Minimalist Christmas

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Doesn’t that sound depressing? A minimalist Christmas.  I picture a Christmas tree under which there are no presents, a house sparsely decorated and no joy.

But minimalism is not about getting rid of things for the sake of getting rid of things.  It’s about getting rid of the extra, the not really valuable, to make space and time for what is.

A minimalist Christmas will look different for different people.  For one family it might mean minimizing decorations, keeping only those they truly love (creating space).  For another family it might mean paring down the invitations they accept to parties (creating time).  For another it might mean a complete re-prioritization of the season – this might take the form of a bigger tree and more intentional traditions (creating value).  Of course it could be a combination of all these things.

For us, minimizing Christmas does not mean getting rid of things.  Besides the broken ornaments and a few items that have no value for us, we are not getting rid of much this season.  In fact, we bought some decorations.

Neither is over-commitment a problem for us during the holiday season.  We are working on establishing valuable traditions for our family, which sometimes means putting items onto our calendar.

But what about presents?! Of course this will be different for each family, as well.  Some families give no presents (which really does sound depressing).  Some probably keep it to one gift each or three each or something along those lines.

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Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

We decide on an amount of money to spend on each child instead of a number of gifts.  It is not a huge amount, but it allows us to get each of our children several nice gifts that (hopefully) they will truly value.

So there will be presents under our tree.  We do have some decorations.  But my greatest hope for us this season is moments of real, deep joy…especially that miraculous kind found in a drafty, dirty stable a really long time ago.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

Advent/Christmas Plans in A Nutshell

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Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

This holiday season has snuck up on me. Last year I was on top of it all, which had everything to do with the fact that I was due to have a baby on December 23. As it turned out, I had exactly enough time to be completely ready. Right after we put the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve and were ready to “settle down for a long winter’s nap,” my water broke. So it was not much of a winter’s nap, but the next day we got the greatest Christmas present ever.

Though tomorrow is the first day of December, I have not started ANY shopping.  I have, however, given a little thought as to what I’d like the next few weeks to hold.

But before I get to our actual plans, I need to explain our current approach to the Advent/Christmas season:

For a few years we tried to observe only Advent until it was actually Christmas, and then celebrate Christmas for all 12 days. It really didn’t work for us. It felt like we never celebrated because Christmas day would finally arrive, fly by, and then everyone and everything would move on (except our parish – it stays decorated and we sing Christmas carols).  Then it felt like our attempt to observe the “12 Days” was really just us pretending that Christmas was not over.

So we are trying to find a way to truly celebrate Christmas while also observing Advent.

We do Christmas-y things during Advent like listen to Christmas music, get a Christmas tree and watch Christmas movies.

But we also listen to the readings in Mass each week and think about how we are waiting. With the whole church we celebrate that He came as a baby and we wait for him to come as King.

With all that being said, here’s what we plan to do this Advent/Christmas season:

This Weekend

Get a Christmas tree! We’ve always gotten a real tree, but last year we actually cut the tree down ourselves. We plan to do this again, and the kids are looking forward to the whole experience (wagon ride, picking our tree, cutting it down, watching the trees get bailed and then seeing it loaded on our car). Then, of course, we will decorate it.

Throughout December

We plan to light this countdown candle and open a window of this advent calendar each night at dinner. I’m opting for one candle this year instead of the traditional five (purple, pink and white) that are lit each Sunday in Advent. Our table is really small.

December 6

Celebrate St. Nicholas Day with a surprise new book for each of our kids and brownies. We’ll try to talk about the real St. Nicholas, too, and watch The Polar Express.

December 8

Celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception by going to Mass in the evening and probably have dessert afterwards.

In the 2nd or 3rd week of December

Bake and decorate (gluten free) cut-out cookies. I was excited to find this mix from King Arthur Flour, as we’ve had great success with their gluten free mixes.

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Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

In the week leading up to Christmas Day

Build a gingerbread house! We did this last year and it was really fun, especially since we used a boxed kit and did not have to make the gingerbread first. The kids had a great time putting the candy decorations all over the house.

Go see Santa Claus at the mall. It still surprises me that our kids are into Santa and that we encourage it! We try to avoid outright lies on the subject, but so far it’s been fun and sweet. Last year was the first time any of our kids met Santa, and our mall Santa just happened to be a GREAT one. Before I knew it we were putting milk and cookies out for him – and an apple for the reindeer – on Christmas Eve (I ate the cookies and drank the milk before my water broke).

