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The Homecoming

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Thanksgiving is the most unique of American days. It is a holiday celebrated primarily in the home and centered entirely upon food and family. And it is the latter that can become a wee bit problematic. Any venture that is steeped in expectation and sentimentality has an increased probability of going off the rails. When we add forced congeniality things can get messy indeed. People, related by blood or the law, who may not see or have any contact (perhaps by choice) throughout the year are sequestered in overheated, crowded, booze filled homes with carving knives. Even when there is no extended family, things may get testy. One of the frequently overlooked potential land mines is that of the returning college student.

Thanksgiving is often the first time a college student is coming home since the start of the semester. Parents and younger siblings most likely have been anticipating the return of the prodigal son or daughter. Parents and siblings have fantasized or actually planned outings and activities, hoping to make up for lost time. Even the parent who has been in constant communication with the college student may have his or her heart set on “really connecting” come the Thanksgiving holiday. And who knows it may go splendidly and put every sentimental holiday commercial to shame (Peter you’re home!) But for everyone else it might be helpful to keep the following in mind:

• College can be exhausting. Whether your student is working hard or playing hard, they most likely are pooped. Spending 24 hours, 7 days a week with thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people is hardly relaxing. Excessive sleeping should be expected (and you should establish that it is not happening at school and possibly an indication of something amiss.)

• A cranky or petulant student is perfectly normal as well. Remember they’ve spent the last 3 months (and your money) discovering that they now know everything. Do not be surprised if your cherub challenges Uncle Dave at the dinner table. Don’t shirk from challenging him/her right back either.

• Your student might also show signs of regression: fighting with younger siblings or being a thoughtless slob. This too is normal. Living amongst so many people and wearing an “I’m keeping up I know what’s going on” persona is taxing. Knowing they don’t have to be grown-up or fake being grown-up all the time is important. However they can let their guard down and clear their own plate at the same time.

• Having reasonable expectations of your student’s time is fine, but not if you spring it on them. If you expect them to spend the entire day (and night) of the holiday at home and socializing, do let them know ahead of time. What of the student who is bringing someone home? If you have expectations (which you are entitled to have) about sleeping arrangements or meal contributions, express them ahead of time. Nothing breeds disappointment more than silent expectations.

As with any event (particularly one involving family) the best approach is one of gratitude. Eliminating glossy images of perfection is prudent. Focusing on the gift of time and connectivity produces far more joy. Before you know it that student arriving on your doorstep with dirty laundry, a tinge of arrogance and little indication of appreciation will be hosting you at their own Thanksgiving. You will sit at their table as they tell their own family the stories of Thanksgiving’s past. And that is why we give thanks.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Childhood, Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Wattle Twaddle

turkey

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving! You know what that means? Any second now the talking heads and “experts” will rise up and moan and rail against retail. Suddenly the plight of the employee and the sanctity of family will take on grave importance. The siren song of the big box store will lure people away from the sacredness of their nuclear hearth! How dire it is to impose commercialism onto such a pure holiday! Never mind the millions of turkey and pilgrim tchotcke festooning tables and mantels. Disregard the families barcalounged in front of football games all. day. long. It is shopping that threatens to erode this holy Norman Rockwell day!

“People shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving”; the bobble talking heads will shout. I suppose we should close the hospitals, police force & diners as well. Lots of people work on Thanksgiving. Do we expect the secret service or any branch of the military to lay down their arms and hoist a drumstick? I’m not sure anyone would want pilots, gas station attendants or bus drivers to have the day off. It’s interesting that retail employees are often the concern during this sacred poultry time. Retail workers regularly work evenings and weekends and often quite erratic schedules. Depending upon the shop they can be forced to wear a uniform and carry a see-though bag containing their belongings (the assumption being that they steal.) Retail workers are often on their feet all day long, not allowed to use the same bathroom as the customers and not given their week’s work schedule until the last minute. Throughout most of the year their interests aren’t exactly a priority. Let us just assume the moaners/ranters are just grasping at (cheese) straws and spouting twaddle.

But what of the family?! Whose family exactly? Is there a family so functional and fun loving and their time together so sacred? Is this fictional (if not entirely creepy) family so enamored with each other yet powerless to resist the charms of a doorbuster sale? Many many people do not have a family or one with whom they’d like to be sequestered. To impose some ideal onto every single person is if not callous than surely annoying. Would anyone care if family members went to the movies (spending obscene amounts of money to sit in dark silence together?) What is it about shopping that rankles the pundits? Is it that the shopping in question is for Christmas? Is the melding of holidays the equivalent of “my corn is touching my sweet potatoes!!!!”? If that’s it I suggest they take on the Thanksgiving/Chanukah synchronized celebrating of 2013.

