Tag Archives: holidays

Enjoying the Holidays without Overcharging the Senses

When I wrote the blog post “How I Became an Early Christmas Shopper”, I suggested that the reason why I felt more inclined to shop earlier and avoid the mayhem of malls in December, was perhaps a question of becoming more sensitive.

One year later, after a series of discussions with a therapist, I realize it may not be a question of “becoming” more sensitive. In all likelihood, I always was.

Even though I stand right on the line between introvert and extrovert, with one foot well into extrovert territory, it is still easy for me to get overwhelmed. There is no shortage of events in the month of December to overcharge one’s senses:

– Faster pace: The office often gets busier with a surge of activity in trying to tie up loose ends on projects and produce the last status reports of the year, before everyone takes vacation time.

– More activity: The social calendar tends to fill with holiday parties and lunches with family, friends and co-workers.

– Sensory stimulation: Shopping malls with lights and decorations hanging from every nook and cranny, with the aroma of hundreds of perfumes hanging in the air, as music blares from shops like they are nightclubs, while kids scream from being hungry, too warm, too tired or all of the above.

– And on an empathetic level, as much as people romanticize it as being “the most wonderful time of the year”, there is no shortage of negative energy in the air to soak up through people’s rushing, their impatience, their aggressive driving and their temper tantrums in stores.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize and count my blessings in being so fortunate with a great job, great family, friends and co-workers, and the privilege of being able to shop for the people I care for. It’s just that if I am not careful in pacing myself, the sights, sounds and rush of activity in the month of December can lead to sensory overload for me.

When that happens, I can get tired, cranky and my energy starts fading as my body tells me to moderate or retreat. If I am not careful, my cocktail party small talk will reflect that. To be a welcomed addition to parties and not a Debbie Downer, it is up to me to find solutions to make December manageable for my own level of sensitivity.

If that means moving the shopping to October or November, when stores are less busy and parking lots are not like Thunderdome, then gift ideas will need to be presented to me before the Halloween candy has disappeared.

If it means doing smaller grocery runs earlier in the week, to be able to use Express lanes and to be in and out of grocery stores within minutes, I will make the adjustment.

If it means postponing some lunches with friends until January when my calendar isn’t overflowing, I think the friends will understand.

If it means deliberately scheduling time to relax to keep my batteries recharged throughout the busy month, then that’s something I need to do.

I remember years when I didn’t manage my time and my commitments properly and I sometimes felt like I would have preferred to be at home. That’s not me and that was totally my mistake. Even though I was having fun at social gatherings and getting energized along the way, it wasn’t enough to compensate for my fatigue.

December’s frantic pace will not go away. I accept that. I just need to be mindful in adjusting my calendar ahead of time and reschedule the activities that are really within my power to do so (like shopping, wrapping, decorating, and one-on-one lunches). I now understand that I need to moderate my intake and exposure to the sights, sounds, smells and negative emotions that can potentially sap my energy.

As I sit here on December 9th writing this, with only one more gift to purchase, I reassure myself that I did the right thing in taking better control of my schedule this year. Instead of stressing out and lining up to get into a shopping mall today, I can savour the moments of baking, blogging and Christmas card writing, at a very relaxed and enjoyable pace.

In doing so, I know my batteries can recharge for the social commitments ahead, allowing me to truly feel present, in the moment and enjoying the traditions of the season to their fullest.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Hunt for Gluten-Free Fruit Cake – 2017 Edition

Regular readers probably know that I have my moments where I might be considered a bit of an oddball, especially when it comes to my borderline-obsessive love of fruit cake. It hasn’t always been that way though.

When I was younger I would have a couple of pieces from the overflowing tray of treats passed around the table at Christmas, and I’d be set for the year.

But it was in my body’s rejection of gluten a decade ago, that I had to stop all foods involving wheat flour including fruit cake.

For something that I only ate once per year, it wasn’t a catastrophic loss, but with each passing Christmas after that, I grew to miss the tradition that much more. I also grew to appreciate it as one of life’s simple pleasures at the most wonderful, most festive time of the year.

A few years ago, I even wrote a poem about my hunt for the perfect gluten-free fruit cake. It wasn’t easy. The hunt, not the poem.

Around here, not a lot of stores sell gluten-free fruit cake and for the ones that do, I found the experience to be a very pricey one and sometimes a disappointing one. I remember one in particular that lived up to all of the hype and negative connotations about heavy and dry fruit cakes, and added a few more.

Then inspiration hit. How hard can it be to make gluten-free fruit cake for myself? Continue reading

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Top 10 Ways I Prepare for a Canadian Winter

With the fall season well underway and the official start to winter just on the horizon, I often feel like a squirrel gathering nuts, which is not too far from the truth, actually.

For those who might not be familiar with Ottawa, winter can offer its share of merciless days in terms of bad weather conditions. As a result, roads and driving conditions can get pretty treacherous.

If we hit a weather pattern of several days of heavy snow or freezing rain (or both), I tend to go out only if I really have to. And on those days when I have to go to work, I stick to the essentials: a commute to the office and back, and that’s it. I won’t do errands on the way home.

It’s just a question of safety… well… that and the fear of getting stuck in a parking lot where a plow hasn’t arrived to remove the snow which continues to pile up.

For that reason, I tend to stock up on certain items to ensure I have a decent supply on hand, and to not stress out if my errand schedule goes topsy-turvy when Mother Nature and Old Man Winter get cranky.

