Friday, February 24, 2017

How Do You Stay Healthy?

I had grand plans for getting on a much more regular blogging schedule for this year, but obviously that hasn’t happened.

I have managed to catch pretty much every illness that has gone around work.  It seems particularly bad in my building this year, and we seem to be passing a lot of things around.

I started the year off with an upper respiratory infection.  A few weeks ago I had the stomach virus that was making the rounds.  I ended up in the emergency room for IV fluids and medication with that one.  If anyone around you has it, run!  For the past week it has been the flu.  One of my co-workers came down with it last Thursday, and I started coming down with it last Friday.  Nick started coming down with it on Tuesday.

I can’t help wondering what I’m doing wrong.  It kind of feels like my immune system has packed up and gone on vacation.  It certainly doesn’t seem to be doing its job.

I realize I get exposed to a lot of stuff at work.  Nick does, too, and it definitely seems like we bring a lot of illness home to each other.

I wash my hands constantly.  I periodically clean my desk and keyboard at work with alcohol wipes. I wash my hands as soon as I come home from work.  I go for acupuncture and reflexology regularly. We’ve also started using some essential oils.  There’s a blend that’s supposed to promote a healthy immune system, and Nick and I both use it daily.  We don’t have the healthiest diet in the world, but we definitely don’t live off of fast food or junk food.

I can’t help wondering what I’m missing.  Is there some magic potion that everyone else knows about?

So what do you do to stay healthy?  Do you manage to avoid catching every single thing the people around you come down with?  If, so how?!?  I’m hoping you’ll have lots of great suggestions.  I’d love to hear them!

Or, if you seem to get sick all of the time, too, and want to commiserate in the comments, that’s fine too.  Misery loves company, right?

And, to keep this post from becoming a total whine fest, I’m sharing a picture of Howard doing his meerkat pose.  He started doing this back in December, and we’re not sure why.  He just sits like this fairly often now.  He looks adorable doing it.

He reminds me of a meerkat when he does it. His vet says he looks a Buddha statue.  Nick’s mom says he looks like a weeble wobble.  What do you think?

I hope you’re all staying healthy, and I’m looking forward to catching up on everyone’s blogs.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Icy Roads, Books, and Movies

We still haven’t gotten above freezing, and our neighborhood hasn’t been scraped yet, so I’m home again today.  It’s supposed to warm up to the 40s tomorrow, so hopefully everything will be back to normal by then.

Between the cold, snow/ice, and being sick between Christmas and New Year, I’ve watched a lot of movies and TV and done a lot of reading lately.  So I thought I might share some reviews, and ask for recommendations.

Movies:

The Secret Life of Pets - This one was hugely disappointing.  We wanted to see it in the theater, but things kept coming up, so we didn’t get to.  I’m honestly glad we didn’t waste the money to see it in the theater.

From the previews we first saw it looked like it was going to be largely about all of the things the pets do when the people are away.  It looked like it was going to be funny, and really resonate with pet parents.

It turned out to be more of an “epic adventure” that didn’t really make any sense.  I realize cartoons aren’t based in reality (that’s what makes them fun), but it was just too over the top, and really not what the previews we saw lead us to expect.

Zootopia - This one was a wonderful surprise.  I’d seen a preview or two, and thought it looked like it might be good, but I wasn’t super excited about it.  It turned out to be great.  It was hilarious, and the music was excellent.

I think it’s the best cartoon I’ve seen since Inside Out.  I highly recommend both of them if you haven’t already seen them.

Pollyanna - This is one of my absolute most favorite movies.  Ever. My obsession with Pollyanna has been going strong for 30 years, and isn’t going away.  It’s a happy, feel-good movie about looking for the good things in life and the power of friendship.

I watched it as 2017 rang in because I wanted something positive and happy to start the new year off with, and Pollyanna absolutely fit the bill.

TV (Technically Netflix, but TV shows, so I’m counting it as TV):

Criminal Minds - I realize this one has been around for a long time, but I didn’t watch it when it first aired.  I started watching it on Netflix a couple of years ago, and finally finished all of the seasons that are on Netflix.

