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...

My 2018 *Business* Focuses Revealed

Recently I posted about how I chose 3 creative focuses at the beginning of the year, and they created the path for my downtime, my creative time, my classes taken, etc. I briefly referenced my business focuses, but I didn't go into any detail, until a sweet friend of mine privately messaged me and asked why I didn't mention what they were. So, if you're also wanting to know what I'm up to on the business end of things, this is the post for you!

Last week I posted about how I chose 3 creative focuses at the beginning of the year, and they created the path for my downtime, my creative time, my classes taken, etc. In that post, I noted that I’m doing it again next year, and I want you along for the ride!

I briefly referenced my business focuses, but I didn’t go into any detail, until a sweet friend of mine privately messaged me and asked why I didn’t mention what they were. Really, it was 2 reasons.

#1. I was afraid I’d already rambled on long enough as it was. 😀

#2. I wasn’t sure they’d be interesting.

So, if you’re also wanting to know what I’m up to on the business end of things, this is the post for you!

1. Pinterest

One of my favorite things about working as a VA, was social media work. But not all social media work. Two social media platforms are my favorites by far… Pinterest is one of them. I’m in a few Pinterest classes right now, but I haven’t made my way through them, and I haven’t started implementing any of it yet. I’ve seen people talk about most of their traffic coming from Pinterest, and I’d love to learn how that happens.

2. Instagram

I know, you were ready for me to say Facebook right? Juuuuust kidding. I like Facebook, but I don’t “love” Facebook. Same with Twitter. But I love Instagram. The photos, the stories, the lives…. I absolutely adore every section of this platform. But my business changing means that I’m feeling my way into a new look, and I want to solidify that, and really create a community on there.

3. Video

I don’t do video very often… but every time I make a foray into it, I enjoy it so much, and I get a great response. I’m not sure if it’s because my enthusiasm really comes through on video, or if it’s because my snark is more obvious when it’s not written. Ha! Either way, I plan to do a lot more of video in 2018… pre-recorded and live. I also plan to do more on YouTube. Right now I’m in the process of creating new channels, to go with the new brand, and I’m deciding…. should I have one channel for book tube, and another channel for creative things… or blend it all under one channel?

I’m kind of leaning towards all under one channel, and just pretend that I’m a superstar and everything’s in one place under my name, but I’d love your opinion!

Do you think I should have one YouTube channel, or separate channels for different topics? And, what are *your* business focuses next year?
Recently I posted about how I chose 3 creative focuses at the beginning of the year, and they created the path for my downtime, my creative time, my classes taken, etc. I briefly referenced my business focuses, but I didn't go into any detail, until a sweet friend of mine privately messaged me and asked why I didn't mention what they were. So, if you're also wanting to know what I'm up to on the business end of things, this is the post for you!

Join Me In 2018: Together We’ll Make The New Year Our Most Fulfilling One Yet

Together We'll Make The New Year Our Most FulFilling One Yet

Almost 2 years ago, I tried hand lettering. I’d done calligraphy before, so I was confident that I’d really enjoy brush lettering. But I sucked… when I say that I sucked, I should take a moment to clarify that I’m not the sort of person who needs consoled with a popsicle. I’m not being down on myself, or having a comparison pity party… it was just ragged.

But that’s not shocking, because I’d never used a brush pen before. As it turns out, I didn’t have the muscle control to move it fluidly yet, and I was using the wrong paper, so I was tearing up my pen too. But, based on that one half-crap attempt, I decided that it was proof I just wasn’t cut out for brush lettering.

Makes sense right? I tried it, I stunk, case closed. Boy, am I glad my parents didn’t have that attitude about me when I was born! “Well, she tried to stand, and she fell….. what a failure!”

Well now you’re just being silly Amanda! Yup. Sure am… and I was being silly when I bailed on a potential new skill, because I wasn’t mind-blowing on my first attempt.

So at the beginning of this year, I chose 3 skills to learn through the year: Doodling, hand lettering, and watercoloring. Why 3? I just can’t handle only picking one skill… and 3 sounded like a good number.

Why limit myself at all? I could give you some very schmancy responses about how historically limitations have prompted some of the most long lasting things like Picasso’s blue period, or Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, which arose from a challenge to write a book in 50 words or less.

I “could” give you that answer, but honestly it’s because I suffer from a crippling condition… FOMO. Yes ladies, get well cards can be sent to me at… okay seriously though… Fear Of Missing Out. It kills me to miss out on things, and I want to take *flinging confetti* all-the-classes!!! So I limited myself to 3 areas, so that if I saw a class and I really wanted to take, I could analyze it in the scope of those 3 skills, and determine if the class was a good fit.

