It’s almost Thanksgiving! You know, that beloved holiday where we watch football on TV and stuff our faces so that we have plenty of energy to shop til we drop on Black Friday…the one that heralds the coming of the Christmas season and the official start of the decorating wars…when we get the green light to start spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need.
Hmmmm...Thanksgiving. Thanks giving…giving thanks.
Thanksgiving is unique among the end-of-year holidays because it really lasts for only one day. Even Halloween gets bigger billing these days, with all the creepy decorations, parties, costume preparations, and spooky movie marathons on TV. By the time the big Thanksgiving holiday rolls around, we are usually so focused on football and eating and planning out our 4AM shopping strategy that we forget what this day is really supposed to be about. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
Well, it is not about extravagant spreads of food in abundance. It is not about beautiful, impressive tablescapes a la Martha Stewart. It is not about kickoff time or fires in the fireplace or putting up the Christmas tree. It is not about traveling or pumpkin pie or gourds or falling leaves. It is not even about pilgrims or Native Americans or survival. And in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, it is most definitely not about large gatherings with family and friends. It is about gratitude…gratitude for life and whatever it has handed you…gratitude for blessings and gratitude for the hardships that make you appreciate the blessings…gratitude for what you have now and gratitude for what you once had…gratitude for the love of others and for the ability to love them back…gratitude for the chance to share your unique gifts and talents with the world and for those who have shared theirs with you...gratitude for hope and for the ability to keep on hoping even in the most hopeless of situations...and gratitude for the capacity to recognize all for which there is to be grateful.
Gratitude is an attitude. Gratitude is a gift. Gratitude is the thing that makes it possible to get through even the worst of days and still want to wake up and try again tomorrow. Want the secret to “easy peasy living”? It’s gratitude. Gratitude transforms what you have into enough. If you have sufficient amounts of gratitude, you'll never need more of anything else.
Never have we needed a holiday to contemplate and venerate gratitude more than we do this year. So let us be grateful for this Thanksgiving, whatever joys or disappointments it may bring. Before you dive head first into that turkey with all the trimmings, or whatever meager meal you've managed to scrape together this day, take a little time to reflect on all that you have instead of all that you wish you had.
Among the many blessings for which I am grateful, I add you, my faithful followers. I'm wishing you and your loved ones a truly safe and Happy Thanksgiving filled with all the gratitude your hearts can hold!
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Let's be honest, nobody really LOVES Valentine's Day, do they? Many argue it's just a made-up Hallmark holiday, and you must admit they have a point. I've seen store shelves begin vomiting pink and red hearts as early as the day after Christmas. And truthfully, it can be a bit of a downer if you're single and wish you weren't, or if have young school-aged kids with 24 other students in each class for whom they (read: you) must make handmade Pinterest valentines (or buy the corny, overpriced, store-bought versions). Any teacher will tell you, a classroom full of two dozen preschoolers hyped-up on valentine candy bears little resemblance to the sweet cherubs pictured on said valentines. For most of us, it becomes a forced, obligatory day to spend money on roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and then summon all of our will-power not to eat any of it. And by the way, how did the feast day of a saint come to be associated with so much sex and edible underwear?
Like many, I used to really dislike Valentine's Day for all of the reasons listed above. Until, that is, I began to reflect on why this day is named after St. Valentine in the first place. First, a brief lesson:
Very little is known about the real St. Valentine, but he is believed to have been a priest (and some say bishop) and physician who was martyred for his faith in Rome during the third century. Some accounts say he befriended and healed from blindness his jailer's daughter. Others claim he defied the Emperor by secretly marrying couples to spare the husbands from war. He is the patron saint of lovers, epileptics and beekeepers (which I, as a lover and a former epileptic who loves honey, can really appreciate). Now, as anyone can tell you, the Catholic Church doesn't make just any ol' body a saint. Martyrdom alone requires a great demonstration of love, as does healing your enemy's daughter and risking your life to spare others theirs. So it makes sense that a day about love would be associated with this saintly, loving personality, regardless of how much of the legend is based in fact.
I would argue that if we re-calibrate the meaning of Valentine's Day to focus more on loving all others as St. Valentine did, rather than on just emphasizing romance and retail sales, it takes on a whole new meaning and could easily become a new favorite holiday.
So what does it mean to LOVE ALL?
