Saturday, December 16, 2017

When the C A L M hits...

The other day, I was listening to the radio and a commercial interrupted the music.  The man was talking in a frantic, pushy, yell, trying to convince me, the listener, to come in and HURRY and BUY before things were all GONE!!  I felt the height of stress and panic in that moment even though I had no interest in what the man was selling.  It almost took my breath away and I realized that most of the calm we lose during this time of year, comes from outside sources, where someone is trying to force us to do, buy, be or give.  It's exhausting isn't it?  Then again, sometimes our lack of calm comes from our own minds, because we want things to feel a certain way and they simply don't.

After that jarring commercial, I spent time heaping my grocery cart with everything I could think of that we might need between now and Christmas, and I fought my way down packed aisles of people with crabby looks on their faces because they were all trying to do the exact same thing.  The checkout clerk didn't speak to me, probably because of her own stress level, and a woman walked down the middle of the parking lot, slowly looking for her car, totally oblivious to my desire to escape as I slowly drove behind her, waiting for her to pick a side.  Needless to say, it was a day with the opposite of peace and calm at every turn.

But then I walked in the door, carted my bags in, and slowly began to sort and unload, making sense of all the items. Once that task was completed, I had a soft moment. I know that's a strange term, but let me explain...  I was standing in the kitchen, gently tucking some sparkly ornaments around the edges of a creamy white, potted poinsettia when I realized unexpectedly, that I was enjoying myself in that very moment.  There was nothing but quiet around me, the house was clean and the Christmas lights were on.  I had a new nail polish color waiting for me to try, a magazine that had arrived in the mailbox and The Crown, season two to look forward to.  I felt peace and calm settle over me, and I felt like God whispered to me something dear and important.  I felt like He said, "Dear heart, you actually won't feel like it's Christmas this year... it simply won't "feel" the way you have felt in years past, because it's not the same anymore with your earthly daddy gone, and that's okay...but I'll give you peace and rest if you only notice the moments."  And I whispered my thanks to Him later, as I stood in the living room, pressing play on the fireplace DVD in another pocket of calm.  I promised Him I would begin to look for the moments to come...

That evening, we gathered as a family and watched Faulty Towers on Netflix.  People were on phones and doing their own thing, but they were also paying attention enough to laugh at the antics of John Cleese, so instead of being annoyed by their half-attention as I am often wont to do, I chose to soak in the peace of that calm and sweet moment.  I had a few more moments of peace through my entire day, that had a God-whisper reminder all over them... the glow of soft candles on the table, coffee with some of my dearest friends and baby snuggles, the delicious dinner we tucked in to, the coffee my husband had waiting for me this morning as I woke... so many things to focus on if I only have eyes to see them.

Sometimes you have to create your own calm and we spoke about that for the past six blog posts... and then sometimes it simply hits and you only need to see and savor it.   I'm not sure if it FEELS like Christmas to you this year or not.  Maybe it doesn't and it almost feels like you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, in desperation to change the feeling into one where you're left with joy and tingles of anticipation.  But as that seldom works, perhaps we simply don't... perhaps we let it not feel anything but what it does feel like, and we let that other stuff go, in trust that it's okay when it doesn't feel the same it's always felt.  Perhaps God has something different... or a different type of peace and calm waiting for you.  It may be in small moments that are nice, and they may even happen in between some hard moments.  But in all of our moments, let's be thankful and observant for what God has for us.  I believe if we do this, He will richly bless us with pearls of calm in which to string together in our souls.  

Here's to a Christmas filled with C A L M moments, 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Keeping the weekend C A L M

Happy Sunday evening dear ones.  I wanted to thank you for each of your very sweet responses to the Calm Christmas series I just completed.  I want to sit down and respond to each of your comments at some point this week!  You are such a wonderful bunch.  We are coming off a very calm weekend around here where we kept things low key but festive and we actually stayed in our jammies all day long yesterday (except for the boy who had to work) and had football on, and did some baking.  It was just what I needed. There is something to be said for scheduling "non-leaving" days into the month of December!  I love those seldom-seen days.  I think my soul breathes especially deeply on those days.  I hope you're working to keep things calm on your end as well.  

