Turning Ho Hum into Ho Ho

And so this is Christmas. It's never really been my holiday. Losing my Mom when I was 18  6 weeks before Christmas seems to have cast a pall over the season for me. I thought that would change when I had children of my own and to some extent it has. I shifted from as close to total avoidance as I could get to orchestrating the best damn Christmas EVER. Still, those holiday memories are a blur of exhaustion and tears - mine and the kids from trying to create the "perfect" holiday of gingerbread houses, breakfast with Santa in the right clothes, the desired presents wrapped with handmade bows, baking several kinds of cookies and plating them up merrily for friends and family, planning, cooking and setting a beautiful table for the dinner. I squeezed us all too tightly trying to have an epic Christmas. And, I never quite acquired that joyful aura I saw in other people or the magic described in Christmas carols or movies. The economic downturn saw expensive gifts, parties and dinners morph into something sweeter and more meaningful. Limited resources made it necessary to identify which things were the most important to make the holiday special thereby creating a natural balance that cut down on the craziness. At first downsizing Christmas can seem like a bummer but in hindsight it made it more special.

This year the Christmas spirit is again elusive. I've decided the holidays can occur on a kind of lighting dimmer switch. With kids I can't turn the holiday lights out completely but I can adjust the focus on the things that make it our kind of Christmas. A tree is a must (I asked the kids if we could do a smaller tree and was told "NO") but I came to the conclusion this year that all the ornaments don't have to make it onto the tree. The favorites and some beautiful new ones made the tree fabulous and done without the angst. Some treasured decorations like the hand print Christmas tree tile and the gold pine cone with pom-poms are a must-see but I didn't feel compelled to find a place for every decoration we own. The Santa's Village didn't get set up this year and that's okay. I made a new decoration with some colorful $5.00 ornaments and every time I pass by the table it sits on, I feel happy.

While I haven't been overcome with Christmas spirit, there have been moments of happiness that have come from letting go of expectations of how the perfect holiday should look. I've enjoyed the peace that comes with only doing the things that I want to do and that I knew would make me feel good. The book "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" says there is joy in repetition. Sometimes by putting one foot in front of the other and really listening to your heart's desire you'll find that you get through ho-hum to Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

Comfort Food For Thought

Largely ignored due to the warm weather, I "stumbled" onto my fuzzy green blanket a few weeks ago. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I have sought solace and comfort from a favorite blanket for most of my life. One of the best birthday gifts this year was a blanket my daughter made for me. I'm certain it's my new favorite. This was originally going to be a funny post about blankets but something bigger came up. Thinking about the welcome relief I get from something as innocuous as a blanket led me to the following.

Recently my eyes feel newly opened to the widespread life-changer experiences of almost everyone I know. Even in this town it's easy to distinguish the "haves" from the    "have-nots." Or maybe it's an illusion.  Some of the "haves" now find it slipping through their fingers. There was a lot of bulking up in the '80's and 90's and when those people were full, the banks offered a "better" lifestyle to those that couldn't really afford it. Hell, the banks couldn't even afford it. But they got bailed out. It's painfully obvious that the same entity that got us into this mess isn't going to really help us out of it. Though they pretend that they will. Einstein fits in here;  "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  It's a twisted shell game that has left so many        d-e-v-a-s-t-e-d. Not just all those millions of Americans but our family and friends. It's so easy to become myopic in our own world view. But the greatness I see coming out of the loss is families pooling their resources with other families to help keep it together and I'm fortunate to be in the co-op. It bears mention that the "haves" are not exempt from challenges. I know those that are struggling just the same, it's only a different scale.

It's just a reality that money is a great equalizer. Another is health. It's easy to have myopia here too. Hey, if you and your family are well it's all good, right? It can only take a minute for the tide to change and you're on your knees (or your back). If I hear one more time, "but you look well..." It's not that that's a bad thing to say or hear, I work hard at not looking on the outside like I often feel. Otherwise is would be Halloween more than just one day a year.  And my stuff is no big deal at all compared to what I've witnessed. I watched my own mother battle cancer and recently some friends who've been fighting their whole life to save their son from cystic fibrosis lost him last month. It's the stuff that life-threatening heartbreak is made of. What gives hope is that I have seen, and been personally blessed by, people coming together to carry each other through. My friend Heather says words I love so much, "When you can't, I will." It's the only way we are going to survive and then thrive.

