'Tis the Season

December 20, 2010

...for making merry and making memories. As I write this, our Christmas tree flickers and glows in the corner of the family room. Presents are starting to appear beneath it, and plans are being made for a family get together at our house this weekend. We have a few traditions we observe every year: the baking of molasses sugar cookies, watching A Christmas Story on TV, gag gifts in the Christmas stockings, a fire in the fireplace on Christmas day, even if we have to run the air conditioning!

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Do they involve special foods, or the scents of pine, balsam or simmering spiced cider? Are you planning a new tradition this year? Whatever your holiday plans, make sure you take time to recall memories from the past—and create new ones—this holiday season.

End of the year

Checking In

December 15, 2010

I was sick last week, and though I'm just about recovered, I'm behind on my usual activities, including posting here. This week, the last before school gets out for winter break, must be devoted to holiday preparation and beating the house into submission (that is, cleaning it). Then comes the usual end-of-the-year flurry of activity interspersed with introspection in which I will decide that I must change everything about my life and make a new start.

Just kidding. I think.

Does that happen to you? You take a look at your perfectly servicable--even happy--life and decide you'd like it to be different, better somehow. As the year winds down, I think about how it's gone, turn my thoughts to my hopes and desires for next year and consider what I might do differently. I have to fight the urge to set a bunch of goals, commit to challenges (I wanted to sign up for this one because it sounds so fun and the badge is pretty...but I restrained myself) and so on. I guess I think of this season as one of contemplation and evaluation--a sort of natural turning point in my life.

Scout contemplates trimming the shrubs so she can see the squirrels better
On a less philosophical note, I'm choosing books for the Off the Shelf Challenge--my goal was 15, but I've already got 17 stacked up (and still more lurking on closet shelves). I've chosen the first book I'm going to read for the Vintage Mystery Challenge: The Crime at Black Dudley, by Margery Allingham. I've never read anything by her before. This book is the first Albert Campion mystery. According to the book's back cover, I'm likely to like this if I'm a fan of Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and the Golden Age of British Mystery. That's me! Though I'm not officially doing the 50 States Challenge, I'm going to keep track of the settings of the books I read to see how many states--or countries--are represented.

The contenders
What does the end of the year bring for you? Do you do any sort of check-in with yourself? Are you making plans for next year?

P.S. I wrote a piece on visiting New Orleans on a budget--if you're interested, you can read it here.


The Gift of Permission

December 10, 2010

Most of us are thinking of what we and our loved ones would like as gifts this holiday season. Along with the wish lists we generally have, what about a gift we can give ourselves: the gift of permission? Here are three things we should give ourselves permission to do:

Permission to have the life you want
Do you, deep down, believe you deserve the life you want? If you don’t, your dream life will never become real. Women in particular often put others’ needs first, and sacrifice their own goals and dreams in favor of helping others achieve theirs. This is not all bad, of course. Many of us find deep satisfaction in helping others. It becomes a problem when you always sacrifice your own dreams and wishes in favor of others’ and never or rarely have a chance to pursue your own passions and pleasures.

Joy Chudacoff writes in “Smart Women Give Themselves Permission,” “There comes a time when you will begin to feel a calling to create more of what you prefer in your own life. It does not mean that you do not love and care for all of those people who mean so much to you. It’s a signal that the time has come for you to embrace more of who you uniquely are.”

This is definitely an issue for me: why do I “deserve” to have my dreams come true—owning my own horse, working as a freelancer (i.e., often getting paid more in satisfaction than in money), simply having what I have in my life? I feel guilty because I have the time and resources to pursue the life of my dreams, and then I begin to dissipate my energy to such an extent that I no longer do have the time and resources to do what I want. I realize I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me it’s OK to have the life I want. The truth is, I deserve the life I want just as much as—not more than, not less than—any other human being does. And so do you.

Permission to be imperfect
I’m not saying you consciously think you have to be “perfect,” but I’ll bet you think you should be better. We could all be “better” than we are—it’s part of the human condition to be imperfect. If you’re like me, you can probably name 25 things you wish were different about you and your life. Stop worrying over that and feeling guilty about it and give yourself permission to be imperfect. Admit your flaws, then realize that’s just how it is right now. If it’s truly something that must be changed, then commit to changing, but refuse to wallow in the feeling that somehow you should have already overcome this problem and you’re a bad person for not having done so. (Channel Popeye by saying, “I yam what I yam.”)

Permission to try and succeed…or to try and fail
This is one of my biggest issues. When I have a big, hairy goal or project in mind, I often become paralyzed, equally worried about succeeding or failing! If I fail, I’ll be embarrassed and disappointed in myself. If I succeed, people might expect more of me and then I could fail their expectations—or my own. Safer and more comfortable just to do nothing.

And what if trying for your big, hairy goal causes someone in your life discomfort or inconvenience? That may be true. How often does someone else’s important goal cause you discomfort or inconvenience? How do you feel about that? Probably you feel that’s OK, within reason, if the other person’s activity or achievement is important enough to them. (I also refer you back to my first point.)

Regardless of success or failure, you should give yourself permission to try. Either outcome is better than not making the attempt.

So this is what we’re going to do. I give you permission to follow your dreams, to learn something new, to succeed, to do something badly, to be imperfect. And you do the same for me. But truthfully, we don’t really need each other’s permission, do we?

What would you do if you had “permission”?

Seen on a store window in New Orleans

“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
--Grace Murray Hopper


Do You See?

December 03, 2010

 “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

This time of year, many of us become more introspective (when we’re not rushing around preparing for the holidays). We often take stock of what we’ve done in the past year, and think ahead to the coming new year. Now is also a good time to take a moment to enjoy the festive decorations or observe the changes in the natural world (for a good example of this, see Elizabeth Smith’s lovely post about autumn in Florida here).

“I think the reason we all get up in the morning, whether we know it or not, is that brief moment during the day when we recognize the beauty in something,” writer Penelope Michler observed. I discovered this quote in Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book, Romancing the Ordinary. Breathnach herself continued, “Today recognize one moment of exquisite beauty in your own daily round. Notice it, rejoice in it, and give thanks.”
What was your moment of beauty today?