Being intentional in holiday family traditions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the holiday season upon us, I am reminded of how important it is to keep our family’s focus on the true meaning of the season. For us, that is Christmas but no matter what your family celebrates or believes, I think everyone can agree that family is what’s most important.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of this time of year and lose focus on what’s important. While I love watching the magic of Christmas come alive for my children on Christmas morning as they open presents, I want the presents to be one part of a much bigger picture.

I have been doing a little behind-the-scenes work leading up to Christmas to ensure our family comes together to truly celebrate the holidays this year. This includes:

  • Chippy — This is the first year our family does the Elf on the Shelf tradition. We introduced the elf and named her Chippy last year, but our daughter was too young to fully grasp the concept of her. For those not familiar, the elf is sent by Santa to keep an eye on the kids; each night, he/she flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa and comes back by morning, each time hiding in a different spot. I’ve recruited Chippy to help facilitate giving back this holiday season. Some ideas Chippy will suggest include baking cookies to bring to our local police and fire departments, selecting a few gently used toys to donate and decorating Christmas cards for veterans who are away from their families.
  • Reading Basket — On December 1, we brought out a decorated box filled with wrapped books. Each night before bed, will be pick one book to unwrap and read together as a family. These books are all holiday- and/or winter-themed and are not normally on our bookshelves. This way, they all seem new. Some are just-for-fun books about snow, and some explain the meaning behind Christmas. To do this, I’ve gathered any appropriate books we already owned, combined with a number of books checked out of our local library. It’s a win-win for the family as it gets us reading together, and the kids get to unwrap something!
  • Jesse Tree — For our family, it is important to teach our children the true meaning behind Christmas. We are trying the tradition of a Jesse Tree this year to do this. The concept is that each day, the family comes together to read a passage of scripture and then puts a corresponding ornament on a special tree. We use a children’s bible designed for preschoolers to keep it understandable, and our tree and ornaments are a DIY project from felt that will adorn our kitchen wall for the month. Even if some concepts are lost on my kids, it will still serve to bring our family together with purpose each day.
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAField Trips — I have planned a handful of special family outings for the month of December. They give us a chance to step back from the craziness of everyday life and simply enjoy this magical time of year. We will be taking a train ride to the North Pole via the Essex Steam Train, visit the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and go to a tree farm to cut down our own Christmas tree, to name a few.

I know that our plans for the holiday season may not resonate with what works for your family but I hope it can inspire you to come up with something that does.

This is a magical time of year, especially for children. No matter what holiday your family celebrates, it can be a time to create precious memories and traditions that will stay for years to come.



cason zarroWhat an exciting time of the year! The days are getting shorter, and the wish lists are getting longer. My evening walks have been so pleasant as neighbors are putting up twinkling lights that add such cheer to an otherwise gloomy night.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my children’s experience to be of this season. What do I want them to remember, and what do I hope they are looking forward to?

No matter what your spiritual beliefs, I think it’s safe to say we all want the hearts of our children to be filled with joy and thankfulness, excitement and wonder.

Beautiful, soft candle light, delicious food, a crackling fire, laughter, togetherness and happiness are what the winter holidays are about to me.  This is the time we pull out board games and laugh until our sides hurt with cousins from afar.

I haven’t been to Denmark, but apparently this warm feeling of connection has a word in Danish. They call it “hygge,” pronounced hi-ga with a short i.

My New Year’s resolution last year was to bring more hygge into our lives.

I enlisted the help of a friend, rearranged the living room, added warm lighting, added more pillows and created a welcoming, cozy room that practically begged my family to relax into it at the end of the day. As if by magic, the whole family naturally gravitated to the living room, a room that was previously used mainly for walking through. Sometimes we read, sometimes we snuggle, and many times we talk and recant our days.

These simple changes have brought our family closer and changed our whole feeling about our home. The spirit of the holidays can indeed live throughout the year!

