Demystifying Co-Housing

When I first moved to Portland, we found a townhouse in tight quarters – in-fill development in the heart of NE, right off of MLK Blvd.  We lived on a “woonerf”. Yes, a woonerf! It’s a shared street designed to:

allow drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and runners to share the same space, making the street much more welcoming and appealing for all. Instead of dividing a street with barriers like curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes, woonerfs open up the street and allow for every use simultaneously. Cars are forced to drive slowly—with traffic lights and stop signs nonexistent—ultimately allowing pedestrian and cyclists to rule the road.  


Read more here: https://www.bisnow.com/washington-dc/news/mixed-use/dc-architects-innovate-with-new-pedestrian-focused-streetscapes-62831?utm_source=CopyShare&utm_medium=Browser

Our woonerf was serpentine in shape, so it had the added feature of a few turns to slow motor vehicles all the more.  It was a great introduction to Portland. Our street had the feel of a communal courtyard. I could even open my front door, holler across the way, and be heard by my neighbor, Cathmum.  We got on quite well: our kids were similar ages, our partners had similar work schedules and even played basketball together. Our two households had many family dinners: I could make one part, she’d make the other.  We could eat together and visit while kids bathed. We were lucky. It was happenchance: we found community in our housing situation, which was certainly helped by the woonerf design that stitched our households and lives more closely together.

Imagine setting out with the intention to find this very type of housing and community.  It exists: people who come together to form community, to support one another when they can, and to live their own lives independently in a lovely condominium community.  Recently, Cathmum and I had the chance to sit down and chat with Adesina Cameron, who moved to the Portland area from the San Francisco Bay Area where she lived next to Temescal Commons, a nearly 20-year-old community of 8 housing units and 23 residents.  Just outside of Portland, Adesina found Cascadia Commons, a community of 26 housing units across 14 buildings.  Here are som excerpts of our conversation:

urbanMamas:  
So, what’s it like, aesthetically and technically and logistically, to live in this “co-housing community”?

Adesina:
At its most basic construct, the community is 100% like living in a condominium development.  Legally, Cascadia Commons is structured as a condominium. My condo is my condo. There really are no strict regulations or rules about our units: Inside of it, I can make improvements, changes to the layout, etc., just like any other condo.  It’s a really lovely development, so we have a waitlist of over 100 people hoping for the opportunity to buy a unit, which range from 1- and 2-bedroom flats to 2- and 3-bedroom townhomes.

We have a Homeowners Association (HOA) with a fee, that helps to cover our building and grounds maintenance. Our shared space includes a playground, a commercial kitchen, a library, a work-from-home office, a couple of guest units for visitors, and a yoga room.  These are amenities many of us would seek out at a condo development. We also have a community garden, and a small plot of our own land near our home that is shared with one other neighbor.

urbanMamas:
What brought you to explore co-housing?  What were you hoping to find?

Adesina:

We moved from Portland to the Bay Area in 2009.  When we left, Portland was still affordable. When we wanted to return in 2015 when my daughter was 10 months old, it felt unaffordable.  Condo units in some of the co-housing communities felt financially accessible.

I was moving to be near my mother, who was aging.  I was raising a young child, while working. My baby didn’t sleep, and I felt like my visions of “home” could not be actualized.  That old adage, “it takes a village” could not have felt more true and intense in that moment. I felt isolated with my care responsibilities.  I needed some support beyond my four walls. Back in the bay area, I lived near a co-housing community that seemed so vibrant and tightly knit. I sought this out when I moved back to Portland because I needed this intergenerational living where we could support each other when needed.  For me, I needed a ready-set community that I could join in my time of need. And, in return, I was also prepared to contribute to this community to support it, too, when my time came. It’s about give-and-take, ebb-and-flow. And, it’s really a beautiful thing.

urbanMamas:

Is co-housing best suited for extroverted and outgoing people?