And it worked.

I started off the year by creating a Pinterest board for 2017, and I dumped anything I could find… books, YouTube tutorials, blog posts, tools, classes… just to get my brain going.

I chose these 3 things on a whim. My whims are few and far between, so I usually follow them when they come along. I’m not a capricious person by nature. But this was definitely a whim. And I ran with it as hard as I could. What I didn’t realize, is that it would change everything. *dunh dunh da dunhhhhhh*

Phillip would come home, to a bed covered in lettering drills. Because once I started learning how to properly do it, I loved it. And I would do page after page of drills… waves, swirls, v’s, m’s, n’s, circles… anything to learn the motions and build that muscle control.

Slowly, I added in watercolors, and to my surprise I fell in love with that too. You see, what all 3 things had in common, was that I’d previously tried them, and decided they must not be “my” thing. Lettering was rough looking, watercoloring was difficult to control (and I love control), and doodling was too whimsical for me.

But slowly, all of them grew on me. And as I learned them, my art became more unique, and more interesting. Meanwhile, my writing on my blog was getting harder and harder. I had a chat with a friend about it one evening, and she said “is it possible, that you’re struggling because you’re writing about what you think people want you to write about, instead of what really excites you?”

Uhm. Yes. More than possible.

So basically over the weekend, everything changed. I updated my domain, my graphics, and everything… I had one more hiccup… turns out not everyone knows what a curmudgeon is ;), but I rallied and here I am.

Here I am, and it’s one year since I made that decision… and now I’m doing it again. Last year, it was a secret… only a handful of people had any clue what I was doing… my own personal safety net in case I got bored. But this time, I’m going public with it for a very special reason.

I want you to join me.

Don’t worry, I’m not pointing my finger at you like Uncle Sam, and I won’t draft you, or voluntell you. This is completely up to you, but the things is… a drive by yourself is nice, but a road trip with friends is fun! Are you game? Awesome!

Join me and @amandasuehowell in choosing 3 creative skills to grow in 2018! Click To Tweet

Here’s how this works… you’ll pick 3 things. I’m picking 3 for personal, and 3 for business… that doesn’t mean that the personal won’t end up in my business, but for now, these are just being learned and explored. Anyway, you’ll pick 3 things, and revolve your world around them. Let them create a laser focus for the classes you take next year, the tutorials you watch, your tax time splurges… all of it.

At the end of each month, I’ll do an update post, and I’ll share what I’ve been up to (although odds are, you’ll see glimpses on my Instagram, and possibly YouTube), and what classes I’ve been taking… what skill got the majority of my attention that month, and what my progress is.

I totally want to hear from you in the comments of those posts… link to your own update post if you choose to go that route! Share an Instagram photo that shows what you’ve created so far! Update us with what class you loved the most… invite us into your world.

Without further ado, here are my 3 personal focuses for 2018:

Acrylic painting – I explored watercolors this year, so next year I’m playing in a different medium.
Makeup – I have always adored makeup, and I’d love to really learn some new fun looks, and learn how to do them quickly… I’m just not a 4 hour contour kinda girl.
Music – Another longstanding interest of mine… I’ve been dying to learn how to play several instruments, and really sharpen up my singing.

Now it’s your turn! What focuses are you choosing for 2018? Will you be making a Pinterest board too?

Here’s how this works… you’ll pick 3 things. I’m picking 3 for personal, and 3 for business… that doesn’t mean that the personal won’t end up in my business, but for now, these are just being learned and explored. Anyway, you’ll pick 3 things, and revolve your world around them. Let them create a laser focus for the classes you take next year, the tutorials you watch, your tax time splurges… all of it.

Top 10 Yummy Foods Mentioned In Books

Top 10 Yummy Foods Mentioned In Books | When I was a kid, I was enchanted by the descriptions of Turkish Delight in "The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe"...

When I was a kid, I remember reading The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe and thinking that Turkish delight must be the most delectable thing in the whole wide world. I picked some up later from one of those stories that has an ever changing assortment of gourmet goodies, and I was distraught at it’s cloying perfuminess.

