Getting into the Christmas spirits

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You read that right.

If you are someone who loves the holidays, you’re probably enjoying these last few days in the run up to Christmas. If you are someone who just worked 30 hours over a weekend you’re thinking they are incredibly poorly timed.

The Christmas theme at my house this year is: The Who’s house after the Grinch ransacked it, only the Grinch never came back. There is no tree. No wreath. No wrapped gifts. A few sad holiday cards, sent by dear souls who haven’t fallen into the black hole of capitalist chaos, sit on a table in my empty living room. (That’s right. The Grinch even took the furniture.)

The reminders are everywhere that I am behind. My email is full of messages screaming “last chance” and “ends today.” Too which I respond, “Delete you.”

As I walk through the beautifully adorned downtown skyways on my way to work, the Muzak reminds me that Santa’s on his way. “You say that like it’s a good thing,” I mutter.

And when I enter the post office and see the “We appreciate your business” sign on the door, I think, “No. No, you do not. If you did there wouldn’t be 20 people holding large boxes in this line, and you would not be chatting up the person you’re serving with news of your grandkids.”

Today I’m taking a day off to see if I can actually make this holiday thing work out this year. (Which explains why I’m spending time blogging, right?) I have a list as long as my arm and will burn a tank of gas driving from here to there. As of 8:00 a.m., I had already hit the “who are you kidding” stage of my day, and mentally removed a few items.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like another memorable year where I served spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas dinner. (Tip to readers: if you have to decide at the last minute between going to the liquor store before it closes and going to the grocery store before it closes, choose the liquor store. I guarantee your guests will not notice what you serve them for dinner.)

But I must away. The malls await me. I go armed with 60% off coupons for this and that. (It seems the only people more desperate than me this time of year are the retailers.)

Wish me luck.

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A Monday morning

smallkindnessWhen your daughter borrows your expensive earrings without asking, and your hair is a wavy mess, and you get a project dumped on you before you’ve even left the house, and one son almost misses the bus, and the other son generates an email from school for being habitually late to science class, and your parking ramp is full so you have to walk an extra three blocks with something in your shoe, and you can’t find your security badge, and you realize you’ve forgotten to plug in the slow-cooker so dinner is not underway as planned…

And then your dad sends you a note about how much he enjoyed your last blog post and how talented you are and how proud he is.

And all things in the universe around you breathe a collective sigh of relief and the day settles back into place.

Small kindnesses matter.

A different sort of writer’s block

happy holidaysI have not yet written my Christmas letter. “Not a problem,” you say, since most people would rather have their teeth cleaned than read about the fabulous things other families have done throughout the year. But that’s not the case with mine. Mine has an audience.

You see, years ago, underneath a cloud of holiday doom, I wrote what can only be called a sarcastic Christmas letter. It hadn’t been a good year, and I wasn’t feeling festive. The letter was, more or less, a satire. But it was funny in a sad sort of way.

I took a risk and put it in the mail. And got rave reviews.

Unfortunately, that meant the pressure was on to produce, year after year, content that was funny, seasonal, and newsy. I think this is year eight now, and I’m running out of material for stories like those in the past, stories with headlines like:

Slaughter at Little Big Horn Brings Family Closer

Two Out of Three Kids Master the Ski Lift

Family Finishes Siding the House After Only Six Years

As the holiday approaches, I start to get inquiries from friends and family – “When will I get your letter?” and “Have you finished your letter yet?”

Once again, the pressure is on to produce. I have about a week if I expect to get it out before Christmas. I must get my funny on. Funny, for me, has a season.

This is a Daily Post Ready, Set, Done piece – 10 minutes of free-writing, no edits.

Nope, I didn’t finish

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResI wrote only 11,000 of my targeted 50,000 words. I didn’t even blog that much. Here’s what I did instead…

  • Voted, even though it was an off-year election.
  • Took four teenagers to the funeral of one of their classmates to offer my love, support, and guidance. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
  • Wrote a post on teen suicide that went viral. It was surprising, and it was humbling because it introduced me to the powerful stories of some who are much closer to this issue than I.
  • Drove the carpool a dozen times.
  • Shoveled the first snow of the season. And the second snow of the season.
  • Cheered my daughter at her first dance team meet, and watched an honorary daughter, who I’ve known since she was a brand new baby, in a high school play.
  • Learned how to sequin a dance costume, a task at which I am marginally skilled. (I paid someone to do the second one.)
  • Watched a doe and her fawn on their daily trek through the yard.
  • Counseled my son on the proper use of social media. And then “counseled” him again two weeks later.
  • Discovered where the mice are entering the basement.
  • Cooked a Thanksgiving feast for just my family of five and let the kids eat in their pajamas which, as it turns out, is their favorite Thanksgiving “tradition”.
  • Retired a favorite pair of yoga pants.
  • Took my oldest and my youngest to a performance of the opera. An appreciation for opera happens to be one of the few things they have in common.
  • Helped my daughter address a knotty scheduling problem, and then let her cry it out  for 15 minutes afterwards, sitting in the car in an unheated garage.
  • Repainted the hearth. It has needed a new coat of paint for twenty years.

