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.

 

 

Viva Whore-O-Ween!

It’s almost Whore-O-Ween; the time of year when women who might normally blush when wearing a plunging neckline show up at events wearing micro mini versions of Little Red Ridding Hood, police uniforms or even pizza. This weekend anything and everything that can be translated into a costume with hooker heels and a short skirt will be.

The super sexy costume phenomenon has been growing over the past several years. Adults are spending more and more on costumes each year. It’s hard to get a solid number but estimates for 2015 range from $250 million to $6.9 billion in the United States. No matter what the number, all you have to do is enter a costume shop to see that a lot of that money goes to sexy costumes for adult women. The walls are lined with prepackaged styles as well as tons of accessories to either make your own or add to the polyester cheapie number.

Haters are quick to see the trend as yet another sign that society is doomed and we’re all on the highway to hell. Personally, knowing the history of this type of costume, I see something much more positive. I see women who are grabbing at the chance to express their sexuality and break out of America’s repressive sexual roles on the one night of the year when as Lindsey Lohan said in Mean Girls, “You can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it”.

Sexy costumes are nothing new. Look at any era with lots of societal repression and you will see a proliferation of costume balls where ladies (and gentlemen) pushed at the constraints of what was considered proper. In Victorian times masquerade balls were all the rage where a proper woman might dress like an geisha or peacock or if she’s really daring, wear pants.

The current wave of sexy costumes started following the sexual revolution of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Early adopters were those eager to shake off the rigid sexual norms of the 1950’s. It wasn’t until the sexual revolution spread from the coasts into middle America (at a snail’s pace), sometime in the 1980’s that the trend really grew. Fueled with the booming economy of that same era, Midwest moms now had the money and the inclination to throw on a mask and become their sluttier alter ego. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely more powerful and outgoing at parties as Wonder Woman than I ever am as Karen. I think this expression of sexuality is fun and healthy, especially for one night.

Which brings up the other point about whore-o-ween costumes. If we wore them all the time they wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Only dressing erotically occasionally keeps it sexy. It’s partaking of the forbidden fruit and the rush of freedom that comes with it. If you follow fashion you will see that despite some insanely crazy sexy Halloween costumes this year, the true trend in fashion is very conservative. Look for lots of 70’s style turtlenecks this fall along with wide-leg pants and boxy dresses. Victorian style, high-necked lace blouses are a hot trend too.

I love this holiday and I love my costumes. This year I’m sexy Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on Friday night (minus the hooker heels, because owww!) and Wonder Woman again this Saturday. I can’t wait to see how crazy my friends will get. The wilder the better. I applaud women who show a little chutzpah and defy societal “rules” of what you are allowed to wear based on your age, body type, marital status, and on and on. I say Viva Whore-o-ween! So this year, when you see more of your neighbor than you had planned because she shows up at your party in the tinniest fire-fighter uniform ever, give her a high-five for bravery and tell her she looks “smokin’ hot.”

(Note: I’ve only focused on adult women wearing sexy costumes for this post on purpose. Over-sexualized children’s costumes are not the same thing and I do not endorse them. If you are too young to fully understand sexuality then you are too young for a sexy costume.)

What’s your take on Whore-o-ween? What costume are you wearing this year? Is it daring for you? I’d love to hear from you. Join in the conversation in the comment section below.