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Free Christmas Traditions to Start This Year

Free Christmas Traditions to Start This Year

We’ve been gradually working through the KonMari method of decluttering, and things are ever so sloooowly coming together. Blame the toddler for my lack of efficiency 😉 I’m getting there.

Since clearing out probably half of our stuff, I’m hyper-aware of what comes into the house. But the holidays are coming, and we’re not the gatekeepers when it comes to gifts from the extended family. Based on how Christmas has been since the kids came along, I can predict with a high level of certainty that any decluttering progress we’ve made will take a few giant steps back.

The consumerist influence of the season – I’d skip it altogether if it were up to me. But it’s not my place to put the brakes on others buying things if it makes them happy. (Or, if they think it does. I have my doubts.)

So, my kids will get gifts, and I’m okay with that. But I see it as my job to balance the gift mindset with non-materialistic memories of the holidays. This is where traditions come in.

We could grab traditions from our ancestry – for example, our grandparents are Italian so we can take a crack at the Feast of the Seven Fishes. But with little kids in the house I know some of these traditions can be a bit much. If we decided to go turbo Italian, we’re looking at a seven-course meal right up against Midnight Mass? We wanted good memories, right? Instead, we have some simpler memory-making traditions to try, at least until the youngest develops a little more impulse control.

Accomplishment Jar

Each family member has a jar with his or her own name on it. Each family member gets one slip of paper for every other family member, and they write down what each person has accomplished this year and slips it into their jar. Together, we open our own jars and read aloud what our families wrote about us. The jars are emptied once we’ve shared our own accomplishments, and we can start dropping accomplishments into our family members’ jars all year to be read at the end of next year.


The holidays can be really rough for people who are trying to get through a tough season. Why not do what we can do to inject some positivity into their rough patch? You can gather up the kids and work a dinner shift at a soup kitchen, pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, make cards for troops overseas, or get a group together to decorate cookies at the nursing home.

Sometimes, it’s hard to get kids to understand how good we have it. Seeing how others spend their holidays can give us all perspective.

Christmas movie night

My kids are at just the right age to snort laugh at Home Alone, and I couldn’t wait to turn it on this year. We got out our sleeping bags, popped some popcorn tossed with melted white chocolate and crushed oreos, and had a memorable night that they’re still talking about weeks later. Christmas comedy movie night is going down in the books as a must-do every December.

Slumber party under the tree

Am I right in saying that small children love to sleep anywhere except their beds? Grab those sleeping bags from movie night, shake out the popcorn as best you can, and drag them to the tree. Snuggle up with extra pillows, read The Night Before Christmas and let them drift off to soft holiday classics streaming on Amazon Prime. They’ll remember things like this.

Holidays are just another thing we need to be intentional about so we’re not swept up in the tide. Shifting the focus from the buy buy buy mentality takes a little effort, but it’s the stuff memories are made of.

The Family Fitness Habit

The Family Fitness Habit

We’ve always been the play-outside type of people, and we homeschool so my kids aren’t sitting in desks for hours a day. So it’s not that difficult to make sure kids get plenty of physical activity.

Still though, I don’t take that tendency for granted. There’s no way around it – we need to be intentional about getting out and active. According to the CDC, 17% or 12.7 million children ages 2-19 are obese, and 34.9% or 78.6 million adults are obese.

That’s a lot.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends a full hour of physical activity per day for children.

That sounds like a lot.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming we get enough physical activity in our days. When there’s this much at stake, we prioritize it.

But it doesn’t have to feel like a chore, a line-item to check off of our lists. Physical activity is our favorite time together that we all look forward to.

First thing first – come up with a few activities that your family would actually have fun doing together, and decide which days you’ll give them a go. Then, keep these tips in mind to make it easy to get all the playtime your family needs.

Start now
Let’s make this easy on ourselves. When kids are young, they want to play with their parents, and they want to be outside whether it’s cool and sunny or cold with a foot of snow on the ground.

Take advantage of this willingness and start a family fitness habit that will last. If we lace up the sneaks and get outside with some consistency, it becomes something we just do, not something we spend time and energy deciding to do, or talking the family into doing. You’ll just go.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Be an example
Give a two-year-old a toy smartphone. What does he do with it? I know my little guy will lift it to his ear almost immediately.

“Hiyo…oh tay…uhvoo bye.”

