Keeping The Holidays Simple

Christmas in New York, 2007

Christmas in New York, 2007

Here we are just a little over two weeks before Christmas and I’m not in panic mode.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent a Christmas without being completely overwhelmed by all that had to be done and the impossible expectations I set for myself.  I’ve run into a number of people over the past week or two who have mentioned that they have way to much to do and little time to accomplish even the most important things for them.  That sounds very familiar to me but I’ve had to smile at myself and pat myself on the back for not being driven to distraction by the usual holiday stress mess. So what’s the difference between this year and the past?  Firstly, we usually go down to North Carolina to be with our daughter, her partner and grandkids.  Last December we all decided that it might be fun to just have our own individual holiday celebrations this December.  It sounded like a great idea to me and though I’m especially going to miss Noah and Zoe, I think it will be good for them to just be with their two moms, doing something more laid back and simple, than entertaining their grandparents. I’m extremely grateful that I don’t have to prepare for a trip. I generally don’t like to travel on holidays of any kind because of the traffic and the rush-rush attitude I tend adopt in order to get ready to hit the road on time.  And to be honest, long car trips are not one of my favorite activities at this point in my life. Being fairly active, even an hour of sitting in the car, brings on joint stiffness and it takes a lot of work to iron it all out. It’s at least a six hour trip down to North Carolina, without pit stops. After our trip to London in October and the almost eight hours of sitting on the plane, one-way, I’m particularly happy to stay put this year. Mark and his family, who live nearby, will be away, so Bill and I are planning a very quiet day.  We will  go to a few parties in the neighborhood during the week and treat Christmas itself as a day to relax, without stuffing ourselves with way too much food.  Maybe we’ll go out a see a movie, and if the weather is nice spend some time wandering about with our dogs, who always love to visit new walking spots.  The smells are different from their usual stomping grounds and they may well get to make friends with dogs they’ve never met before. The other thing that’s helped keep my stress at a low level is that since the day before Thanksgiving I haven’t been shopping except to go to the grocery store.  Everyone in the family will get gifts, but they’ll be things I’ve purchased on line, and sent directly to the recipient. In other cases a gift of some money will help those out who need a little extra cash this year.  By staying away from all of the stores, I keep myself from being in contact with the holiday grouches and those in such a hurry that they mow everyone down in front of them. We’ll keep our Christmas meal simple like we did at Thanksgiving when I made Eggplant Parmesan, a big tossed salad, and apple crisp for desert, all gluten-free and delicious. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll make for Christmas dinner, but you can be sure it will be something simple. Gone are the days when I enjoy an overloaded table of food and then have to take five mile hikes for the next two months to lose the pounds I gained. If there will be any stress, it might be over some renovations our house will be undergoing come January sixth.  We’re getting a new hardwood floor installed in the kitchen. The hard, uneven slate floor that was in place when we bought this place has not been easy on my legs and back. I’m very excited about spending more time cooking comfortably.  We’re also demolishing the powder room on the main floor and will be moving the washer and dryer into that space from the basement, making it unnecessary to climb steep stairs while clutching an overloaded basket of laundry. They’ll be situated right next to our bedroom, making doing laundry much more easy. I’m sure there will be stress enough living without a kitchen and laundry facilities for about four weeks. But in the end when it is done I’ll be able to swing back into my regular life and proceed as usual, but much more easily. In the meantime I’m working on Part Three of my memoir.  I am pleased that I allowed myself to forget my October first deadline for finishing the first draft of the entire book. The trip to London, even though I was sick for part of it was just what the writing doctor order.  Taking my time with it has opened up a new avenue for the way I’m handling the last part of my story and so far it’s it’s really going well. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to reduce strain and worry, especially during the holiday season.  Do you have special ways of handling holiday stress?

Holiday Wishes

DSC00564The season is moving on and the end of 2012, is not too far off.  Though September is really the month I consider to be my New Year, January is still a landmark time, in that the calendar begins its yearly cycle, bringing us back to the beginning again every year.

On January 1st, I set an intention for the 365 days that are before me, just as I will set my intentions for tomorrow, this evening, and on Sunday night, I’ll set them for the week ahead. Using this idea, taught to me by Debra Marrs, I wake up each morning, knowing what I plan to do for the day ahead. And though I may stray off course from time to time, it’s a structure that I can carry with me into the next day if necessary. Unless I am faithful to these lists, I would most likely arise confused and overwhelmed, trying to figure out where to begin my day, and why.

I do change things around as opportunities for a last-minute visit with a friend arises or if the cat gets sick and I need to take her to the vet. I simply put what I didn’t do today onto the list for tomorrow. The deal is to only write down three or four items to accomplish each day, leaving extra time to keep working if I choose, or to have a cup of tea with my neighbor, weed the garden, or have a cat nap. Those things, which I don’t consider work and often feel guilty about doing, are just as important as taking time to work on my memoir every day, paying the bills, and doing the laundry. They are the self-care items that keep me sane. I’ve learned over the years that without time to relax, I don’t do well. After having used this system of time management for a while, I now know just how much I can accomplish in a given day. I’ve stopped overloading my plate, and don’t feel rotten anymore, when I don’t finish everything I planned to do.

My yearly intentions are a bit different. They are just one or two words that I choose each January to accompany me as I move through the next calendar year. In the past I’ve chosen words such as trust, slowly, and open. When I’m feeling particularly pushed, I’m reminded to slow down and to trust that all will be well.  The word open, really helped me during a difficult time after my mother died, when all I wanted to do was to hide away and lick my wounds. Instead of sitting behind a closed-door, I left it slightly ajar. When I felt it was safe to leave the door wide open, I did, letting in the sunshine, a fresh breeze, new friends and interests. The lineup of these words grows every year as I add a new one. And they often come together like old friends, when I’m feeling in need of a course correction.

This year, I’m starting a few weeks early as a way of practicing before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. I’ve chosen simplicity, as my word for 2013, hoping it will help me to keep my worst enemy, Perfection, from trying to take over. It should help me to sort out the idea of enough, as in how I perceive myself, and how much time I need to put in working on my memoir everyday.

I want my days to be less complicated and more productive.  I want to keep my goal of finishing a draft of my memoir by September 1st in mind, while finding a way to get it done without making life so complicated and difficult, that I’ll give up and walk away. It will help me to use the word NO, when the temptation to let it go arises, and remind me that what I want most in the world right now, is to write my story.

In the spirit of practicing simplicity, I plan on taking the next three weeks off from writing this blog. I’ll have extra time to enjoy my family and get lots of rest before jumping headfirst into whatever lies ahead.

I wish each and every one of you, a happy and healthy Holiday Season and a New Year filled with fresh dreams!