Christmas with Intention

Christmas with Intention

We have four children with birthdays in January, March, April and June – ours are in August and December. Six months out of twelve, we are celebrating a birthday at our house. Generally, after the last kiddo’s birthday in June, I start shopping for Christmas. I know that sounds really ridiculous, but we have a LOT of people to buy for, not just our kiddos. We are blessed with a big family, and not just by blood, but by our extended family of friends and/or their children. In turn, we are blessed by many gifts in exchange. I assure you – one quick glance at our play room, and you’ll know our children want for little. 

This year, rather than start early – I have decided to limit the gift giving for our children. The littles will be limited to 10 gifts a piece (and Santa’s limit is undecided though it will be even less) and while that still seems extremely excessive, I have decided those ten gifts will be purchased/gifted with intention. I read an article that suggested intentional/minimal gifting could be limited to four gifts: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Also, I have read in the past that Santa should always bring the most modest gifts in an effort to show compassion to your child’s peers. 

Our ten gifts will go as follows:

  1. Wish list item
  2. Wish list item 
  3. A fiction book
  4. A nonfiction book
  5. A STEM/STEAM toy
  6. A pair of shoes
  7. Something that encourages creativity
  8. An outfit
  9. A keepsake
  10. An experience*

*To expand on “experience,” I want to point out that could mean many things for many different people. For example, my oldest asks frequently for a mommy/daughter date so even a handmade coupon promising one-on-one time with your child would be an inexpensive addition to your Christmas gift list, yet the most rewarding present of all. 

There are many reasons for going minimal this year, as I have given this a lot of thought. 

Appreciation. I want my children to truly appreciate their gifts. I am extremely guilty of ALWAYS going overboard and buying “just one more” gift, especially when I start shopping so early in the year (which, I did not do this year). As we all know, it’s not the number of presents, it’s the “thought that counts.”

The playroom. Over the years our playroom has become a collection site for way too many things. Recently, I cleaned out five garbage bags (that we donated locally). Five garbage bags. I was then able to add a reading area to their playroom (which I have always wanted to do) and an art area, and I feel like those are both very important activities for the girls to be engaged in more fully.

Our carbon footprint. With toys that only cost $1 at Dollar Tree (or the Target bin, or even at Walmart, etc.), it’s easy to say “yes” as we shop. But honestly, those are the first toys I toss out when I purge, the first toys to break, the first toys to get lost. With already overflowing landfills, I am literally spending “only $1” to contribute to more waste (I’ve already started saying no to these impulse purchases). Side note: I don’t want to discount that these purchases are what some can more easily afford, I am speaking solely on intentional gift giving as my motivator.

The true meaning of Christmas. I want to focus more on doing for others, why we celebrate Christmas in the first place, being truly engaged with friends and family, creating and passing along tradition. I can’t believe that the true meaning of Christmas hasn’t been lost, as I go to the store to purchase toothpaste on the first day of October and see a small endcap of Halloween/fall items and pass two entire aisles of Christmas decor.

They don’t NEED it. They truly don’t need any of the things they get for Christmas. They don’t NEED this year’s Christmas fad item (and the fact that we haven’t had cable in 10 years is a bonus because they don’t watch commercials to know what this year’s fad item is anyway). They WANT for gifts and, hey, in life we don’t always get everything we want (I don’t want to raise my children to believe that they do, or feel “entitled” to anything they didn’t work hard for). Why put all of that pressure on ourselves as parents when it’s literally not a necessity. Food, they NEED food – they don’t NEED a new doll (when they already have 20).

As far as the big kids go, it is easier to gift with intention. We can make purchases directly from their lists and know that they’ll get used/worn and appreciated. Our oldest daughter is intentional on her own, and only asks for what she feels like she needs (#goals). For everyone else? Handmade items. This year, I am going to make something for each of my friends. I feel like it aligns with intention and focusing on what Christmas means to me. So, if you’re reading this and we exchange gifts – make me something instead of purchasing a present (a handmade card would be perfect). 

