On being the magic maker

This Christmas, for whatever reason, I’ve been putting extra pressure on myself to make the season truly magical for my children. Maybe it’s because they’re getting older. Maybe it’s because we’re going on vacation right before Christmas and there will be fewer presents under the tree. Maybe it’s because I finished my clinical a month ago and now I have an extra six hours a week to fill. I don’t know. But I have been doing some crazy, stupid stuff, all in the name of making this the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER for them. For example:

1. We have five advent calendars.
Not one, not two, but FIVE. NO ONE NEEDS FIVE ADVENT CALENDARS. Not even my Christmas-present deprived children. They each have the traditional chocolate one. Then there’s one we hang on the wall that has activities, candy, or small presents for each day. Then there was a Tsum Tsum one that was on sale at Target and who can resist the tiny Tsums? Not me; and definitely not my children. Finally, we have a set of Advent ornaments that I filled with candy and hung all over the tree. Kind of like the Elf, you have to find a new ornament every day. Don’t get me wrong, my children LOVE all these calendars and it makes waking up in the morning so much more exciting when you know you’re going to get to eat a bunch of chocolate for breakfast. But I have to admit I went a bit overboard. It’s like Sophie’s choice though—for next year, which would I eliminate?

2. I offered to host two Christmas parties, two weekends in a row.
HOW STUPID AM I? I love the holidays and I love hosting parties and I feel like Christmas is the perfect time to do it. I get nervous about inviting people to my house—what if they don’t come? But at Christmas, I’m not the reason to come over. CHRISTMAS is the reason to come over. Christmas cookies, Christmas music, Christmas presents, Christmas wine. COME TO MY HOUSE AND I WILL MAKE ALL OF YOUR CHRISTMAS PARTY DREAMS COME TRUE. Seriously. But while I’m getting better with my whole depression/stress/anxiety thing, hosting is still a little bit nerve-wracking for me, as I found out last night when Chris and I tried to assemble 11 tiny graham cracker gingerbread houses at 9 o’clock at night LIKE THE TOTAL CHRISTMAS PARTY AMATEURS WE ARE.


3. I planned a vacation the week before Christmas.
Do you know what happens when you’re going out of town for a week right before Christmas? You have to get all your shit done EARLY. I was done shopping by December 1st. Done wrapping by the 9th. My cards went out the week after Thanksgiving. Our tree was up the week before. We actually have outside lights on our bushes that I didn’t have to nag Chris to put up. I’m not bragging here, I’m saying the holiday rush came a bit early to the Smith house, and now that it’s over I have to spend this week packing for our first family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. Then when I get back I’m hosting Christmas dinner. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF WHY?

It is all worth it, though (something I need to remember when I’m frantically running from grocery store to grocery store looking for milk chocolate stars). Sam is super-into our Elf, Peppermint, and if he wakes up before CJ, he waits so they can go down together and find him. Then he has to tell me where Peppermint is hiding, then bring me into whatever room to show me, just to make sure. CJ is old enough now that he remembers a lot of our little traditions, whether it’s asking me to bake a certain kind of cookie or checking on whether we’ll have ham again for Christmas dinner this year. I get such joy out of seeing their joy; I love making them happy. I love bringing the Christmas magic to them, making this season as special as I can. When they grow up, I hope they can look back on our Decembers with fond memories, and a true love for the magic of the Christmas season. And I hope that some day between now and then, I’ll find a way to be a little more relaxed this time of year.


We got a dog!

So the other day, this happened:


Last Thursday the kids and I drove about an hour to a nearby shelter and brought home this adorable ball of fur. We’ve changed his name from Collin to Biscuit (group decision—when did my family become a democracy, by the way?), given him a bath, attempted to get him groomed (he wasn’t having it AT ALL), and gone on more walks as a family than we have in a long time. Biscuit likes to fetch squishy balls outside in our overgrown lawn, snuggle with us on the couch, and is itching to sleep with us in our bed, but we haven’t gone there…yet. He’s so soft and cute and cuddly it’s hard to deny him anything. We’ll see if (when?) I give in.

