Christmas Traditions

Merry Christmas! The day that we have been planning for months has finally come. The presents have been wrapped and now unwrapped. Food is cooking and traveling has commenced. Every family has their own traditions and plans for this time of the year. I didn’t realize how different people’s traditions are until my husband and I met.

On Christmas Eve, we spend time with my husband’s family at his uncle’s house. There will be my husband and I, my husband’s parents, my sister-in-law and her fiance, our niece, his aunt and uncle, and two of his cousins. The first year we were together and went to his uncle’s house for Christmas Eve, it was awkward. We hadn’t spent much time with them, so I didn’t know how to act at first. I remember seeing all of the delicious snacks they prepared and only eating a little bit so I could save room for dinner. After about two hours, I realized that this was dinner. So naturally, I stuffed my face. It was so different from any party that my family has, so it was a huge surprise for me. We laugh about it now and I know not to worry about pacing myself. It will be quiet and we will be able to catch up on what has been going on in everyone’s lives.

On Christmas we spend time with my family. We will go to my aunt’s house which will be filled with about twenty people running around. We are a big Italian family, so it is both loud and full of an unimaginable amount of food. First there is a table full of appetizers, then a table and counter full of entrees, and last-but-not-least a table full of desserts. Granted, we wont be able to eat much of it this year, but that means we won’t leave uncomfortably full. My family will continue to feed us (regardless if we say we’re full) for hours. It’s always over-stimulating and everyone tries to talk over everyone else, but it’s family. We will receive our gifts from our Secret Santa and watch the children play until it’s time to go home.

I was talking with one of my friends recently and she told me about her and her husband’s holiday plans. They spend Christmas Eve with her father’s side of the family, Christmas morning with her husband’s family, and Christmas evening with her mother’s side of the family. Oh, and they have to fit her husband’s step dad’s family in there somewhere. I don’t know how they do it. That sounds exhausting!

No matter what your plans are this holiday, I hope you get the chance to sit down and relax. This is the time to reflect on the past year and focus on what you are most grateful for. Family is worth appreciating and spending time with them is what the holidays are all about.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Gifts for that Tricky Giftee

Do you have a list of people to shop for that are tricky to buy for? I want to help you this year by listing some gift ideas that will hopefully spark inspiration for you (and me).

