Saturday, December 6, 2008

Seven Questions...'Tis the Season

I love to hear how others celebrate this time of year. Favorite books, recipes, and decorating ideas inspire me and make me feel festive. But, this year, I feel like I'm swimming in good ideas and need someone to throw me a life-preserver. A sanity-preserver wouldn't hurt, either.

How can real moms trim the tree and trim the budget at the same time? Cut out the cookies and cut out the stress?

Meet Kara...she's down-to-earth but full of good ideas and ready to share her philosophy on keeping the joy in the season.

1. What are your top three priorities during the holiday season? How do you make sure those stay at the top of the list?
#1- NO QUESTION teaching my kids to feel the spirit of Christmas. I want them to bask in the wonder of the whole season. I want them to think outside themselves and understand what Christmas really represents. Of course I would love to say that the only focus was spiritual, but there is a magical quality in the anticipation of giving and receiving. I want them to know that it's okay to get excited and have wishes during the season. If that is something that is treasured then they will be more willing to share that joy and anticipation for others.
#2 - Not trying to do too much. There is so much lost in the season when we try to fit in everything. We can't feel obligated to make every Christmas craft, card, and goody. We can't attend every party, get together, and event. We can't get too overwhelmed with what we think we "should" do. I really try to prioritize those things that will make the season meaningful to me and my family.
#3 - Create, implement, and follow through on family traditions. I think these are some of the things that really help accomplish the goals of priority. The traditions that we decide to implement in our families don't have to involve a whole lot of thought, planning, and frankly don't have to make much sense. All that matters is that it is something the kids identify with and have fun doing. If they realize that this is something that the family does each year together it is SO binding. Get ideas from friends, family, and neighbors...or make them up yourself!!

I also want to point out that it's never to late to start family traditions. It only takes doing something two times to become a "tradition". It doesn't matter if your kids are older. It might rev up some apathy on the teenagers part!!To answer the second part of the question...learn to say NO!! Like I said in #2, do what works best for you. Forget "obligation."
Decide what it is you want to create for your family and then DO IT. I would also suggest that during Thanksgiving weekend (unless you like to shop...yuck!) sit down and plan your December calendar. Mark a date for the activities that you KNOW you want your family to be a part of. Decide which days you are going to implement certain traditions. (ie. December 15th make Gingerbread houses, or December 23rd Christmas caroling.) If it is on the calendar then you will be more likely to do it. Of course you want to be flexible in case something exciting comes up, but make sure to reschedule the event on the calendar as you would an important appointment.

2. Is your extended family close by or far flung? How does that affect your Christmas traditions?
Most of my family, and my husband's family is in Utah. (We are in Arizona.) We have lived away from most of our family for 10 years though. When we first moved to Louisville, KY 10 years ago we had no kids and traveled "home" every Christmas.
Four years later we moved to Wisconsin with two kids. We had no money and my husband was on call for most holidays. We lived in a city where air travel was expensive and limited. Our first Christmas there was the first one we had by ourselves. At first I was heartbroken and wondered how we would enjoy Christmas without all the happenings of "home". It turned out to be one of the best. It was SO SIMPLE!! I made goodies with the kids when we could, decorated slowly and minimally, and Christmas morning was really low key. We were able to slow down and enjoy each other and the season. We never went "home" for Christmas during the four years we lived there. Of course there were things that we missed, but we really had a chance to do Christmas the way WE wanted to and not just the way it had always been done.
We now live in AZ and are a lot closer to our family. We have lived here for two years and have had different family members visit us for Christmas. I have LOVED that. I like that our kids are in their own home for Christmas morning, and I get to set the pace. I love that we have a place that can accommodate people and that is welcoming in the winter.
We have incorporated many of the traditions that we each grew up with and have started many of our own. This year I am going to really have to apply my "simplicity" principle because we will wake up Christmas morning here and then hop in the car and travel the 12 hours to Utah to be with family. Crazy...I know...but there are some events going on that we just can't miss!!

3. How do you include your children in seasonal preparations? What are their top five favorite activities this time of year?

Well, since most of the preparations revolve around the kids, they are involved a lot. Of course I try to gear it towards their ages. For example, when we make our traditional Santa cookies, I make sure the cookies are all made beforehand so they can just have fun decorating them. Last year Ella helped Grammie for a minute, this year she might be old enough to help me make the santa molds...we will see.
As far as their top five favorite activities...
#1 Decorating for Christmas.

