The Free Motion Quilting Project: Refusal to Be Crazy

Friday, December 17, 2010

Refusal to Be Crazy

So it's the holiday season. Eight days until Christmas. Normally, every year before this year, by the time I reach this week I'm a stressed out ball of tension and anxiety.

Because usually I place an overwhelming expectation of presents, cards, parties, dinners, packages to far away relatives, and extreme cookie making all on my shoulders, which inevitably collapse in a big, giant mess that effectively ruins my enjoyment of this holiday.

Last year I found myself in tears, baking monster cookies at one a.m. in my still-unfinished kitchen, and because I couldn't find my spatulas in the renovation nightmare, I removed the hot cookies from the metal tray with a meat cleaver.

I can remember being so jealous of Josh, chilling on the couch, not a care in the world about the holiday, and certainly on feeling the weight of expectation and stress that it brings me. I think I asked him something along the lines of "Why do I do this to myself every year?!"

And his reply, in typical Josh manner: "I don't know why you bother. It's not like anyone really cares about perfect cookies. But I DO mind you turning into a crazy woman for 3 weeks out of the year, so it'd be nice if you stopped."

You might not find this funny, in fact, hearing a retort like this from your husband might make you very angry, but for me, that was a very illuminating statement. It made me start thinking about WHY I felt the need to do it all.

And when I honestly answered that question, I didn't really like the answer.

I felt the need to do it all not because it felt good or was fun (both of which it was decidedly NOT), but because it was what all other women I knew were doing. I was going through the motions of holiday rituals I didn't even like only to keep up appearances of being a normal, happy family. (For the record, we are definitely happy - just not very "normal")

The manic cookie making was the worst. I learned that one from my mother, who would make dozens of no less than 6 different types of cookies, even though it turned her into an evil tyrant for 2 weeks in which "DON'T EAT THE PRETTY ONES!!!" was yelled anytime you approached the cookie trays.

So I grew up eating only ugly cookies and found myself doing the exact same thing to my family as an adult.

This last year has been a turning point in so many ways. No more crazy holiday schedule. No more parties unless I actually feel like going. No more manic creation of presents at the last minute. And no more cookie making.

What a relief that has been! James and I made one batch of chocolate cookies and had a great time with it. There was no obsessive-compulsive crazy behavior because there was no expectation behind it. These were made by us for us to enjoy and they didn't have to look good, just taste good because that's what really matters.

Because my time hasn't been wasted running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I've been spending more time in my studio: quilting new designs, and piecing a really cool new quilt:

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis year Josh created the gift spices, but has yet to actually mail them out. He wants to finish editing and burning a DVD of videos we've taken of James over the last year. Instead of laying awake at night in a cold sweat, calculating delivery times and shipping costs, haranging my husband to "get it together" or manically trying to throw it all together myself, I'm just not.

It's like my Crazy Button has been pushed and I can feel the weight of the season, but I'm no longer on Autopilot, mindlessly doing doing doing for the sake of appearances or expectations.

So when the urge to be crazy starts up, as it did the other day when I tried to force James into a smock to protect his clothes while we finger painted ornaments for the tree, it's like Manual Overdrive kicks in to remind me of what I really want.

Do I want my child remembering me being a crazy, stressed out, crying psycho, or do I want him to remember me being fun, laughing, and relaxed during this time of the year?

Of course, many women find great joy in going overboard for the season, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

I've just found that less is more when it comes to the holidays. I refuse to go crazy, not even for the sake of pretty cookies.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. I am so with you, on this one Leah. I too, have scaled back drastically this year, and put half my decorations back in the closet because I just didn't feel like putting them all up. I am making very very few cookies, who needs them anyway? Everybody is trying to lose weight that I know. It will be great to have most of our family home for a few days, and hopefully we can just relax and enjoy ourselves instead of worrying about all the darn food we have to eat!!

  2. Hi, dear!
    I'm so glad that you find a clever balance!!
    That's the best, congrats!! :-D

  3. Very well said, now I will keep this in mind as I struggle through the next few days. Merry Christmas!

  4. You go girl! I'm sure you'll enjoy this Christmas more than others because you are letting yourself be yourself. I have been scaling back on holiday obligations, as well, and it feels very good.

