Another Christmas

I’m stressed…the holidays do that to me. Every year I tell myself this is the year I will get excited. This is the year that will be magical. This is the year I will enjoy my friends and family. That we will get out and enjoy all the fun things going on.

This year I had to really push myself to even put out decorations, but I knew if I did not, then I would never get in the spirit.

Perhaps it is because no matter what relationship I’m in (or not in), the whole process falls on my shoulders. Would we even have Christmas if it wasn’t for women?

I finally got my better half to bring down the tree from the loft. Yes, a fake tree on a farm. But with everything going on it is just easier and I don’t have to worry as much about the cats knocking it down.

In addition to being in charge of decorating the house, I am the one who sends out Christmas cards, shops for gifts, wraps and bakes and who ensures that everyone gets the same amount.

There are so many things going on this year, and many that I typically attend. My better half is a bit of a home body and trying to get him out lately is a chore, so I’ve missed a lot of the fun.

Each year, the city of Concord hosts a Midnight Merriment where the stores on Main Street stay open until Midnight and there are lots of sales. It’s a lot of fun and even somewhat romantic with the lights and music and party atmosphere. But we didn’t make it this year.

I did get to have dinner and drinks with a couple of friends. That was nice and I would like to do more of that. Staying in touch with friends is hard under the best of circumstances.

The warm weather and lack of snow isn’t helping much either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining; but, well, what’s a New Hampshire Christmas without a little of the white stuff?

We are still working out the details of Christmas, but it looks like we’ll be spending the better part of the day at home. We plan to cook a nice roast, which I’ve already ordered from the local beef farm down the road. It should be very romantic with Christmas music, good wine and the fun of cooking together.

Once the holidays are over, I’ll feel better. The New Year always brings with it a sense of reflection and renewal and that is what I need most of all.

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St. Valentine

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St. Valentine’s Day started with the legends of at least two, maybe three Christian martyrs known by the name Valentine.  There are many stories that have been written throughout the ages about these individuals.  You can check out this site for one story on the Irish St. Valentine who betrayed an order from the Roman Emperor and was beaten and beheaded for his efforts.  Or here for a similar story about a Valentine in Rome.  Regardless of what story you believe, February 14th became a day for feasting in the martyr’s honor.

It wasn’t until the time of Geoffrey Chaucer and the renaissance age that St. Valentine’s Day became synonymous with courtly love, which flourished at this time.  By the eighteenth century the expression of love included giving gifts of flowers and candy and perhaps a hand written love letter.

Today we buy our love letters at the Hallmark store and our candy and flowers at the local grocery store as retailers find excuses for us to part with our money, but we still celebrate this day as the official day to express our love and a reason to go out to dinner.

I am not your typical romantic.  I think romance is found in the little things.  The holding of hands, the quiet smiles, the kiss for no reason other than the mood struck you.  It’s knowing without a doubt that the person who says “I love you” really means it.

To me romance is cooking an elegant dinner with the man in my life, both of us circling the stove and adding ingredients to make an amazing meal, then sitting down together and enjoying not only the food but the companionship that made the meal possible.

I won’t win any “romantic partner of the year” awards.  I don’t mince words.  I say what’s on my mind, good or bad.  So when I say, “I love you,” it’s because I mean it.  And when I say, “You forgot to empty the garbage…again,” well, I meant that to.

Truth is we are all human and we have our good and bad days.  I “see” how much my boyfriend cares about me every day when I get home and the wood stove is going and the house is filled with warmth and he has been working hard on items for our shop or building our new website or doing errands and housework.  He fills all this in between is real estate work and his graphic design contract work.  And yet he still finds time to cook a nice dinner and sit down with me and ask me how my day was.

In a way, my boyfriend is my own personal martyr giving up his freedom and personal time to spend extra time with me.  And when he says, “I love you,” I know he really means it.

A Happy Goal is a Good Goal

The holidays and hubbub are over and now it’s time to focus on a new year.  The great thing about celebrating New Years is that it gives us the opportunity to let go of the past and focus on the future.  It’s a time of hope, a clean slate.

You will likely read tons of stories on the Internet about setting your goals and resolutions for the coming year.  I know a lot of my friends do not like making resolutions.  Resolutions often entail changing habits and as we get older that is a very difficult thing to do.

Setting new goals and resolutions need not be about eating healthier or exercising more (though those are certainly great goals).  It should be about how you feel right now and how you want to feel in the future.

I mentioned in a previous post that a few of my friends have taken the plunge and gone back to school.  Without giving ages away, let’s just say that both my friends and I are “middle-aged” so going back to school typically means staying up well after everyone has gone to bed.  It means studying and school work are tucked in around an already full life.  I’ve been there and know first hand how difficult it can be.  But finishing your education, getting that degree and learning everything you learn along the way gives you a great feeling of accomplishment.

