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Simplify or simply buy?

The holidays are over: Time at last for my nervous breakdown!

My nervous condition began with the purchase of a 300-plus-page magazine called, wouldn't you know, Real Simple. The November issue's lead article was: "No-hassle holidays: 25 tips to help you get ahead now."

Following are examples of what you can do to pamper, organize and harmonize "life/home/body/soul," as promised in the magazine's subtitle.

Here goes. If you have five minutes, the article instructed, try any of the following (not all at the same time, of course): Plan your holiday dinner seating chart. "Make sure Uncle Buck, the ex-Marine, doesn't sit next to draft-dodging Terry, who's been in Canada ever since the '70s." Or order stamps online. Place emergency cleaning supplies in every bathroom. Pay November and December bills. Stash a tote with heels, sparkly earrings and evening bag in the car so you don't have to go home before a party.

If you have 20 minutes: Create a centerpiece. Make a kid-taming car kit with video games, snacks, etc. Prepare to fight stains by putting together an emergency kit of Woolite, talcum, a sponge, rubbing alcohol, Shout spray, an eyedropper filled with one part vinegar and two parts water, and paper towels. Get hooks for ornaments to offset the 50-percent casualty rate and accommodate the handful of ornaments you'll get as gifts.

If you have one hour: Plan a fun outing (book reservations, buy theater or sports tickets). Dress up the mantel. Organize a charity auction. Count the tableware ("Don't wait until you're setting the table to realize you're short three dessert spoons").

And if you have an entire afternoon to yourself: Have a trial-run dinner!

Feel like you're simplifying your life yet? We've only just begun. There are articles on parkas, pie crusts, stowable furniture, hair conditioners, eyebrow grooming, indoor fitness routines, and the truth about germs (shut the toilet top; one flush propels bacteria 20 feet all around).

Is it any wonder that we turn' our sights to the paraphernalia of peace: yoga bolsters, meditation CDs, yoga retreats? Don't get me wrong. I practice a bit of yoga myself here at home. But these gizmos and workshops come with a price. Simplify? Simply buy.

Our culture's cult of self-improvement has spun out of control. Can't we just say the rosary and call it a night? I worry that our obsession with harmonizing life/home/body/soul will dull our souls' capacity to be still and know that God is God.

Remind me of all this if I'm tempted to "simplify" when the holidays roll around next year.

[Demetria Martinez is the author of two collections of poetry and a novel, Mother Tongue.]
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Title Annotation:Columns
Author:Martinez, Demetria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 28, 2005
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