Gentle November

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

Nestled between October and December is the month of November.  November allows us to glory in the colors of Autumn, the Earth’s brightest smile. I love November! 

November is when we take a breath; we relax and focus on gratitude and the blessings we enjoy. As a child, I loved this time of year. We raked, jumped in leaf piles, put on sweaters, and we enjoyed bedtime stories more because it was dark outside.

As though November isn’t already perfect enough, it brings us Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is such a perfect holiday. It is such an unassuming and gentle holiday; Thanksgiving is when I focus on the things I cherish…on gratitude for good food, wonderful friends, precious family, and yummy food. 

I bask in my “over the river and through the woods” Thanksgiving memories. Thanksgiving reminds me to be grateful for what I have and to do for others…to be the good in someone else’s life.  

During November, the Earth slows down and settles into the coming of Winter. Days are shorter, trees drop their leaves, animals hibernate or migrate. Nature knows it is time to settle in.  

November is a chance for us all to step back, take a deep breath, and focus on how we fit into the world. Everything calms down; there is no racing about, no shopping frenzy, no chaos.  The worst thing that happens is a post-turkey tryptophan-induced nap.

I love shopping for just the perfect, plump turkey. I get excited to smell pumpkin pies baking. I bake loaves of bread for the stuffing, I simmer autumn spices in the potpourri pot, I fill my house with pumpkins and gourds, and I relax. I spend time focusing on my gratitude…and I have so much to be thankful for.

Many of my friends already have their homes decorated for Christmas. I respect everyone’s right to do what feels right for them, but I refuse to sacrifice this time that allows me to just be still.  December will come and I will put up a tree, wrap gifts, and enjoy the twinkle.  For now, I am content to be fully present in my November. 

9/11/2001~Looking Ahead

I lived in Northern New Jersey until 1981 and can remember my visits to New York City. I enjoyed watching the progress of the Twin Towers being built.  Once the World Trade Center was complete, my family and I enjoyed eating at the restaurant at the top of the tower, Windows on the World. I have wonderful memories of this place.

If you were alive on 9/11/2001, you probably join me in remembering exactly where you were when the news hit of the vicious attack on the World Trade Center.  I was in a meeting. I distinctly remember the feeling of blood leaving my head; the sense of horror was overwhelming. The meeting was quickly dispersed; we left in silence to return to our schools.

Like everyone else, I sat glued to my television watching the endless newsfeed reporting this attack on American soil. However, for the purpose of this post, I want to focus on the aftermath, I want to remember the America of September 12, 2001. 

Once we began to recover from the numbing sense of shock and grief, the strong, fighting spirit of our ancestors soared. American flags flew everywhere! We put everything aside in order to rally our support for the citizens of New York City, the victims’ families, and the heroic passengers on Flight 93.  

In that tragic moment, our country came together in a way I had not seen in my lifetime.  We were passionately unified and fiercely focused on sending the message that we would not be defeated. Across this nation, we proudly flew American flags, held hands while singing patriotic anthems, and knelt in prayer at houses of worship without regard for denomination. 

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday.  That Friday, September 14th, I clearly remember gathering around the flagpole with staff and students at our elementary school. We joined hands to sing America the Beautiful, our national anthem, “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood and other patriotic anthems. All 850 students were waving small flags, everyone was dressed in red, white, and blue, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  

If we look back through history, I believe we will spot a pattern. Our patriotism is never more front and center than when we feel under attack; we put aside race, religion, politics, and economic differences in order to wave our flag in the face of the enemy. 

It seems to me that we Americans are really no different than a big family.  I remember being fifteen and so frustrated by my ten year old sister. That is, until someone else commented that my sister was a pest.  Suddenly, my sister was perfect and my focus shifted to this perceived attacker.  Yes, the old saying, “I can talk about my family, but you can’t!” is true.

I have gotten to the point today where I dread looking at social media because it is filled with hateful political rants. Our country is broken and divided.  I see women pitted against men, anger manifesting itself in racial division, politicians debating with vicious rhetoric, and violence in places where we should feel safe.  

