Saturday, December 25, 2010

Trash-free Christmas?


As you may have picked up from skimming the last few posts, I have issues with Christmas. My first issue was that I was afraid to even admit that I don't like Christmas. Only heartless people don't like Christmas, right? Well, this year I was determined to avoid the numb feeling that seemed to invade my heart around Dec 1st, and whole-heartedly tackle this wonderful holiday.

So I was forced to ask myself, "Why, exactly, don't I like this holiday?" It's not because it's Jesus' birthday. I love Jesus. It's not because it's at the beginning of winter. I like winter, almost, if I have enough socks on. Then I figured out my dislike of Christmas lies in the American version of the holiday, which includes overspending, overeating, general over-doing of the holiday. I found myself clutching my husband's shirt, shrieking, "CHRISTMAS IS NOT IN LINE WITH MY VALUES!"

A friend recommended a great little read (Hundred Dollar Holiday), a pastor had a great sermon series (Babylon A.D., about the American consumer society being the modern-day manmade empire), and all of a sudden I was given permission to celebrate the holiday in a simple, real, more Keri-like way. (Why I need "permission" to do the right thing is a whole other dissertation.)

In reality, not much changed.

My children each received one needed, pre-owned, non-packaged gift from us parents. My close relatives received one or two needed items, lovingly and frugally purchased and packaged. My other relatives and friends received edible, homemade, or repurposed gifts from us.

But I'm hopeful for next year.

No trash? No excess? No fret?

Check out how beautiful homemade gifts can be:

Here's how I chose to use all that glass I had around.

Here's my first attempt at making marshmallows.

My mother is so kind and actually called them "gourmet," even before she knew I made them. I love that woman.

Here's how me and the hubby get busy after the kids are in bed.

The picture doesn't show the ONE HUNDRED AND TEN OF THESE THAT WE MADE.

Here's how spiffy some (almost) trash-free gifts can look. They are packaged in butcher paper and decorated with mesh bags that oranges, garlic, avocados come in. The paper can be recycled and the mesh bags get one last hoorah before heading to the dump.

And some out-of-town grandmas received a super-cute and affordable photo book, with pictures like this:

Here I am with my family.

Do I look relaxed? Do I look like I'm enjoying the holiday? Compared to last year, when I spent most of the time in the fetal position (at least mentally), I'd say the stars are brightly shining.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Guest post on Simple Organized Living!

Would you believe that a super sweet and useful blog posted an article of mine as a guest post? It's about maintaining my limited time, money, and sanity.

Pop on over there and check out some of my strategies!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow Day? Christmas Yoga Day!

Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but inside it was delightful.

It took three school districts (one 5am phone call, one 6am phone call, and one check online) to keep my family home today for a Snow Day. Nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Since we were all awake and excited about the day off, we decided to get moving and grab the camera along the way. What resulted was a fun and active Christmas Yoga. Kids brainstormed ideas and poses while one of us adults snapped the pics.

Christmas Tree Pose

Christmas Gift Pose

Angel Pose

Candy Cane Pose

Nutcracker Pose

Shepherd-Staff-Sheep Pose

Journey to Bethlehem Pose

Menorah Pose

Melting Snowman Pose

Mary and Child Pose

Frankincense Pose

I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm Pose

Let it snow!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why this Christmas is already better than the 13 previous ones.

Some of you may know about my deep dislike of Christmas. And my decision to embrace the holiday this year.

It's December 12 and you might be wondering "How's that goin' for ya?"

Let me tell you.

A few things have stacked up to make this a WAY better holiday that I had hoped for.

1) I had my nervous breakdown early this year. That's right, I just got it out of the way on Dec 4, so there's still plenty of time to actually enjoy the season! During this emotional elevator, the idea of Consumable, Sustainable Gifts gave me such hope. So wherever possible, I'm going to try to give food or natural fibers as gifts. (Have you seen these ice luminaries? My first one is freezing outside right now!

2) Later that day, I picked up the book Hundred Dollar Holiday from the library. (Thanks for the recommendation, Ann!) The main premise is that spending far less money on Christmas gifts, far less time standing in line, far less energy fretting over busyness allows you to spend more time with family, with music, with the outdoors doing more meaningful, memorable things. I'll take that! I felt encouraged: spending less money on gifts does not make me a Scrooge. Instead it is our consumer culture, tricking us into thinking that real Christmas comes in a box, needs batteries, or costs a lot, that is the real Scrooge.

3) The next day our pastor started a sermon series about how our consumer culture is like the modern-day Babylon, an empire that we've built to avoid God, an empire that we have no power to overthrow except through Jesus. It felt so great to have someone give voice to my unrest, and from the pulpit, no less. Practical tips included celebrating Advent (a yet uncommercialized time of year) and reducing gift spending.

Over the years I've had varying degrees of culture shock and unease (sounds strange coming from an American living in the U.S., but it's true), and it's always stronger at Christmastime. Now I feel like I've been given permission to celebrate the holiday (and spend my energy) in ways that I value: with family, with music, in the outdoors.

Who knows? Next year it might be me welcoming Christmas with a Tree Skirt Dance!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Saying "yes" to Christmas

After the last few years of being immobilized by my dislike for Christmas, I've decided to be on the offensive and take the snowball by the horns. Or something like that.

