Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

First dinner planning post of the new year! 

That exclamation point is sure doing a lot of work back there. I do not feel nearly as excited about meal planning as it implies. 

My family is home with me today – one last hurrah before we all get back to normal – and we are finally, finally going to dismantle Christmas and I am giddy! My family, for some odd reason, is not nearly so enthusiastic.

Two things will stay up: my beautiful wreath, which is still fragrant and lovely and outside, and my collection of holiday cards. We sent out 93 cards. Two were returned for wrong addresses but I am assuming the rest made it to their destinations. We received 43 cards (not counting the card from the insurance agent). This number is lower than last year (45) but I am fairly confident we will get at least two more; I can think of at least two families who typically send their cards out sometime in January. As it is, that’s about a 46% response rate which isn’t too shabby. Getting cards is one of my favorite aspects of the holidays, so I am not ready to say goodbye just yet. Especially if we might get a couple more (I hope, I hope).

Card wall in the background. Poor Rockin’ Robbie looks absolutely devastated at the prospect of being boxed away for another year.

You see how I am delaying the inevitable? Despite it being a brand-new fresh and airy year, we still must adhere to the daily ritual of preparing food and consuming it. 

Dinners for the Week of January 2-8

  • Southwest Salad: I am linking to this recipe mainly for the dressing, which I love. I always think it is chipotle lime dressing, though, instead of chili lime. So I am going to replace the chili powder with chipotle powder this go ’round and see how it turns out. I think my husband will have chicken breast with his salad and I will have shrimp or just stick with beans as my protein.
  • Lentil Soup: I am really craving a big bowl of lentil soup. While I trust Nagi completely, I am nonetheless a little wary of adding tomatoes (in my case, tomato puree) to a lentil soup.

What are you eating this week?

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After posting yesterday, I was fretting (mildly, very mildly) about what we would eat for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I like to have a plan, especially when it comes to food. Plus, the grocery store situation will get iffier as we get closer to the holiday – busier and then closed; that’s what I mean by “iffier.” I had to dash over to the grocery store yesterday afternoon, to find something to feed the babysitter.

(Did I already fret about this to you? I feel like I did, but I can’t find it in yesterday’s post. Oh well, if you have already endured this fret, perhaps skim down a bit or come back another day. Here, I will put in sub-headings to make it easier to skim.)

Feeding-the-Babysitter Fret

What do YOU feed the babysitter? Why is this something that I fret about so much? We rarely have a sitter, but when we do I almost always get a frozen pizza. My thought process around frozen pizza is a) easy and b) most people like pizza and c) Carla eats it. (She does not eat macaroni and cheese for instance. Or most other things.) But when I fretted out loud to my husband and daughter, a) my husband said “You ALWAYS get a pizza” and b) Carla said “I’m tired of pizza. I’d rather have chicken nuggets.” Oooh, two multiple choice lists in one paragraph. Wild.

These were highly interesting comments. First, yes, as I already told you, I do tend to ALWAYS get pizza. But we have had a babysitter, what, twice in the past three weeks? Is pizza two times in three weeks really that egregious? But more importantly, the babysitter last night was a different babysitter than the one we had last time. So she hadn’t eaten pizza three weeks ago.

Secondly, yes, Carla ate pizza three weeks ago with the other babysitter… and I think we made pizza last week or the week before as well, so that’s twice. In the meantime, aside from two nights of steak and maybe a night or two of salmon and maybe one night of tacos, I think she’s had chicken nuggets for every other dinner. (I am refraining hard from making a self-deprecating “I am such a shitty mother for feeding my child nuggets daily lol” comment because she EATS them which is better than not-eating other things and they are easy and they have protein and sometimes I get the ones that also have veggies in them and this is a very long-lived phase but it is just a phase that won’t last forever and I make up for my lack of meal creativity in other good and valuable ways.) 

Being a mom slash babysitter-food-decision-maker is so fun. So, so fun. 

Now, I don’t personally care to eat chicken nuggets. (I have never typed “chicken nuggets” so many times in my life.) But I think many people are fine with them, so I decided that I would just let the sitter make some nuggets for herself and Carla. But I still managed to fret about it. The dear wise friend to whom I fretted via text suggested I get pizza and chicken nuggets so that there were options. This was genius, so that’s why I went to the store. Plus, I figured I would come up with some wonderful idea for NYE / NYD food in the moment. The store was very busy. 

(By the way, I have been masking again in the grocery store, these past few weeks. Around Christmas, I noticed that quite a few more people than usual had joined me… but I went yesterday afternoon and I think there was only one other person in a mask.)


While I was there, I did indeed experience a lightning strike of inspiration. For our extra special New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day meals, we are going to have SNACKS!

(By the way, when Carla was very small she pronounced the word “snacks” with kind of a swallowed H/N combo instead of the initial S. Like “HNacks.” So that’s still how my husband and I refer to them.)

We have not yet made the cranberry salsa for which I bought ingredients last week, so we will have that with pita chips. I picked up a small bag of Lay’s Potato Chips and some Southwest Ranch Dip, and I have plenty of vegetables to cut up for extra dipping. 

(Since this post is rife – RIFE – with parentheticals and asides, what’s one more? I first became acquainted with Southwest Ranch Dip when I was pregnant. My mother-in-law served it at her apartment one day – this was when my in-laws had an apartment in our city – and I loved it. Pretty much everything made me nauseated in those days, but crunchy greasy Lay’s chips dipped in that dip were HEAVEN.) 

(I am getting such a silly kick out of posting these photos, as though you don’t know what a bag of Lay’s looks like. I mean, maybe you don’t, but it seems unlikely.) (Images above and below from lays.com, marzetti.com, Instacart.com for some reason, and traderjoes.com)

In addition to chips and dip, I grabbed some mini pretzel dogs that I’m hoping my husband and child will eat (I eat one hot dog a year and it is normal sized and in a BUN not a pretzel; I do not care for pretzels) (are you beginning to get a clearer picture of why my child is so picky), and some feta and caramelized onion pastry bites. I also got a garlic and cheese flatbread, which sounds good but not terribly different from garlic bread; we’ll see. We have some cheese and crackers and some olives already. This is all way too much food already, but I have arranged a family outing to Trader Joe’s later today to see if we can find any other treats to add to the selection. Trader Joe’s is usually pretty great about having fun frozen treats.

Do you have favorite snacks to recommend? I would be willing to go to another location in addition to Trader Joe’s if there is something I NEED to try. I am serious about snacking.

As far as sweets are concerned, we have PLENTY. So many sweets. I ended up throwing out a bunch of leftover (and now stale) Christmas cookies, which was both sad and cathartic (the ratio of cookie plates for neighbors to cookies made was waaaayyyy off; lesson learned), but we have many other cookies and candies that kind family and friends sent. Most of it is chocolate, which I don’t like except in very specific situations. But as I prefer savory to sweet anyway, I will be perfectly happy with my Lay’s and dip. 

Old-Fashioned Blogroll

(I am feeling very smug about my choice to put subheads into this post, because there is no good segue between Lay’s and blog reading.)

Lately, my Feedly has been acting up. Either that or user error but PROBABLY it’s Feedly yes that makes the most sense. The problem is that I keep missing posts. I’ll think, “Oh, so-and-so hasn’t posted in a while!” and then I’ll go to her blog and she posted sixteen days ago and I missed it. I’m not opposed to leaving comments on old posts, not at all, but I like to know what’s being posted AS it is happening, not after the fact.

I was remembering how, in Days of Yore, I had a list of blogs I read on the side of my homepage. And every morning when I had a tea break from work, I would click through the list to read everyone’s posts. When I got back to regular blogging in 2016, my blogroll was so depressing; so few of the people on the list were blogging anymore! Some of the links went to defunct pages or spam sites!  So I deleted the whole thing.

But now… maybe it’s time to create a new blogroll. This wonderful blogging community I am so fortunate to be part of is robust, and I don’t want to miss anyone’s posts because of user a Feedly error.

Of course, the very idea of creating a blogroll raises frets like “what if I accidentally leave someone out?” So I need you to promise that if you have a blog, and for some reason it does NOT appear on this hazy future blogroll should I ever get it together enough to make one, that you would TELL ME because it was clearly I don’t think we can blame this on Feedly user error and not a deliberate decision to exclude.

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Oh, hello there. I didn’t mean to just disappear for nine days. But sometimes you have lots of things to post about and sometimes you don’t.

Let’s see. I am feeling chatty, but don’t feel like I have a whole lot to chat about. The massive scary storm that affected so much of the country didn’t do a whole lot around here. We were very fortunate. It was cold and quite windy – though not windy enough to knock out our power – and we got plenty of snow to admire from our warm and cozy house. How did the storm affect you and your family? I hope you and your loved ones are all warm and safe.

