Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

La Salette Shrine Christmas Festival

If you live in New England, you’ve likely heard ( and visited!) La Salette Shrine.

It’s a Catholic shrine, church, retreat center,and more, but at Christmas they are famous for their Christmas light displays that highlight the Christmas story and Catholic faith. It’s incredibly popular, maybe because it’s free and who doesn’t love Christmas lights!?!?


Their first night is always the evening of Thanksgiving. Growing up, La Salette was usually an annual tradition not only for my family, but frequently for my church youth group and CCD classes. It’s located only about half hour or so from where I grew up, making it an easy ride to enjoy some Christmas spirit.

This past Saturday, Q, Little Man and I joined Q’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece at La Salette. It was my first visit in probably 8 or so years, as we went as a family with my exhusband before we were married.

As many times as I have been there, I had never been there for when the lights were turned on, but since we wanted to try to beat the traffic that often piles up for miles on the one road in/out of the shrine, we went early. There is a nightly prayer and reminder of the ‘reason for the season’ and some reflection by the priest. When he flipped the switch, everyone cheered.

Maybe it was because I was feeling sentimental about now being at La Salette with my own family, or because I was already feeling emotional about my Dad, but being there on Saturday felt calming and peaceful in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Maybe it was being there for the prayer and saying the Our Father and Hail Mary with other people aloud. Whatever it was, it helped me feel at ease when I really needed it.

I’m sure a huge part of La Salette’s appeal is just the sheer amount of lights and decorations, plus it’s free, so it’s something fun to do for families, no matter the age or religion. Or maybe it’s that people feel the need to connect with their spirituality in this somewhat passive way, instead of going to a church. I can only speculate on the reasons, but for me, it was a special night that lifted my spirits and got me excited for the Christmas season.

Harry Potter

Almost 10 years (!) later, I finally read Harry Potter. Only the first one, but I’ve already got the next 2 from my coworker and they’re on deck after I read a few library holds.

What took me so long? The books came out when I was in high school and I had no interest in fantasy or magic. I probably thought the books were silly since a lot of young readers were into them, though I can respect and appreciate that the series and J.K. Rowling are the reason so many younger readers fell in love with books and reading.


And why now? Partly out of curiosity to see what the hype was all about, especially as this year brought some new Harry Potter related books and movies that brought the subject back onto my social media feeds and had many friends and coworkers talking about it. I originally thought it might be something Little Man and I would read together, but he didn’t have much interest yet ( he is very clearly a Star Wars kid and not much else right now). I also have realized in the past year or so that I do have some interest in fantasy, as I’ve expanded my cultural horizons with the movie interests of Q.

Of course, I loved it. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, as the busy pace of the month of November took over. If I had an uninterrupted weekend to sit down, I likely would have read it in one or two sittings. As it was, when I had 150 or so pages left, I let Little Man watch an extra hour of cartoons on a Sunday morning so I could lose myself in the book ( a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning in my opinion).

And the funny/weird/amazing thing about the timing of my reading it. With the Thanksgiving holiday and the upcoming 3rd anniversary of my Dad’s death, I was particularly emotional last week. I found myself missing my father more than I have in awhile and feeling a bit lost in grief and life. Sunday morning I was emotional and thinking a lot about my Dad after spending Saturday night at La Salette Shrine’s Christmas display (more on this tomorrow), I got to the end of the book, and this passage below. It gave me goosebumps and made me teary, but made me feel comforted in a way I needed.


“…To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

I’ve always believed in the power of books for many things, but at that moment, it was exactly what I needed to read.


How Not Buying Changes Christmas

After my Dad died, we spent a lot of time cleaning out STUFF. His, stuff my Mom wanted to get rid of, my grandmother’s house, and so on. So much ended up in trash, donated, or sold. Yard sale after yard sale, we watched gifts and random purchases go away, in an effort to simplify and downsize.

So three years ago we decided to stop doing presents for Christmas.  We are Santa for Little Man and sometimes do gifts with Q’s family, but overall, we pretty much are a buy nothing family for the holiday season. It’s totally changed the holiday season for us all.

We’re all adults and more Christmases than not, my brother and I were sending emails with links to specific things we wanted/needed to our family, using the holiday to be gifted the items we couldn’t afford or didn’t spoil ourselves with. The Christmas after my divorce, I was most excited about getting a toaster. The Christmas my father passed away, all I wanted was a dual urn/K-Cup coffeemaker. It sort of took some of the magic of the holiday away when the gifts were already known.