Then he’ll tap and swipe as if perusing Feedly.

Kids are hardwired to imitate their parents. We overhear them spouting our catch phrases when playing house. If they find a whisk and a pot they’ll vigorously stir their invisible pancake batter. They love to sit in the driver’s seat and vruuuhhmmm while turning the steering wheel of a vehicle with no keys.

They don’t readily admit it, but kids imitate us longer than we think. For better or for worse, we’re a reference point. They start out repeating what they see, and later in life they’ll decide whether to keep repeating or go their own way.

It’s our job to show them good examples of healthy habits and positive experiences, and we can only hope it becomes a part of them.
Involve kids in exercise that looks like exercise
Especially when our kids are little, how many of us feel guilty for having “me” time?

Let’s look at that from the other side. What if our kids never saw us taking care of ourselves, then grew up to not prioritize their own health as a result?

IMO, that’s a bigger source of guilt.

We want to show kids that we as parents invest in our own health. We can bring kids to the childcare room at the gym or have them cheer us on while we run a 5K. We want our kids to see us make an intentional effort to get stronger and improve ourselves every day.
Involve kids in exercise that looks like play
This one is easier, and much more fun 🙂

Playing with our children is fun for us and fun for them. Everyone gets fresh air and gets moving, all while we’re making memories.

We don’t need to take up distance running and drill sergeant our kids through age inappropriate training. Active play can be a short flat scenic hike, or games of tag in a field. We can swim, ride bikes, spin around the ice rink, kick a soccer ball around, or just take a relaxing walk around the neighborhood.

Our goal is to show our kids so many active, fun play options that they don’t even bring up video games during free time.

Ah, dreams. Someday…
Let them pick
Kids like to have a say in things. If you want to get out but aren’t sure what to do, kids will have plenty of suggestions. When everyone in the family takes a turn choosing the activity every now and then, they feel like part of the team rather than the underling, and they’ll be more eager to join in the fun.

Creating a family fitness habit could be one of the most important things you do to keep your children and yourselves well for a lifetime.

Let’s swap some ideas. What does your family like to do together for fun and fitness?


Why I Became the Dreaded “Just a Minute” Mom

I’ve been coming across blog posts in my many feeds painting the “wait a minute” mom as something these writer mamas don’t want to be. There’s no one blogger I’m singling out – there have been a handful of posts in a short amount of time and they got me thinking.

I get what they’re saying. After the eleven thousandth time we’ve told our kids to just give us a sec, hours have passed and we feel pretty terrible about it.

So, I understand not wanting to overuse the hold button. But can we be real for a minute? Sometimes if we stop, we’ll burn dinner. Or the baby will sit in the poopy diaper we were about to change. Or we’ll miss the return call from that medical bill error we’ve been trying to resolve for six months, and we’ll have to call back and burn most of the afternoon on hold, and once we get through the nine-item touchtone menu we’ll have to start at the beginning of the story with “David” whose real name we probably can’t pronounce…

Hypothetically speaking.

Life doesn’t stop for requests for games of restaurant or parade band. Or, maybe it does for perfect moms with perfect houses and perfectly pinned dinners. For this very real mom, my kids sometimes have to wait for me to get through a phone call with the Davids.

What are we teaching kids if we drop everything, every time they want something?

I don’t want my kids to think that the world will take a break from spinning for them. The adult world certainly doesn’t work that way. They should know that everyone has their responsibilities and priorities, and sometimes we have to exercise patience and self-discipline until it’s our time.

It’s simple impulse control, a basic life skill that needs to be taught. Delayed gratification is so important that psychologists have been measuring it in kids since the 1960s with the famous marshmallow test.

What message are we sending if our kids never have our full attention?

We could spend a few minutes finishing that email completely, or we could stop halfway through and start a game of memory matching while typing the email out on our phone in between turns. Which scenario sends a better message?

Younger children don’t really get the patience thing as well as older children do. My big kids are well into the stage where they can wait, and they do.

I’m certainly not swatting them away every time they ask for something. Most of the time, I can get what they need right away. And when I can’t, they know it won’t be long.

Then, when it’s time to march in the parade, they get every bit of me and my xylophone.

Okay, I want to hear from other moms. Do you feel guilty when your kids have to wait?


Gentle Weaning from Breastfeeding in Three Weeks

A few months shy of two, Frodo wanted to find out what happens when toddlers stop being polite, and start getting…toothy.