Hannukah was lovely. Carla got Monopoly which we all played together. After an epic multi-day game, I crushed my husband and daughter into bankruptcy and we were finally able to clear off the kitchen table. 

Our Christmas was lovely and quiet and perfect. We all, I think, got everything we wanted and more. Santa brought the cotton candy machine and we made several batches of cotton candy. It is a beast to clean, but other than that it is quite fun. I also think that perhaps we have now exhausted our collective desire to make cotton candy. 

My husband is off this week, so we have been puttering around the house. He and Carla have been building robots and Pokemon block figures and playing video games, and I have been writing and reading and writing about reading. It’s been very relaxing and delightful.

We have been completing some tasks, like making plane reservations for upcoming trips. I am excited about the trips but very unexcited about the plane rides. My plan is to continue to wear masks on the plane from now until forever more, but I am still feeling pre-anxious about any or all of us getting sick, and then carrying the germs to and from our destinations. Well, there are still a few months left to fret about it.

Even though you haven’t seen any blog posts, I have been writing them and thinking about them. I dredged up Carla’s birth story, which I wrote on the eve of her third birthday. I’d like to post it at some point, even though it is growing a little stale, nine and a half years post-actual birth. But it was so stressful for me, even though it obviously all turned out okay, and I can’t seem to approach it with the clinical distance that time and Everything Turning Out Okay should afford. Oh well. Maybe I just need to post it as it is. 

I have also been considering very gently and glancingly things like goals and New Year’s plans. I haven’t yet given a single look at my aspirations from last year, not even when I collected that link, and have only in the most general terms considered aspirations for the year ahead. This is, in part, because I really only take a very loose approach to setting any sort of goal-adjacent objectives. Also because my biggest aspiration for 2022 (find an agent) remains unmet, and is so lofty a goal I feel like there’s no way I can achieve it. (Not with that attitude, missy.) Also because I keep feeling this strident, tears-hovering-under-the-surface desire to make goals around friendship, when honestly there is only so much I can control in that sphere. And in final part, it is because I feel like so much of my feelings about change for the year to come evolve around my body and my relationship to it and with food. Sounds like a real downer, honestly. So I keep playing delay and avoid. 

One thing I have been doing, with perhaps slightly more intention, is thinking about a word of the year. I love reading about people’s word of the year and how (and why) they choose a word to guide them. It’s something I’ve done for myself the past two years and I find it fits really well with my more laissez faire approach to “goal setting.” Having a word as a guidepost is something I really like, and it doesn’t feel super aggressive or overly intense. In 2021, I chose the word “forward” and in 2022 my word was “light” and I liked how both sort of cast a warm glow over the year without being scoldy or insistent. So I’ve been mulling over what I might choose for 2023. Allow me to get a little woo-woo for a moment please: The words really come to me unbidden, so I feel almost that they choose me rather than the other way around. Some of the candidates, so far, are “nurture,” “joy,” “gratitude,” and “cultivate.” We’ll see which one of these – or of options yet to make themselves known – rises to the top. Do you choose a word of the year?

Since we have all been home together for a very long time, the house has degenerated into chaos. My family refuses to consider putting the tree away until January 1, so I have resigned myself to living with the detritus of Christmas for a few more days. But I am now at the point where the urge to tidy and clean is no longer suppressible, although I have yet to erupt into the nagging that is still bubbling under the surface. I have made piles of gifts and books and treats that need to be tidied away. I have piles of laundry that need to be whisked into the washing machine. And that’s where I’ve stopped and have escaped to the treadmill where I am writing this post. 

As far as exercise goes, in the New Year, I want it to include time on the treadmill but also time outdoors. And I have loose ideas about maybe trying a Pilates regimen. If you do any online Pilates courses, especially if they are beginner friendly, please let me know. 

I realize that I completely skipped my Dinners This Week post. We have so much food in the house that I haven’t had to set foot in a grocery store since last week. (Fortunately, because my last two trips made my husband squeak with concern about how much I spent. THINGS ARE PRICEY, MY DEAR.) (He wasn’t mad, he just literally has no idea that most things are twice what they used to cost. Did I pay $20 for six chicken breasts? Yes, because that’s what it cost.) (That will get us four meals, though. Sounds better when you say $5 of chicken per meal. STILL OUTRAGEOUS.) 

New bullet, same topic: We had chicken paprikas for dinner one night, and leftover steak one night, and leftover egg and potato casserole one night. This casserole – our make-ahead Christmas morning breakfast – was delicious. This from a person who really avoids eggs if possible. Even better, it was SO EASY and didn’t involve peeling a single potato, AND it heated up the next day to be just as delicious. My husband and I going on a double date with friends one night, so dinner is sorted for that. I am not sure what we will eat for New Year’s Eve. We have some leftover crab cakes in the freezer, so maybe those? My husband wants to make these Swedish kanelbullar one day, but that’s not exactly dinner food. Well. I am sure we will figure it out. What are you eating for New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day? My mom used to make a ham for New Year’s Day, but I’m not a big ham fan so haven’t continued the tradition. 

That’s all I have for today, Internet. 

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Oh hey, I am so late to the Dinners This Week party! Party of one, but still. Instead of planning dinners, I made cookies. Lots of cookies. Well, lots for me. (A person in my circle makes these gorgeous cookie plates with A DOZEN varieties of cookies on it, in all different styles and colors and textures and flavors. That is a whole different level of dedication.)

Anyway. Doing a great big baking binge was the only way I could see to making ALL the cookies my husband and I wanted to make this season. And even so, we sacrificed two items: 1. sufganiyot, which I really wanted to make again, but which are kind of fussy and 2., zimtsterne, which I make every year and which I adore, and yet they didn’t seem as fun! and interesting! as trying some new things.

We ended up making:

Gingerbread Latte Cookies with Browned Butter Icing:  The cookies were good and had a nice spice balance. They were a good texture – crisp around the edges but nice and soft in the middle. But the frosting was impossible to make and completely NOT spreadable. It sort of rests in a dollop on top of the cookies. It had a decent flavor, I think, but the browned butter was not very discernible. I think this is because the instruction for browning the butter was “Add the butter to a pot set over medium heat. Allow the butter to brown lightly until it smells toasted, about 2-3 minutes. ” While there are specifics in that instruction – medium heat, 2-3 minutes – the “smells toasted” is extremely subjective. My husband asked me if I’d browned the butter enough and I gave him a huge shrug because who the hell knows? Clearly not, if we’re going by the taste of the frosting. Also, I just now in finding that link for you discovered in the body of the post that I was supposed to use milk to thin the frosting. THERE IS NO MENTION OF MILK IN THE INGREDIENT LIST OR INSTRUCTIONS. But that would have been very helpful in the moment!

Taylor Swift’s Chai Sugar Cookies with Eggnog Frosting: These were good, soft sugar cookies. I love the eggnog frosting, which was wonderfully nutmeggy and nog-eggy. Although – again – it was too much and overly sweet. My husband also mentioned that he thought it was supposed to be a glaze rather than a frosting – and indeed the recipe text does refer to it as a glaze – to which I said, “I followed the recipe and this is what resulted.” My daughter made the frosting, and she added twice as much eggnog to the powdered sugar as the recipe called for, so it would thin out enough, and yet it was still quite thick.

Cranberry Crumble Bars with Orange Glaze: I made these for the first time a few years ago and I love them. They are so good – just the right mix (for me) of crumbly, lightly sweet shortbread and tangy cranberry. Carla and I ate one for breakfast today and yesterday. Yum! I like this batch much better than I did last year, and I think the difference is that I used fresh rather than frozen cranberries. (Well, I had to use a cup of frozen because this calls for four cups of cranberries and one bag of cranberries was about three cups. Sigh.) I washed them and let them dry on a towel completely before I used them in the recipe, and they seemed more tart and less wet than last year’s batch.

Peppermint Chocolate Crinkle Cookies: I have not actually tasted these, because after tasting three varieties of cookie I was and still am completely sugared out. But my husband and daughter like them!

Gingerbread Cutouts: The Gingerbread Latte cookies came with instructions for making cutouts in addition to the drop cookies, so Carla was all over that. She made a simple powdered sugar/milk glaze (which acted like a glaze) and she had a wonderful time choosing the cookie cutters and decorating the cutouts. She’d begged me to buy her a package of candy eyes back in October, but we never did a Halloween baking project, so I handed her the box and told her to go wild. There are some deeply creepy angels that resulted from the eye application, but I think the stockings and stars are cute with their big googly eyes.

