Success for the Season
How to survive and thrive in the holidays
Illustrations by Eric Schock
How many shopping days until Christmas? Is your mother-in-law coming to dinner during Hanukkah? Will you have enough? Enough time, money, presents, patience, candy canes, chocolate coins, green bean casserole and make-ahead cookie dough to keep you from going off the rails until January? We don’t know. What we do know is that the holidays are a mix of sweet and stressful for many of us, and with that in mind, we’ve assembled a Holiday Survival Guide for you and yours.
Maria Trapp, a psychologist in Edmond, has been practicing for more than 20 years. When it comes to surviving the holidays, she says, “One thing we should all do is to check our expectations.
Society gives us unrealistic expectations, and the last time I checked, my family is not Beaver Cleaver’s. Even in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, by the end, it’s all beautiful and everyone is happy.”So far so good, we can definitely explore tempering our expectations. But will there be a kick-line of dancing sugar plums, or will your sourpuss Uncle Joe get soused in the corner?
“One way to base them is on a realistic appraisal of history. If Joe was grouchy last year and the years before that, guess what? Joe will probably be grouchy this year. And if you’re wrong and your holidays unexpectedly look like a Norman Rockwell scene? Then that’s a bonus,” Trapp says.
She’s got some pointers for specific sources of holiday stress, too. “Decide what you are going to expect of yourself. I always say that aspiring to perfection is the pursuit of failure.”
Instead of perfection, aim for doing some things really well, like a time-tested favorite recipe, and then don’t sweat the rest.
Sit down, this may come as a surprise: “Teenagers can be a challenge. They don’t always act as outwardly appreciative as we may want them to. That’s part of their developmental stage, and it’s perfectly normal, but we get our feelings dashed when they don’t act like they did when they were 5.”
Unrealistic expectations are one thing, but comparing your actual life to the lives of your friends through the lens of social media is another.
“Maybe it looks like everyone is out there having fun, but you never know what happened in the second before that photo was taken or in the second after it was taken.
Don’t get sucked in. There is value in being discerning about which events you say yes to. People who attend every single thing may not value any of them. So if it’s a concern for you, turn it off. Don’t look at social media. You don’t have to, and you can control how much of it you see. Read a dang book for a change! And be selective in what you choose to do.”
Get Help, for Goodness Sake
A terrific way to minimize time spent on the holiday hamster wheel is to get help. Valerie Riley started her personal concierge business, LifeSquire, in 2009. “I was a personal assistant and loved the work,” she says. “I am a caretaker by nature and an entrepreneur at heart. People have an easier time wrapping their heads around the idea of a personal concierge during the holidays.”
Last year, Riley and her crew of 20 merry helpers assembled and decorated 21 Christmas trees, bought 650 holiday gifts, wrapped 850 presents and stuffed, addressed and mailed 1,500 holiday cards. “We can do anything,” she claims with a smile. “We staff parties, check coats, decorate homes – anything a person needs to make life easier. When people finally admit to themselves and us that, ‘No, I really don’t have time to pick up the turkey, and I need help,’ there’s all this relief that comes with that. You can hear it in their voices.”
The LifeSquire process is simple and rewarding. “When any person calls, asking us about help, we reward them with a Starbucks card no matter if they hire us or not, just because it’s hard to ask for help. We always hold our first meeting with a client in their home. We like to see where they are in their crisis. [Some] people cry when they first meet with us.”
The next step is to ascertain what the client needs, and to assign him or her an assistant. “Every client has their own assistant. We do personality testing on all of our employees, and we meet with clients in person at first because what we do is a little like matchmaking. There has to be trust, and there has to be a personality fit.”
Her advice for surviving the holidays? “Just enjoy the moment. Whether you have help or not, there’s no use in stressing out over gifts or going to a party. Be sure to remember why you are buying a gift or going to the party.”
Shopping at the mall is an overcrowded annual nightmare for many. Shopping local is ideal, but hopping from store to store to store is time consuming and can be exhausting. Allison Barta Bailey, prime mover of the vibrant pop-up shop scene in Oklahoma City and organizer of the Holiday Pop-Up Shops in Midtown, has a solution, and it’s one you can enjoy with your friends.
