The New Christmas Plan

When Eli was about two or three, Christmas started to get really crappy for everyone involved, and I believe this was also the advent of my obsessive detailing of all that we needed to PLAN and DO and FOCUS on to make sure Christmas was ok.  Now we have applied $5K worth of therapy to my brain and I like to think of this year as the start of a new Christmas plan.

The thing I am learning, mostly, is that things change and that’s ok. Christmas doesn’t have to be exactly the same every year. It doesn’t have to be exactly the way your parents did it or the way you see it in the movies or the way it worked when your child was 2.  I do wish I would have realized when Eli was younger that NO ONE would remember any of that stuff, not him or me, but I also think that helped us to figure out how we like to do things now, when he will remember.

One thing we have retained is that we always have Christmas at our house. I want my kids to wake up to Christmas morning at their  own house. I want Santa to come HERE. I don’t want to spend our Christmas break shuttling all over the country and trying to jam my kids into someone else’s Christmas morning. I want the freedom to do our traditions just the way we want to do them.  So we stay here, and we miss our families, of course, and wish we could all be together, but we also love being at our house, with our tiny family, and having our own Christmas just the way we like it.

However, this year, we are trying some new things too.

We used to distribute presents over as much of a time span as possible because there was SO MUCH STUFF and Eli would get totally overwhelmed after three presents and leave the room on Christmas morning.  I do think that the “OMG ONLY GRANDCHILD SEND EVERY TOY EVER MADE” fervor has died down and Eli is also waaaaay more into presents now, so this year we are going to go back to opening all the presents on Christmas morning. We used to do family presents on Christmas Eve and Santa Presents on Christmas morning but last year to achieve that nice “what a lot of magical stuff there is under this tree!!!!” feeling I had to really stress and overbuy and even then my ungrateful child was a bit “that’s it?” So this we will bombard his skinny little person with everything at once and see how that goes.

I also took my Advent Calendar list into therapy one day and after my therapist nearly cried tears of laughter and asked if she could photocopy it and make it Exhibit A in the DSM under OCPD, she told me to cross off 75% of the things on the list, especially the things I didn’t think were fun, that I was just doing because I thought I had to for the kids.  And honestly, we don’t have time to do all those things this year anyway, now that Eli is in first grade.  We come home, have a snack, do homework, and then it’s time to start dinner and work our way towards bed.  So I crossed off A LOT of stuff and now we’ve got a few things we do on the weekend and we mostly ignore the Advent Calendar and there’s a nice flexibility that’s come back – we still went to get new ornaments but we did it when we had a spare couple of hours, not as dictated by a schedule.  And I didn’t make sugar cookies with the kids because it sucks and I am not sad about it, not one single bit. I made lots of cookies, by myself, and it was lovely.

My therapist also suggested that Christmas shouldn’t be JUST about kids.  That we should find some new traditions that are just for me and Erik, things like going out to a nice dinner to talk over December plans.  This is a work in progress because money is so tight this time of year and Erik had two work trips and it’s just doesn’t come naturally to me, but so far we have our Christmas Day Dim Sum and we have an NBA game two days before Christmas (we take Eli but not Katie), and next year I think we’ll do a joint shopping day and a joint cookie day, Erik can take the day off work and we’ll just hang out together.  SANS CHILDREN.

But so far this year for the first time in a long while I have really enjoyed Christmas.  There’s still the money stress and a slight desire to just get things over with, but I focused my energies on the things I love doing, like decorating my house, and I let go of some other things that were bogging me down. One of the things I had to let go was the $25 and Under Gift Guide I always used to do, and I felt so awful about it, but it was just so much work and aside from all the nice things that everyone always said about it, I didn’t get much back for it.  I don’t make any money of any kind from this blog and it was just too much work for not much return. I was really conflicted about this, but the first time I chucked a catalog in the recycling bin instead of forcing myself to sit down and comb through it for ideas, I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders.  So it was time.  It was time to let that go.

I also stopped opening the stuff other people send here! Aren’t you proud of me? I know not everything sent to us will be to my taste, and that’s fine.  And granted, I did buy almost all my Christmas gifts from Erik myself, because I hate surprises and it’s just easier that way.  But I finally finally, just this year, realized that Christmas isn’t about getting my needs met by other people. It’s just something people do to be nice.  It’s not my mother’s job to keep me in clothes that fit me or makeup that I want. That’s MY job.  Presents are just things that people send you to be nice, and if you don’t want them, then give them away or throw them out.  No big deal.