  5. Good for you, Leah! Our families need us to be there for them, not to be pushed to insanity over little, often inconsequential matters.

    If it gives you and your family joy--great! If not, forget it. I am laid up with bronchitis right now, but my family is well fed and happy. We just aren't trying to kill ourselves this year.

    I am glad that you aren't either!

  6. I took a hint from my 5 yo son. He wanted to decorate so badly that I pulled out 3 trees from the closet and all the decorations. After putting ornaments on the first tree he said Ok I am done now. I stopped putting up the entire house I have 2 trees bare and I LOVE it! I have not shopped yet for my kids and I am just fine with it. I decided to get back to the real reason for Christmas this year and it has been amazing!!

  7. I was like that when my kids were little thinking that they wouldn't like what Santa bought them but every year they were happy.. So I stopped worrying. Good for you enjoy the holidays!

  8. I decided a number of years ago that Christmas was not about making myself crazy doing everything and then the extreme disappointment that happens when others do not recognize my deeds.

    I shop at the last minute, it is not up to retailers to tell me when to shop. It is different if I am making the gifts or need to mail them.

    I enjoy baking so I do make things generally to give away. Otherwise what gets done gets done. If not, so be it.

    I feel so much better about this, though it drives some friends crazy, so they can worry for me, because I will not.

  9. Amen Sister. So done with the crazyness of Christmas. I now LOVE the season and how laid back it is. In fact, I am off to go create some fun cookies with my daughter right now. And they are FOR US. Yipee.

  10. Leah,
    your 'refusal to be crazy' is fantastic progress towards happiness. I decided to do only those things that mattered to me and my husband for Christmas, and totally reject the "are you ready for Christmas?" notion. Christmas is the process of doing what we enjoy, over the period of a month or so, so for us, as older adults, it means no need to buy gifts (we give to the Food Bank), listening to music, and baking and sharing the special breads that make Christmas happen for me. And oh yes, taking time to quilt for fun.

  11. Exactly! And congratulations! I have given myself the gift of nothing this year. No decorating, no cookies, no cards, no manic shopping. It's been a really rough year & I am doing the one thing that brings me joy: creating a beautiful meal for my extended family on Christmas Eve. It' all about family & love, & that's what I am focusing on.

  12. About 15 years ago, after sweating in the kitchen for hours in 80 degree heat on Thanksgiving to do the perfect dinner, I discovered that my DIL & family were on their 3rd Thanksgiving meal of the day! Since then, I have scaled way back on all food-related activities for holidays. No cookies, no fudge, and we usually have a brunch somewhere around Christmas but not on the day! If everyone is going to complain about how much they ate, why bother! The kids are grown & my husband & I always go to a movie on Christmas Day and we love it!

  13. Good for you! and your family!!!
    I had to laugh at the "don't eat the pretty cookies" line, well really at the first thought that came to my the pretty ones. I can just hear me saying to someone in response to my less than perfect baking "We ate the pretty ones". I guess you would have to have the same sense of humor and mental picture I have in my twisted little mind to really enjoy this whole senario.
    Merry Christmas Blessings

  14. YOU GO GIRL!!!! I wish I had the ability to NOT go crazy during this season, unfortunately, my CrAzY cookie/candy baking starts Monday/Tuesday - as that is what are my gifts to the family (because then I don't have to THINK about what to BUY them, because *everybody* likes cookies and candies, right?!) ::SIGH:: Just wish I didn't have to one year.....

  15. Merry Christmas Leah. Thank you for sharing your talent and life with us. May the next year be filled with blessings for you and your family.

  16. Similar to the cookies, in our house it was always "don't use the guest towels, they are for company!"

    So much so that a few years ago, when I was a guest in a friend's home, I still didn't use the guest towels that she laid out for me, and a few hours later, when I realized what I had done, I decided that if things aren't good enough for company, they aren't good enough for me either, and put an end to all of that homey/company perfection. Good for you for figuring it out early in your life, I was in my late 30's when I finally did!