This is a blessing and a curse. It is such a pain in a way, but if I try to relax and enjoy the process it becomes so much more fun. I also try not to stress about getting it all up in one day. The kids love to open up and discover treasured decor.

#2 I mentioned above. I have been making Santa cookies since I was little tiny! These are very time-intensive, but they are such a hit with everyone. Because it is a tradition it is so much more fun. I talk a little bit about our tradition of making Santa cookies HERE if anyone is interested.
#3 Making their Christmas lists. I try not to be too much of a downer on this one because like I said in question number one, I want them to experience the joy of giving and receiving. They love to look through all the catalogs that still find their way to our house (I swear I got on some list that was supposed to stop those). They circle things, rip out pictures, and make long long wish lists. It's funny and I want to save them so they will remember what they were interested in when they are older.
#4 Christmas lights. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Christmas lights. We love to drive around and look at all the different lights that people have put up. There is a house in our area that has their lights hooked up to a system where they coordinate with music. You just drive up to the house and tune your radio to the designated station and watch the show!! They love it and we usually visit several times during the season.
#5 Hanging all the pictures from Christmas cards we receive. We love to pour over them and recount memories of all of our good friends around the country/world! We have our own little Christmas picture contest. Each year when we are taking down the pictures we (just our little family) vote on the best one. We need to start sending something to the winner...that would be fun!!

4. Have you ever made any major Christmas "mistakes"? What have you learned from them?
Of Course!!! The biggest is getting too worried about fitting everything in. We had to go caroling, do cookies, make the cards, gingerbread houses, advent calendar, making all the neighbor gifts, decor throughout the house, attending every event, blah blah blah. Am I sounding redundant yet?
The other big mistake is too many presents. We have instituted a "tradition" now where each child receives three gifts to open from "Santa". These represent the three gifts brought by the three wisemen. Mom and Dad get credit for the stockings. Then of course there are the gifts from grandparents and sibling. This ends up being PLENTY!!
Oh, and giving my daughter a puppy for Christmas...BIG MISTAKE!! Don't get me wrong...she loved it! I, on the other hand, was not AT ALL prepared for what a dog in the family entailed. I am still paying for that one. (I'm always up for any tips on house breaking a dog, because has been almost a year...and she's still not trained. ARGHHHHH!! )

5. When you get married, you realize that each family celebrates the holidays a little differently. How have you managed to integrate your childhood traditions with your husband's? Any advice for newlyweds dealing with this?
This is really important. Some of these thoughts apply more if you live in the same city with both families, others are universal. I think that, first of all, each person needs to remember that Christmas traditions can be very sacred. So, the main thing is to sit down and really talk about expectations. For example: You might assume that every family gets up at the crack of dawn (or earlier) to tear into their gifts, but some families like to sleep in and enjoy a lazy morning.
Also, decorations can be a hot topic. Some may be very sentimental. Make sure to keep only those that have great meaning, and then ditch the others for an opportunity to decorate together.
Second, don't get offended if your spouse's family does things differently. You are your own family now and have to decide what traditions you are going to participate in and which ones you will create yourself. It's important to not put the kabosh on either family's activities, but don't feel obligated to be involved in everything each family is doing.
It's a good idea to try to take turns with Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. Let your families know when you are available well in advance. The main thing is to openly communicate and be willing to give a little. Sometimes (most of the time) it's impossible to make each side of the family happy. Just do your best and don't let it get to you if one family tries to lay on the guilt.
Remember you are your own family now and need to do what is best for you.

6. What are a few things you DON'T do at Christmastime? Why? How can busy moms streamline their preparations?
I personally DO NOT go shopping on Black Friday. That is just me though. I LOATHE shopping...anytime...but especially with crowds and waiting. I completely understand that some people LOVE this and it gets their juices going. I say good for them.
I have also done Valentines instead of Christmas cards before. There have been years where I realized that it was just too much. I do love to get cards though, so Valentines is a perfect way to share the Get Valentines?! A great bonus is that you have all your friends updated addresses from their Christmas cards!!
I DON'T sign the kids up for classes/activities that occur during the holiday season. Soccer just ended, and we are taking a break until the new year. We want as much time for holiday festivities and family as we can get. The last thing I want to be doing is running the kids from lessons to activities and back.

