Celebrating the Winter Solstice

A month ago, on an online parenting forum, someone asked for tips on how to skip both Santa and the strictly Christian aspects of Christmas with her children. She asked for feedback if anyone else had done this and had details on where various Christmas traditions originated. Since my childhood did not include Santa and he won't be part of our family tradition, I thought others might also be interested in learning more about how I responded to her question. I explained that my mom told my four siblings and I as children that Santa Claus was inspired by an actual person, St. Nicholas, and though Santa is not real, the idea of him inspires people to give to others. We also were taught that everyone has different traditions and it's important to respect those, so if you were wondering, no I never ruined Santa for anyone else. I've had several friends who were taught as children to believe in Santa express concern that not including him may take away from the "magic" of Christmas. As a child and still to this day, I find magic in the process of decorating a tree and frosted cookies to share with family and friends, in strolling through a neighborhood of houses strung in multicolored lights, sipping on hot chocolate in front of a fireplace with someone you love, and watching your family members eyes light up as they excitedly unwrap the gift you spent months making or picking out just for them. There is so much magic and excitement everywhere this time of year, so please know that if you also weren't raised to believe in Santa or have considered not making him a part of your family tradition, it's 100% okay. Your kids will be just fine. And you will find a lot of other ways to make your family's holiday experience truly special.

Image from Jeh's Today

On the second portion of the forum poster's question, and the main purpose of this post, I thought for many years that Christmas was strictly a Christian holiday. So when I started to explore my spiritual and religious beliefs in college and realized that they no longer aligned with my childhood beliefs, I started to worry that meant missing out on celebrating various holidays. I won't delve too deeply into my religious beliefs here. My super simplified explanation is that I believe there are many religions because there are many different types of people and each of us finds different religious or spiritual practices that bring us closer to a higher being or help us be the best, kindest, most loving version of ourselves. For some that is in long hikes, exploring the outdoors, running, meditation, yoga, prayer, reading, fasting, volunteering, etc. And for some, that also means attending church on a daily or weekly or monthly or annual basis. Mainly, I'd encourage everyone to ask lots of questions, do a lot of soul searching, and find what's best for you and your family. Thankfully both Keith and I went through this spiritual exploration separately around the same time in our lives and came to a similar conclusion.

In the past five or six years, in trying to figure out how we wanted to celebrate various holidays as a family, we have done a lot of research on where various traditions (mainly Easter, Halloween, and Christmas) originated. We found that many Christmas traditions originated in pagan winter celebrations (see this article from the Christian Post). Did you know that Christmas trees were originally called Yule Trees (see this article from Christianity Today with some tree and gift history) and the evergreen served as a reminder amidst the dead of winter that the earth would bloom again? Did you know that December 25 was designated Christmas (though not when historians actually believe Jesus was born), because how closely it fell to the Winter Solstice and Christians hoped it would draw more pagans to Christianity? It is believed that Advent Wreaths were based off pagan traditions of lighting candles during the longest night of the year as a symbol of hope and reminder that the sun would rise again (see this article from Catholic Education). Mistletoe was considered by the Druids to bring joy and peace. Pagan Romans considered laurel wreaths (like the ones we now hang on our doors) sacred to the sun god, Apollo. This article has a further lightened synopsis of various origin stories.

Image from Time Slips on Norse Yule Traditions

I find all of this very fascinating! Plus, as I said earlier, I think it's so important when continuing or passing down traditions to research where they came from and contemplate if it's right for your own family. This is part of the reason three years ago we decided to reduce the number of gifts we exchanged and move to a tradition of "something you want/need/wear/read". We wanted our family celebration to be more about our time spent together and less about the number or size of gifts under the tree. In the past few years, as we started to discuss adding a child to our family, I started to struggle even more so with some of our Christmas traditions and constantly questioned whether we were doing them for the actual symbolism or just to simply do them. I know some day in the not so far off future Adeline will start to question everything. And when she questions why we decorate a tree, exchange gifts, sing certain songs, go to church, hang lights on our house, and give handmade cookies to our neighbors, I want to insure we have a very well thought out, honest response. And not just "because we do". So this year, we're trying something else new to our family that feels more fitting to our beliefs. Tonight we're going to have a Winter Solstice celebration. 

