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Holiday Guide

Holiday Stress Management 101

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Holiday Stress Management, by Life Coach – CJ Liu

What might happen if we could really tune into the true meaning of the holidays? If we could see it less as a pressure cooker full of to-do’s and more as a time to celebrate our love, happiness, and gratitude for our family and friends?

Each year could be a reminder to be present to how good it feels to give thanks, and to be generous. I’d much rather experience the feeling of magic and awe through the eyes of a child again instead of the cynical adult I’ve become.

But here’s the problem with the above picture: our worries, doubts, and obsessions get in the way. Instead of feeling the joy, our obsession to create the perfect holidays and be the perfect child, mother, or aunt can create a sense of holiday dread.

How can we turn down the pressures and external messages from advertisers, family, and even ourselves, and re-tune into the inner sanctity of these cherished holidays?

With a little bit of planning and by developing the right mindset, we can get our head, spirit, and body into the true essence of these sacred holidays.


Wouldn’t it be great if we could put ourselves in a time machine and be six again? The sparkling lights, the savory and sweet food, the piney smells of a Christmas tree … and don’t even get me started on the holiday songs. Here are some suggestions to get your five senses and your heart fully engaged in the holiday mood.

  • Give the gift of love: Dr. Cynthia Taik (video above), author of Your Vibrant Heart recommends tuning into your heart this holiday season.  Consider telling all the people in your life from loved ones to the guy making lattes, just how much you appreciate them and share that holiday spirit.  Gratitude feels good to the heart and is a gift that you give to yourself and another.
  • Forgiveness: Consider forgiving an old grudge with your work associate, friend, or family member.  Plus, forgive yourself. You’re heart will feel lighter after you free yourself from the guilt and shame.   Check out this video from Gary Renard if you need some tips on how to forgive another.
  • Move around: Make snow angels. Wander through a tree farm and pick your Christmas tree. Take a walk at night and gaze at the winter stars.  Dance.
  • Get crafty: Make holiday cards, ornaments, and decorations using items from nature – such as pine cones, fir boughs, and winter berries.
  • Make even the most basic chore a fun ritual: When grocery shopping, be mindful of the beautiful colors and smells of the bountiful fall harvest, such as cranberries, pumpkins, and winter squashes. Cookbook author Ellen Kanner describes how grocery shopping could transform into a culinary delight.
  • Rock on: Get rocking with some holiday tunes or do some old-fashioned caroling. Listening to your favorite music, whether it’s “Jingle Bell Rock” or the latest from Jay-Z, can help relax blood vessels and increase blood flow, say researchers at the University of Maryland.
  • Put love in your heart: Remember your intention when wrapping gifts, cooking, or shopping. Is your intention love? Then repeat the word love and hold it in your mind as you go about your holiday chores. Breathe love in and out of your heart as you wait in line at the department store.
  • Relive positive memories. Watch your favorite holiday shows, with or without your kids. Read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” See “The Nutcracker.” Watch “Miracle on 34th Street.”
  • Honor your ancestors: My Dutch friend wrote “We celebrate our family’s Dutch heritage by putting our shoes outside the bedroom door on the eve of December 5th so that when we awake the next morning, on St. Nicholas Day, we find them filled with chocolate and coins.”
  • Think about family traditions. What are the family traditions you’d like to have, or the old ones you’d like to continue? Here’s one that I loved from Ellen Kanner: Ask each guest, ‘How can you bring a sense of inclusiveness with your food? Ask each guest what foods remind them of Thankgiving and include those dishes on your Thanksgiving table. For example, if I were to go to Ellen’s house, I’d bring pot stickers and Peking Duck, which are my holiday favorites. Think about the bountiful choice you have (pasta, pot stickers, etc.). A friend suggested a wrapping paper fight after opening gifts, which sounds super fun – especially if you have kids.

  • Get 9 tips on Holiday happiness:  Best-selling author, Jonathan Robinson, offers happiness tips from his book  “Finding Happiness Now”.  These are tips that take 5 min or less that you can try out during the busy holiday season. Check out my interview with him above for some great stories.