We are hosting a small birthday celebration this evening and I came up with a fun and festive drink to serve.  I mentioned that I was planning to keep my hostess offerings very simple this season and that champagne was one of those stand-by options.  I wanted to fancy it up a bit for this party, so I created a simple syrup recipe with juices and sweetener to go along with it.  I thought you might enjoy having this treat in your holiday arsenal, since it turned out so well.

All I did was mix 1/4 cup orange juice (I squeezed mine freshly and strained it but any would work), plus 1/4 cup cranberry juice (no sugar) and 1/4 cup sweetener of choice. (I used swerve in mine for a lower carb option.) I also added some orange peel and star anise for a spicy kick, heated it until the sweetener was dissolved and chilled it.

When you're ready to serve this, add a tbsp. into the bottom of each flute, top with champagne and a curled orange peel garnish. It's a very pretty and simple drink.

I wanted to also share these two photos of our baking day because it was quite the sweet (heh, heh...) scene.  We only made gingerbread cookies (some in the form of little houses for the edge of a cocoa cup- the cutter was found on Amazon some time ago), monster cookies and fudge.  Ava is giving small goody bags away to a dozen of her friends and was such a wonderful help in the entire day. I can't imagine how I did a baking day without her sweet help before.  Gosh it's good to have a teenager daughter!!

Wishing you a sweetly calm week ahead... 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hosting for a CALM CHRISTMAS

Today I am wrapping up this series I've been writing, on creating a Calm Christmas for yourself and those you love and as I said a the top of my previous post, my deepest wish is that all of us, myself included, can streamline our holidays just a touch in various ways, and out of that intentionality, open-handedly offer something different to our loved ones. The world offers chaos and pressure to do, buy, get, make, be and attain.  We can offer calm.  We can offer quiet and peace.  We can offer a heart, a home and yourself in a way that sooths and beckons a gentle welcome out of the fray. We can be used to bless and we can do it without feeling the pressure of "one more thing" on the listI have a few simple ideas for hosting to share today, and all are inexpensive and under-done in a world where over-done is the norm.

I'm going to make an opinionated claim here, based on things I've observed, hosting events for the past twenty years.  Ready for it?  I believe that hosting is most stressful the more choices are offered.  Let me explain by using just one example with beverages, though this extends to much of hosting stress.  Let's say your guest arrive and you ask them, "Can I get you something to drink?"  They likely respond by asking what you have, and you may begin listing off seven or eight choices.  Calm stealer right there and here's why.  Give someone more than three choices and then multiply that by each person you're hosting and whatchout... you're in the kitchen mixing and pouring and missing out for the next fifteen minutes or more.  You need to streamline that thing down and make life easy on yourself.  I like to have water, an obvious choice out, in an available self-serve sitting, and offer two choices besides, tops.  I like to do this even if the choices are out for self service.  It's like developing a signature style.  You invite friends, and serve one or two signature cocktails based on the season.  Perhaps you have a signature cookie you tend to bake each holiday and that becomes a no-brainer item that people can anticipate enjoying at your home.  Or you have a signature dinner you tend to serve each time you have guest because it's no fail, which means no stress.  Amen to that. Giving your own self fewer choices, often diminishes your own stress when hosting!  KISS- keep it simple, sweetheart.

This season I am offering two signature drinks which is also more cost effective than stocking an entire bar for the masses and their beverage whims.  I think part of hosting stress can be the feeling like you're not in control of the setting, but it calms right down when you regain control by taking it back and making it work for you in all of the ways you can control.  (Obviously, there are a tremendous amount of moments you aren't able to wrap up tightly like you'd prefer and you can refer back to the beginning of this Calm Christmas series where we talked specifically about that.) (If you're wondering what my two signature drinks are, one is champagne because it's fun to offer, goes with virtually everything and most people enjoy a festive glass.  The other is a shot of spiced rum in a stevia sweetened cream soda for no carbs. It's been a big hit to everyone who has tried it.)

I'm also sharing these very sweet drink stirrers that I created in moments, by simply hot gluing tiny bottle brush trees to the tops of trimmed skewers.  They make the perfect, festive topper to a party beverage.