Anyway, I started this post as a way of telling you what the kids are getting, so ten million years later, here’s what my rotten spoiled children are being showered with on Christmas morning:

(First we open Santa presents and stockings, which show up on Christmas morning.  All the other presents are already under the tree, wrapped, and we open those next.  Sometimes after breakfast, depending on how hungry we are.)

Santa is bringing Eli:

A Spark Scooter (unwrapped, if you care about that sort of thing)

spark scooter

Angry Birds Jenga (wrapped)

angry birds jenga

A Glow Pet (wrapped)

Stamps and Envelopes, as per request

and 18 bottles of root beer.


In his stocking, also from Santa, he’s getting socks, play doh, a movie, a little lego guy, bath bubbles, soap (the boy loves his soap), bandaids, animal crackers, a book, a movie, a toothbrush and toothpaste, gum, red peppers, and a bike lock.

From me and Erik he is getting:

A “Grown Up Camera”


a giant box of art supplies

slippers, a tie (he really wants this, for some odd reason), a sweater (he doesn’t want this but he needs it), gloves, and a wallet because he just started getting an allowance and he keeps all his money in a ziploc bag.

The most important thing to note is that in a well guarded secret, my brother is getting him an Xbox/Playstation/Wii variant and so he won’t care about any of this other stuff AT ALL.

*** Do we think this is enough presents? At first I thought he was being spoiled rotten and then I got worried this was a lot of clothes and it’s not enough stuff.  Feel free to tell me I’m a complete idiot with very spoiled children.

Katie is getting, from Santa:

A new bike


and a “tiger for dad” because she’s obsessed with tigers now and she has diabolically started asking for presents for other people that she wants for herself.


In her stocking she’s getting basically the same assortment of stuff as Eli: paints, socks, animals crackers, tights, another little tiger, some terrible Ariel necklace, play doh, bath bubbles, toothpaste and toothbrush, gum, band aids, lip smackers, and a movie.

We had a really hard time figuring out what else to get her.  She has these very specific interests and I don’t want to fill up my house with crap, because I don’t have room for it and my kids don’t really play with it.  Although I am going to start a game shelf in my coat closet and that might help, traditionally games have had the pieces scattered all over my house and the pieces lost and the boxes crushed in mere minutes and then I just throw them out, so I am hoping having a high up shelf and having to ask to get the games down so you can play them one at a time and then clean them up and put them back will help.

Anyway, from me and Erik she is getting:

two dresses, two or three sweaters, some purple hair bows because purple is her favorite color and the other day when she asked for a purple  hair bow and I told her she didn’t have one I thought she was going to report me to CPS, an Ariel doll that goes in the bathtub because I just couldn’t give a Barbie to a three year old, gloves, Hungry Hungry Hippos, and a Tiger Costume and Tiger Legwarmers.

ariel  tiger costume

She’s also getting a glow pet from my neighbor, a new pair of Minnetonka Moccassins from my mom, and a zoo membership from my brother, so I think she’ll have a lovely Christmas.  In fact, hopefully we all will.

Family Christmas Pictures 2013 (And What We Wore)

I know, I’ve already bombarded social media with these pictures and you’ve probably already seen them, but I wanted to post them here anyway so I could list out what we wore and so that I could ask you a gift question at the end.

As usual, Leslie from Green Vintage Photography was beyond amazing and took some of my favorite pictures of all time.

All of us:

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Below is the one we used for our Christmas card; it was just so perfect, and I spent three weeks planning these outfits and I wanted to be able to see them on the card:

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The kidlets:

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And just us:

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The woman does good work, no?

My gift question is this…Erik has been complaining for years that he wants pictures of the kids for his office, so I wanted to get some of these framed for him for Christmas.  But I can’t decide which ones.  I am leaning towards the one of Katie by herself and the one of Eli  by himself, but I also like the ones of the kids together.  I also really like the one of all of us, second from the top, but I’m not sure Erik wants a giant picture of himself on his wall at work. Anyone have a strong opinion?

Oh, and What We Wore:

Erik: Old Navy sweater (I bought it just for this but it’s a really nice sweater for Old Navy), random plaid shirt he”s owned for ages, Docs

Katie: Jason Wu for Target (last year), Target fur capelet thing (last year), Stride Rite shoes, Target bow

Eli: Old Navy shirt, Lands End jeans, Gap high tops (he didn’t wear the bow tie because it looked weird with the shirt), Gap hat via Ebay

Me: Target Pleated Skirt sweater dress, Amazon plaid scarf, Target gold glitter belt, Hive and Honey heels.

I love how it all turned out! Fretting over it for three weeks totally paid off.  Looks good together, not too matchy matchy.

What To Do With Leftover Christmas Cards

Obviously I should have done this post closer to the day after Christmas when the overzealous among us were already sweeping Christmas out with the bathwater, but hey, you can remember it for next year, right? I believe you can. You have an excellent memory.

