Holiday Lights: More than just Twinkle!

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 4.37.56 PMWhat is it about the lights? At this time of year, I love driving around the streets to see the holiday light displays.  The minute I wake up in the morning, I turn on the Christmas tree lights and the lights across the mantle above the fireplace.  My house is filled with candles that flicker during these long winter nights. I can sit in a trance for hours in front of the fireplace watching until the last ember dies. Yes, I admit it; I am a light junkie.

Lights can brighten even the darkest times in our lives; they have always figured into human history. Our ancestors lit candles and fires to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Today, candles and lights play an important role in Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa celebrations. Lights, twinkling like stars, remind us that we are part of the Universal Spirit; they remind us to find ways to light the world around us, bringing joy to others.

As I enjoy the Christmas lights scattered across my community and throughout my home, I realize that each light flickers to remind me of treasured past memories, but also with the promise of precious memories still to come. And so today, as I sit sipping hot chocolate by the fire, I can’t help glancing at the twinking Christmas tree lights. They remind me to think about those who are gone, of their love for me and mine for them. But I am also mindful of how blessed I am to be surrounded by loving family and friends and of the wonderful memories we will continue to make together.  So thank you all for being the light in my life; my days are brighter because of you. Merry Christmas! I love you.

Choose Kindness

When children are “given”, it can create a sense of entitlement. When children “give”, psychologists tell us that human bonds are strengthened. There is greater joy in giving than in receiving and this is a lesson we should allow our children to learn.

This activity works for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa; actually it works any month of the year! Here is my proposal: Give your child a blank calendar page. This simple page becomes a journal or record of kindnesses. Each night at bedtime, ask your child to record an intentional kindness they performed that day. This few moments allows your child to savor joy in the kindness they performed. It also allows you a moment to look your child in the eyes and genuinely say, “I am proud of you!”

That moment when you really look at your child and tell him or her you are proud is powerful and profound…this is a message that helps forge a strong, resilient, loving, lifelong bond.

Here are a few ideas to get you and your child started on this journey of giving:

  1. Do a chore for a family member.
  2. Hold the door open for someone.
  3. Recycle.
  4. Pick up litter.
  5. Feed the birds.
  6. Give someone a compliment.
  7. Let someone get in front of you in line.
  8. Set the table.
  9. Send a Thank You note to a service member or first responder.
  10. Say, “I love you!” first.
  11. Read to your little brother or sister.
  12. Play with someone new on the playground.
  13. Write a Thank You note to your teacher.
  14. Help make dinner.
  15. Donate a toy so a less fortunate child can receive a gift.
  16. Bake cookies for a nursing home.
  17. Clear the table after dinner.
  18. Load the dishwasher or wash the dishes.
  19. Clean your room without being asked.
  20. Give a compliment.
  21. Offer to play with your little brother or sister.
  22. Write a Thank You note to your postal worker and leave it in the mailbox.
  23. Share a toy with your brother or sister.
  24. Help carry in groceries and put them away.
  25. Fold the laundry.
  26. Help your little brother or sister with homework.
  27. Share your umbrella space.
  28. Listen to your little brother or sister read out loud.
  29. Get a haircut for Locks of Love.
  30. Use sidewalk chalk to leave a positive message for others.
  31. Smile!!

 

KINDNESS CALENDAR

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Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part IV

x1_elf2So by now you may be asking, “How do I know when I’ve had enough?” and “What can I do about it?”  Hmmm…Stress.  We all have stress. They say that feeling overwhelmed or depressed is an important sign of stress.  Well, the holidays seem to ramp up that feeling of being overwhelmed  astronomically.  The expectations are enormous, and holiday stress begins, thanks to our big retail chains, around October 15th.  This year, the Christmas sales began before Halloween here where I live.  And, if you are a parent, you know what happens…the holiday season of over-the-top, too excited kids begins and continues all the way to Christmas. Then, the post Christmas morning let-down ensues.

Yup…stress.  There are so many layers of it at this time of year.  For example, there is the baking expectation for the kids’ holiday parties at school, the cookie swap, and after school snacks.  Let’s see, what else?  Parties to attend…what will I wear and will it fit in with what everyone else is wearing?  Shopping for food, for gifts, and for decorations.

Why, I can’t tell you how many friends I have this year who are stressed out about finding the most creative, innovative, exciting ways to position that famous shelf-sitting elf!  If you start with the elf on December 1st, that’s 25 days of stress right there.  I was laughing over one mom that got so stressed about the elf that she wrapped his leg in a fake cast and stuck him on the bookcase with a note that said “Skippy had an accident and can’t move around until his leg heals.”  BWAHAHAHA!

