Oh Christmas Lights…

What is your favorite tradition of the holiday season?

As a family, my husband and I have worked to create new traditions with our family. Pacing ourselves based on our kids age and what we’ve thought they could handle. A visit to Santa when they were younger with mixed results — when they were very young they had no idea who he was and took pictures without issue, then they became scared of him (but not at the same age — there was a good three year period where one child was terrified of him and the other was completely okay with him), then finally they were okay with Santa, almost tolerant of him — they thought seeing Santa was an insurance policy — I need to visit with him just in case he’s real. As they grew, we added making gingerbread houses, advent calendars, and seeing some of the Christmas decorations around town. Our traditions now include some of the above, though there was no Santa visit this year (sigh…why do kids have to grow up so fast?), added in working a Christmas tree lot (a fundraiser for their school), and seeing the Pathway of Lights (house decorated with lights and the walking path adorned with candles around a local lake). We’ve attempted the Pathway of Lights in the past with mixed results — as babies in a stroller, non-stop crying forced us to abandon the walk early; as toddlers the cold or length of the walk wore them out–they clearly weren’t having fun; as 9 and 11 year olds, my husband and I thought this year they were ready for it.

We headed down to the lake with our plan — we’d walk around the lake for as long as we were all enjoying it (it’s about 3 miles around, and the weather this time of year can be a little dicey — cold, windy, sometimes rainy), and have dinner nearby with friends. We parked the car and headed toward the lake. It was a clear night (yes, I thought, we’re off to a good start). We walked a few blocks and my oldest proclaimed, “Mom, it’s freezing out here!” While bustling to get out of the house, I failed to realize he had grabbed his lightweight coat instead of his heavy one. We walked a few more blocks and my younger chimed in, “Mom, it’s windy out here!” I felt like I was an observation away from being the big bad wolf in the Three Little Pigs story…and then after a brief reprieve (there were a couple of oohs and ahs as we neared the lake and could see all the decorations and lights) it hit, my husband said, “Let’s walk the lake and then get dinner.” My husband knew our friends couldn’t meet us until later and didn’t want us to eat before they could even join us. My kids had other ideas. “Later? But I’m hungry now!,” one said. The other chimed in, “This is so stupid, I didn’t even want to do this.” I went into force-family-fun mode. “We don’t do many things as a family like this. We’re walking the lake and you’re going to enjoy it!” My kids stopped the outward complaining, but their non-verbal signals showed they didn’t plan to enjoy one minute of it. We walked for a few minutes. It was very windy and cold. Then we heard music. Oh, Christmas music, this will get everyone in the mood. Then I heard the lyrics. I can’t get no….no satisfaction. What? I thought, there is a Rolling Stones cover band playing at the lake? This makes no sense. Then my husband confirmed it wasn’t just me, “what in the world are they playing, and why is it so loud?” He was right, they were blasting the music across the lake. In years past I’ve heard carolers and musicians, never a cover band. It detracted from the festive mood. We started feeling like our grand plans of making this holiday tradition we would all look back on fondly were doomed. We proceeded to try to make it work anyways. We walked. The kids complained. It was crowded, there were people everywhere. My kids complaining got louder. I had had it. I stopped everyone, a laugh of defeat escaped from my body and I said in an all too loud voice, “this is no fun. This is something I look forward to every year and you’re making this so unenjoyable. Can’t we just enjoy this? It’s beautiful out here. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s windy. Yes, you might be hungry. Yes, there is music that is confusing playing. But we’re together and we don’t get to do these kinds of things very often. Can you please, please, please, try to enjoy this for a few minutes?” My kids were silent, my husband was silent and a few people around us were silent. After a few moments my youngest took my hand and said, “Mom, can you keep my hand warm?” I noticed he hadn’t brought his gloves after I had given them to him before he left the house. “Of course,” I said. “Mom, can you hold my hand too,” my other piped in. They were trying. I was grateful. Holding hands with each of my kids, we proceeded to finally walk. No more complaining (even though I knew they were cold and would rather be inside a warm restaurant), no more talking for a while. “Oh, look” I pointed to a group of kayakers who had decorated their boats with lights and were on the water. “That’s so cool!” We all agreed. We walked further. The kids started pointing out neat decorations on house, pets and people. Anytime one of us saw something that we liked we pointed it out. It started to become enjoyable.