I like the characters, and I enjoy crime/mystery shows, so I really like this one.  Honestly, I’ve scared the daylights out of myself with it a few times when I’ve binge watched while Nick has been working nights.  It seems like that’s always when the episodes feature women home alone getting murdered.

Even though it creeps me out sometimes I still enjoy it, and am looking forward to whenever the next season is available on Netflix.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries - This series is excellent.  It features Phryne Fisher, a lady detective in 1920's Australia.  The mysteries are intriguing, the characters are great, the dresses she wears are gorgeous, and don’t even get me started on the shoes.  It also has some really great music.

There’s an ongoing mystery through most of the first season, as well as the smaller mysteries that are typically resolved within an episode.  There’s also a little romance.  There are enough storylines to keep it interesting, but not so many that it just feels like they couldn’t decide what kind of series they wanted to make.  I highly recommend this one!

Books:

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley - This is the eighth book in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series.  Flavia is a young amateur sleuth with a passion for chemistry in a small village in post World War II England.  She comes from a once wealthy family and lives on a declining estate with her two older sisters, father who’s dealing with PTSD from the war, and a couple of household servants.  She spends her days conducting chemical experiments and solving crimes.

I love this series!  Quite honestly, I had no interest in reading it when I first heard about it.  I thought it wasn’t something I’d enjoy.  I’m not a kid person (Flavia is 11 years old in the first book), and I have zero interest in chemistry.  It didn’t seem like my kind of book.

One of my co-workers basically forced me to borrow the first book, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, and I had every intention of giving it back without reading it.  She kept bugging me about it, though, so I started reading it on a Sunday night. I had the plan of forcing myself though the first two or three chapters and then returning it on Monday morning, telling her I’d tried, but just couldn’t get into it.  I ended up staying up until 2:00 in the morning reading half of the book.  I’ve been hooked ever since then.

I’ve given all of the books five stars, and the most recent one has lived up to the standard set in the rest of the series.  I do recommend reading them in order.  There are a lot of what would be spoilers in Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d if you haven’t read the rest of the series.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard - I first discovered Nancy Pickard in a bargain bin at a used bookstore when I stumbled across The Whole Truth.  It was excellent, and I’m currently reading the third book in that series, The Truth Hurts.

She has also written a few stand alone books, which is what The Scent of Rain and Lightning is.  It’s a mystery that takes place partly in modern day and partly in the 80s.  

It is extremely well written, there are some great plot twists, and she does a great job jumping between times.  It’s smooth, but doesn’t leave you going back a few pages to figure out which time frame you’re currently in.

I highly recommend this one, and I’m planning to read all of her books now.  I’ve loved all three of the ones I’ve read, and am really enjoying the one I’m currently reading.

So what about you?  Have you read or watched anything good lately?  Anything you’d recommend as a must?  Or anything you’d recommend not wasting time on?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snowy Weekend

It snowed here Friday.  It started Friday afternoon, stopped for a little while, started again on Friday night, and continued into the early hours of Saturday morning.  We ended up with about seven inches in our area.

We’ve been dropping down into the single digits at night, and haven’t gotten above freezing during the day, so nothing has really melted, and there’s a layer of ice under a lot of the snow.

If you’ve been around for a while, you know that I am not a fan of snow, or of cold weather in general.  I’ve been inside all weekend.  I did venture out onto the screened in back porch to take some pictures of Duke playing in the snow.  He absolutely loves it.

Duke seems to be the only one who enjoys the snow.  Chuzoo runs outside just long enough to answer the call of nature, and then immediately wants back inside.  I can’t blame him.  The cats don’t go outside anyway, but they’ve pretty much spent the weekend hunkered down in their beds, cuddled up together.  I think they have the right idea.

So what about you?  Do you have any snow?  Are you enjoying warmer temperatures than we are?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Wrap-Up

I meant to do all kinds of posts in December; recipes, Christmas, etc., but the month just got away from me.  So I’m making up for it with one incredibly long post.

