A Minor Holiday Miracle

I must admit: despite this being my favorite time of year, and despite having many things to be grateful for, I was feeling depressed. I  was struggling with feeling and expressing joy over Christmas. Maybe it was from simply being overwhelmed by the to do list. Maybe it was struggling with Avery and his continued not listening (and the inevitable yelling that followed on all sides). Maybe (definitely) I was stressed from still not having my book order to sell — and having 3 vendor events coming up at which to sell these non-existent books. Maybe it just felt like nothing was working out, and I didn’t know what to do about it. All I knew was that I was close to tears at what should have been a happy, exciting, joyful time of year.

So what changed? Well, I took my own advice. I put on an inspirational holiday movie and wrapped some presents. I sent a plea, a prayer if you will, out into the world, hoping to get some relief. And it worked.

Shortly after the movie ended I received an e-mail saying my large book order had shipped — and tracking says it should make it here on Friday, the day of my next vendor event (cutting it close, but I’ll take it!). And a couple of customer orders have shipped, too. This morning an online sale that I hadn’t been able to take advantage of was extended, giving me more time to shop — and pick up some perfect, inexpensive gifts. And my brain, which had been stuck and unable to write yesterday, felt compelled to write. Motivation to tackle projects and to do lists has been renewed. I’m feeling a little more joyful. And a bit of the stress that had been suffocating me has dissipated. It’s not quite gone — but it’s definitely better.

At this time of year it’s so easy to get sucked into negative thinking. Crowds, traffic, budget restraints (or knowing you’ll be facing the inevitable bills in January), to do lists, tension, stress — it all compounds to turn you into a pessimistic, well, Scrooge. Bah humbug. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s still joy to be had.

I have decided to ramp up my holiday movie watching. Though I don’t have time to read holiday books, I have a bunch waiting for me in audio format on Hoopla, and it’s time I checked some out. I need to renew my enthusiasm. I need to get excited, and happy. This is the most wonderful time of year. And it’s about time it felt like it!

Black Friday Craziness

Once upon a time I was one of the crazies waking up early for Black Friday specials. Then the start times got earlier and earlier, and I started thinking that it was getting ridiculous, so I would still participate, but started later (and thus started beating the crowds a bit). Then the start times got so early they invaded Thanksgiving, and I felt this was unacceptable and refused to shop on Thanksgiving day, believing people should be home with their families and friends. Now I barely do any Black Friday shopping at all. The combination of young kids to worry about, starting my shopping early enough that I don’t have much to buy by the time Black Friday rolled around, and having to work means that it just doesn’t make sense to go nuts. But I kind of miss it.

I wrote on Wednesday that this is my favorite time of year, but that it has to do with the feeling and community spirit and time together rather than the material goods. I still believe that. But I also love to give gifts! And, for those who are true Black Friday shoppers, there’s a different kind of feeling you get when walking through stores at 5 am with all the other nuts. Sure, you get the frantic people trying to snag the hot items at bargain prices, the people who are only there because someone dragged them, or they’re desperate to save a buck or grab an item that may disappear soon. But those aren’t the true Black Friday shoppers. The real shoppers are more laid back, enjoying the experience and the ambiance. They delight in the craziness, thrilled to be getting some good deals, but more excited about the whole Black Friday-ness of it. They shop in pairs or groups, coming up with game plans to tackle the most stores and get the best deals. It’s an all-day event, topped off with wrapping or decorating or collapsing on the sofa, pleased with yourself for having such a fun, productive day.

If I had money, I would probably still go Black Friday shopping. I would find a way. And if I didn’t find things I needed to complete my holiday shopping, I would pick up some of the best deals for donations. If I had someone to go with (who enjoyed the craziness as I do), I would probably still go Black Friday shopping. But getting the kids up and dragging a cranky Kevin around doesn’t exactly sound like a fun time. And I don’t really have any close friends who would be available and interested in shopping with me. I need more mom friends!

