Found: Two Missing Bloggers

LOST AND FOUND Hand Painted Sign on Wood

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Hi.

Remember us? :)

We can’t believe it’s been almost 3 months since we’ve posted anything. Life has been busy, and we’d like to share some of what’s been going on with us.

About 7 months ago, I (Mandy) relocated with my family to Sheffield. My husband took a job at the University here, I started a new job, our son started a new nursery, and we’ve been settling and getting to know our new community. It’s a lot of ‘new’ that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. But, as with any major move, starting over takes time. More than I remembered.

In the next couple of months, I (MC) am about to leave Oxford to head back to the USA. With another baby on the way in a month, a husband hurrying to wrap up his thesis here at Oxford and then starting a new job, and settling into a new community back in the US, we are about to embark on a season of immense change as well.

We’ve been relatively silent over the past three months, pondering what to do with the blog. I (Mandy) have especially felt this, as I am in every sense completely disconnected from graduate life. It is no longer part of my everyday life. It’s weird to write that. M.C. is about to head in that direction as well.

For us, the graduate journey chapter has and is closing. It makes it difficult for us to keep a pulse on graduate life and how we can be encouraging to other graduate wives…

So……where does that leave The Graduate Wife?

We’ve spent quite a lot of time discussing this over the past three months. Talking about you, our readers, who have encouraged and formed our time in graduate school with your stories and support. We’ve both gone back and read almost every piece this blog has published over the past three years. The more and more we read, the more we kept thinking, “This can’t stop.” Just when we think it might be time to hang up the ‘blogger’ titles, we get another email from another graduate wife to say, “I am so glad I found this blog….I can’t stop reading.”

Your stories continue to encourage us and others, and we don’t want that to end.

However, the longer we are away from graduate life, the harder it will be for us to keep current with what’s important to you. Yes, our new readers can go back and read what’s been written in the past, but it’s also important to us that what is said here reflects what’s going on out there. Does that make sense?

We have decided to ask for your help. We are looking for 4-6 graduate wives who would be willing to work alongside us to run The Graduate Wife blog. This is not a time intensive deal; It would only require 1-2 hours of your time a month. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you do, what school you’re attached to; If you’re interested, please get in touch with us by 30th April at thegraduatewife@gmail.com and we’ll give you a few more details. We’re excited to share with you what we think the next season of The Graduate Wife should look like.

We hope you’ll bear with us over the course of the next couple of months as we attempt to deal with the changes our families are embarking on. We hope that the momentous life changes ahead of us won’t significantly change how this blog operates. We want this blog to continue to be a catalyst for your graduate stories, if you’ll allow so.

Thank you for continuing to read and follow our blog even though we’ve been radio silent over the past three months. Thank you for sharing your life stories, struggles, and celebrations with us.

With grateful hearts,

Mandy & M.C.

Shuga’ Mommas: Weeknight Mushroom and Kale Pasta

I’m a huge fan of the blog 100 Days of Real Food. (You should check them out if you haven’t). Last week, Lisa posted a wonderful recipe for Mushroom and Kale Pasta. I decided to cook it for my family, and it was a huge hit! Given that it is a vegetarian meal, it’s also extremely cost effective for those of us on a graduate budget!

I’ve included Lisa’s recipe below; the only changes I made was serving gluten free pasta, instead of whole-wheat.

Weeknight Mushroom and Kale Pasta

Serves: 3-4
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces whole-wheat pasta, boiled and drained according to pasta directions
  • 1 ounce dried mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 cups loosely packed kale, with big stems removed and cut into strips
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • ⅓ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. In a small pot, add the dried mushrooms and cover with water (minimum of 1 ½ cups). Bring to a boil and cook until the mushrooms have softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain while reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Dice the cooked mushrooms (I do this by using culinary scissors).
  2. In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots, mushrooms, and garlic to the pan and cook while stirring for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Pour in the white wine and turn up the heat so the mixture comes to a boil. Cook until the wine almost completely boils off, about 3 to 4 minutes (if you are doubling this recipe, it will take longer).
  4. Pour in the 1 cup of the reserved mushroom cooking liquid and cook until reduced by half.
  5. Turn the heat back down to medium and add the heavy cream, kale, salt, and pepper to the pan. Cook until the sauce thickens, 2 to 3 more minutes. Fold in the noodles, garnish with Parmesan, and serve.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

~Mandy

Monday’s Food for Thought: Books to Read this Year – at least before they hit the cinemas!

