This Christmas: Good Things I Don’t Have to Do

The last few weeks have felt especially rough. There have been lots of good moments peppered in but, honestly, life is feeling like a bit of a slog. I can’t put my finger on exactly why – most likely a perfect storm of renovations, work stressors, parenting challenges, hormonal fluctuations, and all this dismal/cold weather. I’m coasting where I can, showering at night, and trying to soak up festive cheer…but I’m feeling pretty low on motivation.

Back on (Canadian) Thanksgiving I wrote about “Good Things I Don’t Have to Do.

It turns out that most of the things I tell myself I have to do…I don’t actually have to do. I think I need to shake myself awake every few weeks with a stern: Elisabeth, you are an adultthis means you get a say in most of the things on your plate!

I recently mentioned to my husband that I had mailed off the Christmas photocards earlier in the day. He expressed appreciation for my efforts (bless him) and then said: “If it were left to me, I wouldn’t send out a single card.” I replied, in complete honesty, “And that would be fine!”

It really would be. Photocards are important to me (even if the process isn’t always entirely pleasant). There will always be a new ornament on Christmas Eve. And, if I have anything to do about it, I will watch White Christmas with my friend Joy every single year. But there are lots of other things that are good and on someone else’s agenda that simply don’t fall on mine (see also Grateful Kae – I’m not the only one!). This year, especially, I’m giving myself lots of grace and realizing what’s fun for someone else doesn’t have to be fun for me – at least in this particular season of life.

good things I don’t have to do this year

  • Make a family Holiday Fun List. Yes, I made one several years in a row. No I don’t have to do it this year. We can still watch Elf, deliver homemade cookies to the neighbours, and drink hot cocoa while looking at Christmas lights even if we don’t cross it off some fancifully designed list.
  • Buy matching family pajamas. This does not appeal to me (in. the. slightest), but I know this is a very common and happy tradition for many families. I track down second-hand (thrift or consignment store) winter/Christmas pajamas and give those to the kids on Christmas Eve. They rarely match (but have occasionally, by coincidence) and it’s just not a big deal. I honestly can’t think of something I’d want to do less than try to source matching PJ’s?!
  • Go see Santa. My kids have never believed in Santa. I think they’ve gone twice when we happened by a Santa in the mall, but were uninterested and never make any request to seek him out. Obviously we also skip the cookies and milk for Santa (and carrots and oats for the reindeer).
  • Elf on the Shelf. I once read about someone taking hours to make mini doughnuts out of Cheerios – hilarious and a great creative outlet, but definitely not for me. Levi did love his classroom Elf in primary last year, but she just moved around during the night – no mischevious antics. I’m sure this is loads of fun to some families, but I almost get hives just thinking about trying to pull this off in my own house day after day in December.
  • Make gingerbread houses. We’ve done cutout ginger cookies before but gingerbread houses? NO THANK YOU! The mess. The candy. The sticky icing everywhere. And then where do you store it? Again – a very fun tradition for many families, but doesn’t have to be fun for me.
  • Go see a live show. While I think this would be a great tradition (I love seeing live performances of just about anything), we haven’t made it our own. A local dance school puts on the Nutcracker ballet each Christmas and this is a must-see performance for many people in our town/neighbouring communities. I’ve gone once. And that’s okay! Although Abby is begging to go see it again this year as she knows a number of the dancers…
  • Wrapping gifts in matching paper. I love the aesthetic of “brown paper packages tied up with string” as much as the next person but when I read someone waxing eloquent about how they wanted their wrapping to reflect all the time and effort that went in to sourcing the gifts, I have to admit it doesn’t apply to me. My kids don’t care about these things at all. I buy whatever cute (or cheap) wrapping paper I can find on sale after Christmas, and that is what gets used. It could be blue with cartoon penguins next to red plaid. While I do love all the coordinating gift pictures…it’s not for me. And I honestly think the gifts still looks great in their hodgepodge under the tree. Twinkle lights do amazing things…
  • Cutting down a Christmas tree. We have done this in previous years but I have to admit I dreaded the experience. It was always cold or wet and it’s so hard to gauge the tree height accurately. Last year, when we couldn’t make it to the tree lot, I loved visiting the tree stand a 3-minute drive from our house and then paying $5 to have said tree delivered straight to our door. No saw or rubber boots required…
  • Holiday parties. I’m in introvert. I like to be home in my pajamas listening to Christmas music or watching Christmas movies with my family. Full stop. We do end up hosting a bit over the holidays but mostly at our place. No big office parties. No fancy to-do’s. Quiet and simple and at home.

