Yearly Archives: 2017

We List You a Merry Christmas!

“Booze” is on my shopping list as a noun and on my task list as a verb.

Christmas is almost here!  I’m wrapping up at work today for a short vacation at my parents’ house out-of-state, and I’m laughing at the number of lists tucked into my little pink planner (which is like the control center for my life).

Here’s a list of my current lists:

  • My list of tasks to do at work before I leave today
  • My list of tasks to do at home before I leave town
  • My list of things to pack for my trip
  • My list of things to remember to bring back from my trip
  • My list of things I’ve received as gifts this year
  • My list of tasks to do in January – personal
  • My list of tasks to do in January – work

There were many other lists earlier this month, too, that I’ve already worked through:

  • My list of people for whom I’d like to buy gifts
  • My list of gift ideas for the people for whom I’d like to buy gifts
  • My various lists of things to buy, by category and/or by location (groceries, stocking stuffers, gifts, special treats)
  • My list of gifts to wrap
  • My various lists of errands and tasks
  • My wish list to share with others if they ask for gift ideas for me

Does your Christmas celebration happen via a bazillion lists, too?  Or am I crazy?

Merry Christmas!

— Angela

Little Lanterns


I’ve noticed a trend this year in Christmas décor: tiny three-dimensional scenes displayed inside glass lanterns and jars. They are so cute and charming.

Here is an example from Valerie Parr Hill at  This lantern is available in three styles–“Cottage,” “Church,” and “Santa”–and they light up. They’re very cute but also overpriced, I think:



Here is a nightlight/air freshener version from Bath and Body Works. It’s sold out online and I’m kicking myself for not ordering one.  It looks so cute:

Bath and Body Works

Here is something similar, too, from Chip and Joanna Gaines’s Hearth and Hand line at Target:


I decided to make my own version this year.  I have this IKEA lantern and I made a cozy scene with some mini bottlebrush trees, a barn ornament, some white tissue paper (for snow), and a string of lights behind.  Yay or nay?

My DIY lantern scene!

Did you DIY any decorations this year?  Have you noticed the little lantern trend?


The Busy Season

It snowed last night in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp!

A friend texted me an invite last week to play one of her favorite phone games. I felt really bad, but I had to text back and tell her that I simply don’t have the time to play it right now.  It’s Christmastime, and I’m already up to my ears in crafting, shopping, visiting, and gift-giving…in my own favorite phone games (ahem).

Whew. Managing these phone games during the holiday season is like having a second job.  I’m grinding like whoa in Happy Street, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and Tsum Tsum to take full advantage of all the limited-edition holiday content.

I have major FOMO.  I don’t want to miss the window of opportunity to get all the limited-time things, so I have to regularly visit all my virtual friends, collect and send gifts left and right, and carefully plan my virtual schedules and budgets to maximize my goodies. I also have to attend to a few similar things IRL, too: crafting, shopping, visiting, gift-giving…  😉

I’m making good progress. I’ve already gotten one of each limited-time Christmas décor item in ACPC; I’d like to get multiples of a few things.  My Happy Street Christmas tree is on level of 3 of 4 and I’ve remembered to open the Advent calendar every day. Tsum Tsum is driving me nuts with its snowflake game this year. You have to play so much–hundreds and hundreds of times–to finish the challenges.  It’s boring but I don’t want to miss the little pin/medal for completing the game.

Please tell me I’m not the only adult woman who is stressing over her phone games this month.  Please?


Tiny Christmas Treats

Illustration by Kanako Kuno.

