The Minimalist Guide to the Holidays

the minimalist guide to the holidays

 As soon as the crisp morning breeze hits your cheek, it seems like it’s just a few weeks before you’re facing the holidays and all the juggling of activities that brings.

Trying to homeschool while planning and preparing for the onslaught of company, huge, intricate meals, decorating, holiday crafts, homemade Christmas gifts, special holiday ministry events, parties, traveling, entertaining and holiday correspondence…

It’s enough to make you climb back under the covers just thinking about it.

But you aren’t in the middle of things YET.  Before holiday mode hits, consider approaching the holidays from a minimalist perspective this year. Here are 5 tips to help you relax, enjoy and celebrate.

1. Take a longer break from homeschooling.

Our holiday break started the week of Thanksgiving and ran through New Year’s Day.   Yes, that’s about six weeks.  For that period of time we didn’t do “formal” school. We slept later and participated in church and community events without worrying about late nights and resulting cranky, sleep-deprived kids.

Just because we didn’t follow our routine doesn’t mean that I couldn’t count many activities as school.   We just focused on holiday preparations and service rather than completing math lessons and writing essays. Here’s an example of what we did during November and December:

  • planned and made holiday meals/company meals/meals for others (nutrition,  home economics, practical math,  service)
  • read aloud as a family from our collection of classic Christmas books
  • had daily independent reading time (children’s choice of material for youngers, olders caught up or read ahead for the following semester)
  • crafted projects to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and to make gifts for neighbors, friends, family and others (art, service)
  • participated in and attended concerts, cantatas, plays and other holiday events (music/drama)

2.  Scale back on gift-buying.

You watch your budget and carefully plan your spending all year, but somehow it all goes out the window at holiday time. Ask yourself if you REALLY have to buy as many gifts as you do.  Perhaps it is time to change it up:

  • decide to forgo spending so much on gifts for your kids and instead bless another family with a life-giving gift from Samaritan’s Purse’s Christmas catalog 
  • give everyone a spending limit
  • make gifts instead of buying them
  • do “family” gifts for your siblings and their kids instead of individual gifts
  • choose names for gift buying instead of getting everyone something

3. Don’t go to every event you are invited to.

Isn’t it true that every group each member of your family belongs to has a Christmas event?  And not only do you try and attend them all, you sometimes double or even triple-book when they  inevitably occur on the same dates.

Contrary to what you may have done in the past, you don’t have to attend all of these events. Just stop.

Look at the calendar and plan ahead to have a manageable schedule, planning in down time so you aren’t running somewhere different every night of the week.

4. Simplify the meals.

Growing up, at Thanksgiving and Christmas we had to have so many different dishes that it was exhausting and expensive for all involved.  Instead, at our house everyone chooses ONE dish that they can’t have Thanksgiving without. =D (If you have a large family you might have to take a vote instead.)

I have vivid memories of starting preparations for Christmas breakfast after getting home from Christmas Eve services and being up until 1:00 am or later making this particular item that we had to have for Christmas morning, while readying a 25 pound turkey for the oven at the crack of dawn the next day.

Now, Christmas breakfast is something simple we can make together, and we have a later, large meal for Christmas dinner so the turkey doesn’t have to start cooking so early. We’ve even been known to skip the turkey altogether or cooking just the turkey breast instead of messing with the entire bird.

So rather than having special menus for Christmas Eve and every meal on Christmas, we focus on one main meal.

I’m all for family traditions, but don’t try to do so many that you are exhausted. Pick and choose.

Make your crockpot your friend for November and December, and keep those regular meals extra simple and light to help compensate for the heavier eating that usually happens at all of the holiday events.

5.  Slow down and savor the time.

Take some time for yourself during these busy days.

  • Meet a friend for coffee. 
  • Go for a walk outside by yourself as often as possible.
  • Trade childcare time with a friend so you can shop, clean or cook by yourself or with your husband without the kids. Make it into a date!
  • Read a book. (Not a school book.)

In his book,  In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore wrote:

“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better…. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Make the choice to SLOW DOWN and SAVOR. Enjoy being together with your loved ones, cooking together, crafting together, playing board games and watching holiday movies.  You are allowed to plan relaxation time into your schedule and say “no” to those things that will put you over the edge.

REIGN IN YOUR HOLIDAY TO DOS.  Use the time and money you save to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones and to peacefully celebrate!



Paper Crafts for Thanksgiving!

