I hated Christmas.
No traumatic events caused this feeling, and I actually DO enjoy spending time with my family.
But, you see, I started working in retail when I was 16 and every Christmas season for the next 15 years slowly but surely sucked all the Christmas spirit right out of me.
Unfortunately, folks don't hide their holiday stress from retail workers like they do from their families. No, when confronted with the overwhelming array of meaningless - but mandatory - gifts, some folks get down right nasty... and all to the festive harmony of Muszak's "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Over and over again.
And for me too, it really was the present buying that caused much of my personal anxiety. I couldn't skirt the gift-giving traditions within my family, and I didn't really want too. I wanted to celebrate the season with my loved ones and show them how much I thought of them, but I didn't want to do that by purchasing a bunch of meaningless stuff.
The perfectionist inside of me was going crazy trying to find the right present for every person on my list.
For my first attempt to quash my gift-giving anxiety, I vowed to start shopping early. While it was nice to get all my shopping done before the hordes really hit the shops, it seemed to only extend my feeling of dread. My stress over finding the perfect gift was activated during October, a month I had previously found delightful and full of beautiful outdoor fun.
The next year I tried making charitable donations in honor of everyone on my gift list. While this was certainly a helpful way to spend money, it made Christmas celebrations with my family a bit glum. The donations to the animal shelter brought tears of sadness remembering beloved pets recently lost, and the donations to Southern Poverty Law brought conversations on the terrible state of many of our fellow West Virginians.
I needed a gift giving strategy that was fun for me to execute AND meaningful - but not depressing - to my loved ones.
Was it possible to actually experience joy while shopping for gifts that would be appreciated by my friends and family?
I was instantly filled with excitement when the idea finally came to me; I would curate an art show for my friends and family! Each piece of art I purchased would be chosen because it reminded me of a special person in my life and on my list. All the works would be displayed together in one exhibit that my loved ones could visit before accepting their gift right off the gallery wall.
Art has always been a passion of mine, and finding a way to incorporate local art into my Christmas celebration seemed like a win for me, my loved ones and local artists.
Shawn, my creative husband, and I got busy brainstorming a name for our upcoming art show. We quickly realized that our friends and family were each so unique that it was impossible to group them all into one theme.
The name for our show finally came to us in the form of a weather forecast: Snowflakes.
Each snowflake is similar to the others, one could even say they were related somehow, but each one with its own quirky uniqueness. So we called our art show “Snowflakes."
We set the date for our opening reception and chose a local community center as the venue.
And then the fun began! For the next six weeks, we procured the artwork. We visited craft shows and local galleries like Tamarack, Art Emporium and Apartment Earth where we found many great prints and a few originals, and when there was something very special we wanted represented in the artwork, we commissioned work from local artists.
I commissioned a drawing for my mother of her pet Pomeranian, Prancer, dancing in a pink tutu. The artist, Brenda Pinnell, entitled it, "Hold Me Closer Tiny Prancer." Shawn found a print from artist, Paula Clendenin, that she had originally created on an ipad. We purchased it for my tech-savvy cousin, Sam to put in his first apartment. For my nature loving father, who was soon to be a grandpa, we purchased three beautiful photos of baby birds. And the fun continued.
After we carefully hung the art on the walls and labeled each piece, our friends and family started showing up for the opening reception, which was complete with wine and hors d'oeuvres.
The joy I experienced while curating "Snowflakes" paled in comparison to joy that came at the actual show.
It was easy to tell from the looks on friends and family's faces that they where enjoying the experience. Reading the art labels told them why we selected each piece for each person, and everyone left with their own meaningful gift.
I believe it made them feel special and loved, which is exactly what I wanted for Christmas.
Are you interested in curating your own holiday art show? It can be done on almost any budget. Get your helpful buyer's guide and art label examples by signing up for my email list.
Next month I'll be writing about planning for a hygge-rific winter. Sign up for my emails to stay in the loop.
For the past couple of years, I've spent my weekends wrangling salamanders, dissecting owl pellets and learning about the ecology of our beautiful Appalachian forest. Now, after 65 hours of class/fieldwork and 48 hours of volunteer work, I am officially a West Virginia Master Naturalist!
