Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Show Notes:

Talking Points: Why resolutions don’t stick; the importance of remembering; the secret to finding motivation for a resolution.

Thank you for spending this year with me, Cinderella! I wish you all the best for a very happy 2023!

A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song “La Joie” as the intro and outtro to the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Week 51: That Inevitable Disappointment

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#1 Connect better with the scalawags, according to their Love Languages

For someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how to love her children according to their love languages, and who spends a really really really long time considering gifts and how to give them in such a way that the receiver feels reall really really loved…

Well, I totally failed.

Yes, your Fairy Godmother, who is the one who tells you to “unhook yourself from the peg of other people’s reactions”, failed.

There were good moments, of course. We celebrated Christmas early among the four of us, with the gifts from the scalawag’s Aunt Poppy, (who knocked it outta the park again this year…), plus the boys giving each other gifts between themselves that were thoughtful and extremely well-received… But did I articulate them, according to Resolution #20 Practice Mindfulness: articulate and savor the good moments? Of course not.

So all that is left is the memory of my youngest, who, although he received exactly the gift he asked for on Christmas Day from his French grandparents, I found standing in a doorway, trying to hide the fact that he was crying because his gift was smaller in package than his brother’s.

Now, I cannot blame him for this. I cannot even mildly say that he was being ungrateful. I want to point out that he was trying to hide the fact that he was crying. But it’s the fact that he wasn’t adequately prepared for the fact that when we get what we want, even exactly what we want, we can end up disappointed.

The reasons for the disappointment, no surprise here, are related to our tendency to compare. And comparing does no one any favors.

How can I love this little boy through his disappointment? Certainly not the way I did.

Because the child had asked for, and received a crystal growing kit. The kind in which you add water and as the water evaporates, the residue forms crystals…his current passion.

But because the experiment has to be left undisturbed for 7 days, and we were leaving the grandparents’ house the next day…well, I told him we couldn’t do the experiment, or risk ruining it in the transport. And this saddened him even more.

O! the tears. O! the disappointment!

It breaks my heart when I see this child react…because I see myself and disappointment that I have and still do experience from time to time. I wish I could impart on him the life lessons that would help him put his disappointment in perspective. It breaks my heart that he doesn’t yell or get angry. He just goes to a darkened doorway to cry where he thinks no one will see him.

It’s incredibly difficult to raise a child who is so exactly like ourselves.

22 in 22 Round-up

I tried really hard to keep an eye on my 22 in 22 this year. But let’s admit…22 resolutions was a few too many. I know that for next year. We won’t be attacking a “23 in 23!”, that much I can say!!

I’d say that with one exception, I gave some thought to, or some concrete steps towards accomplishing all 22 at one point or another this year, which, while I didn’t significantly make progress in most of them, is already something.

When I look back at my weekly-ish check-ins, the one that I tried the very hardest to work-on was to love my scalawags according to how they understand love. It is also, incidentally, the most bittersweet of all of my resolutions for this year. It’s definitely the one that brought me to tears the most often.

I wish love was an investment on which there was an immediate return. It would be so much easier to stay motivated over the long term. And what if it is an investment that doesn’t pay-off? Then what?

Ugh. I’m not sure that is the best attitude with which to go into the new year. I’ve got some thinking to do.

Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Transcript Episode 42: Giving Great Gifts

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet.

My name is Lily Fields and I am going to be your fairy godmother for what is going to end up being, yet again, an extra-long episode.

About this time of year, you are going to find everywhere you look lists of gifts to buy for every single different person in your life.

It’s fun to look at these lists, sometimes because they really do contain ideas that I would never have come up with myself. But giving you a list of possible gifts is not what your fairy godmother wants to do.

What my desire this week is, is to help you think about the people you love, or the people you need to find gifts for, and to determine how they like to receive gifts. Not, mind you, what they want to receive. But how they like to receive gifts.

I sometimes wonder if I am making this unnecessarily complicated, but when it comes down to it, I think that recognizing that people are complicated is a way to unhook ourselves from the peg of their reactions. Being a student of the people we love can help us understand them better, and understanding them better can help us love them better. 

Last week, I briefly mentioned that my husband loves to give surprises, and I loathe surprises. That is just one of what I like to call the “Gift Receiver Templates.” Each template is a spectrum of two opposites on which your loved ones might fall. 

The names are not terribly creative, and I am going to go ahead and list them for you right now: Quantity or Quality, Sentimental or Practical, and Surprise or Anticipation.

We are going to sandwich our conversation of the Templates with two other topics which might be of help to you as you navigate this holiday season: the Troublemakers, and lastly, the often uncomfortable subject of money as a gift.

Part one: The Troublemakers

Last week, I reminded you that if you are going to be buying gifts for anyone this year, it would be a good idea to start making your list, which because you are perfectionist, you probably have already done.

I’m willing to bet there are a few people on that list for whom it is easy to come up with gift ideas. Those are probably people who know how to receive a gift with grace, and for whom you usually have little-to-no-stress in the giving. Easy peasy.

Those people are adorable and we love them and we can put them on hold for a moment while we consider the other people on your list, for whom finding a gift can be a chore.

Remember last week, we talked about the Love Languages and gift giving? Well, right now, I want you to consider those difficult to buy for people, and remind yourself that even they have a love language. 

One of the Love Languages is that of Gifts. All of us, at some point in our life give gifts, even if this isn’t our primary Love Language. But listening to, and learning to speak someone else’s love language can increase everyone’s experience of this unavoidable part of the holiday season.

Remind yourself this about the people who can be difficult to buy for: It isn’t because they can be difficult that they do not give or receive love. They are troublemakers, yes, but they are troublemakers that we love. And sometimes, there is a reason why they are difficult to buy for.

Being a courteous gift-giver to the people we dread giving gifts to might mean, possibly, making a few small sacrifices and perhaps even risking our own discomfort. But the pay-off might just be fantastic.

The Disappointed/Unhappy Receiver

Do you have one of these? It’s not always an audible grousing, or, like we will see in a minute, a spouting of sarcasm. It can be just a polite smile and the folding away of a gift in its wrapping.

I want to remind you, as I have been throughout this holiday season: your self-worth must not hang on someone else’s reactions. You are not a failure if someone does not react enthusiastically. There might be all kinds of reasons behind a less-than-enthusiastic response. Do not take this personally. Do not, in the moment, suggest, “You can return it if you don’t like it.” You do not know what is going inside their head at that moment. Let the person breathe a little. Their disappointment is not about you. Remember that, please.

There is so much involved in receiving a gift–the receiver’s imagination, whether they intend it to or not, gets engaged in the process. All of their baggage and past experience influences what they are imagining, and we are not privy to all of that. We just see their face and the way they return the gift to its wrapping. 

Last week we talked about what our own Ideal Gift would be–whatever that thing is that would respond to our deepest need. Well–that desire to see something fulfill our deepest need is like an itch that we want to have scratched. And every little package under our tree is something that, as a receiver, we imbue with the potential to scratch that itch. 

That disappointment you may sense might just be the realization that nothing tangible can scratch that itch. Your gift may be thoughtful and wonderful and desirable…but it cannot fulfill a person’s deepest need. Do not attach that kind of responsibility to the gift you are giving.

Be careful, once you have given a gift, to let the receiver have a moment to wrestle with their thoughts. Don’t jump in with your own insecurities. 

The Sarcastic Receiver

This person is one I have a ton of trouble with. It won’t matter what you get them, their reaction will be one of, “Oh great. More socks.” or “Yay. What a surprise. Cigars again.”

There are probably dozens of reasons why this person reacts the way they do, but my unscientific study of human nature says that they are uncomfortable receiving gifts. There are people like this out there. They do not believe that they are worthy of receiving something, and it will not matter what you give them. They will never respond with enthusiasm. They don’t like talking about gifts.

They will tell you, “Don’t get me anything…” and in the back of your mind, you know that if you wouldn’t feel guilty not getting them a gift, you probably wouldn’t.

Remember what we said? Guilt is not a reason to do anything this season. Love is the only reason.

If the inevitability of their sarcastic reaction is already causing you stress, then you need to sing with your feet here, friend. Either you need to have an upfront conversation about how their inability to accept a gift graciously makes you feel (right, Lily. Right. I’d like to see you do that.) Or, you need to do one of two things:

Option 1: Accept that this person truly does not want a gift from you. Instead, write them a really thoughtful note. (Yes, this may actually be harder work than buying a useless gift they won’t like. But the benefit to your relationship might be much greater.) Here is a sample to get you started:

Dear Aunt Gertrude,

I know you said you do not want a gift, and I really want to honor that desire. Honestly, it feels weird not giving you a gift. However, I still wanted you to know how very special you are to me. I always enjoy hearing your stories of shuffleboard championships and how funny the people in your Bridge Club are.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without you there to narrate the gift opening. I still remember when Uncle Horace gave Aunt Myrtle that lamp! Your reaction was priceless.

Thank you for always being good for a laugh.

Love, Lily

Does the thought of doing this scare the daylights out of you? Yeah, me too. But here again, you are managing expectations and you are making it clear that you are honoring their desire. Here, you are acting out of a place of love and not out of guilt.

Option 2: Get this person a somewhat meaningless gift like you always do, and then detach yourself emotionally from their response. Prepare a few comebacks for their inevitable sarcastic comment:

Hah! When I picked it out, I debated whether you would say, “Well now if that color isn’t fit for a pumpkin” or “Somebody get me a latte, I’ve got the pumpkin spice right here!”

By engaging with their sarcasm, you are engaging with their core fear of rejection. This, in and of itself, is an act of love. You are proving that this gift, and consequently, that they are more than an afterthought.

The essential way to deal with this person is to be ready for their response, and to detach emotionally from their approval. This will liberate you to be loving towards them, no matter what they throw at you. It doesn’t hurt to say this again, love is the only reason to do anything this season.

Consider those tough-to-buy for and what makes them a challenge at this time of year. Is there something that sticks out in your mind about this person at the holidays? (This could be a specific example or a hazy feeling or memory.) Can you gain some perspective on why they might react the way they do? I’m going to say this again: rejection, or the fear of rejection, is a reason why a lot of the people we find to be troublemakers at the holidays act the way they do.

Do not engage with this, because you will only get hurt. You cannot fulfill their need to belong. You can simply love them the best way that you know how.

This is important, so listen carefully: Many of our family relationships are fraught and heavy with history. We can’t change difficult people, but we can change how we interact with them.

Maybe you can’t fix the relationship, but you can put your love glasses on and take the situations on differently.

No Guilt. Just Love.

Part Two: Quantity Vs Quality

I want you to imagine something for a second:

You are ten years old. It’s Christmas morning. You tiptoe out of your room to check out what magic happened over night (even though you don’t really still believe in all that hocus-pocus, you are still hedging your bets.)

In scenario one, there are dozens of little gifts. Mountains of little surprises just waiting to be unwrapped, a large number of which have your name written on the package.

In scenario two, there are few gifts, but the boxes are huge. Like, possibly the size of a new ten-speed bike huge. Or a “Playmobil airplane and control tower” huge.

Which one of these scenarios gets your inner child excited? Which scenario would you have preferred to come across on Christmas morning?

