Author Archives: Mac Fife

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Advent!

We’ve all been doing it.  Pouring over Pinterest hour after hour prepping ourselves for this very month(ish) of holiday wonderment.

We’re all putting our Elves on our Shelves next to glazed donut cheerios.
We’ve all seen three million different ways to decorate cone forms as tabletop christmas trees.
Everybody and their mother’s got the family initial in an evergreen wreath on their front door.

But move over, burlap stocking DIY.  There’s one showstopper we’ve ALL got on our list.  That my friend, is the glorious DIY Advent Calendar!  Remember when those things were just fancy packages for candy and trinkets?  Oh Pinterest!  You laugh at such an antiquated notion!  Now instead of treats, each pocket is supposed to be filled with holiday themed activities.  24 of them for each December day before Christmas.

If you’re like me, at first you lit up at the idea of packing every magical December day with a fresh new memory for the spouse and children you love so dearly!  Hot cocoa and popcorn and Charlie Brown Christmas one night.  Tickets to “The Nutcracker” the next!  Holiday light viewing another night!!  A Christmas tree slumber party the next?!!!

Then reality sets in.  You don’t even know how you’re going to get your Christmas shopping in, let alone make time for the graham cracker snowman craft you’ve had pinned on your “Kiddos” board for the last three months.  Not to mention, like, the boring normal life stuff.  Work, laundry, exercise…  Oddly, the stuff that makes you busy and behind schedule in September is still there in December, no matter how much holiday magic you’d rather cram in instead.

So, call me a realist.  I know I can’t actually do everything I pin.  But at the same time, I now have this amazing Advent Calendar ready to hang, and nothing to put inside it!  (Giving my kids chocolate for breakfast every morning just doesn’t thrill me.  What can I say?)

Today, however, I had an epiphany.  My house isn’t ready to decorate yet.  I forgot to get out my Elf on a Shelf yesterday.  We’ve yet to officially ENTER the holiday season at this house, and frankly, the to-do list, albeit most enjoyable, can be a bit overwhelming when I think about my other responsibilities.  Exactly what all is even on my holiday to-do list?

Hm…  Well, for sure I’ll want to

  1. Put up the tree
  2. Light the tree
  3. Decorate the tree
  4. Take pictures of the kids next to the tree
  5. Hang the stockings
  6. Put out our nativity
  7. Read Elf on a shelf
  8. Make something pretty for my dining table.
  9. Decorate our windows.
  10. Wrap gifts
  11. Buy or make cards
  12. Sign and send cards
  13. Christmas baking

    AND THEN there’s the scheduled Christmas activities through various groups we’re involved in…

  14. Christmas Kids (and Parents) Night Out
  15. Christmas Groove Concert
  16. Pre-K Christmas Program
  17. Church Christmas Pageant
  18. Oh!  And Church Christmas Pageant Dress Rehearsal!
  19. School Christmas Party
  20. Work Christmas Party (Which for us, happens to be kid friendly!  Yay!)
  21. Christmas Eve Church services

    Hm… Well, those are interesting numbers.  At some point, we’d probably also like to

  22. Go for a drive to look at lights.
  23. Watch a Christmas movie with the kids
  24. Read a Christmas story book
  25. Make a craft or present with the kids
  26. Play in the snow
  27. Volunteer or donate to a worthy cause
  28. OR stay in our pajamas all day…

What do you know! There’s nothing on this list that my three year old (or even 1 year old) can’t participate in on some level!  And that’s way more than 24 items… all of which we’re intending to do ANYWAY!  Advent activity countdown, or no!

So, get smart people!  You CAN have it all… okay maybe not it all, but if you approach the classical Pinteresty advent activity thing as an organizational tool, rather than just another way to overextend yourself this holiday, it can actually REMOVE holiday stress from your month rather than compound it!

Sure, it’s a simple notion, just write everything on slips of paper and stick it in your advent countdown device thingy of choice.  Sync it with your calendar, and keep a few simple substitutes on hand in case you need to switch out a big plan for a simpler plan one day  (Heck!  Maybe that’s where the candy comes in!).  But then your Christmas to-do list is organized, broken down day by day, and done in a slow and steady way that involves your kids!  What could be better?

Did I miss anything on my list?  What are some of your absolute HAVE-TOs during the holidays?


Categories: Activities, children, Christmas, DIY | 1 Comment

3 Things They Don’t Tell You About Going Minimalist

Mac here!  Today, I was reflecting on my recent journey towards minimalism, and I thought I’d share just a few things I’ve learned through the process:

1.  YOU are more attached to your children’s toys than they are.  

Or, at least, I was.  As I worked through my 15 Days to Minimalism (more to come on that), I found the place I purged the LEAST was in the toy department!  Stuffed animals stare at you with their big sad eyes.  You’ll find yourself struggling to part with toys that are part of a set, in which one item is played with and the rest of the items are toy box clutter.