In consciously trying to draw my children’s focus away from gifts, gifts, gifts during this time of the year, I encourage my children to talk excitedly about who we are going to see, what family members will be present, the fun games we will play and the predictable traditions we look forward to at our celebration. This is the time of year I bring out our special German candle holders with miniature people who dance by the power of the heat of the flames.

My family draws names for gift giving, and I love the opportunity to take each child shopping for a special gift for the family member whose name they drew. It gives us a chance to think in depth about that person and what they might like.

In remembering holidays past, we often remember the overall feeling, or a special event or tradition. The specific gifts are mostly lost in the mists of time.

I hope we can all give our children what they really want: our time and our love. They likely won’t remember the details, but they will remember the feelings and the connection.

Not always feeling happy around the holidays

LeyaniRedditiEvery year when we unpack our holiday trimmings, we find the stash of books we’ve stored next to the lights and the stockings.

We have multiple copies of The Night Before Christmas, stories of gingerbread boys, girls and men. And my favorite, Grumpy Badger’s Christmas by Paul Bright.

I love this book, because it acknowledges that not everyone is cheery during the holidays. It allows for some grumpiness, some frustration and even for the desire for peace and quiet in the middle of all the hubbub.

I know that in my family we feel these things, too.

The holidays are full of wonderful moments, high-intensity activities and often close quarters with extended family. This brings great joy but can also be stressful, frustrating and overwhelming.

Grumpy Badger expresses what we sometimes can not. When we get stuck in a parking lot full of frantic shoppers, or the wrapping paper runs out, or it just all feels like a little too much, we can say “I’m feeling like Grumpy Badger.” And that helps.

My family loves Grumpy Badger. He’s a good guy. At the end of the story, he has a big party with all of his forest friends.

Grumpy Badger loves the holidays, too. He just needs some space in the middle of it all, and so do we.

Our lasting presents as parents

barbara nicholsonBy Barbara Nicholson, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthor of Attached at the Heart with Lysa Parker

My mom has a compression fracture in her spine and will spend Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas in rehab. At 95 years young, she has been in remarkable health for most of her life, so seeing her suffer in pain is so hard.

When something like this happens to an aging parent, the roles reverse and I find myself doing all the things that I’ve done for my own children, and of course the things that she used to do for me.

barbaras mom nowI’ve been reflecting on my childhood in the 1950s, helping me to realize how much my mother practiced what we now call Attachment Parenting.

One of my earliest memories is a Christmas when I was about 4 years old and wasn’t feeling well, so Mother held me in her arms that whole morning while my dad and brother unwrapped my presents and brought them to me on the couch. I can even remember that she was wearing a soft sweater, and I loved feeling safe and warm in her arms. She didn’t budge for hours, even though I know now she must have needed to get Christmas dinner on the table and clean up the wrapping paper — things that seemed important at the time.

As I bring my mother a glass of water or cut up her food, I think of all the times she so lovingly cared for my brother and I when we were home from school with some childhood illness.

Back then, in a time when doctors made house calls, everyone got the measles or chicken pox. My mom would give me a little brass bell so I could ring it whenever I needed her. To this day, I crave chicken soup and 7 Up when I don’t feel very well, as that was the menu prescribed and that’s what we got. We never had soda in our house, so it’s funny to me now that being sick was the exception!

Barbaras mom setting holiday tableAs Thanksgiving approaches, I tear up thinking that my mom may not be able to come to our house. My brother and his family are flying in from Colorado (USA) so that will cheer her up immensely, but it won’t be the same if she’s not at the table, supervising the way the table is set and making her famous cranberry salad.

There is something intangible about these traditions, when they’re prepared with love and care, that is like a sacrament at the table. The fact that it takes Mother hours to prepare this little Jello salad with boiled cranberries, grated oranges and chopped pecans gives it a quality that takes us back to every holiday we’ve had together as a family.

