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Gift Wrapping Hacks

As much as I like to give my husband a hard time about the fact that I do all of the wrapping for every gift our family gives each year while he only has to wrap mine, I secretly kind of love it. I squirrel myself away in the basement, watch cheesy Christmas movies, and spend time alone. These days, that feels like an even more special treat!

Over the years, I’ve devised a few hacks for wrapping gifts. I share them here not to convince you to adopt any of them, but rather just to share some ideas. I recognize that most people are significantly more laid back than I am and don’t see the need for these tricks, and that’s totally cool. You do you!

  • Once I wrap a gift, I completely forget what’s in it. This gets dangerous when wrapping gifts for our parents because my husband and I refer to both sets of parents as mom and dad. Our labels can get confusing quickly! My trick? If my husband’s name comes first in the From section, it’s a gift for his parents. If my name is listed first, then it’s a gift for my parents.
  • We have the common Christmas tradition to give our kids new pajamas every Christmas Eve. To not lose these gifts among the others, I put a star on the To/From label.
  • Santa still visits our home every year, and he always seems to have different wrapping paper than we use. He must be a bit egocentric because his wrapping paper always has pictures of himself on it. He also makes sure to always write in capitalize letters than look completely different from anyone’s handwriting in our house.
  • This year we won’t be spending the holidays with family like we normally do. Our families have been generous and mailed gifts to our house instead. I’m hoping we can video call with them on Christmas day to virtually celebrate instead. So as I wrap gifts, I make sure to use different wrapping paper for each family. This way I’ll know at a glance on Christmas morning that all of the gifts with snowmen paper should be saved to open when we can connect with the grandparents.
  • Hands down the best, reasonably priced wrapping paper that I’ve found is at Costco. It takes years to use it all, and the paper is thick.
  • Tags, ribbons, bows, gift bags, etc. are all picked up at Walmart Dec 26th when all of their Christmas stock is at least 50%. I pick up everything I need for about $10. I then store it away until the next year. I like buying everything at once because I can coordinate items and pick products that will match my wrapping paper.
  • Have you ever been in the situation that you don’t have enough wrapping paper to completely cover a gift? Try the diagonal wrapping method! For that trick and others, see this video from But First, Coffee.
  • Never trust the box of any gift you open from me. I reuse them every year. Shoe boxes are great for stashing awkwardly shaped items like socks and underwear (staple Christmas gifts in our house).

Some other traditions I’ve learned from others sound fun too. I know others from large families use a different wrapping paper for each family member. Others may want to rally all of the adults on Christmas Eve to wrap and drink wine together once the children are nestled all snug in their beds. I also like the notion that Santa leaves his gift out of the box and unwrapped by the tree with stockings at the foot of the children’s beds to find early Christmas morning.

Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy the magic of the season and the joy of giving. We could use a little more of both in 2020.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Short Days and Long Nights

In just a few weeks it will be the Winter Solstice, which means that we have limited daylight hours and long nights. Normally I’d hate this change. It means my husband is driving to and from work in the dark. It feels like you need to get everyone home and immediately start dinner and the whole bedtime routine. I’m ready to pass out for the night by 8pm.

However, this year, with the whole family home 24/7, I’ve embraced the extended nights. No longer are we sneaking in sports practices right after school before the sunsets or coming back from Scout meetings in the dark. Most nights we are instead home, warm and cozy under covers on the couch reading together or watching a family TV show in front of a roaring fire. It’s transformed from a chaotic and rushed part of our day to calm (usually) and peaceful (usually) segment of the day.

As a bonus, my children are old enough to get themselves ready for bed. They can shower themselves and get their pajamas on without constant support. We’ve started sending one kid to get ready at a time, giving my husband and I bit of alone time with each of our sons. I’ve really lost that one-on-one time with my kids now that we’re all home constantly, so it’s nice to get some of it back, especially during a quiet evening hours.

Given the year 2020 has been, I’ll take whatever positives I can get. This type of family time is definitely one of them…whether it’s Friday or any other day of the week.

Happy Friday!

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash – This image captures how cozy I feel at home with my family.

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Considerations for End-of-Year Charitable Donations

‘Tis the season to be making end-of-year donations. We are so fortunate to be in stable financial position this year, that giving to others has become more important to us in 2020 than ever before.

