How can we make a quick healthy meal on a budget? When it comes to meals I use five criteria to measure success: taste, health, speed, digestion, and budget. Let’s jump right in.
My secret ingredients to add flavor
Have you noticed when you eat something that tastes good, stress doesn’t exist for that moment? Bland food is quite boring and can leave us unsatisfied. Let’s fix the “bla” with a little “bam-bam”. Here are some of my favorite flavor touches that are easy to use and budget-friendly:
I make my own garlic bread with fresh garlic, I simply use a mincer. It’s a much cleaner and healthier way than garlic powder or garlic salt.
This herb helps fight bacteria, it’s high in antioxidants, helps reduce viral infection and many more benefits.
We love our salt but need to watch the blood pressure and bones. Salt helps with fluid balance, nerve transmission, and even muscle function.
Methods for a healthier meal
My second criteria for reducing stress in the kitchen is to concoct a healthy meal using the right tools. I have five main ways to cook healthy meals:
The oven. Baking fish and starches instead of frying save us a lot of heartache…literally…and calories for that matter. Roasting potatoes, squash, and even cauliflower are super easy and a healthier method. All you need to do cube the veggie and toss it in olive oil with a little salt set the oven at 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes with a little toss mid-way. Simply test with a fork for your liking.
The toaster oven. If I’m in a hurry yet want a break from the microwave, I opt for the toaster oven. I love this thing! I use it for warming up homemade waffles, a small batch of cookies or brownies, garlic bread, a small pizza, and chicken nuggets. The toaster oven I use automatically shuts off when the timer is done, so I can put my dish in it and forget it. Here’s my favorite toaster oven.
The grill. We use our grill all year round and we live in Michigan! To keep grilling safe and healthy, it’s important to keep it clean. Be sure to scrape the grill with a brush before using, and clean the grill at least three times a year if you’re a heavy user; meaning, giving the grates a good soak in Dawn dish soap.
The microwave. Yes, I use the microwave to warm up meals when I’m in a hurry. My main reasons for the microwave are frozen veggies, chicken nuggets, and microwave popcorn.
Cast Iron Pan. This is my secret weapon in the kitchen when it comes to speed, taste, and easy cleanup. Everyone should have a cast iron pan. This pan, as my son would say, is ‘Beast’…meaning cool. When it gets hot, it stays hot. And cleaning it is a piece of cake, no soap! Simply rinse and heat back up on the stove to dry. Easy peasy! I love my cast iron pans.
I do love my Crockpot, but I only use it maybe once a week. There are loads of kitchen gadgets promising this or that; we get excited for a few weeks then tuck it away in an abyss cupboard. Keep it simple in the kitchen, stick to the old fashion way of cooking. You’ll find it actually goes pretty fast.
Cast iron pan
I wasn’t joking about old fashion. Like my son says, “It’s beast!”
The old saying to put a wooden spoon on top of the rim of the pan to make the water boil faster? Well, it works. Simply lay a wooden spoon across the top of the pan, kind of like a bridge. In about a handful of minutes, the water is ready for the pasta.
I’m not a fan of freezing meals unless it’s leftover chili or stew. Lasagna is another good freezer meal, but other than that, it’s easier to resort to the grocery’s freezer meals. You should venture into your freezer and clean it from old food every quarter.
There are a lot of factors leading to diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, acid reflex, and cramping. They range from food allergies, food sensitivities, food combining, eating too fast, the lack of digestive enzymes, hormones, bile acid, autoimmune disorders, gut flora, leaky gut, and/or viruses and bad bacteria.
My first strategy in figuring out why I feel icky is to eliminate the most common inflammatory foods: dairy, gluten (wheat), nuts, soy, and eggs. Food elimination will take time, but it’s worth it when you figure it out.
*Please note, I’m not a doctor, nor am I trying to be. I share information I have either experienced myself or are extremely interested in, and then I keep things simple and give you the nutshell version. Please consult your physician before jumping into new things.
Just so you know, it takes about three weeks for cow’s milk protein to vacate your system. For wheat, it takes two weeks to feel a bit better, but around three months for it to be out of your system. For soy and eggs, it’s two weeks. Here’s a good post from All Ways Well on how to go about it. Keep it simple, your body will love you, and you’ll help it heal!
Budget: 6 ways to save on meals
1 – Join store membership
One of the ways I save money on meals is to join the store membership. One of my stores kicks back $7.00 after I reach a certain goal. They also have online coupons. Not to mention member only specials! And you can even shop and scan with the app.