Biscuit is a rescue; they think a Bichon Friese mixed with poodle. We were told he’s 5, but don’t have an exact birthdate (the kids are desperate to find out so we can throw him a proper party). Biscuit has kind of thrown a curveball into our predictable family routine, but it’s one we expected and one we were more than ready for. Chris and I joked early on in our relationship that we like to do something every four years: we got married and then four years later had CJ, then four years after that had Sam. Sam turns 4 next week, so it felt like we were ready for something new. Plus, CJ has been begging for a dog for months and I’ve been longing for something tiny and cuddly to snuggle with and talk baby talk to. With Biscuit, we got everything we wanted and more.


He sleeps in our room at night and I worry over him. He makes these noises, snuffles and snores, and I have yet to identify what they all mean. When CJ was hungry, he woke up full-on crying. Sam sniffled and grunted like a warthog looking for grub. He never cried for food. Other things, yes, food, never. Biscuit will go from the quietest sleep ever (the kind where you peek on them to make sure they’re still breathing) to a loud, high pitched bark whenever he hears something unusual. The other day I was trying to take a nap and the kids were in their rooms for quiet time. Every time one of them would open their door he would run out to the hall and bark them back into their rooms. He is already so loyal (mostly to me, but still).

I realize dogs are a lot of responsibility, and we did not enter into this lightly. Getting a dog is something we’ve been thinking about for a very long time. I didn’t tell a whole lot of people we were considering it, mostly because I didn’t want to be persuaded or dissuaded based on someone else’s experience. I get so caught up in what other people think sometimes that I let outside opinions sway me more than I should. This was a decision I knew I had to make completely on my own. If it was right in my heart, I knew it would be right, period. And it so, so is.



I still have days

I was able to share about my recent depression roller coaster ride because I had gained some perspective. Three weeks into it—a month—I would have told you how awful I was feeling. How hard the whole thing was. How much effort it took for me to not only go to the umpteen appointments I suddenly needed, but just to schedule them. Blocking off previously free time to go to the doctor to get better? The whole process was daunting.

I talked before about how much easier it is to stay in bed, alone, and have a lovely pity party for yourself. You don’t have to go anywhere, do anything, talk to anyone. You can eat whatever you want, maybe watch TV. But recovery. Recovery is a completely different animal. Recovery takes effort, it takes motivation—for me, it took the fear of what would happen if I didn’t get help.

But through all of this, I want to reassure you that I am not 100% better. My depression is not cured, and it may never be cured. Recently my doctor sat me down and gently explained that my brain doesn’t make the same chemicals that everyone else’s does, and therefore I would need to be on medication for the rest of my life. THE REST OF MY LIFE. In other words, I will never be normal. I try not to think about it too much. I try to live in the present, to appreciate the fact that I’m not breaking dishes in anger or hiding in bed every time something doesn’t go my way. That I can hang out with the kids with patience and grace and sometimes even create scenarios in which all of us have a really great time. The main reason I wanted to do all this was for my family. I know they need me, and I know they love me, and me getting better is for all of us.


All that aside, I still have bad days. I still feel sad. I still get easily overwhelmed. I still wonder if the person who chose not to stop at the stop sign and instead decided to try to run me over hates me, and if so, why? I still spend way too much time in my head, and I still have days, although rare, when I think everyone would be better off without me. I still have days that are hard, days I don’t want to shower or workout or make dinner or see anyone. I still have days that need to be quiet and low-key, days I need to give myself and my brain a rest. I still have days when I’m too quick with my temper, yelling when I should be consoling, angry when I should be understanding. I still have days I make mistakes. I still have days I wish I was more, better, different.

But then I have good days. Days I wake up rested and happy. Days I feel proud of what I accomplished. Days full of sunshine and laughter and splashing at the pool. Days that are so good they make those bad days seem like mere shadows in my mind. Those are the days I keep close to my heart.

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Because you’re worth it

I have been working days for almost two weeks now and all I can think is, why didn’t we do this sooner? I guess the main reason was money—after having two kids in daycare full-time, the opportunity for me to stay home and spend ZERO DOLLARS on childcare was very appealing. I used to look at couples our age who were going on vacation or buying a new car and I’d ask Chris, “How can they afford that?” And he would tell me, “Because they don’t have kids.” I cringe to think about how much money we spent back then, and how strapped we still were. We are in a better place now financially, but hiring someone to watch the kids, even for two days, meant realigning our budget goals. And it also meant that I had to give myself permission to spend money on something just for me. A choice that in the long run, could make me really happy and could immensely benefit my mental health, but a choice with a cost nonetheless.