And let’s just talk about gift wrapping for a moment…am I the only one that thinks this is a huge chore? I spend hours cutting, folding, taping, coordinating bows, finding cute gift bags, and worrying about whether or not Santa has all the wrapping paper he and the elves need for their gifts.  Then, those hours of careful wrapping translate to a pile of shredded mess in the middle of the living room floor in no time at all.  Sounds like stress to me!

So, how do we know if we are stressed?  If all of the above hasn’t convinced you, there are some signs of stress, and we all need to be aware of them. You’ll know you’re stressed when you begin losing sleep. If you’re lying awake at night worrying about all the stuff that isn’t done yet…that’s stress. Loss of sleep makes you irritable. If you find yourself snapping at your children, your boyfriend, your husband, your mom, or your boss…that’s stress. If you have lost your appetite and are losing weight… that’s stress. Now another sign of stress is a sudden weight gain, but I don’t know how reliable that would be around the holidays when everywhere you turn someone has something yummy and fattening for you to try!

Are you having aches and pains? What about muscle aches? If your neck hurts, back hurts, or you just ache all over…that could be a symptom of stress. When you’re stressed, you’re tense, and all that tension can make your muscles think they’ve had a real workout. They get sore.  Or, if you are taking aspirin for frequent headaches…that could be from stress too.

Well, now that we’ve talked about what stress is, the next question is, “What can I do about it?” First, eliminate some of the things around you that make you stressed out and add some much needed time for you. For example, you might want to take a quick bath before bed to try to unwind. Pamper yourself with bath salts, a candle or two. You may even want to put on some music to help you relax, or you may need to shut the music off if that reindeer has been running over grandma all day, or if Santa’s Coming to Town has been blaring non-stop at work. Make sure you eat…real food. Don’t skip meals or try to live on snacks and half stale Christmas cookies. Feed your body.

You can try to cut down on the amount of things you do. One of the things that makes us feel stressed is that we try to create holiday moments for our families that are just perfect, like the families you see laughing and smiling in their beautifully decorated homes. The problem is, they are all in commercials or made-for-TV movies. I confess, I have a holiday movie addiction; it is a love/hate relationship. I love that they always have a happy ending, they always have beautiful decorations, and there is always snow. I live in the Deep South where there is never snow, so it’s a treat.  However, I get depressed when I look around my home and every inch of it isn’t festively twinkling with holiday decorations. So I have to limit my viewing so I don’t get too stressed!

I need to remind myself that they aren’t real families who have cats shedding, dogs chewing the baseboards, kids fighting and crying, a batch of burnt cookies, a Gingerbread House with no roof because it is lying half-eaten  in the toddler’s room,  or a Christmas tree that just got knocked over. That sounds more like real life to me. So set realistic expectations. Santa will still come to your house if the cookies are a bit burnt around the edges, if the tree is crooked, or if there are a few dust bunnies in the corner. Pinky swear!

So, take a moment, breathe, and relax. Ask yourself what will be important when twenty years have flown by and your children have children of their own. Do you want them to remember you being stressed, tense, cranky, and frantic?  Probably not. When your children are grown and they talk about their Christmas memories, they will not remember that the floor was perfectly waxed. They will remember how special they felt when you spent with them.

I hope that your feet are up and that you are sipping a nice warm cup of hot chocolate while you read this.  Remember, the time you spend together with your children snuggling, reading a bedtime story, or building a snowman will become their best, most treasured memories. You, just you, are the best gift of all, so be present in your own life and theirs. Merry Christmas to all of my readers.

Kindess Lives!

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Today we are still evacuated from our coastal homes in Savannah, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida.  Sitting in a small hotel room in a small town in Alabama has allowed me lots of time to reflect.  Today people are struggling to make sense of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma.  Today is also the anniversary of the horrific attack of September 11, 2001.  How are these two events so closely intertwined?

Lately the news has been so overwhelmingly negative.  Social media is filled with images of police using excessive force, vengeful attacks on police, angry mobs carrying torches and screaming epithets of hatred.  I read about frightening incidents of road rage, people purposefully driving vehicles into innocent groups of people, bombs being set off at concerts.  It is easy to sink into feelings of depression and despair.