Little dude found out alright. Instead of weaning on his own terms, he got a little encouragement from his mama.

I could start teary tippy typing about how emotional it was, and how I’m so sad that this part of his babyhood is over, and maybe I’ll feel all the feels one day. But for now, I’m relieved that it’s over. He was biting, and that’s what’s fresh in my mind. He didn’t bite just sometimes. He bit every time. I’m beginning to think that was nature’s way of showing us the door.

Even though it was mucho unpleasant for me, I didn’t just cut him off suddenly. I wanted to usher us both out of this phase in a loving, gentle way. Here’s how I approached gradual and gentle weaning from breastfeeding.

Week 1

The first week, I gave him a filling snack before bed and nap, since he depended on pre-sleep feedings to fall asleep. I would let him nurse at our usual times, but instead of letting him go as long as he wanted, I would pop him off a little early while still awake. This allowed him to relax enough to get sleepy, but fall asleep without help. He quickly and willingly started to take in a little more food while awake, and not rely so much on calories from breastmilk.

Week 2

On the second week I replaced our bedtime nursing session with fingerplay songs. This may not work for everyone, but I knew my little dude would drop everything to snuggle in close for a round of Twinkle Twinkle or Eensy Weensy Spider. Once it became our new sleep cue, I used the songs to usher in naptime as well.

Week 3

The third week, we eliminated the morning nursing session. We were both reluctant to let this one go. He didn’t want to give up his pre-breakfast, I didn’t want to give up my extra 10 minutes of lounging in bed. In an ideal world, we would have a nice, long morning snuggle to make up for it, but Frodo has something else in mind.

“Mo mo mala,” he demands.

Translation: morning banana. And if I don’t hop to, he cranks the volume and the whole house is up.

Occasionally, he’ll still ask for “molp.” I’ll make a joke of it. “Milk is for babies! Are you a baby or a big boy?”

“Biiiiih boh,” he’ll reply, arms raised high.

I don’t think he’s mad at me 🙂

Lyme Disease: What Makes it Tricky


Syndicated on

I have no medical training, so this should not be taken as medical advice. If you are wondering about symptoms, get off the internet and call a qualified physician!


Let’s talk about ticks.

Ugh, my head is itchy just thinking about it. I’m going to go take a shower now.


Okay, I’m back.

Just thinking about ticks gives me the heebie jeebies. But I’ve got to write about them (and compulsively scratch myself all the while) because I’ve learned some things about ticks and Lyme disease that I didn’t know two weeks ago.

We just got the test results back. My little guy has Lyme disease and is on a course of antibiotics for it.

Which means it’s likely there’s a tick somewhere in my house.

**Goes nuclear on house cleaning.**

Scary as it is, I’ve learned that Lyme disease is a little tricky. It’s not as straightforward as, say, a throat culture telling the doc you have strep. It’s more like a set of puzzle pieces coming together and kind of sort of maybe looking like the cover, enough to say, I guess these pieces go into this box…

I took Hoss to the ER on a weekend to get a Lyme test. Early-stage Lyme isn’t an emergency, so I could have waited until the family doctor opened on Monday. But I wanted a doctor to assess the rash while it was still bright red and obvious. The doctor ran through a list of questions and looked at his rash.

“This isn’t consistent with Lyme disease. It would look like a target. Besides, Lyme isn’t endemic to Pennsylvania.”


Source: CDC Lyme Data and Statistics

“He’s allergic to something,” the doctor concluded. He scribbled “contact dermatitis” in his chart and handed me the carbon copy.

I asked for an ELISA and Western Blot anyway, to which he replied, “are you a teacher?”

Obvious subtext: “Hey, I’m the doctor here.”

But preserving some middle-aged man’s fragile ego is of little concern to me when my young son is facing the possibility of debilitating disease. Of course, I couldn’t help but pull the Epidemiologist card. No matter if I’m on extended hiatus, right? I wanted him to order the tests.

I also firmly yet politely requested a prescription for the first few days of antibiotics to start, just in case.

Mama was right this time. Our family doctor extended the course of antibiotics and I’m happy to report he’s now free and clear.

I had read enough about Lyme to know that I wasn’t going to treat this lightly. It’s easy to treat if caught early enough, but it’s easy to miss. Lyme disease has some tricks up its sleeve.