Note: I made all the separate doughs on one day and allowed them all to rest in the fridge overnight, and then I made all the cookies into balls and rolled them in whatever sugar they were supposed to be rolled in and put them back in the fridge for a second night, which I think results in smaller, thicker, softer cookies. But I can’t say for sure because I did no testing whatsoever.

Since I made so many cookies, I put together a few cookie plates to share with friends. I gave one to the person in my circle I mentioned above – even though her cookie plate is a carefully orchestrated work of art, this was what I had to reciprocate. She mentioned that she gets very tired of all her cookies after spending so long making them, so she enjoyed tasting something new. I also made cookie plates for our neighbors and for a friend I saw earlier this week.

My friend was so delighted and surprised by the cookie plate. She’d never had one before! That surprised me, because they were so ubiquitous when I was growing up. And we’ve gotten a few cookie plates here in the Midwest as well, which is quite far from where I grew up. But maybe they aren’t A Thing everywhere?

They were definitely A Thing when I was growing up. We often got cookie plates from family friends. My family’s tradition was to make hand-dipped chocolates, which we would deliver in person to friends on Christmas Eve. For years, my mother would keep an eye out for inexpensive but pretty plates on which to display the chocolates.  Then she would wrap the plates beautifully in cellophane and put a little label on them so everyone knew which chocolates were which. They do this even now; Carla and I have attempted chocolates once or twice, but I hope once my parents move here we can make it an annual tradition once more.

My friend was concerned about the plate (I found adorable white ceramic plates with silver snowflakes at the dollar store and snapped some up to give to people who don’t celebrate Christmas; I got plaid ones from Target for the people who do celebrate Christmas): she wanted to return the plate, and was a little befuddled when I told her it was hers to keep or pass on. I ended up telling her it was from the dollar store, and I think that made her feel better about keeping it.

In my mind, a cookie-plate plate is very different from other food-sharing occasions in which you expect the dish back. For instance, if you make a casserole for a grieving neighbor or a lasagna for a new mom. In those cases, the dish returns to you. Since “returning the dish” is How It Is around here, I always use either disposable bakeware or specify to the recipient that I don’t need it back. Some people feel strongly that you should never return an empty dish: it should come back with something you made in it. This is not how it went when I grew up (the dish was part of the gift), so it makes me a little stressed. How do you know what to fill it with??? We got a little Tupperware container of peanut brittle from someone at my husband’s office, and I am wondering if we need to fill it up with something and send it back. But what? And when?

Are cookie plates A Thing where you live? Do you participate in cookie plate making or eating? What is your feeling about the dish the cookies arrive on?

While it has been very cookie heavy around here, we still must eat non-cookie food. So here is an abbreviated Dinners This Week.

Dinners for Christmas Week 2022

  • White Bean Enchilada Soup: Yum. I reserve a can of Great Northern beans from the recipe, as well as the corn, and blend everything in the pot. Then I add the final beans and corn for a little texture. It makes the soup very creamy and rich.
  • Thai-Style Pork Tenderloin with this Quinoa: My husband said that he is tired of soup, so this is Not Soup.
  • One Pot Parmesan Pasta: I think I found this via The Birchwood Pie Project and it looks delicious. Maybe I could add some chicken for my husband. I have this strong urge to add some peas, too? Who knows where these urges come from.
  • Christmas Breakfast: This is on my husband to figure out. I do not care for breakfast and have no preference. Whatever it is, and I am assuming it will be Full Of Carbs, we will probably also have berries and bacon.
  • Christmas Dinner:
    • Cranberry Relish: Although maybe this will be a week-after-Christmas snack instead.
    • Caesar Salad: I make my own dressing, using my dad’s recipe. This will, of course, depend on whether I can get any romaine at the grocery store. We have had alarming lettuce shortage signs popping up all around the produce section for weeks now.
    • Bouche de Noel: Usually we make sticky toffee pudding cake for Christmas, but this year the same baker who made my (high-quality, even if it wasn’t what I wanted) birthday cake advertised that she is making bouche de noel. We haven’t had one in years, but they are fun and festive so I ordered one immediately.

I take it back. They are all deeply creepy.

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Cait mentioned that she would be interested in reading a Day in the Life post. I love to read those posts, when other bloggers post them! It is so fascinating to see what other people do with their time. My days never look like one another, which is… good. But a LOT of time is spent in front of my computer, so… that doesn’t necessarily make for interesting reading? 

I thought I would give it a shot anyway. Here’s a random day from this past week (mid-December 2022):