So, I know some people save previous year’s cards in baskets and binders, but I am a user upper/thrower outer, not a saver, so here’s what I do with my Christmas cards…I turn them into gift tags for next year. And now you can too! (It’s pretty easy, but I’ll walk you through it anyway.)

First, take all your cards, and assess them for usefulness as gift tags.  Throw out everything that is on glossy photo paper. You don’t want that. Throw out any card that has only photographs, or that has no space that might make a pretty gift tag.


It’s pretty easy after that – you can freehand a shape or use a circular or tag punch. Write your message on the blank side, punch a hole in it, and tie it on with that cute striped twine that’s everywhere these days.

I have two punches, and both of them horrified me with their astronomical costs and then of course I use them all the time, and I have never regretted the shocking price.  You could also just trace a circle and then cut it out neatly, although the scalloped edge punches are really nice.

I do like to make sure that the punched out area isn’t from a spot on the card with handwriting on the other side so that the back of my punched tag is blank  and I can use that space to write a message, but if you had a ton of cards and wanted to make a garland for next year out of them, I think some writing on the back could be a nice touch, actually.  Just punch punch punch and then string them together or sew them in a straight line on your sewing machine.

Here’s what I ended up with from this year’s batch of cards. More than enough gift tags for next year, free of charge.


(Is your card in there?)

Erik, Don’t Read This: What’s In Our Stockings This Year

No, really, don’t read this, lovely husband of mine, unless you want to know everything that Santa is bringing you this year.

Continue reading

Advent Day Three: Write a Fourteen Point Treatise On I Mean Letter to Santa

1. So we wrote a letter to Santa. I wanted Eli to write it but after spending 45 minutes fighting with him over Kindergarten homework, neither one of us had it in us, so he dictated and I wrote. .

2. You will note that this letter begins with “I want” because even though I have corrected this child to “May I please have” over seventy million times since he first began to speak, it has had no noticeable effect.

3. The Letter:


Yes, he did ask for 6 red bell peppers and some hand sanitizer, because those are his favorite things. I know.

4. Yes, we do Santa. Big liars who love stuff, remember?

5. Although the truth is that although I can certainly ramble on at length about this subject (and I will, lucky you!), for me, Santa is sort of like…let’s say, cloth napkins.  There are lots of good reasons to use cloth napkins, but we pretty much just use cloth napkins because that’s what I did as a kid. In fact I mostly had no idea there were other options until quite recently, in the grand scheme of things.  And cloth napkins do align nicely with my personal and ethical and moral beliefs, but it’s just what I’ve always done. I don’t even really think about it that much. I just do it because it’s what I know.  And while I do find it a little confusing when people use paper napkins because the superiority of cloth napkins seem pretty obvious to me, I’m not, like throwing darts at a picture of your face in my spare time if I you use paper napkins. You do your thing, I’ll do mine.  That’s really how I feel about Santa.

6. Especially because if I had a general philosophy about parenting, besides “I hope desperately that my children are happy”, it would be “Let’s not over think this thing, now.”  Mr. E practically has this tattooed across his (manly) back muscles Sons of Anarchy style, so we’re on the same page there.  Parenting gives you so many opportunities to overdo it. You can take every single decision as far as you possible can. If you really want to you can buy organic milk from french cows left to roam on the hillside next to a meandering stream while someone reads them empowering tracts on cow feelings.  I just never want to be that parent announcing nervously to all the other parents at my kids fifth birthday party: “HE’S NEVER HAD SUGAR BEFORE!”  I mean, YOU go for it, but that’s not my jam, you know? I want to swing towards the “oh, screw it” side of life, not the “MY CHILDREN DON’T EAT THAT!!!!!!” side of life.

7. But really, I just don’t want to make a big deal out of things.

8. Also, I remain totally unconcerned about lying to my kids.  First of all, on the scale of childhood trauma, finding out that Santa wasn’t real barely registers on mine.  My father drank out of open containers while driving us around. In the car.  We had bigger problems than Santa.  Secondly, right after “Be Happy”  my goal for my children is for them to be able to think for themselves.  Sometimes this can be scary, because it means that you are giving your children the freedom to disagree with you someday, but that price is worth it to me.  Do I agree with everything my parents say? God no. Do I believe everything they tell me? God no.  I am intelligent human being and one of the things I value most about my life is that I get to believe what I want.  But Mr. Rogers has since passed on and so I think I can honestly say that there’s pretty much no one alive today who I don’t think is sometimes full of shit.  So yes, sometimes I lie to my kids, and they’re going to be ok.  And I hope they grow up questioning much of what the world tells them and making up their own minds about things just like I did, because believe me, a person who parroted back everything my father believes and told me about life is a very different person than the one I am today. That person is horrible person with screwed up ideas about life, fyi. So no, I don’t expect my children to believe everything I tell them, because I don’t expect them to believe everything that anyone tells them, myself included.  That’s way more important to me than never lying to them. I want to raise questioners, not believers.