America is gloriously full of diverse and imperfect people. Each and every one of us has a story; it is this story that forms who we are, what we think, how we feel, and our vision of the world. Let’s communicate about our differences; that means we both talk and LISTEN!  I guess today my prayer is that we can all tap into the love and pride we felt for our country on September 12, 2001 without having to first endure another tragic event.

Seeking Gratitude

I live in south Georgia in a county with coastal waters; the Governor has declared our county in a State of Emergency ahead of Hurricane Dorian.  Hurricanes are not unfamiliar, we have faced Matthew and Irma in the last few years, but no matter how often, I always feel anxious.  

Today we are praying and preparing as Dorian heads our way.  The “cone of uncertainty” is so frustrating and seems designed to add to my stress…Should we evacuate? Should we stockpile water and ice? Should we believe it is going to miss us?  We have no answers, and I hate feeling out of control.

So, within this stress, I try to tap into my gratitude.  Today, I realized I was grateful for so many things I take for granted:

  • Having a husband who is my partner.
  • My son and his wife, who live just a few minutes away.
  • My freezer is full of food and I worry about losing the food in the freezer if the power goes out. How can I not feel blessed to have “extra” food to keep in a freezer? 
  • Being forced to clean out the refrigerator and the pantry; if we lose power, there will be fewer things to spoil.  As I do so, I think about families who go to bed hungry at night worrying about finding the next meal.
  • Water!  I am busy stockpiling water. Staying hydrated is one of my daily health challenges.  Today, my gratitude is great; so many people in the world do not have access to clean, safe drinking water and here I am stacking up a tower of bottled water.
  • Transportation…We always have “Clean the garage” on the To Do list; now we have to do it to make room for our cars. This reminds me that I am so grateful to have two cars that need to be moved into the garage! 
  • I am dreading the possible loss of power; it gets HOT here in the deep South.  Yet, today I realize I must be grateful that I have air conditioning to lose! 
  • Seeing the good in people; when faced with adversity, people step up to help neighbors. So many friends and family have already reached out to offer us shelter if needed. I am richly blessed.
  • Our first responders and linemen are already cueing up to help anyone in need. They leave their families to help others under the worst conditions.  

Yes indeed, I am richly blessed. There are so many things that aren’t on this list, but it is a good start. One thing I know for sure is that keeping a grateful mindset attracts joy!  So for today I choose gratitude. What are you feeling grateful for today? 

Where have the toys gone?

Have you looked at your child’s holiday wish list? I talk to the kids here at school all the time and I have noticed that Santa’s lists have really changed!When I was a kid, I wanted a Barbie® or a Tiny Tears® doll. I wanted doll clothes, marbles, doll furniture, a paint by number set, Pick Up Sticks®, and a Chinese Checkers® game, wooden puzzles, and a bike. When my son came along, he wanted HeMan/Masters of the Universe® action figures, Match Box® cars, most anything Star Wars®, model trains, a painting/drawing set, Silly Putty®, a cowboy outfit, Legos®, and a bike.

The thing that amazes me is that kids don’t want toys anymore! Technology is really changing our world. Our kids want iPads, Nintendo®, Xbox®, cell phones, Blu-ray players, robots, drones, droids, and virtual reality systems. Yikes! What is a parent to do?

First of all, set your budget and stick to your limits. It is okay to tell your child/ren that something is too expensive. Even Santa is feeling the recession these days and teaching your child about the value of things is actually a GOOD THING! I try to focus on buying just one electronic gift and then giving lots of little things, even some that don’t cost money. For example, homemade gift coupons can be lots of fun. “What can I give my kids coupons for?” you ask. Well, how about a coupon to have a friend spend the night. Coupons for a free pass out of chores for a night is always popular. Coupons to rent a movie or to stay up an extra half hour are also big hits. Kids like coupons to get to pick the dinner menu for a night. My son once got a coupon to have a night off from vegetables. He especially did not like spinach. Even Popeye himself couldn’t convince him to swallow the spinach!

