Are You Resisting Change This Christmas?

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This year seemed to be a struggle to get our Christmas decorations up. Usually we pick a day soon after Thanksgiving for the massive explosion of gold ornaments and half lit light strings, extension cords and Christmas wall hangings all cheerfully (to Christmas music of course) to be placed in trees, on mantles and doors by our family in one long but satisfying afternoon.  This year, however,  it was a slow motion eruption that took days instead of hours.   And some decorations were left in the boxes–they are just not coming out this year.  And this all was frustrating to me, because this wasn’t how we usually did Christmas and I couldn’t change it.

Change has been knocking on our door for a while now and I have been resisting it.  It has been a gradual but monumental shift of how we do family life, all as a result of our children growing up.  We now have an 18, 15 and 13 year old, and they are tall and independent and busy.  But I still want them to be short and dependent and not so busy –or busy in a controllable sort of way, where I schedule the sports and play-dates around my mom-agenda for our family, like sitting together around the dinner table or 8:30 bedtime.

But that is not reality anymore.  They are busy being the people we have taught them to be; involved in church commitments, holding down jobs, being loyal friends and studious students.  Which means they are most often not all home together for dinner, or in bed early, or around on the weekends.  And I find myself resisting this all the time.  I am constantly surprised and often frustrated at how little we all sit down together at the dinner table, or when we would plan a time for all of us to go out to eat or watch a movie, inevitably someone has been scheduled to work or has a sports conflict.  My children feel like slippery jello through my mom-fingers.

And then this year change messed with a very important thing–Christmas Tradition.

Traditionally, for many years, we have formed a SUV caravan  with friends to Winter Park the Saturday after Thanksgiving to cut down a tree.  We meet at Starbucks at 9:00AM with our boots and hats and saws, make our plan and head off. We do this as a family, a whole family.  We spend the day trekking through the forest in search of the not-so-perfect Charlie Brown tree, and after all the families finish the hunt, we tailgate with cheese and bread and wine.  It is wonderful.  Then we drive back down the snowy roads of I70, drag the tree through our front door (always realizing it is way too tall),  crank up the reindeer and holy night music and create Christmas in our home for the evening.   Did I mention we always did this…all five of us?

Until this year.  We found out one of our children had to work at 2:00PM on the sacred tree cutting Saturday (and could not get out of it), another wasn’t feeling well, and my husband was exhausted from a marathon of work trips, and it just seemed like it was too much for our family this year.   We cancelled.  And as we sat on the couch watching football that day we told ourselves, “This was a good decision.” And it was.  But it was still difficult, and felt like more of the jello issue.  Our dear friends still went and brought us back the perfect tree– just without the memories.

Two days later the tree sat in its stand, half lit and unadorned because we just couldn’t get it together to decorate…anything.  It was like herding cats–my husband had to leave out of town again, the kids had church commitments and friend plans.  And I was being stubborn–I wanted us all to do this together, like we always did.

By Tuesday, I realized it was happening again–I was resisting change.

I pulled out the Christmas boxes from the basement and began to decorate.  I remembered an hour in to turn on the Christmas music, and began to do a little jig while placing gold balls all over our tree. The lights went up, the nutcrackers and Santas and manger and snowmen all took their respective places.  Later in the day Maddie, our youngest, walked in the door from school and exclaimed, “Holy Christmas!”  I smiled inside.  That night, when I considered not putting the garland wrapped up the stairs like I always do, my oldest daughter said, “Mom, you HAVE to do the garland up the stairs!”  I smiled again…some things don’t change.

The following weekend, when my husband and I snuck away for a quick anniversary trip, this same daughter drove to Target, bought outdoor Christmas lights that were missing, asked a good friend to come over to help, and ran extension cords and timers and red and white lights throughout the trees in our yard.

Well, this was new.

I have decided to stop resisting the fact that change is no longer knocking but has a recliner and a personalized coffee mug in our home.  I am learning this Christmas to look for the new traditions, the gifts the older children bring to our home and our life (like driving themselves to Target to help with Christmas decorating without being asked), and be okay when some traditions shift temporarily or even permanently.

Times are changing, and most likely they are for the good.

