Get ‘er Done


You know we like Advent over here.

But every year we buckle down to observe the holy heck of out Advent and we notice that the crap still creeps in.

Like Tuesday I’m sitting on my yoga mat before class, meditating (aka: trying to talk myself out of bailing and going for coffee) and I can’t help but hear the conversations around me that all sound like this:

“I have SO MUCH TO DO. There are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the month. Every year I tell myself I’m going to start early and I never do.”

We have all felt that. I have felt that. But that’s not how we should feel this time of year.

So here’s your pep talk.

This weekend, this one starting right now—Purchase. Wrap. Use Amazon Prime and Ebates to do it from the cushy, warm comfort of your couch plus free shipping and cash back. It doesn’t have to be wrapped nicely. It just has to be wrapped. You don’t need cute gift tags. A folded over square of paper works just fine.

Get ‘er done.

Decorate. We got our tree in the parking lot at the mall and I don’t even care. Last year we did the big family haul to the woods to cut it down in the wild. It was the most giant cluster ever. This tree is shorter and skinny, which means the kids could reach it. There are lights and ornaments. The end. The tree does not have to be a work of art.

Get ‘er done.

Sit down with the remote. Search up all your favorite holiday movies and set them to record. Roll through Freeform to find the kids’ favorites. One night two weeks from now when you have reached the breaking point you will be able to yell “GO WATCH TV! And don’t come back until you’ve watched Prep and Landing and Prep and Landing Two TWICE.” Then you can open a nice bottle of wine and catch up on your favorite A Christmas Carol. May I suggest Alistair Sim, although Captain Picard will work too.

Just get ‘er done. A few days of nose to the grindstone now will help you create the sacred space you need later to be calm and present. We’ll need our wits about us for the hard parts. And there are always hard parts. For lots of reasons.

But let’s don’t let one of those reasons be because we left it all so late that we didn’t have time to breathe.

We can do this. We can get ‘er done.





Last Sunday, my dear, sweet, wonderful husband was putting up the Christmas lights outside.

Gabriel was helping him, which at the moment meant entertaining Annie who decided that she also wanted to “help”.

They had the wiggle car scooter out and were riding it down our sidewalk, which has a bit of an incline.

And my husband looked at them riding down the sidewalk and thought to himself “I’ll bet I can jump over them as they go by.”

It did not occur to him to warn Gabe.

So when all 6’5” of daddy came running at him, Gabe did what any sane child would do: he stopped cold.

Causing Daddy to hook a foot on his shoulder and land awkwardly on his knee. The “trick” knee, the one that has a tendency to “go out” every now and then. That one.

He didn’t tell me for an hour. He said because he knew my reaction was predictable.

Whatever that means.

We’ll know how badly his 43-year-old-but-I-still-think-I’m-20-year-old-knee is after an MRI on Tuesday.


Free Range Christmas Trees

“Let’s get a tree!” I said.

Shea looked at me warily. “Same place as last year?”

“No! For five bucks we can cut it down ourselves out in the woods. Just think of it, honey! A FREE RANGE Christmas tree!”

Saturday we were out the door by 9:15 am. Saw? Check. Permit? Check. Rope? Check.

Coat for Annie? Not so much. Although we didn’t figure that out until we pulled into the deserted, icy barely plowed campground at Fish Lake.

Twenty miles in was when I decided I would read the Bureau of Land Management rules for cutting down a tree in the wild. It’s pretty simple—you just have to keep the numbers 200 and 12 in your head: 200 feet from the nearest road. 200 feet from a lake. 200 feet from a campground. 200 feet from the river. No more than 12 feet from the nearest tree. No more than 12 feet high. And no more than a 12 inch stump left over.

All good.

But then there was this:

With forecasts for this winter predicting colder temperatures and above average precipitation, it’s as important as ever to prepare for the unexpected when looking for your holiday tree. Bring a handsaw or axe as well as winter clothing and safety equipment. Tire chains and a shovel are recommended, as is extra food, drinking water, blankets, a flashlight, first aid kit and survival gear. Tree cutting and travel may take longer than anticipated, so notify a friend or family member where you’re going, get an early start, and leave the woods well before dark.