I also like to give inexpensive things that encourage creativity. Clay, scissors, crayons, colored pencils, markers, drawing paper, finger paint. Add some sparkle to art projects with glitter, ribbon, lace, and buttons. Old fashioned floor blocks are terrific for encouraging problem solving and creativity. Some of your old clothes, shoes, and hats can be cleaned and boxed; they make wonderful dress up and make believe items. Older children love having a diary where they can record their hopes and dreams. Finally, there are books. Make sure that the books you pick spark your child’s interest and tap into their imagination.

One thing that adds to the fun is putting things together to create a “kit”. For example, a few blank books, some colored pencils, a pretty fountain pen, erasers, and even notebook paper can be put together in a festive box as a Future Author or Future Poet kit. Those cleaned and polished dress-up items can be put together with an kid-friendly camera to become a Dream It ~ Believe It ~ Be It kit. Canvases, paints, a sketch pad, crayons, colored pencils, fun craft-edged scissors make a perfect gift kit for your artist. Do you have a budding chef? A quick trip to the grocery store will yield lots of treasures for a Cheftastic kit.

So, get creative. You can think of lots of things to give your children that don’t leave you with a stack of bills once the holidays have passed. Share your ideas by leaving a comment here on the blog. Happy Holidays!

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.

Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part III

dec10_button1Holidays can be expensive, and most of us have to be cautious about what we spend. I know I’m not the only person out there who is bothered by the commercialism of Christmas. My goodness, the Christmas “season” is in stores before Halloween and “Black Friday” has become “Black Week” followed by “Cyber Monday”, which is now followed by “Green Monday”.  Yes indeed, corporate America is encouraging us to spend, spend, spend. Our children are watching endless toy commercials on TV, the radio, and social media.  Greed is running rampant; how many times have you been in a store and witnessed a child crying and having a melt down because, “I want…”. You can fill in the blank.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to cut corners financially while keeping the true meaning of the Holidays front and center for my family. In my mind, the truth behind Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa is all the same: Faith ~ Family ~ Friends ~ Fun. When my children become adults, I want them to look back on their childhood Christmases and remember these core values

I spend time each year thinking about how to balance giving and getting. My belief is that when children “get”, they learn entitlement; when children “give”, they learn generosity. One of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that the greatest, most precious gifts come to us when we GIVE. The story of Christ begins with an act of  giving; we are taught that God gave us the gift of his Son. Soon after His birth, the Wise Men came bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Indeed, the joy of giving is a life lesson that we can begin teaching even our youngest children.

So many of us are busy working moms and dads. As a result, one of the most precious things we can give is our TIME.  Time spent together is what creates the memories we carry with us for a lifetime.  I promise that twenty years from now, your children will not look back on the 2017 holiday season and remember that the tree skirt matched the color theme of the room perfectly. And even though they have begged for it endlessly since October, they probably won’t remember that they got that Star Wars toy either.

They will remember that they had fun spending time in the kitchen baking cookies, snuggled on the couch reading with you, making homemade cards, secretly delivering batches of cookies to the neighbors or caroling at a nursing home.  Take a moment and think back on your own memories.  What stands out? See, I’m right…you remember TIME too, don’t you?  Anyway, I have decided to focus on giving and I’m doing that by spending TIME on the traditions that don’t cost a lot.  Here are some suggestions:

~ spend a quiet afternoon baking and decorating Christmas cookies with your child/ren.  Even your youngest toddlers can help in small ways.

~ make some homemade gift wrap; again, let kids use markers, crayons, colored pencils, or even paint and potato stamps to decorate plain paper.  Will you have the most elegant tree on the block?  Probably not, but your child/ren will have a wonderful memory to store away.  Remember, Beautiful House magazine is not coming to take pictures at your house.

~ ask your child/ren to spend an afternoon going through the toys and outgrown clothes.  You may find things to donate to a woman’s shelter, a foster program, or a church that supports needy families.  Focus on the joy that comes from giving.

