Super blogging resources!

So, your’s truly was invited to contribute my Time Management e-book to the Genius Blogger’s Toolkit available from Ultimate Bundles. Pretty neato, if I must say so myself!

The Toolkit consists of a gigantic bundle of tools and resources for bloggers of all levels from newbies to advanced. If you purchased each item individually, it would cost you over $5,000. Phew! I don’t know about you, but mama can’t afford that. However, if you get in on it during the 6 day sales period, you get all this loot for only $97.

Before you click away, thinking “this isn’t for me… I”m not a blogger,” let me ask you this:

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6 tips for surviving the season

HolidayCollageIt is December. And I’m not in a frantic tizzy about the holidays.

Holy cow!! Why not?!?!

It wasn’t always like this.

At one time I not only worked in retail management (if you don’t understand why this is a horrible holiday season job, I’m not sure I can explain it to you), but I over-committed, overspent, and generally spent the holiday season panicking, cultivating resentment and feeling defeated.

Several years ago, I said “eff it. this is nonsense!” And I began changing the way I spend the holidays and deal with the chaos that comes with it. While I can’t promise to change your life overnight – it took me a few years to work my way up to this level of end-of-year calm – I put together a few suggestions that I think are pretty solid.

They work for me! I hope they work for you too.

1. Remember the reason for the season

If you are a Christian, your faith is probably a pretty good reminder of what to focus on this time of year. For the rest of us, the secular focus on the season should be about wrapping the year up, spending time with loved ones, and doing some good deeds. At least in my humble opinion.

If there are a few fun gifts, a couple of great meals, and some twinkle lights thrown in – great! But if your season is sidetracked with stress-filled trips to crowded retail establishments, guilt over lack of perfection, or any kind of thought process that sounds like: “this has to go right or Christmakwanzakah will be ruined!!,” then please revisit your priorities.

I know I sound a little soap-boxy here but I think it’s highly worth considering. It certainly puts things into perspective. Cultivating this mindset within your family is also a big win. You’d be surprised at how easily kids can get on board with the real meaning of the holidays.

Presents-Polariod2. Recognize that you CANNOT do it all

The reason that Martha Stewart can do it all? She has staff. If you’re like me, you do not have staff. So don’t try superhuman Martha Stewart-style holiday feats.

Pick the things that are most important to you and let the rest go. Is orchestrating a cookie exchange really important to you? Then commit to it. Is hosting your family for a holiday meal your big thing? Then forget the rest and just do that.

If the house is a mess, if the holiday cards don’t go out, if your kids’ teachers don’t receive thoughtful little presents from you, if your Halloween door wreath is still up on December 24th… guess what? The earth will keep revolving and life will go on.

Shoot for less that you think you can accomplish. Stuff has a way of coming up. Worst care, you can always find something to add to your To-Do list if you get bored, right?

Side note: If you do have staff or a dedicated army of followers, you are most likely very rich or a cult leader and don’t need this advice. But can you send your minions to my house? (smile!!!)

3. Consider ditching gift-giving

A number of years ago, my husband’s family decided to dispense with present exchanging. We still get gifts for the little ones and sometimes do some small “stocking stuffer” things for each other. But it’s more about enjoying each other than anything.

Each family also picked up some charitable projects for the holidays and shared the stories of our efforts.

Rob, Connor, and I assembled toiletry care packages for our troops in the Middle East for several years. My sister-in-law and her kids picked several different projects – one led to my nieces volunteering at an animal shelter long after the holidays. My brother-in-law – sometimes a little short on time and resources – goes the food bank/soup kitchen route.

Serving others during the holidays, or anytime, feels a lot better then receiving a gift. Really. I know it sounds cliched but it is much better to give than to receive. It’s a wonderful thing to teach our children. Plus we’re probably going to buy ourselves the stuff we didn’t get as gifts anyway, right?

 SparklyTree4. Make it a year-round activity

Although we don’t do any major gift exchanging, there are a few people who I do make or buy gifts for. And of course there are always those unexpected work or hostess-type gifts that come up. For these situations, I keep my eyes open year round.

When I see something I know a person on my list would like, I buy it. (Especially if it’s on sale!) Then I tuck it away until the holidays. Same goes for sewing and crafty projects – when I have time to make something, I make it and stash it.

