Developing Better Listening Skills

February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

I am continuing to learn how to listen better, to communicate better. I have good reason. One of my younger brothers is challenged with three different cancers and has recently made a nursing home his new home. With many staff including nurses and hospice nurses, I find communication  extremely important – with them and particularly with my brother whose life is now shortened.

For me, this latest learning curve is that genuine listening, active or effective listening is a rare gift—a gift of time and attention. It involves using all our senses and helps build relationships, solve problems, increase understanding, and resolve conflicts. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant children who can solve their own problems. From another brother Ron I know that good listening and communication skills build careers and forever friendships.

Here are some tips to help us develop better listening skills.

Keep an open mind.

Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you. If what someone says alarms us, go ahead and feel alarmed, but don’t say negative things to yourself. As soon as we indulge in judgmental thoughts, we compromise our effectiveness as a listener.

Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent their thoughts and feelings. We don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are; the only way we’ll find out is by listening.

Be relaxed and attentive.

We can look away now and then, but the important thing is to be attentive. This means:

  • be present
  • direct ourselves
  • pay attention

Don’t be distracted by our thoughts, feelings, or biases. Screen out all distractions, like background noises and activity. Try not to focus on the speaker’s accent or speech mannerisms to the point where they become distractions.

Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.

Eye contact, in our culture, is considered a basic ingredient of good communication. That doesn’t mean we can’t carry on a conversation from across the room, or from another room.  Rather, if the conversation continues for any length of time, we (or the other person) may get up and move. The desire for better communication pulls us together.

Give the other person the courtesy of facing them. Look at them, even if they don’t look at you. Put aside papers, books, computers, etc. And silence mobile phones and put them aside.

Listen to the words, and picture what the speaker is saying.

Allow our minds to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, our brain will do the necessary work if we stay focused, with all five of our senses fully engaged. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.

When it’s our turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. We cannot rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying. And concentrate on what is being said, even if it bores you. If our mind starts to wander, we need to force ourselves to refocus.

Do not interrupt, and do not try to fix or solve problems. 

Children used to be taught that it’s rude to interrupt. I’m not sure that message is getting across anymore. The opposite is being modeled on the majority of talk shows and reality programs, where loud, aggressive, in-your-face behavior is encouraged.

Interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says:

  • “I’m more important than you are.”
  • “What I have to say is more interesting/accurate/relevant.”
  • “I don’t care what you think.”
  • “I don’t have time for your opinion.”
  • “This isn’t a conversation, it’s a contest, and I’m going to win.”

We all think and speak at different rates. If we are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on us to relax our pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator.

When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from trying to fix or suggesting solutions. Most of us don’t want advice. If we do, we’ll ask for it. Most of us prefer to figure out our own solutions. We simply need someone to listen and help us do that. If we are absolutely bursting with a brilliant solution/idea, at least get the speaker’s permission.  Ask, “Would you like to hear my ideas?”

Ask questions to understand better.

When we notice that our question has led the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track.  Try saying something like, “It was great to hear about your trip, but tell me more about your brother.”

Try our best to feel what the speaker is feeling.

Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.  Do the best we can to tune into the speaker’s feelings. If we feel sad when another expresses sadness, joyful when they express joy, fearful when they describe their fears (and we should convey those feelings through our facial expressions and words), our effectiveness is high as a good listener.

To experience empathy, we need to put ourselves in the other person’s place and allow ourselves to feel what it’s like to be in their shoes at that moment. This is not an easy thing to do. It takes energy and concentration. But it’s very generous and helpful to do.  It also facilitates communication like nothing else does.

Give positive feedback.

Give the speaker some proof that we are listening, that we are following their train of thought by reflecting their feelings. “How thrilling!” or “That was a horrible thing for you.” or “I can see how you might have been confused.” If the speaker’s feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase their message. Or just nod and show understanding with appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed “hmmm” or “uh huh.”

Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.

We extract much information about each other without saying a word. Even over the phone, we can learn almost as much about a person from the tone and cadence of another’s voice than from anything they say.

Face to face with a person, we can detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation quickly in the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, the slope of the shoulders. These are clues we cannot ignore. When listening, know that words tell us only a fraction of the message.

