No Resolutions Here!

Last year I confessed myself to be a bit of a New Year’s Resolution Scrooge. That hasn’t changed. So you won’t find any resolutions or lists of major life-changing goals here; I’m not gonna do it. Lately, I’ve noticed a number of articles about other people’s frustration with this particular New Year’s tradition. Just because I don’t subscribe to the tradition doesn’t mean that I’m not looking for ways to grow or be happier in my life. Over many years, I have found ways to make growing a regular part of my every day life… not just a “Hey, it’s January. I guess I should make a list of what’s wrong with me and my life so I can pretend that it’s a manageable task to fix all that stuff this year.” Ugh. Yeah, that’s really healthy and helpful… NOT! What a horrible and degrading way to think. Sheesh! Life is challenging enough without that kind of self-abuse.

Recently a friend and I were talking about what a mixed bag life can be.

On the one hand, it can be a bit of a meat grinder. On the other hand it can be beautiful and blissful and wondrous… and it can be a whole lot of in-between stuff too.

To deny the “meat grinder” aspect of life, to me is to live in an illusion. But just because life can throw a lot of really tough, horrible stuff in our path doesn’t mean we have to be sucked into a permanent vortex of negativity over it. And I think we all know that it’s really easy to get sucked into a vortex of negativity when things are rough. It feels terrible being in that place. It can be really difficult to pull ourselves out of it when we land there. The longer we wallow in it, the harder it feels to get up and out of it.

As we talked, we reflected on how important it is to be able to find ways to stay steady when challenges are threatening to pull us under. Each of us has our little tricks to help us remember what really matters in our lives. And the strong thread that wove its way through the entire conversation was that when you get down to it the only thing that really matters is Love.

What matters is the capital “L” Love that allows us to have meaningful relations and to see the foot of snow that fell overnight, and feel the wonder of nature’s indescribable beauty as we pick up the shovel and make a path to the car… and let it be okay that we don’t particularly like shoveling a foot of heavy snow. Let it be okay that in that moment we feel what we feel. There’s no need to judge that the thought of shoveling all of that might make me feel frustrated or angry. It’s even okay if some of that shoveling includes some serious grumpiness. The thing about is that once the initial feelings have their say, it becomes a choice about whether to dive into the vortex, or to take a breath and switch it up for something that feels better.

My friend and I are both small business owners.

Both businesses combine services and retail. So a lot of our conversation centered around the challenges and stresses of running a business. Winter is our busy season here so we are in the thick of it now. It’s so easy to be in a highly stressed state all the time, if we aren’t careful. The jobs have deadlines that need to be met; the work has to meet an appropriate standard. As much as most customers are lovely and recognize the value of the services we provide, there will always be some who want something, right now, for nothing and/or insist on being rude. There will always be those who don’t comprehend the costs of running a business (mental, emotional, physical and financial). Bills need to be paid, payroll has to be met. If staff members make mistakes, the business has to absorb the cost of those mistakes. It’s easy to get run ragged and it’s easy to live in a constant state of high stress.

So what to do?

Meh, life can be messy. In my experience all you can do is feel what you feel, remember to breathe and do your best to take a step back any time you start to feel off balance… And let being human be okay. It’s okay that we get angry or frustrated. It’s okay that some days are a circus of stress. I think that being able to catch myself when I start judging my reactions makes a big difference. When I can notice what I’m feeling and know that it’s okay to feel that, it helps to be able to get my sights back into a healthy perspective. I can take a breath, close my eyes and remember how good it feels to fill myself up with Love. The thing is to be deliberate. You can’t really be deliberate if you are running on auto-pilot. It means I can choose to reset my day. The less I get caught up in judging myself and those around me or the situation rather than simply assessing and adjusting my course accordingly, the smoother things tend to be. The more relaxed I can be, the better things flow and the happier I am.

The journey continues. No resolutions are necessary to keep placing one foot in front of the other. My philosophy is: when in doubt, infuse a little Love and do your best to be kind to yourself first. When you do that, it’s easy to be kind to others, whether or not they are returning that kindness.

Happy New Year!

I sincerely wish you all the very best that being human has to offer as we embark into 2019.

