A More Joyful Holiday Season: 5 Tips

The holidays can be stressful, and I’m no stranger to this stress. This holiday season, though, I’m hoping to be less stressed and more joyful. I’ll be carrying these five inspirations with me through the end of the year. I hope they’re helpful to you too. Peace and joy, friends.

1. Stay in the present. When families, friends and colleagues get together, it can be tempting to revisit long-ago conversations that may be best left to memory, or completely forgotten. All you have, for sure, is today—this day. Be present in it, and make the best of it.

2. Believe the best of people. We often reconnect with folks we haven’t seen in a while between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Maybe they don’t do things the way we do them (for example, suggesting dinner at 8 p.m., which is a little late for our usual schedule). Keep in mind, though, that no one’s trying to make your day difficult. They’re simply trying.

3. Take a deep breath, especially before traveling. I love visiting family during the holidays. I opposite-of-love getting on a plane with my small children to do it. Words to travel by: Keep calm and carry-on on.

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4. Make your holiday motto “everything in moderation.” From RSVP-ing yes to parties, to baking (and sampling) desserts, to buying presents, strike a just-right balance. Don’t overextend yourself.

5. Count your blessings. The people we love can drive us crazy sometimes. But how lucky are we to have this problem, the problem of loved ones, when some folks don’t have anybody. Remember to say “thank you.”

Photo credit: StockSnap.io

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

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Decluttering: Good for the Soul

Do you ever open your closest door…or peek into the kitchen “junk drawer” (every kitchen has one, right?)…or try to park your car in the garage, only to discover it doesn’t comfortably fit because of all the bikes and strollers and golf clubs and inflatable pool toys—do you ever do these things and feel burdened by the stuff of your life?

I do.

And I don’t even have that much stuff, relatively. But like a lot of Americans, I have more than enough. My family and I have plenty.

This time of the year, the Thanksgiving season, makes me especially conscious of our many material comforts. It prompts me to pass along the things we don’t use anymore, or all that much, to those who have an immediate need for them. It also encourages me to declutter before the end of the year, so that I can start the New Year feeling refreshed.

Decluttering

Decluttering. Psychologists have written about how it reduces stress. Health benefits abound, both mental and physical. Decluttering does a soul good.

Do you feel like decluttering a bit? Here are some tips to get you started, friends.

1. Start small. Focus. Planning to declutter your entire home in a Saturday afternoon can cause even more stress than your overflowing garage does.

But giving yourself 20 minutes to sort through your pantry and toss out everything that’s expired—that’s a focused, doable goal. You’ll feel successful when you accomplish it. Not to mention energized to tackle the next focused project.

2. Organize. Put everything in its “home”—for example, jackets hanging in closets instead of on the backs of the dining room chairs (ahem, my house!) and random puzzle pieces collected together rather than scattered across the coffee table (my house, too). You can find organizing solutions everywhere from Pier 1 (baskets, bookcases, trunks) to The Container Store.

3. Donate or discard anything you haven’t worn or used or played with in the past year or so. (This also presents the perfect opportunity to gift the nearest Goodwill donation station with the clothes you’d rather not see your husband wear anymore! 🙂 )

One possible exception: Baby clothes or gear for future family members. But even then, you probably don’t need to hang on to everything. For example, clothes can fade and lose their shape after an extended time in storage. Consider sharing some of your surplus with someone who may have an immediate need for it.

4. Make physical memories digital. I have a cardboard box that’s stuffed with magazines I’ve written for, dating back to about 2005. My goal for the upcoming New Year is to scan each article that features my byline, create a PDF portfolio of all the articles, and then recycle the 10 years’ worth of paper I’ve been holding on to.

You can do something similar with old newspaper clippings, sentimental photos, and your kids’ preschool arts and crafts. Check out this blog post, “Digitizing Your Kid’s Art.”

5. Be mindful when you bring new things into your decluttered space. ‘Tis the season for catalogs galore, all touting don’t-pass-them-up holiday sales. More often than not, I toss these in the recycling bin before they can make it into our newly organized home.

One more resource: Scroll through this “Amazingly Awesome Pre-Holidays Declutter Guide.” Happy decluttering, friends! And happy holidays, too.

Photo credit: Gratisography

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

 

You’re Here, and That’s Enough

I was standing, looking out the window streaked with rain. Holding my phone in one hand and my 9-month-old daughter in the other. I was listening as my friend shared some sad news.

She sighed, cleared her throat. I told her I was sorry. And added that I knew there was nothing I could say to make her feel better—I was just very, very sorry.

“I feel,” my friend said, “that I’m failing, at everything.”

Like any friend would, I told her that wasn’t true. You’re not failing.

I could almost see her shaking her head on the other end of the line. So I added, “You’re here. Just being here is enough. Right now, just getting through the day—that’s awesome.”

I thought back to times in my own life when I was sad, as my friend was. And I believe it’s true. When life disappoints you, or hurts you, or scares you, making it through each day, one at a time, is a victory.

“How much easier would it be to, you know, run away?”

She laughed. I was happy to hear her laughter.

You don’t hear much about grown-up runaways, do you?

You do, though, hear about adults who walk away. Partners leave each other, in work and in life. People who have been together for years, husbands and wives. Friends. And saddest of all: parents. Moms and dads who walk away from their families.

It takes strength to stick around during discouraging times.

Times will get better, though. You have to believe that.

