Give Santa a Break!

The holidays are such a fun time of year and should be filled with so much joy! I think there is something so magical about everyone everywhere celebrating something! It’s a beautiful thing.

Growing up, Christmas was a fun time of year and something you look forward to all year long. Once you become an adult it’s like the fun changes to stress, and the countdown of excitement, turns into the dreaded “How much longer do we have to pay for everything or get all the things done”. I’ve seen the effect the holidays can have on some people, and unfortunately it’s not all merry and bright, if you know what I mean!

I know for my family personally I want my girls to have the most incredible Christmas, filled with all the festivities and events, with the perfect photo with Santa, and the most sparkly festive Christmas morning! I see so many people including myself get caught up in the stress of the holidays and totally miss out on all the good.

No matter what you celebrate this rings true! This time of year is about spending time with your family, making those lasting memories together. Engaging in traditions that have been in your family forever, things your great great grandma started. It’s about inviting people into your home and loving on them. Serving and giving to others.

Don’t get me wrong! Every mama loves to see the look on their babies face when Santa came to visit and left them some goodies under the tree. I thought I loved getting gifts but after having kids, nothing beats the feeling of lighting up their little world! In my opinion the gifts do have their place in the holidays. I mean it’s a celebration, a party, a big ol’ birthday bash! But the holidays don’t revolve around the gifts. That is what I am trying to get across to all the moms out there stressing over Wwhat are we going to get the kids?”, or “How are we going to afford to buy everyone gifts this year?” Santa has a lot of kids to visit so don’t stress yourself out too much thinking about what he will leave your kiddos.

If you are anything like me then you love a good practical list! I put together a little list of things you can do with your family this season to keep your hearts joyful amidst the crazy.

1. Serve others! Do some sort of random act of kindness as a family. There are so many options when it comes to this, whether it’s serving in a soup kitchen, baking holiday treats and delivering them to your neighbors, or taking gifts to your local fire station/police station. The options are endless! Think “How can I make someone else’s holiday magical?” Ask your kids that question and let them be creative and brainstorm some ideas!

2. Teach your babies to give! I know for sure my girls have way too many toys for them to love. Have your kids go through their toys, books, clothes, really everything and donate it! Give it to a family that you know may not be able to give gifts this season. Involve your little ones and explain to them that it’s time to pass some of their toys onto another little boy or girl to love. My daughter gets so excited when she thinks about gifting it to another little girl. If you don’t know where to take your items, Goodwill is always a great place to donate! 

3. Give your kids the opportunity to gift someone else. There are so many opportunities to buy gifts for other little ones this season. Give your children some money or if they are a little older have them raise money and take them to a store and let them pick out something to gift to someone else. We have let Charlie do this a couple times but this year will be the first year she can really grasp what she is doing. She’s only three years old but their hearts definitely understand giving…ya know after mom and dad tell them about 10 times “we’re not here to buy a toy for you!” 

4. Ask your kids what they want to do! I am so guilty of planning all the activities that I think would be so fun and they would all love! But kids are simple. Sometimes your babies just want to snuggle up with you and watch Charlie Brown. Some of my greatest memories with my girls and husband have been on our lazy weekends just spending quality time together!

5. Lastly, give Santa a break! I mean Santa’s not supposed to have a sleigh full of toys just for your kids! Plan your gifts. Your kids don’t need the whole Disney aisle at target. Trust me I want to buy my girls all the princesses too because I know they would love it. But how many dolls can two little girls play with? Kids actually play better with less! This year our family will be buying each other four gifts! Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read! Four gifts from mommy and daddy, and of course the few gifts Santa decides to drop off!

Speaking of the big SC! Kids talk and share all the things Santa left for them on Christmas morning. Be mindful of other families and the money that is being spent. A seven year old doesn’t understand why he got a basketball and little Johnny over there got an xbox one. Be mindful, mommas and daddies. Don’t crush the magic for other kids or make those parents have to have that uncomfortable conversation. Keep the expensive gifts from you and leave the simple stuff to Santa!

Now enjoy the most wonderful time of year with your family!

I hope this encouraged you this holiday season to soak it all in and not stress about the little things. Let’s go out this Christmas season and spread all the holiday cheer! Make some new family traditions with your kids and show them the real reason for the season!

How to Make Christmas Magic

It’s that time of the year, and if you ask me – it’s the best time of the year

It is the warmest, most beautiful,  most emotional and the most spiritual time of the year -Christmas !

