New Year, Better Me: Ten resolutions

Happy 2019! Wow it feels weird saying that, I could have sworn I was just saying happy 2008. It’s that time of the year again where everyone vows they will start something new, improve an aspect of their life, or achieve a goal. In the past, I never paid attention to resolutions because I never really wanted to change anything. I always would say I want this new year to be better than the last, but I never acted on anything to make that happen. Now that I am older, and have been setting more goals than in the past, I can add myself to the list of those who say “new year, new me.” But in all honesty, I am not trying to make a new me. I like myself! The more accurate phrase would be “new year, better me.”  With that, these are the ten tasks I’d like to tackle to make my 2019 the best year yet.

1. Floss more

No, not the dance move. This resolution may seem a bit anti-climactic as I am sure you were expecting something big, but answer this question honestly: do you floss everyday? I’m going to go ahead and guess a confident no. I am guilty of being too lazy to floss everyday solely because it takes effort to weave the stupid string under my two permanent retainers, but this is something that I want to fix. I learned from an aspiring dentist friend that not flossing causes more build up in the arteries, and could lead to a heart attack. So yes, not running a piece of string between your teeth can kill you. In my mind, it seems like such an easy fix, but it is just one of those things that I easily skip, and justify skipping because it “saves me time.” My goal for 2019, is to floss everyday so I can go to the dentist and not have bleeding gums every time they floss, revealing that I don’t floss a much as I should. In order to achieve this goal, I have strongly considered going back to the Dino Flossers, because I might as well make it more fun if I’m going to follow through with this!

2. Spend less

Lately, it seems like I have had the mindset that money grows on trees. Online shopping is more dangerous than you know, especially when it comes to Poshmark, and having Apple Pay installed so I don’t have to enter in my card info anymore and just use my touch ID. I have mentioned how thankful I am for Poshmark in a past post because I can get really expensive things for a great price, but that doesn’t mean that just because it is a good price, I should buy it.  It’s like telling myself that calories don’t count if I’m stealing food off someone’s plate. I am still spending money even if things are on sale, and apparently, that notion has not sunk in yet. Buying things on sale may save money, but if that happens frequently, it really adds up fast! So for my bank account’s sake, this is a mindset that I am going to be more conscious about. As much as I hate seeing a good sale on Lulu leggings pass me by, it will help me in the long run, and as psychology says, instant gratification is not always the answer. 

3. Worry less

A couple posts back, I wrote about pieces of advice I live by, and one of those being “don’t worry about the things you can’t control.” Well, I still have not figured out a way to practice that advice. As a type A, perfectionistic person, worrying really should be my middle name instead of Michelle. Think of a random word in your mind right now. Whatever word you are thinking of, I have probably worried about it at some point in my life, or something related to it. My worrying has gone to great lengths, and has made me do some pretty weird things in order to resolve it such as waking up to myself reciting psychology terms in my sleep. (Some people sleep walk and talk, I sleep study). Sometimes, I ironically worry about how worried I get over things. Don’t get me wrong, a little bit of worrying is healthy, and productive, but usually that isn’t the case for me. I worry to the point where I cannot stress about something more, it is at the maximum level of stressing. I worry about things in the future (as in ten+ years out), I worry about next month, next week, the next hour, and I even worry about things that have already happened. Yes, that is totally illogical, I know, but that is just how I roll. So this year, I hope to make myself stop rolling like that, or at least reduce it to the point where I don’t still worry about the wrong form of “your” I used in the final paper I wrote in 8th grade stress management class. 

4. More time with friends

If I spent as much time with my friends as I do with my textbooks, this one would not be a resolution for me. I love being busy with all the organizations I’m involved in on campus, but sometimes I will go a whole week without seeing my friends despite the fact they live literally a floor above me. My social life shouldn’t have to be a mandatory scheduled sisterhood event event that is programmed in my Google calendar. College is about having those experiences that aren’t planned; such as 2 AM pancake runs to Perkins, hitching a ride with a friend to Mankato for Starbucks, unplanned girls nights, pole dancing exercise class, yoga with goats, and following Nemo the campus cat around instead of doing homework. This is not to say that I haven’t done things like this before (this stuff is too specific to make up), I just don’t do “unplanned” enough. I love all my friends, and am fortunate that they are so close, which is why I want to spend all the time I can with them before they go back to West Virginia, Arizona, off to med school, and even before I graduate. But this won’t happen without my next resolution.