Adesina:

Co-housing is full of introvert/extrovert couples.  My husband loves his privacy; he needs privacy. He comes and goes as he likes.  He doesn’t do stuff all the time with the rest of the community. I like to engage with the community, so I do get out there.  You really can be private if you want, you can have it at any level you want. It really is like living in a multi-unit community, whether condo, a townhome development, or an apartment complex: if you want to meet and get to know your neighbors, then you can!  If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.

urbanMamas:

So, does the community eat meals together every day?

Adesina:

When Cascadia Commons was created twenty years ago, almost all the residents ate together almost all the time.  Over time, as diets and schedules changed, participation dropped off. Maybe it was too much of a good thing?

Everyone, rightfully so, has their own rhythms.  Some of our community members like to eat at 6:30pm, but I’d starve if I had to eat at 6:30pm.  Plus, for those of us with young children, earlier is better since we have those early bedtimes.  It also has to be the right food, easy, nutritious, and crowd-pleasing.

Right now, we have about half of the community that participates in a meal plan twice a week.  The cost works out to be around five dollars a meal, which is a great deal. Sometimes, residents will just bring their dinner into our communal eating area to eat together.  Honestly, I love the experience of sharing in making and eating a meal together. It’s surprising we don’t do it more.

urbanMamas:

OK, so how can we learn more, experience more, and know more about what it is truly like to co-house?

Adesina:

This is a unique time for Portland.  We are hosting the national association of co-housing in a couple of weeks, from May 30th to June 2nd, 2019.  Community for the Health of It! – if you’re willing to invest in registration – will have some great speakers and topics to learn more about the world of co-housing.  But, there will be tons of free events too. Some great ones to check out include:

We are excited to see more families interested in joining our communities.  If you’re curious, come out and visit with us in a few weeks! See you all there –


Compassion, Groundedness, and Being Strict: Are you a Christine or a Lynn?

Disclaimers and yada-yada:   My good friend and co-blogger Cathy and I had the chance to interview Christine Adams, actress in “Black Lightning”  on The CW.  The following is the first of two reflections of our 30-minute chat.  This post is not sponsored.  Check out the show, with a new episode airing this Monday, February 11, 2019.  Now, on with our post:

They are both mamas, both highly articulate and intelligent, and they both raise two daughters spaced by fairly significant age gaps. It could be very easy to blend real life with fiction, if we hadn’t met talented actress Christine Adams to have a frank conversation about motherhood, parenting, heroism and values. Recently we got to know Christine’s philosophies on many topics including her passion for helping disadvantaged youth and how she sometimes just likes to go read her newspaper in peace.

Before we got to know Adams, we only knew her as Lynn Pierce the neuroscientist, American mom, nurturer and glue to an entire family of superheroes in the DC – TV show Black Lightning. It was delightful to meet the passionate Englishwoman speak in her authentic accent and voice. We ended up adoring the real person behind the cool TV character.  Christine’s honesty struck us during our 30-minute conversation about motherhood and how her upbringing shaped the way she approaches her no-nonsense parenting style.

Raised by a single mum – who was pregnant with Christine at age 17, Christine developed a solid sense of herself quite early on.  Her mom was determined to keep Christine on track to avoid her tendency to be a “wild child”, instilling the skills to hustle and survive and be responsible just by the sheer act of not being able to do IT ALL for her. Adamant that “adversity makes children strong”,  Christine reflects on the lessons she learned in her formative years using a few examples of how she had to care of herself at an early age and it’s clear that this non-traditional upbringing shaped her into a caring, effective, and strict (by her standards), mum to her own daughters.

Christine’s character, Lynn Pierce embodies the best mom qualities of TV dream moms Lorelai Gilmore and Claire Huxtable. Understanding, patience, and a sense of humour are her superpowers. She’s got an amazing career, a great coparenting relationship and she’s almost launched both of her girls into adulthood.  Lynn also manages to keep her ex-husband on his toes with the sparks that are obviously still between them. It’s the way that she parents her girls as if they were buddies that we are curious about. This is where the two mamas diverge, and life does not imitate art in this case.

