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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas cheer’

I am sitting in my living room with a lovely view of the Christmas tree, lights glowing softly in the morning dim, and I am still feeling distinctly grinchy. What is my DEAL. We could easily blame my lack of spirit on the fact that I have to go to Costco today, the week before Christmas, because I have somehow allowed our toilet paper and paper towel supplies to dwindle to dangerous levels. Or perhaps we could point to the fact that my daughter’s school just informed us that winter vacation will begin a day early, so agitated are they about rising numbers of Covid cases in the system. And, worse, that the kids will be coming home with devices just in case we cannot return in January as planned, and need to remain remote for a while. Cue wailing and rending of garments. Of course of course I am glad that Carla’s school continues to take this pandemic so seriously. Of course I would rather keep her home than expose her unnecessarily. Of course I want to be a good community member. Of course we will be fine if we need to do a few days or weeks of remote learning. But. Anguished scream.  

However, even before this very unwelcome announcement from the school administration, I had been feeling distinctly dispirited.  Christmas music irritates me, unless it is a very specific and somehow highly elusive style of old-fashioned instrumental Christmas carols. I have wrapped maybe a dozen presents and am already SICK OF IT. I tried to read two separate Christmas books, both which came highly recommended by people I trust, and neither of them were a good fit for my reading style/current mood. We have NO SNOW, just wind, wind, and more wind. We finally put up the tree and the Christmas decorations, and somehow even they seem lackluster, even though they are the exact same decorations I put out every year.

I feel a certain level of frustration (with myself) over this lack of holiday spirit. Also, woe. I LOVE Christmastime, and I feel it slipping away from me, and I’m concerned that this is the last Christmas that will be Magical for Carla, which makes me want to swaddle myself in Holiday Joy that is on a high, dark shelf somewhere I cannot reach. Fretting about it does not help, of course; I cannot GUILT-TRIP Christmas spirit upon myself. I thought I could coax it to me with gentleness and patience, like getting a skittish cat to come up from under the couch, but so far that hasn’t worked either.  

The only Coping Thought that is working for me (currently) is that Christmas Spirit isn’t MANDATORY. There’s no law. I have done my best to do the things that will make Christmas happy for my loved ones and I can finish the last tasks I need to do but there is no law that I have to be cheery or feel awed by the season or cherish every moment. It’s disappointing, but trying to FORCE spirit upon myself is not working, so I am trying to let go. Maybe it will find me if I stop looking so hard.

In the meantime, here are a few utterly mundane updates on a variety of things. 

Christmas Tree Skirt: I ordered the Christmas tree skirt I loved from my recent post and it has since arrived. I like it even more in person than online. The fabric is kind of stiff and heavier than I anticipated, which I quite like; I don’t think presents are going to crumple it or displace it. (It did get some stubborn folds in it during shipping, but I think time and gift gravity will smooth those out.) I LOVE the red version, but I kind of wish I had the burlap one, too. Maybe someday I will be the type of person with two trees and I can get the burlap one as well.

Holiday To-Do List: Just two weeks ago, I was in a bit of a panic over all I had yet to complete. Here is a list of what I had yet to do:

I can make a nice tidy list of things we have yet to complete:

Address and mail holiday cards

Finalize purchases for Carla’s “rilly big box full of all craft stuf”

Wrap and mail gifts for sister-in-law and niece

Mail caramels to my brother and sister-in-law whenever they get here

Buy the final gift for my mother

Buy the final gift for my father

Buy all gifts for my mother-in-law

Buy all gifts for my father-in-law (including birthday gifts)

Buy all gifts for my aunt-in-law

And now, I have completed every single item on that list. Plus, I have wraps all the gifts and packed them in boxes and put them in the mail. All that’s left is to wrap gifts for my family (and on behalf of Santa). A good reminder that there is usually plenty of time to do what needs to be done. Also that panicking publicly on one’s blog is quite useful for stimulating action.

Box Office Breakdown: When last I showed you a photo of my office, it was cram-jammed with boxes. I was saving the boxes so that I had The Perfect Size for the gifts I needed to send to relatives. This was kind of ridiculous, considering I only needed four boxes. But they are gone now! Broken down (by my husband!!!) and recycled! 

My office is usable once again. Hooray!

Coffee Experiment: I ended my experimentation with drinking coffee after two days of drinking coffee. Coffee is not for me. Instead, I have been making matcha lattes with occasional forays into Christmas tea, which is a very gentle, fragrant way to enable the Christmas spirit to enter my soul should it choose to. 

I just ordered a box of Stash Christmas in Paris tea to try in addition to the Twinings. “Luxurious chocolatey flavor paired with lavender and mint”? Yes, please!

Anniversary Dinner: My husband and I decided that we just weren’t comfortable eating in a restaurant quite yet, so we got “fancy takeout” (this means I ordered short ribs and my husband ordered chicken Milanese and we also each got an appetizer, instead of getting our usual pizza/Indian food/Thai food takeout) and took it back to our house where we watched football while Carla was at a birthday party. It was a surprisingly fun, lovely way to spend our anniversary. Plus, we got (“got”) to wait in the lobby of the restaurant for a few minutes while the kitchen prepared our order, and observed all the unmasked people coming in to dine there, and listened to how snarky and unpleasant the three (three!) hostesses were, and witnessed a disgruntled diner gripe to one of the hostesses about how he’d been waiting at a table for fifteen minutes and no one had come to serve him yet, even though someone had waited on a table that was just seated. It gave me just enough taste of Being In A Restaurant to realize that I have no desire to be in a restaurant perhaps ever again. 

Also, I got flowers!!! (And chocolates. They are both from my mother-in-law, but that doesn’t dampen their beauty.)

Dog Gifting: Carla would like to make special holiday treats for all her neighborhood dog friends. I have googled “homemade dog treats” several times, which turns up lots of recipes, many of which include peanut butter. But then some websites say that dogs can be allergic to peanut butter. Or gluten. I feel like we would KNOW if any of the dogs on our gift list had special needs. That seems like the kind of information that comes up, when you are a dog person. Right? But maybe not? I don’t know. My best guess is that we should just pick a recipe, make it, distribute the dog treats, and then the owners will decide if they want to feed it to their dogs or throw them away. It definitely seems like the perfect “It’s the thought that counts” kind of situation. But I don’t know! I’m not a dog owner!

