Do you have a romantic ideal of what the holidays should look like, but in reality it falls short of your expectations, with the same family squabbles, hurt feelings, and disappointment manifesting year after year? I think if we’re honest, we all feel this to some degree, and it can trigger the holiday blues.

Nick, Tatjana, and Julie Anne Rhodes Christmas morning 1988

Have you ever thought long and hard about “what’s my role in this?”  As much as I’m sure we’ve all wished at some point that we could control the circumstances – the truth is we have no control over anyone’s actions but our own, so here are a few pointers to I’ve learned (usually the hard way) through the years:

Keith Haring Gingerbread Angel: Honor memories and feelings of loss…

1). Loss is without doubt the biggest holiday stressor, and one we definitely have no control over. It is inevitable at some point in our lives, and comes in so many forms – someone very dear to you has passed away, a marriage has failed, the loss of a home attached to many memories, the loss of a job that has you worried about buying those obligatory gifts, a child whose flown the coup and now spends the holidays with their spouses’ family. Change is one thing you can’t avoid, and sadness or grieving is natural. You do need to honor those feelings, but you do not have to wallow in them. Whatever the loss can make the holidays a bittersweet time. My advice is to plan ahead to create new holiday rituals and memories.

  • Helping others is one way to start a new tradition – help out in a soup kitchen, go read to children in the hospital, or gather friends to sing Carroll’s to the elderly in a home. I’m not promising it will take your pain away, but it will let you experience joy with others.
  • Look at as an opportunity to indulge yourself. My first Christmas without my daughter after the divorce was a tough one for me. I made sure my mind was kept busy with exploring Egypt, rather than feeling blue about not being with Tatjana. I began to look at the time she spent away from me, as time I could do something completely for myself, rather than time I was deprived of being with her. I realize travel may not be an option for everyone, but you can find something you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it’s roaming a museum, driving around looking at the lights, reading a good book – whatever, just adjust the attitude from “I can’t do this alone” to “I get to totally immerse myself in something I love, without feeling guilty about it.” You will make new memories in the process, and find your holiday spirit again.

Knocking yourself out?

2). Does “I keep knocking myself out making sure every detail will be perfect, therefore my holiday dreams will come true” sound familiar? Here is the reality check – when I catch myself doing this – I end up exhausted, grouchy, feeling unappreciated, and usually the bad guy when I blow my cool at the end of it all. The truth of the matter is, no one other than me knows (or cares) how much hard work went into decorating, cooking, baking, and cleaning to make that day special. They just came to enjoy it, and like you – probably with a few unrealistic expectations or their own.

  • Ask yourself, how much can I realistically do without exhausting myself? Then cut the rest from your list. Exhaustion is a recipe disasters.
  • Stop giving so much, if you feel unappreciated. Don’t be a martyr – it obviously isn’t getting you the result you desire. When I stop knocking myself out, I start enjoying the tasks I am happy to do, and so does everyone else around me.
  • Plus, when you’re less exhausted,  you’ll also be able to deal more rationally with the bad behavior of others.

Apply the Personal Chef Approach™ to have the time to relax enjoy your own party

3). Role change. Would it really be so awful to let yourself be the receiver versus the giver for a change?
  • The holiday will still happen, but with different dynamics. Instead of you doing the entertaining every year, lets others within the family take that role in turns. You might find you enjoy the break, and they’re more likely to appreciate what you’ve done in the past when they put the labor of love in themselves.
  • It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Why not try a “pot luck” style holiday meal for a change – there are so many great make-ahead dishes that travel well – like this artichoke lasagna I made for my own company Christmas party this year. I’ll be honest – I’d had a stressful week, and didn’t really feel like entertaining. Instead of doing my normal cooking to impress, I prepared a few simple dishes in advance. Once my team arrived, I realized there was nothing left to do, but heat and eat, and enjoy my own party! In the end we all had a blast.
Mama’s Artichoke Lasagna
Hot melted mozzarella cheese and creamy béchamel sauce, with artichoke hearts and lots of Parmesan cheese come together quickly, easily, and in advance –  making it an ideal dinner party dish that won’t keep you slaving away in the kitchen instead of enjoying the company of your guests (although you may have a hard time keeping them out of the kitchen once the get of whiff). It is also a great way to get your kids to eat some vegetables – who doesn’t love lasagna? This one is elegant enough to serve to adults as well, and can be served as a first course, or a main course.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes


Mama's Artichoke Lasagna

  • 20 ounces canned artichoke hearts drained
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • 16 ounces mozzarella cheese shredded
  • 9 no-cook lasagna noodles


Mama's Artichoke Lasagna

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F
  2. Make bechamel sauce by melting butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly to keep any clumps from forming. Stir in the seasonings, and continue stirring until the sauce thickens and coats the spoon, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Grease an 8 inch by 8 inch lasagna pan bottom and sides with butter. Place a single layer of lasagna noodles on the bottom, spread with half the artichokes, sprinkle with 1/3 of both cheeses, and cover with 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Repeat with another layer. Repeat, ending with the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. The pan should be about 3/4 full. If you do not plan to eat this right away, I suggest cooling and storing properly at this point, and baking it off later - when you want to serve it.
  4. Bake the lasagna in the 400° F preheated oven until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to turn golden brown around the edges, about 30 minutes.

Serving Suggestions

Mixed green salad and garlic bread.

Heat To Eat

Bake the lasagna in the 400° F preheated oven until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to turn golden brown around the edges, about 30 minutes; or vent lid of container and heat in microwave 3-5 minutes.

Julie Anne and Tatjana Rhodes on Christmas Eve 2009

PS. What’s your favorite holiday pot luck dish to make? Plan ahead to enjoy this holiday season.

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  • December 5, 2012
    1:24 pm

    You are the most thoughtful friend, Ruthee. When you give a gift, it definitely has not only thought, but a LOT of your heart in it!

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