Wednesday, December 7, 2016

You Make the Season

 I love this season.

From the crack of dawn Black Friday shopping, to the beautiful twinkling lights that seem to appear little by little, like the stars peeking out, to the building excitement of my two little girls, to the festive feeling you get everywhere. Sure, your weekends are booked and there’s plenty to do, but it just feels so…happy.

I’m the furthest from a Scrooge or a Grinch. I’m a Who – humming merrily as I wrap and decorate and love the excess. 

But yeah, it’s busy. It’s exhausting. I love seeing the magic unfold through my children’s eyes, but I’m also the one making the magic. And I can love it and still feel exhausted.

Not only am I trying to do cards, shop and wrap, manage the schedule, clean and decorate, be Santa and the Elf and the magic maker, but I’m doing it mostly solo. Adam is traveling a minimum of three days every single week leading up to Christmas this year. He’s home enough to participate in the merriment – the parties and performances and family activities like Santa visits and getting the tree – but the majority of the prep falls to me.

If I let it, that merriment can be squashed and replaced with stress. It would be so easy to let that stress get to me. To grumble about the decorating that I do not have time for. To curse the stupid Elf. To complain about the excess and booked weekends and the are you kidding me that we have a dance rehearsal NOW. I’ve seen it happen. I don’t want to be a crab throughout December, just counting down the days until December 26.

So planning, scheduling, and reflecting is not just nice, it’s critical. If I’m not filling my tank, I’ll run out of gas long before I welcome the family for Christmas Eve dinner. 

At the beginning of the season, I make my Christmas planner. I make that scary to-do list that spans multiple pages and gets into ridiculous levels of detail, right down to “book sitter for Christmas party” and “get cash for group gift contributions” and “make sure the girls have tights that fit with their Christmas dresses.” I have sections for gifts, for cards, for budgets, for decorating, for little details. I’m a “write it down and remember it” girl. I’m a to-do dinosaur who loves her planner. If I write it down, I’m in control of it.

I’m not just talking about the calendar. I’m talking about my time. Adam is normally the coffee maker and the early riser. He gets up with the girls. He brews the coffee and pours my mug. When Adam is gone, I give myself an hour before the girls get up, and an hour after they go to bed. In the morning, I make my coffee, I sit in the big cozy armchair, and I drink it in the quiet house. Once I’ve finished that, I can turn back to the to do list with a fresh eye. If I wait until the girls are up, that coffee will sit in the mug while I try to catch up. Having that time to mentally get myself ready is critical.
The other scheduling I do makes sure that I don’t get too wrapped up in any one task. I set a timer and give myself a set amount of time for things. I give myself an hour to work on decorating before that timer dings and I move on. I see how much wrapping I can get done in forty-five minutes. I know myself. I’ll get so wrapped up that I’ll end up awake at midnight, overtired and frustrated.
So if I put the girls to be at eight, I have three hours. Two for prep and one for relaxation. Then, I’m done. The next day will be there.

This is my relaxation time. It’s very, very easy to let this slide over the holidays, especially with a traveling husband. I’m doing the work of two parents and swamped with holiday prep, so who has time for sipping coffee or reading or journaling or bubble baths? Me, that’s who. I will make it happen. I give myself that hour once the girls are in bed to take care of me. And I wake up early when I’m alone so I can have that coffee time.

I just tried Bulletproof coffee, and it is giving me that extra edge I need. Coffee is necessary to get those feet moving, but bad coffee can actually get me started on the wrong foot. I don’t have time to feel sluggish or sick.  I was always intrigued by the idea of blending butter and seeing what it could really do for me, and now that I've tried it, the real way, I know it's not all hype.

Bulletproof Coffee uses great quality coffee, a high octane brain boost supplement (kind of like a coconut oil, but even more effective) and the good fat in either ghee or grass-fed butter for long lasting, metabolism boosting, good energy that will last through the whole day – even a busy and stressful December day. It’s low toxin, high performance, and full of healthy fats to fuel even the most overwhelming days of holiday prep.

Bulletproof offers a starter kit so you can try it for yourself and see if it’s for you. 

The Recipe for REAL Bulletproof Coffee
a.     Brew 1 cup (8-12 oz.) of coffee using filtered water, just off the boil, with 2 1/2 heaping tablespoons freshly ground Bulletproof Coffee Beans. (French Press is easiest, but we usually use a drip.)
b.     Add in 1-2 tablespoons of Brain Octane™ to the hot coffee (It’s STRONG – start with 1 tsp. and work up over several days).
c.      Add 1-2 tablespoons grass-fed, unsalted butter or grass-fed ghee (included in the starter kit)
d.     Mix it all in a blender for 20-30 seconds until it is frothy like a foamy latte. I use a stick blender and rinsed it under hot water right away to make clean up a snap.