It’s hard to keep it all together when there are so many things to juggle during the holidays. Social events filled with sugar and carbs, seemingly endless errands and shopping, and erratic work and daily schedules create stressful situations that often drive us to make bad eating decisions. Plus, it doesn’t help that most people sleep less and drink more, which make it hard for our immune systems to stave off a cold or flu. Keeping it healthy during the holidays means cooking smart, making good food and drink choices at parties, and being mindful about our sleep and exercise.How can we have a holiday season without feeling worn out, tense, and fragile?


It’s important that we don’t become diet fanatics during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Remember, these events happen only once a year. Plus, being “good” and eating only salad while skipping dessert can feel isolating because you are not joining the rest of your family and friends in celebration. What is the happy medium? Below are some tips I’ve gathered from talking to nutritionist, doctors, and cooks.

  • Schedule your workouts. If you are going to be eating more on a particular day, do a bit more exercise to compensate. A simple solution is walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or parking a bit further from the store entrance. All of these actions add up. Think about working out as not only burning calories, but also reducing stress and increasing endorphins.
  • Don’t starve yourself before a party. Make sure you eat sensibly and don’t skip meals before a party. If you go to a party famished, you’ll be more likely to stuff yourself with all those unhealthy goodies.
  • Plan your poison: Think about temptations, both food and alcohol, and decide what you’ll do in advance so you don’t go overboard.


  • Eat the good stuff first: Bring a healthy appetizer plate — celery, olives, and carrots, for example — and serve it early so you can load up on tummy-filling fiber. Nutritionist Kara Kruse (see video above) also suggests eating a few healthy fats like avocado, and peanut butter or proteins like lean meat or low-fat cheese, before going to a party. Fats and proteins give you a longer sense of fullness because they burn more slowly than carbohydrates.
  • Eat slowly: Susan Smith Jones, M.S., Ph.D, says it takes 20 minutes for your body to register that you are full. If you eat too quickly you won’t recognize your body’s natural clues that you have eaten enough. So chew slowly, but finish each meal within 60 minutes. Be mindful of each bite. Put your fork down after every swallow, and digest.
  • Watch what you eat: Try to stay away from fried foods and foods containing a lot of dairy and cheese. If you do eat them, keep your portions small.
  • Avoid temptation: Put some distance between you and the food — don’t hang out near the buffet. You don’t have to eat to be social. If you aren’t hungry, nibble and sip on things that have fewer calories, such as celery sticks and sparkling water.
  • Fight cravings, burn calories: Cayenne and other hot peppers will help you fight off cravings and burn more calories. Try cayenne capsules before a workout, or even before a party, to help curb your cravings and burn off more fat. You can buy cayenne pepper capsules at most grocery and health stores.
  • Hang up and get a good night’s sleep: Sleep deprivation affects will power, which may lead you to eat the wrong things. One thing that may disturb sleep is late-night use of cell phones, say Swiss researchers. A University of Zurich study shows that cellphone use alters brainwaves, resulting in sleep disturbances. So don’t use your cell phone for at least an hour before you go to bed; if you have to make a call, use a landline.
  • Try nature’s way: Valerian root, a natural herb, has been used for centuries to relax the body and improve sleep, without being addictive. The root smells like funky socks, so you may want to get the capsules.

  •  Get your cravings to stop using EFT: Try EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to put some distance between pecan pie and you. Watch this interview with Dawson Church on eating healthy with ease.


It’s astounding how much sugar and butter go into cooking. While I was a bit incredulous at first, I tried many of the ideas listed below and got no complaints from the family. No one noticed there was less sugar or fat in my holiday desserts. Check out some great nutrition and cooking tips from my interview with Deb Kennedy