December was busy, and had a lot of ups and downs for us.  I’ll go ahead and start with the bad stuff first, so I can end this post with the good stuff:

On December 7th we lost a very good friend, Martha.  She was 75, an incredible person, and died suddenly of a stroke.  I’m going to write more about her at some point, because she was such a wonderful person, but I just can’t right now.  I know that I’ll cry when I do, and I have a really bad cold right now.  Breathing is hard enough right now without crying.

The next afternoon at work, two of the security officers came in to tell me my car had been hit in the parking lot, and that I needed to go outside for the report.  The person who hit my car left without notifying anyone.  Fortunately, we share a parking lot with the Sheriff’s Office, and a deputy happened to be looking out the window when it happened.  He took some great pictures of her looking around to see if anyone saw, and then driving away.  Once her insurance company saw the pictures there was no question of them paying for the repairs.

We took the car to the same place that did the repair after we were rear-ended in August.  They did such a good job then that even the most obsessive car guys we know were impressed.  They weren’t able to get it in until after Christmas, but we were okay with that since the car was okay to drive.  We dropped it off on the 27th and picked it up on the 30th, and it looks great.

Now on to some happier December happenings:

I did a lot of baking for various people. This year it was mostly pound cakes, apple cake, cherry crunch, and some banana pound cake.  I took desserts to various departments at work, including the security officers, the volunteers, and the janitorial people.  This year I added in the maintenance people as well.  We moved offices earlier in the year, and they were incredibly nice during and leading up to the move.  Our new office is also much closer to their main work area in the building, so I see them a lot.  That’s pretty much how I determine which departments to take Christmas goodies to; the people I see and interact on a daily (or near daily) basis.

We also have a water cooler now that we’re in the new office.  The deliveryman, Joe, is really nice, and we also chat for a few minutes, so I made him some Christmas goodies as well.  He seemed really surprised, but said he really liked them the next time he came.

I love it when people are pleasantly surprised to get their Christmas goodies, and when they seem to genuinely enjoy them.

I also baked for our vet’s office, acupuncturist, chiropractor’s office, reflexologist, and the lady who cuts our hair.  

We were planning to do dinner for our next door neighbors, but ended up rescheduling since we were at a funeral that weekend instead.  I think we’re going to try for sometime next week (once my cold is gone), and call it a New Year thing instead.

My aunt, uncle, and sister came for dinner the weekend before Christmas.  I made two giant trays of lasagna, Greek Salad, garlic bread, apple cake, and brownies for that.   We hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle since the summer, so it was great to see them and catch up.  I also took the opportunity to send lots of presents home with Gabrielle since Christmas was at her house this year.

I ended up not taking anything to the hospice house here for Christmas.  I feel kind of bad about that, but things just got really crazy in the days leading up to Christmas.  My parents’ 17 year old cat, Yum Yum, got really sick, and everyone was really afraid it was going to be time to ay goodbye to her, but she made an amazing recovery.

They ended up bringing her to the vet here that we take the cats to.  They live about an hour and 15 minutes away, but that’s just how it worked out.  Let’s just say that my mom thrives on drama, and my dad isn’t a decision maker.  I ended up making the appointment and helping get her back and forth to the vet.

Yum Yum had a major impaction that took three days of treatment and lots of medication to remove. She’ll most likely be on medication for the rest of her life, but is doing great now.  She’s eating, cuddling with the other cats, and even playing more than she has in a while.

It was very up and down with her for a while, so when the vet called with “wonderful news”, everyone was thrilled.  Yum Yum was the last patient they sent home before they closed for the holiday, so I think everyone was especially delighted to go into the Christmas break on a positive note.

Nick’s mom and step-dad came into town the Wednesday before Christmas.  Thursday they came over and installed one of Nick’s birthday presents.  They got him a new mailbox (it’s huge and really nice, so much better than the old one that seemed like it was going to fall over any day) with a firefighter topper.  His dad came over with tools and to help install it.  They managed to pull it off as a complete surprise to him.  He had no idea until he came home from work that night and saw it.  He absolutely loves it.