Unfortunately over the years it has become the most expensive and most stressful .

There is constant pressure that everything has to be perfect, which can cause you a lot of stress. But it doesn’t have to be really that complicated. Enjoying Christmas doesn’t have to cost that much.

Christmas magic is already in the air – you just need to add a little glitter.

The key is to keep everything simple and fun. Here are some ways to do so!

  • Decoration

Every time I go into any shop, Christmas decorations are so tempting and I want to buy them ALL! I always end up buying a lot of decorations that, let’s be honest, I don’t even need.

How about this? Instead of spending a lot of money on decorations- make them. Make them together with your kids. Kids will be happy because you are doing something together and they will have a lot fun making them. There will most likely be a lot of glue and glitter around the house, but also a lot of fun.

And yes I almost forgot…Put an orange peel on the heater vent. It looks nice and smells even nicer.

  • Dinner is ready !

           First – don’t overcook. Second- be smart when picking the menu. What would make you think that your kid will eat something that he or she doesn’t usually eat, only because it’s Christmas?

Don’t experiment with new things. I don’t know about your kid, but it’s easier for me to get him to brush his teeth than it is to get him to try to eat something new. So make something that everybody likes.

For example, my younger son likes broccoli ( not my child, I don’t know how that happened) so I will make him a Christmas tree from broccoli.

I like butternut squash, so I will make butternut squash in the oven with extra cinnamon on top. It is delicious and the house will smell like heaven.

My husband likes beer. I will put antlers, eyes and a red nose on the bottle so he will have reindeer beer.

And my older son…oh well he likes chips. How festive is that?! But since I will be making Christmas magic, I will make him home made sweet potato chips. Bon appetit !

  • In vino veritas

“In wine lies the truth” – Latin phrase

Hot wine, mulled wine, gluhwein, vin chaud – call it whatever you like. Red wine or white, you pick. There is no need  for it to be expensive and good  since you can add spices to give it some flavour. Just add oranges, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom… That’s something for you, so you can survive all those Christmas preparations.

  • Family traditions

Start your own family tradition. This year I’m planning to start new tradition where we watch home videos from when we were young. It will be very interesting for my kids to see what my husband and I looked like when we were little.

They will remember this all their life, and maybe one day they will sit with their kids telling them how their parents had this tradition when they were young.

This way you will stay with them forever…

  • Gifts

I don’t remember any present I received back when I was kid, but I do remember my father serving dinner dressed up as Santa. We were laughing and my younger sister was crying because father didn’t come to Christmas dinner.

I used to spend a lot of money on presents so that my kids could end up playing with a box. So keep it simple. It’s better to have a few small gifts, but wrapped nicely. I just love wrapping! Use your imagination here too. Write nice cards. Let your kids draw something on the paper and wrap gifts with that.

Wrap them experiences and memories, not the gifts.

  • We are not alone in this world

Use opportunities to teach your kids empathy and the beauty of giving and sharing. Let them go through toys that they don’t use anymore and have them donate them to other children. It teaches your kids giving, and helps make other kids happy as well.

Fifteen years from now your kids will not remember gifts. They will remember you being there.

They will remember their brothers poop explosion during Christmas dinner. They will remember their father falling asleep and his snoring during the Christmas movie.

They will remember the smell of hot chocolate, orange and cinnamon.

They will remember magic that YOU, their mother, put together.

And you…you don’t need magic, you already have it. Your magic is your kids laugh and having your family together…

Ok…and hot wine.

When You’re the ‘Small’ Family for the Holidays

The holidays bring about memories of everyone gathered under one roof, sharing presents and meals, laughter and cheer. Our home is a little more quiet and our place settings are fewer. The day is still special, yes; but far more simple. You see, we’re on the opposite side of the country from the rest of our families. We are the ‘small family’ for the holidays, with it being just myself, my fiancé and our son. Small in size, big on love.

When we made the decision to move from Massachusetts to Washington state, we knew the holiday season would be different. We knew our son, an only child, wouldn’t be bustling back and forth between different families houses over the celebratory days. We knew we wouldn’t be going to the same tree farm Patrick and I grew up going to every year. But that was okay; because as we grew older and started our own family, things changed in our extended families and the generations who seemed to uphold those traditions passed on. It was up to us to start new ones.