2 – Buy what’s in season
Another way I save is to adjust my menu with what is growing in season. For squash dishes, I delay until fall and early winter. Strawberry pie is good in March. Here is a quick guide to knowing what fruits and veggies are in season so you know when you’re getting the best deal on them. Download my In-Season guide now.
3 – Go to different stores
A third trick is to go to different stores to get the best price. For instance, the coconut milk ice-cream I buy isn’t on sale at my normal store, but it is on sale at my secondary store. This may be a lot of running around, so you’ll have to make the call whether it’s worth the gas, but I find this technique helpful. I have about five go-to stores to get the best deals. But how do you remember where you got what? You can download myWhere I Buy Memory Guideand tuck it in your planner or handbag. Now you’ll never have to remember where you got what again!
4 – Buy store brand
Buy store brand. There is not much difference in taste and quality from name brand goods to store brand.
5 – Watch the ingredients
Watch the ingredients! Yes, you can save money by reading the nutrition label. How? Some food manufacturers use ingredients that are addictive, like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and MSG…not to mention salt and just plain sugar. When you eat more, you buy more of it! Steer clear of HFCS and MSG. I know they’re tasty but they don’t do you any favors from a wallet and health perspective.
6 – Don’t skimp the protein
Don’t skimp on the protein. Sure some proteins can be expensive, but so are second helpings and snacking! When our bodies don’t get the protein we are hungry all the time, which can lead to overeating, weight gain, and crankiness…yes, carbs do that. Make a point to eat some protein at every meal. To save even more money, buy protein in bulk at a membership store like Costco or Sam’s. Be sure to look at the price per unit to make the best decision.
Sources of protein include nuts, dairy (unless you’re sensitive), seeds, chicken, fish, pork, beef, turkey, tempeh (soy), quinoa, broccoli, and lentils.
When it comes to meals, use your head not your stomach. My five criteria get the job done for me. I go for taste, health, speed, digestion, and budget. My hope is that you found some new ideas to test out. As an added bonus, here is a 5-day menu plan based on all my criteria. Enjoy!
When economic strife hits do these 9 must-do steps to squash your money problems. There is no way in predicting tragic storms, destructive earthquakes, virus pandemics, a house fire, sudden death of a loved one, or unemployment. If we could tell our money ‘a tornado is coming, hang on tight’, life would be so much easier. In fact, we can tell our money to do that, but what if we weren’t ready this go around?
First things first
First and foremost, remember these times of despair are just that, a time. It’s not forever, it’s not the end of the world; it’s just a season that is visiting for a while. It may seem like an eternity but it will pass like all our other seasons. The hard part is getting through it without much pain. Right?
Your 1st priority
Your first priority is to take care of yourself and your family. If it’s a spreading sickness, do everything in your power to protect you and your family from getting sick. Did a storm hit your house? Then get your family to safer shelter. If you lost your job, then start looking for a replacement job, even it pays less than the work you had before, just get something going so you have a little income.
When the overall shock has faded, this is usually about 3-7 days depending on the severity, you can start working on these 9 must-do steps to get your life back on track and to put your money problems behind you.
1. Clean up the unnecessary subscriptions
Get rid of unnecessary subscriptions: magazines, gyms (unless you’re using it more than once week), weight loss programs (check out My Wellness Way instead), and might I even say cable TV? Look at the numbers and the amount of time you use these things. Is it worth it?
2. Work on your budget
Work on your budget. This is real people. Money problems happen when a budget is not in place. A budget can help you find the holes and to see what holes need to be filled. Think of a budget as a treasure hunt. It doesn’t need to be restrictive, tedious, or confusing. Use this easy to fill-in excel worksheet to help you get organized. Go to Freebies to get yours.
If you want something beefier that has printable reports I highly recommend Quicken. We use it.
Scale down and only focus on your necessities. This may be hard but look at it with a survival perspective. What can I, or we as a family, live without for two months?
These types of tragedies will happen again, be prepared next time. Emergency fund, mental preparedness, essentials in the home, but don’t hoard (enough for two weeks) and reduce debt. Here’s another post about budgeting to checkout. #1 Cause of Money Problems, plus 4 tools to solve it
3. Make extra money
Wipe your money problems away by making extra money. Grocery-store job, shop for others, delivery food, checkout other delivery services like Amazon, UPS, FedEx, food processing jobs, gas station attendant, fast food industry.