(But we aren’t doing Santa so my kids know that sometimes we’re full of shit, it’s not anywhere near that calculated. I just think of this when people say “we don’t do Santa because we never want to lie to our kids” and I can’t help but think that the definition of truth becomes awfully fluid and I want my children to question even the things that other people believe are absolutes.)

9. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because this weekend, at Home Depot, where all the best man talks take place, Eli said, to Erik: “Dad, is Santa real? Because I don’t know, but sometimes this Santa stuff just seems awfully pretend.” !!!!! For the love of Pete, man. Children.

10. Did I say there were 14 points? I may have overestimated my ability to ramble.

11.  Tonight we are leaving our shoes out for St. Nicholas. Eli has also expressed doubt that “someone who has been dead for a really long time is going to come leave us presents and candy”.

So I might not actually be that good at this Santa thing, it turns out.

12. But please.  None of this means that I think you are a bad person for not wanting to lie to your kids, or for not doing Santa or wanting to raise believers. I don’t want that, but I don’t care that you do.  Paper napkins, remember? I am surprised that you use them, but I don’t care. At all.

13. We do not have that horrifying Elf on the Shelf.  None of that business around here, please.

14. What I really want for Christmas is for Katie Dubs to go to bed at 7 PM instead of 10PM so I can go back to watching Homeland obsessively.  Dear god I wish Santa was bringing me that.

Advent Day One and Two: The Magic Begins

Advent Day One: Decorate the house for Christmas. 

I’m pretty sure last year’s Christmas decorating tilted towards “Christmas Explodes in Your Face! Like a Bomb!”

This year I decided to get slightly less aggressive with my Christmas decor. Maybe if was the four days of rain which also equaled four days of mud, but this year I was just hoping for “Uncluttered”.

I’m testing out a working theory which postulates that either other people just have better personalities than I do (You: Yes), or else they just have better Christmas decorations. Regardless, in my mind, decorating the house for Christmas is a magical experience, filmed in soft focus, while white lights twinkle, and Christmas carols play softly in the distance and I wear a sweaterdress and boots and scatter decorations, smiling angelically. Maybe I pause sometimes, and study a festive arrangements of nuts or something, and sip some hot cocoa.

In reality, my husband and I dragged the two filthy rubbermaid totes in from the garage in the middle of a torrential downpour. At some point someone pried one open and scattered decorations all over the table.  Christmas decorations were everywhere and every time I unveiled one corner of the dining room table, someone else would put something else there that I’d have to stop and clean up or wash or put in the dishwasher or throw out. One of the totes was filled with broken ornaments which I had to extract before I could do anything.  The magazine trees from last year were smashed and sticky.  Mr. E sat on the couch with his Iphone playin Boggle with strangers while Scooby Doo blared on the television.  I don’t own any sweaterdresses, am not a big fan of cocoa.  Hmmmm.

Next year, dammit, there will be Christmas carols, and I will set aside a time for decorating during which we do nothing else and we will not be watching Scooby Doo while we do it! NOT EVEN A CHRISTMAS THEMED EPISODE OF SCOOBY DOO! No one will make any appointments to get the oil changed in the car and it will be magical! I will buy a sweaterdress DAMMIT, see if I don’t.

Advent Day Two:  Buy a Toy For a Needy Child

So now that we have celebrated Advent Day One with dashed expectations and crabbiness, we can move onto abject despair.  Ha ha ha, not really. Well, kind of.

Every year we “buy a toy for a needy child” but last year Eli still didn’t really get it and I donated something I didn’t want of his to Goodwill, because 1. I am a bad person and 2. what I wanted to do was that thing where they have a tree at the mall, you draw a name, you buy  A Child, Boy, Age 8, A Transformer, but I couldn’t find one of those trees anywhere. This year, it turns out that at Eli’s school, they send home a big list and they ask for donations for children in each class who are “identified by the teacher.” whose families need extra help at the holidays.   Besides cash, they ask for things like non perishable food, new clothes, toys, and coats.

