Christmas Eve is most often associated with high excitement. When I was a small child, it was waiting for Santa Claus, and Christmas morning. Later, it was helping to make the holiday special for the younger children. As a young adult with children of my own, the anticipation rose from the desire to make their Christmas memorable.
In my little family, we had a few traditions. My daughters could open one present before bed on Christmas Eve, and it was always new pajamas. That way, they’d be well turned out for Christmas morning photos. Stockings could be gotten into as soon as they woke up in the morning; all other gifts, even the ones unwrapped and perfectly visible under the tree, had to wait until everyone was up. Gifts were well thought out, but not excessive.
I did not believe in going overboard at Christmastime. The girls always received a doll, and a stuffed animal. There were books, puzzles and a game the whole family could play. New blankets, sheets or sleeping bags would be wrapped as gifts when they were needed, just like socks and underwear. If a new winter coat or boots was needed, and if it could wait for Christmas, it would be wrapped and under the tree.There was always a new outfit for school, and the Christmas Eve pajamas.
Still, I was raised in a large family. With nine children, even a modest Christmas looked excessive, when all the presents were arranged under the tree. So, there was usually a point on Christmas Eve night where I felt my own Christmas didn’t measure up. More stuff was necessary, I would decide, long after the time I could do anything about it. Many Christmas Eve nights found me desperately sewing or crocheting “just a few more things” to make the display more impressive.
I miss those special days, with young children and the magical spirit of the holidays. What has replaced them, though, is special in its own way. This year, I traveled mid-December down to meet my daughters and their families for our Christmas celebration. That forced me to have all of my buying and wrapping done far ahead of time. It was a wonderful gathering, a good chance to see everyone, and a perfect celebration.
I came home glad to be able to settle in to my cozy home for the next few months, and happy to be home for Christmas. Tonight, the house is bright with candles and Christmas lights. I have a pot of soup simmering on the stove. The dogs are dozing on assorted chairs and cushions behind me, and I think I’ll settle in with a holiday movie. This is a perfect Christmas Eve!
Though it looks and feels like winter here on Beaver Island, we’re actually not there yet, for a few more days. As the change of season approaches, as well as the coming transition into a new year, it’s time for me to take stock. Not of all the considerations going on in my life. My gosh, that would take more time and energy than I have today, or even this week! But one thing.
I’ve been participating in Rachel Hollis’s “Last 90 Days” challenge, with the plan to start the new year riding on recent accomplishments, rather than the failures and disappointments of the past year. The challenge came with five daily goals:
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water.
Move your body for thirty minutes each day.
Write down 10 things each day that you are grateful for.
Get up one hour earlier each day, and use the time for something that benefits your spirit.
Give up one category of food or drink (thirty days at a time) that will help to make you healthier.
With two weeks left in this challenge, I’m looking at mixed results, and not much time to redeem myself. My assessment:
My weight is 130 pounds, so that means 65 ounces of water, which is about 60 ounces more than my previous usual daily water intake. Though I never met my goal, there were several days when I came very close. Even my worst water-drinking days (48 ounces, or thereabouts) were still a huge improvement over my old habits. I’ve noticed that I enjoy water more, and that I crave it. Also, I feel thirsty more often than ever before. So, this has been a positive change, and one that will continue.
I’ve always been a walker, though I’d grown neglectful. Last spring, when I added a dog to my household, I reinstated the habit of walking every single day, morning and evening. That pattern was well-established before I started this ninety-day challenge, so it was the easiest requirement. I had been doing a “walk-to-run” program for at least one of my daily walks, but cold and icy conditions have curbed that. Still, we go at a pretty good clip, and I get a bare minimum of thirty minutes of walking in, often much more.
Writing every morning was already part of my daily practice, so also easy to continue. Gratitude is fairly new, though. It has become easier to find things to be grateful for, the longer I do it. It changes the way I approach the world. As I’m watching for things to be thankful for, I pay more attention to small kindnesses, and appreciate more fully the beauty that I too often took for granted.
I’ve had mixed success with getting up an hour earlier. I managed it successfully for a while, and was using the time for writing, yoga and meditation. First a bout of the flu got me off course. Then, I let some joyous travel opportunities get in the way. A week of flying from one place to another left me with an inner ear issue that has temporarily affected my hearing. On several days, I’ve slept right through the alarm! I see the value in taking this extra time; it’s a habit I will continue to work toward.
