7 Tips to Avoid the Last-Minute Christmas Crazies

It’s time for a bad case of the last-minute Christmas crazies.  With only days before the 25th, many of us are moving close to panic mode.

I’m at the front of the line.  December has flown past and the Christmas crazies have hit me and, it seems, many around me.

This happens every year.  I used to think that Christmas crazies resulted from having both work pressures and family/entertaining pressures in the lead up to the holidays.  Now that I’m retired, I realize that Christmas crazies happen regardless of how many hours per day/week you devote to preparation.

With the final countdown near, here are a few tips to help you through:

1.  Make the uber-list.  If you’re like me, you have several lists.  Now is the time to review all the lists and make the uber-list. Hopefully, there are some completed items that have already been crossed off!

I made my uber-list yesterday  I included only the things that absolutely must be done.  Things like tidying up the garage, re-arranging my closet or cleaning the cold room in the basement will wait until after the holidays.  Things that stay on the uber-list include  finishing the gift shopping, wrapping gifts, buying groceries for entertaining, baking special treats and preparing for guests.

I also made a schedule with key tasks on each day keeping in mind that Ontario weather can change quickly.  An unexpected storm  can ruin plans including last-minute desperation trips to the mall.

2. Delegate some jobs.  My husband doesn’t like cooking and isn’t a great cook.  But he is happy to help with kitchen clean-up after I’ve prepped vegetables, or baked.  I’m happy with this arrangement and he feels included. I’ll also be delegating household chores like vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, and some of the laundry that has a way of piling up.

3.  Accept offers of help.  Christmas Eve festivities will be hosted at our home this year.  One guest offered to bring a big salad; I graciously accepted.

4. Beat the crowds.  Malls and grocery stores are crowded.  Traffic is a nightmare. Parking is a challenge especially when snow banks make each spot smaller.

This is the time for retired people to get into stores early in the morning before most people arrive — or late at night when others have gone home.  One of my friends told me that she went to the mall last week when a snow storm raged in the Toronto.  She had quick service, lots of help with finding items on her list, and had her bags carried to the car by a young man who was happy to help!

This is not the time to go to the grocery store on the weekend. The shelves are cleared of the best produce. Go early in the morning ready with a list and don’t blink when grapes, pineapples, avocados, melons, and lettuce are selling at outrageous prices!

Hopefully you’ve already completed online shopping and received those items.  If not, check delivery dates carefully and pay the extra fee for expedited delivery!

4.  Decide to ‘buy’ rather than ‘make’.  While having all kinds of homemade goodies may a family tradition, taking precious time to do a lot of cooking or baking from scratch is not practical once the deadline is near.  Purchasing some prepared foods may cost only slightly more but will save both time and stress.

Likewise, consider paying for gift wrapping to save time.  A local mall offers gift wrapping with the proceeds going to a children’s charity.  Getting gifts wrapped at that kiosk saves time and contributes to a good cause.  One of the big book stores offers wrapping of children’s books as a gratuity.  Also, remember that gift bags are ever-useful, especially for items of odd shapes and sizes.

5. Do a blitz clean/tidy of the house.  I’ve placed the stacks of newspapers and magazines that were accumulating in the living room and family room into the re-cycling box.  I’ve also placed more boot trays in the front foyer as the winter snow means that assorted foot gear that we use piles up near the door.  I’ve disciplined myself to clean up as I move through various rooms to avoid having to re-trace my steps to pick up or put away clutter.

6. Take time to rest between tasks.  As we get older, some of the stamina and energy enjoyed in years past is gone.  Taking breaks, making time to have a cup of tea and put up my feet for a half hour works wonders.

7.  Focus on the enjoyment and memories of family traditions.  Many of the tasks that consume me before Christmas are part of the season’s rituals.  During the rush of preparations I am often reminded of many past Christmas celebrations.  The menus, the cards, the ornaments on the tree,  the music, and even the smells of various foods bring memories.

Thinking about how some of these simple things have become rituals strengthens my resolve to complete the work involved to fully experience the joy of the season once again.

