8 Guilt-free tips to minimize Christmas spending

12-11 Christmas

I was already a few purchases into my holiday season when a friend of mine said she’d really enjoy a no-spend or buy-nothing Christmas. She envisioned swaps of artwork, clothing, and books between friends who could give freely from what they already had without adding to the stress and pressure of the holiday shopping season.

I budgeted around $400 for holiday gifts, but I probably won’t end up spending that much at all since I shifted my focus to giving experiences and artwork rather than purchased goods (though the unicorn calendar was a great buy and I stand by it).

Here are some ways you can reduce or eliminate your holiday spend without feeling like you’re downsizing the holiday cheer factor.

  1. Give your time. When I asked a friend what she wanted for Christmas this year, she thought about it and said that she’d love a day we spend together more than anything I could wrap up and give to her. Pencil a friend onto your calendar for a day of movies, hanging out, or even going out to window shop and try on the most hilarious Goodwill outfit you can find.
  2. Create something. One of my hobbies is painting, and I plan on creating art for many of the people on my list this year. It’s something that means a lot to both me and the recipient, since I create something personalized and inspired for each person on my gift list. You could also write letters or poetry, draw something, make homemade bath products, or sew something for your recipient.
  3. Cook something. So technically you’ll have to buy ingredients, but baking some cookies or cooking someone’s favorite meal for them is a great way to put your time and energy into showing your love for them.
  4. Regift. If you got some gifts last year that are still hanging around, new or barely used, give them to someone on your list who will love them and have a good home for them. And if you can’t bear to regift, then admit to yourself that you’re not using them and send them to the local charity store.
  5. Host a party. Instead of shopping for a personalized and unique gift for everyone on your list, you can opt to host a holiday party instead! You can focus your time and energy on preparing a delicious meal and ask everyone to bring their favorite dessert for a mouthwatering pot-luck of treats.

If you’re a dedicated gifter who just wants to reduce the budget instead of shoestring it entirely, try the following ideas!

  1. Try the “four things” holiday gift. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is a great way to give gifts to the kids in the family so all bases are covered, while maintaining a frugal gift budget.
  2. Shop local. Buy from local crafters and shops instead of Amazon Priming everything* or shopping big box stores. Check your city’s calendar for local craft shows, which are all over the place leading up to the holidays!
  3. Shop handmade. ETSY ALL THE THINGS*.

*Some people have no reasonable options but to purchase from large sellers like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc., due to finances, schedule constraints, physical ability, etc. Your own mental and physical wellbeing is more important than shopping local or small.

Are you planning on a “less is more” holiday this year? Tell me your gifting plans!

PS. If you’re in the Cleveland, Ohio area, don’t miss your chance to buy tickets for the Jolobokaflod fundraiser for the nonprofit Reading Room CLE on December 21! The Reading Room promotes literacy in the Cleveland area through a nonprofit bookstore that supports educational and artistic programming.

Advertisements

Tattoos as self-care

Since leaving my marriage I have embodied just about every cliche imaginable. I changed my hair. I pierced my nose. And now, I have completed the Leaving a Traumatic Relationship trifecta: I got a tattoo.

I have long loved tattoos and had ideas about what I wanted indelibly etched into my body since my early teen years. Of course, mom said no and I had to wait until I was 18. I also had plans for a bunch of piercings too but still just have the single set of Claire’s style gun piercings (please do not do this) in my lobes I got when I was 20, plus the nose ring I got ten years later. For someone super into body modification, I was kind of a late bloomer. Also, my ex seemed to think he had some veto power over my body modifications so I kind of let it all slide and take a back burner since I didn’t want to have to fight about it.

My first tattoo was my birth name on my right ankle. I got it done right after my first wedding, because I was salty about being forced to change my name upon marriage. Forced is a harsh word choice, but after all my talk of keeping my name when I got married, my first husband pulled the “I actually really want you to change it” card with a month to go before the wedding and I didn’t realize “no” was an option. As I have now become estranged from both parents who gave me this last name and I’ve legally changed it to something completely new, I no longer feel attached to this tattoo and plan to cover it. My sister, who has a matching one, is also planning to cover hers.

