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holiday tips

Want Relaxing Holidays? Less Martha, More Mindfulness

This time of year is a mixed bag for many of us. We look forward to family togetherness, joy, love and celebration. But, too often, expectations outstrip reality and stress is the result.

If you're like me, that doesn't mean you don't chase the fantasy. Earlier in my career, I did my best to create the Norman Rockwell inspired family holiday. I let Martha Stewart, the goddess of all things "perfect," cajole me into impossible, time consuming projects. (I finally quit her when she seriously suggested growing your own grass for Easter baskets.)

Eventually, you learn to lighten up. But the dream of a White Christmas, perfect children, harmonious family celebrations, and all things magical persists.

What's the antidote to holiday stress? Mindful awareness and acceptance of the present moment.

With mindfulness you ratchet down your expectations and enjoy the little things. You're less likely to over plan, overspend and overdo. There is no "should" and "must." There is only "be."

Mindfulness and striving for Martha Stewart-perfect just don't mix. As chef Jacques Pepin summed up "perfectly:" 

"When you are at home, even if the chicken is a little burnt, what's the big deal? Relax." 

Wishing you a mindfully relaxing holiday season!

Survival > Existence,

Related Posts:

Meditation Monday - 5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

10 Little Things to Do with Mindful Awareness

The Survivor's Nest - My Number One Tip This Holiday Season

The Survivor's Nest - Five Tips to Make Your Home Party Ready

The Survivor's Nest - Five Tips to Make Your Home Party Ready

True hospitality comes from the heart, and is not the product of ostentatious and expensive material surroundings. Eleanor Roosevelt

Opening your nest to friends and relatives during the holiday season should not be a stressful ordeal. You can make your home party ready and still have a great time by following my five tips:

1. Don't over clean your house: I used to spend hours cleaning before company came. Of course, 20 minutes after they arrived, the place was a happy mess. Focus on removing clutter, especially personal items such as mail and bills. If you must dust, dust only where it is obviously needed and leave the rest until the after party clean up. If you want to spend your cleaning time wisely, focus on the powder room.

2. Pull together friendly seating arrangements: Have you ever taken a seat in a room where all of the furniture is pushed up against the walls? Was it easy to have a conversation with someone sitting across from you? Of course not! Good furniture arrangement encourages socializing by bringing the seating together in conversation areas. Anchor the seating around an area rug to up the warmth and comfort. Make sure each chair has access to the coffee table or its own side table, so a guest can put down his or her drink. Small stools or ottomans can be moved easily into the conversation area, so everyone has a seat and a say in the discussion.

3. Seasonalize the nest: With the cold winter months upon us, there is no better feeling than the warmth and glow of a comfortable home. Gather your guests around the fireplace, which is ready with fireplace tools and ample firewood. Bring the outside in with bowls of pinecones and vases of holly branches. Drape throws on the sofa and chairs.

4.  Soften your lighting:  Dimmers are a low cost, easy way to bring drama and coziness to a space. Put all of your lights on dimmers and add candles for a little bit of romance. Everyone looks better in low light. Keep the candles scent free. Heavy perfumes irritate some people and interfere with the taste of food.

5. Make it festive: Ornaments aren't just for trees! Buy inexpensive bulb ornaments in colors that complement your color scheme and put them in bowls. Why should your living room be the only room in the house with a beautifully lit holiday tree? I have a small, artificial tree in the entry hall and one in the family room. As much as I love the large, real tree in our living room, those two small trees bring a festive holiday mood into all areas of the house. In addition to playing holiday music, run your favorite holiday movies on your TVs with the sound down. Everyone loves seeing these classic holiday films. 

Bonus tip: Once you've made your home party ready, sit back, relax and enjoy your loved ones. As cancer survivors, we have a lot to be grateful for and the love we share with our family and friends is at the top of the list. Happy Holidays!  

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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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The Survivor's Nest - My Number One Tip This Holiday Season

We all know how life goes during the diagnostic and treatment phase of cancer. It's 24/7 cancer and everything else that used to constitute life takes a back seat. For me, once that phase wound down, I returned to my life and new interests, such as creating the WWGN community, writing my blog and speaking to survivor groups. I've kept my head down and forged ahead, but I recently noticed that some of the things I put in the back seat during my early cancer days are still back there. Foremost among them: cleaning my house.

I'm not a Felix Unger fanatic about housekeeping, but do like things clean and organized. Since cancer, however, I spend much less time at it. Surprisingly, I've also developed a higher tolerance level; dust just doesn't bother me as much as it used to before cancer.

If you have been following The Survivor's Nest series you know what I still find important. I am a big proponent of creating a nurturing home - a soft place to land. I've shared tips on seasonalizing for autumn, creating sacred space, making your bedroom your refuge and bringing cheer into your home. I've tried to keep the tips low key, both in time and cost, while encouraging small changes that bring big rewards.

It's a real balancing act, maintaining a home, while at the same time trying to enjoy it. I often call this the "bed and breakfast" dilemma. I'd love to live in a beautifully decorated, immaculate, organized, comfortable house, with a cup of tea and a book always at the ready. I just can't figure out how to create all that prettiness without all the effort. Basically, there's just no way to be a guest at your own bed and breakfast.

 I recently ran across my copy of The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, and reread his passage "On Houses:"

And tell me...what have you in these houses? 

...Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?

Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scrouge makes puppets of your larger desires.

...Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.  

But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.

Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.

While keeping a comfortable home is important to me, I can't become a slave to it, as if I was running a bed and breakfast. I have to balance my "lust for comfort," with my "larger desires." To do that, I'll have to keep putting more focus on my restlessness than I do on the dust.    

There was a time when I took a "Martha-Stewart-perfect-level-of-orchestration" approach to the holidays. But, as this very busy season approaches, my only tip this week is to be careful not to overdo it.  Balance maintaining your soft place to land with the "passion of your soul."  In doing so, our homes really do become masts and we can sail forward into our dreams.

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