Making the Holidays Meaningful


So, if you’ve read my last two posts, hopefully you are feeling less stressed about the holidays because you are taking care of yourself and simplifying your schedule.  Here’s the last, and probably most important way to relax and enjoy the season:  make sure it has real meaning for your family.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the commercial aspect as well as the social obligations:  we think (consciously or unconsciously) that we need to buy at least as many gifts as last year, we feel that we are expected to attend  certain functions, and pretty soon we forget the real meaning behind the season.

If your family is religious, then staying in touch with your religious observances is a clear way to focus on the “reason for the season”.  But even if your family doesn’t subscribe to any particular religion, here are some ways to focus on the spirit:

1.  Make gifts meaningful.  If you have kids, then you’ve probably experienced cheap plastic toy overload.  The recession, increased environmental awareness and recent publicity about the dangers of imported toys have helped many of us realize the pointlessness these types of gifts.  One way to avoid this is by buying quality made educational toys such as those by Melissa and Doug.  Another is to give “experiences” instead of toys that may be played with for a short while and then discarded.  A friend of mine said her daughters’ favorite gift one year was when her mother treated them to a dog-sled ride.  Stocking stuffers were muffs to keep their hands warm and treats  for the dogs.  It was a special experience they will never forget.  A trip to the ballet, a concert, or even a day at the bowling alley with friends are all great ideas.

2.  Share with the less fortunate.  Volunteer at a local soup-kitchen, ring the bell for the Salvation Army, or sponsor a family.  Your local United Way can give you a wish-list for a struggling family.  Kids enjoy picking out gifts for other kids, and learn to appreciate how lucky they are.  We are going to shop for the family we’re sponsoring tomorrow.  It is humbling to think that others are soldiering on with so little.  I am grateful for the opportunity to help in some small way, and for all of the blessings in my life.

This is my wish for you, too – that you find true meaning in the season and enjoy it with the ones you love.

 

Simplify Your Holiday Schedule in Two Easy Steps


One December several years ago,  my husband casually observed, “You don’t like Christmas very much, do you?”  I was heartbroken.  I love the holidays, but I realized that I had lost my enthusiasm by trying to do too much – stress had taken all of the fun out of it.  I certainly didn’t want to ruin it for my family, too.  That was the year I started making an effort to prune my “holiday overachiever” mentality, relax and enjoy the season.  Easier said than done, I know.  Still, I’ve managed to convince my husband that I’m really not a Grinch.  You can simplify and reduce stress in two easy steps:

1.  Prioritize activities and events. 

Gather the family together and get out your calendar.  Decide which events are on your “must do” list:  visits with family, religious observations, and school activities such as holiday recitals and concerts may be most important to you.  Then, look at the rest of your options.  If you discover, as we did, that you are invited to holiday parties three nights in a row, you may want to rethink your plans.    Ask your kids which events are really important to them.  You may be surprised to discover that rituals we take for granted, such as visiting Santa, may not matter to them, particularly as they get older.  This will free up some time for some much-needed R & R.

2.  Simplify your “to-do” list. 

  • I’ve really pared down my holiday baking.  Try one of the “One Dough Makes Ten Cookies” recipes or organize a cookie exchange with your friends.  Keep it simple by sticking to your strengths.  I finally gave up on making candy from scratch – I’m just not good at anything that requires a thermometer.  Instead, we make peppermint bark by melting chocolate in the microwave, spreading it on a cookie sheet and sprinkling it with chopped up candy canes.  My kids absolutely love smashing the candy canes and have been demanding to know when we are making peppermint bark!
  • I’ve also simplified my shopping – we live in a remote mountain location – so what I can’t buy locally I buy online and ship directly to long-distance family.  No more all-day trips to the outlet mall.
  • I also don’t send hand-made cards anymore.  I like Smilebox for making a nice slide show e-card that can easily be emailed or shared on social media.

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I know how strong the temptation is to make everything “perfect” for your family, but is it really worth it if you’re trying too hard and losing your holiday spirit?  As working moms, we have enough on our plates already.  Relax and enjoy yourself and your family will, too.

How to take care of yourself during the holiday season


Last week I wrote about three ways busy working moms can reduce stress and enjoy the holidays.  You can’t reduce stress if you’re not taking care of yourself, so here are some common wellness zappers and ways to avoid them:

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Seasonal Affective Disorder aka, “the winter blues”.  Do you find yourself getting tired, depressed and even weepy this time of year?  You’re not alone:  according to Medicine Net, SAD “occurs in about 5% of adults, with up to 20% of people having some symptoms” and is five times more common in women than in men.  As someone who is mildly to moderately affected, I can personally recommend the Verilux HappyLight.  This is a lamp that reportedly mimics full-spectrum sunlight.   If you don’t want to purchase a light, just getting outside regularly on sunny days can help a lot.  Try taking a walk on your lunch break.

Neglecting your workout The daylight hours are shorter and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to squeeze  in a workout, but there’s hardly a better way to combat stress.  Getting started is the hard part, but you know it’ll make you feel better, right?  If you can’t commit to an hour or even a half-hour, why not start small?  Here’s a workout that claims to “hit every muscle in five minutes”.  Surely you can do five minutes, right?  I have a video workout series for the exercise ball that’s broken into 10-minute segments.  I find it’s easy to tell myself I only have to do one segment, and then it feels good to get my body moving so I end up doing at least do two or three segments.

Blowing your diet:  I wholeheartedly agree (as would my husband and kids) that it wouldn’t be the holidays without the goodies.  It’s definitely ok to cheat a little, but we all know how bad we feel when we eat way too much rich food at a party and end up gaining the “December Five”.  A couple of years ago I read a tip that  said to fill up a little on healthy snacks (like raw veggies) before heading to a party,  so you’re  not  so hungry when you get there.  Another tip I learned is to alternate sipping glasses of water with whatever you’re drinking at the party.  It keeps you hydrated and fuller, and helps you avoid any embarrassing over-indulgences.

So, get out and enjoy some sunshine, get your body moving and eat your veggies!  What are your tips and tricks for taking care of yourself over the holidays?

Next week:  Simplify and stick to a schedule to avoid holiday stress.