Ten Reasons Why You Should NOT Learn to Cook

Occasionally, I run into someone who claims that they don’t know how to cook. When this happens, I have to consciously fight the urge to say “So what you really mean is that you chose to NOT learn how to cook.” (And by cook, I mean cook well.)

I am intrigued by anyone who claims that they can not cook. Especially those that are otherwise accomplished and have advanced skills or degrees, as in: “I can build a car/drone/company, get xyz fancy degree, speak multiple languages, etc. (this list goes on and on) but I don’t know how to cook”. Really? I don’t buy it. If you can learn all that other stuff, don’t you realize that you could learn how to cook if you chose to spend time on it?

Part of it is that I just don’t trust people who claim that they don’t know how to cook…maybe I am merely suspicious of their self awareness. If they have fooled themselves into thinking that they are truly not capable of cooking, then what other major misperceptions do they have?

Instead of trying to convince all of these supposedly incapable cooks that they could indeed learn to cook, I will point out some of the perks of their chosen mindset. So, in no particular order, I present my top ten reasons why you should NOT learn how to cook:

  1. Self reliance is overrated. If you learn to cook, you will have acquired another essential life skill and, in so doing, reduced your dependence on others.  Why should I rely on myself to prepare meals when I could just demand that my family or friends cook for me? Why should I waste time learning to cook for myself when I can simply pay for these services?
  2. Cooking, meal planning, and grocery shopping take time. You will have more things on your to-do list, more things to get in the way of watching TV. Keeping up with all the latest news, sporting events, and Netflix series merit much more time and investment than the art of creating and sharing a meal for yourself and/or other people.
  3. You may begin to enjoy food and find pleasure in eating, even more than you thought possible. Perhaps you will notice some strange correlation between the source of the food, the way it was grown, and the taste of the food. This could be a problem because you’ll want to buy fresher and higher quality food.
  4. Your options for eating out will be drastically reduced. Besides learning that McDonald’s is NOT actually food but synthetic crap that is subsidized by our government and allowed to externalize the gross environmental damages that they inflict on the world, you’ll slowly become aware that their alleged ‘food’ tastes horrible. And you’ll know that you can quickly prepare something much tastier and healthier than that shit, for probably the same amount of money. So all fast-food and chain ‘restaurants’ will be unavailable to you. Then, if you want to eat out, you’ll have to find restaurants that value some of the same things that you do, instead of only patronizing the ones that advertise on mainstream media. Who has time for that nonsense?
  5. You may develop an awareness of how your body responds to different kinds of foods. This could lead you to the ridiculous notion of Food as Medicine. That is trouble because we all know that western-trained doctors and prescription drugs are the only real medicine.
  6. Spending all this time with food means that you will probably learn something about food. Your curiosity might be stimulated. Then you’ll want to ask more questions about the origins of foods, cuisines and recipes. This could lead to the acquisition of cultural or historical perspectives, and conversations that that could take away from screen time. Who really cares about the sources, culture, science, geopolitics, socioeconomic issues, and regulations of food? We need to save room in our brains for TV, sports, and news.
  7. Once you’ve recognized cooking as an excellent way to nurture relationships, then you might try to instill a love of cooking in young people…even (GASP) the males! Whoa…hold on there! We all know that boys should never be allowed in the kitchen, they should only be playing sports or doing math and science activities. Anyway, kids just cause trouble in the kitchen and interfere with your cooking.
  8. This new knowledge of food may lead to all kinds of thoughts that you’d rather not think about. Such as: Why can’t I pronounce most of the ingredients in these packaged boxes of ‘food’? How is it possible to buy a hamburger for $1? Why are the workers that picked this food treated like third-class citizens? No one can answer those questions; it is better not to ask.
  9. You might reconsider the food component of your budget. This means you could spend more money on food. Instead of seeing fresh, local, toxin-free food grown by well-treated people as expensive, you might see it as a bargain. Instead of seeing a luxury vehicle, a huge empty house, or sweat-shop produced designer clothing as essentials, you might view those things as optional accessories. Here is something especially dangerous: you might even voluntarily reduce your spending on high-price things that don’t directly affect your health as much as food.
  10. Eventually, you’ll realize that carefully selecting and supporting certain people, farms, food-producing companies is a simple but powerful REVOLUTIONARY ACT. Indeed, the way you spend your food money (or any money) may be more powerful than anything you do on a ballot. This is a blasphemous idea, indeed! Better stop thinking those crazy thoughts immediately.

