It doesn’t get any better than this…

I always knew I had certain “tendencies” toward the doing of absolutely nothing. But nothing quite confirms that suspicion like a nice, long holiday break.

It has been exactly one week since I’ve been at the office and four days since I had any obligation of any kind. And it feels great.

There is a little part of me (notice I said little) that feels I MUST be doing something… I SHOULD be doing something. And yet, I don’t. I’m sure this enjoyment of doing nothing will eventually wear off.

Perhaps I will tire of staying up until 2 a.m.—laughing and imbibing with friends—then sleeping until 10:30 a.m., getting dressed at 4 p.m. and doing it all again. Perhaps not.

Either way, come Monday I will have to get up and get back into the game.

Until then… there is a perfectly good spot for me… on the couch.

Coming Down From Christmas

Not surprisingly I had a migraine yesterday evening. My mom, who also suffers from them, calls certain types of migraines “rubber band headaches.” Not because it is descriptive of the pain one endures during the attack, but because—like a rubber band stretched to its limit—you eventually snap.

Often I experience one AFTER a stressful event has passed and my relaxation or “coming down” process has begun. So it was no shock to me when I began to feel an excruciating but all too familiar vice-grip sensation creeping across my forehead only hours after reaching Lee’s house and putting my feet up.

Now I suppose it could have been brought on by chocolate or tryptophan withdrawal or something like that… but I suspect it was due purely to the “ahhhhhhhhhh moment” that finally settled over me once the gifts had all been given, the wrappings had all been tossed, the leftovers had all been put away, the wedding plans or (in some opinions) lack thereof had been discussed to death and the good-byes had all been said.

Much-needed sweat pants were donned and are, I suppose, partially responsible for the incident. I believe some pillows and blankets also may have been involved. Though as of this writing… said suspects have yet to voluntarily come forth and reveal themselves.

What is it about Christmas that incites such frenzy, stress and hurriedness that my rubber band snapped following a mere flannel and fleece-induced exhale? I have some ideas… but I think I’ll save the contemplating, dissecting and sharing of them for Christmas 2012. Mulling them over right now… well… it just hurts my head.

My Own Private Christmas

This is the day I’ve been waiting for. Two days before Christmas. Christmas Eve Eve if you will. Today I sleep until the Lord wakes me (instead of the alarm clock) then curl up with a nice, warm, artery-clogging breakfast, a good cup of joe and a cheesy Christmas movie… and Stanley, the cat. Naturally.

In my pajamas, wrapped in a soft blanket, the tree is twinkling and all of the presents beneath are wrapped in pretty paper, each topped off with a nice red bow. There is no more shopping to do. No more worrying about what to get and for whom. If they don’t like it… well… it’s too late now.

There are no parties to rush to or concerts and services to attend, therefore the Spanx, control top panty hose and tall leather boots are quietly stashed away in their respective closets and drawers. There is no fuss about a pair of flannel pants and old, college sweatshirt. There is no need for makeup. No one needs me today. And it is a thing of beauty.

Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve—when the family gatherings and church services begin—well, that will be another story. Today is what I like to call “My Own Private Christmas” with my own sacred practices and traditions. It is the gift that I give to myself… a chance to take a deep breath… and an opportunity to reflect on all of the beautiful people and things that make my life so full.

Were it not for all of them filling up the other 364 days of the year… there would be no need for a day like today.

Mini-Resolutions for 2012

With Christmas right around the corner, one’s mind turns to that of the New Year. Now, I have never been one for New Year’s Resolutions… probably because I believe that by actually declaring my plan aloud I am pretty much sealing the deal on whether or not I will succeed. And yes… you guessed it… my rate of success usually winds up being a big, fat ZERO. So why then, would I ever consider ADVERTISING my impending personal failure by confessing my “New Year’s Resolutions” to family, friends and co-workers?

Additionally, it has been said by a good many people that declaring a “New Year’s Resolution” isn’t a great idea anyway. This is often due to the fact that said “Resolution” is ultimately too lofty or too complicated for one to actually achieve. Therefore, as an alternative, it is advisable to set smaller, more attainable ”goals” for oneself.

