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.
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 adult – this 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?
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?
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?!).
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?
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!
Nowtell me – are there any must-see holiday movies in your household?
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).
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.
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?
You know how you learn a new word and then see it everywhere? It was like that with Ingrid Fetell Lee this week. I heard her interviewed on an episode of the Best of Both Worlds podcast. I saw her TED Talk. And then I followed a link on a new-to-me blog and was redirected to Ingrid’s post titled: A guide to joyful gift-giving. It lingered in my psyche enough that I went back to re-read it and then decided I had to share it here! Insightful and refreshing and inspiring. An anti-gift guide of sorts (that ends up offering some really great gift suggestions).
#SecretSantaMugSwap2021. What a delighful surprise to receive a package in the mail on Tuesday from Nicole (and so fast). Again, a huge thanks to San for organizing this fun holiday event. I especially loved the tea included some cheeky math. I really did laugh out loud when I saw the line: And yes, it adds to 100%.
Our Christmas cards are officially done. Not only are they done – they’re in the mail. I know it’s early, but as soon as that last stamp was placed, I wanted to get those suckers out the door. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing a finished stack of Christmas cards on the table. #ParentingHack: I had Abby address and stuff most of the cards this year. She loved it, her handwriting is adorable, and it saved me at least an hour of time. Win, win, win.
Lest you think I am a freak of nature, we received our first Christmas card on November 16th. November 16th!!!
I also want to reiterate there are a lot of other things I skip which pave the way for completing this task on an accelerated timeline. I do always get holiday photocards + an update letter out into the world early (which makes sense based on my values and the other related activities – namely photobooks and regular family udpates – I prioritize during the rest of the year). But we do not make gingerbread houses. We don’t visit Santa. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Aside from two trees and a mantle swag, we don’t really even decorate that much. (But we do send cards and watch lots of holiday movies – stay tuned for more about both of these topics next week)!
Speaking of the swag…she did it all by herself this year. She waited patiently for me to come upstairs before starting but when I tried to help I got a talking to and was relegated to a perch on the couch to watch. Love the glow!
Most years I make a Holiday Fun List. I keep a hard copy – with completed items crossed out in squiggly lines by the kids – in our Christmas box. It’s fun to look back on different activities we’ve done each year. I can’t decide if I want to take the time to make the list or, more importantly, execute on the items on said list. Also, last year, we had a special advent jar – each child wrote down 24 things they loved/appreciated about their sibling and each morning when they opened their chocolate advent they’d also grab a slip of paper from their Advent jar and get a hit of dopamine from sibling love as well. With less than a week to go I’m not sure if I’m going to move the needle on this in time…it feels a bit stale to re-use the same ideas (who am I kidding, the Holiday List would be the exact same this year), but I’m sure the kids won’t care/remember and would appreciate both. I think I need to Lazy Genius my way through this topic…I’m leaning toward not doing it this year. Time will tell.
The Christmas/winter reading continues. This week it included a new picture book about Anne of Green Gables – very on point since we’re still reading the first Anne of Green Gables book. I have to admit, it didn’t quite capture the magic for me, but the illustrations were delightful.
As part of a promotion through something (I honestly have no idea who/what/when/where/how), John got a big discount on a weeks worth of meal kits. They arrived Monday morning. I have mixed feelings about the kits (we did this once before, early in the pandemic when a friend gave me a code so I got 3 meals for $9.99. For four people. For $9.99 total)! The regular retail price is almost $200, so it’s not something we’ll do regularly. Also, I find the prep/cooking time is basically double what they suggest. Maybe it’s because when I cook my own meals I don’t follow recipes or timing that closely. But every once in a while, this is a lot of fun! Abby was really engaged by the whole experience and was a real help in the kitchen. She loves to cook, but I don’t normally make the time to have her help with main meals. But since we’re kind of on an equal playing field (a new recipe, all the ingredients are right there), it worked out perfectly. So it was a fun week in terms of our culinary experiences. For the meal pictured below she seasoned the orzo, she added the pesto, she stirred in the peas and spinach, she sliced the chicken. And then she rated it an 8/10. Last night, our final meal, was an absolutely delicious Tex-Mex pasta casserole. Levi went back for thirds! The portions are large, too, so we’ve had lots of leftovers which have been amazing for lunches.
