Holiday Survival Discovery: They Don’t Call Me Bonnie (And I Don’t Know Clyde)

12-10 Lights

Last year, my older son had a sometimes job of exercising an elderly lady’s dog. She had been ill, so it’d been over a week since the dog had been walked. One Sunday, Sarah* called. (Coincidentally, this was the day following the lice debacle and the kids decided the day must begin for me after a mere four hours of sleep.)  She asked if I could run some errands for her because her helper didn’t show up. I told her I could.

We arrived half an hour later, as she requested. On her counter, she had a list of items she needed. She crossed off paper towel. She read through the list again and crossed off a couple more items. I saw orange marmalade and water and asked her if she had brands she preferred. “You don’t need to worry about that stuff,” she said as she crossed those items off as well.  “I just need a couple things to get me through the holidays.”

“Okay. Which things do you need?”

“I need a carton of cigarettes.”

“All right.”

“And a bottle of LTD.”

I had no idea what that was, until she opened her cabinet and pulled out a nearly-empty bottle of Canadian whiskey.

I smiled and stifled a laugh. Cigarettes and whiskey to get through the holidays. Maybe I should try that!

She handed me her car keys, but I insisted on using my own car. Then she handed me her bank card. “Are you comfortable with using this?”

I hesitated. “Um. Okay.” What I meant to say was, Are you crazy? Of course I’m not okay with it!

“I’ve never had an issue with it before. I have plenty of bucks in the bank,” she assured.

“Um, okay.”

I drove to the place she told me to get the cigarettes.  What if she’s setting me up and she reported this card stolen? I shrugged the nagging thought off and chalked it up to writing too much fiction.

I handed the gal behind the counter the empty cigarette pack. “I need a carton of these, please.” I’m sure I didn’t ask  like a smoker would. She set the carton on the counter and I handed her the card. Please don’t ask for ID. If she asks for ID, do I run or try to explain why I have a bank card that wasn’t mine?

She didn’t ask for ID. I returned her wish for a Merry Christmas and breathed a sigh of relief, still unable to believe a carton of cigarettes was nearly $57 dollars.

Next, I pulled into the parking lot of the liquor store she said to go to. I wonder if LTD is a secret code for something illegal? Again, I shook off the worries and blamed it on watching too much crime TV.

I don’t drink (except for Lipton on the rocks) so I stepped inside and marveled at the sheer number of bottles. I found the bottle I’d snapped a photo of. Mission almost accomplished. I wondered if I was tempting fate and jail time by using this card a second time.

Again, as I checked out, they didn’t ask for ID. As I drove back to her house, another worry crept into my mind. What if this was a test? She might ask me to score some medical marijuana next time.

Oh no, there wouldn’t be a next time. She’d have to wait for her helper.

The constant worry confirmed what I always knew: I was not cut out for a life of crime (or using someone else’s bank card with permission.) But I did walk away with a new bit of wisdom imparted by our elderly acquaintance. If the holidays get too much, I now know that whiskey and cigarettes can get me through!

*Name changed to protect the wise 🙂

Do you have any secrets (legal or not) for making it through the holidays?  I love this time of year, so I don’t usually get too stressed… but it doesn’t hurt to keep ideas on hand!

Divide And Conquer

11-10 Sedona

Divide and conquer… originally, used to describe a military technique that maintains control by dividing the masses. If they don’t band together, they are easier to manage. They don’t get together and rally against the ruler.

In my life, divide and conquer has come to mean dividing our resources so our to-do list doesn’t control us. Most recently, this thought came to mind when I over-booked our calendar. On the same day, we now have a Boy Scout camp out and putting up Christmas decorations at church. We also had a conflict with my older son’s band activities and our younger son’s doctor’s appointment. Divide and conquer.

I got to thinking – while our ‘to-do’ list is whimpering from our efforts, dividing our resources to manage it could have the opposite effect by bringing us to our knees.  The more things we don’t do as a family, the more memories we miss making as a family. Years from now, it means fewer things we can talk about that we all remember- because we experienced them together. Divide and conquer needs to be our last resort, not our go-to strategy.

This time of year feels like life has been put on “fast forward.” I guess my thoughts needed to go down this path as a reminder that less is more. Even as I write this, I feel a little guilty because I’ve declined to be a leader in Cub Scouts this year. Not because I don’t think it’s valuable, but because I have so little time- and I feel like I’ve over-spent it.