You are the only one hearing your answers, and even if I could hear your answers, this is a totally no-judgment zone. Both tendencies are completely valid.

True story

One year, for my birthday, when my indulgent husband and I were scrimping and saving to pay for Law School without going into debt, he gave me, quite possibly, the best gift I have ever received from him (and he is the one who, many years later. gave me an iPad Pro for Valentine’s Day, so let’s consider exactly how great this gift was, okay?)

I remember seeing the pile of gifts on the kitchen table, beautifully wrapped and ribboned. Some were flat, some looked like cylinders. There were probably six of them, but we had a tiny little table for two, and they took over the whole table. The illusion of quantity got my little child’s heart all a-pitter pattering.

When I got to work that day, and the requisite “Happy Birthdays” were all said around a pretty cake I had baked, one of my colleagues asked me, “So? What did you get for your birthday?”

And, with genuine pleasure and authentic enthusiasm, I replied: “Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple.”

The looks on the faces of my colleagues took me off-guard.

“You got magazine subscriptions for your birthday?” one curious colleague asked.

“No, silly! He gave me two of each!” I replied.

You see, my indulgent husband knew that I loved to get lost on Martha Stewart’s farm and study her calendar. I loved the closet organization strategies–closet porn, I call them–in Real Simple. And Better Homes and Gardens? Well, that’s just for fun. Hours of sitting on the couch and dreaming fun.

I am a quantity person. You may have noticed: my husband once gave me an iPad Pro as a gift, but that was not the most memorable gift I have ever received from him. The most memorable gift was a stack of my favorite magazines from a period in our life when we had very little disposable income.

Quantity Template People

Quantity people love the potential contained in the wrapping of all those little packages. What is in the package is secondary to the quantity of packages.

To bring more joy to a quantity person, something as simple as a four-pack of socks can be made more exciting to them by you, the gift-giver, wrapping each pair separately. Extra points for using non-Earth suffocating ways to wrap gifts, like furoshiki or recycled wrapping.

The fact of opening a solid quantity of gifts is part of the fun for this person. While, as a gift-giver, you may be thinking, “Why bother wrapping nicely if all they are going to do is immediately rip off the paper?” Let me counter this argument: Unwrapping is part of the thrill.

Some years ago, my husband accompanied a class to the zoo, where they spent some time with the Macaques and their caretakers. Apparently, in order to keep the Macaques interested, they hide their food in different containers, so the animals have to figure out how to open them to get their food out. Does that sound cruel? Well, it keeps the animals engaged. The animals enjoy this.

That’s what you need to consider when wrapping for a Quantity Person. A Quantity Person takes pleasure in the engagement of opening the gift, and the moment of uncertainty and guessing what it contains.

If you want to increase the joy for a Quantity Person, find ways to make the experience last longer. Wrap related items individually. Include ribbons to slow them down. Put the gift inside another (recycled) box that they have to open once the paper/wrapping is off. The process is as important to them as the gift itself.

When budgeting resources for a Quantity Person, consider the time and thought it will take to make the opening of the gift as exciting, if not more, than the gift itself.

The downside to this template is that the receiver might have a feeling of letdown once all the gifts are open. This is not disappointment in the gifts, it’s just a feeling of letdown. In order to assuage this letdown, let me recommend, as part of the gift, providing a container to put all their gifts in (a basket or a nice sized box), so that they can see all the gifts, unwrapped, in a nice little mountain, throughout the day.

For the Quantity Person consider themed gifts, like a “coffee lovers theme”, with a mug, cute sugar cubes, a specialty creamers, a sweet coffee spoon, specialty coffees, or a “beauty product theme” with an array of products you know they like, and maybe one of those hair drying towels or handcrafted make-up remover wipes (I made my own and I swear by them).

Commercial gift baskets are great, however, keep in mind: this person likes to open their gifts. They like the uncertainty of knowing, and then discovering. So if you go with a gift basket, consider wrapping each element separately.

Quality Template People

This person is the one who, in our opening exercise, had their heart pitterpatter at the thought of the big gift.

Because “bigger gift” or “nicer gift” often rhymes with “bigger price tag”, it is essential to consider, in advance, how much money you have to spend on this person.

Knowing that this person will never be happy with a mountain of individually wrapped nail polishes like his Quantity Template Person will be, you must absolutely take stock of your bandwidth.

To give a “bigger gift” or a “nicer gift” should not bankrupt you. Remember, I HATE IT that at this time of year, we are obligated to put a dollar value on our affection for someone. But this is the reality we live in.

Taking into consideration your bandwidth, (not your Uncle Scroogeness, remember!), this might be an occasion to humbly bring in other people who love the Quality Person to help make their holiday memorable, too. Group gifts can be very meaningful to a Quality Person, but they can be a headache to orchestrate. So here are a few thoughts on this delicate subject:

  • Do you want this person to have the object on Christmas Day?
  • Can you front the entirety of the cost, or do you need help now?

If you want the object under the tree on Christmas Day, then you need to work double time to make sure you answer the second question. If you need help now, then you need to start communicating now with the people you think might be able to participate with you.

Aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, godparents…these are the people who will be most likely to catch the vision. Honest, humble, authentic communication on the subject will be the most efficient way to advance.

Make it easy for those who want to participate financially in the gift. This means: you know how much it costs and you know where you want to get it from. Although I hate it, Amazon makes it really easy to send gift cards to help defray the total cost. But if, for example, you know you will get the gift from a local mom and pop shop who doesn’t do gift cards, then it is your job to find out how your family can participate financially. Cash? A check? The Cash App? Venmo?

To make this work, you need to “cast a vision” for the Quality Person’s gift, then you need to do the hard, hard work of communicating the vision, collecting the money and procuring the gift.

You might be surprised. Someone might have a leftover gift card or a store credit to the store where you want to buy the item. Someone might offer to go pick it up from the store for you and hide it in their garage until Christmas Eve (a necessity for keeping secrets, do we agree?)

A group gift, while a ton of work, provides opportunities beyond just “handing over an envelope of cash” to make a holiday dream come true for a Quality Template Person.

There is one last, VERY important element to providing a gift to a Quality Template Person in the context of a group gift: Communicating the delivery of the gift to the participants.

Make sure sure sure that you document the joy that the person exhibits in seeing what they had been hoping for. Take photos of them riding their new bike around the living room because they couldn’t wait to get it outside. Communicate these immediately to the gift participants so they know the joy they provided. It takes two minutes, but it closes the loop for the participants, especially those who might have been reticent about being “left out” of the celebration because they did not buy or wrap a gift themselves.

In the case where the answer to question 1 was “No, the gift need not be under the tree on Christmas Day”, then you can still do the communication work with your family: express, clearly, what big-ticket item your Quality Template Person desires, how much it will cost, and ask for a participation in the purchase of the item.

Yes, this is less fun for the receiver and less immediate for the giver, but it is less work for you. However, you still must see it through.

I’m going to say something that you are free to challenge, but I’m not a fan of the “This gift is for Christmas and birthday…” school of thought (unless a person’s birthday is within a week of Christmas.) You see, while a big-ticket item might be better spread over multiple occasions, everyone will inevitably forget that this was the purpose, and everyone will be disappointed when the birthday rolls around.

This is where it becomes critical to manage expectations. This is where knowing how much money you can spend on any one gift becomes critical. Unless you are taking your baths in gold coins (not unlike Uncle Scrooge), there is a dollar value, whether you are willing to say that amount aloud or not.

Communicating this, however, to the Quality Template Person on your list becomes necessary. Telling them that you are only able to put $20 into their gift this year may feel humiliating, but it is the truth. Setting and managing expectations will open conversations about how to bring satisfaction to that person within your giving capacity.

Part Three: Sentimental and Practical

While these may seem like obvious distinctions, I still want us to do the exercise of thinking about the experience the sentimental and practical people on our lists most enjoy. Remember, we are wanting to become students of the people we love, so we can better speak their love languages.

By identifying their specific way–or palette of ways–of experiencing love through the receiving of gifts, we are deepening their satisfaction and, and this is critical, our own satisfaction. The satisfaction of giving a thoughtful, meaningful, and ultimately appreciated gift is, let’s admit, its own reward!

The Sentimental Gift-Receiver

This person might be heard oohing and aahing about a pasta noodle necklace made by the hands of their grandchild, as much as about a bouquet of their favorite stargazer lilies (a fact you happened to remember) or a coffee table book about the artist whose work you saw on your third date together.

What this person desires is a personal connection to the gift and the gift-giver. The gift becomes a stand-in for a memory or a person.

A pair of socks, for example, becomes more than just a pair of socks if that pair of socks has a spaceship on them if you and the gift-receiver watched a rocket launch together this year. The socks become a way for the fun memory to live on every time they put their shoes on.

I’ve already told about my boys who, for my birthday, gave me a set of enamel pins of the characters in Le Petit Prince. This little gift was laden with meaning for me: it represented our favorite summer activity (going to the theme park), the nicknames we call each other around the house (my Little Prince, my Little Fox, and me, their Rose…) and my romantic obsession with the prose of Saint Exupéry. I’m getting all gooey and teary just thinking about it.

One time, at the height of my summer rainbow chasing on Instagram, one of my followers (a local friend) snuck a pretty square little rainbow scarf into my mailbox. At the time it was done anonymously (I have since figured out who the “culprit” is!) It was a small thing, but so, so meaningful.

Okay, so yes, I am a sentimental type. There are lots of us out there. What about the people on your list?

A dear friend of mine and I were talking about this very subject just the other night. She argued that she actually preferred small “token” sentimental gifts to larger gestures because they were easier to carry around with her and always made her smile when she needed a pick-me-up throughout the day. I adore this logic.

Another friend uses real handkerchiefs (I wish I were a real handkerchief kinda gal.) She has a story behind every single handkerchief…who gave it to her, or where she picked it up. Listening to her tell the story is like she is pouring through an old photo album. This brings her so much joy, and really, who doesn’t use a Kleenex? Here, she is crossing the line between practical and sentimental.

This actually reminds me of my father, although it is non-gift related: during his career, one of the coolest things he did was be part of a major renovation project of an old downtown shopping center. The old storefronts, made of intricately crafted brass, were restored and put back into use. He kept one of the brass rosette caches, which was about the size of a quarter, in his pocket. For years. He kept it until the rosette had worn off and it was just a blank piece of brass. It was a token of a fantastic period of career contentment. It wasn’t useful or practical, but it was highly sentimental.

Sentimentals like Susanne and Julie and my father appreciate tokens. Sentimentals like there to be a story behind the gift that connects them to something or someone they love.

Remember: it does not have to be a huge gesture. Sometimes small is better. The essential is that the gift be a proxy for pleasant memories and emotions.

The Practical Gift-Receiver

I nearly included this person on my list of “Troublemakers”, because these people, by nature, are more no-nonsense than we sentimentals. They can seem like aliens to us and can be incredibly frustrating to buy for.

A Practical Gift-Receiver is often uncomfortable with sentimental gestures, or “a gift for gift’s sake.” This person, therefore can have reactions that leave a gift-giver feeling like they’ve done something wrong.