  • Teachers: They are the people who mold the minds of our country’s future leaders – they deserve some pampering and goodies for their hard work.
    • Manicure Bundle: Place a luxurious hand lotion, nail polish, pair of comfy gloves, emery board, and peppermints into a cute little box (without the cap – you can find one at the Dollar Tree) and wrap it in cellophane with some cute curly ribbon.
    • Pampering Bundle: Use a medium sized glass vase and add a face mask, small candle, cute sleep mask, candy canes and/or chocolates, and an ornament before wrapping in cellophane and tying with ribbon.
    • Coffee Run Bundle: Add a small bag of freshly ground coffee to a cute mug, wrap it in cellophane and tie a Starbucks (or other coffee shop) gift care at the top with ribbon. You could also do this with tea!
  • Coworkers: Yes, I am talking about Secret Santa.
    • Movie night bundle: Place a few bags of instant popcorn, a couple boxes of candy, popcorn seasoning, and a local movie theater gift card in a reusable plastic popcorn bag (you can buy them on Amazon). Wrap the gift in cellophane and tie with ribbon.
    • Game night bundle: Place a deck of cards (or UNO) , left-right-center game, board game, snacks (trail mix, dried fruit, chips) into a cute box wrapped in cellophane with a ribbon.
    • Baking bundle: Set an oven mitt, kitchen towel, wooden spoon, and cookbook into a brownie pan wrapped in cellophane (and tie with ribbon – you get the idea).
  • Neighbors: If you like your neighbors, that is.
    • Cookie Platter: Bake a bunch of different kinds of cookies, put a few of each in a cute tin lined with parchment paper, add a bow and tah-dah!
    • Baking Jar: Make brownies in a jar or another recipe in a jar, attach a small wooden spoon (and the recipe/directions) with ribbon and deliver them to your neighbors.
  • Significant other: Focus on their passions, what they spend the most time doing, and what would make their life easier.
    • My husband enjoys learning about brewing beer and trying new drinks from local companies. One of the first holidays we had together (before he started brewing his own beer) I got him a beer bottle holder in the shape of the U.S. It was a good excuse for us to try new companies’ products to fill up spots on the board.
    • We both love traveling, so another gift I bought my husband is a scratch off world map. When we travel to a new state or country, we scratch off that area. It’s a satisfying gift that will entice us to continue traveling.
    • Amazon devices are great gifts too. We have an Echo, a dot and just bought a second dot (they are on sale for only $20 right now!) I also have a Kindle Paperwhite (for reading) which was a favorite gift of mine and is on sale right now too. With the Echo and dots we can communicate from different rooms, stream music, Google search, enjoy audio books, play games, and so much more. The Paperwhite gives me access to hundreds of books with only a couple of clicks (I have the Kindle unlimited subscription, so I don’t have to buy books individually, I just pay a small fee monthly for however many books in their library that I would like to read).
    • Subscriptions are great too! Like I said, I have the Kindle Unlimited subscription and I love it. It’s great for any avid reader with an Amazon Kindle device. If someone loves listening to audio books or loves to read, but doesn’t have a ton of free time to sit and enjoy a book, services like Audible are a great option! You could also buy them a year of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or other great services.
    • Handmade gifts are an awesome idea. One of my favorite gifts ever is this small wooden canvas that my husband used a wood-burner to engrave roses and a message to me. It’s sitting on our bedside table and I love looking at it every day.
    • I think the best gifts are experiences. Tickets to a concert, a trampoline park, a Broadway show, a hockey game…are all great options for a gift. These kinds of presents are perfect for a person who already has everything – they don’t take up much space, build memories, and give you an excuse to do something new together. Honestly, spending quality with the people we love is the best present anyone could ask for.
  • Parents:
    • Family photo session (gift certificate or already planned). You could also do a session of all of their children (and grandchildren if there are any), print out a group photo as a canvas, and give it to them as their gift.
    • Put together a date night for your parents! Include a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, a bottle of wine, and some fancy chocolates. This gives them an excuse to go out together and have a good time (not that they need an excuse)!
    • Surprise family gathering: Do you have a sibling who lives far away and doesn’t get to visit often? Surprise your parents by helping your sibling travel home for the holidays. Having their kids work as a team to get the family together for Christmas (or any holiday that you celebrate) would be a great gift for your parents!
  • Friends:
    • Something that reminds you of time you spend together: If you and your friend drive around country roads on the weekends, maybe you should buy her a crystal charm to hang from her rear-view mirror. If you guys like to cook or bake together, maybe you should look at kitchen supplies such as a personalized wooden cutting board.
    • Something that you created yourself: If you enjoy crocheting, make your friend a scarf or blanket with their favorite colored yarn. If you enjoy photography, make a “gift certificate” for a photo session that they can use for themselves, as a couples/family session, or with their pet! If you enjoy calligraphy, you can personalize a stained wooden canvas with a saying or their last name. You can find a ton of inspiration for this on Pinterest! These are great gift ideas if you are on a strict budget this year, but they are also super heartfelt.
    • Something that will pamper them: Face masks, bath bombs, nail polish, body scrubs, soft sweaters, pajama pants, fluff socks, and other skin care products are awesome gifts to put together or gift separately.

 

I hope that this list of gift ideas helped to get your creativity flowing. Gift giving can be tricky, but you can do it! Don’t break the bank this holiday season – give gifts that are meaningful and affordable.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Shop ’til you Drop

The shopping season is in full-swing. Not only are people out shopping for gifts, but also for holiday parties. It’s always a challenge to find perfect festive outfits that are comfortable, stylish, and affordable at the same time. Here are some guidelines and tips that I use when shopping for events and parties.

