By Kathleen Swift • Photos by Artistic Expressions Photography

Like many working moms, Paula Baker, president and chief executive officer of Freeman Health System, is busy all year long. Adding the holiday celebrations to already-busy schedules means planning ahead for Baker.

“I like to start early on my holiday preparations,” said Baker. “Some years, it seems like Christmas is here and then it’s gone, but it’s such an important time. One thing I learned early on was to create balance. When I am at work, I am fully engaged with work. When I am home, I am fully engaged with my family. I try to be fully in the moment, which takes some practice.”

By planning ahead for celebrations and keeping the work/home balance, Baker is able to enjoy the traditions and celebrations of the holidays.

“We love the holidays!” said Baker. “We keep the birth of Christ at the center because of the wonderous gift he is to the world. Going to worship is something we do all year, but worshiping at Christmas is special. We also keep our own family traditions, and this year, even with COVID, we plan to keep as many of our own traditions as possible.

“We decorate the house by December 1, and we plan something special to do as a family for each day in December. It might be that we watch a Christmas movie together. We get in the golf cart, bundle up with blankets and hot chocolate, and drive around our neighborhood sleigh-ride style looking at the Christmas lights. Our lovable beagles, Junior and Honey, are always a part of our family festivities, too!

“We love to bake cookies together. Our son, Austin, and I bake, cut out and decorate sugar cookies, and we end up with sprinkles everywhere. My husband, Gene, likes to eat the cookies!

“When Austin was three years old, all he wanted for Christmas was a green ball. Now, as a teenager, his wishes have become more sophisticated, but he still gets a green ball every year! We love the tradition of hanging stockings, and we still do that. I will always have a few Santa gifts under the tree for Austin because I love that tradition.

“Another way we celebrate is with the Joplin Christmas parade, which is sponsored by Freeman Health System. Austin will ride on a Freeman float, and I help judge the floats. The parade has become one of our special traditions.”

Gathering with family and friends is an important part of holiday traditions for the Bakers as well as for most of us. In this time of dealing with the pandemic, Baker believes finding a way to be with others is still important.

“We will not be able to be with all of our family this year because it simply wouldn’t be safe for some of them to be in even a small group,” said Baker. “We will still have some small groups in our home where we can take safety precautions, and we hope to attend some Christmas performances, too. Keeping these traditions is what brings us comfort and joy during the holidays.”

With all of the celebrations, Baker doesn’t let her normal work-out routine slide.

“We have six stories to our building at Freeman, and I find time each day to walk the stairs. I put on my tennis shoes, leave my heels at the bottom of the stairs and run the stairs. I can work in little short bits of time and can do this several times a day.”

Like so many others, the Baker family had to cancel many of the plans they had for 2020.

“We had trips planned to Hawaii and Florida, and we had planned to take Austin to see a Notre Dame football game,” said Baker. “But, staycations at home with family can be fun, too, and there’s always next year.”

As Baker looks forward to 2021, she shares the hope many of us have to see an end to the pandemic.

“My strongest wish for the new year,” said Baker, “is the elimination of COVID. It may be with us for a long time, but I hope that it will virtually disappear. I’ve seen the way it affects individuals and families.”

We can all follow Paula Baker’s lead and find comfort and joy in the family traditions we hold dear and perhaps make some new traditions too as we celebrate the holidays and look forward in anticipation to the new year.