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The Misadventures of Mrs. B: The Stupid Elf In My Head

Cook. Writer. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Klutz.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Stupid Elf In My Head

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately, and it all revolves around the holidays.


For my entire life, I’ve been that person who waits all year long for Christmas to come around once again. The sheer magic of the holidays does something to me. I can’t explain it, but the thought of it sends delighted shivers up my spine. And I’m thrilled to say that my enthusiasm towards this time of year has rubbed off on my husband, who is quickly surpassing me in Christmas spirit. It does my heart good to see it.


So I’m sort of “that person”. The one who discreetly listens to Christmas music on her iPod in early November. Who thrills at the appearance of the first Christmas commercial on TV. Whose heart skips at beat the sight of the first decorations.


I’m also the naive girl who made it her mission in life, one year, to have homemade eggnog with her family on Christmas Eve (I hadn’t learned about tempering eggs yet…and had to skim out the little bits of scrambled while fighting a sense of disillusionment). The girl who once stayed up until 3 in the morning, baking cookies for coworkers (because I didn’t start making them til I got home from work that night - it was a bad idea). The idiot who bought I can’t even tell you how many skeins of yarn on year in order to make afghans for extended family (I completed a total of ONE of them, by the way – sometimes I can do more in my head than I can in real life).

Over the years, though, this feeling of “I can accomplish every ridiculous idea the neurotic little Christmas elf in my head comes up with” has left me…exhausted. Irritated. Frustrated. And it has drained me, slowly but surely, of my Christmas cheer. I find myself loving the idea of the holidays more than the holidays themselves. I look forward to cookie baking, but the act of it leaves me annoyed and stressed. My spirit of joy is dying by inches with each passing year.


Hence the soul searching. Why is this happening? And can it be stopped?


Then I saw something this morning which made my jaw drop. I wish I could remember where I saw it – on a blog? In a comment? On Twitter? For the life of me I can’t find it, and if I did I’d thank the person who typed it out even if it wasn’t their idea.  And even if my interpretation wasn't what was intended.


It’s literally as if the little elf in my head started screaming and jumping up and down and banging pots and pans to get my attention, because he recognized the answer to the problem immediately.


“Do Less. Be More.”


Whoa. Stop the presses. What’s this? You mean I can actually do LESS and be MORE?


Up til now, when I’ve thrown a holiday party, I’ve felt compelled to go from-scratch all the way. Literally the biggest shortcut I’ve ever taken was using canned crescent rolls for pigs in a blanket (and seriously, who wouldn’t? They’re the most delicious things ever) or a pre-made pie crust. And that’s pretty much it.


In most cases, it’s really a matter of economics – over time I’ve learned, as most of us do, that there’s a convenience charge involved with even the most everyday items. So why pay extra for a bag of shredded cheese when I can spend less for a block and grate it myself? Why buy candied nuts when it’s a snap to make a glaze for plain old nuts on the stove? Why buy slice-and-bake? A tub of hummus? A jar of sauce? I can make all of these things by myself.


Thing is…when you’re hosting a party and there’s a bunch of things to be prepared, it may be a good idea to take not only dollars but time invested into consideration as well, and how much of It you’re spending not enjoying yourself and your guests. Lord knows I can’t remember the last party I threw where I wasn’t too exhausted to enjoy myself. Case in point: Last New Years, when I slept through 2 hours of the party. True story.


So the lesson here, at least my interpretation of it, is that I need to do less fretting, less from-scratch preparation of every single thing, less stressing over the perfection (or lack thereof) of everything in my domain…and more being there. More connecting, more sharing, more actual listening to what a friend is telling me as opposed to keeping an ear out for the oven timer. To be more of a hostess and less of a Martha wannabe. I need to tell myself that people are showing up not just for the food (although let’s not kid, they’re coming for the food) but to be with me and my husband.  And the best thing I can give them is the gift of my attention to them.


Because at the end of the holiday season, no one will give me a medal for Most Cookies Baked. No one will care that the delicious dip I served up came from Trader Joe’s and not my food processor. Or that I made my own eggnog or crocheted everyone’s gifts or stood at my counter/stove/sink until I wished my feet would fall off because after 7 hours they hurt.so.much.