I LOVE making holiday crafts with our kids. So much so that we collect different colored paper, ribbon, stamps, and other craft supplies throughout the year. We’ve often checked out craft books from the library, but we also collect some of our favorites from Amazon and local used book stores.

Holiday craft time is the perfect occasion to talk about a holiday’s origin and why it is important. You can even consider this time as school (history and social studies).

We can also count down the days until the holiday as we prepare various projects (calendar review and math).

Crafting fulfills those “hands on” needs elementary children (and older children!) have and provides a happy break from some of the more academic things we do. And if you have a child that’s more artistically inclined, even better!

The presence of extended family and friends and the chance to make and eat our special holiday recipes (like our family’s huge pumpkin gingerbread cookies) all make Thanksgiving special, but the chance to examine and talk about what we are grateful for leading up to Thanksgiving is a not-to-be-missed opportunity (character training).

As far as crafts go I especially LOVE paper crafts – they are fun for multi-age siblings (and mom!) , inexpensive, and not terribly time-consuming.

If you love them, too, here is a must-have book that has simple, inexpensive Thanksgiving crafts that kids (and moms) love to make.

This useful Thanksgiving craft book has plenty of patterns and clear, simple, illustrated instructions for making turkey pop-up cards, a “Happy Thanksgiving” table greeting, a 3D “I am Thankful for my Family” sculpture, a cute reuseable turkey stencil, and much more.

The book begins with a easy-to-understand history of the Thanksgiving holiday and suggestions for using recycled paper to complete the projects.

In the “Read About” section at the back there are further book suggestions and website links to places where you can read more about Thanksgiving and see additional Thanksgiving crafts.

My favorite project is the pop-up turkey card.

turkey pop-up card

I love the crafts in this book!

Does your family have specific crafts you love to make for Thanksgiving?  I would love to hear about them in the comments!



How to Make Your Own Natural Easter Egg Dyes!



Did you know that thousands of years ago the ancient Chinese were already dyeing fabric?

Or that the Maya in South America created red dye from ground insects?

Instead of buying those pre-packaged egg-dye kits this year, why not create your own natural dyes?

You have most of the ingredients in your refrigerator and pantry already. Experimenting with various vegetables and spices and turning out eggs that are one-of-a-kind is a great hands-on, multi-age project.

Here’s what you need:


The items we used are pictured above. (We had to go to the store to get red cabbage to get a bluer-blue, so add that one.)  Here is a list of what we used this year and the color that each material yielded:

  • yellow onion skins: dark red
  • red onion skins: purplish-red
  • coffee: light to dark brown
  • tea: light tan/golden brown
  • spinach: light green
  • turmeric (spice): bright yellow
  • red cabbage: bright blue
  • raspberries: light pink

Gather items you can use to make dye, such as the ones above.  Try some other spices, grass, flower petals and other items you might have outside with one crucial caveat:

 Check and make sure that nothing is poisonous, please! 

You would not want to touch or have your children touch plant parts that are poisonous, and you certainly would not want to put anything poisonous in your cookware. If you do not have a thorough field guide to your local plant life, just stick to vegetables and spices.

You will need at least four small saucepans. (Smaller pans don’t require so much dye material.)

Depending upon how many eggs you would like to dye and how much material you have  –  I recommend at least 12-18 uncooked white eggs. It seems over the years that some eggs absorb dye better than others – I am not sure why that would be; does anyone know?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Authorities say eggs are not safe to eat if they have been out of the fridge more than two hours after cooking, so keep track of this unless you aren’t going to eat them.



  1. Chop (veggies/skins) or mash (berries) each item that needs it and put a cup or more in each saucepan with the egg(s).  The typical four burner stove allows four saucepans/dye colors to be done at one time.
  2. Measure about two cups of water  – or just enough to cover the egg(s) – add one tablespoon of white vinegar for each cup of water. Stir it.
  3. Boil the eggs for 20 minutes and turn the heat off or remove pan from burner.
  4. Check the color of the eggs.  Leave them in the water longer/add more dying material if you would like a deeper value.
  5. You can even leave the eggs in the water overnight if you refrigerate the pan with the water and the eggs. (Cool before putting in your fridge.)

Leaving three eggs  in red cabbage/water overnight (in the fridge) resulted in the gorgeous blue pictured below!



Other Method

Another method is to use the procedure above but without cooking the eggs until you have boiled the material for an hour and strained it.

