2003 Joshua tree NP 3 boys

The Happiness of Pursuit

The Happiness of Pursuit
Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life
A book by Chris Guillebeau

I just finished reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, The Happiness of Pursuit about quests. (I was thrilled to receive the book as a gift from Jenna Avery through a little contest about quests on her website jennaavery.com.

There were a couple of things that I loved about this book. Chris Guillebeau did a bunch of research and talking to people about their quests to figure out commonalities among the types of quests that people were doing. They ranged from biking across Turkey to walking across America to having a date in each of the 50 states. The author’s personal quest was to visit every country in the world, which he finished recently.

The author also talked about the comfort of quests and the burning desire to make a difference or have a purpose. He found comfort in traveling and being on the road during his quest to visit every country in the world. He found that to be stable for him. For the guy who walked across the US, he found his “stable” as putting one foot in front of the other and when he was done with his quest, he felt off kilter and unstable. He didn’t have a driving purpose any longer.

Not everyone finds travel to be a stable state. I personally do and when I read that, it put a lot of things into perspective for me. I love to travel and explore. I love being on the road. I love the mix of comfort and being off kilter, trying to figure things out. I have certain travel routines that I follow and for me it brings me a huge level comfort and stability. I kind of label it as the comfort of chaos. I can deal with very high levels of chaos and I’m comfortable with it and it doesn’t phase me. I like the problem solving aspect of it – you need to get from here to there? I can do that. You need to figure out what interesting museums there are in Barcelona and how to fit as many of them as you can in to two and half days, I can do that.

On the polar opposite, I also thrive on routines – the same routine getting ready in the morning, the same fitness routine every morning, taking the same 3 paths, doing the same circuit training exercises. It’s interesting to me that I love some of the same routines daily but abhor others, like sitting at a desk all day long at work.

I think part of the allure of travel is twofold for me; first, the planning aspect is appealing. I love to plan and organize things and planning a trip gives me the opportunity to do just that. Second, the thrill of surviving and thriving while in a new environment is very enthralling. Meeting new people, finding great food, all fun things to do!

The comfort of chaos. It’s something I need. Seeing new things, meeting new people, learning about new cultures, learning about the history of a place, trying new food – these are all things I love to do and need. I think it all comes down to thriving on learning and thriving on helping others (sharing information, sharing advice, sharing experiences). It seems a little bit ironic to find comfort in the instability of chaos, but that is where I feel stable.

In reading through the book and hearing about the different quests people are on, I was struck by how many things in my life can be considered quests:

  • Helping others (not reinvent the wheel) and doing this by sharing information and learning. I labeled this one training/writing/sharing.
  • Helping women. I co-founded Women’s Interactive Entertainment Association during my first job out of law school at Sega. After that, I worked extensively with Women in Technology International and implementing a mentor program with the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs. And now I’m on the board of Women in eDiscovery and speaking with their chapters regularly.
  • Fundraising. For some reason, I’ve always been involved in fundraising. From raising money for my high school band to working at the Development Office at Cal to running fundraising for an orchestra to fundraising for my kids’ school to setting up a private Family Foundation. I’m all about helping others get the money they need to do the work that they find so important. Now, I help coach and train groups who want to upgrade their fundraising efforts.
  • Visiting the 50 United States. I’ve driven across the United States three times, in 2001, 2007, 2010. (Actually, McKinley, my youngest, had done all three of these trips with me by the age of 8.) I know exactly where this quest came from — As a child, I was obsessed with a book called Fabulous Facts about the 50 States. It was peppered with facts like, “The first woman elected to the United States Congress was Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1917.” (A mere 28 years after it became the 41st State). I dutifully checked off every state visited throughout the years. I’ve three more to go: North Dakota, Montana, and Alaska.
  • Visiting every US National Park. OK, the extent of this one is a little bit off the charts. We named our three boys after National Parks and we have a quest of visiting them all. I even used the word quest on the back of one of our digital photo books: “2006 July, The DesBrisay Sigler Family, Continuing their National Park quest.” On that trip, we saw really out of the way parks in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. We’ve been to quite a lot of them, but have a ton to go still (there are about 400 altogether in the National Park System). Enjoy a “few” pictures from our quest!

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There were three quotes that stuck with me after reading the book and I found them to be important in how to live life:

“Every day matters. The awareness of our mortality can help us pursue a goal. We all have a limited amount of time on earth. Those who live in active awareness of this reality are more likely to identify goals and make progress toward them. Or to put it another way: Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.” (p. 268) This quote really focused on living the life YOU want and not just being a cog in the “should” wheel.