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Do you have a list of books to read for 2014?

I’m the kind of person that usually reads a novel before it comes out in movie form. (Case in point, if I love the book I will often refuse to see the movie, as I have specific ideas of what the characters, etc look like)! This list came out and I wondered if any of our readers had read any of these books, or will you just be watching the movies when they come out later this year?

In parallel, The Atlantic just published an article on how reading changes your brain. The study suggests that ‘reading could have long-term effects on the brain through the strengthening of the language-processing regions and the effects of embodied semantics.’

I hope you enjoy reading in 2014! If not, let us know if the movies are any good. :)

Happy Monday!

~Mandy

Backup Regularly: Thinking About What You Can Do with a PhD

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-written by Dr. Casey Strine

There is a great temptation to start this essay by recounting statistics about how many more PhDs than academic jobs there are like some form of career ruin porn.  I’ll refrain, but if you’re not familiar with such info, then here is one of the less apoplectic articles on the topic:

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/09/data-show-modest-gain-number-new-phds-jobs-upon-graduation

Since you’re reading this post there is a high likelihood you already know that there are diminishing opportunities and rapacious competition for tenure track academic jobs in all disciplines. Here, I want to address how one might cope with this situation and not to lament it.  The latter is a conversation I only have face to face and with an open bottle of whisky.

Forgive me for starting with autobiographical context, but I think it will illumine what follows. I received my doctorate in February 2011 from the University of Oxford and, thanks to Her Majesty’s government, was permitted to stay in the UK until July 2013.  I had just over two years to get a good postdoc or university lectureship with my newly minted Oxford D.Phil.  Tough to be sure, but I’d navigated tough odds before.

On the final Saturday in January 2013 my wife and I sat on the kitchen floor of our flat to have a conversation I’d been dreading for over 12 months.  I had secured neither a university lectureship nor a research fellowship and, quite honestly, I had almost no prospects for either at that moment.  The last few grains of sand were about to go through my academic career hourglass and it was time to figure out what I would do with my doctorate.  The relentless pressure of my thesis and my academic job search precluded me from having the emotional space and mental energy necessary to answer this question.  Strategy consulting? Secondary school teaching? Non-profit or think-tank?  Barista? What on God’s green earth was I going to do now?

That conversation with my wife felt like standing on a precipice watching my career dreams plummet to a gruesome death.  I only chose to do a doctorate because people I trusted had encouraged me to do so; they believed I should pursue my interest in research and talent for teaching.  What was I supposed to do now that their suggested path appeared to be a dead end?

I’ve reflected on this dilemma a great deal in the past year–the time since I managed to slay a dragon by (miraculously) landing a full-time, permanent university post.  Even though my story did not end with my academic career dreams tumbling over my metaphorical precipice, I came far too close to that ledge to avoid obsessing over these questions.  What I offer here is not a definitive answer; rather, it is a list of practical things I would do different if I had it all to do over again.  Perhaps it will be helpful for others who haven’t been there yet.