It can be hard, seeing other families at the school assemblies with tribes of people there to support their kiddo while it’s just you two, the parents. It can be hard, waking up on those holiday mornings and knowing it’s just on you to make this day special. It can be hard, remembering what the holidays were like when you were a kid and it seemed like there was a house full of people but your child only knows a morning of you three.  You wonder if he’s missing out on some fundamental part of childhood because he’s not building forts with cousins or careening down the hill going questionably fast on a sled in your grandparents backyard. (Though some would argue that we also miss out on the logistical nightmare that is holiday air travel!)

But it’s not the size of your dinner table, your tree, your list of gifts, or visitors cars in the driveway.

It’s the laughter in the room, the smile on his face, and how he will always remember the traditions we are making, Here and now. Instead of getting sad or anxious about how things aren’t quite the same for our son as they were for us, we’ve taken on the season as our own and made our own traditions. We found our own favorite tree farm here in Washington. we visit our favorite Christmas lights attraction and make our own playlist. We spend the morning in our home, laughing and enjoying simple gifts and a good meal.

It is always enough for them, mama. No matter what you do, the day is magical for them because they believe that it is. Don’t get so caught up wondering if you’re ‘big’ enough for them and forget to enjoy the wonder of the small things.

Podcast: Bring On The Holidays: Our Busy Holiday Schedule

Listen on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast and other major podcast apps through here!


Co-hosts, Paige + Leslie talk about their holiday schedules witb their kids, and some tips on how to make the hussle and bussle a little easier for their little ones. Paige talks about accidentally telling her step-son that Santa isn’t real.

Show Notes

Co-Hosts: Paige Martinek + Leslie Caruthers


What holiday traditions do you have? Comment below?

How to Have a “Minimalist” Christmas

Okay, Mamas. This is an upfront disclaimer that I am a “minimalist in-progress.” Can we just agree that there is a middle-ground somewhere between shaming people who have throw pillows and keeping every book you’ve ever read? Maybe room for a family still clinging to their dying DVD collection, but intentionally inching towards minimalist living? That would be the category my family fits into.

Minimalism is all the rage, right? But what does it have to do with our families? One study found that an average 10 year old owns 238 toys, but only plays with 12 of them on a regular basis (1). Raise your hand if you just started mentally counting all of your children’s toys? (Yes, every Barbie shoe and Lego block counts.)

When I chose to embrace minimalism it was because I saw it as a way to raise content, grateful, and creative kids- the kind of kids who use the things they have with the fullness of their imagination; kids whose general state of happiness floats above the “need” for more and more stuff. Firstly, you’re right if you think that it must be BOTH satisfying and also completely terrifying to purge mass quantities of stuff with small people living in your house. Secondly, the peace found at the end of the process outweighs the energy and time commitment it takes – I promise.

As I’ve introduced this concept to the people in my kids’ lives (in other words, the people who give them gifts), they almost always get around to asking, “but what about Christmas?”

What about Christmas? Won’t there be a full-scale revolt if the pile under the tree shrinks suddenly?! How do you even get started with something like this? First…

Get your kids on board – I think most of us underestimate our kids. Children tend to be open to new ideas when they understand why something is happening. Talk to your kids honestly. Explain how wonderful it would be if their lives (and rooms) were only full of the things that they love and the things that they use. Talk up the beauty of simplicity! They’ll have less things to pick up at “clean up time.” They’ll be able to find that treasured item that always gets misplaced under a pile of junk.

They will follow your lead – Before tackling the playroom, demonstrate the process in other areas of the home and let them be part of the process. Cleaning out the pantry? Mommy is getting rid of things she doesn’t love and doesn’t use. Let them see how you make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. Watch an episode of Marie Kondo’s new show on Netflix together, and then hit their closets asking, “Does this bring me joy?” (my girls LOVED this part! They even made Daddy do it). Make it fun and exciting, a whole new way of looking at things.

Start the process now, not on Christmas EveBut what about Christmas?! This is a lifestyle change, guys. It’s going to take some getting used to. So the sooner you start having conversations the better. That also gives you the chance to work with your kids towards simplifying their playroom and bedrooms before a huge influx of gifts.

One thing that’s worked really well with my kids is giving them the option of only picking up the things they love. This is a winner in my house especially when the playroom floor is trashed. I frame it like, “guys I’m going to do you a huge favor. All you have to do is put away the things that you use and that you love, and Mommy will handle the rest.” Note: be careful to preserve trust and to respect your children during this process. At our house, the kids know that those trashbags go to the basement before they head to Goodwill. I stash them there for 2 months, and if they aren’t touched in that time, they get donated. The girls understand this process, so they are way more willing to let me haul that singing Elsa away in a plastic bag.