We had two of those things. TWO. And this was before I knew that we forgot Annie’s coat.

Huh. But I wasn’t about to turn down the Morman Tabernacle Choir to spread fear and anxiety, so on we drove into the great white wilderness, ill-equipped but optimistic.

We found this:


Gorgeous. It wasn’t too cold, right at freezing, so Annie wore Kate’s coat, Kate wore mine, I wore Shea’s and Shea sucked it up. We spent 45 minutes “searching” for a tree, which looked a lot like snowballs fights and snow angels and picture taking.

Then we got serious.

We discovered that a lot of free range trees are actually one sided, which works for us in this house because the tree goes against a wall. I liked the white pine trees—very Sundance catalog and since our house has a craftsman vibe, I knew we could make it work. Shea stood next to the tree we picked and stuck his hand up—the tree was probably right at 12 feet tall. We followed the directions with the stump, cut the tree down in two shakes and carried it back to the car.

We headed ten more miles down the road to Lake of the Woods resort, where we had a fabulous lunch at the grill and made reservations to camp in June.

Then we drove the 44 miles home with the tree. That’s it—44 miles. It’s still a small miracle to me that wild Christmas trees can be found that close to home.

This is what it looked like in the driveway.


“Dang,” I said to Shea. “It looks bigger now.”


So I took the big shears and trimmed the tree back at least a foot around the bottom.

“How much room do we have at the bottom?” I asked.

“Sixty inches.”

“How much room at the top”

“Oh, the height is not the problem.”

“Well, let’s bring it in and then I can trim more if I need to.”

So before you see this picture there are a few things you need to understand in terms of perspective.

  1. The black entertainment center is 8 feet tall.
  2. The couch is a 5 full feet away from the wall and four feet away from the TV.

Ok, you ready?


And clearly there’s not plenty of room at the top.

I laughed until tears ran down my face. Then I texted one of my Oregon natives and told her the tree grew four feet on the drive home. “Do you know how many times that happened to us growing up?!!” she texted back. “They do look smaller in the wild!”

We went out the next day and got a 9 footer from a lot. For comparison’s sake, here’s a side-by-side of the two trees.

On Saturday night I went to a mom’s night out. As I was recounting our successful-ish tree hunting story, one of the moms asked which road we took.

“We were going to take the 234, but we ended up taking the 140”.

The mom next to me snickered and rolled her eyes.

“What?” I poked her arm.

THE 234??? THE 140??? You Californians and your “the”. It’s just 234 and 140.”

I rolled me eyes at her and one of the other moms, a fellow transplant said “Your California is showing”.

In more ways than one, my new friends. In more ways than one.







Christmas Cut-Off


I have some magic words to share with you.

Some of the most magic words in the history of parenting.

Three years ago, I invented these magic words one day in Target, when Kate asked in mid-October if she could have a doll.

Nope, I told her, while trying to walk, nurse Annie and push the cart. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her eyebrows crash together as she took a Big. Deep. Breath.

Why not? she asked in the way that four year olds have that makes it clear if the answer is not satisfactory, things are going to get interesting up in here.

What I tried to tell her:  Because I said so, little missy and if you even consider throwing a fit at this moment I swear one day I will make you sew your own wedding dress by hand out of polyester.

But then, in a Divine Intervention on Behalf of Mothers and Daughters everywhere, what I actually said was It’s too late. We’re in the Christmas Cut-Off.

I just barely stopped myself from looking around for who was talking.

What does that mean? Kate asked.

It means any toys you buy or receive from now until Christmas will require you to give up a Christmas present.

Oh, she said. Well can I ask Santa for this doll?

Yes, I said. But once you tell Santa, you can’t change your mind. Santa doesn’t do wishy-washy.

Ok, she said and put the doll back.

Magic, I tell you. MAGIC WORDS.

Now it’s a thing in our family. This year the Christmas Cut-Off started on October 1. And will be followed in short order by Birthday Cut-off, and Easter Cut-Off.

People, do you know what this means? I have shortened the window on the number of times I have to dodge the toy section and/or send my kids to bed with no dinner because of a toy section melt-down to four short months.