There are always lots of “good” things, especially during a holiday season, but not enough time to do them all – so you’ll find me wearing my regular pajamas come Christmas morning. And, for the record, I still haven’t done those Pilates videos.

What about you? Any traditions you’re mindfully opting out of this Christmas? Any new ones you’re looking to incorporate for the first time?

Header photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

Flexibility Is Only Beneficial If I Use It

It is 10:28 am on Friday, December 3.

I woke up at 3:15 am (ugh, but I did fall asleep around 9 pm, so it wasn’t all bad). After resting for a while, I headed downstairs to tackle a work project. While I didn’t have a set deadline, it was one of those tasks that was going to hang over my head until I got it out the door. I also knew I need two solid hours of uninterrupted time. No contractors, no phone calls or texts or chasing the Inbox Zero dream.

So I put in my headphones and got to work. At 6:30 am, when the kids wandered into the office, I was done my main work responsibility for the day.

By 7:00 am, I was helping the kids get breakfast and prep their bookbags; we even fit in morning reading time around the table.

At 7:30 I hopped back in bed with some Magic Bags and dozed/rested until 8:30 while John drove the kids to school (it was raining, so we skipped the daily walk). I wasn’t feeling that tired, but I knew I’d handle the day better if I had a bit more sleep.

At 9:00 am I whipped up a batch of waffles for supper. By 9:30 I was on a virtual work meeting; it’s now 10:36 am and I’m heading down to the office to work for the next hour or so getting some strategic e-mails out the door.

At 11:45 am, I’ll head to the bus stop to get the kids (parent-teacher interviews, so it’s a half-day). Then we’ll have lunch, I’ll take them to drop off some local Christmas cards in person, and we’ll come home in time for me to finish off some week-end Friday work responsibilities, have supper (the waffles are all ready, hooray!), and then I’ll kiss everyone goodbye and head out the door for a Christmas pottery-painting session with a group of local girlfriends.

I have a lot of flexibility in my life.

For starters, I’ve been working from home for over a decade now. There are drawbacks to this – mainly the fact I never “leave” the office. Work and home management tend to blur and I don’t get to outsource the mess of working materials to another location.

But, for the most part, it’s a net positive arrangement. Long before COVID forced this lifestyle on the masses, my husband and I were doing it from our very tiny apartment (with two little ones in the mix).

And I’ve been thinking more about this flexibility lately. I have, overall, less than I once did in the sense that I have more working responsibilities, especially since I assumed another role at a local university. In another sense I have more than I once did – the kids are both in school and are increasingly independent outside of school hours.

Regardless of where the needle falls from one week to the next, though, this flexibility is only advantageous if I use it.

I’ll feel guilty about going to run an errand at 10 am on a Tuesday morning or fitting in a walk with a friend during normal working hours – but that’s the flexibility my life affords. I also have the flexibility to work a second shift from, say, 7 – 9 pm (or 4:15 – 6:30 am) to tackle a pressing work challenge. One family member, who works in a dental practice, has to be there – boots on the ground, so to speak – at specific times. There is no multi-tasking with home administration; she can’t switch out a load of laundry in between seeing patients (but it also means work doesn’t come “home,” so there is a tradeoff).