It was a mostly fun weekend, punctuated by some very not-so-fun moments because…that’s life.
We started the party on Friday; after school we packed the kids up in the car and whisked them off to the city (what we Nova Scotians affectionately call Halifax, as it is the only real “city” around) for the weekend. Abby had her suspicions, but Levi was none-the-wiser. We told them we were running errands (technically true) and he was elated when we pulled up outside a hotel – our favourite from a few years ago. (I had packed and hidden the suitcases in the trunk before we left).
The experience did not disappoint. But let’s set the stage a bit first for these smiling faces because I went into the evening with pretty low expectations.
Friday had been pretty meh. It was raining – hard – all day. I had an 8:30 am in-person meeting to which I arrived damp. I’m not a fan of rain unless I get to stay inside the whole day.
Then I had to unexpectedly take our car to the mechanic mid-morning (amidst the torrential rain).
Then there was work stress and deadlines for both of us.
And did I mention the rain? That meant that our exterior renovations, delayed for two months and FINALLY started, were halted after about 8 hours of work (they resumed yesterday after a week of near-constant rain or snow and I am beyond excited about this).
Another highlight of the day (read on to sense my tone) included a small temper tantrum that crescendoed to the point a mask was thrown in a puddle when a requested playdate was denied. The conversation went like this:
*Child jumps off school bus*
Child: Can I have a playdate with X. (Obviously not named “X” but I’m not going to start naming my children’s friends on the interwebs).
Me: Not today.
Me: Because we have a fun birthday surprise planned.
Child: What is it?
Me: It’s a surprise so you’ll have to wait and see…but it will be a lot of fun! [Said in my cheeriest tone as I could sense where this conversation was going.]
Response amid full-blown wailing and tears; there may have even been some gnashing of teeth for good measure.
Child: You’ve done this like 16 times. I. HATE. SURPRISES.
How fun and, note to self, 16 surprises is perhaps too many for a 7-year old lifetime…
Then, en route to the city, there was a rough work call that spilled over into the lobby while we were checking in.
I was feeling pretty emotional and low when we arrived and I was dreading having to jump into a cold pool. I am always cold. The only thing worse than being cold is being cold and wet. Cold swimming pools are a special form of torture.
I kid you not, the hotel pool was like a hot tub. I was so deliriously happy about the temperature, it re-set my mood for the next 18 hours. Literally. We went swimming in the soft glow of nighttime pool lights and the kids jumped and splashed and floated. It was blissful.
Then we walked across the parking lot to eat at Wendy’s because that was the birthday-boy request; I have not had a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger in almost two years. It tasted delicious.
Then back to the hotel room for the kids to eat snacks in bed and watch videos while I read an ENTIRE book, No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler. Let me repeat that – an entire book!
Saturday morning we did more swimming and then had one of the best hotel breakfasts ever. We loved this hotel for its breakfast the first time we stayed but assumed it would be shut down due to COVID. Not so, friends, not so.
They served people in groups and the food was incredible. The eggs were light and fluffy and seasoned with fresh herbs to perfection. And the pancakes – I am SO picky about my pancakes. Only homemade fluffy ones will do. These were homemade and fluffy. The staff were all so kind and attentive. And when they caught wind it was Levi’s birthday weekend they brought out a slice of cake to the breakfast table (just what he needed at 9 am) with a candle and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday. It was wonderful. We stayed up until the minute of checkout lounging in our enormous room (with vaulted ceilings, a first for me).
And then we trekked to IKEA to get a desk (Levi’s main birthday gift, alongside the hotel adventure) and a few other odds and ends.
Moods frayed after we got home. I prepped birthday food for Sunday. There had been too much sugar and too little sleep at the hotel. There was a meltdown that only LEGO could solve, and even then it was only a partial solution. But we made it through.
