Nov 27, 2014
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Just Say Om (Or How to Deal with Holiday Stress, Part 1)

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Like the mom who said to her toddler who was petting a passing Schnauzer, “Honey don’t touch the dog.” Of course little Jimmy asks why not, to which she replies, “It’s dirty.” So after a couple of seconds the kid says “You think the dog is dirty but you touch the same stuff all those people are trying on. Doggies don’t have arm pits.”

Columns, Homepage Sub, Keri English  •  Dec 04, 2012

This week I have been doing a lot of thinking about how we deal with stuff. I mean, we go through holidays dreading that one person we don’t want to see, or that one place we absolutely do not feel like popping into for dessert. We sit at tables filled with twenty people who we never see with the possible exception of immediate family and significant others. Passing the peas to Aunt Madeline and smiling politely as Uncle Frank has his seventh glass of Chianti. We even bake or bring Entenmann’s and are thanked at least ten times because “Really that was so delicious.” It was Entenmann’s. And chances are it was three bucks.

So as I thought about this, and made it through two of the sixteen books stacked on my table this weekend (I know—yay!) I am starting to understand why previous generations initiated the traditions—because it’s what you do; and why Uncle Frank pounds Chianti—because he hates that you are a vegetarian even more than you are perturbed by his wine smile.

What do you mean you don’t eat meat? That’s absurd.

The thing is, he won’t actually tell you this, he will drink more and you will puff out your chest as you politely decline the bird and crunch cruciferous appetizers demurely and think Zen like thoughts inwardly.

I will live longer than you Mr. Cranky Pants. Let me fill your glass.

In light of all the stuff we put our families (and ourselves) through in the seasons of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years and all the variations of ending the year and starting anew, we deserve to give ourselves a break. Perhaps that’s why we just had a hurricane and snow in October again? Just sayin…

So this weekend I took that break and I’m not ashamed to say it was all about me. I went to three yoga classes and a gorgeous meditation, lunched and shopped with a good friend, used up the rest of my cell minutes, walked outside today breathing deeply with four dogs (two at a time—let’s not get ridiculous) and soaked up the sun while it still sliced through the almost grey skies. Winter is certainly on its way to us in the upper right hand corner of the US, but people are on beaches elsewhere treating themselves extra nice. Why shouldn’t we do the same?

Most lovingly did I caress the pages of The Light Between Oceans, flipped unhurriedly through Marie Claire and Yoga Journal, and bought gifts for the family which included Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat, The Elf on the Shelf, Hippie Boy and Whole Latte Life.  I am deep into the journey of Claiming Sleeping Beauty and adoring Anne Rice for putting it forth pseudonym or not. I’m also letting the books choose me this season and it’s going really well.

I’ve been studying the Yoga Sutras as part of my own journey and I have discovered that there is one for anything we go through in life. So as I sat at the table on Thanksgiving I internally assigned one to each member of our dinner party. This is really fun and it works with whatever little nuggets you find, think quotes from Poe or those things Grandma said that you still don’t get like… “A stitch in time saves nine” And if you say them aloud, you get some priceless looks if you dare—snap a photo and use it as a caption. Great blogging tool. Anyway, after this I extended my quotes to the rest of the family who couldn’t be there. Then to friends and then to the people who are always mentioned or thought about but mainly because we are happy they are not beside us this year. This got me through the same stories that get told every year. (HINT: Do not mention that you know the story, just nod along and try the previously suggested activity—that’s precisely what it is for.)

In this calm state of existence I even admit I went into a couple of stores. It wasn’t necessarily planned (that may be the only way it could happen for me) but spontaneous seemed to work well so I let it flow. You will not be finding me mapping out a shopping mall by any means; let’s not get buggy, but I went to some local stores who smartly staggered their hours and I broke for lunch and coffee longer than I was actually in said stores. Kinda fun when there are no rack people fighting over bins of sale thongs. It was quite relaxing to not be in a hurry, and gather some great people watching tales as well.

Like the mom who said to her toddler who was petting a passing Schnauzer, “Honey don’t touch the dog.” Of course little Jimmy asks why not, to which she replies, “It’s dirty.” So after a couple of seconds the kid says “You think the dog is dirty but you touch the same stuff all those people are trying on. Doggies don’t have arm pits.” I had to agree he was on to something.

So while traffic built up and grumpy people everywhere road raged and cursed the bird on the table for being dry, I really felt grateful this year. That’s a stretch because I’ve felt so busy the rest of the year, I admit I have missed many recent designated days of relaxation. I too admit I listened to a meditation last week while sorting laundry. I also listed to one while driving and another while washing dishes. But this is focus to me—not a bad thing and I had my eyes open at least for the driving one, I promise.

Uncle Frank and the Chianti made the veggies taste that much better and the moms flitting in and out of kitchen-hall-dining room-living room-and then… well… I allowed myself to simply tune out the tensions over tea with a food coma. Brilliant plan as it turns out. I guess I should say the best parts of the week have been people watching and taking care of my physical self while feeding my brain what it craves. And I highly recommend you do the same. Feed your soul. Learn to laugh at the table. Leave your ears open at all times among holiday shoppers and bring a pen, it’s hilarious.

So as the weekend closes and it’s time for restoring the thinking parts as I fade into satiated slumber I will leave you with this. Little Jimmy should be allowed to pet the dog because it doesn’t have arm pits, Uncle Frank should have as much Chianti as he wants because he is 87. Aunt Madeline will always praise the Entenmann’s so just say thanks and be glad you got a mani-pedi instead of rolling out the dough on your own. Three bucks well spent. Enjoy your holiday insanities because they make the best stories. Just imagine how much ammo Uncle Frank has by now.

*All names have been changed to protect the relatives…not that they use computers but stranger things have happened (usually at Christmas Eve fish dinner) Cheers!

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Keri English
Keri English is a native New Yorker with a penchant for pages both written and downloaded. Now a writer, editor and professor, Keri has also explored a bevy of mini career paths that have provided a wealth of literary ammo for the short story collection she is working on. Some of her favorite things include the scent of paper pages opened after a siesta on cedar shelves, blue Bic pens and black and white composition books. Keri's work has appeared in anthologies, newsletters, The Huffington Post, Indie Reader, Jezebel.com, USAToday.com, In the Powder Room and she blogs at kerialifeinwords.blogspot.com. Follow Keri on Twitter @WriteLoud