If you are a dog owner/expert, would you allow your dog to eat a treat containing peanut butter? Perhaps I should stick to a different “flavoring.” But the other flavors include things like banana and sweet potato. Do dogs like bananas and sweet potatoes? Am I overthinking this? I am overthinking this. 

Awkwardness: Thank you for your support and kindness in response to my post about being the most awkward human on the planet. I am mostly over it. I have since spoken to several of the moms involved in my big foot-in-mouth incident the other day, and they seemed friendly and normal and the subject never even came up. 

What are you up to, this last weekend before Christmas? If you also have to brave Costco, you have my solidarity and sympathy.

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Well, it looks like I will do anything to procrastinate doing actual tasks that I actually need to complete: folding laundry, making a meal plan for the week, wrapping presents, cleaning the menorah.

But right now my procrastination is manifesting in an Urgent Need for a tree skirt, so I am dragging you along with me. 

(I can afford to procrastinate a little, I think, because we were very productive this weekend and some of the Christmas panic has been assuaged. ALL gifts have been ordered. My niece’s and sister-in-law’s gifts have been wrapped, boxed, and mailed. The caramels arrived and are ready to be tucked in with other gifts and mailed to family. I procured some wintry stamps for my holiday cards (otters playing in the snow!). My husband inexplicably printed out only one sheet of address labels for our holiday cards [EDITED TO ADD: there was a printer issue! the printer refused to print any more labels after the first sheet] but I have stuffed, stamped, addressed and sealed all the cards going to those addresses. Plus, I made long-overdue hair appointments for myself and Carla, which was another thing to cross off the list.)

This is a glimpse of my kitchen table right now. Cards and caramels! What could be better?

(Now that I mentioned the haircuts, I have a question/fret: I will take a card with a cash gift in it to my hairdresser, but what do I do for the person cutting Carla’s hair? I *think* but do not know for sure that it’s a hairdresser I’ve used before, but maybe it is a brand new person? I should just bring a cash gift to her either way, right? This reminds me that I need to make a hair appointment for my husband and remind him to take a gift to his hairdresser as well.) 

Okay, back to the Christmas tree skirting issue. 

One of the things I have loved about living in this house is that we have room for a real live Christmas tree. We always had a live tree when I was growing up, so there’s some nostalgia involved. But I also love the piney smell, and I love walking up and down aisles of trees with my husband and daughter, looking for the exact right tree to welcome into our home. 

Of course, there are disadvantages to a live tree. Pine needles everywhere is the big one. Having to remember to water the thing every day is another. And I am constantly worried about fire; I am guessing that Christmas tree fires occur when a tree is put too close to a heat source, or when it’s underwatered and the lights are left on overnight, or other reasons I am not considering. I assume that they don’t randomly burst into flames. Yet it is one of my big sources of anxiety at Christmastime, and when January arrives I am VERY EAGER to get that bundle of tinder out of my house and onto the curb.

For my husband, live Christmas trees come with two major pain points: 1. Wrestling the tree into the stand, which is primarily his job; I help, but not a lot. 2. Putting on the Christmas lights. For some reason, he hates the adding of the Christmas lights with a fiery passion. I have tried to remove this task from his responsibility, and I am SURE that I have dressed the tree in lights by myself for the past several years. But I do it in a more haphazard way than he does (he is METHODICAL and NEAT) and that makes him grumpy, and it makes me grumpy to try to do something to alleviate pain for someone and to have that someone tell me I’m doing it wrong. 

So for the past few years, we have been strongly considering getting an artificial tree instead. This has been my husband’s thing; despite the shortcomings, I prefer a live tree. And I have been agreeable about getting an artificial tree, but have taken a bystander role in the process. And year after year, the sales bypass us, and we get a live tree instead. 

NOT THIS YEAR.

This year, we bought an artificial tree. It was… very expensive. One of my demands, should we get an artificial tree, was that it look as real as possible. So we got a pricey version that claims to be very realistic. One of my husband’s demands was that it come pre-lit, so we got that feature as well. 

We got it on a good sale, at least compared to its listed “everyday” price, but it was still… much more than I care to spend on anything, especially something I don’t want. But we are also paying for decreased grumpiness. I hope. I can imagine that setting up the thing will come with its own gripes and grumbles. 

My other demand was that we spring for a new Christmas tree skirt. No way are we going to have an unclothed Christmas tree, flaunting its naked stand for all the world to see. The old skirt was a circle of red felt that cost maybe $5 at Target a decade or so ago. Over the years, it had gotten very pilly and the Velcro clasps no longer worked quite as well. It was very good at catching excess pine needles and that’s the most I can say for it. 

So I am on the hunt for a new Christmas tree skirt, and I am humbled by both the multitude of options available to me and by the wide range of pricing options. I want a tree skirt I like, but – let’s be frank – a tree skirt’s duty is to provide a cushy little bed for gifts and to disguise the ugly base of the tree. It doesn’t NEED to be anything special. But it should be more special than circle of felt.(Spending $200+ on a tree skirt, which you absolutely CAN DO, is a Startling Expense TM Swistle for me.) 