Q and I only gave gifts to each other on the first Christmas we were together, and once again, practicality took over. He bought me fancy olive oil, an expensive pillow ( which I still have and is amazing), and some jewelry. I got him some fancy grilling rub, a beer making class, and some special limited edition beer. After that Christmas, we decided to save the money for things we wanted to do together. This year, that extra money is going to pay off the new car ( romantic, I know).

Our no gifts policy extends to birthdays– we all go out for a nice dinner to celebrate the person instead of gifts. It takes a lot of pressure off, but also eliminates the random stuff of life that piles up and always ends up being donated.

Not giving gifts makes us think more about the season and doesn’t leave us with the frantic feeling of buying for everyone on the list. Even for Little Man last year, we didn’t even go get his gifts until the weekend before Christmas. For an A-type, to-do list maker like me, it’s nice to feel relaxed the entire holiday season. I try to make more charitable gifts at the end of the year anyway, and having some extra dollars for that instead of buying another mug or candle for my loved ones makes it a win-win.

I get that it’s not for everyone to forgo gifts with their family and friends, but it’s right for us and our family. It gives us the freedom to enjoy the season, the extra money going towards what we want, and the ability to only have things we want in the house– I think everyone should try it one year!


Friday Finds November 2016

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. It’s my favorite holiday by far and it was spent with family and friends.

I loved this piece about the many ways people celebrate the holiday and what they make to bring to their annual feast.

Have you watched the Netflix series The Crown yet? I binge watched it in one day as I’m a sucker for 20th century English royalty. Also as a fashion historian, I thought the clothes were great.

Speaking of royalty… the super secret archives of the British royal family, namely Queen Victoria.

The history of the Wellie– from functional boots to fashionable footwear. 

Both my partner and stepson are sci-fi guys. We watch a lot of Star Wars, so I really appreciated this article about female Star Wars fans.

In case you need some inspiration about the state of women and politics, here’s a really interesting website about women who ran for office prior to 1920.


On My Soapbox: Vote!

November is going to busy with work happenings and rethinking how I’m using the blog, but need to take a moment to get on my soapbox.

I don’t care what you believe, who you support, or who you vote for, just go and vote. You don’t get to complain as much about what happens if you don’t vote (only half kidding).


Little Man literally fist pumped the air exclaiming “Yes!” when Q and I told him we were going to early vote as a family last Saturday. Even an 8 year old realizes how important it is to exercise your right to have an opinion on who represents us in the government.

Also, whether you like her or not, or plan to vote for her or not, it’s amazing that we FINALLY have a woman nominated as a major political party final candidate for president.

And if you think that’s not a big deal either, I dare you to not be moved by some of the stories of these women on the site

Katherine might be my favorite ( and looks AMAZING for 102).


Friday Finds October 2016

I knew it! Writing to-do lists helps your brain.

A guide to the real-life places of your favorite childhood books.

Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress designer is no longer the best kept secret in fashion history.

Cruising with a purpose. Maybe it’s because I work in the non-profit world, but at this stage in my life, I can’t quite get behind volunteering while on vacation, though this idea sounds amazing for retirement.

So cool- the hidden, secret apartments of the New York Public Library.

Who knew?!? The Hallmark Company has one of the best collections of modern art. Article also has interesting bits about the card-making process.

Thankful Thursday #13

I’m thankful for….

Great coworkers.

When you work 14 hour days together (not all the time!), you have to like the people you work with. I’m really lucky to have coworkers who are friends, including a few who have become more like family. We spend so much of our lives working so having good people to share the days with is important to me.

One of the reasons I’ve been at my job 8 years is because of the people– even when the work situation is annoying, stressful, and frustrating, the coworkers are often the ones who provide the levity and laughter needed to get through the day.

Random Musings

Random musings lately…

-I begin my commute a little before 7am each week day. I see a TON of people on the phone when they’re driving. Who the heck are they talking with? I can barely get my mind together before coffee in the morning and relish my quiet time in the car to wake up my mind. If someone wanted to call to chat that early, I’d ignore them!

-Do you ever think about clothes/accessories you no longer have but loved dearly? I’ve been thinking about that lately as I’m going through the arduous process of cleaning out closets and getting rid of stuff. Mostly it’s shoes that I miss, though there are a handful of pieces of clothing I think about longingly ( though they wouldn’t fit!)

– I sometimes daydream about jobs that seemingly have no stress or worry– does such a thing exist? I think I have a pretty decent work-life balance, but I still find myself dreaming about work or worrying about it after hours, especially on Sunday nights. I think back to my days in retail or some of my student worker jobs through the years, and try to remember if I had stress related to them or not.

