Elizabeth Seward is a writer, singer/songwriter, photographer and founder of lifestyle blog Small Dose Magic. She grew up in Appalachia, USA – in southeastern Ohio on the border of West Virginia. She moved to New York City when she was 18, and met her husband Ben there, who is also a musician, writer and photographer. They currently live in one of the most remote places in the USA – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where they’ve lived for almost three years, but are gearing up to move to Oregon next month. Here she talks about Christmas, how to keep the ‘home’ feeling alive while in the process of moving and shares a quick recipe too!
HAVE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ALWAYS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS?
We have! Ben and I both grew up celebrating Christmas. For our first Christmas together as a couple in 2009, I remember we bought a tree in our neighborhood in Brooklyn from a guy who’d come down to sell trees in the city from upstate New York. We didn’t have any ornaments, so we made paper snowflakes. Three out of five of our roommates at the time were Jewish, so it was a cool experience bringing our different holiday perspectives to the table that December. We eventually started buying ornaments that were special to us – many of them are from our travels – and tucking them away for future Christmas trees.
WHAT’S YOUR FONDEST CHRISTMAS MEMORY?
One of my fondest Christmas memories from my childhood was when I was 16 and I desperately wanted a dog just like a dog my mom had found abandoned on a bridge. She’d brought it home and it stayed with us for 10 days before owners came to claim it and I was heartbroken to say goodbye. My family already had two dogs, but I wanted a dog like that one so much!
On Christmas Eve, my parents drove us out to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. At first, they said we were just looking at Christmas decorations on houses, but they eventually said that they were taking me to a person’s house to check out a sewing machine. I was sewing at the time – selling handmade purses to my fellow classmates – but I didn’t particularly want a sewing machine since my mom already had one that I used, but I tried not to act disappointed. When we walked into the woman’s house, there were puppy versions of that dog (a miniature pinscher) everywhere and I still didn’t get it that we were there to get a dog for me until they brought a tiny five-week-old puppy out to me and placed her in my hands. Her eyes were hazel and I loved that they had green in them, so I named her Jade. My dogs are rescues these days, but the way Jade came into my life back then always warms my heart and reminds me of how my parents were able to sprinkle a little magic into Christmas even for a teenager.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING TO DO WITH EVER DURING THIS TIME OF THE YEAR?
It’s so neat watching Ever grow and learn so quickly because she’s beginning to grasp concepts of Christmas and holidays, in general. We’re still working on our traditions, but for now, just snuggling and watching a Christmas movie with her and watching the thrill in her eyes when she turns on the tree’s lights are my favorite things. I also hope to teach her about the generous spirit of Christmas and am planning on having her along with me this year for a food pantry donation or meal delivery through a local charity or something like that. I really want her to grow up understanding that Christmas is about spreading love and sharing with everyone.
HOW IS THIS YEAR’S CHRISTMAS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT?
This year, Christmas feels like it was an afterthought for quite a while. We went out to Portland, Oregon in October to house-hunt and have been working on nailing down a house ever since. It looks like it’ll finally work out, but we had several disappointments – being outbid on houses or finding out that the repairs needed were deal-breakers. But if things work out the way they currently look like they’ll work out, we’ll be starting our drive across the country for our move a week or two after Christmas, so Christmas will definitely be different this year in the sense that it will be our last Christmas in this house and that a good part of our belongings will be packed away by then. It will be bittersweet to spend it as our last Christmas here with Ben’s parents (they’re our neighbors), but we’re all just trying to be thankful that we will be here for Christmas at all. If you’d asked me two months ago, I would have assumed we would be having Christmas in Oregon.
HOW DO YOU KEEP THE ‘HOME’ FEELING ALIVE WHILE GOING THROUGH THIS TRANSITION?
It’s not easy! I can’t find the will to get too involved in big projects that are specific to this house since we are moving, but I can make yummy meals and string Christmas lights all over the place and hang onto our plants until the very last minute. I can continue to hang Ever’s drawings on the fridge and everywhere else and we can still all cuddle in bed together in the mornings, which is really so much of what ‘home’ is about for me – just being with my family. Since I haven’t started packing yet, everything still looks the same as always, but I think that even once I start packing, having the Christmas tree as the center of the living room right up until when we leave will do a lot to keep the home feeling alive during this time.
HOW IS EVER REACTING TO THE CHANGES?
She’s aware of it all much more than I would have expected! She asks to talk to our realtor regularly (very adult of her), she asks me to show her videos and photos of Oregon, and she talks about how when she lives in Portland, she’s going to ride the train (she’s obsessed with Thomas at the moment). I’ve only been piling things for donation into bags when she’s not looking because, if you know toddlers, you know they want a thing as soon as you decide you no longer need the thing, so she hasn’t witnessed any purging yet. I make a point to talk to her often about the REALLY BIG road trip we’re going to go on in a few weeks and she seems excited about it.
HOW DO YOU JUGGLE EVERYTHING AND STILL MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF?
Haha, good question! I do make time for exercise and baths a few times a week because I think I’d go crazy otherwise. Exercise is something I try to do with Ever because I want her to learn good habits there – I didn’t grow up exercising, so it’s always hard to force myself to do it – and baths usually happen during her nap. Ben also helps me to make time for having coffee with one of my dear friends every week and for playing music in the evenings. Otherwise, I’m a multitasking worker bee pretty much 24/7. I think one of the reasons it works is because I find a lot of what I do fulfilling. Even tedious tasks aren’t too repetitive because I wear so many work hats, so my mind stays active and I don’t get bored. I have been orchestrating literally every detail of our home-buying and move experience, though, so throwing that into the mix has taken dedication. But since it’s something I want so badly, I’ve just been chugging through it all and getting it done. It’s funny the things you can make happen if you just can’t stomach the alternative – which is often nothing happening.
ANY TIPS FOR MAKING THE TRANSITION SMOOTH AND FULL OF HOLIDAY CHEER?
For anyone else embarking on moving during the holidays, I’d say:
1.) Focus on everything but the physical packing of things in boxes up until the last minute. Get rid of everything you don’t love or need. Collect boxes. Plan your moving route. Reserve your moving truck or trailer. Start all of these other tasks way in advance so that you’re not overwhelmed and so that when the time comes to just get the belongings packed away, that’s all you have left to do. If you do it this way and start in advance, you can continue living your lives pretty normally up until the last week or two before a move.
2.) Prioritize experiential or timeless gifts. This is something I aim to always do, but my senses are heightened to it during a move. If Ever is getting a thing, whether it’s a toy or a dress, I want it to be a precious beautiful thing that I know we’ll hang onto for years to come. I’m not at all into phase-y toys that she’ll be ignoring in a few months that just add to the clutter. She’s either getting things she needs, lovely treasured things, or experiences as gifts from us, especially these days. Ben and I take her out for coffee dates as a special treat and a way to avoid spending that money for her on things that will make it more difficult to move.