I love this one from Target – I am partial to navy as a color. But… the rest of the Christmas décor is mainly red and white, so it seems a mismatch. And while I am tempted to re-do the entire décor theme to match, I am not so tempted as to actually expend the time/money required to make that a reality. While we are citing this skirt’s negatives, it is $45, which seems quite pricey for something that will be invisible for most of its work life. Also, it is made of linen, which makes me concerned it might require ironing, and I DO NOT IRON.

image from target.com

This burlap skirt with snowflakes seems much better, price-wise ($15.99 as of this writing). It’s simple and unobjectionable. It doesn’t make my heart sing, or anything, but how much work are we expecting a tree skirt to do?

image from amazon.com

Oh, this one with little reindeer around the perimeter is giving me a little happy jolt. It’s a little bit more — $22.99 as of this writing – but it’s very charming. And I could do the plain burlap or there’s a version with the field in red as well. Both are so cute and I love the little reindeer.

image from amazon.com

This red one with snowflakes is quite nice. And the description claims that it’s double layered and “durable.” Plus, boasts the description, “Easy to use, no need tedious operation, install in a minute.” Are other tree skirts… difficult to use?

image from amazon.com

I find this plaid skirt quite appealing. Although the white trim makes me a little nervous. Though… if we no longer have to worry about watering the tree or dealing with pine needle shed, maybe it won’t get as dirty as I’m envisioning? I am also wishing that Target would get on board with photographing the tree skirt in action.

image from target.com

Also pleasing, and also with worrisome white trim, is this version that says Merry Christmas. I like the way  it looks… but I don’t know if I like the words. And some of the close-up photos make it look like it could be too similar to my old red felt. 

image from amazon.com

I rather like this knitted tree skirt – the material looks a little more elegant than the felt, and I do like the reindeer. But it does say “Christmas” on it; not merry Christmas, just “Christmas,” which is a little joyless. Wait. Am I to read it as “deery Christmas”? I don’t know.

image from amazon.com

This quilted tree skirt is very simple and very lovely and I like the deep almost burgundy of the red, but oh dear – it looks like the smallest costs $79; that, I think, is above my personal tree-skirt spending limit.

image from balsamhill.com

Did you know there was such a thing as a tree collar? I did not, until I began this search. This burlap version is very simple and clean. Do I like the tassels? I don’t know. Why are they yellow? 

image from amazon.com

Oh! This red-with-reindeer tree collar is very festive! 

image from amazon.com

I very much like the look of this woven tree collar. But I do not care for the price. 

image from balsamhill.com

This wooden tree collar is very charming – I like it the best, I think – but it’s nearly $90 and it’s a lie, so I’m not going to be getting it for my particular tree.

image from amazon.com

I like this red metal tree collar quite a lot, and it’s currently on sale for an amount I could possibly be persuaded to spend ($51.50 down from $69). Something to think about, perhaps until the sale ends and it falls more firmly into the realm of “too expensive.”

image from potterybarn.com

I am also wondering if one needs a tree skirt in addition to a tree collar… in which case, I’ll stick with the tree skirt alone, thank you. 

After adding photos to this post, I went and put the burlap-with-reindeer tree skirt, as well as the same one but in red, in my amazon cart. It just gives me a happy little flutter! I will run it past my husband, make sure he doesn’t hate it, but I think it’s the one!!! All that’s left is to decide between burlap and red.

If you have a Christmas tree, what, if anything, do you do in terms of tree skirting?

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Well, right on cue: despite my meticulous catalog of gift options and all my big plans of thwarting the inevitable onset of Stocking Stuffer Syndrome, now that we’re just under a week out from Christmas I am experiencing severe Pre-Christmas Panic that I haven’t purchased enough/the right gifts. What IS this and WHY does it happen? Especially THIS year when a) I have planned so well and so far in advance and b) I cannot do anything about it, aside from braving Target or Costco or the like during a pandemic which is a no from me dawg. Maybe focusing my anxiety energy on gift-related targets is more bearable than worrying aimlessly about Everything Else? The fact is, panic or no, IT’S TOO LATE NOW. 

Oh crumbs! I just realized I never ordered Carla a Rubik’s Cube to replace the one I broke. And glee of glees! It looks like Amazon is still confident it can ship one to me in a day (“a day”), unlike the Elsa styling head I keep fretting about, because I know she would like it, but it is TOO LATE – pretty much every version of the thing is unavailable to ship until January. INTO THE CART, RUBIK’S CUBE. There. Okay I also just bought my husband a pair of work slacks (do people say slacks anymore?) that I can pick up curbside. They were on sale. They are also very boring. Maybe too boring? Nope, TOO LATE, they are purchased. And I am hoping that the act of buying something, anything, even boring work slacks, will help allay the panic.

Let’s have some randomosity, shall we?

