Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Christmas Spreadsheet

{First, a note: If you subscribe to this blog through Feedly or other feed reader, please click over to the actual blog website because I've noticed all of the photos don't come through the feed.}

I mentioned my Christmas spreadsheet in a comment on Elisabeth's blog, and Suzanne asked me to share more about it. Prepare to be blown away, folks...

As usual, other people can articulate my thoughts better than I can. Anne Helen Petersen's newsletter about sprawling holidays made me feel SEEN. Particularly this: "... commodification and consumption becomes the primary way that Christmas is expressed, is experienced. The primary affect is one of near-constant purchasing, unboxing, arranging — a vigilant doing — as opposed to periods of observation, contemplation, devotion, being." For the most part, as a family we've avoided a lot of the pressure to do more. I've seen several posts about making advent calendars for your kids (handmade of course), and the gift every day is an activity: make cookies, read Christmas-themed books, decorate, look at lights, sing songs, etc. Why anyone would bring this stress upon themselves is beyond me.

I know a lot of people like doing these things, and I don't judge them for it - go forth and have fun! But as a parent (and if you are one you KNOW) there is a lot of pressure to do things a certain way. To create a magical holiday experience. I decided several years ago that I would only do the holiday activities that I liked, and for me, that's decorating and baking. I don't really like shopping and gift-giving but I haven't figured out how to get of that one.

In an effort to lessen the constant nagging to-do list in my brain, several years ago I created a spreadsheet that outlines all of the Christmas tasks. I copy the previous year's sheet, which has the added benefit of telling me what I bought last year, because there is no way I would remember otherwise. The first section is everyone I need to buy gifts for. When the gift is purchased, it gets a "done". I also added a column for delivery method, so I can remember what I need to mail; when that's done it gets changed from red to green (isn't that festive?)

The second portion is the most valuable, because these are the things I always forget. I have several work events I need to plan for, as well as teachers and other non-family members I need to buy gifts for. During the pandemic years these thankfully were not relevant, but now we're back at it.

And that's it! It's not super fancy, but it works for me. 

Now for some pictures because this seems too much like work if I'm just posting screenshots of spreadsheets. Halloween happened, and there was pumpkin carving (mostly done by me) and seed roasting (me) and seed eating (me) and seed throwing away because they didn't get eaten and then they molded (me). Most kid activities are actually parent activities that kids watch you do. My mom asked me if she should get my kids a tie-dye kit, and I said, "Are you asking if I want a tie-dye kit, because let's be real here."

Jason and I continued our tradition of visiting a garden in the fall. This year we went to Ladew Topiary Gardens, 3 days before it closed for the season. If you are a rich person and you don't have a yard full of bushes carved into swans, you're doing it wrong.

There were some nice gardens, which probably looked better a few months ago in full bloom, but this wasn't my favorite garden (Longwood has that honor). The gardens are arranged in somewhat of a straight line, and are located right next to a busy road. It's hard to get that tranquil surrounded-by-nature feeling when subjected to constant traffic noise.

However, lunch. I would go back here just to eat. Museum/Garden cafes, at least in this metro area, are known for being overpriced and mediocre. You have to eat there because where else would you eat, so why should they make an effort? However, I ordered a salad with fruit, goat cheese, and candied walnuts, and a scone, and it was AMAZING. It also cost something like $14 total. The scone was one of the best I've ever had, and was so big it was enough for two people. It reminded me of my student days in Ireland where I would eat a scone and have tea for lunch, which is not really a thing you can easily do in the US.*

The picture below is for posterity, because it was a Saturday, I was watching a relaxing YouTube video, and knitting, and no one was bothering me.

One book because I can't have a post without a book. I read Thornyhold by Mary Stewart on the recommendation of Katie, who reads it every year (!!). After reading The Shell Seekers I was introduced to a whole world of cozy books that I hadn't known existed. I was on the waiting list for awhile because my library only had one copy**, and it turns out it's a first edition from 1988! Gilly Ramsey inherits her cousin's house in the English countryside, and with no other prospects, moves in. There are rumors that her cousin was a witch, the house filled with herbs and other natural remedies. There is a slight mystery, and a flat romance, but the cozy descriptions of the house and gardens are what made this a comfort read. 