“It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than the top of one you don’t.” (p. 163 Stephen Kellogg, musician) This quote centered around working on something you love and hopefully making that your career.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.“ So, too, for a quest. The most important thing is continuing to make progress.” (p. 196) This was about devoting time to a quest, not just paying it lip service. Why wait. You aren’t getting any younger.

If you do read this book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And, I’d love to hear about any quests that you are on!

Selfie on Terry's phone

Intimacy Retreat

Does going to an intimacy retreat sound appealing to you or does the sound of fingernails being raked down a chalkboard (do they even have chalkboards any more?) sound more enticing?

The last weekend in January, I ended up in Phoenix for a completely different event than the Superbowl; I attended a retreat called Intentional Conversations about Intimacy and Relationships facilitated by author Reverend Terry Hershey.

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Julie-anne, a friend I camp with each summer, had lent me Terry Hershey’s book, Soul Gardening, which I proceeded to read each night at bedtime. It took me awhile to finish it given the type of writing it is and the fact that I read for 5-15 minutes at a time before falling asleep. Juli-anne and I talked about the book in more detail when I went to visit her last July and she told me she was going to go a retreat given by the author in January of 2015.

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After a little more research into the author and the retreat, I decided to attend this intimacy retreat with Juli-anne and see what I could learn. I had already done a bit of work on the topic over the last four years, starting with Matthew Kelly’s book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy (which I also highly recommend).

The retreat wasn’t for couples per se, but the attendees consisted of about half couples and half individuals. It began on Friday before dinner and ended by Sunday at noon. It was held at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley, AZ.

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It was a bit crazy in town with the Superbowl and a golf tournament (with Tiger Woods in attendance). We made it there after a day and a half of visiting with Juli-anne’s cousin, hanging out at museums, botanical gardens, and shopping malls (We discovered the Last Chance, where Nordstrom Rack stuff goes to die or be purchased…). We arrived at the Franciscan Renewal Center at about 5:05 pm, right in time for cocktail hour and then dinner before our first session.
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At cocktail hour and dinner, we hung out with Terry and heard stories about his son, who is the same age as my oldest (16). When it was time for the opening session, we were instructed to sit at a table with people of the same gender (boys at their own tables, girls at theirs). So, we started the “awesome” table. We did a few exercises about what intimacy is and what prevents intimacy from happening. Throughout the retreat we discussed the reasons for this behavior and what to do to change it. Although we didn’t sit separated for any other exercises, it was a fun way to meet new people.

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It rained on us almost the entire time we were in Arizona (It was beautiful and sunny for the Superbowl, but I was already in the airport lounge by then). The desert is an amazing place when it rains. When it stops, all of the desert creatures come out. We were able to see the rabbits and quail. The peacefulness was startlingly quiet. The desert was a good place for a retreat. A good place for introspection. The meditation chapel was calming and energizing at the same time. Walking the labyrinth was surprisingly insightful and I had two very different energetic experiences on the days I walked it.
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The labyrinth was very interesting to walk more than once; the things you notice after the first time can be profound – like the middle of the labyrinth is the long part of the path, the outside. I was struck by the elegance of that. I thought that is true of many projects and things in life – the middle part can be the long and boring part. The beginning of a project or job is exciting, you feel like you are making a lot of progress. The end is exciting because your progress or project is complete and you can see the end result. It is the middle of the path that is long and boring and sometimes you just need to persevere through that to get to the end. How many things in life are just like that?
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I met some amazing people at this retreat. There were more than a few married couples, older, on their second marriages, but who had been married for 30+ years. (A few days later, my dad and his wife celebrated 31 years of marriage). Kind of inspiring! There were even some newlyweds (one guy had just gotten married for the first time at 60).

On one of our exercises we were outside, making observations and I had spied one of the couples walking through the garden holding hands. I tried to capture that with my camera but they were far away and I’m not sure I did the moment justice; in any event, it was cool to see their connection, which reminded me of my maternal grandparents always holding hands on their ritual walk after each meal.
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The retreat followed the same kind of format throughout the whole weekend with a little discussion or storytelling by Terry, followed by an exercise at our table and then sharing out of our findings/observations. There was nowhere to hide in this retreat. You couldn’t sit at the back of the classroom. It didn’t exist.