It can be challenging to work outside of normal parameters/social constructs (and adhering to them relatively closely has distinct advantages for staying on track), but when I give myself license to fit things in when it’s convenient, I make use of my flexibility muscles. And they’re a gift. When I don’t use them these muscles will atrophy – and what a waste.

Header photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

Casual Friday + Renovation Update: Progress, Not Completion

  • This week felt mostly…meh. The renovations are going well and the contractors are wonderful but I have low-level anxiety (and sometimes medium- and high-level anxiety!) about the whole process. And, after our run-in a broken pipe last weekend, I think my resting stress level is higher than usual.
  • Honestly, though, I feel like the bigger issue has been social stressors. I’m an introvert by nature and think I’ve moderately offended several people lately (who are more extroverted) by my distance and general lack of enthusiasm for interacting; then there are some challenging dynamics with working relationships. I’ve also started thinking through corporate tax season which always fills me with dread even though it’s objectively not that bad and our accountant does 90% of the work.
  • Ironically enough, the best boost to my funk this week has been interacting with people! One of my best friends came over to watch White Christmas – an annual tradition for almost a decade now. Bing Crosby et al. did not disappoint. We sipped tea and sang and laughed and provided a running commentary on all our favourite quotes from the movie. It gets better every year. After weeks of crummy weather, I managed to fit in a long walk with the same friend and we met up at the school playground with our broods + other pint-sized friends on a rare sunny afternoon. I also went out for coffee with a new friend who has been encouraging me in so many ways in a mentorship capacity. I guess I’m a strong introvert but need a healthy dose of one-on-one time with friends to feed my soul. And John has just been the best – calming me down and listening to my irrational mental spirals surrounding worst-case-scenario reno talk or (likely) irrational perceptions of social situations.
  • Bible reading. After abandoning my year-long reading plan on day #311 (of 365), I’ve had a hard time getting back into a groove. I think, for now at least, I’m going to approach this with my 3x/week makes a habit (courtesy of Laura Vanderkam) which feels like a good cadence and right now I’m working through an Advent devotional gifted to me last year.
  • I didn’t make a formal holiday fun list but we did watch the new Home Sweet Home Alone movie, along with the original Home Alone + went to see a free showing of Elf with the kids at our town theatre. Fun things will still happen even if we don’t cross them off a paper list. It’s more environmentally friendly this way, too, right?!
  • I also didn’t circle back around to recycling the Advent Kindness Jar idea I mentioned last week. I got the labeled jars out of the Christmas box and that’s as far as I got. Maybe next year? I’m just telling myself it’s still okay to say no to good things.
  • Random: a friend (who has a 1-year old) and I were discussing soothers (aka: pacifiers) this week – the various perks and pitfalls. I immediately thought back to our trip to Denmark where Abby was transfixed by the sight of soother trees. Danish kiddos leave their soothers hanging from a tree (often with notes) when they are officially ready to part ways. It was hilarious to watch Abby’s confusion as she saw literally 100’s of her soothers hanging from trees around Copenhagen.
Flashback to 2012


I enjoy finishing things.

I like to wrap things up – literally and figuratively – with a tidy bow and stow them neatly on the shelf (that proactive tendency got me in trouble last week). I thrive on being productive and efficient. Give me a box and I’ll try my darndest to check it.

None of these things happen with a renovation.

It has been a months-long process. By many standards we have had an easy, low-key experience. But it has still felt like a long, arduous and overwhelming journey – especially for a maximizer like me.

While sometimes I would do well to channel my inner Gretchen Rubin (who says most decisions don’t require extensive research), there sure is a lot of research that goes into a major home renovation.

When we started planning things, I typed up a master list of all the to-do’s. Items to buy. Things to decide. People to consult. It was overwhelming. My temptation was to get discouraged. Sometimes a meeting with our contractor would do nothing more than give me ten new items to add to the list.