It is that ‘feeling’ that should be your goal for 2014.  What would make you so happy that you would feel like you are on top of the world?

As we head towards the New Year take some time and make a list of everything you can think of that would give you that feeling.  Write down as many things as you can think of.  They can be simple things like hiking that mountain you haven’t hiked since the kids were little or just hanging out with your friends more.

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but just could never find the time?  Now’s the time.  Take that yoga class, learn a new language, volunteer at the animal shelter.  A goal that makes you feel good is a goal you are likely to stick with.

Life is too short to worry about exercising that extra half hour a day.  Unless it makes you happy, you aren’t likely to do it anyway.  But offer to walk dogs at the shelter and you kill two birds with one stone…figuratively that is.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn’t do this year.  Find that thing (or things) that gives that bubbly butterfly sensation in the pit of your stomach and do it.  Let your goal for 2014 be that you will allow yourself the guilty pleasure of enjoying life.

What will your goal be for 2014?

 

The Big Dinner…

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Trying to create the perfect day can end up making it a disaster.

Thanksgiving is coming and, for those of us who thrive under stress in the kitchen, the day can’t come fast enough.  While this year I will not be hosting Thanksgiving, I love being in the kitchen creating a huge meal that everyone will enjoy.  I am up by 7am sautéing onions and peppers in mounds of butter to add to my seasoned breadcrumbs to create a sumptuous stuffing.  By 9am, the bird is stuffed and in the oven.  I use red bliss potatoes so I don’t have to peel them and I wash and put them in the pan the night before.  Brown and serve rolls are the easiest way to get warmed rolls without all the fuss.  Assortments of frozen vegetables are placed in microwave safe dishes and topped with butter and seasoning, lined up and ready to be nuked.

By 10am the table is set, the wine is chilling, the desserts (prepared a few days in advance) are safely tucked away and I am in the shower.  I am nothing if not efficient, coordinated…and well, a control freak.

I have come to realize a couple of things about Thanksgiving.  One is this holiday can cause such tremendous stress that it could potentially cause divorce.  Point in fact, many years ago my ex-brother-in-law and his wife were hosting Thanksgiving.  For some reason I cannot recall now, we were not there, but we did hear about it the next day.  Long story short, rolls were burned, words were said and separations occurred.  This is an extreme example, but it goes to show how personally we take hosting this once a year event.

The second thing I have come to realize is that this holiday is about being thankful for what you have.  It shouldn’t be stressful.  As I have aged, I hope I have also gained some wisdom in these things.  My ex’s family was always in competition with each other; one always trying to outdo the others.  Growing up as an only child, I am always at a loss as to why siblings do this to each other.

My advice, to anyone who wishes to take it, is to relax.  If you are hosting the big meal and you are not the organized control freak that I am, don’t try to do it yourself.  Give away some of the work and look for shortcuts on the chores you choose to keep.  There is nothing written that says the in-laws can’t bring a large bowl of mashed potatoes instead of dessert.  Depending on how many people you have coming, delegate as many of the pieces of the meal you can.

Make it fun.  Challenge family and friends to come up with a recipe that no one has tried before.  See if guests can come up with a creative side dish or dessert.  If your kitchen is big enough, invite everyone over early and get cooking.  Make it clear that the kitchen is a judgment free zone and that no matter how the meal comes out, you are thankful just to be in each other’s company.

Plan ahead.  Make a list of all the tasks you need to get done including shopping.  Break the list down into doable chunks by day.  Having one or two things to do each day is better than trying to cram it all into one.

Delegate!  Give kids age appropriate tasks and if you have a significant other in your life, make sure they are putting in equal time.  Don’t refuse help.  If a family member offers to come over early and help set the table, accept.  Make it a family event where everyone pitches in.

If you are not hosting the event this year, then offer help early on.  If the person hosting is a control freak (yes, like me) then offer to bring the wine or other beverages or perhaps an appetizer.  Don’t take no for an answer.   Suggest ideas to make the event fun.  Be a co-host.  Show up a little early and help set up, or help clean up after the meal.

Most of all…Breath!  Stop, take a moment, and remember that through it all, you are lucky to have friends and family to surround yourself with, even if some of those people drive you a little crazy.  If being with these people causes you too much stress, don’t go.  We eventually stopped going to my ex’s family’s house for holidays all together and went to a friend’s instead.  It was much more fun and relaxing and we found other ways to spend time with the in-laws that were much less stressful.

There are no hard and fast rules here people. Trying to take this one day and make it perfect is pointless.  Keep the perspective where it belongs.  Smile, have fun and enjoy!  Life is too short to be upset over a bunch of burned dinner rolls.