How to Simplify Your Holiday Season

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Waking up first thing on Christmas morning, running to see what Santa left us; going over to my grandparents for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas lunch; yummy cheese fondue on Christmas Eve; these are my memories and family traditions of the holidays when I was growing up.  Life was simple.  Life was good.  And I was oblivious to everything my mother did for our family (on our tight budget).

As I got older, I attempted my first Thanksgiving gathering and realized how much work it really took.  As years passed, I was invited to more and more holiday parties.  I was amazed by the hostesses and their perfect homes.  I always wondered their secrets.  How did they seem to have everything so together?  How did they seem to be having so much fun at their own party, while looking truly stress-free?

I finally found the secret behind many of these people's ability to manage the holiday season, and do it with such style and grace.  While it seems as though these parties are just thrown together (or at least that is what the host always says), it actually takes an immense amount of planning.  Even if you are not the Martha Stewart hostess of your social circle, planning is the key to surviving and flourishing during the holiday season.

I think I knew a long time ago that I needed to be more of a planner, and boy did I try to. With all of my effort, I was still a mess and running out to buy last minute gifts every year.  My best of intentions constantly seemed to just fall flat.  But then one day I was reading Simplify Your Life: Get Organized and Stay That Way by Marcia Ramsland, and she opened my eyes to a better way to do things.  She seemed to have the secret to a stress-free holiday season.  I highly recommend this book for Ramsland's methods and specific devotionals.

What is the secret to her simplifying the holidays?  The Eight-Week Holiday Calendar is the answer. Below is a sample calendar.

For me the Eight-Week Holiday Calendar begins the day after Halloween.  Follow Ramsland's four steps and three phases, and you will be amazed how much more enjoyable your holiday season will be.

Step 1: Fill in all the important dates like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, etc

Step 2: Write in holiday celebrations that you plan to attend

Step 3: Highlight vacation days for kids and parents

Step 4: Number the weeks in your personal calendar as a countdown

These four steps help to get the basic planning down in writing.  After that is done, it is much easier to plan all the other stuff that needs to be done.

Phase 1: Gift Shopping and Wrapping

Phase 2: Decorations, Cards and Mailing

Phase 3: Celebrations, Cooking and Cleaning

Going phase by phase, scheduling each one of these tasks into the Eight-Week Holiday Calendar will help to give order to the crazy holiday season.  I know it might sound a little funny to schedule gift wrapping and cleaning, but it's amazing how much more seems to get accomplished when things are scheduled and written down.

This calendar is not written in stone.  Life is constantly changing, and we need to be able to adapt for sanity, if nothing else.  Also, it is not necessary that the eight week calendar is beautiful either.  My calendar is hand written in the back of my paper planner, and I love it.  I like using pencil for my holiday planner because I am constantly rearranging and rescheduling.  Here is an example of a recent year's holiday calendar.  It may not be pretty, but it's very user friendly.

I like to have the eight week Christmas calendar close by.  The back of my daily planner seems to fit perfectly into my life.  This way, when a new event comes up, I actually know if I am available or not.

After using this calendar, I actually sent out personalized Christmas cards for the first time in over 10 years.  This may not be a big deal for some people, but I gotta admit I was really proud of myself.  Like with most calendars, things come up and changes needed to occur, but for once, it was easy to adapt because I had everything I needed to do directly in front of me.

Marcia Ramsland has many other great ideas, and even came out with a book specifically for the holiday season, Simplify your holidays, a Christmas planner to use year after year.  Check out her advice for organizing gift giving, menu planning and even stress reducing tips.

With the tools that I have learned, I am thankfully able to enjoy the holidays more than I even thought possible.  And it is very important that we remember the reason for the season.  It is not a time to try and keep up with "the Jones", but a time for friends, family and faith.  It is a time to be thankful for everything we have.  It is a time to gather and enjoy each other.  It is a time to love and to Thank God!

 

Dear Lord, I never would have believed it was possible to survive the holiday season without a complete and total breakdown, but now I know it's possible.  Thank you for the leading me to find the answers and to never give up hope.