  • 6:45 – Alarm goes off. It was so windy last night that I kept waking up and I feel like I slept horribly. I hit the snooze button – unwise. 
  • 6:54 – I stagger out of bed. My feet are feeling much better during the day, but they are stiff and sore in the mornings. I go climb into bed with Carla and sing her the Good Morning song. She wants to sleep a little longer, so I set a timer for three minutes and do the Wordle, the free version of Spelling Bee, and the free mini crossword at NYT online. 
Disclosure: I tried to take pictures throughout the day as I was taking notes on what I did, but I forgot some. So this is a screen grab of today’s mini, rather than the one I did earlier in the week.
  • 7:00 – The timer goes off and I coax Carla into telling me what she wants for breakfast. (French toast sticks and strawberries.)
  • 7:05 – I put some French toast sticks in the microwave and then dash upstairs to the laundry folding center guest room where I grab a shirt (black) and fleece-lined leggings (black) and a pair of socks (also black) from the pile. I take them downstairs and throw them into the dryer to warm up so Carla can be roasty toasty when she gets dressed. 
  • 7:10 – Carla comes downstairs, opens the day’s advent calendar door, and I give her breakfast. She and I chat while she eats. Usually I take this time to make tea, but my husband is on call so he is still home and getting his coffee and lunch together so I stay out of his way. Carla and I give him kisses and hugs as he heads out the door.
  • 7:30 – I rinse Carla’s dishes for her (this is a treat; rinsing the dishes is her job) and put them in the dishwasher. I wipe down the counters. My phone chimes with a reminder that Carla needs to bring her instrument to school and she assures me that it’s all ready to go. While she’s upstairs, I tuck a couple of gifts I wrapped last night under the tree.
  • 7:40 – I brush my teeth and hair and wash my face, which is still itchy and inflamed. While I brush my teeth, I stretch my feet and calves. 
  • 7:45 – Carla and I put on shoes and coats and get into the car. 
  • 7:55 – I drop Carla off at school. I feel so lucky, daily, that we live so close to school. I remind her to look for her gym shoes in the lost and found (sigh).
  • 8:15 – I speed through Trader Joe’s grabbing frozen latkes for Hanukkah this weekend and some baby corn and English peas for Carla. Luckily, the store is nearly empty this early in the morning and I am in and out in five minutes flat.
  • 8:35 – Back home. I put the kettle on to boil. I start a load of towels in the wash and fold some laundry on the (clean) kitchen counter while I listen to an audiobook
  • 8:50 – I get dinner going in the crockpot. 
  • 9:00 – I drink tea and eat some breakfast while reading blog posts. 
  • 9:15 – Then I write a blog post of my own.
  • 9:45 – I have presents to wrap, which I don’t enjoy. But I do enjoy listening to my audiobook while I wrap them.
  • 10:00 – I shlep my laptop down to the basement and walk on the treadmill while I work on my current manuscript.
  • 11:30 – I am sweaty and at a good stopping point. Even though I walked for 90 minutes, it doesn’t feel like I did much – I have to keep the treadmill on a very low speed or I can’t type. I throw on my coat and go for a quick walk outside – it’s drizzling and cold and the damp air feels good on my hot face. I listen to my audiobook while I walk.
  • 12:00 – I take a shower. Ugh, I have to wash my hair today which means I have to dry it. I normally read an ebook while I dry my hair, but today I review some materials a client sent me in preparation for our meeting today. 
  • 12:45 – I throw a load of white laundry into the washing machine. Do I have time to eat lunch before my meeting? No, I do not. 
  • 1:00 – I jump on Zoom for a thirty-minute meeting with a client about a smallish project – a profile of a community philanthropist.
  • 1:30 – I do a quick draft of the profile while my thoughts are still fresh from our call. 
  • 2:00 – I remove the towels from the dryer and take them upstairs to the guest room, where I dump them on the bed. I grab another load of dirty clothes, take them downstairs, put the clean whites into the dryer and load the washer and run it. Back upstairs, I fold laundry and listen to my audiobook.
  • 2:30 – Still listening, I go make myself some tacos with leftover mahi-mahi. This is when I decide I know The Big Twist in the book I’m reading. It’s interesting– I think Jennifer Hillier is a brilliant writer – and I want to see how it all plays out. And to see, of course, if I’m right.
  • 2:50 – My mother-in-law calls and I chat with her for a few minutes. Then I do the lunch dishes.   
  • 3:00 – I have a few more holiday cards to address and stamp, so I take care of that and tape some boxes of holiday gifts closed so that I can mail them.
  • 3:15 – The laundry beeps so I carry up another load, do some more folding. There are a bunch of little odds and ends that have gathered in various rooms, so I move them to their homes (some of them live in the trash). Clean clothes in the dryer, the last load of the day in the washing machine.
  • 3:40 – Carla has an extra-curricular activity tonight, so I have a little extra time. I load her instrument into the car along with three boxes that I need to mail to my far-flung family.
  • 3:50 – I mail the boxes. Yikes. I totally understand why people prefer to have Amazon and Target etc. do their mailing for them; it is expensive! I determine to swallow my frustration about people sending me gifts to wrap instead of them wrapping and mailing things themselves. 
  • 4:15 – I go to the bank. Then I dash over to Starbucks to buy gift cards for Carla’s extracurricular instructors. I realize I forgot to bring Carla a snack so I grab her a bag of popcorn as well.
  • 4:30 – I wait in the car line to pick up Carla. It is one of my favorite parts of the day, seeing her little face break through the throng of kiddos milling about as they wait for their parents. 
  • 4:50 – I drop Carla off at her music lesson. Then I go to Kohl’s to wander around. I’m hunting for one last gift for my husband. I usually avoid Kohl’s – it is SO crowded and the line moves SO slowly – but tonight it is nearly empty. I find a pair of deeply-discounted pajama pants that I think he’ll love. There is no one in front of me at the register so I’m back in my car in no time.
  • 5:15 – I’m waiting for Carla to finish her lesson. While I wait, I have an idea for how to move my manuscript forward and I type notes to myself in an email.
  • 5:45 – Carla’s done with her music lesson. I drive her home.
  • 6:15 – I urge Carla to finish the mug she made for one of her extracurricular instructors. She is very weary of making mugs, but she volunteered to make this one, and tomorrow is the day we need to drop it off. While she works on it, I make her dinner (a hamburger patty with pickles, tomato, and cheddar cheese on the side, some rice, and some cut up kiwi). While the burger cooks, I sit at my computer and try to translate my earlier notes into coherent prose.
  • 7:00 – Oh my goodness, it’s already 7:00! I call Carla up to eat and cut up broccoli for my husband’s and my dinner. The lemon garlic chicken has been smelling SO intensely of garlic all day I wonder if I did something wrong. (Added too much garlic, I think, even though that sounds impossible.) 
  • 7:15 – After I cut the broccoli, I sit beside Carla at the counter and read her three chapters of the book we are reading. I really, vehemently dislike the book (there is too much fat-phobia and bathroom talk and also it is fully ridiculous.), but she thinks it’s funny.
  • 7:45 – Yikes. We got caught up in the book and it is now fifteen minutes past the time Carla is supposed to be in bed! I send Carla upstairs to shower and then dash into the basement to put a coat of ModPodge on the mug she just made.
  • 7:50 – My husband arrives home. He tells me about his day while I put some couscous on the stove.
  • 8:00 – I go up to kiss Carla goodnight, sure she will want her Daddy to read to her, but she asks me to read her another chapter in our book. I ask my husband to stir the couscous and take it off the heat once most of the water is gone. (Carla adds, very serious, “Whatever you do, Daddy, DON’T put couscous down the garbage disposal!”)  
  • 8:30 – I kiss Carla goodnight and go downstairs. My husband is in his office, taking a call from the hospital. I spend about twenty minutes on this blog post then run downstairs to put another coat of ModPodge on the mug.
  • 9:00 – My husband comes into the kitchen. I put some broccoli in the microwave to steam.
  • 9:10 – We sit down to eat and chat. The chicken is edible, but not good. I’m not sure what I did wrong this time – I’ve made it a million times before. Maybe it was just in the crockpot way too long.
  • 9:30 – We watch an episode of Station Eleven and then an episode of Abbott’s Elementary. My poor husband is asleep halfway through the latter. Once the show is over, I prepare his coffee for tomorrow and kiss him goodnight, leaving him to sleep on the couch. Poor guy. 
  • 11:00 – I apply a final layer of ModPodge to Carla’s mug. Then I wash my face and brush my teeth and do my feet/calf stretches. Then I change into pajamas and get into bed.
  • 11:15 – I stretch my feet with an old bathrobe belt (sounds weird, but it is very effective) and read a few pages of The Accomplice before I fell my eyelids getting heavy. Lights out, time to sleep.

Whew. This was an extremely busy day, but when I type it out, it looks so full of NOTHING. I would say that it is fairly representative of a typical day in my life, even though most days don’t involve so much laundry or so much gift wrapping/preparation/mailing. 

If my math is right, I spent between four and a half and five hours on writing projects (blog posts, novel, and freelance work) over the course of this day. Ideally, I would spend the entire seven-ish hours Carla is at school writing, but when you mix in things like grocery shopping, laundry, eating, and exercise, it almost never works out that way. Add in all the extra nonsense of Christmas preparations, and the time shrinks even more. Yes, I realize that some of this is lack of discipline: I could devote all the time Carla is at school to writing, and reserve the rest of the day for errands, exercise, etc. I am making choices about how I spend my time, and that’s something I am constantly examining and trying to revise. Still, four-to-five-ish hours is a good chunk and I’m grateful for it. 

Do you have any questions or post requests for me? If so, feel free to submit them here.

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First things first: I love you. You are so kind and generous of heart and so supportive. When I post things like I did yesterday, I immediately feel like I should delete the post. It makes me feel so self-pitying and like I’m fishing for optimism and super vulnerable. Thank you for reading and being so lovely.


I took one day off from posting about holiday stuff and now I’m BACK with holiday topics! 

1. I have been taking all your advice about gifting. Gigi said I should buy the gift for my friend; Jenny said that she has never regretted the gifts she bought but has sometimes regretted not getting a gift – so I went back to the store and bought the T-shirt that made me think of her. And I included a little note that basically said, I know things are awful, I’m sorry for my part in it, and I will be here if and when you are ready. Ugh ugh ugh. I mailed it, so it’s on its way to her and there’s nothing any of us can do at this point, but I hope it doesn’t make things worse. SKIPPING PAST THIS PAINFUL PART. I also used Jenny’s comment as an excuse to buy my husband a pair of pajama pants. He’d asked for some, and I’d dutifully sent the request along to his family, so it’s possible he will get pajama pants from them as well. But a person cannot have too many pairs of pajama pants. I also bought Starbucks gift cards for three of Carla’s extra-curricular instructors per Swistle’s suggestion and, in a nod to Lindsay’s comment, Carla made a mug for the fourth. We got the housekeeper some fancy candy, in addition to an extra payment. The exterminator is coming next week (silverfish and spiders have decided to spend their holidays with us and I have decided that I don’t like that), so I will do candy and some cash for him. (I adore him, and ever since the last debacle with the pest control company, have dealt only with him which has made life better for everyone, except, perhaps, the exterminator himself.) My husband and I agreed to buy the alarm clock for Carla. I didn’t even have to sway him with all your pro-alarm-clocks-as-gifts statements, although I had them all in my back pocket. In deference to Carla’s preference for wearing All Black Only Black All the Time, we also purchased a pair of faux leather leggings that I think she is going to LOVE. I couldn’t get my husband to agree on any of the perfectly adorable tops I wanted to get her, but I did end up buying her two plain black long-sleeved tees from Primary. 

image from amazon.com

2. The menorah is up! Past Me cleaned it quite thoroughly last year, so all I had to do was set it up. We also have plenty of candles (yay! This is never true!) and even some gelt that I hope is from this year and not several years old. Please forgive the fact that the menorah is set up on my Christmas runner. We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, so there is naturally some mixing. However, when I asked my husband whether we could put Carla’s Hanukkah gift under the tree, he was quite definitive. 

I also bought some frozen latkes from Trader Joe’s, so we are all set… not that I have any idea what ELSE we will eat for any night of Hanukkah except the night that coincides with Christmas. 

