Susan here, presenting our Ask-A-Wench question for November.
With the holidays often causing stress as well as fun, what comfort activities do you do to help unwind and relax? Here are some of the tried and true therapies we recommend . . . .
My great relaxing indulgence is sinking into a tub of hot, fragrant water with a good book and a mug of Sleepytime tea. The first real project I did when I moved into this house in 1993 was remodeling the bathroom, and that included installing a whirlpool tub with really good reading light, plus an electric fan heater in the ceiling. Decadent, much? Sometimes one of the cats will come in and keep me company, often by stretching out on the edge of the tub within petting distance. When Reggie joins me. I get a great, rumbling purr when I scratch his little head. Relaxation doesn't get much better than this!
I don't have one comfort activity — it's different things for different situations. A walk with my dog along the creek is always a source of joy and unwinding. Curling up with a book by a favorite author is another one. Making things — jewelry, Christmas decorations, tiny things for a dolls house — is another form of relaxation for me. Gardening also — there is something very therapeutic about attacking a weedy patch and leaving it bare and ready for planting, or freeing and displaying the plants that were struggling to grow. Cooking is yet another — I lik e to give baked gifts, and home made jams and chutneys to friends. Christmas in Australia is in summer, so there's plenty of fruit, and it's very satisfying to watch over a large bubbling, spitting pot, and at the end of the day be rewarded with glowing, jewel-toned jars of delicious jam.
I'm afraid I'll get smacked if I say my favorite activity is to head down to the beach to watch the waves. Would it help if I added that we would stop in at one of our favorite wine bars and watch from inside by the fire? But contrary to popular belief, it does occasionally get cold in Southern California, so if it's going to be a gloomy day, I'll take my own fire and couch and curl up with a good book and a warm comforter around me, with hot chocolate, please.
Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:
I guess it’s no surprise that, like many of the other Wenches, my favorite way of decompressing from the stresses of the holidays (and most every other stress) is to curl up in a quiet spot with a good book. I confess, dark chocolate often joins us. But I also find cooking and baking is very soothing. I tend to bookmark interesting recipes, especially from The New York Times food section online, which has an amazing variety of mouth-watering treats. I’m always on the lookout for good pasta sauces—and good desserts. Baking cookies or brownies is the perfect way to soothe the soul—the smell of heated butter and sugar creating magic in the oven is the world’s best aromatherapy!
Like the other Wenches I have a variety of favourite decompressing activities. On the healthy side there is swimming and also walking the dog. I find being out in the fresh air always makes me feel less stressed and if that can involve a walk on the beach in some wild weather, then all the better! To counterbalance that there is my unhealthy habit of comfort eating – preferably chocolate in some form or other, and shopping, which I enjoy but isn’t good for the wallet! Listening to music is a joy and can usually take me away from stresses, as can sitting in front of the wood burning stove, curled up with a good book.
My great self-indulgence is … I throw pots.
Not at people, though there are times that would be satisfying. I make vessels of clay. Cups, bowls, plates, and my latest indulgence in hobby-ness, flower pots.
You use an entirely different part of your mind and spirit to do this kinda arty stuff. Maybe I do this in the same the way other folks embroider or paint. Potting is wordless and physical. There's a sense of connection to simple places in your mind.
I hafta say I am veeeery bad at potting. Part of the satisfaction of doing it, in fact, is the utter lack of ambition with which I approach the work. "Oh good," says I, looking at some oddly dysfunctional and asymmetric object. "That must be Art."
Perhaps I have a wonky adrenalin system, because I don't do stress, not even in situations that other people would think unavoidably stressful. This is a blessing and a curse — the blessing is not being stressed, but the curse is the irritation or even infuriation (is that a word?) it can cause others. Anyone else here like that?
Christmas isn't stressful for me, but if a situation does put me a bit on edge I'm likely to bake bread. The kneading is soothing, the warm kitchen is comforting, and the eating boosts seratonin. There's also some brain-massage music that I like called Inner Journey. I play in through headphones at the dentist.
When there's time – and too often there is not – I enjoy simply being alone. In a busy household, finding hours to think, to read, to be creative and quiet can be a rare privilege. To really decompress, I get out for a walk (I love fall weather!) or grab a few minutes for the tai chi and qigong forms that I’ve studied and practiced on and off for years — I’m pretty chill if I can do that regularly. No matter what else is going on, I need a hands-on creative activity – lately I’ve been knitting and crocheting, as it's soothing, especially when the yarns are pretty and the piece uncomplicated. When I can't be alone, I'll watch a little TV with the guys in my household…ghosts and alien shows are a true secret indulgence!
What do you do to relax and remain a calm center as the holidays ratchet up around you? We would love to know what works for you all!
P.S. The Swan Maiden, part of my Celtic Nights e-book series, is now on sale for 99 cents for Kindle, Nook and any digital format you prefer — only in November, so grab it while you can. This classic Scottish medieval has just enough romance and adventure to offer an escape from all the to-do lists this holiday season. Enjoy!