“What am I going to do with this?” they might say.

This feeling of helplessness when it comes to buying for a Practical Gift-Receiver can be compounded when the receiver is someone who already has everything they need.

Many, many years ago, when I was being trained as a Guest Relations Host at Walt Disney World, I worked with an ancient man named Howard. Howard was showing me the ropes, and at the end of my week of on-the-job training with him, he presented me with a gift, one he bought with his own money and wrapped with his own hands: a basic black, theme-park gift shop Mickey Mouse umbrella.

What Howard knew about our job in Guest Relations (but I did not) was that the umbrella was a workplace necessity. In Central Florida, afternoon rainstorms are de rigueur, and being caught without an umbrella is very, very uncool. His gift was the ultimate in practical gifts.

Another friend told me about her Aunt, who every single year gave everyone a pair of nice scissors. Every single year. Meaning, you could count on the fact that at Christmas, you would be getting a new pair of scissors and not feel guilty throwing out the old pair that had gotten some sort of gooey mess on them and was unusable.

There are items in daily life that are inherently practical, and by nature are things that get worn out. Umbrellas, scissors and knives are just a few examples, not to mention the bigger ticket practical items (a vacuum cleaner, or a refrigerator to replace one that’s not working.)

Years ago, the company my father worked for gave its employees “Fruit of the Month” subscriptions…that is, we would receive a box of a different kind of fruit every month. I don’t really remember the fruit, but I do remember the boxes (I used them to store my doll clothes in!) As an adult, with my own family, I tend to think this is a pretty kickass gift. It is practical, it lasts all year, and the ultimate benefit: you don’t have to go to the fruit stand for a week.

I once worked at a hotel where the tradition was to give every employee a frozen turkey for Christmas. This, also, is an amazingly practical kickass tradition. It was practical, it was timely, and everyone could count on it.

A last thought about the Practical Gift-Receiver: perhaps shifting the focus to a service rather than a tangible gift might be helpful. Offering the gift of a monthly maid service, or a carwash subscription. This would be you giving something that the practical person might never pay for themselves, but that they could totally appreciate.

For the Practical Gift-Receiver on your list, maybe it’s time to start a tradition. Practical people prize reliability. How could you could become a reliable force in their lives, through the gift you give? Aunt Sheila and her scissors certainly became that for my friend. The frozen turkey and fruit-of-the-month club did that.

Part Four: Surprise or Anticipation

This template is less about the gift itself as it is about how the receiver perceives the importance of knowing.

Some people love to percolate in the mystery and magic of wondering what is going to be under the tree. These people are the ones who will not try, even once they have a gift in their hands, to feel around the contours of it and guess what is in a wrapped package. (Where do they find the self-discipline for this?) They appreciate every last moment until the wrapping is off and the gift is fully revealed. For them, it is the joy of discovery. I call this the Surprise Receiver Template.

Others relish in knowing in advance and being able to project themselves into ownership of the gift in advance. It is wired in them to dream, look forward to, anticipate. This I call, quite creatively, the Anticipation Receiver Template.

The Surprise Receiver Template

This person hates spoilers, never skips to the last page of a book to know what happens. They let the mystery unfold. This person can be a delight to buy a gift for, especially if they are a Sentimental Receiver. In fact, I would argue that the Sentimental Surprise person is the easiest person on our list for whom to buy a gift.

Knowing whether the receiver is a Sentimental or a Practical Gift Receiver will help direct you as you consider what kind of surprise you want to provide.

This person doesn’t want to know anything about their gift until Christmas Day. Because the Surprise Receiver draws out the end reveal until the last second, how you wrap a gift for a Surprise person can add to the fun. Dissimulating a recognizable shape –for example, a pair of socks–by putting it in a small (recycled!) box and then wrapping the box with a ribbon means that the unwrapping will take longer.

I’m not necessarily prescribing this kind of practical joke, but one year when we were growing up, one of my sister’s friends wrapped a gift inside a box, inside a bag, inside another box, with tape and ribbons and…I feel like I remember an Exacto knife had been needed to finally get to the gift. I don’t remember what the gift was, but I remember the wrapping. I remember that it was an experience that everyone at the birthday party was involved in.

Consider that for this person, once the gift is revealed, the surprise is over. So make the revelation an experience! Here’s an idea: hide the gift and give a series of clues to get to it. A little scavenger hunt, just for fun, will add to the drama and the pleasure your Surprise Receiver will enjoy in their gift.

The Anticipation Receiver Template

This person just has to know. This is the person who goes searching through closets and looks for where the gifts are hidden because they just have to know. This, unsurprisingly, is also the person who reads the last page of a book first and needs to know that a movie ends well, asking questions all along the way.

They are fun people to buy for, because they are always asking for hints. Depending on how sadistic you are as a gift giver, this can be fun for you too, up until a point, and as long as you know that you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of their Sentimental, Practical, Quantity or Quality Templates.

If you are a gentle sadist, and are willing to engage their questions and their demands for hints, then playing the game in an organized way might be fun for both of you. Laying hints, pretending to scuttle about boxes… The Anticipation becomes a game that you play over the course of days or weeks, and not just on Christmas morning, like with the Surprise person.

My sister, the amazing Poppy Fields, is a black belt at giving Anticipation gifts. I wrote about how she handled long-distance gift giving to her two scalawag nephews: it was a Masterclass on dealing with my children.

As an Anticipation person myself, let me suggest that the most satisfying way to receive a gift for us is to know what it is and to be able to enjoy the prospect of ownership before it actually becomes mine. This doesn’t make us Surprise Haters, it just means that we get a ton of pleasure in the knowing.

If you have an Anticipation person on your list, the way to deal with them is much like the Surprise Hater Template: 

Opening up a line of communication about this can be as simple as: I want to get you a gift you will enjoy, and I was thinking of xyz… Would that be something you might like? Yes? Cool. Consider it done!”

You could even follow up with a link/screenshot with the text “Do you like this? Or do you know of something else?”, so that the person knows you are serious and has that little image to hold onto. The added benefit of this is, if what you are thinking of isn’t what they want, they can respond with a different suggestion. Create a back-and-forth to help choose the gift, and then, once the item is chosen, confirm with the person (in a playful way is always more fun) that the deed is done.

The confirmation is important, because then the person can really let themselves go and enjoy the anticipation, increasing the satisfaction even more! 

Being able to return to an image of the gift is fun and exciting for the receiver who enjoys anticipation. Either a print copy or a digital photo could be a special little reminder to dole out over the course of the days or weeks prior to Christmas.

What you are doing here is setting expectations for someone who needs to have expectations set, as well as managing those expectations: If they were hoping for a Play Station 5, they will know that the best your bandwidth can do is a pack of Pokemon cards. This way they can get over their disappointment now, instead of on Christmas morning.

Part Five: Money as a gift

Money, as we know, makes the world go round, and it is, in many situations and for many people, the ideal gift to give at the holidays.

If I can give just one word of advice for the people like me out there who get flustered when talking about money: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Ok, that’s three words. But whatever. Money as a gift can be thoughtful, it can be done well so that both giver and receiver feel satisfied. Read on.

Many people don’t like to give money as a gift because it feels “impersonal”. To be fair, because in our world we have fallen out of the habit of writing thank you notes (I am the first to be guilty of this sin), it has kinda become impersonal. But there are ways to make it less impersonal, and we are going to explore these together.

There are fantastic benefits for both giver and receiver to giving money as a gift: 1. It is an easy gift to give. 2. The receiver can use the money to purchase something that they really want or really need. For the person who doesn’t have the bandwidth for psychoanalyzing their loved one’s Gift Receiver Template, money is a great gift. 

Types of Money Gifts

Money gifts can come in various iterations:

  1. Cash
  2. Check
  3. Credit card-type Gifts Cards (Visa Gift Cards, for example)
  4. Specific vendor/store Gift Cards
  5. Service/Activity-type certificate (nail salon, concert/theme park tickets, landscaping service)

Each has its own benefits and considerations, which we are going to take a few minutes to dissect.

Cash

Cash is an amazing gift. Useful. Easy to obtain and easy to spend. Can be used for almost anything.

Cash, as a gift, is the king of money gifts. Nonetheless, there are still considerations.

When we send cash, is our intention for the cash to be the gift that is opened on Christmas Day, or are we sending it so that a gift can be purchased and be wrapped and left under the tree? If the latter, then we need to be sure to communicate this to the receiver (or the receiver’s parents or special someone) to make sure it happens. We also then need to send it early enough for the gift to be purchased.

If I am giving cash as a gift, I want to consider the person I am offering it to: young people are just happy to have cash, but the denomination should be not too large for them to easily spend–a $20 is more useful than a $50, for example.

Little kids tend to be Quantity Receivers, and think “more is better”. So several $5 bills is going to be more fun than one $20.

For adults, to make cash a memorable and less likely to be frittered away, a bigger denomination is a great option (incidentally, also more onerous.) For example: a $100 bill is going to require slightly more thought as to how it is going to be used, and certainly can’t be spent as easily at the bagel shop as a $20 bill.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tend to fritter away cash here and there–a coffee here, a baguette there. I love it when a money gift comes in a nice envelope so that I can keep that cash separate and put the receipts back in. I do this so I remember what I did with the money. It also keeps me from frittering. Thus, when I give cash as a gift, I always put it in a pretty envelope and write the person’s name on it in my best penmanship.

Checks

The check sometimes feels like the “afterthought” of the money gifting world–at least when I end up giving a check, that is. I am casting zero stones. None.

A check is less work for the giver, but creates work for the receiver. Just sayin’.

In most instances where I have ended up writing a check, it is because I was too late to run to the ATM and withdraw cash, or there was a history of mail disappearing from mailboxes.

The great thing about a check is that we can write our intention for the gift on the check, if we have one, for example, “For a new bike.” What actually happens to the check is not ultimately in our hands, but we do get to have our say.

Checks are a step removed from usefulness. There is no widely accepted way to take a check to a store and buy a bike with it.

They are, therefore, in my humble opinion, not the ideal money gift solution.

Pre-loaded Credit Cards

These are amazing. They feel immediate, like cash. As long as a vendor accepts a credit card, these are as useful as cash.

Keeping in mind that these often have expiration dates, etc, these would be my second choice after cash for a gift. I would also want to give this in a cute little box or a special envelope, so that when it is used, there is a sense, for the receiver, that this is something special, for a special purpose.

As a matter of fact, I might have just convinced myself to do this for my teenage nieces for Christmas this year instead of cash. (Yay! Two down!)

Vendor/Store-Specific Gift Cards

I read somewhere that there are billions of dollars in unused gift card value out in the economy. This saddens me no end. I mean, for crying out loud, there are people who could actually use that money to pay for groceries, and here it is, sitting on a Victoria’s Secret Gift Card in someone’s sock drawer.

Ugh, this irritates me.

The intention of store/vendor specific gift cards is honorable. It says, “Hey, I know you like this store, here, go buy yourself something nice on me.”

What I don’t like is when this kind of gift is given without concertation with the gift receiver, to make sure that this is a place where the person actually does shop.