While we really do like Lynn Pierce on Black Lightning and we love how she nurtures her superpower brood, it is a little bothersome to watch how her youngest daughter Jennifer, doesn’t seem to be able to do anything wrong in Lynn’s eyes. Lynn seems too busy being friends with her daughter to get a handle on her wild child tendencies.

Is it possible to be the “friend mom” and the “strict mom” at the same time?  Should you be a Lynn or a Christine to be an effective parent – or a blend of both?  We talked about this “friend zone” of parenting with Christine, who errs on the strict side,  “no cell phones at dinner, friends are expected to use their “please” and “thank you’s”, whining is not tolerated because we have pretty good lives!”  and P.S. Christine is determined that “kids should know how to do the laundry and make dinner.”

Unlike her character,  Christine doesn’t need to be her daughter’s best friend. She wants to do good by them – to teach them practical skills and manners that so many kids these days are lacking when they get to adulthood, even if that means making herself unpopular to her daughters. Christine’s parenting style and values almost seem old-fashioned, but in spite of that, this approach works for her and her family. Her no-nonsense approach to life is shaped by her upbringing, but she also illuminates  her tender, nurturing side when she chats with us about her passionate commitment of working with homeless youth.

Christine told us a story about an early morning walk, when the sun was just rising, and coming across a young woman walking with a shopping cart.  There was a teddy bear sitting atop that cart. The young woman looked aimless. When they got to talking, it turned out that the girl was 17 years old, 7 months pregnant, and homeless.  Christine has great compassion. Christine cares deeply, putting thoughts into actions and actions into commitments. She explained how the Venice, CA youth organization she is involved with called SPY (Safe Place for Youth)  might stand a chance because there are more and more people who care about their homelessness and their stories. Even everyday actions like helping young girls on the street buy tampons and other necessities is something she’ll stand by

The little girl who was so eager for some attention in a sea of grown-ups raised by her own superhero single mom, is now commanding a lot of attention on and off the screen. Keep paying attention to this woman, actress, mom, and advocate. Listen to her messages of level-headed parenting, insisting on please and thank yous, no whining and the one that will stay with us:

Don’t desensitize yourself to the troubles on your doorstep.

Gates Foundation adjusts their 52-week paid family leave policy

((photo when I was speaking at a national conference, babe in arms, when I returned to work at 50% when he was 4 months old))

When they launched their 52-week parent leave policy in 2015, I was jealous. I had a baby that year, and I didn’t have such a policy at my workplace.

Three years later, they’re adjusting citing challenges to managing talent and back-filling for back-fills. Also, there is “growing evidence” that 6 months is the sweet spot for meeting key on health for infants and for parents’ careers.

I’ve had a few babies, all of whom were born while I was working full-time. Here’s how I handled them:

  • #1 — I was four months pregnant when I started this job. Although *I* knew at the time of my interview and offer that I was pregnant, I did not tell them for a good month into the job. I was not covered by Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): I hadn’t been on the job for 12 months. This was a public agency, so they certainly wanted to show good will within their limits. I saved, then used, all my sick and vacation time, then took a leap of faith and supplemented with unpaid leave. Total time with babe: 5 months, 1 week. Partner’s time with babe after me: 4 months.
  • #2 —  Between babies, we moved from one city to another and then another. I landed in Portland around 7 months pregnant, interviewed for a job in my maternity suit, got the offer, and stated upon verbally accepting it: “I just wanted to make it clear that I will need to take Family Leave in a couple of months.” My male manager stuttered. I think he even said, “well, let me get back to you.” I was in disbelief: a) he had no idea I was expecting and b) he seemed to be back-pedaling on a job offer! Well, I think it was just shock, and – of course – he wasn’t about to take back the offer (again, this was a public agency, and the discrimination lawsuit would have been pretty awful there). Needless to say, I was 2 for 2 now being uncovered under FMLA. I did not push too hard, knowing I could sacrifice my job, so I came back when they said they needed me back. Total time with babe: 9 weeks. Partner’s time with babe after me: 5 weeks.
  • #3 — OK. By this time, I had a couple of other jobs, and I had landed at a national nonprofit organization. I had been there for a few years already when I announced my next arrival; I had proven my worth and built credibility. They had a generous leave plan, with 3 months paid. I was also working from home a good bit. Even after I went back to work, I was able to work with minimal outside childcare until he was one year old, as he was an excellent and regular napper. I also figured out how to travel with him, securing babysitting on the other end or even bringing him when he was up to 24 months old to some staff meetings in many locations nationwide. Total time with babe: 4 months. Partner’s time with babe after me: 2 months.
  • #4 — With this one, I was with a similar organization as I was with #3, a national nonprofit organization. I had been with them a year almost exactly when I started to labor. I was provided with – again – 3 paid months of leave (!!!). Then, I did something I hadn’t done yet: I went back at the 50% level, which I always said I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t sure how to know what 50% was; I only knew “working” or “not working”. Turns out it was a nice arrangement to ease my way back to work, and it was critical to establish regular hours so officemates knew when to reach me. Total time with babe: 3 full months, then 50% for the next 2 months. Partner’s time with babe, overlapping with my 50%: 3 weeks (he was at the job 1 month before we delivered).