Someone recently asked me, "How can you not like Christmas?" Uh, the forced socializing, the inability to quietly opt out of consumerism like I manage to do the rest of the year, the availability of sugar and the headaches that accompany it, the increased demands and expectations coupled with the decreased time in which to fulfill them. You can see why it's tempting to stay under the covers until mid-January.

Not this year!

I woke up one day and realized that many people actually like and look forward to Christmas. Why can't I be one of them? Well, this year, I am.

Or at least I'm pretending to be.

So, on the day after Thanksgiving, I welcomed Christmas into my home. I figured I would start with the traditions that I truly enjoy.




We set up the nativity scene (what a relief that my daughters no longer feel the need to take Baby Jesus all around the house, as in previous years).

The tree will come later, when Music Man is free. But that's no reason to keep the tree skirt boxed up!

I've not done any actual shopping, but that will come. For now, I'm still making my list and checking it twice.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm supposed to be simplifying.

I'm supposed to be simplifying. You know, eliminating, streamlining, getting simple.

This was all going really well until I received my December (and final) issue of Everyday Food. That magazine makes everything look so outrageously easy. There ought to be a warning on the front: The simplicity of this magazine is an illusion.

So when I saw the recipe for Puff Pastries, I thought, "no problem, just a few ingredients, just bake, then fill, no problem."

And mostly it went like that. Sort of.

First you preheat the oven to 425 degrees, line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Then bring 1 cup water, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, and 1 teaspoon sugar to a boil over highish heat. Immediately remove from heat and stir in 1 cup all-purpose flour. Keep stirring until the mixture pulls away from the sides and looks like really yucky playdough. Don't bother tasting, you'll wonder why you did.

Next add 4 large eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition until the batter comes together again. You'll have really egg-y looking paper mache paste.

Transfer the batter into a large ziplock baggie and snip a 1/2-inch hole in one corner. Finally, pipe the batter into little blobs onto the parchment paper.

The recipe claims you can get 110 small puffs, or 40 large ones. I ended up with about 75 of random sizes. With a wet finger, smooth out the pointy tops. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temp to 350 and bake for 25 minutes longer, until puffs are golden brown and feel hollow inside. So far, so good.

When the puffs are cool, poke a hole in each one with a chopstick or skewer. Fill at will. I choose a melted chocolate and butter filling.

Maybe that was my problem. When I tried to pipe it from its own little plastic baggie into the little puffs, the bag kept ripping open and warm chocolate kept spilling onto my hands. I know, there are worse things in life, but I was racing the clock because I had to drive the carpool that afternoon. Maybe next time I would fill a squeeze bottle with the chocolate and squirt it in that way (another tip learned from organized people).

Anyway the filling choices are endless: frosting, tuna salad, slice and make mini BLTs, whatever you have a taste for. The end result was fun and cute, but I'm not sure tending to 75 pastry puffs is in line with my new simple and complain-free lifestyle.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Someone just turned 7!

People always say that their children are growing up so fast, where does the time go, I can't believe how grown up they are, blah, blah, blah. Give me a break.

But, my children are growing up so fast. Where did the time go? I can't believe how grown up they are.

Especially this one.

She chose a rainbow theme this year. I'm not sure when we instituted the theme idea, but now no birthday goes without a theme. They've even selected one for my next (36th) birthday: gardens. I like it.

The idea of rainbows was so sweet so cheery, so beautifully scientific (think: Roy G. Biv). But then I started frosting. First, I was dirtying way too many bowls.

Then, the red stripe made every last cupcake look so forlorn.

And the big cake was just depressing.

I couldn't help but sing "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I ..." It's a good thing there are 6 other stripes to redeem the effect.

The party was a big hit. 1 birthday girl + 1 sister + Pin the Red on the Rainbow + Twister + Hey, check out this cool prism + everybody paint mini pumpkins with glitter + pasta and pesto + cupcakes = 1 colorful party. And no one wanted to cry.

Makeovers are not just for the ladies: His/Her Before/After

Someone in our house is sporting a new look these days. Actually, two someones.

And I'm not talking about the dog whose adventures in a nearby vacant lot resulted in hundreds of burrs. We needed professional help that day.

The Music Man said "goodbye" to 50 pounds in 4 months and is quite proud of himself.

Check him out before, in June 2010.

And here he is after, today Oct 2010.

As our kids say, "He's not so puffy anymore."

Fifty pounds is about the size of our 7 yr-old. Just imagine having to carry her around for most of your life, then not having to carry her around any more.

We're all a lot happier about it.

This happened to coincide with my month-long build up of "I've got to do something about all this hair!" Turns out they have professionals to help with that too.

I went to our local hip hair place Thomas Blondie and was serviced by Mr. Dwight Thomas himself. I was slightly nervous because he considers himself a hair artist. Because I prefer art to be on my walls or in my oven, I told him to go easy on me. I pointed sheepishly at one of those examples in a hair magazine and Dwight went right to work.

Here I am before, looking too much like Kate on Lost, when she's stranded on an island, without access to conditioner.

And here I am after.

I think I lost about 50 pounds of hair. And we're all a lot happier about it.