Monday, December 16, 2019

Joy to You! Make it Easier This Year.

I recently enrolled in a program you may have heard of called "Toastmasters," designed to make one a better public speaker. No, not to add one more thing to my plate, but rather to hone the skills needed to do the job I have and love better. I took last week's blog post and crafted my first official speech out of it. This was designed as a speech, so forgive the formatting. The assignment; a speech about something that you are passionate about (although, it might have said; "your interests or your hobbies," with research-backed bits to support your premises. Must site research. It is meant, not as a lecture, but as a personal reminder to just me, so to speak. 

Intro: Too many things on one’s to do list creates chaos and craziness, neither of which contribute to a happy holiday.
Strategies for making it joyous again.

1) Think like a Stoic; how could this situation go wrong?
The ancient roman philosophers known as Stoics knew that a life of fear, anger, envy and grief was a sad life. They observed the workings of the human mind and came up with techniques to prevent negative emotions and methods to rid oneself of them if they dared appear despite said techniques.
Think for just a moment: How could this situation possibly go wrong? What is the worst thing that could happen? (I can get carried away here too, so keep it to a thought or two.) Now aren’t you glad it didn’t go all that wrong? How lucky are you today, to be right here, right now? Did you car or your feet or your great-great auntie get you here today? It could have broken down, been broken or been out of town. Is the heat working? The furnace could have quit and we’d all be giving our speeches in parkas and mufflers.
How can this be applied to Kwanza, Yule, Hannukah or Christmas? I can look around and think that the tree might fall down and kill the pet birds or dog, or burn and take the house with it, there might not be snow, we might all get the flu- again- this year, someone I love with all my heart might not be there this Christmas. And then, I can be so very grateful for who is there and what we do have. According to Stoicism, this is not borrowing trouble, this is a way to cultivate gratitude. 
2) Simplify activities, choose wisely;
Choose according to what you need, not what your second cousin needs, what your neighbor thinks you need, (“hey, son, gonna’ get those lights up? It’s just about Thanksgiving already.”) but what you actually need to thrive and be cheery and bright.
What is it that you most treasure at this time of year? Is it the neatly lined up tins of 37 different kinds of cookies, candy and treats to share with everyone? Why does it have to be 37? Would one tin of cookies do? Would no cookies be a novel way to be healthier this year?
Is it writing to each of your friends in a card, which, may, incidentally, have turned into an annual marathon of family photo-in-October/order-before-Black-Friday-to-get-the-discount-while-cooking the turkey and homemade pies slash be the first to get them in the mail? Would writing a handful of meaningful notes later, for New Year’s wishes, perhaps, be just as fulfilling? Or maybe delegate someone else to create an email message of holiday cheer with photos or a poem?

Is it spending an afternoon in the woods with your children choosing just the right tree, chopping it down while your fingers freeze and getting full of pine resin as you strap it to the car, and bringing it home to roost? Would an artificial tree that can be kept year after year and simplify the holiday rush be a satisfactory substitute? No, it would not. Never mind. Bad idea.

Is it making homemade candles for the Solstice Spiral or the kinara?

Caroling around the community?

Making sure you have a hand-knit gift for everyone, for every single day of Hannukah?

Pick. Pick one or two.

I hereby propose that a thing done with joy and reverence is worth a dozen done in haste.

According to Seneca, echoing the modern-day philosophy of abundance; “We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.” If you interpret this to mean that using it implies being utilitarian about each and every minute, you miss the point, and miss incorporating what makes life wonderful.

3) It can be hard to let go, why is that?

Despite the success of movements like Marie Kondo; “Hold the object in your hand. Does it spark joy? If not, thank it, and let it go, preferably straight to the recycling bin,” or the Voluntary Simplicity movement before that, we are not hard-wired to let go. The basic human instinct to hoard what we have to guard against hard times to come is over-powering.

The need, however, to be constantly doing, and doing it better and doing more, is entirely a phenomenon of our fast-paced, American society. We create our own level of stress and eventually, break-down in health; mental and physical. OSHA has declared stress a “hazard of the workplace”. According to Mayo Clinic, 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments. Stress plays a role in causing headaches, high-blood pressure, anxiety, heart problems, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, depression and eczema.

In today’s world, our most prevalent attitude is one of hustling while the hustling is good, doing more, getting ahead. No one knows what tomorrow may bring. The realization that we have enough to be happy, right now, we do, is often fleeting, followed by the inevitable what-ifs.