Begin today!  What better holiday to begin practicing these new listening skills!


During Challenging Times

February 5, 2021

In my memoir Scoria Roads I wrote about many things, including my abusive dad.  Trying my best to be honest, to put all cards on the table, I wrote how I found the strength and courage and reasons to forgive.  My childhood was a challenging time for me.

This day I want to talk about what to have, what to include, what to bring to our lives, instead of what we need to do.

From my perspective, I believe there are four important things to have, to bring, to include in our lives during challenging times–four life-changing things to keep us calm, filled with hope, and keep our footing.  Here they are:

  1. Something to look forward to.  This does not have to be a major item.  It could be setting up a phone call with a friend on Sunday or Zooming with a brother next week or splurging on pizza Saturday night.
  2. Something to do.  It’s very important to keep our minds and hands busy on a daily basis.  I have resorted to cutting out various sizes of hearts on pretty paper from Walmart or Travel magazines and creating 3-D hearts to send to people during their times of loss and grief.  So every day, dance or cut or knit or sew or write or sculpt or cook for someone or crochet or walk or work on a puzzle or play a board game with yourself.  Do something!
  3. Someone to love.  If you do not have a spouse, child, grandchild, or friend in your life, it is your job to find someone to connect with.  For example, you can begin by asking your clergy or a nursing home administrator for someone who might need a letter.  There are many people in our world who have nobody.  You could be that new person in their life, that new pen pal, that possible new friend who could be life-changing.  When we reach out and help someone else, we help ourselves.
  4. Some kind words to tell ourselves.  What we think about matters.  What we say to ourselves matters.  When we are surrounded by discouraging words and voices, we need to fight to stay positive and keep the faith.  This is very important because our life always moves in the direction of our strongest thoughts.  So we need to be kind to ourselves, and give ourselves positive messages.  Remember the nanny in the book and movie The Help?  Every day she told the young girl, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  Every day, we need to look in the mirror, and tell ourselves kind, thoughtful words.

Begin today!  And I would love to hear how your life is changing!


Recapture Your Creative Spirit from Childhood

January 26, 2021

Whenever I become discouraged while working on my third book, I think of Grandma Moses. Remember Grandma Moses. the artist who painted images of country life when she was in her 70s, 80s, and 90s? Thinking about this amazing older artist makes me wonder about creativity.

Some experts believe and teach us that it’s possible to recapture the creativity from our youth. These experts also believe that the older we are, the greater our experience base becomes that we can draw from. Creativity allows us to stretch our minds, do new and exciting things, and engage us in ways that take us one step closer to reaching our full potential.

Are there things we can do that will help make us more creative? Or are some people simply born this way? Or is creativity a skill we can develop much like a muscle?

Here are some ways to help us think like Steve Jobs or Jerry Seinfeld.

  • Take a nap. Many of our creative insights occur in our dreams.
  • Exercise our brain.  See how many red fruits you can name in 30 seconds, for example.  Or count backwards from 100 by 6s without making an error. Or visualize a route you take regularly (to the grocery store or work, for example) and see how many turns and road signs you can remember. This exercise strengthens the right hemisphere of our brain.
  • Keep a journal. If you can record, you can recall, and if you can recall, you can re-create.
  • Write a paragraph about a fear. Write it to the end of every possible outcome. Name it Catastrophic Expectations.  To harness our fears about taking a risk, detail precisely what could happen if everything goes wrong. When we make this info totally explicit, we then can face it.  And only then can we swap our fears for our analytical capability.
  • Listen to many different styles of music, even those we do not like. Highly creative people appreciate diversity, and different styles of music stimulate different parts of our brain. An open mind helps us appreciate all styles.

Being open makes creativity more possible, more likely to happen. And creative people love what they do. Creativity comes closest to providing that total fulfilling and meaningful life we all hope to have. That’s what Grandma Moses did: created herself a meaningful life that brought her great joy.


Kuntsugi (kin su gee)

January 21, 2021

A few months ago, I was searching on the Internet for new and different ways we can repair ourselves.  And I came across a word I had never heard before: Kintsugi.  I was curious and began researching and learned that Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, we can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.

