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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Loneliness of a Stay-at-home Mom

The loneliness of a stay-at-home mom, can be overwhelming but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Webster's dictionary defines loneliness as sadness resulting from being forsaken or abandoned.  Loneliness can also be defined as unhappy as a result of being without the companionship of others.

I'm not sure when it exactly happened.  For me, it didn't just happen overnight.  It happened very slowly, and then all of a sudden I realized I hadn't heard from anyone in days, weeks and maybe even months.

I thought a lot about many different aspects of being a stay-at-home mom before I took the leap.  I knew I didn't function well without adults and outward motivation around me, but I was willing to take on the risk of the emotional toll.

I would not just be a mom of one, because I have step kids as well.  With all of my step kid's activities, I knew I would make maybe a few friends.  But, I forgot one truth about being a stepmom (and an active one at that), other kid's moms don't want to build a relationship with you.  They want to become friends with your child's "real mom".

I don't say that with any malice intent.  No mom has said one unkind word to me and other mothers are always extremely pleasant.  But if we were really honest with ourselves, most people like to mingle with others that are similar to themselves.  That's just kind of human nature.

I have yet to find a stepmom that is as active with their step kids as I am, so making friends has been a struggle for me.  So long story short, being a stay-at-home stepmom has a whole other set of difficulties that I was a little naive about.

In my old life before babies, I had calls from friends and family all of the time, usually during my most busy moments.  We would text or meet for lunch or dinner.  Sometimes we would just hang out or just talk on the phone to catch up on each other's busy lives.  You know, all of the normal stuff friends and family do.  But now that my days are filled with cleaning, laundry, chasing a toddler, being a bonus mom and wife, the calls and texts have stopped.  Not only from friends but from family as well.  Everyone is living their own lives and since I am not close anymore, out of sight out of mind.

When I do see my family or friends, since I have no other outlet, I talk about my kids mainly.  We talk about what we know and since lately that is all I seem to know, people are stuck with it.

Each and every day I get to see my sons and daughters grow up and learn new things.  I love that I get to see all of their firsts.  I don't regret one day of it, but I do miss my old life.  I miss the interaction with others and the desire to be needed and not just as a wife, mother and taxi driver.

Before becoming a SAHM, I needed a certain amount of "me" time to refresh myself. And now, that hasn't changed.  I still need "me" time but somehow many people mistake being at home alone with children, the same as having "me" time.  Well let me tell you, it isn't.  Most of the time I feel like completely isolated and alone.

I don't regret one minute I have spent being a stay-at-home mom.  I feel so lucky that we are able to financially have me be at home, at least for the short term.  I love every smile and pouty lip.  I am extremely fortunate and I constantly need to remind myself of it.  But, for an introvert with extrovert tendencies, this has been harder for me than I ever imagined.

So ultimately, I have to say that the loneliness is the hardest part of being a stay-at-home mom.

I have a few words of advice for women like me, those that have always found most of their self worth working outside the home.  If you are considering becoming a SAHM, ask yourself these questions.

  • Can we afford to be a SAHM?
  • Am I more of an introvert or extrovert?
  • Am I good at working alone, with no direction?
  • Am I an organized person?
  • Will my spouse treat me as an equal if I am not working outside of the home?
  • Is being a SAHM worth sacrificing my career ambition?
  • How long am I willing or wanting to stay at home?
  • Ultimately, will I resent my children if I stay at home?

 

These are all very important things to think about when making the decision to stay at home.  This is not a decision to make lightly or alone.

If you decide to take on the role of a stay-at-home mom like me (for however long), be aware that loneliness can hit you out of the blue.  So I put together a few ways to fight the loneliness:

  1. Make a routine
  2. Get out of the house
  3. Find an outlet that is all yours
  4. Openly communicate with your spouse
  5. Find a mom's group in your area, in person or online
  6. Don't be afraid to talk to your doctor because loneliness can turn into depression

Loneliness may be a part of my life as a stay-at-home mom, but it doesn't define me.  Each and every day I am blessed to watch my kids grow and blossom into the future exceptional adults I know they are going to be.  Although there may be moments of lonely tears, the most meaningful tears are from happiness and laughter.  And I wouldn't trade that for anything.

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Life After Divorce for a Stepmom

What happens when a stepmom is no longer a stepmom?

Being a stepmom is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs I have ever undertaken.  But what happens to a stepmom when the birth dad and stepmom divorce?

This is a topic that is very rarely spoken of.  But with approximately 67% of second marriages ending in divorce, and some studies say that bringing children in from a previous marriage increases the chance of divorce by 15%, it is a reality for many.  What happens when the Stepmom stops being a stepmom?

As stepparents, we are told to treat our step kids no different than birth kids.  As a stepmom we are to love and be a "mom" to our step kids.  Stepmom duties may seem very familiar to moms.  I make breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I take my kids to doctors appointments and play dates.  I help with homework and drive kids to Girl Scouts, tennis or baseball practice.  I am there cheering at plays or rugby games.

We are "mom" to our kids but do not get the credit of being the child's mom.  Now, when I became a stepmom I kind of knew this would be the case but I embraced my role anyway.

