Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oh, Sister: Thank Goodness for Siblings

All this week National Public Radio has been doing a series on siblings and sibling relationships. I've really enjoyed listening to these segments. As an only child, I often find myself baffled by the interactions of siblings, especially my own two sons. And I'm fascinated by birth order. Am I more like a baby or a first-born seeing as how I am both? And what about twins and the siblings of twins? How does birth order work for them? It's all endlessly fascinating to me, but at the end of the day, I still feel like I've missed out on one of the most amazing relationships in the world by not having a sibling.

When I see my girlfriends going off to do things with their sisters, like shopping or baking during the holidays, I always feel a pang of envy. How lucky are they! As I child I was addicted to the Trixie Belden books. I longed to have a big family like Trixie's with a wise and sensible older brother to look out for me like Trixie's older brother Brian.

In reality, I was very lonely as a child, so when it came time for us to decide whether or not we wanted an only, in my heart the decision was already made. Yes, by having an only we could give him much more in terms of material possessions and opportunities in life. But what would all that be worth if our son walked through life all alone, without the ties that a sibling can give you.

I don't know that anything can compare to the shared experience siblings, especially those who are close in age, have.

My father chose not to be a part of my life and unless he's dead, he's out there. Somewhere. And somewhere out there, I most likely have siblings. Or half-siblings. Sisters or brothers who might look like me. Think like me. Sound like me. But unlike me, I hope they had, not only the love of our father and their mother, but the love of each other.

If you have a sibling, this Thanksgiving let them know how much they mean to you. If you're not close, work a little harder to get to know them. Once your parents are gone, you will only ever truly have each other and you'll be thankful then to have someone who shares the same memories and life experiences as you. Someone who can always help you remember.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas (or Winter Holiday, if you please): Dawn's 10 Holiday Survival Tips

That's right, Shawties! It's that time of year again. The one where there's never enough time or money. When all your crazy relatives set your teeth on edge and make you wish you could hole up somewhere until the whole affair is over. The one where you say, "Next year, I'll do things differently." That's right. It's Christmastime.

Now you should know going into this that I love Christmas. Flat out adore this holiday. Hands down, my favorite time of year! But, I know it's not that way for all of y'all so, inspired by TwitterMoms and Tiny Prints, I decided I would share with y'all some of the things I do to keep the hounds of stress away from my door during the holidays. 

First, though, I want to tell you about Tiny Prints. I just discovered their site via their TwitterMoms program. Tiny Prints provides stylish, modern and unique stationery from photo cards to personalized greeting cards to thank you cards and business cards. Offering exclusive designs from the nation’s top designers, easy card personalization, a powerful preview engine and top-notch customer service and paper quality, their designs have been lauded by numerous television networks, publications and celebrities. With Tiny Prints by your side the Holidays will be a cinch! They offer adorable Thanksgiving CardsChristmas CardsHanukkah Cards, and even New Years Cards. All fully customizable and personalizable.I wish I had seen this birth announcement when Beckett was born. And don't even get me started on their gorgeous Christmas cards.

Okay... Let me begin by saying that I am in no way perfect, nor do I think of myself as some sort of role model you should all try to emulate. I have my crazy-making moments. Still, there are things I do to try and keep things as calm as they can be during the holidays and I hope some of you will find my methods helpful. So, let's go...

1. Set the Mood. I work in marketing and event planning for a reason. I am tickled to death by themes and big concepts. I don't think they get much bigger than Christmas. And while I realize some folks go all out and theme Christmas, I kind of think that conceptually, sticking to the basics is the way to go here. And I would say that the same applies whether you're celebrating Channukah, Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice. You don't really need a Down Home Channukah or a Sunny Winter Solstice theme to make your holiday bright. But whatever. I digress. Whatever holiday you celebrate, do it with style. Your own style. But make the mood cheery and festive. Decorate. Play the music. Get your family into it. I start the day after Thanksgiving by pulling out my Christmas dishes and playing Christmas music. I don't always subject my family to the music that early, but it makes me happy and gets me in the spirit to do all the things I need to do. We put up our outdoor decorations Thanksgiving weekend and now that we have a December birthday in the family, the tree goes up early, too, so we can then focus on Beckett's celebration. Being surrounded by the signs and symbols of the holiday put me in a festive mood. When I start to feel stressed all I have to do is listen to Bing Crosby sing Christmas in Killarney or look at the twinkling lights on my mantelpiece to feel that sweet, joyful feeling of Christmas well-being again.