You had to mine the depths of your mind and soul at this retreat from the opening session until the last minute before we left. And let me tell you, excavating the corners of my mind is a dirty job. Not because I have a dirty mind, although my friends and family would tell you that is definitely true, but because I have formed a protective layer around me that is very thick. Few get in. That needs to stop. There is more than enough love to go around our world, why not share it. That’s what I am working on; that is why I went to this retreat.

We kept a kind of summary of our observations and findings on two different white boards and Terry commented that every time he does this talk, the results are different. It would be interesting to see what people come up with for this conversation time and time again. Here are ours:
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My favorite exercise was the destination/journey activity. We did an exercise where we were supposed to walk out a certain direction (of our choice) for 4 minutes (maybe it was 2 minutes…) and then stop wherever we were and take several deep breaths. Then we were supposed to turn around and walk back but take at least three times the amount of time it took us to get out to that spot and observe what was around us.
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You can see where this destination/journey exercise is going, right? Nowhere good if you’ve spent most of your life on the destination part of this activity… which is squarely where most of my life has been – always looking into the future, lamenting the past and things I had no control over. I’ve always been so concerned about the destination, that I didn’t pay much attention to the journey itself. Sure, I’ve seen a ton in my life and I like to try new things and explore, but it isn’t the same as really enjoying the journey or the process for its own sake.

I spent the “journey” back to our classroom taking pictures, which I love to do. I also enjoyed the smells, the sounds, the rain, and the colors of the desert. I also enjoyed knowing that the last few years, I have made a special point to finally take my grandmother’s advice to stop and smell the flowers more literally ☺ Not only do I actually stop and smell the flowers, I take pictures of them.
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Intimacy is a journey, not a destination. It doesn’t just happen, you don’t just arrive one day. The is no proclamation of “I’ve arrived at intimacy!” Nope, it doesn’t work that way. It’s been a struggle for me to focus on the journey and not just on the destination and I’m definitely enjoying the journey these days. Really enjoying it!

What was really fantastic about the entire retreat is that it confirmed for me that I am on the right path. The work dove-tailed very nicely with Matthew Kelly’s writing in the Seven Levels of Intimacy, Gay Hendrick’s writing in Conscious Living, and his other book Conscious Loving, which are all books I have read and reread several times over the last few years. I’ve really been trying to incorporate this work into my life. It’s been better, more authentic. I’ve been more vulnerable, and felt more loved, appreciated and wanted.

Sonya, Terry, Juli-anne

Sonya, Terry, Juli-anne

I thrive on self-improvement and learning. I love the insight, I love the ability to be able to change, I love making the effort to change, and it’s been great making things better and more real. I realize that intimacy is a life-long journey. It’s not a one and done. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I loved putting things into perspective and seeing where I am on this journey we call life. I would definitely do this kind of retreat again.

Note: If you are interested, Terry Hershey publishes a newsletter/blog each Monday called Sabbath Moments. This is the one from the day of our retreat: The Real Gift of Intimacy.

Four business executives having meeting in boardroom

Your Career Mentor

Your Career Mentor
By Sonya L Sigler

I wrote a presentation last month (New Year, New You – The Top 10 Ways to Manage Your Career) and was fortunate enough to be able to give it with one of my best friends in the world, Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, to the Women in eDiscovery Silicon Valley group. After thinking about it more and reviewing the slides and stories we told, I have decided to turn it into a book. I’ve included the 10 tips below and I am looking for additional stories to add to the book. I have 1-2 stories for each tip already but I want to be able to include 3-5 illustrative stories for each tip. So, read on and if you have a story (yours or someone else’s) that fits with a particular tip or piece of advice, please contact me, I’d love to hear about it!

10. Have a Goal
Every career (or life, for that matter) needs a goal. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Putting together a goal or set of goals will help guide your career, rather than merely letting it meander aimlessly. Put together a plan of goals for your career with 1, 3, and 5-year milestones or mini-goals. Don’t be afraid to reassess these goals on a regular basis!

9. Know Your Value
What is your unique value proposition? This isn’t just marketing speak. Having thought about what makes you unique and what you can bring to the table AND being able to articulate it, will set you apart from others who may have similar skills and experience.

8. Show (Share) Your Value
Rather than merely keeping a list of your accomplishments and achievements, share that information with colleagues and higher-ups in a meaningful and lasting way. Learn to describe and communicate your value to others without sounding like you are bragging. Learn to tout each other’s accomplishments too!

7. Be Present. Now.
Feel like you are juggling too many balls and they are falling and hitting you on the head? Trying to balance work and life is really just a juggling act and it is more about establishing boundaries. No one but you knows where your boundaries are and how to put them in place. Is having dinner each night with your family important? Is coaching your child’s soccer team important to you? Do you make time to sing in a choir? Each of these things requires a boundary and requires you to be present, now.