Heads-up: Many other blog posts say to start a blog, I do not recommend this. You’ll be spending more money on starting it than making any money on it. They are only telling you to start a blog to sell their blog building tools or to exercise their affiliate programs. Building a profitable blog takes time and money, it’s not impossible, but it is a lot of hard work, especially starting from scratch.
Simply look at what businesses are booming in tough times and then go there and inquire about opportunities. For instance, some call centers for services I mentioned above, or health care.
4. DIY (Do It Yourself)
Do things yourself. Ideas in this arena include selling your crafts and creations on Etsy, cleaning your own house, mowing your own yard, and for minor fixes around the home hopping on YouTube to find ways to fix things yourself. Doing things yourself brings a ton of gratification and confidence too!
5. Cut Costs
This can be kind of fun to figure out where you can cut back yet still be content. Things to try and look at are to tone down the number of hair salon visits, color your own hair, try the natural look for nails and forgo the polish…your nails need a breather anyway, wash your own car, shop at a lower-priced grocery store, be mindful of your utilities: shower or bathe once a day instead of two, turn off the lights when not using that room, turn the thermostat down one or two notches, ‘when it’s yellow let it mellow when it’s brown flush it down’, turn the water off while scrubbing those pearly whites. Things like that.
6. Sell stuff
Sell stuff through Facebook Marketplace. This is a great time to declutter your home and really ask yourself if you need certain things. Selling your things is a lot easier these days too. If you don’t want to hassle with a garage sale, sell things online. I have done well using both methods, and I feel so much lighter! In my last garage sale, I squashed a money problem using my profits. It felt so good!
7. Be smart
Make smarter buying decisions on the necessities. Okay, this toilet paper thing baffles me, unless you have an underlying condition like Crohn’s, colitis, or cancer, cool your jets on the TP. Simply take what you need for two weeks then manage the toilet paper you have in the house. Another idea is to get some cotton handkerchiefs and use those in a pinch. And guess what? You can wash them and use them again! Genius.
8. Whoa-back on large money deals
It’s human to be uneasy during times like these, but only allow yourself a day to ‘freak out’. After that, get your battle face on and make adjustments. However, the one caveat to making change is to not make any major financial decisions in the first 7-14 days. For instance, don’t cash in your 401K or buy a new car/house, or rank up your credit cards. Put your mind to work and figure out some ways how to adjust in ways that help you and not hurt.
9. Emergency fund
When all is back up to speed, start to build your emergency fund for the next time something like that sucker-punches again. One way to do this is to put a little bit away every paycheck. Some people do 10%, others 5%, and so forth. You will be amazed at how quickly this adds up, especially if you put it in a savings account that accumulates interest.
I believe in you. You totally got this. Just remember your first priority is to take care of yourself and your family, what that looks like is up to you. However, please keep your cool around your kids. There is no sense in getting them stressed out and confused. It’s okay to share with them some small details about money problems so they learn how to manage, but don’t tell them your real fears.
One last thing: ask God for help and protection, He’ll guide you through it if you’re willing to listen. Hugs to you.
Let’s feel the love this Valentine’s Day, or should we not? While writing this post my thoughts got mixed on Valentine’s Day. From what I found out it’s like a love/hate kind of thing. Since there’s no way to avoid February 14th, I’ve got some simple and inexpensive gift ideas for you, your family, and friend; but first I gotta tell you what I learned about this ‘loving’ holiday, it certainly surprised me!
Valentine’s Day originated from a Roman festival. It had nice intentions of celebrating the coming Spring. Because as we know, with Spring comes rebirth. The Romans capitalized this season and promoted fertility at this time. Side note; if you have a November birthday, your parents probably practiced the Roman tradition. LOL! Anyway, what I didn’t expect was a dark side to this ‘lovers’ holiday.
The Darkside of Valentine’s Day
This Roman festival included, what sounds like, arranged marriages by a lottery. Say what? All I can picture is taking a ticket at the meat counter and waiting for someone to call my name and hope and pray I was attracted to him. This does not sound very romantic, but they did it!
And according to legend, there was a priest whose name was Valentine. The story isn’t clear of whether the priest secretly married people behind the emperor’s back to spare men from war, or if the priest signed a letter to a jailer’s daughter “from your Valentine” which created havoc. Either way, the emperor, Caludius II Gothicus, martyred him! Yes murdered the guy named Valentine.