There are the BIG Christmas efforts, of course (the tree, the meals, the events), but it’s fun to layer in tiny hints of Christmas in your life, too. Here are some ideas for little festive touches that are easy, inexpensive, and not too wasteful:

  1. Eat a candy cane. The taste and smell of peppermint reminds me of winter, Christmas, and my late grandmother, who always kept a well-stocked jar of hard candy in her den.
  2. Sprinkle cinnamon on your latte, oatmeal, or toast.
  3. Change the wallpaper on your phone, tablet, and computer screens to something festive.
  4. Hang some string lights on your desk at the office.
  5. Buy and load a seasonal Starbucks gift card to your app. Every time I open my app to pay, I see a cozy, wintry scene.
  6. Flag the Christmas chapters in your favorite books and display them in a basket for easy browsing.
  7. Do you have any Christmas (or Christmas-esque) jewelry? Find it, polish it, and wear it.
  8. Play a YouTube video of a crackling, popping fireplace on your smart TV.
  9. Gather and display pine cones.
  10. Use all of your “minty” or “piney” personal care items: lip balm, foot lotion, soap, shampoo, body wash, etc.
  11. Light and enjoy your candles. What are you saving them for?
  12. Wear your favorite perfume every day. Again, what are you saving it for? It’s a treat for you and for everyone you hug this season!
  13. Wear your coziest knit clothes. No thin, scratchy polyester allowed.
  14. Paint your nails a cheery red. Add sparkles.
  15. Feed the birds.
  16. Clean out your pantry and donate the good stuff to the food bank, or mail them a check.
  17. Take extra time with your makeup, grooming, and skincare. You’ll feel confident and ready for whatever the season will bring—unexpected guests, last-minute invitations and errands, etc.!
  18. Bundle up and take a walk in the brisk air. Enjoy your neighbors’ decorations.
  19. Use your very best things: china, silver, crystal, tablecloths, bath towels, etc.
  20. Turn off the TV.
  21. Buy and enjoy a special Christmas drink at home: apple cider, hot chocolate, flavored coffee or creamer, red wine, etc.
  22. Change your ring tone to something festive: church bells, harps, carols, etc.
  23. Choose a “signature” wrapping paper to use for all your gifts this year.
  24. Pull out your Scrabble game and use the tiles and holders to dot happy little words among your decorations, like family, gather, thankful, friends, merry, sparkle, twinkle, etc.
  25. Update your apps. Many games have free seasonal content, and many other apps will “decorate” their icons or interfaces for the season.

Yet Another Post about Advent Calendars

Illustration by Kanako Kuno.

It’s finally December 1st! It’s time to crack into my Advent calendars!

This year, I have *four* Advent calendars to enjoy. Whoo-hoo! It’s an embarrassment of riches.

I have:

A Literary Advent Calendar. I’m not very organized about this, but I did gather several of the books and passages I mentioned in this post. I’m enjoying reading bits and pieces as the mood strikes. I bought two new (used) books for my Christmas library: Volumes I and II of A Little House Christmas, which is a compilation of all the Christmas chapters in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, including several original illustrations by Garth Williams. They are precious books.

An Ol’ Skool Chocolate Advent Calendar. A sweet friend at work gave me a classic chocolate Advent calendar—the kind with a piece of chocolate hidden behind each punch-out door (like these). I’m keeping it on my desk to enjoy each day.

A “12 Days of Beauty” Advent Calendar. I love the many beauty Advent calendars for sale each year, but most are too costly for the value for me, as they often contain many items that I don’t think I would use or enjoy. I liked and bought this Target one because it was inexpensive and included a mix of products that I would actually use (more skincare products than hair stuff, for example). I do wish it had 25 gifts, though. I can’t decide whether to start it on December 11th as a countdown to the day I leave for my parents’ house for Christmas, or if I should start it on the 26th as a way to extend the fun of Christmas. In the meantime, I’m trying to forget what’s in it so I’m surprised each day.

The Happy Street Advent Calendar. The Happy Street developers released their annual Christmas update! You can collect daily items from an Advent calendar and more gifts on Christmas Day if you level up your Christmas tree. Many items repeat from year to year, but sometimes the developers throw in some new stuff for us veterans. I started playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, too, and I hope there are lots of virtual holiday goodies in that game as well.

Bonus: I also ordered a Danish-style Advent taper candle this year (a kalenderlys). I read about these in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. Families burn the candle a little bit each day as a way to mark time until the 25th.