My second tattoo was a celtic knot on my left arm, but I was scared of the pain and chose a size far too small for that part of my body. It looked absolutely ridiculous. My fourth tattoo was a lotus to cover this tattoo up. It is, thus far in the story, my largest tattoo.

My third tattoo was a matching tattoo with my now second ex-husband after we’d been dating for about a month. Luckily, it’s not something that you can tell is a matching tattoo by looking at it, but I still have plans to cover it up and reclaim it so I no longer think of him when I see it.

I, uh, had a habit of getting cheap tattoos. I never invested in the beautiful large pieces I admired on others. Investing in quality tattoo work was never something I allowed myself to do because it was so utterly indulgent. How could I reconcile spending so much money on something that does not add value or productivity? How could I justify this when I could pay half of somebody’s rent with the fee for a three-hour session under the needle?

I finally got over it and designed the most beautiful piece of art I have ever had placed on my person (so far). It’s a beautiful complement to my lotus, building on the existing tattoo and then circling around it in an array of different flowers.

Underneath the lotus are a zinnia, a dahlia, two violets, and a rose. Zinnia represents friendship, constancy, and lasting love – like the love I have for myself that I will always prioritize. Blue dahlias represent fresh starts and new beginnings. Violet is the birth flower of February, a tribute to my late stepfather who died as I was in the midst of my exit from an abusive marriage. Pink roses represent appreciation and gratitude – for myself and for those around me who helped support me.

Coming up and around the lotus are a larkspur and a Phalaenopsis orchid. Larkspur is the July birth flower, a tribute to my sister, and orchids represent proud femininity, new beginnings, and respect. Lotus, of course, represents growth from darkness. Each flower in this tattoo represents something precious and important to me, and it was a very healing experience to finally allow myself this act of self-care (albeit slightly painful self-care). I’ve been overjoyed by the sight of it in the mirror every time I see it, and I can’t wait to go back and get it finished.

Per commenter request, here are some photos:

Picking off the burnt bits

food-pot-kitchen-cooking

In November 2017, my ex-husband’s father died. I had never felt more married than I did at that time, supporting him from an ocean away and acting as his rock in one of the hardest times of his life. I cried with him when his father passed. My heart was broken for him, for my mother in law, for their family. When he came home again, we talked about how things would be a little different. He’d be processing and grieving. I invited him to come to therapy with me and speak to my therapist, and he agreed. She advised him to join a grief support group, and we both encouraged him to seek individual counseling with a therapist of his own.

He was fine, he said. He didn’t need therapy or a grief support group. So we went along with life, but the grief came out in its own way, as grief does.

One night, while cooking dinner, my ex stepped away from the stove to do something in the living room. Dinner burned slightly to the bottom of the pan, and he refused to eat it. He told me to go out and pick something up for myself because dinner was ruined. He went to bed immediately without eating anything. He was angry at the curry, at the pan, at whatever he could be mad at. The curry was fine and I ate it for dinner. It wasn’t ruined at all, but he wouldn’t listen to me say so.

I found myself talking to a friend about this, and she told me it was the grief. It would come out in moments of stress, especially since he wasn’t seeing anyone proactively to deal with it. She reminded me to stay the course, give him the space he needed, and to not do anything life changing in the first year after a loss — no talking about us moving, or my husband changing jobs, or anything. What we needed was a stable home base while he sorted his grief out.

One night he asked me if we were happy and if maybe we should split up. Where I would have previously panicked, wondered what I’d done wrong to make him think that, etc., I was calm. I said, “Do you want to get divorced?” And he said no. So I said okay, we wouldn’t be getting divorced. I told him we should take a year after his father’s death to settle back into normal before any big decisions got made.

He agreed. And yet, he still refused to see his own therapist or go to a support group or even talk to his friends about his father’s death. I was sinking under the weight of being the only one he felt he could talk to about it. I was his only emotional outlet. And eventually I told him I needed him to go and see a therapist because I could not be his only place to process. He seemed to understand, he apologized, and he called to make an appointment with a therapist — with my therapist. I was uncomfortable with this. She was my safe space, and I didn’t understand why he didn’t listen when I told him I wanted him to get a different therapist.

Fast forward to nearly a year later. We’re divorced. (“You couldn’t even give me six months,” he had said to me, referencing my “no life changes in the first year after a loss” guideline).