The Christmas crazies should never overtake the retirement happiness that comes as we appreciate the wonder and beauty of this season.

Thanks for reading this post.  If you like my blog, please consider subscribing to receive future posts by email.

You may also enjoy previous holiday posts from my blog roll:

Catching The Christmas Spirit

Musings About Christmas Tree Trimming Rituals

What Everyone Ought to Know About Generosity


What’s the meaning of “I’m too busy” ?

Do you often hear words like “I’m too busy” or “I’ve been busy” or, simply “busy” as a response when greeted with ‘how are you’?

When someone greets me with “how are you?” — too often, I respond with words indicating that I’ve been busy.

The response says little yet it is socially acceptable. “I’ve been busy” is an easy answer yet It feels evasive.

I don’t like hearing it from others. Because I don’t like myself when I use it, I’ve been thinking about what it means.

‘Too busy’ as an excuse

Telling someone you are ‘too busy’ is a handy excuse.  I can tell my husband that I was ‘too busy’ to finish errands, ‘too busy’ to prepare dinner or to ’too busy’ to complete household chores.

’Too busy’ is a handy excuse when I’m under-productive.

‘Too busy’ is also a form of laziness. I tell myself that I’m ‘too busy’ to finish writing a blog post or to exercise.

I can tell a friend that I’ve been ‘too busy’ to call her.  I can explain that I forgot someone’s birthday because I’ve been ‘too busy’.

‘Too busy’ as avoidance

Being ‘too busy’ is a good response when I want to avoid doing something — especially something that will take a lot of time.

Anyone who has chaired a board or a committee knows that when it comes to grunt work, people avoid taking responsibility because they are ‘too busy’.  Does too busy really mean ‘let someone else do it’?

Professors and teachers know this tactic well. Students are often ‘too busy’ to complete assignments. But are they really ‘too busy’ to improve their knowledge?

The truth is that being busy is a way of avoiding something uncomfortable or difficult.

‘Too busy’ builds importance

‘Too busy’ is a response that indicates priorities that supersede. It’s a status badge  — being super busy means that you are in demand — it’s cool to be busy. It’s a form of self-glorification.

Sometimes ‘too busy’ is used as a sign of success of a flourishing career or a full life. Perhaps ‘too busy’makes you seem better to someone else.   In some circles it’s regarded as a virtue.

People fall into the belief trap that if you aren’t busy, you aren’t good.

What are the consequences of ‘too busy’?

What’s behind the ‘too busy’ excuse? Is the ‘too busy’ response a form of irresponsibility?

I have a good friend who is always distracted and anxious. She flits from one task to another.  She is always late.  She often forgets important commitments. She misplaces her keys, her cellphone, her handbag.

She knows she is overwhelmed but rejects helpful suggestions from her husband or her friends all the while complaining that nobody understands the pressures of her life.

What is she busy with?  She is busy reading blog posts, newsletters, tweeting, and talking on the telephone, All of these are time wasters that keep her from the important things she is trying to do.

In my career days I was often overwhelmed with projects, meetings, and other work commitments.  It left me too busy to have much of a personal life.

Just like my friend who is addicted to online media, I was addicted to the emotional highs of work.

I was also tired and miserable and anxious as I managed too many balls in the air.  In truth, I was fooling myself. I worked longer hours, travelled more and compromised on sleep. My enthusiasm and motivation for work that I loved began to wane. The macho attitude of ‘busy’ robbed me of enjoying the last years of my career.

Regaining focus

After retirement, I regained focus. In recent months, however, I’ve fallen back into old habits. Too often I have used “I’m too busy” as an excuse or an avoidance tactic.

I’ve resolved to change this habit to increase retirement happiness. I am working on managing my life priorities to make time for what matters without compromising  or feeling stressed by over-commitments.

I’ve begun dealing with over-commitment as described in post last week.http://postworksavvy.com/many-commitments/

If I don’t want to do something, I find a polite way to refuse and not say that I’m ‘too busy’.  I won’t be available for things that don’t interest me.

