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

Life Lessons from the Hill – In Praise of Coasting

Our kids love to go coasting (we usually call it sliding or sledding). Living in Eastern Canada it’s one of the few perks of winter. We bundle up and grab our gear and head to the hill. Over and over and over again.

The kids have learned (as they get older and heavier – such that I can/will no longer help cart them or their sleds to the top of the hill) that to enjoy the downhill part of the adventure, there’s a lot of hard work that has to happen first.

I can’t believe we emerged from this hill with all body parts intact. So steep, so icy, and a blind crest so when you’re sliding you can’t see people walking up from below. Yet, this particular hill is always packed in the winter. I’m surprised they don’t hire a paramedic to stay on site. Never again!

Even on the tallest hill, the coasting element of the experience will last a minute at best. But the climbing? Oh, the climbing can go on for a looonnnggg time.

In addition to the elevation, you have to contend with the ice – slipping and losing ground is a frustrating, but common, occurrence. Then there is the burden of transporting the necessary tools. To slide down a hill, you need to bring something on which to slide with you to the top.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were walking home from school drop-off and were slogging up a particularly steep hill. Where we live, hills are unavoidable on the return trip.

I hate the hills.

It’s not because my fitness level isn’t sufficient, hills just take more work. I have to concentrate. I can’t ease into the conversation with my walking partner or get lost in my own thoughts. I start sweating (I loathe sweating).

But I set my sights on the prize – namely level ground at the top. Ultimately, my goal is to get home, so I do it. Sometimes the only way through is through.

On this particular walk I was wrestling with various life and work events and was feeling overwhelmed by it all. Ruminating over all these thoughts and then coming face-to-face with the inevitable climb – well, the hill suddenly felt like a metaphor for life.

Starting a new job can feel like climbing up a hill. So many processes with which to become familiar; lots of icy patches that send me careening back to the bottom of the hill.

Parenting always comes with new challenges. And sometimes it can start feeling like one continuous slog up the hill, one step forward before sliding ten back.

But, also, some of the hard work from before means I’m ready to coast in a lot of other areas. I’m easing back on Christmas this year – buying fewer gifts and starting later so I don’t keep seeing new things to buy (adding to the total bill and time commitment). I’m coasting with meals; I’ve gone from dedicating swaths of time to meal-planning to being someone who throws together last-minute one-pot wonders from whatever is hanging out in the crisper drawer or using up freezer leftovers I’ve been hoarding. No one has starved yet.

See, sometimes I force myself to keep climbing in areas when I’ve earned the right to jump on my sled and coast for a while. Scrambled eggs and bacon twice in a week is fine. (It’s actually great since eggs and bacon are two of the most delicious food items known to man). I don’t have to prove I can cook and I’m not competing for Best Domestic Housewife in the East. I’ll make the long, elaborate meals again. But it doesn’t have to be this week.

I know that coasting is short-lived. The downhill ends eventually and requires another climb back up to the top.

But, maybe, after I’ve coasted to the bottom, this time I’ll take a moment to sit and enjoy the view…from the bottom of the hill.

There will always be new hills to climb, but there are also opportunities for coasting, too.

And hurtling down the hill can be a pretty fun way to view the world.

Where are you currently climbing? Any areas where you’re coasting?

No Chocolate This Halloween (For Me, Not the Kids)

Last fall I found myself on an elimination diet; no wheat, no dairy, no soy, no peanut butter. No Halloween candy.

This meant, unlike other years, there was no debating. No rationing. No binging. And no early-November surge on the scale.

Turns out, a Halloween without candy (as an adult at least) was fine.

In fact, when we took a family trip around the the Cabot Trail last year (also in the midst of the aforementioned elimination diet) – while others munched on granola bars and cookies – I ate dried figs. They’re delicious and, quite honestly, almost as satisfying as a cookie (with a lot less guilt).

My favourite family pumpkin to-date.

I’m not an abstainer by nature. I like food too much to cut any one food group out indefinitely (and the elimination diet revealed I don’t have any specific food allergies – but I do have sensitivities to wheat, coffee, dairy, soy, and garlic).

But when it comes to Halloween candy, saying “no” from the get-go can feel…liberating.

So this year I’m going to pass on the chocolate. All of it.

If you need me, you can find me eating some dried figs.

…though when Christmas rolls around, you’d better believe I’ll binge my bag of Twizzlers.

Don’t Quote Me: Let’s Make Better Mistakes Tomorrow

I have the following scribbled down on a sticky note (of the electronic variety) on the home screen of my laptop:

Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.


I’m not sure where I stumbled across this quote, but it’s a great sentiment.