With the idea of “smaller goals” in mind, I have decided to try something entirely new this year… I am hereby resolving to take a few teensy, tiny, baby-steps toward personal change. Some “Miniature Resolutions” if you will…

1. In the mornings, I hereby resolve to only hit the snooze button 2 times instead of 3. This should get me to work 6 minutes earlier each day, which would result in roughly 1,560 minutes or 26 hours annually that I do not feel rushed… hence significantly limiting my chances of receiving additional traffic tickets that I cannot pay or becoming a perpetrator of road rage and winding up in prison. Therefore: ONE LESS MORNING SNOOZE = ZERO JAIL TIME

2. For the remainder of winter, I hereby resolve to wearing snow boots (no matter how ridiculous I look in them) from my house to the office in order to keep from dragging my feet, socks and bottoms of my dress pants through the wet snow every time I leave for work, therefore eliminating the possibility of frostbite to my lower extremities, leading to inevitable amputation. Therefore: SNOW BOOTS = MAINTAINING THE ABILITY TO WALK UPRIGHT

3. During the workday, I hereby resolve to make the switch to decaf. This should enable me to still enjoy my morning cup of coffee but without completely and totally bouncing off the proverbial walls and acting overtly chipper toward any grumpy, hateful, definitely-not-morning-people-co-workers, thus causing them to cease asking me WHY I have so much freakin’ energy all the time… and possibly even preventing them from conspiring against me. Therefore: DECAF = AVOIDANCE OF OFFICE LYNCHING

4. Regarding my daily 3 p.m. ”Sugar Quest,” I hereby resolve to STOP eating snacks every afternoon whilst sitting at my desk. One snack can run up to roughly 200 calories, totaling 1000 calories weekly or 50,000 calories annually! One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories. 50,000 divided by 3,500 equals approximately 14 pounds!! Therefore: ELIMINATING DAILY MUNCHIE-FEST = FITTING MY @$$ INTO A SMALLER PAIR OF JEANS WITHOUT THE USE OF A SHOEHORN

5. With reference to laundry, I hereby resolve to wash, fold and put away my clothing on a weekly basis rather than allowing it to pile up to the point where I cannot find a clean pair of socks or underwear ANYWHERE IN THE HOUSE, thus causing me to do an emergency wash at midnight, losing precious hours of sleep and arriving at any given destination damp, disheveled, wrinkled and cranky with a high probability of rockin’ mismatched socks. Therefore: KEEPING UP WITH THE LAUNDRY = ALWAYS APPEARING DRY, RESTED, WRINKLE-FREE AND WELL ACCESSORIZED

There is no need for a major, ritualistic, annual overhaul of one’s lifestyle or choices. I believe the above examples adequately illustrate the point that even the smallest of changes can quite often lead to BIG results!

By being committed to these 5 minor alterations, it is quite likely that I will indeed transform my entire life. If all goes according to plan, 2013 should find me absent of any sort of criminal record, able to use all TEN of my toes, sufficiently-caffeinated yet amazingly-rested, 14 pounds thinner, less stressed, pressed and well-dressed. Who can find fault with goals like that?

Elf on the Shelf

For as long as I can remember I have been afraid of clowns, puppets, marionettes, ventriloquist dummies and even claymation. I’m not sure why. Nothing traumatic happened when I was a child that caused this unusual phobia (that I know of). But nevertheless it is there. If I see any of those things on TV or out in the world… I freak out, avert my eyes or flee the scene as soon as possible. I am also unreasonably fearful of nutcrackers. I think they are the creepiest things on the planet next to spiders and Donald Trump. So as one might imagine, Christmas can be a little unsettling for me what with all those larger-than-life wooden figurines standing around the stores, people’s homes and showing up unannounced in Target commercials, etc, etc. just waiting to spring to life when everyone is asleep.

Enter “Elf on the Shelf”… created for parents to use as a “fun” tool to curb the naughty behavior of their offspring this time of year when the kiddos are running rampant all hopped up on candy canes and such.

To see the official “Elf on the Shelf” commercial, click here. 

The idea is that Santa has sent his very special, magical elf to the child’s house to watch their every move and report back each night when the children are asleep (you know, with the visions of the sugar plums and all that crap) to the North Pole whether the child has been naughty or nice. And every night the parents “move” the Elf to another location in the house so that the notion of him being real persists in the child’s imagination.

Is it just me (and my unnatural fear of inanimate-objects-come-to-life projected onto this “toy elf” sitting on a shelf in the house… watching your every move) or does this totally creep the hell out of anyone else? I mean, I shudder even as I type these words.

My friend Jan is using the “Elf” and has been kind enough to send me some pictures of him in her house. I will let you judge the creepiness-factor for yourself…

The "Elf" warming his little frostbitten buns on the toaster.

And while I happen to think that any toy of this nature could be considered cruel and unusual punishment for a child, apparently the kids don’t seem to mind it too much. Some of them actually enjoy it… like Brady, Jan’s son.

