Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks Every Day

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving. It's a wonderful word, isn't it? One of my favorites. And one I think of year round, not just in late November. But perhaps more often I think of it as "gratitude."

I recently found my gratitude journals -- or at least a couple of them. I started writing the daily "Five things for which you are grateful" in a journal decades ago and while I no longer write them down, every night before I go to sleep, I think of at least five things to acknowledge.

Some are big ones, like being grateful that when my across-the-street neighbor and I simultaneously backed our cars out of the driveway at the same time, no damage was done to person or car. Some are small, like getting a great parking spot on a crummy day.

And many repeat, over and over. Being grateful for a special time with Rick, a phone call from one of the kids, Lizzie's purr.

It's been fun reviewing the journals because they remind me of some very special times -- and some significant ones.

For example, in 2001 I made this notation: "I am grateful that amid terror and death, strangers speak and hug each other, people pull together to help others, strangers remember those they never knew with flowers and teddy bears and photographs; that my family and friends are safe and that we are more aware than ever of how life can be cut short. (September 12, 2001)

Funny. That is as fitting this month as it was those many years ago.

Not all my gratitude notes have such a world view. For example, on Thanksgiving weekend in 1998 I wrote: I am grateful for delightful times with Rick and the kids, for not so delightful times with the whiners, and for being able to love them despite the whining. (I wish I could remember what they were whining about!) That week, among other things I wrote that I was grateful for Jane Austen and "Pride and Prejudice," weather so warm I barely need a jacket and for being able to relax.

And a few days later: "I'm grateful the lump on my breast seems to have disappeared or "gone under" and I don't need surgery for the holidays.

There were times when I was grateful for a "deep sleep" and that my friend Patricia was hanging in there healthwise. (December 1997). Patricia has since passed but I remain grateful that she was my friend.

I look back and see things that meant a lot to me. "I'm grateful that Kevin told me I could come to the Pinewood Derby." (January 1997, about a year after I was part of their lives.)

And then there were the routine things -- the smell of baking cookies, an afternoon off, that the tulips are popping up and for stars, the microwave and frozen margarita mix.

Looking back at these journals of simple gratitude tell me, in a way, what was happening in my life then, almost like a diary without the details. The funky mammogram, 9/11, becoming part of a family, warm autumns and early springs.

But most of all, I see the simple beauty and meaning of real life. The things that appear over and over are Rick and the boys, the cats, health and comfort. Chocolate chip cookies, back rubs, stew on a cold winter night, a whole day to do art.

To be grateful that a stressful day is over seems more healthy and nurturing than to keep reliving that stressful day. To recognize with thanks that you and no one else was hurt in a fender bender (even if the car was totaled) is so much more freeing than being angry at the accident, the other driver or yourself.

In fact, in a news story reported on NPR on Monday, November 23, scientific research has indicated that gratitude is good for your heart health -- and additional studies proved writing it down helped even more! (Maybe I should start doing that again!) It's a short story and an interesting one -- check out the link!

The New York Times also reported on this research. Choose to be grateful -- it will make you happier, the article encourages, linking to the various research studies. Both are stories well worth following!

I have a reputation for being a pretty half-full kind of person. And I can't tell you how much this annoys people! It's not that I never get down. I do. But even then I try to remember how easily it could be so much worse. And I'd rather try to find the one little bit of good in a whole heap of bad to hang onto. It's not that one can ignore the bad. I can't. But I can try to find a tiny bit of gratitude somewhere in the mix.

The incidents in Paris this month have drawn me in with their sadness and I see the fear that is sweeping not only Europe but our own country. I see political arguments and statements that make no sense to me, that seems outrageously xenophobic. I see a future where the rules of the game have been changed and we scramble for a way to bring safety to the world. And can we? No one knows.

But I also see the crowds of people that Peter showed in his Paris posts, returning to the Bataclan and leaving flowers at makeshift Parisian memorials, dining in cafes and standing firm. I see the governor of Washington in his New York Times OpEd piece defend the need to place refugees. I see friends continuing to make their travel plans to Europe. And each and every one of these things fills me with gratitude.

The list on this day is a bit more complex than being grateful for finding my earring plug and being able to sleep in.

And perhaps that is what it's all about. Growing in gratitude, facing the difficult head on and looking for the shiny bit to hold onto, even when it seems very hard.

We all need that shiny bit.

So, if you are lucky enough to get the wishbone in your turkey dinner, pull hard and make a wish. But make it a wish that counts.

And be grateful that we are able to wish and dream and hope. And, grateful to find true happiness, no matter what that might mean for you.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Look Ahead December 2: Deck the Halls

Maybe you've already started decorating your home for the holidays. I wait till the day after Thanksgiving and then the gloves come off and Christmas comes out!