When I stay home, I don’t do much for myself during the day. I do things for the house, like clean and pay bills, I do things for the kids, like take them to the park or the library, and I do things for all of us, like cook. I don’t sit down and watch TV (because every time I try, I’m surely interrupted by a tiny voice with a well-meaning request). I don’t get my book out to read, again, because I can’t get into it the way I’d like when there are two small people who need my attention. I occasionally can shower, but it’s one of those fast ones where I don’t wash my hair or shave my legs. So the evenings, after the kids are in bed, have become my sacred time. Time I can watch an hour-length TV show without interruptions, time I can indulge in that heavenly piece of chocolate and not share, time I can stretch out on the couch without worrying I’ll have to get up and fetch someone a snack in a few minutes.

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Evenings are also about family dinner, and I’m grateful I can be home and can cook for my family every night. We have been using the time between dinner and bed alternately for chores and game night, which has turned into a huge hit now that the kids are older. But I’m only just now realizing how important my me time is. Working three evenings a week meant I only got four to myself, and usually at least one of those nights I would be too tired to enjoy it and would go to bed early. I’m an introvert (an ISFJ if you’re into that sort of thing), and I’m realizing that (1) I need down time to relax and recharge and (2) it’s OK that I take that needed downtime to relax and recharge. Where before I would feel guilty about it, I now understand that it’s a necessary thing for me, and have let go of the guilt (well, most of it).

I wanted to share this because if you’re thinking of making a change to your schedule that will come at a cost but will help your mental outlook immensely, do it. I’m still sort of in awe of how much better I feel now that I work during the day. And I’m so thankful I made the decision to go for it.


The land of the living

Nursing is a unique profession in that it’s a 24/7 job. We work the day shift, night shift, evening shift, morning shift…the possibilities are endless, depending on the needs of the hospital unit and patient population. I have been blessed in my career to have experienced just about every shift—I paid my dues on nights for a few years, then moved to days, then had an office job, then worked evenings. I’ve appreciated the flexibility as it’s enabled me to care for my family while keeping a job, even when I decided to sacrifice moving my career forward to stay home with my kids.

Being their primary care giver, especially while Sam was still a baby, was important to me, and still is. But looking back at the last three years of my life, I have to admit that I didn’t only sacrifice my fancy job—I sacrificed a little bit of myself as well. Working evenings and weekends, working when my family is home enjoying their time together, has affected me like I never thought it would. You look at your week and know that on four out of seven days you get to be with your family. But it’s the three evenings I’m gone that hurt. It’s being away from them that makes the difference, not only in my schedule, but in my mental health as well.


It seems like I’m saying my ideal would be to stay home all the time, and maybe it would, but that’s just not a possibility for us right now. I am making a change however, and going back to working days. This change comes after a lot of thought and a lot of intense conversations, but I think overall, it will be a good thing for our family, and for me. I miss the little comforts of working during the day, like drinking coffee on my way to work, or putting on makeup because more than the three other nurses I work with will see me. I miss the rhythm of the daytime, getting up at the same time every day—the routine of it all. I’ve talked before about establishing a routine for home, and I have, to an extent. But this will be so much more. And I’m hoping having regulated, weekly work time will help me regulate and plan my time at home as well. Not that I have that much to get done in a week, but now I’ll be juggling my time in a very different way.

I’m still only working part-time, which boils down to two days a week and every other weekend. We hired a sitter to watch the kids while I’m gone. One thing I realized is that I’m giving up my kid-free mornings—I work the days Sam is in preschool. But that’s OK. Maybe now that I’ll be home every evening, I won’t feel guilty about leaving for a solo trip to Target or a coffee date with a friend after dinner.

Mostly I’m glad to be back on the day shift. Everything changes at night. Everyone goes home. The hospital is quieter, but the requests from patients (who you’d think would be sleeping) become more obscure. And other things happen at night—school things, like concerts and PTA meetings, and fun things, like date nights and girls’ nights out. While I feel lucky to have chosen a profession that allows so much flexibility, I’m also thankful to be returning to a normal schedule, a schedule the rest of the world follows. I’m glad to be counting myself, once again, among the land of the living.