On Christmas Eve (also Nick’s birthday) Nick and I, along with his mom and step-dad headed to my sister’s house in Greensboro.  She just moved, and insisted that Christmas be at her house this year since she has enough room now, and had never done the big Christmas before.

We brought the dogs and Joey with us since he’s on daily medication.  He rode with Nick’s mom and step-dad, rather than with us and the dogs.  We also had what felt like a million presents between the two cars.

I like to use weird boxes to disguise things when I wrap presents.  Normally that’s not a problem, but it can complicate things when you have to pack them all in the car.  I was so glad we had sent so many presents back with Gabrielle the week before.  I don’t think we would have ever managed to get everything in the car otherwise.

Gabrielle cooked a ton of food, and we brought Nick’s birthday cake with us.  We celebrated Nick’s birthday that evening, and then stayed up until 2:00 in the morning to open Christmas presents.

It was the first time I had ever stayed up to open Christmas presents, and the biggest family Christmas Gabrielle and I had ever had, so it was a lot of fun.

Everyone seemed to have put a lot of thought and effort into the gifts they gave everyone.  There were a few big, wonderful surprises, and most of the gifts were something that at least one other person knew about, so there was a lot of excitement waiting for certain people to open certain things. Everyone’s reactions to their gifts was very gratifying too.  There wasn’t any fake enthusiasm.

I can finally say this, the earrings I got from Liz’s Etsy shop for Susan (Nick’s mom) were a big hit. She wore them pretty much the whole time after that.

We spent a very low key holiday, which I think was exactly what everyone wanted and needed.  No one even got out of their pajamas on Sunday.  Gabrielle made a few soups from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook that were delicious.  I think I want to get a copy for the soups alone.                            
Later that evening  we burned 2016 calendars.  It was something we had decided on earlier since it has been such an awful year for all of us.  We all took turns feeding pages of 2016 calendars into the fireplace.  It felt good to watch the pages go up in smoke.

Nick came down with a cold on Monday, and was pretty miserable Tuesday and Wednesday.  I started coming down with it Thursday, and haven’t done much since then other than read, sleep, and sip tea.  I’m really hoping it goes away soon.  I don’t want to start the new year off sick!

So how about you?  How was your December?  How were your holiday celebrations?  I hope you all had a wonderful month, and were able to spend time with the people you love.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is going to be December 1st.  The last few weeks of November seemed to fly by, but was actually mostly good.

I’ll start with the best news first.  We finally got rain!!!  I’ve never been so happy to see rain.  We had a tiny bit of rain in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning.  Then we had a little rain Monday night.
We’ve had lots of rain today, and it has been wonderful.

The smoke got really bad last week.  Because of the way the wind was blowing we were actually getting smoke from two different fires.  There was a haze of smoke inside at work last week, and at home it smelled like a bonfire.  I was convinced we would be evacuating.  Once again, Nick was the voice of reason, and was right, no evacuation for us.

I ended up going to the doctor to get medications for smoke-related breathing issues.  I’ve had a terrible cough that just won’t go away.  It turns out that it’s due to inflammation caused from the smoke and all of the coughing.  I’m two days into the medicine, and already feel so much better.  Being able to breathe is a wonderful thing!

Our cat, Joey, has asthma, and our vet has had us increase all of his medications, and even added in a few more.  Hopefully now that we’ve had some rain, and the smoke seems to finally be clearing, we’ll be able to taper him back down to his normal dose.

We celebrated my parents’ 42nd anniversary with them the weekend before Thanksgiving.  We brought a cake, and Nick made calzones, which were incredibly delicious.  It was a little weird, because we had to check on the status of three different fires burning near us before we felt comfortable leaving to go that far from home.  Fortunately everything was fine, and we had a good time with my parents.

