The holiday season we love to hate as it hurtles toward us every year is here. Don’t tell me you haven’t already noticed all the red and green decorations and merchandise in the stores. Heck, I’ve already missed “holiday celebrations” that started last week.
Why? Because some people now feel there are so many parties and events for the holidays in December they’re now moving them to the first half of November. Sorry, I won’t be attending any holiday gatherings until after Thanksgiving. Just not ready yet.
Between cooking, decorating, shopping, entertaining and fitting it into a demanding, busy life it can be overwhelming and yet every year we try to do it all anyway. We want to create lovely memories of the holidays. However, if most of us dread the upcoming holidays what kind of memories have we been creating year after year?
Here in Las Vegas where I live we’ve had a drastic drop in temps the last couple days which is getting me in a holiday mood. Last week temperatures were in the 80s. Yesterday our high was 48 degrees. Brrrrrrr! On Friday I finally pulled out the sweaters, jackets and cozy socks. I bought a red sweater yesterday, so I’ve got something cozy, casual and holiday-ish to wear.
We dread the onslaught of the holidays as December 25th, Christmas, the MacDaddy of the holidays sneaks toward us because it’s a stressful time. It’s stressful in terms of all the things we feel we “have to” do to get ready. It’s also stressful when it comes to the hit on our finances. Women typically make the holidays happen while men are relegated to handling the decorations outside the home and footing much of the tab (if you’re married).
Christmas is supposed to be joyful as we celebrate the “reason for the season.” The last decade I’ve made a conscious choice to celebrate the spirit of fun and joy and dial back on the stress. The way I do it is pretty simple:
- Focus on doing the things that are fun and enjoyable for you
- Minimize things that aren’t much fun and are just plain irritating
- Don’t shop on credit cards or spend more than you can afford
I don’t love decorating – but I love the way holiday decorations look. Next weekend I’ll put up the Christmas tree. I know, it’s before Thanksgiving but I figure it takes the same amount of time to put up and take down the tree whether it’s before Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve. Because it’s an artificial tree, I can keep it up as long as I like. It has the tiny, white lights already affixed to it so I save time. I make hot cocoa and put the Christmas CDs on as we adorn the tree with red, white, silver and gold decorations. The rest of the decorations go up after Thanksgiving, the first weekend of December.
Decorations are only in our entry, living room and dining area. The holiday finery is focused and feels inviting and Christmasy without spreading it everywhere. I don’t use Christmas towels in the bathroom or Christmas sheets on our bed. We have a Nativity set placed in a prominent place in the living room. After all, Christmas IS about celebrating the birth of Christ. As lovely as all the decorations are, they accompany the Nativity set.
Outdoors? We hang a beautiful wreath on our front door and call it good. My husband doesn’t want to spend an entire Saturday running up and down a ladder affixing lights. I also don’t want to run up our electric bill and get a January surprise.
Holiday cooking: for decades the Saturday before Christmas was baking day for me. I spent the whole day with Christmas music on in the kitchen working away. I enjoyed it. My husband Ernie is great about doing dishes in-between batches. Problem is I noticed I was eating a lot of those cookies. It’s easy to sneak a little cookie or two out of a ZipLoc bag when the mood strikes. Not a good thing when I really need to cut back on carbs.
So, I’ve made an adjustment to this routine. Now I bake a lot of holiday quick breads: Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Bread, Pumpkin Bread with Raisins and Chocolate Chips and I even have a tasty Apple-Rosemary Bread we enjoy.
Baked goods freeze well and a loaf of bread that takes hours to thaw is less tempting then grabbing one small cookie that thaws in minutes. Less temptation equals less stress. Before going in the freezer they’re cooled completely, wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. I “feel” like I’ve enjoyed the holiday activity of baking I remember from the past, but it takes less time and the calories aren’t as tempting.
The breads become one of the gifts I give family and friends. I buy a roll of pretty fabric ribbon with a holiday look and tie a bow with a sprig of holly or a tiny pine bough tucked in.