That doesn't mean it hasn't been hanging out in the guest room for a few days! With every litter box trip to the basement, up has come a tree or a swag or a box of favorite treasures. And now we throw open the doors and let it escape!

Decking the Halls

Everyone has their own style, their own favorite ornaments and decorations, their "look." Those who have followed my holiday posts in the past know that I tend to go for a lot of trees! There is this part of me that wants to be more minimalist so that everything shows to its best advantage. And this other part that says "I love this stuff and what other time of year can it go out?"

My holiday stuff has been accumulated over years of family and friendships and a little bit of shopping. Pretty much everything I have means something to me. There are the swags I bought when visiting blog friend Diana several years ago, the oldest ornament on the tree, my favorite snow guy -- you get it.

Grandma's ornament -- the oldest on the tree.
NOW is the time to go through the things you want to use this holiday. If you have a lot of things and not a lot of room, you might try rotating. I always feel sad when something didn't make it out for the season, but I try to be strong!

If you are a Santa person and a Snowpeople person, consider bringing out the Snowfolk after the holiday and enjoy them through the winter. It changes things up a bit after the holidays but you still get to enjoy your favorites.

There are so many wonderful decorating sites, this probably won't bring you brand new ideas but I'm offering a few that are worth remembering.

Use collections. If you collect a lot of Santa figures, for example, consider grouping some of them on a mantle or in a vignette. My vintage postcard collection comes out in a number of ways -- on wall display and tucked into branches on one of my trees. My "Whimsical Whittler" ornaments are always grouped together.

Go to the closet. Look at baskets you might use for other purposes and repurpose them for holiday decorations. Extra ornaments can be grouped in a basket or bowl (cut glass or silver is especially pretty!) for a low table arrangement. A punch bowl or silver tray or serving dish also works well for these groupings.

Look up! Use your space. If you have cabinets with some ceiling clearance, whip out a child's chair (or doll chair), add a teddy bear or holiday figure. Maybe a garland would work better for you. Use all the space.

Southern Exposure used a child's chair, square styrofoam wreath form with floral picks, small faux tree in an urn atop a wardrobe to add interest at a higher level.
Don't forget the picture frames. Even if you don't change out your art for the holiday season (which is fun if you have the right thing), you can still add a bit of garland or tinsel to the frames.

I bought this jingle-bell garland with my blog friend Diana during a visit several years ago. It remains one of my decorating treasures, reminding me of a wonderful day.
Wreaths are fun! You don't have to leave them outside -- bring them in. You can easily dress up a dollar store grapevine or faux pine wreath with favorite ornaments. Grab your glue gun and go to town. Faux blooms or greenery are pretty, too.

Southern Exposure: A lighted wreath frames a clock over the mantle while twinkling stars and candle sconces add a glow.
Light it up! The battery operated LED lights are almost a gift from heaven! Lights can go inside cabinets to help make your crystal sparkle, inside a punch bowl filled with sparkling ornaments, around a creche or tucked into your shelves to light a holiday vignette.

Give the Chandelier Some Love! Whether your are using garland or ornaments, any chandelier can get a makeover with a little bit of sparkle! This is another spot where you can use ornaments that don't quite work on your tree.

Simple is lovely! A white ironstone pitcher with red blooms? Elegant and easy. (Carnations are especially inexpensive). Take the poinsettia out of the foil wrapper and put it in one of your garden urns or a fabulous pot -- or even a country basket. Add a few sparkles to a crystal bowl.


Don't Forget the Dollar Store. If you are looking for extra bits to add to wreaths, arrangements or for a bit of emphasis, check out the Dollar Tree. You might find good picks to include in indoor and outdoor arrangements for a bit of sparkle; golden beads to drape on your tree, the stairway banister or from a balcony loft (perhaps along with greens); grapevine wreaths which can be spruced up by wiring greens or boxwood, along with some shiny tree ornaments; or sparkly stars or snowflakes that you can hang on your chandelier (along with ornaments that might not fit on your tree). A dollar store evergreen can look mighty cute in a copper container!

Group by Color. It seems like red and green are prevalent during this season but you may be into blues, purples, gold or silver. Try grouping some of your arrangements by color. Stack holiday-colored quilts and blankets, for example. Or, be like my friends Bob and Roger. They have lots of trees, too. The presents under the gold tree are wrapped in gold papers, the blue tree in shades of blue and so on. It boggles my mind, all that wrapping but it looks beautiful!

