November 23

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Fill Your Plate: Thoughtful, bite-sized soul food for the holidays

By Jessica Allen

November 23, 2020


This is our 20th year celebrating the holidays together, Jack and me, and our families, which feels crazy. We are so lucky, and there’s so much love to go around. Yet there’s not one year out of those 20 (maybe this is the year?!) that I haven’t wound up in tears at some point from the pressure of getting all the right people to the right place at the right time in the right clothes with all the right stuff in tow. 

 I try to please so many people that the person I end up letting down most is myself.

Just checking off all the holiday “boxes” can feel stressful enough as it is. And I think we all come to the table (pun absolutely intended) with our own knapsack of emotions, experiences, expectations, needs, and desires. This year especially.

So what I’ve learned is the better prepared I am in mind, body, and spirit, the fewer tears that fall, and the more present and joyful I can be with the people I love. 

This week, as we all navigate what might be the strangest holiday season we’ve ever had, I want to help fill your plate with recipes for stress-relief, sanity, true gratitude, abundance, and peace. One little thoughtful bite at a time to help you fulfill your soul all week long.  I'll be posting them daily on our Heartfully Present Facebook and Instagram pages, so come find us there!  If you're not on social media, or you're taking a break for the holiday weekend, I'll put them all together right here on the blog too.  But I challenge you to chew on them one day at a time!   Wellness is a daily, intentional practice.  Especially during the holidays.  You can't frontload it all, and if you wait until after it's over, you'll have missed the point and the benefits altogether.  

These dishes are meant to be shared! So pass them along to anyone you know who is feeling weary or anxious, or invite them to find us here. There’s always room at the table!

HP, J ❤️🦃

Recipe #1 for Holiday Stress Relief

Recipe for holiday stress relief | 9 tips

First up to fill your plate (on Monday) is a Recipe for holiday stress relief!

We gotta knock out some logistics first and talk about the actual physical, mental, and emotional prep work that goes into holidays. Even if you're not hosting, and even if you're not going anywhere, there are things that just have to be decided and checked off the list, and there's no sense losing your sanity over it all.

With a bit of intentional planning and expectations-management, you can keep your stress level low so there’s more room for joy and presence, no matter how hectic things get. Here are 9 quick ingredients to cut stress this week:

1. Plan ahead.

Shop or order groceries early, chop and bag veggies and make the food you can ahead of time, and pack clothes/supplies the day before.

2. Ask for help. 

Make a list and delegate everything that doesn’t involve fire or knives or your grandmother’s recipe you love to assemble yourself. Even small children can perform easy tasks, like “put 3 scoops of dog food into this Ziplock bag” or “empty the dishwasher.” Don’t be a martyr. I’ve tried it and all it does is make everyone miserable. Turn the help list into a game if you want, or shamelessly bribe your people with allowance or ice cream or Hot Wheels or whatever you like to bribe them with. 😉. **THIS TIP is saving my life this year. I'm too exhausted to do it all myself, and it doesn't feel fun or gratifying to do it all myself anyway.

3. Simplify. 

Do you really need the elaborate recipe, outfit, décor, etc.? Or can you release some expectations and therefore manage your stress level better? (and save money too!)

4. Set boundaries and stick to them. 

Although it’s not characteristic of my family to engage in divisive political/religious conversations, it’s never beyond the realm of possibility that a sticky topic could come up. Especially this year, for goodness sake. We’re all nuts just like the rest of you too. 😬 So if you have some off-limits conversation topics, practice saying clearly with confidence: “Not today.” Hold your ground. Nobody can force you to engage or respond to a conversation that is unkind, divisive, inflammatory, or disrespectful. This goes double if children are present. If all else fails, literally walk away. You aren’t ruining anything. So don’t accept an accusation if it comes flying your way. If anyone’s ruining anything, they are, by disregarding and disrespecting a very clear self-respecting boundary you set.

5. Arrive and/or serve the meal on time. 

Don’t be late, and if you are, respect your people enough to give them an accurate expectation of your arrival time. Hungry tummies are cranky tummies. Full tummies are happy tummies and everyone feels their time (and hot food!) is respected.

6. Bring a game to play. 

Idle time is the birthplace of tricky conversations. Keep the entertainment going. Our favorites are Pit (a fast and funny yell-it-out card trading game from my childhood!!!), Spoons, Spades, Balderdash, Scrabble, or good old-fashioned War. You can make hours of fun with a simple deck of cards.

7. Set technology expectations with children and spouses before you arrive. 

Nothing hurts my feelings more than seeing people’s faces buried in screens when we’ve all made such an effort to gather together.

8. Realize there is no “perfect” holiday gathering, so….

9. Get your mind and heart right before you walk in.

If relationships are strained, pray for patience, compassion, understanding, love, and restraint. You can be an agent of war or an bringer of peace, no matter what the other person chooses. What version of yourself do you want to bring to the literal table this holiday season?



10. If you're anxious, pinpoint what's actually bothering you.  

If you're anything like me, the thing we get bent out of shape over is usually not the thing we're actually upset about.

If you feel anxious this week, ask yourself a few direct questions:

1. What's really bothering me?
2. Who/what am I taking out my frustration on?
3. Is there anything I can do to solve the problem?
4. How can I make peace with this, move forward, and enjoy a special holiday?
5. Does this require an apology or an intentional conversation? (ugh, that one's hard.)

Tomorrow we’re serving up a recipe for true gratitude - especially if you’re in a dark spot where you don’t feel thankful for much. (It’s okay.)