So no, I did not write 50,000 words. Are these excuses? Not really – just a partial accounting of my time so I can see where I go from here. Perhaps I’m not an author, but I’d like to think I’m slightly closer to a life well-lived.

And congrats to those who did hit the target, in particular to Cristina at Filling My Prayer Closet and Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom. As we opera goers say, “Brava”!

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

ImageNo, we’re not Canadian. And it’s no longer Canadian Thanksgiving. But we’re celebrating anyway.

My family and childhood friends gather each October over a conveniently-timed school holiday to feast on turkey and all the trimmings. It’s a time-shift extraordinaire, designed to bring family together who would otherwise:

  • Be at home celebrating with the other side of the family.
  • Be stuck halfway to their destination in a freak, Thanksgiving week snow storm.
  • Spend 2-1/2 days traveling through a succession of airports for a 2-1/2 hour meal.
  • Head to Florida for the winter to escape all of the above.

It’s a great system, really. There is no pressure from the upcoming Holiday Shopping, er, Christmas season. No one is heading out, bellies bloated to get in their favorite 4 a.m. Black Friday line. And sometimes, the weather is so nice we’ve eaten outside. I can tell you, that does not happen around here in November.

If I could get others to cooperate, I would probably shift some other holidays around, too. Here’s what I’d do:

Celebrate the 4th of July in October. You can hold the fireworks at 8:00 p.m. and there are no mosquitoes to contend with.

Have Christmas coincide with Labor Day so I could do my Christmas shopping and my back-to-school shopping at the same time.

Always have obscure, national holidays fall on Mondays so we could have an embarrassment of three-day weekends. Oh, wait – we already do that.

That last one might seem obvious to some, but when you are a freelance writer, you are what’s called deadline-driven, that is to say, the weekdays and weekends often run into each other leading to the classic freelancer’s no-day weekend.

What about you? Have a holiday you’d like to shift? When would you hold it, and what is it called?

A day of housework and productivity: a non-sequitur

IMG_0240At least for me. In my world, housework is like traveling to a destination I never reach.

With the nice, fall weather we’ve been having, I threw my energy into some large outdoor chores. A huge sense of accomplishment was achieved. (Yes, I realize that is passive voice. I did it for effect.)

But when I ventured back indoors, I was shocked to discover that the house did not stay neat and tidy without me. The laundry room alone looked like it could qualify for superfund status. So I took a day “off” to get my house back in shape.

Which was a mistake. I can’t clean up my house in a day. Or even a week. Although in my work life I can focus on a puzzling problem, or stay on task for hours to meet a deadline, I cannot do this in my house. I am constantly distracted and wholly ineffective.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

  1. I start to tidy up the bedrooms and realize that it’s time to change the bedding.
  2. I strip the beds, and reason that since cold weather is on the way, I should take the opportunity to put on the heated mattress covers.
  3. While I’m swapping the mattress covers, I decide to vacuum the mattresses, which requires me to haul a vacuum up a flight of stairs.
  4. And, of course, I have to wash the mattress covers I removed which requires hauling them all down a flight of stairs.
  5. I figure as long as I am washing the mattress covers, I should wash the comforters.

And so on. I end up with room after room of bedding in varying degrees of cleanliness on every surface. And then it’s 3:00 and my children start to arrive from school. If my house isn’t picked up by the time those others get home, I can forget it.

Here’s another example:

  1. Halfway through cleaning the kitchen, I realize I don’t have anything planned for dinner.
  2. I glance in the refrigerator and notice there are several items that are, ahem, a little past the due date.
  3. I clear the refrigerator of less-desirable items which makes it evident I need to wipe the shelves.
  4. I wipe the shelves, restow everything, and realize there is nothing in the refrigerator suitable for dinner.
  5. I check the freezer and notice there are several items that I can no longer identify.
  6. I clear the freezer, which makes it evident there is nothing in there for dinner either.
  7. I go to the store.

And really, I never get my kitchen tidied up. Ever. There is too much stuff that goes on in there, like homework and eating, also sometimes cooking.

Clearly, this is not where my skill lies. My ability to see beyond the problem at hand, to follow a thread and see where it takes me, helps me in my professional life. But it’s not worth a moldy kidney bean the rest of the time.

Who knew work could be such a refuge.

Why my husband should read my blog

IMG_0349Never one to pass up an opportunity, I’m using a situation that occurred yesterday to get a little familial love. Not that kind of familial love! Seriously. I mean spousal support and validation.