Then there are the cute toys.  The ones where you think, “Oh, but they love these wooden blocks…” and you need a girlfriend there to mock you saying, “Oh, but YOU would LOVE it if they actually loved those wooden blocks!” because your kids NEVER play with the things.

2.  Everyone will support your choice to embrace minimalism, until you tell them what you’re getting rid of.  

You’re reading this and you KNOW I’m talking about you, because the response is so universal:

ME:  Hey! Would you have any use for an old grill (or a tote of kid’s clothes, or some scrapbooking stuff, or some cookbooks…) We’re really trying to get rid of stuff.  We’re going for minimalism.

YOU:  Oh!  You GO girl!  Do it now, before the kids get old enough to stop you!!!  I’m a minimalist at heart, but my spouse (or kid) wants to kill me when I get rid of ANYTHING!

ME:  Ha ha!  Oh, boy, it’s liberating, too!  Just yesterday, I got rid of (X).

YOU:  WHAT?!  You got rid of (X)?!  But (Y)!!!

We can fill in this equation with any variety of nouns and adjectives.  “You got rid of that doll?!  But it was part of your childhood!!!”  “You got rid that purse?!  But it was a Coach!!!”  “You got rid of that dresser?!  But where will you put your clothes?!!!”  “You got rid of that trivet?!  But it was magnetic!!!”  “You got rid of those drapes?!  But you could make something with that fabric!!!”

Obviously, everything in my home was something I loved, or at least liked, or at least seemed like a good idea–at the time.   But we are a growing changing family with needs that change and evolve over time, and tastes that change and evolve over time.  Just because something was valuable to you at one time, doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with it forever.  Your friends might protest, but stick to your guns.  Stuff really IS just stuff.  Bless somebody else with it.

3.  You might be a bit disoriented at first.

Shortly after I finished my 15 Days to Minimalism, I got that unsettled feeling in my guts.  Lucky for me, as someone who’s made a couple cross country household moves, I recognized it.  It’s the “new apartment” feeling.  Over half our stuff was gone, and now, when I pick up all the toys and do the dishes, my home literally looks like it’s staged to sell!  I probably wouldn’t have felt this way had I not torn into the process so suddenly, but it is what it is and the feeling went away after a few days, just like it does when you move into a new home!  A couple weeks later, I’ve adjusted to our new normal, and I regret nothing!

Hope that helps with your summer de-cluttering!

Just a note, I’ll be on vacation for a few weeks.  Double up on your bloggy love for Bectoria and Stephanie!  I recommend this post from Bectoria to spruce up your summer self-care routines and this classic from Stephanie will have you double checking your house for child safety hazards.  

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You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch: Five Kids, Zero Toys

by Stephanie Politte

A couple of weeks ago, I had a momentary breakdown. I had stepped on a toy for the umpteenth time that day, and after having pleaded and reasoned with (and bribed) my 3 oldest children (aged 4, 4 and 3) to pick up their toys pointlessly for many hours, I made a decision. These toys have to go. I am not the world’s greatest housekeeper, so I am juggling more than enough with all that needs done in order for this house to continue running like a well-oiled machine to keep this house from being condemned. With all the laundry I have to wash and put away, (I think I actually put away laundry maybe once a month, the rest of the time I’m rifling through multiple baskets of clean laundry trying to find what I need for myself and 5 small children to avoid indecent exposure charges on a daily basis- Steve is on his own) the dishes I have to keep washed and kitchen I have to keep clean (this is probably my best work, but then, you know how I like to cook, a girl’s gotta eat!) and living room I have to keep maneuverable, I just don’t have the time (energy) to fuss with picking up the toys that accompany 5 kids under 5 years old. I didn’t get angry, I didn’t make wild statements to my children with regard to the consequences of their 4 year old actions and general disregard for personal responsibility. I simply said, “Kids, it’s time to clean this up, and we’re going to give away a lot of it. I need your help.” And we got to it.

It took Steve 3 trips (with a minivan) to cart off all of the toys that were in good condition that I deemed “giveawayable” and we threw away 2 full garbage bags of broken toys or toys with missing pieces. When all the dust cleared, we were left with a 30 gallon tote of toys with which I didn’t feel we should part (sentimental gifts and well-loved toys), a 30 gallon tote of stuffed animals (we only kept the absolute favs, you should see how many we pitched!) and a small toy container of dress-up clothes. These were packed away in a closet which is guarded by a toddler-doorknob cover. With every passing moment during the purge, I found myself feeling more and more liberated. To be free of so much STUFF, it was…. well, amazing. And for whatever reason, not one of my munchkins complained as they watched me sort through their prized possessions and toss MOST of them into the giveaway box. I didn’t do it while they were napping or hide it from them in anyway. They are completely aware that those toys are gone and have no chance of returning, and that the few that we kept are indefinitely packed away.