I detect a general malaise in many places that I go. Like a low hanging fog, I see it. Even in the eyes of the employed, those that I have business transactions with. Maybe they're supposed to be happy that they have a job; likely it's still not enough to make ends meet. Not to be forgotten are people who may have money and good health but have a burden on their back just as big. It's worth putting on our glasses to help our myopia and recognize, everywhere you look people are struggling. Kindness is the salve that heals. Apply some where you can.

Maybe the playing field has not been this level since The Depression. Seeing ourselves and others as equally in need of each other, it’s no longer possible to think that trouble is on another side of town or in another city or state. As painful as it’s been, the good news is that we have come to be in community with one another. I’m beginning to see that a good blanket, some love and the human spirit can overcome the human condition.

 

When Foodies Meet

Come with me for an up close look at a unique strain of mating among a subculture called Foodies. When Foodies meet its not the usual romantic encounter. The conversation starter, "so tell me about yourself" quickly leads to revealing a fascination with food. Subsequent date activities consist of talking about food, perusing recipes (favorites and ones to be tried), and making grocery lists. Going to the farmer's market vs the movies is a highlight. Then there's reading cookbooks together - come on what new couple does that? Foodies, that's who.

A rush of passion occurs when cooking together and deciding who will be the Head Chef and who's to be the Assistant (who says you can't role play outside the bedroom). Then there's the culmination of it all...enjoying the meal, a perfect definition of the term labor of love. It's almost erotic in its consumption and revelry.

 

Outside the kitchen, pillow talk includes hushed tone conversation about "what are we going to eat today?" Fireside chats equate to standing around the bar-b-que anticipating the perfect result. "Sexting" to Foodies means exchanging pictures of food considered fabulous or rare that must be shared if only photographically.

 

And the only time Pinterest becomes a couples activity is when new and fantastic food recipes are pored over. "Pinning" dishes like spaghetti filled garlic bread and meatloaf cupcakes to eat during football season becomes a barometer, indicating potential for future time together in the kitchen. Always the common interest and goal is finding, or better yet, creating the next great meal.

Instead of typical romantic offerings such as mundane flowers, Foodies will present the object of their affection with produce such as beautiful heirloom tomatoes or perfectly ripe white nectarines made into a divine cobbler. Or the pièce de résistance - homemade, better than any bakery Red Velvet cake.

If there is doubt as to whether food can be sexy and a strong bond that connects people, I leave you with the following quotes from some of the greatest writers of our time as proof of the power of food. Please leave your comments below with your thoughts about good times in the kitchen.

“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Woolf - A Room of One's Own

“You can't just eat good food. You've got to talk about it too.  And you've got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.” ― Kurt Vonnegut - Jailbird

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Back to school. There is no neutral feeling about those words to kids or parents. It stirs up a goulash of emotions; excitement, nervousness, relief, stress, happiness, sadness. And it rolls around this time of year like it or not.

There's the run up to the first day of school that includes the preparatory shopping. Depending on the age of your children (and the size of your budget) this can be a fun experience or it can be a nightmare. Finding just the right lunch container, school supplies, clothes, backpack, shoes, etc. is a challenge no matter how you slice it. Just coming to an agreement on said items for the price you are willing to pay can be akin to hammering out a peace accord agreement. And like accord talks, the process usually takes several days and trips to secure everything needed thankfully leading to détente.

Back to school represents different relief to working parents vs stay at homers. I've done it both ways. For the working parent back to school signifies a return to a more regular, less complicated schedule. If you haven't experienced the brain teaser that figuring out daycare and activities for children for 8-10 weeks presents, consider yourself lucky. And then there's the cost. Exorbitant. Plus the whole thing is a house of cards if something doesn't go EXACTLY as planned. I remember hanging on by my fingernails looking forward to the lesser chaos that having the kids back in school would bring.

