Archive for December, 2011

Reasons to Curb Christmas Excess and Cure Christmas Letdown (and save the planet?)

Today is the last day of 2011 and I’ve been reflecting on Christmas and a new way of thinking that I am excited to catch glimpses of around the web.  I realized that one of the reasons I am drawn to DO Christmas is the buildup and engaging in something out of the ordinary of daily life.  It can also draw me closer to family that I have built up these traditions with and is part of my identity.  But it seems like  a lot of Christmas excess, or just consumer excess in general, happens when we let the market tell us who we should be, what we should do and what we should buy.  But come on, we are smarter than that, aren’t we?  And we don’t have to be humbugs about it and totally destroy capitalism in the process (tongue in cheek here!).

  Idea #1

What if we decided to stop doing personal Christmas light displays and agreed to just enjoy community displays instead?

I love Christmas lights, especially the white icicles that people hang around their overhangs.  Driving around looking at Christmas lights was something enjoyable we did as a family, often on Thanksgiving night.  But as I was indulging myself this year, the sustainability researcher in me kept whispering, “this is not sustainable”.  But the Joey part of me answered back, “but they are so pretty”.  What to do?  I wondered how much electricity and therefore carbon was was being spewed out to meet my and others’ need for “pretty”.  Is there any way we could agree as a community to give up personal Christmas light displays?  Aha!  Perhaps it would be better if we just focused on community  light displays instead.  And I could WALK to my community light display, like this one at Iowa State, or downtown to  Ames, and I might engage with other community members, sing a few favorite carols, bump into friends for hot chocolate at Cafe Diem.  We do this to a degree, as there are Snow Magic and other community celebrations, but it’s not enough somehow.  Could we learn how to let it be enough?


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Christmas Excess

So I was saying that part of the appeal of Christmas (or any holiday or event) might be the process of getting ready, doing and using things out of the ordinary, and repeating rituals that are part of our identity.  But I am sure that most of us have experienced what happens when any of those things happens in “excess”, like too much…..WAY too much.  I love the idea of sending and receiving Christmas cards, but I can get myself into a whole pile of excess here!

  I think we’ve all had grand ideas of a party or dinner that turns into a marathon of preparation, dirty dishes and exhaustion.  My dear mother used to quietly bemoan the fact that a dinner took almost an hour to prepare and yet people ate and left the table in about ten or fifteen minutes.  So do we skip the dinner, parties and Christmas?  We know we SHOULD be able to rein it all in, simplify our lives, yadda yadda yadda, but I think it is easier said than done.



But we are intelligent beings, right?  I believe we just need to spend more time thinking about it, reflecting, talking….let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room and invite him into the discussion!  There is a lot of excess in our society, and it’s not a good thing.  But  I am not of the “bah humbug” mindset.  I just think we could be a lot smarter, more creative, and wind up being more joyful as a result.  In my next post I am going to talk about my crazy idea for reducing excess Christmas lights while also enjoying the twinkles in the darkness too.  If you are experiencing Christmas letdown, or even if you aren’t, let’s spend some time together thinking about some creative solutions that lead to a life that makes more sense.


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Making Sense of Christmas

In my last post, I asked the question, partly from a researcher’s point of view, “Why do we DO Christmas?”  As I was driving around this year gawking at the pretty twinkle lights and singing along with Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire for the 5th time in one short drive, I realized that part of the attraction might just be the build up to something that is  out of our ordinary routine.

We listen to music we don’t ordinarily listen to.  We pull things out of storage boxes that we haven’t looked at all year.  We give and receive gifts, eat yummy treats, get together with family, friends and co-workers, send letters and photos and cards to people we’ve been out of touch with…..what’s not to like?  And there is a ritual to getting ready for Christmas, often a somewhat personal ritual that has grown with us over many years.  We have family traditions that help make us Simpsons or Chens or Johannsons.  It’s part of who we are, and every year we go through these motions to reinforce this part of our identity.  Or do we?

In my first post about this, I was thinking about Christmas letdown.  It’s kind of the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.  It’s an often overlooked sign that something might be “wrong with Christmas”.  My purpose here is not to ruin Christmas, but to just think out loud about it here for a few days, and see where it leads me.  I welcome all your thoughts and comments!

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Christmas Letdown

I had some interesting thoughts about Christmas this year, but I didn’t want to post them until after the holiday is over, you know, didn’t want to burst anyone’s bubble or anything.  But if you are feeling some Christmas letdown, or the holiday wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be, maybe these thoughts are for you! (and I am not let down, I just chose to observe Christmas this year for the most part, and do some strategic thinking about it!)

Why do we “do” Christmas anyway?  I loved driving around this year, looking at the Christmas lights, both downtown Ames and in Ogden, and around various neighborhoods.  I love getting out the Christmas CD’s, listening and singing along to old favorites, making Christmas cards (I just love snail mail in general), remembering decorating cookies with my family.  I LOVE color, and Christmas affords lots of that.  I don’t like shopping so much, and I am a terrible gift giver.

But oh I love the wrapping paper!

A lot of the reason we do Christmas is because it is expected, it’s the thing to do, everyone else is doing it, right?  But let’s be honest, there is a lot of stupidity to Christmas too.  I just pondered that a lot this year as I drove around looking at the signs of Christmas.  Maybe some of it has to do with being a “real” researcher now, at least I’ve graduated and written a thesis.  I am supposed to think about what we as a society and culture do, why we do it and whether or not we should be doing it.


So if we really looked at Christmas as a holiday celebrated and came to the conclusion that it isn’t a good thing for the world, could we give it up?  Should we?  I’m going to try to write about that this week as I reflect and get ready for a new year!  Are you with me on this mind journey?!  🙂

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Lani, ISU and Roots

I’ve gone to the ISU campus several times since I finished my long term sub job and have some free time.  Yesterday, it really clicked with me, I LOVE Iowa State!  My perfect job?  I would really love to find a job at the university doing research, helping this land grant university fulfill its mission of making the world a better place.

I still remember when Steven first e-mailed me a photo of the campus, back when I was in Indiana, trying to figure out where I might go to grad school and how I was going to make a future for myself.  “This campus is so beautiful!” I thought.  “Perhaps it’s the right place for me.”

Since coming here, I’ve put down roots.  And I’ve made some great friends!  Lani has been here from the very beginning, always there if I needed her, even in the midst of a busy life, working at ISU and have two kids.  During one of my visits back to campus, I wanted to see Lani in her ISU setting.  She works here and does some amazing work with Annie’s Project as part of her job.

Now that I’ve finished my masters and its time to look for a job, I do hope I get to stay in Iowa.  I’d love to stay with ISU and see what these new roots will produce!  Thanks Lani for helping me feel at home here!

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Riding a Christmas Goose

This scene from a porch in the historically Swedish Bishop Hill, IL reminded me of how much I love stories about little people – brownies, fairies, elves….there should be a story about some gallant little fellow riding a goose to help save the day on Christmas, don’t you think?!

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Young Artists

Sometimes, the best gifts for children can be letting them create their own stuff  and just spending time with them, letting them try something rather adult, showing them you trust them to try something new! Here is my great niece with  pastels my sister had in her closet.  During the Thanksgiving rush, we slipped off into a quiet bedroom, covered her with a towel to protect her clothes from the pastel smudges, and voila, she showed that she is quite the artist!

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