Can you do it yourself? Maybe! And it may save you money. Last year my friend Jan and I saw beautiful pots of greens ranging from $40-$60 at the greens market. We returned home filled with ideas. For $5 at a garden store we bought evergreen branches and for very little more, some floral picks at Michael's. I put an old birdhouse to work and Jan brought some red willow branches. In less than an hour we had a $40+ arrangement for under $10. If you already have dirt in the pot from your outdoor planting, you can put the branches directly in the dirt. Otherwise, simple styrofoam will hold it all very well.

If you look at the photo above, in the background you will notice the base of my outdoor tree, which is sitting in a pot. To cover the rocks anchoring the tree, I used a faux evergreen wreath. It looked tons better than years before. Depending on placement (wind is a factor), spanish moss might work well too.

Here's one more quick idea. If wreaths are your thing, you can make a very pretty "Angel Wings" wreath in about ten minutes. Take a styrofoam wreath form and wrap it with one or two white feather boas (or whatever color you choose). Secure with T-pins or floral wire. It can be embellished with ornaments, hung on the wall or used on a table as pictured. Total cost under $10.

Some of these tips (and photos) were inspired by a holiday visit to Southern Exposure; others were ideas I grew up with or encountered along the way through any number of sources -- friends, magazines, my own imagination.

I have a collection of holiday decorating ideas from Southern Exposure, many requiring little expense. The list is far too long to include in entirety and some wouldn't make sense without having seen the examples but I would gladly email you my top 25 favorites. If you want a copy, let me know in the comments and if you are a "no reply" blogger, leave your email address as well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

December Look Ahead -- Cards, Shopping and Wrapping (Part One)

I'm all for one to not ring in the Christmas/Winter holidays before Thanksgiving is over. OK, the day after Thanksgiving, everything comes out! But some things can be prepped ahead of time and we should at least be thinking of them, so here's an early December Look Ahead!

This is the first of several posts, starting with the things we can do the earliest -- cards, shopping and wrapping.

But before we start, I should say that I know everyone has their own way of doing the December holidays. And those holidays aren't all the same. There's Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the ever-popular New Year's Eve. Some of us do more than one, others give it all a pass. (Or as Seinfeld would say, "There's Festivus for the Rest of Us.")

And while I do some of these, I don't do all, so if I leave out ideas or traditions that work for your celebrations, please add them in the comments!


November is a great time to get started on your holiday cards -- unless you want to spend the busiest part of the busy season looking up addresses. (And if you're making them or ordering them, it's absolutely essential!)

Now, I know a lot of people do e-cards and email letters, sometimes for the convenience, sometimes for the cost. Postage is pricey. And I'm glad to hear from anyone in any way they choose to communicate.

But there's something magical about anticipating what might be in the mailbox, seeing a hand written (or computer printed) envelope and open up a pretty card, a newsy note or photo!

Unique cards are fun for special people! Here is part of our recent sale -- some of my cards and my friend Kate's calendars!

My cousin David is a master at writing the tongue in cheek Christmas spoof letter. Everything is true -- and profoundly honest -- and they are always a hoot. This is a skill he inherited from his dad, my uncle Marty, and I'm glad to see the tradition continues. Meanwhile, his sister Mutty and her family always do a creative photo card riffing off of some current event. (I nearly killed them the year they did a take on the Bush-Gore indecision and included a confetti full of "hanging chads" in the envelope! But the card was great!)

So what can you do now? Well, you might not be ready to write your all-inclusive holiday letter, but you can address those envelopes (or look up those email addresses). Word on the street is that there are mighty cute Charlie Brown stamps this year, and getting those in November might save you a chunk of change in December!

And if all else fails, think "New Year's Cards!"

Gifts and Shopping

Here's another thing where everyone differs. I try hard to be done with shopping early in the month, picking up things off and on throughout the year. (And I've never been full-on done till maybe a week before Christmas!) It may not technically save money but it does save shopping angst in the crowds!

Rick, on the other hand, manages to drag me to my least favorite place in the world, the mall, the weekend before Christmas -- or later. These jaunts don't usually yield much except sore feet and a less than Christmassy feeling, but I have to admit I kind of like them. (Not the mall so much, but the doing it together at the festive time, sharing a pizza or whatever we might enjoy that night.)

At our recent sale, Jane had wonderful jewelry. Supporting local artists is always a priority for me.

You may be the Black Friday shopper (not for me!) or the Shop Local person (this is something I try to do) or a Support Your Favorite Local Artist (my favorite way to shop). But here are a few hints to make it a bit easier.

