Monthly Archives: November 2013

Why I Will (Eventually) Take Down My Halloween Decorations

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The ghosts on my porch have stayed up until almost (okay maybe into) December the last three years. I love Halloween. People buy a bag of candy and spend time being nice to their neighbors and neighbors’ children. It’s easy and pleasant.

But as soon as Halloween is over, the holiday onslaught begins. And usually, immediately I’m stressed and worried.

To me, the modern holidays are full of menial tasks, guilt, and “stuff.” The “stuff” is what’s the hardest for me.

You see, I’m an over-consumer in denial. My house is full of “things” and I spend a great deal of time dusting them, rearranging them and stacking them in an effort to make people (including myself) believe that they are beautiful, necessary or both.

Most are neither but I cannot get rid of them. They were either gifts or purchases that I refuse to believe were impulse mistakes. To remove them would be offending someone who gave them to me or admitting I was wrong about a purchase.

Maybe I sound strange, but I know that I am not alone. The following is from a Time Business and Money article, “Got Stuff? Typical American Home Is Cluttered with Possessions — and Stressing Us Out.”

In the first home they entered, researchers listed more than 2,000 possessions on display in a mere three rooms.

Two thousand? That’s a lot of “things” to dust and arrange. I couldn’t handle that.

This is why the holidays are a challenge for me. There’s even more dusting and rearranging to make room for holiday decorations. Which reminds me of the “stuff” I will feel obligated to buy to give and the “stuff” my family will receive.

Oh, and did I mention we’re double-dippers? Yup, Greenberg is my married name so we celebrate both holidays. And although I know Hanukkah is not a major holiday in the Jewish faith, I feel obligated to try to not let it get completely overshadowed by the overdone Christmas holiday.

Eventually, after I get the holidays decorated and gifts wrapped and distributed and eat a few cookies and drink too much, I will have the new gifts to arrange and dust and head out to big-box retailers to buy storage for. Where I will see “stuff” I think I need. It’s a vicious cycle that’s so much worse with two children.

Every year we’re getting better at thinking the holidays through, though. Little ways the people in my life and I have started to avoid the “stuff” issue and keep the “celebrating.”

Because, when it comes down to it, I really do love the holidays. These five things are what finally got me to take down the Halloween decorations and move forward, and these are the things I want to focus on this year. I hope that you will take time and make your holiday about what you want and not the “stuff” advertising tells you that you should buy.

  1. Spending time with good people. For example, Christmas Eve I see my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my dad’s side. Love them to death and always enjoy their company. We always say we’ll see each other outside of funerals, weddings, and Christmas Eve. It doesn’t happen. Now that we’re all married, it’s even more important. The holidays are a time for parties and other events that draw people together to enjoy each other’s company that wouldn’t otherwise even meet.
  2. The food. Latkes, donuts, cider, cookies. Even better, this year I have my daughter and my son to help me bake things (my son had proven good at pizza-topping and even some stirring.) We celebrate Latkefest at my brother’s. He married a Jew last year, so they’re double-dippers too. I would define Latkefest as the culinary celebration of double-dipping. There are lots and lots of latkes and desserts and no gift giving. Total awesomeness.
  3. The magic. Whether it’s a kid’s face at the thought of elves building toys or the moment you let the impatient idiot onto the highway because “oh, it’s the holidays,” popped into your head, magic really happens. People may get mean at the mall and stress makes us ugly, but I think everyone experiences at least one magical “oh-heck-it’s-the-holidays” moment this time of year. And let’s not forget the magic that can come from believing the new year is a kind of “reset.” This year I hope to make more magical moments for others by surprising them with kindness.
  4. The religion. (I’m going to keep this short, please know my brevity is not meant to disrespect the importance of this.). Eight days of light from one day of oil? Very cool. One human born thousands of years ago has had and still has all this impact on the world? Whether you believe he’s the son of God or just another good Jew, his birth is worth a nod.
  5. The sights and the smells. Our living room smells like magic and ancient traditions during the holidays. The smell of evergreen from the tree mixes with cookies baking and Hanukkah candles burning. It looks like a story book, too, (as long as I keep the overhead lights off) with white lights on the mantel and tree accompanying the candles on the menorah.

This is a post about how holiday “stuff” can mean holiday stress.After this post, I will probably have a couple more on ideas for simpler holidays. You can also check out the Center for the New American Dream’s Simplify the Holidays guide for other ideas. If you want to know why you should consider simplifying the holidays and every day, check out the “Story of Stuff” video from the Story of Stuff Project.

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Thanks to Everybody including Shiny Flamingo Lady

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Had a great morning today. Woke up and got ready to hit my first 5k in almost a year. And I’m still in that “I’m-the-greatest-runner-ever” high mode, even though the seven hundred folks who finished before me could argue with that. Since there were no neighbors to have long-winded conversations with post-run, I’m writing a true full-on motormouth long post. Editing-scmediting, I’m too amped to worry about readability.

Today I ran in the first annual Vicki Soto 5k, a race in honor of a Sandy Hook teacher and hero who perished in last year’s horrific shooting.

The words “first annual” had me fearing a well-intended but disorganized mess. So, we got the kids up and dressed for a 7 am departure and arrived at the event at 8 am. (Mad props to my husband for driving me and managing two small kids while I ran the race. Yup, I actually said mad props, honey. And I mean it.)