L - Listen more, talk less
O - Observe where you can meet the needs of another
V - Value every being, even those who are challenging to love
E - Empathize with those who are hurting
A - Act to make the world a better place
L - Lean in and don't be afraid to risk yourself, your pride, or your comfort for the sake of others
L - Learn from those whom you wish to emulate, as well as from your own mistakes
Let Valentine's Day be an opportunity to celebrate all types of love, not just romance or love of chocolate, and to express it in all manner of ways. Be sensitive to the fact that people who don't have a sweetheart often need extra love from everyone else on February 14th. Maybe those little kids have the right idea in giving a valentine to everyone, even those they find challenging, because we all need love and love is all we need. What are some valentines you can pass out to show those in your life that they are special and valuable? Some ideas:
It doesn't take a dozen roses or a heart-shaped box of chocolate to make someone feel loved on Valentine's Day. With a little thought and a lot of heart, celebrating love on Valentine's Day--and every day--can be easy peasy!
My favorite Christmas gift each year is the one from my parents. To me, it embodies the true spirit of Christmas perfectly and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I come from a family of many, many children who now have many, many children and grandchildren of their own. Buying gifts for each one of them would be chaotic, expensive and impractical. More importantly, all that commercialism wouldn't reflect who my parents are. They are down-to-earth, authentic, self-reflective Quakers (yes, some of that is redundant). Their generosity of both time and money is brimming over with purposeful intent and a goal of leaving all those children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren the most meaningful gift of all...a world made better by my parents having been a part of it. So each year, they carefully select an organization whose mission aligns with the values they've spent a lifetime instilling in their offspring and make a donation in our honor. I really can't think of a better legacy to pass on to my own children.
Teaching altruism is not something you can do except by example, and the more examples our children have of it, the better the lesson is learned. The holidays present a unique opportunity to show our appreciation for those who model the concept throughout the year. One such group is teachers. I used to show our thanks for their service and sacrifice with home-baked goods. But as my kids have grown, we've been blessed by an increasing number of these amazing people in our lives, and there simply isn't enough butter, sugar or time for that to be practical anymore. When the kids entered middle school, with 7-10 devoted educators each, I decided to put into practice the lessons of my parents (finally!...hopefully it was worth the long wait) and teach giving to my children.
It started out with my husband and me making a donation to an educational nonprofit in honor of the teachers at each school. Now that my kids are teenagers with access to real money of their own--not just the Monopoly kind--they set aside a percentage of their allowance each month for giving. During the holidays, they each carefully select an organization whose work touches their heart and donate the money they've set aside all year to them in honor of their teachers. My husband and I match these gifts with a donation of our own to the same two organizations. The kids then write out a holiday card thanking each of their teachers, with a letter enclosed explaining the donation and their reasons for selecting that particular nonprofit. (They also include a candy cane, because it's only fair that the students should have to deal with sugared-up teachers at least once a year...turnabout is fair play, after all.)
The best part of this teacher gift idea is discussing various organizations and the marvelous contributions they make to our world as we deliberate over their selections each year. The decision is not always an easy one. It's also a gift in itself for me too, to see the seedlings my parents started begin to take root in the hearts of my children. I know that long after Dad and Peg are gone, their generous spirits will live on in their grandchildren.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, or Festivus, December tends to be a frenzied time of year for most of us. Perhaps you are familiar with this old-fashioned holiday recipe?
1 cup Family Togetherness
3 cups Overcommitted Time
2 teaspoons Desire to Impress Others
1/2 cup Unrealistic Expectations
1 3/4 cup Excessive Spending
4 tablespoons Bad Nutrition and Lack of Exercise
2/3 cup Exhaustion
Name Your Goal
What's the most important point to your holiday? Is it spiritual reflection? Spending time with loved ones? Giving something back to help those less fortunate? Taking time to savor the tastes, sights and sounds of the season? Reliving fond memories through old traditions? For many of us, it is all of these things, but you must determine which is #1 on your list so that you can prioritize your activities accordingly. When scheduling conflicts arise, ask yourself which calendar item most reflects your #1 goal for the season. This will help you not to spread yourself too thin. It's okay to say "no", especially if it means saying "yes" to a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday!
Keep it Real
Even Martha Stewart doesn't do it all herself. She has a staff of people to make it all look easy...which it isn't. People are rarely impressed with frazzled hosts/hostesses. Be realistic and accept that you have limits. Embrace them and spend time on the things you enjoy doing to make the season special...a cheerful smile is always pretty impressive, don't you think? It's okay to buy the dessert for your party or to give a gift card you picked up at the supermarket, especially if it means having more time to spend with the people you care about.
Set a Budget
Also not impressive is bankruptcy. Don't give yourself the gift of massive credit card debt this year! Decide what purchases most reflect your #1 goal and budget accordingly. If giving to those less fortunate is at the top of your list, consider making charitable donations in a loved one's name as your gift to them. If enjoying the sights and sounds of the season is imperative, factor in those tickets to the Nutcracker or that especially tall Douglass Fir and plan ahead. It's okay to shorten your gift list to fit within your means...you may find that others are relieved to have the opportunity to shorten theirs too.
