A California Christmas

We’ll be home for Christmas. But in a different way – we’re going to spend Christmas at our home in California instead of our home in Indiana.

So this year I really want to design a Christmas around that idea – we are home. Our Christmas plans will look different from year to year, but a lot of what I said last year about the holidays still rings true. Especially the part about trying to focus on experiences over things for Christmas.

So let’s take a peek at five of the big pieces of our holiday this year.

Christmas California

Home

I love Christmas lights, but for some reason I’m not crazy about other seasonal decorations. My husband loves it though, so I picked up a few different festive items and did what I could to make the apartment cheerful (and not overwhelming).

Alternative Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree

We even decorated the bunny cage with little ornaments and some garland. The most important decorations were actually candles, because we love the ambiance that the scent of winter pine brings to our space.

The best part? We can store these decorations in a space smaller than a shoe box.

Gifts

Again, we’re keeping it simple. For the nephews (six of them under the age of 12), we got walkie-talkies – a gift that is only fun if you’re spending time with others. I loved the idea of them running around the house, radioing to each other like secret agents.

[SPOILER ALERT] For the grownups, we did what we felt each family member would use or appreciate most. We gave practical things like gift cards, fun & useful coffee mugs and I even found some awesome glass straws for my smoothie-loving mother.

We also did something new this year for a few of our family members – we donated to charities in their honor. We picked a different charity for everyone we did this for, because we wanted it to be relevant and meaningful to each of them.

Family

We miss everyone terribly this season, but we’re so fortunate to have the communication we do with everyone. Calling, texting and skyping keep us all almost close enough to touch.

To reach out even a little further, we took Christmas photos of us and the bunnies and are sending out hand-written cards to let grandparents, friends and other family members know that we’re thinking about them.Christmas Cards

Even sitting down to write the cards has helped with those holiday blues I wrote about in my last post.

Charity

Since we don’t have a lot of holiday parties to go to this year, we’re going to spend a little bit of Christmas Eve volunteering and serving food for those in need.

We’ve both been feeling like it’s time to start sharing our time more with others who need it, so I think this is a start to something we can pick up in 2016!

I wanted to share this little tidbit since I think it might be a good option for people celebrating holidays far from home, and it might serve as a starting point for our future holidays in California.

Togetherness

This is the most important for us this year. Instead of gifts, we’re investing in strategic, sit-down-and-talk-to-me games.

King of Tokyo and Rivals for Catan are our most recent additions.

My husband has some holiday time off, so we’re going to spend our days exploring new places in LA, planning for 2016 and playing games to our hearts’ content.

Because being together is what it’s really about, right?

Happy Holidays!

 

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Holiday Blues

It’s that time of year: family visits, twinkling lights, coffee & cocoa, and all sorts of schedule disruptions.

I’ve been feeling a little scrooge-y this holiday season, as you may have guessed by my absence recently. Trying to wrap up (heh, Christmas pun) the year, figure out presents (since for the first time ever, we won’t be present) and keep a regular daily work schedule has worn me out.

Holiday BluesFor anyone else out there who’s trying to keep it simple and finding it difficult: I am too. Trying to fight the commercial holiday stress brings its own stresses.

So, today’s post is as much for me as it is for you.

Keeping the holidays merry and bright

These can be applied year-round, but are always my must-haves in times of stress. Here is what I’m going to be focusing on this next month, since I’ve overlooked these for the past few weeks.

Eliminate the nonessential

Are there things you think you need to do, but that you really don’t want to do? Consider each commitment carefully and respect your time enough to say no when you feel that’s the best option.

Going with the flow can turn into getting carried away in the current, and Christmas isn’t about trying to avoid rapids and sharp rocks. Keep the holidays on your terms.

Eat, drink and be healthy

Hangovers in college were terrible. Hangovers after college are the worst – every emotion comes flooding out and piles on top of an unproductive day. Add in the holidays and…well, it’s not pretty.

If this applies to you, find the least emotionally-wrecking booze for you and drink moderately. Me + wine = sadness, so I try to steer clear of it.

But this doesn’t just apply to alcohol – eat your veggies any chance you get. I toss back a veggie-heavy smoothie or two every day to make sure I get my greens.

Progress, not perfection

This is something I see shared around the fitness community, and I find it powerfully relevant in all aspects of life. Especially as this year comes to an end.

A dear friend of mine understands the workings of my mind, and advised me to take a moment and write down all the things I have accomplished or improved upon this year. If you try this too, be generous with yourself and note that any progress is positive.

This helps me put 2015 into perspective and encourages a positive attitude for the start of 2016.

And a note on perfection: don’t let the stress of creating a perfect holiday or finding the perfect gift ruin your time with family and friends.

Kindness is key

Being kind to others goes without saying, but especially remember to be kind to yourself.

Be patient with yourself when you stray from the path you wanted to follow. Be kind to yourself so you can flourish. Allow yourself a few moments of solitude, or extra minutes of sleeping in, or skip a chore and go for a walk instead.

Or, if you’re in an area that has Stumptown Coffee, grab a little Winter Cheer. You won’t regret it.

Holiday Blues Coffee

Winter Cheer cold brew from Stumptown is actually all I want for Christmas.

So take a moment to check in on yourself: how are you doing?

If you’re struggling, pay attention to where the balance has shifted. What can you do to restore your joy this holiday season?

Our DIY Christmas Candles

This year, as usual, I wanted to go the handmade route for Christmas. But there’s only so many crochet scarves you can give people (who, in fact, don’t end up wearing them). I also wanted to make sure that our Christmas gifts to our families were in alignment with our values of simplicity.

