Category Archives: Holidays

A Perfect Christmas

A Perfect Christmas

The title got you, didn’t it?  Everyone wants to find the secret to “A Perfect Christmas”.  Do you know that if you Google that particular phrase, you’ll get nearly 57 MILLION results?  We’re obsessed.  We all want to reach that pinnacle of holiday transcendence!

What does that even mean, and why are we so willing to sacrifice our finances, energy, mental and emotional health to achieve it?  Why are there so many Clark Griswold’s among us?


What if you could have a wonderful Christmas without going broke?  Without feeling like it’s never enough?  Without your year end calendar looking like the Dave Matthews Band tour schedule?  You can.  The best Christmases are made up of one thing, and one thing only:  Great memories.  Let’s talk about making those, shall we?

Like most people in my generation (dear God, if you ever want to feel old, just say – or type – “my generation”), we didn’t have extravagant Christmases when I was growing up.  Or extravagant anything.  Forget extravagant…I don’t think we even had standard-vagant.  But no matter….my Christmas memories are stunning and warm and wonderful.

We didn’t have much, but we had the important things.  We had the Firestone Christmas Collection albums that played Vic Damone, Julie Andrews, and the Vienna Boys Choir on the console stereo.  I would RUSH to turn the LPs over when one side finished, and my mother warned each time “don’t you scratch those records!”  We had visits from my grandparents, and an Advent wreath, and red tapered candles that were only lit at Christmas.  We had a real tree that made the house smell glorious all by itself, no pine sprays needed. (We didn’t worry about pine needles in the carpet then.  We had this nifty thing called a vacuum, and if that didn’t work, the kids crawled around on the floor and picked up every last one of them.)

Oh, and with real tinsel.  That had to be put on one strand at a time.  ONE strand at a time.  Or risk the wrath of my oldest sister.  Then the cat would eat the tinsel off the tree.  And you’d find tinsel in their poop.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever cleaned a litter box with tinsel-poop in it!


My grandmother would bake pies that were simply perfect, and my mother would completely ruin a potentially scrumptious turkey by baking it for 12 hours.  We used the real bone china, which was older than the hills and only removed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  The fancy cutlery also came out of its velvet lined box, and was painstakingly polished the week before.

There were Christmas specials on television, usually strung together on one or two nights, that meant staying up late and getting popcorn and Kool-Aid. There were parades, and festivals, and potlucks.  Our teachers spent weeks preparing for chorale programs that filled the gymnasium with assorted relatives and neighbors, and ended with each of us getting our own candy cane.

Midnight Mass was never missed, which meant my Mother’s mandate of an afternoon nap so I could stay awake at church.  A nap.  On Christmas Eve. When every child in the world is so excited they can feel their hair growing.  I’m sure I never dozed off, and I’m sure she knew I wouldn’t doze off, but it gave her some extra free time to get those last minute tasks done…or maybe just have a glass of wine in peace.

It. Was. Amazing.

But you know what I don’t remember?  What gifts I received.  With the exception of a stuffed snake that was bigger than I was from my sister the year I was almost 7, I only recall new handmade flannel gowns from my grandmother.  That’s it.

Then I had my own family, and for a short while, lost my mind trying to have THE BEST CHRISTMASES EVER!  I started the Toys R Us layaways around June or something equally ridiculous.  I fussed over the latest hors d’oeuvres featured in Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest.  I put up trees in the living room, the family room, the dining room…and table top trees in the kids’ rooms.  I coordinated outfits, and made my daughters wear crushed velvet dresses in August to take advantage of the Olan Mills’ pre-holiday sales.

I digress.  My revelation about what truly matters was hard earned, and for another post.  In a nutshell:  Got divorced, got really poor, and yada yada yada…learned that my kids didn’t care about all that stuff.  I call it “The Miracle of the Paper Chain”, and I promise to write about it soon.

Now, about having that wonderful Christmas.  Let’s apply the K.I.S.S. principal (Keep It Simple, Sweetie!):

Keep A Tradition (or Make a New One)

It doesn’t really matter what it is, but there is precious sentimentality in being able to say, “Every year, we…..”  Took photos at the giant tree in front of City Hall?  Had a movie/popcorn night on Christmas Eve?  Went caroling?  Made handmade cards?  Not everyone is cut out to read “T’was The Night Before Christmas” in front of a roaring fireplace.  Whether you want to carry on something significant from your past, or break the mold and go in a new direction, commit to a holiday tradition.

Create Something

Are you artistic?  I’m not.  At all.  No skills.  I can’t sew, I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument.  I can cook a bit, but I’m not a natural and I have a limited repertoire.  OK, pretty much I’m the queen of chili and French silk pie….anything else is a crap shoot.  The bottom line is that the effort matters more than the result.  Whether you make a digital holiday card, whip up dozens of cookies, write an entertaining Christmas letter or poem, knit some mittens for your neighbor, or bedazzle your way to the 1st place award in the office Ugly Sweater Contest, use your creativity and share it with those around you.