When I feel frustrated that things are “different” I am going to ask myself–where is the frustration coming from?  Am I being too controlling?  Is this an area where I am resisting instead of embracing change?

To Think About:

Jesus was a great implementer of change.  His birth and life challenged and frustrated many who resisted his message because it was different than their traditions and ways of life and thinking, but it changed EVERYTHING for us for good, for eternity.  Change and doing things a new way can be incredibly positive if we are willing to embrace it.

  1. What change are you resisting in your life?
  2. Why do you think you are resisting it?
  3. What things frustrate you that could possibly be a blessing if you embraced the change?

I wish you a blessed Christmas!!

xoxo,

Amy

 

 

Meal Planning For The Busy Family

 

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I’d like to introduce a guest on the blog today–Liz Hayes.  Liz is my Mother-In-Law and friend.  She has many talents, like quilting and swinging a nine-iron, but where I have learned the most from Liz is in the kitchen.  Liz is who I call if I have a question about the best way to make gravy for a Thanksgiving meal, or if a food item can be frozen and still resemble its former self when thawed.  Which is why I do not hesitate to have her share some of her wisdom with all of us here on GracefullHome.  Here she teaches what she did for meal planning as a busy working mom of two:

 
My daughter-in-law, Amy, has graciously invited me to share some space in her blog.  I really enjoyed her recent blog dealing with chores and budgets.  I have been trying to figure out how the chore system might work with my husband.  I can probably guess what his “payment” might entail!
I do want to fully endorse using a budget system.  We embraced the cash envelope/allotment sheet budget 35+ years ago.  At that time we had credit cards with Sears, Penney’s, gas companies and Master Card – all with revolving balances.  We eventually paid them all off and have kept it that way.  Now we use Visa 99% of the time and pay it off every month – no exceptions!  We are retired and entered retirement with two fairly new cars paid for and no debt other than our mortgage.  We actually have a tighter budget in retirement, but we still travel and entertain quite a lot.  Things still happen that upset balances, liked having to replace the house A/C last summer, but the framework holds.

I know that many of you are in the midst of raising a family.  Some of you may also be working full time as well.  Life is hectic with all the different schedules and energy is often lacking.  Laundry, grocery shopping and meal planning and preparation never seems to end!  I understand, I was there once too, and you could have written the grocery list in the dust on just about any surface in my house.  I would like to share a stress reliever in meal planning I utilized at that time.  I still use it today when I am expecting houseguests.

1. Every other Sunday afternoon I would plan the meals for two weeks.  I would plan 10-12 meals since there would be the inevitable crazy night of grabbing fast food or a pizza.  A few of those meals might be assigned to a particular day but mostly they were free flowing and the list was posted on the side of the refrigerator so I could just wake up and pick a meal for dinner that evening.

2.  I would do the major shopping once every two weeks only returning to the store for milk, bread and produce.  This meant if the kids consumed all the granola bars the first week, I didn’t replace them until it was time to go shopping again.  Since I made my list on Sunday, I would typically grocery shop on Monday after work.

3,  In the morning, before I left for work, I would take a look at the list and then take the necessary ingredient(s) out of the freezer and leave them to thaw in the sink.   (I know – so unhealthy – but we all survived!)  An hour of planning twice a month took away the daily stress!

You know what meals your family likes and what you typically prepare and serve.  Start making a list and keeping it on your phone or computer.  Use categories like, meals, desserts, salads, appetizers etc.  When planning, look at the list and make choices or simply keep the same rotation.

Make everyone in the family share the responsibility for adding items to the shopping list.  When they use the end of something or run out of their shampoo, it is their responsibility to add it to the list.  I highly recommend the Apple app Grocery IQ, it can be synced to everyone’s phone and you can make separate lists for Costco, King Soopers, Home Depot etc.

Below is the list I used so many years ago.  I’m sure Jonathan and Jennifer will recognize many of these menus.

 

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In case you can’t read this, here are a few on the list:

Hawaiian Chicken, Hamburgers, Lasagna, Spaghetti, Meatloaf, Chicken Divan, Beef and Rice, Mac and Cheese

Ask your family what their favorites are and make your own list!

