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Enjoying Stress-Free Holidays

by | Nov 30, 2022 | Gifts, Household Management, Podcast, Thrive

This time of year can conjure up stressful feelings for many, so how can we all enjoy stress-free holidays? Here are some of our tried and true tips to help…

Five gift boxes wrapped for Christmas with bows and greenery.

Generational Differences

The more conversations I have with people who are in their early to mid-40s and younger, I’m finding that many of them have horrible memories associated with the holidays.

Lots of stress, way too much scrambling and even family tension. Because of this, more and more people feel like they don’t want anything to do with the holiday season. And I can’t blame them!

But perhaps our focus is on the wrong thing! There are ways to enjoy this holiday season without feeling overwhelmed or stressed out. There are ways to incorporate fun holiday traditions that the whole family will look forward to.

Maybe the thing that’s been missing is the right perspective!

Ways to Enjoy Stress Free Holidays

  • Ask Why – Before putting all the pressure on yourself to live up to these immaculate holidays that we see on social media, Pinterest, or in magazines, ask yourself, “What’s the point?” Knowing why you’re doing something can sometimes give you the right perspective to find enjoyment, or it can let you off the hook and you may realize some of the things you’re doing aren’t necessary at all.
  • There’s Always Another Thing – When you start filling your calendar with all the holiday events, you’ll soon realize that there’s always another thing. There’s usually no end in sight until after the New Year. So choose the most important to you and your family, and be OK with saying no to the rest.
  • Come Back to the Heart of Christmas – For our family, the heart of Christmas and why we celebrate this time of year is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. When you keep Christ at the center of all the holiday traditions, this will help put into perspective those activities that might not fit.
  • Think Outside the Box – When it comes to giving Christmas gifts, think outside the box! Not everyone who has affected your life this year needs a gift. How about making a handmade card with a nice note of thanks? You could also have a large cookie-making day and put together plates of cookies for those in your life. But please, don’t go broke or spend upwards of $200 on Christmas cards just because you feel like you need to give something to everyone. Make an inexpensive DIY Christmas wreath, or check out this post if you’re looking for more homemade Christmas gift ideas.
  • Say No to the Sugar – There’s nothing wrong with indulging with some sugar a few times during the holidays. But it becomes pretty easy to justify this time of year to overindulge and end up not feeling well after a month of too many treats. Not only will you gain weight and inhibit your immune system, but you’ll actually create stress in your body, adding to the chaos of the holidays. If you’re looking for a low-sugar treat, try these homemade chocolate covered coconut truffles.
  • Draw Names If you have a lot of people in your family, consider drawing names and purchasing a gift for just one person (some people called this “Secret Santa”). This will reduce the number of gifts you’re buying for people, and you may even find gift-giving to be more enjoyable. We always have a set budget that each person can spend, and this year we layered in a new tip where each person writes down three things they’d like to receive. This helps the giver have some ideas if they get stuck, also eliminating stress of buying the “perfect gift.” For more ideas, check out our homesteader’s Christmas gift guide.
  • Do Stockings – If you’re a mom who is feeling like you want to do something special for each of your children, you may want to consider getting stockings. This is a way for us to give each of our children something we know they’ve wanted. They’re never very expensive, but they’re fun little things they’ll use throughout the year.
    • In our house these are items like rechargeable batteries, keychain flashlights, little army men or toy cars, and the one thing everyone looks forward to is we always put one piece of tropical fruit in each stocking! It’s something special for our kids and everyone loves it.
  • Don’t Put Pressure On Yourself – During the holidays, kids and adults tend to have time off. Don’t let this equate to added pressure on yourself to make each meal special. This isn’t necessary. In fact, you don’t always need to be the one cooking! If you’re expecting guests, ask them to bring their favorite holiday side dish. Put an age-appropriate child in charge of cooking the green beans, and make some easy make-ahead breakfast casseroles to help keep those mornings calm and stress-free.
  • Bring People In – It’s always important to remember there are people in your community who are alone this time of year. Consider opening up your doors and inviting these people into your home to enjoy a stress free holiday right alongside you.
DIY cookie mix in a jar with festive wrapping.

Josh: Hey you guys, this is Josh-

Carolyn: And Carolyn.

Josh: ... with Homesteading Family, and welcome to this week's episode of the pantry chat, food for thought.