I suspect that at the core of the whining is that any kind of change can make people cranky. Thanksgiving is nothing else if not a holiday revered for its stasis. We eat the same exact foods every year (heaven help the host who changes the stuffing recipe!) We go to or watch the same parade or movies. We take the post-feast walk or nap. There’s nothing wrong with clinging fast to the comfort of tradition. But there are lots of people out there with lots of different needs and desires. The idea that there is only one way to do something is a bit offensive. There’s a reason we serve more than one kind of pie.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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A New Year’s Resolution

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January is not the cheeriest of months. Unless you celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in an exceptionally festive manner, there’s not much to break up the long cold dark month. February has Valentine’s Day, March has St. Patrick’s Day and (depending on the year) some festive religious holidays. April has hope that the winter is over, and so on. But January is tough. It lands right at the shortest day, longest night time of the year and after months of anticipation of frivolity. Depending on the degree of anticipation or frivolity, January 2nd can be quite the bummer.

The noisemakers have hushed, the streamers swept and the glitter has flaked from our party hats. The decorations have been put back or tossed and it’s just the same old home again. Gone are the pretty distractions and “I’ll think about it tomorrow”-ness. We look around and the world (our own and the larger one) is crying out for our attention. Our work misses us, as do the mundane chores of our lives. The world is desperate for our attention both internationally and right here. We wake refreshed from our New Year hangover having to give serious thought to realistic gun control, mental health policy and fiscal matters. We toss out stale holiday carbohydrates as we consider local lives still upended by disaster. It is all quite sobering particularly after weeks of festivity.

There are those (during any time of year) who choose not to face the sobering reality; their tolerance level cannot bear it. They tuck deeply into their work, focus on family members and/or employ their substance of choice and manage the best they can. But somewhere between being swallowed up by the world’s ills and responsibility for repairing them, and turning away (literally or figuratively) is a sweet balance. Humans are responsible for the world they inhabit. People are also responsible for their own happiness. There are people whose very definition of happiness is caring for others and/or repairing the world, and we are grateful to them. For the rest of us we are most happy when are lives are a mix of internal/external and work/play. There is no greater feeling than doing something (anonymously) for others. But going out to lunch with a dear friend can be a kick in the pants too.

As we go forth in this new year let’s commit ourselves to being near and far-sighted in our view of the world. Let us be kind to ourselves, but never at other’s expense. Let us find ways to repair the world; at home, in our neighborhood and worldwide. Let us also find reasons to celebrate regularly. Let the calendar guide you (a full-blown MLK birthday party) or just your mood (take-out pizza is only to be eaten in formal dress.) Every month (if not every week and every day) there’s a reason to celebrate the fact that we’re still here! And everyday there are countless reasons to help to create the world we want to inhabit.

Happy New Year!

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

santa

I’ve been thinking about Santa lately. That’s not really all that unusual given the time of year and all. But as I have not accepted Santa as my personal gift-giver, thinking of him at all is moderately novel. I’ve always had deep affection for him in all his fictional forms. Edmund Gwenn (as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street), Mickey Rooney’s voice (in two classic animated tales) even the Norelco (shaver) cartoon Santa have swept me off my feet. But the real Santa? I hadn’t given him much thought.

This all started with the (not nearly as distressing as it might first seem) thought of sitting on his lap as an adult. I wondered what would I, as a grown woman capable of filling my own stocking, ask from the bearded stranger. This led me to thinking of his raison d’etre. Santa, it would seem, exists as a repository of dreams. Children visit the jolly fellow and (if they’re not crying uncontrollably or rendered speechless by his Oz-like presence) tell him what the really want. This dynamic works well as children will rarely filter with Santa. They will not tell Santa what they think he wants to hear, but instead what they in fact want. Many is the Santa (post 1970) who has heard “I want my mommy & daddy to get undivorced.” Children know what they want and rarely have shame in asking for it.

How does this scenario play out for an adult who has been (somewhat) socialized and mostly expresses herself with a (somewhat flawed) filter? What it seems to entail is doing a little hard work and digging deep to uncover what one really wants. Santa (to my understanding) cannot cure disease or enforce cease fires. Santa seems to deal on an individual basis, addressing only the personal. So then what, if given the chance, would I ask Santa to bring on Christmas morning? An idea sprang to mind, and then one more, and before you know it I had a score. They all seemed to be of a similar ilk and to the untrained eye would appear to be New Year”s resolutions.

