Fifteen Little Minutes: Like Magical Elves

Clump #274: Fifteen minutes of Christmas newsletter writing; day two of seven-day holiday power-prep.


‘Twas the night after declaring a Christmas challenge, and all through the house not a creature was clumping … yeah, I was feeling like a louse. Oh wow.  Tired, headachy, uninspired.  Right after declaring to the cyber-world my great intention of tackling the visions of to-do lists nipping at my head.

So I fell back on the old foolproof, laze-proof method of setting the darned timer for fifteen minutes and starting to move, in this case my fingers over the keyboard in service to the Christmas newsletter that we send out with our cards (traditionally my most procrastinated holiday chore). When the bell rings, stop.  Done.  Starting really is the hardest part.  I now have two solid family news paragraphs and the urge to finish at another time.  Priceless.


And now to settle my brain for a long winter nap.  To all a good night!

(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

How to Avoid Winter Depression and Exhaustion

Clump #256:  Wash and iron winter duvet and put away ironing board; day fourteen of National Blog Posting Month.


Look what happened overnight … I watched the movie White Christmas yesterday, and the Snow, SNow, SNOw, SNOW came down! No, this is not Pine Tree, Vermont, and no, my spirits did not lift at the sight.  In fact, I could have written: “lift mood” as today’s clump.  Bah.

Maybe I’m hitting a wall with the daily posting.  But one thing I did figure out was that connections between ironing and gift wrapping are many. Both are fairly mindless, thus the mindless-type movies I watch while doing them; both take up a lot of space in the house; and both seem endless … there’s always another and another item needing either pressing or wrapping coming up.  Because of this, I tend to keep the ironing board out way too long, and now the wrapping paper containers are becoming squatters in our family room.


Okay, I know a case can very well be made for weeding out these containers.  A clump for another day.  Today I just had to admit that, though getting a head start on Christmas wrapping seems like a good plan, the idea of these containers hanging around me for six weeks (what?–six weeks??) is kind of depressing.  Yes, Christmas wrap is depressing me.


Here’s why.  I read the article below in this week’s People magazine.  I’m a big reader of  tips, so, of course, “Amazing Holiday Tips” are right up my alley.  Molly Sims’s rule number 23 is: “Do all your shopping in one day.  Afterward you’re exhausted, but you’ve done it.”


The enormity of that one tip blew me away.  Granted, Molly must have personal assistants and, so far, one small son (she’s pregnant … I know everything about people with People).  But I began to think that maybe I operate under the assumption that holiday preparations have to be a long, drawn-out, exhausting ordeal.  I’m having a The Grinch Who Stole Christmas moment.  One day?? Onnne Daaay???  I’ve really got to recalibrate my expectations for the holiday and myself.  Wait, I think I’m ready for tip number 8, “Have a signature cocktail.” Yes, please.

True confession: the wrapping paper is still out.  The ironing board is put away.  I washed and pressed our winter duvet cover, and I’m sure you are sitting on the edge of your seat to hear about that!


The dark winter berries (?) are replacing the light seashore motif.  (Sighhhh.)


I think I need to get out into the sunlight a little bit more.


And, if I have such powers, find a movie called “World Peace,” and wake up to a world truly transformed.

Trivial But Weighty

I’ve been ruminating some more about why, with all my early planning of holiday tasks, I still felt like I was hit by a truck in the final stretch of Christmas. With most of my family and friends, I know my budget, find an item, and call it a gift.  But when it comes to shopping for my kids, there seems never to be an end to the list of potential gifts.  I know I’m responsible for drawing the line, but I feel like I’m never done.  Here’s a story to illustrate:


As mentioned earlier, one of the traditional stocking stuffers my kids can expect is a small box of Ticonderoga pencils.  Something about having plenty of pencils makes me, as a mother, happy and my kids, if not happy, then well-equipped.   There were only three boxes in the store when I was there to print the holiday newsletter — fine, because only three stockings would be hung by the fire with care this year (our two daughters and our youngest niece).   I was being very careful about not bulking up the bunch of presents to send overseas with my son’s friends, so I thought, “Okay, this year he won’t have the pencils.”  But I just couldn’t let it go.  “They’re not very large, or heavy,” I reasoned. “Does he even have a pencil sharpener there?”  “They’re only pencils, I’m sure they have them in Norway.”  “And the kids are probably humoring me by enjoying the gift.”  “But it’s our tradition, and he’s away from home for the first Christmas in his life.” “I’m such a basket case for obsessing about such a trivial thing!”  “Stop it!”  I finally made another trip to an office supply store to get the darn things, and a small, plastic sharpener, to boot.  (Not so “easy” after all.)