Despite retailers trying to make Christmas come earlier each year, there’s nothing like a crazy day of shopping to kick off the season (even if you’ve been shopping all year long). It can be a hard feeling to explain, but it’s one I truly enjoyed. And, I think, I’m going to find a way to make it happen next year. No, I will not shop on Thanksgiving. But Friday morning? I would be more than OK with that. Anyone interested in joining me next year? We have a bit of time to plan…

My Favorite Time of Year

This is, and has been, my favorite time of year. Yes, I can say it’s because I love spending time with family and friends. I can say it’s because I love giving gifts. I can say it’s because I love snow and curling up next to a cozy fireplace and sipping hot chocolate and munching on yummy treats. But it’s so much more than that.

I maintain a website (www.freefamilyfuninct.com) that lists free events for families around Connecticut. I have discovered lots of great events and activities over the course of the last few months, as I’ve searched for events to add to the site. While it’s always nice to find fun activities to do with the kids, lately I’ve discovered more than just some fun activities. I’ve found big events, weekend-long festivities, that are completely free. Why are they free? Because communities, and the organizations in them, have learned the true meaning of this time of year. They are willing to dish out hundreds – maybe even thousands – of dollars to bring people together. Activities, music, Santa visits, carriage rides, tree lightings, free food and drink…all for the sake of fun, laughter, and togetherness. That is what this time of year means for me.

It’s unfortunate, I think, that so many have lost sight of that. They make the holidays all about the material gifts, about spending tons of money to have the latest gadget or coolest toy. They bicker in stores and rage on the roads, all in a frantic attempt to capture their vision of the holidays. But what if we all stepped back, took a deep breath, and thought about what’s really important? If we did, I think we would find that the real joy of the holidays is still there, if we’re willing to look for it.

Over the next few weeks, if you find yourself wrapped up in the craziness that is holiday shopping or pulling your hair out over the money spent, I encourage you to step back. Put on a holiday movie (not one of the cynical or stupidly funny ones — one of the heartwarming family ones), read a holiday book (I can offer several suggestions if needed!), or attend a community event. Keep your mind open, breathe in the simple joy of it, and let yourself enjoy it. I think you’ll find that you can still be a kid again. You can still take pleasure in the holidays.

The most wonderful gift to me? Hearing my children giggle. I would give up all my material possessions if I could only hear them giggle, delighting in the simple joy of being kids. And that doesn’t cost a thing.

Pondering the Craziness

My crazy week has come to an end. I don’t have another event scheduled for a week and a half, so now I can play catch-up on all the housekeeping and other tasks that built up during the craziness (and before). And I have to take care of it now, because once December hits I know I’ll be busy with Christmas preparations, in addition to the 2 vendor events I have scheduled. It is, quite simply, a crazy time of year!

As the year starts winding down, I’m forced to admit that I simply haven’t been able to take care of everything I wanted to this year. Of course I still have a little time, but I know I won’t be able to do everything. Surprise, surprise! Especially since I added things on during the year, with seemingly little concern over if I would actually have time or not. Now I’m forced to decide what I want to take care of first, before the year is truly over. It’s not as if I won’t be able to take care of things next year, but what do I consider a priority?

It’s easy to fill my schedule with tasks in one category — only family stuff, or only business stuff, or only housekeeping stuff. But juggling it all is often a challenge. How can I prioritize tasks in different categories? How do I decide what’s more important? Obviously spending time with my family is top priority, but when do the tasks start becoming less important? For example, I can say that making Avery new story CDs is a low priority, but when he starts asking for them, what do I bump in a different category to find time to make them? I can say that cleaning my house is high priority (and it is, because my house is still a mess), but to find time I would have to push business tasks down the list. And business tasks could bring in money — isn’t that more important than cleaning, considering our tight budget?

While I may have more projects and tasks than a typical household, I know the challenge is a common one. Tasks compete for your attention, and time and energy just never seem to last long enough. What goes first? What goes last (and likely gets bumped completely)? We want to spend time with our kids, and make them feel loved, but how independent can they be sometimes so we can take care of the house? How early do I have to wake up, or how late do I have to stay up, to take care of the to do list — all while making sure I get enough sleep to survive and actually function the next day, when it starts all over again? How long can the craziness last before I become the craziness? And how can I get it all to work so everything gets done without my feeling like I’m on a hamster wheel, getting nowhere, barely surviving?