3. I have already done A Lot of wrapping. It feels… good, I guess? Except that I am awaiting all the gifts from family that may or may not require wrapping. Now that I know how expensive shipping is (SO EXPENSIVE), I am trying to view my relatives’ decision to have Amazon, Target, etc. mail their gifts for them, even if they do arrive unwrapped, with more grace. In the past, I have viewed it crankily as a lack of pre-planning… but it may also be a cost-cutting measure, which I completely understand. (I also understand procrastinating, but… it still makes me a tiny bit cranky.) What I did the other day was wrap all the stocking stuffers. I may have gone a teensy bit overboard in the stocking stuffer department. But stocking stuffers are just so fun! I don’t remember if stocking stuffers were wrapped when I was a kid, but my husband’s family wraps them, so we wrap them as well.

My husband’s family also has stocking stuffers come from entities other than Santa, which is cute but a little perplexing. Plus, it means that every stocking stuffer needs a gift tag. I am SURE we didn’t do that when I was growing up; it was just understood that Santa filled the stocking. Plus… how do you determine who signs for which gifts? For example: my husband got Carla a set of guitar picks decorated with cats. (She will LOVE them.) He said they should be from Santa’s elves… and then changed his mind to Santa’s cat. A) I already “disguise” my handwriting on the gift tags that say they are from Santa, but I really have only so many ways to change my writing style. B) Why does Santa’s cat deliver guitar picks and Mrs. Claus deliver a new ornament? C) How does Rudolph even WRITE a gift tag? He has hooves, not even paws with which he might plausibly hold a pen? 

4. My husband bought me some English toffee from Trader Joe’s as a gift. But then I accidentally saw it and so he gave it me early. He said he’d heard me say, in passing, that toffee is my weakness. This is, sadly, true. And I have eaten my way through more than half of this quite husky container. 

5. The number of holiday cards we are getting is slowly creeping up. We are at fifteen today, which is better than a few days ago but still nowhere near the level I would expect. Oh well. I just sent out some more cards yesterday, and I have three more to address and mail, so who am I to question the lack of cards? Maybe everyone’s a little behind. 

What’s new with you this Friday?

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We had a very productive weekend, in terms of holiday prep. It makes me feel like my to-do list is complete… but… I am sure there are still items yet to do. Let’s do a little check in:


  • I have a beautiful wreath on my front door, courtesy of my mother. It smells so Christmassy and festive. 
  • My holiday cards are in the mail, except for three that require address updates. 
  • I have still only received six cards, so I haven’t yet begun taping them to the wall as is my typical manner of displaying them. 
  • Nearly all the presents are done – including all of Carla’s beautiful drinkware – and I have boxes for my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, and my aunt-in-law all packed with wrapped gifts and ready to go to the post office. 
  • As of yesterday, the Christmas tree is UP. It looks so lovely and warm, with all the golden lights. 
  • Carla and I have finished The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and I think she liked it more this time, and the end – where Imogene cries and cries, so gobsmacked is she by the miracle of Christmas – still makes choke up. We have just started The Naughty List by Michael Fry, which is so far fun to read. 
  • My Winter Break To-Do list is still 75% baking projects. We have added these chai sugar cookies to the list, courtesy of my husband.
  • I attended and survived my husband’s office party. 
  • Carla and I went through all her holiday-themed picture books and made two piles: books to keep for sentimental reasons and books we could give to our next-door neighbor, for her granddaughter. 

Still to do:

  • In terms of presents: I am waiting on a gift for my mother-in-law, one for my niece, and one for my father-in-law. The one for my mother-in-law got stuck at the post office some time last week, and the manufacturer agreed that it is probably lost and has sent us a new one. The gift for my niece arrived in a box that had clearly been opened. After MUCH back-and-forth with the company, we determined that all the parts are in the box and they are sending me a replacement box, which is kind of ridiculous… and they also can’t give me a timeframe to expect the box, so I am vacillating between just sending the broken box to my niece or sending a picture of it in the box of other gifts for her and my sister-in-law or just continuing to vacillate until there is no time to ship anything to her at all. My husband discovered yesterday that a gift we chose for his dad is not appropriate, so we ordered a replacement; I’m pretty sure it arrived already, but the box has my husband’s name on it so I can’t open it.
  • My husband and I are still trying to figure out if Carla needs one more present or not. He thinks the alarm clock I want to get her is “not a present,” but I am all for practicality. The other idea I had was an adjustable bar stool for her craft area. So far we haven’t made ANY decisions, and time is ticking away. 
  • I usually buy pine boughs to put on the mantel. I love the way they look and smell… but maybe I am okay without them this year?

  • Only three of my husband’s gifts are wrapped (and he wrapped one of them; we are giving each other new Apple watches this year, so he wrapped them both at the same time), and I haven’t wrapped any of Carla’s gifts or done any of the Santa wrapping. In part because Santa chooses TERRIBLE wrapping that is very difficult to fit around boxes and which lasts forever because he uses it for only a handful of gifts. So I need to do some more wrapping.
  • I need to figure out what to get for Carla’s activity instructors. Ugh. There are so many of them this year. And what to get for our housekeeper and my husband’s assistant???
  • I need to clean the menorah. Although maybe I cleaned it after Hanukkah last year, and I won’t need to clean it? I can’t remember. It would be so easy to check and yet I continue playing Schrödinger’s menorah instead.
  • I am trying to figure out if I should send a gift to my friend. We don’t normally exchange gifts, but sometimes we send things to one another out of the blue. I saw a T-shirt the other day that reminded me of her but I didn’t buy it. I really want to buy it, and send it to her… but also I don’t want to overstep or seem like I am forcing her to acknowledge me in some way. (She sent me an ornament the other year, and we put it on the tree yesterday and my heart is just so swollen and painful.) Ugh ugh ugh. 
  • I want to listen to more Christmas music. There is so much of the same, when I play it on Alexa or on the TV. Perhaps I need to try making a Spotify list? I don’t really know how to use Spotify? 
  • There is still nothing really fun or special or holiday-specific on our list (aside from cookie making). What else can we do during the long days of Carla’s winter break? 
  • I need to cajole Carla into making the final two mugs for the final two mug-recipients (our across-the-street neighbors, who have been kindly letting her play with their puppy for months).
  • Carla and I need to take presents and books next door to our neighbor.
  • I need to take the packed boxes to the post office and mail them. 

I suppose, since it is Monday, that I should be thinking about dinners. And yet I am not? Even though we all need to eat, daily. We have plenty of leftover soup in the fridge, along with a TON of leftover ragu (it was really good), so that should tide us over for a few days. Plus I never made the slow cooker garlic chicken from a couple of weeks ago, so that’s still an option. Or I could make burritos. I think we’re covered. It’s a call week, so I like to be less structured as it is. 

So far, I can report that I am feeling much more full of the Holiday Spirit than I did last year. It’s a relief, honestly. I like enjoying the holidays. And even though I wish we had snow, I am really pleased to be able to walk around outside. (I really need to find some snow boots that are good for walking.) I feel, overall, happy and on top of things. My only real “problem” (not a problem) is that I keep thinking of little things I want to get my husband and/or Carla, and then thinking, “but I already got them plenty of things…” and then thinking, “or did I???” But that’s not unpleasant, and hasn’t (yet) reached the level of pre-Christmas panic. I think we’re in pretty good shape!

What do you still have yet to do on your holiday list? What am I missing? Surely I’m missing something important.

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As I have mentioned in the past, my husband’s family are Gift Listers. Each year, we send around a list of gifts that we would be happy to receive. There is an understanding that we may deviate from the list, but it’s helpful to have ideas. Sometimes we’ll say something more general like “nail polish” or “fancy hand cream,” (two items which are often on my list) and in those cases, we might include a sample link, even if we don’t necessarily want/expect the exact item we linked to.

Here’s what was on my list this year. 

Subscription to NYT online and/or NYT games: I play Wordle and the free version of Spelling Bee every morning before I drag my tired rear out of bed, and I also do the mini crossword. Just think how much longer I could delay getting up if I had access to the full Spelling Bee game and the big crossword!

Tea Infuser Cup Insert: On my recent post about loving teaNicole (HI NICOLE!) mentioned that she has something like this, and I want one too now. Then I can stop buying individually wrapped tea bags! 

Uncle Gray Loose-Leaf Tea from Tea Squared: My favorite tea of all time.

Lightweight Bathrobe: I have had my current bathrobe since before I got married. It came with me into the delivery room when I had Carla. It has seen some things, is what I’m saying. It is pale pink and fuzzy and warm. Way too warm. I need a lightweight robe so that I don’t turn into a puddle of sweat immediately after I get clean. Also, I am not really a pale pink sort of gal, so I would prefer one in black.

Fun Dish Towels: You knowlove a good dish towel

Vegetable Chopper: This is such a boring gift, but it would be So Useful. 