There is another breed of the “Elf on the Shelf” idea in a cuter, cuddlier character named Christopher Pop-in-kins. I learned of him when our marketing director, Gina, talked about her and her husband’s nightly adventures placing Christopher around the house. And yet, for every story she shared about the creative places Christopher had “popped up”… there was a hilarious story to match of her children, Dominick and Giavonna, being more than a little freaked about him and his magic, come-to-life abilities.

Christopher Pop-in-kins

To each his own, I suppose. I just know that had the “Elf on the Shelf” existed during my childhood years… I’d probably be on a therapy couch somewhere, muttering about magical elves… and obsessing over whether or not I’d been naughty or nice.

C'mon... this IS creepy, right?

Spanx: A True Holiday Miracle

I don’t know how they do it and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter how they manufacture something capable of shaving 5 to 10 pounds off of my “lumpy places” — just so long as they keep on doing it. Forever.

Packing a little extra luggage in the trunk is usually inevitable this time of year what with all the gathering, merry-making and drinking to drown out the sound of your annoying relatives as they get all up in yo’ biz.

But the question then comes—as you try to stuff that trunk full ‘o goodies into your favorite sweater dress or skinny black skirt—what the hell do you do with all of this stuff that’s accumulated about your butt, thighs and tummy?

Enter my holiday BFF: Spanx. Trust me, if you aren’t already a believer… drag your own larger-than-normal trunk to the store and pick up a pair. Or two. Or three. I promise they’re on sale right now.

PROBLEM.

SOLUTION.

It’s a bit of a trick and little bit of torture trying to get them on and off… but the results are so very worth it. Just imagine slamming all the cookies, chocolate, cheese, brandy, rum and yummy treats made with real butter and heavy cream that your heart desires and still looking stellar for the office Christmas party or New Year’s Eve bash.

As soon as they’re over you can go home and—after about 90 minutes of cursing as you wrestle your way out of your own private sausage casing—slip into the warm, forgiving embrace of your sweats… and no one will be the wiser.

The Last Gift

These tall, leather boots that look soooo great on and seemed like such a great and fashionable idea this morning… suck. My feet are killing me. My toes are numb and the balls of my feet are yelling curse words so loudly with each step that I take… I’m certain the kid stocking the shelves over there heard them call me a miserable whore.

But it’s OK, for I am almost done. There is but one item that remains on my list of gifts to buy for my near and dear ones this Christmas holiday. Being this close to the end somehow makes the pain worthwhile. Like the agony of the last few miles of a marathon I will push past it—vulgar feet stuffed into evil, leather boots and all—I can see the finish line.

This one item should be easy. It seems to be all the rage and everyone is talking about it. It’s been spotted at several stores. Thus it stands to reason that this particular purchase… my last purchase (did I mention that?) should be a relative retail breeze.

Ahhhh… more wrong I could not have been.

The item that everyone is talking about that seems to be one of the “IT” gifts of the 2011 shopping season… also seems to be the ONE thing that no one, and I MEAN NO ONE has ever even heard of. And I’m not talking about little, small-town, Mom and Pop village merchants peddling their wares to worn out Christmas zombies.

I’m talking about the Big Boys. The Big Box stores. The Gods of Greed… the Royalty of Retail… The Princes of Peddlers and Kings of Ka-Ching. You know, the ones who are supposed to have their sticky, little fingers on the pulse of every shopper?

Well, for some reason as this exhausted customer drug her potty-mouthed tooties from one shitty parking spot to another, fighting holiday gridlock the whole entire way… I was greeted with the same answer everywhere I went. It went a little something like this:

Me: “Excuse me, do you have any ____________?”

Oh, I should mention that I am purposefully NOT mentioning the gift until after it is given a week from now lest the recipient read this entry and either A. Feel badly that they are NOT receiving this “must have” item from their list, or B. Feel even worse that I had such a terrible time trying unsuccessfully to find the damn thing.

Big Box employee: “Any what? I’ve never heard of that. Let me check with management / some guy named Larry / this clueless-looking girl standing right beside me.”

Me: Silence accompanied by nearly-defeated-shoulder-slumping, followed by a huge sigh, followed by a prayer, followed by some hopeful breath-holding.

My feet: “You @!$%#. If you make us stand here or go to ONE MORE store after this, I swear by tomorrow morning I WILL TAKE YOU DOWN. And when you recover, you’ll be wearing flats until February. Do you hear me?”

Big Box employee: “I’m sorry. We don’t carry __________. We’ve actually never heard of that. Maybe XYZ Big Box Store will have them. Happy Holidays!”

