Thursday, November 29, 2012

Celebrate the Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice is Friday, December 21st, this year (summer solstice for those of you living below the equator): the shortest day and the longest night. It may have achieved such great importance in early societies because people did not always live through the winter.  January through April have often been called the "famine months".  In December, once it grew cold, livestock were often slaughtered as feeding them was difficult, which resulted in a plethora of fresh meat.  Then, as now, a bounty of food from crop harvest, or livestock slaughter, was cause for celebration.  Wine and beer made from the summer and fall harvests were also ready to drink. 

My family has celebrated the Winter solstice for years.  Celebrating the natural cycles of the earth is important to us and to impart this on our children, we make sure to recognize and celebrate the changing of the seasons.  Appreciating the light returning is a highlight of the end of the year for us.

In the days leading up to the solstice, I collect and take inventory of all of my candles.  I deep clean the house to purify it.

On the morning of the solstice, I do my sun salutations and meditate.  I smudge sage and burn incense for purification.  On the solstice, we do not use any regular artificial light, except for fairy lights, so as the afternoon gets dark, I light candles around the house.  These will be the only lights for the night.

The table is dressed in a white tablecloth and set with candles and pretty dishes.  Our meal the last few years has been Beef Carbonnade.  The meal is made of local and homegrown ingredients; the desserts, not as it's hard to find local chocolate in Wisconsin!  This year we will have our home-brewed beer and hard apple cider ready (and regular cider for our girls).

After our meal, we open our gifts.  We live a few hours from family, so celebrating on this night makes planning so much easier and more relaxed for us.  For us, the solstice is about enjoying the quiet night by candlelight, and being glad that the days will grow longer once again.

Happily for us, friends of ours also celebrate the solstice and on the next night, we will join them and about 50 other people for local food, drinks, and laughter, in their 100+ year old home lit only by candles and fairy lights.

The internet is full of the history and cultural celebrations of the solstice.  Find what appeals to you and works for your family, and let me know how you celebrated.

Blessed Yule!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Avoiding In-Law Drama

First, I have to say I love all of my in-laws, but I don't like all of them.  I adore one of my brother-in-law's and his wife.  Adore them.  Love my mother-in-law.  I love the people that helped shape my husband into the man he is today.

This post was going to be about why I no longer celebrate holidays or go to family gatherings with my in-laws.  I decided the specific reasons are really not important to anyone other than myself.  My husband and children still attend these events.  I simply choose to not put myself through the two months of anxiety.

My anxiety and panic attacks would start around Halloween because I know Thanksgiving is approaching, followed by Christmas.  At any family gathering, since we started dating way back in 1991, a sibling or girlfriend (later the wife) of a sibling would have at least one caustic remark for me.  If I took offense, I was told I needed to learn to take a joke.  Trying to be a good sport, I tried in the first few years to "joke" back, but then the sibling would be offended and pissy at me.

Gradually, over the years, I learned who to avoid; however, this gave me a reputation for being stuck up and lazy and slowly, the "teasing" became outright insults, culminating in one rather mean email to me from his sister's boyfriend that basically made it clear that they thought I was stuck-up, over educated, and self-centered. This "trying to imitate the tormentors" was the same ineffective strategy I used in junior high when the popular kids would pick on me.  FYI: still doesn't work.

At this same time, my oldest child had just been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I.  I was beyond stressed out, having just quit my job teaching preschool and resigned my position as our local library board president so that I could focus on getting her healthy again.  I did not need adults in the family acting like junior high school girls, mad at me because I had taken their brother from them and changed him. I was done.

For years I had "played nice", overlooking the fact that I had never been welcomed by some.  I had always tried to laugh off the hurtful comments (again, failed junior high strategy).  I didn't want to ruin my husband's or children's visit with family by telling them they hurt me or to knock it off. My oldest, however, asked me, "Why do they treat you like that?" and I knew I had to do something.

It wasn't until recently that I realized I don't need to feel ashamed for other people's behavior or even worry about what they think of me.  That's none of my business anyway.  We continue to invite my in-laws to visit and most of them come, though not the ones who don't like me and I just remove myself from situations where I don't feel welcome.  I'm not bitter, though I was for a long time, instead I'm confused because I know I'm worthy of their love and respect.  I really think my sibling-in-laws are good at the core and since they love my children and they love my husband, for now, that will have to be good enough. When I do my lovingkindness meditations, I include them.

When you become part of another family, adjustment is normal.  Hurt feelings will happen as everyone readjusts to everyone's new roles.  Traditions change.   Gradually, though, adults need to realize that when they disrespect or are downright mean to their sibling's spouse, through being unwelcoming, gossiping, and insults, they are hurting their own sibling in the process.  

In my own situation, I don't know why a few siblings dislike me so blatantly but I think it boils down to one thing: my husband has always been very different than the rest of his family and they don't understand him.  So instead of trying to see him and accept him for who he is, I think I became the convenient scapegoat.  If his siblings understood him, they'd know my husband does not do anything he doesn't damn well want to do. Seriously.  If he doesn't want cake, he won't eat it.  If he doesn't want to be at your house at Thanksgiving, he will not go.

While me staying home while the rest go celebrate for the holidays may seem unfair, it has worked out pretty well.  Less stress, means fewer panic attacks, which makes me happier and my family happier and that's what we all really want over the holidays: less stress!

I hope your holidays are joyful and drama-free!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Buy Nothing Day

For most of my life, I have not set foot in a store on Black Friday, except when I was working retail.  When you work in the service industry, you get an interesting window into people's souls and most customers are great, but on Black Friday the bad ones are really bad. In 1989, as a 17 year old sporting goods salesperson, I had a woman my mom's age, scream at me because we'd sold out of the pocket knife she wanted that was $2.  Really?  THAT is a screamable offense? This was before a worker got trampled to death in 2008.  Death because people are so focused on getting a flat screen TV for $300 or the latest gaming system? 