Advertisements

Autumnal Grandeur

Autumnal Grandeur

I have always looked at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s delicate, flittering wings.
But had never really seen as he rested,
Perched proudly as he searched for his mate.
So much beauty never considered.
Guilt consumes me.
I’m inspired to change.
To not only hear, but listen;
Not only touch, but feel.
Respond to the echoing call of the common loon,
Beckoning me back to Moose Lake.
Watch as my girls listen to the chorus of howling wolves
Beneath the sky’s dancing Northern Lights.
I want to observe the blue needles of the Minnesota pines become bluer,
The red carpet of dewberry become redder.
I wonder how it smells,
As I remember the comforting aroma of birch bark and blueberries,
Of campfires and fresh caught walleye.
I dream of how it feels to jump off the end of the long wooden dock
And swim in the cold lake’s waters.
I consider the stories of the woods’ tallest tree.
It has seen so much more than me.
Impressive in it’s grandeur.
I will be back,
To seek answers to all I have missed.

Inspired by my mom, I wrote “Autumnal Grandeur,” for a creative writing project in my last semester at ISU. I spent the whole semester writing and designing a book about the power of a mother/daughter bond, in which this poem was included. It was published in the Clinton Journal two years ago as a part of my mom’s column, “Naturalist Notes.” Since then, it has been edited to the way it reads now. It serves as a reminder to me, once again, of how we can always improve on the past while still preserving our memories.

Balance

Balance

Repost from 2015:

I visit the cemetery frequently with my two young girls. Although they don’t completely understand, they know that we are visiting their Nana, my mom, Carol McFeeters Thompson. We share laughs and stories with mom – sometimes even tears – hoping that she is able to hear them, knowing that either way she is there in our hearts.

My oldest daughter recently started preschool, leaving some special one-on-one time for my youngest and me. Last week, Collins and I brought donuts and juice for a picnic with mom. That morning, the clouds were dark with the threat of rain. We were already committed to our plans, and headed for the cemetery anyway. We laid out a quilt (made of my old souvenir t-shirts mom had saved from our travels together) under the oak tree that extends over mom’s grave as well as the graves of our Grandpa and Grammy. We listened as acorns dropped from the tree, making a thud as they hit the ground around us. We felt the breeze as it blew lightly across our faces and through our hair.  We noticed as the dark clouds faded to white and then separated so that the sun could shine directly on us. My mom may not have been there physically, but she was all around us. She had always encouraged others to see the beauty around them, and that is exactly what we did. Inspired by her life’s lessons, we sat and really took in our surroundings.

 

We have noticed an abundant number of ground squirrels throughout the cemetery. Kendall, my oldest daughter, has named them all “Buddy.” She is thrilled when she sees them, shrieking “Hi, Buddy!”, which inevitably causes them to jump back down into their holes – every time. While I cannot immediately identify the species of ground squirrel as my mom could, I can encourage Kendall that lowering her voice and standing still will allow her to enjoy “Buddy,” rather than scare him away. In return, we can watch him pop his head out of his hole, examining us as we examine him.

 

Collins and I were surrounded by ground squirrels during our visit, as Collins is significantly more quiet than Kendall. She’s just as full of energy though, and took off running through the cemetery. We visited the graves of some of Collins’s relatives and some of my very dear friends, cleaning them off along our way – realizing the unfortunate losses so many of us share.

 

As we returned to my mom’s grave, we saw a red-tailed hawk. I have always been impressed by their grace and beauty. Watching her soar freely through the now cloudless sky immediately reminded me of my mom, of course. In an article she once wrote, she said of the red-tailed hawk, “Designed for nearly effortless flight over open country, she sailed on the wind, gliding across the sky in little more than a moment without ever flapping her massive wings.  When she rose to clear the trees, the sun highlighted her distinctive russet tail against the bright turquoise sky  She disappeared from view, but her majesty lingered.” What a beautiful and impeccably perfect description of what Collins and I saw together, sharing those memories with my daughter as my mom once shared with me – and so many others. That’s when it occurred to me, our new found friend, the red-tailed hawk, was not only graceful to watch, but intuitive. While we were busy watching “Buddy”, so was she. “She wanted only to be left in peace to use her keen vision to watch for a hint of movement in the grass below that might signal a small rodent suitable for her dinner.”

 

Collins and I spent two hours in the cemetery that day. Heartbroken with the loss of my mother, it was initially difficult for me to find a suitable balance between new and old, the future and the past. Focussing on my surroundings, I have realized that balance is prevalent and necessary: predator and prey, life and death, past and present.  What I have discovered is that we can incorporate the past into our future, mixing new memories and experiences with old.

