Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas: a job or a joy?

"OK girls, I thought that this year since you are both teenagers we could skip the Christmas tree thing and save ourselves a bit of work. What do you think?"
The girls looked at me in horror. How could their mother be such a "Grinch"?
"What do you mean no Christmas tree?" they said in unison with an incredulous look on their face.
"Well, I didn't think you would mind because you don't help me decorate the tree or to take the tree down after the holidays so I thought you didn't care one way or the other" I said in my defence.
"Oh no, you are wrong! We do care. It would not be Christmas without a traditional Christmas tree in our family room"
Maya was the most passionate of the two. She said "Nadia had Christmases with all the trimmings every year of her life. She is now eighteen. You have to keep decorating the house for Christmas and get me an Advent chocolate calendar for at least another four years until I am also eighteen just to be fair!"
"What about a small artificial tree on stand instead?" I bargained.
"No. It's got to be a regular tree with all the trimmings." they insisted
"Are you going to help me decorate it then?" I asked.
"Of course we will!" they said. (We'll see about that...)

There seems to be two experiences of Christmas in our household: mine and theirs. My experience of Christmas is a mile long "To Do" list, dish pan hands from cooking and cleaning, blistered feet from shopping which leads to exhaustion by the time the big day arrives (a bit like planning a Wedding every year and looking back at the end of the day and saying to yourself "that was great but I can't believe it is already over after all those months of preparation". Their experience (I'm referring here to my husband and my two daughters) is one of Eggnog sipping, desert sampling, and afternoons of relaxing watching Christmas shows on TV.

I don't know how I have inherited the job of Christmas master decorator, baker, shopper, gift wrapper, and all around Christmas cheer maker. And to be perfectly frank, I resent it most times.

To be truthful, I am fully responsible for this state of affair. Something has got to change... I don't want to dread all the work ahead of me to prepare for Christmas. I want to have a happy Christmas this year. I want to enjoy the whole experience and make choices with my eyes wide open.

Is decorating the house an obligation or a fun activity? It is a matter of perspective wouldn't you say? Aside from the Christmas tree (which is a non-negotiable apparently) I don't think the girls really care which Christmas knick knack I take out of the boxes in the basement. I know that my husband won't even notice if I decorate the house or not.

There are no rules that say that if you are a good mother you bake several batches of Christmas cookies and stock your freezer full of brightly coloured tins filled with million calories worth of sugary treats. (Is there?)

And for the longest time I believed that a gift was an indication of how much you loved someone therefore I would put myself under huge pressure to find the "perfect" thing to express my feelings. By the time Christmas rolls around I am so tired from all the preparations and so anxious to get everything just right that I have to admit I am not much fun to be around. What if I reframed my thinking? What if I chose a new belief: a gift is just a gift and what makes someone feel special and loved is the quality time you spent with them.

As they say "If it is meant to be, it is up to me". So I started "Operation Happy Christmas 2010" this very day. I asked each of my daughter what was their favourite Christmas decoration and took those out. I went through all the boxes of decorations and only took out my favourite ones and I enjoyed finding special spots for those decorations throughout the house. The house looks festive and I am not missing the decorations from Christmas past that remain packed away in boxes.

As for the baking, I've earmarked a Saturday in mid-December and we will make it a family affair. We will each bake our favourite Christmas cookie while listening to Christmas music and drinking eggnog. We will only be making four recipes this year - one recipe per person. That should be plenty! And, it will be fun too!

This year, I want to give experiences to the people I love rather than store bought gifts. I will buy tickets for concerts, plays, or sports events and enjoy an evening in the company of my loved ones. Making memories together is better than a gift card from a big box store any day!

What about you? Are you an overworked Christmas elf or a cheery Mrs Claus at Christmas time? Will you do anything differently this year at Christmas time?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Our Deepest Fear

This week I want to share with you my favourite poem. Whenever I read it I am reminded of how amazing we humans are. If only we would let our light shine more often and more brightly, what a different world this would be...

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is
within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson
Note: I am travelling on business for the next two weeks. My next blog will be posted on November 28.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Need to schedule your down time?

I woke up with a start in the middle of the night remembering that I had forgotten to change time on the clocks to Standard Time. Before I went to bed, I had set my alarm for 8:00 am so that would have time to get ready to teach my 9:00 am yoga class but did not remember to change the time on the clock. Here I am wide awake at 5:30 am confused and a bit panicked. Do we move back the time one hour or move it forward? "We move the time back an hour" said my husband drowsily as I nudged him awake at 5:30 am. "Oh yeah" I thought, "I get to have an extra hour of sleep". I tried to go back to sleep but I tossed and turned, my subconscious still worried that I would somehow mess up and miss my yoga class. I woke up every half hour or so until I finally gave up and got up for good at 7:30 am. I got immersed in household tasks and ran out of time. I left home in a hurry at 8:45 cutting it much too close even though the fitness club is only 5 minutes away (if I am lucky and get all the green lights). I got to the club with just a couple minutes to spare before the start of my yoga class, out of breath and feeling stressed. Kind of ironic isn't it that I have to rush to go to a yoga class? Finding time to relax seems to be a stressful proposition for me.