5. Be more flexible

To my gymnasts out there, I do not mean this in the sense that I need to stretch more, because I still have all three of my splits down! If I were as flexible as my body is, this would not be a resolution. Unfortunately, my brain is not as flexible as my hamstrings. I don’t think I need to explain that I like things to be planned out based on my mentions of perfectionism, but it really can be counterproductive at times. As much as I’d like to just “go with the flow,” I can’t do that unless I know where the “flow” is going, how fast, where all the bends and curves are, and approximately how much time it takes to get there. I’ve had times where things have not gone according to my plan, and I haven’t been able to adapt. People always tell me they wish they were as organized, and obedient to a plan as me, but they don’t realize how that plan crumbles if it isn’t followed to a T. I want to be more flexible in the sense where I don’t have my whole day planned out hour by hour, and can change things up like going out for coffee with friends without thinking that I will fail a test if I don’t start studying that day because that’s what I planned. This quirk can definitely be attributed to gymnastics. I find it ironic that the sport that made me flexible (literally), is the reason that I am the farthest from flexible (figuratively). Having to manage my time so strictly for 16 years really trained my brain as much as my body. They say it takes 21 days to break a habit, but I don’t know if that takes into account something that has been done for years and years. I’ll give it my best shot.

6. Appreciate myself more

We are all our worst critics. And even though I am aware of this concept, I still am as hard on myself as Gordon Ramsay is on the people who ask him to rate their meals on Twitter (it’s not pretty). Living in a social media filled society where being fit, eating right all the time, and basically living the cookie cutter lifestyle where nothing goes wrong, I sometimes lose sight into all that I have achieved and all that I am. As a psych major, I am fully aware of the social comparison theory and how harmful it is, yet I still practice it as most do. Just the other day, I killed a workout and felt great. About a minute later, I looked on Instagram and saw someone else’s workout paired with their washboard abs. I told myself their workout was way more effective and intense than mine, and she looked better than I did, making me forget about all that my body just did for me, and left me feeling like I wasn’t enough. It is so easy to focus on the negatives about yourself, and all that you’re not, and I definitely fall victim to this. People are very good at playing the “I spy” game in the mirror, but life is so much more than about looks. It is hard to believe that when that’s not what the majority think, which is why I haven’t been able to adopt that thought yet. We hear it over and over again, “your worth is not defined by a number” whether that be how many reps you can do, jeans size, or on the scale, but how many people actually believe that? This year, I want to stop hearing, and start believing. God has given me one body that has allowed me to do my favorite sports, sit through great psychology lectures, spend time with my friends, and much more; it’s time I start to appreciate it!

7. Eliminate my “all or nothing” mindset

Writing this, I can’t help but laugh at myself because the way my mind works is low key ridiculous, and I am fully aware it is. All or nothing, go big or go home, black or white, on or off, just cheese or all the toppings, walk or sprint; that is my brain. I only have two settings, there is no in between. This can be very frustrating when there needs to be an in between, but there literally is not. It is very similar to the feeling of when you reach to open a door that you need to get into, but the door knob is gone. My all or nothing mindset applies to everything I do. If I don’t have the time to do my usual workout, but can at least get a 30 minute workout in, my brain tells me that I just shouldn’t go at all. If I am trying to eat healthy, but I don’t follow my original plan and eat something I didn’t intend on eating such as one cookie, I turn it into a full on cheat day. If I have a paper to write, I will write it all in one sitting, otherwise I won’t write it at all. When I run, I will only walk, or run a 5k. In these situations, I fully understand that the logical thing to do is workout for 30 minutes because it’s still better than nothing, eat the cookie and move on with my life because that’s less damage than a whole cheat meal, write half the paper rather than all of it, and maybe just run a solid two miles. That’s simply not how I am wired. I go big or go home in all aspects of my life, which is why it has often led me to taking on more than I can handle, or leaving my bored out of my mind. On the other hand, the all or nothing mindset has been helpful for me when I have needed to put in my full effort such as gymnastics meets, relationships, and studying for finals; but that is about it! This year, I want to be able to have the option for kinda, go sub par and halfway home, gray, dim the lights, jog, or two toppings max. 

