in mind that we had a child with GERD and autism in tow.

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While I tried to have “safe” food for Beanie with me (and “safe” food for me–too much sugar makes me feel really bad!), she inevitably got into the goodies.  Which led to misbehaving, tantrums, and screaming at night.

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We didn’t enjoy the holidays.  In fact, we were so relieved when Christmas break was over.

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Why didn’t we say anything?  Why didn’t we speak up, even a little bit?  Well…

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  • We love these people.  We honestly enjoyed spending time with every single one of them.
  • We didn’t want to cause drama.  We thought that everybody would be angry at us, if we said, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”

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We actually thought our solution was to buy a motor home, so that we could have a “home base” during the holidays, where we could have some consistency for the Bean, cook our meals, etc.  And that would have helped, but it became unnecessary.

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Why?  Because some difficult events in our family, led us to change our celebrations.  And everyone became more comfortable speaking up, as to what worked for them and what didn’t.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Now, all of our celebrations are in the same town.  (Well, except for the ones in Texas!)  Sometimes we have pizza, instead of a fancy meal.  And some relatives, we visit at other times during the year, such as our “Christmas in July.”

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The result: I’m actually looking forward to Christmas!  We’re going to have some time to ourselves during our visit back to Michigan, and I’m enjoying the preparations.

We are enjoying the season this year.  Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

We are enjoying the season this year. Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

Are the holidays stressful for you?  Here are some tips that might help tame down your activities:

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  • See gifts for what they are.  Gifts are not an economic exchange.  They are an expression of love and caring.  It’s perfectly all right for gifts not to match, or for someone to give you a gift, without you having anything to reciprocate.  Just be grateful.
  • Start small.  If you want to give food gifts, then choose one thing to make for everyone.  Then, if time and money allow, make something else, to add to it.

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  • Remember that they are your family, and they love you.  They just want to spend time with you.  Keeping this in mind will help when you need to set limits or make changes.
  • Say, “I’m sorry, that won’t work for us,” if it won’t.  If it causes drama, remember that the drama isn’t about you.  There is nothing wrong with refusing to run yourself ragged.  What you’re seeing is everyone else’s insecurities.  Figure out why they feel insecure, or better yet, help them to figure it out.

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  • Say, “Can we get together at another time?”  Start a new tradition, such as Christmas in July.  Really, everyone just wants to see you, and they will probably appreciate the less-hectic venue.
  • Suggest ways to pare down.  Maybe you want to draw names for the gift exchange, or do a white elephant auction.  Maybe you’d prefer pizza to a fancy dinner, or perhaps you would like to just do appetizers.

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The purpose behind all the get-togethers is for friends and family to enjoy each other.  So let that be your purpose!   Life is far too short for this time of the year to bring stress.

 Take some baby-steps now, and you will be grateful later.

Note: There is still time to buy my Advent Calendar.  In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I am reducing the price to $0.99.  Come and join us for a less stressful, more joyful holiday season!

Happy Crab Day!

The problem with holidays, is the pre-packed picture of what they should look like. They are supposed to be these magazine-perfect days, set up to follow a script straight out of Hollywood.

Well, guess what. We’re not in Hollywood. We’re not actors. We’re real people.

And this is real life.

There is absolutely no reason to fill our calendars with “joyous” occasions that are nothing but buckets of pressure and stress. There is no reason to be perfectionists in trying to orchestrate something that can never be good enough.

So, instead, do what we’re doing. We don’t like the book, so we’re rewriting it. We’re doing it our way.

We’re making it fun. And silly. Because life is so darned serious and heavy all the time. Having a fun day with your family is actually not a matter of life-and-death. It’s time to loosen up.

So, we began with Sweetest Day. Now, there’s a Hallmark holiday, if there ever was one! On a radio commercial, we heard someone jokingly refer to it as Swedish Day. So we decided to honor Rob’s heritage! The only requirement for celebrating Swedish Day is to drive the Volvo or Saab on an adventure.

All right. Up next was Christmas. Remember, I have to work, right up to the day before Christmas eve. So I didn’t feel like scurrying around, trying to get everything ready by the 25th. So we decided that the 25th is xmas. Christmas, on the other hand, is on the 27th in our house. Come on, Santa can’t possibly make it around the world in ONE night!

And now, the newest holiday that needed fixing was Valentine’s day. Candy hearts and the like have never been our idea of romance. And I certainly don’t need another ring or necklace–I have one of each, thank you very much! You’ve read my commentary on love, but that doesn’t answer the question of what to do about Valentine’s day.

What to do, what to do?

We have decided that, in our house, we celebrate Crab Day on February 14. We will eat fake crab and crabcakes, we’ll e-mail each other crab emoticons, we will draw paper crabs, Beanie will act crabby…

So, if you, too, are sick of Valentine’s day, celebrate with us. Happy Crab Day, everyone!

And So, Happy Christmas!

And so, every year it gets less stressful and more enjoyable! We learned some lessons this year, and during our time off we’ve definitely grown as a family.

This year, we kept it simple again and focused more on enjoying each other, than on the stuff. We got together with cousins that I haven’t seen in a long time, along with their kids, and everyone had a great time. Friends and family have been the theme, and we will keep it that way.

