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Not What I Intended

4 Dec

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Tis the season to feel overwhelm and as much as I love this season, I am not immune to the overwhelm myself. It used to be just the gift buying and keeping up with the activity that challenged me. Now that I have grown to a place of financial comfort, I have a new challenge. I find myself questioning what is appropriate to give to my family and what is my obligation to my community and the world at large? We live in an incredibly affluent area where the median income is over $100,000. Living in an area like that can tend to give you a skewed view of the world, especially when your children have friends who are making three and four times what you make. They can see themselves as deprived when you know differently. Life can become a constant reminder of what you lack instead of the amazing privileges you have. Adding to that is having many wealthy friends of color, so understanding the nature of the world can be a challenge. We do know others, however, that have much more challenging lives, which keeps things in perspective most of the time.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I got a huge wake-up call earlier this year when I read an article about a local school in which every child lived under the poverty line. Most shared a toothbrush and only owned one pair of underwear. Some had never had a bed and others lived without even a single pair of socks. This is only ten miles from my home and I was completely unaware. In that same article, I found out that my city has the second highest percentage of children living in poverty next to Detroit Michigan. That article changed me. That article made me understand for the first time in my life that poverty for children has nothing to do with choice. It made me understand that sometimes school is the safest place for a child and the only place they feel love. It made me also realize that I live in an unbelievably giving city that overwhelmed the school with its generosity. They had hoped that people would reach out to their school and help the families. They were unprepared for the 19 beds, the mountains of underwear and socks and the incredible amount of money that was donated. They were unprepared for the meal and treat donations and the pledges from civic groups to make sure that when school started this year that every child would have all the supplies they needed. The city responded and life is better for those children, but there is so much more to do. Other children live in poverty. People are homeless. As much as I want my children to have an amazing holiday season, this tugs at my soul, so I’ve decided to compromise.

I still want to provide my family with a Christmas to remember, and I will. We will have presents and meals and family time galore, but when I make a treat tray for the schools, like I do every year, I’ll make extras to share with the homeless I see on our travels through the city. I know it isn’t enough, but I also know it makes a difference to look them in the eye and see them and let them know someone is thinking about them. I’ll still make my Christmas Prep list, which I’ll share on the Better Living Daily Facebook page, but when you look at that file, you’ll see that every week includes the list item to make time for peace. Isn’t it interesting that the season of peace is sometimes the season we seem to lose our ability to find that peaceful place? Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years. Everything we do is a choice. We may not always like the choices, but in every situation, we choose to react or respond. Understanding that changed my life because I no longer feel obligated to do anything. I do it because I choose to. I send Christmas cards because I love getting them. I sometimes send them after Christmas because life gets too hectic, and I would rather take my time or add holiday pictures. I’ve been known to send a Happy New Year card instead just because it’s easier. I have figured out that the holidays are much happier when I pay for them in advance rather than after the fact. Learning to put aside a little money each month makes the holidays much less stressful. Here’s a hint. Start now for next year. If you get a year-end bonus, put at least part of it in a savings account that you don’t touch until November of next year. Adding even ten dollars a month will give you over $100 additional in the account. Do you get a tax refund? Put at least 10% of it into the holiday account. As the account grows, so will your excitement for the season. This is truly one of the greatest gifts we have given ourselves these past few years. Think carefully about what you want this season to be. Do you want it to be fun and social? Do you want it to be quiet and peaceful? Choose your actions accordingly. I happen to be someone who loves a fun and festive holiday season. My philosophy is the more the merrier and there’s always room for one more. I know others who are looking for a more quiet, peaceful season and are choosing differently. Each choice is valid and will be what brings each of us joy, and isn’t that the point?

You know, when I think about what to write and talk about each week, I rarely have a definitive subject in mind until I sit down at the keyboard. Most of the time, I don’t even feel like the author of what I write which may be why I have such an aversion to editing. The words come from getting out of my own way and letting the muse, the Divine or whatever you want to call it take over. Sometimes I get humor. Sometimes I get serious subjects, but I always end up getting some perspective I never really thought about before. Life can be that way when you are open to the Divine leading your life rather than trying to wrestle it to the ground yourself. I feel like I actually have a much better life because instead of wanting things to happen in a certain way, I focus more on how I want to feel and be in this world. I ask myself what I want, not in terms of how everything should play out, but in how I want to feel. At night, I always want to feel peaceful and loving as I drift off to sleep. I bless all those I love and all those who need and want love and ask for protection for all. When I wake, I am grateful for another day and ask to fulfill my Divine purpose in the best way possible. It doesn’t always mean a perfect day. In fact, it rarely means a perfect day, but it puts my mind and spirit on a path to make it an extraordinary day regardless of what happens because I am focused on doing my best and doing my best will be the focus for the next few weeks as we head into Christmas and the new year.