Unlike money, I can’t make more time.

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I appreciate you reading my random thoughts on life. I hope you have a peaceful Monday!

A Christmas Past, And My Christmas Present

FINALLY Christmas!

As a child, the week before Christmas seemed to drag on ‘forever’.  Each evening, I would torture myself by staring at all the pretty wrapped presents under the tree, scoping out the name tags to see which ones were mine.  Then, I would shake each box and try to guess what was inside.

When I was 11 or 12 (I can’t remember which rotten age I was at the time) there were identical large boxes under the tree – one for me, one for my brother.  I had already guessed the other boxes held a sweater with an encyclopedia (‘C’ was missing on the shelf), a shirt with some nuts and bolts, and a shoe-box sized box that I suspected held something small, like a necklace or earrings.

My parents liked to make the gift-guessing game challenging…they always added something to a box so shaking the box wouldn’t reveal the contents.  We loved the challenge of trying to figure out which of my dad’s tools gave weight to the boxes.  We rarely guessed what caused the rattles…could be nails, nuts, bolts, wall plates, outlet boxes, or a myriad of other goodies housed in his tool boxes in the garage.

After what seemed like months of staring at the big boxes, we finally got to open them on Christmas Eve.  I tore the paper away and saw a picture of a TV on the box.  Not trusting that’s what was in the box (they were also famous for reusing boxes), I yanked the flaps and busted the staples out – it really was a 13” black and white TV…for MY ROOM!  I squealed with excitement – it was the best gift EVER!

Next to a tablet PC, iPod, Kindle, or any of the current gaming systems, this gift seems like the punch line to a bad joke.  But back then, we didn’t have home computers; portable music was on a Walkman radio/cassette player; paperback and hard cover were the only book reading choices; and we played Breakout and Pong on our Atari console.

Of course, the TV was more than just a TV.  It meant security and hope for better times.  Even as a child, I knew my parents wouldn’t spend money they didn’t have.  I never asked if we were broke, but I got my answer with every “we can’t afford it” my parents said.  After several lean years, the TV seemed so lavish; I almost forgot we weren’t wealthy.

This year, Christmas is coming up like a jet touching down on a landing strip.  I want to clinch my eyes shut so Christmas doesn’t run right over me.  Instead, I stand my ground, wide-eyed and ready to take it like a mom (ha, ha).  I swear I went to sleep on December 17th and woke up to find it is December 22nd.  How the days in between passed so quickly, I don’t know.

This time of year is just an exaggeration of how time passes the rest of the year.  As I get older, the hands on the clock seem to move faster.  Sometimes I feel like I’m scrambling along on the treadmill and someone keeps turning the speed dial up.  My feet move as fast as I can make them, but I get further behind.  If it cranks up any more, I’ll surely drop my bowl of ice cream.

I have the perfect gift for myself this year:  time.  I can always use it, and there is no chance of returns, exchanges or do-overs.  Not just any time, though…no, this time is special.  It’s writing time.

Ever since I finally finished the story I posted last week (The Collector), I’ve been disturbed by the amount of time it took me to get to that point (over 3 months).  I’ve been discouraged about my lack of progress on my novel writing (um, none).  I know life still happens and I’ve a lot to do, but surely I can do a better job carving out writing time.

I’m going to start by using three hours the day after Christmas, with the goal of writing the backstory for the 3rd character in my novel.  With my hot beverage on my desk, to warm my fingers and my brain, I’ll see if I can lay out the first draft.  (If my brain functions well, I’ll stick to hot tea; if I need a little kick start, I’ll go for spiced cider…and if my brain and creativity abandon me, I’ll drown my sorrows in a mug of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream on top.)  One way or another, words will get on the page.

It may not be a black and white TV, but this gift will make my heart happy this Christmas.

What was your best Christmas gift ever?  What would you like that you have not received?  Are you doing anything for “you” this holiday season?

Peace Among Chaos

I love Christmas.  I really do.  I love to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the peace and love that come from honoring that joyous day.  I even like to see a beautifully decorated tree, holiday lights and a child’s eyes when they find the perfect gift from Santa on Christmas morning.  I enjoy the random acts of kindness that spread like a virus.  If only this bug didn’t seem to pass by the time January 1st rolls around.