Sunday, his actual birthday, was great. Again, I started in a bit of a blue mood. I’m not a big fan of birthday parties but it felt like I was really letting him down this year. Just a few friends. No treat bags. I didn’t even blow up balloons.
We started the day with Baked French Toast – his request, and which I had prepped the night before. After church, we had lunch of meatballs rice and peas (read on to see why this is hilarious). A friend arrived to bring prezzies (as she refers to gifts) – the highlight being a locker/piggy bank that involves both a key AND a combination. Also, she played hide-and-seek for over half an hour while I sat on the couch. So fun. Then three neighbourhood friends arrived.
They played video games for an hour. Then they played soccer in the hallway. I still felt lame. I grabbed a few handfuls of leftover Halloween candy and called Abby upstairs to hide them.
When the boys emerged from the basement, sweating from their soccer game, they asked for Cheezie’s and promptly devoured a bowl. Things were looking brighter. Then they caught wind of the candy hunt, which was a real crowdpleaser. Things were looking even better!
Then we sat around the supper table and ate meatballs, rice, peas, and corn. Yes, my son asked (he didn’t think I’d say yes!) for the SAME meal for lunch and supper on his birthday. So that’s what he got. One visitor ate 10 meatballs and took home a doggy bag. Success.
The cake was delicious (one of those no-flour cakes that has so much butter, eggs, and chocolate that a few bites brings on a sugar coma – thankfully I only make it once a year and it’s a small recipe). We sang Happy Birthday. There were candles on the cake and on the table and it suddenly felt like the perfect birthday in its own imperfect way. It was small and laid-back and everyone just looked so happy (sugar does have that effect).
There were two gift bags to open instead of the usual mound – and they were perfect. One child topped their gift with a bunch of balloons – it’s like they knew I was failing at this birthday thing and wanted to make sure he got balloons. He also got a Star Wars LEGO set and two practical hands-on games (Jenga and a Slinky). And then the kids proceeded to play on the floor in the living room for almost an hour. Laughing and hitting balloons and playing Wink, Murderer and Noodle and Statue and all sorts of other games I don’t really know but that sure seemed to be a lot of fun.
Everyone was sad to go home and it was just…a great birthday. I treasure the memories, but also… birthdays are stressful. I’m glad he’s 7, glad he had fun, and glad to peek my head in the door and see him working on LEGO at his new desk.
I think buying gifts for the special men in our lives – the brothers and husbands and fathers and teachers – gets a bad rap. Admittedly, it’s a bit tougher than throwing a scented candle and tea towel into a gift bag and calling it a day (though I did give my husband a maple-scented candle with a wooden wick last Christmas and it was one of his favourite gifts!), but I think the ideas below strike the right balance of fun and practical.
These are favourites, but not all necessarily small enough to fit in a stocking (or economical for years with a smaller budget). I tend to buy one or two large items each Christmas, and the rest is pretty small stocking-stuffer variety. We have and enjoy all the items below, but they’ve been accumulated over a number of years. Sometimes when I see gift guides I get the sense people have purchased ALL the items in a single year. That is definitely not the case in our household!
A SLEEK LAPTOP BOOKBAG | My husband (pre-COVID) had to travel a lot for work. In addition to carting around his luggage – he only travels with carry-ons – he has lots of tech accessories to bring along, plus passports and other travel documents to access. I ended up buying him the Solo Pro 15.6″ Backpack. It’s compact but has pockets in all the right places, and he’s loved it (the only thing missing is a luggage strap). I had actually ordered a few bags at various price points and this was the clear winner. *Update: he just returned from a work trip and one of the zippers on this beloved bookbag is starting to fail. It came with a good warranty, though, and a replacement is in the works.
