Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Seven

This is how we feel, getting to the final day of Calorie-Free Christmas. I did a little recap yesterday, if you need one.

And before we get much farther, I’ve also posted today at the FFP Blog about loving your baby novel and fretting about its future.

But now, with no further ado:

#7 Theater – full surround experience

You could argue that yesterday’s topic, the books of Christmas, involve every sense because the imagination kicks in. But there’s something about the TV shows of our youth, the Christmas movies, the ballets and concerts that just wrap you up and transport you.

My mom commented yesterday that my stepdad’s family loves A Christmas Story. In honor of that family, who are taking me and David in for Christmas this year, I’ve put Ralphie at the top. It’s one of those brilliantly funny movie that you can watch every year and laugh hysterically at all the same parts. We know it so well, we start giggling even before the gag plays out.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum – the gloriously divine. My grandmother used to take me to see the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas. We’d go down to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, have lunch and shop around Larimer Square. There’s something about the ballet, too, that just glistens. All those flowing tutus and graceful swaying. It feels like peace, love and joy.

This picture is from the University of the Pacific’s production, which is sadly already over. Isn’t it lovely, though? Most communities stage some version of the Nutcracker or a concert of The Messiah.

Then there’s always the old TV shows. If you’re like me, you remember the TV line-up leading up to Christmas. When would they broadcast Rudolf? Or the Peanuts Christmas Special? Sometimes you lucked into seeing a favorite, other times you missed them. But having them reappear felt like family members coming to visit after a year away and kissing you on the cheek.

So I’ll leave you with a big hug and a grumpy Merry Christmas from my favorite curmudgeonly uncle, the Heat Miser.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Six

We’re down to our last two days of adventures in celebrating Christmas that don’t involve chowing down.

To recap, last Monday we explored the world of scent with #1 Body Butter: all the scent with none of the fat.

Tuesday, Day 2 added flavor to scent with Tea: warm, sweet, spicy and good for you.

On Day 3, we added in emotion, with the joyful anticipation of an advent calendar.

Day 4 was all about the visual, with the indulgence in the pretty and shiny and the week finished out with Day 5, the sounds of music.

So, here we are, a new week, Day 6 and onto one of my very most favorite topics.

#6 Books: a world of pleasure.

Like with the music, I have my collection of Christmas-themed books that I put away with the decorations. Every year I bring them out again, like old friends.

One of my favorites is A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. I have this very version, in fact, though mine has a few more thumbprints. My high-school drama teacher used to read this aloud every year, often on the last day of class before break. If you’ve never read it, it’s well worth it. Written in 1954, it hearkens even farther back to the poet’s childhood, with a lyrical, nostalgic retelling of a simpler, less-commercial time. Here’s a taste:

All the Christmases roll down toward the
two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon
bundling down the sky that was our street;
and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged,
fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the
snow and bring out whatever I can find.
In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued
ball of holidays resting at the rim of the
carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero
and the firemen.

If you prefer something funny, another old favorite is Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Because it’s about a church Christmas pageant, it’s considerably more church-y, but it’s also tears-running-down-your-cheeks funny with all the things that go wrong. In the end the message is about hypocrisy and play-acting compared to truly generous acts. I remember my stepdad, Leo, reading this aloud to us and how he’d have to stop to just laugh. It’s a good memory.

I should give you a taste of that, too. This is how it opens:

The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.

The toolhouse burned right down to the ground, and I think that surprised the Herdmans. They set fire to things all the time, but that was the first time they managed to burn down a whole building.

There are other books, of course. A Christmas Carol is standard, but the story has been replicated in so many ways that it sometimes feels tired to me. Still, it’s worth it to read the original tale if you never have.

So now I’m curious – what am I missing? Any wonderful Christmas books that are part of your holiday tradition?

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Five

Okay, you know what’s coming today, our fifth day of exploring ways to celebrate the holidays that don’t necessarily involve pumping on the calories.

#5 Music: there’s more out there than Rudolf and chestnuts

Yeah I know – the music thing is a double-edged thing this time of year. We’re shopping for Halloween costumes and some squeaky children’s chorus is singing Frosty the Snowman. Whoever decided that what we all most want at Christmas time is to listen to children not our own sing songs designed to go with cartoons, well… if it weren’t the season of peace and joy, we’d have to kill them.

The music is another way to make this season special. I keep my Christmas cds in the storage bins with the decorations, so they come out together. Now I have a Christmas playlist on my iPod that I have unchecked for most of the year – with 233 songs in it.

I like to seek out the unusual, the old songs. One of my favorites is Dido’s Christmas Day. I embedded it here, in case you’d like to listen while you read.

Some of my favorite albums are The Chieftains’ Bells of Dublin, which has some great old song like The Wren in the Furze, and Christmas in Rome, which is, not surprisingly, considerably more Catholic. I love Enya’s Silent Night Christmas EP, but didn’t know about the album I posted here until I searched for the EP (to no avail). I immediately downloaded And Winter Came – lovely. Annie Lennox also just came out with a Christmas Cornucopia, which bears her inimitable style.