Speaking of Christmas, I want to let you in on a little secret. I live in a part of the world that is politically correct in their speech and diverse in their religion and ethnic background. Never once has anyone ever been offended by my wishing them a Merry Christmas or even by my giving them a Christmas present, and I have done both. I am not offended that all of my children learned to play the dreidel game and sing the dreidel song. I am not offended that my children have witnessed their Muslim friends sit through lunch or even play soccer during Ramadan and refuse even a sip of water or morsel of food. I am not offended that my children know what Diwali is and when it is celebrated. I’m not even offended that some of my children’s friends not only don’t believe in my God or my traditions, but are critical of them. From our Jewish friends, our children have learned about persecution, practical faith and giving. From our Muslim friends, our children have learned about commitment, perseverance and devotion. From our Hindu friends, our children have learned dedication, hard work and always doing your best. From out atheist friends, our children have learned critical thinking and to question why we believe as we do. Hopefully, the friends of my children have learned acceptance and love from my children. I have often said that the world could learn a few lessons from the children of our school district, and it is my hope and prayer that as my children go into this world as adults that they share their understanding and promote peace wherever they go.

So here we are again, somewhere I did not intend to go, but went anyway. I hope you got a nugget of perspective and perhaps a nugget of hope. I believe in perspective. I believe in love, and I believe when we stop being angry with each other and blaming each other, we will finally be able to walk in peace. I love you all more than you know, and I wish you the best holiday season you’ve ever had. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Searching for Holiday Happiness

5 Nov

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I know talking about the holidays makes some people’s skin crawl. So many are dreading what’s to come, but they are coming whether we want them to or not. Thanksgiving in the US is a mere three weeks away. There will be challenges. We will all have them. Some easily rise to the challenge. Some whine through the challenge and some run from it. The irony is that if we whine or run from the challenge, nothing changes. We will be faced with the same type of challenge over and over until we figure it out. Have you ever noticed that? I think that is especially true during the holidays. We have this idea of the perfect holiday season, and then we look at our finances, our home or our relationships and realize the perfection we imagine might be beyond our reach, and that sends us spiraling downward. None of us is without challenge, but how we approach the challenge can be the difference between a holiday season of peace and joy and one of stress and angst.

Let me start by saying that I am a failure; at least I could look at it that way. Last month, I joined a creativity bootcamp with the idea of finishing and publishing a book about getting through the holidays. It was going to be a step by step guide to help those who need it. This is the second time I attempted to write this book, and I failed to finish it. Am I a failure? I’m sure some would say yes, but in truth, the vision for the book got bigger, so it has been postponed again. I actually have several ideas for books rolling around in my head and on several pieces of paper. I also have ideas for webinars, speaking engagements and future radio shows. Very often it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day because “real life” gets in the way, but real life is what I’ve chosen for now. I made a commitment to being a mom and with ADHD to deal with in my son and myself, some days it’s all I can handle, so for now, the book is on hold; perhaps next year.

If we’re willing to look, the greatest gifts, though, from the challenges we face show up as compassion and gratitude later on. We can look at what we’ve faced and then look at others in moments of challenge with grace. That doesn’t mean you have to dive down in the suffering and be at one with it. I would even suggest that commiserating with someone’s challenge only helps to keep them there. It provides no solution. Unfortunately, many would rather wallow in the challenge than look for the solution. They don’t want help. They want to justify their suffering. They aren’t ready to move on from their suffering to be joyful, and I think that’s sad, because when you focus on the suffering, you keep away the joy. That is the personification of misery loving company. I have felt the blues during the holidays. I have looked into the abyss, but I have learned from it. I have learned that I never want to pull anyone into that abyss with me but retreating can often make the spiral go deeper and longer than ever. We continue to ask what’s wrong with me. We tell ourselves that we should be grateful, but we focus on the problem when the most important question to ask is what you can do to get out of the dark place. The holiday blues are not inevitable or maybe they are, but they can be a short stop on the journey instead of somewhere you unpack and roll around in the muck. You can rise above them to have an incredible holiday season. In hopes of helping those who would like it, I have created a list of ten things to improve your mood before you slide into the abyss this holiday season. There are many more, but this is definitely a start:

1. Take care of yourself. Take a shower. Dress in nice clothes even if you have nowhere to go. Paint your nails or put on makeup if that helps you feel better. Eat healthy food and drink plenty of water. These are simple things that can start to bring you out of a funk.