DARN TOUGH SOCKS | It’s funny, isn’t it – when you’re a kid, nice socks seem like the lamest gift you could find under the Christmas tree. But then, when you get older, there isn’t anything more satisfying than opening a great pair of socks. There are always socks under our tree. At least one set is whimsical – Star Wars themed more often than not, though I gifted a set of bacon-and-egg socks last month for a birthday. The running favourites are from Darn Tough. Made of merino wool, this Vermont-based company makes great socks with a replacement guarantee. We’ve actually worn through a number of pairs and they replace them everytime. I keep buying more because of their great exchange policy!
SPECIALTY HOT SAUCE | So this gift would fall completely flat for me, but I know a lot of people really appreciate hot sauces and it can be fun to elevate things beyond store-brand sriracha. My husband happens to love hot sauces – the higher on the Scoville scale the better – but the flavour has to be great too. A nice hot sauce makes a great stocking stuffer. I recently bought a Dawson’s Hot Sauce with ghost peppers that has gotten rave reviews.
A GOOD SHOVEL | This is obviously location-specific (ditto on the gloves below), but for anyone dealing with regular snow removal, having the right tools can go a long way. Last year we bought a Snow-Joe shovel from Home Depot and the whole family was always fighting over who got to use it when we had a blizzard. The shovel was light and the unique flexible second handle made clearing snow faster, more efficient and – dare I say – fun? This year I bought a second one for our family and wrapped one up for my father.
APPLE DEVICES | A repeat from yesterday’s list, but these are runaway favourites in our house. Big investments, but if you source older models or second-hand items, they can still be affordable.
CORD STORAGE | This is another great gift for the tech-saavy person in your life, especially if they travel frequently. I bought the Bagsmart Travel Cable Organizer and it has been superb.
GOOGLE NEST | These are wonderful little speakers; we have some smart plugs and light bulbs that work via voice activation and with a Spotify account (see below) these are a great way to fill the house with music…or request a joke at 7 am.
WATER COOLER | We go through a lot of water in our house, but no one is particularly keen on the chlorinated variety coming from the tap (we do cook and make coffee/tea with tap water, so consume lots of it every day to ensure we get the benefits of the flouride). As the kids got older, it was impossible to keep enough cold Brita-filtered water in the fridge. John had expressed interest in a water cooler for years but I always shot the idea down. For one thing, I hated the aesthetic of the bulky white varieties and, more practically, I didn’t want to be juggling full water jugs into an upside down position – it seemed destined to end in disaster eventually. Enter the Whirlpool bottom-loading version. It’s sleek. It has a self-cleaning function. And we use it every. single. day. We don’t use the hot water function (and have actually turned this off entirely), but I know people that love having easy access to hot water for steeping tea or making hot chocolate. We get our water (free!) from a local spring and have two water jugs that we rotate through the water cooler. I consider this one of my best Christmas gifts ever!
FINGER GLOVES | Someone gifted John a pair of Columbia finger gloves years ago and they still get so much use. They’re supposed to be touchscreen compatible (they’re not), but they are wonderful for in-between weather. They’re thicker/warmer than regular “Magic” gloves, look a lot nicer, and are warm enough to wear throughout the fall and on warmer winter days.
ERGODRIVEN TOPO MAT | This is a niche product but since we have a standing desk in our office, it’s regularly in use. This is basically an anti-fatigue mat on steroids. It has unique contours that are really helpful for shifting and supporting your feet when standing for extended periods.
SPOTIFY | A few years ago a friend of mine got a 6-month Spotify membership as part of a Christmas gift exchange and I thought that was such a great idea! I use our account daily, and it really does beat sourcing music on YouTube. You can download playlists to access them offline (on a roadrip, when you’re out for a jog) and basically every song you can think of is available with just a click of a button. Now excuse me while I go put on some Christmas tunes…
LEGO | We are huge LEGO lovers in this household and there are no age restrictions. Each year I buy a Star Wars LEGO set for John (and the kids). It’s a favourite Boxing Day tradition to work on building this together before setting it up with the rest of the collection in our home office.
FUN SHIRTs | I try to source a graphic T-shirt each year; usually it involves a Star Wars theme. Our favourite so far was a The Darth Face shirt.