This solstice celebrates the longest night of the year and is often ushered in by turning off all lights in your home and eating your family meal over candlelight. There are many ways to celebrate the Winter Solstice, so if you're interested in learning more or possibly having your own family celebration, I recommend reading this list of suggestions, this article that shares more on the history and various traditions, this slideshow from Refinery29 with some simple tips, or picking up any of these books from your local bookstore. This year, for our first Winter Solstice celebration, we're going to turn off all the lights in our house, turn off our phones, and take an evening walk around our neighborhood together. We plan to bring a few branches of rosemary from the bush out front inside while singing Deck the Halls, and form a wreath on our dining table around four candles. We'll hang a sprig of mistletoe above the front door and shout three times "Hug and kiss, hug and kiss! May this whole house be full of bliss!" Next, we'll light the four candles on our dining table - one for each family member and one for our family as a whole. And then enjoy a special homemade meal together with spiced eggnog and some traditional Christmas music playing in the background. Lastly we'll have our family gift exchange by our tree while Adeline tries to eat the wrapping paper (not part of the celebration) and then we'll carry Adeline to bed by candlelight.

I'm excited to see how our holiday traditions continue to evolve over the years, and I'd love to hear how some of your traditions have changed once you settled down, had children, or did your own research. Feel free to privately message me on my comments page if you have a question on my experience without Santa, how our family Winter Solstice celebration turned out, or if you'd like some of my favorite recipes for cookie exchanges. Happy Solstice! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!

Our 2017 Word of the Year

I know that you all look forward to this post all year long, so I decided not to keep you waiting on the edge of your seat until January! ;-) Well at least I've been looking forward to writing this post for months. 2016 was the "year of family" and I'd be lying if I didn't say that didn't exactly make for the most exciting monthly reveals or blog posts. But I do think it was really important to focus entirely on our family unit this year. We took Adeline on five round-trip flights (including next weeks) to meet extended family in Wisconsin, attend my sister's graduation and best friend's wedding in Texas, and spend the holidays with both sides of our family. Keith and I made it a habit to get a babysitter and go on at least one date night every month. The first 2-3 times were especially challenging, but eventually we got the hang of it, found sitters we felt super comfortable with, bought a wifi-enabled camera so we could occasionally check on her from our phones, and finally learned to relax and actually enjoy our nights out. We are aware that we're also super fortunate Adeline took right to sleep training early on, so we also didn't have to worry too much about her waking up and freaking out at someone other than me comforting her (yay parent win!).

Now that parenting has gotten SO much easier and we're like total pros (don't worry - totally joking!), we came up with a new focus for 2017. Next year will be the "year of firsts". It helps that Adeline is celebrating her 1st birthday next month, and that will totally be her first month achievement, but I also loved the idea of each of us doing something for the first time every month next year. How awesome and challenging does that sound?!? So in January, Adeline will turn one (and probably take her first steps too!), and Keith will get to attend the Sundance Film Festival for the 1st time to celebrate the premiere of a documentary he worked on for the past year (!!!). I haven't figured out my first for January yet. But, I already know my first for March/April and have some ideas for a few other months next year too.

We're hoping to drive back to New York together, so in February or March, that will be Adeline's first cross-country road trip and hopefully Keith's first time seeing the Grand Canyon. We might try to plan a summer or fall international trip too, so that could be Adeline's first visit to another country and our first time flying 5+ hours with a baby (eek!). Maybe I'll dye my hair a fun color or we'll run our first Marathon. We could start a business, finish a screenplay, or maybe I'll finally convince Keith to buy a farmhouse (I've got a few favorites on Zillow). I don't know what next year will look like yet, but I'm really looking forward to a more exciting year of posts, activities, and achievements to share with you all here!

Anyone else have a "word of the year" or suggestions for some firsts you'd love to see us try?

"Something" Holiday Gift Ideas

I've mentioned in previous holiday posts that Keith and I started a new gift exchange tradition several years ago. I proposed the idea as a way to reduce the amount of gifts and money spent. But I mainly warmed Keith to the idea by suggesting that once we did have a kid, this would be a great way to make this time of year less about the overabundance of gifts and (hopefully) more focused on the quality family time. I've been meaning to share some ideas for others interested in incorporating this into their own family's traditions, so here's my holiday gift guide for everyone on your lists "something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read". This may be a little last minute, but I know several of the shops I listed are still shipping in time for Christmas, so it's definitely worth reaching out. Everything on the first three lists is U.S. made, geared toward a variety of ages and genders. I tried to link directly to all seller or maker's websites (in the fourth list of books for example), so you can shop locally if that's your preference.

It can be a bit of a challenge to differentiate between what someone wants and what they actually need, and often I find that these overlap with the other categories. Because of this, we rarely actually gift each other four gifts. For example, several years ago Keith gave me the entire Anne of Green Gable Series, which fell under "read" and "want" for me (I totally teared up). This year, both Keith and Adeline's "wear" gifts also fall under "need", so they each have three to open next week. First up, some U.S. made items that some on your shopping list may "want" this year.