First, I think doctoral students in the 21st century need a fresh mindset when they begin doctoral studies, namely that a PhD is a route into one or more careers. A PhD is the basic qualification for tenure track academic work, but it is far more than that.  The job market being what it is, everyone should have plans A, B, C, D, and perhaps others, in mind.  What is more, you must be passionate about all of them because it is a real, live possibility that you will end up on an unexpected route. Can you envision yourself with a fulfilling career in areas B, C, D? People often refer to these as back up plans–and I suppose it is OK to use that trite phrase–but they should not be jobs one would settle for. Plans B, C, D, etc… should be alternate paths that enable you to follow your passion(s).  Yes, this requires one to think creatively about how to use your talents and to be broad minded about your passions.  But, if you’re clever, curious, and creative enough to do a PhD in any field, you are absolutely capable of finding more than one job that will let you pursue your passion(s).

If you haven’t considered this possibility yet, then I strongly encourage you to take some time to think it through. As a highly trained researcher you are essentially an independent contractor.  People often fail to recognize this about tenured university lecturers, but it is true.  How could it be otherwise in a job where 50% or more of your ‘responsibilities’ (i.e., research and publishing) are determined by your own curiosities and achieved largely by your independent work?  Academics are, de facto, entrepreneurs.  Embrace that trait.  Think like an entrepreneur and identify needs that you are uniquely qualified to meet.  Perhaps that need is for a university lecturer, but it can also be in a non-profit, a corporation, or a government agency. You, and you alone, are responsible for imagining the things you might do with your PhD.  Accounting for the statistical reality of the academic job market, you’re foolish not to have one or more non-academic alternatives in mind.

Though you alone are responsible for doing this, you should not be alone in doing it.  Hence point two: talk to lots of people and read various things about what you can do with a doctorate.  As the job market grows more and more bleak in academia, lots of people have developed such lists.  Some are sanguine about this task, others less so.  I’m not advocating a particular attitude about working outside academia with a PhD, but I am an unequivocally pragmatic person who thinks that you should think openly about what you might do with your PhD. Here are few things that can stimulate your thinking in this area:

http://phdsatwork.com/

http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/

http://howtoleaveacademia.com/

Look at these kind of lists… hard.  Daydream about what your life would be like in a number of careers.  Make a list of the jobs that are attractive to you.  Talk to people who know something about those jobs.  Ask them lots of questions.  Lots.  You’re a researcher; do what you do best.  Then, move to step three.

Third, find a mentor in each potential area.  A mentor, to me, is someone you can speak with openly and honestly about your talents and interests and, importantly, is someone who has the time to meet/talk with you two or more times a year for at least one hour each time.  They must be honest with you in return.  A mentor is not someone primarily interested to recruit you into their field or their company because they have to be someone who will tell you, if it is true, that you would be rubbish at what they do.  A mentor provides you real-life insight about a job you’ve never had.  They will encourage you to discover what your unique combination of talents and interests equip you to do well. Mentors are worth their weight in gold.

By finding mentors aligned to the various career paths you might follow, you will keep a level head about your options.  You’ll also have living, breathing reminders that people live fulfilling lives outside academia.  This is astoundingly easy to forget when you spend 60 hours (or more) a week interacting solely with people in universities.  They are, lest anyone forget, not the norm.  At a minimum, sustained interaction with these mentors will make you more aware of what is happening in the world.  That is not a waste of your time.

Fourth, and finally, if a tenure track academic job is your plan A, make certain that your pursuit of that goal incorporates activities that make you a desirable candidate in other careers as well.  Plan a conference; find a way to manage a team of people; speak with and teach non-academic audiences; collaborate with a civic organization on your research; apply for funding from an outside organization. All of these can enhance an academic CV, but they also demonstrate the ‘transferable skills’ necessary to support a non-academic resume.

Why should you follow my advice on this issue? I’m not sure you should, but let me offer one reason why by way of another more autobiographical note.  Prior to my graduate studies I was a management consultant and an IT project manager for over 5 years.  The things that made me successful in the so-called ‘corporate world’ are the same things that helped me land an academic post: taking ownership of my career; thinking like an entrepreneur even when I work for someone else; identifying successful people, asking them lots of questions, and listening to what they say; finding a job that allows me to do things I’m passionate about, regardless of its title and pay.