Thanksgiving went really well.  I got the food to the hospice house on time.  I was really worried about running behind.  I told them I’d have it there between 12:30 and 1:00, and made it about 12:50, so I’m counting that as a win.  Bonus win, I had very minimal spilling on the drive there; just a little green bean juice spilled in the trunk.  Considering the amount of food I took there, I’m counting that as success.  I’m fairly proud of myself for packing it up efficiently.  I saved shipping boxes for a while, so I’d have boxes to put the pans in.  I put everything in disposable pans so there would be no worrying about getting dishes back, and labeled everything to make it easier in dealing with leftovers.  We even remembered to buy paper plates, etc. to take.

I ended up bringing turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes (made to stand alone, so they wouldn’t necessarily need gravy, and could be a vegetarian option, per Victoria’s suggestion), sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, green beans, rolls, jellied cranberry sauce, whole berry cranberry sauce, two pumpkin pies, a cherry crunch, and a chocolate cake.  I ended up scaling the menu back a little bit, just to make sure I got everything there on time, but I think there was still plenty of food.

The staff was so nice, and kept thanking me over and over again.  They made me cry (in a good way, just by being so nice).  I told them they had just been so kind when GrandMommy was there, and that we really appreciated them.  I cannot imagine doing their job.  They kept saying they’re happy to do it, especially when people appreciate it.  I didn’t stick around very long.  I didn’t want to intrude on anyone’s grief, or get in the way of people trying to work, or eat so they could get back to work.  And I wanted to get out of there before I turned into a total crying mess.  I called Nick’s mom on the way home, and cried to her instead, Like, I said, it was mostly a good cry, though.

Once I got home from hospice, I started cooking smaller batches of Thanksgiving food for us for when Nick got home from work.  I started the desserts on Wednesday afternoon.  I have pictures of the desserts, but somehow managed not to take a single picture of the food before I left with it on Thursday.  We figured out that out of about a 30 hour period I cooked or baked for all but about eight hours of it.  It was fun, but I totally crashed on Friday.

On Friday, the most ambitious thing I did was a little online Black Friday shopping.  I’ll admit, I never even got out of my pajamas.  We ate leftovers, watched a few movies, and did a little online shopping.  It was nice to have such a low-key day.

We put the tree up on Saturday, and had a friend, Cathey, over for some apple cake.  She had gone out of town for Thanksgiving, and we started talking about how everyone had spent Thanksgiving.  We told her about taking food to hospice, and she loved the idea.  Her first husband was sick off an on for years before he died, and she has ended up taking care of a lot of different people over the years.  She has spent pretty much every major holiday in a hospital or similar place at some point.  She said one Christmas when her husband was in the hospital someone had brought in some Christmas goodies, and it just made such a difference to her that someone did that.  So she came up with the idea for us to take Christmas goodies to the hospice house.  We won’t be able to go on Christmas, but we’re planning to go a few days before and leave some Christmas foods.  Cathey makes a lot of the traditional candies and fudge, so will do that.  I haven’t figured out what I’m going to make yet.  I’m open to suggestions.

The tree looks good, and so far Frankie is the only cat really messing with it much.  One of the presents is in a fairly large box, and he’s using the box to stand on to access some of the higher branches (where we put the ornaments we really don’t want the cats messing with), so I think that box is going to end up being moved away from the tree.

We’ve finished most of our Christmas shopping.  I think we have about four more things to buy, and then we’ll be completely finished.  I’ve also finished shopping for Nick’s birthday (he’s a Christmas Eve baby), and am just waiting for a few more online orders to come in.  I’m hoping to finish up all, or at least most, of the wrapping this weekend.  I enjoy wrapping presents, but it seems to take me forever.

I can’t go into details because most of the people I shop for read my blog at least occasionally, but I’m really excited about a few of the presents.  I also know what some people we’ll be celebrating with have gotten for each other, and I think everyone is really going to love their gifts.

So what about you?  How was your Thanksgiving?  How are your Christmas preparations going?  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you aren’t dealing with smoke!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Practically Fool-Proof Turkey

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, I thought I’d share my turkey recipe.  I’ve had a few misadventures when it comes to cooking turkeys, but this recipe is practically fool-proof.  It’s also incredibly delicious!