Carolyn: This week we're going to be talking about how to keep the holiday season sane, and we're back here laughing because at this moment our house does not feel sane, and we feel very unqualified to be talking about this right now.

Josh: We have no clue, so...

Carolyn: So, this is an exploratory discussion, right? No, we're having a big pie making day upstairs with a lot of young ladies enjoying themselves, making pies, and they're right overhead.

Josh: Which is great, it is good holiday cheer, but along with that there's all kinds of other things; we got four inches of snow last night, and things have to be plowed-

Carolyn: And you're not exactly dressed the way you're normally dressed.

Josh: Well, you can see what I thought I was going to be doing this morning. I didn't even realize we were filming this morning, so I got up thinking I was going to go out hunting this morning, but we'll make it out this afternoon. Our fourth daughter, Brianna, it's her first year hunting, so I'm trying to get her, her dear this year.

Carolyn: I think that's our second daughter, but fourth child.

Josh: Second daughter, fourth child, right.

Carolyn: For those of you guys who are joining on podcast and you can't see, Josh is in camo from head to toe pretty much right now, sporting the north Idaho fall men's look right here. This is the normal wear that you see on men in north Idaho this time of year.

Josh: Pretty much, yep.

Carolyn: Here you go, it's a fashion statement. Okay, well, we're a little out of form this morning. We don't even have a question of the day or anything, but that's okay. We're just going to go for it.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: Yeah, exactly. What have you been up to?

Josh: What have I been up to? Well, today specifically, plowing snow, and getting ready for hunting for the day. Now, hunting a little bit, not too much, but going to have a little bit of availability here, so excited for that. Just getting ready for winter, really. We had this first snow coming and I have a feeling it's going to stay. Usually this time of year, and we've actually had snow on the ground for three or four weeks now-

Carolyn: A little bit, yeah.

Josh: ... a little bit, but then we got a bit last night, and usually it'll snow in November, and it'll go away in the first week or two in December will clear up, and then the snow sets in mid-December. That's been a pretty normal pattern for us. It feels different for us this year, I've got a feeling the snow's just going to stay. We've been working to batten down the hatches and get ready for snow, and just all kinds of pieces around the property. Chains on the tractor for plowing, because I think it's going to be a lot of snow, actually. It's all a guess, what do I know, but trying to be prepared. Really, it's just been getting ready for that, and was filming with Dr. Patrick Jones recently. That was really cool, for the school traditional skills. It's going to be a new class coming out.

Carolyn: Yeah, that's exciting.

Josh: That is exciting.

Carolyn: It's going to be a herbal first aid class, and that is really exciting.

Josh: It's basic first aid, so there's standard things, splinting, dealing with cuts, burns, eye issues, all that stuff that's basic first aid. But applying herbs to deal with healing, with stopping bleeding, with dealing with pain. Really cool, he's a super neat guy; excited for that, and that class will be coming out in January. Of course, we'll let you guys know. But yeah, that's been it, here. What about you?

Carolyn: I've just been trying to keep up with everything. I know we get a lot of questions about how pregnancy's going. Everything's going fine, just humming along. I'm moving towards 26 weeks pregnant now, so-

Josh: You're almost at the end of second trimester.

Carolyn: I am, I'm almost into the third trimester. I've had a lot of pregnancies, but this is the first time I've ever had a pregnancy app on my phone. It's a very fascinating... who decides when the baby is-

Josh: What is it today?

Carolyn: I think we're at a rutabaga.

Josh: She's a rutabaga.

Carolyn: Yeah, somehow the baby is supposedly the size of a rutabaga right now, and next week it's going to be the size of a leek. Who decides these things is completely... I actually don't think that they know their vegetables very well.

Josh: Well, I was going to say, they're a vegetable person, not like a geologist.

Carolyn: Yes, that's true, that's a good thing, because I would not have a clue. I just got the notification that I'm pretty much at 100 days until my due date, so we're counting down the days now, or whatever.

Josh: Are you liking the app for the moms? And maybe you and Lacey talked about this, I don't know-

Carolyn: I don't think we did.