In sum, my advice is to back-up regularly.  Just like that external hard drive with a recent copy of your thesis on it (you do have one of those, don’t you?), I hope that you’ll never need plans B, C, D, or E.  I hope that you find your doctorate is the next step along the road to excelling in plan A. Still, be shrewd: have alternatives and know what they require.

Casey Strine is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the University of Sheffield. You can find his website at www.caseystrine.com.

The Journey of a Year

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In November/December 2012, I read several articles (many sent to me by various friends, others randomly) about rest/self-care/sabbaticals. By the 4th or 5th article in, I remember thinking that this was too coincidental. I started thinking about the concept of rest, and how it could be incorporated into this crazy graduate life we were living. Everyone that knows me knows that being still is not my forte. I like to make lists. I like to check things off said lists. I like to be busy. I like Excel. I like to be challenged. I like to be around people. I like to work on lots of projects. I like to read books. Translation: I. Never. Stop.

In that late December, the dots finally connected. A friend of mine from Florida posted on Facebook information about this site: My One Word, then asked her friends what their one word would be for 2013. I started to read through the comments, and 56 comments later, I realized what my word should be.

For those of you that don’t know about this site, here’s the basic cliff notes:

If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five.

Thus begins the litany of imperfections to be perfected commonly known as “New Year’s Resolutions.” All of which are typically off your radar by February.

“My One Word” is an experiment designed to move you beyond this cycle. The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD.

This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future. So, we invite you to join us and pick one word for the next twelve months. 

It should be noted that I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions. I loved (and still do) to set outlandish goals or targets that I was more than certain could not be reached in one year. It was (and still is!) fun to look back to see if I actually achieved any of them.

But the concept of one word to describe my year? I loved this idea. I loved that literally one word would and could define not only a year of my life, but also the activities I was involved in, bringing focus and clarity to whatever season I was living.

It would make the things I said ‘yes’ to much sweeter, and the things I said ‘no’ to much easier to let go.

I spent a lot of time over that Christmas break doing a lot of reflection on 2012; what it meant for me emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Even though the year ended on a good note, the only word I can use to describe that year was ‘loss’. As I came up on the first anniversaries of my Mom’s cancer diagnosis and my miscarriage, I felt like I entered another season of mourning, although it was not the raw, gaping wound that it was the previous year. I knew that it was part of the grieving process – c’mon now, I was a psych major in college- but I also knew, if I’m honest, I had not allowed myself time to completely heal- this is strictly in the emotional/spiritual sense – because that would call for me to Rest. And since I don’t sit still very well, any kind of healing would be difficult.

So, I dubbed 2013 a year of Rest for me. I had absolutely no idea what it would look like, as it was a definition in progress, but knew it would not involve me lying around all the time on a couch eating chocolate and drinking wine, even though that was a terrific thought. :) It had to be something more uniquely attuned to my personality and the way God designed me.

The very first two things I did identify that needed to be answered:

1. I had to ask myself why I was so afraid to be still and silent. I knew only I could answer that question.

My answer? Staying busy was an avoidance therapy, a place I visited when I didn’t want to address potential emotional issues in front of me. When I realized that, full healing could begin.

2. Could I do this alone? No, I could not.

I decided then to email some friends for help. I sent the email to 30 friends and family members, and asked them to keep me accountable. That might seem excessive to some, but I was intentional about who I asked. I selfishly chose friends that lived in Oxford and Orlando who were part of my graduate journey; friends and mentors from previous cities and walks of life; family that was far away. I asked them to partner with me as I began, asking for prayer (or good thoughts and wishes if prayer wasn’t their thing) so that all my decisions for that year would be clear and focused, completely surrounding the word Rest. I also gave them permission to ask me at any time if I was resting, knowing full well I would and could easily slip back into my busy ways.

I did ask one thing of them – to send me their word for that coming year. It allowed me to reciprocate in both prayers and good wishes, and asking them the same question.