Thanksgiving perfection! 
It’s a little different from what you might expect, but I promise it’s delicious.  It’s cooked cavity side up, which I believe is technically “upside down”.  If you can get the past the fact that it looks a little different, it’s totally worth it to cook it this way.  It makes for an incredibly moist turkey.

There’s no basting with this recipe, which I think helps to make it fool-proof.  It’s also much more convenient.  Once you get it in the oven, it’s pretty much good to go.  I like being able to concentrate on other things once the turkey is in the oven.  And not constantly opening the oven door.  

I’ve noticed that it always seems to take much longer for the turkey to cook than what the guides on the wrappers say.  The turkey in this recipe was a 16.5 pound turkey.  Per the wrapper, it should have cooked in about 4.5 hours.  It took six.  I don’t think my oven is that far off when it comes to temperature.  Since cooking time varies so much by weight, I usually add about an hour and a half to two hours on to what the wrapper says when I’m planning what time to put it in the oven.  I check on it at the end of the longest suggested time (if the wrapper says 4 - 4.5 hours, I check it as 4.5 hours), but it has always needed the extra time.

Don’t forget to give it plenty of time to thaw if you’re using a frozen turkey.  I bought a 22 pound turkey for the big day this year, so it’s going in the fridge on Sunday to begin thawing.  The last thing you want is a partially frozen turkey in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning.

The measurements for this recipe are for a 16.5 pound turkey.  You’ll probably need some more vegetables if you’re cooking a larger turkey. Whenever I find that I’ve chopped more vegetables than I can stuff in the turkey, I just put the extras in the bottom of the roasting pan.  It just adds more flavor.  I like this combination of vegetables because I think the celery adds a lot of moisture, and the onions and carrots pack a lot of flavor.  And you can’t go wrong with butter.

The wine adds some nice flavor, and the water and wine together help keep the turkey moist.  It also makes for some amazingly delicious pan drippings.

You can use the vegetables in your dressing.  Rice is a Thanksgiving staple for us, and the vegetables are delicious in that as well.  I usually just add a few spoonfuls of the vegetables to the pot when I’m cooking the rice.  Because you’ll have a lot of pan drippings you can use them in rice (just replace part of the water with them), gravy, and dressing.  It’s all delicious!

Turkey
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 stick of butter, kept cold until you’re ready to use it
1 Tbsp dried parsley, plus a little more for sprinkling
Salt & pepper to taste
2/3 cup white wine
2 cups water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Remember to adjust your oven wracks first if you need to.  (It’s a lot easier when they’re cold!)

Open turkey package, and remove neck, giblets, and any plastic holding the legs together (leave the pop-up timer, though).  Place turkey, cavity side up, in a large roasting pan.  

Combine all of the vegetables in a bowl.  Chop 2/3 of the stick of butter into small cubes, and add to the vegetables.  Add 1 Tbsp parsley, and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper.  Mix well.

Stuff the vegetables inside the turkey.  You want to really pack it full.  It’s okay if they’re spilling out. If you have any left, just put them in the bottom of the pan.

This is how it should look just before you cover it.
Chop the remaining 1/3 stick of butter into squares and place them on the outside of the turkey.  I usually tuck them under the wings and legs.

Lightly sprinkle the turkey with salt, pepper, and parsley.
Pour the wine and water into the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pan with foil.  You want the edges of the pan to be tightly wrapped, but allow room at the top.  Kind of tent the foil, so it’s not actually touching the turkey at the top.

Bake for 4.5 - 6 hours.  Like I said, my oven always takes a lot longer than the wrapper says.  Check on it at the end of the wrapper’s recommended time.  It’s done when the pop-up timer is out and/or when you can make a cut where the leg meets the body and the juices run clear.  If in doubt, cook it a little longer.  That’s the beauty of this recipe.  The turkey isn’t going to dry out.

Try to talk someone else into carving the turkey, and enjoy!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Holiday Spirit

Betty, at A Bench With A View, posted something that really made me think about the holidays, and how different people feel about them.  She was asking for ways to find the joy in Christmas because December is not a good time of year for her.