I’m going to make mistakes. Today, tomorrow, the day after that. Sometimes mistakes are made out of ignorance, or jealousy, or plain bad luck. But by learning from the mistakes of the past, instead of becoming heavy baggage that weighs us down in the present, they can be leverage for making wiser decisions in the future. Failure and mistakes can breed change and growth.

So here’s to making better mistakes tomorrow…

Productivity Hack: Take a Walk

In what is probably the most simplistic hack out there, I’m recommending we all go take a hike. Literally.

Tired? Take a walk.

Feeling sad, lonely, or anxious? Take a walk.

Mental block during your workday? Take a walk.

Want to connect with a loved one? Take a walk.

Trying to improve physical fitness? Take a walk.

This summer I re-read Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artist’s Work. What I found most interesting about this book were the commonalities between so many prolific creative/scientific minds. Aside from the copious amount of stimulants and depressants (drugs, alcohol, and coffee were in liberal supply), a large proportion of people discussed the importance of daily walks, often of lengthy duration. 

We might not set up a private walking track like Charles Darwin or be able to escape to the woods of Massachusetts like Thoreau, but chances are we could all fit just a bit more walking into our daily lives.

The sights, sounds, and smells of nature might, sometimes, be able to cure what ails us.

Dear Elisabeth: Why I Wrote Myself a Letter

In a particularly challenging season – two young children, a new house (our first) that came with a delightful set of very expensive “surprises,” and a husband traveling out of the country 50% of the time – I felt like another crisis was always around the corner.

Often, it was.

A week after moving into our new home we discovered a set of plumbing issues that required jackhammering our basement floor and excavating the front lawn. I was spending hours of each day on the phone with our insurance company, my husband was any number of time zones away, and it was December. A very, very cold December.

There were concerts to attend (and bake for) and since it was our first Christmas in a home, we were hosting family from around the world. We had a giant hole in our basement floor, no mattresses for our guests, and a gaping wound in our front lawn. I lost 10 lbs in less than a month.

Everything felt hard. I woke most days feeling nauseous. I struggled to choke down food. I fed my kids boxed Mac n’ Cheese and put on a family favourite – 1966’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas – the night we discovered a hairline crack in the foundation that was allowing the tiniest trickle of water to drip into our office putting a halt on our scramble to lay flooring before the guests arrived.

The company arrived; we managed to get enough mattresses. Christmas Eve happened to involve fever and vomiting.

Late Christmas Eve, our poor, exhausted, sick little one. And yes, that is a pretend Dr’s kit scattered on the floor. We spent months with one or the other child sick almost constantly. Oh preschool/elementary germs, how we hated you.

We made the best of it, and I can look back on happy memories from that time. But it was also very traumatizing.

I felt like I had to keep all the balls in the air – contractors, kids (who were perpetually sick), Christmas decorations and gifts – and I didn’t know how to cut myself some slack. Some days I honestly thought I couldn’t make it through another hour, paralyzed by the stress of it all. I wanted to be all and do all and couldn’t.

And the place I felt the most guilt, as I suspect is true of many women: my parenting. So I wrote myself a note and posted it, with blue sticky tack, to the back of my closet. Here’s what it said:

Dear Elisabeth,

You are a good Mom. End sentence. If you’re reading this, it probably means you’re having a rough day. That’s all this is – a rough day. You will survive this. The kids will stop yelling, you will get to sleep, the house will look clean again. I promise.

Here are some suggestions for the-kids/life-are-literally-making-me-crazy-Elisabeth:

  • Let the kids watch a movie. Watch it with them if you want. Or don’t. Either way is fine.
  • Take them somewhere they can play and you don’t have to participate (McDonalds Play Place, the library).* clearly pre-COVID.
  • Feed them cereal for supper – it is the easiest meal you can prepare. And they’ll eat it. Without complaining.
  • Let the kids watch a second movie if you need more time off. This will not kill them, render them brain-dead, or affect their ability to grow up into functional adults.
  • While the kids watch the movie(s) – take a shower. A long, scalding one. Blow dry your hair. It’s relaxing and you won’t hear them if they start to fight.
  • Drink a cup of tea. Eat a spoonful of peanut butter.
  • Look up books on Goodreads, or order books from the library. You like books and they make you feel like a genuine adult.
  • Clean up something – a drawer, a counter. Put something away. Start a load of laundry. But only if you feel like it. You’ll be back to normal soon and the laundry can wait. I promise.
  • Make an easy recipe – baked oatmeal or black bean brownies are a good place to start. You can always freeze them and it will make you feel productive.
  • Run the dishwasher even if it’s not full. Then have Abby empty it.
  • Read books to the kids. It’s good for them and you.
  • Give the kids a snack. They like snacks. And you need them to like something you do. This also will not kill them. This does not mean they will end up obese as adults. It’s just a snack that will help you maintain your sanity. It’s some raisins, not mind-altering drugs. There is a difference.
  • You can put them to bed without reading a book or singing a song. There will be another bedtime when you have energy to do more. They’re fine. Don’t let the guilt creep in.
  • Ask “What would make this easy” for every decision. Do that. You’ll be back to making life more difficult than it needs to be tomorrow. Give Type-A, control-freak, overwhelmed Elisabeth the day off. She needs it.

