Simplified Christmas gift system

Our family's Christmas Gift System {Heather's Handmade Life}

Back in 2010, when our son was only six months old, I bought a package of wooden door-hangers and painted special Christmas gift tags.

Check out that 2010 camera quality, lol. Everything shines!

I also adopted the idea that we’d do a Christmas gift system:

  • Something you want
  • Something you need
  • Something to play with
  • Something to read
  • And a new pair of jammies for Christmas Eve
Two sets, for our two kids

I liked the idea that there was a consistency to gift-giving — that our son (and later, our daughter) would always know exactly how many gifs they would get from us, and what categories those gifts would fall under.

The kids love being able to easily spot specific gifts under the tree, and deciding which categories to open first or last.

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… and back to the beginning?

Heather in 2009

I was a columnist for a long time.

My DIY column, My Handmade Home, ran for five years and 11 months before getting canned in the earliest days of the ‘Vid. (Newspaper, yo, we were hit hard.)

My parenting column, The Mom Scene, ran for seven years and seven months before I chose to stop writing it to preserve my kids’ privacy.

(Shout-out to my LinkedIn profile for providing me with such exact dates. If it weren’t for reading about my own job experience on LinkedIn, everything would be a blur of “two thousand and something” and “before kids” or just … blank confusion.)

I was a freelancer for a long time.

It was my livelihood for a decade — living from one assignment to the next, chasing down interviewees, juggling different deadlines, and hoping I’d get paid before I was really strapped for the cash from a particular invoice.

I’m still a freelancer, in theory, but only for a handful of clients I just can’t quit. I’m now also a full-time content marketing manager, which means I get a guarenteed paycheque direct deposited in my bank account every two weeks like clockwork, and I must say, WOW, it’s pretty amazing after 10 years of never knowing when I was getting paid. I still marvel at it, almost a year in.

The last time I was a full-time employee was when I went on maternity leave with D. Twelve years ago. TWELVE!

When I started this blog in January of 2009, my life was weirdly similar to how it is today.

I was working full-time.

I was getting up early to write/edit novels.

I was sending out pitches (and collecting rejection letters).

I dreamed of being an author.

I had a small brown dog.

(And a flip phone to take this photo. Ah, the quality.)

I was weirdly obsessed with chicken wraps and Twilight soundtrack. (Holds up.)

Oh, and Michael also had a buzzcut.

Alaska 2009

Of course, a lot is different now, too.

We own a house in the country, instead of a condo in the city.

We have two amazing kids (something I blogged about wanting, desperately, back in 2009)

We have two vehicles. (Ironically, lately I’m missing the Jeep we had back in 2009. Don’t tell my husband*** because he’s been pestering me to talk about trading vehicles or something, and I just don’t have the bandwidth for that kind of discussion now … or ever.)

***No worries about him reading here because the goof doesn’t even read my Instagram posts, which are way shorter than this, lol.

My life is different than it was in 2009, but also kind of the same.

My goal in 2009 was to have beautiful babies — check! check! — and have a house I could decorate and organize to my heart’s content — check!

My goal in 2009 was to make a living with my writing, and I did! I’ve made a living with my writing ever since my maternity leave in 2010, actually, and now I make a living on my writing but also the related skills that come with that — like editing and magangement.

My goal in 2009 was to be a published author, and that’s still my goal. 2021 is drawing to a close in a couple of months, but hey, there’s always 2022.

If not, maybe twelve years from now, I’ll be writing another post about how 2033 Heather also weirdly likes the playlists, red lipstick and Smoky Bacon chips of 2021 Heather. 😉

The end of an era

After a decade of parenting columns, I will no longer write about my kids

Over the last couple of years, it’s become increasingly difficult to write about my children for this column

What are they comfortable with me sharing? How much do I feel I can declare, publicly? Am I writing something that might embarrass them, now or in the future?

Our son was barely a year old when I started writing a parenting column called Mommy Diaries for a local magazine …

… and when I started writing The Mom Scene for SaltWire Network newspapers, he was three and our daughter was one. 

Babies! All of us!

Now our son is 11 years old, in his second year of junior high school. (They renamed it a “middle school” over the summer, but he refuses to be demoted.) I can tell you he loves YouTube, Harry Potter, taekwondo, running and K-pop, but he’s creeping up on being a teenager, so I can’t tell you more than that. He deserves his privacy.

