The One Question to Ask Yourself During the Holidays

Nine drummers drumming, a drum roll please. The big question, the ONE you need to ask yourself this holiday is…Why?

It really is the magic question, especially this time of year. Your answer can bring clarity, reduce stress and guilt, and make your entire holiday season more meaningful. For every task you “need” to do to prepare for the holidays ask yourself why.

Why am I sending Christmas cards? I asked myself this one as I was picking up fifty custom picture cards from Costco. My answer was to touch base with friends and family–most of whom are now on Facebook. So, they’ve seen pics of my family all year and they pretty much know what we are up to. Hmmmm. If I cut the list down to the ten or so people who are not on Facebook I would probably have time to make them some sort of homemade card with a sweet note and pictures. Sounds so much more fulfilling and a much better use of my time.

Why am I putting up a Christmas tree? I asked myself this a few years ago. Our family travels every Christmas to visit family. So I used to put the tree and unravel the lights and put the ornaments on,struggle to keep the dog’s tail from knocking the ornaments off then we would…leave. It seemed even sillier when we would return from our trip after new years eve and I would need to take it all down in addition to all the other post-trip tasks. I had some guilt when I packed it off to Goodwill, but I reminded myself that someone else would get so much more enjoyment out of it than we were. Now I go for a little garland and a few lights (’cause the lights are the best!) and it looks just as festive to me.

Which has brought me to the big why. Why are we doing this at all? Our family isn’t religious so celebrating Christmas is as odd as if we just picked some other religion’s customs and decided to randomly adopt them. I wouldn’t get a menorah just because I like candles. I feel like that would diminish the importance of the symbolism for the Jewish religion. Last year, after asking myself this question, I started to focus more on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. After looking at some of the customs I felt like they made sense to me. To celebrate I thinly sliced an orange and dried it in the oven. It made the house smell wonderful and when I hung the dried slices in the window they were a bright reminder of the longer, sunny days to come. I’ve actually always liked the shortest day. I’m not a winter person and I love the idea that on that day we turn a corner and little by little start moving back to more sunlight and warmer days. The new custom felt so much more personal and significant.

What customs do you follow that you’ve never questioned? Are they still valid? Do they add to your family time or detract? Do they help you connect with friends and family? Are they significant in your life? Comment below and let me know if asking why changes anything for you.

P.S. I’m still going for less (see last week’s post). I’ve been tackling my closet and the junk drawer. The growing donation pile reminded me that this is also a great time to get last minute tax deductions for donations. They can make a huge difference come tax time and someone can enjoy the things you no longer need–win/win!

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A Season of Less

I’ve always been kind of contrary. I like the idea of doing the opposite of what’s expected or what everyone else is doing. It usually puts me in a place where it’s less crowded and less chaotic and I like places like that.

Being on the verge of Christmas Chaos had me thinking today–thinking about what I could do to feel good and not overwhelmed and spent by the end of this month and the end of the year. I looked around the house and it hit me, I want less. I would love to start 2016 with less.

So here’s my plan, everyday in December I will throw out one large trash bag worth of stuff and fill another large trash bag of stuff to be donated. By the time January rolls around I’ll be ready for the new year, new projects, new ideas. I’ll have a clean (or at least cleaner) slate.

The more I thought about it the more I saw the modern logic to my plan. December used to be a time of filling your house with stuff; food stuff, indoor projects, stuff you needed to get through the long winter. Homes were literally stuffed to the rafters with the provisions needed to last until spring. It was a great idea for a little house on the prairie.

But for a modern, post-industrial household it’s not only unnecessary, it’s demoralizing and frustrating. With so much cheap (really, really cheap) stuff available we’ve filled our houses to the rafters with knickknacks, geegaws, gag gifts, maybe-someday clothes, etc. Today, Cyber Monday, my email inbox was overloaded with millions more items I could add to the pile, each for a price so low it was hard to say no. All that stuff looks great until the boxes arrive and you realize you have no place to put it.

I’m not religious and don’t really celebrate anything this time of year but this year I’m changing all that. 2015 is the start of Declutter December. Anyone and everyone can celebrate but it works especially well for contrarians, people like me who tend to run in the opposite direction when I see the crowds approaching. Something tells me I won’t have to wake at 2 a.m. to go battle someone for the last box of trash bags.

So, who’s with me? Who else wants to declare today the start of Declutter December?

Local & Small Faves

This is it! The Christmas I’ve been waiting for. This is the year when internet shopping has become so easy that it is now a thousand times easier to support small and local businesses and find uber cool gifts from the comfort of your desk (couch, bed, coffee shop).

As I’ve gone to fairs and events this past year I’ve noticed that even the smallest vendors now accept credit cards and almost all have a web site.   The big box stores and malls are worried and they should be. Millions of people are selling unique, local, personal items that I want to give my friends and family. I love supporting small and local businesses just as much as I love finding the best stuff.