We know that every break in something tangible is unique. But instead of repairing an item, such as a treasured bowl, to make it like new, this 400-year-old Japanese technique actually highlights the scars, the broken lines, as a part of the design.

And then I learned that we can use Kintsugi as a metaphor for embracing our own personal flaws and imperfections to heal ourselves — teaching us an important lesson.  Sometimes in the process of repairing things that have broken, we actually create something more unique, more beautiful, more resilient.

As a people, we surely do need metaphors and objects to understand the art of healing. Kintsugi reveals how we can heal and shows us that we are better with and because of each one of our golden cracks.

Whether we are experiencing the loss of a loved one or a job, or are recovering from a divorce or an injury or other personal tragedy, Kintsugi can be a way to reframe hardships, reminding us that we are not victims of our circumstances. Kintsugi can help us come out the other side stronger, more resilient.

Here’s the notecard I recently created using Kintsugi as the subject.  You can find these on my website.


A counselor once told me that we won’t realize our full potential until we plow through the tough times. She believes that Kintsugi wellness, the Japanese art of nourishing our mind, body, and spirit, takes work and awareness in order for it to truly be healing.

So, if needed, begin your work.


Niksen! From the Netherlands, Try it Today!

January 16, 2021

Have you ever wanted to do nothing–absolutely nothing–and feel it’s productive and not feel guilty about it? I have.

Then I had an unexpected fall. About a week ago while snowshoeing, I headed for an incline up and out from a frozen lake. The incline was filled with small trees and bushes–thorny brambles really–and my left snowshoe’s metal claws clung to a small stump, hidden in deep snow. Surprised, I was unable to take another step. And I fell forward, stretching my entire right leg and hitting the ground with that knee.

Initially I thought, ugh, I have done it now. But no, I readily got up. And nothing hurt. I yelled to my snowshoe partner that I was okay and went on.  We snowshoed another half hour.

About three hours later the pain and swelling began. The retired nurse in me bucked going to ER, not knowing which doc might be on call plus the worry about covid-19. And I knew to begin RICE activities: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.

That evening and the following days I spent doing RICE and Niksen. I had read about Niksen a few months ago and became interested. But at the time, my life was too busy, I told myself, to indulge in such an activity.

In the Netherlands, Niksen is their Dutch word that literally means to do nothing, to be idle or doing something without any use. It’s an activity, such as staring out a window into nature or listening to music or sitting and looking at art work, with no purpose other than simple relaxation. My readings and research told me that this daily practice of Niksen will improve our well-being and mental health by decluttering our minds. Plus, it makes us more alert and productive afterward.

No, it is not mindless scrolling through social media or streaming whole seasons of shows. Niksen is intentional purposelessness, the opposite of distraction.  It’s like meditation but without the postures, instruction, and classes, etc. Anyone can do Niksen, though it might be more difficult than you think. If my mind wanders to unsettling places, I try an absorbing, repetitive task to keep it busy.

We can niks in a cafe too—when our cafes become safe to niks in. (Yes, we can use “niks” as a verb!) Niks-ing can soothe burnout by giving our brains time to process the massive amounts of information we take in every day that, in turn, can boost our creativity by making space for new ideas. Doing nothing is not being lazy—it’s an art.

There I was, all those days, practicing Niksen. And loving it. And not feeling guilty. And forgetting about my pain. Forgetting everything. I began noticing, out my living room windows, what my maple and pine trees actually hold and look like. I watched gray and black squirrels running, gathering, searching. I became interested in what birds were up to, how trees are affected by various winds. And I relaxed. And rested and de-stressed. And decluttered my mind. And became alert to and interested in everything out those windows.

Later after seeing an orthopedic doc who took x-rays and determined that I had not broken or torn anything, he said I had sprained, strained, and stretched muscles and tendons. After a few more days of RICE, I daily strolled around my home, began this blog, wrote a short story, worked on my third book, composed a poem, called family and friends, created a new notecard, and finished reading a book I’d been waiting to find time for.  Yes, I was indeed more productive.

Niksen. Try it. Don’t wait to become injured for it to change your life.

