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Christmas Is: Time to Cheer for Change

So I’ve been writing a lot about Christmas. I love Christmas, it’s easy to get lost in the merriment and let’s face it, I’m easily distracted by shiny things.

What I haven’t been writing about is how burnt out I am. How I have let things go so long, that now it feels like it’s gone to shit. And I don’t have the inclination to fix it, fake it, or take it.

I’m not a sissy at burn out. I’ve been there before, but now I’m too old for it. I feel like a toddler with my chubby arms crossed against my old-lady chest, lip stuck out, emphatically letting the world know that, ” I don’t have to.” It’s not cute, and it’s not pretty, but it is what it is.

I may look sad, but trust me, I’m pissed. And I will not tolerate anyone’s shit. Not for love or money.

I’m not a nervous breakdown burn-out. I’m a pissed off, middle-aged burn out.  And when I’m pissed off I cry. Then I get frustrated with myself, and I get angrier, and then I cry.

I constantly tell myself everything is rosy when it’s not. I can do it for years. It’s a long-standing type of self-preservation that only people who come from a history of abuse will understand. Take it from me, you know when it’s time to move on from any kind of toxic relationship; career, friendship, romance, family…whatever.

If your burnout is from work, try to reframe it until you can leave. Through coaching and experience, I have learned that sometimes work can give us what we need ( a pay cheque) until we find a pay cheque that stresses us less. Nothing lasts forever. And that’s a good thing.

Recently I was speaking to one of my friends who has her own counselling practice. She said that people come to her on a regular basis terrified of crying at work, totally victims of harassment and workplace bullying, the ugly step-daughters of corporate greed. I do believe that working until we have nothing left to give is one of the great social diseases of our time.  It eats away at the good things in our life, until it’s the only thing we can think about. Not cool. Not sexy. Not impossible to extricate yourself from either.

I have been very lucky in the past to have meaningful work that didn’t feel so much like work.  And that gives me hope, and I hope it gives you hope as well.

The end of the year often lends itself to retrospection, which goes hand in hand with setting goals for the new year. What was great about my year? What wasn’t so great? How am I going to change that? How am I going to make my life better?

stuckOnce upon a time my Mumster told me to go home and just look at job sites. She said knowing that so many opportunities are out there would cheer me up. She’s right. It was the same feeling I had as I drove through the city streets from our island airport. I looked up at all of the tall buildings, at all the lights, the ads, and I knew that there was opportunity if only I got out and let the world know that I was interested.

If you’re feeling burnt out, I hope you don’t get comfy in the cushy sofa of despair.  I hope that you set coffee dates with people who are doing what you want to do and are open to sharing their experience.  Spend time with people who love you and want you to be successful. Start small if you have to. Offer your services on fiverr, take free classes at the local library, be curious.

There are plenty of resources out there for you. My sweetie loves,  What Colour is Your Parachute, but I prefer Careergasm. I’m a fan of Sara Smeaton and think that in 2020 I need to spend more time at her workshops.  Last year I started off the year going to seminars, setting goals and putting myself out there. It fizzled at the end, but I gained some momentum…and I’m convinced that that momentum will continue.

As one of my  hippy dippy friends said, “Put it out to the universe.”  She was right. Put it out there. Let the world know you are open to opportunity, and it will find you.

 

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Christmas Is:One Part of a Busy Life

Champagne TowerMy fiance was not prepared for this. After putting a two-and-a-half carat ring on my finger and whisking me away on a romantic vacation, he had the strange idea that I’d just keep staring at the ring, and not dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s of venue and vendor contracts.

It’s just my nature.

We’ve both been drinking more.  In fact, I’m currently out of red wine and praying that when he rolls in from the gym that he has a ginormous brown bag under his arm disguising a big, juicy bottle or two from California. Preferably a gulpable blend of cab, shiraz, and maybe a splash of merlot. I’m not fussy, but I am a lush.

My eyes are strained from computer use. Pinterest and custom stationary sites have me stuck to my laptop.  My sweetie is looking for his cheque book to avoid ridiculous credit card fees. My son’s girlfriend who is a touch more au courant than this old gal has been indispensable when it comes to sourcing make-up artists, photographers and dresses. She’s humouring me, and winning a crazy amount of mom-points.

I’m not sure she was counting on an almost-in-law who had a penchant for sequins, pearls and ostrich feathers though.  I’m sure she cringes at the dresses I send to her, hoping she might wiggle into one and hop on the bandwagon of glitter and shimmy.

On top of wanting to have all the big items booked for the big day, I have two major holidays coming up before Christmas, and a major surgery to get through. All of this in less than two months.

He’ll be on wine duty, so long as I take care of all of the other details. And that makes the relationship work.