I wasn't old enough to start reading adult literature until the mid-nineties, so I missed out on the popular books of the 80s. It's been pretty fun exploring these (if not cringey at times) and I'm contemplating doing a back-list reading challenge next year. I found this list of bestsellers that should be a good source to choose from.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

It's Fall Y'all

[Well, I didn't get this published before October ended. Let's just time travel real quick.] October is the best month if you live in the mid-Atlantic. There are still leaves on the trees, which gradually change color, peaking toward the end of the month. The temperatures are pleasant enough that everyone goes outside. And I mean EVERYONE. People who usually spend their lives in climate-controlled comfort emerge and take up all the parking spots everywhere. Nothing ruins a beautiful fall day by people trying to enjoy a beautiful fall day. Something in my nature rails against anything we are "supposed" to do at certain times of the year, so I find myself exaggeratedly rolling my eyes at pumpkin patches, apple cider donuts, fall festivals, boots and plaid, and pumpkin spice anything. It's not that I don't like those things. It's just that I wish I could do them in private, during the off season. So if anyone opens up a mid-January pumpkin patch, I'll be there! (We went to the beach in February this year and drove home in a snowstorm. It was great.)

Don't even get me started on Christmas. It's a whole month (at least) of spending money and obligation. Why can't we go see light displays in February when there is nothing happening and we're all tired of winter? I know Christmas is a favorite time of year for a lot of people so I'll just go grinch over in the corner.

October also meant the end of the flower season. I could have gone on longer, but I did not do a good job staking my dahlias. They are still blooming, but they all flopped over so the stems are growing in random directions. Next year I'll know better! I was pretty happy to stop, though, and take a rest. All my free time has been consumed with flowers for the past six months, and I'm ready to sit on the couch or work on other projects.

At the beginning of the month I had my annual trip with some friends. We treat this as a creative retreat, and everyone brings their own projects. My two friends are writers so they tapped away on their projects. I did some painting, cross-stitch, knitting, and reading. The house we booked was right on the water (an inlet off the Potomac River), and had kayaks and all sorts of fun things. Unfortunately this was also the weekend that a hurricane worked its way up the coast and rained for 5 solid days. We didn't get to do any hiking or outdoor stuff, but we did visit a giant antique store twice.

That's the river above - looks like an ocean, right? It was rainy and windy as I walked on the beach, collecting rocks. All was not lost since we had the chance to get cozy with blankets and a fake fire and a show about botched plastic surgery. Best of all, I was with two other grown women who clean up after themselves and don't whine constantly! We ate salad and drank tea. Who could ask for more?

I spent many hours this month rebuilding my raised bed garden. I originally built it in 2016, and I used non-pressure treated wood because I was growing vegetables and didn't want them exposed to harmful chemicals (it's difficult to find actual research on if this is a valid concern or not). Over the years the wood completely rotted out and the garden started falling apart. I took the whole thing apart and rebuilt it from scratch using pressure treated boards now that I've switched to growing flowers. Hopefully it lasts a long time because this process was exhausting. I could barely walk the next day.

Recent Books

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata was all I had hoped The Maid would be, but wasn't. Keiko is in her 30s and has worked in a convenience store for her whole adult life. She loves her job, but is pressured by friends and family to get a "real" job and find a husband. It's a short and charming book and can be read in a few hours. Highly recommend.

The Marriage Portrait was my first fiction read by Maggie O'Farrell, and it blew me away. It may be my favorite fiction book of the year. I can see how the writing style would be annoying for some people: it's quite wordy and descriptive. But it works! O'Farrell's sense of pacing is phenomenal. The first two chapters left me breathless. The book takes place in the 1500s and focuses on the first year of marriage between Lucrezia de Medici and Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara. I knew very little about this time period which turned out to be super scandalous and murderey. If you're a historical fiction fan, I also highly recommend this one.

I'm on a roll with good books! I knew that The Bullet That Missed would be good since I've read the previous two books in this series. I wasn't super engaged in the mystery in this one, but that didn't matter to me because the writing is so funny. For those who have read the series, Bogdan is my favorite character. I'm trying to think of who would be the best actor to play him if they make a show of these books. (Just looked it up - Steven Spielberg bought the rights!)

Thank you to everyone who reads and comments. (Thank you even if you don't comment! I'm happy to have you.) I love keeping up with all of your blogs too, so know I am there even if I don't have the time to leave comments. Long live blogging!