2. Make Your List. And check it twice. Just like Santa with his lists of the good and the naughty, making lists will help you get through the holidays without forgetting anything or doing anything twice. There were years when, inevitably, I would realize on the way to a holiday party or Christmas gathering that I'd forgotten to buy a hostess gift or even worse, a gift for a favored aunt. Now, I make list after list for the holidays. The Christmas Card List. The Gift List. The Menu. The Grocery Lists. The Guest List. The Chore List. The List of Things I Forgot to Add to Other Lists. It sounds tiresome, but I promise you, making lists will save you time and energy as you can see what you have accomplished and what's left to be done. You can make your lists as detailed as you want, too, in order to help you remember and accomplish even more in less time. For instance, on my gift list, I have the recipient of the gift, what they're getting, and where to buy it. Once an item is bought, I strike it from my list. If I've ordered it online, I make a note of when it should be arriving so that if it hasn't arrived by its expected delivery date, I can follow up. Just give this one a try and I believe you'll find that it changes your life. In a good way. 

3. Leftovers Are Your Friends. You'll likely spend enough time in the kitchen over the holidays creating magical holiday meals for your family and friends, making Bourbon Balls, Buckeyes, and all manner of other yummy treats. So cut yourself some slack during this period and order a pizza here and there. Or cook a big meal on Sunday and enjoy the leftovers a couple of nights. I'm a big fan of casseroles like this one

4. Set and Keep a Gift-Buying Budget. Unless you're so darned rich you buy a new boat whenever yours gets wet, then you probably need to watch your nickels and dimes this time of year. This is one place those lists I mentioned earlier can come in handy. In our family, we set a cost per gift. I get ideas from those who will receive gifts from us and figure out which items fit our budget. Next, I make a list of who will get which items and where I can find the item for the best price. This really takes some of the pressure off when I'm shopping. I'm not just running around from store to store like a chicken with its head cut off, ending up spending more than I intended just to have a gift for someone on my list. 

5. You're Only Human. I know you're used to tackling the world's problems day in and day out, but this is the holiday season and we're not talking about your normal routine. You've got school pageants, office parties, family dinners, neighborhood parties, parties with friends, church events, Christmas parades, shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, and much mistletoeing to take care of. And it's okay to say no to some of those things. It's not good for you or your family to overcommit, especially at this time of year. As each invitation comes in, sit down with your family calendar and identify any conflicts. If your heart tells you that you really, truly want to go to the event, then add it to the calendar. If you feel any sense of dread or if there is an existing conflict, politely decline the invitation, unless it is absolutely critical to your family life or career that you go. Some things you just can't get out of, but sometimes, it's simply not worth the exhaustion and disruption to go. Choose wisely, my friends.

6. Take the Best and Ignore the Rest. This holiday, you are like a duck. Not a Christmas duck, all trussed up and roasted, but a pretty little white duck, gliding along placidly. And when your critical mother or your curmudgeonly cousin come along and make waves, you're just going to keep floating along and let the water fall around you, rolling right off your back. No gripes, complaints, criticisms, or gloom and doom prognoses are going to get to you this year. These Negative Nellies in your life want you to be just as miserable as they are. So smile to yourself and go to your happy place. Focus on the joy in your own heart, the beauty in your life and wish the same for them. Find one thing you like about them and focus on that. But whatever you do, don't let them see you crack. Trust me, they will push all your buttons, especially when they don't get a reaction the first time. Just turn the tables on them. Compliment them and let your inner light shine as an example of how we should all treat one another. 