Some fun collections include the Barenaked Ladies Barenaked for the Holidays (it has a couple of lovely Hanukkah songs, too) and the Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas Caravan. David is fond of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Christmas Time Again. For more traditional Celtic songs, check out Jean Redpath’s Still the Night or Thistle & Shamrock’s Christmas Ceilidh. The compilations often lead me to terrific discoveries like Stuart McLean, a Canadian radio show host. He tells stories about Dave, who owns a record store. “Dave Cooks a Turkey” and “Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party” are two of the most hysterical stories I’ve ever heard. You’d have to get his Christmas Concert cds to hear them, but here’s a shorter one, just for you (from that same album).


Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Four

Yesterday we celebrated the joys of advent calendars.

(Though I noted that many of you manage to sneak in a few calories by adding chocolate to anticipation.)

Today is all about the visual.

#4 Decorations: lights, glitter, glitz and glam

Let’s face it “Christmas” decorating pulls a lot more from the holiday’s pagan roots than from the religious holiday. We’re facing the darkest days of the year, the longest nights, the weak and slanting day time sun. Thus the lights!

The holiday provides so many opportunities to add light and sparkle to our lives. Wear something glittery. Or a lot of things glittery. Bright colors with shimmering fabrics. I’ll usually get a little something special to wear for each Christmas. Maybe a new sweater with rhinestone buttons or a pretty blouse. Sometimes just a silk scarf to glam things up.

There are so many ways to use light now to decorate, too. Here in Santa Fe, the farolitas are popular. Some people call them luminarias, but those are actually small bonfires. The kind in the bags with little candles are farolitas and, if you’re like me and 99% of Santa Fe, you get the electric kind, sometimes called electrolitas.

A traditional name.

I haven’t regaled you with the tales of me spending four consecutive days on our roof, tying down those little fuckers. (Another traditional name.) But it’s worth it. One neighbor said our house looks like a castle. Five other people have stopped me to say how great it looks. It gives me a thrill of pleasure to see the lights, to hear that other people like them, too.

My way of staving off the dark.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Three

For the last two days, we’ve played with scent and then scent plus flavor. For Day 3 of our adventures in calorie-free delights, I’d like to move into a more ephemeral sense. This sense is part thought, part emotion. It’s what enables us as intelligent beings to plan for the future.


#3 Advent Calendars: an exercise in daily joy

Remember that feeling when we were kids, of the building excitement for Christmas? How it seemed that the days dragged by and that the clock ticked ever more slowly, that magical day seeming to grow farther away not closer. Each preparation, while fun, seemed a torment of waiting. Picking out the tree, spending an evening decorating it, helping to wrap gifts, baking cookies. Every moment filled us with just a bit more excitement, a dollop more of anticipation until, by Christmas morning, we were fair to bursting with energy.

(Could have been all the fudge and sugar cookies, too.)

I used to have paper advent calendars that my mom would tape to the glass back patio door. Every morning before school, I could open a new numbered window and see a little picture. As the month progressed, more windows stood open, showing color and a growing scene. Folding open those little cardboard tabs made every day just a bit brighter. Of course, they also made the kind with little chocolates behind the tabs, but that’s *not* what we’re going for here.

The modern version of the advent calendar just got a little better. My favorite electronic greeting card company, Jacquie Lawson came out with an electronic Advent Calendar this year. And yes, I got it for myself and a bunch of my friends.

Every morning the swirling snow globe appears on my desktop, waiting for me when I start up the computer. Because computers are magic, it knows what day it is and encourages me to open a new window in the village. Then a little scene with music plays.

I love this company because of their beautiful images. Also, because they’re Brits, they have what to Americans is a more old-fashioned take on Christmas. It’s lovely and refreshing. Here’s their card of the month, if you’d like to see their stuff in action. Fair warning: if you’re reading this post after December 2010, then it’s likely not to be a Christmas card. But as I add this it’s a tree-decorating sugar-plum fairy.

Jacquie Lawson e-cards

The calendar started on December 1, but you can always have a little catching-up orgy of fun.

Enjoy building the anticipation.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Two

Welcome to Day Two of our adventure in exploring calorie-free ways to evoke the holiday spirit.

Yesterday I talked about the realm of scent. How lotions and body scrubs can evoke that special celebratory feeling. You may have seen my old friend, Kev, asking if this really works. He’s a rare person who has no sense of smell. He thought that for people who can smell, scent only makes you hungrier. This can be true. However, I’ve found that indulging in the scent of something delicious is satisfying in itself. Some of this might tie into breaking those habits of emotional eating, like I’ve described with fasting. Just because something smells desirable doesn’t mean you eat it. But enjoy the lovely scents nonetheless.

So today we add a layer of taste to the mix. How to enjoy flavor without calories (or manufactured chemicals with disconcerting FDA histories)?