A Bookmark: I specifically requested one with photo/s of Carla or our family.

A Dishwasher-Safe Smoothie Cup with a Non-Plastic Straw: Yes, I know this is very specific. But the heart wants what it wants, and my heart cannot stand hand washing things or a plastic straw.

Fun Necklace: I don’t have my ears pierced, to my mother-in-law’s eternal consternation, but I do love a pretty necklace.

Pom-Pom Beanie: I just really want a hat like this. 

Wild Aloof Rebel Shirt: I saw this on David in a rerun of Schitt’s Creek and covet it quite badly.

Anorak: I have been envisioning myself in an olive green anorak for awhile (not that I can wear it for several months in my region, but a girl can dream), and this one is cute and looks like it might even have some coverage in the buttular region.

Books: Books are always on my list. Get me nothing but books and I would be delighted. Here are a few I am specifically looking forward to owning:

The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz: I have the other books in this series and I cannot wait to read this one.

The Couple at the Table by Sophie Hannah: Sophie Hannah is one of my auto-buy authors and I am really eager to read her latest novel. My husband and I passed it in a bookstore the other day and it took ALL my willpower not to grab it off the shelf. 

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro: This is a new-to-me author and I can’t remember why this book is on my list or anything about it, but I must have heard great things!

What’s on your holiday wishlist this year?

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For hundreds more gift ideas, you can find previous years’ gift guides here.

I got cocky, friends. Because my parents were here for Thanksgiving, I made sure all their gifts had arrived and were wrapped so they could take them home when they left. It felt good, being so ahead of the game, so prepared. 

My husband and I are giving each other the gift of new Apple watches this year, so that was done and dusted as well. Plus, I got him a few other little things just so he’d have some surprises to open. 

Riding high on all this advance gifting, I completely forgot that I have many other people to buy gifts for. Including Carla. So my old friend Holiday Panic has once again arrived on my doorstep. My problem is not lack of ideas. I collect ideas all year long, and label them with the person I have bookmarked them for. Plus, everyone on my husband’s side sends wish lists, which makes things simpler. And yet… I overthink! And hem and haw. And then once I am finally settled on what I think the gifts should be, I present them to my husband and he weighs in. (Is this an ideal system? No. And yet it is the one we must work with.)

Right now, I have completed the information gathering stage of the gift-giving process and am in the contemplation stage. Below are things I’m considering for some of the folks on my list but haven’t yet purchased. If you are still in the information gathering stage for one or more of your gift recipients (or for yourself!), I hope these ideas offer a little inspiration.

Cotton Candy Machine: Santa is bringing this for Carla. While my husband and I are not particularly pleased (do we really need more sugar? won’t everything be sticky?) we are not arguing with Santa, especially because neither of us can think of any other appropriate “big” gift. Also because this will DELIGHT Carla. Sigh. Of course, the flossing sugar is sold separately, so Santa will have to bring that too. Image from amazon.com

Monopoly: Speaking of gifts I am getting Carla even though it makes me cranky. This is one of the worst games of all time (only topped by Life, in my opinion) but Carla has been asking for it for years. There are also all sorts of different branded versions of Monopoly, which I don’t understand? Star WarsFriendsUnicorns and Llamas? So I am just going with the ol’ standard. Can’t wait to play. Nope – change of plans. My husband wants us to get her the Sparkle version. That is what we’ll do. Now concludes way too much thinking about Monopoly. Image from amazon.com

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb: This came out way back in February, but it seems like it would appeal to both of my parents so I bought it for them to share. Image from amazon.com

Chocolate Bees: CHOCOLATE BEES. Image from johnandkiras.com

Mayhem in Library Puzzle: My husband is a puzzle fan extraordinaire, so obviously I will get him a puzzle. But which one? This one looks fun and challenging. Image from amazon.com

The Sunny City Puzzle: Probably I will get him this one, which is the third in Series One of the Magic Puzzles. (He has done the other two in Series One.) He really loves these “mystery” puzzles. Image from amazon.com

Beyond the Kelp Puzzle: Or maybe I will get him another Odd Pieces puzzle. He loved the Turbo 3000 one, which is a mystery in a different way from the Magic Puzzles. Image from amazon.com

Dog Park Puzzle: Okay, this is the last of the puzzles. But it is SO CUTE. I love the bright happy colors. Does it matter if I love it, considering you breeze in every few days to add one piece and then breeze out? you ask. Well, no. Except that the puzzles live in my dining room until they are complete, so it’s nice when they are aesthetically pleasing. Image from amazon.com

Library Tote: This is so cute. I have a friend in mind who would love this. Image from etsy.com

Telestrations: We already own this – I bought it immediately after reading about Allison’s experience playing it – but it is SO fun. Carla loves it. It’s like telephone meets Pictionary. According to my husband, it is more of an activity than a game, but it’s really enjoyable and one of the few games that works for elementary-age kids as well as adults. Image from amazon.com

Petite Zebra Garden: Who doesn’t love a succulent? This one is so pretty! Image from lulasgarden.com

Barbie Hatch and Gather Egg Farm Playset: Carla professes to still love Barbies, and how much longer will toys appeal to her anyway? So I am leaning toward getting this set for her. She really likes the tiny Barbie animals better than the dolls anyway. Image from amazon.com

Squishmallow: I do not get Squishmallows, aside from how soft and cuddly they are, but they are all the rage with the fourth grade set this year.  Image from amazon.com

It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles by Jack Prelutsky: Carla loves poems, and this was one of the books we were considering for her birthday but didn’t end up getting.  Image from amazon.com

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein: Here’s another book of poems that Carla would love (she is an avid Silverstein fan).  Image from amazon.com

Cat Lamp: Carla would love this because she hates falling asleep in a dark room, but it would also be perfect for younger kids (or adults!). Image from amazon.com

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn: My parents love mysteries, and they both got a kick out of the Thursday Murder Club books… this seems kind of along the same lines and sounds fun. Image from amazon.com

Electric Wine Opener: I got one of these as part of a Fab, Fit, Fun box, and I LOVE IT. So easy to use, no broken corks. I think my parents and in-laws need one of these. Image from markandgraham.com

Jean Jacket: If you happen to have a child with a temperament similar to Carla’s, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this jacket. It is cute and durable and my child has worn it to school nearly every day since I bought it for her in September. Yes, she wears it under her winter coat. She says it makes her feel like a rockstar.  Image from amazon.com

Joan Jett T-Shirt: I really, really want to get Carla this T-shirt. Wouldn’t it go great under her jean jacket? But it’s not in her size and I think the adult version would be too big. Image from etsy.com

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff: My mother is a history buff and also loves biographies, so this was a shoo-in for her gift this year.  Image from amazon.com

Go Away I’m Writing Socks: My writer friend and I both need a pair of these. Image from redbubble.com

Devotions by Mary Oliver: Thanks to Nicole’s effusive mentions of these poems, I am in possession of this book and it is wonderful. Also, it is UNDER TEN DOLLARS (at the writing of this post), alert alert!  Image from amazon.com

Mary Oliver Sweatshirt: Words to live by. While reading your new copy of Devotions. Image from etsy.com

Animal Drawing Set and Digital Art Lessons: My kiddo loves to draw, and she really likes things with an online instruction component. I think this would be right up her alley. Image from amazon.com

Hey Clay: Along similar lines, these little sculpting kits (also with a digital instructive element) were a huge hit with Carla when she was slightly younger. So if you have a kid who likes crafting/sculpting who also likes to follow instructions, this is a gift you need to buy. Image from amazon.com

Sunrise Alarm ClockYou know I love a practical gift, and I am very weary of a) waking up before my alarm because Carla’s is blaring and she is blissfully sleeping right through it and b) having to go through the very long and touchy process of dragging Carla out of sleep. This will solve all our problems, surely? Image from amazon.com

SoulKu Necklace: This might be the opposite of practical, but I absolutely adore these gorgeous necklaces, imbued with things like confidence, self-esteem, or courage. Image from soulku.com

Remote Control Tarantula: Carla has been begging for one of these for at least two years. I am so reluctant to get one for her (I sense lots of jump scares in my future), but she has asked for so few things this year! Image from scientificsonline.com

Bubble Machine: Carla still loves bubbles and would enjoy this so much… although this feels like it would be more appropriate for her birthday when she can go outside and use the thing right away. Image from amazon.com

Baseball Stadium Pint Glasses: I feel like this is the kind of thing I look at with interest for every opportunity I have to buy gifts for my husband, and never end up actually buying it. But here I am again, looking at it with interest. Image from uncommongoods.com

