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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A Simple Wedding Anniversary

It’s been a whole year since my husband and I said “I do” in Indiana! Who could have known we’d be celebrating from our new home in LA?

Wedding photoSo, with a year under our belts, we thought long and hard about how to celebrate our first anniversary. Do we buy gifts? Go out to a fancy dinner? Go on a weekend getaway?

I looked into it, and it turns out that there’s actually a “traditional” gift type for this first year. The theme is paper, so websites recommend things like love letters (which is awesome) and gift certificates (which are less meaningful in comparison).

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that there is some sweet sentiment behind the traditional gifts and ideas for a first year anniversary. But we’re not that traditional.

I ruled out gifts early on because I wanted this to be a team effort – if we were going to spend money, I’d rather do it together.

We ruled out dinner, too, since it was Mother’s Day and because we can make an equally nice dinner at home.

So should we go away for the weekend? With the rabbits still getting to know each other, we didn’t want someone else to have to watch them. They’ve been fighting a bit, which makes them difficult to keep an eye on. So no getaway!

What did we do instead?

A getting-stuff-done staycation

Okay, so that sounds like an odd way to spend a first anniversary, but we had a blast. We finally made the IKEA run we’d been planning for weeks and got the apartment in tip-top shape. We drank good beer, took walks, watched Netflix and played games to top it all off.

Oh and also I got to meet someone I’ve been dying to meet since high school. Josh Groban was doing an album signing a mile away from where I live:

Meeting Josh Goban

I can’t smile any bigger than this, folks. I met Josh Groban!

 

Thoughts on anniversary gifts

Anyways. We considered our weekend of drinks, Josh Groban, and IKEA our gift to ourselves. When it comes down to it, an anniversary is more about the “us” than the “you” and me.”

Anniversaries are not birthdays or Christmas, so why should they be like those more traditional gift-giving holidays? I sure don’t want Victor to give me a list of things he wants for “his” anniversary. I want to plan it all out together.

The Minimalists have a couple of great posts on the idea of gift-giving that I think are especially relevant for days like anniversaries. Moving forward, they’ll be good bases for handling those traditional gifting holidays too.

I wanted this year to set a precedent for anniversaries to come. If we do get gifts, I see them being things we will use and enjoy together, like a pair of bikes or camping gear.

I’ve asked my husband to consider this type of anniversary moving forward – one where we spend tons of time together and make joint decisions about what, if at all, we should gift ourselves. The single most important thing is that we get to be together.

How has simplifying changed the way you look at anniversaries or other gift-giving days?

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?