I spent the entire day fussing over wedding details while baking Christmas treats to take to our Christmas at the Cottage family getaway.  And then my sweetie texted requesting our Christmas in New York Extravaganza itinerary.

I’m a planner by nature. As a funeral director, I’m basically an event planner on a turbo-charged schedule who can pass top level anatomical dissection, pathology, microbiology, and chemistry while wearing two-inch heals, an ugly uniform and an empathetic smile.

rolfs

As the full time vacation planner in the relationship, I have our itineraries researched and down to the nearest metro stop, secluded cenote, and best time not to be in a line-up for too long. I lassoed reservations in September for hard to get into NYC restaurants during the Christmas season, tickets to the Fort Worth Rodeo between football games, and a first day in France schedule that brought my sweetie up from our first metro stop to the best view in the city.  I plan shit. That’s what I do.

Weddings on the other hand aren’t something I’m too familiar with.  I’ve never been a wedding person. I’ve alway been a party-girl though, so I’m taking that approach.  And fabulous parties take planning.

From the language on the invitation to the details of decor, every element of a great party has to be dazzling. It has to be dedicated to a theme, delicious, boozy, artistically lit, most of all, welcoming for everyone. If all else fails, we’re starting with champagne reception and having an open bar…how bad can it be?

In the mean time, there are gifts to wrap, passports to find, bags to pack, unpack, and pack again, treats to bake, and weight to lose. Seriously.

If, like me, you have a lot on your plate this year during the holidays, I wish you some quiet moments to appreciate everything that’s good in your life.

 

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Christmas is: Sharing

I have a few closely guarded secret recipes that are standards at our house. The, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without these mom”, kind-of-recipes.

Cookies are my thing, and I make a lot of them at Christmas time. I love the way that fancy sugar cookies look added to a tray of down-home-country-girl sweets. The little maraschino cherry balls that my granny used to make melt in our mouths, but by far our favourite cookie recipe is this;

WHIPPED SHORTBREAD WITH TOBLERONE

1 lb butter at room temperature

1 cup icing sugar

1/2 cup corn starch

3 cups flour

1 tsp vanilla

Large Toblerone bar.

Cream butter on high until light and fluffy. If using a stand mixer, use the whipping attachment for this. 

While butter is being whipped, divide Toblerone into triangles and then divide those triangles into thirds. 

Combine all other ingredients and slowly add to whipped butter, using regular attachment. Be patient when mixing as this dough gets quite crumbly before coming together into a smooth dough. 

Place 1″ spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Press a piece of divided Toblerone into each mound of cookie dough, and top with same amount of dough. Feel free to be generous with the chocolate…just sayin’

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. Do no overcook. Let cookies cool on tray before moving them to a cooling rack as they are very delicate and crumble before they cool. 

 

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Christmas Is: Sweet

I bake too much at Christmas, and then I eat too much sugar, and then I look as jolly as I feel. By the time Valentine’s Day rolls around feeling sexy is very tied to how much bubbly I need to drink to feel lithe underneath my post-Christmas layer of fluff.

But I digress. It’s the holidays, and what better way to kick it off than to dig into the retro recipes that we all remember our favourite aunt decking her sweet trays with?

At my house, the tackiest of tacky goodies were always the butterscotch marshmallow squares. Heaven forbid you pack these little gems in a container with anything else, or everything in there would smell the same.

I always used to think that if you ate these, you’d eat anything, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize that the sense of taste can be pleasantly nostalgic.

Exactly one month out from the big day, I present to you my family recipe.

BUTTERSCOTCH MARSHMALLOW SQUARES

1/4 cup butter

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup peanut butter

1 bag coloured marshmallows

Grease a 9 x13″ baking dish and set aside.

Melt butter, and butterscotch chips in a pan over medium heat. Remove once thoroughly combined and remove from heat. Immediately add peanut butter. Mix until well blended and cooled slightly. Add coloured marshmallows and mix until butterscotch and peanut butter mixture coats the marshmallows.

Scrape mixture into greased baking dish and pat down to fill the pan. I often used a buttered spatul to press the squares down before placing them in the refrigerator to cool. Once cooled, cut into squares and place in an airtight container. DO NOT place with other baked good. These little tacky tidbits freeze well.

If retro recipes are up your jingle-belled alley, try my great-granny’s recipe for Coconut Cherry Balls.

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Christmas is: For Boundaries

stressfreechristmas

Last year,  a decree went out that there would be only one gathering around a traditional Christmas table.  She who does all the planning, shopping and personalizing,  shall be making one Christmas meal whenever the hell she liked, and you could show up (on time) or not at all.  And it brought her great relief and joy.  A very durable boundary wall went up to protect her, and the world was good.