Robot Kit: Carla has been asking for a robot – one that will do her bidding, specifically; LOL good luck Carla – so this is the one my parents are getting for her. My husband and I are getting the same one for our niece so the girls can take over the world together. Image from makeblock.com

Cookbook: Nagi is one of my go-to food bloggers. I have never made a recipe of hers that I didn’t LOVE, and plenty of her recipes are things I make over and over. This cookbook would make a terrific gift for the foodie in your life. Image from amazon.com

Wireless Meat Thermometer: My husband got me this thermometer awhile back and it is AMAZING. We used both probes this year to cook the turkey, and the turkey was cooked perfectly and on time for the first time ever. My mother-in-law requested something similar, so I think this is a good candidate for her gift. Image from amazon.com

Fish Plate: This plate is gorgeous, and speaks to me as a Pisces. Image from goodeeworld.com

Butterfly Wings: I saw these and thought they were so fun and beautiful, and then it struck me that Carla has probably outgrown this kind of thing. That makes me really sad, but maybe her cousin would still find them magical. Image from mindware.com

Cooking Challenge Kit: We are big fans of Master Chef Jr. and British Bake Off Junior around here. I bet Carla would enjoy cooking up her own challenge creations. Image from mindware.com

Peanut Butter Sampler: My husband adores peanut butter, so of course I had to get him a sampler from Off Beat Butters. Image from cleansimpleeats.com

Jam Sampler: Peanut butter makes me think of jam, and jam makes me think of having a jam plan, and I am sure Monica Geller would agree that jams make good gifts. This sample from New Canaan Farms looks fancy. (Would make a good hostess gift, too.) Image from newcanaanfarms.com

Origami Kit: Paper crafts are a perennial favorite around here. Image from amazon.com

Hair Chalk Salon: Carla would LOSE HER MIND over this. She loves hair chalk (I, however, do not). Image from amazon.com

Beer Can Glass: There’s something I find very simple and elegant about this glass-shaped-like-a-beer-can. Image from crateandbarrel.com

Sweatshirt Weather Candle: I love this candle, but even more fun is looking at all the other irreverent and ballsy options on That Gay Guy Candle Company’s website.  Image from thatgayguycandlecompany.com

Fujifilm Instax 11:  This little camera is on my niece’s wish list this year. How adorable is it?! Image from target.com

Instax Carrying Case: Now the question of whether you get the carrying case and camera in the same colors, or different ones… Hmm… Image from amazon.com

Schitt’s Creek Earrings: My sister-in-law wears fun earrings, so I got her some from a show we both like.  Image from etsy.com

Illustrated Version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling: We got Carla the entire set of these beautiful books a few years ago and she loved them. Perhaps my niece would be interested as well? Image from amazon.com

Pocket MicroscopeI don’t know exactly what Carla or her cousin would use this for, but I bet they would come up with something wonderful.  Image from amazon.com

Bug Vacuum: I don’t know why Carla wants this, but she asked for it specifically. And honestly, if she plans to take over our in-home bug removal, I am not standing in her way. Image from amazon.com

Gratitude Journal: This one is extremely irreverent, but it makes me giggle. I have a couple of people in my life who would really enjoy this. Image from amazon.com

Def Leppard Artistry Palette: Lovely reader Allison R. asked me for advice on makeup for the tween set… and I am sorry to say that my advice is “rely on people who know makeup.” A friend got this makeup palette for Carla, probably because of the leopard on the front. Carla LOVES it. We have lots of talks about appropriate times/venues for wearing makeup when you are NINE. Image from revolutionbeauty.us

Hot for Hue Artistry Palette: Another friend, whose daughter is very into makeup now (she is NINE), got this little palette for Carla. It lives in the uppermost regions of my linen closet with all of Carla’s makeup, because she loves it a little too enthusiastically.  Image from ulta.com

Paradise on Ice Palette: This palette is made specifically for kids, and I have purchased it in the past for Carla’s makeup-loving friends.  Image from petitenpretty.com

Makeup Starter Kit: This looks like it would be perfect for a makeup fan who’s a little younger than Carla – five or six, maybe.  Image from kleenaturals.com

Butterfly Oasis: Carla would love this, and I bet my mother would too. Image from uncommongoods.com

Bud Vase: I feel very strongly that you or I need to own this. Image from anthropologie.com

Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: My niece is really into mythology right now, and I think she’d love this (she is a huge fan of Cleopatra). Image from amazon.com

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths: This was a book I checked out from the library over and over when I was a kid, and I bought it for Carla two years ago. Maybe my niece needs it too! Image from amazon.com

Lap Desk: I have one of these (although mine is nowhere near as pretty) and love it, and Carla saw one recently and mentioned she might like one. Why not?  Image from amazon.com

Slippers: My husband’s only slippers are a pair of giant hairy bear feet (which, of course, are delightful). I think he might wear these more frequently. Image from nordstrom.com

Comfy Wearable Blanket: My daughter got me one of these as a gift several years ago but she is the one who wears it near-daily in the cold months. It is bigger than she is and she swears it is the most comfortable thing ever. Image from amazon.com

Wearable Throw: And here is the elegant, upscale version of the Comfy. Image from nordstrom.com

Friendship Bracelet Kit: This was on my niece’s wishlist. Second grade is definitely when friendship bracelet fever began in our house, peaking in third grade. Image from amazon.com

Smartphone Photo Vault: While I have to admit I didn’t realize Sharper Image was still around, I think I may end up getting this for my mother-in-law. Image from sharperimage.com

All the Broken Places by John Boyne: My father-in-law is – as are we all, right? – a huge John Boyne fan. I think he needs the author’s newest book. Image from amazon.com

Undelivered: The Never-Heard Speeches That Would Have Rewritten History by Jeff Nussbaum: This is another one that sounds right in my father-in-law’s wheelhouse. Image from amazon.com

Nail Stamper: This is so cute and looks like so much fun. Image from amazon.com

Interesting Facts for Curious Minds: Carla got a book of random questions at her school book fair this fall, and loved it. I think she’d enjoy this just as much.  (Or we can wait until Volume 2 of the random questions series comes out in January.) Image from amazon.com

Chocolate Melting Pot: I’m not sure what my mother-in-law has in mind for this wishlist item, but I would like to be involved. Image from amazon.com

Fender Sweatshirt: My guitarist husband needs this for sure. Image from kohls.com

Iconic Guitars T-Shirt: Or maybe this T-shirt.  Image from etsy.com

Personalized Guitar Picks: These picks are Carla’s gifts to her dad this year.  Image from etsy.com

Mobile Gaming Controller: Speaking of my husband: He recently – finally – got a PS5, and he would like this for gaming wherever we go. Image from amazon.com

Kid Spy Books: I really wish I had someone to buy these books for. Carla and her dad read them all last year and they were So Great. Full of humor and history and adventure and 80s references for us millennial parents. I keep hoping Mac Barnett will come out with a new one, but so far no dice. Image from amazon.com

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett: There IS a new picture book – part of a new fairy tale series, apparently? – by the wonderful writer/illustrator team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. How I wish we were still in the picture book phase!  Image from amazon.com

Odder by Katherine Applegate: Speaking of books I have already bought and want desperately to buy for someone else: this book-in-verse was a HUGE hit with Carla, whose favorite genre of books is Animal Centric Adventures with a Heartwarming Element. Image from amazon.com

A Wolf Called Wander by Roseanne Parry: This is another book that Carla absolutely adored. But she checked it out from the library, so we don’t own it. And it’s only $7… maybe I need to get her her own copy. (This is how a life of book overbuying begins, I suppose.) Image from amazon.com

Wolf Plush: And I could get her a wolf stuffie to go with the book!!!! My husband is never going to support this plan. Image from amazon.com

Frasier Fir Candle: I read somewhere that this is the ultimate Christmas-smelling candle.  Image from amazon.com

Tea, Book, and Oxford Commas MugI do not, under any circumstances, need another mug. But if I did, I would want this one.  Image from etsy.com

Working From Home Mug: Here is another mug that I do not need but would really enjoy. Maybe for my sister-in-law? Image from etsy.com

Work From Home Socks: She may also need these socks. Image from etsy.com

Treadmill Desk Attachment: I already own this one, but I love it (when I use it). (Treadmill not included.) Image from amazon.com

Space Heater: To round out the work-from-home essentials set, I own this space heater and it makes my office nice and cozy. Image from amazon.com

Turtle Fur Neck Warmer: This is one of the most boring gifts of all time, but I “borrowed” my brother’s turtle fur last year when we were skiing, and it may have come home with me. He’s getting a new one this year. Image from amazon.com

