Self Care

8 Ways To Keep Your Holidays Simple

As we get closer to Christmas, it's easy to let the madness & chaos of the season get to us. Traffic is crazier, shoppers are crazier, and there are the in-laws...

As I’m writing this, it’s 4 days until Christmas, and my heart feels anything but peaceful. In the last 24 hours… My kids discovered a hole in one of the couch cushions and used it to pull part of the fluff out. In-laws have made extensive requests for our time next week. And we’re monitoring the weather to see if we’ll be hit by in Arctic front swooping down from the North. I need this post just as much as anyone else. <3

It’s nearly Christmas. And if you’re feeling more like Mr. Ooogie-Boogie than Buddy the Elf, it might because you’ve got a little too much going on. And you’re not alone… this time of year is insane… so get back in the holiday spirit, grab yourself a mug of mulled cider, turn on some sweet Pentatonix tunes, and read a few of my favorite ways to keep everything simple.

1. Be intentionally peaceful

It’s the annual month of irony… angelic voices singing peace on earth, while we run around like crazy people. Peace on earth… unless the gifts have been backordered. Peace on earth… unless the kids are acting like lunatics kids. Peace on earth… until we head to the in-laws. Peace on earth… for everyone but us.

Stop. Breathe. Remember the Reason for the Season. Remember that you were a crazy kid at Christmas too. Remember that your in-laws mean well. And as far as the backordered gifts… we teach kids how they should respond to these things. Backordered gifts don’t phase my kids at all, because we just tell them (in a really excited voice) that Christmas got an extension!!! And we use it as an excuse to extend the Christmas movies/music/fun just a little longer.

2. Don’t overwhelm yourself with 20,000 of every thing

Your kids/husband/inlaws/nieces do not need 35 gifts a piece. You don’t have to send cards to all 1257 people on your Facebook friends list. And you don’t have to bake every kind of cookie that your mom, grandma, great-grandma, mother-in-law, and grandma-in-law ever made.

Don't overwhelm yourself! Your kids/husband/inlaws/nieces do not need 35 gifts a piece. Click To Tweet
3. Enjoy things that are unique to this time of year

Maybe you can’t stop and smell the roses, but you can appreciate other things. Admire the coziness of a grey winter day, and take advantage of the opportunity to cuddle under a blanket with your babies. Enjoy the fairy lights twinkling. Enjoy the Christmas muzak in the stores.

Enjoy treats that are specific to this time of year… for example, my family enjoys “whistling oranges”. You take an orange, roll it around on the counter a bit to prep it (it releases the juices, like when you’re going to make lemonade), and cut a small x into the peel. Then you grab a soft peppermint stick (like these)* and you bite off the end (or cut it if you’re giving these to someone who won’t appreciate your cooties), and stick that end into the x and push the peppermint in. Then suck on it until the orange starts coming up through the little holes.

Yes I know it sounds weird, but I promise it’s delicious!

4. Call family that you won’t be seeing

It’s rarely possible to see your entire family at once, and the bigger your family is, the harder that gets. Don’t beat yourself up, or try to achieve the impossible… technology has made this so much easier. Call them or FaceTime them! Let your kids say hello too!

5. Choose your own path

Make Christmas yours… if you’re not a fan of the traditional turkey/ham… don’t do it. Obviously if you’re one of my vegan friends, you already know that. But seriously… I know people who eat Chinese on Christmas… several people actually… I’m not sure how that got started. One of my friends will be having an Italian feast this year, and I think that’s fabulous.

6. Focus on experiences over gifts

We started doing this for birthdays somewhat… basically my husband and I had a conversation about how we would handle birthdays/Christmas, if we were well off. If we have the money to handle our children’s every need, and many of their wants… what do you do for birthdays/Christmas?

And the answer we landed on, was making them about experiences rather than gifts. So one year, we hauled everyone to the theater (no small feat with my crew) and we saw a matinee showing of Cinderella… the live action one. My daughter was thrilled… and it’s one of her most memorable birthdays too.

This doesn’t mean you have to go somewhere on Christmas Day, but you can also set the stage for the next year. Buy season passes to Six Flags, or put money on a trip to Disney.

Focus on experiences over gifts. Museums, plays, road trips.... these are the things your kids will remember when they're older. Click To Tweet
7. Let your kids decorate the tree (yes really)

If you’re a mom, you’re probably cringing right now. Believe me, I totally get it. 100%. Letting them decorate the tree is tough, especially if you’re OCDish, or a control freak.

However, there’s a greater good at work here. What are your priorities? Making your kids feel invested in the family holiday, or having a magazine-worthy tree? <3

8. Focus on thankfulness

You know what kills me when I watch Harry Potter? The Dursley brat kid’s birthday. He literally counts his gifts, to compare to the amount he counted last year. Uhm, nope. Nope. Nooooooope.

I ain’t raising no Durlsey kid. My kids are being raised to be grateful for what they have, and what they receive. It doesn’t just go for the kiddos though. Gratitude is something that I come back to, a lot.

I know so many people who talk about being broke… and I’m guilty of this too. But really, I’m not. I have a home, my lights are on, I’m not on welfare… I have been. I’ve been super broke. Horribly, “omg how will I buy groceries and my cupboard is barer than Mother Hubbard’s” broke.

But I’m not there right now. So when I start feeling like everything sucks, and this Christmas will be a disaster, because we’re unpacking, or we don’t have enough decorations, or a bill came in… whatever it is, I return my focus to the things I do have. Because that’s where gratitude comes in.

