When less is more

That crazy time of the year is upon us, holiday shopping! Black Friday is less than a week away, Cyber Monday only a little over a week, not to mention all of the other deals that will come along as businesses fight over our hard-earned dollars, promising the toy or gadget of the year that our loved ones simply cannot live without. Are you ready for it?

I’m not, but I’m getting there. I am doing something very different this year, but I will admit, it is something I probably should have been doing for the last several years. I have made a budget, and I plan to stick to it! In year’s past, I have done my best to shop sales and discounts for gifts for family and friends. Yet I never set a cap for myself, and that is something we always seem to pay for financially come January and February (when the credit card bill comes due). Not to mention the material excess we face from the holiday forward! When you have to actually take a break from gift opening because it is too much and too overwhelming for small children…. you may have gone too far. I admit it, it is a mistake we have made in the past. Not happening this year.

Because why on earth should it? Is that what Christmas and Chanukah are all about? Who gets the most presents? Or is it about family and love and togetherness? And celebrating births and battles won, and all that great historical stuff too?? It is a beautiful time of the year, and I think the boys are old enough now to realize it is about more than lighting candles, Santa coming, and tons of gifts. There is more to these holidays than that. So let’s focus on that for a change, not making sure they have a ton of gifts under the tree.

But don’t get me wrong, I still think there is very much a place for gifts, and treating our loved ones to something special! That is still going to happen, just maybe not in as much full-force. We don’t tend to buy the boys presents unless it is their birthdays or this time of year, so I am still very much going to enjoy that process, and getting to buy gifts for all of our family and close friends. But I won’t go overboard.

This year I set an overall dollar amount, and I set it pretty low. Then I divided that amount by the people on our list. And to be honest, I came up with a VERY LOW number to spend on each person. Granted, there is a little wiggle room in there, which is why I started so low, so that going over by a few dollars won’t totally break the bank. But that low amount is going to force me to get much more creative this year. In addition to shopping sales like crazy, I also have to sit back and think…. what do people really want? What do they really need? Is this gift something useful that will be appreciated? Or is it just something nice that may or may not add to the clutter and junk we all seem to struggle with. Because why would I want to add to that for others, when I have a hard enough time dealing with my own clutter and junk???

So that’s the plan. I have a few people figured out already, and have a few gifts already purchased. But I still have quite a few more to go… I guess I will be spending the next few days scouring Black Friday ads for more inspiration and ideas. By the way, did you know some stores will start their Black Friday on Thanksgiving ONLINE???? Yup, I will be taking advantage of that, from the comfort of my home, in my pajamas and a warm cup of coffee by my side. Knock it out first thing in the morning so I can spend the rest of the holiday being thankful with those I love most in the world. Because that is what I want to focus on most.

And in case I am too busy planning to post again beforehand, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you get to enjoy a beautiful day filled with yummy food, love, and laughter with those who mean the most to you!!!

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Playing Catch-Up

You would think that with the holidays behind us now, life would slow down just a bit. Not so much around here, life is charging on, busy as ever! I find myself in catch-up mode right now, trying to wrap up loose ends before I feel I can fully embrace the new year and all of the projects and goals that it holds for me and our family.

The tree is bare, the holiday decorations are 90% put away (and reorganized for next year, whoo hoo!), almost all of the toys have been unpackaged and set up, the last of my own gifts to give are in the mail as of this morning (behind the curve ball, oh yes, but I can blame the company for losing my order for two weeks….), the receipts have been filed, the bills are ready to be paid, Connor’s preschool resumes today, and on and on….

My hope is to spend the next few days finishing the little projects that need to be finished, so we can move on to bigger and better things! Among the goals for this year: teach Connor to read, figure out which school he will be attending in (gulp) 18 short months and get him on the necessary wait lists, continue expanding the twins’ vocabulary, find new and fun adventures for the boys to enjoy every day, write more, start a new fitness routine, sleep more (yeah right), go on an actual date with my husband, and just try to enjoy every single day a little more.

Wish me luck, it’s going to be a busy but exciting year ahead!

Embracing the Holiday Spirit

This is a very busy time of year for our family. We celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah (or as we call it, Christmukah), along with Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It’s also typically a very fun time of year: the sights, the sounds, the warmth, the joy. And when you become a parent, the festivities become even more important as you watch them through your children’s curious, innocent eyes. You see the magic that they see.

Yet this year I have had a hard time getting into the spirit of things. Perhaps it has been because I am feeling so tired and drained, thanks to eight stubborn molars that are just now finally breaking through. Perhaps it has been because I have two toddlers who have entered the Terrible Two’s a bit early, complete with plenty of “no” and “mine” to boot. Add to that a 3-year-old who thinks he knows everything, and I spend more of my days refereeing than mothering… Sometimes I think the little day-to-day frustrations can easily get in the way of the big picture.