My reflections lead me to so many of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting:

  • Feed with Love and Respect takes on another meaning around the holidays, and I hope that all of you also have family traditions. If not, you can start now and pass them down to your children.
  • barbaras mom reading to childrenRespond with Sensitivity has an even more significant meaning when you combine that with a childhood memory, like Christmas morning or being home sick in bed. You’ll never regret reading that favorite story one more time, when you know that as an adult your child will look back with such gratitude. That deep imprint will serve them well when they are caring for their aging parent.
  • The critical importance of Using Nurturing Touch cannot be overstated! My memories of my mother’s soft sweater and sitting on her lap while she’s reading my favorite fairy tales over and over to me are a tangible, tactile memory. Even though I can’t give my mother a big hug right now because it hurts too much, we can still hold hands while we watch television and give her a kiss whenever I come and leave.

Keeping our focus on loving connection around the holidays is everyone’s goal, but it can easily get lost in all the shopping and decorating. If I have anything to offer from my walk down memory lane, it would be:

  1. barbaras momInvolve your children with the cooking and decorating, keeping it simple when they are very young. They will remember your love and attention more than any gift they receive.
  2. Find a recipe that you can pass down to your children that they will associate with loving preparation for a holiday meal. It could be a special dessert, dinner rolls or a cranberry salad!
  3. No matter how busy we get, take plenty of time for touch, holding and reading favorite stories. As much as we watched television back in the 1950s, my fondest memories are of story time, not TV time.

Much love to you all and Happy Holidays!

Set Your Summer Intentions

As excited as I was for Cavanaugh to get out of school for summer, I was also a little worried that we could spend months inside hiding out from Texas, USA, heat and mosquitoes while playing LEGOs and Minecraft. We needed a to-do list of fun.

Luckily, one of my organizing clients was working on a summer intentions banner created by fellow Austinites Bernadette Noll and Kathie Sever. I was inspired by the banner but worried about the execution. Sewing and stamps, required by the original design, would have meant we completed ours sometime after school started this fall. Summer Fun List

What I loved was the idea of setting up our summer, so we could get the most of the time with each other without going stir crazy or bickering because our days were so unstructured (though exactly what we wished for all school year long).

So we set summer intentions and planned great adventures without locking ourselves into a schedule or spending a ton of money. Here’s what we did:

First, we brainstormed lists of people to see. We thought of friends from school and outside of school, plus family members and the characters from Rick Riordan’s The Kane Chronicles series we were listening to on audiobook.

For places to go and things to do, we added some of our favorites from previous summers, like going to see the symphony in the park and baking, but we were picking from what’s already routine and that would not keep us going through August. So we read through two of my favorite books: 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12! and 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! Cavanaugh put stickers by all the things he was interested in, then we went through the pages together to figure out which of those things we could do during this summer. They included items like seeing a meteor shower and eating a flower.

Then to see if some of the items he’d found were even available in Austin, Texas, we went to Free Fun in and added to our list with going to a ghost town and a junk cathedral. On Facebook, a friend had posted the “50 Ideas for a Slow Summer” list from Awesomely They helped too! So did the email from Cavanaugh’s school librarian and the one from his kindergarten teacher with summer reading clubs at some local bookstores and the library and with different learning activities and websites.

Once we had all of our lists, we went to Hobby Lobby and used their handy iPhone app to get the ever-present 40% off a full-price item coupon to get a copper foam board. Copper is Cavanaugh’s favorite metal right now. It meant no sewing fabric, and the foam board will travel well so when we go visit family in New Mexico, USA, we can take our lists with us. We also used Cavanaugh’s favorite font, “Wonton,” which I downloaded for free from for his ninja birthday party last year.

We wanted to keep our lists out where Cavanaugh and I could read them when we needed ideas. As we see people, go places and do things, we are putting checks or dots next to the items on our list. On the calendar, I listed only events that were date specific, like Mr. Popper’s Penguins being shown for $1 at the theater down the street.