8. Take better care of myself

It is always my goal to excel in all aspects of my life being; academics, fitness, my faith, being a good daughter, and friend (all or nothing!) In my mind, I imagine bar graphs for each of these things, and each one must reach 100% otherwise I feel like I’m slacking. Oddly enough, there is one aspect that I seem to forget about, which is taking care of myself. “Balance” is not a word in my vocabulary unless it means succeed at everything you do. There have been many times when I should have taken care of myself, but instead tried to put everything and everyone else first. Going to class sick as a dog because I wanted those five dinky participation points, competing with two swollen sprained ankles because I didn’t want to let my team down (or my pride), driving long distances just to make a friend feel better, going to the gym when my body was screaming it didn’t want to go like a toddler at McDonald’s play land, staying up to study when I shouldn’t have, and insisting on going to school while on very strong anti convulsants because I didn’t want to fall behind, are just a few examples. I know what’s best for me, and what I should do, but I never choose to because choosing myself feels selfish in my mind. Because of all these situations, it can be hard to be a functioning human being, and it definitely takes a toll on my mood, energy, FND, and wellbeing. For the last couple months, I’ve noticed that I have felt a little “off” and couldn’t figure out why. It has now become clear to me (because someone pointed it out) that I have been running on empty, and parallel a car trying to drive across the country with an empty gas tank. At this point, I am outside of the car and pushing it from behind because there is not one drop of gas left. Going into this new year, I want to have more balance, and be ok with not having to reach 100% in everything I do because that is absolutely exhausting.  It requires some give and take, realizing it is ok to not do it all, and not spreading myself too thin. I also want to put more effort and energy into fighting my FND by actually doing my mental exercises everyday, and really trying hard to manage it like I should be, because that is just as important as being a student, athlete, child of God, daughter, and friend. I can’t be any of those things if I don’t take care of myself first.

9. Follow through

Reading this one, you may be thinking of following through with things such as commitments, promises, and deep stuff like that. But honestly, it isn’t like that for me at all. I just want to follow through with little things such as starting and finishing a book, finishing a Netflix show, a movie, a new piece I’m writing, keeping up with my vision board, saying I’ll do my laundry every Thursday, and even following through with these resolutions I made. I don’t know if it is just me who experiences this, but I will have so much motivation to do something, but when I actually have time to do it, it is the last thing I want to do. I have been reading the same book for two years, and by read, I mean pick it up once a day, then put it back down because I want to watch the Netflix show that I ultimately will not finish. This notion of never taking initiative to start (or finish) something I want to try basically makes my Pinterest pointless, and I’ve got so many cool and Instagram worthy things to try!  So this year, I am finally going to finish that book, Netflix series, blog post in my drafts, learn to cook in order to post my Pinterest fail pictures, but I can’t make any promises about the laundry. 

10. Let go of the past

Here is the “deep” one you all have been waiting for, and I am going to be fully open and honest because it is something that needs to change. I haven’t been shy in sharing the adversity I have faced these last couple years regarding my health issues and injuries in college. I also haven’t been shy in sharing how I see it as a blessing in disguise, and how it has shaped me into who I am. What I have been shy in sharing, is that I still hold onto the negative memories, and how the fear of it all happening again prohibits me from making certain decisions, or having a more positive mindset. It is only human (as the evolutionary theory in psychology explains) to have those negative experiences in the back of your mind in order to be more cautious going forward so you don’t die. For the record, the evolutionary theory is a bit more extreme and based on survival, not just everyday living. I don’t think my brain quite realizes that distinction yet, as I get nervous about things I shouldn’t have to anymore. This is ultimately why my schedule is so rigid, because in the past if I didn’t follow a rigid schedule such as exercising only in the morning, not sitting for too long, getting to sleep before 11, and not eating past 8 PM, my FND would give me trouble. I am all about being fearless, and testing the waters, but when it comes to my FND and all I have been through, I will not even dip a toe in the water to see if I’m capable of more than I was back then. I’m still stuck in this rigid schedule because of this fear that if I change it, everything will go back to how it was in the past. Traveling is also one of those things that makes me apprehensive because in the past, traveling caused me to have many FND flare ups and hospital visits, sucking out all the joy of the experience. I will count myself out of social events just because I don’t want to make myself too tired, causing a flare up, and I fear that since it has gone that way in the past, it will reoccur. Note to self: just because something has happened in the past, doesn’t mean it will happen again. I’m such an advocate for improving myself in every way possible, which is why going into this year, I want to be able to cut ties with all the negatives that I have experienced. I’ve adopted a “glass half full” mindset because I’ve gotten my hopes up so many times in the past, just to receive more bad news. I find it ironic that I let the fear of things that have already happened, and are in the complete past, dictate choices and thoughts that I have now. While I did learn in HR class this semester that “the best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior in similar circumstances,” behavior is totally different than adversity, because I can control behavior, while adversity isn’t really one of those things people choose to have. 2019 is the year I will go against my previous experiences, and realize that I won’t die if I choose to go on a road trip with my friends or break my rigid routine, my FND won’t necessarily flare up if I stay out past 11, and I will stop thinking that looking at the glass half empty protects me. Would you keep a container of rotten eggs stinking up the house because you bought them in the past? Didn’t think so. Holding onto the past can be so toxic if it’s not something worth holding onto.  