The Year Of “The No” For Our Family

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While on an “extra” vacation a month or so ago, Jonathan and I decided that we needed to create some serious new money habits in 2015 (similar to the “serious” new habits we said we would do last year, except that we would actually do them).  Habits might be too permanent of a word–we will see how this year goes.  This new mindset needed a name, something to make it feel big and real.  “The Year Of The No” was born and given a title, and will possibly be put up for adoption in a couple of months depending on our fortitude.

In general, we do try to live financially wisely.  We carefully consider our spending, and every dollar that leaves our wallets matters.  I work very hard as a mom to compare grocery store prices, shop the clothing sales, and even try to be conscious about accelerating slowly in my SUV to save on gas.   I have been coloring my own hair for years and since he will never realize what he is missing with the ears and the tail and the bows, I groom my own dog.  If there is something I can do myself, why pay? (This mentality causes me to have to steer visitors eyes away from the paint on the ceiling and explain my orangey looking locks on occasion).

However, as our kids get older the expenses seem to climb higher.  And, while I am great at saving in many areas, I will throw the budget out the window for a great date night dinner out or an opportunity to travel.  And, while we are thankful to have enough money for our monthly budget, there are often unforeseen costs that sneak into our life (an several hundred dollar ACT prep course for our junior, two cars breaking down in a matter of a week, a medical insurance deductible that needs to be met, oh and quite a few vet bills lately), making our expenses outweigh our paycheck more often than we like.  Anyone relate?

We have realized we just don’t have a comfortable “margin” in our finances.  And the only way to increase those borders is to create some tough but good new spending patterns.

Jonathan and I went through our budget with a fine tooth comb–if you want a great sheet for budgeting, click here (and scroll down to budget worksheet).

This is the list that we created for our family:

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1.  NO EXTRA VACATIONS  Our family has one traditional vacation that is the memory making, family strengthening, familiar like a pair of worn but extremely comfortable shoes vacation to our family cabin in northern Minnesota each summer.  We save for this trip all year so this is remaining on the table.  All the other traveling we do during the year, however, is going to come under careful scrutiny.  One trip that is very difficult for us to give up is an annual trip that Jonathan and I take to Mexico together.  It is incredible for our marriage and our own memories.  That is not going to happen this year, and instead we are going to be intentional about date nights and finding quality time together.

We had also planned a family trip somewhere warm this winter which we have told the kids would not happen.  Instead we are putting $200/month in savings for a big trip next year when our oldest is a senior.

Because our family can fly for free, it makes it so easy for us to say “YES!!” to travel opportunities.  So we will carefully evaluate the importance of our vacations–spending time with extended family? Important. A last-minute get away with another couple?  Probably not this year.

This category is a tough one for me personally, since I value traveling and spending time together so highly.  I am trusting God for other opportunities for our family that accomplish the same goal without the expense.

2. NEEDS NOT WANTS 

For every purchase, from socks to a new ski jacket for our kids, we are asking,

“Is this an absolute need this year?”

“Can we wait a year to buy it?”  (socks might be a challenge, but what if took the time to hunt down all the missing socks in drawer corners, under beds, etc?)

I remind myself, we already have more than enough.

3. CASH BUDGET

I have attempted this a few times over the past 20 years, but I fizzle out after a few months in–the envelopes, getting to the bank for cash, keeping track of which categories I had to “borrow” from–it’s all a pain.  But, we know that when our credit cards are tucked away in a drawer there is a much smaller chance of going over budget.

4. CREATIVELY EAT

This category represents all food–in the pantry and going out.  I am working hard at using all the food we have in the house to make creative meals.  All I have to say is this will be interesting.

Our out to eat budget is fairly small, so we will need to hit the happy hour specials!

5. ZERO DEBT GOAL

This is important, not only as a good steward of the money God has provided us, but to be content living within our means.  Often unexpected things come up, however, and that circles back to why we are creating more margin in the first place.

6. RECYCLED CLOTHING

I’m not talking about hand-me-downs (although those are great), but shopping only at consignment stores for the year.  There are some great finds to be found! I have already begun to prepare my kids for this as spring/summer approaches.  We will try diligently to find what we need at these stores first, and as a last resort try retail.  I want us all to learn to simplify, reduce and reuse through this concept.