I also decided to be more efficient with how I use my time.  I give myself time limits for certain tasks.  If I see something that will take 2 to 5 minutes to finish, I do it right away.

I set priorities for every day and limit my priorities to three high value items. Setting priorities also helps me to plan what I can reasonably do in one day.

Re-evaluating how to spend precious retirement time means identifying self-imposed expectations, saying NO more often, and keeping life priorities in crisp focus.

When someone greets me with ‘how are you?’ I make a conscious effort to give a positive response.  I talk about something in my life that is enjoyable or rewarding.  Today, I answered the question by saying simply, “i’m happy”.

Time is a gift. Retirement is a gift.  Lets make sure we use time constructively to build meaning in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Thanks for reading this post. I welcome your comments on the post. If you enjoy my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive new posts by email.


Too Many Commitments

Is your retirement happiness compromised by too many commitments? Is your daily/weekly schedule overloaded? Are you stressed out with too little time to smell the roses? Do you have time for goofing off  or doing nothing?

Too many retired people say they are busier than ever. As a result, they find themselves overwhelmed because a plethora of activities fill the day leaving little time for themselves.

My Story of Too Many Commitments

I struggle with over-commitment.

After retirement, I wanted to keep purpose in my life.  As a result, I  got involved with various organizations as a volunteer including not for profit boards, church committees, and community initiatives.

I also started this blog without understanding just how much time would be needed to write blog posts and to keep up the blog. I revived a project of writing a family cookbook and started another writing project of stories for my grand-daughter.

I took courses in gardening, photography, coding, cooking, knitting, and writing — and found little time to act on what I learned.  Instead, I went on to take more courses!

When reviewing journal entries over the past year,  too often my daily writing ends with “too much to do…… too little time”.

Overcommitment often leaves me with feelings of anxiety and distress.  Instead of looking forward to the day, I worry about how I’ll get everything done. I go into ‘determination’ mode instead of ‘pleasure’ mode.

I’m tired of telling people I’m too busy. It feels like an excuse and a form of irresponsibility.  Where is retirement bliss when I’m frantic about all that I’m expecting myself to do in a day?

Taking Stock of Commitments

What makes retired people ‘busy’?

Perhaps there are commitments made before retiring when there was concern about staying active and involved.  When I look back, this is where my overcommitment began.

Perhaps there is over-involvement with family including obligations for elder care or babysitting grandchildren.  Because of lack of affordable child care, many retired folks are the primary caregivers for  their grand children.  They begin by help out and find themselves tied to a schedule that exhausts energy levels.

Perhaps there are clubs or groups with extra demands for time. Many organizations depend on volunteer help.  It’s easy to become deeply involved with worthy organizations.  Unfortunately, there are few exit options.

Perhaps there are activities or hobbies that take too much time while providing limited satisfaction. I play bridge occasionally with a woman who collects small antiques and re-sells these items.  She spends almost every day in second-hand shops buying her ‘finds’ which include not only the re-sale items but also many things that she neither needs nor wants.

Managing Overcommitment

Over the past two months I’ve taken a page from time management gurus.  I took a hard look at my schedule and did an audit of how I’m spending my time.

On the negative side I’m spending hours every month travelling to meetings or sitting in meetings!  Horror of horrors! This is how I spent too much of my working life.  I also found that my limited computer skills result in hours spent trying to solve technical problems.

On the positive side, I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, at the gym, and with family activities including child care when my grand daughter’s Montessori school has professional development days.

Because good health through nutrition and physical activity are retirement priorities, I won’t compromise time spent cooking and eating foods made from fresh ingredients.  I won’t stop going to the gym or doing my daily walks.  Most of all, I won’t compromise time I spend with my grand-daughter.

As an outcome of what I’ve learned about how I spend time, I’m in the process of making changes.

I have resigned from  two not-for-profit boards where volunteer time means reading long tomes of board materials, participating in committees, sitting in uncomfortable board rooms, and travelling to and from meetings.   One of my church committees has finished its work and is disbanding so that commitment has ended. I found someone who helps me with occasional technical glitches with my blog.