But nobody ever seems to talk about the "after".  I guess to be honest, nobody really wants to think about divorce or believes it will never happen to them.  They say blood is thicker than water.  That statement is very powerful to the divorced stepmom.

I was once told by a long time stepmom, that even during the toughest times of her marriage, she knew she could never walk away because if she did, she would never see her kids (two of them legally step kids) again.  To me that was such a shocking admission but all too true.

Stepparents have the job and responsibilities of a mom, but have no legal rights like a birth parent, unless they have legally adopted the stepchild.  For those of us who live and die for our kids, no matter if they were born to us or not, this is the hardest part of being a stepparent.  And I caution those who are going to become a stepparent, be aware of this truth but don't let it hold you hostage.

Years after my divorce, I learned that some states are trying to bring some rights to stepparents, even in divorce.  Those states have enacted laws that grant grandparents visitation rights, and stepparents are fighting for those same privileges.

Many lawyers will encourage just dealing with this outside of the divorce documents, but think long and hard about what is best for your family.  But even if your state has rights, I believe the real question should be what is best for each member of the family.

After the divorce papers are signed, it is really up to the ex-spouse if visitations are permitted with the step kids, if it is not clearly stated in legal documents.  Remember every divorce is different.  Some ex-spouses don't want the ex-stepparent to have contact with their children.  They want to start a new life, and really I can't blame them.  After all, they are trying to protect their kids from any pain and disappointment.

My advice, keep your door open.  If you want to continue to be a part of your step kids lives', make sure they know they are always welcome.  Whether that is sending cards, emails, texts or phone calls, let them know you love them and will always be there.  Sometimes the results will not be in your favor and sometimes they will.  Just know that you were the best stepmom you could be and hopefully they are better people for it.

One day, I hope my step kids from my first marriage will want to be a part of my life, but no matter what, I will always love them.  They will always have a piece of my heart.  And I am so thankful, that even for a short time, I got to be a part of their life.

 

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Why take a Babymoon?

Babymoon Yes or No? Whether this is your first or your fourth, a babymoon is a great way to celebrate your family.

If you are expecting your first or even your fourth child, I highly recommend taking a Babymoon before his or her arrival. Why?  Because you deserve it.  I sure know I did.  A Babymoon is defined as a relaxing vacation taken by the parents-to-be before the baby is born. I look at it as a time to celebrate your current family before your family expands by at least one (and maybe more).

I took my very first babymoon before my daughter Charlize. It is such a great time to focus on the existing family unit and celebrate how wonderful life is before the craziness of a newborn arrives.  And we all know it gets really crazy with a newborn.

Whether you want to go lavish or live on a budget, there are many different types of babymoons to choose from. I have broken the babymoon down to four different types:

  • Vacation Getaway
  • Weekend
  • Staycation
  • Family Chaos

A Vacation getaway is probably the most popular and honestly relaxing of the baby moons.  There are countless amazing locations to choose from when looking at a vacation babymoon.  The one warning, with Zika Virus being a clear concern for pregnant women and your unborn child, make sure to check with CDC before deciding on a location.  Make sure that this getaway is both relaxing and safe for all involved.  It is really up to each couples tastes but a tropical vacation, or maybe a winter snow resort, can do wonders for the mind, body and soul.

While a vacation getaway maybe on everyone's wish list, it is not exactly always fiscally possible.  A Weekend babymoon is a great option that will still give you time to breath.  Since we live in the Pacific Northwest, we have many great beaches within a two hour drive of us.  The weather might not be as amazing as Hawaii or Mexico, but sometimes just getting out of town can do a world of good.  And the views alone can still compete with beaches all over the world.

If going out of town is out of the question, then I highly recommend a simple Staycation.  This, as it sounds, is a vacation where you stay at home.  If you have kids at home, as a friend or family to watch them for one, two or ten days.  There are strict rules for the staycation babymoon.  That might sound funny, but let's be honest with ourselves, if we are at home we run errands, finish to-do-lists and possibly work  on projects around the house.  None of these activities promote relaxation.  During the staycation, just ignore everything and enjoy each other.  My advice is to order takeout, hit Red Box or maybe binge watch a little Netflix.  Whatever you decide, just take a little time to relax and take a break from the all too real world.

What was my babymoon like?  None of the above.  We chose the Family Chaos babymoon.  Strange choice, yes.  For our babymoon we decided that we wanted to celebrate our current family unit.  So we went to one of the most unrelaxing locations possible, Great Wolf Lodge.  And I don't regret it one bit.  Since I signed up for their newsletter on Facebook, we got a smoking deal, which made me have an even better time.  From the wave pool, water slides (not for the pregnant women of course), late night kids dance party and waaaay to much pizza, we had a fabulous time!!!  I can't imagine a better family babymoon, before the impending new bundle.

No matter what type of babymoon you choose to take, TAKE IT!!!!  We all deserve a little moment to relax and/or celebrate the family we have today.  I don't know if my kids even remember it as a babymoon.  They remember it as a fun and carefree two days of fun with their family of five.  Thank you Great Wolf Lodge for a wonderful Babymoon!!

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