Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Struggling through Sunday

Baby's Sunday best
Where I spend much of my Sundays - the mother's room!
There's no way around it.  Going to church with tiny children is hard.  

Our Sundays these days involve getting up at 5:00 a.m. Between that wee hour (hypothetically a normal waking time for us, but Sundays are especially painful) and 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. when we must leave, we need to make the three meals of the day, get everyone fed, dressed, and packed into the bike.  

The bike.  Our Mormon pioneer ancestors used wagons to cross the American plains when things were good, and handcarts when things were bad.  Handcart companies were the poorest, and, often, the most faithful of the thousands of Latter-day Saints to cross the plains.  The handcart has become a symbol of sacrifice and faith within Mormon lore - true miracles that are better than any kind of fiction.  

The bike is our handcart, and almost everything we own (it seems) goes into it every Sunday: lunch, snacks, a gluten free option to enable Lance to eat the sacrament without sleeping through church, two bottles, the baby bag, the stroller for Gideon to nap in, the trug for Esther to nap in, high heels for me, Lance's brief case, my purse, and our two snuggly children.  Lance rides it up to church, and I ride it back, while the other gets a break by riding the bus sans children.

We try certain things to keep the day normal - naps are still attempted.  Gideon sleeps in the handicapped bathroom, Esther in the mother's room, and Lance on the stand (ok, only sometimes--usually when he's had the sacrament bread rather than a chip or a rice cake).  I attempt to feed everyone (including Lance) at the right times.  

But try as I might, going to three hours of church plus the two hours of round-trip travel (at least) and another hour or so for Lance's morning meetings destroys naps and meals and makes the children miserable for at least that day if not the rest.  It takes me anywhere from 1-3 days to get my children back on track.  

Besides that, I spend much of church in the mother's room, in the hallway, kitchen, or in the nursery with Gideon (who decided he didn't like nursery though he'd been going peacefully for months before he was "old enough" the moment he turned 18 months - the official starting age for nursery).  

So is it worth it? Wouldn't I be better off if I just didn't go and spent the day peacefully at home?

No, I'm not better off, and yes, it is worth it.  I stayed home on a Sunday a couple of weeks ago when I was poorly and attempting to finally feel well after weeks of sickness- tough considering the physical impact church has on us given our biking and public transport commute.  The next week I missed not having taken the sacrament desperately.  It didn't matter that I felt like Esther's day schedule was almost finally on track or that Gideon whined less for two days.  The snippets of church that I am able to enjoy, especially partaking of the Sacrament, does something for my soul that I cannot get in any other way. Perhaps it is the sacrifice involved.  Perhaps it is meeting with the Saints.  Perhaps it is feeling the Spirit from what others have learned and being energised by their faithful struggling--it all matters in making me a spiritually whole person for the week.

For those out there who go to church on a Sunday with little ones, what do you do to make the day a spiritual one?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


 Our baby boy got a haircut this last Saturday, and was transformed within just a few minutes from baby to little boy.  The rite of passage was sad, but we now have a boy who looks a little less homeless!

The crying broke our hearts
In this pic you can see that the car is a barber's chair.  That and the candy we gave him helped him to navigate the haircut in a very mature (*ahem*) way.

All grown up!

We had another first last week - Esther's first ride in the bike!  She is doing really well, I feel completely liberated, and G loves have a co-passenger.  Today after baby gym, he leaned into her with his head cocked to one side, jabbering away with her.  The first of hundreds of rides together.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Baby Sleep Secrets - Part IV

Gideon and his best friend playing in his sleep tent.  G loves his bed!
My final sleep secrets post...

10. Props.

A final teaching of my sister is that any and all props are welcome, but you want to be careful how much you use, and save your biggest ammunition for emergencies.

Whitenoise - I use the heavy whitenoise machines when my babes are seriously over-tired.  (Light whitenoise such as a bathroom fan is used pretty liberally.)