Take a drive to see Christmas lights. It’s amazing how much work some people do to make their houses look beautiful (or at least Christmas-y) at this time of year, so we drive around to enjoy it.

December 24

Go to the Christmas Eve vigil Mass. We would love to go to the midnight Mass at our parish, but it would be so hard for the kids. And then the next day would be so hard for us. Hopefully when they are older we can do that again.

So those are our plans in a nutshell. What do you do to observe Advent and Christmas?

Elephant & Piggie Save the Day (1st grade homeschool update)

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In this post I shared my plans for our 1st Grade homeschool year. Once we started there was some tweaking I had to do, so I’m here to report. Now we’ve found our groove and things are going well.

Reading:

I quickly realized that the Sing, Spell, Read & Write book we had was moving too slowly for Caleb. For a short time I switched back to Catholic Heritage Curricula’s Little Stories for Little Folks (which we used quite a bit last year).

Then one day when it was time for reading and I got out the next story, Caleb broke down in tears. He had taken one look at the first page full of words and was overwhelmed. I insisted he read the page because I knew he was up to the task, but after that experience I reevaluated. I don’t want him to dread reading. I want him to love it.

During a providential internet search for funny beginning readers I happened upon the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems. I was able to get lots of them at our local library, so for at least a couple of months we’ve been working our way through each one.

These books are great! There are only a few words per page (but usually around 60 pages per book), and lots of repetition. They use plenty of diphthongs, consonant blends and digraphs. But best of all they are FUNNY. Caleb does not even realize how hard he’s working to read each page because the story is so funny and engrossing!

Recently I discovered that Mo Willems has a series of Pigeon books, so when we’ve exhausted Elephant & Piggie we will move on to those.

Handwriting:

We went back to our Catholic Heritage Curricula handwriting book from last year. It is spiral-bound at the top, which makes hand/arm positioning very easy, and I feel like the size of the letters is good for beginning writers. We are almost done with Level K and Level 1 is ready and waiting. These books are more expensive than I’d like to spend on handwriting, but the format and content has worked so well that I’m willing to pay the higher price. Caleb spends only 5-10 minutes each school day on handwriting, but improvement in his confidence, speed and accuracy has been steady.

Other subjects:

In all other subjects we have stuck to the plan. Sonlight for history and literature has been really good so far. MCP Math and our Evan-Moor Beginning Geography book have both worked well. We have not tried Artventure yet.

So far that’s all there is to report. I’m sure there will be more tweaking before this school year ends, so I’ll give a final update in the spring or summer.

Towards Eating Real Food & Healing Leaky Gut

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Today I drove a long way out of my way to buy three half gallons of raw milk. I see it as my first step on a long path toward eating real food and healing our guts.

The last three months have been a whirlwind of investigation, trial and some frustration as I seek to discover what exactly are Anna’s nutritional needs and how what she eats is connected to how she behaves.

After many late nights online, hours and hours spent researching different food intolerances (Dairy? Corn? Everything?), removing dairy for a while, deciding we need to give up ALL grains (and then not knowing what we’d eat), wondering if the problem is actually the wheat or the glyphosate sprayed on the wheat (or both?), I finally have something of a plan, and I feel peaceful about it.

My plan is very simple and so is the reason behind it.

First the reason: I think Anna has leaky gut syndrome. I don’t know for sure. I can’t prove it. But that’s what I think it is. So helping her does not mean pinpointing one precise food or food group to eliminate from her diet. Helping her means healing her leaky gut.

Now the plan: Eat real food: raw milk, fruits, vegetables, meat/fish/poultry, beans, rice, nuts, etc. Eat foods that encourage gut healing: bone broth, fermented foods (I haven’t gotten my feet wet on this one yet, but plan to), and whatever else Dr. Josh Axe tells me to fix in his book Eat Dirt. I also plan to use essential oils, probiotics and enzymes to encourage Anna’s healing.

There is no doubt that eliminating gluten from her diet three months ago was beneficial for her. We will be largely gluten free, but any breads, biscuits, pancakes, etc. we eat I will make with einkorn flour. I discovered this gem a couple of months ago. It’s an ancient wheat that has never been tampered with and has far less gluten than our wheat today. The brand I buy is Jovial.

Now this is not to say that we will never eat processed foods again. We definitely will. We are NOT swearing off pizza, potato chips or even fast food forever. When we’re in social situations, we will be social and eat the food given to us as much as possible.

The goal is not perfection in sticking to a particular diet. The goal is health and healing by eating real food most of the time. The other goal is pleasure: getting to eat and enjoy good food together with an awareness that what we eat affects how we feel, think and behave.