Here is a picture taken earlier this season, when the snow was fresh and fluffy.  I felt like the gremlin with way too much on my mind:


Christmas finally came and went, and the friends brought my son’s gifts to Norway.  The TSA  did force them to unwrap them (all my work!).  I received a very nice thank you email from our son, with the final sentence, “I was also maybe a little too excited about the pencil sharpener, since I’ve been going between increasingly dull pencils I collected.”

Ah, instinct won over reason, and all was well.  I will never be a Martha Stewart, with an iron-clad organizational plan.  But that’s A Good Thing for me.


Warmest wishes to you for ringing in the New Year with love and good cheer!

A Look Back At My Holiday Challenge

My older daughter offered the suggestion that I take a temporary break from my daily clump to reflect upon my holiday challenge.  It was the “No-Sweat November for a Stress-Free December: Operation Enjoy Christmas Challenge.”  (As my son pointed out, a title with the bombastic tone of a segment on The Colbert Report.)  

In short, challenging myself to start on the Christmas to-do list earlier than usual helped me a great deal.  But I was overly optimistic in my visions of a sugar-plum-laden December.  I imagined visiting Longwood Gardens (pictured below) for all their festive holiday events.  Didn’t happen once.  Plays, shows, The Nutcracker Ballet?  Nope.

I did manage a few small victories, which would have been unthinkable in previous years.  I hosted a holiday get together for the neighborhood ladies.  I snuck off to see It’s A Wonderful Life, in a theater, which was, indeed, wonderful.  I took advantage of “Cyber Monday” and got some good deals with free shipping.  I was finally able to order one gift that, for so many years, had eluded my grasp because I would always remember it too late: a plaque with a picture of my father-in-law and some inspiring words my husband wrote on the occasion of his death. For the first time ever (?) friends and family received our Christmas cards before Christmas.


I even had time to have a tee-shirt made for all our Christmas morning revelers.  It was a design we fell in love with this summer in Portland, Maine.  The tee-shirt maker, Ferdinand, made up the sizes I needed, just right for our musical gang.


But Christmas morning was, again, a time of bone-crushing exhaustion. In sad, cynical opposition to the heart-warming coda to How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the exhaustion came even with starting early … it came with wrapping presents in November … it came with getting the cards ordered and written before the 24th …

Yesterday my husband had me watch the season three finale of Louie, the dark comedy by the brilliant comedian, Louis C.K.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  It’s a surreal depiction of a parent’s quest to provide the perfect Christmas, and the dreamlike aftermath.


Here is a clip, the doll scene, in which he releases a sob that I experienced viscerally.


And now, just like Louie, all I want to do is sleep.

Light, Not Heat

Clump #124:  Fill window boxes; make sandwiches.

The following is a cautionary tale.  I’ve been thinking of my son quite a lot these days.  He’s in Norway for a year and, especially now with his sisters home, there’s an empty space where he should be.  Our Quaker Meeting’s annual candlelit Christmas music program was this evening, and he has always participated with the other members of our musical clan.  On the night of last year’s program, getting everyone out the door on time was a major challenge. The accumulated stress of the holidays combined with the “Where is everyone?!!“-frustration caused me to lose my temper. And then I thought I overheard our son say that I was “ruining Christmas.”

We somehow managed to get everyone into the car and to the program.  I waited until after the festivities to tell our son that his comment had really cut me to the core.  He told me that what he had actually said was, [about our lateness] “It’s not going to ruin Christmas.” Afterward, he wrote me a wonderful letter saying that he would never say such a thing; that I do so much for everyone at Christmas, etc.

However … between the time I misheard the comment and the nice resolution, I really had to admit to myself that a case could be made for my ruining Christmas.  Trying too hard for everything to be right can really backfire.

Here’s one thing that helps me let go: relying on a favorite recipe that I don’t even have to think about.  These sandwiches have become my go-to as a contribution for the reception after the music.  I used three packs of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, cut open.


This is half of them.  Slap mayo on one side, jellied cranberry sauce on the other. (I end up using the whole can.)


Add sliced turkey breast;  a pound and a quarter.  I’m a sandwich-making machine!


And then lettuce.  (shot through rose-colored glasses?)


Pop them together, and they look like this:


I was told they were good. By the time I came for some, they were gone.

I was able to stick evergreens in our window boxes earlier today. Yesterday the soil was still frozen.  I loved the name “Swag in a Bag,” from a local gardening club sale.  The gardening ladies trim their trees, I get some inexpensive house decorations, and the club gets a little money.  Win, win, win.