  • You know what it’s NOT too late for? Medicinal holiday baking. I have finally decided which holiday cookies to make! My husband found a copycat recipe for Levain Bakery’s chocolate chocolate chip cookies that we are going to bake. I think I will also make the zimtsterne, just because they are so pretty and festive. I have vague semi-plans to package some of the zimtsterne in the boxes I normally use for holiday chocolates and give them to our neighbors. Sharing the sufganiyot with our neighbor went so well, I kind of want to recapture that feeling. Unfortunately, all I’ve recaptured is the anxiety of even CONSIDERING interacting with our neighbors.
  • I haven’t tested the copycat recipe yet, but I CAN recommend the real thingLevain Bakery ships their cookies and I have been the recipient of said cookies in the past and it was delightful. Looks like it is too late to order them for Christmas, but if you ever need to send something delicious to someone in your life (that includes yourself), these are AH-MAY-ZING. They are huge and they freeze really well. 
  • In other baking news, I finally made the cranberry crumble bars I have been planning to make for over a week now. They were SO GOOD – the perfect combination of tart, gooey cranberries and lightly sweet crunchy shortbread crust with a teensy bit of very sweet lemony glaze on top. You use the same crust for the crumble on top, which sounds a little weird (to me) but is quite delicious. I sent a big plate full with my husband on Friday so he could share them with the surgical team, and he said everyone enjoyed them. Somehow I need to remember to make them next Thanksgiving because I like them better than our traditional pumpkin bars. 
  • My holiday card wall is looking a little sad, still. The cards are arriving in little drips, although one day we got a big surge of five. I hope it picks up before Christmas. I know the postal service is doing absolutely everything it can to move everyone else’s pandemic-related-panic-buying from one place to another, so I’m assuming more cards will arrive when they can. Of course it’s also possible that most people decided against cards this year – although most everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be of the “but now cards are more important than ever!!!!” perspective, so who really knows?
  • Speaking of the postal service, I finally stopped dithering and purchased gifts for the kind people who are delivering packages to our house ON THE DAILY. I saw an article about how postal workers aren’t allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents, which threw me for a loop. I have given Target and Starbucks gift cards with wild abandon in the past, so I kind of think maybe it would be okay to keep giving gift cards? Then again, KNOWING that it isn’t allowed is a different thing from blithely giving whatever I want out of innocence, so I dithered myself into complete paralysis. Until this week, when I finally decided that I could not give a gift card now that I KNEW it was prohibited. So I bought some of these little pandemic kits (which I could pick up curbside) and some fancy chocolates from a local small business and that was THAT. Practical plus yummy/treaty. Of course I am second guessing my choices now, but IT’S TOO LATE NOW. What’s done is packaged and waiting in our hall, except for the one gift we were already able to hand directly to the postal worker. Now all that’s left is to intercept the delivery people when they arrive; typically they don’t announce their presence in any way, and even if I know to listen for them they are often already back in their trucks by the time I fling open the door. What says “merry Christmas” better than a wild-eyed middle-aged woman running shrieking after your truck in her bare feet?
  • The pandemic kits I bought include one of those little no-touch door opener tool things. Do you have one of those? My husband got one from his hospital early on in the pandemic and he gave it to me. It is more useful than I anticipated, and I keep it in my purse and use it all the time. Hmmm. Maybe this would make a good stocking stuffer… This one at Amazon supposedly arrives before Christmas AND it has a little smart-screen tip you can use for credit card machines at the grocery store! 
  • This is totally not Christmas related AT ALL, but I cleaned my menorah and put that away, which is a nice if very small preview of the wonderful catharsis of putting away all the Christmas décor. We also have a menorah candle situation that annoys me. We ran out of candles on the seventh night (some people in our family can be a little too, um, enthusiastic about shoving the candles into the menorah), and I had to curbside pickup another pack of candles from Target. And now we will run out early NEXT year, too. I only hope I remember to buy extras before Hanukkah begins.
  • Also not a Christmas topic, and potentially alarming: the last two times I’ve been to the grocery store, there have been big bare spots on the taco shells shelf. And absolutely NONE of the Old El Paso regular-size taco shells. It’s all Stand and Stuff or Super Stuffer. It is perplexing. I haven’t been grabbing up big armsful of taco shells – yet – but I do grab a package every time, even if I’m not planning on tacos that week. (Although a week without tacos around here is, to be fair, rare.) I feel like I was just joking with someone about a hypothetical taco shell shortage, so perhaps I am to blame???? NEVER JOKE ABOUT TACO SHELLS, that’s the lesson here, folks. Well. Too late now.
  • This week’s haul from the grocery store included eggnog – which I like as long as it’s mixed with an equal amount of milk, otherwise it’s much too viscous – and Christmas beer, both of which are fun once-a-year things. I considered and rejected many other Christmas-specific items, including mulling spices, a stollen, and an enticing array of chocolate in Christmas shapes/colors. It is all so very tempting, though!
  • I am very tired of people in the grocery store not understanding the six-feet rule. It has been NINE MONTHS, people. There are signs everywhere, reminding us to give people plenty of space. There are regular announcements on the overhead speaker, reminding us to put six feet between ourselves and the people around us. We are all wearing masks as a big, blaring signal that THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW, YO. And yet, inevitably, I will be waiting patiently six feet away from a woman who is carefully evaluating every single onion in the bin so that I can grab some onions and be on my way, and some oblivious jerkface (I am assuming both the obliviousness and the jerkfacity) will squeeze in right next to her and start fondling the potatoes. In the immortal words of George Constanza, WE’RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY, and said society demands six feet between its members! 
  • As long as we are discussing things that I find pandemically perplexing: I have now gotten several emails about summer camp registration. First of all, it is December. Okay, so summer camp planning typically starts in January and I guess it’s not far enough from January for it to be an unconscionably early. But. BUT, and secondly, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. It seems kind of brazen to suggest that we start registering our kids for camps that are still many months away when we have NO IDEA what the status of the pandemic will be. Will everyone have gotten vaccines? Will the pandemic be under control? Will there be some new murder-hornet/zombie-mink-style horror to contend with? WHO KNOWS? The fact is, I am not ready to sign up for summer camp. Of course, the very fact that the camps are sending out the emails makes me a little edgy. I definitely don’t want to sign up today and send in a depost when anything could happen between now and next summer. But I also don’t want to wait until we KNOW what’s going to happen and find out IT’S TOO LATE to sign up. I can only hope that most other parents are giving these emails the ol’ squint eye and postponing thinking about it until at least March. 
  • Here is a Very Nice Thing: Carla’s last day before winter break was Friday, and the only assignment they had was to get together on Zoom and make a holiday present for their parents. I suppose that’s normal thing that teachers do with their kids before winter break, but it makes me feel especially weepy with gratitude this year because of all the extra forethought and planning it required, on top of all of the immense challenges of switching, mid-year, to an entirely new method of teaching. We owe these teachers so much. So. Much.
  • I painted my nails the other day for the first time in months. The polish is a sparkly turquoise-navy and I’m digging it. I wonder how long it will last, considering I wash my hands eight billion times a day.
  • Speaking of which, my hands are in rough shape. Unless I am super vigilant about applying hand lotion immediately after I wash my hands, they shrivel up and crack and my cuticles start peeling and there’s bleeding involved and it’s awful. I have hand lotion in the junk drawer in the kitchen, in my bathroom, and right next to my bed. I’ve had a rotation of hand creams, based on whatever is available to pick up at Target. Aveeno was my go-to lotion for most of the pandemic, but now that it’s winter, I don’t think it’s cutting it. I have Soap & Glory Hand Food by my bed, which is nice to use right before I go to sleep. But I’ve switched to O’Keefe’s Working Hands Hand Cream (this link goes to the 7 oz tube; it looks like Target only has the 3 oz size, and that is not enough hand cream) in the kitchen and in my bathroom and I think my diligence is starting to pay off.
  • My lips are a whole other situation though. It is the time of year where my normal multiple-times-daily application of Burt’s Bees lip balm is not enough to keep them smooth. I get this dry patch that I then pick at, which makes my lip bleed, and then my lips rush to repair the wound, which produces a thicker patch, which I then pick at, etc. etc. etc. until everyone is very glad indeed that I need to wear a face covering in public. What should I be putting on my lips instead? Vaseline? I see that O’Keefe’s makes a lip balm – maybe I should try that? Or this Aquaphor ointment gets good reviews. Oh! There is also a highly-rated Aquaphor balm (though it is PRICEY). What is the One True Lip Balm that will make my lips heal?
  • If you have a spouse/significant other, or if you are willing to pretend you do for this bullet point, would you find it odd if you received a gift card that was intended for both of you? Say your Aunt Sylvie sent you a Target gift card for $100 but it was made out to President and Vice President Yourname. (You are the President in this scenario.) You open it and you feel: _____ How? My husband and I have opposing views on this subject and I’m genuinely curious about others’ thoughts. 
  • My best friend from back home sent me a Friends couch ornament for Christmas. It is adorable AND it plays a quote from each character. I’m not crazy about the one for Phoebe – I’d rather hear her singing “Smelly Cat” – but it has Ross shouting “Pivot!” and Joey talking about a moo point, so overall I am very pleased with the choices. Carla loves to press the button and hear the quotes. She asked me what “pivot” means, which led to a definition plus an explanation of why Ross is yelling “pivot!” which led to watching the relevant clip on YouTube. And then I had to show her a few of my other favorite scenes, including my all-time favorite episode, which is the one where Rachel screws up the trifle. (The episode title is actually “The One Where Ross Got High.”) SO MANY great quotable moments in that episode. My favorite is when Ross and Monica’s mom says, “Rachel, no, you weren’t supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did NOT taste good.” 
  • Last-second addition to this post: I was going to schedule the post for Sunday morning and discovered that WordPress lists Sunday as the LAST DAY of the week on the calendar? What is THAT? Sunday comes FIRST! Every calendar I have ever seen orders the days from Sunday to Saturday. Yes, Monday is the first day of the work week, so it is kind of ridiculous, but this is The Way It Is Done. Even the song (to the tune of “My Darlin’ Clementine,” in case your toddler song repertoire is a little rusty) has the days in that order! Why, WordPress? What is the DEAL?

