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Making a List, Checking it Twice

December 21, 2010

As the last days of the year approach and the holidays come rushing in, I notice that the todo list grows and the deadlines loom. One of the things I did a few years ago is to make a list of all the things I like and dislike during the holiday season. I then looked for ways to do more of what I like and less of what I dislike.

Simple right?

Well, not so. Holidays come with a lot of guilt. Ideas of wrong and right and things you should do. Feelings of inadequacy or expectations from people around you. Many people around me feel a strongly under-appreciated during the holidays. As my kids grow and the Christmas wonder dwindles, I know this will happen here too.

Which is where the list comes in handy. The idea is to focus on what makes you happy during the holidays and increase the amount of time you spend on that. And all the chores you don’t like, see if you can get rid of them, or at least make them much much less time consuming.

Here is an example:
I don’t do Christmas cards. I never have and I have no plans to. I take photos of my kids all the time and I love doing that. I also talk to, email, or write to most of the people I am friends with. I don’t need the holiday season to remind them of me or send them a printed photo of me that they won’t know what to do with. I generally don’t know what to do with Christmas cards I receive. I like them and look at them for a moment and then I toss them. And, maybe because of that, I think they are a huge waste of money and time and hassle for the recipient because I imagine them hesitating (like i do each year) and then guiltily throwing them away. So I just don’t do them. I save the time, the money, and the hassle. I don’t feel even 1% guilty about it and I use that time and money elsewhere.

Please bear in mind that these are my thoughts. You might love making and getting Christmas cards. That’s perfectly fine. The idea is to not to what you don’t want to do. Without guilt.

I also don’t put bows or other fancy wrapping on our presents. This year, I might try to even use gift bags instead of wrapping. I don’t spend time making a lot of hand-made presents. I might make one or two each year. Maybe. I also hate shopping. I always hate it but during the holidays even more so since the stores are so full. So I do all my shopping online. Early enough to get free or cheap shipping. I do it all in one night and then I am done.

What I do love to do is go on family excursions and to craft. And to put up a tree with decorations. I do a December Daily album each year to document the season as it happens. We have a beautiful tree and I decorate it mostly by myself. I don’t resent it ever because it’s one of the things I love most about the season. I love looking at it all month long. I love baking with my kids. I love relaxing and reading. And I try to spend most of my time doing that.

This gives me the mental and emotional space to really enjoy the season and be grateful for everything I have. It gives me the energy to snuggle up with my kids and be thankful they still let me hug them.

So if you’re finding yourself resentful or rushed this holiday season, my suggestion to you is to make a list. Write down all the things you resent doing. See if you can get rid of them. See if you can delegate them. See if you can minimize the time you spend on them.

And then make a list of everything you love. Schedule those into your week/day/month. Make sure you do them often and for longer periods. Remember that life is short and it’s better to feel joy over guilt. And doing more of what you love will fill you with gratitude.

And remember to snuggle up. Even if it’s just with a book.

Happy Holidays.

Tree Farm

December 20, 2010

Not only is the tree farm one of our favorite traditions, it’s also one of our favorite places to go.

They make it really festive and family oriented. There are acres and acres of trees to walk through and enjoy. The smell of the pine trees immediately makes us think of Christmas and family.

We have never been to the tree farm and not had a wonderful time trying to find our tree. There is always tons of laughter and joy.

Even better is ending the trip with some hot chocolate or apple cider while sitting in the parking lot taking in the joyous feelings of everyone visiting. It’s impossible not to feel gratitude at the tree farm with family.

Kamakura

December 17, 2010

Journaling Reads:

I was lucky enough to spend six months in Japan in 1999 for a business trip. Most of that time was in Tokyo but I made two trips away. One was for skiing and the other to Kamakura.

While I would have loved to have visited Kyoto, I didn’t get the opportunity and Kamakura was the closest I got to experiencing the magic of all the temples and the nature.

I remember most of my time in Japan with joy and gratitude. I loved every moment of it. The uniqueness, the foreignness and all the kindness of strangers have still stayed with me.

I loved the cherry blossoms and the fish market and all the parts of Tokyo I visited. Each unique, each more amazing than the other. But Kamakura was much more magical than any others. It was peaceful and quiet. Even though, at the time, I was really sad that our one occasion to visit was “ruined” by rain, I can now see that it only added to the mood and solitude of being there. Maybe next time I visit Japan I will get to visit Kyoto, but until then, I am grateful that I got to visit Kamakura and experience some of the beauty.