So cheers, and bon appétit!

Now I’m off to the grocery store…

Make Today Better

My mothering lows are far lower than I ever imagined they would be. Mothering is also far more difficult than I ever expected. At the end of a particularly frustrating, irritating day it seems like all my efforts have been for nought. Despite my good intentions and hard work, my children are selfish, whiny small people who I often do not want to be around.

The next morning three simple words cross my mind: MAKE TODAY BETTER.

I already know that my children are not quite as bad as I felt the night before – they have weak areas in their character, to be sure, but also I have failed to institute and enforce necessary family systems that would help us all live together better. I have been inconsistent in my approach to discipline.

Overall they are warm, loving kids who like to have fun.

So MAKE TODAY BETTER.

I can institute the system that our family needs and begin to enforce it.

I can reevaluate my discipline strategy to target what are the real issues and leave the rest alone.

I can make time to really see each child, even for a few minutes, and let them know my interest in them personally by listening to them or playing with them or reading a book to them.

If God will give me the love and grace that I otherwise do not have, today can be much better than yesterday.

Toys We Keep

 

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Among people who call themselves minimalists there is a broad spectrum of how much stuff people keep. Some minimalist parents keep only a few toys for their kids and it works out well.

While we did get rid of a lot of toys and will continue to purge as needed, there are a fair amount of toys that we kept. Children like toys. I liked toys when I was young. We have long winters where we live, and going outside can be impossible for long stretches of time. Toys are a good thing for us – especially those toys that encourage creativity.

Here are some of the toys that we keep:

  • Legos & Duplos
  • K’Nex
  • Hotwheels cars & tracks
  • Wooden & foam blocks
  • Trains & tracks (we have Thomas Take ‘n Play & wooden sets from Ikea)
  • Mega Bloks
  • Games & puzzles (that have their pieces)
  • Balls
  • Nerf guns
  • Trio blocks
  • Play kitchen set
  • Transformers
  • Stuffed animals (only the well-loved ones)
  • Toy musical instruments (like these)

Some people would probably disqualify us from the minimalism category after looking at this list, but in reality it is a good amount for us. We live in a very small space, but unless multiple items are out at once, this amount is easily manageable. These are the toys that get played with over and over.

How We Celebrated 2 Baptism Anniversaries!

We did it! We finally commemorated baptism anniversaries with more than a passing nod. To see my plan for actually living out the liturgical year, go here.

August 31 is a very special day for our family because it is the day on which we came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, two of us were baptized (husband Caleb and Anna). We’ve given this anniversary brief notice over the last three years, but this year was different.

We kept it SIMPLE. I did not have to make or buy anything special for this commemoration, and it took only minutes.

First, I planned a meal that Caleb and Anna would like, since it was their baptism anniversary…spaghetti and homemade meatballs.

Second, after we ate I got out the candles used in the rite of baptism and we had a mini service which I found on Loyola Press’s website. We omitted the Scripture reading this time because one of our children was antsy and one was a tired 8 month-old who had to be placed in a pack ‘n play for the duration.

To start I read this (from the website):

Today is the day that you, [name], were baptized. On this day you were welcomed as a Christian by your family, and by the Church. Today we will again sign you with the cross, to remember that you were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…

Then I lit the candles. Husband Caleb held one and little Caleb held the other (since Anna is 3 and not yet a good candidate for candle-holding). I continued:

In Baptism we have been filled with the light of Christ. May we walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts. May we live each day knowing our true identity as beloved children of God. And when the Lord comes, may we go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom to live with him forever and ever.

After that little Caleb and I each made the sign of the cross on Caleb and Anna with the holy water from their baptisms.

Very meaningful. Very special. Emotions welled up in me as I read.

Then I proceeded to spill half the bottle of (very special) holy water on the carpet as I tried to balance hot-wax candles, my Bible, my phone (since I was reading from the internet), and the bottle of holy water. Keepin’ it real.

Oh, and little Caleb had to make the sign of the cross on Anna’s foot, since she was averse to the forehead-touching thing (Ash Wednesday really did her in this year).

The last thing we did was look at pictures from that day three years ago. Caleb’s baptism, Anna’s baptism, being received into the Church, Caleb and my confirmation and first communion and our marriage being blessed. What a good day that was.

The next special days for our family are coming up on September 30 (the feast of St. Jerome, whose name Caleb took at confirmation) and then the very next day, October 1, which is the feast of St. Thérèse (Anna’s saint). I haven’t figured out how to commemorate our saints’ days yet, so we’ll see what happens!