Don’t get me wrong… I knew that the original version has rosewater.. that wasn’t news to me. But I drink tea with rosehips, hibiscus, and other floral elements. This was awful though… chemically awful. Perhaps because it was store-bought. I’d love to get some made from a lovely Middle Eastern couple, along with some baklava in case the Turkish Delight still lets me down.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 delicious foods from books. (Fun fact, my 2 year old says “dee-wish-us” and it’s the cutest thing ever.)

1. Oooey Gooey Melty Cheese – Heidi

“When the kettle was boiling, the old man put a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork, and held it over the fire, turning it to and fro, till it was golden-brown on all sides.”

Upon some research, I discovered that many people believe this is referencing raclette. It’s a (usually) cows milk Swiss cheese, although likely his was made of goat’s milk. He browns it on all sides, which makes it soft and spreadable like butter, which they then spread on bread. Oh. My. Yes.

2. Roasted Eggs – The Secret Garden

“Dickon made the stimulating discovery that in the wood in the park outside the garden where Mary had first found him piping to the wild creatures there was a deep little hollow where you could build a sort of tiny oven with stones and roast potatoes and eggs in it.”

I’ve had eggs just about every which-way, but roasted. I’ve seen a lot of people mention that they are insanely delicious though, so I’ll have to give them a try sometime!

3. Lembas – Lord of the Rings

“Eat little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall men of Minas Tirith.”

Lembas is an Elvish bread… delicious, nutritious, and stays fresh for months. Perfect! And a little goes a long way… unless you’re a hobbit (which probably applies to growing boys too).

4. Toffee/Toffee Dates – Chronicles of Narnia

“The fruit was delicious; not exactly like toffee – softer for one thing, and juicy – but like fruit which reminded one of toffee.”

Diggory and Polly bury a toffee candy in Narnia, and overnight it springs up into a tree bearing dates with a taste reminiscent of toffee. If I thought that it worked in our world, I would bury sooooo many toffees.

5. Cox’s Orange Pippin – Danny the Champion of the World

“I’ve brought an apple for each of us,’ he added, fishing into one of his pockets.
‘A Cox’s Orange Pippin,’ I said, smiling. ‘Thank you very much.’
We sat there munching away.
‘One of the nice things about a Cox’s Orange Pippin’, my father said, ‘is that the pips rattle when it’s ripe. Shake it and you can hear them rattling.’ ”

Being in the States, I’d never heard of this varietal, so I was under the assumption that it was made up for the book. Imagine my delight as an adult, when I discovered it exists… but in the UK… womp womp. I’ve seen references to it having hints of cherry & anise flavors, so I’m totally intrigued!

6. Chocolate – Chocolat

“The air is hot and rich with the scent of chocolate. Quite unlike the white powdery chocolate I knew as a boy, this has a throaty richness like the perfumed beans from the coffee stall on the market, a redolence of amaretto and tiramisù, a smoky, burned flavor that enters my mouth somehow and makes it water. There is a silver jug of the stuff on the counter, from which a vapor rises. I recall that I have not breakfasted this morning.”

Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book yet, but I did see the movie. Her chocolates have a magical, medicinal quality, healing anything that ails you, and mending broken communities.

I’m not much for chocolate, but I’ve always heard that high quality chocolate is nothing like picking up a Hershey’s bar. When we were going to move to Asheville, I was looking forward to visiting the French Broad Chocolate. It’s a bean-to-bar venue, which means it would be like nothing I’ve ever tried.

I didn’t end up moving to Asheville, but I’m perhaps 5ish hours away? Or maybe there’s a chocolaterie here in Richmond. 🙂

7. Paprika Hendl – Dracula

“I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem. get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.”

Chicken, pasta, paprika… I’m in. 🙂

8. Snow Candy – Little House in the Big Woods

“Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with a big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow.  It cooled into a soft candy, and as fast as it cooled they ate it.”

I have a dream of someday visiting Vermont during maple season, and partaking in this experience… I kinda want a cabin in Vermont, or Connecticut, or New Hampshire anyway… this is just one of the many reasons why.

9. Marmalade – Paddington books

“Seagulls don’t know everything … I always keep a marmalade sandwich under my hat, just in case!”

I absolutely adored the Paddington books when I was a kid (and no I haven’t seen the movie, so don’t ask my opinion)… everything was so wonderfully described, from his wellingtons, to his duffle coat & toggles, to his yellow mackintosh.

But the obsession with orange marmalade always amused me. Bears were always depicted with honey, so the marmalade was a funny departure. I’ve had orange marmalade many a time, and every time I do, I think of a very polite spectacled bear.