Josh: ... but are you liking the app? You're saying it's the first time you've ever had one. Is it helpful, or just-

Carolyn: I feel like it's very silly, personally. If you were a first time mom, then it probably has a lot of good answers to questions, but mostly I just do it for the entertainment factor of trying to figure out what kind of vegetable we have this week. Anyway, that's been silly, but yeah, I've been doing well on that front. Morning sickness is totally gone, so thankful. Luckily, once I leave the morning sickness, it's gone. It does not last, which is good, because for some people it goes on for a really long time. Then, we've just been working on getting a lot of homeschool done, wrapping up the preserving, we've had different butcher days for the last couple of weeks.

Josh: Yeah, I forgot about that. We finished up our butchering, except for any venison that comes in with the sheep.

Carolyn: Yeah, we've got a couple sheep into the freezer, so we're dialing down. We just have to have a big grind day and we have to do a big windering day, and then we'll be pretty much calling it good, except for venison that comes in.

Josh: Hey, we made some bacon. We haven't done our own in a while.

Carolyn: Some good, old fashioned bacon.

Josh: Yeah, we make bacon the way Brandon Scheer does, [inaudible 00:06:27]. It's been a little while since we've done that, because we've been sending out butcher, it's been so busy. We just really don't like it as well as just processing ourselves, and getting things the way we want, and getting this bacon was fun. I'm excited, the bacon is hanging, and should be good to go in a couple of weeks.

Carolyn: Yeah, I think we can eat it any time, and in about three days if we're going to smoke it, we can smoke it. That's what I'm rooting for, I really like a good smoked bacon.

Josh: Just have to see what we have for chips.

Carolyn: You have to cold smoke it, so can't throw it into your smoker and let it get hot, you have to do it in cold. You have to make sure there's very little heat associated with the smoke, so you have to have a different set up. It's not hard to do, you just have to set it up to do it. It's a little bit of a different set up than we have ready to go off hand.

Josh: Yeah, but we can do that. We've got a Traeger, so it's just setting it up over the Traeger. Even though that would be a hot smoke, which we don't want to do.

Carolyn: We'll hang the bacon from the eaves and have the Traeger blow it, and open. That's sort of a set up so that you're getting the smoke without the heat, is the way you want to do that stuff.

Josh: I don't want to make a promise, but that's worth a video. We'll see if I can get set up for that.

Carolyn: That'd be cool.

Josh: That would be cool. It's really pretty simple, it's one of those things that seems a little bit scary or complicated, but it's really not.

Carolyn: It's pretty simple.

Josh: Yeah, you can really DIY it very easily.

Carolyn: Good. Okay, no question of the day, so we're going to jump right into the topic, which is how to keep the holidays sane. This is something that, as I speak to more and more people in my generation and younger, a lot of people have really bad memories associated with the holidays, actually. A lot of stress, a lot of scramble, and a lot of family tension is people's stories. More and more people are like, "I don't want to have anything to do with that." For me, I take that personally, as a challenge, to change that pattern and say all of the should dos, all of what we have to have our houses look like, it has to be perfect, all of the running around to this and that, it's having a negative effect and people aren't walking away with these great, warm, fuzzy memories of family time together and the holidays.

Josh: It's just a lot of pressure.

Carolyn: It is a lot of pressure.

Josh: Even the gift giving, it's great, of course we want to be thinking about others, but sometimes it's just so much pressure, because you feel like you have to do so much with limited budgets, and you feel this pressure, and you feel like you're failing if you can't get it all done, and you can't get everybody something of equal value, or whatever. It starts to feel lost. I resonant with that, I feel that over the years of just, oh my gosh, this is such a pressure thing, I want to do something nice for people, but... It gets overwhelming, I think.

Carolyn: It gets overwhelming and I think the bigger point of that is that, sometimes, especially as moms I know, but dads take this one too, we want to do all the things, even if we take that pressure on ourselves, because we think we're doing something positive for our family, creating traditions or doing something really nice for the family, and a lot of times, let's be real, sometimes getting dinner on the table is taking pressure on. We make those decisions all the time, that we can do a little more work, we can be out of our comfort zone, we can be a little stressed to make something happen for our family. But I think, in the case of this, we have to be really careful to go, "Actually, I'm doing the opposite for my family, because I'm creating, I'm adding to this pressurized scenario."