Clue in the relatives –  People are going to think you’re crazy. Get comfortable with that. They’re also going to be really uncomfortable NOT buying loads of stuff for you and your kids. Don’t apologize about going against the grain, but do give them ideas! If you need some, keep reading. Make an Amazon list for each of your kids and share it with family members. Most people want to get gifts that really bless you, and are thrilled to know exactly what that is.

What do you buy them? 

  1. Subscription boxes & magazines: what’s better than one gift that gets ignored in 2 weeks? A give that comes 12 times in a year! There are subscription boxes for everything from cultural cooking to woodworking. Google your child’s age/interest and I bet you find something amazing. Our absolute FAVORITE is Letters From Afar.
  2. Experiences: Museum & Zoo passes, Aquarium memberships, movie giftcards all fall under this category. My in-laws made the sweetest “box of dates” for our girls last year. Each 1st of the month they would open an envelope with a pre-planned date with Nana & Grandpop in it. It was super fun!
  3. Classes: How about getting grandma and grandpa to invest in a skill your kids are dying to work on, like gymnastics, swimming, karate lessons, space camp?!
  4. Open-ended toys: These are toys that can be used in more than one way, and for more than one age-group. I’m convinced that my kids could have happily survived the last 7 years playing with just silk scarves, Animal Figurines, and Magnet Blocks. Those are our top three for sure. (your standard cardboard box also fits in this category)
  5. Consumable items & Handicrafts: Art supplies are a hot commodity around here, and are always a crowd-pleaser. I mean who doesn’t love a fresh box of crayons or an elaborate coloring book.  This is also a great time to invest in a hands-on creative skill like crocheting, felting, sewing, beading, woodworking, or musical instruments.

Focus on the stuff that isn’t “stuff” – Since down-sizing our Christmas, we instead have time, energy, and mental space to pack the whole month of December with memory making. In fact, Advent kicks off the week of Thanksgiving in this house with a cranberry/popcorn/orange garland making fest. We read all the Christmas books, sing all the songs, watch all the movies, eat and bake and just generally pack this month full of good times. Here’s five ideas to get you started:

  1. Read good books together as a family: Sarah Mackenzie at Read-Aloud Revival has a great reading list! Grab a bunch of Christmas picture books from the library, wrap up 24 of them, and open one a day to read as a family. Or better yet, pick a big juicy classic novel like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to read over dinner each night (with Turkish Delight of course).
  2. Drive around the neighborhood with cocoa looking for Christmas lights.
  3. Make homemade salt-dough ornaments or sugar scrubs to give out to friends and family as gifts.
  4. On Christmas Eve make (more) cocoa and have a night picnic under the stars. We always take our popcorn garlands outside at this point, and hang them up on the trees for the animals.
  5. Set up a card making station for your kids full of stickers, stamps, and glitter. We make cards while listening to carols or audio-books all month long, and then bring them to a local nursing home. Focus on the GIVING, not the getting.


Further reading suggestions: Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquilyn Smith

Listen to JoLynn on The Outnumbered Mama’s Podcast to hear more about her minimalist lifestyle, and how she and her family celebrate Christmas.



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5 Ways to Practice Self-Care this Holiday Season

With the holidays quickly approaching it so easy as mamas to put ourselves on the back burner. And while there are certainly seasons where this is absolutely necessary, if you do this for too long, no one will truly enjoy those precious holiday moments. So here are just a few ideas to make sure that you take care of you during this especially busy holiday season.

**NOTE: these are not “get a manicure”. While I firmly believe that sometimes that can be a form of self care, and that you should in fact, get that manicure. I also believe that true self care, the kind that actually nourishes your soul happens daily, multiple times a day. So, with that said, lets get started!


Yep, drink water. I know, you are sitting there reading this like, um, that isn’t self care. But here me out. You should be consuming AT LEAST half your body weight in ounces of water every single day. Your body, your beautiful body, is made up of water. You have to drink it. Period. Yes, that means you’ll have to use the bathroom a lot but who cares. Drinking water will instantly make you feel better. Your body will be less sore. Your skin will clear up. Your attitude will be better. 

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**worth noting that coffee is not water, tea is not water, La Croix is not water. WATER IS WATER. You can add fruit (actual whole fruit) or herbs to it, but you need to drink real water. I promise you will notice a difference. 