But, slowly, decisions got made. We selected a brand of windows. Then we selected the width, colour and style of trim that would surround them and which way we wanted the windows to open. Then we picked the width and style of the interior framing. Then we picked a white paint colour for the interior trim (which is more overwhelming than one might think) and the sheen of said white paint colour.

We picked exterior lights (this took several trips to the store). Then we picked soffit. Then we learned the soffit we had selected was on backorder until 2022. Then we picked new soffit. Then we picked the colour of the fascia and gutters.

We’ve picked where outlets will go and what gets turned on with what lightswitch; we spent time debating the relative merits of a surprising array of different doorbell options.

On one of our final visits to the contractor section at our local hardware store (they now recognize us from a mile away, even with masks, on a first-name basis) as we were agonizing over yet another decision – this one quite costly with much higher stakes than our doorbell hunt – I remained upbeat. We walked away without making a decision. But we had more intel. Just the having the information was progress. I knew a decision would come. Maybe it would take two more trips, or ten, but eventually, we would get there.

Could someone else have made all these decisions faster? Absolutely – renovations, and decision-making in general, are most definitely not my forte. But by plugging away at one item at a time, I’m learning to aim for progress. Whether that’s big progress (when we finally decided on the colour and style of our metal siding and ordered the supplies) or baby steps (I think the doorbell falls into this camp).

While it can feel agonizingly slow, we are making progress.

It will be a while – months for some items – before we get to call this project complete. But we’re headed in the right direction.

Here’s a Thought: Try Giving The Same Gift (But Different) Every Year

I love repetition. I like to eat the same meals. I like to read the same books. I like to re-watch the same holiday movies.

Not surprisingly this tendency has influenced my gift-giving habits over the years.

Yesterday I mentioned how our family opens a new ornament each Christmas Eve. The excitement is always palpable as we’re all eager to see what ornament we’ll get this time around.

In a similar vein, every year (for her birthday in October) I gift a particular friend a new Christmas ornament. Her birthday is close enough to Christmas she only has to store it away for a month and every year she knows what to expect. Somehow, to me, that makes the experience all the more exciting.

Every Christmas my husband buys me a new set of earrings – almost always studs, which is what I wear 95% of the time. Last week I was in a store lineup when the lady waiting behind me commented how much she admired my earrings. I was surprised to receive the compliment (we’re all so hidden behind masks these days) – it brightened my day and it made me so happy I had taken the time to put on those particular earrings that morning.

I buy my husband socks every Christmas, including at least one fun/funky pair. I buy him a new graphic T-shirt. He gets a Star Wars LEGO set. He knows he’s going to receive these gifts, but he doesn’t know the specifics which helps to elevate the experience. Every year I unwrap Twizzlers and Brooksides and new earrings.

Years ago I started making annual photo calendars for the grandparents. It’s a labour of love as I comb through 1000s of images from the year to find the best ones to summarize noteworthy/photogenic events. Last year I debated whether I would keep this tradition going; somehow, this filtered back to my parents who actually contacted me about their concern over this decision. Apparently, it’s one of their favourite gifts. They don’t primarily use it for the calendar function (though I do, very sweetly, take the time to add in all the relevant family birthdays/anniversaries for them) – they just like having ready access to curated photos and often refer to the calendar to show friends updated pictures of all the family (I organize all the pictures from my siblings as well). This year, as in years prior, they will be receiving a photo calendar. And, chances are, it will be their favourite gift under the tree.

It could be a new candle, bath towel, book, vinyl record, mug, or Christmas ornament, but consider the gift of repetition. It can make buying gifts – and receiving them – all the more special.

What about you? Any annual gifts you like to give and/or receive?