HIGH-QUALITY FOOTWEAR | We’ve jumped on the Blundstone bandwagon – pricy but a great neutral shoe that comes in styles that can easily be dressed up (work, church) and down (running errands or walking around the neighbourhood).
BOOKS | For a few years I bought John a biography every Christmas. Books are like socks – kind of boring when you’re a kid, but some of the best gifts as an adult. I always buy my Dad a book (often second-hand).
BBQ GEAR | Like the hot sauce, a specialty BBQ sauce or specific tool (a nice BBQ lighter or special tongs) can make a great gift.
FOOD | Beef jerky, a special cereal, candied pecans. One of our friend makes homemade butter tarts as Christmas gifts and they’re delicious! I always give special treats at Christmas.
GIFT CARDS | This is my go-to gift for teachers; I pick a local coffee shop, grab a certificate and consider things good-to-go. Cabella’s, Amazon, the Apple Store, restaurants, movie tickets. There’s a reason there are so many gift card options – they’re pretty swell.
A GOOD FLASHLIGHT | Because a good flashlight is just so darn practical to have around and I have gifted a number of them over the years.
Any go-to gifts I should add to my running list for Christmas 2022?
I don’t read that many blogs and I don’t have any social media accounts. Yet, somehow, I feel like I’ve been bombarded by gift guides since mid-October. Since I’m aiming for a minimal Christmas, I’ve found these surprisingly stressful. Each guide I’ve come across has been unique (I can’t think of a single case of overlap) and has a lot of great ideas. But…I’ve already made my choices. Nevertheless, I click on links and get tempted by thoughts like “Wouldn’t a foot-operated rocket launcher be SO MUCH FUN!” before I accept I don’t really want to store a foot-operated rocket launcher. And knowing the enthusiasm some kids in my household display, chances are it would break in about 2 minutes.
So this isn’t a gift guide, per se. Just a collection of recent favourites, many of which have shown up under the Christmas tree in recent years. I’m not including links because a) that way you don’t feel pressure to click through and fall through an internet rabbit hole and, more acutely, b) I’m lazy.
Some of my Favourite things
YETI | I started out with a plan to use my Yeti (I have the 10 oz Rambler with the Magslider lid) for hot beverages…but I quickly discovered it kept things too hot. I pivoted to using it as my water cup and have used it for this purpose every day for two years. I love the lid mechanism, love the size, and water stays cold all day. The version I have is not spillproof, though, and can be too big to fit in some car holders.
BROOKSIDES | I get a bag of these every year at Christmas and on my birthday. It’s nice to identify a go-to treat you really enjoy and then save it for special occasions. Every year when I pass along my “wish” list to John I make sure to include Brooksides and Twizzlers. I think he’s got the memo by now, but I’d never want to leave matters of chocolate covered acai berries to chance.
TEA/COFFEE | To follow along with the food theme above, I love a good cup of Earl Grey, Chai, or a bulletproof coffee in the morning. I have a pretty narrow range of tastes in this department, and don’t usually ask for these items under the tree…but they’re still favourites.
APPLE DEVICES | These are the priciest items on my favourites list, but I couldn’t leave them off because they really are among my absolute favourite things. I put on my Apple Watch first thing in the morning. I use it to set timers, track workouts and check the weather (I’ve disabled text/mail alerts, but you can have all this information pushed to the watch as well). I think one of the reasons I appreciate the watch so much is because of my other Apple devices. I use my iPhone, Macbook Air, and AirPod Pro’s every single day for work and leisure. I’ve been using my Macbook for about 6 years now, so while these are expensive up-front costs, they are also long-term investments (I have the Series 3 Watch…and they just released the Series 7, so these are built to last and I don’t feel the need to upgrade when new versions are released). Also, if you have some tech saavy, these items can often be sourced at significantly discounted prices via second-hand routes.