Now….Who is going to cook my next meal?

We love our garden!

p.s. If you ever change your mind and decide to take on this gargantuan task, you might find some good books on my recommended cookbook list. But before that, I’d recommend quality time and with your favorite cooking people.

p.p.s. I have several beloved family members and friends who claim to not know how to cook, and I love them dearly, in spite of this shortcoming. They, obviously, know that I have approximately 6,182 other shortcomings, so it evens out.

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Book Review: Cloud Tea Monkeys

As soon as we saw the cover of Cloud Tea Monkeys, we were all captivated by the beautiful artwork and intriguing title. In the past three months, we have read the book many, many times. Every time, we are delighted with the story, the illustrations and the many discussions that are inspired by this tale.

Cloud Tea Monkeys is the story of a girl named Tashi, who lives with her mother, a tea picker in the Himalayas. During her regular trips to the tea plantation with her mother, Tashi observes some of the socioeconomic realities of rural, physical labor and also befriends the resident troop of monkeys. When illness brings hardship to her family, Tashi tries to help but is met with difficulties because of her size. She finds that her friends understand more than most would give them credit for: they help her in a way that she probably never imagined possible. Armed with the special gift from her friends and her own intuition on how to act in new situations, she discovers somethings just as surprising: not all people in power are cruel and unkind; and that some things are best left unexplained.

Cloud Tea Monkeys is the perfect blend of reality and myth, known and unknown, history and legend. We love this book because it gave us a peek into another culture, into other worlds, into others’ lives. Thanks to the authors, Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham (I hope you “meet in the middle” for more collaborations), and the illustrator, Juan Wijngaard, for your fabulous work. We look forward to more from you.  

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A World of Pleasure in Contrariness

I just watched Bill Moyers’ interview with Wendell Berry (thanks, Adriane, for sharing the link!). After reading many of his books, poems and essays, it was a pleasure to listen to this interview and hear him speak about so many things that are close to my heart. Besides being a visionary, an advocate for the environment and sustainable agriculture, and a prolific writer, Mr. Berry is one of my all time favorite contrarians.

When you hear the word ‘contrarian’, what do you think of? Do you conjure up images of outspoken, rebellious, maybe even violent people that are flashy with their disdain for culturally accepted behaviors? Or might you think of a quiet, elderly farmer from middle America?

A contrarian in the making, 2013 photo

A contrarian in the making, 2013 photo

Wendell Berry is revolutionary because he saw things that he didn’t think were right and he wrote about them. Through his writing he taught others, encouraged us to think and question the ‘norms’, and provided viable alternative paradigms to common practices. Before the environmental movement had even begun — before it was even named — he was out there asking us to question the destructive practices that we were allowing. He was reminding us of our innate and essential connection to nature, and of our obligation to care for the natural world that we live in.

In the interest of sharing a teeny bit of his wisdom, I’m including a few of my favorites in this post. I’ve added my top two of his books to my nonfiction book list. And then there is his poem on The Peace of Wild Things. Of course, I can’t leave out one of his many simple statements of how our actions so obviously affect water:

All things are connected; the context of everything is everything else. By now, many of us know, and more are learning, that if you want to evaluate the agriculture of a region, you must begin not with a balance sheet, but with the local water. How continuously do the small streams flow? How clear is the water? How much sediment and how many pollutants are carried in the runoff? Are the ponds and creeks and rivers fit for swimming? Can you eat the fish? — from Bringing it to the Table, On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry

Is it really so contrarian to question how our actions affect the world that we live in? The water that we depend on? The environment that supports us?