2. Meditate. It has been said that when you pray, you speak to the Divine. When you meditate, the Divine speaks to you. If you’re new to meditation, I would suggest finding a guided meditation on YouTube. Meditation changed my life and it can change yours too.

3. Breathe and become aware of your body. As you breathe, consciously relax your forehead, your shoulders, your spine and your stomach. Releasing tension like this is incredibly calming and can help you slide right into the meditation experience mentioned above.

4. Listen to music that brings you joy. If you’re not sure what that music is, think of movies you like and look for the soundtrack. It can be especially fun if the movies are from your childhood.

5. Do something for someone else. Rake your neighbor’s leaves when they’re at work. Bake cupcakes for the neighborhood kids. Put $20 in an envelope and anonymously drop it into a needy family’s mailbox. Make soup for a sick friend. Don’t have a sick friend? Make soup and freeze if for when you have a sick friend. Send a gift card to someone who needs a pick me up. Write a thank you note to someone who positively affected your life. I could do an entire blog post just on random acts of kindness, and I assure you, when you do a kindness for someone who cannot pay you back, you receive as much as you give.

6. Open yourself to receiving. In our culture, we have this idea that we must give more than we receive, and it is wearing us out and killing us. We have this saying that it is better to give than to receive, but if we aren’t willing to receive, how can anyone give? Think of it this way, why are you the only person that should be allowed into Heaven? If you don’t give others the opportunity to give, you keep them from becoming their best selves. Nothing is sadder to me than a person who says they don’t want to burden their friends with their problems. What the heck are friends for? They are there to lift you out of the muck and to deny them that hurts both of you. Stop it! Be willing to be vulnerable and sad and frustrated so others know they are not alone and so both of you can find out that people care. They really, really care. This concept changed so much for me. Start with a compliment. The next time someone compliments you resist the urge to negate the compliment. If someone compliments you on how you look, thank them and tell them how nice it is of them to say. Leave it at that or repay the compliment with one of your own. If someone compliments your talent, say thank you and tell them you’re glad they enjoyed it. Don’t talk about all of the flaws or mistakes you see. Let that person help you be joyful and inspire you to be grateful for the compliment. People like to make others feel good. Let them!

7. Indulge in a healthy guilty pleasure. Love popcorn? Pop some. Love sappy, chick flicks? Watch one. Love being creative? Paint, write, create. Give yourself a short time out to do something that brings you joy. Some days you may have to do several little things. Some days it may be one big thing, but find joy in every day. If you are a parent of young children, watch them sleep for two minutes. Listen to them breathe. When my boys were little, nothing brought me more joy than rocking my children to sleep at night because I was given the gift of watching them drift off to wherever boys go to dream, of listening to their peaceful breathing and of just holding that moment of peace. If you’re children are away at college like mine, you can go sit in their room and remember the best of times with them. If you don’t have children, pull out an old photo album and look through your own wonderful memories. The possibilities of finding precious moments in your past are endless.

8. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This quote by Gandhi has been running through my mind for the past several months, and I think it is magical. If you want the world to be a kinder place, be a kinder person and guess what? The world is a kinder place because of you. If you want the world to be filled with love, be a more loving person, and you have made your own wish come true. I think this goes hand in hand with treating your neighbor as you would like to be treated, and the best part is that you don’t need anyone else to change to make you happy because you are being the change instead. Right now, I want more love, peace and kindness in the world, which is plenty to keep me busy for now.

