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5 Steps to a Blissfully Unproductive Weekend

Happy Independence Day to all of my American readers. Today is our national holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It's a day of family picnics, parades, fireworks, baseball and concerts. It's a day to celebrate freedom.

And what better way to celebrate freedom than with a four-day weekend! If you're lucky to have the next few days off, here's five steps to a blissfully unproductive weekend:

1. Change Your Mindset, If Only For the Weekend: If you have a workaholic, productivity proves validity mindset like me, you don't relax easily. Why not try changing your mindset for just a weekend? Everyone needs time to relax and recharge and anyone who thinks they are productive 24/7 is just kidding themselves anyway. So go ahead, throw relentless productivity to the wind and resolve to be blissfully unproductive this weekend. You can always go back to being a crazed workaholic on Monday.

2. Unplug From Your Electronics: Put the stresses and obligations of the work week on hold by separating yourself from your cell phone, tablet or laptop. Deliberately unplugging makes a statement to yourself and others, "I choose to relax and be blissfully unproductive for a few days."  

Go one step further and seek out silence. As Deepak Chopra said, "Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence."

3. Stay in the Moment:  As hard as it is to unplug from your electronics, it's even harder to unplug from your monkey mind. You know what monkey mind is - the incessant chatter of worry, "should's," "what if's," and past/future focus. When the chatter starts building, take a breath and stop. In that moment of awareness, you create a gap that allows you to recognize the noise for what it is, before it takes you away with it. Practicing "catch and release" of your monkey mind thoughts, keeps you present in the here and now and focuses your mind on one thing at a time.   

4. Have Fun:  Fun is not a luxury. Let me repeat: Fun is not a luxury. In fact, fun is necessary to a healthy life. Spontaneous fun is great and happens more often when you're in the moment. But planning for fun is as important as planning your meals. This is a great weekend to go to a concert, parade, family picnic or watch fireworks. It's also a great weekend to have sex, read a book, lie in a hammock, or make banana bread. Fun doesn't have to be big and noisy. Fun is whatever feeds your soul and makes you feel more alive. Go have fun.

5. Reconnect With Loved Ones: Sometimes we're so overwhelmed with obligations, schedules, responsibilities and appointments that we forget to really be with the people we love. If you turn off the TV, phone and laptop; stay in the moment and go looking for fun, guess where you'll end up? Reconnecting with friends and family! That's the message of this adorable video. Enjoy!


May you have a wonderful, blissfully unproductive weekend! 

Survival > Existence,

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The Survivor's Nest - Family Togetherness

Casual Friday - Best Christmas Movies Collection

This holiday season is extra special to me. For the past three years, the holidays have had to fight for my attention. In 2008, I was struggling through the diagnostic phase of my cancer. In 2009, I was reeling and healing from a 16 month cancer journey. In 2010, I was doing better, but my house was ripped apart from a kitchen renovation. This year, I just want to focus on enjoying the holidays.

One of the best ways to bring back the wonder of the holidays is to turn to old traditions. Comforting and familiar, traditions help us find our bearings. One of my favorites was started by my husband and I over 20 years ago. Back then, videos were the new fun technology and we enjoyed watching movies at home. We started a best Christmas movies collection. Our collection has evolved over the years, most significantly by sharing our love for holiday movies with our children. 

My best Christmas movie collection not only celebrates the holidays, it also brings me to a magical place. While you're watching a funny movie or movie from your youth, you forget about the rest of the world's troubles (and your own) and find a little pocket of peace. Take a look at my list (Amazon associates links) and enjoy.  What movies do you love and how do they factor into your holiday traditions?


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Casual (Black) Friday - Two More Tips to Help You Enjoy This Holiday Season

Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice. Dave Barry

What would happen if the elves went on strike and Santa had to shop at the mall to fill his sleigh? Do you think he would get a bit stressed out enduring the hustle, bustle and bone-crunching competition of Black Friday shopping? Do you think he'd be his usually jolly self if he didn't have the help of the elves to get it all done? 

Seeing the panic in Santa's eyes reminded me of two more tips I want to share to help you enjoy this holiday season: 

1.  Ask for help: When our children were young, we started collecting holiday village pieces. Our collection grew over the years to the point that we need an area of about four feet by eight feet to display it. It's a huge job lugging the 20 or so boxes down from the attic, unpacking all the pieces and putting the village together. It used to take me an entire day to get it done while the kids were at school and my husband was at work.

One year, I just didn't have the energy to do it. Eventually someone noticed it wasn't getting done and panic ensued. My response: "If you want the village up, then you have to help." They did and we've enjoyed doing it together every year since. Besides creating a treasured family tradition, I learned a valuable lesson: I had to stop taking on all the responsibility and others were happy to pitch in if I let them. 

2.  Prioritize enjoyment: I like to bake holiday cookies. It takes time, creates mess and makes you tired, but it's fun. Cleaning the entire house also takes time, creates mess and makes you tired, but it's not fun. That's the difference. There are some "jobs" we like and others we don't. Make sure to prioritize the jobs you like. That's what brings enjoyment into the season.

In the past, I often felt like the holiday season handed me yet another part-time job, with deadlines. This year, I really want to focus on enjoying myself and sharing the spirit of the holidays with my family. Do you have more tips for me on how to better relax and enjoy this holiday season? 