Did you get or make an Advent calendar for yourself or your family this year? Tell me all about it!


November Memories, December Goals

My “autumnal tableau.” Also pictured: YouTube fireplace.

November was a quiet, thoughtful month for me. Autumn finally arrived to the mid-Atlantic region and I love driving among all the yellow, red, and orange leaves.

I’ve written down some November memories below.

The Good:

  • A family member’s surgery went well.
  • We hosted family and friends at our house for a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend.
  • Lots of reading and writing.
  • We went to our city’s annual Christmas parade.

The Bad:

  • The unexpected passing of a friend. He was the father to a beautiful, spunky little girl and I pray that she is showered with love and support.

The Ugly:

  • Prince Harry is off the market.
  • The Florida Gators football team continued to shock and disappoint. We got a new coach, though, after the abysmal season. Here’s to a fresh start!

For this December and Christmas, my mantra is Cozy, Classic, and Simple. I want to:

  • Catch up on household tasks after a leisurely Thanksgiving; put away autumn decorations.
  • Decorate for Christmas!
  • Book tickets for one or more holiday events: the Nutcracker ballet, a Christmas tea party, a tour of decorated houses in a local historic district, a Vienna Choir Boys concert, etc.
  • Bake and decorate tiny gingerbread houses.
  • Don’t fret re: Christmas gifts, food, etc. Make a decision and stick with it. Baby suits!
  • Host a local Christmas gathering.
  • Travel to my parents’ house for Christmas.

How was your November? What are your plans and goals for the busy, wonderful month of December?


Book Review: How to Be a Victorian

Cover of How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life. Written by historian Ruth Goodman. Image from

I recently finished reading How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman. I really enjoyed it. Goodman devotes a chapter to each major aspect of Victorian life and organizes the book by the time of day, beginning with morning grooming and dressing rituals and ending with evening activities such as bathing and sex.

Goodman provides a ton of great detail, including the results of her own personal experiments with Victorian life (trying period clothing, recipes, chores, etc.). She is careful, too, to compare the widely varying experiences of the wealthy, middle, and poor social classes, as well as the differences between those living in urban London and those in the countryside of England, Ireland, etc.

If you had lived in Victorian London, the odds were that you would be most likely poor, and most likely:

Cold. Coal was expensive and used sparingly, mostly for cooking. Plus, the early Victorians believed that illness was carried via bad odors/air, so homes, workplaces, and schools were left drafty and windows left cracked for ventilation where possible, even in the winter. It was so cold inside buildings that ink would regularly freeze in ink wells. People wore intricate, thick, layered clothing to combat the cold.

In the dark. Again, fuel was expensive. Most people went to bed early for warmth and to avoid burning fuel for light.

Dirty and smelly (in some ways). Victorians were very clean when water was accessible, with regular laundry schedules, daily sponge baths, etc. There were no sewers, however, and the outdoor privies (deep holes dug into the ground and surrounded with sheds) filled up quickly in the overcrowded cities. The poor could not pay to have the privies emptied regularly (a manual process that took place at night by specialized workers), so the overflow would seep into yards, streets, basements, houses, and natural waterways.

Exhausted. The middle and poor classes worked extremely hard, and 12 to 14 hour-days were not uncommon, even for children in the early years of Victoria’s reign. Housekeeping was physically difficult, too, and required hauling water and fuel, washing heavy clothes and linens by hand, copious amounts of sewing, etc.

Sick. Horrific overcrowding, poor sanitation, and poor nutrition made people especially vulnerable to the many (and deadly) infectious diseases of the time period, such as cholera.

Addicted. The popular, heavily advertised health “tonics” and “cures” of the day were made with opium, cocaine, alcohol, and other addictive ingredients. It was easy to become inadvertently addicted. I was sad to learn that many working mothers would dose their children with these tonics to keep them quiet and docile and avoid having to feed them during the busy day. Many of the opiates and other ingredients were appetite-suppressants, though, so the hungry babies wouldn’t eat even when milk and food were finally offered to them.