I’ll let that sink in for a bit.  Children who go to school with Eli need COATS.  Children sitting with my son, who has never known hunger, never known need, who gets pretty much everything he has ever wanted, who has FIVE coats, there are children in his class who need food, clothing, and coats.  It makes me sick to my stomach, is what it does. I wish I could do more, I wish so much I could do more.  Anyway.  We are giving money, we are giving food, and Eli very carefully examined all the Lego sets at Target and picked out what he thought was the very best one for someone his age.

But man, nothing makes you really feel like an asshole quite like explaining to your son that some kids parents don’t have enough money to get them toys at Christmas.  All the while buying buying buying, so you can shower your kids with things.  It’s pretty screwed up, but I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know what to do about it, and it’s just really not put me in the Christmas spirit, but we did what we could.  I wish it was more.

And that’s Advent so far.  Jeez.


The Christmas Strategies

Laura’s post made me think that it might be time to review Elizabeth’s Christmas Gift Strategies for Maximum Non Insanity Especially if You Live In A Tiny House.  This is my patented tried and true method,  as someone who tends to both Go A Little Crazy At Christmas Time and is also Someone Who Very Easily Becomes Someone Who Wants to Go Away to a Desert Island for all of December and Pretend Christmas Doesn’t Exist.

1. Divide and Conquer:

a. I clean out the toy shelves (when my kids are asleep or else they FREAK OUT) and donate all the extraneous stuff sometime in November.

b. I know this makes me sound like a dick, but I open everything that comes into this house from someone else. Some of it I donate unopened. Some of it I save and put in stockings. Some of it goes under the tree to be opened Christmas Eve, and some of it I save out and give the kids on certain days on the advent calendar because no one cares about a book about trees on Christmas morning,  but it seems pretty fun when you open it on December 10th and then go on a family nature walk to look at trees.

c. I maximize the gift giving times so that the sheer volume of stuff can be spread out. I put “open a present early” on a few days on the advent calendar. I do a treasure hunt for a gift (also on the advent calendar.). We open family presents on Christmas Eve but Santa presents on Christmas morning. St. Nicholas brings presents on December 5th.  So it’s spread out as much as possible.

d. I try to reduce the amount of stuff that we personally buy for our kids to just the things I really want my kids to have that I know no one else will buy them, and through the magic of Amazon Prime I usually don’t buy those things until the week before Christmas.   I still buy them too much stuff because I am always worried that they won’t have enough presents, ridiculously, but I try to remind myself over and over that it’s ALWAYS too much stuff.

2. Good Stuff Goes In the Stockings. I used to buy all this stuff, wrap up EVERYTHING, and then put it under the tree.  Then I’d go buy MORE useless crap that no one really wanted at Cost Plus or Target a few days before Christmas and fill the stockings with that stuff. Now I try to save everything that would fit in a stocking for a stocking. I buy actual good presents OR things we just happen to need anyway, and those go in the stockings, so things like scarves, umbrellas, binoculars, pajamas, nice candy, band aids, commuter mugs, playing cards, stuff like that. No more junk in the stockings.

3. Adults Get Gifts Too. One year we did the whole “let’s not get each other anything” thing so we could shower our children with crap they didn’t need, and it was just depressing.  We do sometimes buy each other BIG things later on in the year instead of in the worst financial month ever, but we always get each other something, and not something crappy. For example this year I am getting boots from Mr. E, and something from the kids, and Mr. E is getting a coat from me and something from the kids.

4. Buy, Send, Done (Preferably Early, Rather Than Later). This is new to my gift giving philosophy, but it’s really helping this year so much.  Last year I found so many perfect presents that seemed too expensive. So instead I fretted and dithered and made lists and then bought other stuff, so much “not quite right” stuff, even, that I spent more than I would have had I just gone with my original, expensive idea. I am SUCH a bargain shopper but sometimes you just have to buy yourself a sense of peace.  That’s my Christmas gift to myself this year. So I find something, I send off $125 worth of beach towels, and then I don’t buy any more little stuff to patch in what I am worried is a crappy gift. I am DONE with the one thing.  I buy the one overpriced thing, even if I have to close my eyes while I push “Place Order”, and then I am DONE.

This is seriously the best thing I have done for myself in a long time. Buy, send, done. I am so close to being DONE with my shopping and now I feel like I can just exhale and enjoy Christmas for a change instead of fretting. I do almost all of my shopping online, I ship it straight to the recipient, and I don’t enter the mall, at all, ever, except for one fun day of shopping with Amy.

5. Less Is More. Last year I bought Eli a giant lollipop, bigger than his head.  He didn’t eat it.  I also bought him all manner of blinking flashing nonsense, and the only thing he really loved and that has stood the test of time is the bike he got from Santa.  So, that’s what I am focusing on this year.  Less junk, less over the top, less excess.  Just a few nice things, less batteries.