Here they are, my top 10 errands in preparation for winter:

10. Flu shot

Getting a flu shot is not so much a weather dependent preparation, it is just a seasonal one for which I feel a need to make time for it, to avoid the flu, avoid the line-ups and maintain good health through the winter season.

9. Snow tires

Local garages are usually run off their feet at this time of year as many drivers book an appointment to have winter tires installed on their vehicles. Given how bad the weather can get, I couldn’t imagine driving without them anymore.

8. Kitty litter Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Christmas, Humour, Top 10

How I Need the Internet to Go “Off the Grid”

In keeping with tradition, last month I booked some time off for some rest and relaxation from the office and to take in the festivities of the Eurovision Song Contest, from the comfort of my couch here in Canada. For what seems like ten years now, Eurovision has been the focal point of my version of “spring break”.

The first few days of my time off consisted of jotting down some blog ideas floating around in my grey matter and puttering around the house, getting chores done. With those out of the way, when Eurovision came on, I could truly let myself get swallowed up by my sofa, pillow, blanket and cat, and to completely disconnect from the world.

That is… until I woke up Tuesday morning to find I was already disconnected from the world.

No Internet service!

After a series of attempts over two days to restore my Internet service over the phone, with the assistance of cheerful client service representatives, it finally took a site visit from a technician on Thursday to get everything fixed up.

Once I was on the couch, with pillow, blanket and cat, watching the Eurovision semi-final #2, my cares completely melted away with each passing costume change, wind machine, and key change.
The next day, I watched semi-final #1, and on the Saturday, I watched the finals live with the other 204 million viewers around the world. Everything seemed right with the universe again.
But those few days I was without Internet, I surprised myself at my dependence on it. How do people actually go off-the-grid anymore? Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Humour, Inspiring, photography, Writing

You Know It Was a Good Vacation When…

Isn’t it wonderful when you have enjoyed your vacation time to its fullest and completely immersed yourself in activities that were so far removed from your day-to-day routine… to the point of forgetting the details of your day-to-day routine?

That being the case, you know it was a good vacation when…

Ice Bar, Stockholm, 2005

You have a hard time falling asleep on cue, to wake up in time for the return to your regular morning routine.

You wake up with muscle or joint stiffness but no recollection of what could have caused it.

The prospect of wearing long pants again makes you cringe.

The prospect of preparing a lunch-to-go makes you cringe even more.

You overshoot your morning routine prep time by half an hour.

Even your pets are seemingly sad to see you go back to the regular routine.

You’re not freaked out by the guy who cuts you off in traffic on your first morning commute. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Humour, Misc blogs, Travel

Top 10 Things I Like to Do on a Long Weekend

10- Slow down the pace

To me there is nothing better than just chilling, listening to classical music, sipping coffee and enjoying the peaceful silence of a holiday morning when everything is closed. Monday to Friday is always so busy. The extra day in a long weekend is for me, an extra chance to recharge.

9- Give the cat some extra attention… when she is looking for it

Usually by mid-day Monday on a long weekend, Miss Ivy is a little sick of having me around, but I’m certain she appreciates the bonus time to play and spend time together.

8- Indulge a little

While I generally stick to a healthy eating plan, a long weekend is a nice opportunity to break up the routine and maybe have a “cheat day”… especially if the long weekend includes a major holiday that involves feasting.

7- Reading

Usually, I read before going to bed. But whenever the opportunity arises to chill and read in the morning or the middle of the day is a serendipitous pleasure every time. Long weekends seem to offer that freedom of extra time to slow down the pace and check out a good book. Continue reading

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Filed under Cats, Humour, Inspiring, Misc blogs, Top 10, Writing

The Surprises at Summer Camp

As I was driving around and dodging potholes this week, I couldn’t help but notice a big sign announcing “summer camp registration”. I don’t know for sure if the flashbacks I was getting were just my life flashing before my eyes given the massive holes in the street left behind from Old Man Winter or the warm memories of day camps I attended as a child.

But there is something about the mention of camp that has of those songs running through my head like a freight train again (40 years later) like the one about the littlest worm that got stuck inside my soda straw or poor Charley who never returned.

I think to myself that I was very lucky that my parents made me… I mean… offered me the opportunity to go as many times as I did.

The truth is, I was at that strange age: too young for a job and too old for day care. Frankly, if left to my own devices, I probably would have been stuck in the 1970’s version of “screen time”: park myself in front of the TV and watch game shows all day for the entire summer. And for this little guy who shopped in the “husky” department, getting out in the fresh air, sunshine and actively mixing with kids my own age was definitely better for me in the long run.Camp

The attached picture is one of the rare pieces of evidence of me ever setting foot in a tent. Even from a young age, roughing it was not my thing, so shipping me off to an “away” camp in the woods, would have required significant bribery. My mom signed me up for the next best thing: day camp.

Most of the camps I attended lasted two weeks, just long enough to give my parents a break from tearing me away from The Price is Right, and not so long that I felt it encroaching on my unstructured play time. As an only child, I had a strong sense of boundaries where that was concerned.

As much as the first days were filled with apprehension and butterflies, not unlike the first day of school, campers had to get into the groove quickly because it was over before they knew it.

My first ones were camps involving getting on a bus and heading to some distant green spaces. I would pack my Archie and Bugs Bunny comics into my little knapsack to read along the way, as well as a classic PB and J lunch, my bathing suit and towel, a rain poncho just in case and an ample supply of bug repellent.

Once there, I forgot any of the apprehensions I had, while mixing and mingling with other kids who were looking for something fun to do over the summer. Our camp counselors were fantastic in Continue reading

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