I’m jetting the Mojave and heading up north to see family. While I am not quite finished with Shades of Grey (3 relatively smallish chapters left, I think), I intend to finish it while I’m there. It has to be done for the new year. I want to move on in my projects to editing and preparing for the next few that I intend to write this coming year, 2012.

 

With that, I am going to leave you with a few wonderful links to help from the Natural Pantry newsletter, published my Whole Living magazine. I hope you enjoy them. Every recipe I have tried from them has been deee-lic-i-ous!

 

http://www.wholeliving.com/135966/healthy-holiday-menus/@center/136757/stress-free-holidays?xsc=eml_nat_2011_12_16&om_rid=NeMayt&om_mid=_BO61E6B8fAqlnk

 

http://www.wholeliving.com/134992/edible-gift-ideas?xsc=eml_bas_2011_12_12&om_rid=NeMayt&om_mid=_BO5g2TB8e6NFYs

 

http://www.wholeliving.com/136213/quick-healthy-party-foods-and-drinks/@center/136757/stress-free-holidays

 

http://www.wholeliving.com/136264/14-guilt-free-cookie-recipes/@center/136757/stress-free-holidays

 

And some simple gift ideas:

 

To buy: http://www.wholeliving.com/152276/gifts-home/@center/136757/stress-free-holidays

 

DIY: http://www.wholeliving.com/136425/buy-or-diy-recycled-crafts?xsc=eml_bas_2011_12_12&om_rid=NeMayt&om_mid=_BO5g2TB8e6NFYs

In recent weeks, I have noticed the numbers in the bank account drop significantly. The familiar feeling of “being broke” has crept back into my life and upset my Christmas merriment. Just yesterday, the husband and I discussed ways of reducing our debt and spending.

Money, and therefore money issues, is perhaps the largest contributing factor to modern-day stress. We work from dawn until dusk and sleep even less. The American Dream pushes us onward: attain what we want, whatever we want heedless of the cost.

Pannetone, Italian-style fruitcake. Wikipedia.

However, I am going to suggest that whatever we want may not be the best thing for us. Working has hard as Americans (you can broaden this to Westerners if you’d like) do places us in a bad predicament. Not only do our bodies not handle the imbalanced release of chemicals in our brains–due to quick-fix or fast-food meals, and sedentary lifestyle habits–our brains have difficult coping with the rush of information bombarding it.

I believe this is because we feel crappy. Around the holidays, the tension mounts. We get sick but still press on with our regular work schedule instead of taking a day or two off. We have a To-Do List a mile long. We enjoy, and consume in excess, all the wonderful foods the harvest brings us which, once full, makes us (me, anyway) feel like a stuffed turkey. Then there is the shopping. We shop till we drop, fighting crowds in the quest for the best bargain on Great Aunt Sue’s new pair of woolen socks.

With the financial community in crisis and the job market struggling, a lot of people are out of work. Stress levels have gone through the roof. Parents lay awake at night and wonder how they’re going to buy all their kids’ wishlist items, let alone pay their mortgage.

Yes, Christmas is the season of giving but perhaps we are giving the wrong things. It is always nice to watch others open the gifts you spent days scouring the city for; their joy brings contentment, fulfillment. Yet, in a time of economic shortcomings, perhaps we ought to consider the gifts of the hands and the heart. Most of us don’t remember the gift we got at our fifth Christmas. We recall grandpa snoozing in the corner, mouth open to catch any flies that had escaped the winter freeze. We don’t always recall who gave us the collector Barbie doll, or when. We remember how tasty the deviled eggs were, who came together, and the funny antics of our younger siblings between dinner and dessert.

Christmas wreath. Wikipedia.

In my family, I know that the best gifts are gifts that are hand-prepared. Every year, my grandmother wants my mom’s fruitcake. This year, I have come across recipes that I can make as treats and gifts. We don’t have a ton of money to spend on material things. Instead, the husband and my gift to the family is our presence.