Resolutions can be daunting. A lot of people make resolutions that are “life changing,” but resolutions don’t have to be huge changes. Maybe you want to watch one less hour of TV, eat more vegetables, or break a habit. It can be really hard to hold yourself accountable once the New Year starts (which is why the gym usually goes back to its normal amount of people a couple weeks into January). Don’t be one of those people! Write down your resolutions somewhere, post it on the fridge, tell someone, or make it public on social media like I literally am doing right now, so feel free to call me out if you see me slacking! It can also be really hard to think about things that you want to change about yourself. I know for me, it was hard to admit to myself that I needed to improve some of these things. If resolutions haven’t worked for you in the past, consider going at it a different way (I made the resolution to floss everyday last year but that didn’t happen, hence the Dino Flossers incentive). Mindset is also vital to making a change. Don’t see resolutions as something you HAVE to do, see it as something you GET to do! If you have to do it, chances are, you won’t. Making a change is challenging , but so is being unsatisfied with where you are now- choose your challenge. 

Happy New Year, everyone! New year, better you! 


Five Components of Fitness

Recently I had to write a paper for my conditioning class (ironic, like horizontal running). I actually enjoyed having to write this paper because it combines two of my favorite things: writing, and fitness. I thought this would be a great topic to share with you guys as a #FitnessFriday post. The word “fitness” has so many definitions because everyone thinks of it differently.  To some it is all aesthetic, some believe it to be strength, and some cardio. I know that my idea of fitness has changed significantly over the years. When I was younger, fitness meant going to the club and running on the treadmill. When I was a gymnast, fitness meant being active through cardio and strength. Now, I practice all five components of fitness because they are equally important in order to live a healthy life, and being able to do everything I want to do as I get older. Fitness is not just a hobby, it is a lifestyle, that is applicable to ALL ages. 

1. Cardiovascular Fitness

The first component of fitness is cardio. Big surprise there. Cardio is not all about seeing how many calories you can torch before your lungs start to burn, and trying to beat the person next to you on the treadmill…well, that last one isn’t true. It is actually a great measure of fitness because your body starts to adjust to what you demand. Most people forget the “vascular” part of cardiovascular, and that is the most important reason for doing cardio in the first place. Sure, burning calories is great, but strengthening your heart and lungs, increasing circulation, and oxygen flow, is the most important part of it all. It may not be easy to tell, but cardio improves overtime. Change in heart rate is a great way to see if your cardio has improved, as well something as simple as shaving off a couple seconds on your mile time. This is why we were required to run the mile growing up, do those annoying step tests, pacer tests, and resting heart rate tests. Back in high school, I could jog one lap around the indoor track and my heart rate would be at 204 (I’m not kidding). Now, I have to full out sprint to get it above 160! My mile time has also gone from nine minutes back in seventh grade, to around seven minutes now. The best, and easiest, forms of cardio are running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope, and walking. Anything that gets your heart rate up! It is important to change up intensity because your body will adapt to what you are doing after a while, making it not as effective. While it may feel like you are dying since cardio is hardio, it’s actually preventing you from dying 🙂 