Dummies - I use pacifiers/dummies more liberally, but try to get by without them.  (I'm seriously failing at this, however, in that Esther now refuses to go to sleep during the day without one - at night she knows somehow at three months that she can't have it.  Any help out there for this problem?) My mother admits to using hair tape (really gentle tape) to tape in the pacifiers.  They can still breath, cry, and spit up as necessary.  The tape is gentle enough that if the baby wants to spit the pacifier out, they can.

Blankies/soft toys - My son has a muslin he has adopted as his ever-steady prop, which is fine because it is interchangeable and therefore washable and portable.

Darkness - I would like to use darkness less, but both of my children need it desperately.  Gideon used to need pitch blackness, and Esther isn't far off.  They are both easily over-stimulated, so they easily wake in their transitions if there is light and therefore discernible objects to look at.  I blacked out the bathroom for Gideon using black felt around the door.  We have shutters in our current flat, so it is easier to create the needed darkness for Esther, but I still black out the door to her sleeping area by covering the door windows with a towel.  When out and in baby carriers, I have to put a breathable blanket over Esther.  Gideon no longer sleeps on the go, unfortunately, making me homebound during his naps.  A friend used tinfoil to black out her windows - something you need to be careful with because of its impact on temperature control - but the darker room helped her baby sleep better.

11. Listen.

When one of my babies starts crying, before going in to rescue them, I listen.  I've found there are different cries for different things.  Gideon is capable of fake crying to manipulate me, bless his heart.  These cries are ignored, and he's doing them less.  Cries of pain are responded to immediately.  Pain cries can mean there is trapped gas that needs to be released or, in Gideon's case, when he is sick and needs to be throw up (sorry to the non-parent readers - reality reigns supreme the moment a baby is born).   Night frights, shrill, spontaneous crying, will die down quickly, and are easy to confuse with pain cries.  I've found it best to wait these out a few minutes to distinguish the two - night frights will dissipate quickly, whereas pain cries will not.  I now know with Gideon what is what, and will rush in with pain cries and not with the other.

More often than not, my children will cry a bit when they are in "transition."  I have mentioned this before, but baby sleep cycles are 30-60 minutes long, during which they progress through Rapid Eye Movement and all levels of sleep that adults do in 90 minutes.   In between cycles, they wake a little bit and will often squirm, cry a bit, and even open their eyes.  If they are well-rested, they will have the energy (sounds funny, but it's true!) to put themselves back to sleep. If they are not well-rested enough, they will cry more - sometimes up to five minutes.  If they are extremely overtired, they will need help going back to sleep.  It is very important not to disturb babies in transition unless they keep crying after five minutes, as doing anything will wake them further and make them more overtired.

Gideon goes into light sleep between 5-7 a.m. and during the last 30 minutes of his long afternoon nap.  Both times, he will cry a bit during transitions.  If I wake him (thinking he is done sleeping) during this time, he will be terribly cross with me and with life.  I have learned to just leave him a bit until I am sure he is done sleeping - wherein he usually has a "come and get me, I'm bored" cry rather than an angrier transition cry.

Sounds complicated, but it's really not!

12. Be respectful.

Finally, I had to learn when Gideon was little (again from my sister) to be respectful of my children's sleep needs.  Especially for the afternoon nap and their night sleep.  I'm much more casual with their morning naps (or Esther's final, short nap before the nighttime routine).  When I am not respectful of their needs, they fall apart and are messes.

Respecting my children's needs means that I need to do everything I possibly can to get them to a place where they can sleep in the dark in their own bed--on time.  They always sleep better (and longer) under these conditions and will therefore generally be happier.

Obviously, some flexibility is needed when traveling.  When traveling, however, I still do everything I can to recreate good sleeping conditions - at the right time.  I plan for travel by having my children sleep in portable beds on a regular basis (basket, hammock, and a tent thus far) that travel with us.  My sister planned ahead for travel by sleeping her children in travel cots/port-a-cribs for their afternoon naps so they became accustomed to sleeping in their travel bed.