I had no idea who would participate, or if everyone would think I was a rambling idiot, but their responses were astonishing. These are some of the many words I received:

Yes.

No.

Anticipation.

Peace.

Live.

Discipline.

Trust.

Purpose.

Love.

I saved them all in an excel spreadsheet, and agreed to journey with them over the coming year, as they lived their words.

So, what happened?

This one word journey was a definite life-changer for me. I think my friends would say the same thing. It is something I intend to do every year going forward. As I sit in early January 2014, reflecting on 2013, I’m grateful I put aside time to Rest last year. In an ironic twist, it ended up being the busiest year we’ve ever had in the graduate journey. We went through a myriad of changes that I didn’t know we would be going through as we headed into 2013: new jobs in a new city, new house, new nursery school for our son, new community, new church, new everything! I think if I hadn’t given myself that space to heal, I wouldn’t have been emotionally or spiritually ready for those changes.

This past year also gave me the space to dream again. It’s amazing what happens when you sit still. I didn’t realize the constant busyness was stifling my creativity. I said no to a lot of things (but not all) that I would have loved to do. My friends were very respectful of my ‘no’ decisions, which I appreciated immensely.

I also learned to accept where I was in life. My good friend, Betsy, always quoted Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quip – “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Let’s be honest, graduate life can kick you when you’re down, and I was spending far too much time being jealous and wishing my life were better like so-and-so, and not living in the present moment that I’d been given. When I started to accept that this was my current season of life, I found joy and peace in the midst of my designated rest. That was a bonus.

My word for 2014? Hope. I love the definition of hope: state which promotes the desire of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or in the world at large.

I have so many hopes and dreams for myself, and for my family as we’ve entered into a new season of life. I am relishing in the hope of seeing those dreams (all or some) fulfilled this year.

What would your word be for 2014?

Maybe you’re in the middle of graduate life. Maybe you’re at the end of graduate life and starting a new season, like me. Or, maybe you’re just at the beginning. Wherever you are, I challenge you to pick a word to shape your year. Maybe your word is perseverance, as you trawl through another graduate year. Maybe your word is community, as you seek to bond with others around you. Maybe your word is peace. Whatever you choose, live it for the next year. And if you feel like sharing your word for 2014, please put in the comments below, as we’d love to see what you word would be!

From my heart to yours,

~Mandy

Wednesday’s Weekly Tip: Plan to Eat

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Meal planning, grocery budgets, and feeding our families healthy food has been a hot topic of conversation amongst our friends for the past few months. In response to that and their great ideas, we’ve posted several things to help with meal planning and budgeting, especially on graduate budgets. We love the ideas they shared with us to minimize wasteful spending and food!

I have a set weekly time to do my meal planning, but to be honest, I hate the amount of time it takes to plan. Even though I have a system that arguably works, I still find it cumbersome. Looking up recipes online or in my cookbooks, putting everything together on paper or an excel spreadsheet, transferring that to my smart phone so I don’t have to carry a pen/paper while dealing with a squirmy preschooler at a grocery store….you get the picture. In the UK, we do have the ability to order our groceries online, which I do on a regular basis, but sometimes I like to head out to the shops to pick out my own produce and fruit, instead of having someone else do it.

In the past, I’ve tried several apps or programs to help with meal planning, but admittedly I’ve not stuck with one particular program. I’d work with bits and pieces of various ones, trying to find something that worked for me, where I wouldn’t be spending a load of time planning.

Recently, I stumbled across a company called Plan to Eat, and it has revolutionized the way I am able to plan meals…..and the amazing part? It is so easy. Want all your recipes in one place, online, easily accessible? Done. Rather do meal planning for a month, instead of a week, ensuring less waste? Done. With their drop/drag capability, you can load all your recipes online, plan a menu for the whole month and drag them to the calendar. Need a grocery list? Done. Once you’ve loaded your menu for the week, a grocery list will be created for you, and can be accessed via your smartphone . The menu has the ability to add notes or additional items as well.