Norman Rockwell aside, most of us have some degree of dysfunction or disagreement within our extended families. Holidays tend to bring out the short tempers in everyone, so agree to some ground rules before your spinster great-aunt or your unemployed cousin move in for Christmas week or your mother-in-law reluctantly agrees to let you make the latkes for Hanukkah. It's okay to put all your cards on the table beforehand so that everyone knows what to expect (or what not to).
Give Yourself the Gift of Good Health
Stress and fatigue lead to illness. Over-indulgence leads to guilt and a wide array of health issues. Make the time to eat right, exercise and rest. Your friends and family would rather have you for the holidays than the presents, food and parties. It's okay to take care of you during this busy season so that others won't have to.
Don't forget, today's holidays are tomorrow's memories...you'll treasure them more if you don't make unreasonable demands on yourself. Even memorable holidays can be easy peasy if you just relax, celebrate and enjoy!
Each January there's an outbreak that reaches almost epidemic proportions. Professionals like me are inundated with requests for house calls to try to eradicate it from homes like yours...I call it 'Gift Guilt", and it can be debilitating, especially for the organizationally-challenged.
When it comes to purging unwanted "stuff" during the organization process, gifts rank high on the hard-to-part-with list. Whether we realize it or not, there's a sense of obligation hidden inside every gift box...the obligation to like the gift and appreciate it and keep it FOREVER. What many people have difficulty understanding is that the thing we are obliged to like, appreciate and keep is the sentiment, not necessarily the object representing it. This is a hard concept to embrace, and since not everyone is able to innoculate themselves from gift guilt, there are precautions gift-givers can take to help defend recipients from this malady.
Chances are that when you give a gift, you focus primarily on whether or not the recipient will like it. That's great, but not enough. Just because they like it doesn't necessarily mean they have room for it, or wish to go to the effort to dust/clean/iron it, or know where to store it or how to use it. Each of these issues can harbor the gift guilt bug inside. Consider instead a consumable gift that will only need to be stored temporarily until used up.
Here are a few suggestions:
Services - Give a gift certificate or make a coupon that offersyour help with one of these:
Food/Beverages - Bake a batch of cookies, package up a mix (with instructions for finishing it), buy a bottle of their favorite tipple. Just be cautious about food allergies.
Charitable Donations - Make a donation in their name to a worthy cause that touches their heart. Guides like the United Way's Guide to Charitable Giving can help you select an organization that will make the most of your giving dollars.
An extra added bonus is that most of these are easier to wrap and require less paper than most traditional gifts.
No one ever intends to give a burden as a gift, but sadly, a gift can become just that if the recipient can't use it or doesn't have room for it. With a little imagination and the right attitude, gift-giving and receiving can be easy peasy.
Teach your little patriots some history with a July 4 treasure hunt! Create 10 multiple choice question cards, each with three options (A, B, and C). Place one question card in an envelope along with three tent cards...each one labeled on the outside with A, B, or C. Glue or tape a clue to the location of the next envelope inside the tent card labeled with the correct answer and leave the other two "wrong" tent cards blank. The last clue should lead to the prized "treasure".
In addition to teaching them about history with the question cards, you can use the clues to teach kids about rhyming, figurative language, relative positioning, or anything else you want them to master.
Below are the 10 questions I used, but you can modify them to the appropriate age level of your kids and can adapt the theme to any topic:
Question 1: Who was the author of the Declaration of Independence?
Question 2: Who is called the "Father of our country"?
Question 3: What city is the birthplace of our national anthem?
Question 4: Which of the following was NOT one of the 13 original colonies?
Question 5: What do the 50 stars on our flag represent?
Question 6: Where is the Liberty Bell located?
Question 7: What is the name of Thomas Jefferson's home?
Question 8: Which country helped us to gain our independence?
Question 9: On what holiday did George Washington make his famous crossing of the Delaware River?
Question 10: Whose face is on the $20 bill?
The clues you use depends on where in your home you will be hiding the question/answer envelopes, but a couple of examples are:
Get creative and match the difficulty level to your kids' abilities.
No, no, no...it's not that kind of "something"...those days are over (thank goodness)! But it's not too early to get your holiday bake on. Whether you are baking pies for Thanksgiving, Christmas cookies for Santa, yummy bread to give as gifts, or quiche for a New Year's brunch, planning and doing a bit ahead of time will reduce some of that holiday stress...save that for dealing with the in-laws and your sugared-up kids!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.