But, how do you decide where to donate?

I have a couple of priorities:

  1. The cause needs to be important to my family and me.
  2. I want to know our money will be used wisely. Traditionally, I’ve been told to look at how much money is being spent on operating costs to cover costs like staff office space and advertising. However, in researching the best charities for our causes of choice, there’s more to it than just picking an organization with a low expense ratio. I want a well-run charity that is going to do the most good and invest in supporting their mission, which may mean spending money on more staff or training the employees they already have. Sites like Charity Navigator and Charity Watch are a good place to learn more about non-profits you are interested in donating to this year.
  3. Preferably, I want our donation to support those in our community, like local homeless shelters or our nearby humane society. Exceptions come up when disasters strike throughout the globe and we support relief efforts.

We also take time to talk as a family, often at the dinner table, about the importance of donating what we have to others. Sometimes that’s our time, like when the Cub Scouts place wreathes on veterans’ graves or we help with the swim team car wash. Sometimes — particularly during the pandemic when time feels more limited than before and there are less opportunities to join events — we donate money to causes important to us.

I remember having this conversation at dinner one time with Mr. 7 year old, who was then 4 or 5. We were talking about how much we wanted to donate to the local humane society and explained to the boys how such an organization works. I noted how we give money so that pets likes cats and dogs can have food and shelter until they find a forever home. Our little guy tilted his head at us and asked, “Why? Dogs can’t use money.”

Ha! Kids are great.

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Christmas Season Traditions Printable

Now more than ever I’m clinging to the family traditions we can maintain to find comfort in the familiar and to remember fond family memories from years passed. I think this is in part due to the crazy 2020 year and just a natural feeling as you get older.

I remember the feelings of magic and warmth that can only come from family during the Christmas season. I recall visits with grandparents, trips to the Opryland Hotel to view their magnificent Christmas displays, road trips to visit extended family that made Christmas feel like it lasted a week, giving gifts to family, receiving that one gift you really wanted, good food, the works.

I want my kids to feel the same way about family and the holidays when they are my age, and I think that comes – in part – from traditions. And, since I’m a list maker, I have a printable to help me!

I like making lists of activities for us to do as a family each season, like I showed here with our Fall Bucket List Printable. I print them out to display on our family command center. I just add the printable to an 8.5×11″ frame with command strips on the back and stick it to the wall, easy peasy. Mr. 7 year old loves reading the list and adding checkmarks next to the activities we’ve completed already.

This weekend I printed off our list of Christmas season traditions, tweaked a bit to be COVID friendly. So although we won’t be seeing Santa in person this year, we can still write him a letter.

Alternatively, you can can the image below and print our list.

Our 2020 Christmas Season Traditions List

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Package Delivery Services!

I, like billions of others this time of year, am relying on online shopping to prepare for the holidays this year. On top of normal deliveries of dog food, takeout food service, and whatever my husband needs for his latest project or hobby, we are receiving holiday-related packages on the regular.

As a token of our appreciation, we set out a bowl of goodies with a note of thanks and a request that they take water and snacks. Not everyone partakes, but when we’ve been outside playing with the kids during some deliveries, drivers have been so tickled by the offer.

And, as obvious as it seems, we learned the hard way not to include fresh fruit in the bowl. Ha! I thought I was being kind to offer something that was healthy and unprocessed, but apparently it was too tempting to the squirrels. We were eating lunch one afternoon, and we saw a squirrel scurry up a tree with a huge orange in its mouth. Too funny!

Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

“Varsity-Level” Self-Care

You know that feeling you get when you’re back from a vacation and seem to have the right perspective on what’s truly important? After a weekend of cabin camping in the woods this weekend with my family – our only true “vacation” in 2020 – I’m hoping to hold on to this feeling for as long as possible.

I had a to-do list a mile long when I returned to work this morning, but today it didn’t bother me. I took it one step at a time, recognizing that it will all be sitting there waiting for me tomorrow…and the next day…and the next day. I want to prioritize being with my family and taking time for activities I enjoy.

Always the early bird, this weekend I was up before the others and able to sit outside in a rocking chair watching the sun come up between the trees with glimpses of the lake down below. It was chilly with my breath dancing in the air between sips of coffee. I enjoyed the silence as the clouds completed their metamorphosis from blue to pink to white.