 

 

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Advent: The Season of Anticipation

Most people are familiar with Advent Calendars that count down the days from December 1st to Christmas. The colourful cardboard calendars that hide a wee piece of chocolate behind each of 24 tiny doors have been a staple for holiday seasons for at least as long as I’ve been alive.  Advent wreaths and Advent Calendars build up anticipation over the holiday season.

Many people don’t actually know what Advent is. To give a little bit of context: In the Christian tradition, Advent is the season preceding Christmas. It is a time of preparation and anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was the time when the wise men followed the signs in the stars and traveled to where they would find the infant that embodied hope, new beginnings, light and love for humanity. It begins 4 Sundays before Christmas.

Each of those four Sundays has a theme: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

When you see Advent wreaths with four candles, this is what those candles signify.

I grew up in a German immigrant family and the Advent wreath was a part of our Christmas tradition. My parents didn’t actually talk about the significance of those candles… or if they did, I was definitely not listening. All I knew was that each week on Sunday morning, the candle for that week was lit along with the ones from previous weeks until they were all alight. I may not have really understood the symbolism or spiritual significance of it, but it definitely built up my anticipation for Christmas. My father expressed his artistry and creativity through a variety of Advent “wreaths”. Anticipating what new design he would come up with was part of the fun of the season for me.

Over the past few years, thanks to social media, I have seen many different incarnations of the Advent Wreath and Calendar. Each one has had a theme and the themes have been vastly varied. Not only are the calendars themselves varied but what people put in them is as well. From fine hand-made chocolates to trinkets to craft beers or local wines, every time I see a new one it makes me smile.

Every year when I see what people have done with this tradition it makes me want to make one too. Of course, by the time it’s on my radar, I don’t have time to actually pull it off without way more stress than I want associated with it. So much for planning! LOL! And every time I see a blog post where someone shows off their hand made Advent wreath or calendar, I find myself cheering for them. Cheering on their design, their creativity and their determination and perseverance. I have lost count of the number of times I have thought about making one and then decided not to.

And once you make the calendar… well… you have to fill it with something. Oh MY! That has the potential to become outrageously expensive!

And my point with all of this? Advent is about anticipation. You don’t have to break the bank to build anticipation. Hey, if you want to spend a whole bunch of money, I won’t stand in your way. All the power to you! There is absolutely no shame in spending money for the holiday season. That having been said, I most definitely advocate staying within your financial means. Heaven knows it’s easy to get carried away at this time of year.

I find that I really want to deliberately mark the Advent season in some way every year.

Perhaps it’s because it was a tradition in my childhood. Hope is the first theme of Advent. Hope is a profoundly amazing thing. No matter how tough things might get, the tiniest bit of hope is all we need to keep us going, keep us fighting and working our way out of whatever darkness we may find ourselves in. Let’s face it, I don’t care who you are, we all experience hardship in one way or another.

Not one of us is immune to suffering!

Hope is that light at the end of the tunnel that keeps us placing one foot in front of the other despite the despair that may fill us at times. That hope may come from the simplest of things, like having someone look directly into our eyes and smile at us from their heart. There is no way to know what another person is going through. What does it take to make eye contact with another person and smile? It takes nothing… and it feels good. I guess what I’m saying is I want to be a vehicle for hope. I want to notice when someone seems down. I don’t want or need to “fix” anyone. But I can notice them and recognize their humanity, recognize that they are suffering in some way.

I can offer them a smile from my heart.

Not out of pity, but out of solidarity: human to human! I can acknowledge their existence and my own. Goodness knows there have been times in my life when one smile gave me the hope I needed to not give up.

I want Christmas to heighten those things that I find most meaningful in my life. I know that like all those years before, I am not going to pull off a fancy Advent calendar this year. I really love the Advent season. I love everything about it. There is a part of me, a wide-eyed, wonder-filled little girl, deep inside me, that wants that sparkling anticipation every year. And often, I must admit, I leave her wanting. This year, I am starting off my Advent season by decorating my store. And there will be knitting… lots of knitting!

Happy Knitting!

 

Reframing Gift-Giving

Ads, ads and more ads… do you get as tired of them as I do?