“There is a world of pleasure in contrariness.”  — from 2013 interview with Bill Moyers

Wendell Berry never asked permission to be a contrarian. He just did it. Thank you, Mr. Berry, for encouraging a revolution. Your peaceful but determined contrariness is an absolute delight and inspiration to me.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry


Posted in Food, Garden, Reading, Resources, Reviews, Science | 2 Comments

Yelapa Flashback and Book Review: Happy

If you’re new here, you may not know that we recently spent five months in Mexico as part of our own little lifestyle experiment. (Hmmm….that was almost two years ago, so maybe not that recently.) It was such an experience that it made lasting impressions on us. Anyway, while we were there, I discovered a particular song for the first time…hop over to this link to read my entertaining commentary on that subject: If You Feel Like a Room without a Roof. Really, go ahead, this post will be here when you get back.

What the heck does all that have to do with this book review? Well….

  1. Happy” is an awesome song and, by extension, Pharrell Williams absolutely rocks.
  2. It is impossible for me to NOT dance when I hear this song.
  3. The choir of the Detroit Academy of Arts & Sciences did a fabulous version of this song — and children LOVE to watch them sing it.
  4. The song is the perfect accompaniment for the eye-candy aerial views of Yelapa, as demonstrated by the stunning video of Team Chingadera sky diving over the little cove that we lived on. (Disclaimer: I do not know these people, and be aware that there is a bit of egregious behavior at end of video, which is probably not appropriate for small people.)
  5. Because we were living in Yelapa when I ‘discovered’ this song and the mysterious workings of my inner mind, Pharrell’s song “Happy” will always make me think of Yelapa. How appropriate, no?

So, there’s all that. Then, just the other day, we happily stumbled upon this book at our library:

Which brings me to…

Book Review: Happy by Pharrell Williams

This is an absolutely delightful picture book, set to the words (AKA, lyrics) of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy”. We think the song is marvelous, so it isn’t surprising that we love the book. It is worth noting that it might be difficult to just read the words, especially if you know the song. You might prefer singing the words. (But that isn’t so bad now, is it?)

Picture books are an essential component of any library, but especially a child’s library. This one is great because it has real photographs of actual children, and a diverse bunch of kids, too. My child enjoys intense periods of staring at observing other people, especially children. And (thanks to societal ‘norms’ that have been previously ingrained in my old brain), since I usually get uncomfortable after only a few minutes of her observation of other real, live people…having a book with photos of real, live people is a wonderful thing.

The lyrics of the song (words of the book) are a great message, but you don’t need me to tell you that: how many awards and accolades did Pharrell get for this little ditty? You and your children will only benefit from reading and hearing these lines.

Even better is having the lyrics of a song written on the pages of a lovely picture book. For kids that are learning to read, their knowledge of the lyrics will facilitate their attempts at sounding-it-out and reading along.

At the end of the book is letter from Pharrell. Even that makes me smile. Especially this line:

“I hope that every time you hear the song “Happy”, you dance like no one’s watching, smile like love, and believe that happiness can change the world.”

We got this book from our library less than three days ago, and we’ve read it many times since then. Our very own copy will be added to our permanent collection soon. It is a good addition for your bookshelves, too. Who doesn’t need a little bit more Happy in their lives?

Before I get up to shake my tail feathers to this song, I happily give props to the same folks as in my April 2014 post:


Thank you, Pharrell Williams, for your song.  Thank you, Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences choir, for your performance.  Thank you, Team Chingadera, for your sky diving video.  Thank you, FB posters of things that make me smile.  Thank you, daughter, for being you.

Plus one more: Thank you for reading to the end of this post. If you like it, please share this post and your favorite books.

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The small things

The small things add up….at least, I like to believe they do.

Let girls build. They can still wear pink (or blue) AND build, design, construct, and supervise.

Let boys cook. They can still wear blue (or pink) AND cook, create, share, and nourish.

Let everyone forget about nationalities and races. They can still love their country and heritage AND love others, too.

Let us all explore. Let us all be kind. Let us all remember what it was like to be a child and not know what stereotypes were supposed to fence us in. Let us all not be afraid of things that don’t match our programming. Let us eliminate the programming.

And now, for nothing revolutionary but teeny tributes to the small things…


We could go on, and I hope that we do  know that we will. Bit by bit, we go. Poco a poco.