  • Cut back on butter and sugar: You can reduce the amount of sugar and butter called for in most recipes by either supplementing them with other ingredients, or by cutting back on the amount entirely – and no one can usually tell the difference. For example, if a recipe calls for a stick of butter (1/2 cup), you can usually reduce it to half a stick (1/4 cup) by adding 1/4 cup of mashed bananas or apple sauce. You can replace sugar with the same ingredients. Deb Kennedy cites a zucchini bread recipe that originally called for 1  1/2 cups of sugar; she replaced half of that sugar (3/4 cup) with the same amount of apple sauce and no one was the wiser. Or you can simply cut the amount of sugar called for in many recipes by a third or even a half. Keep in mind that sugar substitutes like honey, agave, and maple syrup have the same effect in spiking your blood sugar with agave being the worse offender. When substituting, 1 cup sugar = ½ cup of maple syrup. Check out Dr. Deb’s book for more sugar info.
  • Use more oils: Tropical oils that are solid (non-hydrogenated coconut oil/palm oil) are healthier than transfats (e.g., Crisco) and probably healthier than butter for baking You could also try using canola oil out of a bottle when baking as it dosen’t have a lot of strong flavors that will change the taste of your baked goods. When baking, try replacing one stick of butter with 6 ounces of canola oil. In savory dishes, try replacing butter with olive oil.
  • Mix regular flour with whole-grain flour: When a recipe calls for refined white flour, replace half the amount with whole-grain or almond flour. It’s hard to replace it all with whole-grain flour as the end product oftentastes too dense and not light and fluffy For gluten-free cooking, try replacing 1 cup of flour with ¾ cup of powdered garbanzo and fava bean flour and ¼ cup of brown rice flour.
  • Mix up your potatos: Instead of high-carb mashed potatoes, try a half sweet potato/half white potato mash — it’s way healthier.
  • Get more healthy cooking techniques: For more tips check out:, a site that has partnered with Harvard on how to eat more healthfully.



It’s not just about WHAT you eat, but also the HOW, WHY, and WHEN you eat that have an impact on your health and waistline. Mindy Gorman-Plutzer, Certified Health Coach and Nutritional Consultant, offers some great tips from her newest book The Freedom Promise: 7 Steps to Stop Fearing What Food Will Do TO You and Start Embracing What It Can Do FOR You. Be present when you eat: Eating fast creates a stress response, and that’s not how our bodies are designed to receive food. Eating while distracted also creates a stress response because our bodies don’t have the opportunity to receive the sensory stimuli of the food being digested. Breathe as you eat. Chew well before swallowing, and pause to enjoy the taste, smell, and texture of your foods.

  • Chill out while you eat: Worrying about fat increases fat. Anxiety about weight loss causes your body to add and retain fat. Our bodies, when relaxed, function at optimal levels for digestion, nutrient assimilation, metabolism, and fat burning. Letting go of tightly held stress allows us to create space and time. When we use that time to enjoy our meals, we become relaxed eaters. As relaxed eaters, we receive true nourishment and nurturing.
  • Beware of emotional eating: We often look to food to distract us from boredom and emotional turmoil. We sometimes look to food when what we really need is a hug, a human connection, or a sense of security and intimacy. These “cravings” come from another part of ourselves. Often we overindulge because we aren’t accustomed to allowing ourselves to receive pleasure from food on a daily basis. Emotional hunger appears suddenly and needs to be satisfied instantly, while physical hunger happens gradually and you can wait to eat. When you eat to fill an emptiness that is not your stomach calling out, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream. When you eat because you are actually hungry, you are open to options.


During the holidays our calendars get packed and it’s easy to over-extend ourselves. During these times emotions can flare. They can range from getting angry with other shoppers to feeling guilty and shameful for not attending a friend’s party. Basically, any issues we had before the holidays seem to get a bit worse. If we are impatient generally, then it gets worse. If we have a problem with being a people pleaser, then things get worse. How can we change these tendencies?