2. Muscular Strength

Muscular strength is fancy talk for weights. I know a lot of people have the stereotypical image in their heads of a body builder walking around with their protein shake, cut off tank, and lifting 300 lbs of iron. A lot of women avoid weights just because this is what they imagine, don’t have a game plan, are intimidated, don’t know the importance of it, or don’t want to get “too big.” Building muscle is not exclusive to just throwing around some dumbbells, or lifting heavy things. Being a gymnast, I was fortunate to learn that body weight exercises are just as effective, as gravity is a great resource! Yes, muscle is built by heavy lifting, but it is also built through resistance training, body weight exercises, as well as low weight and high rep exercises (get out those soup cans!) Weight training is beneficial in order to lose fat, boost metabolism, increase bone density, but also, it is a great confidence booster as you start to see progress by being able to lift heavier, do more reps, physically see results, or hit a new PR. Not going to lie, I used to be scared of venturing into the weight room, but after retiring from gymnastics, I have started to incorporate free weights, machines, and TRX along with my body weight exercises. It doesn’t require anything extensive, as most of my circuits are found on Pinterest, or watching fitness gurus on Instagram. Deadlifts aren’t dead, y’all. 

3. Muscular endurance

This one can sometimes be confused with cardio because muscular endurance is the ability for the muscle to perform without fatigue. Yes, we get tired and feel like we can’t take another step when we run, but cardio has more to do with “sucking air.” For example, bad muscular endurance is only being able to do one push up, or doing one lat pull down on the machine. The best way to improve this component is by practicing that motion over and over. An increase from one push up to two push ups is even a gain. Just like endurance is improved when you do more of it in cardio, it goes the same for your muscles. And just like endurance can be gained, it can be lost, which is why it is important to focus on both your cardio, and your strength. I will say, my muscular endurance has decreased a bit since I had to stop gymnastics, as I can’t pump out the pull ups like I used to, simply because I don’t willingly choose to do pull ups (like any normal person). Use it or lose it!  

4. Body Composition 

The fourth component of fitness is body composition; the relative amount of muscle, fat, bone, and other vital parts of the body. This one is kind of a given, as the reason most people work out in the first place is to change, or maintain, their body composition. When I say body composition, it is not just focused on body fat percentage. A lot of us are guilty for only focusing on body fat, as humans are great at honing in on the negative aspects of ourselves, and forgetting about the positives. The reason body composition is an important part of fitness is because it an essential part to overall well-being. For the fat we do have (we all have it and need it), it is important to know if it is subcutaneous (harmless), or visceral (more dangerous as it wraps around your organs). This is why it is important to focus on body composition, not just for looks. Knowing how much muscle you have compared to fat, is important because a lot of people only focus on the numbers. When I say numbers, I’m talking about the typical bathroom scale, or BMI chart. It is so dangerous to rely on these only because they don’t show the whole picture. I look at transformation pictures on Instagram where people go from losing body fat, and gaining muscle; it looks like they’ve lost a ton of weight, but in reality, they stayed the same. BMI charts don’t factor in how much muscle someone has, so it may say someone is overweight when in reality they are made of muscle. This goes for the scale, too. Instead of stepping on the scale, it is a lot healthier to base body composition on how clothes fit, or getting a scale that shows the breakdown!

5. Flexibility

Last but not least, flexibility. This is important because flexibility prevents so many injuries at any age! I’m thankful to have been in a sport that heavily enforced this, and made a habit in me to stretch after every single workout. You can be the strongest person in the world, but it is useless if your hamstrings are so tight that you can’t bend over to lift up the barbell. That may be a bit exaggerated, but flexibility is often overlooked! Sit and reach was MY event during fitness testing, and we wouldn’t have been tested on it if it weren’t important. Just like endurance decreases when it isn’t practiced, flexibility gets so much worse as you get older unless you keep up with it. Flexibility can be compared to taking care of a kid, or a plant (but don’t compare your kid to a plant). If you water it or feed them once a week, and expect it/them to function the same by the next week, you are so wrong. This is why I made a vow when I retired to be able to do the splits and touch my toes until the day I die! I can be easily found in the gym doing the splits everyday, along with my other creepy gymnast stretches that make people stare at me like I have two heads, Lastly, without my flexibility, how else would I shave in the shower if I couldn’t put my leg up on the wall? 