And remember – ultimately, you can only control yourself. This too shall pass. Hang in there.

Hugs from,


I haven’t referred to this note in a while; it’s still plastered to the wall behind a smattering of robes and long dresses. Life has changed: my kids are older, my house is less vindictive (though I’m no less daunted by renovations), and my husband hasn’t left the country in well over a year. But it’s funny to see some of my strategies peeking through: giving myself permission to stop trying so hard, including the choice to opt-out.

And, when all else fails, there is always the cereal-for-supper option (or PB&J).

On Wallowing and The Happiness Trap

I’ve done my fair share of wallowing lately. I know I’m not alone. Turns out, it may actually be a good thing and could provide a faster path to greener, non-wallowing, pastures.

Between COVID and burnout and rethinking priorities, it’s been a busy, emotional 18+ months.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been working my way through Russ Harris’ The Happiness Trap…for the third time. During my first two read-throughs (spread out over several years) it just all feel unreachable. Too much to process and implement. But this time has produced more results (a 5% improvement so far – not amazing, but not nothing).

The happiness trap in a nutshell: in our attempt to feel happy and content, we try to avoid or dispel “bad” feelings. But, the harder we try, the worse we usually feel. Our very inattention to these “negative” emotions could be the very thing perpetuating them.

Harris talks about “clean discomfort” – anxiety about a medical issue, anger that you’ve been passed over for a promotion – and “dirty discomfort” – anxiety that you’re anxious about the health complication, guilt that you’re frustrated about being overlooked for the promotion.

The official term for the process he describes is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The acceptance bit is tricky. Harris argues that acceptance is a realistic appraisal of where your feet are and what condition the ground is in. It doesn’t mean that you like being in that spot, or that you intend to stay there. Acceptance is simply, by definition, taking what is offered.

While I don’t want to spend my life wrapped up in long bouts of self-pity, I think wallowing does play an important role. Just letting myself “feel the feelings” is cathartic. I’m (well, at least I’m trying) to stop fighting the emotions so much. Observing their presence, letting them be, and sticking squarely to that “clean discomfort” mode. I don’t have to slap a happy face sticker over every negative feeling that comes my way. I don’t have to justify why something feels hard or sad or confusing. I don’t have to rank my struggle next to someone else’s. I can just evaluate my own emotions based on my own experience.

Harris also suggests the reader imagine that at the back of his/her mind is a “Struggle Switch.” When it’s turned on, we’re going to struggle against any physical or emotional pain that comes our way; whatever discomfort we experience, we’ll see it as a problem and try hard to get rid of it or avoid it. 

I get in this loop all the time. I’ll get anxious about renovations, reach around and flip on that Struggle Switch and then, in addition to the anxiety, I add in guilt (I have no right to feel this way, so many people would love to be in this position) and fear (everything is bound to go wrong) and regret (why did we buy an older home that required structural upgrades). All these secondary emotions are unpleasant, unhelpful, and a drain on my energy and ability to function (read: call the contractor and actually work through the issues instead of just worrying about them).

If our “Struggle Switch” is OFF (I actually now close my eyes and imagine this being a tangible thing on the back of my head), whatever emotion shows up, no matter how unpleasant, we don’t struggle with it. Our anxiety levels are free to rise and fall as the situation dictates.

I don’t know if he’d promote wallowing – I have a feeling he’d use different terminology – but last week I spent an entire day wallowing. Everything felt off. I wanted to fight it and tried for a bit. I toggled that Struggle Switch all morning, telling myself to stop acting like a baby and get it together. Stop making such a big deal about little things, other people are going through much tougher circumstances.