MAGIC BAGS | I actually own two sets of Magic Bags (the term I use for any grain-filled heating pad, a bit like I say Kleenex for all brands of tissues; I actually just use a pharmacy brand). I use them virtually every day in the winter (sometimes reheating them in the microwave 4 or 5 times). They’re also great when the kids come in from playing outside in the winter and have cold extremities. I’ll use them on my feet in bed, on the couch while we’re watching a movie, or put one under my feet and the other in my lap while I’m working at my desk. I was huddled outside in the cold last week at a playground when one mom mentioned heating them up and putting them in her kids beds at night before tucking them in. How lovely. (My husband does sometimes do this for me and it is lovely)!
A GOOD SHOWER CAP | This one might sound funny, but I adore my shower cap. It’s thick and has wonderfully stretchy elastic that doesn’t leave indents. I use it multiple times a week and would be lost without it. Even if I wasn’t lazy I couldn’t link to the one I have because it’s not branded and I got it years ago. But you’ll know a good one when you find it…
FOOD PROCESSOR | I’m sure many people have food processors collecting dust in their cupboard and would hate to receive one as a gift. But I use mine every single week. I use it to make my favourite muffins, I grind up oats to make flour for the waffles I talk about with shocking frequency; I’ll chop vegetables for chili and blend nuts into butter. Not pictured, but another favourite: my KitchenAid stick blender. I use this less frequently, but it’s great for frothing a bulletproof coffee or pureeing soup.
SILPAT | Still hanging out in the kitchen. I don’t use this item a lot, but when I do it’s a game changer. Silicone sheets are great for lining pans, but then I discovered that a friend of mine uses one to cover casseroles or other dishes in the oven! Genius. I use the Amazon Basics brand and they work great.
SUNDAE SPOONS | When we got married my parents-in-law gifted us a set of quality silverware, which happened to include 6 sundae spoons. They also gifted us a set of very tall mugs. Sundae spoons are the perfect way to stir oat milk into my steaming cup of chai, but we use them for everything and I actually asked for a second set for Christmas a few years ago because 6 was never enough to make it through to the next dishwashing cycle.
HEATED SOCKS | This was a post-Christmas purchase last year and one that I’ve really enjoyed. The set I have are a bit thick to wear in everyday shoes/sneakers, and I’d love to source a more streamlined pair. But they do fit inside my winter boots and, though tight, were the only reason I survived our family foray into downhill skiing last year. The batteries on medium setting last most of a day and are easy to recharge.
A BOOK SERIES | I love to read, but my love of minimalism definitely extends to the book shelf. After years of never buying books (instead I content myself with checking out a gigantic stack at the library each week), I’ve decided I do enjoy owning a complete book series. Last Christmas I asked for – and received! – the Harry Potter collection. My daughter and I read through this simultaneously and I get real satisfaction out of knowing that I have a matching set that fits compactly in its own little box and looks great on the shelf!
A NICE MUG | Get this right and it makes every cup of tea and coffee taste better. It really does. Can I get an Amen?
NOTEBOOKS | I am constantly taking notes – at work, at church, on the go. Thick, lined paper with good binding. It’s the stuff of legends.
HIGH QUALITY HAIR TOOLS | One of my cousins is a hairdresser and sourced me salon-grade Babyliss products. They were pricier than entry-level models, but I swear my blowdryer works in a fraction of time of my old pharmacy-grade one. And my favourite feature – the chords on salon-quality ones are SO MUCH longer.
WHITE NOISE MACHINE | I’m at the point where I can’t sleep without white noise. I’ve bought several Dohm products but have had quite a few issues, so don’t know if I’d recommend that brand outright (though they were great about sending replacements). Relax Melodies is a great free app for white noise, which is what I use when we travel.
GIFT CARDS | To Amazon, to a favourite coffee shop, a restaurant, a high-end consignment store, the health-food store. I love the flexibility of gift cards and most stores – even small specialty ones – offer gift card options these days.
ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH | This might sound strange but remember…this isn’t a gift guide. I actually did gift myself a pink Philips toothbrush several Christmases ago. It can take a bit of geting used to, but a good electric toothbrush really elevates the boring routine of oral hygiene and leaves my teeth significantly cleaner than a normal toothbrush!