Last year, after seven, yes, count’em, seven rescheduling attempts at a  family get together, it finally happened, with the people whom I arranged a second dinner for, arriving over two hours late.

My jolly goodwill and ho-ho-home form the holidays ended. I leaned on my wee bottle of Jameson to get me through the evening, and then I did some reflecting.

I decided, after much hurt, anger and frustration, that the only thing to do was surrender. I surrendered to the values I hold dear.  This was met with love and support from people who love me.  Everyone else continues to have that glazed, “I don’t compute”, look on their face.

You can’t change people. Although it’s a saying we frequently use, really accepting that means you hold fast to your boundaries like a life raft, especially around toxic people.

I came from a kooky family but we did Christmas right. We put aside our differences, and showed up, on time, respecting the effort we had all made to have a special day together.   Homemade gifts showcased every person’s creativity, and the food, my goodness, the food!

Since those days when we gathered on Christmas Eve to see one another, make our way to church, and finish off our meal and gift giving in the wee hours of the morning, so much has changed. I’ve experienced great loss during the holidays more than once. I’ve struggled to put food on the table and gifts under the tree. I’ve had Christmases when the pain of loneliness was almost unbearable. In other words, I’ve worked damn hard for my happy, and I’m not letting anyone take it from me.

I want no part of disrespectful, entitled people under any circumstances, but especially during one of the most joyful, loving, happy times of the year.

I have stopped being the only one who engineers parties, family gatherings and sacred times to connect. Planning, shopping, cooking, and decorating take a lot of time. I love doing it when I know it means something to my family and friends, and I resent doing it when someone shits all over the plans. I stopped buying gifts I didn’t want to buy and came back to my homemade roots. I stopped hosting parties for people who may or may not show up. And you know what? The world didn’t come to an end. In fact, it feels damn good. Boozy-eggnog-in-my-cocoa-good.

My exhaustion levels have gone WAY down, and my Hallmark Christmas movie watching time has gone up. I have come back to the sweet meditation of making; sewing, baking, stitching. And the people I thought it was so important to connect with have faded into distant social media clicks. Live and learn.

Boundaries are the best gift you can give yourself for Christmas. They give you the time and space you need to heal, and root yourself in traditions, new and old, that bring you joy.

 

 

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Christmas is: Connection

Christmas VacationSugar Cookies, homemade quilts and everyone snuggled in by the fireplace, including a sleepy cat or two.

(skip to the bottom for recipe)

This is how Christmas should be. And it is. At my house.

My love of all things Christmas did not come from being raised with a sister who was five years older than me, and willing to carefully  unwrap every single gift under the tree. Before Christmas morning. While our parents were at those 1980’s parties that required big hair and a LOT of booze.  I had to fake surprise long before I should have had to. Gifts skirted the tree often in a wide, three or four foot swath of colourful wrapping paper, and my mother made sure that every gift purchased was “expensive-looking-enough’.  I learned early that gifts weren’t the reason for the season. Gifts caused a lot of grief.

What made me fall in love with Christmas was the food and the company. Oh. My. Goodness. The food. I grew up in a teeny-tiny village. We had a grocery store that stocked tangerines, nuts and pre-bagged bulk candy only during the Christmas season, and it was fucking magical.  The smell of a tangerine still makes me wax nostalgic. My aunts would bring platters of sweets and savouries that we ONLY got during the Christmas season. They also brought my cousins. Growing up in a village of 500, your cousins were your playmates and best friends. Food and cousins. Christmas rocked.

Today, my kiddo is grown, and I miss the Christmas wonderful-wonder that children radiate throughout the holidays. I find myself surrounded by adults who bitch about the burden of Christmas, primarily the financial burden. I get it. I feel the pressure too, or rather, I observe it.

I’ve never really been about the show. It doesn’t turn me on. I do love giving gifts that I know people will use and love, but the best gifts were alway the ones that were handmade. Or the visits with friends and family that alway seemed to get put off until the holidays. Christmas is about connection.

When I sit down at my sewing machine, or spend the day in the kitchen preparing for Christmas, I feel connected to the best parts of my family.

CherryGems-bake2Despite a very painful estranged relationship with my late mother, in the kitchen I remember the good parts. I make the same too-much-sage stuffing recipe with white bread, the same gravy, and tacky ambrosia salad. I try to make things that make my kiddo, and my sweety’s kiddo’s feel special.

I tend to bake the same old-fashioned squares that my Grandmother produced, and think of her when I pull out my sewing machine and blow the dust off that settled in from the Christmas before.