I already shared what we did for the younger members of our family, but what about for all of the grown-ups? We’ve been through a lot this year, and really want to make sure everyone knows we are appreciative of their help during wedding season without breaking the budget too terribly.

Don’t read below this line if you’re a family member

Or at least until Christmas. Actually, if you’re family and you’re reading this, thank you and please read on. It means a lot that you’re even visiting my blog.

We decided to go with candlemaking this year! We’ve never done it, but it sounded like so much fun and candles are so lovely to have on hand. Plus, they’re consumable. Check out the mess we made (it turns out we had way more wax than we needed, so we made every extra jar and cup we had into candles as well):

Candlemaking Mess

Overall, we made 18 candles for a little over $3 each (some are gigantic and will burn for hours and hours). Here’s what we used:

  • Soy wax from Amazon ($26)
  • Wicks from Amazon ($9)
  • Lemon sugar cookie melting wax from Joann Fabrics ($7)
  • 8-ounce jam jars from Target ($9)
  • An old pot from Goodwill ($4)

Since I’m not an expert, I won’t walk you through our process. It was pretty haphazard, and I did a lot of guessing on the temperatures since we don’t have a candy or meat thermometer. Here’s the video I watched to get an idea of what to do.

The whole package

We’re also going to include a bottle of wine as well for each member of our family. Since there’s no Trader Joe’s back home, we have the advantage of being “the cool relatives who buy wine from Trader Joe’s” (eh, it’s not that impressive now that I think about it).

For the one person who wouldn’t really care for a candle or wine, I’ll be making a custom embroidered baseball cap! We’re six days away from Christmas, so we’ll see if I can complete it before then.

But the candles turned out great! I’m so excited to share these with our family members, and any flaws will be extra special since they’re homemade.

Christmas candles

The final perk

Yes, there’s more. The unexpected bonus of this is having several extra candles for spontaneous gift exchanges and, let’s be honest, to take to California with us. They’re usually an expensive luxury, so it’ll be nice to have a few for ourselves!

Christmas candle

Christmas is drawing near. What is your gifting strategy this year?

The Aunt Trap (or, Christmas for Kids Who Aren’t Yours)

In the midst of all this packing, my husband and I have also been trying to figure out what to do for our families this Christmas – seeing as we’re trying to save money and get rid of more possessions than we’re comfortable with, it’s kind of nerve-wracking to go Christmas shopping.

However, here’s the situation (it’s most certainly not a problem, it’s actually quite a blessing): I inherited six small nephews when I married my husband. Like, small enough to not fully understand the impact of getting rid of all our “grown up” things and moving across the country. Small enough that we want to give them gifts that will awe them. All of them are under 11 years old, and precious as can be.

When my husband and I have kids, we’re definitely going to try and keep Christmas low-key and focus more on family time than on presents (this I say now, years away from having kids). But what do you do when you don’t want to force your lifestyle on half a dozen young children that aren’t yours?

I’ll admit, we caved. But it brought up some very interesting conversations.

What we did

Birthday Toy

Yep, that’s a Nerf gun for Zombies.

My husband’s godson just turned 4 this week, and we wanted to find something he’d be able to enjoy now. And we also wanted to start making more of an effort to recognize the nephews’ birthdays.

So, we spent an overwhelming amount of time at Target (which is anything more than 15 minutes for me these days), where I paced the aisles and wondered aloud, “how long will these toys even last? Junk! It’s all plastic junk! Why do we do this to ourselves?” I’m sure my husband was pleased with that…

After deciding on a Nerf gun for the little guy’s birthday, we decided on books for Christmas. I know books aren’t usually the “dream gift,” but they fit into our budget and I at least knew that they’d get something of value from it (let’s be honest: I enjoyed the heck out of my Captain Underpants book, and I still got a kick out of paging through the one we got for our nephew).

We’ve also been playing Where’s Waldo, another of the books we got for our younger nephew. Two “grown” people, loving the heck out of a book made for children. I love it.

What we’ll do next time

So next year, we’ve decided that we’re going to plan ahead. Books are still a viable option, especially if we’re still on a budget (and again, a moment of honesty: we’re going to be living in LA, so we’re most likely going to be watching our expenses). But hopefully, time and money restraints considered, we’ll be able to offer more “experience” gifts than material ones for Christmas.

I’d love to take the boys for a day of tobogganing and hot chocolate at a nearby state park. I’d love to get them games and learn with them. Maybe spend a day volunteering with them. Heck, I’d even take them to a movie. Something that gives us time with them, especially since they’re all starting to grow up so fast.

Plus, I want to be a cool aunt that’s present – get it? Present? – and memorable.

What we won’t do, though, is get super preachy about consumerism and waste and all that good stuff, because lifestyles should only be shared openly, not forced. Kind of like a vegetarian coming to Thanksgiving dinner and forcing everyone else to eat tofurky – don’t do it. It’s your choice, let them have theirs.

Holidays for minimalists

What the rest of our Christmas looks like

This year, we’re forgoing Christmas gifts for each other, with the intention that furnishing our new apartment will be our gift to each other! I’m getting overwhelmingly excited for our new adventure (which begins exactly one month from today).

For our parents and families, we’re making candles and getting wine. Who doesn’t love wine, and how fun/dangerous does first-time candlemaking sound?

When it comes to asking for gifts, we’re simply reminding everyone of our upcoming journey, and not requesting anything specific. Ultimately, we just want to go home and play games and spend quality time with everyone before we take off. And drink wine.

What does your Christmas look like? Do you have suggestions for us and our nephews for next year?