I love the holidays.  I didn’t grow up celebrating any holidays.  I didn’t have my first Christmas tree until 2008.  I think part of why I get so excited about the holidays is because it’s all still kind of new to me.

This year has been a little different.  2016 has just been a really bad year.  We’ve lost two grandparents and three pets.  There have been a few other things with family and work.  I haven't been as enthusiastic about the holidays this year.  Fortunately, my sister is really excited about the holidays this year.  She started planning early, and her enthusiasm has rubbed off on me.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to the new year like I never have before.  New Year normally isn’t a holiday I get really excited about, but this year I can’t wait.

It made me think about how the holidays can be hard for so many different reasons.  It also made me think about ways to add joy to the holidays.  Here are 25 ways to add a little more joy to your holidays:

1. Start early.  Unless you’re one of those people who thrive on the last minute rush, you’ll probably feel a lot better, and be less stressed, getting started early.

2. Have realistic expectations.  You’re human, and there are only 24 hours in every day.  You probably won’t be able to do everything.  Pick and choose what’s important to you, and what will bring you the most joy.

3.  Listen to “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”.  I dare you to listen to it and not smile.  I love this song, and it makes me happy every time I hear it.

4.  Consider changing your traditions.  The first year without a loved one can be really hard.  This year was our first Mother’s Day without GrandMommy, which was hard.  We used to always go to a Greek luncheon, and then usually shopping.  Nick’s mom would come, and we’d all go eat a gigantic lunch and then browse stores, usually thrift stores.  This year no one wanted the emotional baggage that came with that, so we changed things up.  We all went out to breakfast at IHOP, then spent the day at the zoo, and then had barbeque for dinner.  It didn’t change the fact that it was the first Mother’s Day without GrandMommy, but doing something different did make the day a little easier.

5.  Acknowledge grief.  If you’re dreading getting the Christmas ornaments out because you know you’re going to find the special one a loved one you’ve lost gave you, and you can’t deal with it right now, ask a trusted friend to unpack your ornaments for you and put it away safely until you’re ready to see it.  Chances are there is someone who said something along the lines of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”.  Take them up on it.  There’s no harm in admitting that something is just too hard right now, and that you need help.

6.  Do something nice for a stranger.  It doesn’t have to be anything major.  Let someone go ahead of you in line.  Pay for the person behind you at the drive-thru.

7.  Donate something to your local animal shelter.  They always need things like food, toys, blankets, cat litter, and cleaning supplies.  If you’ve lost a furry family member, make the donation in their honor.

8.  Watch an old fashioned, feel-good Christmas movie.  For me, it’s Miracle on 34th Street.  Pick the one that makes you happy and watch it.

9.  Don’t try to make your house look like something out of a magazine.  Unless that’s what really makes you happy, then by all means go for it. Decide which part of decorating matters to you, and just go with that.  For us, it’s the Christmas tree, and a wreath on both doors.  That’s it.  Maybe the giant inflatable Santa in the yard makes you happy, and the tree is more trouble than it’s worth.  You know yourself, your home, and your limitations.  Decorate for you and those you love, not to present an image or meet some ideal.

10.  Read a great book that’s somehow related to the season. For me, it’s Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher.  It has some sad parts, but it’s mostly a happy story about an unlikely group of people who find themselves together at Christmas.  It’s a celebration of friendship and finding happiness in unlikely places.

11.  Ask for help.  If you’re always the person who organizes everything, or cooks an elaborate holiday meal, and it’s too much this year, ask for help.  Someone else may be dying to cook the big dinner, but doesn’t want to step on your toes.  Or maybe everyone would be happier with something simpler.  You won’t know unless you ask.

12.  Take someone shopping with you.  The first year Nick and I were married his grandfather, GrandDaddy, had shoulder surgery in the fall and wasn’t able to drive for a while, so he couldn’t go Christmas shopping for GrandMommy on his own.  I hadn’t lived here long, and didn’t know my way around very well, so he and I planned a shopping trip together.  I drove, he navigated, we shopped for Nick and GrandMommy, and then went and had dinner.  It was great!  So much more fun than shopping alone.