I am offering two signature cookies throughout this month, and that's pretty much all I'm planning to bake. (Monster cookies and gingerbread cookies- which I'll be sharing the recipe for soon.  Both gluten free.)  They are no-fail, favorite recipes and I enjoy making them each year.  I'll freeze some and have them on hand all month long.  That's an instant calm as well.  Having things on hand.  Thinking ahead just a little, to stock a pantry with nibbles for a cheese tray and a cookie platter helps make the season calm.

This is a new hosting tip for calm, but it's come to me after having a large number of introverts in my life and finally figuring out what helps them deal with the large gatherings.  Creating a simple, yet separate conversation space to offer for anyone who wants to escape during gatherings is really calming and I've noticed, appreciated.  Sometimes even I need to escape for a moment! Adrain and I recently rearranged our office and pulled in the wonderful chairs we had on the front porch.  They needed a fresh coat of paint and some fabric recovered so we did that and were able to create this lovely little nook in the front of our home.  It's been used for many escapes so far!

There are obvious tips I've shared many times, such as thoughtfully stocking tables, drawers or cupboards with the items you'll use for that season or event but again, keeping choices limited is so helpful... think about extending this idea to choosing your table linens, glassware or that sort of thing.  Fewer choices can simplify life and can greatly add to a calm Christmas when it comes to hosting. I've so enjoyed sharing this series with you and pray it helps you in creating the calm Christmas we all desire. 

May we all remember the Reason for this Season and let that calm wash over us.  
Here's to a C A L M    C H R I S T M A S! 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Gift giving for a CALM CHRISTMAS

We are nearly finished with the Calm Christmas  series.  I will be sharing about hosting for a calm Christmas next.  My deepest wish is that all of us, myself included, can streamline our holidays, in various ways, and out of that intentionality, open-handedly offer something different to our loved ones. The world offers chaos and pressure to do, buy, get, make, be and attain.  We can offer calm.  We can offer quiet and peace.  We can offer a heart, a home and yourself in a way that sooths and beckons a gentle welcome out of the fray. We can be used to bless and we can do it without feeling the pressure of "one more thing" on the listI have just a few simple ideas for gift-giving to share today, and all are inexpensive and under-done in a world where over-done is the norm.

When it comes to gift-giving, my head wants to explode.  I would imagine that I'm like most people, who truly enjoy loving on others by giving them ALL something their heart can delight in... but my budget often wants to give them a happy meal toy instead.  Knowwhatimean? Or perhaps you go the other way and can't think of the perfect thing to give, so you feel tremendous pressure. Perhaps you overspend to please, or perhaps you don't exchange at all because everyone has everything they already need and your item will simply get returned anyway.  Regardless, gift giving is meant to bless but it often doesn't, either for the giver or the receiver.  Obviously I don't know the people you are gifting, but I'd love to share a few solutions that have worked very well when it comes to gift exchanges, in my past, from exchanging with extended family, to close friends.  The key in all of them, have been communicating very honestly about what we could or could not commit to, on the front end.  I can't stress that enough.

For exchanges with friends, a favorite things exchange is often fun, provided the group is smallish.  It's easy to set a five dollar per person limit and purchase several of the same, favorite item to offer each one.  I'm doing this with my bible study group and thought I would share so you can get the idea.  There are five of us in the group so each person brings four of their favorites to give each of the other people.  I love the Anthropologie initial mugs but they were slightly over the allotted budget.  I found a Target knock-off and was able to grab one for each of my friends.  I created a sweet little tag and that was that.

Baking in pretty packaging is always a fun idea and stretches if you have many to hand out... and don't be afraid of packing up store-bought treats.  It's not like it's a contest.  Trader Joe's has awesome treats this time of year and by buying several boxes and then breaking them up for combined goodie trays it's like a mini treat collection that anyone might enjoy.

Doing stocking stuffers, rather than big gifts can be really fun both with your own family, as well as with other extended family or friends. This works well with those who have everything, as do the following two ideas.

Books swaps.  Everyone brings a wrapped copy of their favorite book, and then play it like a white elephant where each person grabs a gift from the pile, opens and can steal from one another, etc.