So, now reflecting on my sample experiences here, I do feel like 3 months is definitely not enough. I think at 5 months away from the office, I was starting to worry that the re-entry to the workplace would be tough and I was starting to want for my work-life back.

We’ve had a lot of privilege here: I had a solid full-time job with each kid, and I had a confidence that my job would still be there when I returned; I had a partner who provided additional income (although we do need both incomes to subsist); my partner also took family leave to delay our needs for full-time childcare.

Have you taken leave from work? How much time did or did not work for you? Would you agree with the “mounting evidence” that there is this 6-month sweet spot?

Emotions in Teens: “We have observed instances of self-harm”

“This is the school psychologist at your daughter’s school”, the voice mail said.  It went on: “I wanted to bring to your attention that your daughter’s coach and the athletic director has brought it to my attention that they observed instances of self-harm with your daughter.”

“Self-harm”, self-harm.  It rhymed with “arm” and I could visually see my daughter’s forearm, that I had noticed weeks ago, slashed with cut marks from the wrist all the way up to the elbow crease.

Yes, we had observed the same, and we had discussed it with her a few weeks back.  Such a tough subject to even raise, but so obviously important to address.  It’s not something you ignore; it’s not something you hope will just go away.  We had noticed it, as well as other clues and cues, which she admitted to leaving behind for us to see: bloodied tissues stuffed into a bag on her windowsill, a small box containing a few blades, and then – in the same bag – a bottle of ibuprofen.

Recently, I caught up with an old colleague, a widower and single dad to 3 teenage girls.  When I asked how the girls were, his second update was: “by now, they’ve all cut themselves.  Their teachers and coaches say they see it all the time in girls their ages.  They even did it before their mom passed.”
He seemed nonchalant about it, very matter-of-fact.  Really?  All the girls engage in this behavior?  It is more the norm than the anomaly?

Whether common or uncommon, it is serious.  My partner and I tried to talk to our daughter about this behavior immediately.  But, what do we ask?  “Dear, what’s wrong?”  And, what do we say?  “You know we are always here for you.”  And also: “Why?”

Our girl had a hard time putting words to her feelings.  There were more tears than complete sentences.  She seemed dark and a bit confused.  She seemed flustered and upset.  She seemed upset that we couldn’t easily translate her feelings into words for her.  We let her know we wanted to help: help her identify her feelings, help her untangle the feelings, help her pinpoint “what’s wrong” and maybe even help her find ways to maybe even fix what felt “wrong”.  “Could we help you do that?”  She agreed.  Yes, she wanted to feel better.  Yes, she wanted to lift this heavy load.  Yes, she wanted the dark to become light.