But then:

  • I napped for an hour. The kids were home and I let them run all over the house with their friends, setting up a driveway candy stand (there was some Sharpie on the table and the floor when the dust settled and an umbrella got ripped, but these things happen).
  • I woke up and looked at the wall and wallowed some more. I didn’t want to read a book or take a shower or declutter a closet. So I didn’t.
  • Then I got up and washed my face and sent a flurry of work e-mails that had been on my radar for a month. I didn’t tell the kids I was awake and available (hence the Sharpie and umbrella incidents; oh and one child stole another child’s Mentos).
  • I made a simple supper and did a load of laundry.
  • I showered and blowdried my hair – something I’ve hardly done all summer (the blowdrying part, not the showering) – that gave me a boost the next morning.
  • My hubby and I watched Parks and Rec so I could engage the humour side of my brain.
  • I went to bed early.
  • I woke up and made a coffee, straightened my hair, put on makeup, and walked the kids to daycamp.

Maybe if I hadn’t wallowed – if I’d forced myself to put on a happy face and host a playdate or texted a friend or make a list of 30 things I was grateful for – I’d have come out on the other side on the same timeline. Perhaps. But I suspect it would have been very hard work. Likely I got to the same place in the same amount of time with a lot less collateral damage (there was no yelling, no emotional eating – typical coping mechanisms for me).

So, wallowing, acceptance, or whatever kids are calling it these days, may just be underrated?

I am going to struggle! I’m emotionally wired for anxiety and tension. I’m parenting and working in the midst of a global pandemic. Life happens – wrists break and cars need fixing and friends get sick and renovations stall and go over budget. But fighting it hasn’t worked too well for me in the past.

My finger knows how to flip on that Struggle Switch. I know I’ll do it over and over and over again in the future. But here’s to wallowing and accepting…and moving on.

Mood Reset: Why Sometimes I Just Need to Look at My Sleeping Kids

Like most young mothers, I’m exhausted by the end of the day. Between juggling work, home, and relationship responsibilities, by 5:00 pm I’m ready to clock out. In reality, things are just ramping up.

There are bookbags to be emptied, teeth to brush, food to cook (and serve…and clean up), bedtime stories to read, and always some variation on a last-minute scramble to prepare for the pending costume day (insert other activity/request) everyone forgot until 9 pm.

By the time the final homework sheet is completed, the last cup of water has been fetched, and the last bedtime story has been read, I feel like I’ve gone through the proverbial wringer (which reminds me, I almost certainly need to fit in one last load of laundry before my own bedtime).

While parenting is deeply rewarding, it is also more exhausting and all-consuming than I ever dreamed possible. There are times I feel like I’m raising strangers; kids who say and do things that defy logic or, more likely, my own ideals for behavioural choices. I’m raising kids who will take a shirt off the hook, look at it, decide it’s not quite right for the day and then put both shirt and hanger in the middle of their bedroom floor in a heap and move on to another selection in the closet. This process is repeated as often as necessary.

I love hacks and resets – small behaviours that improve my quality of life or help propel me in the direction I want to go. And one of my favourite antidotes to the rigors of parenting (and general wear and tear of life): watching my kids sleep.

Observing them in this state – silent, still, and hopelessly adorable – does produce a complicated wave of emotions and I run the familiar gauntlet every single night. My heart bursts with tenderness, an emotion I can’t always generate in the middle of the day when I’m staring at those discarded shirts on their bedroom floor. As I climb in next to them and kiss their cheeks, I take time to just be. I’m not parenting or correcting or comforting or serving in any way. They get a chance to replenish my emotional stores, and it takes nothing more than a sigh or a stretch or a nose twitch. I see the ridges on his face from blankie, source of comfort every night since birth; I lean in and smell her freshly washed hair.

But my heart also aches. I have a sense that every night they’re slipping just a bit further away from me. When they’re awake how often I’ve relished the thought – how soon until they’re out of diapers, how soon until they don’t need me to button their buttons, how soon until they’re out of a 5-point harness, how soon until they can cut their own food?

Then that time comes. There is no more diapering or buttoning or car seats or food cutting in my household.

Soon I’ll be asleep before they are. Their hurts will, undoubtedly, stretch beyond brown blankies’ magical restorative powers. We all know what happens in I’ll Love You Forever (or, if you don’t, get a copy: stat). It’s a cycle as natural and old as time itself, but taking the time to savour does help slow it.

Stop it? Impossible. But slow it, yes.

For now he clutches blankie, her skin is free from pimples. They sleep easy and long, in contorted conditions that would send me straight to a chiropractor. I won’t be able to savour these moments forever. Other moments – good ones – will come. But for now, in this season, these are some of the best moments. Like a daily sunset – poignant and beautiful and breathtaking and fleeting and unique; and worth chasing every chance I get.

So I take pictures and kiss cheeks and every day when I think “How much longer?” I can answer, for now, there are still many nights to go.