– We bought a new car ( an SUV!) about 2 weeks ago ( like only 25 miles on it at the time- new) and I’m still getting used to it. Every time I get in it, I wonder if people think I’m a soccer mom or something (nope, just wanted something better for the winter).

-I’ve said it so many times, but I dislike Halloween. Last year we had Little Man for it so it was fun to see his excitement, but overall it’s kind of annoying to me. Despite this, I bought a pair of Halloween socks to have some sort of festive excitement. I should probably pick up some candy for the 15 or so kids who come to my house so we don’t get egged again ( yep, that happened!)




Routines & Motivation

I think routines can be important– if I didn’t have one in the morning, I don’t know how I’d get out of the house every morning. In fact, not too long along, Q and I switched the order of who had the shower and bathroom first for a few days when he had to be out of the house before me. It totally screwed with my mind and day. I think routines are needed before coffee is consumed.

I’m not a creature of habit with every aspect of life, but there are some things that I’ve done for so long that I’m finding it hard to break out of them now. I come home, go through the mail, change out of work clothes, wash my face and prep dinner. Most nights after dinner, I end up reading or watching TV.

This is the routine I’m trying to break. Even on yoga nights, there is an order to getting things done because after yoga, I’m so relaxed that I usually am asleep shortly after eating dinner at 8pm. On non-yoga nights, even with after dinner “chores” like laundry or tidying up the house, I find myself on the couch and leave exercising to the wayside.

I will admit that I haven’t made the effort to change the routine too much. I want time with Q and after his long workday, he likes to sit on the couch and relax watching TV or a movie. Even if I don’t watch what he does, I sit next to him reading or fooling around on the iPad. I should say that Q’s routine involves getting up early everyday to work out.

Why don’t I get up with him? The easy answer is that it’s rough to get up early, but years ago, before I was even married, I did often get up early to go to the gym. Now, my answer is mostly that the morning workout time is Q’s self-care/quiet time to himself and I don’t want to impose on that. Of course, I could do something upstairs in our room or living room while he uses the workout stuff in the basement, but I don’t.

I like the idea of exercising AFTER work because there are days when I’m at the computer all day, plus I like the quiet after work time between 5-7, at least in the time of year when it’s still light out at that time. But, I also like eating in that time and even with sharing dinner duties, a lot of those 2 hours are taken up by making, eating, and cleaning up from dinner. So then that leaves 7pm on for at least 30 minutes of exercise in our basement, equipped with space to lift weights, a treadmill, and exercise DVDs I haven’t touched in years, which makes it clear to me it’s not about time or routines, but about MOTIVATION.

When I was married, weight/exercise/how I looked/what I wore was an issue that was heavily discussed. Q, in his amazing way, thinks I’m beautiful no matter what. Maybe I have some sort of mental block/PTSD/silent protesting going on about exercising.  I put it in my to-do list and calendar, but it’s one of the easiest things for me to ignore. At this point, I’m doing it for myself and my health. And yet, that doesn’t push me.

So what’s going to motivate me?


Hey, It’s October!

I spent most of the summer contemplating possibilities of life- thinking of career and life moves, both physical and emotional. It was exhilarating, scary, exciting, nerve wracking, and annoying all at the same time.

The end result is we are staying put in all walks of life for the foreseeable future, but with the seed of change planted firmly in our minds.

Thinking of drastically changing our life was a great exercise for Q and I as a couple and what it would mean for our current and future family, but really made me hunker down and think about what I wanted next in life. Being the eternal pragmatist, I wanted a clear answer, but as I have learned a million times before, the reality is often quite different when so many factors (and other people’s decisions) are involved.

In short, we were thisclose to moving across the country. And while it’s not happening now, we feel pretty certain that a move to somewhere completely different is in the cards for us. We want a change of pace and scenery, new perspectives and new adventures. We want to free ourselves of the burden of owning a home and have more time/money/energy to travel and explore, even if it’s just a new town and state.

So even though we’re staying, we’re determined and focused on a goal, even if we don’t entirely have it defined at the moment. We’ve set a rough date of selling the house by summer of 2019, mostly because that’s when my mortgage rate changes so it seems like the perfect deadline to work against. We’re committed to certain house projects, getting one newish car, and reducing the clutter and stuff in our house and life.

As we enter in the busy season of fall and the whirl that is the holiday season at home and work for us both, I am trying hard to stay focused on bettering things for us right now as we work towards what we want.


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