6 Simple Ways to Maintain Balance (or Sanity) this Holiday Season

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Walking Zoe & Cali last week

Many of you know that my dad passed away this year. I have to count on 3 hands my friends who are also celebrating their first holidays with one fewer parent. It isn’t easy, this “Year of Firsts”. As we move through December, I know I will need to find some time to step away from the myriad of activities and stress that comes with the holiday season.

Even in a normal year, the end of year pressures can be great. Here are 6 easy ideas to try for a 30-60 minute inexpensive escape.

  1. Spend an hour alone in a coffee shop, with NO electronic media unless you need music to distract from other patrons. Write, read, stare out the window.
  2. Go for a winter walk. 
  3. Practice yoga.  According to The Mayo Clinic, yoga helps to relieve stress, find focus, and improve flexibility.  Ironically, I just got an offer today to sign up for a free 21-day session on Wanderlust, starting in January.   Feel free to join up, if you want to start a yoga practice at home.
  4. If you only have 5-10 minutes to spare, meditation offers many similar benefits. If you think you can’t meditate, all the more reason you should try it. (I was one of those people; I can’t sit still!) Simply sit or lay quietly, close your eyes, hands facing up to accept more energy from around you. TRY to clear your mind, but if a thought wanders in, accept it and let it flow on. Start to breathe deeper—to your belly and collar bones. A really informative post about the benefits of meditation can be found on the Live and Dare website.
  5. Pay it forward. Whether you work with an organization or do a simple gesture to a stranger, your spirit will soar.
  6. Dance party–turn up your music to your favorite song and move those feet! Or just sing along. If you are by yourself, no one will ever know if you have no rhythm or sing off-key.

You are not alone in stress or loss this year. Know that it is okay to say NO to attending events. Every party, gathering, obligation does not require a yes response. Not overloading is the key to enjoying the next 30 days.

C

P.S.  Dogs encourage you to go out and walk all year round.  There are many of shelter dogs and organizations willing to help match you with your perfect Furrever friend this holiday season.

Mother’s Day Wishes

a day late, but alas the internet was down last night….

Finishing up another Mother’s Day with a sublime combination of lemon meringue pie and champagne.  Spending a finally-sunny Sunday with bits of gardening work, homemade family brunch,  soccer and lacrosse games,  all-family-prepared barbeque, then a quiet night at home with no dissention was a great mother’s day.

I have been watching the abundance of advertisements this week hawking perfumes, clothing,  jewelry, chocolates, patio furniture (seriously—two ads), champagne, makeup, appliances(don’t even think about it), mattresses.  Ridiculous.

I don’t need all these trappings for a completely commercial holiday. I would rather have a day of leisure spent with my family with fewer chores perhaps, the kids helping with a project or helping prepare the meal—and clean up—a homemade card, a plate of cookies, a simple thanks/kiss/hug, some fresh cut flowers. Time together.

how quickly they grow--so long ago!

Any why should moms get thanked only one day a year?  Dads too, for that matter, on their “special” day in June.  Why does the greeting card industry (didn’t they start this trend?) honor our moms only once in 365 days, rather than taking a few moments to say “thanks” each day for the myriad of things they do?

Is it to remind us adults to say thanks our moms and grandmothers and aunts who we do not see every day?  To remember the small things our moms did for us: decorating cakes and putting on sunscreen and doing paint-by-numbers and stringing cranberries and swimming in the blow-up pool?

I know that some people have negative memories of their moms, no nurturing, no love, and I this this day would be hard for them.  Or those who have lost their mom, or their child, or those struggling to have a child.  I hope they find peace within by the next time this consumer-created mother’s day comes around.

Since I have the floor,  I should at least say happy mother’s day to you mom, for all you have taught me, the love you have surrounded me with, the gifts you have given me, over all these years.  I would rather remember the meals we cook together, the travels, the laughs, the lessons you teach my children (especially in the kitchen) than receive  some towels or a mattress from you this year.

Mom and me!

And happy mother’s day to my mother-in-law, my friends who are moms, my family members and friends who have not had children but have positively influenced my children,  and especially to my friends who have lost a child or been unable to conceive.  My wish is for all of you to have a simple, joy-filled day. C

Gift Season

Now that the major gifting overload season is complete, many presents newness worn off and returns  complete, I have been thinking a lot about gifts.  How sometimes it is the unexpected gifts that linger in our brains.  The gifts that will mean nothing to people when they finally clean out my cabinets, the stories of my life my past that will be overlooked, items’ special memories now dissipated.

There are sweet gifts that our children make, the treasures our aging parents pass along, handmade items by friends, gift cards galore, the not-perfect choice but we can see the effort was made, a kind word, a plate of homemade cookies.

There are hostess gifts, gift exchanges with friends, surprise gifts from unexpected visitors, expected but appreciated gifts, the mundane sometimes elevated, the needed  disguised in pretty packages, more gift cards, time savers, jokes and promises of great memories yet to be.