Stay at home parents are relieved that their children are headed back to school because everyone, frankly, is sick of each other. The limit on entertaining (nearly as expensive as daycare) has been reached and the words "I'm bored" resound throughout the house.  It's time for everyone to go their separate ways again, even if just for 7 hours a day.

Back to school time is however, bittersweet. Facebook chatter among parents starts prior to the first day with the flare signal, "One more week until school starts." This is met with responses like, "Whoo Hoo," "Mothers everywhere are doin' the happy dance," and my personal favorite, "It's the most wonderful time of the year." Then the reality sets in...it's the end of the lazy days of summer. It's back to alarm clocks, hurried mornings, stress about the whereabouts of the backpack, lunch, gym clothes, etc.  And let's not leave out the traffic and the monitoring of the homework (UGH!).

But this is the beautiful time of raising our children. And as we are painfully aware, it will go by in a minute. We'll blink and they will be off to college. So here's to being grateful for the arrival of another school year. Another chance to marvel at the growth and experiences our kiddos will take us through this year. Bon Voyage!

 

Come As You Are

My birthday is in a few months so I guess I better get used to saying my new age...fo, for, forty.....seven. I actually had to do the math to make sure that was the right number! I sailed through turning 40 but I have to admit, this one is needling me. Mainly because the effects of aging are starting to show up. Seeing my skin change and finding gray hair everywhere is unnerving. I seem to need to add tweezer time to my schedule.

I would put myself somewhere in the middle of the vanity continuum. Nothing about my body has EVER been close to perfect. I was the fat kid in elementary school and no one let me forget it. I got to an average weight in high school but nowhere near the skinny-minis that ran the place. I have gained and lost the same 30 pounds 15 times in my life. I'm lucky to have pretty good skin but that's probably because over the years I often felt too fat in a swimsuit to be out soaking up the sun.

In today's world the notion of "growing old gracefully" or "beauty comes from within" seem to be nothing more than pithy metaphors. Women have always measured themselves against unrealistically airbrushed magazine models but reality television has taken it to a whole other level. Shows such as "The Real Housewives" featuring women that are sucked, tucked and reduxed and are willing to show their procedures being performed only add to glamorizing the pursuit of eternal youth. It's not just in the media that this occurs. It's in our own backyard; it's our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. punishing their bodies to look and feel better about aging.

Botox came on the market in 1989 during the height of the 80's-90's "we need to have it all" excess and quickly became a billion dollar business. A magazine ad for Botox promises "noticeable results whether it's your first time or you've stopped counting. Results may vary as Botox can cause serious side effects such as problems swallowing, speaking or breathing, due to weakening of associated muscles, can be severe and result in loss of life." This is followed by two full pages of potential side effects. Is there really a question as to whether this is a good idea?? Have we not learned anything from the last decade like we can't have everything, we really don't need everything and the concept of a "perfect" life is an illusion. How does injecting botulism into your face, cutting on and inserting foreign objects into your body that change the appearance of who you really are have anything to do with today's mantra of being organic and going green? Plus, so much time and money spent on vanity doesn't leave much left over for outside of ourself pursuits.

I'm concerned and sad that my fellow sisterhood doesn't feel it's okay to come as they are. Don't get me wrong, I like to look nice. I color my hair "back to natural," get my nails done, try to exercise and eat right because I'd like to be thinner and care about trying to dress fashionably. I still fight against the feeling that a lot of women are doing it much better than I am. How did this become so out of control? And I wonder what men think? I've asked a few -- some said they like tight faces, fannys and augmented boobs. Most said they don't want to hug a stick figure and like the feel of the real thing. Maybe when men tell us that they like our bodies the way they are and don't care what we wear or whether we have make-up on, we should LISTEN and stop badgering the poor guys to validate us.

The saying "beauty is only skin deep" means to me that true beauty resides underneath your face and your boobs. It's in your mind, your heart and your soul. Let it shine Sister!