As I mentioned before, fitness is a lifestyle, not a hobby that stops once you leave the gym. Why? How are you going to run after your kid’s basketball that is furiously rolling down the street, or sprint to get the last pair of Lulu leggings in your size on black Friday, if your cardio is not up to speed? How are you going to lift your screaming toddler out of a crib, or carry giant grocery bags to the house if your muscular strength is non existent? Imagine how hard it would be to quickly shovel the MN snow off the driveway if you don’t have enough muscular endurance to do the same motion over and over again (move to Florida, problem solved). Body composition helps to keep overall health intact, and helps when trying on jeans from the previous year, praying that they still fit. And lastly, flexibility allows for bending over to get the laundry out of the wash, getting the paper off the driveway, or simply showing off the splits as a cool party trick. All of these are needed to carry out everyday tasks, and to live your life!

My challenge for you this week is to focus a little bit more on one or more of these aspects that you tend to put on the back burner. Have a fantastic Friday, folks!


Holiday Happiness: Traditions never die

I don’t think I need to tell you that Christmas is in a couple weeks, as most people already have a countdown going. There are so many reasons to get excited for the holiday season; time with family, a new year to start over, fun traditions, or time off work/school (lets be honest, this is the biggest reason). I personally love the holiday season because the time off from school allows me to take part in my favorite traditions! I can guarantee, a lot of these traditions we probably share, but it’s what I like about each tradition that makes us different. As I always say, it’s the little things that bring me the most joy. Here are my top ten holiday traditions!

1. The Christmas tree

Nothing says Christmas time like a giant artificial tree. For me, this is all I’ve ever known, as my family doesn’t bother getting a real one. Just like my mom likes a dog that doesn’t shed, it goes for the Christmas tree too. While some people’s tradition is to go pick out a Christmas tree every year, my tradition is watching my dad struggle to put it together, get frustrated because the light strands don’t work from the year before, and then try to strategically place the pearls while balancing on the ladder. Of course, I don’t help with this part, because my favorite part is getting to put the ornaments on the tree. My Grandad loved to give us Hallmark ornaments every Christmas, which has resulted in two giant tubs of Hallmark ornaments that my brother and I insisted putting on every single one every year. We also had about two more tubs of homemade ornaments that we insisted had to be hung as well. By the time my brother and I were done hanging up all tubs of ornaments, there was no green that could be seen on the tree. It looked like an absolute mess, but that is how we liked it. There were so many music playing ones on there, that when we turned the tree on every morning, it sounded like a dying whale because of all the clashing sounds and songs. In all honesty, my favorite part about decorating the tree was not making a “Barbie ornaments” only section on the tree, but actually it was seeing how high I could climb up on the ladder before my parents told me to stop. 

2. Making Christmas cookies

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I cannot make or bake anything to save my life. My definition of making Christmas cookies is waiting until Mom mixed up the dough so I could decorate them before she put them in the oven. The sugar cookie recipe we use has been in the family for years, and they are to die for (which is why I eat them even though I’m gluten free). My brother and I would always designate a night, and a lot of counter space, to put on our fancy aprons, roll out the dough with our tiny rolling pins, and pick our favorite cookie cutters and sprinkles to decorate the cookies. A majority of the time, I made mine too thin so they would end up burnt (not surprised, burning things is my specialty). When it came to sprinkles, I liked to “color outside the lines” aka dump the sprinkles on everything, usually missing the cookie itself, and use all the wrong colors. When Mom wasn’t looking, I’d eat the dough because I personally think it tastes better than the cookie itself. My brother was definitely more cautious, as he and my mom would make more realistic looking cookies such as green mistletoe rather than my yellow wreath. By the time the oven timer went off, there would be flour all over the floor, all in my hair, on my clothes, and probably in more places it shouldn’t be. But I didn’t care, as my brown and crispy angels, yellow wreaths, blue Santas, and broken in half mitten cookies made me so proud of myself. 