© 2015 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

I’ve been running from my grief, and I am tired…

I’ve been running from my grief, and I am tired…

For over four years, I have ran from my grief. I ran fast and far, to revisit it briefly only a handful of times; each time leaving more quickly than the last. I can’t live in it, I refuse to, but I also probably can’t say that I’ve actually grieved properly. But then, I guess, I don’t know what grieving properly really is.

I was a stay-at-home momma when my own mom passed away. I’m lucky that I was able to spend so much time with her in the year following her cancer diagnosis. I am so thankful for that time and the remaining memories we were able to make. I accept her death, I accept the inevitability of death and my own mortality. Accepting her death is different than accepting the “why.” “Why” my mom was chosen, I’ll never understand. I can’t even think too deeply of it without wanting to vomit or completely and totally shut down.

To escape my grief, I made myself busy; so busy that I rarely slept. I finished my Master’s, endlessly volunteered for multiple organizations and causes, individually spear-headed a series of fundraisers to benefit the National Brain Tumor Society (we are over $33,000 raised), said “yes” to every favor and request, purchased a building and started a business (and then purchased another building and started another business), became the Village Clerk of Wapella, wrote a weekly newspaper column (in place of my mother’s weekly newspaper column), started a Girl Scout troop, and the list literally goes on (add in the fact that I’m a mother of four, got married during this crazy time, and I’ve remained a daughter and friend).

I. Am. Tired.

It caught up to me, it all caught up to me and I am exhausted mentally and physically; some days I cannot find even a portion of the energy that I couldn’t shut off for so long. I cannot find the energy to say “yes.” And, I’m sad. As I near my 35th birthday, I wish I could fast forward through it. I wish that every year, I didn’t have to be reminded of one more year “since” or “until.” My heart breaks with the loss of my mother. I miss her SO much, and it’s not “fair” that I don’t have her – that my children don’t have her. Although, I’ve heard it said many times that, “life isn’t fair,” I still very much wish that it was.

Here is what I have gained from slowing down, though. I have regained my ability to solely focus on my family and sometimes even on myself (that is still a work in progress). I found my dream job without even knowing it existed. I work long hours without effort, because I truly enjoy it. I have time to go on adventures and make memories with my family. I have finally focused on making my own legacy, rather than living 100% through my mom’s. I think she’d be excited, and proud. I think for a long time, I tried desperately to hang on to every ounce of my mom, rather than to live my own life. I didn’t want anyone to forget about her, but regardless of who remembers – I will never forget and I will never let my children forget. She will live through us, whether I stay up all hours of the night or sleep in.

So, if I’ve been more of a “no” person than a “yes” person lately, please don’t take offense to it. My saying “no” means I have more time to say “yes” to MY family. I can spend more time with my children so that their memories of ME will be like my memories of my mom and the home I grew up in with her, the life I lived with, and because of, her – she was always by my side, always my biggest cheerleader and she loved me endlessly. I always knew she was there for me, without any doubt. I hope my children will grow to understand that is how I feel about them. My love for them all will never falter, through life or even death.

The first day of school is here!

The first day of school is here!

I love my job. I had no idea how much I could possibly love a job, or that I would love so many children, families and fellow colleagues. I have children, too, and I know how hard it is to let them go and grow. I know that you’re worried about them, I know you’re scared for them, I know you want the best for them. I know when you drop them off at the door, you get in your car and cry. I know that some days, you do a “happy dance” because, man, you needed a break today. I know that you love your child with all your heart, trust me, it shows in how your child loves his/her friends or from how he pretend plays with a baby doll, or when he/she says “I miss my mommy/daddy/sister/grandma.” I know that you count down the minutes until you can see your baby again. I know, too, that some days 2 1/2 hours just isn’t enough time to get your house cleaned before it is time for you to pick up your kiddo. Before the end of the school year, I will know your child’s favorite color, favorite toy, favorite game. I will watch her beam with pride when she reaches her accomplishments, like writing her name or learning all of the colors, or making a new friend, or trying a new food. I will be there when he falls down, and I will help him up. I will hug her when she cries. I will chat with you on the phone and talk you through your fears. I will be there for your child, and I will be there for you. I am only with your child a fraction of the time you are, or his teacher is. Think about how well his teacher will know him. She is going to spend 6 1/2 hours (or 2 1/2 if he is in preschool) a day with him for the next 180 school days.