Experiences rather than gifts, such as a sport outing, a performance or concert or simply a day out together having a meal, taking a walk, seeing a movie together, enjoying lights and such.  A planned game night with friends is always fun in lieu of gift exchanges as well.  For New Year's Eve, we purchased a murder mystery game on Amazon and our teenagers parceled out the parts to several of their friends.  We will be hosting a small gathering, coming in costume and in character and playing that during the course of the evening.  It's a fun idea and so much better than sitting around.
Also giving something live... a little rosemary tree in a sweet container, a potted plant or paper whites that have been forced in a container are nice gift ideas that most people can appreciate.  They work well for hostesses, teachers or last minute gift exchanges too.  I forced a paper white bulb in a small mason jar by adding a few pebbles at the bottom, placing the bulb on top and watering until just touching the base of the bulb.  It took me just a moment to create and I was able to make several of them at once and give them away for blooming mid-December.  Add a sweet topping or tag and you've got an easy and inexpensive gift. (If you don't like the scent of paper whites, you could do this with an amaryllis bulb or hyacinths too, but the cost would increase.)

In closing, I'd like to simply say that standing strong and setting your boundaries and limits will only enhance your calm in the long run.  It's easy to get swept away by people pleasing or not speaking up in large family gatherings when this topic arises but if you take the time for self care here, you'll be better for it through the season and you won't be nearly as frantic with shopping demands.  Pretty sure we could all welcome that!
Here's to a C A L M    C H R I S T M A S! 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Home care for a CALM CHRISTMAS

Home is an extension of ourselves. We offer that extension to those we love, those we are welcoming in, and those we want to bless.  It's definitely a big piece of our hearts this time of year, but can also be one of the biggest pieces of our stress. (Think hosting, cleaning, cooking, pleasing, gathering family we seldom see and trying to make or keep everyone happy the entire time.) A great way to diminish the stress and chaos is by keeping things simple as we deck our halls.  It's home care...   

I have one Christmas décor bin.  One.  It's a big, clear bin and it's full but it's all I've got.  Each year I buy fresh greens and toss old or broken things that won't make it another year, and don't tend to buy much to replace those items unless I really love it. There is something calm about an empty wall space.  An empty coffee table.  An empty side table. I mean, imagine that you have those spaces open, and friends or family come over.  They have a place to put up their feet and rest... or set a drink down and savor time, or feel rested because not every surface has clutter on it for their eyes to evaluate. Avoiding the temptation to deck every hall or every flat surface creates décor that is both calm and simple.

We hear the word "simplicity" or " "going simple with decorating,"  a lot. This time of year the word simple is bandied around quite a bit but seldom actually seen...  Simplicity is to calm, what overdone is to chaos.  They go hand in hand. Even this season I started out with what felt simple at first, and then found myself pulling one item off here, or there over the next several days.  (In years past, I have been known to undecorated half the house in mid-December because I couldn't take all of the extra in the 1500 sq feet my family of four lives in. I tried to learn from that feeling and start simpler from the onset.  I can always add more if something feels too overdone.)  This year, I purchased a 25 foot live cedar garland from Costco and  used pieces of it all through our home.  I hung a length of it over the office chalk board calendar, a length of it went over our bed headboard as well as on the mantle, and I used small cedar clippings to create bundles that hang from our French doors.  I prefer fresh and natural as opposed to something I need to store each season and the scent is lovely too.  After decorating my own home, I took a moment and jotted down the questions I ask myself as I go.  I suddenly realized that this is how home care works for me.  It felt appropriate to include  this checklist of questions to ask as we decorate and open our homes this season, with the goal of creating a calm Christmas for ourselves and anyone else we plan to welcome inside.

Questions to ask yourself for Home Care, in creating a Calm Christmas:

1) Are there too many pillows? Not enough? Throw blankets, nice textures?
2) Is there too much furniture competing with the addition of the tree and potential extra guests?
3) Are the walls cluttered? (Do I need to remove a few hangings temporarily?)
4) Are there any empty flat surfaces in this home at all or does every flat surface have filler on it?
5) Is my home speaking softly or screaming loudly? (Think: Lighting, sounds, smells, colors)
6) Did I remove everyday décor items when I added holiday items or did I cram the holiday items next to what was already on display? (If I added to what I already had, why not remove a few of the every day items for the month and showcase the holiday items instead?)
7) Is there room on the table for food or has a centerpiece taken over? (Tip: Placing a centerpiece on a tray makes for really quick mobility if a game breaks out and more space is needed.)
8) Have I created spaces where I can easily pull festive party items out of drawers or cupboards for simple yet easy gatherings?  This includes a few stand-by snacks.  A simple array of cold cuts, nice cheese wedges and nuts go great with a bottle of wine, or a tray of cookies work nicely for an impromptu cocoa bar.
9) Have I overdone the "useless" décor in spaces where useful décor is important? (Think kitchens and cocoa bars and such.)
10) If someone came into my home, would they be overwhelmed or rested by the simplicity?