6. Volunteer Yourself
Show initiative in taking on more responsibility or a new project. Find out what keeps your boss up at night or what they are really worried about in the business. Do not wait to be asked. Volunteer yourself or your team! Take the initiative to solve a problem.

5. What Would A Man Do?
This tip isn’t about man-spreading. It is about being seen and heard without asking for permission or waiting to be asked for your opinion. Would a man take a seat at the table? Would a man speak up in this same situation? Would a man put his hat in the ring for a promotion or leadership position? The take your seat at the table, speak up, and do not hesitate to be seen AND heard, especially in situations where your opinion may be in the minority.

4. Mentor Each Other
Don’t wait to find the perfect mentor – they don’t exist. If you have to flat out ask, ”Will you be my mentor?” the answer is no. The good news is that anyone can be your mentor. Look around for people you admire and speak to them about issues that concern you or seek their feedback. Your parents, your siblings, college classmates, girlfriends, colleagues, other managers are all good resources for mentoring. Mentoring is a two way street. Don’t be afraid of sharing your own observations and experiences.

3. Be Your Own Best Cheerleader
What if that negative voice in your head could be ultra positive and supportive? If you wouldn’t say something to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself. When you catch yourself saying something negative to your self, stop, and immediately replace it with something positive (not an airy positive affirmation, but a true positive statement). Be your own best cheerleader.

2. Step Up to the Challenge
Do you find yourself waiting to do something until you feel completely prepared? Do you hesitate to put your name in for consideration of a new project or position? Are you holding yourself back while you wait for the feeling of complete preparation to wash over you? Be prepared! (NOT). Most of the time, you will never feel prepared; Put your hat in the ring for a promotion or a new position anyway. Stop waiting to be 100% prepared. Step out of your comfort zone. Step up to the challenge.

1. Always Ask – Always!
When was the last time you asked for a raise? Was it during a formal review process? Or never?!? Always ask for raises, promotions, more stock, or other compensation. You can always ask the question, “What do I need to do to be promoted?” No one will volunteer to pay you more.

Again, if you have stories you want to share related to any of these tips, please contact me:

Sonya L Sigler
sonya@iampractigal.com
650-281-8325
@iampractigal or @sonyasigler
www.iampractigal.com or www.sonyasigler.com

Sonya and her 3 teen boys

American Ninja Warrior Decathlon for (40 something) Moms

Ready, set, go!

Ready, set, go!

What would this competition really look like if we had American Ninja Warriors with only 40-something moms as competitors in appropriate mom tasks? I’ve chosen 40-something moms because those are the ones that usually have teens and this is a teen oriented competition. And besides, I’m a 40-something mom…I’ve come up with a few events I think may be worthy of an American Ninja Warrior Decathlon…

  1. The Midnight Round-Up

Also known as — Where’s my teen? It’s past curfew. I’ve become a stalker. What are good teen stalking techniques in this day and age? A network of other mom’s? Facebook (or Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, etc.) following of all your teen’s friends? Hmm, let’s be creative here. How long will it take you to find your teen? Maybe this one should be measured in how long it takes your teen to respond to your text/call? Or maybe it should be measured in how many minutes late your teen is after curfew? Should we allow bonus points if your teen uses the “pick me up no questions asked” card before curfew expires?

  1. Bunk Bed Sheets Wrestling Match
This bunk bed has three mattresses to make up.

This bunk bed has three mattresses to make up.

Wrestling sheets onto a bunk bed without breaking a sweat is a tough task, but moms can do it. How long will it take you to wrestle sheets onto bunk beds against a wall? Without breaking a sweat! Bonus points if you have more than one set of bunk beds in your house. Making up loft beds count for even more bonus points because who doesn’t hit their head on the ceiling (and bed) trying to make up one of those?!?

  1. Sneaker Smell Quashing
Really? Whose shoe is this?

Really? Whose shoe is this?

Who knew that kind of smell could actually exist on Earth? (NO fair if you’ve been to see the Grossology exhibit when it was in town, you already know the answer to that (rhetorical) question!). How can we get rid of that stench? Oh my God! Don’t take those shoes off in the car! Maybe we can see how long we can stand the smell before we pass out? What would this competition really look like? Would it be measured by how long you could stand the smell or how long it takes to get rid of it? If we do this as an event, I think maybe Gas Masks could be a potential lifeline, but you lose points if you use one!