  • Posie Girl by Pockets with Posies
    I love these gorgeously made dolls, and if you're interested, the shop is doing a release tomorrow morning. Jump on it fast, because they always sell out in seconds!
  • Wooden toys by Bannor Toys
    They have state-shaped rattles, push toys, etc. and I think these would make such great stocking stuffers, shower gifts, and for a child's something you want or need.
  • Caramel Salted Caramel Chews from Napa Valley Chocolate
  • Bath Salts from The Little Flower Soap Co
    These could totally go under the want or need category for most people, and everything in this Etsy shop's inventory looks wonderful and relaxing.
  • Feminism is Cool pin by Modern Girl Blitz
    Everyone needs this pin (and hopefully wants it). 
  • Wine Bottle Gift Bag by Hen House Originals
    I love that this bag can be reused, brought out at the holidays, or even incorporated in your home decor. Plus, it's just an added bonus if you include a locally made wine or beer too!
  • Engraved Wooden Music Box by Soundbarrel
  • Script Initial Ring and Snap Front Leather Wallet from James Avery
    I love this lowercase initial ring and leather wallet by this Texas-based company (that my sister works at!).
  • Wooden Blocks by Uncle Goose
    These were one of Adeline's gifts from my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and they are beautifully made! The shop also has customized blocks available, so you could gift these for a child's room with their name on them or as holiday decor for fa amily or friend.

We all need a variety of things - food, new socks, a foot massage, a clean house, so sometimes I've found that gifting "something you need" can be as simple as a handmade gift certificate good for one week of loading and unloading the dishwasher (*hint hint* Keith). It could also be a homemade meal or offering to walk the dog all weekend. But, if you'd like actual items to wrap and exchange with your loved ones, here are a few locally made items that might fit the bill.

  • Pretzel Bandana Bib by Deeks and Me
    How adorable is this bandana bib?!? Also, this is a perfect example of "something to wear" and "something you need". These come in handy when you have a newborn that spits up and then again once they start teething (so much drool!). Keep their face dry and have the most stylish baby!
  • Burp cloths by Heavenly 4get Me Knotts
    Oh man, when you have a new baby, you need burp cloths in every single room of your house! So, why not have some cute ones too? These are made by a high school friend of mine who also makes adorable clothing, bedding, and hooded towels.
  • Beard Oil and Essential Oils by No Tox Life
    Keith currently uses a beard oil we bought in Brooklyn, but we're planning to check out Smorgasburg LA this weekend and this is one of the vendors there. I'm also a big believer in using essential oils to help with headaches, anxiety, relaxation, etc (I use lavender essential oil drops on my pillow every night).
  • Shaving Mug by Miri Hardy Pottery
    Keith has let me know this is a necessity for any hairy man. Pair this with some shaving soap for your favorite bearded or beardless man.
  • Vermont Maple Syrup by Dorset Maple Reserve
    I gifted small bottles of this Bourbon Barrel Aged Syrup to family last year and it was a big hit. I don't know how much everyone necessarily "needs" this, but as someone who always grew up with genuine maple syrup (no cheap stuff for us!) on my pancakes, I think this is an important addition to everyone's home. Plus it's not just for pancakes, they have cocktail recipes on their website too!
  • Olive Oil by Lincoln and Berry
    Everyone needs some good olive oil in their home!
  • Fun socks by The Sock Drawer
  • Small Lap or Wall Quilt by The Bottle Tree
    When you're looking for custom wall decor or a new quilt for your bed or child's room, check out this Texas-owned company. The Bottle Tree is owned by a dear friend, who made a similar wall hanging to this for Adeline's nursery, and she sells beautiful custom quilts, teaches classes, and has a lovely blog.
  • Christmas Coasters by E Line Creations
    I feel like coasters and tea towels always make great gifts. Those are two things that get lost or dirty over time and it's always nice to get fresh new ones.
  • Giving Thanks Tea Towel by Indigo and Snow
    These might be part of some gifts I'm giving out this year. Shhhh!

This category is always the most challenging for me when buying for Keith, but when it comes to buying for our daughter, I think I bought her gift about four months ago. The great thing about "something to wear" is it can go beyond just clothing. Think about shoes, ties, headbands, mittens and hats, etc. This is also a great gift category that might allow you to make a gift instead of buy something. Even if you're not a seamstress or knitter, there are tons of ideas on Pinterest for making your own headbands and bowties!