And that’s when it dawned on me for the first time ever; New Year is Christmas for grown-ups! The eve of the New Year is spent in sparkly clothes sipping sparkling wine, waiting for something to happen. Instead of listening for hoof sounds on the roof, or jingling of sleigh bells, our ears are primed for noisemakers and countdowns. When the moment arrives we whoop and holler and when it’s all over there’s a big mess to clean. And the next day is when we receive the gift of fresh starts and begin to play with the resolutions we’ve made.

There is still plenty of time to write your letter to Santa. When you’re standing in line (at the bank, the post office, the store, the wrapping desk) let your mind wander. Ask yourself; ‘what do I want?’ Let your imagination run wild. There is no wrong answer. “I want to be more patient with my teenager” is just as valid (and perhaps as daunting) as “I want to become a doctor.” Discovering what you really truly want is not complicated but it isn’t easy either. You might just need to jump start the process with a little visit to Santa. Sure you might feel a little self-conscious, but trust me, Santa’s seen it all. You needn’t sit on his lap, maybe just a “hello” and a hearty handshake will do the trick. The thing is, once you’ve stage whispered, “I’m working on my list” to Santa, you’re going to finish the list. Santa never loses his power to motivate. This is a man who knows when you’ve been bad or good.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Keeping Our Gift Giving Heads

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You’d have to be living under a rock (or someplace wonderful that I’d love to hear about) to not sense the holiday retail desperation/frenzy. The sales and offers are coming in multiple chaotic waves. Online prices are jumping up and down like an untrained puppy. This curated and cultivated frenzy is designed to be contagious. There is nothing as frightening to retail as a cool, calm and collected shopper. List makers with moderate blood pressure and blood sugar are kryptonite to retail. So bring on the confusing and conflicting offers and the wonky gift items. (Is there really anyone with candy cane scented body lotion on his or her wish list?) It’s the time to convince shoppers that strangers know best. “Gift” items are positioned strategically in and around key areas of shops. Reindeer corkscrew? Who wouldn’t just love to have that in their junk drawer? Sugar plum flavored lip gloss? Okay, but does anyone even know what a sugar plum is? Personally, I’d prefer partridge in a pear tree scent.

The items being pushed as ‘perfect’ for every and anyone on your list aren’t merely Christmas themed. The latest (excruciatingly distasteful) fashion trend seems to be apparel usually seen on people very down on their luck. A torn sweatshirt with a ragged and fringed hem is being sold for $185. This is a garment you would not allow your partner or child to be seen in. You would wrestle it from their hands and relegate it to the rag bin. The full page newspaper advert showed this pathetic piece of cloth draped over the sharp and glossy frame of a highly styled young woman otherwise dressed for a night out. Ordinarily this would just be stupid and ridiculous, but five weeks after a devastating natural disaster which has left many people choosing their clothes from mounds of discards, it is just distatesful. Distasteful, but not unique. Today’s full page newspaper advert shows a similarly glam model wearing a pair of shredded jeans. The jeans are not decorated with strategically placed signs of distressed. No, the holes are stringy and show pronounced areas of skin. These can make that special person on your gift list happy for just $205.

Not sure if $200 rags are the perfect gift? Fear not, you can now pay someone to tell you what your friends and family would like. These clairvoyant personal shoppers will advise you as to what will make someone who means enough to you to warrant a gift, happy. Nifty, no? Keep in mind, they don’t purchase the gift or even wrap the gift. No no. They ask you the recipient’s age and gender and tell you what to buy. It’s like paying Santa to sit on your lap.

No matter how good our intentions not every gift will be perfect or even happily given. It’s inevitable that we will be socially forced into a grab bag situation or find ourselves spending the holiday with someone’s new partner. The important thing is not to panic. Let us not focus on checking off the list, but of keeping our heads. As we get closer to the big day keep your resolve. Write a little message to yourself if you think it will help; “Would I want to receive a glitter embossed cardboard box shaped like a gingerbread man?” For grab baggers consider something edible. If the spending parameters allow, how about something edible and a modest gift to a food pantry? Now how about that niece, colleague, stranger who you don’t know well enough to select a nice gift but feel compelled to give them a gift nonetheless? Money works. Money always fits and can’t be returned. Gift cards are usually to benefit the store/business and are no less crass than money. They are no less crass and more offensive. “I’m giving you money and telling you where to spend it.” isn’t the most giving sentiment. Still feel that cash is cold? How about giving an equal amount (in the recipient’s name) to a local charity or not for profit organization? Who wouldn’t be touched by that thought?

Less landfill more goodwill.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Holiday, Style

 

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