What they will care about, at least I would hope, is that we got to spend time together in a lovely, festive atmosphere…while I was actually awake.

And eating pigs in a blanket.



What about you? Do you set high standards for yourself during the holidays? Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to share?

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8 Comments:

Blogger Laurie said...

I really appreciate you sharing so honestly in your post. That takes courage and I think it's great that you opened about how you really feel "behind the curtain." I think the fact that you're hearing this message of DO LESS ~ BE MORE is certainly an important one, and one that you should listen to. I bet your holidays and life will improve in a variety of ways! I have no problem taking shortcuts, saying no, and letting things be "good enough" rather than perfect because, when my youngest was born prematurely 8 ys ago and our lives were in jeopardy, it was like a switch flipped inside my personality and things became clear. My philosophy is a few simple priorities and do your best with the rest. People who come to your home want to, as you said, spend time with YOU, not your cookies! Though I'm sure they enjoy those as well :) As for tips, feel free to come check mine out at my blog: http://sceneofthegrime.blogspot.com
Also, I'm giving away BBWorks Wallflowers goodies this week, so come sign up to win! Thanks again for sharing your journey and know you're touching your readers and making others think, too. That's a good thing. God bless!

December 8, 2010 at 4:19 PM

 
Blogger Bexy said...

I can completely relate. I always felt like (for any event really) that I needed to do things from scratch. That people would appreciate it more. But you are right, the exhaustion and time spent play an even bigger part. I just had my daughter's birthday party a few weeks ago. I would have normally done EVERYTHING from scratch but I didn't. I was already exhausted and I did everything I could to cut down on time spent preparing things. The result? Everyone had a great time, no one noticed the shortcuts and I probably saved myself from a coma. Girl... Rock on with yourself this holiday season! No one wants to be stressed out and you deserve to enjoy yourself! I guarantee no one will notice or care that you didn't do everything from scratch!

December 8, 2010 at 5:25 PM

 
Blogger KatiePerk said...

Excellent! Happy Holidays to you my friend. (I just learned about tempering eggs this year...)

December 8, 2010 at 5:39 PM

 
Blogger Linda @ A La Carte said...

I think I was lucky and learned many years ago that 'perfection' wasn't in my reach...so to enjoy what I could do and the 'being' in the moment was more important. I'm glad you have come to know that DO LESS ~ BE MORE is truly the way to happiness.

December 8, 2010 at 6:43 PM

 
Blogger MrsJenB said...

Laurie, thank you so much for your kind words.

I can see how such a huge life event would alter your perceptions and priorities, and I love your philosophy.

I think a lot of this year's pressure, especially, comes from the fact that last year was a lousy holiday season due to my FIL's bad health and our constant visits to the hospital. It was not a good time. So this year it's almost like I want to make up for that - especially since we now live with FIL, so I want to make everything as special as possible so as to divert from the fact that things aren't sunshine and rainbows the rest of the year (though they could be SO MUCH worse).

Still, his health issues and the sudden onset (a stroke) should also remind that what you think is important can be gone in a heartbeat...and you see just how important it WASN'T.

December 8, 2010 at 8:04 PM

 
Blogger MrsJenB said...

Thanks, Bexy - I'm sure you're right, no one will know (and maybe, since they know my track record, they'll *assume* everything was from scratch!). I'm glad you arrived at the decision to make things easier on yourself!

December 8, 2010 at 8:05 PM

 
Blogger MrsJenB said...

KatiePerk - hahaha hey, I just learned about tempering eggs not that long ago myself, thanks to Food Network.

That eggnog was such a bad idea - my dad asked me at least half a dozen times if I used actual eggs and if they were really cooked, since they were in liquid form. He was weirded OUT (of course he eats sunny side up all the time, I wish I had thought to point that out when he was worrying).

And I have it on tape...it's so uncomfortable to watch.

December 8, 2010 at 8:09 PM

 
Blogger MrsJenB said...

Linda - yes, I need to learn to be in the moment. It's all over so quickly, isn't it? And not just the holidays - everything. I think I need help, though, in not striving for unattainable perfection. BUT, as a wise person once told me back when I was making all the flower arrangements for my wedding (yep, crazy)...I'm the only person who doesn't know it's NOT perfect! :-)

December 8, 2010 at 8:12 PM

 

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