Low Expectations Holiday Gathering

‘Tis the time of the year for my annual celebration of hosting mediocrity.

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The invitations went out. By email. With no reminder two days before.

This is your casual, heartfelt, and festive but unadorned invitation
to our annual Low Expectations Holiday Party. Come to our house for a
minor-key gathering of joy, adoration, and minimal preparation as we
begin the seasons of Too Much to Do and Too Little Time.

Cheer with us an ambivalent welcome to Hanukkah, Winter Solstice,
Christmas, Kwanzaa, and any other cultural eating and drinking holiday you
embrace.

With music!

Come as you are, with your favorite minimal-prep-time food or drink.
We will be here, without any promises to clean or decorate, but with
warm exclamations of how much we cherish you in our lives.

Guaranteed to be unassuming, but not underwhelming.

RSVP so we know how big a pot of apple cider we need to leave
simmering until you get here.

The day before the party I bought some cheese. I’m not gonna lie: it was good cheese. The kids were fighting and I offered threats and bribes in equal measure so I could select a triple-cream brie, petite basque, herbed goat cheese, and salty mountain gruyere. Later I ate the gruyere and had to serve a cheddar/parmesan blend.

I cleaned the bathroom. Then went for a run.

A few minutes before the party was supposed to begin I surveyed the Martha Stewart scene I had created.

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Microwave covered in crap: check.

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Mantle undusted and still home to a Lego piece, Pokemon card, and related detritus I have no home for: got it.

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Decorative gourds still on the porch two holidays too late: handled.

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Wax-covered menorah ready for next week and almost hiding random Halloween gift bag I’m too lazy too move: check.

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Lots of crap shoved in a closet: nailed it.

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Bag nobody uses and box of important projects crammed under antique seating: perfect.

I knew then that we were ready to underwhelm.

I think we exceeded expectations, actually. Hard to disappoint when you promise fair to middling.

I’ll admit it: I moved the candy corn bag off the table. Because good cheese deserves better than that. But I didn’t move the cat toy.

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Or the spider ring and backpack tableau. Yes, seriously. So little effort required and so little given.

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White Christmas

I hope you all had a blissful Christmas. I hope everyone had running water, electricity, good health, and family and friends either near or close, depending on what works best. I hope everyone ate, gave generously, and felt blessed.

I had all of that. But there is one itsy bitsy teeny tiny thing I still wish I had.

Some dream of a white Christmas. I’m dreaming of a friendly neighbor who clears snow, silently, in the middle of the night.

Because over four days, we shoveled *all* of this. Five feet of snow in four days.

from the house to the driveway

from the house to the driveway

from the street to the cars

from the street to the cars

All I want for Christmas, in addition to the glorious list of things above, is some BioFreeze for my back.

Wishing you and yours and all the people we don’t even know a beautiful, glorious, peaceful, safe, healthy Christmas!

Twas the Night Before Solstice

We generally celebrate the winter solstice in a few ways, but I’m looking for ideas to add to our list.

On the shortest day of the year, December 21, we try to focus our celebration on food and on light.

We try to wake before dawn and walk the neighborhood with flashlights to greet the faraway sun. We also do this after dinner so we can help the sun get stronger for the next day. Every bit of light helps the sun get the idea of coming closer, bigger, and warmer, right?

During the day of the solstice we make and hang pine cone feeders for the birds and squirrels (shortest day means less time for them to find food). We bring food and toys to the animals at the local shelter. And we bake throughout the day and eat our warm goodies outside. A short, cold day means we need as much vitamin D as the sun can dole out.

And because Spouse and I agree we want to spread the gifts as much as we can through December, we exchange a few gifts on Winter Solstice. The small stuff comes during Hanukkah, other small stuff in Christmas stockings. Our real gift, if there is one, comes on Solstice.

So that’s it. Walk with lights, give animals food, bake, and exchange gifts.

Feels a bit anemic, though for a day that needs some extra warmth. Do you have something special for solstice (or Christmas Eve, for we’ll willing steal from that similarly “on the verge of” December holiday)? Anything you think we should add to our Solstice traditions?

Making people into Santas

I wrote two years ago about how Christmas is different in our house. We celebrate every December holiday we can think of: Hanukkah, Solstice, Nana’s birthday, Christmas…

And we try to temper the gift receiving with a lot of giving. When Peanut was almost two he focused on giving to animals at the shelter. When he was almost three he chose to give to the hungry and to animals at the shelter. At almost four we brought toiletries to the homeless, toys to shelter animals, and human toys for toy drives.