Give of Yourself

Easy option:  write a check to a local charity.  I would never discourage anyone who has the means from supporting organizations that help others.  If you want to genuinely fill your heart, though, cash won’t do it.  Adopt a family for Christmas.  Volunteer at a local animal shelter, homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food pantry.  Take a turn as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.  If you can play a piano, there are nursing homes everywhere that would welcome an hour of Christmas songs filling the halls.  Short on funds, but have energy to offer?  Clean a house for a neighbor, put up someone’s Christmas lights, offer to address Christmas cards for someone whose arthritis makes it hard for them to do, offer to babysit for a friend who needs some private time.  I promise you, there is an abundance of need for things you can do.   The “Season of Giving” was never meant to mean material things.


Eat, Play, Love

I will be the last person to advise you to throw caution to the wind on what you eat, because I know those who struggle with food choices (like myself) don’t need anyone telling them to just enjoy the holidays and eat whatever they want.  I will tell you, though, that you should not feel guilty if your coworker makes the best cookies ever and you have one.  The anxiety we create for ourselves by obsessing over what not to indulge in effects the scale more than that cookie does, I promise you.

Be silly.  Play the Pie in the Face game or Twister.  Yes, you’ll look ridiculous.  It’s OK.  Sing Karaoke.  Get out the Monopoly game.  When’s the last time you played a rousing game of War with a deck of cards?  Do you have snow where you are?  If you do, know that I’m jealous, and you practically owe it to me to either have a snowball fight or build a snowman or make snow ice cream. The critical thing is to put down your phone or tablet, and engage with people.

Love each other.  While most aren’t comfortable with an abundance of emotional gushing, the holiday season offers a free pass for getting gushy without being branded a weirdo.  Whether it’s the general vibe or the result of the eggnog, it’s ok to look someone in the eye and say “You mean the world to me”.  And unless you’re saying that to someone you’ve been secretly stalking for six months, it will mean the world to them to hear it.  So if you’re reminiscing about good times and someone’s name comes up that isn’t with you, pick up your phone and reach out.  Be genuine.

Oh, and my final thought:  If you want a happier life, don’t abandon these tips when January rolls around.  If you live your life with appreciation, generosity, and love, it will come back to you.




Dear Dad:

Dear Dad:

This Sunday will mark Father’s Day.  Like many of you, we’ll be getting the grill fired up, the coolers loaded up with drinks, and carousing the card aisles for just the right mix of funny and sincere sentiments.


It amuses me that Mother’s Day cards are full of flowing poetry and giant bouquets of flowers, but somehow the male parent is mostly recognized by poorly drawn cartoons that reference golf clubs, lawn mowers, empty wallets, or intestinal disturbances. 

To be fair, there’s a second segment of cards that are designed for fathers of adult children, that usually show some ducks  or deer on the front, and offer Alan Alda-ish acknowledgement of a job well done….the Hallmark version of “Sorry for what I put you through those first 25 years, but I want you to know I get it now.”

I think our family is typical of many in our current society.  My kids will celebrate here with their stepdad.  Their father is a thousand miles away, and will have to be content with phone calls.  My son will celebrate as a Daddy himself, and is most looking forward to sleeping in and handmade cards.  It’s the little things when you have children that are still in single digit ages.

It strikes me that for as many happy celebrations on Sunday, there will be sadness and melancholy:  children and fathers who are emotionally estranged;  those who have lost their Dad or their child; families that are separated by miles, whether they be serving in the military, struggling to hold together a fractured family, or simply spread far and wide as they travel life’s journey.  There will be many quiet tears shed this Sunday for words never said, opportunities lost, and plain cruel fate.   I’ll be mentally hugging some friends who will be facing Father’s Day without their Dads …..and smiling for the friends I have who are celebrating this as their first Father’s Day.

Joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, ying and yang.

I’ll be thinking of my own father, who died much too young in 1973.  I have now lived longer than my Dad did, which is, for some reason, an uneasy realization.  The hollow in my stomach won’t come from missing my Dad, though.  It will be more for the lack of concrete memories of Father’s Days past, the ones during which my Father was front and center.  1973 was a long time ago.  My memories of my Dad have become fuzzy and unfamiliar.  I can see his face, but can’t recall his voice anymore.  I can picture him perfectly walking down the sidewalk with a cigarette, but don’t remember his aftershave.  It’s sad to acknowledge that my recollections of someone who was so critical to me are beginning to fade.  It’s like catching a favorite old movie on TV late at night….you know you loved it, but you can’t quite recall all the details of the story anymore.

