Well, hey there friends! Happy December and welcome back to another coffee break chat! This time around, I’m sharing what’s been going on behind-the-scenes with our little fam, as well as some updates to our favorite holiday traditions. So grab a drink (and maybe a Christmas cookie or two!) and let’s catch up!

White coffee mugs with red vinyl Christmas tress on the front

Tonsils…Times Two!

I’ve been away the last few weeks for a pretty good reason: our two younger sons both had their tonsils and adenoids removed and ear tubes put in. Thankfully, the surgeries themselves were short and problem-free. However, I very much was not prepared for the intensity of two children coming out of anesthesia. Phew!

While I didn’t necessarily think I’d be able to do much focused work during their recovery, I definitely underestimated how much of an impact my two little patients would have on the entire household. We had a pretty solid week+ of around-the-clock Motrin and popsicles, plus lots of TV time, arts and crafts, and board games. But I’m happy to report that both have recovered without issue, and they’re back to their happy, perk, NOISY selves!

Here’s hoping there are a lot less sick days and many more quiet, restful nights ahead for all of us!

Melting popsicles on a plate

Christmas Countdown…Elevated

For the last 5 years or so, my little family has done a “Christmas Countdown Chain” to count down the days until Christmas. When I first came up with this system (that I outline in detail here!), it was merely a way to reduce holiday stress while also ensuring we squeeze in as much holiday fun as we can. Little did I know this simple project would become one of my kids’ favorite things…ever!

All these years later, we’re still pulling out the same paper chain links I crafted up at the start. And while they’re in decent shape, I’ve been growing skeptical about how long they’ll last. So I started thinking about having something a bit more…permanent…to help us execute this now very-favorite tradition for years to come. When I saw this wooden Advent calendar with 25 little drawers in an adorable village display, I knew it was just the thing!

I love that we now have something sturdy to lovingly pull out year after year. The drawers are the perfect size to hold the little slips of paper outlining our festive activity of the day, but its weight and presence also make it a stunning addition to our holiday decor.

Years ago, I had no idea how special our “paper chain” would become. And now, the whole family is pretty excited to start counting down to Christmas with a fresh take on our favorite familiar tradition!

Christmas Activity Papers in little drawers

Trying Something New

Speaking of evolving traditions, Greg and I are trying something new for Christmas gifts this time around…

In recent years, we’ve become increasingly aware of how little our kids want for. Especially at Christmas. Wanting to make every Christmas “the best,” we (quite painstakingly) research, consider, and buy the gifts they really want, think they’ll love, or they’ve never owned (which is getting harder and harder). But then we groan and moan when so many of them get lost among the clutter or tossed aside in favor of old favorites (like cars and LEGOs and dress up). I hate to admit it, but in recent years, “stocking” the area under the Christmas tree has become a fairly stressful exercise in unnecessary accumulation and wasted money…all in the name of a “magical” Christmas.

Somewhat exhausted by the all-too-familiar cycle every year, we’ve been exploring ideas for adjusting our gift giving traditions amongst our little family. While we want to teach our children the beautiful lessons of thoughtful gift-giving and the spirit of Christmas, we also don’t like perpetuating an environment of excess that’s seemingly dominated our past holidays.

I’m sure you’ve come across the Christmas “wish list” concept of:

  • Something You Want
  • Something You Need
  • Something to Wear
  • and Something to Read.

Greg and I love that these categories focus less on toys but are also broad enough to allow for interpretation and creativity. As a family of 5, it occurred to us that we could divvy up the four gift categories among the (remaining) family members.

Here’s what I mean (of course, I made a cute printable for us to reference!) Via this concept, each person receives 4 different gifts…one from each member of the family….but across the different categories.

Family Gift Matrix

Most certainly, I love that this idea reduces the burden and pressure to find “one more toy” for each child. But what I’m really excited about is how it focuses our shopping efforts for each family member.

Instead of saying “let’s find something for Dad” (which can be really hard and overwhelming), I can give my kids the task of identifying something Dad “needs,” or “wants,” or will “read.” (Ever since introducing this idea, the kids are already brainstorming and listening out for comments and clues each other makes!) It is our hope that this shift toward specific and intentional shopping…with perhaps a hint of humor and surprise…will hopefully allow us to really seek out something our family members will love, but without the “gift for gift-sake” cycle we’ve been wrapped up in.

This is our first year trying it, so I’ll report back if it’s as freeing and magical as I think it will be. Like our Christmas Countdown Chain, I’m really hoping it’s another tradition we try on a whim, takes hold, and changes our family forever!

Some of My Favorite (Easy) Gift Ideas

Shopping for the family can be hard enough, but when you add in neighbors, friends, teachers, leaders, coaches, and more…you can find yourself practically overwhelmed. If you really don’t want to reach for a gift card for everyone on your list this year, here are some thoughtful gifts I’ve given that were easy to make in bulk, budget-friendly, and very well received!

  • Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe Holiday Cookie Box – These aren’t just your usual “Oreo” cookies. They are beautifully packaged and extraordinarily indulgent, and are the perfect solution when you don’t have the time or energy for homemade cookies for all the neighbors! (TIP! These cookies are available on Amazon and Walmart but are much cheaper straight from Trader Joe’s if you have one nearby!)
  • Cinnamon Dough Ornaments – Our oldest made these ornaments in preschool almost 10 years ago and they still smell delightful all this time later! This is very much a gift that keeps on giving!
  • Soap with Matching Hand Towel – Purchase bulk hand towels in a variety of colors and then visit Bath & Body Works to find coordinating soaps for each one. Every time I do this, I always get comments from friends how clever and useful this gift is!
  • Alma Mater Keychains – If you have friends or family who are really into their school, these keychains are quick and easy with the help of a Cricut or Silhouette machine. Many (big) school logos are available in SVG format on Etsy.
  • Monogrammed Candles – While you’re at Bath & Body Works, stock up on 3-wick candles too. A simple monogram in foil vinyl makes for a chic-and-easy gift!
  • String Art – The supplies for this project are inexpensive and easy-to-find and make for adorable teacher and grandparent gifts.
  • Silly String – It’s too cold to spray the kids getting off the bus with water guns on the last day of school before break. So instead, use silly string! Pair them with sunglasses and package them up for all the neighborhood kids!
  • Candy Jar Gift Card – If a gift card is really the right gift, get a little creative with your packaging. I love burying gift cards in candy!

Until 2024, My Friends!

Every year, the holiday season rolls around and I struggle to be present here. Not only because life is so full with all the holiday things; but because in general, I don’t create a lot of holiday content. In years past, I’ve tried to simply march ahead with my usual DIY and organization projects, only for them to get lost among the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and crafting.

Time and time again, sweet readers have reached out (since this isn’t the first year I’ve brought it up!) and suggested I take December off to relax, enjoy the holidays, and prepare for the organization-craze that begins on December 26th. And for the first time, I’m giving myself permission to do just that!

So, my friends, I’m officially signing off for 2023! I wish you and your family a very happy holiday season. And I thank you so much for popping in to spend time with me here all year long. It is my hope that I’ll be back relaxed, refreshed, and ready to organize all the things come January 2024!

See You Soon!