Monday, September 26, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 10-02-05
Jeff Gill

October is very nearly my favorite month of the year, among many other reasons because it means September is over.
And September is, in my mind, a challenging month because you spend it recovering from August. Yes, August.
December is the time when everyone talks about the financial drain, incessant eating opportunities (whether you’re looking for them or not, all high calorie), and the brutal schedule. All of which are true, but I think August can be harder because it’s the stealth December. We know and expect December to be jampacked frenetic stress-filled activity, but every year August lolls into sight, showing up in the distance as a slight figure obscured by heat ripples. Then it suddenly slams into you like an 18 wheeler out of control leaning across the shoulder throwing gravel even as you dive away.
At least for parents, and all those who work with children, August is not dress rehearsal or prep month: August is show time, baby. Back-to-school sales are July, because retail knows this too. The buildings are open, the letters are going out, the lists are posted, the supply sheet (check the back for more items) is out.
Sure, the Christmas season is often an assault on the credit card for the unwary or profligate, but what about school clothes, new lunch boxes, fees, shoes, doctor visits for getting back into the educational system?
And you’re doing the round of "end of summer" picnics, with all the expense implied by a meal meant to be rustic and simple. Hah, again I say, hah. You can eat at a fine restaurant in Columbus (gas cost included) for what you can end up laying out for picnic supplies, equipage, the items for a dish you rarely make other than picnics (one good side to a rush of them in a row; less waste of partially used ingredients you throw out next spring), and all the little extras you might need to bring or have in reserve.
Then look at what you can spend in a day at Hartford Fair (didn’t we still have a $20 left? No? Do you have any cash?), the Ohio State Fair, and the right true end of August (ignore the calendar) at Millersport for the Sweet Corn Festival. When the elephant ear booth starts taking debit card swipes, we’re all gonna be in trouble.
Fats and carbohydrates? Atkins’ last revenge comes with the usual spread at a potluck or pitch-in, let alone along a midway. Folks always worry – and indulge anyhow – about Holiday Season weight gain. I always feel like I add the most penalty weight right as I’m trying to enter the gate for the Autumnal Sweepstakes; ice cream socials to wrap the summer, the aforementioned picnics, receptions and galas beginning a new school year.
Then fall sports, Scouts both Girl and Boy, a range of activities starting and re-starting in and around school; churches having fall kick-offs, Rally Days, and big pushes to get back into the Sunday School round.
Labor Day would be a respite, except it becomes a straggling, hanging-on part of the August slog that won’t end, with a final flurry of yes, picnics, and other events to mark the end of let’s-get-on-with-it summer.
So to October, cooler air, turning leaves, and a schedule for children and families that has found a groove, of sorts. Homework is restored to a place of honor, if not dinner, and we all know which night of the week is which program or activity, and which one we set the trash out after, before closing the garage door.
Which leads me in a roundabout way to this: one actual delight in October is that you can start the path to an enjoyable December right now. In fact, you gotta do it now.
Wait until mid-November, and you’re just jumping on the treadmill of traditional tedium. The "Holidays," as the culture is calling the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, can be paced and controlled and managed, but you have to plan ahead, budget both time and money, and set limits now so you can enjoy the contents then.
Those who know me will not be surprised to hear the suggestion that you first prioritize religious observances, whatever yours are. Put them on the calendar (trust me, your faith community has their planning done through December) are work out from there.
Set an amount after looking at your income, outgo, and budget (don’t have a budget? Drop all of this paper and go make a rough one right away, or you really will hate the Holidays in January), and figure out how you have to stick with it. Cash in envelopes, one card in your wallet when you go shopping, lists, whatever works for you.
And put family time on that calendar before the shopping expeditions. Mark the day you’ll put the tree up and decorate it, mark the wrapping party with the kids, schedule the Hanukkah gathering with family, and then get the school and Scouts and sewing club schedule and mark them on, too.
December looks much more peaceful from an October vantage point, and using that perspective is how you keep it a season of peace. As to going overboard for Hallowe’en, we’ll talk about that later!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share your ideas for a peaceful preparation for the Christmas season at

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