Book Safe: Carla is really into safes and hidey holes. This would be perfect her to store all her special treasures. Image from amazon.com

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math by Jeannine Atkins: Carla truly loves math this year (her teachers are ANGELS) and I want to encourage that in any way possible. Her cousin is another math fan; maybe I should order one for each kid. Image from amazon.com

Flannel Pajama Pants: My husband needs a new pair, these are – according to the NYTimes, the best. Image from llbean.com

Cat Bookends: Carla is running out of space on her bookshelves, and these would come in handy. Plus they are black (her favorite color) and cats (her favorite animal).  Image from amazon.com

Self-Watering Planter: This glass planter is quite a splurge, but it’s so simple and elegant (and practical!). Image from goodeeworld.com

Anastasia Again by Lois Lowry: Carla and I had such fun reading the first Anastasia book together, I know we’d enjoy the next in the series. Image from amazon.com

Fancy Hand Cream: If you know one thing about me, it’s that I love a good tea towel. If you know anything else, it’s that I ask for fancy hand cream every single year for Christmas. A friend of mine swears by this one. Image from ulta.com

That’s it for today, Internet! Lots to contemplate, lots to buy. Now I’m off to engage in the annual back-and-forth with my husband, wherein I try to buy everyone way more gifts than they need and he gently guides me toward a less intense outlay of gifts until we finally settle somewhere in the middle.

Where are you in your holiday shopping? (I know some people reading this are done! Kudos!!! I envy your foresight and decisiveness.) Who is the most difficult person on your gift list this year? What is one gift you KNOW you are buying (or have already purchased because you are better at planning ahead than I am)?

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For the past few years, I’ve been downloading the free reading calendars from Everyday Reading. I follow Janssen’s directions for printing a large “blueprint” size via Staples, and print one out each summer and each December and hang it on my kitchen wall.

At this point, I think I am doing it mainly for me rather than for Carla… but… at least right now that’s okay. 

(All About Me Aside: While I definitely encourage holiday reading each year to increase the magic quotient for Carla, I also do it for me. Last year, for the first time ever, I tried to read some adult Christmas books. I made a list based on recommendations from people I trust and adore… and then my experiment was a huge flop. I am not going to list them here because a) I’m pretty sure I mentioned them before, even though I can’t find it and b) I know all too sharply the feeling of betrayal and failure that accompanies recommending a book and having a friend/family member dislike/dismiss it. In this case, not liking these much-loved books made ME feel like the failure, I can assure you. Anyway. I want to try again this year, but I am recalibrating slightly by trying to find books that Carla and I can enjoy together.) 

Anyway: I am contemplating the December reading calendar and realizing that we may have finally outgrown our holiday book collection.

It’s not like I’m throwing them away or anything. I love our classic selection that includes things like Bear Stays Up for Christmas and Latke the Lucky Dog and beautifully illustrated versions of books like Oskar and the Eight Blessings and The Night Before Christmas. (I try, I really do, to inject some sort of religious element into this season, so we do talk about the story of Jesus’s birth and we discuss the miracle of the oil. We have a few books that lean more toward the religious, like Room for a Little One and Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah, but most of our books are more secular in nature.)

All images below from amazon except where noted.

(Another Mainly About Me Aside: Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, but since it overlaps with the Christmas season, I like to give it some prominence in our winter celebrations mainly to feel like we aren’t implying that one side of Carla’s heritage is more important than the other. This may matter to no one but me, but I am just making it up as I go along here.)

Onto the Book Search!

A few years ago I ordered one of my favorite Christmas chapter books – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson – and read it to Carla. I don’t think she really enjoyed it as much as I did (although perhaps it will be more resonant this year). But what I want is more books like that. Good stories that evoke the spirit of the season and warm the heart. I don’t care if they are religious or secular, about Hanukkah or Christmas or any of the winter holidays we don’t personally celebrate but would be interested in exploring. My only stipulation is that I am trying to veer away from picture books this year. We have plenty, and I don’t know if they will appeal to my nine-and-a-half-year-old anymore. (Sob.)

During my search, it seems to me that there is quite a dearth of this very specific kind of books for Carla’s age range. But we shall persevere.

I got, as gifts, two books that might work: A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens and A Little House Christmas Treasury by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I started reading the latter to Carla last year and I think it might be the right kind of thing. 

There is a collection by Louisa May Alcott I may need to own: Christmas Stories: 32 Classic Stories & Poems for the Young & Old.

Carla and I are going to see one of her friends in a performance of The Nutcracker. Maybe we should see if our library has a copy of Nutcracked by Susan Adrian to get in the proper frame of mind? (I personally think the entire Nutcrackerstory is… how can I put this tactfully… I can’t think of a way; suffice it to say that it doesn’t resonate with me particularly well but I do enjoy the music.) 

Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas seems to pop up on “best Christmas books for tweens” lists. But I don’t know if it would appeal to Carla. On the other hand, if she does like it, there are two others in the series we could read. I’m adding it to the library holds list.

Carla is LOVING James Patterson’s Katt and Dogg books, so obviously Dog Diaries: Happy Howlidays: A Middle School Story is on the list.

I initially passed over this book because it strikes me as ridiculous, but… it gets good ratings and Carla does really love dinosaurs. So I am putting a hold on The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher as well. 

I completely forgot that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was a holiday book! I think I may have it knocking around in a dusty bookcase somewhere along with the rest of the series.

The Naughty List by Michael Fry (NOT to be confused with On the Naughty List, which looks like quite the steamy Christmas anthology) looks cute… although I am already growing weary of the “child travels to North Pole to correct a mistake, hijinks ensue” story line.

Reluctantly, I have ordered The Christmas Pig from the library (reluctant because I continue to feel morally uncomfortable about supporting the author). 

Perhaps The Last Holiday Concert would be a good one; I love Andrew Clements. 

How about a nice holiday mystery story? Pinky Bloom and the Case of the Magical Menorah by Judy Press looks very cute.

Oooh! A Nancy Drew Christmas by the pseudonymous Carolyn Keene sounds right up my alley. Not quite sure if Carla would enjoy it – she’s not as obsessed with mysteries as I am. But this story features a ski resort in one of our favorite states, so maybe that would win her over! Putting that one on hold for sure.

Along similar appeals-to-me-but-perhaps-not-to-Carla lines is The Very Merry Murder Club collection of “wintery crime and mystery stories.” Alas, it is not available at my library.

Would The Girl Who Ruined Christmas by Cindy Callaghan be a good option, I wonder? I could see Carla being turned off by the title… or possibly intrigued. And… is it too tween-y?

I like the sound of Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett – a collection of humorous stories.

Or maybe one of the Enid Blyton collections? Christmas Tales or Christmas Stories. And don’t they look like they are illustrated by Quentin Blake? (Amazon doesn’t say and I didn’t do any additional digging.)

As long as we are looking at short stories, I am going to add The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Isaac Bashevis Singer to the list. It’s kind of old (published in 1980, before I was born!), and may be for a slightly more mature audience (amazon confusingly lists it as having a “reading age” of 4 years and up and a “grade level” of 7 through 9), but if I can find it, it could be worth a try. (Alas, our library does not have it. Perhaps I can find a good used copy from amazon or ThriftBooks. I remember with great fondness Singer’s short story collection When Shlemiel Went to Warsawbut that one isn’t available either.

This collection of stories about the winter solstice – Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice – sounds really interesting. I love learning how people in countries other than mine celebrate winter.

Although it is yet another of the “child travels to the North Pole” genre, North Pole Patrol by J. C. Deelstra sounds like it has potential.

Okay, I know I said no picture books, but this illustrated version of O. Henry’s classic The Gift of the Magi looks stunning… and that’s a story I haven’t shared with Carla yet.

Eve Bunting’s One Candle also looks beautiful and the story sounds heartfelt.

Nostalgia for The Baby-Sitters Club books made me look twice at Ann M. Martin’s On Christmas Eve, but it sounds very heartwarming!

On an entirely different tone, Krampus and the Thief of Christmas by Eldritch Black sounds different and potentially interesting. Although I can’t tell if it is truly scary or not. Carla is not a huge fan of scary.

What am I missing? What are the Christmas/winter/winter holiday books you (and/or your kids) read every year? 

I have requested 8 books for Carla (and, honestly, for me) from the library and I have three books in my amazon cart. I also requested two Agatha Christies for myself: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery, in the hopes that choosing books by an author I know and love will result in a higher Christmas-book enjoyment rate than I had last year. 

It seems as though I am doing NaBloPoMo this month, which is 30 blog posts in 30 days. (Will I make it??? Only time will tell.) Details at San’s blog here.

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