I’d like to say that this event was prompted by a conviction that we are too privileged but the reality is that I was just sick of having to clean the rest of the house AND pick up the myriad of toys in my kids’ rooms (over and over). It was selfish, I’ll admit. But I stumbled across a gem while in the midst of this project which served to validate my goal as well as convict me of quite a few other areas of excess in my life. If you haven’t read the book 7, by Jen Hatmaker, do yourself a favor and spend the $10 right now on Amazon to acquire the Kindle version and stop reading my ridiculous blog post so you can read her life-altering book.

Now, there are naysayers out there, (and yes, I’ve encountered them) who think I must be akin to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and have a heart full of black tar and rusty thumbtacks for depriving my children of toys. To them I say, “Nuh-uh!” My kids have happily played together for 2 weeks without toys. They have made up songs, invented games, used their creative little brains to make their own fun! They have helped me with laundry and dinner and they have played outside! They have hunted for bugs, they have worked complicated puzzles (as a team) and they have fought less. POLARIZING JUDGEMENTAL STATEMENT TO FOLLOW: Having and owning a bunch of toys was bad for them. What good did it teach them? It made them possessive and encouraged them to exist in a cluttered environment that wreaked of entitlement.

When I was young, my family moved to Ghana, West Africa. I spent my early childhood in a third world country. We got rid of most of our stuff to move there, so unlike my American counterparts, I had very few toys. However, compared with the children of Ghana, I may as well have been the child of multi-billionaires. I remember clearly some of the “toys” my Ghanaian friends possessed. There were the dolls: one-piece, solid-colored, hollow, molded plastic toys in the shape of a doll. No moveable arms or legs, no hair to brush, no clothes to change, no accessories, blinking eyes or accompanying crying/cooing sounds. There were the trucks: a long stick attached to 2 small wheels. There were the airplanes: a big, fat june bug tied to a string flying around, basically flying bugs on a leash. I remember some pretty amazing toys they made. My parents have a bus that one of our Ghanaian friends made. The wheels are made from circles cut out of old flip flops (called “Charlie-waddies” there) and the body and seats are made from rusty tin cans that have been cut and bent into shape. We would never dream of letting our children build something that required cutting up a tin can, let alone hand them a toy made from a cut-up tin can, right? I also had an amazing brimmed hat made for me by another Ghanaian friend from dyed corn husks. My kids can glue a cotton ball to a popsicle stick. Hmmm… And here I think my kids need every single talking, flashing, racing, buzzing, diaper-wetting, “educationally enhancing” toy they can cram into their rooms and my living room. Why? They don’t get taken care of, they get forgotten, they get broken, they are not appreciated, and they are constantly taken for granted. They aren’t the right color, they aren’t the right character, they aren’t the right size. Even if they are just right, they aren’t as much fun as the box they came in. Even if they are as much fun as the box they came in, no one cares about them until someone ELSE wants to play with them. Meanwhile, a child on the other side of the globe is playing with a stick and two wheels (and thrilled with it.) I don’t say this to make you feel guilty that your child has toys or to promote the eviction of all playthings in your home. (After all, I didn’t throw EVERYTHING away.) But I DO MEAN to chip away at the notion that providing our children with every little thing they fancy is a worthy goal or noble intention. I submit to you that does them more harm than good, and that placing some constraints on the amount of toys they are allowed to own makes them more rounded individuals with healthier perspectives in the long run.

So, are you up to the challenge? THIS WEEK: bag up at least one large garbage bag of toys to give away, and pack away the rest of your kids’ toys, save for 1 or 2 stuffed animals to cuddle and give one week without toys a try. Can you handle it? I think you’ll be amazed at how creative your munchkins can be, and I doubt they’ll even miss them. It’s been 2 weeks, and my kids have not asked for ONE TOY the entire time. Who needs ‘em?! (Also, I haven’t had to pick up a toy in 2 weeks. BLISS.)

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My 3 Year Old Minimalist

“Nooooooooo…” My three year old sat there, starting to get frustrated as I stalled. “All done with lion!” Now he was starting to act desperate as he held out the plastic Madagascar toy expectantly. “Nooooooooooooooooo!”

My son hates Happy Meal toys.