The holidays can overwhelm you and turn you into a Grinch, but preparing, relaxing, and Bulletproof can truly help you Elevate the Season and enjoy every moment – even stamping envelopes!

This post was sponsored by Bulletproof, but my opinions are, as usual, my own. Some of the links may be affiliate links.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lighting Our Way into the Season

Back in 2013, when both this blog and Reagan were heading into their toddler years, we visited Holiday Lights at Lake Compounce. I was still green enough to stress about covering every single aspect and paranoid that I wouldn't do a good enough job. And Reagan was firmly into her "if I can't do exactly what I want I will have a massive tantrum" stage. And since what she wanted to do was take her shoes and socks off in 30 degree weather, we were battling, she was wailing, and we were both on the verge of totally losing it. I was nearly in tears over the prospect of giving up and going home, and Reagan was in tears and quickly approaching the point of no return.

Then we saw the lights. The thousands and thousands of colorful, twinkling, sparkling, shining lights, radiating from every space in the park. And the lights were magic, mesmerizing us both enough to breathe and take it all in, resetting us to the joy of the season being welcomed in.

Now, both Reagan and I are seasoned enough where the meltdowns are few and far between. I panic less about being perfect, she copes better with frustration.

But the lights are still magic.

We visited Lake Compounce the Saturday after Thanksgiving this year. Although we usually go as a family of four, this year our group swelled to include my parents and my sister, complete with her family. We bundled into our winter gear to enjoy the magic together.

My girls visited the park in the summer for the first time this past year, so they were familiar with the rides and loved the idea of going back, all bundled up, in the dark and cold of a winter night. Yet during Holiday Lights, the dark was punctuated by glowing, festive lights. Not all the rides are open, but Kiddieland was, as well as the train, which transformed into the North Pole Railway. The ride was long and chilly, but it gave us views of lighted decorations we wouldn't have been able to see from anywhere else.


Reagan's favorite ride!

Dinosaur area was  AMAZING!

One of the best parts of the decorations is the tree, which was new this year. This tree was amazing. It is straight out of a Christmas fairy tale. One hundred feet tall and completely covered in seven hundred thousand white lights, it was a sight to behold. Every night, the tree is lit by someone new, and the night we went, the girls had the opportunity to work Santa's light box. Magic.

Another new addition this year was the food trucks. I need to give a huge shout out to 744 Express. The New Yorker sandwich that Adam enjoyed was unreal, and the chefs went above and beyond to make sure everyone had a satisfying experience. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the hot sandwiches and hot dogs which warmed every part of us. The girls loved the bacon cheeseburger balls from Chompers, which were little fried balls of deliciousness. All the food trucks fit in with the theme of food that warms and fills you - just like the lights.

To stay warm, we had our Lake Compounce mugs. For only $8, you can refill your mug with hot cider, hot chocolate, or coffee all night long and keep warm as you walk around. Definitely a great investment for a chilly night (and if you buy your mug online, you save another dollar and get it for only $7).

Double fisting hot chocolate!

Holiday Lights is open on Friday nights from 5-9 and Saturdays and Sundays from 4-9 through December 18. Tickets are 12.99 online for adults (15.99 at the gate) and 10.99 for children (free for under 3s!) If you use my promo code MeredithToMommyHLBlog17 you'll get an additional dollar off adult admission - only 11.99 for a night of holiday magic!

Cold and tired, but glowing just the same!
  • Arrive just before the gates open to see the tree lit. It's worth it.
  • If you're planning on visiting Santa, time it how it will best work for you. The line was much shorter when the park first opened, but it was also nice to get inside and warm up after a few hours of being out in the cold.
  • The train ride is well worth it, but cold - it felt colder than rest of the park. I saw several families bring blankets with them to snuggle up together. If you have a backpack, it's worth it.
  • Definitely get the refillable cup. It's well worth it. I kept myself warm with a constant stream of hot cider!
  • Buy tickets online. Not only will it expedite your entrance into the park, but you save money!
  • Bundle up. We went on a relatively mild day where we just wore heavy fleece jackets out and about. But once that sun goes down, it is cold! Gloves, scarves, hats, boots and warm coats!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

And We Will Do School EVERYWHERE

When people see Madison out and about during the typical school day hours this year, she's a magnet for questions.