As for cupid, he represents the Roman god of love. Are you as confused as I am? This holiday is messed up, murder, love, lottery, and a naked baby with a bow n arrow. The Romans back then had some mental issues.
What We’re Spending
I get it that we’re celebrating this guy, Valentine, but “Be My Valentine” or “Will you be my Valentine?” sounds weird to me now that I understand the back story. Frankly put, these days, retailers use the holiday to get more business. In 2019 53% of all Americans spent a grand total of $30 billion. Heart-shaped candies and decadent chocolates get me all the time, but I spend maybe $25- $50 on Valentine’s Day, that’s including dinner. However, the average person spends about $225 on one person. There is nothing wrong with that. Your significant other’s love language may be ‘gifts’. But if you’re on a tight budget there are other ways to go about showing your love.
Keep Valentine’s Day Simple with These Ideas
The average cost of a Valentine’s card is $4.99. That can add up with kids and even pets. Yes, they have cards for pets. Three kids alone plus a dog could cost $20. Ouch. Here’s a different idea, back in the day, my husband and I were strapped for money, and so instead of buying each other a card, we took a picture of the card in the store then shared the pictures with each other. I know that sounds lame, but it was actually quite fun. There are many benefits to this: it’s inexpensive, saves the environment, and you can keep it on your phone forever! In fact, if you found more than one perfect card, you can take a picture of that one too!
As for kids, homemade Valentine’s are the best. Any kind of gift made with our very hands means so much more than something you buy. You can Google a joke or cute saying and incorporate that into a homemade card.
Unless it’s your birthday on Valentine’s Day, big gifts are out, at least in our home. Money doesn’t buy love. Time does. Time with your spouse, friend, kids, and pets says a lot more than the latest video game. What are they going to remember more? The gift and who got it for them? Or will they remember the memory of playing Battleship and Clue and the epic popcorn-launch-in-your-mouth game? Actually the Game of Clue might be appropriate for Valentine’s Day…remember Roman times? Here’s my skinny on gifts and what we do in my family. Candy.
Candy is instant, enjoyable for everyone, and easy. Get whatever is their favorite sugar bomb. I know it’s not the healthiest, but skip dessert and have the candy instead…don’t forget portion control. My son loves those Sweetart Hearts, my husband is all about Nerds, and me, well, my hands-down favorite of all favorites is See’s Candies. Seriously, these are the best chocolates I’ve ever had. AND they are gluten-free! If you don’t have a retailer near you, you can order online, believe me, it’s worth it. They are SO good!
If candy isn’t your thing, flowers do make a great gift. Here’s the kicker. Keep the flowers simple. They don’t have to be red roses. The jester is what counts. Recently, my husband stumbled upon white roses at Trader Joe’s. He got a dozen for like $7.00. Can’t beat that, and they lasted a long time. They were beautiful. Thank you Trader Joe’s! The other option with flowers is to go for the carnations. They are a simple flower that comes in a variety of colors. A large bouquet is about half the price of a dozen roses (roses not from Trader Joe’s). I personally like to mix carnations and roses together like in this picture.
Besides the gift of time, sweet treats, and flowers, touch is just as important if not more. Touch is another language of love. It’s definitely my husband’s. Intimate time with your spouse or boyfriend is probably all they want for Valentine’s Day. Stop spending your money on other things, just give him some lovin’. As for kids, snuggles or tickle-attacks while watching “Be My Valentine Charlie Brown” serves the best of both worlds for child and mom/dad. Feel goods with hugs and laughs with tickles are a joy to the heart.
The Valentine’s Dinner
Let’s talk about dinner. If it’s just your spouse/friend with you, you’ll spend an average of $50 at a restaurant. And don’t forget to tip! Oh, did I mention the babysitter? As for time, Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest nights at restaurants. You may have to wait for a table. I didn’t even mention traffic or weather. A different option is to have a candlelight dinner at home. This saves time and money. I know it may sound boring, but that’s up to you. Dress-up, get some music playing and have your kids wait on you and play restaurant at the same time. It’s something different to try this year. At the grocery, you’ll spend at least half of the amount on a meal than at the restaurant. Get some steak, salad, and garlic bread. Start up the grill and “By the Power of Grayskull, I HAVE THE POWER!” Yes, I have dated myself with He-Man. Dinner at home can be fun for everyone!