How are you intentionally making this season more peaceful? And, what are you thankful for?

I know, believe me, I know! If you're OCD-ish, or a control freak, avert your eyes... or attempt gentle guidance like "oh look... that spot looks lonely!"
As we get closer to Christmas, it's easy to let the madness & chaos of the season get to us. Traffic is crazier, shoppers are crazier, and there are the in-laws...

How High Maintenance Are You?

In the last few years, we've begun to abandon self-care under the notion that it's "high maintenance". But is it really?

Every once in a while, this particular post goes around Facebook. In typical Internet fashion, it turns the question into a quiz. “Are you High Maintenance?” it asks… and proceeds to offer a list of items that qualify one as being high maintenance, along with randomly chosen points to assign yourself, to determine your high-maintenance quotient.

Every time it comes around, I see my feed flooded with 2 very extreme responses. Those who raise their hands to scream how they only scored 3… or 0. And the others who with a casual flip of their well-coiffed hair, announce that they are obvi high maintenance, because they know they’re a queen to their man. And b-t-dubs, if your man was worth it, he’d pony up for your nails too.

Ladies please. Can we find some balance? There is something in between leaving an unnecessarily extravagant life (let me clarify… I’m not anti wealth, I’m anti living outside of one’s means for the purpose of show), and refusing to buy anything but single-ply toilet paper. (Don’t do it ladies… your butt deserves better!) Spending money for the sake of a label doesn’t make you better, and refusing to spend any money or time on yourself doesn’t make you better either.

Cue rant…

Can you tell this really bugs me? When it popped up in my feed again, I was ranting to my husband about it, and he laughingly said “tell me how you really feel!” and I said “I should write a blog post!” and here we are. #yourwelcome

Not taking care of yourself is NOT a badge of honor! Click To Tweet

What are your feelings on this? Have you ever been called high-maintenance? Do you take any time for yourself?

The Undervaluing of Artisans

I always hesitate when telling someone that I’m going to do a rant post. In the back of my mind I feel like they think I’m about to launch into a Peter Griffin style “you know what really grinds my gears” type rant. So at the risk of someone thinking I’m a Family Guy fan (which I’m not), you know what really grinds my gears? Our culture’s undervaluing of artisans and creatives.

Undervaluing of Artisans | Amanda Sue Howell |

Once upon a time artists were appreciated. In medieval times, parents took their children to be apprenticed to artisans & craftsmen, because “masters” of the craft often had a higher social standing in their community.


Because only the wealthy could afford such luxuries, and the more skilled someone was, the more desirable their goods were. You could end up making things for a wealthy landowner, or a lord of the court, or even a king.

So artisans were prized. Valued. Appreciated.

Fast forward to today. Now we have companies selling shirts that say “Aspiring Young Artist President”, as if being a politician is somehow a worthier plan than pursuing your God-given creative giftings.

We have people commenting on people’s social media posts, to inform them how unimpressed they are with their college degree, because “you only have a lib arts degree”. Firstly, everyone goes through the same core stuff. Secondly, you have no idea what they minored in (or if they double majored). Thirdly, why is a liberal arts degree a thing to be demeaned?


How can we fix this?

First, we need to stop putting creativity/artistry into a box. For some reason, people say things like “I’m not creative… I don’t paint”, or “I’m not creative, I can’t draw a stick figure”. Let’s take a second and look at some of the things that fall under the artistic umbrella…

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Photography
  • Woodworking
  • Sewing
  • Embroidery
  • Knitting
  • Crocheting
  • Tatting
  • Macrame
  • Beadwork
  • Smithing
  • Gardening
  • Pottery
  • Baking
  • Cooking
  • Brewing
  • Candlemaking
  • Carving
  • Glass blowing
  • Calligraphy
  • Quilting
  • Leatherwork
  • Pyrography
  • Scale modeling
  • Decoupage
  • Collage
  • Scrapbooking
  • Rubber stamping
  • Origrami
  • Quilling (also called paper filigree)
  • Writing
  • Videography
  • Graphic design
  • Comedy
  • Singing

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. You’re seriously telling me that you can’t do any of those? Maybe, but could you learn even one? Yes. I know right now you’re thinking “but Amanda, some of those are learned skills… glass blowing? You can’t just jump up and do it!”

True. That’s the point. Any of these can be learned. No one wakes up knowing how to do quilting. Are some people more bent towards a certain skill? Maybe. I think it could be argued that some people are more persistent in pursuing certain skills.

Secondly, practice is an astonishing thing. Back a year or two ago I read an article in Huffington Post about the value of practice. The differences people made in 6 months, or a year were amazing. And yes, the people who have put in decades of practice are putting out seriously incredible work, but everyone starts somewhere.

Thirdly, stop defining your skills by someone else’s creations. If Picasso had tried to paint like Monet, the world wouldn’t know his name. Many artists struggle with feeling appreciated… over the years the world has lost many bright stars because they didn’t realize how needed they truly were. And the tragedy is that they never truly learned to appreciate their own work.


It’s become almost a rite of passage for being a creative.

I hear it all the time…. “Oh I just hate my own work… you know how it is, you’re an artist”. Why do we feel like it’s mandatory to dislike our own work? Are we trying to achieve perfection? Are we afraid of being called out for cockiness? Whatever it is, our own inability to be own our own best salesperson has caused a culture where no one understands how precious creativity is.

So here’s my plea… stop saying you’re not creative. I guarantee that you are. And if you can’t figure out how you’re creative, you can email me, and I’ll help you out.