There is a 30 day free trial (no credit cards upfront, they want you to subscribe only if YOU want to), and from there it’s $4.95 per month or $40.00 per year. The amount of time I’ve saved has been well worth the money spent.

Check it out – there is much more than what I’ve mentioned above! I hope you enjoy using it as much as I have.

~Mandy

Monday’s Food for Thought: Thinning the Ph.D. Herd

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Change is coming, at least to Johns Hopkins University, who is proposing sweeping cuts across its Ph.D. programs in order to raise grad student stipends. Those cuts include reducing graduate student enrollment by 25%. Under the new proposal, graduate students would see their stipends rise to $30,000 a year.

There are a lot of arguments as to whether or not this is a good idea, as it could be emulated at other universities. The bottom line, as the article states, is that JH is taking drastic but needed measures. Given the grim statistics of prospective future jobs for PhDs, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if it was emulated at other universities.

What do you think? Do you think this is a good idea? Do you think it will stifle research institutions?

Happy Monday,

-Mandy & M.C.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas, If Only in My Dreams……

                                                                                           -written by Deanna, a current graduate wife

My husband and I have been doing this grad-school thing for 5+ years now and we have at least 2 to go.  Possibly as many as 5.  We’re in the thick of it.  Although we are both from the US, we started our grad-school adventure in Canada – but only about 7 hours from our families.  We had a semi-dependable car so, of course, we drove home for Christmas.  Easy peasy.  As relative newlyweds and people with great families who grew up with well-loved Christmas traditions, we really enjoyed sharing the nostalgia of childhood Christmases with each other those first few years.

Our third Christmas in Canada our daughter was born.  I literally went into labour after breakfast on Christmas morning, went to the hospital that afternoon, and delivered her at some unholy hour the next morning.  Adoring grandparents and aunts quite literally dropped their forks on their Christmas dinner plates and braved icy roads in the midst of a massive snow storm to come to us that Christmas day arriving at the hospital in the middle of the night… just hours before our daughter was born.  It was an eventful Christmas but needless to say, we didn’t travel that year.

The next graduate degree took us much farther from our families.  Instead of being a few hundred miles away, we were nearly 5,000 miles away (including crossing a rather significant ocean.)  Money was tight… very tight.  A flight home simply wasn’t an option.  In fact this is our third Christmas overseas.  Is it hard being away from the family we love so dearly at such a special time of year?  Yes.  (It’s even worse with a child!)  Does it get easier?  That depends on you.  But here are a few survival tips from a graduate wife who has lived it a few years running. 

First things first, admit that it sucks.  If you’d rather be back home – just say so.  Don’t bottle it all up with a brave face until you crack and turn into a big weepy puddle on Christmas day.  Talk to your spouse.  Tell your spouse about the specific things you’ll miss.  Chances are that they have a list of things they’ll be missing as well.  Grieve it if you need to.  And don’t forget to tell your family and friends back home too! They’ll be thrilled to know you want to be with them – even if you can’t be there that year.  Be sure to plan a time to video chat with your family too!

But then you’ve got to move on.  Don’t wallow in self pity day in and day out.  It isn’t pretty.  Turn off the sad songs you’ve had on repeat.  (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience when I’m guessing your repeat list includes Michael Buble’s ‘I Want To Go Home’ and the Christmas classic ‘There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays’.)  Whether intentional or not, your wallowing will likely make your spouse feel like scum for dragging you away from your family at the holidays even though, in reality, you probably made the decision to move far away together.  Instead, try to be thankful that you don’t have to deal with the headaches of holiday traffic, airport crowds, and jet lag.  And then use some of the following tips to keep your Christmas spirits up and truly enjoy the season where you are!