3. Button factory

To continue with the baking theme, my brother and I had one night a year where our parents let us be home by ourselves, and our kitchen turned into what we called “the button factory.” Being so young, I didn’t realize the sole purpose our parents allowed us to do this was so they could have a solid couple of hours to go Christmas shop for us since they never had time to. I didn’t catch onto this for a couple years, but in the mean time, I loved when my brother turned into the babysitter/chef for the night. For those of you who don’t know what our famous “buttons” are, it is a pretzel with a melted Hershey Hug, with a M&M on top. I took my job as pretzel organizer (put the pretzels on the baking sheet), and hershey hug un wrapper (the worst job of the whole process) very seriously. Christopher was the head chef; as he was the one in charge of the oven, timer, putting the M&M on the melted chocolate, and carrying the baking sheets to put them outside to harden up because I couldn’t be trusted with any of it. His only order for me was to not eat the supplies (I did when he wasn’t looking). To give perspective, I was young enough where I needed a stool to be able to reach the counter, nowadays, I’m allowed to use the oven. Looking back, I don’t know how my brother and I did this for so long, because we literally would do this for four or more hours straight. It was honestly like a Ford factory line, and I can now unwrap a Hershey Hug in record time. While our button factory has gone out of business, I still make buttons every year and give them to all my friends at college. 

4. “The Drive”

This tradition is definitely a love hate relationship. Every year, we drive to Kentucky for Christmas to visit family. This drive is about 13 hours (on a good day). It usually takes about 15 in its entirety due to someone having to use the bathroom, wanting to stop at our favorite rest stop in Wisconsin just because we can, someone needing to stretch their legs, get gas, the snow storm that never fails to start the day we leave, grab a bite to eat, traffic downtown Illinois, or because someone forgot something at home. Fun fact, we turn around at least once every year because someone thinks they forgot something such as a hair brush (it was in the bag), forgot to turn the closet light off (it was off), or forgot to close the garage door (it was closed). Having to turn around has become a tradition in itself. Usually, my family rotates who drives, and ever since I got my license, they still have never asked me if I want to take a shift (I don’t know if I should appreciate this or be offended). The reason that I have loved the drive has transformed over the years. When I was in elementary school, I loved it because I got to sit with my stuffed animals and watch my favorite movies on the portable DVD player the whole way there, as well as play road trip games with Christopher. In middle school, I loved it because I got to text my friends (and crush) on my new Pantech Impact flip phone all day long. In high school I loved it because I listened to my IPod while pretending I was in dramatic music videos while looking out the window the whole way there (I’m not the only one who went through this phase). Now, I love it because I can sleep, read anything besides a textbook, pet Gracie, and take an actual break and relax, all day long. The “hate” part of the drive is always the drive home because all the Christmas festivities are over, making the drive home seem so much longer! 

5. A Kentucky Christmas

Of course once we get to Kentucky, the traditions don’t stop. It isn’t Christmas for me unless I am at my Gram’s house in Danville, KY with my cousins Fielden and Logan. That being said, I am also used to a “green Christmas” since it is usually mid 40s that time of the year. Every year, the family gathers in a circle in the living room with all of our presents sorted out to each person. We then proceed to open presents, one at a time, going from youngest to oldest. Ever since we were little, this came with the process of looking at the tag and reading who the gift was from, asking if it was ok to open (some had to be left to open at the end), opening it, acting pleased no matter what the gift was, saying thank you, then crumbling up the paper and trying to shoot it into the trash bag. This cycle lasted for hours. Usually by the end, Fielden and I would have a new pair of matching cousin pajamas, new Hallmark ornaments from Grandad, paper everywhere because we had no aim, and we would be exhausted. No matter what the year, or how old we continue to get, it has never changed, and probably never will. 

6. Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner at Gram’s is also a given when we are in KY. Southern cooking is on a whole different level than the rest of the country. And Gram’s cooking is on whole different level than southern cooking. To sum it up: it beats Thanksgiving by a landslide. The table is usually filled with dishes to the point where there is no room to put one more thing on it. Christmas dinner at Gram’s typically consists of turkey, country ham, mashed potatoes, homemade macaroni, dressing (stuffing to you northerners), gravy, Burke’s Bakery buttery dinner rolls, broccoli casserole (my favorite), cranberry jello, sweet potato casserole, pretzel salad: pineapple mixture+whipped cream+ crushed pretzels, banana croquettes: banana covered in mayo and rolled in peanuts (not as gross as it sounds), Chess Pie, Derby Pie, fruit cake, rum cake, cookies, etc..I could go on but that would take another paragraph. When I was little, I would always end my meal with a cup of boiled custard as pictured above. While I usually could never eat everything because there was so much, I eventually got around to having a taste of everything due to leftovers for DAYS. It is going to have to take a Christmas miracle for me to follow my gluten/dairy free diet this year!