  • Buy versatile clothing. Instead of buying that super sparkly dress that you will only wear once, look for a trendy jumpsuit or skirt & shirt ensemble. Buy something(s) that you will be able to wear again. Whether that is a corduroy skirt and off-the shoulder blouse or an edgy “plunging neckline” jumpsuit, find items that you can mix and match with other pieces in your wardrobe to make new outfits throughout the coming year. Adding a denim jacket, a long necklace, and a pair of edgy black wedges can transform your jumpsuit into a more casual look. Dress down your off the shoulder blouse with a pair of jeans. Wear an oversized sweater with the front tucked into your skirt and thigh high boots for a completely different look. The more times you use an item, the more bang you get for your buck.
  • ¬†Speaking of getting use from the products you buy, do the math before you pay the price! When shopping, look at the price tags. If a blouse costs $40 and you make $15 per hour at work, it will take you almost three hours to earn the money to pay for that shirt. If you don’t think that the blouse is worth working three hours for, then it isn’t the right buy for you. Find something that you love while matching the price to the piece’s value.
  • Let’s do some more math while your calculator is out. Let’s think about that $40 shirt again. How many times do you think you will be able to wear it? If you only think you will be able to wear it twice, that’s $20 per use. If you buy a top that you could wear more frequently, maybe it will only be $2 per use. I’m not saying that you can’t buy anything special for a particular event. Just keep in mind how much you are spending on an item that you will only get use of once or twice before it finds a home in the back of your closet. I know that I still have a dress (or two) that still have tags on them from years ago. I tell myself that I will wear them one day, but I think we all know that’s a lie. They were a good deal, but it was still a waste of money if I never ever wore them.
  • Give new life to used clothes. One of the many things that I miss about living super close to my mom is being able to stop by her house to go through her closet if I needed (okay, wanted) something different/new-to-me to wear. It’s okay to borrow friends’ and family’s clothing! Maybe you found the perfect shirt to match the cute skirt in your closet, but you are still searching for a cardigan to match with it. I always text my mom to see what she has. Sometimes we will even video chat so she can show me her closet. All I’m saying is that it’s okay to reach out and ask if your friends have anything that you can borrow for your event instead of rushing to the store.
  • Quality versus Quantity. But wait, didn’t I pretty much say buy everything as cheap as possible? Yes and no. It’s all about balance. You want to buy quality products for reasonable prices. Sure you can buy ten $5 shirts, but how long will they last? Chances are, they won’t last long. But if you buy two $25 shirts that last you several years, you feel beautiful in, and you wear regularly, then to me it’s worth it. Figure out what you are willing to pay for products and opt for higher quality products when possible. I have spent way too much money over the years buying clothes that are “a great deal” but only last a couple wears. If I added it all up, I could have bought a lot of quality made clothing that would have lasted years.

 

I hope that you feel beautiful this holiday season. Find your voice and figure out what you are willing to spend for the products that you are shopping for. Don’t forget to take a deep breath and enjoy time with family and friends.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

A Day of Thanks

It’s officially the day of thanks in the United States. I don’t care how cliche this sounds, but I think that we should focus on what we have to be thankful for more than one day a year. In one of my first blogs I wrote about how I first started journaling, with my grateful lists. Every day I would write at least five things that I am grateful for that day. I challenge you to start your grateful list and continue it until the new year.

I don’t want to talk about the politics surrounding Thanksgiving or if we should or should not celebrate it, but I do want to touch base on what Thanksgiving means to me. To me, it’s all about getting family together. It’s an excuse to all sit down at the table and have a meal together. It’s a reason to travel and enjoy the presence of the people that we have with us (and the memories of those that are no longer here).

