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?

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…

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.

Parenting Breakthrough: Not Discipline, but Gluten?

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I never thought I’d be writing this post!

I used to say things like, “People have been eating bread for millenia. How can it be suddenly bad for us?”

But last night I gathered together all the remaining gluten-containing food items in my kitchen and will give them away today.

My family and my kitchen will be gluten-free now for one simple reason: Anna is happy.

After two solid years of reading parenting books and wracking my brain to find a way to parent our strong-willed, spirited daughter, we finally have had a breakthrough.

On August 1, in desperation, I began a novena to St. Thérèse (of Lisieux), Anna’s saint, asking for her intercession for our precious and very difficult daughter who seemed so unhappy so much of the time.

On August 8 I consulted with a naturopathic doctor regarding Anna. She told me to make Anna’s diet gluten-free because of suspected internal inflammation, probably in her small intestine. We started that night.

It was not until six days later that I noticed a difference. At first I thought she was responding to the stricter discipline I had been using. Then I realized that her whole demeanor, especially noticeable in social situations, had changed. As the days went on, it became increasingly obvious that something BIG had happened.

Anna was happier: warmer, open to other (even new) people, more interested in playing with her older brother, more cooperative in transitions or when she needed to change behavior that was affecting another person, and simply more engaged in life instead of fighting against it.

I do not know if I would have believed a story like this if I had not seen it happen before my eyes.

But it’s true! My parents, who babysit our children often, have confirmed the unmistakable change.

Caleb (husband) went gluten-free the same night as Anna, and he has noticed a big difference himself. He says that his head is clearer, he feels better internally, and it’s as if he always had a slight fever before (without realizing it) that now is gone.

So we embark on our gluten-free journey. It has been easier than I would have thought so far. I have a lot of learning and experimenting to do, and more questions.

But mostly I am thankful and happy. Thankful to God for providing this breakthrough. Thankful to St. Thérèse for her prayers on Anna’s behalf. And so SO happy to see our beautiful daughter embrace life with joy.

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Update 12/1/17

There have been a lot of ups and downs since I wrote this in August.  I’ve learned a lot and I think we’re on a good road, but I don’t have everything figured out.  Go here to see a more recent post about how I suspect leaky gut syndrome is the root problem and the ways I hope to help heal it.

Becoming Minimalist

Space. Peace. Breath. Order. Calm.  This is what minimalism has brought to our house.  But it took us an awfully long time to figure it out.   

I’ve thought for years that if I became more organized and worked out a good schedule, I would be able to run our lives smoothly.  The house would be tidy and clean, the laundry would get done (even put away!), dinner would happen every day, and I would have time to be with my children and husband.  

I read books about achieving that dream.  I knew that some women reach that goal, so I assumed I could, too, with enough discipline.  

But I never did.  

Nearly nine years into marriage and six years into motherhood proved to me that this “running a household” thing was an untamable dragon, at least for me.

I was drowning in stuff.  

There were toys…everywhere.  On a good night the toys would be corralled into their homes, their “organized” places, and things would feel better.  And then the first 30 minutes of morning with children would happen and the better feeling would be gone.  

There were so many clothes in a constant cycle of washing and drying and sitting in laundry baskets and (eventually) being folded, maybe put away and worn again.  

There was clutter: the evident clutter on shelves and counters and the hidden clutter behind cupboard doors and in closets…whispering to us that all was not right with the world.  Of course there were also the low moans of the “deeper cleaning” jobs that never happened.  Scrub the kitchen floor?  When, exactly?

The discouraging cycle continued day after day.  I was barely keeping my head above water, doing what was absolutely necessary for a very low standard of cleanliness and health.  I knew I needed to be better at this housekeeping thing, but it felt impossible.

And then we discovered minimalism.

The catalyst was a documentary by The Minimalists on Netflix that we saw in Januay of this year.  Around the same time I saw a video on YouTube called The Ten-Item Wardrobe.  These people were serious about getting rid of stuff and living a better life with less.

I was ready.

Clothing was the first category I tackled.  I discovered that I had been keeping clothing items for all of us that I didn’t need and didn’t like.  I had also kept lots of little boy’s old baby clothes for baby, and many of the items I’d kept I didn’t like and didn’t need.  Out the door to be donated or into the trash (stained or damaged items) went a LOT of clothing.  

Next came the toys, which we sorted and donated and threw out.  We kept everything our children love: Legos, Duplos, train tracks (both wooden and Thomas Take ‘n Play), Hot Wheels tracks & cars, a marble maze, etc. and got rid of everything that didn’t get played with or was damaged.       

We made a good start.  We had lots more room in our closets and drawers.  I could see that minimalism worked.  But there was still a piece of the puzzle missing.  

And then I stumbled across this article by Allie Casazza.  Almost instantly the puzzle piece settled into place…that piece connecting minimalism with motherhood.  All of a sudden I was given permission to get rid of things (MOST things), not for my sake or sanity alone, but also for my children.  The concept that less is more for them was a rush of fresh air against my overwhelmed face.  

With this new inspiration came a whole new wave of purging stuff, and this time it was even more serious.  I (slowly) went through much of the kitchen, the front closet, my closet, all the shelves, the cabinets in the living and dining rooms, the bathroom closet.  This time I got rid of things I liked but did not use – a beautiful large quilted pillow sham that I have been carting around for years because it’s SO pretty, the french press coffee maker, the Europress coffee maker, the hand grinder and pour-over coffee making system (sheesh, we had a lot of ways to make coffee).  

Simply put, I got rid of a ton of STUFF and we felt it.  Our 800-and-some-square-feet duplex began to feel honestly livable for five people.  

I started to have peaceful feelings when I walked in the door or looked at a bookshelf.  Even when toys got out of control, it took five minutes or less to get back to a peaceful living room.  

The bottom line was that I had killed the mess dragon!  

It turns out that I am not doomed to have a cluttered house.  I didn’t even have to get more organized or disciplined to achieve a level of tidiness I’d never known before.  I just had to get rid of a lot of stuff.  It’s so ridiculously simple.

And not only did physical space open up, but time began to open up.  Without the mental clutter of seeing stuff everywhere and knowing I needed to clean it, minutes started to be given back to me.    

So…are YOU ready?!  

If so, I’d say that the first big step is MINDSET.  You really have to want it because it’s a lot of work up front.  But if you’ve HAD IT with being overwhelmed and living in a mess no matter how much you pick up, then you are ready.  

Minimalism is not a gimmick.  Nobody makes any money if you decide to go minimalist.  It’s a very simple idea: if you have less, there’s less to manage (clean, maintain, move, put away, etc.) and more space and time left over.  It works.  You just have to do it.

If you’re really ready to dive in, go over to www.alliecasazza.com and get super inspired by her.  She even offers a course to help people go through their entire homes.  She was SO very helpful and inspiring to me.  

Then START.  

Start with your clothes, or your children’s toys, or the kitchen counter, or whatever is driving you crazy right now.  

Watch the space begin to open up and relish the freedom.  

Then watch out because minimalism is addicting.  You’ll start seeing all sorts of places to minimize (the top of the refrigerator!) and you will want to hit every single one.  It won’t happen in a day or even a week, but gradually it WILL happen.  

Then come back here and leave a comment so I can share your joy!