Malnourished. Fresh fruits and vegetables were difficult to find in the city, plus prevailing thought held that starchy foods such as potatoes and bread were better to eat (especially for children).

Hungry. Many people suffered insufficient caloric intake. The poorest of the poor often found themselves in charity-run workhouses and jail. Records show that some of these residents/inmates received only 80% of the calories they needed each day, so they were slowly starving to death.

Endangered. The jobs of the Victorian period were horrifically dangerous. You could be easily injured, maimed, or killed while working in factories, mines, railroads, etc. In addition, food, medicine, and other goods were not inspected or regulated in any way, and unscrupulous vendors would sell goods adulterated with chalk or brick dust (or worse) to stretch profits.

Crowded. The poorest London Victorians crammed into rundown tenement houses. If I remember correctly, Goodman reported that some houses had only 1 privy for every 80 people.

Of course, those in the middle and upper classes were more comfortable and healthy than the poor, but even they still suffered from illness, addiction, and malnutrition.

Ugh. It all sounds miserable.

I was particularly surprised to read that Goodman tried wearing corsets in her experiments and really liked them. If the corset wasn’t laced too tightly, Goodman found that it actually provided welcome back and torso support for the hard physical work of Victorian womanhood.

I was also struck by Goodman’s details regarding household laundry routines. Laundry was incredibly hard physical work and quite time-consuming. Goodman concludes that:

My own historical laundry experiences have led me to see the powered washing machine as one of the great bulwarks of women’s liberation, an invention that can sit alongside contraception and the vote in the direct impact it has had on changing women’s lives.

Wow. That’s a big, bold statement, but it makes perfect sense when you consider the tremendous labor of the many women who could not afford to send out their family’s clothes and linens to the commercial laundries.

The only thing I feel this book lacked was a chapter on religion/spirituality that could have touched on the elaborate Victorian funeral and mourning customs, etc. There are many other books on the subject, of course, but I would have liked to hear Goodman’s thoughtful take on it.

It was especially timely to read How to Be a Victorian over Thanksgiving week, because it reminded me of the hard work and sacrifices made by our ancestors to give us the more comfortable, healthy lives that we live today. Thank goodness for their fights for worker rights, consumer rights, voting rights, etc. Our lives would be much, much different without them.

— Angela

Happy Thanksgiving!

Illustration by Kanako Kuno.

Thanksgiving is only two days away! Huzzah! At my house, we’ve been planning and cleaning and shopping and making all the lists.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s the official kickoff to the whole holiday season. The fun and anticipation of Christmas is right around the corner, but the long Thanksgiving weekend is a chance to savor the last moments of Autumn among golden light, crisp leaves, and cheerful pumpkins.

My family’s Thanksgiving traditions are simple. My parents and siblings come to town and stay at our house for the long weekend. It’s fun to have the house full-to-bursting and everyone under one roof again. On Thanksgiving morning, we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and someone pops out to buy a newspaper. The paper is always thick with glossy holiday catalogs, which we like to peruse throughout the day.

We eat our big meal at lunchtime, buffet-style, and we invite local friends over, too. Each person has favorite family dishes that he or she is responsible for making: Will makes the turkey and his Nana Stella’s stuffing, my mom makes her famous pecan pies and my late grandmother’s cornbread dressing, my sister makes cranberry vodka, and I make mashed potatoes and bacon-grease green beans. After we eat, we spend the afternoon “visiting,” napping, grazing, drinking, and watching football.

I almost forgot to mention our most important family tradition: Before we begin to eat, everyone gathers in the living room and we take turns telling the group what we’re especially thankful for this year. There is always laughter and always tears. After that, my dad says the blessing—and then we feast!

I hope everyone has a happy, happy Thanksgiving!


Gird Your Loins

As good as gold. Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump.