13.  Trade jobs with someone.  Maybe you hate shopping, but love wrapping presents.  See if you can get a friend to pick up gifts for you if you will wrap theirs for them.  Think about what parts of the holidays you do enjoy/are good at, and see what you can come up with to trade with someone.

14.  Take care of yourself.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush of trying to get everything done and trying to make everything perfect.  Remember to take care of yourself.  Get enough sleep.  Say no when you need to.

15.  Consider not sending Christmas cards.  I’m sort of obsessed with Julia Child, and when I read her biography a few years ago it talked about how she didn’t send Christmas cards.  She sent Valentine’s cards instead, basically because she couldn’t get everything together in time to send out cards at Christmas, so Valentine’s cards became her thing.  I love that she knew her limitations (yes, even Julia Child had limitations!) and worked with them.  We stopped sending Christmas cards a few years ago, and I haven’t missed it.  Now our thing is taking baked goods to people.

16.  Take some Christmas treats/goodies to a nursing home/hospice house/children’s home.  Call ahead to find out what the rules are as far as what you can bring and when you can bring it.  Places like that are usually thrilled when someone offers to do something for them.  And it feels good to do something for someone else.

17.  Don’t obsess over something that’s not going to matter later on.  This one can be really hard for me.  I have a tendency to fixate on random things sometimes, and moderation and I aren’t always friends.  Christmas of 2009 my obsession was dipped pretzels.  That sounds relatively harmless, I know, but not when taken to the extreme that I managed to.  I only did the mini pretzels (I got the idea that they were cuter), and I dipped them all by hand in pretty much anything you could melt (chocolate chips, vanilla candy, butterscotch chips, peanut butter cups, etc).  Then I moved on to coating the dipped pretzels with sprinkles, mini candies, crushed candy, etc.  And of course packing them up in cute little bags. I was truly obsessed.  Every day on the way home from work I would stop and buy bags and bags of pretzels, things to melt and dip them in, and things to coat them with.  There were trays of pretzels with various coatings stacked all over the kitchen.  Nick was working mostly nights during the pretzel obsession, and I would stay up until 1:00 in the morning dipping and coating pretzels.  I gave everyone pretzels that year.  I think people liked them at first, then got tired of them.  It sounds so silly now, but at the time I was truly obsessed with the pretzel dipping and coating.  Think about what you’re doing.  If it sounds like it’s going to become a cautionary pretzel tale in a few years, consider taking a step back.

18.  Take some sort of Christmas treat to your local 911 Center.  The folks at the 911 Center are probably the most underappreciated people in the emergency services, probably because most people don’t see them.  Consider taking them something like cookies or candy, and letting them know you appreciate them.

19.  Watch a funny Christmas movie.  For me, it’s Fred Claus.  Vince Vaughn is hilarious, but there are still some sweet, feel-good scenes.

20.  Make a donation in honor of a loved one.  Not having someone at the holidays, and not being able to give them a gift can be incredibly painful.  Consider making a donation in their honor, possibly to a cause they supported, or to an organization dedicated to curing a disease they suffered from.

21.  Drop off some books and/or magazines in a hospital waiting room.

22.  Donate blood.  Typically donations go down around the holidays and during the bad weather, but the need is always there.  You’re potentially giving someone else the gift of life (or a loved one’s life) for the holidays.  Talk about a great gift!

23.  Include someone else in your holiday celebrations.  Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who doesn’t seem to have much company, or a friend who isn’t able to go home for the holidays this year.  Invite them to join you for some holiday festivities.

24.  Take a small Christmas gift to your neighbors.  It doesn’t have to be anything big; maybe some cookies or flowers.

25.  Give a small Christmas gift or treat to someone who doesn’t expect anything from you.  Maybe it’s the nice cashier at the grocery store or the librarian who always recommends great books; someone who has no reason to expect something from you.  Again, it doesn’t have to be anything big, but it will probably make their day.

So what about you?  Do you get excited about the holidays?  What do you do to get in the holiday spirit and make it a joyful time of year?