But, what IS real? Can I allow the media to shape my vision of the world I live in?   Let’s take a moment and think back to 9/11.  Yes, this was a hideous act of terrorism. However, out of this act emerged tremendous human kindness and selflessness. People, complete strangers, reached out helping one another with no expectation of anything in return. The news was filled with images of men and women committing amazing acts of courage and kindness. The lesson I learned from 9/11 was that the light of humanity in all of us is not easily extinguished.  Good Samaritans are everywhere.  Instead of diminishing our country, it was strengthened. There was a resurgence of pride in being an American. Flags flew proudly across our nation.

Look at the human response to Hurricane Harvey in Houston. There were countless examples of people risking their own safety to rescue a complete stranger.  People from all over the country mobilized to help in any way possible. Today, people are already reaching out to see how they can help in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. We are strong. We are resilient. We are America.

Will bad people still do bad things? Sadly, yes.  But I prefer to see the good in people.  One of the elementary schools in my Georgia community is challenging students to perform daily Random Acts of Kindness.  We are instilling in our youngest citizens the importance of doing good, showing compassion, being kind.

When the news reporters interviewed the everyday heroes of 9/11, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, they all had one common response.  When asked, “How does it feel to be a hero?” every one of them said, “I am not a hero. I was just doing what anyone would. I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing; I just did it.”

These folks are right. Yes, what they did was heroic, but I believe that within all of us lives a hero.  Too often the media focuses on the negative, the frightening, and the violent.  These isolated incidents sell news, but they are not representative of who we are as Americans. Kindness, in its every day form ~ quiet, gentle, subtle ~ doesn’t attract attention and so, often goes unnoticed.

What is the lesson here? I have been reminded today that it is human nature to care, to protect, to love. I choose to believe that this is the true picture of who we are as a human race and as American citizens.  I am actually grateful for this day of reflection.  I am happy in my restored belief that Kindness Lives.

HURRICANE IRMA & ME: It’s all about the STUFF!

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I am among the millions of folks who have been evacuated in preparation for the landfall of  Hurricane Irma.  I have posted before about the fact that I try to find the silver lining in every cloud.  So, of course, I am searching for things to be happy about as I hunker down here in a small hotel in a small town on the Mississippi border.

First of all, I am declaring this Irma-cation 2017.  That certainly puts a positive spin on it, right?  It isn’t really a “-cation” of any sort, but Irma-cation certainly sounds better than “mandatory, forced evacuation”, at least in my thinking!

I am a very reflective person most of the time, and this has certainly given me time to slow down and think about what’s going on in my life.  The first thing I needed as I prepared to evacuate was the reassurance that those I love would be with me ~ my fiancé, my son, my daughter-in-law, and our pets.  The rest of the family live in New Mexico, Connecticut, Ohio… far from Irma’s reach.  Yes, a big sigh of relief that everyone is out of harm’s way.  But now, on to the topic of this post: STUFF!

My “stuff” gave me a great big headache, for sure.  I remember years ago George Carlin did a hysterically funny bit on “stuff”.  I still laugh every time I think about it.  The gist of his routine was that we surround ourselves with stuff.  We keep all of our stuff in a “box” called an apartment, a condo, a home.  Then, as we accumulate wealth, we buy more “stuff” and then have to buy a bigger “box” (house) to hold all of our stuff.  We sit happily in our “box” surrounded by our stuff until something out of the ordinary happens and we have to travel!  YIKES!! That is when the trouble starts! Now we are faced with the horrible decision about which pieces of  “stuff” are important and must accompany us and which pieces must, sadly, be left behind.

And that is exactly what happened to me!  I sat in my house last week surrounded by my  “treasures”; I am certain that my collection is much too valuable to be referred to as simple “stuff”. I know, go ahead, it’s okay to giggle; I’m giggling now too, but at the time there were some tears involved. Anyway,  I kept wondering how in the world I was going to walk away from my lifetime’s collection of treasures.

We are traveling in a small sedan.  I can’t take my grandmother’s china hutch or the antique tea cart. I have to leave my mother’s grandfather clock behind chiming for no one to hear. My father’s desk, the pictures from my trip to Russia (taken before photos became digital)…the list goes on. So I stood with an open suitcase filling it with the non-negotiable “stuff”. Clothes, underwear, nightgown and slippers, make-up, shoes, laptop (a MUST for me!), snacks, and a bottle of wine all made the cut and came with me. All the rest was left behind.

Now I have a choice to make. I can either sit and worry about the fate of my “treasures” left behind while I listen to endless hours of Irma coverage in the hotel coffee shop, or I can focus on celebrating the fact that I am in a town I have never visited before, meeting new people here sharing my evacuation experience, and enjoying time with my family. I choose the latter.  So, here’s to Irma-cation 2017.  Indeed, I am richly blessed!