Peek Into Our Christmas: A Christmas Eve Ornament Tradition

Growing up I was always jealous of families that opened gifts on Christmas Eve. My brother-in-law, for instance, was able to pick out one gift to open before bed. As I recall, there were no rules. You could shake. You could squeeze. And yes, you could even pick the biggest box from under the tree. But I had to content myself with sitting around the tree as a family, singing Christmas carols together and shaking the gifts to guess the contents (a scene my husband describes as a ‘Norman Rockwell Christmas’). In short – I had a pretty good life. But I did like to gripe about not being allowed even one present on Christmas Eve.

Though I adored Christmas as a child, and have nothing but fond memories of the experience, one of my favourite realizations as a newlywed was that we had the chance to start our own traditions. Many of them bear a distinct resemblance to traditions from my childhood but with a twist. For example, I grew up with homemade pizza on homemade crust for Christmas Eve supper; now we make donair pizzas on store-bought Naan bread.

But one of my favourite traditions is opening a gift on Christmas Eve. We’ve managed to escape the potential letdown of getting your “big” present before the excitement of Christmas Day. In fact, the kids are giddy with excitement even though they know exactly what they’re getting – a new ornament.

We started this tradition without realizing it. Our first Christmas after getting engaged, I traveled to spend the holiday with John and his family. He was away working when I arrived and had left a welcome package for me, complete with a small Christmas ornament. In honour of our upcoming nuptials, I had purchased him a silver “F” at a local pharmacy. Though we never purposefully set out to do so (or at least I don’t recall a discussion on this topic) we just kept on exchanging ornaments.

And when kids arrived, they joined in the fun.

Some years we put a lot of thought into the ornament. When we visited Australia together I bought an ornament of two koalas in a gumnut tree; the year Abby learned to skate she got a glass figure skater. Last year John got a blown glass sushi roll, another year a surfer mouse (I looked through a dozen at a local store to find the one that looked the happiest – please tell me other people do this too with dolls/ornaments/stuffed animals!?).

Other years, it might not have a sentimental backstory (the house below, Abby’s ornament last year, just looked really sweet and inviting to me – a miniature fairytale Christmas setting).

Years ago my best friend from university got married and one of her wedding gifts was a special box filled with Christmas ornaments. Her grandmother had purchased an ornament for every year she had been alive (completely under the radar, I believe) and presented this as a curated source of ornaments for her first Christmas as a newlywed! I can’t imagine having the patience to maintain a collection like this in secret for several decades (and what happens if grandkids don’t get married? Surely, eventually, you have to give them the ornaments?!).

ornaments 2020

The math of this tradition is quite daunting. Assuming both children stay home until they are 20, in addition to our already full tree, we are poised to add another 50+ ornaments.

But we’ll make room. We’ll get rid of the old tattered ones, or even the glossy ones that have no character. And someday I’m sure my heart will break – like a few of the ornaments already have – when a box of ornaments leaves my house to go adorn another tree.

But I hope they’ll be happy in their new homes, starting their own traditions, and have nothing but (mostly) happy memories of Christmases past.

Do you have any Christmas Eve gift traditions? Do you collect a new ornament to commemorate special events like a new job or family vacation?

Peek Into Our Christmas: Favourite Holiday Movies

There is something so festive about holiday movies. You can watch Les Misérables or Beauty and the Beast any time of year. But Home Alone oozes holiday vibes – it is set at Christmas, after all – and I believe it requires twinkle lights and cozy blankets to truly be appreciated (bonus points if hot chocolate and candy canes are involved).

While I do love a good Hallmark movie, I won’t be listing those here (though I did really enjoy Ice Sculpture Christmas a few years back, FYI).

Today I’m going to talk about our family’s tried-and-true holiday classics. The movies we revisit each year, with characters that feel like long-lost friends. We curl up together and, even though we remember all the nuances of the plots (yes, Marv and Harry are going to end up being carted off to prison) we hold our breath at scary bits and we laugh at the funny jokes and we sing along to the songs we know by heart.

Without further ado, here are a few of our favourite holiday movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if you might find some overlap with well-loved classics in your household.