Final Tips for a Great Valentine’s Day
Lastly, decorating with construction paper hearts tapped on the sliding glass door gets everyone in a loving mood. You don’t need to go all out with decorations. Keep it simple. It’s a gentle reminder that Valentine’s Day should be fun and not filled with a martyr. Now that I think about it, I think I’ll get some lottery tickets on Valentine’s Day, tis the Roman season!
I’ll reveal to you the #1 cause of our money management problems and give you a quick review of four different tools to stay on top of our cash flow. You’ll also get a free downloadable cash flow worksheet to get you started! As you know, there are massive loads of information about how to manage money, how to budget, how to save money, and how to live a debt-free life. It can be overwhelming and paralyzing! Let’s keep it simple and focus on the top four ways to go about cash flow.
What’s the #1 Mistake?
When we leave the house, we make one big mistake. I’m going to make this simple for you. The very first step to doing anything with your money is to know what to do with it before you leave home or get online.
When it comes to keeping track of our money you either love it, hate it, or are half-*ssed about it. And for most Americans, this can be a real pain in the butt. It’s not really the task at hand, but it’s the mind that messes with us. We know we need to do budget, but we just don’t want to. Hence, we find ourselves in a hole deeper than we want to be.
conducted by Slickdeals.com asked 2,000 adults last August about their money
habits. Topping the list of categories
where respondents overspend is online shopping, followed by grocery shopping
and subscription services. Take a look at their list, you may find some
Trusting your brain with all the figures is not a good idea. We get distracted; we cheat and lie to ourselves. Then we hear the forbidden word “Budget”. Whether you make $30,000/year to $1,000,000/year everyone needs a budget, no one is excluded, not even a homeless person. To make this more fun I’m not going to use the word ‘budget’, it sounds super boring. Instead, I’m going to use “harmony”…that’s sounds kind of corny but when there is harmony in our finances, everything works together. And gosh, when we get jammin’, financial freedom will be a #1 hit for years! Isn’t that what we’re all aiming for? On a side note, no pun intended, when you go off-key you’ll TRY to believe the harmony still sounds nice, but in reality it stink-ith. Stop lying to yourself. Developing a routine saves us a lot of hard-earned cash.
How do we fine-tune our money?
First and foremost, I want
to make this clear, a ‘harmonic wallet’ (B-word) isn’t created to punish us and
hold us captive; it’s here to simplify
life and set us free.
Money management has a few different layers. One layer is keeping a record of every single expense. This may sound tedious, but it’s the most important step to understand where the cash flow holes are and where the money mountains prevail. However, keeping track is where most people fall. WARNING! People will manage money for a few days then stop. Just like a diet. Listen up friend, you’re not a quitter. If you want this bad enough, you’ll make it happen. I believe in you. Keep up the good work, it will literally pay-off. This is the difference between living debt-free and frugal living. There is nothing wrong with frugal living, but when you depend on it to live every day it can be an exhausting life.
Which leads me to the know-hows. Over the years my husband and I have used a few techniques that have helped us manage our money. Most importantly money management helps us understand what’s going on. Our money management techniques kind of mimics our camping life. We started with a tent, then we moved to a small camper, yet got a little larger trailer, and now we have a 5th Wheel. We’ve learned something in every phase until we found our jam. In which our jam got us a 5th Wheel! Below are the four tools we’ve benefited from over the years.
Tracking Tool #1: Old School
Good old pencil & paper. There are LOADS of downloadable printables online; finding one that fits your needs is the hard part. It’s overwhelming. My rule of thumb: Keep It Simple. Think of your finances like a business, in fact, treat it like a business. All businesses start out with pen and paper. Grab the old college-ruled notebook and a No. 2 pencil to get started. You can also get a Budget Planner which brings a little ‘pretty’.
5 Steps with Old School
Step 1: Dust off the old notebook; rip-out your old psychology notes, sharpen your pencil and jot down all the categories that take your money. For instance: groceries, autogas, utilities, insurance, phone, memberships or subscriptions. This is the first step. Just list the categories in one column.
Step 2: Start saving receipts and keeping track of what is EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer every month). Even if you’re putting these things on a credit card, keep the receipt. Remember this is a gradual approach to finding harmony.
Step 3: Pick a regular time once a week to go through the receipts and bills that were collected. Maybe Sunday afternoon or Thursday night. Write alongside the category of how much you spent that week. Keep the list going for the whole month.
Below is an example of what your paper might look like…this is for one month. Note the tallies for coffee.