When I am not traveling, I can pretty much plan the rest of my life around afternoon naps and night sleep.  It was a massive mental adjustment to live this way, but my children and I (and likely my husband!) are so much happier because of it.


What are your baby sleep secrets?  What do you do to get little ones to sleep during the day or night? Do you do these things and they don't work?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Baby Sleep Secrets Part III

Esther slept here on the table the first couple months of her life, until she needed more darkness.

Continued from the last two posts...

7. Sleep the baby in another room.

This secret goes against SIDS advice, which is to sleep them in your room for your six months.  I, however, am an exceptionally light sleeper, so I face the option of either sleeping or getting no sleep.  I follow all other SIDS advice (but for sleeping them on their backs), including the most important related to fresh mattresses and sheets, and sleep my babies far enough away that I don't hear every grunt, but close enough that I hear their cries, usually in the next room over with a closed door between us.

For Gideon, this meant he slept in the bathroom beginning at three weeks.  For Esther, it meant she slept in the living room/lounge the first night (after having her in my room all day and not sleeping).    I think there was a direct correlation to how soon they slept long hours through the night.  Gideon started consistently sleeping seven-eight hours through the night at four weeks.  Esther was consistent at 10-12 hours at four weeks, but she would go nine or 10 hour stretches almost immediately, if not consistently.

I'm convinced the correlation is due to two factors: not only can we not hear every grunt and are therefore responsive only when it's serious, but they can no longer smell their mothers.  If I'm not mistaken, smell is one of the most developed of babies' senses at birth.  It makes sense to me that if they can't smell mother's milk, they are more likely to sleep through their transitions (see next post for a discussion of sleep cycles).

8. No stimulation during night feeds.

My sister taught me that you need to teach babies the difference between night and day, including when they wake in the night for a feed.  This means the light should be kept as low as possible, and there should be no talking and no eye contact during the twelve night time hours.  After eating, they are put straight back to bed.  I still do this with my toddler when he wakes in the night when sick or from a loud noise.  He knows if it is dark, it is time to sleep.

9. Night routines.

Another teaching of my sister is to differ the going to bed versus the going down for a nap routine.  Nap routines for me involve swaddling (prior to three months), singing to them the same song, and patting their bum once they are in bed.  Night-time involves a bottle and breastfeed, bath time, and being fed the last little bit swaddled in the semi-dark before being sung to and kissed near their basket.  I try to do everything at the same time and in the same way.  When traveling, I try to follow the same routine as best I can, even if on an airplane (Gideon's received several "baths" in airplane lavatories.)

To be continued!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baby Sleep Secrets Part II

Esther at 10 days asleep in the trug.

To follow-on from my last post, I'll continue with my list of things I have learned to get my two babes to sleep twelve hours through the night at an early age:

5)  Sleep them swaddled on their side at first, then un-swaddled on their tummies once they can move their heads.

Here in the UK, the universal advice is to sleep babies on their back because of SIDS, the thought being it is somehow safer.  Yet babies could asphyxiate much easier on their backs.  My sister Anje (the mother of 9 babies she taught to sleep through the night early on) believes it is equally safe to side-sleep, if not safe, and that babies sleep better in this position.  She taught me to sleep Gideon (swaddled) on his side, propped up by rolled blankets or towels.  For Esther, I use the soft animals people have given me (you can see them a bit in the see last post).

Once they can move their heads back and forth, my sister sleeps babies on their tummies, unsaddled, as this is the position best for sleep.  Unswaddling them at this point makes sense if you are sleeping them on a flat surface, as their arm and leg movements are less likely to wake them up, because they are stopped by the mattress.  I have to swaddle for a bit longer, as our newborn trug is just a little curved.  I am now in the process of un-swaddling Esther, as she has almost grown out of the trug, and will soon sleep her in our baby hammock.

swaddle, sussex trug, newborn photo
G at one week asleep in the trug.

6) Make sure they are getting enough day sleep, but not too much.

A well-slept baby sleeps better.  My little Esther's best nap is her first, then the next, and on down through till her fourth nap at the end of the day, which is fitful and very short.  (I'm working on the afternoon nap to be longer, as she'll keep this the longest.)