"No school today?"

"Aren't you old enough for school?"

She's on the taller side. She can, depending on the day, look older than six. At the very least, she doesn't look younger. To adults on the outside, she looks like she should be spending the daytime hours in a first grade classroom. When they see her out with me, they think day off, they think doctor appointment, they might just be confused. But most adults don't immediately think homeschooling. Because if you're homeschooled...aren't you home?

And sure, sometimes we are. But a lot of the time, we're not. When people ask me how homeschooling is going and if we like it, I usually tell them that I love how freeing it is. I'm responsible for educating my daughter, but we can do it anywhere.

And that's weird to a lot of people. They still have a mental picture of Madison, sitting alone at a desk, looking wistfully out the window. Or, for whatever reason, they picture us traveling the world, tromping through fields and woods. But today's homeschoolers, at least a lot of them, are really somewhere in the middle. Sometimes they're home, sitting and doing written work. Sometimes they're on a "field trip". But sometimes, they're just out.

Madison and I discovered this year that we both work well in the "coffeeshop" environment. At home, we get distracted. There are toys and laundry and dishes and books and technology that steal our focus. The library is too quiet - we need a dull din where we feel free to talk to each other. But at Starbucks, I pull out my laptop, and she pulls out her clipboard and binder of work, we both become productive, and we have our school day out. Not on a great learning experience of the economy of coffeeshops, just work on the road.

We get a lot of looks. We start a lot of conversations. But we get to educate people about the fact that Madison can be in first grade while:

In the car.

At dance class.

In Starbucks.

At the doctor's office.

At home.

And it still works.

You can work at home. You can school at home. You can work at an office. You can school in school.

And then there's the in between. We can do school anywhere!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Gum is the Worst


If there's one stain I hate cleaning, it's something sticky. And stubborn.

Ok, that's not fair. I generally don't like cleaning any stains. But lately I've been cleaning a lot of sticky ones, and it stinks. Stickers and tattoos that I missed and somehow ended up getting washed and dried on shirts and sheets and blankets.

And gum.

Gum is the worst. The worst. 

Reagan doesn't chew gum. She's not really interested, and we've never really messed with that. But Madison was offered a piece of gum by a friend one day when she was about five, and she's been hooked ever since. As long as she follows our gum rules, I know that I'll just be encouraging the "forbidden fruit" if I don't allow it. She's gotten a ban once and finally earned the right back about six months ago.

The rules are simple.

1. Once it goes in, gum stays in your mouth until you are ready to throw it away.
2. Gum gets wrapped up and thrown away in trash cans only.

Easy, right?

Well, a few weeks ago, she had one of those dark side of homeschooling mornings. The kind where, because she's home, and I'm home, she has to run a long, boring, not kid friendly errand with me. It's a trade off. We sat at the AT&T store for over an hour, trying to fix, and then basically rebuild, my dead phone. Then she did workbook pages while I pretty much ignored her while I tried to get my phone back to the way I like it. Then we had to go pick up a prescription, and we had to wait at the pharmacy, and she was starting to lose it.

So, like the fantastic mom I am, I offered her a bribe. Chose any bag of candy from the store's 99 cent selection. All the vintage treats were there - gumdrops and store brand swedish fish and smarties and .... bubblegum. Individually wrapped, pink square bubblegum. She chose that.

We went over the gum rules again, and I let her get it. She happily popped a piece in her mouth, we finished our errands, picked up Reagan, and continued on with our day. Adam was out of town, so after dance class I offered to take the girls out to dinner (honestly a bigger win for me than for them). Madison was warm from her class, and it was a mild evening, so I didn't think anything of the fact that she carried, rather than wore, her team jacket. She tossed it onto the car seat with her dance bag.

By the time we reached the restaurant, it was chilly, but she suddenly refused to put the jacket on.

And then I saw why.

Before dance, she'd apparently spit out her gum, but realized that she threw away the wrapper. Rather than ask me what to do, or carry it into the building to the trash can, she just put it on her seat to deal with later. And when she tossed her jacket on the same seat after dance, she put that jacket right onto the forgotten gum, then weighed it down with her bag. When she picked it up later...that gum was firmly squished into her expensive, personalized, only available through special order, mandatory teamwear, jacket. Oh, and onto the car seat too.

Two totally non disposable, hard to clean spots.

So I became a gum cleaning expert.