  • Comfy shoes! Whether you are walking the mall or the concrete sidewalks, be comfy. You'll go longer and be much less snarky when you get home!
  • Plan Ahead! I'm always willing to change my mind if I see something on my shopping trip that overrides my plan, but at least I'm not wandering (the mall, like we do before Christmas!). Make the list and check it twice!
  • Keep track of what you already have! How many times have I bought for someone I already "finished?" Too many to count.
  • What are you making? When looking at your list, remember what gifts you might be making for someone. Sometimes you are farther along than you think.
  • Check for gift card deals. If you are giving multiple gift cards, certain spots (especially restaurants) might throw in a bonus incentive (for which you will be most grateful after walking the mall).


Guess what! If you are relatively organized and have your shopping under control, you can start wrapping now! I swear I am going to do that this year! Believe me, it's the last thing you want to do as the clock ticks down, especially if there is a lot of it. (And remember -- not everything needs to be wrapped!)

Not everything needs to be wrapped! Display can be just as impressive!

If you have a separate area -- guest room, an area out of the way -- you can set up a wrapping station. In most cases, I try to go with a basic color palette so it's easy to match up the ribbons and not keep digging for things. My favorite supplies are tulle (which makes a great bow) and is relatively inexpensive and in lots of colors, generally in the bridal section at a craft store. Wired ribbon is terrific too!

Gypsy was pretty good with presents but Jack, our Jack Russell predecessor was not. We used to embellish packages with Hershey kisses. When only the wrappers were left and no human would 'fess up, we knew Jack, our resident chocoholic, had been at work.

You can also go with the all-brown Kraft paper or white paper and take it from there! The kids can stamp or finger paint on the paper and you can use any ribbon or even something dimensional in place of a bow.

If you have wrapping helpers, remember to keep tabs on the stringier ribbon or items that might get swallowed, wrapped around an intestine and bring you a fortune in vet bills. This did not happen to me, but it did happen to someone I knew once. The cat was OK end the end. The budget after surgery was not.

Gypsy was one for tissue paper and ribbons. If your pet is into this, you've probably already discovered the advantages of keeping it off the floor!

My friend Susan used to always have a wrapping party. Come when you can, bring what you like or need to wrap. She'd have cider, cookies and snacks and we'd have fun while actually getting something done. We brought our own paper but if you're hosting and have some overstock, it's a great way to get rid of it!

Remember, things that need to be mailed should be wrapped first -- get them out of the house as soon as you can so you have more room for the incoming! And you will save a boatload if you get those mailed early and avoid the fed-ex charges! (And yes, I once spent more on mailing than I did on the contents to get them to arrive on time!)

My favorite "toppings" for mailing packages are very simple bows -- a simply tied grosgrain ribbon, twine, or even un-bowed but with a flat embellishment on top. (Old Christmas cards or outdoor naturals are great for this. Just use plain paper and the card image becomes your "bow.") These flat toppings pack well.

In our olden days family Christmases, we used to wrap anything not tied down. It wasn't unusual to find a pair of socks in two packages! Looking under the tree at the abundance of gifts looked almost embarrassing (until you thought about the double wrapping!).

Patty, Mutty, David, me and our pals Gus and Jack-the-Chocoholic, early 1970s. We were big on wrapping anything!

In fact, one of the traditions we used to have was wrapping a gift in an original fashion. Patty (above) once dripped candle wax all over a small square box so it looked like a candle. Aunt Iris hollowed out a green pepper, enclosed earrings and tied it off with a bow. When Mom got on her gingerboy kick (see last photo), Dad made her a giant gingerman and tucked jewelry in a seam (he won!). Everyone did something and we'd vote for small prizes. I miss that!

Time can change things. Time and being "the responsible one." If wrapping isn't your thing, there are a couple of great alternatives -- the ever-popular bags, which are cute and fun and the multiple wrap. A nice big box, some cute tissue and two or three presents that fit and you are doing three in one!

There will always be last minute wrapping (and assembling!) but it's a lot less stressful if most of the work is out of the way. It leaves you time for some fun things, the unexpected moment.

My mother said that my dad offered a most colorful commentary as he was trying to assemble a difficult dollhouse after midnight on Christmas Eve when I was about three or four. I suspect it was probably rated R!

My unexpected wrapping moment came about in 1995 when my neighbor invited me over on Christmas Eve. After dinner and church with friends, I went down the street where he greeted me with a big pile of presents on the table, a mess of wrapping paper and scissors and a frantic look in his eyes. We worked quietly, laughing and smiling while two tousled heads were sleeping in the next room, placed the gifts under the tree and then enjoyed some champagne and Christmas music and a good talk. Twenty years later, Rick and I are still wrapping, stuffing Christmas socks and enjoying the sounds of Christmas. It's one of my favorite Christmas memories.

I've gone on way too long! It's your turn! Share your favorite card/wrapping/shopping tips.

Coming up: Decorating!

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