Oh so merry.

Dear Friends,

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I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit rigid when it comes to holiday routines. An improviser I’m not. I fastidiously plan all our family celebrations, from birthdays and anniversaries, to major holidays like Christmas, to even lesser holidays like Valentine’s Day. If there’s a celebration on the calendar, you can count on the fact I will have an associated timeline, to-do list, menu, and shopping list (organized by sub-categories for “groceries,” “gifts” and “supplies”) that I carefully create and monitor. I would argue my planning is a hallmark of the diligent, but truth be told, it’s probably just a hedge against spontaneity, which has never been my strong suit.

For some reason, though, this year I threw caution to the wind when I decided to ditch my typical Christmas plan by decorating before December 1. And, gasp, I even decorated before Thanksgiving. Normally I’m a real Grinch when it comes to pre-emptive Christmas displays. And, if you read this post, you’ll recall I have a veritable ritual related to my children’s involvement in tree trimming. But Sunday, November 23, was a cold and rainy day in my corner of the world and – with nothing better to do – I decided to deck my halls a full four days before Turkey Day. Mr. Mom was busy and my kids were at college and it just seemed like the thing to do for a sentimental old woman with time on her hands.

Of course when my children arrived home for Thanksgiving they were shocked to see the tree (in an unusual spot, no less), and the garland, and the bells, and my grandmother’s vintage Santa mug collection, and enough twinkly lights to fill a Target. “Wow, what got into you?” Parker said. “Oh . . .” whimpered Kate, “I was looking forward to helping.” I was stung by an immediate and familiar pang of maternal guilt, which was intensified when I arranged our Thanksgiving table a few days later and contemplated the clash of competing holiday décor on display in our dining room. I clearly had jumped the gun.

Despite my second-guessing, I felt a lightness about my decision and wondered what it would be like to have the Christmas season commence without the most time-consuming holiday chore hanging over my head.

A few days later, I was talking to a new friend, an older lady I recently met, about my early decorating spree. Dixie mentioned she just didn’t have the energy for such things. She said ever since her husband died a few years ago, she found Christmas decorating difficult. She recollected – sadly I thought – that she especially missed setting up her extensive Dickens village that used to bring her so much joy. “It’s just so much work,” she said, “and I can’t do it anymore.”

In any other year, I would have rushed to commiserate with Dixie. “Oh, I know EXACTLY how you feel,” I would have said. “I always feel so overwhelmed this time of year. There’s too much to do and sometimes I just want to skip it all!” But instead of this reflexive reaction that I’ve shared so many times with the similarly harried, a mindless statement borne of a working mother’s guilt and anxiety, I paused to listen to her words and, though I said nothing, Dixie’s sense of longing stuck with me.

I emailed her a few days later and offered to go to her home and do her decorating for her. She was gracious enough to take me up on my offer and that’s how I found myself in the midst of the most joyful and rewarding Christmas decorating spree ever.

Dixie indeed has a beautiful Dickens village, with every building and village amenity imaginable, including tiny carolers and dogs and electric street lamps and park benches and more, each carefully tied in bubble wrap and stored in their original boxes. When I was a young mother, I dreamed of collecting a Dickens village, but I couldn’t afford it. Unpacking and arranging Dixie’s village was like a Christmas dream come true. I felt like an 8-year-old girl who had just unwrapped Santa’s best dollhouse ever and – best of all – Dixie gave me full creative license to display the village however I wished.

While I “played house,” Dixie brought me tea and cookies and turned up the holiday music and told me about her life over the last 30 years in our community. After I finished assembling the display (and promised to return in January to put everything away), I couldn’t help but linger over another cup of tea, enjoying the scene before us and soaking up the unexpected joy of helping a friend, no matter how modest the task. It was a magical moment in time, one I will always treasure, made possible because I dared to step out of my comfortable routine and open my heart to the potential of something even more wonderful.

As this Christmas season offers its joys and challenges to you, as you deck your halls and bake your goodies and wrap your gifts and attend parties and otherwise seek holiday cheer in your own ways, I wish for you a moment of whimsy . . . a sparkling instant in which old expectations melt away and new memories – perhaps tiny but oh so merry – fill your heart with the love and joy of the season.

With gratitude {for holiday gifts of all kinds},

Joan, who loved her some Barbie back in the day

 

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Abundant blessings.

Dear friends,

Not what we say about our blessings but how we use them is the true measure of our thanksgiving.

— W.T. Purksier

My heart is full this Thanksgiving, brimming with gratitude for our abundant blessings.  Our table is full and our bounty is evident.  A house full of guests, love for each other, good health, a delicious meal shared in safety and comfort . . . peace . . . these are the jewels of this day I dare not take for granted. May we use these blessings, in measures large and small, that reflect a glad and generous heart.

And I wish you, dear friends, abundant blessings.  Drop in sometime this holiday weekend, won’t you, and leave me a comment letting me know how you’re spending your Thanksgiving?  Power eating . . . football cheering . . . napping . . . traveling over hill and dale to see loved ones . . . whatever your activity, I wish you good cheer and godspeed.

I’ll be here on our beautiful Missouri acreage, happily humming ‘round the kitchen, delivering stealth hugs and kisses to any child within arm’s reach, and steeping in the life God has granted me.

With gratitude {for abundant blessings},

Joan, who’s got 13 tasks on her Thanksgiving to-do list today and has already completed three of them while the six other souls in her home sleep soundly

Grumpybritches.

Dear Friends,

If there’s anything worse than Monday, it’s Monday after a long weekend. And if there’s anything worse than Monday after a long weekend, it’s Monday after a long weekend when Monday is really Tuesday.

Did you work yesterday? If you did, and if Monday was a holiday for you, then you know what I’m talking about. I can’t decide if the severe crankiness I encountered in everyone in my universe was a bad case of Holiday Lag (just like Jet Lag, only when you’re adjusting to the transition from time-off to back-to-the-grind), or if it was Holiday Lag compounded by a collective realization that “holy crap it’s 2012 and I’ve already blown all my resolutions and fallen tragically behind despite my pledge to catch up over the holiday.”

Aren’t new years supposed to bring new horizons? New opportunities? Fresh perspectives and rejuvenated psyches? I guess that sounds good on paper, but what I encountered in the workplace yesterday was harried souls with frazzled faces and worn nerves.

Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t whistling on my way in the door. In fact, I overslept. And when I woke up late, I looked at my calendar only to discover I had scheduled an 8:30 am meeting with a Very Important Person and I had half the necessary time to shower.

(By the way, who does that? Who schedules an 8:30 am meeting with a VIP on the first day back after a holiday? I’ll tell you who does that! A woman who is severely distracted by holiday-itis and who is so eager to get out the door before a long weekend she is clearly not paying attention.)

Suffice to say, showering at warp speed in order to be on time for a meeting on Jan. 3 is not exactly how I planned to kick off 2012, my year of gratitude (where gratitude equals all good things achieved via better planning and clear thinking).

So in the door I rushed, only to discover just about everybody was having a far worse day than me.

I actually said these words to one person early in the morning: “Wow. I’m sorry you’re having such a bad day. You know my new year’s resolution is to focus on gratitude. In doing so, I’m hoping to avoid worrying over things I can’t control and improve my outlook and productivity.”

Yeah. I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words escaped my mouth.  The person didn’t say as much, but the person’s . . . um . . . body language and facial expression were pretty clear indicators.

But you know what those words did for me? They made me realize I didn’t want to be the crankypants sitting across from me. And that, my friends, is a powerful motivator.

With gratitude {for making my meeting with one minute to spare},

Joan, who’s wearing her anti-crankypanties