7. PLEASE THE BANK ACCOUNT FIRST

Of all the money habits shared, this may be the toughest for me.  Along with eating out and vacations, my biggest budget buster is wanting to please others!  I don’t ever want to spoil anyone’s hope for fun that includes us by saying no.

I also want to please my children, which is why shopping with my two girls does me in.  Not that I cave to everything they want, but I tend to feel the need to check into a mental institution after a big Kohl’s trip.  My psyche goes through an incredible tug-0f-war of wanting to say yes to the 5 pairs of jeans, 6 shirts, 3 sweaters and some new underwear, yet having to say no to half of everything (feel like a mean mom), then being convinced of yes to 3 more, oh and we forgot shoes, and then repeat about eight times, mix in strong attorney-like negotiation from my twelve year old, a worn and increasingly crabby mom, and a sudden desire to drive to New Mexico by myself.   I am not exaggerating.

This is all due to the fact that I am a pleaser.  So, I am going to continue to please…just the bank account instead of everyone else in my life.  I can rest in the fact that our bank account totally loves me.

8. LIBRARY MENTALITY

This final new habit is new for me.  I like new things–that new card table at Costco that would be so handy, new kitchen utensils that I only use once year, even new tools for our yard.  Why?  Because I don’t like borrowing.  This is related to my people-pleasing.  I don’t want to bother anyone, and it’s inconvenient to borrow and return.

Yet, if I had more of a library mentality, that we can all share and re-use items that we have, it would be so much better for our pocketbook and the environment.  I never mind if someone wants to borrow something from me, and instead of caving to my child wanting new ski jacket this year, what if I asked around if a friend had one waiting to go to Good Will?

 

So, there is the list.  Hopefully if you run into me at Target buying new socks you won’t secretly judge me for not crawling under my 14 year-old’s bed that morning to find more socks (ewww), but know I am sincerely trying to incorporate these habits as much as possible into our family’s life.  Here goes!

Have a great week and if this was helpful please share on Facebook or through email! Thank you.

~Amy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Ways to Be Intentional About Christmas With Your Family This Year

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I truly desire to be intentional about teaching our children the true meaning of Christmas, and revisiting it every year in familiar and new ways.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, this time of year is incredibly significant to my faith, and the faith of our family.  The history, the amazing gift of God in his Son delivered to us in the tiniest of human form cannot be missed.   Yet, each year the task of bringing this holy remembrance into our home becomes more difficult.  The messages of materialism speak so loudly and come from every angle, while the busy-ness of the season distracts the five of us from being still and truly contemplating the gift of the baby in the manger.  I can always look forward to a still, holy moment on Christmas Eve at our church’s service, but even that gets challenged while I sit in my seat, recovering from the blurred day of finding tights without holes, realizing dress shoes from last year don’t fit our growing kids, last minute gifts, and goals of a delicious steaming dinner ready for our family when we get home.

With the cookies, parties, shopping, decorating, thoughtful gifts, and all the other “expectations” of Christmas, we can often run out of time for what’s most important–remembering and celebrating the incredible gift and significance of the birth of Jesus.  In an attempt to fight back at this blurred month that gets us off track of the true meaning of Christmas, I have found a few ways to be intentional with our family the last several years:

1. Start the season in the right frame of mind.

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Each year we take the first weekend in December (this weekend!) to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  For many years our family would go to the mountains with other families and stay in a remote cabin, unplugged from the world.  We would read the story of Christmas in the bible and an adult would give a short talk to the children about the story of Christmas.  We would cook together, and do crafts when our children were young.  The adults would share a glass of wine together over meals,  we would all play games, go for a hike, or just sit and talk.   We all took a deep breath and walked into the busiest, most commercial time of year on the right foot.

If a weekend away is not a reality, a day or an evening together to talk about Christ-mas together can be plenty. Unplug from everything, share thoughts and teach your children about giving over receiving, and about Jesus’s incredible gift to us.

2. Weave in Christian tradition throughout the season.

My mother in law made us a “Jessie Tree” JESSE TREE LINK.  Each December we would spend time walking through the biblical stories and generations leading up to the birth of Christ.