Christmas is all about connection for me. When I give a homemade piece of needlework, a quilt or homemade sweet treats, I’m not only giving you the gift, but I’m giving you my time. You were on my mind when I sewed, baked, iced, stitched or preserved it.

Every minute spent into the wee hours getting things ready for the people I admire and love is time spent in connection with my values. This is what Christmas is about. Connection.

If you are reading this and you are my friend, know that I only crave time with you. Latte at a crowded cafe? Yes please! Yoga pants and cheap plonk in your living room while the kids go wild? Yes please! Dual sewing machines going in my Christmas Craft space in the basement? Absolutely!

Connect. That’s what the season is about.

GREAT GRANNY’S CHRISTMAS COCONUT CHERRY BALLS

1/3 cup margarine

1 1/2  cups icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups coconut

1 tbsp milk

maraschino cherries

graham wafer crumbs

Mix margarine, icing sugar, vanilla coconut and milk together. Chill until mixture is firm enough to roll into 2″ balls. Roll balls in wager crumbs. Make an indent in each ball with your thumb, and top each ball with 1/2 cherry.   Seal in airtight container and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Keep Your Fa-La-La-La-La Opinion to Yourself

Last night, after a looooooong day at work (where, by the way, I have learned the very precious currency of living and loving every day), I had to run some errands. After snagging my kitties their favourite food and a few discounted Hallowe’en toys ( they don’t care if the feathers are purple and orange), I stepped out into the  crisp November air into some of the first here-to-stay snowflakes of the year.

It felt like Christmas.

It was a Wednesday evening, and the little strip mall was relatively quiet. There was a calm, cozy feel in the air, and I felt a simple joy. I was drawn into a shop to stroll through the aisles laden with Christmas items. I had a short conversation with another woman who was experiencing the same simple pleasure. There in the aisle, we talked about how she likes to come out early to pick up a few new items to add to her Christmas village for her autistic son to enjoy. She says he is mesmerized by the detail of the tiny village, and the lights.  We shared a small part of our selves as we shared our stories. We brought a little bit of humanity to one another’s life in this busy world.

It was just five minutes of connection. But for me, that’s what the season is about. Moments of connection; Slowing down to reconnect and appreciate the people in our lives who bring us light.

Sounds lovely and perfect right? Which leads me to wonder about the mental health of people who rage against how others experience joy.  Actually, I don’t wonder so much any more as I just wish they’d fuck off.

Yes, it’s harsh, but it’s true. Misery loves company, and joy just doesn’t really give a crap. Joy is too busy shining and casting out shadows.

I’m a Christmas person. I have always chosen joy.

I have already loaded the PVR with scheduled recordings of Hallmark Christmas movies. Although I’m way behind on my shopping, I’m over half way finished. Today I will set up the spare room to be our ‘wrapping room’ for the family so that everyone has access to all of the paper, bows, gift tags, tissue, boxes and thoughtful little gifts that make the season happy for so many of our friends.

I have a menu planned for our Christmas Cottage FamJam. The itinerary for our ultimate Chistmas-in-New-York weekend is set, including hard to get reservations and a reminder to book our appointment at Santaland. It has been plugged in so at midnight on the day that reservations open, I will be up, sipping cocoa spiked with peppermint-vodka and clicking us into the magic of every kid’s fantasy.

I spent days and weeks in the summer prepping homemade gifts to bundle up for my friends, who at this age and stage have every ‘thing’ that they need, but I don’t get to spend enough time with. Gifts are now tokens of friendship, and a lovely introduction into the hours spent during the Christmas season catching up and rekindling our connection.

For those of you who have the opinion that people who use Christmas as a time to reconnect are hypocrites, you are most welcome to your opinion. And those of us who use the season as an excuse to spend time with loved ones, and celebrate the beauty of life, are entitled to our joy.  In the parlance of our times; haters gonna hate.

eggnogJoyful people do not need miserly permission to be joyful, so hold your smug bullshit. Better yet, strap on a nightcap, grab yourself some spiked eggnog, (I recommend Old Tom’s), and chill the hell out. Smug is the opposite of sexy, get over it already.

Those folks who meme the hell out of celebrating Christmas too early (before; Remembrance day, American Thanksgiving, or some other arbitrary chosen date) make me wonder if they need to up their dose. God forbid anyone be joyful and not offended by something. If marking another day is more important for you, gobble ’til you wobble, make your front porch a giant poppy-laden memorial, but for the love of God, get off your lazy meme-clicking ass and do something about it. Celebrate, decorate, bake…live out your preachy preference, and be happy. Happy oozes sexy. Happy can fix all that’s wrong in our little worlds.

Drink the spiked egg-nog, watch the Hallmark movie.