I’m still left with decisions like whether belonging to two book clubs, exercising at the gym four days a week, and playing bridge two or three times a week are excessive. At the moment, I’m evaluating how to modify these activities.

Dealing with too many commitments

Set priorities for yourself by periodically re-assessing interests and retirement aspirations.  Nobody expects you to continue with an over-achieving, over-scheduled lifestyle during retirement years.  It’s time to de-stress, to live to the beat of your own drummer.

Make commitments sparingly.  A commitment means giving a sacred gift —  the gift of your time.  A decision to invest personal time needs as much thought as a financial investment decision. 

Adjust priorities as needs and interests change.  Retirement doesn’t mean you stop changing or growing.  You get tired of certain activities.  New opportunities arise and you want to take advantage of them.

Keep your life in balance.  Too much free time leads to boredom.  Too much activity leads to stress, distraction and frenzy.

Say NO.  If you were brought up with the value of honouring commitments you make, then keeping commitments is important. A thoughtful no is better than a yes that leads to regret.

Too many commitments result in a full schedule. The result is insufficient time to enjoy and appreciate the benefits of retirement. Taking time to get a fresh perspective will help in shaping the precious days of retirement time by making time for what is truly important.

Thanks for reading this post.  If you like my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive new posts by email.  I would appreciate comments on your experiences with overcommitment. 

American Thanksgiving Celebrations

American Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday!  As a Canadian, I consider it a great privilege to celebrate this holiday with long-time friends who live in New York.

Tomorrow we plan to drive from Toronto to New York City. The trip itself is always exciting.  It’s a drive that takes nine or ten hours, depending on weather and traffic.

As soon as we cross the Canada – US border the enthusiasm of this holiday strikes.  Everyone at rest stops and service centres is smiling as they travel to visit family or friends.  Even the border guards seem happier. They typically wish us a happy thanksgiving after the routine passport examination is complete and we are cleared for entry to the United States.

As I happily anticipate the holiday events including renewing friendship, stimulating conversations, and wonderful food, my thoughts turn also to the meaning of Thanksgiving holidays.

Thanks and Giving

‘Thanks’, the first word in ‘Thanksgiving’, is my first thought. We give thanks for the bounty around us — good food, good friends, good health.  We give thanks for the privilege of living in a country that values freedom and the privilege of visiting a country with similar values. We give thanks for the beauty of nature, for the changing seasons, and for senses that see, hear, and smell all that surrounds us.

I also think of ‘giving’, the second word in ‘Thanksgiving’.  This holiday brings awareness of the needs of others.  We look at those immediately around us and remember the vulnerable, the weak and the children.  Their needs at holiday events are often forgotten.

When we celebrate we can think about how we share our blessings with others.  We can’t feign ignorance of the vast needs around us so this is the time to consider how to spread our abundance and share with others.

Perhaps it’s a helping hand to a neighbour, or a visit to a shut in friend, or a phone call to someone who is grieving.  Perhaps its an extra donation to a local the food bank, or cheque to a children’s charity or a homeless shelter.

Thanksgiving offers opportunities to make the world a happier place. The privilege of celebrating American Thanksgiving gives me a second opportunity this year for gratitude, for thanks, and for giving.

10 November Gratitudes to Increase Happiness

Gratitudes during the month of November are difficult for those who live in Northern climes.  The skies are a wintry grey.  Dampness makes the cool air feel downright cold.  The trees have shed most of their autumn beauty. Day light is scarce.

For me, November means blah days and low energy levels. I’m challenged to keep positivity in my life.

I was fortunate to have  a brief respite in Florida where there was abundant sunshine every day.  However, coming home has meant re-adjustment to gusty winds, short days and long, dark nights. It’s left me with low spirits.

That Remembrance Day falls during this gloomy month is fitting.  The bleak weather adds to introspection as we commemorate the sacrifice of so many soldiers to protect freedom.

November Gratitudes

Many in the United States observe November as a month of gratitude. Bloggers post daily expressing gratitudes.  It’s a build-up to celebrations of American Thanksgiving later in the month.