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Losing Weight After Babies and After 40

Losing Weight After Babies and After 40Please please please don't blame my son or daughter for my weight gain.

For the last two years, people have been telling me, "But you just had a baby".  Oh please, I lost the pregnancy weight within two months of having my babies from complete exhaustion.  Now I did not have the luck of being able to breastfeed more than a month for various reasons with either my son or daughter, which can help with weight loss (some studies say from 500 to 1200 calories burned a day).  But guess what, my kids did not force feed me hamburgers, french fries and my true love, Pizza!!!!  I did this all on my own, so my little man and baby girl are officially off the hook.

I will say that age does make weight loss a little more challenging, but does not make it impossible at all.  Now that I am over 40, I realize I will never look the way I did when I was 23 and vacationing in Cabo (I really did look good).  But that's okay.  I want to be the healthiest and best person I can be right now.

I have never been a really thin person, but I've never been a really obese person either.  I'm just a larger person in general.  When I first started dating my husband, I was at my "LOVE" weight.  You know what I am talking about.  I was thinner than normal but I was still trying to lose even more weight (like many of us).  My BMI was just barely in the healthy range, but being a taller female it really is easier to hide a few pounds.

Now after a trip to the doctor a few months ago, I am in the BMI range named "obese".  Ouch does that hurt.  I've been in this range before, twice, and both times I was seriously depressed and about to end relationships.  Well, life is different now, I do still struggle with depression but am madly in love with my husband and have a wonderful family.  So, this "obese" shit is about to hit the fan (sorry for the language)!!

Wow, first time I've sworn on my blog!!  I feel a little guilty, yet a little liberated.

I have reached the actualization that I need to make a drastic change.  I cannot eat whatever I want, no matter how much I workout.  I do not have the metabolism for it (never have, but over 40 proves it).  And although I may crave and have the ability to, I cannot eat the same amount of food as my 6 foot 6 inch husband.

So with this epiphany, I have also started to reconnect with a long lost friend.  Oh how I've missed her.  She has far less weight to lose than me but we have both had it!!  So through the wonders of Facebook instant messenger, we are checking on each other.  We have a simple goal.  We want to be the women that we both remember.  That is not necessarily a number but a confidence in ourselves that we can and will conquer the world.

What am I doing to achieve this you might ask?

I am using the simple theory that has worked for me before, "do more, eat less".  I know this sounds simple, but in real life it is far from simple.  Cravings and stress eating can be very powerful things.  And sometimes pizza really does make everything feel better for that moment.

First things first, am I mentally and emotionally ready to make a change?  It is important that I am trying to lose weight for the right reasons, not for anyone else, but for me.  Also, I went to have a wellness check with my doctor, to make sure I got the green light to go ahead with the lifestyle change and diet.  I'm just not trying to look better, I am trying to be healthier and have more energy to keep up with my active family.

Second, I am using my favorite app, My Fitness Pal and sometimes Map My Walk.  These two apps are wonderful to really keep you on track and also make you realize what your putting into your body.  My Fitness Pal also seems to be the person who tells me what I don't want to hear, even if I need to hear it.  It tells me that if you continuing eating like you did today, in five weeks you will weigh "blank".  And let me tell you that is completely motivating in itself.

Lastly, it was important to me that I find a diet plan that I can stick to and honestly, something that will shake things up for me.  I was afraid that if I made only small changes, it would be easy for me to fall back into my old way of viewing food.  I want this to be a lifestyle change for me and my entire family.  There are so many different types of diets out there: Low Carb (like the Atkins diet), Low Fat, Low Calorie, South Beach Diet or Keto Diet.  There are many advantages and disadvantages to all of them.  The most important part for me was researching them and deciding what was best for me.

So ..... drum roll please ....

I decided to jump on the Keto Diet craze.  I originally heard about it on Good Morning America, my very favorite way to start my morning.  I am naturally a cynic but actually trust the information that they provide, so when GMA says it can be a safe option for a time period, I decided to make the leap.  Of course I did read up on it and talk to my doctor.  It was a drastic change, but something that I thought was crazy enough for me to try.  Why not right?