Cookies and candy aren’t the only holiday temptation: colder temps mean we lean toward more artery-clogging “comfort foods.” For many there’s a greater temptation to imbibe more alcohol to celebrate. How can we stay healthy and avoid stressful weight gain without eating salads when it feels like the last food we want?
Soup to the rescue.
A hot, hearty bowl of soup loaded with veggies and a little meat or beans if you choose is a great way to eat in between the parties and get togethers that’s smart for your health and for your wallet.
Soup is a great way to eat during cold, winter months. It’s also the perfect way to use up vegetables that have been in the frig a few days and become a little wilted. I usually start by sauteeing onions, carrots, celery, garlic and red bell pepper and then add prepared broth and anything else that sounds good. I toss in some protein rich quinoa (say “keen-wah”) rather than pasta or rice to keep carbs fairly low. Add a little crusty baguette on the side or crackers and dinner is ready to go. Leftovers the next day usually taste even better as flavors meld together in the frig overnight.
Holiday shopping: this is where people really lose all sense of sanity about the holidays. Budgets go berserk and people end up secretly wishing they could bomb the mall to avoid the crowds. I enjoy shopping and I’m good at finding bargains. I’m one of those crazy people who’s out the door before the sun is up on black Friday, newspaper circulars in hand and ready to go. That’s because I’m naturally an early riser AND I like shopping. It’s like a holiday after the holiday for me. If you hate that idea, enjoy sleeping in instead.
If you dislike shopping – buy gift cards. One of our local grocery stores has a big rack of gift cards from a variety of retailers and restaurants. Match with a lovely card and a personal note and you’re good to go for most people on your list. A trip to your grocery store could be all you need to complete your holiday shopping and make everyone happy.
Don’t let Christmas sneak up on you. It happens December 25th every year. Never changes. You know who you need to buy for, right? No reason to be out with mobs of people at 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve. Buy one or two gifts per week and your gift-giving will fit better in your budget without pulling out the credit cards. Organize your time and make it happen in advance.
Set a budget you can live with. Decide how much you’ll spend per person and stick with it. Tell family and friends you’ve decided to be sensible and focus on what matters most and less on making a big splash with gifts. Chances are they’ll be relieved and agree with your choice. It’s up to them to follow suit.
Do some of your shopping online. Or, if you can, shop when malls aren’t busy. Weekday mornings you’ll find no mind-numbing crowds and sales people actually able to help with your purchases. Big crowds don’t always mean better prices. If you shop with a very specific list, unwilling to stray from every item on the list, you might meet with disappointment. Have clear ideas in mind but also consider, “What would my brother Jim like?” You just might come up with an even better gift choice faster and easier.
Go to one wonderful holiday event that makes you feel in a holiday mood. Whether its a beautiful presentation of The Nutcracker Suite ballet, to a performer you love doing a Christmas show or something else - attend a ”feel good” performance. Ernie and I have attended a holiday musical presentation at our local community college several years in a row. It’s a feast of Christmas music, decorations and good feelings. Cost: about $10 per ticket.
When you attend a performance you’re focused rather than catching a few notes of holiday tunes in the background as you navigate rush hour traffic. You get dressed up and for the duration of the show you immerse yourself in the beauty of the holidays.
Many other activities can make the holidays fun and festive without crazy spending. Play games with Christmas carols playing softly in the background. I got the Baby Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit at a yard sale for two dollars. It’s a blast to play with my friends to remember those days.
Sing Christmas Carols: Go online and get the words of holiday music and print them out for your holiday singers. Pull the chairs together in a circle and sing. It’s good for you – really. Or, venture outdoors in the chilly, early evening air with flashlights. Stroll down the streets in your neighborhood with friends and sing. It’s a great way to enjoy an hour, bring a smile to your neighbors, and, burn off a few calories after a big, holiday meal.
Help Out a Mission or Soup Kitchen: Collect things that can help out others less fortunate: food, cash, blankets and your time. It’s a good reminder that giving to those less fortunate warms the soul and reminds you to have gratitude for what you DO have this time of year.