“The Pop-Up Shops are a wonderful way to shop local, and they are free to the public,” she says. “The domes are a little small, though, and they can get crowded. So we’re launching something new this year: the Top Shopper pass.” And as she explains the Top Shopper program, holiday shopping starts feeling less like a dreadful slog, and more like a series of scheduled girls’ nights out, complete with beverages and live music.
“The Top Shopper pass is a preview pass that’s good for the whole season. Each Friday that the shops are open, the selection of merchants changes. Top Shoppers are invited to a series of three Thursday night VIP previews, before anyone else gets to see the merchandise,” Barta Bailey says.
Top Shoppers also receive a shopping bag filled with special items from the shops, valued at $75. Add that to the beverages, snacks, camaraderie and stress relief, and the Top Shopper pass price of $75 becomes a bargain. Only 150 passes are available.
The shops bringing their goods to the 2016 Pop-Ups are the cream of the Oklahoma City shopping crop, and include old favorites and newcomers that will soon be staples, like A Date with Iris, The Social Club, Green Bambino, AMP Variety, Siempre Viva, Udånder, Black Scintilla, Bekah Sometimes, Live boho and SILO.
The full schedule and vendor list are available at okcpopups.com.
The season is upon us. Go forth and make it wonderful, simple and memorable.
One way to win the holidays? Leave it all behind.
Michelle Carbone, owner of Michelle’s Destinations in Norman, helps hundreds of people do just that every December.
“At Christmastime, people want warm. They want Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Jamaica, cruises and resorts,” Carbone says. Heck, we want those most days.
“We see a pretty even number of families and couples planning to travel for Christmas. A lot of the time, something has changed in someone’s life that makes them want to start a new tradition. Maybe a loved one has died, or there’s been a divorce. Grandma passed away this year, so grandpa wants to take the whole family to Mexico to try to make the holidays less difficult. Or sometimes that’s just what people want to do.”
For family trips, Disney is tops in Carbone’s book. “Disney does the holidays right. There are so many cool parades and shows and holiday events and activities going on, it truly is magical.” For adults, all-inclusive resorts can be a great idea.
“I hope people aren’t just now planning their trips. Really, holiday travel planning should begin in February or March,” Carbone says. “I tell our clients that, but truly most people never listen. Booking early will save you a little money, but it will really increase the availability of certain places.”
But if you didn’t book early, or if it was just this moment that you decided to toss tradition to the wind and head for Tahiti, don’t worry too much. Carbone and her staff specialize in great customer service, and, should you wish, they can get you to a beach for this year’s visit from Sandy Claus.
► How to Wrap the Perfect Gift
Susan Potts, owner of Occasions gift shop in Norman’s Carriage Plaza, loves to wrap presents. That’s good, because during the holidays, she spends as many as eight hours a day wrapping other people’s presents. It’s a service her shop offers for a nominal fee, as long as you buy the wrapping paper and ribbon from her. “The gifts can be from anyplace,” she says. “I’ve got families who will bring me every gift that will be given during the whole season, and I try to have them ready to pick back up within 24 hours.
“A lot of people like to come in and pick three or four papers that go together, and mix and match. Others like to do everything in the same paper. Although some will recommend wrapping each child’s presents in their own paper, that can be tricky if one child’s pile of gifts is a little bigger.”
Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or a pay-someone-elser, there are some hard and fast rules of wrap that Potts prefers to stick to.
• Start with a great foundation. “A good box makes a big difference,” Potts says. If you have to, go ahead and re-box, or at least re-shape the box and shore it up with tape. “The hardest things to wrap are kids’ toys that come in odd-shaped packaging or plastic. If the child is very young, just go ahead and put it in a cute bag with lots of pretty paper.”
• Use good paper. “It’s kind of like using good paint when you paint a room. It’s thicker and goes on better, and you can’t see through it. Caspari makes great, thick paper, and it really does make a difference. It’s crisper and cleaner.
• Double. Sided. Tape. When Potts talks about tape misuse, her whole demeanor shifts. “There is nothing worse,” she says, emphatically, “than a gorgeous package with visible, shiny tape. I never have tape showing.” For Potts, a properly wrapped gift is a satisfying job well done. “When I was a kid, I wrapped for hours and hours. I love it. My mom would pile up all of the family’s gifts and I’d just wrap.”