10. Johnnycakes – Unknown

Alright. I can’t give a quote, because I don’t even remember what book I read about these in. Johnnycakes are kind of like pancakes, but with cornmeal… they’re really good with butter and a bit of molasses. I very clearly remember reading a book when I was a kid, talking about making Johnny cakes over a fire, but I’ll be darned if I can remember what book. I just remember that it left an impression on me, and I couldn’t wait to try them when I was an adult. (And they’re dee-wish-us.)

Alright what about you? What are your favorite edibles from literature?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

Inktober: Super Cute Octopus

Every year I look at Inktober, and every year I forget about it before it starts. But this year, Amanda Kammarada mentioned that she was thinking about doing it. So I messaged her, and said “hey! I’ve been eyeballing Inktober too… let’s do it!” She messaged me back, and an accountability partner was created!

Some participants are just following the basic premise of an ink drawing a day, but I decided to follow the prompts given. I knew following the prompts would push me to draw things I normally wouldn’t think of.

On the 4th, the prompt was Underwater. Now I’ll be darned, if I didn’t have a song from a bajillion seasons ago on America’s Next Top Model pop into my head. But that’s not drawable.

I wasn’t in the mood for fish, or coral…. sunken treasure wasn’t floating my boat… nor was a sunken ship (haha). Finally I settled on the idea of an octopus. To my own surprise, he turned out pretty freaking adorable.

Olly the Octopus - Had I not given Inktober a try, I'd never know that I have the ability to draw an octopus!

When I posted him on Instagram, someone in the comments said they wished they could draw like that. But here’s the thing…. *stage whisper* I didn’t know I could. If I’d never decided to do Inktober… if I’d never decided to push myself… if I never started asking myself “what if” or “how can I”… I wouldn’t know I could draw an octopus either.

Have you ever tried something new, and found out you really loved it? Tell me about it in the comments below!

We’re Turning Into Vampires

We're Turning Into Vampires

It’s a recurring theme in vampire lore… or any paranormal lore, really. Eventually the creature has been a monster for so long, that they’ve forgotten their humanity.

Time and tide wait for no man, and they wait even less for vampires and werewolves. The new vampires still have tinges of their personalities… they feel guilt over bloodshed, and struggle with who they’ve become. The elder vampires no longer bat an eye. What was once survival has become a game… or worse, apathy.

Congratulations people of the world… we’ve entered the era of apathy. Cold and calculating monsters behind our computer screens, we feel secure in our belief that there are no longer consequences for our actions or our words.

In the US especially you hear the cry of “freedom of speech”. True. Absolutely 100% true… we have the freedom of speech, not freedom of consequences. We saw this a few days ago, when in the middle of a national tragedy, the vice-president of CBS posted on social media that she wasn’t sorry for the victims because odds are (being a country music event) that they were Republicans anyway.

There was immediate backlash, and she was terminated by CBS. But in the midst of thousands of angry people, were several hundred voicing similar opinions, but with the caveat that she shouldn’t have said such a thing publicly.

Apparently, to “civilized people” it’s okay to say completely horrific things, so long as they’re in a private setting.  The problem is, what’s in your heart will eventually come to light.

I’ve seen women suggesting that another woman should be raped, because they disagree with her policies. There’s not an appropriate reason for anyone to be raped ever. Period. I don’t give one single damn how you spin it, it’s never okay.

I’ve seen people expressing horror that lynchings ever occurred, and immediately follow it up with “the only people who should be lynched are Trump voters”. No. No, no, no. Lynching is either okay, or it’s not. There’s no situation where you can justify lynching someone.

Do you know how many times a week I see someone write “f*&! off and die”? or “Just go kill yourself!” We mourn suicide when it’s an actor or singer we loved, but wield these ugly words because some stranger pissed us off in a comment thread.

The problem isn’t Trump.

The problem isn’t Obama.

The problem isn’t Hillary, or Romney, or Cruz, or McCain, or Russia, or GMOs, or gluten intolerance.

The problem, is that we’ve forgotten how to be humans. We’ve forgotten how to look out for our fellow man. We’ve forgotten that on the other side of that cold glass screen, is another living, breathing human being, who may be incredibly wounded by your flippant remark. Tomorrow, you won’t remember that you said they should be raped or killed. And maybe you won’t lose your job over it, because maybe your anonymity will protect you.

But it doesn’t protect your heart. It doesn’t protect their heart. It doesn’t fix the world your kids are growing up in. And it won’t make you a human again.