  • Enjoy standing in line: In the above video, Sue Elliott, the Editor-in-Chief of Law of Attraction Magazine, shares one of my favorite tips. Find a way to enjoy standing in line — in an airport, bank, grocery store, etc. Stop fretting about which line is going faster and how long everyone is taking. Instead, shift to your inner world when you are standing in line, and use that time to relax and get a mini-meditation. Go to your happy place.
  • Just say NO: Take care of yourself by saying “No” at least once during the holidays. While it’s sometimes hard to say “No” to friends and family, you are in a no-win situation. If you say no, you either disappoint someone because you can’t attend their event, or if you say “Yes”, you drain yourself of energy and get stressed out. Let your energy be the guide. What would feel worse — not going or going? If you decide to go out of guilt or obligation, then for heaven’s sake, charge up your energy. Try to focus on why you are going — love, honor – as long as it’s not guilt.
  • Do less, enjoy more: Make a list of things you need to do (shopping, cards, etc.) and figure out what is the most important and urgent. I like Covey’s grid, where you evaluate the priorities of your tasks in a grid. Move the most important and urgent things to the top of your list. Look at things that are important but not urgent and figure when you really need to get them done. Evaluate, reconsider, or cut, especially those things that are neither important nor urgent.
  • Go with the flow: Listen to the messages of the universe. If you keep trying to find a particular gift but aren’t getting any traction, then let it go. For whatever reason, it’s not happening. Don’t try to understand “why,” just go with the flow and pick something else.
  • Remove “should, need to, must”: If you find yourself saying “ I need to do that, or I should go to that party, or I must make that pudding for dinner, ” then you are no longer doing something you truly want to do, but rather doing something to meet someone else’s standard. If YOU truly want to do it, then do it. If not, then drop the guilt and shame.
  • Try not to pressure yourself to create perfection. There are many expectations that are layered thick during the holidays. Everyone has their own set of rituals and expectations on what Christmas or Thanksgiving means to them. You will not be able to make everyone happy all of the time. If you are hosting the event, then figure out what traditions are special for you. Yes, your mother-in-law may get upset that you bought cranberry sauce from a can instead of making it from scratch. But something has to give. Yes, it would be nice if your house was impeccably clean. But if someone judges you on that, then this is more their issue than yours.
  • Good enough is good enough. All you can do is do your best given the limits of time, money, and energy. You may not be able to get it all done, and that’s ok. It’s ok. You are human. The point of the holidays is not to show everyone you are Martha Stewart. Be yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember the real focus is to enjoy the people in your life.
  • Keep it simple. Make sure to schedule some down time to be alone and do nothing. Don’t over-schedule yourself and take on more than you can comfortably manage. It’s ok to slow down and breathe. Breathing is good.
  • Laughter: Dr. Cynthia Taik, author of Your Vibrant Heart,   suggests a good hearty laugh every day will help reduce the stress.
  • Plan ahead. Do as much you can throughout the week so that you aren’t cooking the whole time. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends, and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  • Cook only what you want to cook. Be realistic with your time and only cook what you want to cook. The only thing award-winning cookbook author Ellen Kanner insists on being fresh are herbs. Fresh herbs, she says, smell, taste,and look better than dried ones. It’s fine to get stuff premade at the store.
  • Outsource your meals. Everyone wants to feel a part of the celebration, so ask your guests what they want to bring and make it a communal event. If you have a vegan with special requests, ask them to bring a dish they could share with others.
  • Share the love: You don’t have to do everything yourself. Share your “to do” list with others. Spend time with friends and family while you share tasks like decorating, wrapping gifts, and preparing the holiday meal.

  • Short meditation: Take some quiet time to tune in. Even 5-15 minutes of meditation can help a distracted, stressed-out mind. Try this Buddhist meditation from Lama Surya Das and get into your heart space.
  • Go gadget free: Consider turning off cell phone buzzes and email alerts — these tend to cause bursts of adrenaline that only lead to extra tension.

When we are able to let-go of all the noise in our lives and in our heads, we can get back to a peaceful centered place. And from that peaceful place we see that joy, love, and connection are the only to-do’s on your list that matter during the holidays.  Happy Holidays to you!!


By CJ Liu

During the holiday times, how can we turn towards compassion, love, peace, connection, appreciation, and gratitude? Isn’t this the real intention of the season?

It’s during the holidays that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs really resonates with me. We all want the same things during our family get-togethers – to feel safe, be accepted, and respected. Often times, family gatherings fail to deliver on any of these dimensions. Instead, our well intentioned loved ones push our buttons and bring back unhappy memories. And let’s be honest, you’ve probably equally responsible for rekindling your own share of unwanted memories in others, too.

During this Holiday season, consider that everyone is likely to experience the same range of emotions. Regardless of the minor tiffs that may have hurt our feelings, remember that love conquers all and is the reason that family remains intact.