Although in my last post on baby sleep secrets, I indicated that a baby should be woken every three hours to feed.  This is true.  But I've found that you also have to get them to sleep for the hour or half hour immediately before they feed.

This can be a tricky math problem.  Gideon couldn't stay up longer than an hour till he was 4 or 5 months, but then wouldn't sleep longer than an hour.  Esther did well at this until about a month ago (she's nearing 12 weeks).  She would be awake for 40-60 minutes before sleeping for two or more hours, so the three hour schedule worked well.  But now she needs less total sleep, but can still only be up for up to one hour and 15 minutes, usually less.

As I mentioned above, her naps get progressively shorter throughout the day.  Her first nap is from 7:30 to 9:30 or 10:00 a.m.  The next is suppose to be from 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in order to stay on schedule, but she can usually only make it till 11:45 or 12:00.  By 12:30 p.m. when she is suppose to feed, she is too tired to feed and then everything is thrown off, she has to take a short nap, and then she reverts to snacking rather than getting really good big feeds that will last her three hours.

In order to have her sleeping before the next feed, and to "save" some of her sleep for the important afternoon nap, I have started waking her at 11:30 a.m. for 30 minutes, and then let her sleep from 12 to 12:30 p.m. before her feed.

I have found that as my babies get more tired throughout the day, they need more help getting--and staying--asleep.  The first nap usually requires very little in terms of helping them to sleep, but they can need more cuddles, white noise, or darkness throughout the day (will post on these items in the next baby sleep secrets post).

My sister says that you have to teach babies to sleep, and when. She bounces her babies, held on their side, to sleep, patting their bums, until nine or so weeks, when she starts putting them down barely asleep, then works backwards till fully awake).  I spent countless hours when Gideon was little getting him to sleep each time till he was 4 months.  With Esther, I started just putting her down from day 1, and that works - usually.  If I miss her window (more below), I have to do more work and use more props (white noise machine, binky/dummy, and darkness).

Esther's current (ideal) schedule at 11+ weeks is as follows:

6:30 a.m. up and feed

7:30-7:45 a.m. down for first nap in the trug

9:30 a.m. second feed

10:30-10:45 a.m. down for second nap, usually in the sling, as this is when I go out with G for his daily adventure.  (If I had a double stroller/push chair, she'd probably sleep in it, but I'm attempting to avoid one at all costs.  When G gets evicted from the stroller when he turns 2 in March - when he'll need to stand on a boogy board or ride along on the scooter - she'll probably nap in the stroller.)

11:30 a.m. up for a bit of stimulation

12:00 noon down again

12:30 p.m. third feed, then another top-up right before the afternoon nap.

1:30 p.m. afternoon nap in the trug- this one is currently the hardest.  In order to get her to "sleep" through this one, I have been spending the better part of the hour between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. rocking her trug, shushing her, or bouncing her in the dark the last few weeks to make sure this "nap" lasts long enough to stay on schedule.  I thought I had this sorted yesterday when, after two days of waking her during her mid-morning nap, she slept through.  But then things went south today - we'll see!  In short, getting them to sleep long enough takes WORK and I can only do this because Gideon is asleep at this time.

3:30-4:00 p.m. fourth feed

4:30-4:45 p.m. down for final nap in the sling while I make dinner

5:30 p.m. bath, 4-5 oz. of expressed milk in bottle

6:00 p.m. breastfeed in darkened room

6:30 p.m. down for the night

7) Don't put them to bed overtired.

gap multi stripe, baby sweaters, diaper pin
Well slept babies are happy babies.  Over-tired babies are demons! (p.s. that's a three month old dress on my little giant)
Not only is there an overtired in general, resulting in perms-crabby babies, but there is a discrete overtired state when you miss their window to go down to sleep.

