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Christmas Reflections … And that is okay.

Christmas TreeI sit here late into the Christmas night reflecting over the day. It wasn’t your traditional Christmas.

There wasn’t any

- early morning excitement with little feet crashing down the steps towards the pile high of presents
– long, tiring cooking marathon in the kitchen and frantic setting of table in anticipation of company
– tearing sounds of paper accompanied by ooos and ahhhs or occasional shrieks of excitement while opening gifts
– smell of roasting coffee that would soothe the tired wrapping hands and warm an empty belly all the while giving that little wake up jolt after a few sips
– the ringing of the phone bringing Merry Christmas wishes and reminders of what to bring or discussion of when to visit throughout the day
– the sweeping sound of the broom cleaning up the oodles and oodles of crumpled paper left on the floor
– eventual quieting of movement as everyone tried on their clothes or started playing with their toys
– amazing smells emanating from the kitchen as everyone rushes to the table, pulling out chairs and arguing of who’s going to sit where as we sat down to a traditional holiday brunch
– the final, restful sound of silence as everyone dispersed to play with their newfound toys or put on their new makeup to get ready to go somewhere
– the sound of running water as the first round of dishes are washed in preparation for the next meal and visitors or visiting others

 

Rather it was

- a slow awakening to the sound of the fan whirring overhead
– a gradual opening of the eyes to let the daylight waken your mind
– a realization that today wasn’t supposed to be like any other day but wondering what it would really be like
– slipping into fuzzy slippers and a warm robe to still the shivers of the morning air and shuffle to the kitchen
– grabbing a warm cup of sweetened tea with lemon to soothe a grumbling stomach
– patting the pooch on the head while giving her a treat and letting her out for her morning potty call
– settling into the rocking chair with the phone in the hopes you’d get a morning holiday call
– reading a chapter of a self help or inspirational book on your Kindle since the holiday seemed to warrant something deeper than a fictional story
– catching up with the world through social media or email
– answering the call for a quick FaceTime to watch presents being opened and quickly chatting about your grown up son’s agenda for the day (modern technology certainly helps to feel included but not always enough)
– ditching the traditional brunch for a quick reheat of a leftover or bowl of cereal
– catching random Xmas specials or replays on TV
– catching up on podcasts
– reminiscing on holidays of the past

But it’s all okay.

For life moves on. Children grow up, loved ones pass on, our worlds as we once knew them change. So how we spend our holidays change.

Sometimes they aren’t always a big, happy celebration, but a quiet remembering.  AND THAT IS OKAY.

Some years are easier than others.  AND THAT IS OKAY.

Some years they are not always what we wish for.  AND THAT IS OKAY.

 

This year I was happy to

- use modern technology to share in the opening of gifts with my two sons and their families
- see the huge smile of a 5 year old as he holds his heavy lego toy overheard and exclaims ‘This is my favorite!’
– take a nap in the middle of the day
– connect with friends miles away via Facebook
– get a quick call at the end of the night to say ‘Hey Mom, thanks for the presents. I love you.’ PRICELESS.
– not feel so depressed I wanted to hide under the covers
– wish the day away

 

AND THAT IS OKAY.

FORTUNES OF FATE: Pay it Forward to Keep Them Coming

FortunesThe other day I was cleaning out a desk drawer and came across a pile of fortunes that I had been saving over the past few months.  For some reason, I don’t seem to be able to part with fortunes; I think it secretly has something to do with not wanting to break the chain of fate as I strongly believe in “what goes around comes around”.

After weighing what to do with all these pearls of wisdom, I decided that if I “pay it forward” and share my wishes of good fortune, then I would be able to toss those itty, bitty pieces of paper without guilt; this way maybe good fortune will still rain down upon me.  Here are my top 10 fortunes that I’d like to pass on to you.

  1. Today’s action becomes tomorrow’s habit.
  2. Enthusiasm is contagious; not having enthusiasm is also contagious.
  3. There’s no boosting a man up the ladder unless he’s willing to climb.
  4. Do you see difficulty behind every opportunity or opportunity behind every difficulty?
  5. Winning isn’t everything but the will to win IS.
  6. Cleaning up the past will always clear up the future.
  7. It is not in your character to give up.
  8. Instead of giving someone a piece of your mind, give someone the peace of your mind.
  9. Don’t be hasty, prosperity will knock on your door soon.
  10. Never doubt logical things.

I will continue to collect these fortunes (as fortune cookies are one of my favorite treats :) ), but by sharing them with others, I know I will no longer have to worry about breaking the chain of fate AND I will be the better for paying it forward.

Do you have something that brought you good luck that you can share with others? Share it in the comment area below to pay it forward.

PERFECT vs. IMPERFECT: Which is more memorable?

Perfect Birthday CakeThis morning I read an article from the Life Lessons section in Real Simple magazine (May issue) called She Takes the Cake by Elissa Schappell.  It was a story about the passing down of a baking pan from Elissa’s mother and the memories it elicited each time she used it.  Whenever Elissa used the pan to create her own children’s cakes, she was reminded of how embarrassed she felt about the imperfect cakes her mother insisted on baking for her celebrations; she would much rather have had a “perfect”  store cake like her friends always had.  Would repeating the ritual evoke any of the same feelings in her own children?

I was drawn to this story because it mimicked my own path of expressing my love towards my children as they grew up through rituals followed each year.  Would they look back upon those rituals with the same love and care that I put into creating them or would they, too, sometimes feel ashamed of their mom’s imperfect cakes and celebrations?  Only time would tell.

One ritual I followed through the years was their birthday celebration.  Just like Elissa’s mother did each year I, too, lovingly baked a special cake for them and as they got older incorporated it into a themed party to make a really big deal about their birthdays. (After all, to me, the day they were born were two of the most special days in my life!)