As I was sitting there, I was thinking about a Reply All podcast I’d listened to recently called Happiness Calculator vs. Alex Goldman. The episode talks about a scientific attempt to measure the world’s happiness and sadness, but it ends with a discussion of self-care. The podcast hosts discuss their newly found ways to provide self-care, ranging from scented candles to baths, but they ask for “varsity-level” self-care tips.

Here’s my take. Scented candles, baths, lattes, and mani/pedis are all great, but they are not where it is at. Not for me anyway.

True “varsity-level” self-care is simple in theory but difficult in practice. It comes down to eating well, exercising, getting good sleep, and finding some daily time to unplug. It’s hard to go to bed at a decent hour when you just want some alone time. It’s hard to spend time making a healthy meal when it’s easier to call for takeout. It’s hard to work in time to exercise when you feel like you’re either working or watching children from sunup to sundown.

However, I feel better when I’ve slept at least seven and a half hours, eaten a plate full of veggies, or taken a walk with my pup.

I sometimes need to convince Present Me that Future Me would really appreciate this type of self-care. It is too easy to fall into the trap that Future Me will be strong and go to bed early, mediate, skip dessert, and take a walk. I’m not always able to convince myself to invest in Future Me, and I just skip it all to binge Netflix while snacking all night.

I have made strides though, in large part because I’ve made minor adjustments to my bad habits.

Have a hankering for an evening treat? Try drinking sparkling water first to see if that satisfies. If not, try some nuts or fruit.

Don’t feel like exercising? Walk on the treadmill while watching a favorite show or make laps through the neighborhood while walking the dog.

Want to eat better? Make one meal a week meatless. Once this becomes a habit, then add one more fruit or vegetable than you normally would for the day.

This approach takes time and discipline, but it’s certainly easier when I don’t have to think about it. When I always put some type of fruit on my morning cereal, it doesn’t become a choice or something to think about each morning. It’s just what I do, and I’m better off for it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting close to bedtime. I’m going to read (and hopefully FINALLY finish up Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton) before I pass out.

Take care of yourself out there.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Google Password Breach Alert

Well, I’m glad I froze my credit recently. On Monday I was notified by Google Chrome that several passwords I use for various websites were compromised in an app or company data breach. Apparently this is a new feature Google offers. So, although I’m not a fan of the data breach, my Friday Fav is definitely Google’s password breach alert.

The way I understand how it works is this. If ABC Company’s data was hacked and my online account password is now known, then Google informs me of a breach and suggests I change the password for all sites that use that same password. I don’t know where or how the data breach occurred, but Google identifies every site password I need to update.

It appears several of my passwords used across dozens of sites were compromised, so it took several hours on Monday to get all of my passwords changed. But, I’m done and feel a bit more secure again….for now.

Posted in Blog

Work/Life Balance Will Come Another Week

Woah, this week has been crazy.

My husband has been in training. It’s virtual, so he’s still home, but he’s been totally out of commission to support the kids during virtual learning all day. I’ve gotten used to working in our prearranged two-hour shifts so I could do some level of focused work throughout the day while my husband is in charge of the kids, and that’s understandably not happening while he’s in training.

This has in turn made my days so much longer. I continue to get up before the sun to focus before people begin to stir. This remains my best chance to get any deep work done for the day.

From 8am to 5pm I’m running around like crazy feeding people and animals, guzzling more coffee, picking up, answering email, doing laundry, getting myself ready for the day, attempting to get through my work to-do list, washing dishes, helping with virtual school, and jumping on conference calls. It’s a lot, and I get frazzled easily these days.

Yeah, yeah. I hear you.

“Forget about cleaning up, leave the dishes, and let the laundry pile up. It will always be there tomorrow.”

That’s true. However, chores are about the only thing I can do well while being repeatedly interrupted by children in virtual school. Plus, you know, they have to get done at some point.

I’ve also heard the advice to “just pick one to three work tasks to complete a day, get them done, and call yourself accomplished for meeting your goal. Don’t overdo it right now and coast.”

Well, do you even know me?!