My children have a window during which they can be put down to sleep easily.  Put them down too soon and they are upset because they aren't ready to go to bed/get bored in the dark (and you can get off schedule because they can't sleep till their next feeding time); put them down too late and they are a tired mess who need lots of help going to sleep.  G was much harder, as he was colicky, but Esther has a definite easy window.  I watch for their tired cues.  They are usually squirmy and a bit shouty and then start sneezing.  Then there are the yawns - usually three about a minute or two apart.  Then the seven mile stare.  Then if they are not already in bed, they can quickly transform from happy little cherubs into demons of the blackest hell.

If I let G get to the yawns, it was already too late.  Esther is much more flexible.  If I'm on top of things, however, I try to start swaddling Esther when the sneezing begins and things are smooth sailing.

The other tough thing about putting kids to bed overtired is that their sleep cycles, normally 50-60 minutes, is diminished, sometimes to 30 minutes, but it can even go as low as 10 or 5 minutes.  (More on sleep cycles in the next post.)  Worse, they are not rested enough to have the energy to seamlessly transition from one sleep cycle to the next.  This means they can get really fussy and may not be able to make the transition themselves.  This affects transitions at both the beginning of the nap or night sleep or at the end of the nap or night sleep, resulting in a crabby baby from waking too soon.

OK - that's all for now.  More to come in the next post...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baby Sleep Secrets Part I

Esther at fourths weeks, when she started sleeping 10 hours at night on a regular basis

This morning I had to wake Esther up after 12 1/2 hours of sleeping through the night.  She is 11 weeks.  This is not atypical for her.  She has essentially been sleeping at least 10 hours a night since she was four weeks, and now reliably sleeps from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Gideon, my colicky, tongue tied firstborn, wasn't quite as good.  He slept 7-8 hours beginning at four weeks and was up to a solid, reliable 12 by 14 weeks.

I have promised several friends that I would post about what I do to get little ones to sleep through the night, so here goes.  Most of what I have learned comes from my sister, Anjenette, neonatal nurse and mother of nine (you read that right - 9!).  Other things I have picked up from the book popular State-side, Babywise, from Gina Ford (a British nanny), or from friends along the way.

So far, what I have learned includes the following:

1. Most importantly, I try to get my babies all of the calories they need during the day.  This includes waking them every three hours to feed (start of one feed to the next) during the day (I never, ever wake them at night - if they are sleeping, they are not hungry).  For newborns, I go four hours.

2. Feed on waking.  My sister's philosophy is that the hardest thing a baby does all day is eat.  A well-slept baby will feed better, and a well-fed baby will sleep better.  Contrariwise, a tired baby will not feed well, and a poorly-fed baby will not sleep well (or long).

To make sure they are good and awake for the feed, I change their nappy/diaper and feed them as near naked as the room temperature will allow.

3.  I try to make sure my milk is creamy and plentiful.  It is difficult as the mother of a newborn to eat well, but I try really hard to eat well and in good-size quantities.  This is not the time I worry about losing the pregnancy weight.  I try to eat plenty of protein and vegetables, and not worry about fats all that much.  (I do try to avoid sugars, including simple carbohydrates.)

My sister taught me to pump off the second breast to keep my production up wherever possible.  I can't realistically do this throughout the day, but I do so in the morning and pump both breasts at night.

4.   Swaddle. Babies will wake themselves up through involuntary hand and leg movements. Swaddling helps prevent this problem and recreates a womb-like environment where they are nice and tight.  Babies don't often like the process of swaddling, but like its affect.  I swaddle as tight as I possibly can to prevent as much movement as possible.

This requires the right kind of fabric. My favourite is a stiff, lightweight flannel, which is hard to find here in the UK. I also use a diaper pin and pin it right at the shoulders, preventing (usually) the hands from ever reaching the face.

Finally, my sister taught me to build in towels or other cushions around the baby to make them feel extra secure - towel on both sides and a thin blanket tucked in around the body - but never further than half-way up the chest.

These are the basics of what I do, and the most important.  More to come in another post!