As they entered into the school age years, the parties became a little more elaborate with character themes and the cakes became quite a bit more detailed.  I remember the years of Big Bird, Barney and especially Ninja turtles – that was the year their grandmother’s tongue turned green from the icing! Of course, when they moved into middle school, they started requesting going somewhere for a party instead of playing at home, but cool cakes were still trucked into the venues. (Ninja turtles turned into acoustic guitars and soccer fields.)

The celebrations slowed down when they got into high school (it was a little too difficult to manage parties during the teen years), but the cakes continued.  That’s when we changed from having parties to going out to eat at their favorite restaurants; I think we went to a local Italian one for 4 years in a row because my youngest son always loved spaghetti & meatballs… he still does!

Birthday celebrations got a little trickier when they went off to college, but somehow I always managed to do something crazy to make it feel special (ordering a pizza blow-out for their dorm mates, sending a balloon bouquet to a study hall to make them feel silly or having a take-out meal delivered to their first off campus apartment).  Since they were 3 hours away, I couldn’t make cakes for them, but I managed to send a huge care package with lots of goodies to make up for it.

My sons live on their own now, but luckily reside in the same town so I can once again spoil them with birthday celebrations.  We’ve now come full circle and celebrate with their favorite meal at home and the choice of a dessert made lovingly by their adoring mother.

It’s funny how the paths we sometimes travel down lead us all the way back home, isn’t it?  After reading about Ms. Schappell’s experience with her mom and how she decided she’d rather continue the ritual with her own kids instead of buying “perfect” cakes, I’ve come to understand that I, too, will probably continue my “imperfect” ritual Homemade Cakefor a long time to come.  Luckily, my sons realize that I created this ritual as an expression of my love and although it has changed and evolved over the years, it means a lot more to them to have our “imperfect” celebrations at home rather than  “perfect” ones elsewhere.

Now, tell me, do you have an “imperfect” ritual that created a lasting memory? I’d love to hear all about it; won’t you share your story in the comments below?

MULTI-TASKING: Is it a Myth or a Reality?

MultitaskingThe other day while I was cooking, I found myself humming a tune and smiling; for some reason, it caught me off guard.  I took a moment to mentally observe what I was doing and realized that it probably stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t going in multiple directions performing multiple tasks; the modern concept known as multi-tasking (and my typical MO). 

Through the years I have found it necessary to cultivate this skill and have felt I mastered it well, but have I really and if I have, has it really gotten me as far as I thought?  These were the questions that I pondered as I finished the single task of making my delicious dinner.  I decided to explore more about this concept; I share with you four interesting findings I came across during my exploration.

FINDING #1

Did you know that the term ‘multi-tasking’ originated in the computer engineering industry?  It actually refers to the ability of a microprocessor to process several tasks simultaneously by rotating through those tasks many times per second.  The word actually was coined by IBM and appeared in print in 1965.  Having worked for IBM for many years and around large mainframe systems that did exactly what I describe, it was easy for me to picture this happening quite clearly.

Once I understood the meaning behind the terminology, I turned my exploration to the psychology behind the concept.

FiNDING #2

Extensive psychology research in the 1990’s showed that multi-tasking is not as workable as single-tasking.  Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell described it as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one”.  A study done by the researchers at the University of Utah (published in the journal PLOS One) also concluded that those who multi-tasked the most in real life were actually much worse at juggling tasks than people who rarely multitasked.  It seems that there is much evidence to support that multitasking is not as beneficial as single tasking.  Interesting isn’t it?

Now on to exploring the physical side of multitasking.

FINDING #3

Physiologically, the brain is not capable of doing two tasks (of the same similarity) at the same time.  It can, however, process two dissimilar activities which often fools us into thinking we are “multi-tasking”.  This is where I began to see discrepancies in my findings; opinions quickly varied widely.  According to Vanderbilt University Psychologist, Rene Marois, when the brain “bottlenecks” in response to selection overload, it is then required to decide which activity is most important before completing each task and therefore cannot be trained to multi-task.  However, another Psychologist, Dr. David Meyer, of the University of Michigan, refutes ‘bottlenecking’ and instead introduces the idea that the brain experiences ‘adaptive executive control’ – placing priorities on each activity thereby making the brain trainable to multi-task.

So the question begins to form: Can our brain truly multi-task or can it not?  I turn to my own experiences and move into the more concrete world of everyday living to explore this question.

FINDING #4

My own personal experience has been that in order for me to accomplish more tasks, I needed to not only employ a multi-tasking technique, but to master it.  For many years I managed working full time, a family, a home and personal relationships.  If I hadn’t learned how to multi-task, too many things would fall through the cracks and I would not accomplish everything I needed to do.  Knowing this, I strongly believe that multitasking is possible.  The question then becomes:  Is multi-tasking as productive as we all think and does it actually save us time?

I found this article on MindTools.com that asks these very same questions and the information is fascinating.  (Don’t check it out until you’re done reading this post and commenting – no multitasking allowed here!)

Here’s what I conclude:

  • While multi-tasking may allow us to get more tasks done at once, the quality of our work is significantly diminished.
  • Multi-tasking significantly reduces our ability to focus and
  • It can actually rob us of time and dramatically increase our stress.

So, as I ponder this concept of multi-tasking and re-evaluate whether it actually helps my daily performance, I ask you this:

Do you find yourself multi-tasking more than you should? Do you think focusing on each task individually would bring you not only greater rewards, but less stress and maybe even greater happiness? Most importantly: Is  multi-tasking a myth or just OUR reality? I’d love to hear your thoughts…