The wind and cold forced us to turn around after about 30 minutes. While it would have been nice to be outside longer, it felt like we might be pushing our luck, and we’d gotten to see many of the beautiful decorations around. When we got to the restaurant, we were grateful to sit, rest and warm up. Food did us all good and our friends joining us made for an even more special evening.

The tradition isn’t as I envisioned, but it was a special night, and my hope is that as my children age, this will become a more meaningful tradition (and we’ll laugh at times like this — I still think about the Rolling Stones cover band…really? The Rolling Stones?).

Have you ever had a tradition you were hoping your child would take to and didn’t? What new traditions are you and your child experiencing?

I will be off for the next few weeks enjoying time with friends and family, and will be back in January.

Happy Holidays!

Grab a Blanket and Snuggle Up — its Time for Favorite Fall Traditions

What part of Fall do you love the most?

There is a reason so many of us love this time of year. There is a nostalgia for me around Fall’s of old and the warmth and comfort that goes along with the season. I hope my kids are developing similar memories.

One of our favorite traditions is going to the pumpkin patch. We go each year with family and enjoy all the pumpkin patch has to offer: hot cider, Halloween decorations, pumpkins (of course) and fields upon fields of farmland to explore. Our boys love running through the fields with us or their cousins to find the perfect pumpkin or explore the corn maze.

Another is watching the leaves change color. From green to a bright yellow, fire orange or deep red–the leaves changing invokes such an appreciation inside for the beauty around me–even when it is getting colder and a little drearier outside. I point the change in color to my boys each morning when we are outside. I hope they are appreciating this magical change as much as I am.

Hot apple cider or hot chocolate. A cup of one provides a warmth beyond what the beverage is providing. When I take a sip I experience a memory of being loved and safe. Those of pretty powerful things to feel from such a simple drink. My boys love the drinks, but prefer their drinks not-so-hot. With these drinks being much easier to get year round than when I was growing up, I wonder if they will enjoy them as much as I do, or if they will ever have the same effect.

Decorations. Each year our kids eagerly await getting the decorations out. We don’t have many, but that ones we do have we all treasure. Haunted Houses that light up. An animatronic haunted tree that sings a spooky song, and a lamp that casts jack-o-lantern faces on the wall. The kids love them all, and so do my husband and I.

Pumpkin Carving. This is a tradition my sister started. Instead of carving our pumpkins at home, she gathers friends and family together to carve our pumpkins together. There is a house full of people, with plenty of food and good conversation to go around. It’s fun to be creative and inspire each other in what we carve and watch our kids go from observers to expert carvers over the years.

The Fall hold so many wonderful memories for me–its like wrapping yourself in a warm, soft blanket–comforting and joyous.

What are you and your family’s favorite Fall traditions? What do you love the most about the season?

The Magic of Santa

Do you remember when you learned Santa wasn’t real? How did you take the news?

Our oldest learned last year that Santa wasn’t real from his classmates. We knew he would find out sooner or later, but realizing that he understood this news was hard to take–for him and us.

He was not happy when he learned the news. He was clearly disappointed that Santa wasn’t real, and he was ticked that we had let him believe he was. After calming down, he and I talked. I needed him to understand why we let him believe in Santa. I told him, “When you are young, there is an opportunity for you to experience something magical–that someone knows and cares about you so much that they go to great lengths to get to your house to bring you something they think you’ll like. Experiencing that magic and understanding what it feels like is important. It’s one of the few times you get to feel that outside of your mom and dad, or your family, that someone really cares about you and wants you to be happy, without wanting anything in return. You don’t get to experience this often in life, and we felt you would miss out on something really special if we didn’t let you believe.”