  1. Pout and Eye-Rolling Combatant
The perpetual pouty teen look.

The perpetual pouty teen look.

How fast can you embarrass your teen into eye rolling or pouty behavior? If you can even get them to attend the competition at all. If not, you might have to borrow another teen for this event! I can hear it now, “Anyone up for a game of Cards Against Humanity?” “No, mom!” Swiftly followed by “How could you (even suggest something so lame; we are not playing this with you)?” And the biggest eye roll known to man… Maybe this competition should be measured in how fast you can get your teen not to eye-roll or pout and actually smile? That kind of event might be more difficult! Nigh impossible in some households…

  1. Teen Driving Nail Biter
The 1st licensed teen in the family.

The 1st licensed teen in the family.

Although this event is self-explanatory, the pain can be measured by the length of the nail raking scars on the dashboard or by the depth the nails have dug into your palm. Am I right? Or perhaps we can measure it by the amount your auto insurance increases once your teen actually becomes a licensed driver… I think there may be special award points for moms of boys if this event is measured by the astronomical changes in your insurance costs… especially if they have an accident their VERY first week of driving.

  1. Logistics Planning

Who hasn’t had to be in three places at the same time with their children? This event involves planning the logistics for three teen sports tournaments at the same time, in different states. It can be measured by the loss of parental sanity multiplied by the miles put on the car odometer for the weekend and divided by the money spent on food/equipment/entry fees during the trip…

  1. Snappy Comebacks

What are your snappy comebacks (or are these behavior modification techniques?) that you use as a parent when your teen proposes doing something completely preposterous? Or is making excuses not do a chore they have been asked to do? Or is procrastinating from doing their homework? I think this one is best summed up by “a funny” making the rounds on the internet: “Breaking News: The Pity Train has just derailed at the intersection of Suck It Up & Move On, and crashed into We All Have Problems, before coming to a complete stop at Get the Heck Over It. Any complaints about how we operate can be forwarded to 1-800-waa-waaa. This is Dr. Sniffle Reporting LIVE from Quitchur Fussin’.”

  1. Git Ur Butt Off the Couch and Find a Job…

Teens have amazing ways of wheedling money out of their parents. How many ways can you say no? In how many foreign languages? Bonus points for more than 5 foreign languages. How about “Hell No!”

  1. Grocery Bill Tally
A real grocery list from our household in 2014.

A real grocery list from our household in 2014.

A lot of meat!

A lot of meat!

Yes, our pancakes really do have meat in them!

Yes, our pancakes really do have meat in them!

How much do teens eat? How much does it cost when you go to the grocery store? I don’t even go to Costco anymore – that’s $400 a pop. How much meat do teen boys eat? Let’s find out… in the grocery bill tally event. What groceries would you buy to feed your teens for a week? Enough said. I’ve got to go rob a bank now!

  1. Homework Hell

Do we even need to discuss this ring of hell? Perhaps we need to call this event “Are you smarter than a High Schooler?” Could you survive doing one night of their homework load? Once you’ve been through a couple of hours of running and exercises (to simulate whatever sports practice your teen was at that afternoon/evening) and you gulp down a meal (probably pizza and a coke), you get the pleasure of doing a calculus problem set, a chemistry lab write up, writing an AP English paper, and studying for a Spanish test. All the while, texting and chatting with at least a dozen friends/classmates. And listening to your favorite tunes on Spotify. Oh, all of this is to be done without coffee! All before 10 pm (or is it 11 pm) bedtime? I didn’t think so.

Now, if we were fashioning this decathlon competition after the Amazing Race, we could add a few detour type events that are centered on common teen activities (legal ones only, because the illegal ones often involve a real life detour with serious consequences):

Emergency Room Detour – how fast can you drive to the emergency room? How many broken bones were found? How long did it take to be seen in the emergency room? Bonus points if you’ve been to the emergency room more than once in a day… even more bonus points if it was with different kids! (Not saying this happened with my kids or anything…)

Clothes Shopping Spree Detour – You have XX minutes/days/years to find something your teen will actually wear that YOU bought for them without their help or input. This event cannot really be a part of the competition because it could go on for years and we don’t have that long to judge a winner…

Sports Equipment Search Detour – Where is the football tee? The Lacrosse stick, the volleyball knee pads… this list could get very long if your teens play three sports and have a regular schedule of games and tournaments. It gets really hairy if they are playing more than one sport at a time. We’ve set up an obstacle course of sports clothing and equipment and it is your job to assemble a complete sports uniform so that if your child had to step on the “playing field” once you are done, they would meet the sporting regulations to be able to play… I pray that there are swim trunks somewhere out there in this event; they don’t really need goggles do they?