We have a Summer Fun Board in our living room and enough ideas on it to have more adventures than we have time for. I’ll end this post with some items from our list:

Things to Do:

  • Make a Bast board game: The Path of Bast
  • Do experiments in DNA Kit
  • Explore backyard habitat #35
  • Build volcano
  • Host book club with school friends
  • Play marbles
  • Build a fairy home in the garden
  • Reading Clubs: Book People, B&N, Library
  • Replace front doorknob and lock
  • Eat a flower
  • Watch a meteor shower
  • Bake
  • Play cards
  • Build robots
  • Do puzzles
  • Make YouTube videos
  • Finish LEGO Ninjago Village
  • Play board games
  • Reading time in bedroom
  • Make up a spy name
  • Practice handwriting
  • Do 2nd grade Word Wall Words
  • Go through photos
  • Play learning games 

 Places to Go

  • High Tea
  • Taos
  • Splash Pad
  • Camping/Sleep under the stars
  • Movies
  • Picnic
  • A famous road: Route 66
  • Junk Cathedral
  • An Artist’s Studio
  • Swimming Hole
  • Rock Art Site
  • Radical Rock Formation
  • A canyon or gorge
  • Ice cream factory tour

What are you up to this summer?

Choose Compassion

API-EmailProductIt’s likely, as a reader of the APtly Said blog, you’ve done it. You looked at the world, at families, at children, and said, “I choose compassion.”

In choosing compassion, you really have made so many choices. A choice to become educated about parenting and prepare to welcome your child into the world; a choice to try to respond with sensitivity to your child and others; a choice to be present with your child and nurture your child’s health and emotional well-being; and a choice to live out compassion in many other ways that are intentional and meaningful to you. You practice compassion. Now here is a chance to wear it.

Selfless apparel approached API to say they have a mission to help nonprofits, and they want to support our mission. As their charity beneficiary, we are excited to have teamed up with them to bring you the “Choose Compassion” campaign.

Beautifully designed by their talented team, a Choose Compassion shirt represents so much opportunity!


  • Wearing your Choose Compassion shirt means you helped to financially sustain and develop parenting support networks benefiting caregivers and children.
  • It represents a chance to create awareness about Attachment Parenting every time someone compliments you, asks what it means to you, or asks where you purchased it.
  • It encourages the volunteer Leaders, staff, donors, and all those freely giving their time on behalf of others.
  • It generates a connection and supports a movement as together we take this one week to visibly Choose Compassion in unison.

Already we have reached our initial goal, and we are thrilled! We thank those who have made purchases and who’ve been so complimentary about the campaign.

But let’s do something extraordinary. Just visit the site and check out the shirts–see if you can help us push beyond to a new goal. Each shirt represents so much more than clothing each time you wear it–together we are all choosing compassion.

API-Female-Scoop-Royal-541There are two more days to purchase your shirt or purchase gifts before the campaign is over. We hope you will seize the moment and show your support. After that? Wear your shirt, continue to support the movement for compassionate parenting and raising children with healthy, secure attachment, and make a difference in your home and in the world.

Thank you for your support!

Purchased your shirt? Remember the API 2013 Annual Appeal, vital for meeting its 2014 budget, and consider your donation today.

The Gift Is You

This post was written by contributor Stacy Jagger, MMFT, owner of Sunnybrook Counseling,

Many parents I see in my counseling office are spending thousands of dollars on a variety of technological devices for their children each year–gaming systems, digital cameras, cell phones, etc.–while the children, who are displaying maladaptive behaviors and internal turmoil, are truly missing the parents themselves. Kidnapped by technology and the busyness of life, these parents and children often do not even realize what is happening to them until an outside source brings the truth to their attention.

1092533_41672492The best gift you can give your child is yourself. Living in a split-attention society, many children have rarely experienced the full, uninterrupted attention of a parent. We are so wrapped up in culture, jobs and keeping up with the Joneses that we have forgotten that the true meaning of life is connection. What we all want and need is true connection: connection with life, nature, our neighbors, our loved ones and ourselves.