Luckily, our earlier and more basic aptitude for finding joy in what is, here, in front of us, is even deeper and older. We know, instinctively, what gives pleasure; a good meal, a magnificent sunrise, a welcome hug, beautiful yarn on one’s needles, and the warm glow of caring and being cared for.

The courage to do less, to say no to time commitments without deep meaning for you and make space to breathe, be and enjoy what is, comes only when one has the conviction that this is the right thing to do.

Or does it? 

Maybe a trial run of taking on less, promising less, prioritizing what truly matters, and, for a week or so, for the season, for the year; doing less, (as suggested by Kate Northrup, author of "Do Less") can bring the rewards needed to make greater change, and bring greater peace on earth and in your own heart.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Outline for a Happy Holiday; Simple

5:15 on a Saturday morning, me having a cup of tea with you and writing, is my full-blown, Olaf-style happy place. The mittens I am going to work on in a little while are in that space as well. On the first Saturday in December? With so much to do and so little time? What in the world?

Something dawned on me the other day;

Making the home one in which we all feel the love, and the space for happiness, was the real job of pre-Christmas prep. You cannot do that when you are prioritizing every single outside activity and inner obligation. The math does not work. 

Advent implies expectant waiting, it means, literally; arrival or coming, and the thing that is coming toward us in the month leading up to Christmas, can look either menacing or welcome.

I have dropped the need to make everything picture-perfect this season. I do not plan on picking that mess back up off the floor. It is a thermometer of mercury, heated to boil, breaking and now scattered, rolling under furniture, out doors and away. 

I am going for peace, because perfection is a stress-bomb in the making. Peace is up to me and the rest is not. There will be food and gifts, yes, lucky us! And there is a real tree standing, as yet, unadorned, in the middle of the sunroom smelling like pine, the manger and its inhabitants have settled onto the usual table. But as to the rest, it can take its time. I am doing what makes the season happy, and finding harmony is at the top of my list.

A number of "must-dos" have been crossed off early, and it helps. However, a much larger number of "usual should-dos" have been eliminated. It will be a busy month, but the busy will be of our choosing and not imposed by what I think I should be doing.

Last night we got out and enjoyed the Christmas walk downtown among the small, local shops. The weather was right (you know; "winter-right", hovering around 30 F), and the lights were beautiful. It was the first time I had gone in years and years, a pity. The Christmas walks of my childhood, in the historic district and at the Ham House in Dubuque, were my favorite outings of all.

Today I am headed to Des Moines to celebrate 50 years of life, 43 of friendship, with a friend, because it is important; to her, to me. Life is looking well-lived  and as precious as it truly is. Happiness is right here. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Request: "More Photos"

This is for Irena, Godmother to Duncan, who would like less yacking and more photos. Note for Irena; I just figured out yesterday how to get photos from computer to blog again. Here are the kids!

                          A stained-glass window student creation: by Gael and three others.

                                         Snow-boarding on the great slopes of Iowa
        Visiting the U of Chicago with Valentine; The Robie House across the street from campus
(*Note: I am working on the photo quality problem. I will meet with my tech guy as soon as he has a free minute. The pictures look good on the photo ap, and dreadful here...any ideas?)
                                                  Lunch with the sisters in Chicago

                              Homecoming, Davenport Central, senior year (Valentine in white on left)
                     Performance of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" Valentine as Gracie.
Boys helping and kayaking for Floatzilla; a world-record-setting annual attempt on the Mississippi River; greatest number of kayaks joined in one spot at one time.

                                       On Cate's windy rooftop garden in Chicago
It has become more and more of a challenge to get smiling faces in photos; next time I'll dangle a pack of beef jerkey in front of the camera...
Fall garland; my autumn knitting project completed in time for...Thanksgiving. I was grateful, and it must come down to make way for Christmas. Today is St. Nicholas and the stockings are hung and waiting.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Traveling the Great Southwest

Not this one, this one is home, a couple of weeks ago. 

                                Palm Springs, California, visiting a friend here from France.
Breakfast as served by the pool in Palm Springs on a sunny morning. Believe it or not, every single other hotel guest chose to take their meal inside, by the big screen t.v.

Rome, not in Italy, in Las Vegas. I was obliged to go to Nevada for work...and to wait for my Sunday plane. I was at a loss as to what to do in Vegas for three days; I do not gamble, smoke weed nor drink, and strippers are not my thing. So I visited and...hiked the desert; incredible!

                                        Ladies and Gentlemen...The Valley of Fire
I know, I know, I was with a somewhat younger, snap-chat crazed, group of hikers who thought it was important to pose...and I am not going to include the kissing of the cactus photo.