Here are some tips to keep a smile on your face during the holidays:

  • You are perfect as you are. Your family may not understand who you are or who you’ve become. To them, you are still that zit-faced teen that could barely make it on time for anything important. Although you’ve changed, their perspective of you may not have. At this point you have a choice, you can either put on a performance, or just be yourself. Both are acceptable choices, but realize that a performance only lasts for so long.
  • It doesn’t feel safe when someone is picking on you. Are you consistently the butt of jokes when Uncle Jimmy or your cousins come around? During these unnerving, moments, you can choose to shirk it off, or stand up for yourself. If you can truly let it pass, forgive, and not have it bother you, then do that. But if year after year, you get ticked off, then say something. It can simply be pulling Uncle Jimmy aside and tell him that you really prefer that he not call you Feather Felix any more. If the thought of confronting doesn’t feel comfortable, then try rehearsing what you want to say first. Don’t just let it go unless you’re truly comfortable doing so. It’s much better to try and resolve the situation before it gets worse.
  • The way someone connects with you doesn’t work: Your brother Nathan may have always connected to you as his little bud. Now, you’ve grown five inches taller and have 15 pounds more muscle than he does, but he still treats you like a kid. Sometimes our siblings don’t realize that we’ve grown up and those silly little tactics aren’t cute anymore. The whole noogie thing used to be fun but now the experience makes your neck sore. Speak up! Tell your brother that you’d rather just have a beer and shoot some hoops outside and catch up. Again, consider rehearsing this a few times so you can know what you want to say and how you want to say it.
  • Accept the people around you: Each year we hope that our relatives will be different. What would shift if we could accept people as they are, even if they don’t meet our expectations? For example, Aunt Sandra always wants us to wear those stupid sweaters for a family picture. Although you may not understand the sweater idea and it’s not particularly your taste, just accept that it’s Aunt Sandra’s vision. It’s just one picture after all. Alternatively, act on your curiosity. If you really try to understand Aunt Sandra you may find out a good reason for this tradition and consequently, grow closer to your Aunt. You just never know why people do things you consider crazy. Instead of expecting others to change, try seeing what happens when you change your reaction to the people around you.
  • There is no perfect family: Meet the Rockwells where dear old grandmother brings in a 40 pound turkey to a bunch of smiling family members. Don’t be fooled – This is just a painting. There is no such thing as a “perfect” family. The idea sounds great but the reality is farfetched. Striving for something that is best depicted in a portrait only makes us suffer because it’s accepting a reality that doesn’t exist. Look at the real people sitting around the table and know that each of them is imperfect, just like you. The same holds true with trying to repeat the perfect Holiday gathering from last year. Let it go. Things change. Don’t let perfectionism take the joy out of the Holidays.
  • What would LOVE do? You’re on the verge of losing your temper because your niece is running around the kitchen when you got serious cooking going on. It’s at this point of mild irritation when you could ask yourself “what would love do?” See how your mood shifts when you put your energy and focus on love.
  • Each of us has our own set of expectations: One of the most important things to realize about family is that we all have an idea of how the Holidays should go. It’s like the United Nations; we’re all diverse in our traditions, our way of thinking and the way we do things. Perhaps, you don’t understand why your cousin Susan believes that cranberry sauce can NEVER come out of a can. Before you roll your eyes and dismiss what you feel is nonsense, take a moment and think of how her traditions differ from what you’re used to. The same thing holds true during the Holidays. Try to recognize and appreciate the cultural differences that each of your family members brings to the table.
  • Family Dynamics are here to stay: We all have a ritual – something we do the same way and in the same manner that it becomes custom. It’s comfortable, familiar, and perhaps worn out. Changing our ways is highly unlikely and if we even considered it, breaking the habit may take years to do. So, remember that the next time your Dad gives you grief about the way you dress. Getting angry won’t really change anything because let’s face it; he’s not going to change. So, the only thing you can change is the way you relate to the whole thing. Next year, have fun with it. Try wearing a clown suit and see what he says.
  • Set limit: As much as we love our family, everyone has their limit. It may be good to think about what your limit may be. Just like food, you all have an expiration date and it will stink if you aren’t taken out of the fridge. Decide beforehand how many nights you want to stay at your parent’s home, or how many hours you want to stay at the party.
  • Environment and events can make a difference. Sometimes people behave differently when they are put in certain environments. Who knows why? But if you want to change someone’s behavior consider switching the venue. Try having others over for brunch instead of dinner. Try eating on the sun deck instead of the usual dining room. The goal is to meet people half way and reach a middle ground.