Tea: warm, sweet, spicy and good for you

Tea is a wonderful thing. It’s warm. The range of scents and flavors vary all over the spectrum. You can drink all you like without a single calorie and, if you choose carefully, they’re even good for you. The best part is, you can add in some festive glassware for that extra celebratory touch.

Let’s face it – half the fun of Starbucks at holiday time is getting the festive red cup. It’s silly and yet it makes us happy to see them. And those special flavors they have only for the holidays? Oh yes. I saw the ripple across twitter when people announced the pumpkin-spice lattes were out. And now those ginger-spice lattes and black-cherry mochas. It’s clever marketing because having those flavors only at this time of year makes them special. That’s entirely the trick of creating your own celebratory treat.

Sadly, those ginger spice lattes are not sugar-free. And for me, now that I’m staying away from milk and from caffeine – that doesn’t leave much in the cup.

So, I’m indulging in tea. Pick a special mug for Christmas. Something that evokes the season for you. A few years back I gave my mom these great metallic mugs that look like Christmas tree ornaments. I still regret not getting some for myself. But there are lots of pretty mugs and fabulous tea pots. I like to brew my tea in a ceramic pot that I keep on my desk for easy refilling.

While shopping with my mom and Hope, I discovered Teavana. Fair warning: Teavana is quite “too.” The tea is expensive and it comes with specific instructions on what temperature to steep it at and for exactly how long. This is so not me. I boil the water. I throw the tea in an infuser, throw it all in the tea pot and it sits on my desk that way all morning. No doubt the lovely and precise sales lady who explained the instructions to me would be wringing her perfectly manicured hands in anguish.

I’m just saying – don’t let that stop you.

They got me on this blend of White Ayurvedic Chai and Samurai Chai Mate. The latter does have caffeine, but I can control the amount by how much I add to the infuser. Ah, the scent, the warm sweet taste. It’s like being in a tea house in Europe with an antique book while snow falls outside.

Or at least, how I imagine that would be.

There’s lots of easy tea choices. The site that provided the picture above seems to have good information. And Damn Fine Tea, which is run by some friends of mine, has a special holiday blend this year. (No, they didn’t give me tea to say this, but they should!) It’s also as simple, though, as plucking a box of tea off the grocery store shelf. Peppermint, cinnamon, cloves. Pick the spice that makes you feel special. Cozy up to your festive mug and sip. Let the brew transport you.

There’s a reason writers love tea.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day One

Today marks a bit of a departure from theme.

Okay – who am I kidding? Here in the land of cats and New Mexico weather, I’m forever departing from theme. Call me eclectic, if you’re feeling generous.

So, as you may or may not know, I used to write essays for magazines a fair amount. I didn’t consciously stop doing it, but I started writing novels and got, well, fatally distracted. Then, about a week ago, I had a great idea for a magazine article, but I no longer have any of my old contacts. Besides, print magazines plan issues about six months in advance. I thought maybe I could find an online magazine that runs stuff faster, but they don’t really like internet submissions, so they make it difficult.

I decided just to run my article here:

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

And by holidays, I mean Christmas. I’m sorry if you don’t celebrate Christmas – it’s what I know. That’s what this is about, too. Christmas tends to be a time of excess. Lots of feasting and treats. I’ve blogged before about Emotional Eating. Traditional holidays can be terrible for emotional eating because a huge part of the fun is the food, the special treats, parties, alluringly decorated sweets and savory dishes. All singing the siren song of enjoy, celebrate, indulge.

As of today, I’m still ten more pounds than the upper limit of my BMI. I need to lose this weight for my health. I so cannot afford to go the other direction with my weight, after all of the hard work that let me lose twenty pounds of body fat so far.

No, I’m not going to offer tips on healthy holiday eating. I’m not sure such a thing exists. And the whole “eat before you go to the party” advice is all well and good, but not much for, well, partying.

After all, where is the fun in that?

Instead, I’m offering celebratory alternatives. The holidays offer so many ways to indulge ourselves, to enjoy the scents, sights and sounds of the season – all completely calorie-free. Here’s one of my favorite ways to make that emotional connection to celebrating the holiday:

#1 Body Butter: all the scent with none of the fat

So much of the joy of holiday treats reaches out on the scent. Pies fresh from the oven, the warm redolence of a cinnamon roll, the sweet allure of a ginger spice latte. It’s well-documented that smell is the most certain way to evoke a memory also. Those warm and happy childhood memories of biting the head off a gingerbread man? They ride in on those lovely spicy smells. A good bath oil, body scrub or lotion can give you the same delighted feeling. One of my favorites is The Body Shop’s Body Butter. If you don’t want to put butter in your body, try putting it on your body. They have seasonal scents like Spiced Vanilla and Pumpkin Pie. Bath and Body Works also has a nice Warm Vanilla Sugar scent. I’ll often buy a matching scrub and butter set to use just during the holiday season. All day long I can smell those lovely scents and enjoy my secret celebration.

I wanted to include pretty pictures, but The Body Shop seems to have gone minimalist.

Tune in tomorrow for Day #2. What could it be???