  17. Good for you, Leah. My family has made it a habit of having no-stress holidays for years and we love it. I just sit back and watch others go crazy and wonder "why"? We don't need all that food and all those useless presents -- all we need is a happy, healthy family with low blood pressure. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

  18. omg, I could have written this post, except my kids are now 24 and 26. Thank goodness you are catching on to this wisdom early; I wish I had!!! (It only took me 50 years.) I am finally getting over doing what others expect of me! Why should anyone else be a better authority over my life and my needs than myself? And why should my needs be less important than everyone else's? You know what they say--"If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." ;) Bless you and your family.

  19. Don't eat the pretty ones! It is amazing what our parents said to us that we internalize. Like when my mother told me I'd never be pretty, I still sneer at my hubby when he says, you look really good! Sigh.

    About 5 of my giftees are getting IOU tags this year. I decided to not rush!

    glen: and they will live, happy and fine, until they get their "belated Xmas Quilts" in June!

  20. I hope you can step back and see that you are not "doing nothing." You are doing "everything"--for your family and yourself. And by the way, you have given the most amazing gift to all of us on your blog all year. You have given us the gift of your talent and your creativity. I, for one, and very grateful.

  21. Happy Christmas!

    The quilt is looking absolutely gorgeous. Do you know, when you first put in the mistake picture, I actually liked that better for some odd reason, but now that I can see the whole design I love it. And of course, I can't wait to see how you'll quilt it.

    I'm from a Jewish family myself, but we have exactly the same syndrome, only spread over several festivals. You can judge the level of how far we get Crazy Baking Syndrome by the fact that Jewish recipe books even have sections for Yom Kippur, the most important day of fasting (because there are pre-fast and post-fast meals to be considered, of course), and that on Passover, when baking is very difficult because all wheat products are prohibited, people go crazy doing fancy baking using ground almonds and such as a base. My best friend's family always ends up with loads of coconut pyramids, as that's the only recipe that uses egg yolks alone whereas the others mostly use egg whites, and no one in their house likes coconut.

    One year, my mother had quite recently got together with my stepdad, and they decided to eschew the usual big family meal at my aunt's (which we all hated anyway) and just have the three of us, my stepdad's (now late) aunt, and a (now late) vague relation of ours, whom we were hoping might even make a match of it. And we *cheated*. Dessert, as I still remember, was meringue nests with a dollop of raspberry sorbet inside and a few raspberries arranged around the edge of the plate, and for some serious slave labour I went into the garden and picked sprigs of lemon balm to put on top. We felt faintly guilty about not spending the previous week baking our little hearts out, and fighting in the kitchen of course, but the joke is that everyone absolutely raved over that dessert. It did look stunning despite taking all of a minute to throw together, and perhaps they'd had enough cinnamon balls for a lifetime by then.

    So yep, I am all in favour of cheating like mad for the festivals, and enjoying the slight feeling of guilt and strong feeling of smugness as everyone else cooks and decorates themselves into a frenzy. This year I'm making Christmas dinner for the first time ever, as my partner can't get to his folks because of the snow, and pretty much the entire thing is coming from a supermarket in ready-made form and being slung in the freezer. I am going to make some florentines for the hell of it, though, as they're easy and scrumptious.

  22. I really struggle with that "pressure cooker" feeling right before the holidays--all the parties and gifts for everyone, etc. My husband said the same thing to me. So I don't care about Christmas cards anymore. I let the kids and hubby eat the peanut brittle because if it is all gone, we can just make more, you know.

    Pick out the things that are important and enjoy your family time. Who knew? Holidays can actually be (really) "Happy" and FUN!


  23. Congratulations for stepping off the merry-go-round!!!!! I'm sure you will look back and enjoy the season even MORE when its all over and you realize just how really great it was!

    I think most women do not realize that the majority of the traditions we are trying to carry on come from a whole other time in our history. A time before 2 car families and kids activities and working full time jobs on top of being a mom and wife. Carrying on the traditions of full time home makers when you are not one is just a little crazy. I swear that is why half the women I know are on Prozac. They don't get that we dont HAVE to do it all -- and its not even healthy to try.