Side note:  Don’t picture this time with three wide-eyed fully engaged kids smiling dreamily as their mom teaches them about Abraham! I actually had to create quizzes one year (my poor kids with their teacher-mom) to encourage engagement!

We also read The Advent Book together.  Written by Jack and Kathy Stockman, this is the Story of Christmas, as told in the bible, with captivating illustrations and fun doors to open throughout the pages, and little Christmas animals to find. This is a favorite tradition for our family–even with our teenagers.

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3. Serve.

Serving over the holidays is one of the best ways to keep ourselves and our children grounded.  One year we delivered Christmas gifts to a needy local family, another year we worked at the Operation Christmas Child distribution center.  Every year we buy gifts for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection.  Here are the women from our bible study and their families having a pizza and shoebox wrapping party at our house a few weeks ago:

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Another idea would be to go on the World Vision website with your children and pick out some Christmas gifts to send to an impoverished family–like a cow for a village, or some chickens for a mother.

These are some of the ways to bring the true spirit of Christmas into your home.  I am sure you could fill up pages of replies with the meaningful, special activities you do with your family–I would love it if you would share below!

The reality for me is that as our kids grow older it is becoming more difficult to herd the cats for quality time and activities.  With jobs, cars, sports, homework, and busy social lives, we don’t have the nightly routines with all of us home like we used to. I am having to let go. I am trusting that the seeds we planted over the many years when they were younger will grow into a spirit of continued wonder and joy in the gift Jesus gave us through his birth.  So don’t be discouraged if your children, whatever their age, aren’t as excited about about this effort as you are!  Know that any and all attempts for balance and focus this season are worth it and will make a difference in their hearts.

I wish you a December filled with the things that you love about Christmas, and with a true focus on the reason for the season!

 

7 Steps To A Healthier Family

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Do you have a healthy family?  Most of us would say yes, in most areas, and if we’re completely honest, we have areas that struggle.  This applies to those of us who are in the midst of youngsters in our home to those who are taking on the grandparent role.  Here are 6 ways I believe we can grow the healthiest possible family (and I am no expert–I just do a lot of reading!)

1. A Healthy Family Affirms and Supports Each Other

This is foremost modeled by mom and dad, as is everything that trickles down to the children.

Ask yourself:  Do my husband and I praise each other’s strengths?

Are we tolerant of each other’s weaknesses?

Do we support each other in doing things that are of interest to our spouse but not to us?

Our kids are watching, and will ultimately treat each other in the way they learned from parent modeling.  However, it’s not just how mom and dad treat each other, but how we treat our children.  Are we affirming? Supporting?  Do we focus on faults to a much larger degree than strengths?  My husband and I have had times in our parenting when we have challenged ourselves to speak only affirming words to our children for a week–SO hard!  It is incredibly easy to pick out all the faults, because children in their awkward, immature, developing selves are full of foibles.

Affirming is what lets our kids know they are valuable.  Be specific, be generous.  It is something I constantly have to remind myself to work at as a mom.

 

2.  A Healthy Family Shares Responsibility In the Home

We all know that chores are important for kids, but there are many times when it’s just easier to do things ourselves isn’t it?  Many times I have had to resist going after my children and “fixing” their bed after it’s been made, but when our children learn to take care of their things, we prepare them for adulthood.  Chores can be tedious, time consuming for mom and dad to monitor, and often create tension in the relationship–especially as teenage years approach.  But hold firm parents!  You are giving your child the gift of taking responsibility for themselves and respecting those around them, a gift that will follow them into adulthood.

3.   A Healthy Family Places Importance on Traditions

Think back on your childhood—what stands out?  The traditions your family celebrated.  Vacations to the same cabin in the woods, holidays with the same pumpkin soup served, or rituals of being read to each night as a child.  We have started an annual tradition of family fall leaf clean up with pizza night.  I am definitely more excited about this than my family!

Traditions give children a sense of stability, familiarity, and something that grounds them to their family name.  Traditions are timeless-they can be passed down from generation to generation.  What a beautiful way to connect the past to the present.