Finding Balance and Joy

January 11, 2021

Years ago during my Bereavement Training, a Roman Catholic nun taught us about the importance of (what she named) “Our Body’s Five Dimensions.” I want to share these five dimensions and how filling each one of these dimensions every day – for only 15 minutes each – will keep our bodies in balance, leading us to joy and also to healing, if we need that.

Finding balance and joy is a journey. And because each of us is different, our paths to finding balance and joy will be different for each of us.

Picture a whole pie, and think of the five dimensions as five pie slices. Here is my list of suggestions for each dimension to help bring our lives back into balance and to find joy again.

  1. Journal daily (Emotional) – Journaling allows us to ask questions, dig deeper, and confront any underlying issues we’ve been avoiding. Painting, drawing, sculpting, etc. will bring that same result.
  2. Move your body (Physical) – The muscles in our body store memories on a subconscious level. Movement allows us to set free our trapped emotions. Try light stretching, walking, dancing, hiking, biking, swimming, etc.
  3. Listen to music (Spiritual) – Different sound frequencies can raise our vibration and shift our moods. So, each day listen to spiritual music or meditate, pray, read spiritual poetry or devotions, or study your Bible.
  4. Stimulate your brain neurons (Intellectual) – Each day read, work on a puzzle or a mind game, or play a board game. Have you heard that during challenging times, I play Scrabble with my mom who died in 2007? Yes! I play both people, switching chairs and hats each time it’s my turn! Don’t chuckle! Try it with your favorite board game and someone you dearly loved who loved that game too. I also find joy rereading various chapters of my book Scoria Roads. Check it out!
  5. Share with a trusted friend (Social) – It helps if this can be a face-to-face visit, but it can be on Zoom. Now during the pandemic, consider choosing five trusted friends and hosting a Zoom gathering with them on a routine basis to share feelings. Sharing our experiences and feelings allows us to express and release the negative energy we hold.


  • We are chipping away at blocked energy. So, take baby steps. Small steps lead us to keep going.
  • If you feel physically exhausted, it’s your body’s way of telling you to rest.
  • Go easy on yourself. You are working your way through new experiences.

To discover more about joy, check out the book Finally . . . Joy written by my niece Renee Parks.  There are questions to answer and places to journal after each chapter. It’s an inspiring and thoughtful guide on how to create and keep joy in our lives.

Picture the new you with more balance and joy in your life!


Cooking and Eating for 1or 2

January 4, 2021

When I was a young bride and mother of young ones, I was often trying to figure out how to cut recipes down from 10-12 servings to 1-2 servings. Every time I cooked, my wish was for a cookbook with recipes for 1-2 people. In those days, the freezer compartment in our refrigerator was tiny. And in an apartment, there was usually never room for a small chest freezer.  So when I made a recipe for 10-12, we were often eating it every day for many days! Years later it would’ve also been helpful to have had a cookbook for 1-2 while I was writing my Scoria Roads book. It was not healthy, eating hot dogs and fast food during those years!

And now there is a cookbook for 2 that I highly recommend!  Its title is Food for 4 Seasons. This book is a keeper and a beauty!

Everything about this cookbook is attractive: each page, the cover, its layout, and the photos. Author Marta Crichton makes meal planning and home cooking easy. It’s the perfect gift for a college-bound student living on his/her own or a newly married couple or a couple with very young children or empty nesters.

Each recipe page holds a photo; then in round-cornered rectangles are lists of its needed ingredients, needed tools, and directions to make it. The heading scripts on each page are very nice looking–simply delights to view.

Marta shares recipes and knowledge she acquired during culinary school in Portland, Oregon, and when living on her own during those school years. Today, married with two young boys, she’s a pastry chef, home cook, and caterer. She also has had experience as an event planner.

In this cookbook, Marta’s table of contents are easy to read, plus she uses the four seasons to help us plan our menus. Recipes are chosen for each week to be made in order. She also suggests a standard cupboard set-up to help us create her host of nutritious and tasty recipes.

For each week’s foods, Marta has an intro page titled “Hodge Podge Grocery List” that helps to plan for recipe foods needed for the week. She also shows us how to use leftovers. And I appreciate her conversion chart page, her pages for notes, and reheating ideas.