Make your Christmas feel less stressful and more special and unique to you and what matters to you. Focus on what’s fun and steer away from things that feel like “have to’s” especially when it comes to spending more money then you’re comfortable laying out for the holidays.
Recognize that people, not stuff, is what’s truly important during the holidays and throughout the entire year. Make your Christmas an expression of the love you share with people close to you and don’t worry about the perfect, opulent display of holiday riches.
Sometimes making the space where you live a little more pleasant and inviting is a wonderful way to make life feel better. So, why not create a slice of that exotic getaway right at home for the time being?
Even if you can’t go off to the Caribbean to lollygag away the rest of your life while ogling hunky cabana boys and drinking cocktails with fruit and little umbrellas in them. It’s still an improvement.
A couple weeks ago I started a decorating project for our porch. Where we live in Las Vegas the heat in the summer is scorching. So much so you feel pretty much trapped indoors all the time.
It’s like the flip side of winter in the northern climes where you don’t want to go outdoors most of the time. Want to go walking? You better do it at 5:30 or 6:00 am when it’s only in the 80′s because in a few hours the temps will soar to the triple digits.
I wanted to create a sense of cool and ease. I figured turquoise blue – like the Caribbean Sea – was probably the best way to do it. I’ve been growing herbs this spring and summer to add a touch of life to our porch rather than four stark, stucco walls. (Keeping them happy and well-watered is a challenge in the desert heat.)
Cost Plus World Imports inspired me with their cool, summery decorating ideas that are reasonably priced. I already owned the two Adirondack chairs for several years. They were a faded white and needed a scrubbing down first. I got Rustoleum spray paint in a deep aqua shade called “Lagoon.” Almost teal, actually. What a big difference. The cushions, the mosaic table and the umbrella are from Cost Plus. I gotta say, the umbrella we purchased yesterday, made the biggest single change.
Our porch is easily 10-15 degrees cooler now. But an added bonus – my office (behind the curtained sliding glass doorwall) and our living room feels cooler, too. (Even with insulated drapes my office is sometimes still uncomfortably hot during the summer.)
On the far wall you can see four small objects hanging in a neat row: those are small birdhouses. I paid about $4 each for them at Joann’s and painted them colors to match the cushions. The glass topped table and two cafe chairs I’ve owned for many years. I did a little faux painting treatment. On the chair seats I covered them with new foam, cool tropical fabric and vinyl over the top so they work with all the cool blue hues.
I mentioned plants earlier. They’re pretty much all herbs. In the picture below you see lavender and oregano. (The grass is fake.) I also have rosemary, tarragon, two types of basil, mint, thyme and sage. I’m looking forward to cooking with my herbs as they grow this summer. Have no idea what I’ll do with all of them during the winter.
This morning I was out on my porch at about six this morning enjoying my tea. For a change I was unconcerned about the sun that would rise soon. We also have wifi on the porch so it’s easy to plug in our laptops or use my iPad out there.
We have a solid three months of this kind of heat. The second half of June, all of July and August and the first half of September. I plan to do a little entertaining out here. Maybe invite a few friends over for Mojitos and a big fresh seafood salad. Or brunch on a lazy Saturday. I’m ready for entertaining adventures now.
Now, if only I could get my husband Ernie to serve me an icy Pina Colada adorned only in a bath towel. *wink*
I want to make positive changes to simplify my life. So, when the time is right, Ernie and I can take off for the great beyond around the world. It’s about paring back on the amount of stuff I live with daily so when it’s time to live for a month or two out of a carry on bag I can do it without getting out of my comfort zone, struggling or freaking out.
Okay, maybe not just a carry-on. A carry-on and one checked bag. I think I can do that.
Recently, I’ve pitched four pairs of shoes. Still have dozens more to go. I have four pairs of pink shoes. I have a pair of sandals with kitten heels in lime green. Yes, Ernie calls me, “Imelda.” And, so many clothes I can’t neatly fit ‘em in my walk-in closet and massive, antique bird’s eye maple bureau.