The questions aren’t easy, and some don’t have straightforward answers. The only way I’ve been able to tackle them is by thinking of everything I want to get done, and scheduling it out in my planner. Often the planner needs to be adjusted (that’s why I use pencil!), and sometimes I completely ignore it in lieu of something more pressing, but at least it helps keep me sane. Having my schedule shows me that in a perfect world, if nothing had to get adjusted, I could get it all done. It gives me hope, while also getting most of the chaos out of my head and onto paper, where I can see it more logically and rationally. It’s always a work in progress, but I’m trying. And in an imperfect world, I suppose that’s the best I can do.

This Is Just a Test…I Hope

What a crazy week so far. And it’s not over yet! So far it’s been a mixed bag, too, so I’m not sure how to feel about it.

Wednesday was a nutty day. Working, picking up the kids, heading to Stafford to break down a book fair, then coming home for dinner and bedtime with the kids before gearing up for a Facebook party. The Facebook party was successful. But the vendor shopping night yesterday was most definitely not. I sold nothing. NOTHING. I have participated in many crappy shows, but I have never sold nothing. To the best of my knowledge, only one person picked up a catalog or business card, too, so I don’t even have much hope for future business. *sigh* I guess it’s bound to happen once in a while.

Tonight I get to finish wrapping up and packing items to sell for my show tomorrow. Yesterday I was selling books. Tomorrow I’m selling my gift baskets and crafts. I hope tomorrow is better than yesterday!

Amidst all the craziness, though, is reflection. Not much else to do when you’re sitting at a show waiting for stuff to happen! I really love Usborne Books, and I would love to do it full time. But so far my attempts at making anything from it have been less than successful. While I know I’m still waiting to be able to sell to schools and libraries, it would be nice to succeed doing the other stuff, too: parties and book fairs and vendor events. So far the Facebook party on Wednesday has been the only decent event (though I’m hopeful more orders will come in this weekend for the book fair). And, except for the 2 vendor events I have scheduled in December, I don’t have anything else planned.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. Normally I try to look at everything and stay positive. But if I were one to believe in signs (and, occasionally, I am), it looks like all the signs are pointing to this not being the right direction for me. And that stinks, because I think I could really enjoy it. This business is a combination of many of the things I’ve been looking for in a career: owning my own business, having a (kind of) book store, doing something I can be passionate about, helping other people. I can do it from home, with just the occasional outing, around my schedule. If successful, the pay could be decent and steady (commission is paid out every week, like a paycheck). So many others have been successful at it. Why can’t I?

I suppose I could also look at it as a trial period, as a test. Having my career not take off has forced me to look at different opportunities Usborne offers, different ways of getting customers and selling. Time I had penciled in for Usborne work has been used for paperwork, research, and brainstorming. I’ve been developing a new recruit kit that I think could be useful, not only for my (eventual) new recruits, but others’ recruits, as well. I plan on creating a series of graphics that could be helpful to not only me and my customers, but others’ customers, as well. In short, I’ve had to brainstorm and be creative and think outside the box, plus have an attention to detail and figure things out. Those are all things I like, too.

Career is always one category I’ve struggled with. Nothing sticks. If I can make this work, I think it could stick. But, obviously, I have work to do. To succeed I have to figure out what will work for me. I have to figure out where to throw my energy, how to spend my time. Maybe this is just a way of determining how badly I want it.

I’ve never been afraid of work, and I’m not afraid now. I will make this happen. I will.

An Old Friend

An old friend is creeping back into my life, and I’m not very happy about it. Stress. A little while back, when I said it was likely my poor eating habits were being exacerbated by stress, I didn’t feel stressed. Rationally I could tell that I must be, but my body wasn’t making me feel stressed. Lately that’s changed. It’s been coming on ever since the election results came in, and over the past week or so it’s grown. Money has been particularly tight (cue the crazy budget acrobatics again), I’m still waiting on my big Usborne order (and I have another show this Thursday night that I was hoping to be well-stocked for), and I feel like I don’t have time for anything, certainly not to meet my (all right, self-imposed) deadlines.