Mom's stressed, dad's stressed, you're stressed right into the New Year when you look at the credit card bill, or whatever it is that you've done. I know a lot of people have that problem. Really taking a serious look at what's the point, why are we doing this? Is it just because all of the better homes and garden magazines are all on the grocery store rack, and they're marketing to us really well, and we feel like our house has to look like that? Or we feel like we're a failure as a parent or a part of society if we're not jumping in and doing all of the things.

All of the things are great, a lot of times they're church activities and they're family activities, and they're play group or home school activities, or school activities. There's all the stuff, but there's always another activity, there's always another thing.

Josh: Why are we doing this? I think people probably have different reasons, and we said holidays, but I think we're talking about Christmas here particularly.

Carolyn: Yeah, particularly Christmas.

Josh: Coming out of Thanksgiving, most people I talk to love Thanksgiving, I think one of the reasons is because it's not commercialized, it's not high pressure. It's a lot of work to get food on the table, but it's generally people you love coming together, enjoying a meal together, and being thankful. It's pretty simple. But when we move past that, we get into Christmas, and there's all the pressure, and why are we doing this? I know, for us, it's Christmas, it's about Jesus, it's about celebrating the birth of our savior. I think we have to come back to that-

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: ... and I understand for some of you out there, maybe that's different, but that's really the heart of Christmas, and where it starts, and that's what it is for us and many of you. I think we have to come back to that, that's the why. We're celebrating something because of this gift of life that we have, how do we respond to that, or think about doing things differently, in this context that's become so commercialized and pressurized, and coming back to focusing on that, yet still celebrating, and enjoying the heart of that celebration with people.

Carolyn: You know what the big answer to all of this is, and it's the hard answer that we don't always like? And that's the word no. Just no. It actually gets easier, the more you do it, but a lot of that is just to start saying no, I can't do it.

Josh: We'll give some examples. No can be positive, is where you're going. What are some examples of saying no as, maybe, a positive, and that benefit that's going to bring back pressure, and help us to focus on the why?

Carolyn: It's the, "No, we can't make it to that event," and "No, we're not going to do that other potluck," but instead protecting your sanity, and your family's sanity, and a special time together to actually focus on the real reasons. No, we don't all need to buy gifts; no, I'm sorry, we love the mail man, but he doesn't need a gift, just like every other person that's effected your life this year. He should be getting tokens of thankfulness all year long, but you don't need to go out of your way to make sure that everybody has everything during the holiday season.

Josh: You can minimize those, I think. Somebody could write a nice Merry Christmas card. And write one, you guys. I know I come from a generation, or at least my parents and grandparents, love cards. Cards are cool and a homemade card could be an inexpensive way to share the cheer, but cards these days $5, $7 a piece? I know I struggled with that when we were getting started, like how in the world can we afford to send a card to everybody, let alone gifts to all the people in our sphere. I think that's a good no. You can send something out digitally to everybody, you can get the kids together and make a few handmade cards, and one goes to a family. Those are some good things to do where you're bringing people together, and you're making it a fun experience. It doesn't have to be as perfect as a Hallmark card is, but you can send some love and some Christmas cheer and wishes to somebody without that pressure of spending $200 just on cards.

Carolyn: Yeah, you really can, and I think that, that really hits at the heart of it, is bringing people together to do the things that take the pressure off. Instead of just let's do a holiday craft, or a Christmas craft, with the kids, make the cards that you're going to send out, make the cookies that you're going to hand to everybody, that you're going to put out for the mailman. Do that together and make that a mainstay holiday event, because that creates fun memories. You're making something together, you're able to sit around and laugh, let go of the high standards, they don't have to look like Martha Stewart cookies, they don't have to be perfect, let it go. You don't need five different colors of icing to put on your... unless that's what you love doing, but it's okay to drop the standards, and to make it about doing things together, and not about this perfect picture of everything.

Josh: I'm going to clarify that, though, because you're talking about saying no to going and doing events, but then we're talking about doing things together. I think what's in all of that, is that there's this balance of, you don't have to do everything, but pick carefully the things that you can do together with family, and even with friends, in a way that brings it together, makes it joyful, but isn't so much that you're just feeling like I have to go here, I have to go there, I have to go this way, I've got to go that, and I'm getting run over. I think that's what that's-

Carolyn: Yeah, that's exactly what I'm trying to say there. Bringing the family together early in the season and voting, or getting everybody's have to event. What's the one thing that, if you did this Christmas season, you would just feel like you've done Christmas? Making sure you're hitting everybody's one thing and then trying to not do more things than that, really. That starts giving you a rubric for what to say no to. That wasn't on anybody's list, so let's just not do it. That's a good one.