HP, J ❤️

Recipe #2 for True Gratitude

Fill Your Plate Recipe for Gratitude

A friend sent me a quote that read "gratitude is not Tylenol for life."  After furrowing my brow over that line and really giving it some honest thought, I absolutely agree.  I do believe gratitude is the root of all goodness, and it's a practice I embrace every day.  But I have lived through seasons so dark that I could not find one thing to be thankful for.  

Gratitude doesn't fix problems.  Yet when practiced well, gratitude puts those problems into tremendous perspective.  

Gratitude helps fix YOU so you can navigate your life and relationships with more grace, patience, dignity, and respect for yourself and other people.


When I'm emotionally healthy, a daily practice of gratitude brings me a sense of peace, presence, humility, stillness, and even more gratitude.  I feel less resentful, less edgy, less greedy, less offended; more fulfilled, more effective, more purposeful, and more blessed.  

But when I was at my most broken, any gratitude I could have had was buried under mile-deep muck of anger and pain.  The only thing that made that anger and pain even more distressing was the knowledge that the holidays were coming.  I started drowning in the anxiety that I was going to have to exist in a sea of happy people who didn't understand why I was still such a wreck.

Gratitude is the soil for all the goodness that blooms in our lives.  Yet sometimes that gratitude - and the joy it brings - feels infinitely far away.  

Make peace with that reality.  Let the people who love you most carry you through.  You may not feel grateful for much right now, and that's okay.  Just hold onto hope in the knowledge that you won't feel this way forever.  Each moment is brand new, and so you can be brand new with each passing moment too.  

HP, J <3

Related: Surviving the holidays when you're barely surviving

Recipe #3 for Sanity

Recipe #3 for Sanity | Things to bring to family gatherings and what to leave behind

To your Thanksgiving gathering, absolutely invite:

  • Gratitude
  • Patience with others
  • Peace in your spirit
  • Simplicity
  • Presence of mind
  • Confidence in yourself
  • Self control
  • Clear boundaries
  • Gentleness of speech (Think of the children!  Little ears are learning.)
  • Willingness to listen more than you talk
  • Love for your people

Leave these things at home: 

  • Sarcasm
  • Old childhood patterns that don’t serve you any longer (i.e. muting your confidence/capabilities to make someone feel better, deferring to your loudmouth brother, letting unacceptable comments fly unchecked, not standing up for yourself, arguing for arguments’ sake, etc.) 
  • Anything hinting at passive-aggressive behavior
  • Grudges or an ax to grind with someone (Make like Elsa and let it gooooooo)
  • Overindulgence 
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Heads buried in devices
  • A need to prove anything to anyone
  • Shame or embarrassment
  • Perfectionism of any kind

A little intention goes a long way towards creating memorable and fulfilling holidays with the people you love.  Choose well what you hold onto and what you leave behind.  It makes a difference.  

More thoughts on peaceful, present, sanity-saving holidays right here.  

Recipe #4 for Abundance (a Thanksgiving Day blessing)

Fill Your Plate Recipe #4 for Abundance | a Thanksgiving Day Blessing

At the top of my gratitude list is YOU - this community of treasured souls who show up for your own lives, no matter how messy it feels.  Just in case no one tells you explicitly today: your life holds divine and infinite value.  There is only one you, and we need you, and we’re all better because you’re here. 

I pray today brings you everything that’s delicious and good, and nothing that isn’t.  May the conversations around your table (or through your wifi) be full of light,P and life, and the hope that comes from knowing even though things look vastly different this year, we’re all in this together.  

HP, J <3

Recipe #5 for Peace

Fill Your Plate Recipe #5 for Peace

Enter your text here...You'll never believe what I found!!  My entire box of LAST YEAR’S Christmas cards, discovered ironically as I was pulling outfits for THIS year’s family photo.  

This card mailout must have been one of those tasks that felt really important at the time but ultimately didn’t make the final cut into my Holiday Brain Capacity.  It gets smaller and smaller every year, you know.    

I loved that last-year picture so much.  And my actual favorite pic from that shoot was one of the outtakes:

Jessica and her husband and children outdoors at sunset, laughing while the baby is running away from the picture

2020’s admittedly been a hot flamy pile of disappointment and frustration, but I had an epiphany when I really looked at this stack of picture cards:  every one of us in this family is all-around healthier, authentically happier, wiser, and more gracious than we were one year ago.  NONE OF THIS HAS BEEN EASY.  I’m not sugar coating how monstrous it’s been to homeschool, change schools, resign 2 careers I loved, keep children healthy and entertained away from their friends, redesign our whole lifestyle, and figure out how to make peace with not knowing what the DEVIL is coming next through the pipeline.  (We’ve been lucky - these are all first-world problems.  And I don’t take any of it for granted, because there are so many people navigating actual challenges to their health and welfare.)

Tough stuff breaks you… and then it remakes you. It’s not either/or; it’s both.  You don’t get to be remade until you’re finally ready to let go of all the old pieces of yourself that have already fulfilled their purpose within you.  Stop struggling against “what has already been.”

The maddening and beautiful thing about these breaking-and-remaking experiences is we get to choose how we navigate them, choose the way we place them into perspective, and choose who we want to become in the process. 

I’ve been break-ed and remake-d so many times in my adult life it’s fit for a screenplay.  And I wouldn’t change a single thing, except maybe whoever plays me in the movie will actually remember to send out her damn Christmas cards.  Eva Mendez would surely make it happen. (Or maybe Emma Stone?  Who would play you in the movie of your life?)

HP, J <3

Jessica Allen

About the author

Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have four children: LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and Elisha.

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