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Raise Children to Defy Stereotypes

The other day, a new (new to me) magazine appeared in our mail: American Educator. (This must be one of the undisclosed perks of highly paid Adjunct Professors. Ha!) Inside was a fascinating article* about implicit bias, which is worth a million posts; I’ll start with one for now. This sentence blew me away:

Examples of counter-stereotypical exemplars may include male nurses, female scientists, African American judges, and others who defy stereotypes.

What? Is it really ‘defying stereotypes’ to be a female scientist? I know lots of female scientists! Perhaps that is only because I am a lady scientist? Or maybe it is because I have a lady rocket scientist and a lady airplane mechanic in my family? But seriously, do we still think that female scientists are defying stereotypes? And isn’t that a problem?

Maybe male nurses and African American judges and female scientists were atypical back when I was in high school, but that was over TWENTY years ago!!! Shouldn’t we have progressed a bit more by now? Or maybe the question is: why are these things still considered unusual? Why haven’t we figured out how to move beyond those old-school stereotypes? And more importantly, how can we raise our children so that they won’t be stuck inheriting our outdated ‘stereotypes’?

The latter is one of my most fervent desires, both as a parent – for my own child, and as a citizen of the world – for all of us. But this isn’t easy work. The reason that we have stereotypes is because we were programmed with them from birth. We are bombarded with them constantly (especially if you own and watch a TV or pretty much any mainstream sporting events). The people we choose to spend time with also contribute to establishing/perpetuating our implicit biases. The input is ongoing.

So how do we counter negative stereotypes and implicit biases? First, we have to explore, identify and acknowledge our own implicit biases. In the same article, Cheryl Staats* provides some advice for how to use Implicit Association Tests, many of which are publicly available at http://implicit.harvard.edu, to identify our own implicit biases. That part is relatively easy. (And totally fascinating! Often our explicit beliefs actually contrast with our implicit biases. Despite our good intentions and professed beliefs, our implicit biases can and do override our explicit convictions during the snap-decision making process.)

Next comes the hard part: if we want to change our implicit biases, then we have to embark on a journey of reprogramming. The good news is: “thanks to the malleable nature of our brains,” reprogramming is possible according to Staats*. It doesn’t take much review of recent events to realize that Americans desperately need to do some serious reprogramming of our racial and gender biases (not to mention all the rest, including but not limited to biases based on sexual orientation, age, disabilities, etc.).

So how do we reprogram and overcome our own implicit bias and avoid programing our children with this nonsense? Amy Joyce makes  several great recommendations in her recent article in the Washington Post. While that article is geared toward gender bias, many of the same tips can be easily applied to any of our many biases. (Thanks to the folks over at A Mighty Girl for sharing Amy’s piece!) I highly recommend Amy’s article; it is well worth a read.

Many of these techniques are relatively simple although they do require self reflection and self examination: Look at your life, the roles you take, and the people you surround yourself with. Are all the people in your life the same race? The same nationality? Do they all speak the same language? Are they all the same age? Are they all the same religion? The same political persuasion? Is work in your home always divided into old-school, gender-based roles? Do you buy and encourage exclusively “girl” toys and “girl” colors for girls? How about the people in the books you read? Your children’s books? Their toys? Their schoolmates and TV input?

Now the fun part: figure out how to defy those stereotypes! How can you introduce positive and stereotype-defying examples into your life and the lives of your children? Have fun with it! Break the mold! Throw off the chains! And if you are completely at a loss, see Amy Joyce’s recent article for several great suggestions.

And now, I’m feeling some serious human power, just waiting, ready to destroy stereotypes. We are always more powerful together. Here is a poem from a book of poems by Audre Lorde (just picked it up today, delivered to my “holds”!). It seems appropriate for this post.


Instead of teaching our children how to defy stereotypes, maybe we should teach them that there are NO stereotypes. We could tell them instead that stereotypes were an antiquated method of keeping everyone within their predetermined and incorrectly defined lines, lines that were defined by the old-school hierarchal, patriarchal machine; and that sometime in the 21st century, humanity woke up and realized that these stereotypes were a ridiculous and useless abstraction, so we abandoned them completely. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

If we truly want to our children to defy stereotypes, we’re going to have to refrain from indoctrinating our children with our old dysfunctional ones. Let’s do this. I am ready. Are you?