But for now, as I told my friend, you’re here. And that’s enough.

Romy and Michele

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.

Book Review: The Princess Problem by Rebecca C. Hains

Princess ProblemFor Halloween this past weekend, my daughters (ages: 4 years old and 9 months) dressed up as Elsa and Anna, the princess sisters from “Frozen.” Grace, my 4-year-old, has watched the Disney blockbuster enough times that she has the screenplay nearly memorized. She was delighted to trick-or-treat as Elsa, with her younger sister tagging along in an Anna-themed romper.

My girls’ Halloween costumes coincided with my reading the book “The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years” by Rebecca C. Hains. Published in 2014, this book has two purposes: (1) to reveal the billion-dollar (mm-hmm, billion-dollar) business behind princess marketing, and (2) to encourage families to think about how this business can influence girls.

I found “The Princess Problem” to be a thought-provoking read, and a fun one, too. For example, Hains begins the book by telling the story of how she worked as a “princess performer” for field research. She dressed up as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and other storybook characters to add real-life color to girls’ princess-themed birthday parties and then observed their reactions to her persona.

Princess performer: What a cool moonlighting gig!

Meanwhile, Hains’ professional background as a media studies college professor grounds “The Princess Problem” in an informed yet reflective tone about pop culture, marketing and childhood development.

I appreciated Hains’ observation early in the book that “there’s nothing inherently wrong with princesses, pink and purple, sparkles, or frills…But there is something wrong when that’s the main type of girlhood marketed to girls” (page 5). This note allows Hains to take an objective approach to “The Princess Problem” and focus on the actual problem: not princesses themselves, but consumerism surrounding the princesses’ media brands.

And along with that consumerism, concerns such as an unrealistic beauty ideal and a narrative that emphasizes to girls that a Prince Charming will save the day for them, thus downplaying their own abilities.

Some facts from the book: “While Disney Princess films have earned more than $2.6 billion at the box office worldwide, the Disney Princess brand boasts more than $4 billion in global retail sales” (page 68). (Wow!) Hains continues, “In the United States, Disney Princess is actually the number-one licensed toy brand among all girls, and it’s also the number-one toy brand for dolls and role play among two- to five-year-old girls.”

As a mom, I can offer anecdotal support of these data. Not only did Grace transform into Princess Elsa for Halloween, but she also celebrated her fourth birthday with a Princess Sofia party. “Sofia the First,” of course—surely you’ve seen this Disney Channel show, friends? 🙂 The Disney Princess brand truly is everywhere, and I didn’t realize this and what it might mean for my daughters until I read “The Princess Problem.”

Helpfully, Hains discusses the implications of this ubiquitous princess marketing. One is that unrealistic, unhealthy beauty ideal. (The Disney Princesses are predominantly white, and universally thin.) And a possible solution: participation in sports. “Sports participation is widely recognized as a terrific way for girls to develop healthy body images and self-esteem—and therefore a great antidote to the problem of our culture’s beauty ideal” (page 152).

Another implication of princess marketing is the obvious underlying motive: consumerism. Consequently, Hains writes about setting parameters for princess buys (page 97). I have to give myself a pat on the back here: Although I special-ordered “Pin the Pendant on Sofia” for Grace’s party, I resisted the urge to buy the corresponding Sofia the First piñata kit.

I appreciated the background that Hains provides regarding princesses and storytelling. For example, she writes, “The media have usually cast girls in one of two narrative clichés: princesses in peril or token females…For this reason, Disney’s ‘Frozen’ is refreshing. It’s a tale of two sisters who are princesses, both of whom are fleshed-out characters, and who ultimately do not need a man to rescue them” (page 161). Passages like these help readers grasp the historical context of the many princesses we’ve come to know over the years, including the recent (and wildly popular) “Frozen” ones.

“Frozen” debuted in 2013, and Hains discusses it throughout her book, mostly in a positive light. Elsa and Anna rely on each other rather than a man to rescue them, as Hains points out. This plot point challenges “the Cinderella complex” (page 161) of older princess narratives, a complex that Hains calls “psychologically unhealthy and limiting.” She adds that “in the long term, it can be economically detrimental to women.”

Hains also points to “the sexualization of young girls” (page 114) in some of the older princess narratives, including a few that don’t seem that old at all. For example, “several Disney princess films—‘The Little Mermaid’ [1989], ‘Aladdin’ [1992], and ‘Pocahontas’ [1995]—feature buxom, curvaceous, scantily clad heroines alongside fully clothed men.” What messages, Hains wonders, do these opposing representations of girls and boys, women and men convey to the children who watch these marketed-to-families films?

A side note about marketing: Have you noticed that in the past few years, Disney has made an effort to include boys in their traditionally girl-focused films? Hains’ passage here was an “aha!” moment for me: “Disney has had to market its most recent films—‘Tangled,’ ‘Brave,’ and ‘Frozen’—in ways that downplay their ‘princessy’ natures. No more girls’ names like ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in Disney’s movie titles. In the Princess brand era, such names cut out too much of the boy audience at the box office” (page 81). Clever marketing, right?

Hains ultimately cares that parents and their children articulate their families’ values, and then positively interact with pop culture, including princess culture, with these values in mind. To this end, she includes family-centered discussion topics in “The Princess Problem.” The end goal: To understand that all media are creations of other people (and, often, their marketing departments), and that each child has the power to create his or her own life story.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.