With the help of My Fitness Pal app, I was able to change the required Macros and follow my low calorie, high fat, low carb diet for three months.  This is not the type of diet I can change to as a lifestyle change, because let's be honest, I can't live without my pizza.  But for three months, I knew I could stick to almost anything.

3 month weight lossOkay, so I have now completed the three months I committed to being on the Keto Diet (and I shockingly haven't even cheated).  At this time, I do not feel like sharing where I started or how much I want to lose (weight has always been a very sensitive issue for me), but will tell you that after exactly three months, I am 37 lbs down.  It feels good.

Now when I am snacking healthy and want to consume an entire pizza, I keep telling myself that I am doing this for my babies, my husband, my family.  But most importantly I just want to feel good in my own skin again.  I want to be around a long long time for them.  I have heart disease and cancer on both sides of my family, so this is not something that I want to monkey around with at all.  It is my responsibility to manage my own health.

What's next for me?

Well, my ultimate goal was to get back to my dating weight.  When I started dating my husband, I truly felt good in my skin.  I know I could have been thinner but I felt I had finally found a weight that I be happy in and not self conscious of.  So, I know this sounds corny, but I really want to date my husband again.  I don't believe you should ever stop dating your spouse, and I want to feel as good as I used to before the babies and burgers really started to pile up.

With my weight loss I am already seeing an increased level of energy.  I am trying to follow "Hands Free Mama" and put down my iPhone and step away from my computer more.  I am trying to play with my four kids and do more stuff with them and not be a bystander in their lives.  I am becoming more of an active person in my own life.  Don't get me wrong, I still do love my Candy Crush and Instagram, but I am making a conscious effort to be more present.  Rachel Stafford really helped me be honest with myself about this.  Thank you Hands Free Mama.

My next step is trying out the Low-Carb diet.  It puts the emphasis on Protein, and even though it is low carb, you can still eat more carbs than on the Keto Diet.

The other day my husband said, "Let's be honest.  This is not a diet anymore for you but a lifestyle change."  I agreed and disagreed with that statement, all at the same time.  When I get to a healthy weight, my plan is to use My Fitness Pal app to monitor and maintain my weight.  When this happens, I will be able to eat pizza more often, in moderation, and eat more similar to my family (we are all eating healthier).  Ultimately, I want this to be a lifestyle change.  I want to be a good example to all of my family and prove anything is possible with hard work.

My kids, my husband, my family and I deserve to be happy and healthy.  Of course looking sexy in my jeans won't hurt either.

 

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A Letter of Love

A letter of love


Being a stepmom, or bonus mom, is an adventure and has been one of the best things in my life.  But life doesn’t always have happy endings.  Sometimes divorces happen.  And unlike parents with biological kids, when a marriage ends, a step-parent has no rights.  This is a letter of love from many previous bonus parents to kids everywhere. Continue reading

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The Art of the Brick

The Art of the Brick is an amazing exhibition for the entire family.

 

The Art of the Brick is an amazing exhibition for the entire family.  Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is the current stop for this vibrant and whimsical global touring exhibition of artist Nathan Sawaya.  CNN has rated The Art of the Brick as one of the “Must See Exhibitions”, and after experiencing it with my family, I have to agree.

In our family, we have ages ranging from infant to preteen.  Sometimes it is hard to find a family activity that is truly fun for the entire family, while still being budget friendly.  Thanks to Groupon offering an OMSI annual family membership at more than half off, we were able to have the entire family go to The Art of the Brick for only $18 (that’s less than an adult entrance without a membership).

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10 Things Older New Moms are Tired of Hearing


Becoming a new mom is one of the most wonderful and magical things (and tiring and exhausting and …..) any woman can experience.  From the first moment of seeing the positive pregnancy test to watching how your body changes right before your eyes, it is a nine month roller coaster ride.

I recently was lucky enough to read an article from Hannah Westmoreland Murphy from Romper.com, 9 Things New Moms in their 20’s are so Tired of Hearing.  I loved this article. It opened my eyes to the struggle that every woman seems to have during this happy time, no matter what age, unwanted thoughtless comments.  This post was inspired by Murphy’s article and I highly recommend checking it out.

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