Your daughter cried on the way to school today, but so did mine. I had to drop mine off with her teacher and try not to cry myself. But here’s what I know about my daughter’s teacher AND your daughter’s teacher. She will take care of our daughters as if they were her own. She will love on them, and hug them, and make sure they eat, and get potty breaks and play. She will make sure our daughters play together and play nicely. She will help them through the hard and the bad and the sad times. She will smile with them and high five them through the good times. She will come to work early, she will stay late, she will work for free and spend her own money to make sure our kiddos have what they need to be the best versions of themselves. She will encourage them and teach them and guide them. She will love them, and they will love her. She will read to them, and maybe even teach them how to read. She will spark their imagination and encourage their creativity.

I think it was hard for me from an outside mom’s perspective to understand this. It was hard for me to believe for a second that anyone could take care of my child better than I could (or even the same). I promise you though, your child’s teacher will do the very best she can. Your child’s teacher loves children and she will love your child. I’m so proud to know so many amazing teachers, who literally give blood, sweat and tears to make sure that your child (and mine) is taken care of. I can say with certainty that your child’s teacher will lay awake at night thinking of new ways to teach, and she will lose sleep thinking of how she can help a student’s family that may be going through a tough time, she’ll lose sleep hoping that her students all went to bed with full tummies or with a kiss goodnight. She wants the best for him, just like you.

GBM Awareness Day

GBM Awareness Day

Four years ago tomorrow, my mom passed in her home, taking her very last breath surrounded by her husband, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters. I will never forget it, and I would never wish it upon another human being.

It was a tough year. I had just given birth to my second baby, naive that life was grand and I had never been happier. One month later, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) – a deadly brain tumor with a nearly non-existent survival rate.

The next 12 months would be riddled with tumor resections, radiation, chemotherapy, (multiple doctors, hospitals and nursing homes) and ultimately the infection that would end her life. It was also riddled with never-ending love, overwhelming emotion, and undeniable heartache.

I remember googling GBM as we sat in the waiting room, my mom alone in her hospital room, minutes after the diagnosis. We were all absorbing what we had just heard. I had never heard of GBM – there is no known cause, there is not currently a cure.

Thanks to information provided by the National Brain Tumor Society, I was better able to understand what was happening. Thanks also to their dedication to research, they proudly donate $0.83 cents of every dollar they receive. I knew that day I would one day partner with them. I couldn’t save my mom, but I could bring awareness, contribute to research, maybe I could help to save YOUR mom (or YOUR daughter or YOUR nana). In the last 3 years, our small town had housed the National Brain Tumor Society Nature Walk held annually at Weldon Springs State Park (where my mom spent countless hours, years, of her life giving to our community). We have raised over $36,609. We are currently working on year four of this event.

In the meantime, I have met many families affected by GBM, all of whom have helped me through this journey – hopefully I’ve been able to help some of them as well.

Today is the first ever National GBM Awareness Day. This is HUGE. July 17, 2019 – just one day short of four years since I lost my momma, is recognized to bring awareness solely to GBM. I am elated.

Please consider sharing information about GBM today – share our event, share our fundraising page, donate, post a picture of GBM facts, share this post. Whatever you can do today to help bring awareness – I know I’d appreciate it, but I know the world will benefit from it. Thank you, from our family (who is seriously missing a significant piece of our hearts) and for all of the families who deserve a cure ❤️

Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part II

Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part II

Assuming you have settled on a location, let’s talk a little more about flight and hotel accommodations.