Whether married or co-parenting, single parenting or fostering, mothers and fathers have the choice to model healthy, forgiving, mutually respectful relationships full of unconditional positive regard to enhance their family life. This creates an atmosphere where the children feel safe to receive the attention and care they need. True lasting security and positive relational skills are given parent to child, not Xbox to child.

Give your child the gifts of security and well-being that come from your time and undivided attention. Turn off the phone, television and computer. Go for a walk. Play with Play-Doh. Cook a meal. Play a round of Crazy Eights. Camp in the backyard. Have 5 minutes of special playtime where you paint fingernails, throw a football or teach a hand-clap game like “Say Say, Little Playmate.” Laugh. Play in the leaves.

Get in touch with the child within you. Let it be OK–because it is OK. You are connecting with the child Love placed in your care, and there is no richness greater than that. You are their leader. They are following you, watching you, learning from you. It is worth the time, the frustrations, the joys and the sorrows. Feel the fullness of your feelings and, at the end of the day, fall in your bed exhausted with a heart full of gratitude for the richness of life, as you live in the blend of the beautiful and the challenging.

Children are truly a treasure and the greatest gift you can give them is you.

Click here to read API’s white paper on giving children presence.


Why I Hate Art

This AP Month Blog Event post was submitted by reader Elizabeth Wickoren, who blogs at Mothering from the Maelstrom.

Each year we try to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and not just Christmas Day itself. Makes for a somewhat less frantic early December when you don’t feel like you have to cram a year’s worth of joy and Christmasy-ness into two days. We’ve been doing a lot of yummy Christmas baking the last few days, socking away a little bit of each batch in the freezer for our Twelfth Night party, but mostly just gobbling it down as fast as we make it. We’re also making time for lots of the things we really love, like board games, feeding the wildlife, thrift store shopping, movies, video games, theater and today, ART.

Art is one thing I feel like I really don’t do enough of with the kids. I am a big old scrooge when it comes to any art other than drawing, really. The thought of clay, paint and the like just makes me cringe. All that mess and chaos … ugh! Don’t get me wrong, I love to do art myself. I LOVE it, love love LOVE it. But I tend to be kind of lazy when it comes to breaking out the messy stuff for my brood. Or I thought it was laziness. Today I’m thinking it is more like a self-preservation instinct.

I was reading a Deep Space Sparkle article describing a lovely winter trees project involving shaving cream, and thinking, “I bet the kids would get a big kick out of shaving cream.” So, figuring it was the season for fun things, I got a couple of cans of shaving cream and cleared off the kitchen table.

Things started out innocently enough …


They were swirling colors and dipping papers …


Even the baby got to participate …


Don’t worry, hers is whipped cream, not shaving cream.

If you want a fun blog post to inspire you to art projects of your own, stop reading now. Get some cans of shaving cream and have fun. If you want to hear our horror story, however, read on.

At this point things took a turn for the worst. Mitchell was really enjoying the shaving cream. Enjoying it so much that he started rubbing it all over his stomach. I sent him to go clean up a bit, and while I was getting him to clean up, the other two decided to follow suit and start spreading shaving cream all over their bodies. So I sent them to the bathroom.

While they were cleaning up, Mitchell decided to stir his shaving cream as fast as he could so all the colors mixed into a really putrid olive green. So much for lovely swirls. Then the little two came back from the bathroom, and Henry decided to make his a solid-greeny mush, too.

I started to get a bit irritated that they were ignoring the whole concept of making beautiful art and instead were just focusing on the smoosh factor. I tried not to let it get to me. Intellectually, I KNEW that boys will be boys and that they were having a great, fun, tactile experience even if they weren’t making art as I had planned. I praised Violet’s lovely swirls because they really were lovely, and the boys ended up asking me to help them have swirls, too, so we added more color to their green shaving cream. In the end, I was a bit frazzled, but everyone had fun and had some swirly art.

Now, we could end the story there, but as you may have noticed, this last section didn’t have pictures to go with it. My hands were full of shaving cream, and I was just too crabby to take any pictures of the green goo.