If my Dad were going to be at my house this Sunday, I’d ask him what his dream vacation would be.  I’d watch a Cardinals game with him.  I’d ask him if he ever wished he’d chosen a different line of work.  I’d get his input on how to tame the side yard and make it useful space.  I’d ask him about HIS parents, whom I have no memory of at all.  I’d let him man the BBQ, or at least let him supervise, and I’d definitely have pork steaks on that grill.

(If you don’t know what pork steaks are, you’re not from South St. Louis, and, I’m sorry.)


I’d ask him if he’d ever wanted to go to college.  I’d ask him how he managed to eat bologna sandwiches every day and not hate  bologna.  I’d apologize for not having any Falstaff in the cooler, but make sure there was plenty of Budweiser and Pepsi.

Life is a fast journey, and the twists and turns in the road can come out of nowhere.  This Father’s Day, whether you get to share BBQ with your Dad or resort to a phone call or, for my high tech friends, a video conferencing session, try to make it count.  Skip the funny fart card, and write your Father a letter.  Don’t waste a phone call by “Just want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day”, but thank your Dad for one specific thing he taught you.  Make plans to get together and then KEEP THEM.  If the miles are too great, at least agree to chat more often.

There won’t always be “next year”.  Make your memories.  Strengthen your bonds.  Don’t hide behind Hallmark cards and 2 minute phone calls.  Appreciate what you have, even if it’s not a scene right out of Leave it to Beaver.


Feeding Demons

Feeding Demons

I like buying vodka tonics for my alcoholic friend.

Before he stopped drinking, it was his favorite cocktail.  Mine too.

For him, the vodka tonics cause cascades of problems in his life, both physical and emotional.  One day, he turned a corner.  He acknowledged that he has a problem with alcohol, and announced that he was going to stop drinking and work on getting healthy.


I am super proud of him.  I cheered him on that first week, then 2, and was ecstatic when he got his 30 day chip from AA.

I took him out for dinner to celebrate, and got him a vodka tonic.  Just one, of course, because I didn’t want him to go overboard.  I just wanted to reward him a little bit.  He *loves* vodka tonics.

Ridiculous, right?  No decent person would sabotage a friend that way.

So why do we do it with food for our friends who are struggling with healthy eating?

Not the friend who’s swearing off dairy for a month because she’s bloated, or the one who wants to be down 5 lbs. for an upcoming social engagement.  No, not the vanity dieters.


The ones who have struggled with food addictions, with weight issues, with emotional dependency on food for years, decades, even an entire lifetime.  The ones whose quality of life, and quite possibly length of life, is being destroyed by food.  The yo-yo dieters, the ones who hate having their pictures taken, the ones who feel so self conscious when they’re out in public they develop anxiety, the ones on multiple prescriptions before they’re 40.


They struggle greatly.  If they’re lucky, something clicks one day, and they commit to making a change.  Just like our friend the alcoholic, they decide to take back their life.  You encourage them.  You cheer them on.

Then you set them up for failure.

You have great excuses:

“It’s a birthday, for heaven’s sake!”

“Christmas only comes once a year!”

“One teeeeeeny tiny slice of cake is not going to kill you!”

“Ohmigosh, it’s not like you can go FOREVER without mashed potatoes!”

“Everything in moderation!  Just don’t overdo it!”


It’s like buying an alcoholic a vodka tonic.  Do you know that research shows sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine?  EIGHT TIMES.Seriously, the research is right here. )

Imagine, you’re addicted to cocaine.  You want to stop, you really do.  It’s ruining your life.  It’s ruining your health.  It’s ruining your self esteem.  Yet, 90% of what you ingest everyday to survive has some cocaine in it.  You find out that all the “healthy” food you’ve been eating has all sorts of cocaine in it!  OMG!  You tiptoe around to find food that won’t trigger your cravings and the inevitable spiral that happens once you give in.  Then your friends keep offering you cocaine!  Just a little, of course.  Can you imagine?


Not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic.  Not everyone who eats a cupcake has a food addiction.  But if your friend has a serious battle with food or weight and is trying to get control of their health and their life, please don’t sabotage them.  Don’t encourage them to “cheat a little”.  Don’t bake them a cake for their birthday, or encourage them to splurge one night at dinner because they “deserve it”.  I know you mean well, but you’re hurting them.  Respect their boundaries.  It may be that they hit a spot where they can have that teeny tiny slice of cake once in awhile, but only they know when they’re ready for that.

Take food out of their celebrations and personal rewards.  Pile up some strawberries, or some other favorite treat that works in their eating plan.  Want to reward a milestone? A gift card for some smaller clothes.  Get a photo frame for a “before and after” reminder of how far they’ve come.  Join them on a walk or bike ride.

Most importantly, love them through the process.  There will be setbacks, there will be failures, but keep pushing and supporting and cheering them on.  Just don’t give them a break with a Kit Kat bar.