Dating vs Falling in Love...With Yourself

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need ~ The Rolling Stones The end of a 3 year, long distance relationship left me at the water's edge of the dating pool. Sure, they say dating is like riding a bike, you never forget. I venture to say that bike riding is infinitely more enjoyable!

For you coupled-up types who are blissfully unaware of what's going on out here in    dating-ville, check out these banners that appeared recently over my e-mail inbox: "What Men Don't Want - Catch Him And Keep Him.com - 9 Ugly Mistakes Women Make That Men Find Totally Unattractive." Days later this gem appeared: "Make Him Addicted To You  - Have The Relationship You Want.com - 9 Magic Words You Must Say To Make Him Fall Deeply In Love."

REALLY??? The very idea that we women are so desperate to know this crap is sad. Because if our own sense of self-worth is strong and we enjoy our own company, the above how to's become irrelevant.  I can't think of anything I want to do less than catch and keep ANYONE. A relationship jail keeper? No thanks. Instead of catch and keep why not just apply the principles of catch and release fishing to dating? And I don't even know what to say to the notion of trying to "addict" someone to me. Can you hear me laughing from where you're sitting? BTW, you guys should be offended that these websites make it sound like you can be "caught" and "addicted" in 9 easy ways. Why is 9 the magic number? I digress.

So what are the options for finding a date, mate, significant other, etc.? Well, there's online dating...raise your hand if you like this one. I see one hand and you know who you are, M. I personally only know one person who likes this form of dating. There's another concept that centers around matchmaking-like dinners. I was thinking of trying this until a single girlfriend checked into it after hearing radio ads stating they were offering a special rate.  The "deal" was $1,500 for 3 months worth of dinner dates. They were happy to set her up on a payment plan of $500 a month. Seriously??? That's like a house payment. Now we're the 99% of dating too?! We've been encouraged to write down a grocery list of the traits we are looking for in a mate. This exercise suggests we will manifest the perfect person that meets the criteria on our list. A sort of  "if you build it, they will come" theory. It's not a bad idea; I love a good to-do list. Except that I've done it to no avail and I've been recently educated that focusing so much on the particulars leaves out the potential for  many possibilities. The new love of my life may have qualities I can't even imagine and I'd hate to miss out because I left it off the list! Probably best not to narrow the field too much.

Perhaps a better idea is to take a personal inventory and see if we are truly presenting the best possible version of ourselves. It's been said (thank you Gabrielle Bernstein author of "Add More ~Ing to Your Life...A Hip Guide to Happiness" and "Spirit Junkie") that when you get right with yourself, the right person will be attracted to you. The best possible, healthy, fabulous YOU. I'm going with this approach and here's why:

1. Following my divorce several years ago I paid a therapist perfectly good money to tell me that instead of jumping into dating, maybe I should take some time to get to know myself.  I wish I had listened then. I probably could have avoided several more dysfunctional relationships. Because let me just say, I have worked hard on putting the fun in dysfunctional!

2. At 46 years old it's time to figure my shit out. I mean really, if I'm not cool with me who the hell else will be? I am taking the advice of my new-found mentor Gabrielle Bernstein and for the time being, I'm making spirit my boyfriend. Meditating, watching lectures and reading books by people who have it going on and are willing to share has been awesome. They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Hit me baby...I'm open!

3.  Gaining a sense of who I am and what I want in a relationship has made growing a backbone a long overdue pursuit. I'm pleased to say that I'm done with what I call circle dating. This is a no-win, chase your tail exercise where I re-dated guys from previously failed relationships hoping that this time it would turn out right. I'm liking the saying, "if the past calls let it go to voicemail, it has nothing new to say."  BINGO!

So that's it...instead of hanging out with Mr. Right Now, I'm chillin' with myself and you know...it rocks! Maybe when the door closed on my last relationship the window to my spirit opened. I'm certain when all is right, Mr. Right will find his way to my door.

Please share your love stories or dating dilemmas, desires and triumphs below. Love is a dish that should never be served cold!