Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Christmas!

As the chaos of the holidays swallows me up, I wanted to take a moment to wish each and every one of you the very best Christmas ever. It's been a darn fine year for me, and I'm eagerly looking toward the future. Here's to a year of dreams coming true, friendships made, goals achieved, and the seemingly impossible made possible!

Below is a clip from my favorite holiday special of all time: A Charlie Brown Christmas. It combines all my favorite things: the true meaning of Christmas, Snoopy, that great piano music, and the world's best Christmas tree. Enjoy, and as I take off next week from blogging, I hope that you and yours have a magical, wonderful, delightful Christmas. Now... See you next year!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Ugly is Beautiful

Working part time in a jewelry store, I have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. I love jewelry, and often enjoy getting people to try on pieces they may normally turn away from. This week, I was showing a couple in their mid-sixties some gorgeous pieces of chocolate diamonds, and the woman fluttered her hands nervously when I pulled out a ring.

“Oh, no, my hands are so ugly. I can’t wear rings.”

I was taken aback. She really meant it, as if her hands were somehow hideous monsters instead of the capable appendages they were. And honestly, this wasn't the first time I had heard this complaint from women of a certain age. I understand that we all have something about ourselves that we hate, and those things can often be magnified as we age, but I just couldn’t accept that kind of reaction.

I looked her right in the eye and said, “Your hands are beautiful. They are beautiful for all the things they make possible for you, for all that you have done with them, and all that you will do with them.”

She smiled and nodded, and they went on with their day, but it really got me thinking. How often do we get caught up in the vanity of things and forget to give thanks for the blessing those things truly are to us?

Shortly after I quit my job in 2009, something inside me went haywire. The technical term of the diagnosis was chronic autoimmune idiopathic urticaria… otherwise known as hives. I had them for days, then weeks, and later months. Huge portions of my skin would be covered in them, leaving me miserably itchy and horribly uncomfortable. Even worse, they were horrendous looking, like I’d been stung by hundreds of bees, and it left me very self conscious to go into public. What if they thought it was contagious? What if they judged me, or thought I had leprosy or something?

I went to doctor after doctor, underwent a battery of test, and was poked, prodded, and questioned within an inch of my life, all to have them say: We don’t know what’s causing it. We don’t know how long it will last (maybe forever). We don’t know how to stop it. I was prescribed pills and foul-smelling creams, assigned literature to read and diaries to keep. At one point I looked in the mirror and asked myself, is this going to be the rest of my life?

I went on the offensive, cutting possible allergens from my diet (gluten, dairy, and eggs – all at once), ditching all beauty and laundry products containing any sort of chemical, and carefully documenting daily life to try to uncover possible triggers. I lathered on the disgusting prescription cream when things got bad, and drove my poor hubby to the other side of the house from the chemically smell.

And none of it helped. Over and over and over again, the hives would erupt, leaving me in despair. And then one day, I decided to look at things differently. Why was I having hives? Though I couldn’t be sure of what I was reacting to, I did now the body chemistry behind it. Sparing you lots of technical jargon, the answer was my body was actually trying to help me by releasing histamines to protect me—unfortunately the response had gone haywire, and was seriously out of whack.

So, after nearly six months of misery, I decided to change my approach. My skin was upset, my body out of kilter, and I needed to calm it. Instead of despising my own body, as I had begun to do, I need to be thankful for it. I needed to focus on the good, be understanding of the bad, and be confident of my body’s ability to figure things out.

I ditched the nasty creams, and instead turned to olive oil. Soothing, all natural, and used for millennia to better skin, each morning I would gently rub it on the hives, taking the time to say out loud why I was thankful for my skin. The reasons were many. Absolutely everything we do through life is made possible by the miracle of our skin. The most obvious is that we are able to live because of our skin – without it we could not survive. But there was so much more than that. We are able to experience so many things; to feel a loved one’s touch, to relish the warmth of the sun, to feel the softest breeze. We can move, and dance, and run thanks to it. It was beautiful for all the ways it allowed me to experience and thrive in this world, and I was so thankful for it, regardless of its flaws.