7. What is the best Christmas gift you've ever given? Received? What made them so special?
This question was EASY!! I am the youngest of six children in my family. I was the last one married and about ten years ago we were all living in different areas of the country/world. As siblings, we decided that since money was tight for all, and gift exchanges just ended up being like money exchanges anyway. So we would do something a little different.
My sister Heather came up with the idea that we would write one sibling a tribute letter each year until we got through the list. So, the first year everyone wrote to the sibling just younger (me to the oldest). For five years, we each received a letter from a different sibling detailing memories, expressions of love, and whatever else our creative minds could come up with!
Every year I would wait with great anticipation for the letter from my brother/sister. I cherish those words more than any physical possession I have. I was always so inspired by the talents, creativity and thoughtfulness of each letter. We are each different, and the personalities of everyone came across in the letters.
The plan is to bind the letters into a book and make a copy for each person. We are still getting around to that part. It was such a blessing to be able to take the time out each season to reflect on one of my siblings and what they have added to my life. I cannot think of any other gift that would mean more.
I highly suggest this...especially to families where all siblings are out of the house and on their own. It's a great bonding experience...and not bad for family history either.
I just want to end this interview by saying how important I think it is to focus on GRATITUDE this time of year. It's easy to get caught up in the give and get, but really we are all so blessed in this great country of ours. Let's all try to focus on the things that we cannot touch, see, or hear. I suggest on focusing on helping others FEEL the spirit of the season...because all people really how you made them feel.

Thanks, Kara! This is JUST what I needed this week.
Kara's blog is The Crazy Good Life. Ho ho hope you check it out!


Lindsey said...

Super fun post Kara and Gab! I loved it. I wish I felt more like decorating. Still nothin'.. but I think I will take Kara's advice and not worry about getting it all out in a day. How about each day next week. :)

Dancin Queen said...

Great post Gabi and Kara! I love the idea of the tribute letters. Great!

TravelinOma said...

These are great ideas. I love the sibling tribute. I think I might do that with my own siblings! I used to have Christmas's when I was too exhausted to actually enjoy the season. Kara has given the secret to having a merry Christmas, not just wishing everybody else one. Good interview!

diane said...

I will pass the newlywed advice along to my son as the wedding is in two weeks.

Great Q&A Gab. I always look forward to these interviews.

Clair said...

So much of my energy has been focused on a church party that took place on Friday that I have totally let my family stuff sit on the back burner. But I'm hoping it's not too late to remedy that. This post has been very motivating. I am going to sit my hubby down TODAY and decide what matters most to us and what we are going to do and when. Thanks Kara and Gabi!

Rochelleht said...

Ok, seriously? The cutest little family ever! LOVE the ideas. SO CUTE!

Lauren in GA said...

I love how she focuses on gratitude and the true meaning of the season. I also love how she said that it is important to not trying to do too much. She is so right...I end up miserable when I try to do too much...I don't know why I haven't learned to scale back.
Kara and her family are so adorable!
Great, great interview, Gabi!

Paige said...

Gabi, does that fact that I cry at each of your posts (even if they aren't sad, just GOOD) mean that you are secretly Barbara Walters? You are great.

KJ, I met you at BC and rather then feeling so happy to know you when I left I just wanted to hang out with your MORE. So some day I hope we can. I LOVE the picture of your family on the top- beautiful! and did you make the pretty trees on the table?

Kara Jayne said...

Thanks so much for the opportunity to ponder on the best way to do the holidays. I truly am honored that you would want my advice.

Linsey said...

Gabi, as usual, you are a genius. Your questions get such great responses. Thank you for sharing all of this wisdom with me, oh I mean with all of us!

Christie said...

What great advice at a time when we can get so caught up in the fluff. Thanks for another fab interview!

Ilene said...

Tribute letters are great. I should do that for my kids this year. Great interview. I need to get my groove in gear for establishing traditions.

Ilene said...

Tribute letters are great. I should do that for my kids this year. Great interview. I need to get my groove in gear for establishing traditions.

Kimberly said...

I really needed this- thanks!

♥Shally said...

What great ideas! The tribute letters may be something we have te steal over here... :) I love the thought of writing down what I love most about my family.

Kirkland's said...

I love Kara, she is such a good person with some great perspective and ideas! I am for sure going to throw out the letter to siblings idea this year. Thanks for interviewing her.

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