This strategy helps spread the financial impact and time-crunch out across the year and I’m not slammed in December.

As a bonus, post-holiday sales are a great time to stock up on holiday accoutrements. I just have to remember what I have stashed away and not forget when the new stuff gets stocked after Halloween!

5. Take a social media holiday

This is a tough one, particularly for creative peeps. But I’ve learned that seeing all the cool things that other people are doing, and sharing and pinning tends to sidetrack me. They lure me into starting unplanned projects which inevitably leads to a time-crunch and stresses me out.

I also get feelings of guilt and inadequacy when I see other people’s projects. (I still can’t figure out how people with 4 dogs and 7 children have such beautiful, perfect houses!) But if I’m not looking, then I’m none the wiser!

In the event that I do run across something cool, I save it (yay for Pinterest, Pocket, and Evernote!) to check out after the holidays and to work on throughout the year.

HeartsPlacemat6. Make a written plan

It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but writing things down is a really powerful way to focus and get shiz done.

Before the end of November, I start writing down the things that I want or need to do. Then I loosely schedule major tasks over the month of December. Remember that I can’t do it all, and that stuff is sure to come up, I make every effort not to over-schedule.

I also prioritize so that if something major does crop up and I have to eliminate any plans, it’s an easy call to figure out what gets postponed or dropped.

I keep the plan on my desk and make mini-lists (ie. shopping lists, daily task lists, etc.) off of it. And I revise as necessary. Over the years, I’ve found that I can make a pretty reliable and accomplish-able list. It feels SO good to cross tasks off that list!

For another take on this very topic, check out this NY Times piece!

No matter what you do during the holidays, from my heart to yours, I hope that it is merry and bright!


Forget cyber Monday – I celebrated fiber Monday!

I’m a little late getting this post up… a plague descended on our household post-Thanksgiving. There was a lot of coughing, couch naps, and sinus headache crankiness. We’re starting to sweep up all the snotty tissues now and consume more than just Nyquil so I wanted to report on my cyber Monday adventure.


So who really needs cyber Monday? I had a FIBER Monday!

I had the privilege of visiting Villa de Alpacas – the farm at Villa de Sales in Acquasco, Maryland the Monday after Thanksgiving.

The owner – Angel – is a family friend and she graciously gave me a tour of several areas of the farm. Naturally, the best part was meeting the alpacas and llamas!

Angel’s farm is one of only 4 remaining bicentennial farms in the state of Maryland. And it is the only continuously operating and self-sustaining bicentennial farm in the state.

I feel really strongly about historical preservation and maintaining buildings versus pillaging our green areas to build tracts of McMansions. As evidenced by my own 165-year-old domicile and my ever-growing disdain for structures that are younger than me… but I digress!

The point is, I’m really in awe of what Angel has accomplished – both in preserving her family’s legacy and in using the alpacas and llamas as a unique solution.

Llama alpaca collage
Alpacas and llamas galore!

Angel’s property and gorgeous Victorian home are awe-inspiring but her animals and the amazing things that are made with their fleece are the real stars of the show.

Although quilting and sewing are my main passions, I also knit so I know alpaca fiber is fabulous. Their fleece can be as soft as cashmere and is warmer than wool. Plus it is hypoallergenic! Since alpacas don’t have lanolin, their fleece doesn’t cause allergic reactions that way that wool does for some people.

You don’t have to knit to appreciate the lovely things that Angel and other artisans make with alpaca fleece. During my tour of her studio and shop, I was harboring serious fantasies about snuggling down in a pile of alpaca blankets and sweaters for an afternoon nap.

Alpaca kisses
Penny gets a kiss from Bonquita!

As I said, the highlight of my afternoon was my visit with some of her “girls” – a dozen or so alpacas and llamas. (Angel owns about 200 animals – 65 or so are on her property. The boys and girls are separated like any kind of livestock and I just met a group of the girls.)

It was cold and rainy, so my visit to the barn was short. But let me tell you, nothing is more delightful than a kiss from an alpaca and some snuggles from a friendly llama!

Angel’s girls were friendly and curious and they like to have their necks rubbed. I was thrilled at how soft they are! I just wanted to hug them and pet them all day long.

Please check out Angel’s website for interesting info about the farm and about alpacas. I believe she is working toward making some of her gorgeous alpaca fleece products available for sale online in the near future so keep your eyes peeled!