In the weeks to come, that time each morning became an unusual mix of meditation and prayer. I actually made peace with my skin and the troubles I was having, and my anxiety and self-consciousness diminished. And do you know what? Within weeks my hives went away for good.

So, why have I told you all of this? It is because I learned something through the experience, and I try to live by that lesson now. That lesson is to be thankful for what we have, even when it is causing us problems or pain. I learned to consider the big picture, and to look past the imperfections that may be on the surface. Now I look at the ugly scar on my back and realize it is infinitely more beautiful than skin cancer. I am thankful for my big ole feet because I must surely have better balance than those with small feet. And I hope that as I age, I’ll feel blessed for the smiles that gave me crows feet and for the age spots that resulted from so many wonderful times in the sun.

So for all you out there who may look at a small part of yourself and be unhappy, take a moment to rejoice in the good. I think you may just be better for it!

So, do you have something about yourself that you hate or are embarrassed about? Tell me something good about that one thing! And if it’s your neck or your hands, I highly suggest buying some gorgeous piece of jewelry to make you feel better about them ;)

As a side note, one of the doctors later called to see how I was doing, and was surprised and thrilled to hear of my freedom from the hives. I thought she might think I was crazy when I told her what I had been doing, but she was very receptive, telling me she was a strong believer in the mind/body connection when it came to healing. Who would have thought!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree

Last night, after a week of staring at our sadly naked Christmas tree, Kirk and I finally dragged out the boxes of ornaments stashed in the attic and got to work. After a short scuffle over Christmas decorating music (Tran Siberian Orchestra, Kirk? Really?), we opened the boxes and got to work.

For me, decorating the tree has always been something of a walk down memory lane. As each ornament comes out, I’m reminded of Christmases past, like when fourth-grade me labored over the fabric patchwork ornament, or when we celebrated our first Christmas as a married couple with the adorable bride and groom ornament my mom gave us. I smile at the Snoopy bulb marked with the year of my birth, and the Precious Moments one from my middle school years.

I love the tiny little Snoopy vignettes that can fit in a tablespoon, and the classic car one my parents gave Kirk one year, and the little wood second-grade me stamped with glue and sprinkled with green glitter.

As always, we loaded up the tree with tiny multi-color lights as well as a strand of chunky bulbs—just like the trees of my childhood. I’ll never have one of those elegant, white-light strewn trees with matching bulbs and perfect symmetry. No, for me it’s all about evoking the fun and playfulness of the many Christmases of my past. I think I’ll always cherish those wonky handmade ornaments and dingy, aged plastic figurines that get tucked away oh-so carefully each year.

As we were finishing up last night, I looked to Kirk and said, “You know, I don’t even know why or when the tradition of dragging a tree in our homes at Christmas started. What does it have to do with anything?”

He merely shrugged. “Haven’t a clue”

I started to head to the trusty iPad and Google the answer, but for some reason, thought better of it. You know what? It doesn’t matter to me how the tradition came to be, or what their thinking behind it was. I only know that for me it is a perfect time capsule, a way to remember all the wonderful memories of the Christmases I have shared with my loved ones. It’s about making new memories, of sharing true quality time with my hubby, and having at least one tradition that will always be in my household.

Do you put a tree up each year? Do you have the handmade ones, the store bought kind, or a mixture? Wouldn't you agree that the classic White Christmas and Let It Snow are SO much better for decorating than Trans Siberian Orchestra?? ;)

I have the perfect recipe for you today - the same one I used decades ago to make ornaments for my Nana and Papa as Christmas gifts :) It's the perfect way to make something memorable for you to look back on for years to come. Enjoy!

Homemade Dough Ornaments:

- 2 cups flour

- 1/2 cup salt

- 3/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine ingredients and kneed for about 10 minutes. Roll out to desired thickness (about 1/4 inch) on floured surface. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes, then punch a hole for hanging. Bake for 30 minutes, and cook completely on a rack.

Decorate using acrylic paint, glitter, etc. Allow to try completely. Spray with clear polyurethane on both sides to preserve. Hang from tree with string or ribbon.