Another really good thing to say no to, that's going to super reduce your stress, is the sugar. We all like the sugar-

Josh: Aw, man, come on.

Carolyn: I'm sorry, this is the mom comment. We all like the sugar, it's a great excuse, but the entire month of December cannot be an excuse.

Josh: Aw, why not?

Carolyn: Because we don't feel well after we have an entire month of sugar.

Josh: Oh, so that's what's always wrong on December 26th, okay.

Carolyn: I mean, sure, open up the sugar, and have the chocolates, have all the goodies, when it comes down to the day, or two days, or something like that. But everywhere you go is going to have cookies.

Josh: I can buy two pounds of See's candy instead of 10 this year, is that what you're saying?

Carolyn: Yes, please. That would be wonderful.

Josh: We love See's candy, so I always get everybody... and a couple of years there, everybody likes different things, and they go fast, so anyway. I think we'll scale back a little bit.

Carolyn: We also have 13 people in the household all the time, so we do easily consume more than everybody else.

Josh: Right, I was under buying them at 10 pounds. That's 13 pounds.

Carolyn: The point is, choose the carrot sticks with ranch dressing.

Josh: Oh, come on.

Carolyn: I'm sorry, nobody's going to... salami, does that work? Can we have some salami and cheese, or something?

Josh: At least mix it in a little bit, so we don't have the-

Carolyn: It doesn't have to all be sugar. You can say no to the sugar and you don't have to feel guilty. You may have to stand your ground a little bit, but...

Josh: She's taken good care of us, and that's good.

Carolyn: But you will feel better when it comes around to the end of the season, because not only does that... I mean, gain weight, drop your immune system, all the things that sugar does for you, but the other side of it is, is it is that excitotoxin, which means that it is ramping up your own hormone system, and it is creating a stress level in your body, whether you're feeling it off hand or not. You start doing that day after day, and then the kids are doing that, and your husband's doing that... the stress does ramp up, and the activity ramps up, and it becomes harder to control. Then, you start having bigger mood swings because people's blood sugar is jumping all over. Do you see my case here? The amount of stress that this causes?

Josh: I absolutely do. I do have to say, is that I'm not the one in the household that has a problem regulating my control of chocolate, but...

Carolyn: This is why we say no to it coming in the house, because once it's there, it's hard to say no. At least for me.

Josh: A very good point, I think, just regulating sugar, and we do. We all overdo it and it's got consequences.

Carolyn: Yeah, it really does, and you won't feel well at the end of the season.

Josh: Yeah, let's talk about gifts a little bit.

Carolyn: Yes, please.

Josh: That's obviously a big one and it is the season of giving, and that is a wonderful thing, so I don't want us to come off as though we're not about giving, because we are. But it can be a huge burden for people, and I know for me, when I was younger, even before we were married, it was big in my family, so I felt this burden to run around and get all these gifts for all these people. I didn't really have the money, and it was super stressful. I was like, "Ah, why are we doing this?" I like what we've done, which is, we keep the gifts to the household. We do little handmade cards, and we call people, and things like that to save money, but in the house, and I know we've probably talked about this somewhere before, but the... what do we call it? What's the name of the way we do the gifts?

Carolyn: The general cultural term is Secret Santa. We don't really do a lot of Santa is our house-

Josh: We don't really do Santa at Christmas.

Carolyn: ... I don't think we really have a name for it, but...

Josh: But it's an exchange, where everybody blindly picks a name out of a hat, and you keep it to yourself. You're buying one gift for that person that you get. In our household, you're only getting one gift, you're not getting four or five, or in our case 13. That helps you to focus on that one person, and you know what, our kids love that. They haven't felt gypped, or haven't felt bad, and a matter of fact it's been a lot of fun to see the creativity, but we even saw stress in that, especially as people got a little bit older and they wanted to get something cool, but they don't know what to do, they want to make the person happy. I love what you did this year, where we actually went around the table, and people had to think about three things, and there's a budget for us. We set a budget, each person could only spend so much. Each person had to share three things that they would like to receive.

