Give yourself a holiday during the holidays.

The holidays are here.

Are you excited? Did you plan your Thanksgiving meal weeks ago? Has a frozen turkey claimed a shelf in your freezer yet? Is there some type of greenery up and decorated for Christmas in your living room?

Or, are these questions adding to an ever-growing anxiety that started earlier this week when you realized you haven’t taken down the Halloween decorations yet and the calendar on the wall still shows the month of September and the kids are home from school next week with nothing to keep them busy and you have no idea what to fix and this is your year to host?

Whew! Take a breath. Never fear because the holidays are here. Instead, try re-thinking how you get through them.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary offers four definitions of the word holiday.

  • A holy day
  • A day in which one is exempt from work in commemoration of an event like July 4th.
  • A vacation
  • A period of exemption of relief

Thanksgiving and Christmas embody each of these definitions. They are holy days. They are days we commemorate important events. They are a time of vacation from school or work.

But relief? Can’t honestly say I’ve always seen them as a time of relief or exemption. Instead, I find myself occupied with menus and schedules, running in five different directions feeling as though I’m meeting myself coming in the door as I run out the door for another errand or responsibility.

So how can we find relief during a season when pressure around us screams we must be perfect cooks, hostesses, party guests, gift-givers, family members, neighbors, spouses and parents? My amazing mother taught me the secrets to this, and I’ll pass them on to you.

First, don’t be afraid to simplify your holidays.

My mother served fantastic pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and scrumptious pecan pies at Christmas. After I was married, I asked her for the recipes.

Mama smiled. “My pumpkin is a very simple recipe. Just go to the frozen desserts aisle of the supermarket and grab a  pie.”

My jaw dropped. “You’re kidding.”

Mama shook her head. “We have over forty people here for the holidays and some of them I see only twice a year. I’m not going to wear myself out making everything homemade. I want to save my energy for talking and loving on my family.”

“But what about your pecan pie?”

“The recipe is on the back of Karo Syrup bottle. I buy the crust in the frozen foods section too. I bake the pies the day before so it saves even more time.”

And did my family care? Not. One. Bit. Every year those pies disappeared behind satisfied smiles.

Second, stop trying to create holiday scenes that rival something out of Hollywood.

We’ve all seen those movies. Homes decorated with perfect, symmetrical trees, covered in color coordinated, designer ornaments. Staircases festooned with red velvet ribbons and fresh greenery that neither sheds nor browns. Matched sets of Christmas china and silverware adorn polished dining room tables.  Guests are dressed in holiday finery rivaling every Christmas catalog known to man. The hostess glides between her guests, every hair in place, her smile radiant as she anticipates their needs.

My mother had her own version. She bought cute Thanksgiving and Christmas napkins from the grocery store.

She served food on matching red plates. PLASTIC plates. And plastic cups.

We never ate at the same table, either. With forty plus people in attendance, we scattered about my parents’ home in small groups, with kids seated at designated tables on non-carpeted floors to minimize messes.

The house was noisy, bustling and few of us were catalog ready. We never felt let down that we didn’t eat on the good stuff. To us, the food and the conversations we shared was the good stuff.

Third, delegate, delegate, delegate.

As our family grew,  mother spread cooking responsibilities among all of us. She chose the meat, usually ham since none of us are huge fans of turkey, then directed us to bring sides to compliment. She arose early in the morning, placed the ham in the oven and slow cooked the meat until dinner was ready. Boxed macaroni and cheese for the grandkids, mashed potatoes and gravy plus store bought rolls rounded out her contributions.

The rest she left up to us. The food table was always spread with a wide variety of yummy dishes and desserts. I have four older brothers and scads of nephews. No man in our family ever went without at least two refills of their plates.

When it was time to leave, Mama sent leftovers home in empty butter or Cool Whip tubs.

We all helped with washing the pots and pans while she sat and played with grandkids or caught up on family happenings.

Lastly, she taught me how add and subtract activities while still creating holiday magic

Mama loved making magic, especially during the holidays. But raising six children and helping Daddy with the farm left little time for special activities. She found a way to infuse the holiday spirit into every day without running herself into the ground.

You can too with these simple suggestions:

Use those plastic plates. No washing dishes or worries about little hands breaking a beloved heirloom and folks can get a clean one without extra fuss. They come in festive red or green and you can choose coordinating holiday napkins to add some flair.

Make slice and bake cookies rather than cookies from scratch. They’re quick, cute, tasty and kids love to help. Our college aged boys still ask for them every Christmas.