Me AND my feet: “Already tried there, dumb @$$. Now shove it.”

But I was determined (as well as held hostage by my vital and angry appendages) that this store would be the last stop on our retail mission. The person on my list wanting ______________ would have to settle for Plan B. And that was all there was too it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Last-Minute Shopping everyone! My two bits of advice on locating that elusive last gift on your list: Have a back-up plan… and by all means… wear comfortable shoes.

Less is more.

Last night as I unplugged the tree I couldn’t help but notice how much less was beneath it compared to last year. At this realization, I smiled the whole way up the stairs and while I got ready for bed.

Yep. There are fewer presents beneath my tree this year and I couldn’t be happier. Sure its always fun to see a beautifully decorated tree with colorfully wrapped presents adorned with shiny bows and ribbons cascading out from under. But sometimes those mounds of gifts that may bring joy NOW, bring nothing but stress and misery in the months to follow when the bills come due.

I have known such misery. Maybe you have too. I have heard the scraping sound of the shovel digging deeper into the soil of my hard-earned resources. And I have peered into the hole as it grew deeper and deeper and deeper based on my poor decisions or lack of restraint.

Unlike many, I am fortunate that I have not lost my job or experienced a large financial shifting of any kind. But I am proud to say that the practices and wisdom of people like my mother and Lee—being my polar opposites when it comes to financial discipline and discernment—have begun rubbing off on me. The encouragement from my father to make smarter choices has helped as well. I am truly seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel! And it feels both peaceful and exhilarating!

Fewer packages beneath the tree means I did not overextend myself by buying things I can’t afford or borrowing from my future to pay for my “present.” The people I love will still receive gifts from me, just not quite as much. Since when does the amount you spend reflect the amount of love you feel for someone? Since always I suppose. Since we’ve learned to worship the almighty dollar and ALL the “things” it can garner us… if only we had MORE.

I like having things and taking trips and spending money. In fact, I LOVE IT. A little too much. And just like everyone else… I want more. But I have to ask myself: How much more is enough? When does more cease being more if it comes at such great a price?

It has taken me almost 37 years, but I think I finally understand how less may actually be more. In learning to love the having of less… we make room in our lives for the enjoyment of financial freedom, peace of mind and so much more.

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

It’s that time of year again! But I’m not talking about Christmas. For most people, this time of year is all about Christmas. But for a dedicated (and perhaps obsessed) few, is also a time for celebrating the lesser-known holiday that is Festivus.

I, along with most of you, became aware of Festivus from Seinfeld, but it did actually exist before George’s father Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) made it famous in 1997. It was originally created by writer Dan O’Keefe back in 1966, who was the father of one of the writers for the show. So in this case, art really did imitate life.

I find 2011 a particularly good year to make note of Festivus because of the holiday’s emphasis on anti-commercialism. At a time when many people are having to “downscale” Christmas due to financial strain, perhaps it is even more important than ever to find “alternative” ways of celebrating.

One of the aspects of the Festivus tradition (besides setting up the aluminum pole and carrying out the Feats Of Strength) is my personal fave: The Airing of Grievances. Therefore, I have taken the time to compile a list of some of my own grievances. Truthfully, they are more like annoyances, but nevertheless, it was entertaining as well as cathartic to create this list. And I encourage all of you to do the same!

Here they are, in no particular order… My own personal Festivus Airing of Grievances:

