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.
I was there as an observer. My flipcam was on as I watched the crazy antics of what appeared to be humans except covered with mud. Many were covered from head to toe. They seemed to revel in pushing themselves through tests of physical endurance and derring-do, accomplishing these feats in the dirtiest way possible.
Hundreds, actually thousands of “Mud People” both male and female, all converged on this one site on the outskirts of Lake Las Vegas. It was a strange sight indeed. I think I saw more Mud People then I ever thought possible yesterday. Except they didn’t start out covered in brown terra firma slime. They started out actually looking like humans of every stripe about to enjoy a pleasant, Saturday morning run on a beautiful, sunny October day.
All that changed very quickly.
From the start of their adventure they dashed and within minutes they were plunged into a pit of mud to crawl through to the other side. Then they would dash several hundred yards where they would climb up and over a wall – yes, covered in mud.
Many mere mortals were there to cheer them on to personal victory. Up over hills and down into pits of brown, primordial ooze they went. Through a test of strenth and hilarity that stretched over 5k of dirt and glop. These Mud People have good hearts, I understand. Not only strong enough to push themselves through this dirty deed but compassionate enough to do it to raise money for charity, a hospital that helps human children in need known as St. Judes on earth.
I was content to watch from the sidelines. I’m built for comfort, not speed or muck. I can walk long distances - just walked over seven miles last Saturday morning – but running and mud? Not my thing. I was amazed and impressed with how the Mud People seemed to love the goofiness of it all.
Thousands of Mud Warriors one after another tested their mettle on a course designed to push each mud person to the limits of what’s possible and how many human orifices can conceivably be filled with muck.
At the end most succeeded. They crossed the finish line and collected their rewards – a medal of completion, a T-shirt, a mug of beer, and, a turkey leg. Guess that’s considered warrior food in the Land of the Mud People. I’m not saying I limit my turkey consumption to just the Thanksgiving holiday. But since I was there in the morning – I never considered turkey and beer the breakfast of champions, either.
Okay, the gig is up. I must tell the truth. They were not really Mud People, though they got damn muddy as you can see. They were people who ran in the Las Vegas Warrior Dash 2012.
The Warrior Dash is a race that happens in cities all over America to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and all the good work they do for children who need medical help no matter what their families’ financial circumstnces.
I was there to support my friend and walking buddy Val Cataldi, a Health Coach as she took on the Warrior Dash for the fun of it. To the right is a picture of Val with her blonde hair, big sunglasses and the mud du jour fashion choice. Val is a fitness and weight loss success story. Five years ago she lost 80 pounds and has kept it off. Her clients have lost up to 100 pounds and all have done it while learning how to love and take better care of themselves.
The Warrior Dash is sort of a testament to the fact that there’s no limit to the ridiculous, funny things people will do to test themselves physically and mentally while helping others less fortunate. It’s billed as “The Craziest Frickin’ Day of Your Life” and if I had run it, gotten covered in mud and swigged beer and eaten a turkey leg I probably would have felt that way, too.
But when it’s all done to support a good cause – it somehow makes perfect sense and it makes the Mud People and their land not crazy – but pretty wonderful.
“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.”
Denise Michaels, Author, ‘Testosterone-Free Marketing”
Health, wealth and happiness. That’s what living a successful life is all about.
The quote by Buddha is about that elusive word: “balance.” I believe we can have it all but not necessarily all at the same time. If you’re busy being a great parent you probably don’t have the time to start a Fortune 500 company – but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful, home-based enterprise.
Notice the first word in this quote is “health.” As a woman, it’s easy to get so busy with your life and your business that taking care of your health goes to the bottom of the list. When I take an hour a day to exercise I actually accomplish more all day long. So, exercise isn’t just a way of taking care of my body. It also seems to help me take care of my mind.