Start The New Year Off Right!

It's a new year. Time for new perspectives, attitudes, and -- if you're under the age of five in my house -- behaviors. Never mind the standard resolutions to eat better, lose a few pounds, or clean more frequently. Let's be honest, we make them every year and every year we barely stick with them past Jan. 6. This year, let's make a few realistic resolutions that will ensure a more a more stress-free lifestyle.
Elizabeth Lyons

Out with the old, in with the new!
It's time for a cleansing. Don't worry; I am not referring to your house?yet. I'm asking you to cleanse your frazzled mind. Leave all the frustrations, challenges, and tantrums of 2003 behind. Said Norman Cousins, an author, poet, and writer, "Life is an adventure in forgiveness." Take a minute (or an hour, if necessary) to forgive your children for the things they damaged or destroyed last year. Forgive your husband for not realizing or acknowledging with enough frequency how much you accomplish each day. Forgive yourself for reacting less than calmly in your more frustrating moments. Wipe the slate clean. Remember that this year, your children will likely lose their interest in the breakables of yesteryear. Your husband has another 365 days to work toward the moment when you can no longer ask in desperation, "Honey, when are you going to get it?" And by all means, hit the mall this weekend and buy one cute skirt; the sales this time of year are reason enough!

Ensure you have a 2004 calendar
We moms are nothing without our calendars. I believe if I had to choose between a cell phone and a calendar, I might surprise even myself and pick the calendar. Instead of buying a simple, bland calendar that only reminds you of how busy your life has become, find a humorous one that will guarantee you start each day with a laugh. I like to keep a day-to-day calendar next to my more professional -- and cluttered one, which provides a humorous quote or thought that keeps me smiling all day long (and sometimes longer). At the top of my list: The Bad Girl's Rage-a-Day 2004 calendar, Moms: Funny and True Tales of Motherhood 2004 Day-to-Day Calendar, and the Cathy 2004 Day-to-Day Calendar.

Plan your weekly escape
For heaven's sake, this does not include a trip to Target for diapers or the grocery store for the week's food items! Plan to have a scheduled afternoon or evening each week when you do something for yourself. Sign up for a yoga class through the park district or a cooking class at a local gourmet cooking store, join a small group at church, or find a special place to volunteer. Choose something that you will enjoy, that will make you feel satisfied, and that you will look forward to each week. If you are emotionally invested in the activity, you will be more committed long term.

Keep cabin fever to a minimum
If you have children who are not yet regularly attending school, vow to have an activity at least once a week that gets you all out of the house -- especially if you live in a cold winter climate. How about a weekly trip to the library to pick out a few new books or movies? Or a weekly play date with friends? A gym class to drain a bit of the kids' energy? Winter can seem endless, but if you have a plan to make it through a week at a time, you'll be swinging on the swings at the park before you know it.

Eliminate one source of stress in your life
Acknowledge one thing that stressed you out the most and plan to eliminate it in 2004. What one item or activity distressed you the most in 2003? Was it your lack of control over household finances? The infrequency with which you and your husband got out together? The constant clutter in your home? Once identified, find a way to ensure that that "thing" doesn't bug you through 2004 as well. Hire a housekeeper every other week. Sit down and obtain a more accurate picture of your finances and monthly budget as well as a plan to ensure you're sticking with that budget. Find a sitter you can rely on to come once or twice a month.

Choose one book to finish by the end of the year
How many books are sitting by your bedside table? If you're like me, about eight, however, they likely include the following: a guide to fixing a child's behavioral problems, a strategy for keeping your marriage functional in the face of raising children with temporary behavioral problems, a Bible, a self-help book on dealing with stress, and The Queen of Clean's guide to getting gum, crayon, and dried up, previously spit-out granola bars off the carpet. Is there even book sitting in that stack that is purely enjoyable? I'll admit, I do have one, I Don't Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson. However, I'm only on page eight and I started it six months ago. Choose a book that you've wanted to read for some time and vow to complete it within the next six months to a year. We should all complete at least one book each year that is read for pure enjoyment. Some recommendations: The Nanny Diaries, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, The Madam, by Julianna Baggott, or Trading Up, by Candace Bushnell.

Get organized!
A cluttered home creates a cluttered brain. Moms can't afford any more clutter than already exists. Organize drawers that are currently overstuffed with coloring papers, take-out menus, and various sign-up sheets. Arrange the items in your linen closet. Sort out your pantry. This need not be an all-day affair. Dedicate yourself to a location-a-day plan if need be. You'll be amazed by how much more relaxing it is to open a well-organized linen closet than one filled with contents from which you have to cower when opening.

Make your personal 2004 medical appointments?this week!
It's easy to procrastinate when making non-critical medical appointments. After all, who has time to sit on hold for long periods of time, waiting to find out how many months will pass before she can be seen? As we listen to classic "on hold" music while the minutes tick, we convince ourselves that we feel just fine and will, therefore, make the appointment another day. Before we know it, it's June and the doctor can't get us in until November! Dedicate a week this month to making your annual appointments for a physical, well-woman exam, dental cleaning, and any other annual appointments you require. Make the appointments for your husband as well. His health is just as important, yet he is likely to go 10 years without seeing a doctor if allowed.

Begin reading one spiritual guide
I realize I'm asking you to add yet another book to the ready-to-topple-over stack presently next to your bed. Yet, if there is one tool that has helped myself and many of my friends shuffle through our days with a little less frustration over the small, albeit annoying occurrences of each day, it is their spirituality. Invest in a book that guides you day by day toward a greater understanding of your purpose, reminds you that there is a greater power at work in your life, and gives you the strength and the perspective to conquer the numerous inconveniences --not to mention routine daily activities -- that transpire. A few of my favorites: The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up, by Iyanla Vanzant, and Wisdom of the Ages: 60 Days to Enlightenment, by Wayne W. Dyer. For an incredible autobiography about one woman's journey toward understanding her purpose and finding peace, pick up a copy of Flames of Grace by Susan Walker. It's beyond inspiring.

Noted Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919), an American writer and poet, "There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul." New Year's resolutions are your own. They are meant to enhance your life, not add to the chaos that already exists within it. If you commit to shifting the practices in your life that cause you to count the minutes until bedtime from the minute you open your eyes each morning, you will surely be on your way toward a fulfilling 2004.


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