7. Be Authentically You. Why would you want to be anyone else? Okay. Nevermind. I understand that impulse. I've fought it for years. Still do sometimes. But I can only be JakeDawn. I like formal dinners and seeing my kids dressed up on the holiday whereas our family is...well, a little more casual. They prefer shorts and t-shirts (we live in the South, y'all. It might be 75 degrees on Christmas Day!). I want us to do things together like games or maybe to linger over our food and talk about something other than our kids while they're often ready just to move on to gifts as soon as we eat. That's who I am and who they are. And for a while, I tried to just fit in and go with the flow. But I was miserable. So, now, I do my thing and I'm just happy for them to do theirs. We may look like we don't belong at the same event, but so what? We're together and we find the ways to communicate and share that work in the end.

I'm just saying that if you want a big fancy feast and you're hosting, but your mama and them want to show up in blue jeans and eat off paper plates, find a compromise. You dress up and serve the food on your best Christmas china, but let them come as they are and love them for who they are. If they tease you for being different, just say, "Well that's what makes me ME and I'm happy to be ME." 

It doesn't matter that your sister spends two days making special holiday cookies with your nieces while you couldn't make a sugar cookie dough that rolls out to save your life. Figure out what you love about the holidays, what you're good at, and make it your thing. The holidays are not a competition. If you don't enjoy yourself this time of year, what's the point in it all? As my husband says to me all the time, "Everyone runs her own race." So, do your thing and be happy!

8. Breathe. And remember to take time out for your health and well-being. It's easy to let your normal self-care routines suffer during the holidays, but don't. That hour of yoga, 15 minutes of meditation, or 30 minutes at the gym (or with that Jillian Michaels video) can go a long, long way to keeping you calm while it helps balance out some of the tasty treats you'll consume this holiday. Take care of your mind and body and everything else will flow much more smoothly. 

9. Schedule Downtime. I know this sounds impossible. But I'm serious. As I said before, you cannot do it all. No one can. Plan a Saturday afternoon with no dance recitals, parties, pageants, parades, festivals, or outings other than to pick up a pizza for supper. Sit in front of your fire or in the glow of the lights from your tree or some candles. Banish the kids to their bedroom or play room or ask them to play quietly near you and read a book. Listen to some nice music. Watch a favorite holiday movie and just be still. It will do wonders for the whole family.

10. Remember the Reason for the Season. Yeah, I know. I'm a big-ole cliché spouting fool. But as dorky as that may sound, I'm dead serious. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Channukah, Kwanza, worship at the feet of Gaia, or celebrate a purely secular holiday, the Winter Holiday Season, as it were, is about more than rushing around, buying gifts that will be forgotten in a matter of weeks, if not days, and spinning yourself and those around into a frenzy. I believe we are meant to focus on our blessings (be they big or small) and think about how we can serve others at this time of year. Find ways to make your holiday celebration meaningful to you and your family in simple ways. We want our children to know that Christmas is more than the gifts they receive. This year, we'll start a new tradition, giving them each just three gifts, just like the baby Jesus received. This has made them think critically about what they want to ask for and why instead of just begging for everything they see. I've known for weeks now exactly what each child wants. Yes. Even from my almost 4-year old. You can't believe the relief I feel over that. And I'll stick to it, instead of, as in previous years, guilting myself that they weren't getting enough because their friends would get more than they did.

And instead of feeling like I have to contribute to every Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, Salvation Army, or any other charity I run across this holiday season, I've chosen one and we'll contribute to that one. The boys will help and we'll work on it as a family, in a sincere and organized fashion, instead of me running around willy-nilly giving to every charity I see. 

I just think focusing on the bigger meaning of the holiday season really provides a structure for all that we do and reduces the urge to compete with friends and neighbors or to feel like we have to do it all. 

Alright. Well, there you have my ten best tips for surviving the mad dash through the holiday season. I'd love it if y'all would add your tips to my comments. And please check out Tiny Prints and TwitterMoms where you'll find a host of other ideas for surviving the holidays. 

By the way, I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and Tiny Prints blogging program, making me eligible to get a $75 Tiny Prints gift certificate! For more information on how you can participate, click here.