  1. “I-see-London-I-see-France” extremely low-rise jeans
  2. The “Muffin Top” created by aforementioned “I-see-London-I-see-France” extremely low-rise jeans
  3. Twilight hysteria
  4. People on the road between 7 and 9 a.m. who aren’t going to work
  5. Bad grammar
  6. Low water pressure
  7. Bullies
  8. Celebrity “Baby Bumps”
  9. Anyone who calls a baby bump a “bump”
  10. People taking up the entire aisle at the grocery store and NOT budging even though they KNOW you are there and that you cannot pass
  11. Passive Aggressiveness
  12. Men who think women are second-class citizens
  13. Closed-mindedness
  14. Finding a garment that I absolutely love, only to discover that they are out of my size or color choice
  15. The one hundred million “talent shows” that are currently on TV. I mean seriously… enough with the singing and dancing already
  16. Michigan
  17. Dropped calls
  18. DVDs that skip or get stuck right at critical moments in the plot
  19. Claymation, stop-animation, nutcrackers, marionettes, ventriloquist dummies, puppets and clowns
  20. People who do not respect the importance (and necessity) of a good 12-hour sleep stretch
  21. Jell-o with fruit in it
  22. Internet pop-ups 
telling me I’ve won something when all they really want to do is give me a virus
  23. People continuing to call me Joann, after I’ve corrected them or they already know my name is Joanna
  24. Computer crashes
  25. Sarah Palin 
talking
  26. Michele Bachmann (with ONE “L” in Michele and TWO “N’s” in Bachmann)
  27. Donald Trump and his little hair pet
  28. Newt Gingrich mentioning his wife Callista by name 3,000 times in one sentence
  29. ALL of the Republican Party / Tea Party candidates AND the ones who refuse to admit they are going to run but hang around constantly (i.e. Sarah Palin and The Donald)
  30. The Duggar Family (sorry, I know they just experienced a very real and legitimate loss but why must we know every single detail of these people’s reproductive lives?) Why isn’t 19 enough? After all, eight was enough to entertain us in the 80s (If you don’t get the aforementioned 80s pop-culture reference… add yourself to this list)
  31. Drivers who don’t signal
  32. Products that don’t do what they say they’ll do
  33. Drivers who are slow
  34. The fact that ALL of the best TV programs are on at the same time on Thursdays
  35. Pre-existing conditions
  36. Magazines that are full of both airbrushed, anorexic models AND articles about why you should love yourself just the way you are
  37. Hidden fees
  38. People who don’t believe in birth control, but then bitch when… SURPRISE!!… They have another kid
  39. Radio stations that claim to play a lot of music and nothing BUT music, but in actuality have a 5 to 1, commercial to song ratio
  40. People who don’t understand or appreciate the cultural beauty and timelessness that is Seinfeld

Happy Festivus everybody! May you discover the joy and fulfillment of airing your own grievances this holiday season and all year long.

Poking the Chocolates and Trashing the Tree

My mother was an elementary school teacher, now newly retired. And as an elementary teacher she received many, many gifts at Christmas time from her students. It was so much fun every year on the last day of school before the holiday break to sort through all of her loot with her.

She would drag what seemed like countless cardboard boxes into the house and my sister and I would help her dig through the stuff looking for buried treasure. Which, to us, was usually candy.

Every year we could count on at least two items being among the goodies: a box of high-quality chocolates and a glass Christmas tree full of Hershey Kisses. Finding these thrilled my sister and me, as we realized we could comfortably ride a chocolate wave all the way till Santa came.

However, along with the arrival of these treats came some… shall we say… behaviors that drove my parents nuts. The first one being that the box of chocolates, though stocked full of creamy, chewy goodness, was also full of a bunch of weird crap that neither my sister or I cared to ingest.

The fruity ones, nutty ones, coconut ones and bitter ones were all flavors that we’d just as soon gone without… but who the hell could tell what was what just by looking? There was only one way to separate the good from the bad. And that was to poke them. So we did. Or at least I did. I don’t know about my sister as she still—as of this writing—denies ever having done it.

When no one was around I would tiptoe over to “the box” (that usually sat in some communal area of the house) and carefully select a chocolate that looked promising. I dared not bite into it for fear of it being one of the aforementioned nasty-flavored ones. Instead, I took my thumb and poked the bottom of it until its guts began to squish out, indeed revealing what was hidden inside.

If I liked it, I ate it. If not… I returned it to the box and no one was the wiser. At first glance they still looked the same and when someone picked one up only to discover the horror that lay beneath, well… that was a risk I was willing to take. Besides, for all anyone else knew… my sister had done it.

The other “behavior” was not revealed until all of the ornaments were removed from our real, live tree and my father would drag the tired tree through the house to the back door and outside where he would throw it away.

Feeling like a couple of princesses as we lounged around in our new fuzzy pajamas for two weeks eating Hershey Kisses in front of Christmas movies, my sister and I developed this habit of using the tree as our own private trash receptacle. It all began one particular day when we just didn’t feel like getting up to throw our Hershey wrappers away. She looked at me and then looked at the tree and launched the little balls of red and green tinfoil directly into its branches.

Forget that this caused a giggling fit that would last well into the New Year… we thought this was an absolutely brilliant solution to our ever-having-to-get-up-off-the-couch-during-The-Sound-of-Music-again dilemma. Brilliant, that is until my father noticed a trail of tree trash that consisted largely of Kiss wrappers, empty chocolate cups and napkins following him all the way out the back door.

Needless to say, our cover was blown. Until Christmas rolled around again… and one of us took the initiative to say to the other—with a twinkle in our eye and a tinfoil wrapper in our hand… aimed squarely at the tree—“Hey! Watch this!”