I know, I know. No one likes this one. But lets get into it. If you move your body it scientifically changes the chemistry in your body. Our bodies are designed to move. They are made for challenges. They are not made to spend every moment sitting. Movement doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym for an hour. Movement doesn’t mean you have to run on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Movement means movement. Go for a walk with your kids. I know its cooler, but go. Being outside right now is BEAUTIFUL, enjoy it. Pull up Youtube and do a yoga flow, you will feel so much lighter after. Have a dance party with your kids. This is my personal favorite thing to do during that witching hour right before dinner. This is not about weight loss, this is about mental sanity. I know that it feels like we are doing everyone else a service by always being there for them and taking up the “martyr” role. Mama, here me, this is helping absolutely no one. You want your kids to learn to take good care of themselves right? You want to them to be healthy, happy adult humans, right? The only way that they will learn to that is if you SHOW THEM. Meaning you have to do it first. Also, you are worth taking care of. Did you read that? Let me say it again, YOU. ARE. WORTH. TAKING. CARE. OF. So move your body, every single day. I promise the smile on your face will slowly grow and grow. 



During the holidays everyone is busy. Especially mamas and bonus points if you have more than one kid, even more bonus points if you have more than one kid in elementary school. BLESS. I swear the holidays come around and every elementary teacher ever thinks that your schedule instantly cleared and you have all the literal time to bake cookies and craft and show up in the middle of the day. But that is a rant for a different day. Any who, you are allowed to say no. You are allowed to not do that thing that you don’t actually want to do. Rest, doesn’t just mean sleep. It also does mean sleep, so make sure you prioritize that as well, but also what I actually mean here is mental rest. You have to give yourself some grace. You have to know that you are doing your best and that is great. If you hate baking cookies, don’t. Buy some cookies and call it day. Your kids don’t actually care, promise, they just want cookies. Take some time this holiday season and be present with your babies. Have a movie night. Play a board game. Do whatever you will actually enjoy. There is one other thing I want to add when it comes to grace and it has to do with stress. Mama, now is not the time to attempt to make every single thing by hand. You do not have enough time to cook all the meals from scratch, hand make everyone a present, volunteer for every at school party, and still be the wife your husband needs and a functional mama. Now is when it is okay to order Hello Fresh, buy cute handmade presents on Etsy, pick ONE party to volunteer for and go all out… You get the idea here.  


You are allowed to set boundaries that make you comfortable. All the extended family time that tends to go down during this season can be the most stressful part for some people. Don’t get me wrong, I know we all love our families. It is just sometimes difficult to be around some of them. Do not be afraid to set boundaries for these people. For instance, if at every Thanksgiving, your uncle Billy gets crazy drunk and you always get super stressed about how your kids will react, set a boundary. You do not have to be mean about it, but BEFORE Thanksgiving call uncle Billy and let him know how uncomfortable it makes you when this happens. Let him know that if he chooses to get drunk, you will have to choose to leave Thanksgiving early. Don’t tell him how terrible he is for getting drunk. Don’t lecture him about his life choices. Be clear and concise, if _____ happens then I will do _____. Fill in the blanks for whatever situation instantly popped in your head when you read this, I know there was one. Find a way to have grace and compassion for who ever it is, this is not about being rude. This is about your own mental health.  


This should go without saying but honestly, when I look back a few of the holiday seasons I have endured, I did just that, endure. I didn’t have fun. I didn’t enjoy the whole process. That really stinks, you know? So this one is last for a reason. If nothing else I want this to stick with you. You, as a grown adult human, are allowed to still have fun, especially during the holidays. Schedule one thing that makes you as giddy as a toddler who just heard baby shark for the 100th time in a row. Hire a sitter and go on date night. (hint: if funds are tight make this your christmas present to each other.) Find a way to enjoy the process of purchasing presents instead of stressing yourself out to find the perfect one. Decorate before it is socially acceptable if you want to. Listen to Christmas music if you feel like it. Make it a priority to actually laugh once a day. Whatever that means for you, you deserve to laugh, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. 


Mama, I hope your holiday season is full.

I hope its full of laughter and joy.

I hope its full of happiness and grace.

I hope it is overflowing with love.

Be the thermostat in your home and set the temperature this holiday season. Set your thermostat for whatever will bring you the most joy and the most peace. Your family will be the thermometer and meet you there. 



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Ariel Nieto is a wife and mama of 4 little ones, ages 7 years to -9 months. She loves all things health and wellness and loves chatting about mom life. Learn more about her here!