Perhaps, then, consider your presence worthwhile, not because you bring packages but because you offer love. Most of our Christmas desires change from year-to-year, particularly children’s wishes. We grow and change as people. What does not change is the fact that we exist.

Instead of stressing out over lack of funds, be creative. Make your gifts–jam, cookies, sweetbreads, wreathes, the list goes on. Some of my favorite gifts are crocheted blankets. Don’t fret over time constraints. There are a million websites out there with easy, do-it-yourself instructions. (Martha Stewart Living anyone?) Trust your instincts. You truly know your friends and family best. Some of them may even have real needs for the things you undertake.

Remember: these are the holidays, times for coming together. The best gift you can possibly give is yourself. If, like me, all you have to offer is a travel-worn smile when you arrive, there will be joyful smiles and warm hugs waiting for you on the other side of that door.

 

If you have budget-friendly suggestions on how to lessen stress while enjoying the holidays, feel free to post suggestions! 

If you’re like me, you love the holidays. If you’re also like me (and maybe you’re not), you get inundated by a plethora of suggestions on how to make the holidays healthier. Eat green beans instead of green bean casserole; substitute yogurt for sour cream; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

 

Compounding this advice is the external (and internal) stressors of “the holidays” (the Big Four–Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years–although one may argue that Christmas starts earlier every year, making is a threesome; there is also Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, the Asian New Year celebration, and, I’m sure, plenty of others that I have forgotten). With the comings and goings, the piles of food that has to be perfect (it is the holidays, after all), the decorations, the shopping (the advertisements that begin hounding you in September!), the candy (stocked in July), the family quibbles, the nosy neighbors, and the unpleasant airlines, and you’ve got a cauldron brimming with a brew for madness. Little wonder the turkey got sick of it!

 

Sound familiar? (Posted on Facebook.)

 

In fact, if you’re like me (again, maybe you’re not), you’re begging the turkey to stand on its fat legs and block the Man in the Red Suit from sleighing into sight on the heels of Halloween. You’re not there yet. You need time to get the candy eaten, the holiday shopping lists sorted, and the guests into a place to stay (or find one for yourself).

 

It’s enough to drive you to pulling out your hair.

 

So, why add one more thing to the holidays? Why add healthiness to the list? How about a different version of healthiness! My solution to making your life just a little less hectic during the holidays: enjoy them. Simple. Sweet. To the point.

 

Stop worrying about the recipe ingredients. (If you have a longstanding healthy recipe, great! Use it.) Stop fretting over time missed at the gym because you had to travel to Grandma’s house. (Again, have time set aside for an early morning run? Super!) Stop clouding your thoughts with worries of weight gain because, believe it or not, stress is a major factor in weight gain–and stressful are the holidays.

 

Instead, do the simple things. Eat a little less of your favorite dishes. (Did you know that pumpkin is super healthy for you, low in fat, and very low in the calorie count? Just watch out for the whipped cream.) Help out with chores or offer to help cook the special meal. (Daily activity burns calories!) Enjoy those people you gather together with, and laugh a whole lot more. Laughter is one of the best medicines. It brings people together, and heals the body and the soul. Take the time out and go to church. Who cares if the house isn’t spotless. Take the time for yourself this year, and breathe.

 

Whatever holidays you choose to celebrate, I guarantee you they are not about perfection–the turkey (or ham), the gifts, the image you put forth. These are symbols of what our holiday celebrations stand for. The holidays are about family, gratitude, and the celebration of what life has brought you thus far–the plenteous bounty of the harvest, another year, another chance for living.

 

Live, laugh, and love, but whatever you do this holiday season, stop fretting about the whole fat milk that goes into the mashed potatoes! Your guests (and the turkey) will be grateful for your hard efforts and/or presence at the gathering. They will be grateful for you. If that is not love (and less stress), I don’t know what is.