3 more ways to be frugal this winter

As we get deeper into budgeting this year, the thrill of the new has worn off and I’m finding myself falling victim to my old spending habits. For me, much of the work of learning to spend less has been on changing my mindset. My day-to-day habits, I’m realizing, have a lot to do with self-indulgence and immediate gratification (not surprising, I suppose, as I am your typical American consumer). Giving myself alternatives to shopping and thinking hard about what I want vs. what I need has helped curb my impulses. Again, I partnered with Personal Capital for this post; check out their  free financial tools to help keep you on track this winter.

1. Stay home
In my early days of dating Chris I would get disproportionately stressed when he wouldn’t call when I thought he would. Instead of moping around my apartment, I made a list of twenty things I could do at home to keep my mind off of him—and to help me remember that just mere weeks before, I was single and had not been worrying AT ALL about how I was spending my time! For times when it’s tempting to go out and shop, or go out to eat, or do anything else that requires you to spend money, think about how you could accomplish the same feeling you’re after by going out, at home. Want to feel pampered? Take a bubble bath. Want to feel relaxed? Make yourself a cup of coffee and hole up with a book for an hour. Want to feel like you accomplished something (a feeling I have when I run a bunch of errands)? Clean out your junk drawer, bathroom cabinets, that corner of your office that attracts clutter—anything that’s been bothering you but that you can finish work on in an hour or less. Discouraging yourself from spending money does not mean taking on a monstrous task. It’s about occupying your mind while keeping the end goal of feeling better at the forefront.

2. Treat yourself—but only when you truly need it
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when both kids are in school, I have three and a half hours all to myself. On Tuesdays I give myself a break and usually take a nap (the week just started! Stress levels are high!) but on Thursdays I either grocery shop or run errands. This week, Target is on my errand list, and people, going to Target alone is WAY high up on the list of treats I let myself have, right next to peppermint mochas and watching Friends reruns while my husband puts the kids to bed. But, grocery shopping is less of a thrill for me. MUCH less of a thrill. I actually dread it. So, to psych myself up for the grueling 90-minute marathon of ingredient searching, price matching, and self-checkout that is a trip to Wal-Mart, I motivate myself with a coffee from Starbucks. Not that I couldn’t grocery shop if I didn’t have this treat, but frankly knowing I can have it helps me get out of bed in the morning. Plus, by planning for take-out coffee ahead of time I know I’ll have money in the budget to cover it. Win-win, right?

3. Be thoughtful about new purchases
Did you read that the third Monday of January is the saddest day of the year? It was for me this winter, and when I feel sad, I want to shop. I recently bought some new dishes and containers to help organize our bathroom clutter, but last week, I decided I should redecorate my living room. Because winter blues. And also, I got a new print and while it matched some of my stuff, I thought I could do better. While I immediately jumped online to research all the new things I wanted to buy, I knew I would take the time to go through my existing décor first, keep what I could, and be mindful about anything I decided to purchase.

Here’s a look at one of my revamped shelves:


Have you read Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple? You should. It’s an interesting, fast-paced novel that explores various concepts of human thinking, including the following:

“Have you ever heard that the brain is a discounting mechanism?”


“Let’s say you get a present and open it and it’s a fabulous diamond necklace. Initially, you’re delirious with happiness, jumping up and down, you’re so excited. The next day, the necklace still makes you happy, but less so. After a year, you see the necklace, and you think, Oh, that old thing.”

It’s the same with anything else that comes into your life. Any new “stuff.” The lesson for me is, try to only buy what you love. Unless you can look at it day after day with positive feelings, your brain will discount that pricey new candleholder to the point that you’ll be selling it in next year’s garage sale. Creating the perfect vignette is one of those design sweet spots you can only reach when you curate a collection that’s uniquely you. Choose pieces you can appreciate for years to come and if they don’t work in your space, don’t hesitate to take them back to the store (this applies to clothing too). Give yourself permission to purchase new things but don’t do so on a whim. Instead, think hard about what you bring into your home and don’t buy it unless you see it having lasting appeal.

How are you curbing your spending this winter?