Lifelines – Even though we aren’t playing Who Wants to be a Millionaire (although we could be, because as parents of teens, we are merely seen as an ATM most of the time), I already mentioned the possibility of a gas mask lifeline in the Sneaker Smell Quashing event. I think the other two lifelines need to be “Phone a Friend” and “Where (the Hell) is the Wine.” These lifelines are self explanatory to most parents, even if your kids aren’t teens!

Now, I know this competition is a little very boy centric. But, I’ve earned the right, as a mom of three teen boys (yes, count them), to make this competition whatever the hell I damn well please… and I deserve big jewels… at least that’s what the nurse said as she handed me my (third) ten-pound child and told me not to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds as I recover from my C-Section… Seriously, if you do have teen girls and have suggestions for teen girl centric events, I am all ears! Tell me about it!

Author’s Note: This blog post was inspired by my Facebook posts of 7/28/2014 and 8/24/2014 and any similarity to my VERY real life with my three sons is purely coincidental.

Christmas post card

Christmas Letter or Cards?!?

christmas vintage snow postcardI admit it, I love getting Christmas cards, and pictures of my friends and their kids, and I especially love reading the Christmas letters people share. I think I just heard a collective groan. I hear ya – why would I want to read these letters about how great everyone is doing and how your child got straight A’s and is on the football team and honor roll and the debate team and, and, and… Most of the letters we get are NOT like that.

I love receiving Christmas cards. I love to hear from people and stay in touch. I love to hear what they are up to and I love how beautiful the cards are. Some people have their cards ready to go the minute Thanksgiving is over. Not me. Since we had kids, I’ve been known to send the “Christmas” cards by New Year’s or one year, in July. Now, some people like my mom, haven’t sent a Christmas card since 1972, and won’t. She’s more like, why would I send a card to someone I see every day/week/month? I get that point, but I like to send them anyway!christmas holly

I used to buy Christmas cards for the next year at the fabulous after Christmas sales. But since the photo cards are so easy to make now (and more personal), I have been doing those for the last few years. I usually think about ordering these photo cards and then by the time I get around to deciding on a picture for the cards, it is mid-December. The cards come and I’m busy doing other things by then and they sit, waiting patiently, to be sent out to friends and family.

I used to have a little ritual of sitting by the Christmas tree in the near dark, enjoying the twinkle lights and writing the cards I would send to my friends and family. I would include a personal note and inquire about the recipient. As we had kids and we got busier, this became more of a production especially when we started writing a letter. So my Christmas cards take a little more effort than the hand writing days – (updating and) printing address labels, writing and printing the letter, folding it to fit in the card, blah, blah, blah! Now, I just put on a good holiday movie and work on the cards and letter while thinking good thoughts about the recipients!

Christmas calendar vintageWriting a Christmas letter is a good way to remember what you actually did that year… it’s a good way to keep in touch and hear everyone’s highlights or low lights (we’re getting more of these kinds of letters involving the death of a loved one or cancer or other illness). I love to hear about where people have traveled to, what they learned, how their job is going. Although, I’ve noticed that we get fewer letters with the rising popularity of Facebook. Some people get really creative with their letters and make them into a poem (but don’t expect to see one of these from us, unless Bryce writes it), and some letters are humorous, and others are serious. Whatever form they take, I love reading these Christmas letters.christmas bell

Writing the letter, not so much, Greg is a closet editor and never likes what I write, so I procrastinate about writing it. I try not to only include the good stuff. I try to include things like our multiple visits to the emergency room on the same day, with different kids. I try to include funny happenings as well as the ups and downs about our Cal football season (but no one needs to be that depressed, do they?). No matter how many times we read through it and edit it, there is always some silly typo. No matter, we just want to share a little of our life from that year with you.

Now, do you send pictures of you (with your kids, if you have them) or just the kids? I love seeing how my friends and family are, in pictures. But please, send a picture of your whole family!!! I don’t want to just see pictures of your kids or grandkids (or god forbid, just your pet…), I want to see you too! We always try to include a picture of all of us at one of the National Parks we visited that year. One of the reasons I love the photo cards (like the ones on Shutterfly) is because you can choose more than one picture. You can get a little view into life that year. It’s fun to see what everyone has been up to!