Then there are the gifts that aren’t really gifts for us,they are gifts for the giver–the “donation” an increasing numbers of vendors make in “my” name (get real!  This is a tax write-off for you, one less chore for someone at your firm to really say “thanks for the business this year”),  lingerie and oils from a spouse in all their taste, the re-gift (new, used, wilted, cracked, with a card inside), new items given by people who live with me since my items obviously don’t meet their expectations (new floor mats and serving spoons), gifts that clearly show how little you know me (a ham for the vegetarian?) but I will share at a family party, the no-gift with an empty promise to “get it to you later”,  the repeat gift (“didn’t you give that to me last year?”).

Smile, accept them all, hope for a gift receipt to return the unwanted, open the next box.  And will we find something we do not want, but we know someone who will love it?

I am certain to have forgotten a myriad of gifts–both the inspired and the should-be invisible. Think about your most unfavorite gift.  And the one that could be overlooked by others that sticks with you long after receipt: for me it is a coffee mug that always brings a smile, given to me at the end of a charity event I chaired publicity for, back in college. It has a poem about success, and when given to me the chair people said it was “because they knew there had to be a sentimental bone in my body somewhere.”  It is the mug I search for when I drink my tea, still inspiring me each use.  And now, when someday someone cleans out my cabinets maybe they will understand what this faded mug means to me. C

Mixed Blessings

One of the tow-headed boys I used to babysit for was convicted last week of sordid sexual crimes against multiple children.  Horrifying.  My father is recovering from his fifth heart attack, which occurred just ten weeks ago.  Amazing.  My in-laws are aging, mentally and physically.  Sad fact of life.  Several friends have had parents who recently had accidents or are sick and will never recover.  More life.  Another friend’s husband lost  his job, the last payroll day 12/24.  Merry Christmas.

It has been a bittersweet holiday season, with all these activities swirling around the base of the lighted tree, relentlessly reminding me that life moves on, unaware of the calendar dates, the celebrations with friends and families, the wrapping of gifts, donations of time/goods/money.  I have disappeared in my thoughts, words hard to speak about these things, let alone freeze in print. Some annual events have been more subdued than others, as my friends have also hidden their hearts, brave smiles with sad eyes.

We all hope our children still have shiny, star-filled days of joy of celebrating with their friends, hugs from cousins, snowboards on white hills, home created sugar-filled sweets, whispers with each other, the perfect gift to open, hidden from the pain-the horrors-the loss-the sadness.  Alas, their realities blend with ours as they turn older and become quietly aware of our subdued voices, see their grandparents ill, hear about the jobless.

Too young, they  become aware that the holiday season is not happiness for all.  Our kids lost an uncle on Christmas Eve seven years ago, so they were awakened to this fact far younger than they should have been.  Still more lucky than most, a moderately-successful year for our family, perhaps the awareness of what is around us will remind them how lucky they really are.

And we hope the new year brings health, prosperity, luck for those around us, we know that there will be loss, fear, dwindling accounts, and solitary times for friends and family.  We will strive to find joy and happiness to layer atop the mixed reality we experience each day. C

Sharing Times

We have just passed the Thanksgiving week and entered the hurdles approaching Christmas.  The seasons of giving and receiving and asking and celebrating.  I peruse the Christmas lists made,  and wonder that my kids—or any other I know–can really NEED anything this holiday season when so many others go without.  Food. Warm coat that fits. Blankets. Boots. A cookie. Pencils.

Though there have been rough patches this year: fears of less work, health issues, loss of friends, we have been fairly fortunate compared to others.  So does that mean my kids shouldn’t get to ask for the things they want to miraculously appear under their tree on an upcoming Saturday morning?  We should all have our dreams, our hopes, but on the day that ALL of our wishes come true then…what is left to wish for?

So, as we have been doing since they were young, we will peruse the lists and yes, they will find some of their wants met, there will not be black lines crossing off every item on their carefully constructed lists.   We will leave each items to save for, to forget, to dream about, one less item to lose or break or outgrow.  We will also reach out to others in need, hand picking gifts to wrap and give to those we do not know, help stock the food pantry, find organizations we believe in to support, and remind them–and us–there are others who need so much more.

Hopefully this giving Christmas cheer will continue into the new year, so the times of sharing of ourselves, our funds, our time, our possessions will carry on. Who knows?  Maybe someday we will be the family in need of food. Boots. Pencils. C

Boy Tricks

It is the nine-to-twelve year old boy fantasy, at least for our son.  He is able to play video games for hours on a 60-inch screen, with his two girl cousins cheering him on, laughing at his jokes, learning and repeating the secret songs he knows from the bus and his friends.  We make them turn off the tv to play shuffleboard or eat dinner or swing some golf clubs or play a family game, but the little trio eventually retreats back to the media room, Ronan with the controls and the girls watching, giggling, directing him how to move.

He is on stage,  teaching them songs about Barney that your toddlers should not know with lovely lyrics like

“A-B-C-D-E-F-G Barney is my enemy…” and “Joy to the World that Barney is dead.  We barbequed his head…”

and burping tricks and Wii shortcuts.  And they wonder–why would anyone make a booby trap?  What kind of traps throw boobs?  Oh yeah, that’s the thirteen year and older fantasy.

Cousin fun. C