  • Knotted gown and donut beanie from Candy Kirby Designs
    I always meant to buy a few of these before Adeline was born and sadly my pregnancy brain spaced it, but the next baby shower I'm invited to, I'm definitely gifting a few of these. Their shop also has blankets, crib sheets, and the cuddliest looking dolls!
  • Squid Unisex Shirt and Dino/Robot Onesie by GnomEnterprises
    That dino/robot onesie was one of my favorites of Adeline's 3-6 months clothes, and I really hope we get to pass this down to a friend or family member.
  • "Hello darkness my old friend" shirt from The Handmade Home
    This home design blog is great, but they also have a really fun line of tee shirts. There were too many to even share here and would be fun gifts for everyone on your list.
  • "It is well with my soul" shirt from Pike Road Southern
    Sadly this style sold out, but I included these on my list as a source for future celebrations or next year's "something to wear" gifts. They have styles for both men and women, and the main thing I love is that a portion of all their sales go toward helping cover local families adoption costs.
  • Chunky Cowl Scarf by Hanson Street
    This scarf looks gorgeous and, in the right color, could be feminine or masculine. I totally want a few of these for next winter in New York!
  • "Stay little" tee from OneTwentyTwoKids
  • Baby Red Moccasins and Bow from By Sophia Baby
    These are insanely adorable! I keep almost buying them for Adeline, but since she's not walking yet, and just pulls off anything I put on her feet in minutes, it seems a little pointless. But oh man, once she needs shoes I am all over these!

Books are of course very much based on personality and preference, and for someone on your list that perhaps isn't a big reader, you could gift them a "book on tape" or even an Audible gift card to download some on their phone or tablet for their daily commute or future travels. Some of these books I've already gifted, some on are my own reading list, and some I thought might interest my readers.

If you implement your own "something you want/need/wear/read" tradition, please share some of your favorite shops or items from past years. Stay tuned for our post-gift exchange rundown in the coming weeks, along with our "word of the year" for 2017!

Three Weeks on the West Coast

Back in August, I shared that our family was relocating to Los Angeles for 4 - 5 months and now that we've been here for three full weeks, I thought I'd share my initial feedback. Don't worry any New York friends reading this, we're definitely coming back to you when this film project is complete. BUT - I actually have been really enjoying LA. I'm honestly a little surprised at how much I've been enjoying it. We have a furnished house in Culver City - just 20 minutes from Santa Monica, LAX, 15 minutes from the LACMA, and 10 minutes from a college friend of mine! Instead of writing one long, wordy post of exactly what I like, I thought I'd do a breakdown based on this experience of my likes and dislikes between our home (Brooklyn) and our temporary home (LA).

LOS ANGELES

Likes

  • I haven't really driven since we moved to Brooklyn, that's a year and a half! Funnily enough, this was one thing I was really dreading about LA that, so far, I'm actually enjoying (at least on shorter, nearby drives). Plus, LA drivers are nicer than New York drivers! Yep, I said it. I have heard two cars honk here, and people actually will slow down to let you in front of them. Crazy, huh?
  • Even though it's hotter than I like this time of year, it's so dry here that it feels comfortable in the shade and absolutely amazing at night.
  • I have had two awesome breakfast burritos here already. Now I just need to find the best taco place around. Recommendations, LA folk?
  • The area we're in (Culver City) is SO great. We're walking distance from the main square, which has an awesome movie theater (we just had a date night there last Saturday!), great restaurants, coffee shops, frozen yogurt, and a really pretty historic hotel that the Wizard of Oz cast stayed in!
  • It's kind of exciting being surrounded by all these film lots (Culver City's Lot is beautiful!).
  • I'm actually really enjoying being in a house again. To be fair, it helps when you're not paying the bills or weekly gardener (owner pays both).
  • People are a lot friendlier here than I expected. I had a ladies night out last week and all the Uber and Lyft drivers chatted with my friend and I - like made small-talk (???). Also, I have really been enjoying grocery shopping because of this too! Everyone fawns all over Adeline and she pretty much just giggles and laughs the entire time.

Dislikes

  • While driving isn't as scary here as New York, there is a lot of traffic and it can take a long time to get places. I had to take the 10 to the 110 to the 101 yesterday (look at my LA lingo - what what!!) for Adeline's flu booster at our pediatrician's one LA office location and it took 45 minutes (vs our 5-minute walk to the doctor in Brooklyn). Ugh!
  • I actually like this a little bit, because when we go for walks there is no one else around, but it's also sad - no one walks here!
  • Going out is just as expensive here as New York.