Click here -> 2007 Christmas in July and you can see what I’m sharing as one of my all time favorite letters, which we sent as a Christmas in July letter. Enjoy!

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Favorite Christmas Foods

12Days20I have a few favorite foods that only make an appearance at Christmas. Like candy canes, mulled wine, eggnog, and gingerbread cookies.

I used to love getting the giant candy canes that were about a foot long and an inch in diameter. I could eat that for days. I remember we had a gift exchange in elementary school and I received one of those giant candy canes. I was thrilled. My other favorite as a kid was the Lifesaver books. I always tried to trade the butter rum flavor for a roll of cherry flavored ones – they were much better, in my opinion. I still try to put one of these Lifesaver books in the kids’ stockings.

One of the things I love to make for the kids classes during the holidays is giant pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate and then rolled in crushed candy canes or other sprinkles. I think gain 5 pounds when I eat all of the “broken” ones while making these treats.

I really enjoyed the holidays in Europe when I lived in Germany. My mom came to visit and we went to the Christkindlmarkt in Nuremburg and later when she lived in Munich we visited her during Christmas and went to the market there. Both markets are amazing and worth a trip. One of our favorite things to do was to get the sausage sandwiches and a mug of mulled wine. That combination made a heavenly dinner.

Marzipan, covered in chocolate. I lived with the town baker when I lived in Skt. Augustin. He made really amazing marzipan. None of the commercial stuff even comes close! Enough said.

Two other treats I associate with my time living in Germany are Spekulatius (yes you can get a version of these year-round at Cost Plus, but I love the ones made in the shape of varying holiday scenes. I also love Lebkuchen, the soft gingerbread cookies; the Weissella ones that are covered in chocolate are my favorites.

When I was in high school my mom dated a guy named Chris who made the best eggnog ever. I’ve not even attempted to try to recreate that special treat. The stuff in the grocery store is too thick and needs to be diluted. My two favorites are the Southern Comfort version and the Bud’s ice cream version. The kids drink it like it’s going out of style and I just get them the regular stuff – they drink it all and don’t seem to be that picky!

I love making French toast with the Italian panettone bread that seems to make an appearance only during the holidays. Although eating it toasted and buttered is pretty good too!

Jasper decorating cookies

Jasper decorating cookies

My favorite Christmas food or treat is all of the Christmas cookies that we make and share. Others make treats like fudge, toffee, almond bark, but I love to make cookies. We make the same set of 5-6 cookies each year and we try 1-2 new ones as well. We make thumbprint cookies, Finnish Kakor (a shortbread with slivered almond and cinnamon and sugar on top), Russian tea cakes (also known as Mexican wedding cakes), molasses crinkles, snicker doodles with various sprinkles. Sometimes we make macaroons or shaped cookies. Sometimes we are really ambitious and try to make press cookies – it’s always more of a wrestling match than anything else.

Leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite holiday foods are!

2003 Chistmas with santa

Pictures with Santa

Bryce, Santa, McKinley, and Jasper 2012

Bryce, Santa, McKinley, and Jasper 2012

I love the pictures we have taken with Santa throughout the years! Most of the time we can get the kids to all smile at the same time. Sometimes not. Sometimes there is one kid that is just grimacing enough to show that he is participating but not willingly. Most of the time we have gotten a really cute shot of the kids with Santa that we can share with the grandparents.

Planning a visit to Santa can be a strategic endeavor. Most of the time over the years, we have gone to dinner at California pizza kitchen (or some other mall restaurant) and then taken a picture with Santa on an early weekday evening. This strategy usually works really well. Everyone has eaten. No one is too tired because it’s an hour or two before bedtime still. This strategy has resulted in some really cute pictures through the years.

When the kids were smaller, I could dress them in matching (or close to matching) outfits, which only added to the cuteness. The last few years, I’m lucky to get them to even take the picture with Santa. These days with teens, I hear tons of complaining when I let them know it’s time to take a picture with Santa. So, I let them wear what they want and they have come up with some deusies!

The picture we took with Santa this past year has to take the cake. We went on a Sunday morning, first thing, so that we could get in and out of there before people got out of church. We were wrong. Everyone else had the same idea! The line snaked through all the fences and around the huge tree decorating the center of Hillsdale Mall. Seeing this and heading off a mutiny of epic proportions, I sent the kids off to the Apple Store, Brookstone, Hot Topic, and the LEGO store with strict instructions to come back when I texted them.