According to an article entitled "The Time Crunch Takes its Toll" in the Globe and Mail, this Tuesday (November 2, 2010), I am part of a growing number of Canadians who are in a perpetual time crunch. The authors, Tralee Peace and Siri Agrell asked busy Canadian professionals to share their stories and opinions about on coping (or not) with the work-life juggle.

Asked what one thing we would like to change to improve work-life balance:

  • 17.2% said they would like to do less work followed by more money (Wouldn't that be the very best scenario? Surprising that this number is not much higher!)
  • 15.1% said they want more vacation (Again, how come this number is not any higher?)
  • 8.1% said they wanted a different job
  • 8.0% want a more interesting job (Maybe it is the same 8.1% who want a different job!)
Some 33% of Canadians have come to the same realization I did (almost 9 years ago) when I decided to work part time, four days a week rather than the usual 5 days of week, which reduced my pay cheque by 20%. Granted, I did the equivalent of 5 days work in four (often skipping lunches and staying late) but I had the luxury of having my Fridays off to do a workout and take care of some household duties which freed up my weekends to spend more quality time with my family.

Now that I work for myself, I rarely have a day "off". I actually work much longer hours, weekdays, evenings and most weekends. Since my office is in my home, there is no time off unless I am disciplined enough to put aside work for a period of time. It is very tempting to check emails, catch up on paperwork, prepare for the meetings and workshops of the following week, all in an effort to get organized and save time in the long run (very ironic!) Now what am I going to do about that? I will need to set some clear boundaries and schedule some "relax time. I hope that one day it will become part of my weekly routine to set aside some days of rest (weekends would be a good start!)

According to this article, 20% of leisure time has shrunk between 1998 and 2005. Vacations (and leisure time) take some planning and it appears we do not even have time to schedule down time either. Instead we let the vacation leave we are entitled to lay unclaimed. In Canada in 2009, a staggering 36.5 million vacation days have been unclaimed!

Our employers have a good thing going here because not only do we not take all of our vacation leave, but millions of us work unpaid overtime. Up to 2.6 million employees over the age of 15 worked unpaid overtime every week in 2007 and I am sure that this number has grown significantly over the last three years judging by what I see and hear when I visit workplaces these days.

To be fair, we cause much of that stress ourselves. Whether you like to admit it or not, it is the choices you make and the attitude you adopt that cause you stress. I had more than enough time to leisurely get ready for my yoga class this morning and leave in plenty of time but somehow, I missed the mark. I would agree with Mary Jane Copps who is quoted as saying "I often don't pay close enough attention to the time needed and then suddenly I'm overwhelmed or off-balance."

The article cites that when asked who most frequently cause us stress, Canadians admit that they themselves are their biggest cause of stress.
  • Themselves: 3 times per week
  • Spouse or partner: 2.1 times
  • Kids: 2 times
  • Colleagues: 1.9 times
It would seem that geography and culture has an impact on our work-life balance. According to the authors of this article, Pearce and Agrell, if you live in Quebec 50 to 54% of the population says that they are "very happy". Ontario is the bottom third with 40 to 44% and British Columbia is the very least likely to say they are "very happy" with 35 to 39%.

Francophones are often described as "bon vivant". A "bon vivant" is someone who is jovial and takes life in stride. A "bon vivant" enjoys the good things in life like good food and wine and socializing with friends. Maybe there is some truth to the saying "choose your attitude, choose your life"? I would think that Quebecers have very similar time pressures and responsibilities as their British Columbia counterparts but perhaps they manage it differently.

As a Franco-Ontarian with Quebec roots, some would call me a "bon vivant". Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the impromptu kitchen parties at Christmas time (especially) and other family gatherings. My aunt or my grandmother would get on the piano cranking out traditional "chansons à répondre". Someone would pull out the spoons and tap out the rhythm, someone else would take out the violin and everybody, adults and children, would sing and dance. If these kitchen parties are any indication of the French culture's aptitude of celebrating life and enjoying each other's company, then maybe this explains why, given similar life circumstances as other Canadians, Quebecers seem to find more ways to be happy.

But you know, this ability to find happiness throughout life's ups and downs is within everyone's is simply a matter of choice.