It seems my husband’s phone lit up yesterday after I published my post about cleaning out the garage. He asked me what I’d written when he returned home.

Asked me, because he doesn’t read my blog. He subscribes by email, but he doesn’t read past the blurb.

“It’s too much trouble to log in and everything,” he said.

“Click,” I responded. “All you have to do is click.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and let me say, I’m really flattered that so many of his friends are readers. But he should be reading it, too, if for no other reason than to know why the rolling pin is coming at him when he walks in the door.

So I’m giving him one more chance to see what I’ve disclosed to countless others. Here, in one easy list, are all the recent blog posts in which he figures prominently, so he will know that his friends know:

So there you are, dearest. Now you can catch up. All you have to do is click. See you tonight.

It’s time to clean the garage

IMG_0660My husband and I have a definite difference of opinion. I am a purger who assumes that at least half of what we own at any given time (if not more) is dispensable. He saves scrap wood.

And other stuff. And not in an organized fashion. His is the work bench so disastrous that when he needs a nail it is easier to go buy a new box of nails than search for one the right size.

I routinely go through closets, drawers and storage areas. I throw out the kids’ artwork. Pass on books that I loved and could probably reread. Discard family heirlooms. He keeps the user’s guides from the technology training course held so long ago it is like the Model A of technology.

All this, in the garage. Because I won’t let it in the house. Once something is deposited in the garage it would take an act of congress to get me to bring it back inside. And we all know how unlikely that is given the current state of Washington.

When my husband and I disagree about whether or not to keep something, it goes to the garage. To him, it’s convenient storage. To me, the garage is a staging area for the stuff we can someday discard, when the mood is right, when my husband is so sick of banging his car door into that box of junk that he is seized with a temporary urge to purge.

When he hits this point, all sentiment falls away from the man. He will discard boxes without looking into them first. He will throw out toys the kids are still using, practically removing them from their hands. I take full advantage of these liberating moments, when they arrive.

Today, a new twist. He called me to the garage to take a look at something he’d brought home. It was a motorcycle. Something he’s always wanted. And needs to park in the garage.

I am not a fan of motorcycles. They scare me. And they cost money. But when I saw it, I did not raise concerns about safety or expense. Instead, my first reaction was, “If you’re going to park that in the garage we will need to get rid of some stuff.”

“OK,” he said, amenably.

Yessssssss! Guess what I’m doing today…

This is a Blogging University Writing 101 post.

Remedial parenting 1: Effective discipline

If you’d like to know what we’ve learned about effective discipline in 15 years of parenting, it’s…well, it’s nothing. We’ve learned nothing.

When I made a decision last week to practice what I call Management by Walking Away, I neglected to inform my husband of my new stance. The natural result was that over the weekend, in response to the same behavior I was addressing, he decided to practice something I’ll call, for lack of a better term, Management by Arbitrary Pronouncement.

In other words, “I will mete out punishment for some unspecified behavior, without telling you how to correct it, and then leave town so your mother can enforce my strange, new rules.”

Do I sound a little disgruntled? I am. I’m guessing there is a significant amount of disgruntlement going around our castle.

My husband and I basically agree on the behavior we want, but we go about getting it in a completely different fashion. Because I’m the one who’s usually home my methods, effective or not, are at least familiar. His are like being deposited in a forest with only a book of matches and a tarp and being instructed to find your way home.

I can tell you how I react to this situation. I hack my way out. The kids sit down and fiddle with the tarp. And then ask me how to get home.

It’s going to make for a very long week. We can only hope that by the time our dear one returns from his trip, he will have forgotten what it was he was mad about. Based on past experience, I’m guessing that will occur about the time he arrives at the airport this morning.

If I woke up in a parallel universe

Because I have a million things to do, I’ve been daydreaming about what it would be like to wake up in a parallel universe, where everything was the same but not quite. Here’s what I hope it would look like:

  • All the clothes in my household would be clean, folded and put away.
  • Projects would never be put “on hold”.
  • Clients would pay on time. Some would even pay early just because.
  • There’d be no need for low-rise jeans.
  • Cats would clean their own litter boxes,
  • …and take themselves to the vet,
  • …and pay the vet.
  • I would not have real-time, online access to my kids’ grades.
  • No one would ever forget a musical instrument at home.
  • No one would ever forget a musical instrument at school,
  • …or on the bus. Or at the bus stop.
  • The motion detector light in the backyard would go on when I step outside,
  • …and would not go on every time the mouse who lives under the deck runs across it.
  • No one would ever, EVER ask, “What’s for dinner?”
  • Wine would not have so many calories.
  • Gray hair would be sexy.
  • Weather forecasters would not be so gleeful about reporting bad weather.
  • Black would be the new black.
  • We’d have a fabulous Mexican restaurant right down the street.

It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, but oh, what a different world it would be.