I hope you enjoyed this segment on creating a calm Christmas by caring for our homes.  As always, I love your feedback in comments! 

Here's to a C A L M   C H R I S T M A S

Monday, December 4, 2017

Self care for a CALM CHRISTMAS

So far in this Calm Christmas series, we have talked about being flexible, seeking God as your refuge rather than false escapes that let you down with delayed consequences, and heart care (creating a restful spot to go to God each morning and give Him your heart)... Today, I would like to turn it inward a bit and talk about some practical ways we can give ourselves care so that our approach with others, no matter how they are behaving, can be calm.  I always think of this topic as putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, so you can help those around you.

There aren't many other holiday seasons in life where there are as many constant demands on us, day and night, like there are at Christmastime. We are bombarded with so much even before Thanksgiving happens, that we often let self care slide a bit.  Those are things we typically carve out time to do such as taking time to care for our physical bodies. This could include taking time to work out, eat right, care for our hair, nightly flossing, nail care, waxing, shaving our legs and even wearing old, ugly pajamas with holes in them.  It's personal and could obviously include many other things but you get the idea.  It's so easy to get out of our routines or worse yet, skip things that we need more or extra of, during the winter months, because we're so busy and exhausted.  (For example, I know that my skin is particularly dry this month and one way I stop and pamper myself for just a few minutes each week, is a daily in-shower lotion application immediately after the shower water stops.   I've found it to be a time saver and I need more multi tasking products like that in my life.  Taking time to properly remove the dirt and grime from our teeth and skin each night can be easily skipped after a late night, but it's so good for us to value our bodies enough that we carve out a few moments for extra, good care.  I like to purchase one skin treat for myself with all of the holiday specials, such as a new eye cream or something along those lines and it helps motivate me to be diligent. I also coat my eyelashes with Vaseline each night because of the extra make up I can wear for parties and such.  Just a tiny pampering action.)

This one seems really obvious, but diet can suffer big time during the holidays (as most of us know.)  It's so easy to eat the wrong things or too much of them.  Or inhale something quick, standing at the counter before having to dash out to the next event.  I'm making it a priority to plan ahead as much as I can, prep snacks and meals we can make easily and hydrate like crazy.  I love to pull out our water bottles and give them all a good sanitizing scrub and then make myself use them non-stop.  I never even run errands with out my water!  I heard a trick the other day that I've yet to try but it sounds promising.  You put eight rubber bands on your water bottle in the am, and take one off each time you empty the contents and refill. It's always going to come down to "being intentional" but during the holidays that can feel like such a burden with everything else we are being intentional about...It's easy to feel like we have to let some things slide for survival sake.  During the weeks of my dad's hospice care and planning the memorial service I was getting sick and took extremely good care of myself food/hydration-wise.  Afterward, I was so glad I had made that a priority.  I tried to think of it as a treat for myself.  We all have to eat anyway, but you can choose something quick and healthy or something quick and unhealthy.  There are options for everything so it's simply a choice we make and does not have to feel burdensome unless we develop the mindset that it is.  Does that make sense?

Of course, self care goes beyond diet and simply finding time for a fresh manicure or nightly skin care... it can also reach into removing stressors off our plates that we don't even pay attention to.  One that immediately comes to mind is the inbox.  Often with purchases and life, we end up on many email lists.  I like to spend time occasionally backtracking though my trash and unsubscribing from everything! It is the most freeing feeling.  Normally I get in the habit of simply deleting things but actually unsubscribing is followed by the most enjoyable inbox quiet and calm. It honestly doesn't take that long.  In fact, most of the things I am suggesting doing for yourself don't take very long but the benefits are long-lasting.