  • HOME ALONE | My parents were very careful about what media was consumed in our house growing up, yet we watched Home Alone every year. I do think we were watching the TV version, which likely edited out a few of the unsavory parts? I continue to mute a few sections because, well, my kids don’t need to hear or see clips from Angels with Dirty Faces (I’m looking at you: Merry Christmas you filthy animal). We also like Home Alone 2 and Home Alone 3, and the kids chuckled quite a bit during the latest release – Home Sweet Home Alone – but nothing quite beats the original.
  • DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966) | We watch this animated classic every year. It is amazing and I love it more with each re-watching. I have so many memories of this “movie” from Christmases of yore and the kids would be getting lumps of coal in their stockings if they didn’t join me on this bandwagon (thankfully they have, without coercion).
  • THE GRINCH | This was the first movie the kids saw in theatres and it did not disappoint. I am such a huge fan of the 1966 version (see above), but this reboot really did live up to all my expectations. Heartwarming and heartbreaking in all the right ways. It’s also very quotable; for example, “I myself use chocolate explosion” gets repeated regularly in our household and is sure to guarantee a laugh.
  • WHITE CHRISTMAS | Oh, White Christmas, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. I feel like this is either a you-love-it or you-hate-it movie? I happen to love it, but I think a lot of this stems from sentimental attachments to the film from my youth. It also helps that I’ve paired it with a movie-viewing party with one of my best friends each December and I look forward to this night every year. I’ve seen this movie so many times (but now limit it to ONLY ONCE A CHRISTMAS SEASON), and each year when we start watching it, I can’t believe it wasn’t just yesterday we sat down to watch it for the previous year. *Update: this very special movie event is happening tonight. Tonight!! Cue the cozy blankets, warm mugs of decaf chai tea, and singing along to our hearts content.
  • CHARLIE BROWN’S CHRISTMAS | We watch this each year…and each year I find it both awkward and sad (some of the characters are just plain mean) and wonderful. Hearing the Christmas story presented so clearly and in such a wonderful way never ceases to delight.
  • MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET | I have to admit I’m partial to the 1947 version. Just a classic feel-good story, but with lots of twists.
  • ELF | There’s potty humour. There’s awkward family relationships. There’s Zooey Deschanel’s voice. There’s Will Farrell as a human snowball-throwing machine. What more could you want? We just went and watched this movie over the weekend at a local theatre (who is hosting free weekend movies over the Christmas season). So fun.

some other options

Last year The Santa Clause series (with Tim Allan) and Christmas Chronicles (a relatively new set of releases from Netflix) were both hits with the kids, and they watched Merry Christmas Mr. Bean for the first time and it got lots of chuckles as well. I grew up watching Ernest Saves Christmas, though I have to admit it didn’t seem as funny when I re-watched it as an adult?!

I have never seen The Christmas Story but know it’s a classic and I’ll finally get to meet Ralphie and his crew at another of those aforementioned free movie screenings over the holiday season. I’m looking forward to it!

Now tell me – are there any must-see holiday movies in your household?

Header photo by Samira Rahi on Unsplash

Peek Into Our Christmas: Annual Holiday Cards

It is cold and it is wet and I am just not feeling great about it. I had no problem feeling grateful last Friday during our temporary water crisis (that could have been so much worse!) but today…not so much. After what feels like an entire month of cold, grey, soggy days, I’m very much “over” this weather. The 10-day forecast is not helping my optimism. So far today we’ve had: snow, freezing rain, and plain old-fashioned regular rain and that’s basically what’s on tap for as far in the future as the local meteorologists care to speculate. Sigh.

I’m currently in bed with two Magic Bags preparing to take a nap. Now that I think of it…I am grateful for the flexibility of working from home. And, also, it has been too long since I took a nap, so I guess I’m grateful to the rain for pushing me to this state of mind.

But let’s think about happier times, shall we? How about Christmas cards – one of my favourite dopamine hits of the season is opening up our mailbox to see a new stack of cards in the mail. And I got most of mine in the mail last week (my earliest distribution ever).

