It was approaching Christmas, in the late 1970s. I had just returned to my homeport of Seattle after a 3-month voyage aboard a research ship. I lived aboard the vessel, but for the holidays, I wanted a break from steel bulkheads. But where to go? 

What was once my home in Lakewood, south of Seattle, was now upside-down: Dad had moved out of the house and into an apartment. And Mom? Well, without going into details, she was not mentally stable enough to be at home and required professional help. 

Dad told me on the phone, “You can come stay with me over Christmas.” He gave me directions and added. “I’ll leave the key under the mat. I might be out shopping, but go ahead and let yourself in.”

My relief was temporary. I felt lonely, lost, and confused. 

I drove over and knocked on the door. No answer. I fiddled with the key and stepped inside.

It was quiet, though the hum of the ship’s hydraulics still rang in my ears, as I knew it would for a week or so. I walked through the kitchen, set my backpack down and straightened up. There, by the sliding glass door, was a floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree, covered with ornaments and tiny white lights. 

I froze, slumped down into the couch, and sobbed.

That Christmas was bittersweet for me. The holiday season is meant to be a magical time full of cheer, happiness, and joy, right? But it can also be riddled with stress and disappointment. 

It’s all about finding and maintaining a balance, I’ve discovered. As in the right balance to stay healthy — mentally, physically and spiritually. And with all the holiday festivities, this can be challenging. For anyone.

The good news is that this is also the season of giving. And health is the gift that keeps on giving! Here is a list of healthy holiday gift ideas. 

 

ACTIVITY-RELATED GIFTS

•Warm, cushioned socks for a better walk or run

•Yoga/exercise mat  

•Resistance bands, hand weights 

•Fanny pack for walking 

•Tote bag for gym equipment

•Take a friend skating at the ice rink 

•Give out gift certificates:

Many local health-oriented businesses offer punch cards. For example, Balanced Approach, 100th Monkey Yoga Studio, Orion’s Mountain Sports, and various massage therapists. And there’s the swimming pool at the high school. They provide punch cards for 10 visits: $45-Adults, $15-Seniors & Children; $8 for 3 and under). And to access (and support) our Kodiak Area State Parks, the annual pass is just $50. 

“You can also make your own gift certificate,” says my friend Janel. “It can be a mini adventure with a friend. A walk, a hike, collecting treasures on the beach, or a polar bear plunge!”

Gift certificates or promissory notes can be for garden work, home repair tasks or shoveling snow…

So if — or when — it snows, you’ve got the perfect excuse to work out with a shovel. Get up early to shovel your neighbor’s driveway. (Or give a gift card for 10 shoveled driveways.) Imagine the joy you’ll bring to your neighbors when they begrudgingly head outside to shovel before work, only to see that the work has already been done for them. You’ll still get in a workout while spreading a little holiday cheer.

 

COOKING AND FOOD ITEMS

Staying on a healthy food path can be difficult this time of year. As a general tip, be aware of portion size. You don’t have to swear off all treats. Just remember, “a bite not a bowlful.” It might save you from caving in altogether.

• Spiralizer to make zucchini, sweet potato and other veggie ‘noodles’ 

•“Box” grater to make your own cauliflower ‘rice’ 

•Set of glass storage containers with clip-on lids

•Hand blender to make fruit/veggie smoothies

•Homemade frozen dinners

•Gift certificate ideas: To local restaurants, stores, seafood purveyors, or coffee shops. A promise note to provide a dinner 

 

GIFT IDEAS FOR MENTAL HEALTH

Help your friends and family relax and destress during this busy time of year with soothing gifts that will pamper them. 

My friend Suzanne suggests, “taking a friend who can’t or doesn’t drive on a scenic drive out the road. Maybe stop at a coffee shop. Or lend an ear, she says, with a friend who might be lonely.”

It’s also nice, she says, to offer a lift for those with no time or transportation to do errands, such as grocery shopping or going to the post office.

“You can also offer to watch someone’s children to give them a small break to do errands or just find some solitude and peace during their day.”

Such gifts don’t need to cost anything either. “Pass on a smile,” Suzanne says.

Try this one: On a sunny day, bundle up and sit outside with a friend. A 15-minute sunbath does wonders. 

Following my Facebook post for healthy gift ideas, Annika offered this response: “Taking a friend for a drive, listening to music, and having meaningful conversation is just the cost of your gas!”  Or buy a book and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee at the new Islander Bookshop on Mill Bay Road. 

While the holidays can add stress to your life, giving thoughtful, health-conscious gifts can help folks survive seasonal rough spots. Besides, the act of giving can make you feel good all over, from the warm fuzzies you’ll feel in your heart to the beads of sweat you’ll form on your brow.

By the time Dad returned from shopping, I had dabbed my tears and re-composed myself. At dinner, I thanked him for putting up such a beautiful tree. I don’t think he ever realized how much his gift kept on giving.

Marion Owen wrote a story about her Mom in Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, the New York Times bestseller she co-authored. You can get Marion’s free Photo Tips PDF when you sign up for her “Goodness from Kodiak” newsletter. Look for details on her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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