I’ve experienced two panic attacks in the intervening months, triggered by a new partner stumbling over the landmines in my psyche that I didn’t know were there. This partner sat with me, held me while I cried, shushed my promises that I’d get it together in just a minute, let the panic and anxiety flow through me and out of me while he sat in silence next to me, ready to give me whatever I needed.

What caused the panic? Once, he playfully suggested that I’d said something to test him and he had passed my test (Does he think I’m fake? That I’m not genuine? That I’m manipulating him?). Another time, we were having a discussion around feminist topics and the familiarity of having a “debate” with my partner triggered a panic because of how many times I’d been forced into debates with my ex, when he wouldn’t even let me go to sleep until I’d given him an answer he could accept to explain whatever improper conduct I’d subjected him to.

And then one night, my new boyfriend burned dinner. Smoke filled the kitchen and we both jumped into action opening windows. I went to the bedroom and got a box fan and directed the smoke out of the kitchen door to the chilly fall air outside. I even joked with him that it was all just extra flavor and it was clearly time to eat. I picked the burnt bits off and the rest was completely edible and tasted great.

It only occurred to me after the problem had been solved that months, even weeks ago, this would have been another trigger. Another echo of my previous life, another moment I had somehow been at fault for my partner not minding the stove. But it wasn’t. Everything was fine. No one was angry, or stressed, or upset. We ate dinner and had a lovely evening.

This is what life can be like.

This is what life can be like when someone else’s stress doesn’t make your stomach turn to ice, make your heart race, make your eyes sting with tears.

Sometimes you just pick the burnt bits off and enjoy the delicious remainder with good company.

 

An open letter to my abuser’s best friend

pexels-photo-959308In an age of believing survivors, and given how much of a feminist you are, this one really hurt. It hurt to lose you. I didn’t think I would lose you, but I am not sure why I expected things to go any differently. You’ve known him much longer than you’ve known me, and he was very careful to only confide in you when things could be my fault.

He never reached out to you when he struggled with my expectations around the house. Never said, “Do you think she’s being unreasonable?” when I asked him to handle something he told me was unreasonable. He could never risk you saying, “Uh, dude, she’s being totally reasonable.” I don’t think he ever came to you when the situation wasn’t about me upsetting him.

Whenever we had issues, he’d bring my friends into it. “You have your friends to talk to and I don’t have anyone.” I always told him that yes he did. He had you, he had other friends, he could get a therapist or come with me to mine. But he insisted he couldn’t talk to you about the things we struggled with. It struck me as odd but I didn’t realize until after I left and he started his storytelling that it was because he could not dare to confide in you a story in which he might be in the wrong. He must play the part of the victimized husband who bent over backwards to meet my whims and was tossed aside when I got bored.

I gave my twenties to that man. He preyed on me when I was 23, as close to “barely legal” as a 40 year old man could get. I believed every word of his fairy tales about how we were meant to be. How he had never felt this way. How neglected he was and how I made him feel things he never thought he could feel again. I stepped in as the savior, the second chance.

You told me when our marriage started to deteriorate that you’d never seen him so happy. It hurt me to read those words. Of course he was happy. I took care of his house and his cats and his laundry and his meals. He didn’t have to lift a finger. Of course he was happy — but did you know me enough to notice or care if I was? When he met you for breakfast, I’d drop him off so that I could go get the shopping done. When you two went out for a day of photography, I’d clean the house and catch up on laundry. Because there was no fair division of labor, my fun always had to come after my responsibilities — otherwise no one would do them. When I did go out with friends or for a morning on my own, I’d be in constant touch with him, letting him know when I’d be home, because I always felt that he owned my time. He’d tell me with words that he didn’t own my time, but his behavior when I didn’t want to sit and watch four hours of television a night was one of a petulant and pouting child not getting his way.

I saw you and your family making things work. You share cooking, pet care, cleaning, parenting. You share everything, and there is balance. I never had the sharing or the balance. He would not learn to use the Instant Pot or a cast iron skillet. He acted like he had achieved greatness when he made soup one time with my supervision. When he made dinner, I pre-chopped the vegetables for him and put frozen french fries in the toaster oven. Even when he made me dinner I still needed to be close, on hand, ready to take over. Once, he walked away from the stove and dinner burned slightly, and he threw a tantrum about how ruined it was and refused to eat. He went to bed immediately.