It is our family’s tradition to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend putting up our Christmas tree and other decorations. Last year Connor was old enough to hang a few ornaments, and Benjamin and Alexander were able to help from the comfort of Mommy and Daddy’s arms. More importantly, the twins were not yet old enough to crawl, so the tree was relatively safe from harm. Connor knew the rules to stay away; the immobile babies didn’t have a choice. This year, everything is fair game to my precocious little boys. Ornaments look like toys, and anything within reach is literally up for grabs. We quickly realized during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend that the tree would never get trimmed while the boys were awake. They were into everything. Even when we convinced them to hang an ornament on the tree, they wanted to pull it right back down and play with it. And poor Connor was trying his best to follow the rules and trim the tree properly, but his brothers want to do whatever he does, so it got to a point where we couldn’t let him decorate anymore because it was causing two small meltdowns. Ah, screaming children, that feels like the holidays, doesn’t it?!?

The rest of the decorating fell to Mommy and Daddy, to be done after bedtime each night, time permitting. That being said, we finally finished trimming the tree last night, 10 days after we started. And the bottom 2.5 ft. are completely bare, to avoid having ornaments pulled off and destroyed by wandering hands. I found the time and energy to put the outside lights on the porch a few nights ago. It was 8 degrees outside, but I had the free time and energy, so I went for it. It wasn’t terribly fun, but I do love to see the lights. Now that the decorating is complete, I am feeling a little more festive. DSC_0001

I know the holidays are not about trees and lights and presents. They are about family, togetherness, and giving thanks for our many blessings. But it doesn’t hurt to have the beautiful, physical reminders to jog your memory about the spirit of the season during an otherwise long and chaotic day.

I guess the moral of this story is that, as in all things parenting, you need to set your expectations aside and go with the flow. I was feeling rather sad when we couldn’t seem to get our decorating done as a family, I had hoped to continue that tradition with the kids this year. But those down feelings were erased the second I saw the kids’ eyes light up as we lit up the finished tree. They don’t care how it got decorated, they just love to look at it. So I shouldn’t care how it got decorated, or how tedious it was. I should just enjoy the fact that I can sit in my warm, cozy home on these cold winter nights, and enjoy the beauty of the season with my beautiful boys.

And maybe next year we will try to let them trim the tree again…. maybe. DSC_0002

My adventures in Black Friday shopping

Well, I did it. I shopped Black Friday. In fact I shopped Gray Thursday too, after the kids went to bed. I debated it for weeks, but after doing extensive research, I came across some deals on items I wanted, that needed to be purchased in store. Normally I would rather avoid the craziness and just shop online, but this year it seemed worth it to head out into the chaos.

My primary objective was a virtually free item at Kohls. I have been wanting to give Alan a new electric griddle for months, it just hasn’t been in the budget. We received an amazing griddle as a wedding present, but sadly it wore out a while back. I knew Alan wanted a new one, so that was high on my gift-giving list. I initially found one at JC Penney last month, through a door-buster sale for $19.99. I thought that was a good deal, so I snatched it up. Then I found a better deal, and the first one was returned to the store.

For Black Friday, Kohls offered up a comparable griddle, with even better reviews. Its list price was $39.99, but it was marked down to $19.99. Add to that a $12 mail-in rebate. Add to that a $5 off coupon and a 15% off coupon that could be used in store Thursday or Friday. My final price for Alan’s griddle? Seventy-four cents! I also found two other kitchen appliances we were in need of, on sale at Kohls. With the same coupons and rebates, I was able to get them for $7.50 each. Not too shabby….

So yes, I stood in line in near-freezing temperatures Thursday night. I got to the store about a half hour before it was scheduled to open, the line was already forming. I was probably about the 100th person in line. Over the next half hour, I watched the line grow and grow, wrapping completely around the building and out of sight. Even though it was cold, I was impressed with the mood of my fellow shoppers. We exchanged small talk, everyone eager for sales but polite and in good spirits. It helped to pass the time.

When the doors opened, I quickly but calmly got down to business. I knew if I got stuck waiting in line to check out, I would be there all night. But I had a plan. Earlier in the week, the boys and I visited the store on a reconnaissance mission. I knew exactly where to find exactly what I was looking for. I got in and got out, checked out and was back in my car less than 20 minutes after the store had opened.

I visited a total of six different stores between Thanksgiving night and bedtime Friday, planning my trips around the kids’ sleep and nap schedules so that I wouldn’t have to be away from them for long. I spent a total of approximately $275 on three kitchen appliances, a bicycle for Connor (shhh, it’s a present from Santa!), a helmet, a movie for each of the kids and one for Alan, five pairs of blue jeans, two shirts, two kid pajama sets, two adult pajama bottoms, and a few grocery odds and ends.

The key to my success was careful research and planning. I did not enter any store without knowing exactly what I was looking for, the price I expected to pay, and where to find it. I put lists on my phone and went through them as I shopped, to stay organized. I moved quickly and methodically, so as not to get slowed down by the crowds. Would I shop Black Friday again? Possibly. If I can find as many good deals, if the store openings do not interfere with my family and holiday time (they did not this year, thankfully), and if I have the energy! Because here I am the day after, and I am still exhausted… satisfied, but exhausted.