Writings about love, family, friends, democracy, and religious freedom abound Certainly these important topics frame my daily gratitude list but, in this post, I’m focusing on mundane, less serious aspects of gratitude.

My November gratitude list consists of  the small things that make November tolerable and keep positivity in my life.

1.  The radiant heat from a fireplace.  Last night I came home from a book club meeting chilled from the cool meeting room and the brisk night air.  Warming my body near the fire felt heavenly.

2.  Seasonal foods. This is the season for rich soups and hearty stews cooked slowly in a crock pot.  It’s also the time for warm desserts made with Canadian apples.  Last night our menu included a  chicken curry that was warm from the heat of the spices as well as the heat of the stove.

3.  Cozy wool socks.  Last year I struggled to learn how to knit socks using four needles.  Now, these hand knit beauties feel lovely on cold feet.  Too bad that I knit slowly and have finished only one pair!

4. Duvets, electric blankets and a new high-efficiency furnace.  What more can I say about such comforts that are often taken for granted?

5. The first snowflakes of the season. Yesterday we awoke to a winter wonderland that meant cleaning wet snow off the car before leaving for bridge lessons. The snowfall is a reminder that winter is approaching quickly.

6.  Church bazaars and bake sales.  I missed the bazaar at my church this year but received samples of home baking from a friend. It’s always a treat to have baking from someone else’s kitchen.

7.  A warm fleece. On cool and windy mornings,  my rainproof jacket needs insulation. Without a fleece liner,  morning walks will be abandoned in favour of the treadmill at the gym.

8. Good books. I’ve re-read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe for one of my November book clubs. My reading list for the next few weeks will include the Giller prize winner, Us Conductors, and all books selected as finalists.

9. Frivolous fun.  In the past two weeks, our grand daughter’s Montessori school had two professional development days. On those days, she spent the full day with us.  Taking her to play at the park allowed me to enjoy her pure delight as she played with the soggy leaves, climbed on the play equipment and just ran aimlessly.

10. Dark Chocolate flavoured with sea salt. This treat, introduced to me by travel companions during the Florida trip mentioned earlier, is worth a special mention.  If you haven’t tried flavoured dark chocolate, you are missing a worthwhile experience.

It’s the small things around us that we often forget.  Seemingly unimportant and insignificant events, possessions, and happenings  shape our lives.  Noticing these and expressing gratitude for their meaning in a busy life brings good feelings. November gratitudes are medicine for the soul!

Are you comfortable with who you are?

Are you comfortable with who you are?  Do you like yourself?  Are you happy with your retirement lifestyle?

Or, do you find yourself wishing that you had made different decisions about retirement? Do you put yourself down when you make a silly mistake?  Are you striving too hard to cross items off the bucket list? Do you blame yourself for things that happened in the past? Do you envy the life your friends or neighbours have?

Feeling comfortable with oneself -- photo courtesy of Paul Bouscarle
Feeling comfortable with oneself — photo courtesy of Paul Bouscarle

Comfort in your own skin is an essential ingredient of retirement happiness. People who are comfortable with themselves experience more happiness and optimism.

How to know you are comfortable with yourself

1.  You have a sense of comfortableness.  You don’t worry about keeping up with others. You aren’t preoccupied about how you look.  You don’t get stressed over how your decisions are perceived.

You know your sense of style, your values, your political choices and your religious beliefs.  You know your likes and dislikes.  Basically, you know yourself and know how to be yourself.

2.  You are content with living as you do. Over 60 plus years,  I’ve developed a level of confidence about who I am, where I am and what I know.  Along the way I’ve learned to trust myself to problem solve life issues and to make good life decisions.

I know that I’m not perfect and I accept myself — warts and all. I am content.

I’ve mostly come to terms with my past and have forgiven myself for mistakes and short-comings. It’s taken most of my lifetime to understand and accept my limitations.  I no longer expect to run a marathon nor keep a perfect house, nor write an international bestseller.

3. You have a positive sense of well-being. As I’ve grown comfortable with who I am, I have an overall sense of well-being. I like myself. I am careful with my diet. I exercise regularly.  I drink lots of water.