My largest hang up with this advice is that as a consultant I’m billing my time to clients. I’m not sending an invoice requesting payment for an hour of my time if in that time period I’ve had to stop seven times for multiple minutes each time. So it ends up taking me all day to get a justifiable number of measurable and meaningful work hours in each day. And I’m already working a reduced schedule of 30 hours a week!

I’m spent and tired. I’m finally getting a few minutes to write a blog post now because it’s Wednesday and it’s “my night off.” I’ve banished myself to the basement to watch a shirtless Kevin Pearson on the big screen since I missed last night’s episode of This Is Us.

Lesson learned for the week: Duel parenting during a pandemic and virtual school > single parenting during a pandemic and virtual school

But, I already knew that before this week started, so I feel like I should have been allowed to skip this lesson.

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Schitt’s Creek

I’m late to this trending comedy show that recently ended its six season run on CBC Television. However, I binged it all this Fall on Netflix. Schitt’s Creek is an amazingly well done, funny series about a family who falls from riches and finds themselves living in the small town of Schitt’s Creek.

The show has real heart, showing how a quirky family comes together during this difficult time in their lives and accepts each other for exactly who they are inside. Every character takes turns being oblivious or over the top, but there’s always at least one other character who is grounded in reality.

The cast includes Eugene Levy (Johnny Rose) and Catherine O’Hara (Moria Rose), who are parents to two older kids (played by Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy). I love that Daniel Levy created this show with his father (Eugene Levy) and gets to star along side him and occasionally with his sister Sarah Levy (Twyla Sands).

If you are looking for a new show that is sure to produce belly laughs, tears, and smiles, check it out! Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

Visiting Shenandoah National Park

One of the items on our family’s Fall bucket list was to view Fall foliage. The best place I know of in our area is to travel to Shenandoah National Park and travel down Skyline Drive along the Appalachian mountains. Alone the 35 mph road, there are multiple scenic overlooks and stopping points to look at the views, take a hike, or go camping. It is a busy place, especially during Fall weekends.

Before we went, of course, I had to scope things out. For my future reference and others who may consider a similar trip, here’s what worked for us.

  1. If you have the luxury of being flexible with the date you go, check the weather in advance. We wanted to work in a hike, so I didn’t want to be doing that in the pouring rain.
  2. Go early to avoid lines. Since we were going on a weekend, we got up EARLY and ended up at the park before 9am. We entered right away without waiting. As a bonus, we approached the mountains as the sun was ascending, which cast a beautiful glow among the yellow and golden leaves. We even caught sight of a vibrant rainbow in the early morning light as the fog was burning off.
  3. Buy a park pass in advance. You can shorten your time in line even further by buying a park pass in advance. Don’t forget that 4th graders get free admission to all National Parks! And, because of the pandemic, 5th graders can also get the pass that lasts until Aug 2021.
  4. Have snacks available. There are four entrances to Skyline Drive, and we came in from the North most entrance at Front Royal, VA. A few miles from the entrance is The Apple House, a restaurant famous for its apple butter donuts. These donuts are now a new family favorite (and we obtained another check on our Fall bucket list by trying a new food). These were a well-earned snack after our trail hike.
  5. Plan your must-see stops along the way. There are a number of great overlooks or places to stop and hike. The National Park Service website has a great list of hiking trails sorted by location that provides an easy-to-read key on important information about each hike. You’ll notice when you’re on Skyline Drive that there are mileposts along the road that note the location, so it will be easy to spot when your planned location is coming up. Front Royal, where we entered, is mile marker 0 and it continues South to mile marker 105. We hiked to the Fort Windham Rocks because we wanted an easy, short hike that didn’t have a high elevation. We had a great time, and now we can say we’ve hiked part of the Application Trail!
  6. Decide what you want to do for lunch or dinner. We knew we wanted to stop for food, but because of the pandemic, we didn’t want a sit-down restaurant. I scouted a few options that we ended up skipping this time around because the kids fell asleep, but I would certainly try Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen or Burgers N Things (currently closed Sundays).

One of these years, I’ll book a weekend away for us in the mountains to enjoy the sites for more than a couple of hours. But, this year, it was just what we needed. We had a great time out together and everyone seemed to enjoy the long-ish car ride, since it’s such a novelty these days to be out on the roads.