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It's been nearly a year since West Michigan Woman launched online. This time last December, the office was abuzz with preparations. There were in-depth discussions about the font, the color scheme, and the layout we would use to give the website the aesthetic we wanted—and attract the reader dynamic we hoped for.

However you celebrate the holidays, it’s quite possible that you decorate. Some folks go to such elaborate pains, they could put Rockefeller Center to shame; others keep things simple, yet elegant. But whether you dress things up just a touch or are the envy of all who catch a glimpse, are you aware of the potential pet hazards? 

On a family vacation this past year, I was sitting back watching my kids play a game of shuffleboard. Yes, you read that correctly. I may only have a few gray hairs; however, we do enjoy our shuffleboard games while on vacation. As I was relaxing, I noticed this mom in the court next to me taking pictures of her little child’s every move with her camera, like she was a tourist. My brain trailed back to the many, many years doing just the same thing. For a quick moment, I felt a little guilt that I wasn’t doing the same thing right then. Had my kids grown up to the point where photos weren’t warranted for their every step, or had something else changed in my life?

When I think of the holidays, I get excited for all the events and activities—but then reality hits me, and the stress starts to mount. I need to help clean, decorate, cook, and buy and wrap presents, all in the span of a few weeks. Thinking about this makes me wish I could be like Mary Poppins: With a snap my fingers, everything would be done.
 
However, this year, I’m trying to implement a new motto to carry with me through the busy holiday season: Simple is beautiful.
 
Decorating
Instead of decking the halls with an overload of decorations, simply hang a wreath with a bow on the door, decorate the Christmas tree, and do something for the fireplace mantel. Those three decorations should be enough to give your house the simple, holiday-decorated look it deserves, without feeling too overwhelming.
 
Cooking and Baking
We all know that the holidays bring massive amounts of food to the table. This year, instead of making a main dish and having ten side dishes, opt for making a main dish, two side dishes, and a dessert. This limits how much food you have to make and keeps your meal portions down to a minimum, with hardly any leftovers. 
 
When it comes to baking all those cookies, its time to cut down on that as well. Making a small plate or two of cookies for your family is plenty, and it will keep your cravings for sweets at a low.
 
Presents
I hate malls around the holidays. The lines, the unhappy sales people, and the unhappy customers make it hard  to enjoy the holidays at all. Instead of going to malls to get presents, go to small mom and pop shops in the towns around West Michigan. There are so many cute little stores with loads of unique items that would make for special gifts.
 
If for some reason you can’t get out to visit those small town stores, shop online. This saves a lot of time and also helps you avoid the crowds. Some online stores, and mom and pop shops, offer gift-wrapping—which will help you save time.
 
Remember: Simple is beautiful.

’Tis the season for parties and get-togethers! That includes friends, co-workers, and of course, family. Holidays are a fun and exciting time, but also stressful when you add it all up: presents to buy, menus to prepare, and all of that cleaning! Add in family visiting, and the planning increases exponentially. I am someone who truly goes into “kid mode” during the holidays. That is one of the things that my husband absolutely loves about me—he now pulls out the Santa hats before I even think about it!—but he has pointed out that I also have the ability to let all of the stress flip my mood.
 
This season I have decided that I am going into everything with a new attitude and determined to not let anything take away my childlike spirit! Here are a few things I have started to implement, to prepare myself for the excitement (and stress) of family gatherings during the holidays ...
 
Mentally Prepare. You know that family visits are exciting and fun, but may also be stressful and chaotic with more people, more conversation, and more noise. Remember your family’s quirks, and get ready to handle each and every one. (They might have to do the same with yours!) If you go in knowing that one family member likes to complain, just get ready to deflect the negative comment with a new topic … or a cookie (gently) shoved in his or her mouth.
 
Clean! I will first say “thank you” to my husband. He is definitely the neat freak of the family. I love having a clean place, but I’m also not one to stress over it. But when family comes to visit, I’ve learned it’s almost a calming mechanism. You know your home is spotless and comfortable, and your guests have whatever they need. You will not be sitting there worrying about toilet paper, anyone tripping on shoes, or the clump of dust up on the bookshelf (that my six-foot-plus brother-in-laws could spot).
 
Enjoy Yourself! Holidays give us many reasons to celebrate. Listening to Christmas music. Baking cookies and pies, mixing up (some much needed) cocktails. Seeing the faces of those around you enjoying the food you made (or bought, in my case), enjoying the presents you gave, and spending time with family they may not get to see often, is priceless.
 
I hope all of you can keep your holiday cheer alive … and the stress on the side! Enjoy getting to spoil yourself with treats, shopping for just the right gift, blaring Christmas music in your car, and spending time with those you love!
 
Happy Holidays!

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