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: Not that, that's what has to be gotten, but it gives people ideas and it helps them out a little bit if they're really stuck. I think that was good, because I think that, that relieved a little bit of stress and pressure from some people.

Carolyn: It did.

Josh: They were really struggling, they want to get something nice for this person, but they just don't know, and of course it's hard with a budget. Everybody just sharing some ideas that would fit into that budget, that they would like, I thought that was really helpful, and really neat.

Carolyn: Just to answer some questions that are going to pop up about this, what we're talking about, and clarifications. All of us in the household do it, even the little kids, mom and dad. We only give one gift each to whoever we draw out of the hat. We're not giving a gift to every child, but everybody's going to receive a gift. For the younger kids, we do jump in and help them choose and appropriate gift that would actually be a blessing to the recipient of the gift. This year, the budget is at $40 for a gift?

Josh: I was thinking $30.

Carolyn: $30, yeah.

Josh: Which is tough, these days. It can be.

Carolyn: It is tough to get something good. We're always encouraging thing to hand make-

Josh: Make things, yeah.

Carolyn: ... do something special for that person, that they'll really like. But again, the bonus of this, and the real benefit of this, is teaching people how to focus on one person, and how to give a gift that somebody else is going to really treasure, and not just give the gift that you find quickly, or give the thing that you have that you want to give, but rather to bless the other person. I got to say, this was really hard for me as a mom. You had suggested this for a couple of years before I was really okay with it.

Josh: Can I add something, too, before you go on? Because there are past videos where we've talked a lot about making gifts, and making gifts are great, but in our family, as the family got large, it became a huge burden, especially for a mom in the house, to help all these little people make a gift. The project just became huge and that became a huge stressor. I felt like we needed something a little bit different that allowed a little flexibility, so she wasn't having to guide everybody making so many things. It went the other direction. I think in a certain family size, that could work great. You can make things and that can be great. But it got a little bit big for us, and it was hard to get done within the flow of life. Especially if you've seen some of the old videos and what you're about to talk to, that's where that shift is, and going, "We've got to do this a little bit differently." Not that people can't make things, and we still encourage them to, but they have the freedom to also buy something, or buy the parts to make something, or whatever.

Carolyn: Absolutely. What was I about to talk about? Because I've forgotten when I was listening to you.

Josh: Sorry.

Carolyn: There was that glitch, can I blame it on pregnancy?

Josh: Absolutely.

Carolyn: I'm totally taking the pregnancy card here. Anyway, just wanted to clarify a few of those things. No, I remember. For me, as a mom, this was really hard for me to think about going away from giving each child a gift, and making sure that each child felt loved. We came up with a compromise. One, now, there's no looking back; I am so glad we have done this, this has removed so much stress from our season, totally love it. But right at that time when I was really struggling with it, what we did is, we went ahead and got everybody nice stockings, and we do fill the stockings up. The stockings we fill up with just little things.

Josh: More knick knacky, or useful.

Carolyn: Yeah, everybody in this house wants rechargeable batteries. That's just a thing. AA, AAA rechargeable batteries, so I usually throw a couple packs of those in there, and hand warmers for when they're out playing in the snow, a couple of little sweet goodies, things like that. A lot of times little key chain flashlights, stuff like that, that they'll use throughout the year that they really like having.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: Then, the other kids now, have figured out they jump into the stocking thing, because a lot of them will be like, "I really want to make this thing, and I want to give one to every person." They'll do their own contribution. One of the big things that we've started doing, is that we'll actually go to the grocery store a day or two before Christmas, and we get all sorts of fun tropical fruits that we don't usually buy, and we pass those out among the stockings, and the kids have come to treasure that moment.

Josh: They love it when they get a mango, or a kiwi. They're all different, which ones they like.

Carolyn: We just sprinkle them around, we get a whole bunch, and finish filling the stockings with that. Maybe if you guys buy those things all the time, maybe that wouldn't be the thing, maybe you would have to think creatively about what it is, but in our house we're just not bringing in tropical fruit all the time for everybody. It's a big deal and it's really widely looked forward to. We'll all take our fruit, we'll go to the kitchen, and everybody likes nibbling on each other's, and trying different things. If they have anything really outside the normal in the grocery store, which sometimes they do, you get dragon fruit, or star fruit, or some of these fun different things. We make sure we grab those and get those in there for a lot of fun.