~ get together with friends and neighbors.  Plan an evening of Christmas caroling.  Take the carolers to a nursing home, the local hospital, or just around the neighborhood.

~ remember, it is okay to tell your child/ren that something is too expensive.  Even Santa is feeling the recession and learning about the value of things is actually a GOOD THING!  Managing finances responsibly is an important life lesson we must teach our children.

~ if you live where it snows, build a snowman; if you live at the beach, build a snowman out of sand!

~ visit the local library to check out some Christmas books; bedtime stories are such a positive bonding activity for you and your child/ren.

~ let your child/ren decorate some pretty stationary and then write a thank you letter to a soldier or first responder.

~ make homemade ornaments to decorate the tree, string popcorn, cranberries, make paper chains.  All of these are fun and keep little hands busy.

~ make homemade Christmas cards for grandparents; they will treasure them!

~ snuggle up with the book or movie, The Polar Express.  When you finish the story,  go to the kitchen for some hot chocolate and have a jingle bell waiting there with a pretty red bow.

~ cut paper snowflakes to decorate the home, porch, windows.

~ watch a favorite holiday film as a family.  We love Elf. Which is your favorite?

~ plan snacks for Santa, the elves, and the reindeer.  What will they eat? Where should the snacks be placed?

~ make photo props for the family to use in pictures this holiday season. Use words like JOY, FAMILY, HO HO HO, MERRY…

~ pile the whole family into the car and drive around the neighborhood enjoying all the festive Christmas lights.

You get the idea…Each of these ideas means TIME spent with your child.  TIME is one of the most precious gifts of all.  Trust me, childhood goes by so quickly.  You and your child will treasure these memories of simple fun.

These are just a few ideas.  I know you will have some of your own. I’d love for you to send along a comment letting me know some traditions you and your family share.  MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part II

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I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays.  I LOVE the music, the lights, the TV specials, spending time with family and friends.  I HATE the stress, don’t you? Social media certainly doesn’t help; no one takes pictures of the cake that collapsed on itself, the toddler having a temper tantrum meltdown, the lopsided tree, or the cat batting the ornaments all over the house.

Nope, the pictures we see are all the best of the best and sometimes make me feel as though everyone has it all together…except me. I bookmark pictures of perfectly decorated trees, smiling children dressed in holiday party-best, gorgeous rooms with nothing out of place, and party food displayed in an appetizing assortment of colors and tastes.  My Pinterest account is overflowing with “should do” ideas and my camera is loaded with a laughable assortment of what I lovingly refer to as “Pinterest-fails”. Just keeping it real here, folks.  LOL!

Part of my problem is that I’m trying to do it all myself.  I have come to realize that the holidays are not just for me, but for everyone, and everyone can take part in the preparation and the celebration! This was a huge shift in my thinking and has helped me relax and focus on what is important. Here are some tips that helped me make it all more manageable.

If you’re like me, you want everything to be extra nice for the holidays.  Don’t try to do it all yourself, share the jobs.  My son is grown now, but I used to make a list of jobs that needed to be done. I learned from experience that you have to be specific – put down details of how it should be done, the supplies needed to do the job, and when it needs to be completed. Now cut the job list apart, fold each piece of paper, and put them in a hat, a basket, or a job jar.  I have the cutest job jar all decorated for Christmas. Each family member reaches in and selects a job or two, or even three; somehow this became a tradition that we looked forward to. Finally, each person tapes their jobs next to their name on a chart on the refrigerator.  Getting ready for the holidays has now become a family affair and everyone will enjoy the results as you get things ready for a wonderful holiday!

Remember to give yourself permission to let it be less than perfect. My family constantly reminds me that a house and garden style magazine crew is not coming to photograph my home. Bet they aren’t coming to yours either! So just take a deep breath, relax, take lots of pictures, and gather precious memories. When you look back on the 2017 holiday season, you won’t remember if the throw pillows were perfectly fluffed; you will remember the magical, joyful moments you shared with your family.  So, from my slightly messy home to all of you, Merry Christmas!