I was pleasantly surprised. Volunteers and flamingo-sunglasses-wearing police officers made parking a breeze. We walked up and got my bib and awesome flamingo T-shirt in seconds. Since it was so early, we had plenty of time for a stroll up to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. Then we came back and let the kids color, craft and watch a magic show in the Kids Tent.

That’s when it hit me that I had to go potty. I had about five minutes before I thought we’d have to line up. I strolled over to find about 100 people waiting for portapotties. Catastrophe! Am I the first mother runner to consider grabbing one of her toddler’s diapers at a race? But no, I was wearing my super tight running pants! It would be obvious.

I decided to just hold it. Luckily, my daughter decided she had to go so my husband took her and the boy to stand in line. When they still hadn’t lined up to start as she got close to the potties, I was able to step up into her spot in the front of the line under the guise of letting my husband avoid the 3-year-old/18-month-old/double jogging stroller/porta potty-juggling madness. Score!

Right after that, the race did finally get started. Just walking up to the starting line was powerful. I got a little choked up thinking about how on this day last year, Vicki Soto was probably just having a normal day.

Two thousand people marched under a huge American flag suspended between two fire truck’s raised ladders to a starting line marked with a huge flamingo made from balloons.

There were 300 flamingoes lining the course, not counting those put out by residents. Flamingos were a favorite of Vicki’s and many participants even wore flamingo costumes. In fact, I am grateful for the woman in the shiny flamingo hat and pink and silver sparkly tutu who ran a few feet in front of me the whole time. More on her in a second.

After a moment of silence and a brief prayer, the race started with Donna Soto, Vicki’s mom, saying, “Ready, set, go!”

And we were off. I felt a little lump in my throat and a tear fall down my cheek again first thinking about how good people really are sometimes as I looked at the people around me.

Then I thought of the Sandy Hook kids. And I thought about my team at the Race for Hope in Oklahoma City and how much my dear friend must miss her father. And I sobbed out loud a second.

Then I thought, “hey, it’s really hard to run while I’m crying. Can’t imagine Rebecca (my friend) or Brad (her father) would be very interested in me being sad right now. And by the way Vicki’s family, friends and everybody here is all over flamingoes and “live, laugh, love,” I’m guessing Vicki Soto would think it’s pretty dumb, too.” So I stopped and had a great time instead.

We ran past a small airport, complete with small planes coming and going. We ran up a slight hill and there was the first of a few actual cheering squads with uniforms and Pom poms and everything. I have a new appreciation for the value of cheerleaders as I think this was the first time any had ever cheered for me.

Then we ran into the first neighborhood. There were flamingoes in trees, in the ground, on flags and on race-observers clothes in the yards of residents. Many people had stereos with music blaring. I especially appreciated hearing, “Eye of the Tiger.” These folks offered us water, candy, and even fresh-baked cookies along the way. They yelled, “Thank you for running for our hero!”

This was Vicki Soto’s neighborhood, and it was obvious she was loved by many.

When we turned the first corner I was almost blinded. The sunshine was exploding off of Long Island sound. Truly an incredible view. I wanted to take pics but I willed myself not to take out my phone. I had a feeling I was running pretty fast and I didn’t want the MapMyRun lady to tell me any different.

All along the course, there wore more official and unofficial cheerleaders and everyone was shouting encouragement and waving. As for the shiny flamingo lady in front of me, I stuck by her partly because I figured it wasn’t easy running with a flamingo on your head so I should be able to keep up. More importantly, though, I stayed by her because she kept the crowd all fired up. So, even when my quads started to burn and my lungs got all fiery, I kept my eye on that tutu.

I meant to stop after the race and thank her for letting me stare at her pink tutu for 3.1 miles and for keeping everybody motivated.

But, I turned the corner towards the finish line became distracted by something amazing.

I’d been training in my hilly neighborhood behind about 70 lbs of double jogging stroller, so according to Map My Run, my times had been from 38-44 minutes for 3.13 miles. I knew the race environment would make me faster and I knew that I had done a 5k last year in around 34 minutes. This course had been pretty flat and the last mile had been downhill and I was stroller-free, so I was hoping to do that 34ish thing again.

But, when I turned down the last stretch, I saw the finish line time clock only said 32:something. I waved to my cheering family and quickened my pace and burst over the finish line as the clock said 33:02. An awesome feeling!

My daughter asked, “Did you win mommy?” She’d told me she thought I was fast before the race started. The fact that she’d watched about 700 other people cross the finish line before me leads me to believe that she doesn’t understand racing or that she gets what winning a race REALLY means.

My husband rolled his eyes as I told her, “yes, I won against myself! I believe I’m a winner!”

Alas, my excitement about speed made me forget all about thanking shiny-flamingo-tutu-lady for keeping everybody all pumped up. Maybe she will read this.

A quick check online this afternoon shows me that today was a 5k personal record. 32:11, beating my previous PR by 3 seconds.

My previous PR was during a time before children and when I was working out with a personal trainer a couple times per week. Plus, during that race, I’d been trying to catch up to run with my brother so we could chat as we ran. I was sure he would be around every next corner because he said he was around the same pace as me. I found him at the finish line, where he’d been waiting for eight minutes for me. Sand bagger.

So, thanks Soto family, race organizers, Stratford residents, the Brad Haskell Rascals at the Race For Hope in Oklahoma City and especially shiny-flamingo-pink-tutu lady. You all got me a PR today and taught me a lot about how far an exuberant, live-laugh-love spirit can get you. I think I’ll keep that spirit up.

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