Staats, Cheryl. (2015, December). Understanding Implicit Bias: What Educators Should Know. American Educator. 39 (4); p. 29-33.

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Bananas with thyme and circular conversations

Saturday was one of those perfectly blissful days. One of those days were I wish I could bottle that feeling and remember every moment for ever. We spent the whole day together and we spent most of the day cooking. The kitchen is one of our happy places. We cooked for ourselves and cooked for a dear friend that was passing through town on Sunday.

Our four-year old wants to be right in the middle of the action, and loves to help us cook. If you’ve ever cooked with a four-year old, you know that they are not actually all that helpful, and it might even take more work to find, guide, and correct the tasks that they are given. Nevertheless, we encourage this “help” because we think cooking real food is an essential life skill.

We were making a huge lasagna for the following day, so there were plenty of four-year old tasks: Peeling garlic cloves, de-stemming and chopping mushrooms (yes, we advocate giving children knives! with proper training and supervision, of course); cracking eggs without getting eggshell in the bowl or breaking the yolk (it takes a lot of eggs to perfect that art); mixing eggs, spices, and parmesan into ricotta; grating cheese; pulling parsley leaves off the stems; and crushing dried spices.

Sometimes she is completely dedicated to a given task and will finish it to the end. Other times she loses interest or patience and asks for another task or says “I’ll just watch for now.” On Saturday, after completing a good bit of work on various tasks, she decided to just watch. Then she decided she wanted a banana. At the time, Aaron was pulling out our dried spices from the summer and she loves to smell those. Then she starts putting the spices ON the banana. She said it was delicious, and was particular to the thyme over the basil. She ate 3/4 of a banana while sprinkling dried thyme on each bite. Who knew?

We had a delightfully silly time, cooking and hanging out. We spent a lot of time talking about putting love into the food we cook. In between all of the cooking and cleaning and eating, we made plenty of time to build houses and marble runs with her latest building sets.

I love days like this.

Lest you think all of our days are spent in blissed-out perfection, I thought I’d share a few ridiculous conversations as proof that we, too, endure the universal struggles of parents of four-year olds: circular conversations that go nowhere but around and around, no end point in sight. We’re trying to figure out happy endings for these discussions. (If you have any suggestions, please share!)

Scene One: Aaron and child happily working on construction project at dining room table. I am happily working on laptop nearby.

  • Child discovers she can scratch our wooden dining room table during an art project with Papa.
  • Child: Look, Papa, watch this! (Demonstrates how to scratch table with scissors.)
  • Papa: What are you doing? No, don’t scratch the table.
  • Child: It’s not just YOUR table.
  • Papa: You’re right, just don’t scratch our table.
  • Child: But it’s not just YOUR table. It is your table, and my table, and Mama’s table.
  • Papa: It doesn’t matter whose table it is, if you scratch it, you will not be allowed to use the scissors.
  • Papa: I hear you. Don’t scratch the table.
  • Child makes pouty face, looks down, and begins to wail. (Not sad crying, but loud & dramatic wailing.)
  • Papa: You can go in the other room if you are going to scream and yell.
  • Child goes in other room for much wailing. Then a few exaggerated coughs and nose blowing. Child returns to table in less than 5 minutes, wiping tears away, trying not to smile and still look pouty.
  • Child: I’m ready to finish my project now.
  • Papa: OK, great!

I was sitting in the same room with them, listening (and writing it down, real time!), trying NOT to interrupt or interfere, and thinking: “Whew!! At least this happens to him, too. I’m not the only one!” At least I managed to not laugh throughout the entire exchange. But both Aaron and I almost lost it when she came back out with the trying-not-to-smile-and-look-really-sad face.

Scene 2: Here is of one of my circular conversations with our child during this past week.