What are your plans this year? It’s our first year hosting Thanksgiving at our home and I have to admit that I am very nervous. We will be having my husband’s family over for their (and our) first vegan Thanksgiving dinner. I have faith that everything will be okay, but of course I am nervous that a million things could go wrong. If you know me, you know that I am not the chef in the house. My idea of cooking is whatever is easiest while still tasting amazing. So, because I am the one doing most of the planning, I’m hoping this will be an easy-yet-tasty day for all.

It’s weird to think that this holiday (one that is surrounded by the idea of food) is based upon one specific meat product. It’ll be interesting to see what my in-laws think of our stuffed butternut squash instead of a turkey. Fingers crossed.

So being that it is the day before Thanksgiving, I spent the night at the grocery store fighting the crowd of procrastinators (no shame, I am one of them) and now am baking tomorrow’s desserts. I do not love baking to say lightly. It’s never something I look forward to, so it has been a test to my patience. I have already forgotten to grease the pie pan (Pyrex dish because I forgot to buy a pie dish) for the pumpkin pie and added way too much vegetable shortening to the cranberry & blueberry crisp (because I didn’t double check the measuring spoon). But now I am sitting down, taking a deep breath, and allowing myself to be proud that I did it and that no matter how it all turns out tomorrow, we will have had hosted our first (vegan) Thanksgiving with my in-laws.

On a semi-related subject, I started a new job this week. On my second day, they had me pick an option for the Christmas party coming up. The options were prime rib, chicken, or lasagna…so the conversation of me being a vegan arose. It took all of one and a half days for the subject to come up. And then the questions started about what I can (and cannot) eat. They were super nice about it and curious which I am incredibly grateful for, but it’s always an anxiety-inducing topic. I never know if it will become a lecture about protein intake, calories, and calcium (especially when the audience is a bunch of nurses). No, I can’t have ice cream. No, I can’t eat eggs. But I CAN eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes… The only things I can’t have are animal products. When they hear about how much weight I’ve lost and how well my body has adapted and is now digesting, there usually isn’t much of an objection heard. And of course, since it’s Thanksgiving time, they wondered about the turkey. For some people it’s crazy to think about a food-based holiday being tampered with. But I will tell you, once I listed what foods we were having (green bean casserole, stuffed butternut squash, stuffing, stuffed mushrooms, mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce…) I’m pretty sure everyone would have loved to come for dinner. It’s not that much different from a “regular” Thanksgiving dinner – just a few substitutions and a different main course. No big deal.

If we can do this, so can you.

Whatever your Thanksgiving plans may be, I hope you are surrounded by people you love, devour the food you enjoy, and create memories to be cherished this holiday season.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Being Generous on a Budget

It’s that time of the year when people start being hyper-aware of generosity and thankfulness. These are both things that we should strive toward on a daily basis, but holidays are a reminder for many. I’ve said this before, but I will say it again. Life is all about balance. It’s about salads and cookies. It’s about exercise and movie marathons. But it’s also about being a generous person without breaking the bank.

Sure, some years generosity is easy. When you have extra money, you can afford to donate a brand-new bike and helmet for a kid’s big Christmas present. But some years aren’t as prosperous and that’s okay! At the end of the day, you have to pay your bills and put food on the table. But have no fear, I have some ideas that can help you feel more fulfilled this giving season without stressing your finances.