This program has seriously enriched my life by deepening my understand of our environment. In retrospect, it has also provided me the experience needed to formulate a few tips that will help you truly enjoy your time in nature too.
I just love the phrase, personal ritual. It elevates the importance of my practices and hints at sacred pageantry.
And sure, a personal ritual can be a full-blown ceremony performed by candlelight in the dead of night, but at its core, a personal ritual is simply a set of practices that - when practiced regularly - help us achieve a desired state.
A well-rehearsed personal ritual can focus our attention and induce an emotional state that allows us to move forward with meaning and purpose. It can help us gently shift our mind and our energy.
Some folks have daily personal rituals that revolve around the brewing and consumption of their beloved tea. In Japan, the "Way of Tea," is a full blown ceremony steeped in culture and history.
Others engage in personal rituals weekly like taking communion in church, attending an exercise class or preparing Sunday dinner for loved ones.
Many women celebrate the new moon by ceremonially setting intentions every 29 days. Following the lunar cycles is back in vogue and once again a popular form of personal ritual.
I can remember understanding the importance of personal rituals even as a child.
With the help of my vacation bible school teacher, I crafted a gift that I just knew my mother would love. I made a "mosaic" votive candle holder from an apple sauce jar, colored tissue paper and Mod Podge decoupage. It was the perfect accessory for her evening bath, and even at five years old, I knew the importance of her evening bath.
Now, thirty-five years later, I have my own evening ritual. After I wash my face and change into my comfy clothes, I mindfully perform the following routine in anticipation of a good night's sleep.⠀
I've done this routine for so long now that simply initiating the first step starts slowing down my monkey mind and signally my body that it's OK to start winding down.
What personal rituals do you want to create?
Is there a transition period between two key parts of your day, week or month where you need a little help smoothing out the edges and changing your mindset in a healthy and purposeful way?
Try these steps: make a plan, choose a space, set an intention, take action and trust that the outcome you desire will come with practice.
Your ritual can be as simple or elaborate as you like, but make sure to create a process that you enjoy.
If you are interested in starting an evening ritual - nightly, weekly or monthly - I have a very special freebie just for you!
I've created an e-book of more than 100 specific items for you to choose from when curating a bath so satisfying to all five of your senses that you are sure to both anticipate your ritual and reap its rewards.
I just found out that my closest neighbor, Donna, is a bit of a retreat fanatic. Throughout her six decades she has attended dozens of group and personal retreats, and just last month she completed an eight-day silent retreat!
Donna learned early in her life that she was a better wife, mother and member of our community when she carved out time every year to feed her mind, body and spirit.
Her favorite retreat project - the one that brought a big beautiful smile to her face as she explained it - was the mandala she created. By unskilled hand, Donna drew a mandala that represented her life's intention. The center revealed what was deepest in her heart.
She later told me that her mandala was the first thing her dear husband brought to her hospital room during an extended stay due to a sudden and scary illness. He knew how important it was to her. He knew it would help.
Perhaps you, too want to create a mandala. Here's a resource that can help, and don't worry; I already have colored pencils and a compass ready for the retreats!
Donna shared with me her best tips for planning a perfect retreat, and I want to share them with you.
Before the retreat dates go live on October 1st, I want to give you a little more detail about some of the mysterious mind and body experiences I've curated to personalize your retreat package.
Remember though, all of these activities are OPTIONAL. You may want to retreat to Lafayette Flats to work on your side business or creative project, and that is just fine. Your retreat should be perfectly curated FOR YOU!
But I love trying new things, and I bet you do too. So in addition to private yoga instruction, therapeutic massage and juice packages, I included a few other not-so-common optional self-care treatments.
With the exception of forest bathing, these experiences will take place in your flat or the private studio just down the hall from your flat. And don't worry, all the practitioners are licenced and insured professionals.
Learn more about Thai yoga body work, acupuncture, energy work and forest bathing.
Amy McLaughlin, your personal retreat co-curator at Lafayette Flats Retreats. Find me on Instagram posting about self-care, wellness and mushrooms. Yep, mushrooms.