G rocking Esther to sleep
I've begun the process of un-swaddling this week, as Esther is already growing out of her trug,
and she can't be swaddled in the baby hammock!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 Top Tens

1. A baby girl, Esther Anne Toler, born 16 October 2014 at home in a birth pool after a labor 26 hours shorter than her brother’s.  She wakes smiling and will coo and smile whenever you give her the chance.

Hours after Esther's birth.

Just a few days ago.
2.  Five years of marriage and we haven’t killed each other yet! :-) And looking forward to another five.  

Dinner on our terrace May 23, 2014

3.  A move around the corner within our favorite London village – Primrose Hill. We are in heaven here in this home and community and feel very, very blessed to have found this space.

4.  Gideon turned one and graduated from babyhood by learning to walk and talk.  He can now tell us what he wants rather than whine (usually), with “pleases” and “thank yous” to boot! Next up: scootering…

G manhandling his first birthday cake

Stealing the show during family pics over the summer.

All grown up in Oxford
5. Lance completed another year as a Principal with Apollo’s European Principal Finance group and as bishop of our Latter-day Saint congregation.

6. Commissioned by Libya-based Rashad Consulting, I compared 18 different constitution-writing processes and distilled it into a comparison chart.  The UN shared the chart with Libya’s Constitution Drafting Assembly and the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law is publishing my summary of best constitution-writing practices based on the study this Spring.  I also continue to serve on the ConSource board and helped to start a constitutional history project at Oxford.  You can read more about my consulting work (although know that I am on maternity leave, so nothing is updated) here.

7.  Two children who generally sleep 12 hours through the night!

8.  Family reunions – one in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, another in Avilla Beach, CA, and an extended family reunion in Durango, Colorado.  To make these and a few work meetings possible, I clocked an exhausting 10 beds, 10 cities, and just as many flights within 29 days while six months pregnant toting a toddler (mostly alone), but seeing many loved ones was worth it!

Extended Updike reunion in Durango, CO.

John and Janet Updike reunion in Sheboygan, WI. 

Toler Family reunion in Avilla Beach, CA.

9. Hosting 4 out of 5 grandparents for Esther’s baby blessing the last weekend in 2014.

10. Janet Tanner Updike (Lorianne’s step-mom) outliving the prognosis for her stage four brain cancer by five months. Your faith and prayers in this regard are appreciated.

Our Homeless Christmas

My very own Christmas newborn.

Before I clock in our New Year's top ten, I wanted to pause at the end of the Christmas season to share a few thoughts about what this season has meant to me.

At the end of November, "damp treatment" turned out to be much more of a thing than anyone realised.  (When they pull out the jackhammer, realisation dawns...)  On Thanksgiving Day, a friend and work colleague in Oxford (the one who took pity on me and invited me to dinner at his college so I would have a proper dinner on Thanksgiving) commented, "a mother and newborn homeless on a holiday - that sounds familiar."

Thus began the Christmas season.  Throughout the following days of homelessness,  I juggled trying to care for and keep our shifting environment comfortable and clean for our two very small children.  It was unsettling to say the least.  I continually had to get diapers and other baby supplies and food and wash our few clothes while making sure our children were safe and sanitary in territory not designed for children - an Oxford college and then a very posh and polished flat of a friend in Chelsea who had never housed a 21 month old.  Travel was expensive and basic care was difficult -- and got worse when I and then both children fell ill.  Survival alone was our primary concern.

In these circumstances, I couldn't help but think of Mary's predicament - she, too, was homeless at a time when one wants cleanliness and comfort most - childbirth.  How do you keep a stinking stable or cave where the manger was located anywhere near clean enough for the bloody experience of childbirth?  Was labor prolonged because Mary was in such an unfamiliar environment?  Did she have any privacy whatsoever?  Why did Mary choose to go with Joseph to an unknown place when so heavily laden - why didn't she stay with her mother?  Did the baby come early?  Surely the presence of swaddling clothes - a very, very long baby wrap that told of the genealogy of the baby - meant she planned to have the baby while away from home.  Was she an outcast because her pregnancy was to all those not privy to her revelation (as Joseph and Elisabeth were) a great shame, and she was cast out and friendless?  Would no one take her in?  Was money scarce, making finding housing at the last minute even more difficult?  More, how did a homeless Mary transport baby Jesus and all of the trappings of childcare?  How long did she stay in the cave or stable before home for a newborn had to be set up - again?  How did she manage nap time and breastfeeding - again, was there any privacy?