So I want to share a few of my favorites with you and I hope you will join in and share some of yours. The one thing local and small businesses don’t have is advertising budgets. Let’s help each other out and give up the goods on where you’ve found some really great gift ideas.

Makeda’s Butter Cookies – I personally met Makeda at a street fair where she told me her cookies were butta-licious. Damn, she was right! They are the essence of butta-love. She’s a local girl from here in Memphis but you can order her cookies from her website (click here for the link). Not only are these great to send as a gift, but you can order some for your own holiday party. And if you’re like me you’ll need to order some for yourself, you know, that bag you hide from the kids.

Bow and DrapeBow & Drape – These are super-clever, chic, glitzy sweatshirts (and other gifts) that you can customize or order from their suggestions. They are made NYC and beat the goofy sayings on the mall shirts by a mile. (Link here)

 

Speaking of custom–Etsy. If you haven’t found this wonderland of cool gifts yet, set aside a few hours (or days) to get lost in all the perfect, often handmade, items. The really beautiful thing here is that it’s all searchable. If you specifically want a rainbow tutu you can search it and will find so many great options. It’s all small businesses looking big by banding together.

Amazon — I know they are the biggest of the big, but they are also the au laitmarket place for many small businesses (like authors…) The trick is finding the small guys on this mega site. If you find one, please share! Years ago my parents brought me some incredible lotion from Scotland that I thought I would never be able to find again. I can now order through Amazon. If you don’t like strong scented bath products I can’t recommend the Au Lait Scottish Fine Soap Company enough. Here’s a link.

Finally, don’t forget your local coffee shop for gift cards. These are great for people you know live in the same area; teachers, friends, etc. I broke myself of the drive-thru-Starbucks habit when I found my local shop, Pinks. The owner is super supportive of me as a local author, her food and coffee is delish and I always end up finding out all the news that would be in our local paper (if we still had one.)

So spill–tell the world about your favorite small and local business that have the coolest or yummiest stuff that can be ordered online. Clue us in to your best secrets in the comments below.

 

 

Taking A Break

I saw it coming.  In fact, I mentioned last week that life was about to get very busy. . . and it did.  

This past week was the first of many that I will be working my paying job, editing my novel,  and serving as both Mom and Dad.  Which is really excitement enough for me, but, we are also about to add two of the busiest (and my least favorite) holidays to the mix.  So I am going to take a break from creating my blog posts.  

I let go of a lot of really bad ideas and habits when I entered my middle-age crazy.  One of them was my Super Woman persona.  A younger me would have thought that I could do it all or felt obliged to do it all.  Age gives you the perspective of priorities and the chutzpa to say no to some things.  I don’t feel like I am saying no to my blog.  I still love creating it, but I am saying no to being overwhelmed.

So, my final post of 2013 (today’s) is about letting go of my Super Woman persona, being honest, and putting all this Christmas crazy stuff in perspective.  Let me start with a big dose of honesty:  I hate Christmas.  Just saying that put me in the same category as axe murderers for some people, but it is the truth.  

It is a holiday FULL of obligations that make it short on fun for a lot of people.  People whose voices no one wants to hear.  It’s not that I want others to hate the holiday, my goal is to make it OK to not want to participate (or seriously limit your participation).  

If you think about it, it is the only holiday where you are pushed and feel obliged to participate AND be happy about it.  Those who don’t are put in the same category as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch.  The message being that anyone who doesn’t like Christmas must be completely evil, all year long, and in all aspects of life.  Those images silence those who might want to say, “no thanks” to so much overwhelming holiday “cheer.”  

It’s all really overwhelming to me.  And as I have come clean with my dirty secret, I’ve found out it isn’t at the top of the fun list for a lot of other women too.  Most of the additional work to make all that “fun” falls on women.  For some, it is a joy, for others, it is the straw that breaks the camels back, with the additional pressure to keep smiling through it all.  

I have made so many positive changes in my life this past year, this blog just being one of them.  Ironically, changing the way we celebrate Christmas is going to be one of the hardest.  For hundreds of years expectations have been established.  My family, and so many others, believe that the only way you can celebrate Christmas is with cards, and a certain number of gifts, wrapped in a certain way, and the house decorated in a certain way, and certain foods all completed by the designated due dates.  Anything less and you (Mom) have ruined Christmas for everyone else.  

A Winter Holiday I Can Get Behind – Winter Solstice – The Beginning of Longer Days!!

I’m not sure what changes I want to make. It will be a trial and error process.  But I will be making changes.  For one, I am going to do less and try not to feel bad about it.  I want what’s best for me and my family, and I don’t think blindly following traditions and pretending to like them is on that list.  My first action is being smart enough to see when I have too much on my plate and letting go of some.  I will be back to my blog in the new year.  I am beyond excited about 2014 and I want to keep writing and share with you all the fun, exciting things that will happen.  Until then, I hope all of you find peace during the holidays, and that you make them into something beautiful and meaningful for you.