Once the dyeing material has been boiled and removed by straining, use the water to boil the raw eggs  for 20 minutes.  This probably results in a more solid, uniform color, rather than the “textural” look of our eggs.

I have never tried this.

Perhaps I was too impatient to boil it for an hour….

While You are Waiting

While you are waiting for the eggs to cook/dye to take, you might read and talk about the history of dye creation. Here are a couple of links to get you* started:

General historical info about dye (Science)

Dying silk (Science/history)

The famous “Silk Road” trading route: (History/geography)

*Please do not let your kids loose on links without first taking a thorough look – I did not read every word on every page connected to these.

The Results

When you are done cooking the eggs and you are happy with the color, remove them from the dye water, gently pat dry and refrigerate. The egg carton they came in is a perfect place to keep them. When they have cooled, shine them up with a little vegetable oil to bring out the color.  




What About You?

Have you ever dyed your eggs using natural dyes?  How did they turn out? Do you have any dyeing material that you particularly like?




Five Simple Ways to Say Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is coming up in a week. Normally I post homeschool learning and ministry ideas for families before this special holiday, but this year my Valentine’s post is not going to be about homeschooling at all.

This year, I am reminded that there is a relationship we moms… especially we homeschool moms…are all too likely to put on the back burner.

When you are juggling a baby, chasing a toddler, grading an essay and answering an algebra problem, your husband is not exactly on the forefront of your mind, right?

I sure could be better at this… maybe you could be, too?

I know this doesn’t apply to everyone; you may be single.

But if you are not….you might have noticed that it. is. so. easy. to. put.  our.  kids first.  Sometimes they have to be first, obviously… but there should be regular times when we intentionally, mindfully do things to let our husbands know that we haven’t forgotten about them!  Do you agree?

Five Simple Ways to Bless Your Husband—and not Just on Valentine’s Day

1. Spend intentional, stop-everything-else-and-look-at-him-while-he-is-talking-time every day. We are exceptional at kissing ouchies, listening to stumbling new readers and chattering toddlers. We sometimes even do an admirable job of keeping the house relatively germ-free, pulling off regular meals and keeping the clothes clean. But we are so busy that we seldom just stop. listen. and look, giving our husbands our undivided attention.

2. You’ve read a thousand times about how important it is to have a regular “date night.” You may not be able to pull this off weekly, but why not find another couple with small kids and trade babysitting every other week? Your kids will have big fun and you will get some much needed, regular time alone with your spouse. (And  please work at talking about something else other than the kids!)

3. Study your husband like you do your kids. After teaching them all day, you know how they like to learn, what they get excited about, and how to bless them.

Hearken back to your dating days and remember what has been lost in light of the dirty diapers, messy kitchens and a plethora of homeschool projects. Seek ways to bless your husband, even if it is just an unexpected back rub at the end of a long day.

4. Use your talent or hobby to bless your husband on Valentine’s Day.Crafty? Make him a card or put together a basket of special food or hobby treats.  Musical? Write him a song or cover another song and make him a recording. Or make a playlist of “your” music.  Artistic? Paint him a picture. Writer? Write him a poem or love note.

5. Bite the bullet: plan and do something HE likes to do. You get extra points for this if he knows it is not your favorite activity. Watch the game, go on a hike, play golf, go fishing, play paintball, help him do yard work or share in a needed home repair.

Believe me when I say that your family will all benefit by you mindfully honoring your husband by conserving time and attention for him.

Now tell me, does this strike a chord with you? Could you do better at investing in your relationship with your husband?  Are you going to do anything special for him on Valentine’s Day?

Please tell me in the comments!

Unto us a Child is Born!

Traditional school is winding down in favor of Advent readings, baking Christmas cookies, caroling for neighbors, wrapping presents and getting ready for travel or company!  Yay!


Below are ideas for fun things to do with kids during these busy days as well as some resources for you. From keeping Christ in Christmas to what to tell your kids about Santa to ideas for healthy holiday hors d’oeuvres… if you are like me, you could use the help! :-)


Praying you have a blessed and Merry Christmas as you focus on JESUS!

Christmas Fun for Kids

  • Talk about how God  gave us the first Gift — the gift of His only Son — and how that gift can be multiplied as we give that gift to others by telling them about Him. Then play this Christmas word game.

Listen to Online Christmas Music



Keeping Christ in Christmas


Our Favorite Christmas Books


Yummy Christmas Food