1.    Make some of your favorite traditions from back home happen where you are.  It may take a little ingenuity, and it won’t be perfect – but it can be done!   Here are a few of my favorites:

• Bake a plate of Christmas cookies for your neighbors (or just for yourself!),

• Put up a tree.  Make it out of paper or felt and tape it to your wall if you must – but at our house we don’t go without a tree of some sort.  Then cover it with ornaments, homemade if you didn’t bring any of your own (we didn’t).  Cut out paper snowflakes, tie a bit of string to the top of pine cones (and add a little glitter?), shape some stars out of pipe cleaners, and string popcorn.  Is it going to look like Rockefeller Plaza?  No.  But it will still be festive!

•Bust out some nostalgic Christmas music.  Try Grooveshark to put together free playlists of all your old favorites.

•Make yourself an advent wreath and follow the true story of Christmas for the 4 weeks leading up to the big day.  It can really help your perspective!

•Curl up with your spouse and watch your favorite Christmas movie with a cup of cocoa.  (Stir it with a candy cane if at all possible.)

2.  Embrace where you are.  After all, you may never be here at this time of year again!

•Pick something to do with your spouse that you couldn’t do back home.  December is packed full of concerts, plays, Christmas fairs and festivals, tree lighting ceremonies, church services, Christmas carol sing-alongs, etc. pretty much wherever you are.  Find a unique setting like a cool playhouse, grotto or cathedral near you to experience some of these things in a new way!

•Take advantage of the weather.  If it’s cold where you are, go ice skating or build a snowman with your spouse and then take a picture of the two of you with your snowman and send it to family and friends.  If it’s warm where you are, hit the beach for the day to work on your tan and fire up the BBQ for Christmas dinner!

•Try some local Christmas food traditions.  Here that means fresh roasted chestnuts, mince pies, mulled wine, bacon-wrapped sausages, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, stuffing rolled into balls, roast turkey, Christmas pudding (doused in brandy and lit on fire!), Christmas crackers and wearing a paper crown during dinner and/or dessert.

•Volunteer in your community.  Chances are, as poor as you might feel sometimes, there are people in your city who are much worse off than you.  Find a soup kitchen or homeless shelter to help out at.  Bless people less fortunate than you are and then go home feeling grateful for all that you have instead of feeling miserable about all the things you don’t.

•Find out who else is spending Christmas away from their families and plan something fun to do together:  attend a midnight carol service together, invite someone to Christmas dinner, host a Christmas cookie exchange, organize a white elephant gift exchange, bundle up for a walk together and then head back to one of your homes for a Christmas movie and some hot apple cider, etc.  The possibilities are endless – and all the friends who traveled home for the holidays will be sad to have missed such a fun time while they were away!

3. Create new traditions.  Old traditions are great.  But creating a tradition that is unique to you and your spouse (and kids!) is especially wonderful!  I’m not sure we would have discovered this truth if we had simply gone back to our parents’ house every year to take part in their traditions.  Let me encourage you to seize this opportunity!  Here are a few simple ideas:

•Build a gingerbread house together.  Can’t find gingerbread where you are and don’t want to make your own?  Browse the cracker, cookie, and candy aisles at your local shop and get creative with what’s available to you!

•Hang a stocking (or just a sock!) for each person in the house on Dec 1.  Then every day, write down one thing you appreciate about each of the other people in the house or perhaps something funny/memorable they did or said that day on a small bit of paper and put it in their stocking.  On Christmas day, each person will read dozens of affirming observations about themselves!  What a gift!

•Go for a Christmas day walk.

•Plan a yummy Christmas breakfast together.  It doesn’t have to be complicated – just something you’ll do year after year.  We tend to go for homemade cinnamon rolls smothered in butter and frosting served with eggs, fruit, and bacon or sausage.

•If you have kids, pick a small Christmas object (a star, a candy cane with a ribbon tied round it, a particular Christmas ornament, a santa hat, a small stuffed snowman or elf, etc.) and hide it in a different place in the house every day.  Whoever finds it first wins a small prize like a piece of chocolate!

I hope you will try some of these tips and that you will find them to be as rewarding as we have over the past few years.  From my family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year wherever you may be!