This is what one bag looked like with our little tree in the middle:


And with ribbon woven through the base, as the day darkened before 5:00:


But the good news is: we’re past the Winter Solstice!  Hooray!  Every day will be a little longer now.


And we can shed our own light, in the world and in our homes.

Gifting and Grinching

Clump #120: Assemble cards and packages.

I thought I’d be further along by now.  I tried to get much of my holiday preparations finished in November, so the fact that I’m still at it this late in December is discouraging.  One danger of starting early — but not finishing early — is that I’ve had holiday-to-do-list thoughts clouding my head for too long.  I’m hoping to get to the post office tomorrow.  I checked the USPS website, and it looks like Friday is the last day to send domestic mail, First Class, to arrive by the 24th, after which the level of priority and price go up.

I had bought these candles, below, at a holiday open house in November.  The lady who sold them to me said she bought them for everyone she knew last Christmas.  Something special that someone might not buy for themselves and can be used up, not adding too much to the gift recipient’s clutter.  The beeswax candles on the left made someone very happy today, which made me happy.  Getting to the good part!


One other holly-jolly happening was the arrival of my younger daughter, home from school.  We watched the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas together.  One of the all-time greats.

grinch stole christmas

And the perfect cure for creeping grinchiness.


We even watched the special features and learned that Dr. Seuss’s mother had wanted him to become a doctor, so when he chose a pen name he used Dr. and his mother’s maiden name, Seuss.  He was voted “Least Likely to Succeed” by his classmates, because, “How could he make a living doodling?”  There was some speculation that he was the Grinch; he lived in a house at the top of a tall hill and looked down at La Jolla, CA.


Christmas comes whether you are ready or not.  I still haven’t found a way to reconcile the true meaning of Christmas with the real-life crush of too much to do/buy/clean/bake/send …

“It came without ribbons.  It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags.  And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

–Dr. Seuss


Breaking Bad Mood

Clump #93:  Finish the writing part of Christmas cards.

I was talking to a good friend who reads this blog.  She said I was making her feel badly about her lack of progress on her holiday preparations, adding, “I feel like we’ve switched ourselves around.” Usually she is organized and ahead of the game, while I am chronically the opposite, in every way.  I really want to make clear that I am not sailing along smoothly.  I am still feeling pretty overwhelmed.  The motto of this challenge should be: “If I can do this, anyone can.”

Even the challenge of 30-days, 30-clumps, 30-posts has been a bit much lately.  Last night I could not stand to read one sentence I wrote. Delete, delete, delete.  Delete.  I don’t have the luxury of trying again tomorrow when nothing goes right.  Only while getting ready for bed, with disappointment still palpable, it dawned on me that I was trying to write words alongside the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous and powerful collections of sentences, ever.

I went out into the world today not being able to shake the bad vibe, but fortunately I had planned to visit my mom.  Everything was hurting my feelings.  “I want my Mommy!”  Whenever the conversation would get to a point where my mom would be justified in making a negative pronouncement, she would say, “Well, we’ll see how it all works out.” Her iron-clad positivity was the perfect antidote to my petty wounds.  We went outside for a bit and enjoyed the last tree there still holding onto its glorious leaves:


On the way home I stopped to photograph some goats.  A woman came out, and I asked permission to take a few pictures.


She said sure, and was very nice.  She even pointed out one goat who smiles:


She went back into the house, and I took a moment to capture a picture of some barn cats nearby.  Suddenly the door opened, and the (same?) woman was yelling that she was going to let her dogs out.  I said, “What?”  She replied, I don’t like anyone getting close to my barn.” “Oh, Sorry!”  And off I went.  Sicking the dogs on me?  I tried to explain her bipolar behavior by joking to myself that she must have a meth lab in the barn.

The goats seemed sad to see me go.


I know there are people fighting for their lives in the Philippines and elsewhere, and my little bumps and bruises are minuscule in comparison.  I’m trying to take a cue from the dear, dapper goose I pass every week.  Today’s outfit spoke of letting things roll off one’s shoulders.  Even with a coat of sturdy feathers, sometimes you need extra reinforcement.


Horse Sense

Clump #86:  Wrap more presents; make dining room reservations; reconnect with gift list.

Today I reminded myself how easy it is to get a few, or even a big clump of tasks done early for the holidays … and then fall into a false sense of security.  And then … AHH!  The days have dwindled down.  Emails, catalogs, and flyers are blaring the words “There’s Still Time To Order,” but what you had in mind will be more expensive with extra shipping charges, or is no longer in stock and back-ordered into the new year.  I might have to have this little talk with myself a few more times before the end of my 30-day, 30-clump, 30-post: Project Enjoy Christmas challenge is over.