I was always on eggshells. Always stressed. Always one moment away from being triggered by his stumbling into my childhood traumas from my abusive mother and then left alone to cry on the kitchen floor when he asked if my panic attack was “about my mom issues.” He was not kind to me, unless people were watching. This is the key. You never, ever saw what it was like alone with him. With an audience, he was captivating, clever, charming. He said the funny things for me to post on Facebook. But when I wasn’t happy and charmed by him, he asked why I was so distant, demanded to know what was wrong. He never told me to smile like a catcaller on the street, but I had to smile anyway. Act happy or deal with the pouting.

When I saw you in September at an event and you asked me how I was, I was relieved that you even spoke to me. My face broke into a smile and I said I was great. In the moment I felt so happy to have seen you again. Someone who was my friend. And now, I worry that you thought I was gloating.

When I realized you had unfriended me on Facebook, tears welled up in my eyes. It shook me. I know you had talked about reducing your Facebook use, so I thought maybe you removed me for my own safety so I didn’t feel like you might be watching me. But you were gone on Instagram too, and you never replied to the text I sent wishing you well. It all hurt.

But you were his friend before you were my friend, and you never actually knew me. You knew the version of me from his head, the version that I destroyed with “toxic feminism” and expecting more of him. It is no coincidence that I left him three months after I started antidepressants. Once the fog cleared and I stopped being so afraid of HIM leaving ME for daring to ask him to take out the garbage, I realized he’d been steering my behavior all along. So I left. And then he started his story of being abused and manipulated by me, a flipping of the truth, and some people will always choose to believe the Nice Guy’s story. I can’t control that.

This letter has no purpose except to say that I miss you, and I value your friendship, and I do hope you are well.

I don’t expect you to believe me. But I’d love to see you again.

Seven life lessons from a Ragnar relay

pinkrunning-pink-running-new-442400I recently did a Ragnar Relay race at the end of September. If you’re not familiar, it’s two vans full of twelve runners (six per van) running about 200 miles over two days. You don’t sleep much. You don’t eat great. You run a lot and you get to know some people pretty intimately.

It was amazing.

And I came away with a few life lessons I hope to include in my new routine.

1. Pace yourself. In life and in racing, it’s important to pace yourself. Push and challenge yourself but don’t overdo it, especially if you are still early in the process. Big pushes are for finishing strong.

2. Make self care a given. When I packed for this race, I packed one bag for my running clothes and gear and a backpack with toiletries, first aid, and recovery gear. By making my recovery process part of the overall plan, I made sure to take good care of myself. When I’m not doing a race it’s so easy to let basic care (stretch, wear comfy clothes, massage sore muscles, eat a snack) go by the wayside. Amazingly, I wasn’t in absolute agony after the race. I was sore and tired, of course, but I was back to normal within a week (physically… the sleep deprivation took a little longer). Making self care a non-negotiable aspect of my life, I’ll recover from stress faster too.

3. Show up. Sometimes you just gotta show up. We got to our air bnb at 11pm to the sound of charming church bells in a drizzle that had just calmed down from torrential downpour territory. We clambered in, claimed our beds, took turns so all seven of us could use the bathroom, and were asleep around 11:30 before a 3am wake up call. Except the bells rang all night. Just when you thought they were done, you’d hear a “bongggggg!” We all got about three hours of sleep and woke up pissed at the bells. We arrived at our starting line before 4 and started the race at 5. We weren’t excited but we had to show up even though we didn’t feel our best.

4. Changing doesn’t mean failure. A third of the way through my first leg, a 6.3 miler with a wicked hill, the first nine legs of the race were canceled due to flash flooding and the race was rescheduled to start at leg 10 at 1pm. So at 7:12am, after I was finally heading downhill and felt excited to be really doing this, my van picked me up after only two miles and change. But I still count that leg as legitimate. That uphill climb was hardcore and I handled it! Even though I had to cut my goal short, it was still a success. I still showed up.

5. Ask for help. As we were running our legs, many of us texted the van to request water or a sweatshirt or a snack at the exchange point so we could quickly get what we needed. And the runners in the van always made sure to have these things ready to go. When we take care of each other and feel confident to ask for what we need, everyone does better.