Not everything got done this Christmas because of our late and rocky start in the season--all, perhaps, except the most important thing - focusing on and personalising the first Christmas.  I don't believe I'll ever think of the homeless couple with their newborn that starry night in quite the same way again.  

Our home under construction.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

6 Simple Ways to Find More Joy at Christmas

Almost as good as last year's photo.

Let's face it.  Moms, not Santa, make the magic of Christmas.  This can be a drag, or it can be joyful.  As I celebrate the holidays with two under two, there are a few things I have learned about being joyful as I "make" the magic of Christmas I thought worth sharing:

1.  Simplify.

In London we have had little room for storage (although we now have a Utah-sized storage room), so all of our Christmas decorations fit in one box.  We supplement with fresh decorations, and keep it minimal at that.  There is still the thrill of putting up the decorations, but it cuts out two days of work from the festive period.

I also avoid wrapping paper, and instead use newspaper or use our IKEA roll of paper either plain or decorated by our son and this twine and tape to make them festive.

Finally, instead of preparing treats for friends and neighbours and making the rounds, I invite them over (via a simple email) for a Christmas afternoon tea.

See the fun multicoloured walls?  Still not done after the damp proofing!

G with one of his little friends at our Christmas afternoon tea.
2. Go green.

In New York I started the tradition of using rosemary bush from Whole Foods as our Christmas tree. I searched all over this city and finally found this site through which I could order our Christmas tree, fully decorated with recycled or organic decor.

Alternatively, you could decorate a tree or plant already in your home.

3. Benefit from other people's planning.

Christmas events are a lot of work to plan, but fairly easy to attend.  They are a great way to get into the Christmas mood.

Santa letter writing station at a local shop, Mary's Living and Giving

Mason jar lights at the local carol singing.

This was one of my favourite events this year - the local choir was amazing.  Warm mince pies and sausages were served for free.  We all took part in the traditional carols and the choir did various verses and descants.

The Christmas jumper winners at family day for Lance's work.
I also won 2# in the bake off!  £50 voucher at Selfridges under the tree for me! 

Gideon with dad at Apollo's family day

Carols and Lessons at St. Pauls this afternoon.  Maybe not the best idea to take a 21 month old who got a morning nap rather than his afternoon nap, but we survived.

Oversized nativity at St. Paul's.  I taught G what the donkey said and he kept going hee-haw over and over.  Adorable.

4.  Procrastinate.

I push whatever I can to the twix-mas period.  Like Christmas cards.  We do a New Year's top ten rather than Christmas cards.  It pushes non-urgent items to the period of the holidays when we have more time.  This year, I will make two of my children's gifts - curtains and bunting for the nursery - during this period.

5. Catch the spirit.

It is hard to get as excited about Christmas as children once the magic of Santa and receiving dissipates, but there are a few ways that the spirit can be rediscovered. Making gifts, doing the 12 days of Christmas for someone (or a sub for Santa), or incorporating children into your Christmas plans can make it a little more magical.

I grew up with my mom doing the 12 days of Christmas for someone anonymously and I loved it.  I've attempted to replicate it a couple of times without as great of an impact.  I'm sure I'll get the hang of it over time.

Babies are always magical, no?

6. Remember the reason for the season.

There are simple ways to focus on Christ at Christmas.  Some like to read a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Others like to attend Messiah sing-alongs.  You could also ask for a gift from the Savior - a spiritual quality that you are lacking.  This year, I'm asking for Charity this year (writing a book about it doesn't mean I have it!)

There is also this wonderful, Christ-centered advent calendar.  It comes complete with a quote from a prophet, scripture, song to sing, and a challenge for the day.