I also think mental health can be calmed by sitting down with a latte and having a planning meeting with oneself.  I do this regularly and it doesn't have to take hours.  I get all of the calendars together, make certain they are each updated exactly the same and plan additional items that need to be penciled in.  I love to cancel a few of the things that aren't actually urgent or important at this time as well.  It invokes a calm in my calendar and can be done in minutes.  (I also don't make a list of things that I'll probably do anyway, like find a night to play a game, or "sip cocoa" with my family.  Now, I have nothing against the fun, moms that are being creative in this department... I simply know that whenever I tried to list more onto my plate, I end the month much crankier. That's just me.  Just something to think about if you're feeling pressure to make a fun, big list of activities for your people.  The activities can still happen... you just don't have to plan them out and adhere to a possibly guilt-inducing list.)

I've promoted this for years in many blog posts so many of you are probably rolling your eyes, but... creating a calm bedroom is so huge which is why I am sharing photos of our festive master bedroom in this post. I always treat myself to a brief cleaning spree, (again, this can take half hour tops so don't feel overwhelmed) where I dust with a nice smelling cleaner like Mrs. Meyer's orange clove and toss out clutter. (We don't tend to keep much clutter in our bedroom, so this doesn't take me long because of that life habit. I realize that isn't everyone's story but don't beat yourself up if you have two hours (or more) of work to do in your bedroom in order to create calm.  Simply pull yourself up by your bootstraps, grab a trash bag and get er done.  You'll be glad you did and if it's the only clutter free space in your home during December at least you've got an oasis to enjoy now, you know?)  I like to quickly tidy drawers and closets, (okay this one can take a while so just close the doors if it will be a long project and you don't have time.) freshen linens, clear under bed areas and bedside drawers, restock depleted or tatty looking towels in the master bath and add some fresh and seasonal elements for that bit of romantic sparkle.  I think candles that smell lovely and twinkle lights are never out of place in a master bedroom.  I've pulled cozy throws and quilts into our master, and moved art work around for a fresh feel.  It can feel like the calmest of havens or the most stressful storage space in your home, depending on how you treat it but it's where you spend almost half your life and half your holiday time, attempting to refresh and restore so it's probably worth a small time investment, yes?
Self care can often be found in preparedness.  My very favorite, practical way to prepare for a calm Christmas is the gift wrap preparing.  Firstly, I wrap each gift as I go.  I wrap them as they arrive or as I purchase them.  That way I keep calm because I know I haven't got a mountain of gifts waiting to be dealt with at some point.  Don't procrastinate on this.  If that's not your style, one fun way to get them done is to have a wrapping party with girlfriends where you all watch a holiday movie and wrap your presents together.  I did this one year and it was a blast.  It also helps to to gather all of your wrapping supplies and gift toppings together in one easy to grab tote. I get mine ready each November as I like to have all of my shopping done before December hits. (To me, that is self-care!)  I find my heart calming as I'm not always frantically hunting for the scissors or tape.

Finally.  Saying no, being honest, voicing concerns and being practical with others about what will or wont work can be the biggest form of self care there is. It's hard to have a voice when you know your voice with disappoint another.  After reading the comments on Instagram the other day when I asked what stressed people out, this was the common theme- Some were stressing about gatherings that were hard for littles, some were trying to balance obligations and events they didn't want to attend, finances they lacked, some were stressing because they were being asked to donate and give and some simply put too much important on their own expectations of what they were able to give and do.  In all of these, there is (yes really) an opportunity to evaluate and bow out. (If you haven't checked out "The Best Yes" by Lysa TerKeurst you might want to grab it from the library now.) If it's not going to work, voice it.  If it's too expensive and you simply need to stop doing a gift exchange, voice it.  If an event wont work for your kids, suggest an alternative.  If you don't want to go but it's expected, be honest and say that you're really in need of some down time so you can be your best for your immediate family.  I've done all of the above and I am an absolute people pleaser to the you CAN learn to say no and just let some of that stuff go while you stick to your guns and make people mad.  If they truly love you they will get used to your newfound backbone or boundaries over time. Have a sweet heart, be polite, gracious and respectful but be honest and stand up for yourself and your family.  You won't regret that in the long run.

How do you best care for your self in this season?  Feel welcome to add your voice to comments in this precious community so others can benefit from your wisdom and encouragement for a
C A L M   C H R I S T M A S. 

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33