Her inspiring recipes run the gamut of healthy and hearty to those with less fuss and skill required. The shrimp linguine and cheater chicken wings have become two of my favorites, and recipes like pork chops and apples will show cash-strapped couples how to get more bang for their buck. And many pages are sprinkled with her wondrous humor.

Marta is my niece, and you can find her cookbook at Barnes and Noble, on eAmazon, and on






Goals/Resolutions for 2021

December 31, 2020

As this past year finally ends, many of us are thinking about what we hope 2021 will hold for us. For me, there’s a sense of recovery, reconnection, new beginnings, and that spectacular sense of hope.

You may be searching for a new job or a different opportunity at work, a new or strengthened relationship, to apply to college or finish your degree, to lose weight, or to find a new hobby. I usually try to have at least one goal or resolution each year, but I don’t always make them at the beginning of the year. Many times, as the year progresses, I might consider one or two more as time goes along.

For me, goals are important to make, to write down on paper.  So this year, even if I do not accomplish my goals, my resolutions, I think it’s important to make them and write them down.  Here’s why:

  • They help us focus where we want to be, who we want to be, and what we want to accomplish in the new year. It’s a way to reflect on what’s important to us and to move in a positive direction. So my resolutions will be how to make myself a better person, and in turn, these will also help people around me.
  • They give us focus and stability. Writing goals/resolutions keep me grounded and focused on what is truly important. I try to make my goals/resolutions stepping stones toward something bigger, something better. The stability of my goals are just as important to me as to actually attain them.
  • They can help us take better care for ourselves. When we do this, we take the pressure off the performance part of it. It’s the process, anyway, that’s the most interesting part of learning, right?
  • They can help us impact others in positive ways. Let other people know what you’re doing and what your goals are. Then you will have cheerleaders and encouragers behind you, plus you will be an encourager for them with their new goals.
  • Post them! These past few years, I make only a few goals/resolutions–sometimes only a list of three. A list of many is only setting myself up for failure. Then I post them, on my fridge door, where I will see them every day!

Happy, Happy New Year!  My wish for you is that 2021 will be a year of success and some new things.  And always be prepared for a few surprises!


December 27, 2020

As we who live up north approach shorter and colder days, we discover our need for coping with the misery in our lives. A few years ago, while going through a challenging time, I met one of my favorite writers, Faith Sullivan, at a writers’ event. When I shared how I simply could not get going with my writing, she told me that this was my time for gathering, for wintering.  She further explained how this can also be a productive time, a time for collecting my thoughts, for retreating into myself, for gathering what it is I want to say, to write about.

The secret to coping with the darkest of days also lies in the life-affirming power of the natural world. In wintertime, we can embrace the cold and learn from these fallow periods when life is simultaneously dormant and alive.

What do you think of when you think of winter? Is it a stressful imagining or a peaceful one? Cozy? Uncomfortable? Necessary? With the inevitable approach of colder months, many of our memories or associations with the season are both good and bad.

These fallow periods in life when we’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of the outsider can be productive times–times to gather, to winter. They can transform the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.

There will always be wintering/gathering times: periods of sadness and solitude. We must prepare for them as best we can. What might this look like in practice for you?

There are ways we can care for and repair ourselves and also embrace the opportunities that these times, these seasons offer when life knocks us down. When we embrace our misery, we learn from it. I offer some ways here. 

  • Recognize and meet your needs for self-nurture and healing in the cycles of sadness or difficulty that life throws at us.
  • Accept that times of sadness and grief are a part of the cycles, a part of our lives.
  • Find nourishment and the transformative power of rest and retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear.
  • Ponder how we can change our self-talk into positive statements.
  • Discover how to relate to your own fallow times.
  • Reflect on the internal process winter sets into motion that embraces the harshness of life as part of the cycle of nature.
  • Seek out the peace and solace found in nature’s winters. For example, observe everything from the hibernating nests of mice, wolf dens, and the survival tactics of bees, to the wonder of the northern lights, and the frigid cold of the Arctic Circle and how those who choose to live there embrace winter.
  • Weigh the importance of snow in adult fairy tales such as “Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey. This book still amazes me.
  • Practice self-care–getting enough sleep, taking short afternoon naps, and generally slowing down daily routines.
  • Recognize when you need to coil into yourself. Protect yourself. Grow. Anticipate spring. Feel the turning of the year with daily gratitude.
  • Keep and pass on rituals: family rituals, holiday rituals, rituals of lighting a home fire or candles in the long evenings. Of hygge. (More on this another day this winter.)