I’m not sure our son really understood what I was saying, but our hope is that he will as he grows older.

Believing in Santa is magical. And oh, how I wish he were real. I’ve experienced Santa as I’ve grown in glimpses–through a thoughtful friend who called or brought flowers or soup unexpectedly in hopes it would lift my spirit, or an foot or shoulder rub from my husband after noticing I looked tired from my day. My kids making me a picture because they thought it would make me smile. Small moments, that’s don’t have the build-up of Santa arriving, more like an expected arrival that I’m grateful for.

What magic has Santa brought to you and your family?

Happy Holidays! I will be taking this much needed time off and will be back in January.

A Change in the Weather

What is your favorite time of year, and what makes it so?

In our house, Fall is right up there.  We made a list of our favorite things (kinda of like Oprah’s Favorite Things list, but made up of things you just can’t buy). 🙂

There are the normal things we look forward to every year:

  • Apple cider
  • The return of college football and going to Red Mill (Red Mill is a burger place that is open all year round. For whatever reason the return of college football reminds us it’s time to go back to Red Mill)
  • The leaves changing color, and
  • Going to the pumpkin patch (we’ll do that here in a few weeks)

And there are those things that are temporary, having to do more with my children’s ages and interests than anything else:

  • Watching my oldest son practicing soccer past sunset with his team
  • Spending more time with other moms during practice — we’ve found the kids don’t seem to miss us if we slip away for a hot beverage or quick meal and get back by the time it’s over
  • Watching and cheering my son and his teammates on at the game (it’s nerve racking for me)
  • Spending time on the playground with my younger son while older brother plays in a game (I’m much calmer here)
  • Decorating a gingerbread Haunted House (again, we’ll do that here in a few weeks…and as much as I’d like to think this will be a long-term tradition, I fear it will only last as long as the boys are interested in doing it).

Time continues to pass. The boys are getting older. We reached a new milestone this season. Our membership expired at the zoo. We’ve had a membership there since the kids were babies. They no longer seem interested in seeing the animals. Other parents warned us this was coming, but it feels a little like a change in the weather…nothing ever really stays the same, and that’s okay. The constant traditions of Fall I look forward to, they will always be there. The ones that are yet-to-be excite me. What activities or temporary traditions will the new seasons bring for my family? We’ll just have to wait and see.

What are your favorite Fall traditions?

Holiday Traditions

What holiday traditions do you have in your family?

I was asked this question recently, and my initial reaction was “we don’t have many traditions,” followed by the thought I’ve got to work on that.

As I reflected on this question and started to name traditions we had, I realized that we actually had many, they just differed from the traditions of my childhood. They were newer, not as well entrenched as the old, but are quickly becoming so.

I hadn’t put too much thought into how traditions might change having my own kids, or nieces and nephews, but I’m certainly enjoying figuring it out. Experiencing the joy of the season with kids, particularly those that still believe in the magic of it, is a delight. I can see my younger self in their hopes, desires and eagerness. I can feel their enthusiasm when they are reminded that Christmas is only a few weeks away. Its contagious, it brings the little kid in me back to life (kind of like Frosty, right?).

What new traditions are you creating (or have created) with your family and loved ones?

 

What a Turkey

Thanksgiving reminds me of holidays past. Memories come flooding back: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade airing on TV, the smell of turkey and Thanksgiving goodies coming from the kitchen and the warmth of being surrounded by friends and family. These memories give me comfort and great joy remembering each day.

When I was on my own for the first time as an adult I wondered how I would handle Thanksgiving. I’d never cooked a turkey all by myself and stressed about the idea of doing one. I couldn’t recall ever hearing anyone share how they’d aced the turkey the first time they done it. I did my research: how big a turkey to get and how to best prepare it and then I made a decision…I’d get one precooked. Yes, I admit it. Precooked. Now, you may be thinking where’s the fun in that? But I was not looking to have fun, I wanted a turkey I wouldn’t have to stress out about. The precooked turkey delivered.

