Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Figuring Out Christmas

So let me start this post by saying this loud and clear. What you do for your family is what's right for your family, and what we do for ours, is right for ours. When I talk about what we've decided/want to do surrounding Christmas for our family, that in no way negates what you've done/will do and it should not make you feel defensive. K? Just putting that out there because mommy wars be rough, yo. We've all got enough going on without having mommy guilt because of what someone else is doing that is unrelated to us ;). I thought I'd share our journey to the Cash family Christmas experience and some of the thoughts/ideas that have gone into it. It's a work in progress.

We've talked a LOT about Christmas over the past year or so to try to decide what we want it to look like in our home. Here are some of the things we've come up with:


  • I have always been drawn to the "something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need" idea. However, I know I am unlikely to stick to that, but I want to use it as a *guide* to help us have small but meaningful Christmases. One of my fears is doing Christmas big and then realizing in 5 years or something that it isn't sustainable, and then our children noticing the stress we have and the change the next Christmas. So we really want to keep Christmas more about other faith, family, food, and fun with gifts being a perk, and hopefully avoid that problem. 
  • Stockings are done on St. Nicholas Day here, since that's where the tradition comes from. The first year it was a bit hard on Christmas day not having a stocking to open, since that's a great memory from growing up, but it's also fun for me that the stocking gets it's own "show" and it fits in so great with the story of St. Nick. I love the chance to talk about a saint and work fun into that! Steven and I have done it this way the last 2 years and are looking forward to doing it this year with Felicity (December 6th if you were wondering).
  • Speaking of St. Nick, we haven't solidified this yet, but we're leaning towards not doing secular Santa and doing St. Nick instead, but with more of a historical and less of an imaginary slant. I think we'll phrase it like St. Nick is bringing things for the stocking, but also sharing the story of why the tradition is place, coupled with the fact that he's a saint in Heaven. If their imaginations run wild so be it; if they ask questions we'll answer honestly. We aren't anti-Santa at all, but I prefer the St. Nick is Santa Claus (since he actually is!) way of doing it. It might be a bit confusing since St. Nick will have brought our stockings and then we'll still see him in malls and stuff after, but that's a bridge we'll cross when children are old enough to question, I guess. I certainly don't want our kids ruining Santa for anyone else, but I also don't want to feel pressured to "do Santa" simply for that reason. I have fundamental issues with using Santa as a way to make kids behave, but I do recognize that we could do Santa without the manipulation factor. I think there's enough excitement in Advent and Christmas that we aren't ruining any Christmas "magic" by not relying heavily on Santa. But who knows. We reserve the right to change our minds as we have a few years before we really have to stick with what we're doing. So, for now, St. Nick brings stockings and mommy/daddy bring Christmas gifts. 
  • At some point we'd like to establish a "1 toy in, 1 toy out" routine. I don't say rule because I know it won't always work that way. But say Felicity gets 5 toys for Christmas, I don't think it's unreasonable to thin out 5 toys, whether to storage, to sell, or to donate. If she gets 5 and we thin out 3, I still call that a win. Our toy storage space is finite so it's kind of necessary, but I also feel like she plays with things more the less clutter we have around. Plus, we can work in all kinds of lessons around giving, having excess, etc.
  • Besides the first few years that Felicity won't remember (probably just this year and next), we want to have Christmas in our home. We always stayed home when I was little, and it was so nice to hang out in our jammies and play with our new toys until it was time to eat. We will likely go to church on Christmas day most years, but other than that I want to just stay home. 

(pictures not related to the post except that they are of my precious baby and the post is about Christmas for our baby :P) 

With that being said, here are my Christmas planning tips and trip ups! I have to add both because I am clearly not a seasoned pro when it comes to shopping for little ones. So I figured I'll share both what has worked, and what's caused some head scratching!