Instead of sending Christmas cards and newsletters, send Christmas emails or texts with a funny family photo. They take less time and when you think about it, they are much more personalized.

Gift cards are fabulous. Many in my family prefer them. The kids can have the fun and responsibility of shopping for themselves and the adults can have a shopping spree on you.

Don’t wear yourself out baking for neighbors, coworkers or church friends. In previous centuries, people created baskets with nuts and fruits to give as gifts. Buy holiday themed gift boxes, create an assortment with apples, pears, oranges, nuts, chocolates, etc., and give those to neighbors and friends instead. We’re all trying to eat healthier and would appreciate fewer pounds to lose after the holidays.

Buy rolls of plain white shelf paper or butcher paper. Have your kids decorate the rolls with Christmas designs or pictures. Let them use it to wrap gifts for family members.

Create a holiday job jar. Write tasks your children could do on red and green construction paper and put them in the jar. Have them pick two a day to help you get ready for the holidays. Find a special “holiday salary” like candy, extra TV or video game time, etc. as payment for completion of the job. They will have something to keep them busy and your to-do list is shortened.

Keep those well-loved holiday traditions that bring the magic. They will be what your family remembers and cherishes. Make new ones whenever you can.

Go back and re-read those definitions. Plan how you can make all of them a part of your holiday celebrations.

Wishing you a wonderful, restful, relief-filled holiday season.

Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead!  1 Peter 1:6 NLT

 

See you in the new year, and keep striving to thrive!

 

 

Merry Christmas!

 

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Circling Buzzards

Farmers hate the sight of circling buzzards in the sky. Their black merry-go-round usually signals an animal is in distress. On my dad’s dairy farm, it meant a cow was down.

When life’s buzzards are circling, get on your feet

We’d seen the buzzards and went searching. In the late morning we found the cow lying down in a back corner of a field. Her sides caved with each shallow breath. She shivered and grunted. The calf inside her was stuck.

Daddy went to his truck and gathered the tools and ropes needed to help her. As he worked, I watched the buzzards flying overhead, dipping closer with each rotation.

An hour passed before Daddy pulled the calf into the world. Within minutes, the young bull stood on shaky legs and walked to his mother. He touched his pink nose against her flank and called to her with his baby-wail.

Her ears flickered. Her breaths still whooshed like a steam engine’s chugging. The cow sat up, then tried to stand, but her legs crumpled beneath her and she belly-flopped onto the ground. She stared ahead, eyes wide, gasping.

The buzzards landed nearby. They folded their wings to their sides, congregated together and took a collective step toward the cow.  Daddy waved his arms then clapped loudly as he bellowed at the feathered intruders. The buzzards squawked, hopped a few feet away.

And waited.

“We’ll give her another minute. If she can’t get up, we’ll take the calf to the barn. I’ll come back for her by myself.” I knew what those words meant. Daddy would have to end her misery, and he didn’t want me to watch.

“Come on Mama. Get up.” I whispered to myself.

The calf released a high pitched cry, and staggered close to his mother’s head. She drew a deep, grunting breath and rolled onto her stomach. After a few failed attempts, she struggled to her feet, swayed, then righted herself.

She swung her head and called to her calf with a soft, low-pitched note. As her calf nursed, she licked the afterbirth from his fur.

And the buzzards? They flexed their wings and flew away.

We herded the cow and her calf toward the barn. The way was long. Her steps were stiff and slow. She stopped often, sucked in shallow breaths, then gave a soft “moo” to her calf to follow as she continued on.

 When we reached the barn, Mama shuffled into the empty pen and crumpled on the bed of hay Daddy spread for her. She lay her head down, taking little notice of anything around her as she looked ahead glassy-eyed.

 “Is she dead?” I asked as I watched her baby lie down and snuggle against her.
Daddy shook his head. “She’s still breathing. It’s all up to her now. She decides if she wants to live or not. We’ll let her rest.” We filled a bucket with fresh water for her and left the barn.

Late in the day, we came to check on her. She sat on her belly, and looked at us as we watched her chew the few strands of hay hanging from her mouth. Her calf stood nearby, his belly bulging from a recent meal.

Daddy smiled. “Looks like she made up her mind to live.”

Mama had made her choice. No matter how terrible things looked in the moment, no matter how many buzzards circled above waiting to make her their next meal, she had to get back up on her feet.

Because somebody needed her.

Life’s difficult challenges often circle over our heads. Divorce, errant children, illness, aging parents, and financial struggles bring tremendous pain. They sap our strength and we find ourselves crippled by despair, without any hope of getting up.

When the buzzards of life are circling you, remember Mama. Take steps to help yourself get off the ground.