On that first Thanksgiving I got rave reviews. “Your turkey is so moist, how did you make it?” and “Wow, this is delicious” were comments I didn’t see coming, but happily received though with a tinge of guilt. I felt though I had given them a delicious bird I had somehow cheated my guests out of a “honest-to-goodness start-to-finish cooked” turkey (the kind where you wake up at 4 a.m. to get the bird going in the oven after you’ve thawed it for 48 hours. The kind where you pull out the innards and stuff it with dressing. The kind that you stress out about and spend all day trying to get right for the meal), and I felt I had to confess. “I’m glad you like the turkey, but I have to admit, there was really nothing to it. I got it precooked from the store. I just had to heat it up in the oven for two hours.” The truth was out and boy, did I feel better. The funny thing is sharing this information seemed to make my guests love the turkey even more, “What a great idea!” one guest shared. “I didn’t even think about stores offering precooked turkey, I’ll have to try that next year. This is really good,” said another.

As I reflected on that first Thanksgiving, I realized while I hoped to avoid the stress of cooking a turkey, I’d still stressed about not cooking the turkey all-by-myself. It was silly really. I’ve never really thought twice about how any other Thanksgiving was impacted by the taste of the turkey. It was usually a non-event, and I made the commitment after coming to this realization that I wouldn’t waste my time stressing over a Thanksgiving turkey again.

As we sit at the table this year, I look forward to delicious food, the smells, the parade, making memories with my kids and having great conversations with friends and family. I couldn’t be more thankful for having this kind of Thanksgiving, precooked turkey and all.

How are you preparing for Thanksgiving? How do you avoid the stress of the holidays?

Happy Thanksgiving.

Fall into Comfort

Fall is one of my favorite times of year. The change in the weather. The change in the color of leafs. The familiar smells that I’ve missed since last year. There is a familiarity to it. It feels like an old friend returning. It’s a warm, comforting feeling. Almost like someone is taking care of you, and wants you to take in all the beauty of the season. It’s also a reminder that this comforting lull will eventually get replaced with the holiday madness that ensues following Halloween.

I’m reminded that I need to take a moment and allow myself the chance to soak it all in, and let the blanket of Fall wrap around me. I need to allow myself time to relax, sit back and enjoy the change that is going on. I need to be present with my children and enjoy this very special time of year. One that isn’t packed with to-dos or driven by presents and wants.

I need to rest and prepare for the busy season that is ahead.

I passed a store selling shepherd’s pie recently and the smell drew me in. It was comfort food. Just what I wanted and needed. I look forward to enjoying these coming weeks and the Fall treasures I will experience: pumpkin patches, leafs changing color, and smells of apple cider and pumpkin. It’s a comfort I only seem to notice and embrace easily during this time of year. I’m grateful for it, look forward to it and need it. I know I’ll miss it when it’s gone, but take reassurance in knowing Fall will return like the faithful friend that it is next year.

With the stress and anxiety with have in our busy lives where do you find comfort? What are your favorite things about Fall?

Let’s Have an Adventure

What family vacations come to mind from your childhood?  Road trips? Camping? Visiting friends or family?

As a child, my family was a ‘road trip’ kind of family. We drove everywhere, regardless of the distance. Our trips were educational. We saw a lot, learned a lot, and after a while, got on each other’s nerves a lot. But we enjoyed the experience together and have many great memories as a result. As a young adult, I often felt like many of our family vacations were FFF – Forced Family Fun, but in reality, they were an adventure.

An adventure is defined as an exciting or remarkable experience. I can remember getting ready for our trips, packing our suitcases, and thinking about the games we’d play in the car. It was exciting, we were going to see and do something new. Even if we were going to see our relatives or go to a new place, our road trips were never quite the same.

This summer, we have planned many adventures for our family. There will be camping, long drives, and lots of time together. My husband and I can’t wait. The kids seem excited too. I wonder if they’ll think back and have fond memories of our time together, or if they’ll think of these trips as Forced Family Fun.