9. Stop being offended and stop taking things personally. This is one I am still working on. Yesterday someone wrote something on Facebook that offended me. Imagine that. It was a response to something I said, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a veiled insult to the kind of person I am. You see, I am generally a happy, go lucky person. I believe that there is more good in this world than bad. I believe in the intrinsic goodness of human beings. I believe we are born filled with love and must be taught and conditioned to be fearful and filled with hate. When you believe that and let people know it, they have some interesting responses. The first and most insulting is that I am stupid and uninformed. The other thing people seem to think about me because I am positive and happy is that I have no problems. Honestly, this is where I started today’s post/ radio show idea, and why I decided to write this list.

10. Live differently. If you don’t like your life, change it or change you. What if you or a family member had a very real chance of not making it through the day? Would you continue to act the way you do or think the way you do? If not, be the person you would be if you knew your time was limited because guess what? It is. Put the petty crap aside and get to living and loving better. You will still have issues but your molehills of cluttered garages, toast crumbs in the butter and piles of laundry stay molehills instead of blowing up into huge, stupid mountains. It’s interesting to think that your mountains might be someone else’s molehills. Are your mountains really mountains? I remember holiday seasons when I barely had enough money to buy gifts for my children. They may have been the most creative times I ever had finding gifts that would bring them joy and keep our family afloat financially. Perhaps the greatest thing I ever heard was that Jesus only got three gifts, why do your children need any more than that? A sobering thought indeed. Take the focus off of what you think you need to do and put the focus on who you want to be and the way you want the season to feel. You will approach everything differently. You will clean up your home to have a peaceful space. You will buy gifts to bless others instead of just checking names off of a list. I hope it will help you find peace, joy, love and grace every day of this season. Will there still be issues? Of course. Will people still get under your skin? Probably, but it isn’t about them. It’s about you having your best season ever. That’s what I wish for you not only for the next eight weeks, but for the rest of your life.
Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Rediscovering Peace and Harmony

22 Sep

Yesterday I was feeling out of sorts. I had just spent the weekend with those I love most and several of them had left our home. I love having them here, but I tend to do a few things differently when they’re here. I eat more than I should. I eat foods that aren’t healthy for my body. I stay up too late, and I get emotional when it’s time for everyone to leave. The day after everyone is gone feel like I have an emotional hangover. My body hurts. My brain is fuzzy, and I have no motivation to do anything. I spend so much time preparing for everyone’s arrival and having fun while they’re here, but I never give a thought about when they leave, and it throws me off track nearly every time. Yesterday I did manage to straighten up my home and even clean my shower, but it felt like a monumental effort to just make it through the day.

This morning, I got on social media much earlier than I usually do. I was still reeling and feeling disconnected and emotional. My body still hurt. I was still tired even after getting adequate sleep. I was still unmotivated and sent up a little prayer for help. The answers came fast and furious, perhaps because I was looking for them. Everything I read or listened to seemed to point me toward the terms peace and harmony. Just reading those words and thinking about them started a shift in my mind and my body. Have you ever read something that changed your physiology on the spot? Reading the word harmony did that for me today. I could feel my body start to relax as I released the tension I’ve been carrying around. I could feel my attitude about the day and several situations in my life begin to transform. The idea of living in harmony with life took hold and I began to think about what it would be like to live in harmony with life for the next 85 days and beyond.