Trick #1. Lyme disease is carried by barely-noticeable ticks. Deer ticks are much smaller and harder to spot than the ones you pull off of your dog. You’re not likely to find them unless you go looking for them – especially the nymphs, only the size of a poppyseed. As soon as a tick is old enough to eat, it’s old enough to have contracted something and pass it onto humans.

deer tick

(c) David van der Mark – creative commons license via  This isn’t a full-grown deer tick, but the adult isn’t much larger.

Trick #2. The tests aren’t terribly accurate, especially early on. The tests for Lyme disease are notorious for both false positive and false negative results. Since you or your little one will be getting poked anyway, make sure the doctor orders both an ELISA and Western Blot. Neither are 100% accurate, but two is better than one.

Stay in close communication with your doctor about symptoms, so that you can decide together whether to treat (even if blood tests are negative).

Trick #3. The characteristic lyme disease bullseye rash is not a good indicator. Often, we look for the erythema migrans, the target pattern that is associated with Lyme disease. But it doesn’t show up on everyone, and if you do get the rash, there’s a chance you’ll miss it. For one, the bullseye marks the site of the bite, which could be hiding in hair or in less obvious places on the body. Two, darker complexions may hide it completely. Three, it could have come and gone before you noticed it.

This is what we generally associate with Lyme:

lyme disease rash

(c)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Creative commons license.

We didn’t see the bullseye on Hoss. Instead, he showed circular splotches all over (pictured below), even on the bottom of his foot. He seemed to have a circle around his face, with downward red streaks on his cheeks. So, my guess is the bullseye was covered by his hair. We’ll never know.

lyme disease

(c) Blink Thinkers LLC – all rights reserved. This splotch had just popped up. It later expanded a little, and the middle became very white. These patches differ from the target pattern usually associated with lyme, which are found at the site of the bite.

What sent us to the doctor’s office

Information about symptoms can be found on the CDC website. Of course, call the doctor if you have questions about anything out of the ordinary, Lyme or not.

These were Hoss’ symptoms. Like I said, we caught it early, so he didn’t experience the later-stage symptoms like muscle and joint aches or Bell’s palsy. We will continue to watch for those and other symptoms, in the unlikely event that the medicine didn’t work.

  • Hoss had a high fever, 102F at one point, in the middle of June. This is the same kid who will tally maybe one mild cold all winter, so the red flags went up. Some of his friends came down with colds around the same time, which threw us off.
  • While he had the fever, he showed some behavior changes. I figured he was grumpy from whatever caused the fever. Still, at the time, I just thought he was coming down with something.
  • My energetic little guy was also suddenly wiped out all the time. He asked for sleep on more than one occasion. Normally, he’s our bedtime negotiator, and I think he would go days without sleep if no one put him to bed. So this wasn’t typical behavior.
  • He then came down with the rash. The strange circular pattern on top of everything else started to point to Lyme.

Just a simple blood test, and our suspicions were confirmed. Trust your gut, mamas.

Hoss was prescribed a few weeks of antibiotics. We’re not the type of family to take medicine for every little thing, but of course we’ll give antibiotics for a disease that could cause a lifetime of suffering.

Are you at risk for Lyme Disease?

In the United States, Lyme Disease tends to pop up in the eastern part of the country. However, there’s nothing stopping a tick from hopping onto a host and flying across the map. (I haven’t done any research on other countries, but you can find your area’s stats with a simple internet search.)

If you’re in a Lyme hotspot, you may want to use extra caution if you have a pet, if you’ve been playing in tall-grass or wooded areas, or if you’re a constantly-outside family like we are.

Some last thoughts…

  • If someone in your household is diagnosed, make sure to keep an eye on the rest. You don’t know where the tick jumped off.
  • Get your long-haired dog a short-cut for the summer. Brush and check her often.
  • Check your kids thoroughly every night and when they’ve been playing in high grass. Comb through hair, check for ticks hiding in or behind ears, in underarms and in skin folds.
  • Remove ticks with tweezers, making sure to get the head out. Other methods (petroleum jelly, burning with a match tip, etc.) cause the tick to panic and regurgitate, pumping disease into the host body.
  • I DIDN’T EVEN SCRATCH THE SURFACE! There’s a lot to know about Lyme disease. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or visit a more informative site than my silly little blog. Like the CDC – they’re legit.



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