Let me tell you, I would 100% take a grocery store gift card over a Victoria’s Secret card. It would be more practical, I would be happier, it would actually make my life better. Although, here I am showing my staunchly practical side. I have zero fanciful side anymore. My children have broken me.

The point is this: know your audience. Launch a fishing expedition to find out where they actually shop, and what might actually make them happy/make their life better. Communicate. Make sure that they actually will use their gift card, instead of it being out there with the billions of dollars worth of plastic living in a sock drawer.

Service Certificate

These are fantastically fun if they are something that 1. the receiver would never do for themselves, but you know they would like to do, and 2. are easy to use.

Easy rule of thumb here: if the credit is difficult to obtain, it will be difficult to use. A nail salon that has never given a gift certificate is likely to not know how to book an appointment using it. If you have to switch languages in order to use the website, you might be getting in over your head.

Last year, my BIL and SIL gave us tickets for 4 to EuropaPark, a huge theme park in Germany. We would never in a million years have gone there had we paid for it ourselves, but this gift created a very fun summer outing for us this last year. That said, the cashing in of that credit was incredibly complicated, and required smartphone apps (we didn’t have smartphones at the time) and QR codes and wifi access and registrations and ugh, it was so, so complicated. Add to that the fact that no one in my family speaks German to call someone with our questions and we felt a little trapped.

So, if you are offering a cool vendor-specific credit, make sure that you follow up and see if they have been able to use it, and offer help when necessary!

Giving money isn’t a cop-out, and it can even be done thoughtfully. Consider the money-type gifts you have received over your lifetime. Were there some that stick out as either very complicated or very well executed?

Look over your list: which people will end up with a money-type gift? Considering their Gift-Receiver Template, is there a way you could incorporate elements of anticipation or surprise or quantity? Do everything in your power this year to make sure this is something that will get used!

If you are going to go this route, consider how you can best serve your loved one. Try to put love at the heart of everything, even something as basic as running to the ATM instead of writing a check. Try singing with your feet: do something just a little bit different than you usually do, that will make the receiver feel loved!

Conclusion

I know that I tend to intellectualize things that should be incredibly simple. I mean, how hard is it to give a gift, right? Well, for some of us, it is really hard. Some of us hang our whole self-worth on the reactions of others, and if we have learned one thing through our time together, it’s that we cannot control other people. But we can control ourselves and our thoughts.

That’s where the intellectualizing comes into play. Intellectualizing…studying the people we love under a microscope can help us relativize and give us perspective about why they react the way they do. And it helps create some distance for us emotionally. This can be very healthy.

Loving others is hard. Sometimes, people are really hard to love. Sometimes, it’s our own baggage that makes it hard for us to feel love for others.

Besides. Love isn’t always a feeling. Loving as a verb is an investment of our time, our thoughts, our person. We can love others by studying them, and this year, we can try to interpret our findings through the gifts we give.

Please give this a try and let me know how it works out for you.

Thank you for listening to the podcast!

I want to thank Seven Productions for the use of the song La Joie as the Intro and Outtro of the show, and to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

This is your fairy godmother signing off. 

Just remember, it is never to late to start singing with your feet.



Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Episode 42: Giving Great Gifts

Show Notes:

Talking Points: The Christmas Day Troublemakers; The gift receiver templates: Quantity v Quality, Sentimental v Practical, Surprise or Anticipation; Giving money as a gift.

A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Wool is Cool: Meet the kids

In the great saga that resulted from the realization, in May of this year, that there was no way I could use up 50 kilograms of raw wool on my own for my own little projects, we are now beginning the hero’s (ahem, the foolish creative person’s) journey.

To catch you up, once Musa, the animal caretaker at Le Parc du Petit Prince finished shearing the sheep in May, and once I picked it up and saw what exactly 50 kilos of wool represented, I immediately contacted the principal at my children’s school with a zany idea:

Let’s teach kids about wool! Why? Because Wool is so cool!

The principal and the teachers caught the excitement pretty quickly, because I can be pretty convincing about this kind of thing.

I set up a plan to teach the kids over 5 sessions about where clothes come from, how they are made, about the technical aspects of textiles, from carding to spinning to knitting to weaving to felting, to create a final craft project that should be pretty spectacular, and to use recycled materials throughout the project to encourage creativity, resourcefulness and frugality.

Seven classes, from pre-school to fifth grade. That’s 180 kids I got to meet over two weeks’ time, starting the week of Thanksgiving.

It was pretty exhilarating to get started.

With the elementary kids, we started in English. I was incredibly impressed, especially with the fourth and fifth grade classes, at just how well they spoke and understood English. They were enthusiastic and adorable and it was everything I could have hoped for!

When it came time to be with my eldest’s class (the second graders) I was afraid I would be given a series of rules like I had been last year when I visited his classroom (1. Do not talk to me 2. Do not look at me.) But this year, he was perfectly fine with having his Mama in his class.

The elementary lesson begins with a discussion of our passions: what are the things we love the most. Answers range from “soccer” to “chess” to “dolphins” to “drawing”. (I’ll let you guess whose answer was “skyscrapers”.) I then inform them that my passion is clothes, which drew some skepticism across all age ranges!

Then I explain that from very young, my mother made my clothes, and matching clothes for my dolls, and that I always liked helping her and as soon as I could figure it out, I tried to, too. I happened to have with me or be wearing clothes I had made…which gave me a little street cred.

So we talked about clothes. Where do they come from? What are they made of? Natural or synthetic materials? How are they made? Sewn? Knit?

And then I handed out magnifying glasses and a cache of materials for them to study and answer questions about: what material? Natural or synthetic? Knit or woven?

That’s how you end up with this little studious grouping:

With the littlest kids, ages three to six, it was a discovery of wool, and the process of going from the animal to a piece of clothing.

That satisfied little fellow would be mine. The other is his BFF.

We had several work stations, one with magnifying glasses and things to study, one with wool in its various iterations for them to put in order from start to finish, one with raw washed wool and carders for them to practice carding and the last station with carded wool and a half dozen drop spindles my father made for the occasion.

Spinning wool with a drop spindle is hard, but as I told the kids, “back in the day, this was the children’s job”. And I’ll be darned if some of those kids didn’t get it right away!

She totally gets it.

Next up: In January we will be taking a deep dive into weaving: making our own cardboard looms from recycled boxes, using strips of fabric torn from worn-out clothes and household linens, as well as learning about the tools used to work with wool, from crochet hooks to spinning wheels!

Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Week 49: Performers, Lion Tamers and shadows.

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#1 Connect better with the scalawags, according to their Love Languages

If you’ve been following the ups and downs of the Fields family, you’ll know that we’ve been struggling with some anxiety issues lately.

I’ll be honest, I was worried that it was going to be compounded this week because my eldest had an actual reason to be anxious: he would be performing in his first concert.

Well. We had a crisis-free week. In fact, it seems that we have a brilliant little performer on our hands.

It’s easy to see that this child feels validated when he performs…it’s as true when he does a spelling test as when he does a double bass solo.

Against all logic, this makes me incredibly sad. I know how this feels…to feel like I’m worthy only when I’m performing. I didn’t realize how insidious this tendency is, how it creeps up and becomes a motivator at such a young age. I hope I can parent him in such a way that he can feel that kind of worthiness without having to “do” anything.

After a week like the week before, where the big one was taking up all the oxygen with his crises, the little one was start to act up…like he sensed a shift in the atmosphere. What he needed was some one on one time, which he definitely got.

He tamed a lion. No small task.

#3 Scoop the kitty litter as an act of love

No, I didn’t scoop the kitty litter this week. My gentlemen took care of the litter. But for some reason this week, that cat has been in my mind.

This cat, the only one we have left, did something strange this week. He sat on my lap. I know! I was sitting through a day-long Zoom meeting, and this cat came and sat on my lap.

He is not a lap cat. He is a shadow creature. I only ever see him as a shadow in the space between my pillow and my indulgent husband’s pillow when I wake up in the middle of the night.

But that’s not all! On Thursday morning, I woke up to a strange sensation on my forehead. This cat had stretched out his pretty black paw and rested it in my head.

This is literally the most interaction I have had with him in years. Is it because it has been glacially cold? Is it because he is unwell? Is it because he just knew I needed him?

#9 Create a workflow for new projects and know how long each part takes realistically

This is just a silly showy-offy thing, but I needed to decompress from these last weeks of crises, so I knit myself something from the handspun wool from the Little Prince’s sheep:

This is related to #9 Create a workflow for new projects and know how long each part takes realistically, because I think this project was a corollary to it: “Sometimes a new project is just a palette cleanser and you have to let it run its course before you can settle back down to normal things.”

Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Transcript Episode 41: The Ideal Gift

Introduction:

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet. My name is Lily Fields and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half-hour or so.

This week’s topic is one I hope will come at just the right time for you in your Cinderella life. We are talking about gift giving for this week and the next, but as with just about everything we talk about here on the podcast, we are going to relate even gift giving back to the Golden Rule. 

So we have a little bit of work to do, because if you are anything like me, Cinderella, gift-giving is one of the most frustrating, most anxiety-inducing parts of the holidays. 

The gift I hope to give you this year is to help you bring even one tiny bit of inner peace and joy into this tornado of overwhelm that is the holidays.

So we are going to start with a wide swath of thought experiments this week, before next week, when we will start digging into the list of people that you need to buy gifts for and thinking of how you can give a thoughtful gift that will speak volumes about just how much you love the people on your list.

Speaking of which: have you started making a list of the people you need to find gifts for? It’s not too late…but not too early either! So if you want a piece of actionable advice from your humble fairy godmother right this instant: go make that list.

For those of you who are still here, we’re going to talk about my favorite subject. You, Cinderella.  We’re going to talk about you. I have brought an extra dose of fairy dust this week, and I supercharged my magic wand. Are you ready? 

Let’s go.

Part One: What do you want for Christmas?

Those six words: what do you want for Christmas? are, in my book, six of the most stressful questions I could ever be asked. Rivaled only by the six word terror-inducing sentence, I need to talk to you, which, if you suffer from Impostor Syndrome or any feelings of illegitimacy or self-loathing, you will recognize as a major trigger.

We aren’t talking about Impostor Syndrome today, thankfully. We are talking about Christmas gifts.

I’ll be honest: I hate both asking and being asked that question. I hate it that I have to ask that question of the people I love, because my perfectionist instinct tells me that if I really loved someone, I should be able to know instinctively what would make that person happy, feel loved and seen and known.

But I also hate that question because I know that no matter what gift I ever receive for Christmas, it will inevitably disappoint me. I’m old enough and have enough life experience behind me to know that no tangible gift would ever make me truly happy, or feel truly loved, seen and known.

Spoiler alert, Cinderella. If you haven’t arrived at that conclusion yet, let me spare you some heartache. No gift left under the tree will ever fill you up. Because what you are lacking is probably not tangible anyway. But here I am, getting out ahead of my crystal slippers.

Let’s remember the Golden Rule for a moment: Do for others as you would like them to do for you, and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Obviously, if what I would like done for me is that someone gives me a gift that makes me truly happy, feel loved, seen and known, I am setting the bar very very high for myself as a gift-giver. 

The goal of this podcast is not going to be to resolve that particular conundrum. 