We offered to start by asking her doctor for resources.  She had her annual physical coming up, and she would have the chance to have one-on-one time with her doctor.  To be sure, pediatricians to teenagers would have suggestions for resources for young people who grapple with these feelings.  She sounded open to broaching the topic with her doctor.
She also had a school counselor/psychologist she could talk to.  We are lucky to be one of the few schools in our district with a full-time school psychologist on campus.  Being on the more shy side, we weren’t sure whether she would initiate reaching out to the school counselor/psychologist.  Should we insist that she did?

It turns out that she didn’t have to.  Soon after, this instance, our daughter brought home paperwork for us to sign, authorizing her to miss limited class time, as necessary, for her to meet the school psychologist.  Part of ones treatment is owning it for oneself.  And, so, in addition to her individual therapy, we also enlisted in family therapy at a local public agency offering services for up to 3 months on a sliding scale basis.  We had found that very few private practices were accepting new clients, and none within our insurance network could accommodate us, so we were so grateful for this agency that was suggested to us by the school.  Our time at family therapy elevated new ways to communicate and hear one another’s concerns, and we also came up with strategies to better connect moving forward.  It built great foundation for us as we worked our way through the teen years, together.

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I wrote all of the above almost four years ago, to the day, when our first daughter was a freshman in high school.  We did not see it as a blessing then, but we do now.  I am ever grateful for the incident, that gave us time to pause, reflect, and work together.  As I re-read and finally post this, our second-born is now a freshman in high school.  Although these two are very different individuals, there are certain points in our life cycles that are common.  This reflection point seems to be one of them.  I have a feeling I’ll have more to share on this before too long.  

Thank you for reading.

GIVEAWAY – PJ Masks Live “Save the Day”

It’s time to be a hero! Join Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko – in an all new show, live on stage, and coming to a city near you – as they race into the night to save the day from triple trouble: Romeo, Night Ninja and Luna Girl!

PJ MASKS LIVE: is back with an all new super-heroic, live musical show, featuring the heroic trio from your favorite series: The PJ MASKS! Watch Catboy, Owlette and Gekko along with their new friend PJ Robot, as they try to save the day from the sneaky villains – Romeo, Night Ninja and Luna Girl! Fluttering Feathers! Leaping Lizards! What a CAT-tastrophe!

Leaping, flipping and climbing – live on stage! Complete with your favorite music and brand new songs you’ve never heard before! Don’t sleep through it – watch the PJ Masks save the day, live on stage!

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a Family 4-Pack for the show PJ Masks Live! Save the Day on Saturday, February 9, 2019 at 2PM at Keller Auditorium. One random winner will be drawn on Sunday night January 27, 2019. Good luck!

Introducing our new contributor

We are always looking to improve and expand the voices we elevate here at urbanMamas. I met Renate many moons and a couple of lifetimes ago, and – thanks to social media – we’ve kept in touch. We recently reconnected in person a few months back, and I am so glad.

Mama to twins who she birthed with her soulmate partner by her side, she has worked her way through college and already had many careers in cosmetology and environmental science. Mamahood suits her swell; many days she spends engaged in her community contributing to LB Littles, tending to her urban garden of 4 raised beds out back, juggling twins, and baking artisan from-scratch gorgeous loaves at RenateBakes.

Renate brings energy, authenticity, eco-mindedness, and thoughtfulness. We are excited to welcome her to the urbanMamas family!

Welcome to 2019

(…a re-post of my thoughts on the morning of my most recent birthday in late 2018….)

I woke up early this morning with lots on my mind, like most mornings. Meditating before rising, I thought about my most recent journey around the sun, and I could not be more proud.

The past year has brought me great FOCUS. I make goals, write them down, adjust, and I know what is important to me. With such clarity, the other stuff just melts away. I’m particularly more focused than ever at work. Post-2016-election, I realized I needed to go deep with what has always been in my heart. My work has become truly my passion. I no longer back down when I’m shut down, like I used to. Recently, I cried thinking about the 20 years I have endured sexism and demoralization in my work, thinking I had “wasted” all that time. These past two decades have not been wasted, they just give me more focus, clarity, and determination than ever.