Tips:

  • Shop consignment sales, stores, and b/s/t groups. There are tons of consignment sales in the fall, consignment stores are always open, and areas like ours have sooo many kids' buy/sell/trade groups on facebook. You can find really amazing deals from people who are wanting to get rid of toys before they get new ones for the holidays! I would say maybe 80% of Felicity's toys are used, and of the 20% new, we might have bought 5% of those. We LOVE used stuff in this house! Most of her Christmas gifts are used or, as I like to call them, pre-loved :).
  • Shop online around black Friday. Cyber Monday isn't the only day for online deals. They happen all around the week of Thanksgiving. If you're looking for something that you're running out of time to find used, or you really want to buy a particular thing new, this week is a good time to do it. There are all kinds of things on sale! Try not to get sucked into the problem of finding things you didn't know you needed. ;)
  • Buy long lasting toys like wooden toys or books. I didn't want much plastic stuff in our house originally but, practically, most toys given to us are plastic and plastic doesn't hurt when Felicity bonks her head on it like wood does. I've learned that plastic isn't evil :P, but I do prefer to get quality, wood toys when I'm going to spend more (like for Christmas). I think they encourage a bit more imagination than their battery powered counterparts, and I just love the timeless look of wood toys. We got Felicity a used B. Zany Zoo cube for $15 for Christmas this year, almost perfect condition when they sell in the store for $65. So we got a bargain AND a good wood toy that will last through many babies. And books don't need an explanation. You can never go wrong with books, except with where to store them. But I find that a good problem to have :). 


Trip ups:

  • Buying TOO MUCH from consignment, etc. It's sadly easy to get wrapped up in the "more, more, MORE" attitude of Christmas. Let's face it, it's fun, even! But deals stop being deals when you're going broke buying them lol. I try to only buy stuff that I was already looking for. So, for example, if I want a specific toy for Felicity, I scour sales and groups for it but try to not buy other things on impulse. Sometimes I'm more successful than others. 
  • Buying something for a young child months in advance and then their tastes change. I got Felicity a small, wood bead maze over the summer that I thought would be perfect for her stocking, because she was LOVING bigger bead mazes. Can I just say how lucky I feel that she still likes bead mazes? In the scheme of babyhood, 5 or so months is a LOT. It's hard to predict what a child will like months from now when you find a good deal, so it could turn out to be  a bust. I hope this gets easier to predict as she gets older! 
  • Buying everything early, and then seeing more or still wanting to shop. So I mostly had Felicity's Christmas done by early October, but that doesn't stop me from wanting more when I see awesome deals on great toys! I have mostly been able to talk myself out of purchasing more, but have added a few small things. The fact is, though, that if I keep buying and buying, things are no longer a good deal and I ruin that whole "wanting to teach my kids that Christmas is more than gifts" thing! If I can't do it this year when she won't even know it's Christmas, I'm doomed when she does "get" Christmas! I'd say I get a B- this year... room for improvement, but I didn't do terribly.  

And, last, you may be wondering what to put in a stocking for a baby. I was wondering, too, but I accumulated a nice collection of items over the past few months of looking!

Filling a stocking for a baby:
  • Small toys that are good for the diaper bag, car, or church. I find Felicity is entertained longer if she has toys that are only used for those situations. So, for example, she has a paci and "cell phone" that she only gets in the car, and a chew bead rosary she only gets at church vs having all the toys available to her at all times. Those smaller toys are great to put in stockings! Try to avoid just buying stuff to have something. I purposefully look for something I think Felicity will like and use, like the small bead maze since she loves big ones. 
  • Bath toys are often small-ish and fit well. We don't have many bath toys so I picked one up at Ikea a month or so ago.
  • Board books. These may not actually fit in the stocking but I felt like Christmas related board books were perfect to give towards the beginning of advent. Next year, I want to get her the Story of St. Nick for St. Nicholas Day but it wasn't in the budget by the time I thought of it this year (trip up!).
  • Squeezie pouches. I'm not doing any of these this year because I have plenty of other things, but a good space filler would be a new flavor (or heck, one they've already had before) of squeezie pouch food since they can't have candy. Along the same lines, teething biscuits or puffs would work, too.
  • Special ornaments. This year we are putting a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" ornament in Felicity's stocking. I hope it helps her to remember what we're actually celebrating as we put it on the tree each year! 

Anything you'd add to any of the categories? Clearly I have way too much fun with this stuff :). Happy Advent and, if you want to celebrate St. Nicholas day, you still have a few days to get some things together. It's a lot of fun! 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Watchful Waiting

Last year, I was about 7 months pregnant during Advent. I had all these idyllic thoughts of a super spiritual Advent, being that I was waiting the birth of my baby while we were awaiting the birth of Mary's baby. I had a book (which was wonderful) of reflections connecting my pregnancy to Mary but, honestly, that was about all I did besides the penance service. We did a fairly secular advent calendar and generally busied ourselves with life, instead of taking the time to slow down. Advent finished up and I felt like I had wasted an opportunity to grow closer to Mary and to God.