• Presentation is more than the paper. “Choose a beautiful ribbon, or get creative and wrap a gift in something useful. You can wrap gifts in tea towels, for instance, and that’s perfect for a hostess gift. Make your gift tag a part of the presentation, and decide where you will place it when you begin to wrap. Or if it’s ugly, put it on the bottom.”
►The 405 Gift Guide for the Trickiest People on Your List.
Sydney Hale Candles, $28. There is no better candle to usher in the season than this one! And it soothes the soul – and what teacher doesn't need that? From Collected Thread
Hardwood Mini Vases, $8.99 and $18.99 Beautifully crafted in Virginia from various exotic hardwoods, which will make them all the more fun for 7th graders to describe. From AMP Variety.
Besties Necklaces, $24 for both. Best friend necklaces are a very nostalgic, fun gift. Also because why can't you give your best friend a bestie necklace even though you’re chronologically an adult? From MODE.
All the Emotions Glassware Set, $39. Drink away your feelings with your friends. This is a set of 4 glasses, each with a different gold foil emoji on it. From The Social Club.
• Dog walker
OKC Map, $26.50. Your dog walker has to cover a lot of ground. Give the gift of this map and help him mark his territory. From Collected Thread.
Acrylic Water Bottle, $24.99. Beautiful and also extremely functional, these water bottles are perfect for your dog walker! The lid and top both unscrew to allow for ice or fruit on those hot days spent pounding the pavement with those furry friends. From Black Scintilla.
Cloisonné Oklahoma-themed Christmas Ornament, $45. An exclusive, handcrafted ornament bedecked with all things Oklahoma. From Occasions.
Oklahoma Door Mat, $35. It's a one-of-a-kind gift that never stops giving, and reminds you of the giver each time you walk in the door. Plus, it’s cool! From Always Greener.
Bar accessories, $48.99 for the set, individual pieces priced individually. There is nothing better than a great cocktail after a day of babysitting. These useful tools are American made from W&P Design. Prices range from $11.99 for individual pieces to $48.99 for sets. Available at AMP Variety.
Handmade oco geode and quartz lariat necklace, $39. Fashionable for any age, any time of the year! These necklaces can be adjusted to wear at any length so they go with everything. We promise your babysitter will love you for this one, and face it, you probably owe her one! From Out on a Limb.
• A 65-year-old man
doTerra Deep Blue Rub $39. Whether he’s your boyfriend’s father or your mother’s brother, this super nutrient-filled rub will provide relief to achy muscles. From Udander.
Harry's Shave Set, $30. A good shave is a great gift for any guy. With German-engineered blades, a flex head and a polished chrome handle, this cutting-edge (ha!) razor gives a close, comfortable shave every time. The set includes 3 blade cartridges, a 4-ounce can of shave gel and a travel cover, all packaged in a gift-ready box. From Shop Good.
Dr. Trapp’s Five Golden Rings of Holiday Season Survival
1. Exercise. However crowded your schedule might be, make some room in it to get moving several times each week. “It’s a stress reliever. Do it no matter what. Just put it in your calendar as part of your routine and don’t evaluate it.”
2. Mind your nutrition, sugar plum. There’s only one man who looks good with a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, and it’s not you. Or as the more tactful Dr. Trapp puts it, “Don’t overdo it on the sugar, high fat food, caffeine and alcohol.”
3. Sleep! Lack of sleep makes Jill a very dull girl indeed, and it also plays havoc with her ability to think clearly, regulate her emotions and maintain her exercise routine. Adults need seven to nine hours each and every night.
4. Balance. “People need to make time to be out with friends, and time to give to others through volunteering, but they also need time to stay in. Down time. Time to regroup, rest, recharge.” Neglecting this balancing act will make everything else harder.
5. “Feel OK about saying no to some things. Or, feel OK about saying yes to some things. Remember, just because the phone rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it,” Trapp says. So give yourself a break. And remember, the holidays can be frenetic, but the season is temporary. It will pass.