For the month of October, I gave up alcohol. Feeling that that was a bit of a cheat, as I’m not much of a drinker (I had only had one alcoholic beverage in the month of September), I also gave up chocolate. My cousins came to the island, and invited me to join them for happy hour at the pub. I did, and ordered simply tonic water while we visited. My sisters came next, with several bottles of wine for the week. I doggedly stuck to my plan, and had water instead. Chocolate was more greatly missed, but I stuck to it.
For November, I gave up pasta. It was a healthful choice, and something I should be looking into anyway. As much as I hate the thought, I will probably be forced, before long, to adapt a low-carb lifestyle, for my health. So, November was a trial run. This was a difficult sacrifice, as pasta forms the basis of many of my meals. It fills the plate, and fits my budget. Giving it up forced me to rethink my menus and my grocery list. Even travelling around the holiday to other homes, even with several meals out in restaurants, I made it through.
For all of my high hopes that these healthy habits and good choices would make a difference on the scale, I saw very little improvement. I’d lose a single pound, then gain it back. Though the fluctuation did seem to be in a downward direction, it was still not noteworthy. Could I do better in December?
This month, rather than give up a food group, I changed a habit. After reading Body Love by Kelly LeVeque, who promotes a low-carb lifestyle without dieting, I committed to having one of her “Fab-Four” smoothies every morning, rather than my usual breakfast of yogurt, granola and fruit. In her book, she sites many success stories. There are people who lost 11 pounds in two weeks without making a single change other than replacing breakfast with the smoothie! What better incentive? If I could lose significant weight in two weeks, you can bet I’d be utilizing her entire program for the new year!
The “fab four,” by the way, are protein, greens, fiber and fat. The recipe I use, which is only one of the many variations she offers, is this:
1 scoop of protein powder (protein)
2 cups loosely packed spinach, kale, or a combination of the two (greens)
2 Tablespoons ground flax seeds, chia seeds, or a combination of the two (fiber)
1 Tablespoon almond butter or 1/4 avocado (fat)
1/4 cup frozen raspberries or blueberries (flavor, and the saving grace for this smoothie!)
2 cups almond milk
Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Especially if you use vegetable-based protein powder (which smells like dried split peas), it helps to drink this with a straw. If it doesn’t keep you satisfied for at least four hours, add a little more fat, or more fiber. I’ve grown to like the flavor, though I can’t tolerate it without the fruit. It’s satisfying and healthy, and I plan to continue this as part of my morning routine.
As for the weight loss, nothing. Ah, well, the New Year is almost here, with new opportunities for fresh starts and diet plans. For my year’s end, I did what I could!
I have about ten minutes to spare this morning. I spent the morning rushing around. I walked the dogs, finished packing my suitcase, and loaded it into the car along with a tote of Christmas gifts (that I was up wrapping until two in the morning!), and everything the dogs will need for two days at the kennel. I just dropped the dogs off. Time for one more cup of coffee before I head for the airport. Perhaps trying to write something worthwhile is not the best idea, but I’m going to make an attempt at it anyway.
I’m off to Frankenmuth, Michigan, to meet my daughters and their families for an early holiday gathering. Tomorrow is my daughter Kate’s birthday, too, so we’ll celebrate that as well. Frankenmuth will be the perfect setting, as it features Christmas all year ’round in its Bavarian-style shops and restaurants.
I’ve packed too much, I’m sure, for a short trip, but managed to fit it all into one small suitcase, so consider that a success. I have my reader loaded with two good books, plus a new audio book for the drive. I talked myself out of trying to fit the large book that is on my nightstand. Even though it’s really good. I will be fine without it. Surrounded by my children and grandchildren, I doubt I’ll be taking time to read at all!
Yesterday was stormy here, and the planes weren’t flying for at least part of the day. Then snow moved in overnight. By the time I went to bed, I was a nervous wreck imagining delays, bad road conditions and every other possibility to turn this jaunt into disaster. Today, the snow has stopped, the sky is clear, and the planes are flying on schedule. I have plenty of time to make it to my destination. All is well!
The weather is something we all pay attention to. It changes regularly. We notice, and it gives us something to talk about. Sometimes we talk with smiles and good cheer, sometimes with groans.
We compare the weather today with this time last year, or remark on extremes in distant years. Like that Fourth of July when it poured rain from morning until night. Or the Halloween when there was so much snow, parents pulled their children in sleds from one house to the next for Trick or Treat. And that horrible winter of ’78. We make comparisons with people in other areas of the country, or around the world. We try to predict future weather based on all kinds of logic, from squirrels gathering nuts to the color of the sky.