There also aren’t any pictures to go with this next section.

Once everyone had made several swirly art pictures and I was sufficiently out of patience, I started to get things cleaned up. While my back was turned, setting pictures out to dry … Violet started rubbing shaving cream on her tummy, and the boys started to dive into the shaving cream up to their elbows. Their laughter started getting that crazy sound to it. You know, when it starts to shift from joyful, delightful giggling to insane, overstimulated, maniacal laughter. Plops of shaving cream started landing on the floor, on the chairs, on clothes. Things were officially out of hand.

I will admit, this was not my finest moment. I yelled a bit. Tossed out some choice phrases that had no business being said to children. Maybe “yelled a bit” is being too kind. I screamed. I really lost it. All I could think was that I had spent all this effort trying to do something fun and special with them, and they were almost literally throwing it in my face. Mitchell, especially, got the brunt of it because he is the oldest and “should know better” and his innovative little brain started all the mischief. Everyone except the baby got sent to bathrooms.

The baby was wondering what the HECK all the fuss was about. But another round of whipped cream stopped her wondering, and she got back to business.

As the baby was getting round #2 of whipped cream, shenanigans started breaking out in the various sinks. Thankfully, at that moment, Daddy walked in the door before I could strangle anyone. He bustled the little kids off to the bathtub for a thorough cleaning. Mitch was sitting in Grandma’s bathroom where I had exiled him, and I was left with a table to wipe up and a moment to catch my breath.

After a few deep breaths, I went in to talk to Mitchell. I apologized for screaming and told him I shouldn’t have said the things I said. Then we talked together about where things went wrong. I asked him if he were at school, would he have taken the art supplies and started rubbing them all over his body? He laughed and said, “No!”  I explained that I was angry that they had misused the art supplies like that for me. And he said, “But the shaving cream just feels so good!”

I started telling him how there is a time and a place for whole-body art. And the time and place is outside in the summer, where they can be hosed off afterwards and not wreck any hardwood floor finishes or anything. Then I had a light bulb go off. “The other place for whole-body art,” I said, “is in the bathtub. Where all the mess can be rinsed down the drain. Hop in.”

So Mitch continued his art exploration, and I went to bathe the baby.


Bathing the baby always cheers me up.  And Fergie (our dog) helped with the clean-up.

So, what is the moral of this story? The moral is, I need to approach art with no expectations except mess. Expecting any kind of aesthetically pleasing results is just setting myself up for disappointment and stress. I mean, the whole point of art, in my opinion, is to enjoy the process and not worry too much about the end result. I kind of lost that as I gazed at the Deep Space Sparkle pictures of magical, snowy trees and imagined that we, too, could make something so preciously cute. The kids didn’t lose sight of the purpose, though. Their entire aim was to enjoy the process, so kudos to them. And I apologize for raining on their parade.

Underestimating the amount of mess that can be made with two cans of shaving cream was a grave error in judgment on my part. Frankly, I think all art should be done in the bathtub in the future. It’s really the perfect location. Actually, we have an unfinished room in the basement, with a drain in the floor. Shall we tile that sucker up for a whole-body art studio?  A very tempting idea, actually …

And today, as I reflected on what I could have done differently, another factor popped into my mind. I had forgotten that the day before had been Mitchell’s birthday. We had promised him that a special ADHD diet didn’t mean he could NEVER have the food he liked again. We said on his birthday he could eat anything he wanted. And boy he did. We had McDonalds, pizza, donuts, the works!

The thing about Mitchell’s food sensitivities is that they generally don’t affect him until the next day. It’s not an immediate thing. So planning a messy art project the day after he stuffed his face with preservatives, gluten, dyes, milk and high fructose corn syrup was just asking for trouble. So–note to self–don’t try to do ANYTHING the day after Mitch has blown his diet except manage his symptoms.

So, while it wasn’t one of my finest moments, I think yesterday was not without merit. Everyone got bathed, swirly art DID get made and mama learned (and relearned) a few lessons.