Just tonight, as my girls went out the door with Teresa to brave the Thanksgiving Week sales, Annie yelled And I can get a TOY! Kate leaned over into her face and said with sweet big sister seriousness No, you can’t. We’re in the Christmas Cut-Off, remember? And Annie said Oh yeah, I forgot and ran off to get her coat.

It was after this Thanksgiving miracle right in my own living room that I realized I had to pass these words on to you. Use them in good conscience and with goodwill.

From your friends at Full of Graces, who are trying to make the Christmas season quieter, one 4 year old at a time.


Us in a Pear Orchard

When Kate was a toddler, I decided that one thing we would pay for every year was family photos.

We had a photographer we loved in So Cal.

Her name is Taylor K and we love her still, but 750 miles is a bit far for a house call.

Finding a new photographer is a big deal. Because if you get it wrong…

So I asked my local friends for referrals.

Meet Tonya Poitevint.


I know. Doesn’t she just look awesome? She was. She had so much energy, and energy is a requirement when working with my family. Because WE ARE COMING AT YOU. It’s just how we roll.

And this year, Kate was her own special brand of party.

Mom, do you think Miss Tonya can take 35 pictures just of me?

Well I don’t know Kate. There are five of us here and we only have two hours. Plus you’ve already had some pretty great poses.

Mom, there are HUNDREDS more where those came from.

We shot at RoxyAnn Winery and Farm, in their pear orchard.  We had chosen another venue, but at the last moment needed to switch. The folks at RoxyAnn welcomed us generously and without a thought. That’s kind of a big deal when your kids are wearing outfits that will expire in the next hour.

As luck would have it, Sue—who is Annie’s godmother—was visiting so we got some wonderful pics of them together.








Gabriel started in his suit for his First Communion portraits.








Kate brought the sass. I love the confidence in her eyes. I will crush the person who ever tries to take that light from her.








And Annie…well. There’s just something about that third kid.








We had so much fun taking these pictures with Tonya. There was a grumpy old lady. We shook it off. The sun was going down, fast. No worries. It got cold. She was shooting in a tank top! She’s patient and friendly and fun. We’re so grateful for her talent and the way she captured the spirit of our kids.


See more of Tonya’s work at Tonya Poitevint Photography. If you are local to Southern Oregon, you gotta check her out!


The Santa Secret


Be warned. This post is not for kids.

The Tooth Fairy got caught red-handed in our house the other night.

I’d woken up at 4:15 am, poked him and asked if he remembered about Gabriel’s tooth. He hadn’t, so he stumbled out of bed and down the stairs.

He made a lot of noise.

The next morning, Gabe announced “The Tooth Fairy didn’t come. It was Dad.”

I said “Go. To. My. Room.”

I got the girls started on breakfast and then met him there.

“What do you think this means?” I asked him.

“That Santa and the Easter Bunny aren’t real either.” And then one tear ran down his face.

He’s 9. I was 10. He caught dad. I found a receipt in the garage for the skates Santa brought me. My mom whisked me into her room and shut the door, too. And I cried.

“Does it feel weird to you that we lied?” This has always been the sticky wicket for me. I don’t remember being upset that my parents lied, because I understood on some level that the lie was the trade-off for the magic.


“Do you understand why we did it?”


“Ok. Well, I’m sorry that you found out this way. Let it sink in and we can talk about it later.”

He went to school.

I was sad all day long. The world just got a little less magical for him. We wouldn’t have let it go on for much longer. We didn’t want him to feel stupid when he did find out. But I was hoping for one more Christmas.

And…I’ll admit that I gave into some contrived internet fueled mom-angst: I have betrayed my child! We all lied to him! He’ll think God is fake! What have we done????!!

By the time I got him alone in the car on the way to practice, I had all my mea culpas in order.

I needn’t have worried.

He had some very practical questions: “Mom, that time the tooth fairy got caught in the typhoon in Japan and didn’t come for three nights and then brought a bunch of presents for Kate to make up for it? Was that dad?”


“That time we were at Uncle Jake and Auntie Susie’s and we heard Santa and ran outside to find him and when we came back there were present on the porch?”