 7. Candlelight service

Attending the Christmas candlelight church service at Gram’s church with the whole family is another tradition we take part of every year. Not going to lie, most years I am counting the minutes until it is over just because I’m not used to how traditional the service is, and the southern accent of the pastor is so soothing it is inevitable to keep my eyes open. My favorite part is getting to light our individual candles while singing silent night, and the lights are shut off. I will never forget how most times, my Grandad’s voice was the most prominent, and while he is no longer with us, I still imagine his voice every year we attend this service. I also love getting all dressed up for this service, and getting the yearly sibling picture with Christopher in front of their giant Christmas tree. Southerners, especially my Gram’s friends, give many more compliments than northerners, and I definitely have never minded the extra confidence boost from when the other church members tell me how “darling” I look. 

8. Santa

Yes I am 20, and yes, Santa still comes to visit the Casey kids every year. When I was little, seeing all the gifts in the morning was one of my favorite parts of the tradition, but not all. Every year, I tried to stay up late and would sneak out of bed to catch Santa in the act. As I have mentioned, I am not a night owl, so my efforts to catch Santa usually concluded around 11. Waking up Christmas morning and realizing that I once again failed to stay up, it led me to sneaking around to try to see what I got. At the Casey household, we weren’t (and still aren’t) allowed to go see what we got until the whole family was up, and Mom had the video camera out. I don’t know what it was about trying to sneak around, I guess I liked the adrenaline rush of trying to do something I wasn’t supposed to be. Again, I never succeeded with my mission because my dad would stop me and make me go sit in the office with my brother until he told us it was ok to come out. Over the years, I have gotten gymnastics mats, balance beams, and a whole bunch of other big things that left me baffled as to how Santa fit them on his sleigh. I also fan girled over the half eaten carrots sitting on the table for Rudolph to eat. Mom never let me keep them as an artifact. As I have gotten older, a lot of things have started to become clear to me such as why Santa looks different every year, how my parents knew so much about Santa, how my Mom knew where Santa got everything, but the one thing I still don’t know, is if my mom or dad ate the carrots every year. 

9. Casey Christmas

Having family in two states has its perks. We celebrate with my mom’s family in KY, but we also celebrate with my dad’s family every year here in MN before we make the drive. The dynamics of each celebration are polar opposites, but I love them both. My favorite part of the Casey Christmas, is our annual Yankee Swap. There is a “magic head scratcher” that makes an appearance in the swap every year, and has become an inside joke to the family. At this point, I think everyone has had the head scratcher at least once. While a lot of people’s favorite part of the swap is getting the gifts, or the game itself, my favorite part is everyone roasting and making fun of each other. Usually, I end up with the gift that our family brings because I help pick it out and don’t want anyone else to have it since I like it for myself. Usually there is a rule about picking your own gift, but everyone lets it slide since I am the youngest. While in the past there have been fights over fruit cake, electric candles, a flashlight, and some feelings were hurt along the way as no one wanted the assorted soaps, the night ends after the third round of goodbyes and everyone is happy again. 

10. New Years

When I think of New Years, I imagine sparkling grape juice, the big lit up ball, and writing down the wrong date on my homework assignments for a solid month after that night. Little Lauren didn’t really understand the concept of New Years, as I always asked my mom what date New Years was on. For years, I would be more excited to watch the Disney channel exclusive that was happening that night rather than ringing in the new year. I was mostly in it for the sparkling grape juice! Now, I spend this night watching it all happen in New York, and all my favorite artists lip syncing my favorite songs. Traditions have been spotty over the years, as most of my years this night was spent in Kentucky (I’d make the joke back to my friends back in MN that I beat them to the new year because we were an hour ahead). The last couple years, I’ve spent it in Minnesota with my best friends. Even though location hasn’t stayed the same, the sparkling grape juice, good company, and “see you next year” jokes have. 

As we begin the most wonderful time of the year, I can only hope that everyone has traditions like I do that automatically bring them back to their childhood, or bring them happiness to transition them into the clean slate of 2019. It’s the little things like climbing to the top step of the ladder, eating a burnt angel cookie, successfully shooting wrapping paper into the trash bag, roasting the uncle that got the head scratcher, seeing a half eaten carrot, getting a compliment from a church lady, getting to sit for longer than an hour, and sneaking a Hershey Hug without being caught, that have brought me so much joy over the years. 

Happy tree decorating, cookie making, and finals taking!