I pay attention to my overall health, accepting that I have some health issues associated with aging and doing what I can to preserve my general good health.

Keep growing and striving

Having attained a level of comfort with oneself doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to keep striving for or reasons to keep learning. It’s important — for retirement happiness — to keep your mind open to new ideas and to keep a forward-looking attitude to life.

Learning new skills means taking risks and pushing yourself.  The learning process involves discomfort and awkwardness.

Think about how difficult it is to adapt to a new piece of technology, perhaps a new phone.  When you first start using the device it feels clumsy and difficult.  The directions don’t make sense.  But you persist and eventually master at least a few of the functions. While this may seem antithetical to being comfortable, the end result is greater self-confidence and the good feelings of self-mastery.

Growth might also mean challenging yourself to become a better person. Although I feel comfortable with who I am,  I struggle every day to overcome bad habits, insecurities and self-doubts.  I say and do foolish things that hurt others and cause me to regret my words and actions. I procrastinate and then get mad at myself for wasting precious time.

By loving myself despite short-comings, I continue to grow and learn.  Rather than allowing failings to overwhelm or discourage me, I try to focus on the purpose of my life, on making a contribution in my community, and on caring about others.  Using this simple technique help me to refocus and accept my limitations.

Having a happy retirement involves knowing who we are, making peace with the past, and taking risks to keep learning and growing.  Our lives blossom. Contentment grows.  Life is full of abundance and comfort with who we are.

Self Help Strategies for Increased Retirement Happiness

Are you using self help strategies to increase retirement happiness?

Most retirees want a life that is happy, full, and satisfying. Yet there may be a nagging inner voice that wonders whether a different approach to retirement might be more fulfilling.  Is there another path that will increase happiness?

As we look to learn and grow, self help methods often aid the search.

Self help refers to the process of helping oneself — with or without the assistance of others who may have similar goals.  It is often linked to self-improvement and increased confidence.

Blogs and websites provide self help information about every aspect of retirement.  Advice ranging from financial planning to sex after sixty abounds.  Some sites offer helpful advice; some should be ignored.

It possible  to achieve greater retirement happiness by self help strategies.  The process takes effort and focus.  It also happens gradually as a change of attitude and mindset is required.

Types of Self Help

The most commonly used self help comes from the internet. Whether it is advice to cope with a calamity or advice on wealth, power, or fame — a self help method is easy to find.

We search for online for answers to all types of everyday questions.  The stroke of a finger brings driving directions, news feeds, entertainment, recipes, travel options,  and addresses.  Dr. Google is consulted for all questions about health or lifestyle. Reminders, ‘to do’ lists and various ‘apps’ govern many daily decisions.

Self help also comes in the form of groups.  Most self help groups have evolved from the 12 Step program for addictions including alcohol, substance abuse, gambling, eating.  Such groups provide emotional support, experiential knowledge, friendship and practical strategies to make important life changes.

Many  people prefer self help books over the internet.  Such books abound and have high readership.  People seeking information about overcoming personal challenges often start with a self-help book, then follow-up with a group or, perhaps a counsellor.

 Self help can increase retirement happiness

It is possible to become happier by using self help strategies.

Happiness can be considered a habit and a way of thinking about life. To develop the happiness habit, breaking old patterns of negative thinking and negative behaviour are required.

We know that habits are hard to change.  Anyone who has broken habits like smoking or nail biting knows that constant vigilance is needed.  Adopting positive habits like exercising regularly is an equally difficult challenge. Determination, regular practice and strong commitment are needed.

Attaining happiness also takes effort.  Some of the basics include adopting a positive attitude, forgiving wrongs that others have done to us, letting go of past failures or disappointments, and forgetting unpleasant events. Mental attitudes and approaches need examination and reassessment.

Other strategies for improving happiness include gratitude, journalling, meditation, prayer, taking action, and practising acts of kindness and nurturing relationships.

No technique will work every time.  Each of us has to experiment and take personal responsibility for happiness.



Inspiration for a Happier Retirement

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