Gift giving during the holidays can be so stressful.  Get 15 tips that will help you with holiday shopping, gift giving and budgeting during the holidays.  Make sure to check out our two great interviews with money coach, Emily Zillig, and life coach, Sue Elliot that offer their advice for the holidays.  Plus, a whole holiday survival guide to get inspired for the holidays.

Emily Zillig, Money coach offers 5 tips below for holiday giving and receiving.

  • It’s all about values. Everything we do is an expression of our values. Even gift giving is an expression of what we hold dear. Instead of being hypnotized by holiday messages from retailers, think about what values you hold dear and how you can express them with your brand of giving.  For example, if you value personal connection, then offer a gift that is about connecting. Try a special card with an experience that includes home-made scones and a hike up your friend’s favorite mountain. Not all gifts have to be wrapped.
  • Everyone has a different love language. Recognize that each person has a different expectation and reason for gift giving. Some people express their love through gifts.  While giving gifts may not be your primary way of expressing love (your love language), respect that it may be another person’s love language.  If you suspect a mismatch in expectations, it may help in having a conversation to prevent hurt feelings.
  • Give from love. Give a gift from the heart, because giving out of love feels way better than giving out of obligation.
  • It’s all about flow. The universe is about flow.  Gift giving is about keeping the flow of energy going.  If you receive a gift that you may not like, then continue the follow by passing the gift to someone that will treasure it. You can still receive the intention of love, and pass along the item you received.
  • Receive with Grace: Just because someone has given you a present, you may not have the budget to return a gift for that person.  Instead of focusing on the guilt, just gracefully receive and appreciate someone’s generosity.

Advice from Life coach, Sue Elliott

  • Keeping score in gift giving: Are you monitoring what gifts were given to whom and if it was of equal value? Were you wondering if you gave enough? It’s important to remember that it’s not the spirit of judging, but the spirit of giving. Let go of the obligation. Get more tips from Sue.

Advice from Life Coach, CJ Liu

  • Don’t Buy to Impress: It’s easy to equate a price tag and how much you spent as a way to prove your generosity and love.  Remember, your loved ones would rather see you thrive than be knee deep in debt or financially stretched. 
  • It’s the thought that counts: Gift giving is not about the cost of an item but rather the thought behind it. There are many creative ways to show your love and appreciation. Homemade food is certainly a yummy option you can offer your loved ones. Another option is good old Arts & Crafts. Handmade gifts are not just heartfelt but are one of the most thoughtful gifts that can be given. The gift of your time and an act of service (massage, house cleaning, making a knit scarf, etc.) is always appreciated. Are you crafty? Opt into something more your style like painting a really nice piece of artwork or putting together a video or a nice poem.
  • Stick to a budget. Work out a budget before plunging into your shopping list. Be realistic with what you can spend comfortably without going beyond your means. Stick to your budget or risk having a holiday hang over. Remember that old saying that happiness cannot be bought? Believe it or not, it can’t. So, all those end caps full of fluff may not do more than just break your pockets.
  • Set expectations with kids– It’s ok to set limits and be frugal, even with children. Determine, in advance, the type and number of gifts your children will receive. It’s very easy to go overboard but keeping, and following, a budget will keep you on track. Find an alternative gift that is equally pleasing, but less expensive. Use the extra funds to go on a nice family vacation.
  • Place limits on gift giving: Consider having a gift exchange where each person is assigned one person to buy a gift for. If you are worried about how much to spend on a gift, set a limit for everyone to follow.
  • Trim your list.Does everyone in your family need a gift?  Consider cutting back your list, or give a group gift versus individual ones.
  • Check online coupons: Always check to see if there is a coupon or discount code you can use for your items. Most sites have free shipping or some kind of special offer when you buy online. Be sure to search around for the best offer and take advantage of the sales. Also, try not to wait until the last minute. Expedited shipping can be very costly. Also, always check the return policy. You don’t want to get stuck with something you changed your mind on.
  • Get charitable. If you think Christmas has gotten too commercial, then consider making a charitable contribution in a loved one’s name. You can present the gift in a nice card.
  • Treat yourself. It’s okay to do something for yourself around the Holiday season. After a long day of shopping or cleaning and running errands make sure to treat yourself to some down time.