I did get a few more gifts wrapped and written on The List, which was a good memory jog for other things I still need to do/buy.  Remember, remember!


One item on my to-do list that felt checked off was reserving space in a private dining room where my mom lives for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  I had called the woman — twice — who helped me out last year, but no answer. Was she afraid to tell me someone else had beat us to it? Yikes!  So today while visiting, I made a point of asking in person.  Turns out the woman I spoke with last year is no longer working there.  Finally, the job is done and a big weight is off my mind.

Visiting with my mom is such a delightful experience.  She is compromised in ways common to people her age, but she has the greatest attitude.  Her favorite thing to say, about anything, is “Wonderful, wonderful!”  I really hope I’ll be able to face old age with even half her grace and good cheer.

As usual, when driving through Lancaster County, I got onto a photo-taking binge.  Regular readers will recognize this goose in the town of Strasburg, PA, who has different outfits for every season.  She, let’s call her Lucy Goosey, had broken out her woolens.  Highly appropriate for the cold weather we’ve been experiencing.


No matter the weather, Amish farm wives hang out their laundry to dry:


I was taken by a lawn blanketed with fallen ginkgo leaves and a plastic snowman (upper left corner) holding forth.  To capture the photo, I had to pull into a street quite a distance away.  I was pleasantly surprised by a woman who stopped her car and asked whether I needed a ride.  “What wonderful people out here in the country,” I thought.  My rosy-eyed view of the locals quickly changed when a man (non-Amish) came out of the house next door to this one, shouting, “What’s going on?!” with a threatening tone.  I shouted back, “I was just taking a picture.”  He didn’t look satisfied, so I added, “The leaves are so pretty,”  to which he turned and retreated.  I thought, as I high-tailed it out of there, we say “taking,” not “making” a picture for a reason.  An element of trespass is part of the act.


My mom has a deep, longstanding love of horses.  When I got closer to home I couldn’t help snapping these photos with her in mind:


As I was walking away, I saw this leaf on the sidewalk making a horse-shaped shadow.


Wonderful, wonderful!

Food for Thought

Clump #80:  Wrap presents on hand.

My older sister and I have a long tradition of staying up until the wee hours of Christmas morning wrapping presents.  Hear ye, Hear ye: Let it be known that this year I started wrapping Christmas presents on November seventh.  Impossible, you say?  Well, here’s the proof:


On many Christmas Eves of yore, my sister has bailed me out.  One year I went a little haywire at garage sales, buying and stashing away so many bargains that I was shocked and overwhelmed at the volume when I finally put them all together.  I couldn’t have done the wrapping without her.

Then there was the year our younger daughter was testing the magic of Santa Claus by hiding a little rolled up paper on which she had written difficult questions only Santa would know. I think “How do you say Merry Christmas in Chinese?” was one.  That year my sister was in charge of research while I wrapped.

Last year we were both busy wrapping while the movie Auntie Mame played on TV, starring the incomparable Rosalind Russell.


I love Auntie Mame’s motto: “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Sometimes when coming up with gift ideas, my mind is like a hamster running round and round on its wheel, never making any progress.  In recent years I’ve often done this while thinking of gifts for our young nieces and nephews.  The older they get, the harder it becomes to hit on a gift they might really like.  Should I give similar gifts to both sisters?  Will one like the other one’s gift better?  Will their male cousin think it is too baby-ish?

I’m taking Auntie Mame’s advice on this now.  If I have fun and enjoyment picking out and wrapping the gift, that’s the most I can expect.  There are no guarantees, so why sweat it?  Life is too short to get wound up about such, ultimately, trivial things.


Rather than meager worries, I choose a banquet of abundant joy.

The Wild Side

Clump #77:  Order Christmas present.

In a recent post, I sent out an email plea to family members for gift ideas.  As of this minute, I’ve received three replies, with one very specific idea.  Instead of putting it off until, say, the item is sold out during the Christmas crush, I did something very different for me: I ordered it.  So there.  Done.  Take that!  I feel like a cowgirl, blowing off the smoke from her pistols and twirling them back into their holsters.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing and hearing so many tributes to the musician Lou Reed since his recent death.  It’s as if everyone wants to prove a connection to him to up their cool factor.  I’m no different, as I remember when Take a Walk on the Wild Side was playing on the radio, just singing with the song made me feel a little less geeky.  And I needed that badly!

I read that he said of the song, “I always thought it would be fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet.”


I was really moved by the letter his wife, performance artist, Laurie Anderson, made public, below.

“To our neighbors:

What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.

Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.

Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.

— Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend”