A grain of salt: Gifting yourself down-time

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Columnist

It’s that time of year again. We’re obliged to parties and gatherings and second helpings. We’ve got relatives to relate to, colleagues to Secret Santa with and everything tastes like pumpkin spice. Of course, this festive season is followed by the black misery of January and February, which also includes the credit card bills for our debauchery.

Ammi Midstokke.

There is something to be said for hibernation or even the Danish trend of hygge (roughly translated as “the good life with good people,” and there’s some candlelight, fish and well-printed fabric in there, too). 

The holidays come just as our bodies and brains are recovering from the whirlwind of summer and school starting. We finally get into our routine. We’re making it to the gym. We survived flu season. Then BAM! 

We have no fewer than 14 original baked dishes to create, 87 thoughtful gifts to find and myriad people we have to enjoy (some of them more easily than others). Let’s add to that eggnog, desserts, less time at the gym, gray days and ugly sweaters. 

I know this happens because as I was describing the magnificent holiday costume party attire I had managed to spend a small fortune on, I volunteered to cook something. 

“Oh no, don’t inconvenience yourself. Unless you want to make a cassoulet to go with the theme.” 

I had to Google it while nodding my head (it’s a French bean and pork dish, which is far more sophisticated than pork and beans, as far as I can tell). The truth is, I want to do all of those things. I want to go to all the parties and, mostly, drink all the eggnog and eat all the pie. I want to have the energy and stamina of humor to bippity-bop from gift exchange to aprés ski to snowshoe race. It’s just that sometime after the age of about 22, we get rather affected by that busy-ness, lack of sleep and carbohydrate intake.

Every year, we promise not to do the same thing again. Some of you are really great at that and you leave the country, which as far as I can tell is the smartest way to go about keeping your calendar lean. Without fail, January rolls around and smacks us upside the head like a sock full of change. It says, “Your pants don’t fit and you have not left the house in four days. Your New Year’s resolution is a farce.”

Now is your chance to get ahead of it. Here’s my recommendation for how: Holiday things can be sneaky and since you want to go to the things, it’s hard to say no on the fly. Practice that. “No.” Your mouth should make a little “o” when you say it. Then, look at the next six weeks of your calendar on a single page. Does is look like Sharpies threw up on your schedule? Are you committed to more than one party in any given week? Are you running at full-tilt with hot toddy in your fist through the next month?

Now you have two options: mercilessly strike social engagements, shopping trips, dental cleanings (OK, maybe not those) from your calendar; or, schedule some intentional recovery time. Because you are probably not familiar, recovery time looks like this: 

Trust me, if you take a little time for yourself, you’ll enjoy the time you spend with your loved ones so much more. This year, give yourself the gift of down time. Do only as much as your body and brain can comfortably handle. The season is about spending time with friends and family, basking in gratitude for the abundance we have, and pie. If you prioritize in that order, you can’t really go wrong.

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