All right. That’s all I’ve got. How are you doing on this, the last Sunday before Christmas?

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First of all, does my daughter have too many stuffed animals, Y/N?

Don’t breathe or the whole stack will collapse. Somehow I am only JUST NOW noticing what a hideous color the carpet is.

Are you sure?

Why is that narwhal so creepy? He’s the only one who looks cheerful — everyone else looks Deeply Concerned.

To be FAIR, they are normally divided between two spots, on top of her dresser like so and also on top of her bookcase. We squashed them all together so we could set up her little Christmas tree on the bookcase. When you have two large piles instead of one enormous pile, it still feels like an infestation, but it’s less alarming.

I wonder what the collective noun is for stuffies? A fluff? A cuddle? A suffocation? Yes, that last one seems most apt right now (for all I know, Carla could be under that pile somewhere): a suffocation of stuffies.

Okay, enough about the Stuffed Animal Addiction which I have fully enabled in my household.

What I ACTUALLY want to talk about today is a Very Great Experience that I just have to record for Future Me. 

Carla and I have been diligently reading through the books suggested on her reading countdown calendar. This week, we got to the one about reading a 12 Days of Christmas book.

In anticipation of this day, I had ordered this book from the library:

A very good book, with beautiful illustrations and, at the end, a nice tidy explanation of what the 12 days of Christmas means that also addresses whether or not someone would have REALLY given all these birds and people as gifts.

After school was done, and we’d each bathed (what? we are stuck at home and you expect me to shower in the MORNING?), we turned on the lamp in the living room to stave off the gathering shadows and sat down on the couch to read. Really cuddled up in there, because our couch makes an L shape and both Carla and I have a Strong Preference for the space where the strokes of the L join. Instead of taking turns or finding an alternative location, we simply squeeze in there together as tight as possible. I’ll be honest. Sometimes elbows are involved. Snuggling now also has a practical component, because our furnace is having Troubles. It is set for 71 degrees, which, when achieved, feels like being on the surface of the sun. But at all other times, the temperature of our house sinks into the mid-60s which doesn’t SOUND cold but somehow is Very Very Cold Indeed.

Back to the memories I WANT to preserve!

I opened the book and asked her if we should read the book or sing it. And I discovered that she had never heard the 12 Days of Christmas! So we sang it together. Which was just the most delightful experience.

She didn’t know the tune, but she gamely sang along until she picked it up. We stopped several times to discuss the oddness of the choices of gifts. So many birds! And then people?! We had to talk about whether the gold rings should be gold-en, because gold-en made much more sense with the rhythm. (This particular book says GOLD.) And we had a brief conflict of opinion when we came to eight maids a-milking, because she felt SURE that the gift was COWS. I mean, why not, right? Makes more sense than giving your true love MILKMAIDS. I mean, what if you didn’t even HAVE cows to milk and now you have eight unemployed women milling around awkwardly?

We also talked a lot about the rhythmic addition of “a” to so many of the lines: a-laying, a-swimming, a-leaping. Carla seemed to understand why it was there, but I think she’s still a little suspicious.

And then, finally, we reached the glorious last page, with alllllllll the gifts sung one after another. By then Carla had a good grasp of the tune and the rhythms and we sang it with gusto. 

It was just… wonderful. The holiday spirit swept me right up and made the gloomy near-dusk all golden at the edges. 

It’s not even a song I typically like! I mean, I enjoy belting out “five gold rings” as much as the next guy; I’m not made of stone. But this book and this reading experience may have changed that. And now I look forward to hearing it on the radio (that sounds so old-fashioned but I can’t bring myself to say “hearing it on the Apple music holiday playlist”) so that we can sing it together! And I hope every time I hear it, from this moment on, that the words are gilded with the joy of sitting with my daughter on a winter afternoon and singing at the top of our lungs. 