6. Say yes to new experiences. First of all, I said yes to a Ragnar in the first place. But more specifically, I was dozing in the van when my boyfriend (our van driver) popped the door open and said “Caitlin get up. Come with me.” I groggily complained, “Whyyyyy,” and he replied with three very important words: “Baby moo cows.” I was up and moving already, “Baby cows!?” He took me through a barn at the dairy farm where our exchange point was and I got to pet calves in the middle of the night. By “middle of the night,” I mean it may have been 8pm or 2am, I seriously don’t remember. But I got up and said yes to something awesome.

7. Pack extra underwear. ALWAYS.

Now that my “race season” is over for the year, I’m not taking on any races longer than a 5K through 2019. My new “season” is one of low impact. Low impact exercise. Low impact schedule. Low impact social life. Low impact lifestyle. It is time to rest and recover.

4 Tips for Transitioning to a Vegan Lifestyle | Guest Blogger Jordan Smith

vegan

In honor of World Vegan Day (Nov 1, 2018), today’s blog is a guest post from Jordan Smith!

When you think about going vegan, dietary changes are probably the first things that come to mind. Veganism is about a whole lot more than just what you eat, though. For most people, transitioning to a vegan lifestyle also means choosing clothing, furniture and even cleaning products that are free of animal products and byproducts. It is a huge lifestyle change and making the switch can seem quite daunting.

If you are thinking about going vegan, though, don’t fret. By making small changes a little at a time, you can make the transition go a lot more smoothly. Here are a few tips.

Learn as Much as Possible

Going vegan is a huge step. It involves making changes in nearly every area of your life and choosing to do so is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Before you begin the transition, take the time to learn about veganism and its benefits to discover whether it is right for yourself and your family.

Educate yourself about the costs and practices of the traditional production of animal products. Familiarize yourself with the reasons people choose to go vegan and work toward developing your own reasons and beliefs.

If you decide that transitioning to a vegan lifestyle is right for you, do some research to learn how to adequately nourish your body on an exclusively plant-based diet. Familiarize yourself with common ingredients that are derived from animals to know what you will need to avoid. Browse the aisles at your local store to see what vegan-friendly products are available in your area. If you are unable to find the foods and products you need locally, spend some time browsing the web to find reliable sources.

The more you educate yourself before you make the switch, the easier the transition will be, so don’t skip this important step.

Start Transitioning at Your Own Pace

For some people, going vegan is easy. They stop using and consuming animal products all at once and they never look back. For others, however, it’s much more challenging. If you need to transition in steps, that is perfectly acceptable. There is nothing wrong with transitioning a little at a time and, if you do it at your own pace, you are more likely to be successful.

Even if you start off having just one vegan meal per week or you vow to only purchase clothing made with cotton fabrics or bamboo instead of animal products like wool or fur, you are making a step in the right direction. Don’t focus on the end goal of living a completely vegan lifestyle. Focus on small steps and commit to making the transition at your own pace.

Add Before You Subtract

Eliminating animal products from your diet is a good place to start your transition. Before you start taking things away, though, you need to start adding healthy alternatives. Start incorporating things like beans, nuts, whole grains, legumes, tofu and seeds into your diet more frequently. Figure out which flavors you like and which you don’t. Experiment with different recipes and familiarize yourself with the many ways vegan-friendly ingredients can be incorporated into your diet.

Replace your milk with a non-dairy alternative, such as soy milk or almond milk. For most people, this is a pretty easy switch to make, so it is a good first step. If you do not like the first option you try, try another. There are a lot of options, so while it may require a bit of experimentation, there should be something out there that you like.

Think Beyond Your Diet

There are huge ways to reduce your use of animal products that have nothing to do with what you eat. Changing your diet is a huge part of going vegan, but there are also several lifestyle changes you can make. You may already avoid real fur coats, but what about your handbag? Is it made of leather? Is your favorite sweater made from alpaca? If the answer is yes, you might also want to consider updating your wardrobe as part of transitioning to veganism.

When shopping for cruelty-free clothing, check tags carefully. Cotton tees are safe, of course, as are garments made from synthetic materials like polyester. Wool, leather and real fur are things you should obviously avoid, but one animal product that’s often overlooked is down. Made from the soft layer of feathers that grows close to a bird’s skin, down is frequently used in winter coats (plus comforters and pillows) but should be avoided by those who embrace veganism.