Don’t get me wrong. He LOVES Happy Meals! The last time we pulled into McDonalds he reacted cheering, “We’re going to McDonalds today! Thank you, Mama! Thank you very much!” But after he eats his food (usually every bite!), he carefully examines the toy for a moment and says, “Nooooooooooo… All done…” Then waits for me to throw it out with his empty juice box.

I think my son is a minimalist. But that’s just one example.

A few weeks ago, I came across a really neat, really high quality Lightning McQueen plush toy. It was the right size to be nearly perfectly scaled next to the Tow Mater Pillow Pet he’s slept with every night. All this, AND he was on closeout for only FIVE dollars! I was so excited to gift the new toy to my son so he could unite these two “best friends.”

When I pulled out Lightning McQueen, he was OVERJOYED! (My son is obsessed with the Cars franchise.) But when we went to nap time, rather than uniting what I thought was a perfect set, he said, “Noooooooo Tow Mater!!!!” handing me his Pillow Pet.

I tried to reason to him, “But don’t you want Lightning McQueen AND Tow Mater? They go together, Sammy!”

“NOOOOOOO Tow Mater!!!” He started getting visibly upset. For a few nights, I did my best to reason with him, but Tow Mater lay exiled in the toy box and Lightning McQueen became his new pillow. Keeping two plush toys in his bed was simply unacceptable to my son.

See what I mean? Hard core minimalist.

Those of you that follow me on Facebook and Twitter, know that for the past couple weeks, I’ve been making huge strides toward streamlining our home and removing the excess. I’ve said I’m making our home minimalist, but that word is wide open to interpretation!

I gave myself 15 days, using my Chaos Control Cycle as a guide. Three days on my dishes and kitchen, three days on our laundry, three days on my bathroom, three days on our bedrooms, and three days in our living/dining room. With my time limits set, I devoted myself to evaluating every last item in our home… down to the last bobby pin! Last night, we dropped our last bag off at the Goodwill–leaving our home with probably less than half its original contents. Now I’m living with the aftermath, and frankly, I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I remember feeling like it took hours to clean and minutes to get it all dirty again. Now, cleaning house is a 20 minute venture, and I don’t know what to do with the rest of my day! My husband and I have always had trouble remembering to put our things away, but as each room has become minimized, the remaining items seem to naturally land in their appointed homes.

This is weird. It’s a whole new reality to settle into. My husband is thrilled. My 8 month old has been showing me an uncharacteristically zen-like calm. And my three year old…?

I was working in his room last week. “VRRRRRRRMMMMMM, VRRRMMMMM….” He shifted gears has he raced a big yellow Tonka truck through our apartment, stopping where I was throwing away all the stuff in his room. He paused. He stood up from the truck and looked around the room, hands on his hips.

“There you go!” He paused. “Much better!” And with that, he returned to his truck and zoomed away.

I guess that means he approves.

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What I’ve Learned at the End of my Challenge — 30 Days of Eating Vegan at Aldi

This Friday will mark the end of my 30 day vegan Aldi challenge.  Here’s what I’ve learned!

  1. I do GREAT on a whole foods, vegan diet!  I’ve felt SO much more energetic (with the exception of the time I cheated all week–then I felt like crap!), and I shed a whopping SIX POUNDS this month!!!  I didn’t even exercise, and didn’t once have to bother myself with portion control!  Cravings were pretty minimal compared to what I usually deal with!
  2. My husband DOES NOT do so great on a vegan diet.  He finds himself constantly snacking on empty calories since the main meals aren’t as filling.  Going forward, we’ll probably be getting him some of the whey protein snacks he enjoys, but neither of us are too interested in bringing back the meat.  Especially red meat.  We really don’t feel so well when we have beef now that we’re used to going without.
  3. Plan plan plan!  More about that in THIS POST.
  4. $70 a week.  On average, I spent about that much at each weekly grocery trip, including toiletries, paper goods, and diapers for two children.  That number will go back up as we bring back dairy, but it’s good to know I can feed our clan some pretty satisfying, nutritious meals at a fairly lean price.
  5. I pretty much intend to keep Aldi as my regular grocery store.  With the exception of quinoa, lentils, and tofu, most of the vegetarian foods we love are available there, and, once you’re accustomed to its quirks, there’s no faster place to shop.  If I get a chance to hit Walmart once a month, we should be just fine!

I hope you enjoyed following me through this challenge.  30 days is a LONG time to follow such strict rules, and my enthusiasm for the project definitely waned as I headed into the second half!  My next experiment will probably a little shorter!

Did anyone try any of the recipes I posted last week?  Care to share a favorite vegetarian dish?

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