THE BLOG
11/30/2013 04:46 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2014

Finding Holiday Joy 10 Minutes at a Time

Santa is really a very wise man. He may not have gifted gold, frankincense or myrrh, but he knows the wisdom of making a list and checking it twice. I am a list maker from January to October, but somehow the holidays always catch me in a frenzy of living "just in time." Last year's photo calendar (our annual gift to the relatives) wasn't even created until well into January. Cards to teachers were written the night before the last day of school before Christmas break. Just a day or two earlier, I probably could have included at least one special thing each of the kids said about their teachers in the cards. The teachers probably would have liked a little personal recognition more than a mini banana loaf anyway.

So this is the year that I'll pause, take a deep breath, and make a thorough list of to dos and goal dates. My main goal is to build in (and block off on the calendar) time for quality activities -- more time to shop with the kids for the gifts we'll contribute to the toy drive, and less time doing it myself. More time with friends, less time with obligations. More time enjoying the preparations, less time finding them a burden.

This will not be perfect -- already I messed up with the Thanksgiving food drive. My hope had been to go to the grocery store with the kids and we'd all pick our favorite items to share. I thought this would help the kids picture what they're doing for someone else. Instead, I not only bought the items myself, but I even walked the bag into school.

My goal is to get holiday-ready 10 minutes at a time -- pausing, being thoughtful, and being proactive. I may spend hours wandering a mall or at a Christmas recital -- that time doesn't count. It's the 10 minutes where I'm thinking ahead and thinking about how to make the holidays meaningful, or even the 10 minutes actually enjoying the recital or the mall -- those count.

The first thing I did was block off a few dates. I felt like this was the most important thing to confirm before things get too busy. These are a few dates that seemed important, valuable, meaningful:

• decorating the house
• planning a family outreach activity
• scheduling a day with friends -- skating and cookie baking (kids) and holidays cocktails (adults)
• shopping with the kids so they can pick out their gifts for their siblings and relatives

The rest of my list was "soup to nuts" (almost literally, since it did involve finding recipes), things like:

• Taking holiday photo
• Designing the holiday card (that's my husband's to-do)
• Getting the email list together for the card
• Selecting photos for the calendar
• Finding a coupon for calendar
• Placing the order for calendar

I know those steps sound tiny (couldn't I have bundled it all under one item: "Calendar"?) but each of those little steps takes a fair amount of time, and if I don't break it up I'll never get it done! Or I'll try to do it all at once and will be mad at myself that ordering one little calendar takes so darn long.

I've been obsessive about writing everything down now -- any random thought or gift idea that pops into my head, I send myself an email. Right now in my inbox there's an email that says, "Grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches with tomato soup" (my dad always made us that on cold winter days. We don't have too many of those in Los Angeles, but I'll try to replicate the mood) and one that says, "Tipping/crisp bills" to remind myself to finally learn the guidelines for tipping around the holidays (have I always been over? Under?) and to get crisp bills from the bank for gifts. If it doesn't get on the list, it doesn't happen!

Probably the biggest to-do for me should be to continually remind myself (cumulative 10 minutes a day) to enjoy the time, that whatever happens happens. We've been in technology bedlam all week (no Internet or land line, plus a power failure two nights ago leaving us with a slowly rotting turkey). Not being able to do things efficiently puts me in a low level of depression and frustration. I've been grumpy and ranting all morning (my family may say longer). Just trying to register for the Turkey Trot had me dropping F-bombs as the registration process from my phone churned as slowly as I will trot. It's time for me to lighten up and get some perspective -- the Turkey Trot is supposed to be fun! No matter how much stress and frustration I have during the holidays, I'm pretty lucky to have it. Still, I wouldn't mind if Santa gave me back my internet for Christmas.

My hope is that my lists and my 10-minute timer keep me grounded. I hope they will help me enjoy, share, appreciate, step back, jump in and even relax. There are not too many Christmas carols that celebrate "relaxing," but that would truly bring joy to my world.