My new favorite sticky stain remover? Hot vinegar. I'm a pretty big "vinegar is a magical cleaner" person anyway, but I never thought that it would have a different impact under a different temperature. Hot vinegar literally lifted the wad of gum off both the jacket and the seat. I wish I'd had someone videoing it as it happened (I was actually tempted to put gum on something old so I could do this, but making an intentional mess seems wrong).

One the bulk was lifted off by the hot vinegar, both spots were left with residue the texture of a sticker back. Here's where the cleaning differs. I cover the car seat in the link above, so I'll talk about the jacket here. I saturated the stain in Goo Gone and washed it with my load already in the washer. This made no difference to the stickiness and I was about to get upset, before I looked at my research more carefully. It's suggested to saturate in Goo Gone, let it sit for a long time, then wash alone with double detergent. This seemed like a wasted wash to me, but then I realized that not being able to salvage the jacket was a worse choice, so I tried it.


I pulled the jacket out from it's solo journey in the washing machine with TWO Tide Pods...and it was perfect. PERFECT. No residue, no "oil mark" from the Goo Gone. It looked brand new.

So gum might be the worst, but discovering a new way to tackle it without stress is the best!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween Safety

Excited kids + lots of sugar + dark streets =

Anxiety. That combination equals anxiety for moms.

My girls are usually really good in parking lots and when we walk near traffic, but it seems like on Halloween all those habits start to be forgotten. As the girls are getting older, they are doing less walking with us, hand in hand, and more running from house to house with a group of friends while we wait at the sidewalks. It's fun, and I love seeing how much they love trick or treating with friends, but it definitely gets me worried.

This year, as we sit eating our absurdly early dinner on Halloween night, we will go over all those rules that are normally habit. Stay on the sidewalk (or, in our neighborhood, the side of the road opposite traffic). Only cross at corner. Carry a light - either a glow stick or a flashlight. Stay with an adult.

But we're not the only ones in control. I know that last year when we drove to our friend's house, I was an extremely nervous driver as we navigated the streets full of kids. I'm normally not a speed demon to begin with, but I was driving about 15 mph and focusing completely on the road - not on my kids and their excited backseat chatter, not on the radio, not on my excitement over stealing peanut butter cups from the treat bags later. Drivers need to be cautious on Halloween night too.

No, it's not the most exciting part of the holiday. The girls already moan and groan as I start my little speeches about manners and safety, but it's important. Come Halloween Night, hopefully at least some of it will stick, and I can have an anxiety free Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween Fun

As Halloween creeps closer, it feels like we've already been celebrating all week. I don't feel like I had multiple days of events leading up to Halloween when I was a kid, but we're in the age of bigger and more and I shouldn't be surprised that Halloween is a multi-day, multi-activity event.

The girls had me a little worried this year. For weeks Reagan had been obsessed with dressing up as Maleficent, and even managed to convince Madison to join her villain club as the Evil Queen (a surprising triumph, considering that Madison was scared of her for quite a while when she first saw Snow White). I thought this was a cool idea, until it was time to actually get my hands on the costumes. Turns out that finding villain costumes for small kids is actually pretty tricky. I could find costumes in adult sizes, but it seemed that I would have to craft the smaller sizes myself. I'm not crafty, so this worried me.

Then we went to Target with my mom, and as we browsed the Halloween section, and I snapped pictures of adult sized Maleficent dresses for inspiration, the girls became obsessed with two seemingly random costumes, totally unrelated to any characters, and changed their minds on the spot. Both were thrilled with their new choices, didn't care that they were unrelated to each other, and we bought them.

Admittedly, I did hang them in the coat closet with the receipts attached, just in case. I don't trust them.

So a Rainbow Unicorn and a Sassy Sparkle Witch it was.

They dressed up for school and dance. Reagan's preschool class actually trick or treats to the surrounding businesses, which is adorable.

They attended our annual, over the top, Halloween party where they ate themselves silly, danced until they dropped, carved jack o lanterns, decorated desserts, and made crafts. The food is great, the activities and decorations are awesome, and it's one of their favorite events all year.

We went to our first Trunk or Treat. These seem to be popping up all over the place, but for some reason, we've never made it to one. I don't know why, because it was awesome. Some people went all out and the cars were fantastic works of art. There were plenty of cars, but because they were all so close together and there was no traffic to watch out for, the girls covered a lot of territory very quickly. Maybe next year we'll decorate our car!

Trick or treating is still a few days away, and hopefully they won't be burned out by the time the big night arrives! Somehow I think they'll manage!
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