If you check the calendar, 85 days from now is December 16th. On my Better Living Daily Facebook page, I am counting down to that day. Why December 16th? Well, that’s the day that all of my family members will be finished with school and work until after Christmas. That’s the day that I’m hoping to have all of my shopping, wrapping and pre-cooking finished so that I can relax and enjoy the holidays as much as the rest of my family. The thought of living those 85 days in peace and harmony rather than in stress and angst is truly exciting. Although I am truly more of a go with the flow kind of girl, I have learned over the past couple of decades that if I have a plan to get to where I want to go, I get there faster and with less stress. At one time in my life, I was the girl that pulled the all nighters because I put off writing papers and studying for exams until the last minute. I was the mom wrapping presents at 2am that would be unwrapped four hours later on Christmas Day. I would be late to parties because I had to stop on the way to buy the birthday card. Ok, I still do that one on occasion, but I’ve learned that planning and working ahead avoid so much stress, and I am determined to do that this year for the holidays. I know it drives some people batty to even talk about Christmas before Halloween, but for my own sanity, I need to start thinking about it. From Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey, I’ve learned to plan ahead financially and already have money saved for gifts and other holiday purchases. Through FlyLady, I’ve learned to take care of my home and plan my decorating and baking schedules. From Saving Dinner, I’ve learned to plan menus for Thanksgiving and Christmas and even the days before and after so I’m not scrambling to feed my family on the days immediately before and after the holidays. All of these programs have helped me to have a more peaceful end to each year, but harmony is something different. Harmony goes beyond peace for me. Harmony is what allows me to smile when that relative offers a back handed insult in the form of a question, like, “Do you think you really need that piece of pumpkin pie?” Harmony is what allows me to sit amongst the chaos of 60+ people and revel in the joy of a day spent with family. Harmony is understanding that no matter what anyone else’s situation is, I don’t have to feel guilty about my many blessings. On the flip side, though, harmony is also realizing that when I feel like whining because my life isn’t going as planned, it could be much worse. Right now, I know a couple who is trying to get their toddler stabilized to travel halfway around the country to have open heart surgery for the second time. Nothing in my life compares to that. Sunday, when I was feeling all weepy about my children all leaving to go back to college, I remembered a friend whose daughter will not be coming home at all. If that doesn’t adjust your attitude, nothing will. Is it weird that I can find harmony because of someone else’s struggle? Perhaps, but for me, I imagine myself telling that person my troubles and thinking about their response; because I remember being the mom with a sick baby in the hospital listening to others complain about their healthy baby waking up several times through the night. I wanted to shake them and ask them if they had any idea what a gift they had to be able to have their baby at home with them. I didn’t, but I certainly wanted to. I wasn’t at peace. I didn’t feel harmonious at that moment, but eventually I did make peace with my son’s medical condition and fifteen years later, his doctor calls him the rock star because we’ve worked hard to keep him healthy all of these years.

In the past, this is a challenging time of year for me. I am not a fan of autumn because I know winter is coming and I will be more confined and the grey cold is on its way. Before I had children in school, I always took vacations in September or October and again in February or March to beat the winter blues. Now that my children are older, I have been blessed to take a few days in January the past few years and spend them with one of my favorite people on the planet in the warmth of Florida. It restores my soul in more ways than I can tell you to walk along the beach and observe the peace and harmony of nature and hang out with one of the most positive people I know. Last year, though, as autumn and winter approached, I could feel the irritation rising, especially since I have so many friends who seem to enjoy the falling leaves and temperatures. Their joy became my sorrow. Their celebrations deepened my mourning. It was awful. This year, I decided that enough is enough. This year I want to embrace the seasons rather than resist them because what is the use of resisting something that you cannot change? After years of fighting it, I am looking to find a blessing in every day. I have decided to do a countdown on the Facebook page to help me pass the time in a more productive, peaceful and harmonious manner. It may not work perfectly, but I imagine it will work much better than my past methods of grumbling and turning my nose up at the joy of others. Believing in a higher power, I think that is what the higher power would want as well, so here I go. I will remind myself often that peace is a choice. I will, as much as possible, be in harmony with all that is, and where there is disharmony, I will know that there is room for growth and change. It may not be perfect, but perfection isn’t the goal because peace and harmony are so much more interesting. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Do Better December 26th 2014 Post-Holiday Recovery

26 Dec

Do Better December 26th 2014 Post-Holiday Recovery.

Do Better December 26th 2014 Post-Holiday Recovery

26 Dec

To listen along, click here:

I woke up this morning to the aftermath of the holiday parties. My body hurts. My joints ache. I can feel the tension I have obviously been carrying in my neck and shoulders. This happens to me sometimes after a long stretch of commitments. When they are finally over, my body registers the bad eating choices, the physical stress and maybe even some of the emotional stress I have built up over the past few weeks. It is not life threatening, although it can be life altering. It slows me down, but I have the choice of how to handle it and whether it stops me entirely.

I want to curl up on the couch and watch movies all day. I want to have the house magically clean itself, and I want my body to release the aches and pain I am feeling. I want someone other than me to cook incredibly healthy food that tastes better than any of the junk I’ve eaten over the past few weeks. I want my family to pitch in without being asked and voluntarily turn off their screens. Basically, I want a post-Christmas miracle, and in all of the years I have been celebrating the holidays, I have yet to see that happen. What can happen, though, is something better than a miracle. I know that sounds strange, but when you create your own magic, miracles become icing on the cake.

