At random moments I feel guilty about Christmas. In the supermarket I’m buying my usual bread and broccoli and deciding to treat myself to the world’s smallest panettone and a mini bottle of bubbles, while all around me people are loading up their trolleys with enough wine to last me till 2025 and hams the size of a small child. Their stress levels seem enormous: the food, the parties, the kids, the presents, the entertaining.
I feel guilty because I sail through with barely a ripple to my routine. I bought myself a couple of presents and a couple for friends and for dad, and I’ll buy a few treats at the supermarket with my weekly shop, but that’s about the extent of my preparation.
I need not feel guilty, of course. It’s silly. Plenty of people love the hustle and bustle and can think of nothing more enjoyable than spending their day decorating, putting on a feast and feeding the 5000 over the course of a day.
Me, I love not doing that. A day to myself with nothing more pressing to do than read a book is my preference. I’ll be celebrating in my own quiet way.
Here we are then, the final countdown. This time last year I was just getting to grips with my sister’s death and was looking ahead to a new job.
This year I’m trying to understand where the year went. It seemed to rocket past.
Looking back, work has been very busy and overall more satisfying than not. My social life has been satisfying even though it’s been quite drastically curtailed, but I don’t feel I’ve missed out. My health has been pretty good all things considered: no major debilitating flares, my blood work is good and I’ve avoided the worst of the bugs flying around the office.
One thing I have made little progress on is exercise and getting back into running. I still hold out hope – I belong to a Facebook group for runners with rheumatoid arthritis and there are a lot of people out there doing it so it’s clearly possible. Age and the fatigue that goes with the disease are against me but they shouldn’t be fatal to my goal.
Then there’s my “Life 2.0” plan: getting myself match fit for retirement. I haven’t made much headway on this at all. It’s definitely a To Do for 2017.
Overall 2016 didn’t go too badly. Nothing especially newsworthy happened, no real adventures or trips, but it feels like a pretty good year of the plain biscuit variety.
There are certain times of the year when being alone is seen as even more tragic than usual. Christmas is a prime example.
I’m not going to join in the chorus of “1001 ways to avoid being alone at Christmas” blog posts, because I don’t believe there’s anything tragic about being in your own on the holidays. Quite the opposite: it’s bliss.
You get to spend the day doing whatever makes you happy. You get to eat your favourite foods. You get to decorate the house the way you like it (no more fake trees and multi coloured lights when your heart wants minimal and white. Or vv). You get the gifts you really want because you buy them for yourself. How could it be anything BUT blissful?
A colleague described how she spent Christmas Day last year: she drove to a favourite beach, sat in the tail of her station wagon with the gate open, had a picnic of snackable food, listened to music and sketched, painted and read for hours while watching the waves.
Tell me that doesn’t sound like heaven.
When I had the beach house I’d generally spend the day either outside in the sun reading in a deck chair, or inside by the fire if the weather was being contrary. This year, without the beach house, I’m going to be at home. I’ll read on my porch instead, or perhaps I’ll take a picnic up the road to sit in the botanic gardens. If it’s wet, I’ll have my picnic on my couch instead. Or maybe I’ll follow my colleague’s example and drive somewhere with a view just to enjoy it.
Revel in a day where you have a license – an expectation even – to do what makes you happy. Make it a day of peace and joy.
I had friends staying this week, visiting from the US. I had taken leave so I could show them around and spend time with them, but it didn’t work out quite like that. I got sick and had to take to my bed. Fortunately they were quite happy to explore on their own so I pointed them in the right direction and sent them off. I managed to drag myself out the next day, and we spent a very enjoyable day having lunch in a quirky café and enjoying the sights.
They were here four nights. That’s quite a long time when you live on your own the other 361 days of the year.
Some observations about the experience:
- Don’t underestimate the impact. Having two people to stay is a big increase in the household. If you normally lived in a family of 4, it’s the equivalent of suddenly having 12 people in your house. The additional laundry when they leave will feel mountainous.
- Buy more of everything you plan to eat. I’d normally buy 3 bananas at a time because they get overripe too quickly. But with two other people in the house that’s only one day’s serving. I struggled to get my head around this. I expect it’s the same problem in reverse for people downsizing – they can’t believe one litre of milk is enough for a week.
- Be prepared for other people to do things differently. My friends left doors open where I would close them, lights on when I’d turn them off. Unless it’s a big deal (electricity is super expensive, heat or animals are escaping), it’s probably not worth mentioning. Especially if it’s just a couple of days.
- Get organised. It takes work to feed two extra people when you are set up to feed one. For some reason, despite my urging, they were reluctant to help themselves and get their own breakfast so I prepared them all. My usual routines that work for one serving didn’t work so well for three. We weren’t under any time pressure so it didn’t matter but I did notice it.
- Sharing a bathroom requires negotiation if it’s not going to annoy everyone. My friend offered to have a bath at the end of the day rather than a shower at the beginning, and that eased the pressure.
The other big lesson was that I came face to face with the fact that I am at this point in my life completely habituated to my own routines and would be a complete nightmare to live with for any duration.
It got me thinking about how to be a good guest. Do I pay attention to the existing house routines and fit with them? Do I look after myself as much as I can? My friend’s offer to have a bath at night is a good example of how to be a great guest: adapt your routine to suit the house and take the pressure off.
“Leave things as (or better than) you found them”is a good rule of thumb. While my friends didn’t help themselves to breakfast they did make cups of tea etc and put things back where they found them (including dishes in the dishwasher etc). It’s surprising what a difference this makes in terms of how “easy” it feels to have guests.
I’m not suggesting guests should be invisible nor that guests are an unwelcome disruption. But when you live alone, the impact of visitors is much more keenly felt simply because even one extra person in the house is a very noticeable impact on “normal” life.
Having easy guests makes a big difference, and it’s always good to be reminded of what makes someone an easy guest so I can imitate when the favour is reciprocated.