Auntie Susie and I bought them.

“Where did you get my bike?”

A bike shop in California.

“The Santa Tracker is fake?”


“So that’s why we never have to worry if Santa can find us? Because it’s you?”


Silence. Then “I kind of knew it last year. It just didn’t make sense. And then I caught dad once before but didn’t say anything because I thought I wouldn’t get any more money. And I didn’t want to know because now it won’t be as much fun.”

Hold on. Christmas is not really about Santa, anyway. But it will be just as much fun. Annie is only 3. If she lasts as long as you, we have seven more Christmases with Santa. And now you are on the other side of the secret. You get to help us make it magical.

He chewed on that for a minute. Then he started planning.

“Mom, we can find some bells and ring them like sleigh bells. And I can hide outside and say ‘Ho-ho-ho’. Maybe I can go up on the roof and stomp around like reindeer…”

Then he stopped and I could see him smiling in the rearview mirror.

“Mom. You know I still have to get Santa presents or the girls will think that’s weird.”

Yes, buddy. I know.

Boo Fail

I’ve written about Boo Baskets before. But I have an update.

For the first time in 5 years, we got caught.

Boo Baskets are not a thing in Southern Oregon. When I texted the moms of the four families we picked to tell them we would come a’booing, I found myself explaining the entire concept, four times.

My friend Leah—and she’s six months pregnant so I’m going to cut her some slack—didn’t tell her husband. Which led to this:

Leah’s house has enormous front windows. They also own a huge English Bulldog named Ozzy. The house sits a block from the town football stadium–I’ll take responsibility for choosing a Friday night when their street was packed with cars, mostly driven by mostly sober teenagers.

We had a strategy session in the car after we cruised the house. It was decided Shea would man the getaway car, the girls and I would hide behind Leah’s minivan and Gabe would do the real sneaking.

We neglected to notice the fence around the front yard to keep Ozzy in. And the screen door that swings instead of shuts so that he can get in and out.

Gabe made it to the door and back the first time, no problem, except that nothing happened.

“Did you ring the doorbell?” I whispered. He smacked his forehead and went back. I remembered too late that Leah told me the doorbell doesn’t work so I had to send him back a third time. “Knock loud!” I told him over the minivan.

And he did.

He barely made it back to the minivan before we heard the door squeak open and closed. Usually this is followed by “Hey, look what we got!” but this time there was nothing. Dead silence. So Gabe peeked. I wish I had a picture of the terror in his eyes when he came back down. He pointed, mouthed “A MAN” and then made himself into a tiny ball.

Well, dang. Sure enough when I looked around the corner,  I saw a man who I hoped to God was Leah’s husband crouched around the other side of the minivan, preparing to launch himself right where Annie was hiding.

He wasn’t wearing his Welcome to my house face either.

So first I got big and then I got loud:  “Hi! I’m Jen. You must be Jason! Did Leah tell you we were coming?”

He shook his head no, and you best believe I noticed that he didn’t actually speak to me. So I shoved Annie out where he could see her and pulled Kate–who, bless my smart girl, was already talking as fast as she could about her “great friend Ella”.

It took thirty seconds of explaining before his jaw relaxed, but then he was all in.

“Knock again” he told Gabe. “I’ll make sure the girls answer the door.”

Down we crouched and off Gabe went, for the fifth time in case you’re keeping score at home.

We heard the girls answer the door and find the basket. Squeals of excitement. The it got quiet. Gabe peeked, nodded that the coast was clear and I grabbed Annie’s hand and stood up.

To a chorus of screaming.

Ella and Anna came around the corner just as I moved and caught us stone cold.

Ozzy came out the gate and peed on my foot, he was so excited to see me.

(Later I told Gabe he was lucky that Ozzy must have been somewhere else, or we would have gotten caught the first time.

“He was right there, mom. He saw me. He wagged his tail like he was excited.”


At this point we had been gone so long that Shea came up the street to find out what the heck was going on, and that is how we met Jason, Leah’s husband.

Leah was not at home.

Best laid plans and all that.

For a reminder of how Booing works go here. Or Google it. There’s lots of cute ideas out there.