  1. Coworkers: Stop by your local Dunkin or bakery and pick up a dozen (or two) doughnuts to show your coworkers how much you appreciate them. Or you could even bake some cookies and bring them in to share. No matter what you choose, I’m sure they will appreciate the token of generosity.
  2. Strangers: A few months ago I was at a gas station and the gentleman in front of me was there buying his daughter a slushie and a snack. He ran out to his car to look for his wallet and I paid for the food and my gas before he could get back. To him it was a big deal, but to me it was a no-brainer. That was probably the best $4 I have ever spent. I have even heard of people paying for the meals of the car behind them at fast food establishments. Sometimes the little things mean a lot to others.
  3. Military: I used to be a pen-pal with a person stationed overseas in the army. I would send him several letters and a themed package monthly. I would include things like games, movies, and candy. There were other options available including simply writing letters to the military member a few times a month. There are many agencies that you could use to help you with this, but I used Soldiers’ Angels specifically because a friend of mine was familiar with it. For a few dollars, you could make someone’s day a little brighter.
  4. Women’s Shelters: I haven’t done this yet, but I am sure that a lot of women’s shelters would be extremely pleased to have donations at this time of the year. Whether that means toiletries, pads and tampons, gloves, nail polish, or anything else that you think could be useful, I’m sure it would be appreciated. I would suggest calling your local facilities to see what they might need or accept. A lot of things could be purchased at stores such as the Dollar Tree.
  5. Schools: A lot of schools have coat drives when the colder months settle in. People will donate new (or maybe even gently used) coats to the school and they will distribute them to children in need. They may even accept hats, scarves, and gloves. Your local Walmart or department store would have all of these available. Call your local school to see if they have a similar program that they are accepting donations for.
  6. Family: Buying presents for family can get very expensive. When you add up the cost for gifting to siblings, parents, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles,… it gets costly. Our family has had awesome success with “Secret Santa” gift giving. Around October (or even November) someone is chosen to be in charge of the event. We write everyone’s names on pieces of paper (separating children from adults) and then pick names for each person to gift to. It’s a surprise until the day of the swap (except for the person delegating of course). We have a $20 limit for the gifts and then when we have our family celebration, everyone has a gift to open and nobody’s wallet is empty. It’s a lot of fun to focus your energy on one or two gifts instead of having to purchase for everyone in your family.
  7. Homeless Shelters: This is another location that could use donations and help around the holiday season.  The colder months lead to an increase in occupancy. You could simply donate your time on Thanksgiving or Christmas to help serve meals. Or, if you would prefer, you could donate toiletries. You might even be able to use that extra yarn you have laying around to crochet/knit scarves and hats to donate. Contact your local shelters for specific information.
  8. Animal Shelters: My family is full of animal lovers. A few years ago, my brothers (who were about 7 and 8 years old at the time) held a lemonade stand and used the money to purchase animal food, treats, and toys for their local animal shelter. I have also heard of children asking for dogs food and other donations instead of gifts for their birthday party. I’m not saying that you need to force your child to do that, but it’s a great conversation to start. Generosity is a great quality to instill in your children at a young age. But you don’t have to have a winter birthday to donate! A lot of animal shelters accept community donations. Call your local animal shelter for details.
  9. Food Banks: Our postal service allies with local food pantries a few times a year for food drives. We will get notice in the mail that they will be running the food drive on a specific date. You can leave any unopened non-perishables that aren’t expired in a bag on your porch and when the postal worker stops to drop off your mail, they pick up your donation. It’s a great way to give back to your community while decluttering your pantry. I am sure that they accept donations at other times also. Some grocery stores will have food drives hosted right there. You can grab groceries for your home, pick up a couple extra things, and drop them right into the box after you pay. Contact your nearby food bank for details – this is a great way to instantly donate to your local community.
  10. Overseas: Many churches link with agencies to donate gifts to children and adults from other countries. Several years ago, I was involved in a church that was affiliated with an agency to allow the congregation to donate care packages of gifts for children in Africa. (Wow, that was a long-winded sentence.) It was awesome that the church, although it did a lot for the community, also thought about other countries where people aren’t as fortunate. Contact the leader of your church to see if this is an option for your congregation.

 

Don’t forget that your time is ultra-valuable! Any volunteering that you can do is a great way to give back to your community and the people around you.

I hope that this post has inspired you to get out there and give this season. Get in the habit of generosity and allow it to become a part of your life. Be the positive light for others that you seek for your own life.

Love Always,

Elizabeth