I want to remember it always.

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With everything (that word is doing a LOT of work) going on these days, and the attendant underlying doom, I am continuing to hyper-focus on making the holidays Extra Special. My husband has cut me off from buying any more presents for Carla (although there are still so many things I could get her! as though overwhelming her with material goods will help at all!), and I’m not really sure which new vessel I can pour my Making Things Special panic into next. The panic and the wheel-spinning have consequently drained a lot of the holiday spirit from my preparations. So I am trying to FORCE myself into feeling appropriately festive. Perhaps if I just jam myself as hard as possible into holiday-ish activities I typically enjoy, I will find the holiday spirit somewhere among them.

Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:

Enjoying Winter: We have gotten, so far, approximately 20 inches of snow. Carla and I spent more than an hour outside the first day, while the snow was still falling – I was trying to remove some of the snow from our poor trees, which were bowed low to the ground with the weight of winter (relatable) and she happily slid down the slide, molded snow penguins, crawled through the snow, ate handfuls of the fresh top layer, and flopped around making snow angels. I also decided to shovel the walkway, thinking of the poor postal workers having to trudge through all that white, but of course my work was covered by a new frosty layer by the time we came inside. Oh well. At least there was less to shovel when next I attempted it. By the time we came in, our hoods were full, our hair was crusted, and our cheeks were rosy.

I find snow festive and cheering, especially when I can play in it with Carla. Heavy snow is her favorite type of weather, and I totally get it. (Although I fear for the health and well-being of our poor trees.) Once the snow stopped, we had glorious sunshine. And brilliant sun transforming the snow into a shawl of diamonds is MY favorite kind of weather.

Seeing Through the Kiddo’s Eyes: This week I got to unveil Carla’s Christmas-anticipation activities. I feel weird calling them Advent Activities, because 1) I had to do a quick Google search just to remember what Advent IS (sorry Mom) and 2) I am not really equipped to teach Carla how to appreciate the season from a religious standpoint. This is not to say that we won’t dabble in some religious education this month; Hanukkah arrives on December 10, so we will be revisiting the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil and honestly it seems like a more poignant message than ever this year. As does the hopeful joy of the Christmas season – so much anticipation and gratitude and delight over the birth of the person who is meant to be our salvation. 

Back to my regularly scheduled secular celebrations: My husband and I got Carla this LEGO Advent Calendar, and she is delighted each morning to open it up and find a new little character/item to build and play with. But I also saw this beautiful reading calendar on Everyday Reading a few weeks ago and immediately uploaded it to the Staples website to be printed and picked it up, curbside. I’m glad I got it early; it gave me a chance to look over the daily reading activities and order some appropriate reading material from the library. (Our home Christmas book collection is a little thin.) Carla has been having a lot of fun coloring the image associated with the day and she has been reading the books out loud to me, which I feel is Educational on top of being festive. 

Easing Into Christmas Décor: We have not yet decorated for Christmas. Although I have put up the wreath my mother sent me; she sends me one each year and it is one of my favorite, favorite, FAVORITE things about the holidays. It smells so fresh and lovely and it looks welcoming and festive (it’s the only outdoor holiday décor we have, so it does a lot of work) and this year it has tiny little lights, on a timer, that make it that much more special and lovely. I may start bringing out the Christmas stuff bit by bit, rather than doing it all at once, although this will all be mood dependent; if I get a big rush of decorating energy, I will certainly not tamp it down.

Holiday-ing Day-to-Day Mundanities: I have finally allowed myself to start using the Twisted Peppermint lotion that makes me feel very Christmassy. (Should I get the matching shower gel? Or try the Gingerbread Latte lotion, which could be fun or disgusting and there’s no way to know?) (Although I have discovered I need to use it sparingly; I applied it two days in a row and found it more cloying on the second day than on the first.) I put out the Christmas hand towels – some in the powder room and two in the kitchen; I need more holiday towels, I think. My husband was, surprisingly, on board with buying Christmas family jammies this year so we have matching sleepwear that is bringing me a lot of glee. (We aren’t even wearing the jammies regularly — we did it once — but just the THOUGHT is enough to make me preemptively happy.)

Making a Holiday Playlist: Just like holiday decorations, I can’t start with Christmas music too early because I get sick of it. But it DOES help foster that festive feeling. So I am compromising by making a playlist of holiday-season/winter songs. (I like a good mix of Christmas carols and wintery bops.) This does require me to listen to a song, to ensure that it qualifies for placement on the list. But I am not listening to seasonal music nonstop. I acknowledge that may not be as real a distinction for you as it is in my brain. So far, my playlist has: “Last Christmas” by Wham, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by John Legend (a song that is rightly though exhaustingly controversial, but I like the way John’s version sounds and I don’t mind his contemporizing of the lyrics), “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes, and five songs from Gwen Stefani’s “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” album. It’s a slow start indeed, and I welcome any and all suggestions. 

Sending Out Holiday Cards: We DID decide to do holiday cards, and took our photo on Thanksgiving when we were already wearing Real Clothes for family zooms… and our cards arrived this week! They definitely look homemade (which they were – I designed them) but I am trying very hard not to care. I keep telling myself VERY LOUDLY INSIDE MY HEAD that no one will care if the borders are slightly different sizes or that the photos are kind of blurry. NO ONE CARES. They just want the card. Plus, the cards will be looked at close-up probably once, when they are opened, and then they will be hung up on a mantel or a wall or a doorway and will be enjoyed from afar. (Exception: If you are able to have your mother over during Card Season, in which case she will remove her glasses and get right up in there and examine each card very carefully and ask if that is the same Wendy you went to high school with and didn’t she have three children instead of two and wasn’t her husband a fire fighter, is he still with the fire department, and have you heard how her sister is doing after her surgery, shoulder surgery wasn’t it? Moms are the best, truly, and I cannot wait to do this very thing to Carla someday.) 