But, are you ready for this? You do NOT have to circulate Christmas cards. There are no holiday police that will ticket you for not participating in this tradition. Also, if you do it one year (because, through some miracle, you captured a great photo of the whole family looking directly at the camera without giant ketchup stains on their clothes), YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO IT EVERY YEAR.

I know people that send Valentine’s cards; others send New Year’s cards. Most send no cards of any sort and that is 100% okay.

Now that we have gotten that little disclaimer out of the way…let’s chat about Christmas cards (specifically photocards).

Most of our annual Christmas cards! Apparently, we are Merry and/or Bright most years…
Back side.

I am someone that sends cards each year. Stacks and stacks of them. One of my favourite modes of communication is through the written word – hence finally starting a blog in 2021. But I have a special place in my heart for letter-writing and already circulate monthly updates to family and friends (and every so often will collate those letters into a bound book). So it feels natural for me to prioritize this form of communication each Christmas.

how do you make your holiday cards?

One year I did design our card from scratch (the year Levi was born as I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time to get them professionally printed, so I mocked something up and had a local printer run them off), but typically I just use prefab design options; my go-to source is Vistaprint.

I’ve already explained how we capture annual family photos – these are a low-key affair, so I’m not too fussed about the final product, although I do spend an inordinate amount of time debating what fonts to use. I don’t opt for special (expensive!) trimmings like foil or scalloped edges. Standard paper is my frugal jam.

Do you write a message to everyone?

Years ago I jumped on the mass-update bandwagon. I write a 2-page letter that summarizes the highlights from our year and I include that along with most of our Christmas cards (I don’t usually give this epic tome to neighbours or friends we see regularly). I make sure to leave a bit of white space at the bottom of the letter and I’ll include a few sentences that have personalized updates or questions: I might reminisce about seeing a particular family member during the year, inquire about grandkids/pets, or discuss an upcoming event that would be mutually interesting.

You can glimpse a sliver of my update letter under the mound of cards and Canada post paraphernalia. One page, two sides. I use plain printer paper and place some sort of black-and-white silhouette along the top of the front page to dress it up a bit. This particular border was recycled from 2019’s letter…

how much time does all this take?

Hmmm. I would say family pictures take about 2 hours (give or take depending on travel time). Then I spend 2-3 hours selecting and editing pictures and creating the photocard. I likely dedicate over an hour to preparing the annual update letter, and another hour writing personalized notes. This year I outsourced addressing envelopes to Abby (and no, I didn’t pay her!), so maybe another 30 minutes for that process + stuffing/stamping.

Overall, spread out over the course of a month, I likely invest about 10 hours into this holiday tradition. I don’t necessarily enjoy all aspects of the process (getting family photos has, at times, been an exhausting, sweaty, and demoralizing experience – though it’s getting ~1000x easier as the kids get older!), but it’s important to me because I value maintaining connections with family and friends, many of whom we don’t see very often.

So I do it. I’ve done it every year for over a decade and, Lord willing, I will do it for many decades to come!

Without further ado: our 2021 Christmas card. And, once again, we are “Merry.” A good state of mind for the holiday season…

Do you send Christmas cards (or photocards) each year? If so, what’s your process and how do you display the ones you receive?

Still Grateful for Water (Or, Why I Re-Wrapped Christmas Presents at 4 AM)

I’ve touched on our home saga before. After years of apartment living we bought our first home – in a wonderful neighbourhood in a town we love – and almost immediately (exactly one week after getting the keys) hit some major snags. Sewer and drainage issues consumed the better part of six months – hours of phone calls with insurance companies and consultations with contractors and many thousands of dollars.

After dealing with these issues – most of which required us to undo existing infrastructure like flagstone pathways and cutting down mature trees – we’ve slowly picked away at other structural and aesthetic improvements.