  • Reach out for help. Talk to someone who will encourage, advise and aid you.
  • Remind yourself what the Psalmist said, that God is with us in the Valley of death, ready to send us the strength we need. (Psalm 23)
  •  Rest. Take time to breathe, rejuvenate your spirit and build back your strength.

Then, get back up, Friend. We need you.

Keep striving to thrive.

Praying you have a great week. Leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Don’t look out…look up

Life is unpredictable. One day everything looks great, we’re out mowing the grass, chauffeuring the kids around town or paying the bills when we’re blindsided by things like cancer, job loss or death of a loved one.  We find ourselves flattened like a soda can on the pavement. In times like these, we yearn for comfort and peace, but don’t know where to turn.

The first thing we can do is look up. 

Colin Ellard, Ph.D., and author of the article “Look Up: The Surprising Joy of Raising Your Gaze” believes certain areas of our brains are stimulated when we look up. These areas are thought to be where we plan artistic creations, ponder, dream and pray. By looking up, we engage these centers and enable them to help us work through our problems and see more encouraging outcomes.

Looking up gives us something other than our problems to think about

When we look up we see white clouds floating on the wind. We notice tree branches dancing in the breeze. We can gaze at chirping birds soaring through uncluttered space. We hear their lilting songs.  The inhabitants of the sky seem to move at slow, peaceful speeds compared to us earth dwellers. These sights, sounds and colors offer a brief respite from our worries.

Looking up allows us to see beyond our physical boundaries

When we look up we see the infinite and eternal. The endless blue sky during the day or a velvety black canvas dotted with stars stretching through outer space. We are reminded that the universe is an amazing miracle, and the one who created it still reigns over his creation, including us. We can lay our problems at his feet and help will come. That help may not always solve our problems in the way we desire, but it does bring endurance and courage to face them.

One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Psalm 121. “I will lift mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” (KJV) Growing up in Florida, I had no hills to look up to, but I loved the thought that help comes from above. I believe many folks would agree with me.

Think about it for a moment… how many movies have you seen where all seemed lost, then the characters looked up to the hills, or the mountains or even the sky and saw their heroes coming in to rescue them? Those screen writers knew the secret.When all seems lost, look up.

So look up my friend. It works.

Praying all the best for you as you keep striving to thrive.

I will lift mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help

Leave a comment, I’d love to chat!

 

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Go Gators!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved alligators. I think I’ve watched every nature special and read almost every book about them. I’ve visited Gatorland and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm multiple times. I’m even a graduate of the University of Florida, which makes me a Florida Gator. Go Gators!

Alligators possess an amazing ability to survive. They’ve outlasted the dinosaurs, come back from near-extinction and managed to thrive living alongside us humans. That reigns as quite an accomplishment in a state as ever-changing as Florida.  So what can those of us who are striving to thrive learn from these toothy neighbors?

First, we can learn that sometimes we have to move. During Florida’s dry season, gators will leave their normal lake and river homes in search of something better. Our news abounds with stories of them taking up residence in swimming pools, back yards, and ponds on golf courses. The trip to their new home is difficult, as alligators were designed for mobility in the water, not land. But they keep moving forward, one lumbering step at a time. In life, we humans often face dry seasons. Grief, anger, bitterness and fear make us feel anchored to a desolate place with no hope of change. We may feel the journey to our more fertile land is too difficult or long. Like the traveling alligators, we must push forward, knowing there is a place far more habitable waiting for us at the end.

Second, we can learn to try new strategies to help us move forward from a bad place. Alligators are crafty, adaptable creatures. When water levels in  the Florida Everglades fall, the alligators will dig “gator holes.” These fill with water and provide a habitat for other wildlife. These also provide the alligators a steady food source as animals come to the gator holes to drink. Some gators in our state have learned other strategies to aid them in surviving, like how to push through pool screens or how to climb a chain link fence to get to the little dog housed within. Gator’s run on instinct, and when their tiny brains fix on prey, they figure out a way to obtain their desired meal. We often find ourselves in a place where none of our go-to methods work. We feel lost, helpless and weak. We need a new plan. We need to find a way to keep moving forward.

At these times, we can turn to God and remember what he tells us in 2 Chronicles 15:7. “But as for you be strong and do not give up, for you will be rewarded.” (New International Version). Alligators don’t rank high on the intelligence scale, but they have managed to persevere far better than most members of the animal kingdom. They don’t give up, they adapt.

You can, too. So take care of yourself and keep striving to thrive!

What are some ways you’ve discovered that helped you move on from a tough place? Please share in a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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