These things are already working a little, so far. And just writing them down has tamped down the holiday anxiety a bit. What are you doing to feel festive?

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It is the Friday before Christmas, alert! alert! If you have small children who happen to be attending their FINAL DAY of school before the New Year, perhaps you are using part of your day to frantically wrap presents without excited and curious interruptions. Not that I would know from experience or anything.  Let’s do some holiday randomisity, shall we?

UPDATED TO ADD: I wrote this and posted it and then RAN out the door to take Carla to the doctor (ear infection – woohoo!) and didn’t get a chance to read through and edit it. So now that it is Very Late at night, I am trying to edit it and of course I have some changes. So the below is now Edited, although possibly more half-assedly than it should be, and also there is a new bullet with a link to my new (-to-me) favorite Christmas song.

  • It is FINALLY looking like Christmas around here. We actually have SNOW, which helps in Making Things Christmassy more than it probably should; good thing I don’t live in Florida, I guess. I have decorated everything. And even the tree finally has some ornaments on it. We plan to do a pizza night (why yes I HAVE deviated from my meal plan already, what of it?) and finish adding ornaments tonight. I love decorating for Christmas. I think it has to do with memories of Christmasses as a kid – my mom always decorated our house for the holidays and so it doesn’t feel REAL until there are stockings hung up on the mantel and Christmas books stacked on the bookshelf.

Xmas 2

  • Speaking of books, we got Carla a copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which is a book I remember with great fondness from my childhood. My husband read about it with deep suspicion. “Is this a religious book?” he asked. Well, I don’t really consider it to be religious. Although it does center around a church Christmas pageant. And is about, you know, the Christmas story, which is the story of the birth of Jesus… who is kind of a religious guy. So maybe it is religious? I don’t know. My clearest memory is of the antagonist in the story – oh don’t make me look up her name; Something-Jean maybe? – holding a doll that was supposed to represent baby Jesus and there being this moment of grace and wonder and awe when the protagonist connects Something-Jean’s experience to that of Mary. It’s a great moment, and I am really excited about reading the whole thing to Carla and enjoying the book from the perspective of an adult. (I do have that little half-fear that it won’t live up to my memory of it. Like how I have such fond memories of reading and loving The Poky Little Puppy as a child, but realize, as an adult, that it is repetitive nonsense.)
  • We can’t start the book until tomorrow or Sunday – and I hope we can finish it by Christmas; probably; it’s short – because TONIGHT we are reading the very last half of the very last chapter of the first Harry Potter book. UPDATED TO ADD: Nope. Still haven’t finished it. We all fell asleep mid-read. Carla has been LOVING IT, as my husband and I knew she would. We are all loving it. All three of us cuddle up in bed at night and my husband reads the book to all of us. He’s really great at doing accents, and I love how he differentiates the characters. His Hagrid is my favorite, but he does a spot-on Scottish brogue (or is that term just for Irish?) for Professor McGonagall. He’s been enjoying this so much that he went rogue and bought Carla the illustrated editions of the first three books for Hanukkah. He’d brought up the idea weeks ago, and I told him I thought it was silly to do so because we have all the paperbacks and we don’t need TWO versions of the books. But he felt so strongly about it that he used his own money to buy the illustrated set which I think is so cute and it’s true that Carla is going to love them. (Updated to say: It feels weird to mention Harry Potter without acknowledging that there is some current conversation about comments made by J. K. Rowling. I am exhausted by – gestures broadly – everything, and I have done exactly zero research into what’s going on. I keep typing and re-typing things to round out my thoughts, but they aren’t coming out the way I want so I am giving up.)
  • And there are so many other books we need to read! I really should have gotten out the stack of holiday books MANY weeks ago so that we’d be on top of things rather than so far behind in our holiday reading. So, we’ll do Harry Potter tonight, and then I really want to read Carla some of her many Hanukkah books tomorrow night – since Sunday — and not tomorrow as I have thought As Fact for many weeks now — is the first night of Hanukkah – and then we can read some more Hanukkah books and some Christmas books in the coming days. So far we have only read Bear Stays Up for Christmas and Latke the Lucky Dog, but there are many! more! to get too.
  • I am finding that it is a little tricky to balance out the Jewish traditions I want to ensure remain a part of Carla’s life with the Christian traditions that I also love and want to uphold. I want to be fair to both sides of her heritage. But the truth is that I am not Jewish and my husband, who is Jewish, doesn’t really have the time/energy/desire to push the Jewish traditions. So I am left muddling my way through them. I think we’re mostly fine when it comes to explaining/celebrating Hanukkah – there are lots of good books and I have a pretty good handle on the Maccabees etc. and my husband says the blessings while we light the menorah each night. But when it comes to the bigger holidays I tend to feel a little lost. That is a topic for another day, though.
  • Speaking of Hanukkah, I wanted to tell you about the MOST AMAZING video “hack” I have ever tried. Year after year I watched as our menorah grew caked in candle wax. Year after year, I chipped wax off the menorah any way I could think to: knife, toothpick, fingernails. And then I googled it last year and watched this excellent video about three different wax-removal options. I tried the option of putting your menorah in the oven, on a pile of damp paper towels, at 200 degrees for 15 minutes. And it looks like a BRAND NEW menorah!!!!! This trick also works with candlesticks, which I tried as well.

Menorah 1

So shiny! Nary a fleck of wax anywhere!

Menorah 2

Even the candle holes are TOTALLY CLEAN!

  • I have another life hack for ya — and this one’s on the house. Trader Joe’s makes really decent frozen, oven-bakable latkes. Making latkes from scratch is a true labor of love; all that potato shredding and all the frying. It is so nice to simply heat a few Trader Joe’s latkes in the oven — they bake up nice and crispy and are really quite delicious. Easy peasy.
  • The menorah is literally the only Hanukkah décor I own, which is a little sad. But I am really pleased with the Christmas decorations this year. If you asked me, I would say that I have a loose Tree Theme, although as I look around at the assorted decorations, I see that really there are only six trees, well, seven if you count the actual live Christmas tree – and seven trees do not a theme make. Oh well.