Weather changes with the seasons, especially in this northern climate. It also varies from one day to the next. Weather affects everyone. A sunshiny day makes everyone smile. One foggy day seems quiet and mysterious; several in a row wears on the nerves. In fact, too much of any kind of weather wears on us, whether it is extreme cold, excessive heat, or disproportionate rainfall. We take comfort in the idea that, whatever the weather is offering right now, change is inevitable.
I’ve noticed weather-like systems in other areas of my life. None so relatable, perhaps, as whatever is going on outside, but noteworthy anyway. It might be that we humans like to have a logical arrangement for things, so seek out similarities to create patterns. It may be simply me trying to create order out of random occurrences. No matter; it seems real to me.
I have lived through seasons of death, where every day began with an awakening sense of grief, and my heart caught in my throat each time the telephone rang, for fear it was bringing news of another loss among friends or family. There have been times when it seemed that every day brought news of someone’s separation or divorce, until I was ready to give up hope that any relationship could work. Disaster, illness and tragedy seem to happen in clusters, too.
Likewise, I’ve experienced long seasons of joy, when all news seemed to be wonderful news, and the calendar filled up with celebrations, births and weddings. There have been long periods when there was always something to laugh about, and the most unlikely goings-on struck me as hilarious. I’ve lived through times of peace and contentment, and times of accord and camaraderie.
Just like the weather, sometimes these patterns are brief. A sudden summer rainstorm or a blast of winter’s chill may not last long, but gets our attention anyway. If I spend an entire day having to search for every single thing I need, it is easy to recognize a pattern. When I drop almost everything I touch, there’s another. There are times when it’s clumsiness I notice, and other times when I can’t seem to remember anything.
Today, it was spillage that became routine. Lateness was its partner. They both fed into the pattern, creating the system that wreaked havoc with my morning. First, I woke up late. I turned on the coffee maker, and ran a glass of water…which I immediately tipped over onto my desktop. I slopped the cream over the top of the pitcher as I filled it; I spilled my first cup of coffee.
Deciding that a sponge bath was going to have to take the place of a shower, I ran hot water in the bathroom sink. Abandoning it to clean up the mess from another accident, I nearly flooded the bathroom. I dripped coffee on my work slacks, and had to change them at the last minute. Then, reaching for a lidded container to pour my morning smoothie into, I caught the blender container with my sleeve, and spilled the contents all over the counter.
My late start, combined with this compilation of messes, compounded by a slick, wintry mix in my driveway, worked together to make me late for work. On Sunday! The day that I’m never late! The day that I work alone and so cannot be late. Enough! Like bursts of bad weather, these systems usually move on. I’m counting on it!
Today, the first of December, I woke to fresh, deep snow. Ice crystals coated the windows, deposited there by the swirling, cold wind. There were drifts in front of every door. The little dog, who until today had not displayed his distaste for snow, refused to go outside. I finally put on boots and stomped out a path. All of the dogs agreed with my decision to take an abbreviated walk this morning.
I cleared most of the snow from the car windows, and drove slowly to town on roads that were not yet plowed. My work day started with shoveling off the walkway and steps leading to the front door of the hardware. Beyond that, it was a pretty slow day. There was enough business to justify my being there, and a few people desperately relieved to find the business open on this blustery day.
Home again, I immediately set off down the road for a walk with the dogs, before any of us had time to think about it. The wind whipped icy flakes at us as we trudged through the deep snow. Blackie Chan was now fully displaying the winter attitude my daughter had warned me about. He shook off each paw after every step, and shivered melodramatically. I’m going to have to get that boy a sweater!
When we got back to the house, I traded my boots and coat for warm slippers and a big sweatshirt. Enough of the outside on this cold day! Each dog got a good rub-down with a fluffy towel. Then, a treat. Next, I made my own lunch. Because today is the first of December, and because I had given up pasta for the entire long month of November, I indulged in a bowl of spinach-ricotta ravioli. Delicious!
I pulled back the curtains that cover the opening to the stairway, so that heat can get upstairs. I plan to work up there in my studio over the next two days. Downstairs, I moved dog beds and chairs, and primed another section of the floor. Painting the floor has topped my to-do list for months now. It’s not finished yet, but the end is in sight! I called a girlfriend for a chat; I wrote a couple letters. All in all, it’s been a pretty good day!