Even our “baby” is far from a baby. She’s nine going on 16, with highlighted hair and a brand-new set of braces. I can tell you she takes four dance classes a week, loves to act, and shines the brightest on any stage, but she rolls her eyes when I embarrass her, so I don’t dare tell you more than that. She, too, deserves her privacy.

First day of school 2015 vs. 2021

When I started writing about life as a mother, it felt like there were thousands of things to write about — baby food, cloth diapers, potty-training, naps, sleep deprivation, tantrums, first words, speech delays, ear surgeries. I loved reading “mommy blogs,” and couldn’t get enough of parenting content because it summed up my whole world.

When my kids were in preschool and elementary school, there were entertaining stories to tell about screen time, playdates, birthday party drama and ER visits because of swallowed screws. (He was fine, and hopefully learned a lesson about dissembling and snacking on Happy Meal toys.)

There were serious topics, too. I wrote about struggles with postpartum depression, the crippling anxiety of raising children during a pandemic, and the enormous mental toll associated with parenthood. I wrote about the backlash our son experienced when he grew his hair long, and what it taught all of us about misgendering

One newspaper edition at a time, I wrote the story of our lives — not all of it, but a decent snapshot of what the last decade has been like for our family. 

And while I know many people believe parents shouldn’t publicly share anything about their children, including photos, I have been happy with my decision to share bits and pieces. 

I don’t regret the years I spent telling these stories, and neither do the kids — so far, at least. They enjoyed when their school bus driver taped up a column for everyone to see, or when a teacher stopped them in the halls to congratulate them on something they’d read.

My children have grown up smiling through the pages of newspapers across Atlantic Canada, and now they have a thick scrapbook of brightly coloured newspaper clippings to look back on — a storybook of their younger lives, captured forever on newsprint. 

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New school year, new worries

For children too young to be vaccines yet, masks are their only defence

For the second year in a row, schools across Nova Scotia will be reopening with a mask mandate — but, unfortunately, it may not last for long.

With the province scheduled to hit Phase 5 as early as Sept. 15, barely one week into the 2021/2022 school year, I’m worried about what a mask-free world is going to look like for our children under 12.

I know, I know — the vaccine wasn’t even available to most parents of school-aged children until the last school year was almost over. (My husband and I had our first doses May 19, and second doses June 28.) Since being vaccinated wasn’t an option during much of the last school year, it didn’t seem as terrifying to have all these unvaccinated children (and adults) walking around, interacting with each other.

But now that vaccines are here, available for everyone except our children under 12, the thought of sending them off to school unprotected is unnerving. Combined with potentially removing face mask requirements one week in, and you’ve got a perfect storm for worried, anxious parents.

FACE MASKS FOR KIDS UNDER 12

True, I could “force” my kids to wear masks at school even when they’re not required. But I can just imagine how well that would go over. 

“My friends’ parents don’t make them wear masks!” Well, just because your friends jump off a bridge — er, heighten their COVID risk, doesn’t mean you … Ugh, I’m already exhausted, just thinking of the arguments.

My kids (aged nine and 11) are excellent about wearing their masks. No, they don’t always want to, but they wear them without complaint when we’re out and about. They wear masks on lanyards. They wear disposable masks and reusable masks. They stuff masks in pockets and backpacks and jackets, so they always have a mask when they need one.

#MaskLife

But if Nova Scotia enters Phase 5 and masks are “recommended but not required,” are they really going to choose to wear them? Probably not. 

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Surviving the first big slumber party

Everything was going great … until it wasn’t.

I was washing the dishes when a wide-eyed child appeared in my kitchen, motioning to the backyard where six little girls had all been playing nicely just moments earlier.

“You’d better get out there,” she told me darkly. “People are sad.”

Um, what?! 

I hurried out back to find tween turmoil. Some were crying, some had stormed off, and some were comforting the ones who were upset. What happened? No idea. I couldn’t understand everyone’s tears and shouts.

Nervously, I called my daughter over and hissed “We need to do something!” She was wailing, too, worried that her very first slumber party was ruined before it had really begun. 

Thankfully, she’d planned a scavenger hunt, with scribbled marker clues leading her guests to discover which movie they were going to watch. The distraction calmed everyone down and they forgot about their squabble.

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