Sorry this is so last-minute, but it's been a hectic month and I've been leaving all my holiday stuff to the very end. For instance, if you're reading this Christmas Eve morning, I still haven't done all my shopping, so say a little prayer for me and picture me in some department store, wild-eyed, canned music overhead, rummaging through an already-picked-over stack of discount cashmere sweaters, thinking: "Would Pam like this? Or would it be better for Liz?"
But there's one last little season-y type thing I wanted to – not give but share with you, my beloved readers. Yes, folks, it's … The Damage Control Last-Minute Guide to Getting Through the Next Couple of Days.
It's a stressful time, you're doing all sorts of extra stuff (shopping, having company, dealing with friends and relatives, hosting, being a guest) on top of your regular stuff (making a living, looking after kids, keeping house), and on top of all that there's a lot of pressure to be festive, even "perfect."
First, let me share my holiday mantra: "A job done is a job well done." Seek excellence, not perfection. I'm all for having high standards, but seeking perfection will only lead to frustration and disappointment. They're called "holidays" for a reason. You shouldn't be working yourself to the bone.
Now let's get to some, I hope, practical tips:
Today, if you can, stock up on club soda and apples. Both are excellent holiday double-duty-doers. Club soda with a squeeze of lemon is a great calorie-neutral antidote to everything else you'll be pouring down your neck over the next couple of days – and you can also use it for cleaning up seasonal spills and stains! So say your Aunt Gloria, telling a story about her handsome new tennis instructor, splashes her crantini all over your shirt, you can use your club soda to clean up – then offer it to her as a suggested drink instead of refreshing her crantini.
And vis-à-vis apples, one of the best tips I ever received: eat one on the way to festivities. It curbs your appetite, so you're not ravenous when you arrive, go straight to the hors d'oeuvre area and rudely scarf down an entire two feet of kielbasa (as I once did in a notorious episode now known as Kielbasagate). And an apple sends a subtle psychological "note to self" not to treat your body like a pinata, to be stuffed until it explodes.
Keep exercising if you can, forgive yourself if you can't.In the wise words of tennis great Jimmy Connors: "Do not look upon a period of inactivity as a failure. Rather, treat it as a challenge and try to get back on track as soon as you can."
Before you go out, tell yourself in advance you will probably a) get zinged, and b) say something you'll regret. All the pressure, stress, overindulgence and enforced festiveness of the season make people a little tense and competitive this time of year: "Ooh, I see you've put on a few holiday pounds." Stuff like that.
Let it roll off you like water off a duck's back – or, rather, like raspberry coulis off duck confit. Laugh it all off with a jolly "Ho-ho-ho."
In short, forgive others the zingers they utter unto you, while simultaneously forgiving yourself the clunkers you utter unto others.
Sharpen the saw.
This manly metaphor is drawn from the lumber trade: experienced lumberjacks know it's important to stop once in a while and sharpen and oil their saws, while the greenhorns just keep pulling and pushing until their blade is too dull to work, and gets stuck in the trunk (metaphorically speaking, that is: I've never seen an actual lumberjack in operation).
So, like a seasoned lumberjack, take a little pause now and then for some "me time," even if it's just to step out on the porch, inhale and exhale, then head back into the fray, the milieu or, as it may be, the mêlée.
Having said that, if you're hosting, delegate/conscript. When I'm having folks over, I grab everyone who happens to wander into the kitchen (especially if it's one of my teenage sons slouching through): "Hey, would you mind zesting this lemon for me?" "Would you be a pal and refill this ice tray?" Mostly, they seem to like it. They might learn something (how to zest a lemon) and they have the feeling of helping out.
And of course, the converse of the above is: if you're a guest, pitch in.
The holidays are a lot of work. Try to be as helpful as possible. The host or hostess may pooh-pooh your offers: so be it. He/she will recollect the offer in tranquillity later, smile quietly and be grateful.
And that's a handy segue to my No. 1 tip: Be grateful.
Grateful for the people around you. Grateful for the gift of life, under the tree for you once again this year.
None of the rest of it matters. It's all tinsel and trimmings and gravy. And anyway, it'll all be over in a couple of days.