So I avoid stores the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I don't even buy milk at the grocery store.  There is nothing I need to buy that I need to be around that frenzied energy and I will never understand people who thrive on it.  You can tell me it's how you bond with your friends, it's tradition, or whatever.  I simply choose differently.

This year, many stores are open on Thanksgiving!  How sad and yet how utterly American.  No longer do companies and corporations consider the workers because workers are expendable.  Large companies are now only concerned with getting their shareholders more money.  Employees used to be able to count on having off Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.  Most of these workers aren't making more than minimum wage and many of them are working more than one job, so to be able to have a few days to spend with their families is precious.  Now stores are open on Easter, and this year, they're open on Thanksgiving.  How long before after Christmas sales begin on Christmas night?

While I'd like to blame the faceless corporations for being "mean", I can't.  It's the customer's fault.  They wouldn't be open on Thanksgiving if we didn't ask for it.  They wouldn't be open if we called to complain.  They wouldn't be open if no one showed up to shop. 

In my opinion, most of this consumerism is just to distract ourselves from ourselves.  It's easier to shop and buy things for people than to actually BE with ourselves and other people.  Our priorities are messed up.

So this year, like every other year, I will be celebrating Buy Nothing Day.  Instead of shopping and spending money on things we don't need, I'll spend the day with my family, which is worth more than the latest tech gadget and I hope the rest of you, if you do shop, decide to skip the Thursday sales.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Holiday Baking and Making

So this is the time of year that I attempt to plan out all of my holiday baking and holiday making.  Grocery stores have their best sales of the year on baking items right now so I stock up, hoping to make things last throughout the year.  Nuts are expensive, so I make sure to buy enough to last me throughout the year.  They'll go rancid in the cupboard after a while, so I have always mine stored in the freezer and they've not turned bad on me yet. 

I have an acquaintance who goes through her kid's Halloween candy and pulls out candy to use for holiday baking.  I may be frugal, but I'm not cheap and I'm not about to pimp my kid out on Halloween just so I don't have to spend money on a Snickers bar (unless of course the kid doesn't like the candy you need, then go for it).  Instead, I watch for sales and clip coupons for that stuff.

For most food I try very hard to use organic and local ingredients or at the very least, make my food from scratch.  However, for the holiday treats that we have only once a year, I am not that anal.  I happen to like the snickers brownies my mom made for years and I feel no remorse in eating them, even knowing those candy bars are not healthy or organic.  I try to be flexible, not rigid, at the holidays.

This is also the time of year when I am scouring the Internet looking for ideas of what to make my girls for a gift.  They each get three gifts and I like one to be handmade/homemade.  This year, like every year before, I'm a bit stumped.  However, two of my girls are Dr. Who fans, so I think I may focus on what I can make with that theme.  Since they read my blog, I can't go into further details (I already know what I'm going to try to do) but I'll let you all know after the Solstice.

I have about a dozen students that I give a small gift to each year.  Usually it's a coffee mug with a candy cane, a packet of hot cocoa and some candies.  Girl Scout leaders usually get some of my preserves and some baked goods.  I like to give special consumable goods to the important adults in my girls' lives because not everyone likes a candle or scented lotion, but everyone eats.

Let me know what some of your favorite gifts to bake and make are for the holidays.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Turning a box into a display vase

I've wanted one of those large floor vases for awhile now, but in no way did I want to pay $30 or more for something I'll use to display twigs.  Being the master of repurposing regular household items, I came up with this free way to make a container.

First I found a box the right size and height.  My youngest daughter is in the middle of selling Girl Scout cookies, so I had boxes.  I taped up the open long side and then cut away one of the square ends with a razor blade.

Next I used my glue gun and a couple of skeins of yarn that I had on hand and glued and wound yarn around the box and voila-30 minutes later I have a floor vase.

Not bad for free.

*Update 11/12/2012:  In case it isn't obvious, you can also spray paint, decoupage, or cover the box with fabric.  I used yarn because it was what I had on hand that was abundant.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Walking My City

I don't drive much.

Actually, I don't even like to drive.  If I know I need to run errands with a car, my first thought is, "Can I get my husband/kids/anyone to do it?" I live in a city and if I cannot walk there, I don't want to go. 

This could be because I really am a hermit at heart.  I'm one of those "friendly" introverts. It's not an oxymoron, it's a personality trait. Once I'm around people, I'll talk to them. A LOT.  I really really really talk A LOT.  I like people.  Except when I don't.  Then I stay home.

I like walking around town, seeing how people's mostly ugly yards (okay, so I'm a smidge judgmental about beauty in yards) change throughout the year. There's a few homes in a pricey neighborhood blocks away that have shrubs and trees 12 inches from the foundation.  If you can afford a $500,000 house, hire a landscaper because clearly you have no flipping idea what you are doing (and you belong in a condo). 

 I make up stories about different neighbors as I regularly walk past their homes.  I told my husband that the neighbors a block over are in the witness protection program.  This is based on their ownership of two large guard dogs that go batsh*t crazy whenever I walk past the house, the fact that I've never seen the husband, and lastly because they moved to the suburbs in Wisconsin, where they have no family, from NYC.  Witness protection makes the most sense. 

I'd never come up with these Sherlock type deductions if I drove past these homes.  You're welcome.

Canning Jar Band Pumpkin

I saw this on the internet somewhere and had to do it.  Finally a reuse for those rusty jar bands that I can't use in canning anymore.  The stem are a bunch of purple plum twigs I got from my yard. The lids are strung together and tied with some yarn.  Cute, right?