The goal of today’s podcast is to help you examine what your deepest want is, or maybe even, what your deepest needs are, and to help you find ways to provide for them this holiday season. When you have started to scratch the surface of what your deepest want is, you will be able to start looking down your list at the people you love, the people you need to buy Christmas gifts for, and with the bandwidth you have available, start asking the same question of them.

I’m also going to suggest that perhaps looking for tiny ways to provide for others what you are wanting is going to bring you a harvest of fairy dust and joy during this season.

Several years ago my husband asked me that dreaded question, “What do you want for Christmas?” You know I love my husband. I know my husband loves me. But that question threw me for a loop. I have no idea…was my genuine, honest, absolutely instant reply. My mind went perfectly blank. 

I mean, sure, I have seen dozens of things in stores that I like. I mean, I have a little list in my secret journal of things that I love and that I want. But for some reason, the question hit differently once I actually heard it with my ears. 

Because I believe in listening to my own thoughts and reactions, and this perfectly numb blankness was something brand new, instead of just going into my secret journal and listing off a couple of things I had liked, I undertook to actually think about it, and to understand why this question gave me a deer in the headlights moment. 

I want to save you numbness of a deer in the headlights moment, my dear. So I am going to ask you to go sit down. I need you to be in the most propitious position for thinking. Grab a blanket, grab a cup of coffee if that will help. Grab your little notebook. Get cozy, because we are going to talk through some things.

Part Two: The Gift

I want you to imagine that your fairy godmother just handed you a wrapped gift. It sparkles in an otherworldly way. When you blow gently on the ribbons, a little covering of fairy dust floats into the air before dissipating. The wrapping of this gift is so exquisite, you think to yourself “It’s almost a shame to open it up!”

As someone who loves to wrap gifts, I do enjoy taking special care to make a package look special. What I also know, is that , as a gift-wrapper, quite often, and i am not proud of what I am about to say, I take more care to wrap the gift than I did to actually pick out the gift itself. So…and I’m sure you have experienced this before, when you have a particularly cute little package, and then you open it up and the contents are….disappointing. 

That has never happened to you? Well. You are a better person than I. But if this has happened to you, you’ll know that feeling of letdown, which is a brutal cocktail of ungratefulness and disappointment. You almost wish you could go back to the moment before you opened the package, when there was still mystery and unknown and excitement.

Well, this package that I just handed you today? This is not that kind of package. Whatever is inside that package is, if you can believe it, even better than its exquisite fairy dust covered exterior.

Whatever is contained inside this package is the thing that would give you absolute peace, joy, happiness right at this moment.

I know that we are talking in the abstract right now, but I want you to imagine the texture of what is inside, without yet trying to define what the thing inside the package is. Is it something soft? Is it cool and smooth? Is it stretchy or firm? Is it delicate or sturdy? 

Is the gift heavy? Or is it light as a feather? What is the shape of the package? Does it have sharp edges or are the edges beveled or rounded?

Whatever is in that package is the thing that your life is missing the most right now. Notice that I am not asking you what are you needing the most right now. 

I am asking you, in the abstract, to describe what that thing would look  like and feel like if it could be boxed up and handed to you in a pretty package.

Please, take a moment and imagine ways to describe what is inside that package with words, without worrying about what the object actually is.

Are there any thoughts that are bubbling up? Any echos of conversations that are coming to mind? Keep dreaming for a moment. Is there any music playing while you imagine the scene? 

Now, I am going to share with you what happened when I allowed myself, a few years ago to imagine what it is that I really wanted for Christmas. I am fully aware that this is idiosyncratic, and that because you are you, your gift is going to contain something different than mine. Depending on what is going on in your life or in my life, the contents might change, too. What was inside my Ideal Christmas Gift won’t necessarily be what is in there in three years from now.

Okay. So, the package that I had in my hands was rather flat, maybe two inches at most, and it was about two handbreadths wide. It was heavy for its size. The wrapping was breathtaking, with intricate beading and a simple, wide cream colored ribbon tied in a bow holding the package together.

Now keep in mind, in this thought experiment, no matter what was inside of this package, I knew it would not be a disappointment to me. I knew that whatever was inside, it would be a fulfillment of something deep and profoundly needed in my life. So there was a mix of excitement and trepidation about untying that ribbon. 

I’d like to think that I took my time opening the bow, sliding the ribbon off, maybe even smoothing the ribbon across my lap out of respect. Then I remove the beaded wrapping, and same thing, I neatly lay it across my lap.

The box…the box is hinged, and made of a live-edged piece of wood. It is smooth and softly finished. I run my hand over the details of the grain. As beautiful as this box is, what is inside is even more beautiful.

So I slowly unlatch the box and open it. Inside, folded over the gift is sparkly tissue paper, the only thing separating me now from the one thing that I truly want right now.

I fold back the tissue paper.

Whatever it is, it is the palest pink. It has a pearlescent sheen to it. It appears to be made of something silky, but stretchy. It is strong, and as I pull it out of the box, I hold it to my chest and can feel that it is the one thing that I truly need right now.

But what is it?

As I hold it against me, and as touch it to my cheek, a little waft of music floats through my head.

It’s from Hamilton, which seems a little strange, but I recognize the melody as the song Who lives who dies, who tells your story… It’s a moment that leads up to one of the most exhilarating key changes in history, and I try to remember the lyrics.

And then it comes to me, and if you want to hear this for yourself, just go into the shownotes and listen to the YouTube link there. It’s 1:50 into the song. 

The Lord in his mercy he gives me what you always wanted, he gives me more TIme.

That’s right. This gift, this stretchy, soft, comfortable gift, which is the fulfillment of my deepest want and need at this very moment in my life: it’s more time.

Maybe for you, what you need most deeply right now is more sleep. Or more connection with your spouse. Or more peace in your heart.

I want you to keep on imagining this thing that is inside your beautiful gift until that simple, deep, undeniable truth makes its presence known.

I am not a therapist or a counselor. And for you, this deep need in your soul might be something that you need to talk through in a more indepth and personal way. I would encourage you, if this conversation becomes a trigger for you to find someone to talk with.

Part Three: The Gift of the Intangible

That’s all well and good, Lily, but even you, my fairy godmother, cannot give me more time. Or more sleep. Or more connection with my spouse.

This is true, my Cinderella. I cannot give you those things. But you can.

Granted, there are only 24 hours in a day, as we have discussed on myriad occasions. We all have exactly the same number of minutes in an hour…in a week…in a year. And yet, what was in that box, that one gift that would not disappoint me, was exactly that. It was more time.

You see, once you realize and come to terms with the thing that you are most lacking right now, you can start to make a plan to pursue that thing in small, practical everyday ways.

When I realized that what I needed and wanted the most, that the thing that would bring me the most satisfaction would be simply to have more time, I was able to start addressing this. First, by tackling the things I was doing to sabotage my experience of time…things like wasting time on internet rabbit holes and wandering aimlessly through the grocery store.

Tiny things like setting time limits on my electronic devices, or making an actual grocery list instead of the aimless wander or…even better, eventually discovering the curbside service of my grocery store…these things were practice steps that made that precious gift of more time into a reality of my life.

Once you know what your deepest desire is, and you purpose take yourself and your desires more seriously, you can start pursuing them. Until then, you are living on a parallel timeline in which you will never be satisfied because you aren’t taking yourself and your desires seriously.

Part Four: The Elevator and the Golden Rule

So, something funny happened once I realized that my deepest desire was for more time. I started finding ways to make the time I did have more efficient. This didn’t mean that I had extra hours in a day, but it did mean that I felt like I wasted less time each day.

This may be a subtle distinction, but it’s worth taking a closer look at.

Our perception of our lives and the reality of our lives can be very very different. I mean, when we are busy, we are busy. Our perception of that busy-ness, though, can either be of anxiety and stress of where do I need to be right now, and I should have done that yesterday! Or, it can be…for example…joy. Look at all I got done today! And Good for me for not clicking on that link that would have sent me down a rabbit hole!

You see, the reality is the same. It is our perception of it that is different.

Let me tell you a story.

I live in a 6 story building with an elevator. My family lives on the fifth floor, and we park our car in a basement parking garage.

When I come home from the grocery store, I unload the car in front of the vestibule that leads to the elevator. I try to prop open the access doors with my grocery bags. I am usually in a hurry when I do this, and I know for a fact that my heart is racing, for fear that someone will end up needing to pull into the garage and find my car parked in the way. I usually call the elevator while I am there, knowing that it will still be a few minutes before I actually get to head up.

Once the trunk is empty, I hop back in the car and park.

Then, I walk through the two access doors, collecting the grocery bags as I go, and I tap the elevator call button. If everything has gone as planned, the elevator opens right away and I put the groceries in the elevator, push the button for my floor and away we go.

For me to feel like this has been a successful grocery trip, the one small element of that little dance I described that has to be in place is that the elevator be called before I go park the car.

Does this sound like a small, insignificant detail to you? It probably should.

But let me tell you another story. Every day, when I bring my kids home for lunch, one of them will take my keys and take the elevator up by himself to unlock the apartment door, while the other one and I park the car and come up later.

For some reason, when I arrive in the vestibule and see that the elevator is still on the floor we live on, I get irritated.

Now, as someone who loves to examine these weird little psychological phenomenon, I wondered to myself, why do I get irritated when the elevator is still on the  upstairs floors?

And the answer was simple. It is a waste of my time. I also managed to feel disrespected and forgotten about. I mean, how easy is it to just push the button to send the elevator back down to the parking garage? Could that child not think of his mother and brother before galloping off to unlock the door?

Am I asking too much? Maybe I am. But the thoughts and feelings…my perception of the thing is authentic.

On the other hand, it happened once that someone who was arriving on a normal day, and disappeared into the vestibule just as I was pulling in. When I arrived at the elevator vestibule, I saw that the elevator was waiting for me…without anyone in it. That person had sent the elevator back for me.

And can I tell you how I felt, in an extremely irrational, inexplicable way? I felt loved. I mean, I felt LOVED. I felt seen and respected and all of that simply because someone had pushed the button for the parking garage level when they got to their floor.

When we talk about the Golden Rule, when we talk about doing for others what we would want done for us? How do you think this manifests for me, now?

You got it. I always send the elevator back down for someone who is coming after me.

You see, the Golden Rule helps us take what is our deepest need, and find small, doable ways to fulfill that need for the people around us, too. By recognizing and honoring our own deepest needs and desires, we are better able to care for and love others.

Little by little, our perception begins to shift away from ourselves and our inconveniences, and becomes about how we can bring more fairy dust into the lives of the people we meet….which can also be more simply put, loving others.

Getting to the heart of our deepest need and desire can also help us answer that incredibly troublesome question, “What do you want for Christmas?”

If I know that what I really want and need is more time, then what I should give some extra thought to would be a gift that would help free up some time. My husband is an excellent gift giver in this regard, and when I told him that my deepest need was to have more time alone, he came up with a plan. Now, several times a year, he packs up our children and he takes them to his parents’ house, leaving me for a few days alone with my thoughts and a large swath of time to do the things that I want or need to do. 