  • Child is riding in grocery cart, reaching out to grab some random food item from cheese/cracker/olive display.
  • Me: Please stop doing that. You’re about to fall out of the cart. That isn’t something we’re going to buy.
  • Child: But Little Sister wants it! (‘Little Sister’ is one of her dolls, who is riding in cart with her.)
  • Me: Even if ‘Little Sister’ wants it, you are a big girl and I am asking you to stop doing that. (As we move away from display)
  • Child: But she wants it! Now you’re making Little Sister cry! ‘Waaaah, waaaah, I want it, I want it!’
  • Me: If ‘little sister’ choses not listen to me, then she won’t be allowed to come to the store with us.
  • Child: But she wants to come to the store. She is a real person, you know.
  • Me: We can leave her in the car or at home next time.
  • Child: That is rude. She is a real person!
  • Child begins to ‘kick’ me with “little sister’s” leg.
  • Me: Please stop kicking me. That isn’t helpful.
  • Child: I can’t make her stop, she is a real person.
  • Me: She is not a real person, please help me.
  • Child: She is a real person and you are rude!
  • I breathe deeply and try hard to NOT scream: I am about to throw that ‘real person’ into the effing trash can!!!!! More deep breaths while my child continues to lecture me about the real/fake little sister/baby doll…
  • Me: Will you please talk to your ‘Little Sister’ and show her how to be a big girl while we are in the grocery store?
  • Child: Yes, but you know she is a real person. And she really wants those crackers.

Fortunately, our daughter inherited our stubborness tenacity. If these silly things weren’t so frustrating, they would be laugh-out-loud funny.

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Happy New Year!

We reveled in no plans at all for this, our first day of the New Year. The whole family got to hang out together all day long. No work for anyone! The child loves days like that, and of course we do, too. Besides cooking and eating, we got to read lots of stories, build stuff, and dink around with whatever we wanted to.

For me, it was dinking around this blog. Check out the new stuff:

  • Updated About page — Important disclaimers in here!
  • About the Blog page — Not as exciting as the About page but provides some context for what the heck I am thinking with this thing.
  • Lots of new book recommendations — Seven new pages with links to my favorite books for kids, adult fiction, adult non-fiction, cookbooks, and parenting and pregnancy. These pages will definitely grow as I find more time to organize…I’m just getting started. Do you have a favorite/must read book that is NOT on my list? Please share titles in comments below, so I can add it to our library!

Of course, it is all amazing and you should read it immediately! Then share your opinions and/or favorite books. You can even tell me if you think I am nuts. Happy New Year!



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Praising the Tree of Gifts

As much as we try to encourage an appreciation of other things, it is hard to completely avoid any devotion to the altar of consumerism, at least at Christmas. Regardless of my lofty goals, our child found plenty of time to do this:

Gift worship?

Gift worship?

No, she isn’t sleeping under the tree. She is carefully studying each package, trying to conjure up images of the potential gifts that are have hidden within the pretty paper. Of course, it is only to be expected from a four-year old. Who could fault her for bursting with anticipation to open all those gifts? Certainly not me.

Oh wait! Almost missed a chance to mention this great skill that comes with delayed gratification during gift worship: Patience was definitely a practiced skill for every member of the household during that last week before Christmas. The child practiced not opening or ‘accidentally’ tearing any of the paper, and we parents practiced by breathing deeply each of the 6,182 times that she asked when she would be able to open them.

She didn’t just study the gifts. Before any presents arrived, she spent many hours studying and appreciating every single ornament placed on the tree and every decoration in the house. That was super sweet to watch. She was an active participant in decorating the tree and (perhaps more importantly) in today’s project of carefully storing and putting everything away. This is only her second year to decorate a tree and I think that next year, she will have a fairly clear recollection of the process and be even more excited about the whole thing. There were definitely good lessons involved in that process, such as: how to take care of fragile things, how to pack and store special things so we can keep them for a long time, how to associate certain items with special memories of places and people.

Before she woke up on Christmas morning, even more gifts had arrived:

It was a lovely sight (even for a wannabe minimalist, such as myself). Seeing and helping her unwrap all of those gifts was certainly entertaining and maybe even downright fun (we tried really hard not to rush her, so it only took about FOUR HOURS, in between meals, coffee, bathroom breaks and let’s play with it/read it NOW). And I sincerely appreciate all the things sent by family and friends, and the time and money spent to provide those things. (THANK YOU, EVERYONE!!!)

Still….I must admit that I am already crafting a plan to have fewer gifts under next year’s tree. Seriously, 20+ presents is a little too much for any child.