Step 4: Don’t forget your income! You can put your income on the top or bottom of your sheet. List all your paychecks for the month.
Step 5: It’s math time! Add up all the amounts from each category (row) and write in the total for that specific category. Then the scary part happens; add all the expenses together (column), then subtract that from your income.
PRO: Anyone can do it. All you need is a calculator.
CON: This method takes a bit of time. Generating a report would take forever and require a lot of math.
Here is a nice budgeting book if you’d like to go this route. Click the picture to check out more details.
Tracking Tool #2: graduate to desktop
The Small Camper
After we mastered the pencil & paper method, my husband and I decided to move up to a computer accounting program. I’m not talking Excel Spreadsheets or Google Docs, which is a really great way to keep track; many of my friends use Excel these days. Do what fits your lifestyle.
PRO: If you want to print a report or reconcile your account, an accounting program makes it so much easier…especially for taxes. Essentially it’s a glorified check register with the ability to print reports. Another feature I really like is that you can have multiple accounts. For instance, we have our personal checking, savings, health savings, and our son’s account all in one program. And they are from all different banks! We use Quicken Starter. It’s a simple way to start. Unfortunately, you do have to pay for it, but they have a 30-day free trial.
In our household, I’m the one who updates “the books”. I pay the bills, I keep the receipts, I reconcile the account. My husband analyzes the reports and strategizes. We have our roles figured out…SUPER IMPORTANT! With Quicken Starter I have enjoyed the program; it’s easy and clear.
CON: It doesn’t automatically update your account in real-time. So if you go to Taco Bob’s for lunch, Quicken doesn’t know that right away. Plus you have to pay for it but it’s not that much for what it does.
Click on the picture for more details.
Tracking Tool #3: now to an app
The Little Bit Bigger Camper
We then experimented with Mint. It’s an online-only app for managing your money. Mint is FREE! But it’s a bit more complicated. You can see all your transitions, but in order to itemize them, you need to wait until they clear. It’s great for budgeting, tracking, and bill reminders, but it doesn’t have the reconciliation feature and reports can be a bit tricky. Again, do what fits your lifestyle, but please keep it simple. Other Apps to checkout are YNAB (You Need A Budget), nerdwallet, and mvelopes.
PRO: It’s free and on your phone.
CON: It’s free and on your phone. No reconciliation option or easy access to reports.
Tracking Tool #4: The best of both
The 5th Wheel
We’ve now moved up to Quickbooks Online. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, do it the simple way with this program. It’s an online check register, with reports, and account reconciliation. My husband and I have been using it and are loving it! I can’t believe how much fun he has with this program. The downside of this program is that you have to pay for it. But, don’t look at that as an expense because the program and its capabilities can actually save you a lot of money. Worth it.
Click on the picture for more details.
PRO: You got it all here. You can access from phone or computer. Reconciles on its own. Captures expenses. Has budgeting tools…oops…I meant ‘harmony’ tools. And it’s easy to use. Many businesses use this program.
CON: You have to pay for it. You can only use accounts from one bank. It can be kind of confusing.
create harmony is to understand where your money is going and how you will
process that information. What needs to change? And how are you going to do
Bach says, “The solution to your money
problems isn’t more money; it’s new habits.”
harmony with your money by looking at your habits and experimenting with new
ways on how to change them without losing your lifestyle.
Here’s a free Excel cash flow worksheet to help you get started. Simply click on the link and it will download automatically. Then in the lower-left corner, click the up arrow and click ‘Open’. You can then save it on your computer and start pluggin away! Har-Money Worksheet.
Making Christmas special is what most parents aim for with their kids. What I’m about to share is something I wished I had learned years ago with my son. It’s the proven, no-fail Christmas gift that is sure to make every Christmas special.
Christmas is a time of giving and receiving. We all know this. And the stores love this! I’ve been sucked into Black Friday, store sales, and crowds; anxiety took residency and what was supposed to be fun turned into frustration. In fact, this year I thought I’d avoid crowds and shop online. It was convenient to shop while eating pancakes, but I soon realized I fell prey to the timed sales and limited deals.
My body temperature increased as the minutes slipped away and my mind swirled not being able to make a decision. Before I knew it I was sweating through my comfy pajamas! What the heck was happening to me? My husband even said, “They got ya!” He got that right. The shopping hoopla had its grip on me. The kick-in-the-pants is that it the time spent got me NOWHERE. In fact, I had taken that whole morning with my face in the computer missing out on hanging with my son and walking our dog. And you know what? I ended up returning half the stuff when they arrived on my doorstep.