As you start to examine the contents of that perfect, Ideal gift, can you think of ways that someone who loves you could help provide that gift in a small, practical way? Even an intangible desire can have real-life manifestations. Taking the time to perform a little bit of self-examination can substantially increase your experience of satisfaction. 

If you need help thinking this through, drop me a line, either by direct message on Instagram, or by email lily@singwithyourfeet.com.

Part Five: The Love Languages and Gifts

The Five Love Languages…ahhhhh yes. We talked about this briefly last week, but it is absolutely critical to everything that is coming up next, so I am going to real quick catch you up, especially if this is something new to you.

Dr. Gary Chapman, who is a psychologist and marriage counselor, wrote a book a while back called the Five Love Languages. In it, he posits that each of us experiences love in different ways, and that we can put those experiences of love into five broad categories:

  1. Spending Time
  2. Physical Touch
  3. Acts of Service
  4. Words of Affirmation
  5. Gifts or tokens of affection

There are two complications to this rather simple notion. Number one: we do not necessarily express love in the same way that we experience love, and Number two: the people we love do not necessarily experience love in the way that we express love.

In the first case, it means that we need to do a two-fold examination of ourselves, both looking at how we feel most loved, and learning to recognize how that plays out in our lives, but then also how we are most comfortable expressing our love to others. 

This is complicated because, for example, you may be someone who experiences love by touch, but you absolutely are not a hugger yourself. Or, you may be someone who expresses love by, I don’t know, cleaning the toilet, but when someone does the dishes for you it leaves you cold. 

Knowing yourself and how you express and experience love can be a wildly helpful thing when it comes to increasing your sense of satisfaction in your relationships.

In the second complication, we need to realize that when we go to express our affection to someone that we love, we need to realize that they might not experience love in the way most natural to us to show it to them. So we might actually be putting pressure on ourselves for something that will ultimately backfire, because it won’t have the desired impact.

The answer to the second complication is to become a student of the people we love, and learn how they are most receptive to our ouvertures of affection.

We cannot assume that we know what it would take a person to feel loved, because our own experience of love can get in the way.

Like in my earlier example, about my husband taking my children for a few days and leaving me utterly alone? Spending time alone is one of my love languages. But you know what? Spending time together is one of his. So he had to learn that for me to feel loved by him I needed to be alone. I know, it doesn’t make sense. But if he were to continually be making time for us to do things together, and thereby fulfilling his need for love, then mine wouldn’t be getting met.

This is a give and a take, obviously. Because what I know to be true is that he also needs, in order to feel loved by me, for me to drop what I am doing and do the New York Times Spelling Bee with him before bedtime. 

The most important elements to mastering this crucial relational dynamic are  1. Become a student of our own experience of love and 2. Become a student of the people we love.

Part Six: Becoming a Student of the People we love

I’ve talked about this before, but truly loving people is hard work, isn’t it? It’s particularly hard when our feelings are having a difficult time catching up. This was true when I was experiencing post-partum depression. I mean, I knew in my head that I loved my family, but my emotions were kept at bay by a kind of numbness that seemed to reach into the deepest corners of my life.

It doesn’t take depression for this numbness to reign in our lives. I mean, we don’t always feel soft and fuzzy affection for our families. It’s hard, when you are wiping a kid’s butt, to have tender, warm feelings. But it isn’t because we aren’t feeling anything that we aren’t supposed to perform the acts, gestures and behaviors of love.

Caring for the needs for an infant is relatively simple. Holding, feeding, changing a baby is pretty much all they need, and it’s all the experience of love that they know.

But as they grow, and their personalities develop, they start to show tendencies. One of my kids needs to be wrestled, as in like Greco Roman wrestling to know he is loved, but shows he loves me by playing with my hair. The other needs to have you sit on the floor while he runs from one side of the room to the other telling you about the story he is imagining. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to be there. He shows me he loves me by making a little gift, or a drawing and wrapping it up for me to open…and this…every. Single. Day.

My husband needs words of affirmation and to do the New York Times Spelling Bee with me to know I love him. But he expresses love by cleaning the toilet and taking the boys to his parents’ for a long weekend.

Each person we love has this dichotomy. Each person, including every single person on our Christmas list. 

If you already have a list of the people you need to buy gifts for, and you have a little bit of bandwidth to try out this challenge I am putting before you this year, pick a few of those people and consider the question: How does this person show love? And how does this person experience love?

I tried this little thought experiment last year, and I came to an unbelievable conclusion: One of the most difficult-to-shop-for people on my list wasn’t just being difficult.

It was that we had been trying to buy something tangible, when what he really needed to feel loved was to feel useful. 

That’s right: my father-in-law, bless his heart, is someone who expresses love by performing acts of service. When I came to consider him, and my relationship to him, I remember him being truly happy only a handful of times. And each one of those times was when he had pulled off an exploit–one time, he had gone to every single shoe repair shop in the tri-city area looking for a specific red shoe polish for a pair of my shoes. And he came back victoriously, with the stance of a superhero. 

So when I came to consider how I could give him a gift that would help him feel loved and appreciated, I realized that if I could create an opportunity for him to pull off an exploit, then I would be really speaking his love language.

So that’s what we did. We paid for a trip for him to come visit us and help us fix up some things in our apartment. We made a list of things…cupboard doors that needed repaired, holes in the walls to be plastered…

It seems like an odd gift. But you should have seen the twinkle in his eye when he understood that he was needed. It was the ultimate good idea in gifting.

This is an especially useful technique to consider for those tough-to-buy- for people on our lists. It’s worth it to try.

As a side note, I fully recognize that doing this kind of thing–becoming a student of the people we love–is far more time consuming than ordering up a gift card on Amazon (which, may I add, can be a perfectly valid gift to give in any number of circumstances!) It requires more thought, more sensitivity and, well, more bandwidth than usual.

The point is not to do this over the next month for every single person on your list. The point is to pick just one or two, and really try to understand them and how they experience love, and to give them a gift in accordance.

Next week, I will be enumerating what I like to call “Gift Receiver Templates”. They will describe different kinds of difficult-to-buy-for people, and attempt to uncover what their needs and wants are, and how with your gift, or the way you select or give them the gift, can help respond to those needs. 

I know, I know. You never expected to get into philosophical or psychological weeds about Christmas gifts. But fairy dust can take you to unexpected places sometimes, n’est-ce pas?

Homework

All right so you have your homework for this week. You are going to spend some time thinking about that deepest want, or deepest unfulfilled need in your life right now, and how you can turn it into practical, small doable elements. Ask for what you really need this year. Ask for the tangible manifestation of an intangible desire.

Then, I want you to consider your list of people to buy for, and think about how one or two of those people and how they receive love. How can you speak their love language this year with your gift?

Listen, Cinderella. I believe in you. I believe that you are capable of bringing more joy and more love and more peace into this world, because you are willing to do things differently. Do not buy into the “more is more” fallacy this holiday season when it comes to gift giving. 

The only way more will ever be more is if you are willing to love yourself more this year. By loving yourself more, in more specific, targeted ways that respond to your deepest needs and wants, you will have more joy and more peace. 

That joy and peace is a gift that will never disappoint.

We’ll be back next week to talk about those nightmare scenarios and people who are hard to buy for. 

Be great this week!

I want to give a great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outro to the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to sing with your feet!


Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Episode 41: The Ideal Gift

Show Notes:

Talking Points: What is the one thing that you need most deeply in your soul? How can you turn that intangible idea into something tangible? It can be done, but you need to let yourself dream for a little bit. Also: how understanding your love language, and that of the people you love can help you be a better gift-giver this year.

Here is a link to that amazing key change Lily talked about (check it out at 1:50): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gnypiKNaJE&ab_channel=OriginalBroadwayCastofHamilton-Topic

Here is a link to Dr. Gary Chapman’s website so you can read up about the 5 Love Languages: https://5lovelanguages.com/learn

A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Week 48: Anger, Snuggles and Resolutions

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#1 Connect better with the scalawags, according to their Love Languages

It’s not often that you will find me in despair, so bear with me for a bit. I might need to vent a little bit. You’ll find hopeful Lily again soon, but today she just needs to worry.

Several weeks ago, I mentioned my eldest was having some trouble going to his music theory class, because he had internalized a scolding that had been directed at another child, and this triggered some kind of anxiety in him.

Well, we dealt with it then. He was able to be brave and tell the teacher to “Not yell.” But it happened again. Pure panic. If I had never seen what a panic attack looked like before, I have now.

But it is no longer limited to music class. There was a substitute teacher who yelled at the kids. My child disintegrated.

Then at his beloved track and field practice, the coach had to put a few wild kids back in line. My child disintegrated.

Then music school again. He disintegrated.

When these moments of helplessness appear, and I am faced with the reality of my own powerlessness to help this child, it makes me so angry. My anger doesn’t help the situation, obviously. My being angry doesn’t make him less sensitive. It doesn’t do a single thing to make the rowdy kids calm down. It doesn’t inform the other adults in the situation that they are responsible for a child who takes their every word for himself.

Not to mention that he has developed quite a mouth on him. He can’t stand it when I ask him questions at the end of the day, trying to sound out what possible sources of anxiety might rear their ugly heads next. He pushes me away, then verbally makes sure I want to stay away.

So I have been thinking a lot lately about how to love this child through these crises and anxiety attacks, because my anger doesn’t make it easy, and his reactions to my efforts make it nearly impossible.

I can only speak words of affirmation so much. I can only spend so much time. My fluency in his languages comes up short.

A little voice in my heart whispered, “when all else fails, speak your love language.” A weird thought, because my love language is touch, and this kid doesn’t generally like to be touched. He’s like a cat who doesn’t want to be petted, and lowers his back to avoid your touch.

It was morning, and no crisis had yet erupted. I went into his room, where he was sitting on his beanbag chair. I sat down next to him, and asked if he wanted to sit on my lap. To my astonishment, the answer was yes. He curled up on my lap and let me hold him for a good five minutes.

If nothing else, it was five minutes during which we weren’t angry or fighting. At best, we were quietly reinforcing our foundation of trust and affection.

I tried again the next day, and this time he didn’t resist either. We sat on the couch, the same couch I used to snuggle him in when he was a teeny tiny baby. Just a few moments, but it was enough.

The next day again. This time we were sitting on the floor, and he draped himself across me.

This hasn’t solved the panic attacks yet, and I’m not sure that is what the snuggles were designed to do. But they have provided us a few minutes each day to re-affirm our mutual affection before he starts getting mouthy and panicky, and before I start getting angry.

I never would have imagined in a million years that snuggles would be his love language. And maybe they aren’t…maybe he is getting fluent at mine, and these few minutes are his way of practicing.

Oh my goodness. Maybe he is snuggling me to show me he loves me.

Oh my goodness. Maybe love really does make a difference.

#14 Mise en Place and Weekly Planning

I finished gluing my pages for the first half of 2023 into my planner. I have started transferring over everything I know will be happening in 2023.

I have started thinking about what kind of resolutions I want to make for 2023. While this year it was 22 in 22, I think I might have seen too big. I want to think small in 2023.

Here are a few ideas for 2023:

  • Live out the Golden Rule in everything
  • Manage my creative ebbs and flows and plan for them
  • Find small ways to rest and recuperate
  • Love, love, love, love, love.

Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Transcript Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we make every attempt to think differently about things.

The podcast in which we get perhaps a little deep into the theoretical and philosophical weeds about topics which, admittedly, probably don’t deserve a dissertation…Topics like, I don’t know…Christmas trees and holiday parties.

The podcast in which we use the Golden Rule as a plumb line to help us make the holidays bright.

My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so…

I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving, and I really hope that, if you needed to, you were able to put a little bit of what we talked about in our last episode. Or at least, you were able to start questioning the dread you might be feeling about a commitment, and have started to tease out some of the deeper sources of contempt, anger or guilt that are keeping you stuck in commitments that shouldn’t be yours in the first place.

The End-of-Year holidays are filled with these kinds of commitments. Whether they are traditions that we never actually consented to, but make us feel anxious, or last-minute invitations that we feel obligated to agree to, much of what makes our holidays less than sparkling is all the crud it dredges up from the depths of our hearts.

There is so much cognitive dissonance around the holidays, and I think I speak for a lot of the women of my generation when I say this. We want to create something beautiful, and warm, and bright and memorable, but the very fact that we desire it so much means that we will inevitably fall short of what we imagine. Our desire is to make things perfect for everyone, which means that our efforts will inevitably be perfect for no one.

I have told you this before, but my indulgent husband and I haven’t, for as long as we’ve been married, had a television. I tell you this as an admission of being completely out of the pop-culture loop. I recently was listening to an amazing podcast called Business Wars, and it took a deep dive into what has become a pop-culture phenomenon about which I had zero awareness whatsoever: the Hallmark Christmas movie. 

I felt like I was an alien, peering in on this whole genre that seemed just…so absurd. I was particularly intrigued as they talked about location scouting for these Christmas movies, and how absolutely every scene had to scream, “Christmas”. Like, overdose on lights and stockings and snow and trees and hot cocoa and Santa Hats.

So, as someone on the outside of this phenomenon peering in, what I see is that the Ideal Christmas had been commoditized. It has a Christmas look and a feel of Christmas feel and a Christmas sound and an oddly predictable storyline.

And as with anything, when we start comparing our lives to something that is intended as entertainment and to represent a homogenized “Ideal”, we will feel like we are failing.

We people pleasers walk away from nearly every single activity in which we were trying to please others by creating the “perfect” Christmas, feeling like complete and utter failures. 

So, Cinderella, the first, most important thing that I want you to hear from me today is this: You are not a failure. Whatever cultivated and curated version of Christmas you are trying to recreate, stop comparing yourself to it. 

Your heart and your intentions are honorable. But you are missing something critical: in trying to create a perfect experience for everyone else, you have forgotten to love yourself first.

The Golden Rule says, love others as you love yourself. But you must start by loving yourself. Knowing yourself. Being in love with yourself. I’ve said that a million times before and I will keep saying it until it sinks in and starts becoming a reality in your life.

As your fairy godmother, I feel that it is my duty to sit you down for a few minutes and have a very important chat about why we do what we do, especially at the holidays.

Up until now, you have been setting expectations: expectations for the perfect tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect cookies, the perfect gifts, the perfect ugly Christmas sweater, the perfect…the perfect…I don’t even know what. I know what my expectations are, and they aren’t always for a perfect “thing”. I want the perfect ambience. I want a Christmas day on which my children don’t get jealous of each other’s gifts. I want to feel like I have made someone happy. I want to sit back for a few minutes and not feel like a failure.

Is that too much to ask? 

If this sounds even remotely familiar to you, then we’ve got some things to talk about.

Part One: What we control

When we talked about articulating our Ideal Life, I talked about how critical it is that our Ideal Life statements be about who we are in our Ideal Life… If this is new to you, an Ideal Life statement describes the kind of person we are and the life we want to lead, and we construct them by answering the prompt, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…” over and over and over again until we have dozens of pages of filled with the description of who we are in our Ideal Life.

After we have gotten to the bottom of the well of all the ways we imagine ourselves being in our Ideal Life, we look for themes that recur in all of our statements. 

Some of these themes include Parenting, or Marriage, or Relationships but also themes like work, our bodies and health, our Mental Health, and many many more.

The trick with these statements is that they are not about the other people in our lives. They are about ourselves. For example, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who has children who are always satisfied with their gifts,” while a dreamy ideal, is not a valid Ideal Life statement, because it is about who my children are,  and not who I am. 

The only person whose attitude we can change, whose behavior we have any control over, whose needs we can fully understand, is our own. 

This is important to remember, because when it comes to the holidays, and our dreams and fantasies of an Ideal Christmas, we can very quickly hang our expectations for a successful holiday on the peg of someone else’s experience, attitude, behavior or needs. 

Part of loving ourselves (which is the precursor to being able to live out the Golden Rule)  is taking the time to know what we want and what is under our control. Every single time we hinge our experience of a bright and merry holiday on someone else’s experience, we are letting air out of our own tires.

You are responsible for your attitude, your behavior and what comes out of your mouth. There is no way that you can hold yourself responsible for how irritating your brother-in-law is, or how overbearing your nephew is. You cannot control your mother-in-law’s criticism, or your boss’s unrealistic deadlines. You need to unhook your expectations for yourself from all those things.

But you are responsible for how you do or do not take to heart your irritating brother-in-law’s mansplaining, or your nephew’s endless monologue about the latest conspiracy theories he’s found. You are responsible for having perspective about your mother-in-law’s criticism and not taking the bait when she wants to get a rise out of you. You are responsible for doing the work you can in the time given to you. The rest is not in your hands.

Sometimes, our own expectations get in the way. We have these big, beautiful dreams, and big dreams are exciting and motivating, yes. But big dreams can disappoint us. They can leave us feeling like failures. But, again, as your fairy godmother who wants to see you live your Ideal Life, I would encourage you, for once, to dream small.

Start with your own heart, break down the building blocks of what would bring you joy this year, and then seek out those small pieces.

Do you remember why we started talking about the Ideal Life in the first place? It was because of Marie Kondo, and her book the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Before she tells you to grab a black trash bag to start decluttering your home of everything that doesn’t “spark joy”, she tells you to spend some time writing about what your perfect life would look like.

When I first did this exercise, I did it in a rather perfunctory way, because what I really needed was to start making space in my apartment. I didn’t have enough space in my head to imagine what my Ideal Life would look like. What I needed at the time was to make space for my firstborn to sleep.

Well, what I want for us to do, because this is going to be the key to everything else we talk about from know until the end of the year, I want you to really imagine what your Ideal Holiday would look like.

Back in Episode 34, called Navigating the ideal Life, we talked about the difference between expectations and expectancy. Expectations are pre-defined outcomes against which we can pass or fail. Expectations will, more likely than not, leave us disappointed. Factors beyond our control are par for the course in this life, and very little ends up how we expect it to. Too many expectations will leave us feeling like a failure. 

However, expectancy is a fervent hope for a positive outcome. We cannot fail at an expectancy. Expectancy is the ability to imagine a bevy of positive outcomes, and hope for the greatest common denominator of all of them.

This holiday season, I my hope for you is that the greatest common denominator of everything you undertake will be…joy, with a little bit of  love mixed in for good measure.

Do you have a moment to think about this right now? I’d love to walk you through some questions, to help you think about what joy and love would look like this year. The goal is going to be to find the nuggets of deep, live-bringing, innocent desire, the little building blocks of joy that will give you direction as to how you will love yourself first, so that you will be fully equipped to love others this holiday season.

Part Two: Know Thyself

I want you to take a moment and imagine your Ideal Holiday. Let the images pass through your mind like a ViewMaster. Don’t know what a ViewMaster is? Then imagine a kind of slideshow. Maybe there is just one image. Maybe there are two or three. Or ten.

In those images that just clicked through your mind, are they situations that have already occurred, and you are remembering them fondly, or are they wishes that you have for an Ideal Holiday that has yet to materialize?

In these different situations, are you alone, or are there other people? 

I’m going to confess something to you: in a lot of the images that flashed through my mind, I was alone. Out of the maybe 5 images in my mind, 3 of them were just me. It’s okay and it is healthy to want to have part of your Ideal Holiday be in which you take time alone to enjoy the ambience. Not everything you do has to be to please other people. But we will get to that.

If there are other people, who are they? It might not be the people you usually spend your holidays with, and that’s okay! Remember, we’re over here dreaming right now. Maybe they are people you lost touch with a long time ago. If that is the case, is it the person that you are thinking of, or is the shared experience that made it such a memorable experience? Is there anything of that shared experience that you could bring back into your life this year, as you seek out joy in your holiday season?

What does your Ideal Holiday look like? Does it look like garlands of lights? Is it snow-covered, or is it under palm trees? Does your Ideal Holiday include candles? Is your Ideal Holiday showy and bright, or is it subdued and discreet? Do you have all the trappings of a traditional holiday, or do you do things differently? Are there lots of gifts, like mountains of gifts, or are there just a few? Is your Holiday homemade or store bought?

Next question: what does your Ideal Holiday feel like? I mean, like physically. What are the sensations you feel in your body? Are you cold but happy? Is there a roaring fire, and so you are physically toasty? Are you cozy under a blanket, or are you wearing a slinky off the shoulder dress holding a flute of champagne, freezing your butt off but happy? Are there hugs? Are you holding someone’s hand? Are you wearing a fur coat, or a down jacket, or flipflops with sand between your toes? What does your Ideal holiday feel like?

What does your holiday taste like? Does it taste like hot cocoa with marshmallows? Or Cinnamon cookies? Does it taste like panettone, or roasted chestnuts? Does it taste like mulled wine or fruitcake? Does it taste like cheap, hollow foil-wrapped Santa Claus, or does it taste like Ferrero Rocher? What does your Ideal holiday taste like?

What does your holiday smell like? Does it smell like pine? Or like roasted turkey? Does it smell like outdoors? Like popcorn? Like a fireplace or chopped wood? Maybe like cotton candy? Does it smell like plastic toys, or does it smell like expensive perfume? Does it smell like candles and mandarine oranges? What does your Ideal holiday smell like?

What does your Ideal holiday sound like? Is it the crackling of a fireplace? Popcorn popping? Bells jingling when the front door opens? Like a cat playing with the ornaments on a tree? Like a child shaking a wrapped gift? Like the laughter of children? Like the voice of someone you love that you haven’t heard from in a long time? Is it the popping of a cork and the clinking of glasses? Is there music? Is it quiet? Is it so quiet that you can hear your heartbeat?

Next question: How much thought and time do you put into your Ideal Holiday? Is it something you scour shops for, looking for the right decorations in just the right color, or do you make do with what you already have? Do you set aside a weekend to set your ambience? Or an afternoon? Do you have a list of people you give gifts to, or do you just pick things up as you find them? Do you wrap your gifts the night before, or do you wrap them as you bring them home? Do you take several trips to the Post Office, or just one big one? 