I have found that it’s cheaper to fly to London from Chicago, and cheaper to fly to Mexico from St. Louis. If there is more than one airport within a couple of hours from your home, check flights (and play with dates when possible) from all of the airports closest to you. Some smaller airports offer amazing deals to high traffic places. For example, Peoria, Illinois offers direct (and inexpensive) flights to Las Vegas; Bloomington, Illinois offers low-cost flights direct to destinations in Florida. Some of these airports offer special travel days (like Thursday and Sunday), so you can travel a combination of these days; Sunday to Sunday, Sunday to Thursday, Thursday to Sunday or Thursday to Thursday, etc. Smaller airports can be a plus because they rarely charge for parking. For the bigger airports, we use the app “Spot Hero” to find cheaper parking around the airport. Travel to and from the airport can also be an extra cost or an extra headache so be sure to consider a quick train ride or an overnight hotel stay (sometimes you can park in their parking lot for the entire duration of your trip) with free airport shuttle (these are both fun additions to a trip with littles). Amtrak currently offers a 35% off summer special when purchasing tickets for a group of four.

I would also recommend overnight flights when flying internationally with children. This minimizes the need for keeping them busy, and with a significant time change, you want them to be able to be recharged once you land. Just make sure you, too, are able to sleep on the plane. Bonus: these flights are typically less expensive, and more often direct versus a layover.

Hotels are a big deal so I will focus on them in detail. A bad hotel (or a hotel in a bad area) can literally ruin your trip. Do not skimp on the hotel. Don’t. Again, I use Expedia (no, I’m not being compensated), so my examples will be from their app. I check the Expedia star rating first, and keep my search to hotels with a 3 or 3 1/2 star rating at an absolute minimum. I generally book with a 4+ star rating when available (some of the domestic trips we have taken have not had an option above a 3 star). Then, I look at the rating provided by guest reviews. A 4 1/2 star hotel may have a 3 star guest rating, while a 3 star hotel may have a 5 star guest rating. I read the reviews. I read the good and then make sure to find and read the bad reviews, too.

When I narrow down my choices to a couple of hotels, I look at amenities and additional charges/taxes. Some areas (especially internationally) have a per person guest tax. If you’re driving or renting a car, parking is also an additional cost to consider. Again, it is more efficient (and cost effective) to book a hotel close to where you’ll benefit most. Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach are two entirely different areas, for example. I use Expedia to book hotels, but before I do, I directly check out the website for the hotel. Sometimes, they offer packages and deals and can end up being cheaper than what Expedia offers. Calling the hotel to book directly can also save money versus what even their website offers. Ask them if they have any deals, specials or upgrades available.

Check the location of your hotel on the map and make sure it’s in an area that would benefit your trip. How will you get around, will you be walking? If it’s next to a major highway, will you have to cross the highway? Pick a spot that makes sense for what you’ll be doing. If you’re traveling with littles, don’t forget a stroller if you’ll be walking. An umbrella stroller folds up nicely for traveling and some backpacks offer straps to carry one hands-free.

Specific to amenities, I always pick the hotel with a pool versus one without (think fun for the kiddos). If there are restaurants or food available in the hotel, that can often be a lifesaver after a long day or even at the beginning of what will be a long day. Personally, I get excited when they have a coffee shop but that doesn’t make or break my decision. Does the hotel have a concierge? They can really help when you’re your own travel agent. They can tell you how to get places, line up your transportation, recommend something new/different, and sometimes they can offer special deals to their guests.

When using the Expedia app, make sure you check the “Things to do” option. They often offer specials for a variety of activities in the area. Again, I also check these activities online directly to make sure the prices are indeed at a discount. Sometimes, they’re the same (or similar) prices, the advantage though is that Expedia offers pricing in USD, so you do not have to mentally convert € to $, etc. I would not suggest booking “Things to do” ahead of time. Browse your options and narrow down a list of activities you might like to do, but because these activities are only good for the date of purchase, you may find yourself getting to your location and wanting to do something else on that day instead. Not committing ahead of time leaves you wiggle room to decide what you want to do once you get there. I had purchased tickets for the London Eye ahead of time (trying to save time by not waiting in line), but traffic was unpredictably crazy and we didn’t make it in time before it closed. Money wasted (AND the girls didn’t get to do the ONE thing they had requested – shoutout to Paris for also having a gigantic Ferris Wheel and minimizing the letdown).

Traveling tip: make sure you download all of the apps for all of your hotels/flights. You may book through Expedia, but are flying American Airlines – download the American Airlines app. Check into your flights and hotels from your apps (this also gets you travel points from those that offer them). You can keep up-to-date gate changes, pick your seats, choose your room, etc.