Hiking in Culver City Park

Hanging out in our backyard

Family Time in Downtown LA

BROOKLYN

Likes

  • The subway system is amazing in New York. I haven't had a chance to take the metro here yet, but it does require driving there and walking to entrance - definitely less convenient.
  • Culver City Park is good-sized, but I miss Prospect Park. The walking/running trail around Prospect Park is a much smoother ride than the sidewalks here with the jogging stroller.
  • Everyone walks everywhere!  
  • Four seasons - I left all my pea-coats in NY and I'm so jealous of all my friend's fall foliage in winter coat photos right now. And yes, I'm even sad to miss the first snowfall. 
  • Don't tell my husband, but maybe, just maybe, I miss the produce prices at the Park Slope Food Co-op vs the produce prices at grocery stores here.
  • The house we're renting in LA is so cute and feels huge to us, and Adeline has been enjoying exploring, but we are missing that feeling of hominess from our Brooklyn place. Plus, it always takes a while to figure out someone else's kitchen and organization style. For instance, why are there four drawers of kitchen utensils but only one spatula??

Dislikes

  • We live in a predominantly family-friendly area in Brooklyn, so there are kids everywhere. Perhaps that's why no one cares that we have a baby. And honestly, some restaurants (and people) can be a bit rude sometimes about accommodating a baby. So far, here in LA, everywhere we go, someone is fawning all over Adeline and bends over backwards to help with highchairs, find food she can eat, and smile when she lets out loud "animal noises" over lunch hour.
  • I'm definitely over all the construction that's been happening in our brownstone. And I do not miss that teeny tiny bathroom one single bit. Adeline loves bath time here - the large tub is like her swimming pool!

LA has already been quite an adventure, and I know that I'm going to be a bit sad to leave, but I'm already looking forward to next fall and winter in NY. Culver City is great, and yes I'm enjoying the greetings on our morning runs and at the grocery store, but there is an energy to NY that I've never experienced anywhere else. In the year and a half we've lived there, it's become home. And right now, I can't imagine wanting to live anywhere else.

Learning to Embrace You

We arrived safely in Culver City, California this past weekend and are pretty much settled in now. I'll share more on the house and area soon, but for now, I wanted to talk about something else entirely. Yesterday I finally got to see the documentary Embrace. I sat in the theater listening to the stories, reading the statistics, mostly in tears. There is a comfort to knowing others have similar struggles, but at the same time, it's devastating that so many people go through life hating their body and their appearance. I want everyone to see this movie, I want to talk about it with friends, I want to have a consensus that body shaming ourselves and others is never okay. But, I don't know how to get to that point with others.

Back in October of last year, while six months pregnant, I shared some of my own past struggles with weight and some of the ways I've worked to overcome them. This has definitely come up for me again after giving birth to our precious girl, and especially with the holidays coming up in the next few months. Family is a key stress factor around weight for me, especially since so many family members told me while pregnant all about losing weight after giving birth. This is just one more reason having the opportunity to watch Embrace last night has been so therapeutic for me. It was a wake-up call that I had started to allow myself to sink back into my past body shaming mindset. I don't need to lose five pounds before Thanksgiving! I need to get to bed earlier. I need to get back into a workout routine, after taking a three week break to recover from a nasty cold. I need to eat foods that properly fuel my body for starting up morning runs again. And you know why I need to do those things? Because they make me happy. They remind me that I'm strong. And a well rested, well fueled, energized Alanna is a happy, positive, better wife and mother.

I want to be a voice of love for myself, my husband, my daughter, my friends and absolutely every person that I come in to contact with. But I don't always know how to do that. When a friend calls themselves "fat", I want to respond by yelling "You are beautiful inside and out!" But often I find that we don't truly absorb or accept compliments about our physical appearance, especially when we don't believe them about ourselves. So no matter how many times someone pays a compliment about our physical appearance, they fall on deaf ears. The best compliment I received this year was when my father-in-law told me (after first meeting our granddaughter back in February) that I was a great mom and was doing a great job. Oh man, it still makes me tear up even typing that. That made me feel more amazing than any other compliment!

So, perhaps part of the process of us learning to embrace and truly love ourselves is learning to celebrate some of the other beautiful things about ourselves - being a good friend, a good wife, a good parent, a good cook, a great listener, having a wonderful sense of humor, being a great teacher, etc. That's my challenge to myself and my readers. Every time you look in the mirror this week and find yourself starting to pick out each minor flaw - STOP! Pick out one completely non physical thing about yourself that your best friend would say makes you beautiful - your laugh, you give the best hugs, your sense of style, those homemade cookies, your sweet dance moves, etc. It might feel like a small thing, but it's a start on the path of eliminating those inner demons. And once we learn to love ourselves, we can truly start to appreciate everyone else around us too.

For further tools and help, check out Body Image Movement, the Body Lovin Guide, The Unstoppable Program, or reach out to a therapist near you for help.