On this same note, what about gifts? What is the gift-giving process like in your Ideal Life? In your Ideal Holiday, how would you select a gift for each person on your list? Would it be because they requested the item, or because it brings you joy to offer it? In your Ideal Holiday, do you pull out all the stops, or do you give gifts within a budget? And conversely, how do you enjoy receiving gifts? In your Ideal Holiday, do you know what your gifts are in advance, and you spend the season anticipating them, or do you prefer the suspense of not knowing and the joy of opening up a surprise?

There is so much to say on the topic of gift giving and receiving, that next week’s entire episode is going to be a treatise on Gift Giving and the Love Languages, which I hope will both an interesting listen and an exciting way of looking at what can be one of the parts of the holidays that is so hard to get right

Next question: What kind of things do you talk about during your Ideal Holidays? Is it just like any other time of the year, or is there something special about your conversations? Are you fully rested, so you are able to really engage in your conversations? Are you able to keep a good attitude in your conversations? 

What I want for you to do this week is to take a little bit of time, and to break down those ideas that you have for what your Ideal Holiday would be like. What is your experience of your Ideal Holiday like, and how can you, as you start inevitably planning your end-of-the-year activities with those building blocks in mind.

Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant things are what can bring us joy, and if we can just prioritize them, our experience of the whole thing can change.. I mean, sitting quietly watching the Christmas tree with a cup of tea after the kids have gone to bed, alone, costs me absolutely nothing. But the quiet, the lights, the coziness…those are elements that I know will bring me joy. More of those moments means more beads of joy on the necklace of …my holidays!

Part Three: When Mama is happy…

There is a little phrase that gets whispered between my children from time to time, which, sadly, is more true than I would like to admit. “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” 

They say it when they don’t think I am listening, and when I have told them to do something that they don’t want to do. It’s stunning how much self-awareness they have: my children understand that their obedience has the power to keep things running smoothly. They know that doing what I ask them to do makes me happy, and when I am happy, everybody gets along. But for some reason, once, I must have let slip, “When Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy,” and now they taunt each other with it.

It usually will goad one child into doing something he doesn’t want to do, like putting his clothes in the washer or tidying his room. 

I hate this phrase, because I don’t like to think that I am tyrant, but, I will admit that sometimes I am. What I wish my children would say instead is, “When Mama is happy, everybody is happy.” Because that, right there, is the actual truth, and not just when it comes to putting away toys and eating vegetables.

As the Mama in charge of my little family, my state of mind, my mental health has an enormous impact on the family. When I am doing well, when I am in a good space and when I am actively taking care of myself, things generally go better than when I am experiencing a roiling volcano of cognitive dissonance within my own heart.

Maybe this is just me, but when there is something in my heart that is awry, whether I am not getting enough sleep, or I’m not feeling challenged enough in the work I’m doing, or…anything is systemically wrong, and not working when do my daily check-in with my Ideal Life exercise…when any of these are the case, my fuse is shorter, my attention span is limited, my ability to hear what my children mean rather than what they actually say…all these are impacted.

Layer on top of this the expectations we have for ourselves to make sure everyone has an A+ holiday…well, if we aren’t doing well, it’s just going to compound. During the holidays, we need to double-down on taking care of our mental health, so that we don’t become a reason that ain’t nobody happy.

Loving our families isn’t enough to give them a solid foundation. Loving them isn’t enough to give them the sparkling holiday season. We could give and give and give of ourselves until we are completely empty, and still fail them.

Because when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. On the other hand, to a great extent, when Mama  is happy, everybody is happy. We have so much power to set the tone in our families this holiday season.

No, loving our families is not, it will never be enough. We must start by loving ourselves, by being gentle with ourselves. Being curious about ourselves and what we like and what we want for our Ideal Holiday. 

Remember, Joy is contagious, even in little tiny specks.

When we start asking ourselves, “What would joy look like to me this year?” we are manufacturing our own fairy dust. We are acknowledging that our joy matters, and our joy has the power to impact the people we love. 

Part Four: The Love Languages

Oh yes, that again. No, you’re not imagining things. We have talked at length about the Love Languages before. It dates back to Episode 7, entitled My Intentional Valentine. Back then, I was encouraging you to be your own Valentine, and to love yourself according to how you would like to be loved. It was a fun episode, and if you have a half hour or so, I would recommend listening again. 

You see, only when we know how to love ourselves, and our unspoken, deepest needs for love are at least acknowledged by us, can we start loving other people the way they need to be loved. 

It’s like…we cannot see what others need until we know what we need. I have been married for more than twenty years, and in many ways, I am only just now learning how to love and be loved by my husband. Because for a very long time, I didn’t love myself. I didn’t think I was deserving of love. So I couldn’t receive the love he was giving…which he was giving in the only ways he knew how.

It wasn’t until I started loving myself, and loving myself the way I needed to be loved, that the lens changed, and I could see what my husband was doing to show me that he loved me. And even if his act of love, cleaning the toilet isn’t something that I experience as love, I see that he is doing what he knows how to show me how much he loves me.

We both had to learn how to speak each other’s love language…both speak and understand. But it started because I got to know myself. 

Before I get lost again on a tangent, here’s the deal with the Love Languages: not everyone experiences love, or expresses love the same way.

This concept of the Five Love Languages, was developed by Dr Gary Chapman. I highly recommend reading the book, and taking the time to consider how we experience love and how the people we love experience love. But just as important is how we express love,  and how they express love. 

Once we are in a place where we love ourselves and can provide the building blocks of our own joy, we are able to, with great lucidity, become a student of the people we love. 

Becoming a student of the people we love is one of the most satisfying ways to be a parent and a spouse. 

Here is an example: 

My indulgent husband and I differ very, very strongly on one solid, rather important relational point. He believes that surprises are a good thing. I, personally, hate surprises.

This difference has only recently come to light in our relationship, and, as with most of the other points of conflict that have arisen in our 23 year-long marriage, it has come to the forefront because of our scalawags.

Neither of us are wrong, of course. He is right in a very practical way: what they do not know about they cannot ask four thousand times in three hours “Are we there yet?” about. I am right in a more contentment focused way: anticipating something is a way to enjoy an experience in advance, making the pleasure of the experience last longer by displacing its starting point.

Case in point

My indulgent husband is a teacher, so theoretically neither of us is actually “working” during school vacations. Technically, however, we both have mountains of work to do. He has papers to grade, I have chapters to write. There is never not work to do.

When we are very organized, we work out a “work plan”, so that each of us gets one half of a day to work on as many days as possible during vacation. What a “working” parent does during his/her work time is his/her choice. The job of the non-working parent is to get the children out of the house.

Me, I am a planner. It is pure joy for me, for days in advance, to be able to plan out what work I want to do when. I love what I do, so to be able to plan for it is also a great pleasure. I view those hours that I have to myself to work as gifts. Because I am a creative, with inevitable ebbs and flows, the fact of knowing that I will have time to work can shift the tide towards Flow.

Well. It happened that we were not particularly organized over a long weekend earlier this year. I had assumed that we would share the duties. (And you know what assume means, right?) I had tons of work to do, I was in flow and I couldn’t wait to get started.

But I noticed that my indulgent husband hadn’t mentioned anything about a work plan for that long weekend. Because I was a people pleaser and had no idea how to advocate for what I really want, instead of actually talking about it, we ended up all getting ready to go to a park.

I’ll be honest, I was crabby about it. I wanted to stay home and work. I probably wasn’t being enthusiastic about our preparations. But I did it. I was ready. We all went downstairs, got in the car. Everybody had their seatbelts on.

And then, my indulgent husband said, “Haha, just kidding! You’re staying home to work.”

So, confession time: I am an ungrateful person. I am a terrible communicator. I am self-centered and miserable to live with.

Instead of being happy and thankful to have time to work I became so irrationally angry.

I was angry because I felt robbed of the opportunity to anticipate. I was angry because I hate surprises. I hate jokes. I do not understand them, I do not appreciate them. They always leave me feeling disrespected and confused.

This was no exception. My communication skills and self-centeredness are part of the problem: no one is a mind reader, not even after 23 years of marriage. But the other side is, in spite of the fact that I got to stay home and work, I was left feeling more unloved and more angry than I would have had I gone to the park. This was not my indulgent husband’s intention. But it was the result.

The moral of the story is this: A kind gesture can backfire if it does not align with the needs and desires of the receiver.

This is why, when I say that being a student of the people we love can make us better spouse and a better parent, we can start setting a precedent of loving people in the ways that they need to be loved.

And…as we saw earlier, as Mamas in our homes, we have the power to influence the very beating heart of our homes. Our example is a powerful, powerful tool to set a new direction for our families. Our example speaks louder than our words.

When next week we look at how the five Love Languages and Gift Giving meet up, you will see that it will begin by thinking about how we like to receive gifts.

It always has to start with self-knowledge. Self-examination. Lucidity is a virtue that will keep our fire burning throughout the holiday season.

Part Five: The Challenge

All right, Cinderella, so let’s recap a little bit. First things first, remember that you are not responsible for how other people think, behave, or speak. You are responsible for you and your attitude. By taking really good care of yourself and your mental health, you can measurably improve your family life. This is the very essence of self-love. And you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

Secondly, you need to let yourself dream a little bit about what your Ideal Holiday would look like. Distill down those dreams into the little elements that make up each dream. The music, the lights, the conversations, the smells, the flavors. With every tiny element you are able to bring in, your are increasing your chances of having more joy in your holiday season. So…really, what I am asking you to do is to dream small. Dream down to the building blocks of your holiday, and seek those building blocks out. Don’t seek out some big, dreamy Hallmark movie scene. Seek out the basic elements of that scene and incorporate them in your holiday.

Lastly, as you get comfortable with what brings you joy, start considering the people you love. Become a student of the people you live with, the people you interact with at the holidays. Actually listen to what they say and think about what they have expressed in the past. Study the people you love and start thinking about how you can bring small bits of joy into their lives through what you discover about them.

Conclusion:

Listen, Cinderella: I know that on the surface, I have said both a thing and its opposite today…namely, that both you are and you aren’t responsible for everyone’s experience of the holidays. This apparent contradiction is what I talked about at the opening today, when I said we were going to go out deep into the weeds and get philosophical about celebrating the Holidays.

It is a fact that you are not responsible for making everyone’s perfect dream come true on a macro level. You cannot hold yourself to a standard of perfection or make someone else’s expectations your marching orders. In that, it is true that you are not responsible for everyone’s experience of the holidays.

It is also a fact that you are, as much as you probably don’t think of yourself this way, you are an influencer. Your words, attitudes, hopes, disappointments…those things influence the words, attitudes, hopes and disappointments of those people in your immediate circle. Taking care of yourself, getting to know yourself, falling in love with yourself will fill you up and make it possible to have a positive impact on those around you. 

Please, please, please: unhook yourself from other people’s expectations. Love yourself first. Find the most basic, simplest elements of joy and pursue them. When you have done these things, it really does become easier to love truly other people.

Whether you like it or not, you are the beating heart of your family. You influence the overall attitude of your family by your own. This is a big responsibility. By taking care of yourself, getting to know yourself, you will discover more joy and more love. And when you have more joy and more love, then it will spill over onto your family.

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. I am so grateful to you and I am pulling for you as you start dreaming small for this holiday season.

I want to give a great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro to the show. Also, a huge thank you to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet!



Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?