As a business owner providing both services and retail products, I recognize that advertising is a very important piece of finding and informing the people who may want your products or services. We all need to make a living, after all. And yet everywhere we turn these days, we are hit with a barrage of ads. And it seems to me that it ramps up even more once anticipation of the holiday season begins.

As we approach the holiday season, I find myself feeling quite irritated by all the junk being advertised as gifts. You know what I mean? The stuff that only sells because it’s weird and will get a laugh (before being tossed in the garbage along with its packaging), or the stuff that sells because people want to look cool or be on the cutting edge.

Okay, so here’s what I’ve been contemplating. When I’m asked what I would like for Christmas (or my birthday), I always feel at a bit of a loss to come up with anything because I have all the “stuff” I actually need.

What I really want is time and the opportunity to spend unrushed time with the people I love.

I want to laugh with them. I want to enjoy home-cooked meals with them or go for walks and enjoy the scenery in this amazing part of the world. I want to feel connected with them. I don’t need them to spend money on me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to receive gifts as much as anyone. And I love the way it feels to know that they have spent precious time and energy to make me something. It’s a very clear message that illuminates just how much they love me. How wonderful is that?

I was reminiscing about past holiday seasons and remembering how varied they have been for me. There were years when it was all I could do to pay the rent and still have enough money to feed myself. I remember feeling a tremendous degree of shame in those years when I simply couldn’t give material gifts. The commercialization of the holiday season persistently and insidiously plants and builds an unconscious (or subconscious) sense that we must purchase items to give as gifts… and not just to loved ones but to teachers and co-workers and bosses and the check-out lady at the grocery store.

No wonder I found myself feeling overwhelmed with shame in those years when I had no money to spare for gift giving.

It’s so easy to get carried away and overspend in a way that puts us behind the 8-ball when the new year settles in. I’ve definitely fallen into that trap and paid the price!

I still really wanted to give my loved ones gifts, so I made up coupon books and each coupon could be redeemed for some service that I could provide. For instance, “this coupon can be redeemed for a kitchen cleaning”. When that person called in the coupon, I would go to their house and clean their kitchen for them. I gifted “tea party” coupons and “walk in the country” coupons, “pedicure” coupons and “car wash” coupons. People didn’t always cash those coupons in, but when they did, I was delighted.

Years ago, after my mom passed away we were doing some organizing of her things. I needed a small pair of scissors and looked through the drawers of her sewing cabinet and found one of the coupon books I had given her.

She had saved it all those years.

It’s funny, at first I felt bad that she hadn’t redeemed any of them. Yet she had kept that coupon booklet, and she kept it with things that (before her dementia was too severe to allow it) she used every day. That left me feeling deeply touched. She didn’t need anything from me. She just wanted to be reminded that I loved her. I like to think that my little coupon book shouted, “I love you Mommy!” every time she opened that drawer to get her scissors out. (And yes, I called her “Mommy” right up until she passed away.)

In other lean years, I would go to the thrift shop on $1/bag sale days (that was a few years ago… LOL) and look for items made of really interesting fabric. I’d carefully choose things that I could transform into new and useful items. A dated leather coat could become a beautiful purse; a several decades old fur coat could become a teddy bear. I often found remnants of new fabric, bundles of lace and other trim. I always went primed to be creative and think outside the box. I always found interesting things that had the potential to be transformed.

One of the things I love about Revelstoke is that our community embraces earth-friendly practices. Re-pair, re-purpose, re-use, re-cycle… in Re-velstoke. My business couldn’t exist without people who want to avoid throwing things away just because they are slightly damaged. Repairing clothing and gear is a huge part of what my shop offers our community. I love to see people purchasing items at the thrift shop and cutting them up and transforming them into something completely different.

I love that. I love the creativity and ingenuity that goes into that process.

It’s fun when customers bring their projects in to show me. It’s inspiring.

Like most people, I want my holiday season to be meaningful. If I’m going to give gifts it’s going to be done within my financial means and it will be because I want to express my love for those people dearest to me. And hey, I’m happy for any excuse to bake and knit! I’m all for less stress during the holiday season. I’ll be in a lovely state of Zen, knitting under a blanket in my comfy chair as the snow falls outside.

Happy Knitting!