Pay attention to household and personal care products, too. Many beauty products contain things like beeswax, honey, lanolin, gelatin and collagen, all of which are animal products or derivatives. If you are going vegan, there are several animal-based ingredients you will want to avoid. These ingredients can be found in everything from cosmetics and cleansers to diapers and household cleaning products. Familiarize yourself with what ingredients these products are actually made from and make informed decisions when shopping to ensure that the products you choose are vegan-friendly.

In Conclusion

Going vegan is a huge lifestyle change. It isn’t one that needs to be made overnight, though. For most people, making small changes works better than trying to make the transition all at once. Start by familiarizing yourself with veganism and its benefits and make small changes that are easy to stick to. Rather than eliminating meat from your diet completely, commit to having one vegan meal per week and experimenting with vegan-friendly ingredients. Implement changes gradually and transition at your own pace.

If possible, talk to other people who are making the switch. Having the support of a community makes the transition much easier and can help you achieve success. Even if you struggle, remember that every step you take is a step in the right direction. There is no time limit on how to make a big lifestyle change and, whether it takes you a few weeks or several years, you will reach your goal if you persevere.


Jordan Smith is a full-time stay-at-home mother of 2 daughters and a new dog, Luna! She loves spending time with her family and coming up with creative new crafts for every occasion. As blogging is her second passion, she is a regular contributor to The Blog for all Things Wholesale Apparel. She also enjoys strolling the streets of downtown Charleston, South Carolina and all the amazing food her hometown has to offer. 

Creating new routines

pexels-photo-990830

When I got to work on yet another Monday morning and opened my bag to find the deconstructed tissue box that I had meant to throw in the recycling bin at home, I was not annoyed that I kept seeing the tissue box. I was delighted that I had continued to take my bag home and leave it unopened until I got to work the next day. I haven’t gotten on my laptop at home in weeks.

I turned in my book manuscript and I’m awaiting feedback from my publisher. I am sure there will be revisions, but until I hear back, I am enjoying getting to go home at night and relax. I’m unpacking and putting things up on the walls. I’m making my new home feel like home. I’m reading books (yes, books, printed books!) and taking bubble baths and spending time with people I care about. I’m thinking, “Hey, I haven’t heard from my brother in a while, I’m going to send him a text and schedule a phone call.”

I am working on designing a life and schedule that allows me to do my writing on the weekends, so I don’t need to go home from a full day of my face in a screen and continue having my face in a screen until bedtime. The benefits of this schedule shift are innumerable.

I am better rested.

I am rising earlier and exercising in the morning, which is when I like to exercise.

I am relaxing in the evenings so that I don’t feel like my life is rushing from one thing to the next.

I am, as they say, filling my own cup.

People do well with routine. Routines and habits can be very healthful…or not so much. Now that my deadlines are over (mostly), I’m leaning into creating routines and habits that decrease stress. I used to layer commitments over obligations over responsibilities and I’d end up frazzled, tired, and absolutely depleted, promising myself that this would be the last weekend for a while that I had to do so much. Now, I am working on saying no, even to things that I know would be fun or feel good in the moment. I have to think about how I’ll feel afterward, which is not something I used to think about.

As it turns out, I am a pretty social person (something my ex had trained out of me). When my sister came to visit just a couple of months after I moved out, she met the new people in my life and expressed to me how excited and impressed she was that I had met people and made new friends. She had thought I hated socializing, didn’t like people, and enjoyed my solitude. Make no mistake, I do enjoy my solitude, but I also love to be around people. This is something I didn’t even realize about myself. I am a hardcore introvert who needs to go home and build a cocoon after social events, but I enjoy myself immensely when I’m in the midst of good times with friends.

Rebuilding after leaving abuse is weird. The things you thought you knew about yourself are often not true at all. After a traumatic childhood and a mentally abusive seven year relationship, I am meeting myself for the very first time. And I like myself. I really like myself. I like the version of me that considers herself and her needs for rest. I like the version of me that sees the smile and the brightness before worrying about the thighs and tummy. I like the version of me who no longer chases approval to feel valuable.

So, yeah, I’m really happy about that un-recycled tissue box that means I go home at night and enjoy my life and my free time. Really, really happy.