Hello and happy merry month!
Or, I hope it’s merry, anyway. Not harried. Not stressed.
The other day I played hooky from my work day and went to a matinee showing of “Bad Moms” with two of my friends. We all felt deliciously “bad,” all right. Watching a movie. In a theatre. In the middle of the day. How decadent!
I’m almost embarrassed about how much I laughed because normally my sense of humor isn’t quite so . . . in the gutter, LOL. But the characters are just . . . hilarious—and, despite being quite different from me in most ways, very relatable to. (If you must know, I’d want to be Amy, but I’m probably more Kiki. I wish I was brave enough to be Carla, at least a little bit, in some ways.) But I digress. . . .
Watching the movie moms stress themselves out about Christmas prep was over the top and triggered giggles, but struck a few chords, too. A lot of my extended family has moved away and my children are adults now, so Christmas at my house is easier and quieter (and not as fun, truth be told). Still, I remember the intense desire to create happy Christmas memories that would last forever (no pressure!) very well. And though my hubby and I purposely tried to avoid having the season’s focus be gifts, gifts, gifts, we did give presents. And we wanted each one to be meaningful (and fun) and to not break our tight (at times, very tight) budget. (Again, no pressure—ha ha!)
At one point, the children in the show express their longing for quiet Christmas, where they just hang out and do fun, relaxing things together as a family. It reminded me of something from when my kids were small.
Then, over coffee, when the movie was finished, my friend who still has three kids at home shared her family’s schedule for the next two weeks with dread. As I listened I was like, okay . . . maybe the themes in “Bad Moms” aren’t so over the top after all. On top of school, her kids literally have another event every day—including the weekends—in addition to their regular clubs and activities. Plus, in the week leading up to a concert they’re all in, they have a practice every day. (And my friend is not the type of parent who over-schedules her children; it’s just that every group and their dog wants to do something “special” for the holidays.) And it underlined the thing I’d remembered while watching the movie.
One day when my kids were six and nine or so, we’d had a very hectic week. I still had a day job (as in I wasn’t writing for my livelihood at that point, which I do now—and is more flexible), the kids had school, and an activity or two, and my husband’s non-working time was sucked up by an organization he volunteered for. We were gearing up for Christmas and we were all tired and grumpy and . . . blah. Which is the worst way to feel any time, let alone the time of year when you’re supposed to be celebrating the joy of family togetherness. Anyway, I had a bazillion things to do and as I nagged my poor gray-faced, glum little children, I suddenly stopped, horrified by my behavior. What the heck was I doing? I was going to hound my family into extra chores and stomp around like a mad woman preparing for Christmas joy?
Abruptly, I called, “Stop whatever you’re doing and come here right now!” They obeyed grudgingly. I could practically read their sullen faces: Oh, great, what do we have to do now?
I explained that I thought it was sad and terrible that we were all feeling so down and grouchy. They agreed—but weren’t cheered until I suggested the remedy: a silent reading break. I asked them if they wanted tea or hot chocolate. Then we all had a one minute to go find the book(s) we wanted to read or look at. We met back in the living room. I set a timer to countdown to when we had to be quiet and read (because timers are always fun! No, I’m not joking. They are!). We only read for half an hour or an hour, then I really did have to make something for dinner and get us off to whatever it was . . . but it completely changed the whole evening. And you know what? No one anywhere was adversely affected by us skipping a few chores. In fact, no one even knew except us. It was a win, win, win.
Over the years, reading breaks became a treasured habit—especially when our schedules got hectic because let’s face it, that’s when you need to take a deep breath and destress the most!
I also learned that, while I love to cook and quite often make things from scratch, pre-made appetizers and snacks are enjoyed by crowds just as much and sometimes you just don’t have time or energy or the desire to slave away in the kitchen. Houses you clean for parties will just get dirty again, so tidy rooms that guests might enter and wipe down your bathroom—and that’s it. (How dirty my floors can get is actually a running joke with my friends now—but I’ve seriously given up. I have two dogs—and one’s a Newfie and we live on five acres of mud. Just wear your shoes in! I’m happy to let you see that you’re a far better housekeeper than me!)
My traditions changed from must-do-everything-that-has-ever-been-one-of-our-“traditions” to: do whatever feels fun this year. So occasionally I make cookies (usually the 23rd-ish—and never more than 3 varieties. But if you adore baking, make as many that are still fun!
Ditto re: decorating. Sometimes my house looks like Santa’s Elves visited. Other years it’s very minimalistic. I must emphasize it again: only do those things that actually bring joy to you or yours. We potluck style most family celebrations.
I love to host a games night or two—but again, if they don’t work until the New Year, that’s okay.
The only thing I’m firm about is that I steal alone time sometime just before or just after December 31st to daydream or plan for my upcoming year. That, and—of course—at least a few special, intentional reading breaks. Whether you’re feeling joy and anticipation about the busy weeks to come, or stress and angst—or, like I do now, have quieter holidays, where disappearing into the busyness of other peoples’ lives via a book is the treat you’re after—cook up this recipe for a perfect night. In fact, the busier you are, the more I insist you should try it.
Wishing you merry days and cozy nights this winter, filled with good reads, chats with people you love and lots of laughter and snacks,
P.S. *Chef’s note: It should be stressed that while this recipe seems simple at first glance, the results of following it are anything but.
People who make a habit of regularly incorporating it into their days will experience mental stimulation, increased knowledge, and improved memory function. They will have larger vocabularies than their non-recipe following friends, family and coworkers—and stronger analytical thinking skills, improved focus and concentration, and better writing skills.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to “cook” this up regularly, know that those who do—and who vary the first ingredient—will also have increased resiliency and empathy. Best of all, diehard recipe fans report that the more they consciously set aside dedicated time to follow the recipe, the less stress—and more positivity—they feel.
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Ev Bishop lives and writes in a remote small town in wildly beautiful British Columbia, Canada—a place that inspires the setting for her cozy sweet romance series, RIVER’S SIGH B & B.
In addition to writing novels—her favorite form of storytelling!—Ev was a long-time columnist with the Terrace Standard and is a prolific scribbler of articles, essays, short stories and poems. To see her ever growing body of work, please visit her website.
When Ev’s nose isn’t in a book or her fingers aren’t on her keyboard, you’ll find her hanging out with her family and dogs, or playing outside with friends, usually at the lake or in some garden somewhere.
Sure does sound like a perfect plan for peace during a hectic and sometimes grinchy season.
Great post, I enjoyed reading it and the chuckles.
So enjoyed this. Now our children have grown and flown we make every relaxed effort to enjoy our days relaxing into what makes us tick then enjoying what surrounds us. Hubby does family history for so many people and I write or paint.or sew or walk the dog for hours. I t just depends. There’s no rush but we seem to get a hell of a lot done!
If any effort does ensue then it’s an elixir. Happy Xmas?