Creating magic usually begins with asking for help. For me it is asking my family to spend just 15 minutes helping me. It may be simply picking up and putting gifts away. It may be running the vacuum, quick mopping the floors or gathering the trash. It may be dusting or working on organizing school binders. Whatever it is, I’ve learned that there is magic in fifteen minutes, especially when it is multiplied by five which is the number of people in my family. I am continually amazed at the progress we can make when we work together. Before we work together, though, we need a plan. When I can give my family clear direction, the amount of success multiplies. A suggestion to clean up a room may show no progress at all, but a direction to fold and put away all clean clothes and pick up ten or more items to throw or give away yields visual results that my children can see and feel proud about. Working in the yard becomes weeding the front garden, trimming branches, and cutting the grass all at the same time. We can accomplish more in one hour than I can do alone in several days. It is astounding and thrilling to see. They may not love having to help, but they do love living in a home that is well taken care of, almost as much as I do.

Today, though, I choose to start with me. As soon as I have finished with today’s writing and recording, I will be heading for the gym, not for a workout, but for a pamper session. I know that spending time in the hot tub will help with my aching joints. I also know that most people would work out first and then lounge in the hot tub. If I do that, my body will hurt so much that I won’t feel the benefit of the hot tub. For me, a trip to the hot tub first will loosen everything up and release the pain. It will allow me to walk and enjoy the exercise rather than grit my teeth through it and be in pain for days. It is not the way most people would do things, but it works better for me. Then I can return home with a body that has been well taken care of and hopefully can flow through the rest of the day with ease. I know there are pain relievers I can take that will temporarily do the job, but this will do the job better and will make me feel better for the long haul, as will eating healthier.

The past few weeks have been filled with many more carbs and wheat than I usually eat. I’ve avoided the scale because no one needs that kind of stress during the holidays. I’ve done my best to eat well at home and allow myself small detours at parties. I’ve learned to eat one or two cookies instead of munching away all evening. I’ve learned to take a plate and load it up with the veggie tray items and a few other delicacies I only eat during the holidays. I’ve learned to drink water and stand as much as possible to get in a few extra steps. I have a long way to go to be fit and trim, but I know what helps and for me, no pain does not mean no gain; in my case, pain means I will not be exercising until the pain is gone and that can mean a significant gain. Again, I know it may be different from what most people do, but it works for me as long as I do what I know works.

So, on this Friday after Christmas, I am focused on just a couple of things. Today I will take extraordinary care of my body. I will treat it well, exercise it gently and feed it nourishing and energizing food. I will do some basic clean up around my home that will make it look and feel better for me. I will not do it all, nor will I try to, because I want to feel better so I can do better tomorrow. Today is truly about gentle progress, not driving myself to exhaustion. It’s about regaining my footing without pushing myself over the wall. It is about finding the tracks and getting back on them without having to make the cross country run. Today is about recovery and being kind to myself, and that feels like one of the best Christmas gifts of the season. I hope that today you can have a day that makes you smile. If you have to work today, I hope you get that day soon. A day of kindness to yourself is a gift to you and everyone you know because it recharges and renews your attitude and allows you to move on with your life in a better humor. Try it and let me know how it goes, either on the Better Living Daily Facebook page or by commenting on the blog page. You deserve a day that makes you feel better, whatever that means for you. As always, thanks for being you and have a great day!

Do Better December 24th 2014 The Christmas I Choose to Have

24 Dec

Do Better December 24th 2014 The Christmas I Choose to Have.

Do Better December 24th 2014 The Christmas I Choose to Have

24 Dec

To listen along, click here:
For those of us who celebrate Christmas, today is Christmas Eve. For us, it’s the day when my husband’s family gathers at my sister in law’s house, all 70 to 80 of us. We have four generations with one mom, nine children, most of whom have significant others, twenty eight grandchildren, some of whom have significant others, and over 30 great grandchildren, with a few significant others. There is pandemonium and chaos and tons of fun. Gifts, hugs and teasing are the order of the day, and I always leave there smiling, not because of any gift I get, but because of the love that is shared. On Christmas morning, I celebrate with my immediate family. I spend time with my all of my boys together, which is a rare treat with jobs, girlfriends and school. We have a quiet morning filled with the same love, laughter and teasing, and I feel the blessing of the season. Then it’s time to host the grandmas for a quiet and relaxing afternoon. It may not sound like much, but I love it. It’s not about the gifts. It’s not about the parties. It’s about spending time with the ones I love, especially the ones I don’t see as much as I would like. It’s about re-connecting and just being. Some years I do it with more grace than others, and this year has been one of the more graceful.