    Xmas 1

    Carla’s magnatile creation really adds that certain extra something, doesn’t it. Can’t you just picture Santa sliding out of the chimney, trying not to make any noise, and accidentally stepping on it and it collapsing in a noisy heap all over the hearth? Poor Santa. I will have Carla move it before Christmas Eve.

  • I am really delighted by my new stocking holders this year. We have had the old ones since 2003, which is the first Christmas my husband and I spent together in our own apartment. They were FINE, but there were only two of them, so when Carla was born, we had to find a third that sort of went with them, and I could never find anything except a flat silver rectangle. So I have been looking for new stocking holders for six years and I FINALLY found them. At Pier 1 Imports, of all places. They are heavy, so hopefully Santa can fill up the stockings to the brim without them crashing to the hearth. And they are wood, which goes with my Mantel Trees. And they are cute. Also, they were 50% off, which is good because stocking holders are PRICEY. I think they were something like $20 apiece, so I’m really glad I got them on sale.

Xmas 3

  • As part of my Christmas décor, I bought a little poinsettia at the grocery store for $5.99. I bought it on Monday. And it is dead. Already. What the what?????? Since I go to the grocery store approximately eight million times a week during the holidays, I went back today and got a different poinsettia – this one for $3.99. We’ll see how long it lasts.
  • Does Santa wrap presents for your family members? I don’t remember what he did when I was a kid. But he does wrap gifts for my family now – and uses different wrapping paper than what we use to wrap our own family gifts. I’ve heard rumblings that he chose HORRIBLE paper from Target this year that was super shiny and cute but that refuses to fold or remain taped. Poor Santa.
  • Wrapping is my least favorite part of the holidays. And I have to say, one of the big disadvantages to a) having family who live all over the country and b) having ready access to fast and often-free shipping from so many retailers is that we get a lot of presents that are not wrapped when they arrive. An increasing number, over the years. And listen — I get it! Sometimes you need to send something last minute! Or sometimes a much-wanted thing comes from a place that doesn’t wrap gifts! And it DOES NOT MAKE SENSE to order something that someone specifically asked for to come to YOUR HOUSE and then wrap it and SEND IT AWAY to the gift recipient. That is madness! A person should only have to pay for shipping once. So I am happy to help in a wrapping pinch, truly, when someone is in a bind. But it just seems like… so many binds. And so much wrapping that needs to be done. On TOP of all my own wrapping. Well, since I took care of all the wrapping except for my own gifts, perhaps I will pawn the rest of it off on my husband.
  • My FAVORITE part of the holidays is still the cards. We ordered our cards – for the second year in a row – from Mixbook, which is my new boyfriend. I used Mixbook to make a photo book for my mother when she turned 70 – collecting photos and memories from various family members and friends into an actual leather-bound book. And it was so easy to use and work with and the end product was GREAT. Creating and ordering cards is just as user-friendly and the product is just as excellent. And this year, we paid for express shipping with the promise that the cards would arrive by December 18. (We were late this year.) And the cards arrived A WHOLE WEEK EARLY. So Mixbook is my favorite favorite favorite. So very far superior to Shutterfly, which we used for several years because it was the best combination of cute template options and low cost, but which resulted in really ridiculous issues. One year, I think, the image on the screen didn’t match what the actual card looked like and there was a graphic covering someone’s head. And another year there was an issue printing our addresses on the envelopes, so the order was delayed AND we didn’t get the pre-addressed envelopes. And I think there may have been another year with another issue too, but those are the two that stand out most clearly. Now that I have found such a MUCH better option in Mixbook, I will never again be wooed by Shutterfly’s low prices.
  • As you probably know by now, as much as I love SENDING cards, I really really REALLY love receiving them. I love the store-bought cards and the photo cards alike. Of course, the photo cards are extra fun: It’s so great to see all the cute children growing up and the new babies and the expanding numbers of grandchildren and the families growing and changing.  I love the letters most of all – sappy and braggy and punny and religious – I love them all so dearly. I may have cried last night while reading the two we got – there is something so pure and lovely about typing up, in a letter, a year’s worth of big events and everyday mundanities and then adding in a handwritten note about how we haven’t see each other in so long and we really need to catch up. It all makes me so very happy.
  • Another thing that is making me happy in a Christmassy sort of way is Gwen Stefani’s “You Make It Feel Like Christmas.” Technically, it’s a duet with Blake Shelton, if that’s the kind of thing you need to know before listening. I fell asleep on the couch the other night and woke up to a Gwen Stefani Christmas special playing on TV. This song was included among many others and I thought it was quite a bop. According to Wikipedia, it came out in 2017??? How have I never heard it before? I asked the Amazon Echo to play her whole album earlier and the whole thing was a lot of good fun. I wish the Christmas radio station would include some Gwen instead of playing “Do They Know It’s Christmas” multiple times a day.

Well, that’s all I have for you today, Internet! Happy Hanukkah slash final weekend before Christmas!

 

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We have not yet decorated our tree and this – plus a massive FAIL on an attempt to make matcha truffles– is making me hyperventilate a little bit. Of course there is also a MOUNTAIN of laundry to climb fold and there is cleaning to do in preparation for my parents’ arrival and I have not wrapped a single gift to go under the tree (I HAVE wrapped and sent gifts to all family members and wrapped gifts for various instructors and mail carriers etc. so I am justified in feeling that I have ALREADY done quite a lot of wrapping, with nothing to show for it!) and the chocolates are not made and there are cookies to bake. Pant! Pant!

At least I have finalized ALL of my present and stocking-stuffer purchases!

I am CHEERFUL, please understand that. I love this time of year, and our house (aside from the poor naked tree) is decorated and I have been playing Christmas music nonstop and I am really excited to see my parents and spend two weeks with Carla. But I am still hyperventilating. You understand.

And let us not forget that my family still requires food. Daily. So let’s talk about what I shall feed them.

Dinners for the Week of December 17 – December 25

What are you eating this week? Are your holiday plans under control?

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