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Meditation Monday - 5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holidays are about to begin, which makes me think about one of my favorite holiday movies for kids. In Sesame Street's Elmo Saves Christmas (Amazon affiliates link) Elmo helps Santa get unstuck from the chimney and is granted three wishes. Santa obviously isn't thrilled when Elmo wishes every day is Christmas. To show Elmo what life would be like if everyone had to celebrate Christmas every day, Santa takes him on a journey 193 days into the future.  

Of course, the message of the movie is how the joy of the holiday is lost when "celebrating" becomes a daily burden. I know a lot about holiday stress, and it didn't take me 193 days to feel its burden.

After we moved into our house and had children, I learned first-hand why Santa wasn't happy about every day being Christmas. I planned big family holiday celebrations, with extensive menus and did 99% of the shopping, preparation, and cooking myself. Before family came, the house had to be perfectly cleaned and decorated, also by me. On top of all the food preparation, I shopped for and wrapped all the presents. I saw myself as a mini-Martha Stewart and was just as driven with perfection. It was exhausting.

As the years went on, I came to enjoy my Martha Stewart role less and less. And then, three years ago, I got cancer. The first holiday season, I was distracted by tests and difficult questions, and the next year, I was healing from two surgeries. Last year, I was finished with treatment, but spent what little energy I had left on a huge kitchen renovation which was completed just days before Christmas.

This year, I finally feel ready to stick a toe back into holiday celebrating. I'm going to take it slow, however, and be very conscious of not slipping back into old ways. To keep holiday stress at bay, I'm going to remember the following five tips:

1. Have realistic expectations: My Martha Stewart holiday plans were wildly unrealistic. As a new parent, hosting new grandparents, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to create Norman Rockwell holidays for my family. Since we don't live in oil paintings, this was never going to actually happen. I've learned that the best way to control stress is to control expectations. If each day has a realistic to-do list, there will be success at the end of the day, rather than failure.

2. Slow down: I love watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year, but I always hear a starter pistol go off in my head as soon as I see Santa's sleigh. It's the official beginning of the race to Christmas Day and the pressure is immediately on. It doesn't have to be this way. If you're feeling stressed, close your eyes and watch your breath. When multi-tasking gets out of hand, stop and refocus on mindfulness. For me, I am going to stop and remember what the last three years were like, and I'm going to be grateful for where I am now and how far I have come.

3. Enjoy some me time: Don't become so involved with holiday preparations that you forget to take care of yourself. Falling into bed exhausted each night is not rest. Rejuvenate by reading a book, enjoying a cup of tea, getting a spa treatment or simply watching a funny television show in the middle of the day. Running yourself ragged completely diminishes the joy of the holidays and turns celebration into hard labor.

4. Make time for spiritual connection:  For the past several years, we travel to my husband's church in Brooklyn during Christmas season. We don't attend mass, but prefer to be there when the church is mostly empty and peaceful and quiet. I've had some amazing moments of silent reflection in that church and it has come to be one of my most treasured Christmas traditions. 

5. Have fun: Isn't family fun and togetherness what the holidays are all about? Have a family pajama night in front of the fireplace. Focus on fun and relaxation, rather than on creating the perfect table or moment, and you will see your holiday stress melt away.

With Thanksgiving just three days away, it's time to take a moment to decide how we want our holidays to go. Let's make a pact to really enjoy this holiday season by slowing down, focusing on fun and scheduling some me time. If you have other suggestions to reduce holiday stress, please take a moment to let me know what they are.  

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The Survivor's Nest - Family Togetherness

I bet you didn't know that Saturday night is National Family Pajama Night. I didn't know it either until I stumbled upon it on the Internet. Of course, this "holiday" is entirely made up by The Company Store, a company that sells pajamas, but that's not the point. Reading the website brought back lovely memories of family pajama nights we had when our children were much younger. I was grateful to be reminded and to realize that you don't have to be a child or have children to appreciate family togetherness.

When we celebrated our own family pajama nights, we "camped out" in the living room. Our campsite was prepared by moving the coffee table out of the way and setting up bedding and pillows on the area rug next to the sofa. Of course, our focal point was the fireplace, which was ready to go. Once it got dark and everyone was in pajamas, the fire was lit and the lights went out. The four of us basked in the coziness and warmth of its light and the family togetherness of the moment.

If you're looking for a more active family pajama night, you can play board games or plan other activities. The Company Store Facebook page has a fun "Memory Maker" section offering an activity "Idea A Day" since October 3rd. The activities are perfect for younger children and are really adorable. In fact, they are so cute, I may try one or two of them with my teenagers, after all.

I guess that's the secret to a fun family togetherness activity. Don't be afraid to shake things up a bit. Turn your living room into a camping site. Don't be afraid to move the furniture around and actually use that fireplace. The more you actively use your house to promote cheer and healing, the more homey and comforting your home becomes. By just walking in the door, you will get that nesting feeling.

You don't have to have young children to enjoy a family pajama night. I'm going to plan one with my teenagers. If it's just you and a partner, enjoy camping out in front of the fireplace or turn off all electronics and enjoy the silence together. It doesn't matter what you do, it only matters that you savor each other's company.

What I remember most about those nights with my husband and children was the peacefulness of the entire house. It nurtured my soul, and was especially appreciated after a long and active kid-filled day. By taking the time to wind down as a family and really focus on togetherness, active mindfulness and beautiful family memories are your rewards.

I hope you and your family enjoy some family togetherness this weekend. If you're still wondering what to do on National Family Pajama Night, I'll leave you with this YouTube video because it's just so darn cute and these kids have some really great ideas:

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