This year, though, I think things will be different. We're in a very different place spiritually than we were last year. Last year, our "norm" was much more intense, despite what I just said about Advent. We were going to daily Mass at least once a week, I was volunteering in the church, we went to confession at least quarterly, we did a weekly rosary, and we did quite a few other things to keep us connected to our faith. I would say that I was the most connected to God during my pregnancy (but unrelated to being pregnant, if that makes sense) than I've ever been. I knew it would change when we had a baby, but I didn't realize how much I'd feel like I was losing on the spiritual front. We didn't say a rosary for MONTHS. I haven't been to daily Mass a single time in the last 9 months. I've been to confession once. Parenthood has of course connected us to God in other ways, like learning sacrificial love in a big, big way, but I lost a lot of those tangible things and activities that I felt kept me connected.

 This Advent feels like a breath of fresh air and a chance to begin reconnecting, or strengthening, our faith. We received 2 different daily reflection books and I'm so excited to go through them. I feel like a daily reflection feels so doable and not at all overwhelming, and is the perfect place for us to start, or re-start. We decided that instead of our typical Advent calendar (where we put some type of activity be it a prayer, board game, show, movie, walk, drive to see lights, etc) for each day, we are going to simplify this year and make the daily devotional be our Advent calendar. After all, isn't that a lot of what Advent is about? Simplifying our lives so we can focus on watchful waiting, instead of adding more busy-ness to our already full lives. I want to share with Felicity that prepping for Christmas is good and fun, but that taking a step back from the holiday chaos to focus on God and each other is so important! So we don't have "big plans" this Advent, but I think that's exactly what we need.... a time to slow down and reconnect with God in comforting, familiar ways. A time to invest in ourselves after 9 beautiful months of investing almost solely in our baby, as we wait for the baby Jesus. Happy and blessed Advent!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Felicity's First Thanksgiving

Felicity's first Thanksgiving was a smashing success. I was worried, I will admit, because we were hosting it this year. My parents graciously offered to come here with my sister since Steven was working until 11pm the day before and at 7am the day after Thanksgiving. I was so happy to not be doing a whirlwind trip to SC for a few hour visit, but I was also nervous about hosting! My mom, again so graciously, offered to bring Thanksgiving to us. She got the Publix dinner so all I was responsible for was some Thanksgiving Eve snacks, a pie, creamed corn, and rolls. I was nervous, though, because my mom makes holidays so special and one thing I knew I'd miss about not being at her house was how everything is decorated within an inch of its life. It's impossible to not feel in the holiday spirit when you're surrounded by her awesome decorations! For Thanksgiving, I just have a few things here or there, but I tried to up my ante with a pumpkin pie wax melt lol. Anyway, it was definitely different this year being at our house instead of my parents', but it was just an amazing day. Of course Felicity makes most days super special, but she really outdid herself during their visit. She was charming, personable, and just so sweet. We all had a blast with her! My normally go-go-go girl sat on my mom's lap for about an hour at one point! It was so sweet.




Though it was somewhat different, we kept elements of family tradition. We watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles during Thanksgiving Eve snack. I let everyone vote between that, Ernest Saves Christmas (a childhood favorite), and White Christmas a la 1954. Dad voted Planes, Mom voted White Christmas, and Rachel voted Ernest. I broke the "tie" with Planes because the Netflix description said it was about him getting home for Thanksgiving and I wanted a Thanksgiving movie! It was slap-stick funny, which is perfect for our family, and we enjoyed our treats. I was sad Steven was working, but glad to be with my family.




Thanksgiving morning we also kept the tradition of staying in jammies all day, and watching the parade and dog show, with our annual dog show contest which my mom won, which she almost always wins!!! Then everyone pitched in to get everything warmed up, made, the table ready, etc. Felicity woke up JUST in time for food, and we all sat around the table stuffing ourselves and talking. It was so, so nice. Felicity required a bath after her feast, and then we relaxed some more before having pie. Then, all too quickly, mom, dad, and Rachel were headed back to SC. It was such a great day and we had so much fun hosting!