Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Deck the Halls... And Every Other Available Surface

I’m not typically a kitsch person. I like my surfaces clutter-free and have a strong aversion to dusting lots of knick-knacks. I admire the collections and tasteful decorating techniques of others, but just can’t seem to pull it off. You could say I have a minimalist approach to decorating – like the Hemingway of interior design.

However, when the holidays roll around, I haul out boxes of Christmas decorations and I become a Kitsch Queen. I think it goes back to my own childhood. I remember being so excited when my mom would decorate for the holidays. There were always favorites I forgot about from year-to-year. She’d pull out the Santa sleigh with his reindeer and set it on the table, and I gently played with it, making up pretend stories about their Christmas adventures. There were ornaments, too—the little elf (the original Elf on the Shelf) that we stuck in the tree, our crazy tree-top star with its sporadic and seemingly non-pattern blinking, the little stockings we hung on the tree that might contain a silver dollar on Christmas morning! Each unique decoration would make me feel warm and cozy inside.

We had other traditions I savored too. It seems like there was always a box of that horrible ribbon candy on the coffee table during the holidays. Arranged like pastel ribbons of jewels, I broke off a little delicate piece, sucked on it and then remembered why it remained in the box, uneaten, for the remainder of the season. Every year, my parents would pull out the old Firestone albums-- the ones they received at gas stations (back when they were full-service). We'd play them on the stereo console and listen to Bing, Sinatra or another crooner fill the air with dreams of a white Christmas and chestnuts roasting on open fires. Of course, there were the T.V. specials-- pre-DVD. Oh, the anticipation of the chosen night when Rudulph or Santa would fill our sets with stop-motion animation of pure delight.

So each year I too drag out the boxes, open them and lovingly place the collected pieces around the house. I hope my kids are building memories, admiring the old tin Santa that was Dad’s when he was a boy, or the ornate ceramic pieces a friend of mine made for me over twenty years ago. Some collections, like the snowmen, started very unintentionally. It seemed like for several years they were very popular gifts and ornaments from friends. I now have a mantel full of various shapes and forms of the white, three-tiered fellows. Over the years, I’ve collected a few decorative reminders of the manger scene. I love each one, because, for me, they are the reminders of my religion and why I celebrate the season.

Truthfully, all these kitschy decorations still fill me with warm feelings. The old-fashioned ceramic angel winds up and plays Silent Night. My great aunt painted her and gifted it to me when I was a little girl. I balk at the idea that she looks like an antique, until I remember I will be 50 in the coming year. It is an antique. My sister created a couple of my angels and snowmen—a result of her talented crafting. They are dear to me, too.

Ultimately, it’s not about the stuff, though. We pared down quite a bit, shedding almost two boxes worth of decorations a few years back. The things didn't have significance to me and it was just too much to store. It’s the decorations that remind me of a friend’s love and gifting, or the little homemade ornament my kids made in grade school that fill me with the warmth of the season. And, for me, it’s the reminder of the guiding star in the sky and the baby in the manger that makes my heart sing.

So Merry Christmas, my friends. No matter how you celebrate the season or what meaning it has for you, whether it be Christmas or Hanukkah, may all the little knick-knacks you put out, the decorations you carefully unpack with tenderness and fond memories, remind you of the warmth and love of the season.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our Daily Bread... and Cookies... and Pies...

Food.  So many people have a love-hate relationship with our daily sustenance. 

A few, rare souls give very little emotional or mental energy to what they put in the systems because they have the metabolism of a chipmunk on a treadmill and can eat whatever they want. I admit, I don't get these folks at all. I have a complete lack of understanding or empathy for them, and maybe in my meaner moments, even dislike them a bit. But there is another category of eaters I envy—the ones who love and celebrate food and have made a peace with the role it has in their lives. I don’t profess to understand this group any more clearly than the previous, but it’s a concept that resonates with me, and I constantly strive to achieve.

I’ve never had a peace with food or my body. Ever. There have been periods throughout my life when I seem to have triumphed over the scale, but still many more when the scale raised its numerical fist with mighty numbers and triumphed over me. I fully confess, I don’t have a friendly relationship with this adversarial and esteem-crushing instrument.

This "weighty" topic (can I have a groan, please) is fresh in my mind as I both approach the holidays--a season of celebration in the form of delectable feasting--and a trip to Florida in February where I’m hoping the weather will invite the wearing of shorts, tank tops, and bathing suits by the ocean. Oh the conflicted bliss of both events!

I believe special celebrations of feasting are a God-ordained invitation. Throughout the Bible, and in most religions and regions of the world, celebrations are manifested in the form of breaking of fasts, abundant treats, family, friends and creative expression. And what screams creativity more than a plate full of gorgeous holiday cookies decorated with care, especially the kind with colorful little sprinkles or maybe a chocolate kiss in the middle…ahem, I digress. But my point is, holidays are a legitimate time to take joy in culinary treats and delight in those we love and share life with.

The problem, of course, isn’t in the day of feasting. It’s in the season of feasting—days, weeks and in the case of Thanksgiving and Christmas so close together, months of excessive and rich noshing. It’s in the non-celebratory, over-eating that I engage in year-round. It’s in having lost the distinction between joyful nourishment of my body with foods that are tasty and healthful, and eating to stuff my emotions and satiate my every taste desire. Therein lies the cycle of binge eating and dieting I get caught up in, the very one that beats up my self-esteem and makes me cringe if a camera is directed my way. Sad.

The other day I read an online article, Eat Like A Buddhist in 10 Easy Steps. The content isn't anything startling new, but it highlighted a contemplative, grateful and disciplined approach to the act of eating that struck me anew. And it reminded me of the category of people I mentioned above—the ones I wish I could truly emulate—those who have made peace with the delights of food and their body. It suggested savoring the tastes and textures of food, recognizing treats as exactly that—rare exceptions, and entering into a mindful quiet with my eating, which is, I admit, in direct contrast to my usual hasty and distracted snarfing.

Mostly, at least for me, it reminded me that eating is a communion with family and friends, a source of enjoyment in life, not a whipping post for my emotional insecurities and fears or a way to dull my inner pain. Of course, while my head grasps the concepts and my heart longs to be among those who have made their peace, actualizing it--putting it into practice in the face of ongoing temptations like pumpkin pies, gifts of baked goods and eggnog with rum--is the crux of the matter.  

I can use Florida as a sunny, warm catalyst for my motivation, but ultimately, I need to make a new emotional, mental and spiritual relationship with my daily bread (and maybe not so much emphasis on the bread). 

May our holidays be filled with the mindful and joyful celebration of family and friends and may our day of feasting be a break-- not the norm-- in our diets, a time to rejoice and be thankful for our abundance. And may the new year, full of healthy intentions, begin today.