OK, now you know I am a total grinch. You can wallow in sorrow for the deprivation my child will experience about a year from now. Or you can throw me a bone and share any creative ideas you have about not completely indulging your already privileged child during gift-giving holidays (please comment below!). I’ll happily consider our options and reveal our plan in about 10 months.

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My Favorite Christmas Tradition

I admit to having a general BAH HUMBUG attitude towards many commercialized holidays, including especially Christmas. (Disclaimer: Just to be clear, I am talking about the American tradition, not the religious holiday; in fact, this post really has nothing to do with organized religion, unless your religion is shopping and then I am sorry on many levels but make no apologies for opinions shared in this post.)

For the first three years of our daughter’s life, we didn’t really do much for Christmas and she had no idea what she was missing. (Oh, the deprivation!) Then she started pre-school last year, and our reign as her primary influencers ended. Sigh. Once pre-school begins, then all those other children and their families now have some portion of our child’s attention. And wouldn’t you know it: they told her about Christmas!

We knew it was coming, so we had spent much time pondering and planning how we wanted to do Christmas. (Recall this essential truth: If you don’t actively chose how you want to do something, then it is decided for you.)

We knew what we did NOT want:

  • A focus on gifts, presents and material things
  • Hectic running around to see (much loved!) family and friends in a short amount of time, expecting the child(ren) to be happy and well behaved through it all
  • Wasting lots of money on toys that are forgotten in a few days/weeks
  • Hours in airports and security lines during the ‘happiest’ and most germ-sharing time of the year
  • Creating or contributing to the “where are my gifts?” mindset for our child

We knew some of the things that we did want:

  • Quality time with family and friends
  • Peace, relaxation, and time to reflect
  • A focus on activities and relationships that are NOT centered on gifts
  • An opportunity to teach our child about traditions and the greater meaning of life (Whoa! As if I have even figured out that last part, but you get the idea)

Seems simple enough but it isn’t always easy to create a holiday experience that honors all of those things. For one thing, we don’t live in the same state as any of our relatives. We would love to see them, but that requires a lot of driving or airports and airplanes. Then, we try to squeeze in visits with everyone in the short span of time we have, and everyone ends up being stressed out, especially — understandably – the littlest person in the group.

We’re trying to carefully craft our own tradition, while putting the emphasis on the things that are most important to us. It is still a work in progress and I am sure it will evolve with time. This year, I was almost giddy with excitement about these simple things, which are – without a doubt – my favorite Christmas traditions: luminarias and caroling in the park with our friends and neighbors.

What is a luminaria, you ask? Basically it is a little light or lantern, also referred to as a farolito in parts of northern New Mexico. Luminarias are put out on Christmas Eve, to light the way for that famous Christmas family (you know, those Middle Eastern refugees looking for shelter). This tradition has been practiced for centuries in this part of the country. (Yes, centuries. Did you know that Santa Fe was settled by Europeans years before Plymouth Rock? No, the Native Americans didn’t put out paper bag lanterns to celebrate Christmas until those oppressive white folks arrived and ‘shared’ their practices.)

Besides being a centuries old, quaint tradition, they have a few other things going for them: luminarias are lovely to look at; they create a sense of bonding and community when placing, lighting and admiring their beauty; they are easy to buy (every church and scout troop sells them) and almost just as easy to make (what toddler doesn’t love a construction project involving sand?); and — perhaps the best part — they are not related to cheap plastic crap and have nothing to do with the grossly commercialized, consumer madness shopping ‘holiday’. My kind of tradition!

Caroling has similar perks: nothing to do with material things, accessible to anyone interested, and it is just genuine happy-making activity. (And, yes, caroling must be a centuries old tradition, too!) Every year at least a few cars stop by and roll down their windows, first in awe that anyone still sings carols, and then with a bit of appreciation for the old fashioned fun. We have the coolest neighbors!

Those two things alone make for a great holiday. This year, we added another tradition: making and delivering cookies to many of our neighbors. Our daughter was actively involved in every step of the process. Shockingly, this did nothing to expedite the process in any way though it did provide lots of opportunity to talk about doing things for other people.

Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and that you sincerely enjoyed your chosen traditions. Do you have favorite traditions or stories of holiday evolutions? If so, please share!


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