The past year has brought me great COURAGE. I am publishing and stating my goals – personal and professional. I hate to commit to goals for fear of failure. I have so many priorities in my life, that I’m never sure if I will allow myself the space to accomplish the goals, but – with the greater focus – I feel like I be brave and own my goals. I ran two 5Ks at a sub-7 pace this year. YES! That has been my goal, to break that 7-minute-mile barrier. This year, I’d like to do a real 5K or 10K race at sub 7s. This courage has also made me loud and proud. I have to say big things to big institutions, and I really have to dig deep to say what needs to be said, loud and clear.

This past year has brought me great HUMILITY. There are things that I have left undone. There have been failures, where I have had to readjust, reassess, reevaluate. I am far from immortal. I take suggestion and critique seriously. I am not too great to be wrong. Earlier this year, in my work, I had to really check my ego at the door to get some things done the right way. I am also listening more – in the communities where I work – and I am accepting of my limitations, privilege and elitism. I always want to grow. There is always better.

This is long, but I want all of you to know that you have your part in making me who I am. I love hearing from you, seeing you all in various cities, keeping in touch, sharing bottles of wine. The best is having my own family – especially my one-and-only – always here to lift me up, support me, and watch me grow.

Thank you, everyone! And, now, back to work!

Restore Your Pre-Baby Body with the Core 4 (sponsored post)

This sponsored post is brought to you by: Kelley Lindstrom, DPT, the Clinic Director at Therapydia Beaverton, one of the four Therapydia locations in the Portland area. With a one-on-one – treatment approach that combines manual therapy, movement retraining and functional strengthening to treat pain and dysfunction, Kelley is passionate about helping patients of all ages and abilities return to a pain-free and active lifestyle. Learn more about Kelley and the other Therapydia Portland physical therapists.

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When most people hear the word “core” in relation to their body, they are really only picturing their abdominal muscles. This is understandable because before we had a good sense of functional movement and how everything works together, a strong “core” only meant that you had a 6-pack or that maybe you could do 100 sit-ups. The focus was, and in a lot of cases still is, on the aesthetic appearance of the “core”. No one considered that even if you have impeccable looking abs, if you can’t breathe properly or if you experience incontinence, you have a weak core. Many otherwise healthy people tend to focus only on the muscles that they can SEE the results in, rather than focusing on the muscles that they can FEEL. So, if 6-pack abs don’t make for a perfect “core,” what does?

You can think of your core like a house:

  • You have the roof of your house: The diaphragm
  • You have the foundation of your house: The pelvic floor and glute muscles
  • You have the walls of your house: The transverse abdominus, multifidus, obliques and rectus abdominus (the 6-pack muscle).

For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the Core 4: The diaphragm, pelvic floor, glute muscles and multifidi. If you’re missing any or all of those components, then your house is not in order and you have a dysfunctional core. Weakness isn’t always the problem either; there are other things that can contribute to a dysfunctional core such as overactivity or hypertonicity of any of the previously mentioned muscles. So to get a better understanding of the Core 4, let’s break down the muscles in each section to learn what they are, how they’re affected during pregnancy and what you can do about it.

Continue reading “Restore Your Pre-Baby Body with the Core 4 (sponsored post)”

My love-hate relationship with Amazon

It’s crunch time here: work deadlines are looming requiring late night and early morning attention, kids are focused on finals and chores – are therefore – lapsing, and the pressures of gift-giving is piling up.  I hate to say it: I love to  make those Amazon purchases.

Last night at approximately 2:37am, I was awoken by the item that remains undone on my to-do list.  “Wear solid red tee shirt for holiday performance on Thursday.”  Knowing my schedule during the day and evening in the next few days, I knew I could easily let this task slip.  So: I ordered the shirt on Amazon.  Done.

I shook my head in disdain.  I regret it every time I “buy with one click”.  With that one click, I’m taking away a purchase I could have otherwise made at our local shop, I’m adding to our recycling load (which may or may not be actually recycled), and I’m supporting more warehouse and distribution jobs versus our local retail jobs.  “Is Amazon evil and am I evil for using it?