4.  A Healthy Family Is Faith Based

Having a strong spiritual foundation for your family is important for two reasons:

~It connects all members of the family to a common belief system, one which can be referred to throughout the life of your family when making decisions, or instruction for behavior.  It puts everyone on the same page.

~ Community.  Having a strong church community, or community of others around your family who share the same values and beliefs is so healthy for your kids!  They see other adults striving to be strong in their faith, living life together.  For the first 15 years of our life raising children, we did so side by side with four other families who shared our Christian faith.  We all went to different churches, but shared the same common core of faith.  We were at the birth of each other’s children, we weathered the toddler years together, and watched our kids grow into adolescence.  We just attended the high school graduation of the oldest child of this clan. It has been a gift to Jon and I to do parenting in community.

5. A Healthy Family respects the privacy of one another.

This is a great description I found from an author on this topic:
“A delicate balance exists between family members as they work together to satisfy the needs of the family as a whole and to preserve the right of each individual to grow strong on his own identity. Parents ideally hope to produce children who are emotionally strong and independent.  Parental authority has to be absolute with young children. But as the children grow there is room for family discussion, shared decision-making, and a gradual transfer of authority.

The adolescent years are often a time of turmoil and trauma for all: continual conflicts arise over the latest fashion fad, choices of music, or choices of friends. These years are a challenge. Parents who have taught their children a sense of trust, given them security, instilled in them moral principles and a sense of responsibility, have to learn to let go and allow the children to find the right path.  Parents who have a religious faith (and a sense of humor) to rely on will have the equipment to weather the inevitable storms.” (Delores Curran)

6. Pray Together

Many families pray together over the dinner table, and that is a wonderful way to express gratitude for what God has provided.  However, we can take it one step farther by praying together about our lives.  One way to really learn what is going on in your child’s heart is to ask them what their prayer request would be.  Do this together, as a family, so all the members can hear.  It’s amazing how honest and real kids will be in this moment.  What a great opportunity to take those requests and then pray for your children the rest of the week.

We recently did this as a family and I wrote down our children’s requests on three individual  index cards. When we all had shared and prayed collectively, I turned over their cards and asked that they pick a card from the pile.  They each picked a sibling’s card, and will pray for that sibling during the next week.  My hope is that it grows compassion, grace, and connection with each other.

6. A Healthy Family Makes Time for Each Other.

Whew, I had no idea how challenging this one would become as my kids grew up.  Now that they all are in 7th grade through high school, their schedules make it very difficult to find quality time.  Here are some of the things we do to protect this time:

A Traditional Night Out

My husband takes our son to the local sports bar across the street on Monday nights when we have a house full of women here for bible study.  They watch sports, have some chips and a soda, and do a dad-led devotional.

Speaking Their Language

Once in a while, Ill try to speak my girl’s love language–nails.  We will go get a pedicure followed by dinner out.  Or, do a little shopping if it’s the season.  This sometimes, however, gets stressful as we navigate negotiations on clothes, prices, and them not wanting to divulge their whole life over pizza to a very curious mom.  So the next idea is one of my favorite.

A Short -Get-Away

One of the best things I have done with my daughters is take them on a “girls” trip.  This past spring we booked a short and cheap cruise (inside room, basic accommodations), and we had a blast.  In fact, we started after our first day of writing down all of our inside jokes because we had laughed so much.  I can’t tell you how deeply satisfying it felt to spend some great quality time together, experiencing new parts of the world (the wide open ocean!), and listening to foreign taxi cab drivers give us a passionate lesson on transportation around Miami.

The Dinner Table

Since my husband travels for work, and my oldest has an evening job, along with youth group events, etc,  we don’t have many nights that the five of us are all together. So when we do, it is a bit sacred for me.  We prepare the meal together, eat together, and clean together.  Then we’ll settle in for a favorite family TV show or once a week a family devotional if we can pull it off.

Quality time is tough.  We have to squeeze it in when we can, and in a way that works for our family.  It might look different for yours, which is the beauty of our individuality.  I have learned not to force it, but to find creative ways to work it into your natural family schedule.

 

Here’s to HEALTHY, HAPPY families!

xoxo,

Amy

 

 

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