Feel the Love.
Don’t me get wrong, gifts are fun to give. Gifting is, in fact, some people’s love language. On a side note, in case you didn’t know, there are five defined love languages and each is unique on its own. If you don’t know your love language or the language of your family members, I highly recommend Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages.” Click on the picture below for more details.
The Perfect Christmas Gift
Picking out the ‘perfect’ toy for your child, something that is unexpected and so exciting is where the magic happens…at least in the moment of buying, wrapping, hiding and then opening. But then what?
Let me put this way, in five years is your child going to remember that toy she played with for maybe four weeks? Is she going to even remember who gave it to her? In some cases, she might. But in most cases, she won’t. The real magic isn’t a tangible item, it’s something more valuable.
An Ultimate Christmas Story
Let me tell you a story I heard years ago that I wished I absorbed better. Here’s my second chance. I hope you enjoy it.
It was in the early evening of December 20th. A father and his young son were planning a trip to the city. They had a checklist of all the things they wanted to see and do; the big Christmas tree, the street decorations, ice staking at the city center, Christmas cookies at Carla’s Bakery, hot chocolate at the “Reindeer Barn”, and most of all the toy store where the son got to pick out his present.
The dad was excited to show his son all the sites and to buy him the perfect present at the store. And the son, well, he just couldn’t wait to get to the toy store. He’d say, “Dad let’s do the store first!” The father would reply, “No. We don’t want to carry the gift around all night.” Yet the son persisted throughout the day leading up to the downtown venture. “Dad, I can carry it. I promise I’ll be careful.” We all know the real answer to that, not happening fella. The dad was starting to get a little annoyed that his son only wanted to go to the store, but he reminded himself that he was just a being a kid.
Uh-Oh! Or Not So?
After brushing a fresh blanket of snow off the car, they hopped in their seats and performed their ‘system checks’. “Hat?” the father asked, “Check” replied the son. “Gloves?” “Check”. “Phone?” “Check”. “Wallet?” “Check”. All systems were a go. The key went into the ignition, the dad’s grip got stronger, and turned key upward. Nothing happened. He tried again, but this time he pushed on the gas just to see. Complete quietness. Not even a click. The dad took in a big breath, looked at the son, exhaled and said, “Looks like we need a new plan.”
The son thought the trip was off, no toy store, no nothing. His eyes started to sting and his throat got tight. They headed back inside the house, the son sat on the couch and flipped channels. After about five minutes the dad looked at his son and said, “Grab your boots, we’re not going to let a broken-down car stop us!” They put on their hats, gloves, and coats and started to walk down the sidewalk. The son asked, “Are we going to walk there? It’s so far!” His dad said, “Nope, we’re going to ride the city bus. We’re just walking to the bus stop.”
When the father and son got on the bus, they sat in the middle side by side. The bus driver announced they were headed to the heart of the city, and off they went. During the ride, the son and father played “I spy”, they talked about the silly dog sitting in the seat across the aisle, they looked at Christmas lights on buildings and homes they passed, they played a game of “Would You Rather”, and lots of giggles where shared.
They made it to the city and saw the beautiful tree. Lights alone the sidewalk sparkled. They ate Christmas cookies and drank hot chocolate. Everything on the list was being checked off. The last stop before heading home was the infamous toy store. The son walked through the doors and his eyes got wide. They spent at least an hour in the store before the son carefully picked out his present. The father with a full heart bought him the gift and they walked back to the bus stop.
On the bus ride home the son asked, “Would you rather ride Rudolph or be Rudolph? Would you rather drink one cup of hot chocolate every day for a year or eat 10 candy canes in an hour?” When they arrived at their final stop, they wished the bus driver a Merry Christmas and started to walk home. As the son and father held hands, the dad asks his son, “What were your top three favorite things of the whole night?” The son replied, “Playing ‘Would You Rather’, laughing, and the best of the best was riding the bus with my dad.”
This melts my heart. The son didn’t mention the toy; he didn’t mention cookies or hot chocolate. His son said that it was the time his dad spent with him that was the most special. The dad didn’t see that coming. My friends, ‘time’ is the real magic. It’s a gift that will last a lot longer than a plastic toy or video game for that matter.
Merry Christmas from Do More Than Exist. May you enjoy many “bus ride” moments this Holiday season.