To welcome winter and our gathering times is to survive them. In order to live through life events that change our lives is to embrace these them.

I have a friend who likes to travel north in the wintertime. She likes how cold air feels clean and uncluttered; she tells me she can think straighter up north in the solitude of the cold. She likes the cleansing power of breathing in the scent of snow. And she reminds me that cold has healing properties. For example, we apply ice to a joint after an awkward fall. Why not do the same to life?

If you find that highlights of the year (like holidays) pass with little joy and too much stress, if you miss feeling the different seasons and instead seem surprised upon their arrival, embrace this winter with all that it has to offer. Get outside and be in the sun on those days as often as possible. Scandinavian friends tell me there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!

Just as trees pare back and hibernate for the winter months and are then ready to grow and blossom when the spring sun returns, change will happen for us, whether we like it or not, whether we are ready for it or not.

That writer friend, Faith Sullivan, was right. Those years ago, after my gathering/wintering time was over, I wrote two books: Missing My Best Friend and Scoria Roads plus numerous short stories, poems, and even a sermon! Some have won awards.  Thank you, Faith.

Know that during gathering/wintering, everything is up for grabs. This is the enormous gift. Make this time irresistible. And be prepared for the unexpected.

Beauty and Christmas for One . . . or Two

December 18, 2020

Years ago when working in Special Education, I had read about the importance of beauty in our lives. Of course, I then wanted to try it out!  We had a group of five rowdy young boys, ages 7 – 10, who came yelling and sliding into our room at school each day, no matter how we tried to make this different. Then I had the idea to beautify the room and our table. We spent time planning and then decorating.

The next day as the boys slid into the doorway, they stopped, and slowly entered a decorated room, including their table with a handsome tablecloth and napkins, lit candles, glass dishes, fancy cookies, and a floral centerpiece. The overhead lights were dimmed.  One by one the boys quietly sat in their chairs. No one spoke for the longest time. It was a life-changing event — for the boys and for us as teachers.

Deepening and enhancing our appreciation of beauty will make our lives happier, richer, and more fulfilling. That day those boys told us they had never seen or personally been in such an environment.

Each of us needs some solitude and some sense of wonder in our lives. And this sense of wonder may be closely bound up with a sense of beauty and mystery. And in the presence of beauty we feel neither desire or boredom.

Some artists and writers place beauty above all things and argue that its creation should be the center of our lives. These aesthetes believe that beauty should be everywhere, woven into the fabric of everyday life, from the way we dress to the way we decorate our homes. Some believe that a reverence for beauty will lead to a more humane and moral society. If we loathe ugliness, we will behave decently because cruelty is ugly.

So this Christmas, if you are struggling with being alone or with just one other person, create your own beauty. I have been alone many, many holidays and have learned to embrace these days and turn them into days of beauty. Here are some ideas for your holiday meal:

Plan your menu with YOU in mind: choose your favorite foods to cook. If you do not want to cook, the day before choose take-out or purchase premade foods at a grocery store. Make or buy a favorite appetizer.

On the holiday, early in the day (so you can enjoy looking at it longer!), set a table of beauty. Think mystery, theme, colors!

Use a pretty tablecloth. Use cloth napkins. And napkin rings. Make or use place cards. Choose music you like. Place flowers and candles wherever you’d like on the table. Use your best/prettiest dishes (or nice paper plates if you don’t want to wash dishes.) Use your best silverware. Pour juice or wine or whatever in wine glasses. Consult the Internet or a cookbook regarding placement of silverware.

Before you dine, dim the lights. Light the candles. Put on the music. Plug in the tree lights.

If you’re married or in partnership, while you dine visit about your first date, your first Christmas together, when you knew you loved him/her. Stay positive, and enjoy the beauty and the foods you have created/chosen. Make a commitment to take your time and dine, not just eat, on this holiday.