Five Holiday Preparation Tips from an Empty-Nester
This year I will celebrate my 51st Christmas—my 23rd as a mother. That makes me “experienced,” which is basically just a kinder way of saying, “old.” With experience and age come wisdom, so please indulge this empty-nester as I share some of the things I have learned about preparing for the holidays—tips that I hope might help uncomplicate some of your preparations and help you enjoy the season a little bit more.
Pro-tip #1: If a tradition is no longer bringing your family joy, dump it! Holidays are the times that our family traditions are most obvious and abundant. Traditions are important; they help to bring families closer together, they tie us to our roots, and they help us remember where we came from as we grow older. Traditions serve a practical purpose, too… If we do things as we’ve always done them, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year. If you always serve a ham dinner on Christmas, you don’t have to come up with a new menu plan every year. If you always spend Christmas Eve at Uncle Bob’s house, you don’t have to think about what you’re going to do on December 24th.
But sometimes traditions can be a burden, too. When my kids were young, our tradition was to go to the tree farm together to scout for the perfect tree, chop it down, cart it back to the shop to pay for it, grab a hot chocolate, tie the tree onto the top of the car, and bring it home. When they were little, this was a day of great excitement and fun, but as they grew older, it started to feel like pulling teeth to get them to partake in the tradition. And I realized, it was becoming more of a chore than something that any of us enjoyed. It was usually cold and damp on tree-cutting day, and after about 30 minutes of hiking to find the best tree, bickering all the way, someone —usually my husband—would have to lie under it in the mud and snow and saw through the trunk. So we dumped that tradition, and these days, we pick out a pre-cut tree in about 5 minutes. The few extra bucks a pre-cut tree costs is totally worth the aggravation and ill-will that the annual tree cutting tradition was starting to cause us. It’s a tradition we don’t miss at all.
Pro-tip #2: Elf less. I feel so very blessed to have given birth at just the right time—meaning we missed out on the Elf on a Shelf craze by just a couple of years. But if you are the parent of a young child these days, you are undoubtedly going through the pain of having to remember to not only move your Elf, but also to come up with elaborate pranks and Pinterest-worthy poses for him each night. This would have been disastrous for us. It was hard enough to remember to play Tooth Fairy when our kids lost their teeth, and when we did remember, we rarely had any small bills to leave under their pillow, leading to real discussions about whether an incisor could possibly be worth a $50 bill or a gift card for the liquor store if that’s all I had in my wallet. Inevitably it would end with my husband and I couch diving for any loose change, or possibly writing an “i o u” note to leave under the pillow instead. We really were lame tooth fairies.
Which is why I love what my friend did with her Elf on a Shelf: After a few days of Elfie swinging from chandeliers and roasting s’mores over a candle, she had Elfie break a leg. The kids found him the next morning with a note from his doctor at the North Pole, saying that with his injury, he wasn’t allowed to move for 3 weeks. Brilliant!
Maybe you are one of those creative parents who loves the challenge of creating a wild nightlife for your Elf night after night, year after year, but if it is one of the things that is stressing you out this Christmas, remember: You’re in control of that little bugger. Make it easy on yourself.
Pro-tip #3: Stay away from Pinterest. I know, Pinterest is a great place to get clever ideas (including creative things to do with Elfie until his unfortunate leg-breaking incident), but it’s also a place that can make you feel woefully inadequate. I could barely even get those gingerbread house kits to stick together, so it is really disheartening to go online and see the blueprints for a DIY gingerbread victorian mansion with licorice shingles, a candy cane picket fence, and detailed, tiny Christmas wreaths on every window. Same goes for the sugar cookies shaped like 3-D snow-frosted pine trees and picture-perfect salt-dough Christmas garland.
Pro-tip #4: Hide your Santa presents in suitcases. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve been thanked for this suggestion before. If you zip up the gifts you acquire before Christmas in large suitcases, you’ll always know where they are and no one will think to look there. Stick the wrapping paper in with the suitcases so the kiddies don’t wonder why Santa uses the same wrapping paper Mom has stashed in the hall closet.
Pro-tip #5: Ask for help. This is a busy time of the year, and most of us are already close to being overwhelmed by just keeping up with our everyday lives, let alone the Christmas shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Maybe your kids can take the dog for a walk while you do some cyber shopping. Maybe your tech-savvy tween can create address labels for your Christmas cards. Maybe your husband can shop for his own family members. And maybe you can use a special holiday cleaning session from Immaculate Clean!
This Thanksgiving, Develop an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’
As we turn the calendar to “November,” many of us immediately think of Thanksgiving and the ensuing period of inevitable holiday stress. It doesn’t matter how much you love the holidays, it’s hard not to get stressed out when we add to our already hectic daily routines the additional efforts involved in preparing for holiday meals, guests, parties, and Christmas shopping.
Last year I attempted to offer some tangible steps for dealing with the holiday stress. This year, I’d like to get a little “new age-y” on you and focus on some more intangible ways you can remain calm amidst the holiday frenzy by truly giving thanks this Thanksgiving and developing an “attitude of gratitude.”
Write it down.
A dear friend of mine says she has been able to retain her sanity during some very challenging times by keeping what she calls a “positivity journal.” Every night before she goes to bed, she writes down at least one positive thing that happened during the day. As the saying goes, at least according to the memes I’ve seen on Instagram, “There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.” Taking the time to focus on the good things in life can help make the hard things seem less daunting.
The two M’s: Mindfulness and Meditation.
While keeping a positivity journal is one way to practice the concept of “mindfulness,” meditation is another. I know that Mindfulness and Meditation are both very new age-y sounding words, but they really are not all that “far out.”
Mindfulness is just a way of taking control of your own thoughts, making a concerted effort to focus on the present moment while pushing away concerns and stressful thoughts. Meditation basically just involves relaxing for a short period of time. If you can get comfortable, close your eyes, and just focus on your breathing for a few moments each day, it can be a great escape from the concerns and stressors that may seem to have taken over your brain.
(Tip: if you have a Fitbit Charge 2, select the “Relax” option and follow the instructions for either two minutes or five minutes of guided breathing exercises. Voila! You’re meditating!)
Some people like to repeat a positive word or phrase in their mind as they meditate. Maybe saying “thank you” or “gratitude” would help you shift your focus to something positive, if only for a few moments. Voila! That’s “mindfulness!”
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of taking for granted all the good things in our lives, when in reality, there are so many people out there who are dealing with much worse. Although of course we know we should be helping the less fortunate all year long, there seem to be more opportunities to do so during the holiday season. If you can volunteer to do something like help collect food for your food bank, ring a bell for the Salvation Army, participate in a toy drive, or serve lunch in a homeless shelter, it will not only spread hope and compassion to someone who needs it, it will help you feel good about yourself and will serve as a good reminder that you have a lot to be thankful for in your own life.
If you can develop an attitude of gratitude during this season of Thanksgiving and keep it throughout the year, research shows you will probably be healthier, more productive, and happier in the long run.
Of course, you can’t rely on mindfulness and attitude to completely alleviate all your stress this holiday season, so let me offer you one tangible tip: Before you host your Thanksgiving dinner or your holiday party this year, call Immaculate Clean to schedule a Holiday Clean! Just think about how thankful you’ll be for your clean home!