We are building memories, and I’m treasuring each one. To see my sons faces once we get to our destination, to see them enjoying finding bugs in the outdoors, roasting marshmallows over the campfire, watching waterfalls in awe, or seeing their joy as they jump into a pool, I’m not sure being a parent gets much better than these moments.

What adventures do you have planned for this year?

Easter Egg Hunt

My kids have really been looking forward to Easter. While I’d love to say its for the religious significance, its really all about the candy for them. They are looking forward to finding their baskets in the morning and doing an Easter Egg hunt later in the day. Easter to them is a day of seeking and finding big and little treasures.

I’m reminded of an Easter when I was a young child. We were in Florida visiting family and there was an Easter Egg hunt out in a large field. We were told there was one giant egg hidden. We figured this giant egg must be made of chocolate and not a hard boiled one, and all of the kids wanted to find it! I was armed with my Easter basket and ready to go. The countdown began–fivefour-three-two-one—GO! I raced alongside my cousins, sisters and friends across the field.

I found lots of eggs, but few ended up in my basket. My problem while I was great at visually finding them, I wasn’t very fast at picking them up, and the eggs kept getting scooped out from underneath me . I think one of my sisters may have just followed me around to get her bounty! I was good at seeking. She was good at securing! I was very frustrated.

I honestly can’t recall if I got any of those decorated hardboiled eggs. I was so disappointed and thought my empty Easter basket was a reflection on what a poor treasure hunter I was. Easter was supposed to be fun, an easy way to get candy, an easy day to feel good about plants blooming, the weather warming and life being good. But I didn’t feel good.  Embarrassed by my results I sulked over to where some of my older cousins were watching us. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. It wasn’t joy in my failure. It wasn’t a smirk or look of shared disappointment. It was empathy. They were looking at me when one said, “Tricia, you’re getting warmer.” I thought getting warmer? what are they talking about? After a few seconds, I understood. They were talking about the Giant Egg!  I walked a few steps forward. “You’re getting warmer,” they said again. I moved forward again, “colder,” I readjusted and went to the right, “warmer,” one more step, “hot!” I lifted a palmetto branch and lo and behold there was the giant egg!  Success, joy and overall happiness came pouring back in.

My cousins never let on that they helped me find the giant egg. Most people at the hunt hadn’t seen what happened. I was asked afterwards, “how did you know it was there?” and “what made you think to look under that palmetto bush, there are so many of them out here?” I just smiled and looked over, ever so subtly at my older cousins. They had my back. They felt for me and wanted me to have success. They encouraged me. But maybe what was most significant about their act was that they loved me. It was a simple gesture, but very powerful. I felt like the richest person there.

What treasures are you seeking this Easter? What treasures are you hoping your children will find?

Gingerbread Dream House

Every year I am amazed at the creativity and great lengths people go to for the holidays. Homes and yards I didn’t pay much mind to before, are now filled with lights and decorations and have my full attention. I love how it brings the streets to life giving off that warm feeling you normally only experience inside someone’s home.

While we decorate our home for the holidays, we don’t hold a candle to some of our neighbors (note: we truly appreciate our neighbors decorations, it gives us a great reason to look out our front windows).  Since meeting my husband the art of making, or more accurately decorating, gingerbread houses has become a tradition for our family.  This was a tradition in his family and we incorporated it into ours.

Decorating a gingerbread house is all about how you envision it in its final state. It’s about making (baking), constructing and adding the final touches. It’s about sugar, lots of sugar; colors, the more the better; and details, a great house has a lot of fine detail like a cat in the window or a wreath on the door.

It’s fun to work on a gingerbread house. There is no judgment or expected perfection. It’s about trial and error, being together as a family and building something together.

I’ve thought about what a real dream home might look like for my family in the future. And while I may fantasize about increased square footage, and the number of bedrooms or baths it may have, I’m reminded I need look no further than my family’s gingerbread house, it’s more like our home than I realized. Each year it never changes in size but does in appearance, and most importantly it always brings us together as a family.  I think it’s the perfect dream house.

What holiday traditions do you have that brings your family together?