I don’t know why this year is different. Maybe it’s because I’m acutely aware of others’ suffering this year. I know so many who are struggling with strained relationships, loss of a loved one or serious illness. It makes my problems of figuring out gifts and logistics seem small and nothing to get worked up about. It makes me look at my home and realize it doesn’t have to be immaculate to host a loving and fun gathering. It just has to be presentable. It makes me look in the mirror and understand that my body doesn’t have to be model thin or even thin at all to be worthy because love isn’t measured in pounds. It used to be that I compared my life to others’ and wondered what I might be missing. I would look at the things they had that I thought I wanted and my life never seemed to measure up. It was sad and defeating to do that, so I stopped. I changed my focus and changed my life.

Now instead of looking at what I lack, I move toward what I want. It may seem like the same thing, but I assure you it isn’t. There is a difference in looking at your bank account in misery because you wish it was bigger and looking at that same number as a starting point of building wealth. There is a difference between looking in the mirror and criticizing your body and choosing to eat healthier and move more. There is a huge difference in looking at what others have in terms of what you lack and looking at your own life and deciding what you would like to add. This holiday season has been about being peaceful and kind rather than drivingly focused and controlling. It’s been a season of doing what I can and letting go of the rest. It’s been about releasing resistance to those things I can do nothing about and just going with the flow, and most of the time, it has actually worked this season.

I don’t share any of this to brag or even say that anyone should aspire to be like me. I share it because I’m guessing there are at least a few people out there who would like to have a more peaceful holiday season next year or even now. I want them to know it is possible to do that. I want everyone to know that although there may be moments of stress, the tone of the season can be peaceful. It has nothing to do with anyone else. It has to do with you and sometimes the most amazing thing you can do is learn to say no. You do not have to attend every party you are invited to. You do not have to give everyone, including the mail carrier and the garbage workers, a gift. You do not have to cook a twelve course meal, from scratch, and serve it on twelve different styles of china. You do not have to live up to anyone else’s expectations of you but your own. What will help you immensely is to choose which activities and actions will bring you joy and pursue them with all your heart.

I love getting Christmas cards and I love sending them out. Guess what? They don’t always go out before Christmas, including this year. Does that make me a bad person? No, it makes me a person who sails through the holidays with a little less stress. I love hosting my family on Christmas Day. I cook a simple meal with ham, lima beans, corn and sometimes homemade bread. My mom brings au gratin potatoes and we have Christmas cookies for dessert. These are foods that we enjoy, and they are easy to prepare. This year, we are even eating on disposable plates so clean up is easier. Our gifts are simple and practical and mostly within our budget. Peace reigns throughout the house, most of the time. We are better rested than we’ve ever been and life is good. I’ve stopped trying to top the best Christmas we have ever had because when you give each day your best effort, your best life is every day and doesn’t depend on one or two days per year. Yes, I want people to enjoy the gifts I buy, the food I cook and the time they spend with me; and the best way to make that happen is to live from the heart every day of my life. When I do that, I buy gifts that bring joy instead of grabbing whatever is available. I cook with love and everyone who has a passion for cooking will tell you that’s how you make your food taste best. I can truly enjoy those I spend time with because I focus on what’s in front of me rather than the giant to do list in the other room. It keeps me sane, grounded and peaceful and during this time of year, that is a priceless commodity.

As those of you who celebrate go through today and tomorrow, think of what will bring you peace and then do it. It isn’t about pleasing your parents, spouse or children. It’s about feeling the peace of the season in your own spirit. Until you do that, you won’t please anyone. Find your peace and you will change your brain chemistry and your bodily functions for the better. You will change your outlook on every activity, and you will uplift your spirit and the spirits of everyone you encounter. Take a deep breath. Forgive yourself for whatever you think you may be lacking and focus on what you want and can accomplish without losing your balance. Just thinking about that helps me some days, and I hope it helps you too. Tomorrow, I will be taking a day off of Do Better December to spend it with my family. If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with love and joy. If Christmas is not part of your life, I wish you a terrific Thursday still filled with love and joy. I will think of you and pray for you, and I’ll be back on Friday for some post-Christmas thoughts. Until then, choose well and be well. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

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