No Filters

December 16, 2010

I often feel that there is a child lurking inside of me. One that wants to have fun, play, be amazed by the smallest things, and that has no filters. I feel sad that she’s trapped. I’m not sure how to get her out. I know she used to be there, when I really was a child, but somehow, someway, I learned to still her and keep her quiet. I learned to fear, to judge, to not speak my mind. I learned to be polite and politically correct. I learned that she had no place in my life as an adult.

It’s amazing to watch my children growing. Children are the best negotiators. They have no fear and really try their hardest to get their way. They, also, have no idea about what society thinks is acceptable. They make friends with everyone and they don’t care if those friends look different than them or think differently than them. They see only the inside light of their friends. That natural attraction where one good heart attracts another good heart. Those hearts feel joy around each other and they have fun. They don’t worry about clean houses or types of cars or clothes. They don’t fear being judged. They don’t even know what it means.

Life changes us through our experiences and our parents change us through their beliefs, but I honestly believe that the little children we stifle as we grow need to remain closer to our forefront. Those filters we’ve thrown up can hurt us more than they protect us. Some things in life need to be taken seriously, but most do not and those are the times when our inner child should be free to just be.

I know the place in my heart where my inner child is hiding is getting closer to allowing me the key to release. I’m grateful to feel this. It’s only when I had children that I started to learn that I had forgotten how to really have fun, let things go, and love without judging. When I’m really good at doing these things. When I’m able to do them without thinking, I know I won’t feel my inner child pounding to escape. She’ll just be a part of me. A part I love with all my heart. And, I will rejoice.

The Bad Place

December 14, 2010

There’s a bad place where all your thoughts are negative. The place where you’re mean to yourself an everyone around you. You wallow in self-pity or resentment or anger or frustration. You take everything from the worst possible angle. You make mistakes and then get angrier. You snarl at the people you love and then feel disappointed in yourself. And the cycle goes on and on.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who goes to that bad place.

I’ve been living in that place for the last couple of days. I am not entirely sure how I got there or why I’m stuck there but here I am. I’ve been grouchy and mean and having major meltdowns over the smallest things. It has not been fun and I go to bed each day determined to snap out of it and wake up each morning back in that place.

But here’s the thing: even during these dark days, I’ve had amazing moments of gratitude and joy.

People have been kind and understanding and generous with me. I’ve had moments of laughter. I’ve felt good about accomplishing a task and finishing some todo item. Even if they were fewer and far in between, they were there.

So if your week or day is going like mine have been, I urge you to pause and pay attention to the moments of gratitude you have in the middle of darkness. To me, those are little bits of hope seeping in to remind you that life is not nearly as bleak as it seems right now.

That’s what practicing gratitude is all about: paying attention to the good. Because some good is always there.

Always.

Our Backyard

December 13, 2010

We spend a ton of time in our backyard. It’s right off the kitchen, so I feel comfortable letting the boys run around out there when I’m cooking dinner. Our yard is small and I love it that way. No one can get lost in it and it makes for cozy gatherings.

We have some gorgeous plants the bloom at different times of the year and some fun water features. Our yard is perfect for a day playing in water, with bubbles or even making chalk drawings.

I’m grateful to have a backyard to call my own. One where we can gather and spend time outside. It’s the extra something that makes our home special to us.

Hillside Club

December 10, 2010

Journaling Reads:
In the south of Turkey, just at the edge of where the Aegean and the Mediterranean meet, lies this beautiful club.

Before we had our boys, we made a family tradition of meeting my parents and sister there yearly. Some of my fondest memories of going home are from these trips. The delicious food, fantastic weather and incredible water.

I remember feeling at peace and fully relaxed while I was there. To me, that’s the quintessential holiday. One where you’re truly leaving your worries behind and enjoying the very moment.

Since we’ve had our kids, we haven’t been back there and now my family has another vacation home so we might not get a chance to go back. But I will still remember this place and my time there with gratitude and joy. Those early mornings, thanks to jetlag, I got to see the sun come out from behind the water and all the chairs empty, sitting there, basking in the peace of nature untouched. Just looking at the photo makes me feel that peace all over again.