I waited in line, patiently, and was sandwiched between three girls in 49er clothes and a mom with a stroller, and behind her a mom with two daughters in matching winter white satin holiday dresses behind me. I used to covet those little dresses and outfits when my boys were young. The boy clothes just aren’t the same and they aren’t nearly as cute. But as I watched the youngest daughter, who was probably 4, climb all over everything and her mom berate her for messing up her dress before they even took the picture with Santa, I was thanking my lucky stars I hadn’t had girls! That mom couldn’t just let her kids be. She constantly was trying to get them to stop whatever they were doing (bumping in to me and others in line, touching everything, generally being kids) and stand quietly next to her. I was so glad I sent my kids off to window shop.

Part way through, after I’d been waiting for 30 minutes and we’d only rounded one corner, I really had to go to the bathroom. The woman behind me said she would hold my spot. So, I climbed over the fence and headed upstairs to the nearest bathroom. Boy, the mall sure was crazy that morning. I guess everyone else who had procrastinated through the month of December was there the weekend before Christmas. I finished at the bathroom and on the way back to the long, snaky Santa line, I went past See’s Candy and couldn’t resist stopping. I was so sure that a little marzipan would help me stand in line with more patience until it was our turn.

I come around the corner to get back in line and I see a gulf in the line, plus security guards standing around. Uh oh, now what? I head to the fence closest to the lady who was holding my spot and I see that some kid has barfed all over and that gulf was a breath’s width away from the barf. Ugh! Now what? What else could happen? The little girls behind could come up and step in it? Oops no, the mom saved her and then yelled at her daughter some more…where was her patience and Christmas spirit? I just played on Facebook and texted friends while I waited, and kept an eye out for the boys (I could see into the whole Brookstone store from where I was waiting.)

Meanwhile, Santa’s helper came around and told us that Santa would be taking a lunch break at 12:30. Really? We were all frantically doing the “Santa line” calculus. If every crying kid takes 7 minutes, and every happy kid takes 5 minutes and there were 50 families in front of us in line, would we make it before Santa took a lunch break?!?

Finally a sanitation worker came to clean up the barf, which still smelled to high heaven. The woman who came to clean it up didn’t even come over the fence to clean it up. She put a bunch of paper towels on the end of her mop and proceeded to move the barf around (and around). She slowly cleaned it up using this method from the other side of the fence. Then she was preparing to walk away. As you could hear the sound of angry parents and disbelieving moms tittering behind me that she wasn’t actually going to clean or sanitize the spot, I stepped forward to ask her to sanitize it and actually clean the floor. Her response, “No hablo English.” It was a plain and simple response. No facial expressions, no empathy, no smile. I tried again. With two more moms stepping closer. And again. With more moms talking louder about the need to actually clean the floor. Finally the woman mopped the floor, with the gray water that was in the mop bucket.

No one near us could believe what had just happened, and none of us would step anywhere near that barf spot. So the wide gulf remained in line. But that would dissipate once Santa took lunch and people inched closer thinking they were going to get a picture with Santa anytime soon, with their patience in tact. Those of us in the front part of the line were still doing the “Santa line” calculus and hoping against hope that we would make it before Santa’s lunch break.

Bryce, McKinley, Santa, and Jasper 2011

Bryce, McKinley, Santa, and Jasper 2011

The boys joined me in line after observing the barf cleanup, and ate all of my chocolate. Even eating marzipan didn’t quell the remaining stench. Finally, we inched our way towards Santa and took our traditional picture with him. Some of the boys smiled and some didn’t. I might have to use photo shop to get one picture where they are all smiling with Santa. The boys protested that they had to take, but in the end they did it because it was important to me. I think (or is it just hope) they will thank me later when they are trying to wrangle their own kids onto Santa’s lap for a holiday photo. In any event, we will not be waiting until the weekend before Christmas to take our picture with Santa!

We generally just have the kids take a picture on Santa’s lap but one year we did take a picture all together. Maybe that was a strategy to keep all of the kids happy enough to smile for the picture, I don’t remember. The girls in front of us in line were sisters along with a family friend. They had been taking pictures with Santa for year and they continued that tradition, without their own spouses or kids in the picture (although everyone waited in line with them). This year they took their picture all dressed up in 49er gear. It was a cute picture with all of them smiling, happily.

This Santa at Hillsdale Mall is fabulous. It is usually the same guy, who has a real beard and is very patient and very kind! They usually give the kids a little book or toy at this mall and this year was no exception. When we were done with our Santa picture, Santa handed us a book, T’was the Night Before Christmas.

Leave me a comment and let me know what your family traditions are with Santa pictures.