Josh: I really love that, and that stocking contains that, and everybody works within that. It's not everything big, it's these little things, and that spreads the cheer a little bit, it's a little fun, people can drop things in there, so it adds to the other part of things.

Carolyn: We'll often find little army men, or things like that, in there that the little kids contribute to the stocking.

Josh: I want to talk about one more, because we're going to get out of time here and we've got another appointment we've got to get to, and I think that's the meals. Something that you've done is to simplify the meals, and it's wonderful to have these big expansive meals with so many different things on it, but it's a lot of work to cook and prepare. Just simplifying the meals has been, I think, really helpful in taking the pressure off the kitchen, and the to do list, and just doing less.

Carolyn: Doing less and not being afraid to get more help in doing it. Even when it comes down to, if you're going to do a big meal, and it's Christmas day, and you're going to have a big meal. If you have guests coming over, make sure you go ahead and ask them to bring something. You don't even have to tell them what to bring, you could just say to bring your favorite Christmas dish to put on the table. But even in your own house, if you have people that are old enough to cook, maybe they aren't the regular chefs in the kitchen, but they are capable?

This year, you've got green beans, or this year you've got this, and let them go ahead and participate, and get involved in that, to take the pressure off the main chef, and to make it a learning thing where you can all be in the kitchen working together, and you can make it a fun moment. Put on some loud Christmas music and sing together, whatever it is that brings joy to your family, go ahead and indulge in that cooking together moment, and getting help there, and getting it on to the table. But you don't have to have a week of phenomenal meals. Tamales are great, breakfast casseroles before hand; you guys know me, I'm all into the breakfast casseroles, we do the fancy breakfast casseroles for holiday week. Everybody needs to leave the week rested and feeling joyful, and celebratory.

Josh: And being able to ultimately focus on the why. Of course it's about family coming together, but it's really about the gift of life that we have. If whatever we're doing takes away from that, then the question becomes why? Why are we doing this?

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: Eliminate those things that are getting in the way of the why, and the spirit, and then find out how to do the things that you want to keep in a way that helps you focus on things, and focus on each other, and enjoy that why together. Sometimes that means a couple phone calls, but we don't even stress about the phone calls, if we don't talk to everybody. We have people right here, and I think that's part of it, just starting to work toward close, is it's wonderful to talk to everybody, but you don't have to talk to everybody on Christmas day.

Carolyn: No.

Josh: You can talk to them the next day, or the day before, and spread that all out, and just be able to be right here together, and enjoy that why together.

Carolyn: Yeah, and always be looking for somebody who may not have a place to be, and maybe feeling alone, and try and bring them into the family, and bring them into the festivities. That can be really hard for people this time of year, if they're alone, and there's a lot of things going on, so just invite them to do the low stress thing that you're doing, alongside you. If you're that person that's alone, look for things that you can do around the community, and get involved, because there's a lot of opportunities out there.

Josh: Yeah, and hey, I'm sure a lot of you guys have a lot of great ideas, so share them in the comments below with other people. We're just one house, one group of people, and as we said when we started, we don't have it nailed down, it still gets crazy. But share your ideas and what you guys do to get centered back on the why, and make the season what it's supposed to be about. That helps everybody and we all get to learn what neat things you guys are doing.

Carolyn: Absolutely. You guys have a wonderful season, a wonderful lead up to Christmas here.

Josh: I think we'll be here again before...

Carolyn: I don't know, I can't remember, because we are taking the end of the year completely off of publishing anything. We're going to take a couple of weeks off, so we're going to go really quiet for a few weeks, and we are simplifying for that season, and just hanging out with family, and getting a little bit of time to focus on Christ as the center of what's going on in our life here. We may disappear, but we also might have one more Pantry Chat coming up, I can't remember.

Josh: We'll just say it now, and we'll say it again. Merry Christmas, we're thankful for all of you guys, and for this last year together, and we're looking forward to next year. Merry Christmas if we don't see you, and if we do, we'll say Merry Christmas again.

Carolyn: All right, sounds good.

Josh: God bless.

Carolyn: Bye bye.

Josh: Bye.

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– Carolyn and Josh 

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