Next year, we will procrastinate even less. We didn’t finish Beanie’s Moonraker model, but we will and she’ll get it then (and you’ll see a picture). We moved our Christmas celebration to the 27th, so we would have more time, with me not working, before then. Next year we will do the same, or even move it to New Year’s.

Anyway, I declare our holiday a success! Here are some pictures, from our celebrations.

First, we visited my parents and grandparents. And Beanie became a princess.

Beanie’s great-grandma Eileen made scarves for the three of us!
Rob was definitely being a mans man, with his new sock garters…
Then it was on to Rob’s family: “Grumpa” and Linda, as well as Beanie’s uncle Chris and aunt Kelly.
Dad and I both and planned on inciting a marshmallow fight, but then we thought better of it, considering Lindas nice carpet…

Up to my elbow in cookie dough--for cookie dough rumballs!

Kellys giving Rob "the look!"

Cooking with my "sister," Kelly.

Yes, hes in the kitchen!

This is Dads friend Linda, a welcome member of the family! (She also happens to be related to my early childhood "boyfriend," which provides us with a lot of amusement...)

Heliocoptors for the boys!

After that, it was time to head to Rob’s cousin’s house, for a get together with his extended family. Beanie had a little buddy to play with, and we all had fun!

Beanie found the cats house.

All right, do you remember the Swamp? We have a white elephant auction, in leiu of traditional gifts, at this party. And one year, before Beanie was born, Grandma Rosselit brought this hideous sculpture (that she’d won at a different white elephant) called “The Swamp.” Every year, the Swamp makes a return. Last year, I was the unfortunate recipient.
And then there’s “The Swamp.” Years ago, Rob’s grandma brought it to the White Elephant auction. It has been returning every year since. with new “decorations” added onto it. I picked a box that was not the right shape, but I didn’t see that, underneath, was written “part 1…” I do have to say it’s previous steward let some parts fall off, so we’ll have to take the hot glue gun to it for next year.
Well, this year, I was the lucky giver. I decided to make it so obviously the Swamp, so it wouldn’t get picked until last. Then someone would have the bite the bullet, and take it. I wrapped it in one of our homemade gift bags.
Well, I went first, then it was Aunt Pam’s turn. She went right for my bag! I was biting my lip and had tears in my eyes, as she opened it…

She struggled with the ties, and Rob said, “That’s one of my bags, but I didn’t tie it so tight.” I said, “Oh I did.” Everything in the room stopped, and Aunt Pam asked, “YOU did?” Everyone, remembering what gift I had received last year, burst out laughing. When she opened it, I was practically rolling on the floor!

We added a picture frame, so she can put whomever she wants into the swamp. Why am I afraid it will be me?

The rest of the party was fun, and Beanie especially liked Grumpa’s present.

With all of the parties, and the fact that my break started so close to Christmas, we decided that Santa wouldn’t visit our house until the 27th. We had a big party planned, but when the time came, we were ready to take it easy.

Then, in the evening, it was time to open the gifts! We didn’t finish Beanie’s model of Moonraker, but she will get that when it’s done. No need for an arbitrary deadline.

Candyland for Beanie!

Battling tanks for Rob and me. We dont have our fencing gear yet, so this will be one way to dual!

Some anime for Rob!
Beanie’s new look!

Yeah.

Vintage Little People toys for Beanie.

And the big gifts. For Rob, I bought tickets to “A Prairie Home Companion,” in Madison, Wisconsin, in January. This is a midwestern US public radio show, so here is their website, if you haven’t heard of it. My parents are covering the airfare, and baby-sitting.

Rob’s gift to me arrived earlier in the day. We’ve had an old piano for years, and it’s never been properly tuned. So it is basically unplayable. Today, the piano tuner arrived and went to work! I’m very rusty with my playing, but I know music is not about being the best. Still, give me a week or so. Then I’ll play for all of you.

So, it was a good Christmas. Now we begin the New Year, which is really just the countdown to launch day…We’re coming up on the home stretch, folks!

In the words of Jean, Rob’s mom, watching from above: “And may God bless us, every one!”

Thanksgiving Weekend!

Well, we had a wonderful “off the radar” Thanksgiving weekend. It was low-pressure, and nobody spent a lot of time cooking! We also completely avoided the malls. Our Christmas shopping isn’t completely done yet, but we will be done by December 1, so we will be able to focus on fun, family activities, rather than waiting in lines.

First, we celebrated Black Friday by dropping off a load at Goodwill. (I have to confess, that I did buy something–I got Beanie a plastic boat for 25 cents!). We have one room in our house, that gives us away as the reformed hoarders that we are. It is the clearing house for items that we intend to donate, but it also houses old collections and other items that we have yet to purge. Here are our bags, packed and ready.

Then, we headed up north! It was chilly outside, with a dusting of snow on the ground. Beanie has a video game there, but we used some low-tech toys to lure her away from it.

First, dominos…(Those are bunnies, that she is building).

Then, I made a trip to the store, to buy her some old-school clothespins and balloons. She decided to have Daddy blow up the balloons and attach them to the clothespins. She then used her “balloons on a clothespin” to dance around the room.

Finally, Daddy and Beanie did enjoy some SuperTux Racing.

I hope the opening to your holiday season was equally as fun and relaxing!