  24. I had a similar growing-up experience with cookies...we could eat the broken sometimes we just broke the one we wanted to eat! I guess I've always rebeled a little that way! And, then I began married life feeling, too, like I had to DO EVERYTHING. Good for you that you found out sooner rather than later that you DON'T have to. This year we decorated the house during a football game. When the game was over no more decorating allowed. That was all the time I would devote to it. Several boxes went untouched and that's ok with me. Same with cookies. I made one batch of three different things in one day. That's it. Done. On to something else. (There are still some cookies left by the way.) So, to all of you out there, Happy Holidays! Thanks, Leah, for pointing out the need not to be crazy!

  25. I have enjoyed and found v. useful some of your video lessons this week. Thank you, and have a lovely Christmas with your family.

  26. I agree with everyone. When my children were young, "I did it all". And stressed, tired and cranky. I have scalled back over the years to now minimal decorating ,shopping, and cooking. I still have my holiday bread, Potica, that I enjoy making and sharing. That is the key ENJOY. The children are older and want money. The adults draw names, so only one gift to buy or make. And I do not care if the house is spotless.

  27. Good for you Leah, I did the same thing this year and I'm loving it! As I sit here perusing my favorite blogs I have not a care that I haven't bake a thing or that the dining room is still under a pile of stuff cause the dining room is the 'junk' room in our house - we never actually eat there! LOL! I have a suggestion about painting/crafting smocks for kids. My kids never fussed about putting their smocks on because they had actually helped to make the smocks and loved wearing them. The smocks were nothing more than over-sized white cotton t-shirts that had been 'painted' by my kids. I stretched the big t-shirts over a piece of cardboard and let the kids design their own 'Picasso' shirts. I mixed ordinary acyrlic craft paint with fabric medium to make the paint stable for washing. It's a fun thing to do with play groups or church groups too. Hope you and your family have a beautiful Christmas time together.

  28. You are so smart. My mantra is "I don't 'do' Christmas." I totally do not understand the pressure people put themselves under. The concept of gifting for everyone is over-indulgent. We should remember that this season should be about enjoying the company of family and friend, not how many presents we gave or got. Simple and quiet is a much more sane way to live this holiday. Since I adopted this mantra, we have time for quiet and relaxation. Something that eludes us most of the rest of the year. Wishing you silent nights.

  29. Leah - smart girl! Keeping life simple and honest, knowing what counts and what is not really important.

  30. As Shakepeare wrote, your mom's crazy baking is "it is a custom
    More honor'd in the breach than the observance." (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4.)

    We live such a short time, you're smart to cherish instead of stress this year.

  31. Leah.....LOVE the quilt! It's beautiful!

    It's all your videos, you don't seem like the kind of person to 'go crazy' seem so calm and relaxed! I've thoroughly enjoyed watching them, and am very grateful for all the info and tips.

    I just purchased the Juki TL98Q....your video sold me on it! And I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!!!! It's a dream's so smooth and fast! Yay!

    Thanks for a great blog! I always enjoy it....and am in love with so many of the filler're fabulous!

    Have a pretty cookie! You deserve it!

  32. Yep agreed! Took me a bit to figure some of the holiday stuff out too, but at 45 I am so with you, less is WAY More! Its been way more now for about the last 10 yrs. Good for you!

  33. Three cheers for you!! Hip hip hurrah!! Seriously caught myself in the 'craze' too and just plain stopped. I haven't decorated my fireplace mantel -- just a bunch of things placed up there. I haven't made every last thing I wanted to -- just called it enough. I didn't artistically wrap gifts.. but they are wrapped. I'm with you, it's silly to not take care of yourself and your family this time of year. And yes, let's go sew and relax a bit to balance things out!

  34. I can totally relate to this! I do what I can, and try to pare back the list to make it as realistic as possible. We don't do cards, because it's something that we both dreaded--that kind of obligation is just silly! We put up our fake trees early, we use plastic ornaments in case the cats decide to attack the tree. We refuse to juggle our hectic seasonal work schedules (and making it harder on our bosses and coworkers) in order to attend multiple parties.

    There's something to be said for slowing down, doing what's really important, and letting the rest just go. Good on ya!


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