The struggle is real and it’s something that I worry about.  To help me with this emotional problem, I try to buy local.  Which takes time.  So: carve out time to take a walk up the street.  Make it activity!  Get a treat along the way for the kids.  Also: buy directly from the source.  Many independent or smaller vendors use Amazon as its marketplace.  I feel like I’m doing a good deed when I skip the middle-platform and go directly to the vendor.

It is a first-world problem, to be sure, but it’s something I think about often and consider as I tackle my dreaded “shopping list”.  By the way, did I tell you: “I hate Christmas“?

Can I be honest? I hate Christmas

I feel like a bad mama saying this: I detest the December holidays.

“Kids: make your Christmas lists.”  We have family far and wide who gift to our kids.  I hate to sound like an ingrate, but it starts to feel like a chore and just another task.  The kids are asked for lists, it assumes they *deserve* the things they list, and they start to take for granted that they’ll get things off their list.  Am I creating a cycle of taking-for-granted, or is it being created by this sequence of events?  We live in extreme privilege to even be asked for lists, to be given things off of them….  BAH!

The mess,  oh but the mess!  It is getting better as the kids get older, as they start to clean up after themselves, but every single fun holiday activity leaves a trail of mess that is just another thing I need to handle on top of the million other everyday things on the list.  From gift wrapping to cooking baking, and from tree topping to card making, there will be pine needles, paper scraps, dough bits, and those teeny-tiny rolling balls that adorn the cutest cookies.  All of this will be found in crevices and air vents for years to come, and all of this will need to be tidied after the activities are over.  BAH!

And: gift-giving itself  has become an expectation.  For immediate family, the kids’ cousins, there seems to be a rule that one item is not enough.  And, never arrive to a holiday party empty handed, even if my homemade treat or gift will sit in a corner only to be recycled next week or next year.  Gift-giving is an art – to make gifts thoughtful, meaningful, and useful.  It is a very stressful art.  BAH!

Did I mention the trash?  Wrapping paper, packing material, and sometimes even the gift itself ends up in the trash.  For what?  The memories?  BAH!

Despite how much I dislike some of the “holiday traditions”, there are some that I love:

HOLIDAY CARDS.  I take time to make cards, maintain our address books, and write notes to each of the cards we send.  There is something meditative and reflective about writing to everyone on our list.  And, I love keeping the cards that are sent to us, watching families grow and evolve.  I love recalling memories from yesteryear with each person I write.  As the years go by, those memories are purely timeless.

ADOPTING A FAMILY.  Everyone deserves the brightest holiday ever.  The energy we might otherwise spend on easily-forgotten gifts we redirect to the family we want to support.  Every year, we try to go all-out with the family we support.  We wrap each gift with care and make hand-stamped cards with special messages.  We try to get everything on the lists, and we set up a wrapping party so any friends or family that contributed to the family can participate in that joy.

THE WONDER OF IT ALL.  Well, despite my Scrooge attitude, there is indeed something special about the look in their eyes and the excitement of it all.  I suppose, in a way, it can be worth it when the kids’ entire bodies are filled with such glee.  We have a Christmas morning tradition where no one is allowed to get out of bed until they hear Nat King Cole’s “O Holy Night” blaring on the speakers.  The house literally shakes awake at the sound of the tune.  There are screams of delight and thumping down the stairs to see what wonders had been left overnight.  It is a slow morning in pajamas, no gifts are opened until Mama Scrooge has a full cup of coffee.  Then, only cards are opened — the long letter from Santa is read, cards from Mama Scrooge (that’s me) and Papa Santa (their dad).  Then, when they nearly can’t take the suspense anymore, we’ll finally get to the gifts, one by one, and only one at a time.  Everyone watches the one opening the gift.  I like to take my time and carefully tear the tape so I can save the wrapping paper.

I really do hate the build-up of the holiday, but I guess I really do love the day itself.  All that other stuff seems like it fades away when we distill it down to its most important part – that morning and those moments.

HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON TO YOU ALL!  Bah, humbug!  — Love, Mama Scrooge