This post was supposed to be about how thankful I am for a new front door. Of all the renovations, this has thrilled me the most. Most winters I’ve stuffed rags around the perimeter of our very drafty front door. A repair attempt earlier this year only made things worse, rendering the door draftier and almost impossible to open and close. So seeing a new door installed this week thrilled me to no end.

But then we hit a snag, as seems to be the lot with renovations.

When dealing with an external water faucet, it inadvertently impacted piping inside the house. In the guest room closet. In the guest room closet where I was storing all my wrapped Christmas gifts.

With both kids happily entertained yesterday before supper, I decided I would capitalize on the relative peace and goodwill by tackling a batch session of Christmas wrapping. Once a small pile was completed – and feeling quite proud of my handiwork – I went to add these new additions to the growing stash in the guest room closet.

Let’s rewind for a minute. Earlier this week, in light of pending torrential rain (and based on the recent catastrophic flooding in British Columbia) I removed ALL the wrapped gifts from the closet…just in case. They stayed high and dry and, thankfully, the storm passed us by without any impact. On Thursday we moved the gifts back into the closet so we could have the basement deep-cleaned for the first time in SIX months. The floors were mopped, the gifts were neatly stowed away, I had a new front door. Life was glorious.

And then I opened up the closet and saw the water.


So that’s how I found myself unexpectedly unwrapping several bags full of neatly wrapped, but completely sodden, Christmas gifts.

And then I started counting my blessings.

It’s not that water in the house doesn’t suck and it’s not that I don’t wish this hadn’t happened (although I’m a bit grateful it did, read on). I’m definitely not naturally the “Pollyanna” type (the word pessimist has definitely been attached to me). But I’m hoping it’s evidence that the Bible Study lesson of letting anxiety be the cue for gratitude really did permeate.

Because I couldn’t stop finding all these things to be thankful for, even as I slowly wrung the water out of a pair of funky socks and eyed the permanent water stains on our Alex Colville Horse and Train print.


  • For running water. The fact we have a leaking pipe means we have access to running water. Billions of people don’t have this luxury.
  • That I was in the closet (which I sometimes go weeks without opening up) which led me to discover the leak after an hour instead of hours (or days) when the damage would have been far more extensive.
  • That we have gifts. What a priviledge to have the resources to give and receive items (many of them for sheer fun) this time of year.
  • For the recent electrical upgrade that required us to cut holes in the closet drywall. This gave the water an exit point so, instead of flooding the ceiling, it dripped right down through the hole (onto the wrapped gifts and stored artwork).
  • We caught it early enough that most of the gifts were 100% okay (especially the calendars I worked so hard to prepare), if a bit waterlogged around the edges.
  • The fact we discovered the issue at 4:30 pm when contractors were still onsite and that they were able to correct the issue so we had access to running water over the weekend!
  • That our contractors were willing to stay late (on a dark, wet Friday evening) to do a temporary, but safe, fix so we didn’t have to put in an emergency plumbing call which would have left more time for more water damage (and cost a small fortune).
  • This happened – the pipe was compromised and if the break hadn’t happened now, it probably would have at some point in the future when it almost certainly would have caused significantly more damage.
  • For a husband that was so calm and helpful and joined me as we listed all the many things to be thankful for while he cleaned up muddy boot prints, removed wet insulation, and vacuumed up drywall.

When I woke up early this morning (I cannot shake the early wakeups since DST) I knew what to do. I headed downstairs, cued up a podcast and rewrapped the mostly salvageable gifts. And I was grateful.

The gifts are all wrapped and safely stowed on a high shelf inside plastic bags inside plastic totes. Because, as grateful as I am to have managed to recover most of the gifts to be able to re-wrap them a second time, I’ve no desire to make a hattrick out of this event.

Good morning to me. Time to start re-wrapping.
Oh, goodbye nicely scrubbed floors!

And I am still really, really, really grateful for that new front door.