And this year he spent almost an hour with me at the Heifer International site, making people we love into Santas.

See, we’ve taught him that the myth of Santa is a story about a man who, a long time ago, gave a lot to people who need. (Yup, we’re the jerks whose kid told your kid that Santa is dead. Cuz he is, yo. His story of selflessness and charity is what’s important and if you’re still pretending that’s your business but I ain’t playing along.) We talk about how the pretend Santas around this time of year are roaming the scenes of capitalist excess to remind people to give to others. Our Solstice-tradition pine cone bird feeders give to animals who need food when it’s cold; and this year our gifts of animals and education to families all over the world make each of our loved ones feel that they can be part of the Santa myth of love, peace, and charity.

Because the more Peanut thinks Christmas is about giving, and the more he thinks about people who need, the better our holidays feel.

Happy Almost Nana’s Birthday, everyone!

Well, it seemed like a good idea…

Successful planning is biting me in the ass again.

I have to admit my terrible flaw (that’s right. just one.) I’m a hyperplanner. I used to begin assignments the day they were announced, drawing up a timeline that allowed for two serious mishaps and a twice-edited paper by the day before the deadline. And I would stick to the schedule. I acknowledge how gross that is, but also offer that it’s a wicked good skill for freelancing and writing in graduate school.

I plan holiday presents in October, because that’s when I think of them. I buy holiday items eleven months in advance because that’s when they’re on sale. (Did you just suggest I get Hannukah candles a month late? Shame on you for talking to everyone who has ever met me. It just takes a little perspective shift for parsimonious to be 11 months early, dammit. And surprised every year when I open the December-decorations box and find new things with the tags still on them.)

(Also? Bite me. The world at large and the people who care about such nonsense are lucky I even decorate. Waste of my dwindling goodwill and patience, decorating. I still wrap presents by putting them in recycled tissue paper and cramming them in a sort-of-the-right-sized bag. Not a gift bag. Just any not-plastic bag. Cuz I’m that classy. And lazy. And cheap.)

Anyway, this year Peanut started his present list a week after his March birthday. I have never, ever bought him something in a store on request. I always tell him we can put it on his gift list, and I type it into my phone’s memo field. (Spouse just showed me how inefficient I am because when Peanut asked for something last week, Spouse took a picture on his phone so all the info, including price, is right there. Um, wow. That’s wicked efficient. I bow to you, Mr. Pants’-Seat-Flyer Who Has Awesome Ideas on Cutting Corners.)

So in November, when family started asking for Peanut’s list, I had it ready. And I offered to buy the items locally for people to save on shipping and to support local family-owned stores. Many relatives agreed. Way cool. All desired gifts are present and accounted for way before I get nervous that the deadline approaches.

Small problem, though.

I now have to wrap more than a few presents. Spouse and I gave Peanut a small gift for each night of Hannukah, plus a big present for Solstice and one for Christmas. There is no Santa gift to wrap, thankfully. (In our family Santa picks up presents to give to charity but doesn’t deliver because we’re lucky and can give instead of receive from the pretend old bearded guy who is just a story so don’t ask how he gets in the house). But there are, like, a dozen other presents to wrap. I’m used to one a night and then reusing the paper for the next day. I think he’s gonna notice if they’re all in the same pink tissue paper I’ve been using since my birthday two years ago. (Thanks, Mom, for being one of those Martha Stewart wrappers who includes a whole ream of tissue in the gloriously sparkled and themed gift bag. The rose and fuscia paper has served the pinkphilic child through seven major holidays thus far. And counting. [the secret is no tape. Just surround the gift rather than really wrap it.]

But this year’s stash will task my supply. So I’m considering newspaper (dammit, I read online) and magazine pages (dammit, I forgot to steal some from the dentist) or actually buying wrapping paper.

Or just hiding gifts in the house, scavenger-hunt style. Now *that* would go over big with the grandparents.

Tis the season. In Berkeley.

Know why I love living in Berkeley? Because everyone this morning around town is wishing each other a Happy Winter Solstice.

It is, after all, the next holiday. And an obvious one, since children all over town are up well before dawn because the damned planet is conspiring to remind us how completely in control physics is and parents are not. I’m hoping the solstice is soon because I want my sunrise back to sometime before lunch. Channukah’s almost over. Christmas is almost a week away. Next up? Solstice. And around here, it is another excuse to be nice to each other. It’s not L.A. or Boston at the CheeseBoard, I can tell you that. It’s friendly happy time. You’d think all these secular humanists actually treated people with respect despite their blatant heathen lifestyle.

Happy Winter Solstice!