The negative side effect of the season for me is an increase in impatience.  There is more to do, but it takes longer to do everything because everyone else has the same deadline:  December 25th.  The kids are more likely to misbehave, even though the threat of being skipped by Santa should bring out their best.  By Tuesday, I’m counting down to the weekend for my days off (so I can get more stuff done.)

Instead of bothering myself with checking cookie ingredients and waging the never-ending battle for order in our house, I should be relaxing in a chair with a cup of hot tea, reflecting on Jesus’ birth and His life on Earth.

Still, on this day, exactly one week before Christmas, I found myself filled with annoyance and impatience.  I was annoyed at being awakened by my sons working out their differences with flying fists and screaming…at 6 o’clock in the morning.  After only five hours of sleep, I wanted to steal another hour or two.  I asked the boys to each go to their rooms and clean – and to not talk to or touch each other.

Yeah, you guessed it.  The fighting continued.  More sleep was not on my agenda.  I stomped out of bed at seven, only to find their rooms were still a mess and our dining room table littered with craft supplies.  In that moment, I wished they were more responsible, could interact without fighting, and realized that mommy is best left to sleep on a Sunday morning.

After the wish flashed through my mind, I wanted to take it back.  This day is no doubt somewhere in the future, though I can’t see it on the horizon yet.  I felt guilty for my impatience.  Just like they learned how to use the toilet, write their names, and say ‘thank you’ for a gift they didn’t like, they will learn how to communicate (and respect my wishes for more sleep.)

In the meantime, I will do my best to soothe my impatience and enjoy the moments that God has given me now.  It helps that my older son has the right idea:

Son's chosen words say it all...

So, with that, I’m going to sip my cup of hot tea amid the clutter in my house.  I plan to make peace with the disorder that surrounds me.

I hope we all can find peace amid chaos rather than let it become us during these potentially stressful days leading up to Christmas.

At peace with mess (via greetings.ca.com)

Impatience isn’t a new thing.  I found comfort in that fact that even David could relate to the struggle with impatience:

Psalms 27:13-14 – “I am still confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Stop And Smell The (Faux) Pine Trees

Look deep into the lights...relax...

This time of year takes a conscious effort so I don’t fall into the “hustle and bustle” of the holidays.  Of course, the hustle is just the marketing ads that promote “must-have” deals that we’ll be sorry if we don’t buy, and the bustle is shoppers getting cranky at crowds who left their manners at home.

Shopping aside, there are dozens of other “to do” items that I have scrawled out on scrap pieces of paper littering the top of my desk.  I flipped through two magazines on Tuesday just to get them off my list – and my desk.  I scanned the list for any other easy ones to scratch off.  After I drew lines through ‘pay bills’ and ‘check kids’ homework’, I glanced at the first item on the list that I had been avoiding:  ‘Christmas cards.’

Tempted to skip it again, in favor of something a little less time-consuming, I wondered when writing to friends and family became a task to procrastinate, like scrubbing the toilets or vacuuming floors.  Sure, it takes some effort to write the name and address and affix the stamps and mailing label after I write a short message on the card, but it’s not an arduous or miserable task by any means.

I think it’s the handwriting part that gets me.  My writing is not the prettiest in the world, but I just can’t bring myself to type a family update letter.  It seems so impersonal.  We get a few of them every year, and I do read them, but I don’t feel any warmth or connection because I know the letters weren’t written just for me – they were for a broad audience.

I wrote eight cards on Tuesday night, and two on Wednesday – each time enjoying a cup of hot tea as I wrote.  Breaking up the writing helps the legibility and seeing my quick progress takes away the stress I fabricated about not having started them.  The lemon and apple cinnamon herbal teas I sipped at each sitting were gifts for my taste buds and made it a pleasure rather than a chore.

Speaking of gifts, Sammy and Lizzy sure do enjoy their early Christmas gift.  (It’s not actually for them, but they’ve claimed it as their own…we’ve already had one ornament casualty.)

Even as I receive cards in the mail from people who have it more together than me, I am not flustered.  I know by Monday, my cards will be in the mail, hand written, with a family picture.  Since we have not seen many of them for a year or more, at least they will know what we look like!

What creates stress for you?  What do you do to avoid holiday stress?  Do you still mail Christmas cards?