As a result I have butterflies in my stomach that won’t go away, an anxious feeling in my chest, and yesterday I got a tiny taste of heartburn. Not a good thing, since several years ago I had major issues with acid reflux and was in severe pain any time I ate a trigger food. All thanks to stress.

This time I want to beat it before it gets out of hand, but I’m struggling with just how to do that. I’ve tried calming my mind and body, taking deep breaths to relax myself, but it hasn’t been working. Coming up with a game plan to tackle the stressors hasn’t been working, either. It just amplifies the feeling that there isn’t enough time or money to do what I want, when I want.

Yesterday we had a family fun day and went to the Connecticut Science Center. Overall it was a good time, and I found myself relaxing a bit, probably because I wasn’t thinking about the concerns awaiting me back home. We have a membership and packed a lunch, so the outing didn’t cost us much. The kids were having fun and behaving for the most part, so I wasn’t scolding and yelling. It was relatively quiet at the Science Center, so there were no crowds and hassles to deal with. It was nice. Of course I can’t escape reality like that all the time, but it’s nice once in a while to step back from the yuckiness life throws at us and enjoy happy moments with the kids. I need more of that, and I’m hoping to have more days like that, especially as the holidays approach.

In the meantime, though, it’s back to reality. I have one heck of a crazy week planned — breaking down a book fair on Wednesday afternoon, a Facebook party that night, a vendor event Thursday night, and a craft show on Saturday. One (possibly two) parties to attend on Sunday (thankfully not business-related, just as a guest!). If I can get through this week, I think I’ll be able to breathe a bit. Perhaps then my stress will ease a little. After all, some of the stress is due to the events on Thursday and Saturday. Once the events are over, the stress should go away, too, right?

Until then, I’ll do my best to tackle the to do list. I’ll get done what I can. I’ll do the best I can with the bills. And I won’t worry too much about the non-pressing stuff. That can wait until next week. Maybe cutting myself some slack will help ease the stress, too. I’m only one person, after all. It’s time I started treating myself as one!

Not Superwoman After All

As we all know, I tend to heap too much onto my plate. I’m always coming up with new ideas for projects and things to do, and I love being busy. I work well with a deadline and can often get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time if I set my mind to it. For the past month or so, however, I think I set too many goals for myself — too many big goals, at least.

I often have difficulty accepting that there are only so many hours in a day. I want to cram as much as possible into each day. I also like to think of myself as superwoman, as capable of getting more done than anyone else. As a result, I never give myself time to just relax and breathe. It’s been a problem for a while now, but it’s only recently starting to really hit me, as I struggle keeping up with my many tasks.

With all that being said, I’ve been working on modifying my game plan for the next couple of months. I’m re-prioritizing based on urgency and importance, and pushing some goals that, while I’m anxious to accomplish them, are not very pressing in the grand scheme of things.

I’m also trying to figure out the best way to get in some relaxation time. The problem with relaxation time is that I always feel like I’m wasting my time, or that I should be doing something more productive. Unless I’m completely exhausted, I can’t just sit and zone out to TV. It feels like a waste to me. So I’m looking for ways that I can relax and still be “productive” in a soothing, relaxing way. I’m thinking crocheting, cross-stitch, reading, etc. I also have little projects that I’ve been putting off because they’re not urgent, but which may provide a bit of a release mentally — things like putting together project kits for Avery, making story and music CDs for the kids, filing, or searching for Usborne graphics for parties.

Originally Saturday nights were going to be my pseudo-relaxation time, when I took care of creative or more open-ended tasks, but as I started slipping in my regular weekly tasks, Saturday nights were taken over. I think it’s time to bring them back. I also think perhaps I should schedule “catch-up” time into my week, so if I start slipping in my tasks they don’t start seeping into my weekends.

I know I’m always rearranging and tweaking and adjusting when things don’t go according to plan (or when I schedule too much into an already-full planner). While I’ve made a lot of progress this year on learning about myself and what works for me, I’m still working on the scheduling and planning. All this adjusting is just me figuring out the best way to work. For me to maximize not only my time, but my efficiency, productivity, and mental capacity, I need a lot of trial and error. And I’ve certainly had that! I’m definitely still a work in progress. But I’m confident that I’ll find something that works at least most of the time — eventually.