Lately, it seems like every day the news breaks that another powerful person in Hollywood or the US government has allegedly exploited his position to abuse, harass, and/or attack one or more junior or less-powerful colleagues or citizens (e.g., Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, George H. W. Bush, etc.).

In the wake of these non-stop allegations, there’s a meme making the rounds on social media that almost made my heart stop. It shows a photo of Tom Hanks, with a news headline: “Another Woman Comes Forward to Accuse Tom Hanks of Being a Nice Guy.”

Did your heart skip a beat as you began to read that faux headline? Mine did, and my mind began to race: Noooo! Not Tom Hanks! Is there anyone good left in the world? Oh, wait. It’s a joke. Whew.

The meme reminded me, though, of the many times I’ve been disappointed when I learned more about many of my favorite authors, musical artists, etc. When you’ve repeatedly found solace or advice in someone’s books, songs, or rhetoric, it can sometimes be upsetting to learn that s/he is just as morally flawed as the rest of us (or more so?!). And yes, perhaps the artist or leader is wise and helpful because of those very flaws and the lessons s/he has learned from them…

But sometimes you just want a hero, you know? Someone steady and good and wise, someone to admire and aspire to. Someone with no violent skeletons in the closet, someone who hasn’t humiliated or exploited another, and someone who is solid gold, not silver plate. Or just someone without gross hypocrisy, you know? But maybe this is too high a standard.

For example, I recently read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as part of my literary Advent calendar. Dickens was a moral compass of Victorian England. His stories trumpeted the value of honesty, hard work, and charity, among other virtues.

So I was surprised to read, recently, that Dickens kept a mistress for decades (I can’t find the link now, of course, but just Google “Nelly Ternan” for some sources). After his wife bore him several children, family life began to bore Dickens, and he found diversion and companionship in a young actress 27 years his junior. The mistress was kept very secretly, because Dickens knew that his whole career would crumble if the news got out.


And you don’t have to dig deeply to find dirt on other favorite authors. Hemingway left his first wife, Hadley, just as his career began to take off, after she had stuck by him and supported him (emotionally, financially, and domestically) for many poverty-stricken years. Author Joyce Maynard relates a creepy, strange relationship with a much older J.D. Salinger in her memoir At Home in the World. There’s strong evidence that Fitzgerald stole from and suppressed the art of his wife, Zelda. It’s been reported that Faulkner once cruelly told his daughter that “No one remembers Shakespeare’s children.” (But I’ve never liked Faulkner. He seems like an ass. Didn’t Faulkner pretend to have a war wound? Or was that Hemingway?) These are just a few examples of the many shady things these authors have done in servitude to fame, success, and/or alcoholism.

So I try to tread carefully now when it comes to learning more about my heroes. I read a Tom Petty biography a few weeks ago, eager for more of Petty after his sudden death. Well, perhaps “read” is a strong word. I only skimmed the book quickly, because after the first few chapters I 1) became bored with the many dull business details of a long commercial music career, and 2) began to fear that I would learn something about Petty that might make me like him less.

I don’t recall any great personal or moral failings in the Petty biography, but maybe I just missed them in my haste and fear? He kicked a heroin addiction, but that’s a good thing in my book. The long details about contract negotiations and business meetings did threaten to take some of the magic out the music for me, however, so I flitted through them.

I just want to imagine Petty jamming out in a garage with his band, or writing poetry in a ragged spiral notebook while strumming a guitar, maybe with bare feet and his long, lank hair hanging in his face…not Petty arguing with bandmates or meeting with record executives. Yes, I want to know more about Tom Petty, which is why I read the book, but please spare me the gory details.

It’s not realistic or fair, but sometimes I just want magic, purity, and divinity.

So, a warning: When you scratch away the surface, be prepared for what you might find.

Have you ever found out something about a hero that disappointed you, or made you like them less?


A Literary Advent Calendar

Illustrated by Haddon Sundblom for the Coca-Cola Company.

I started reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. So far, Ol’ Scrooge has been visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Marley, and warned that he must change his selfish ways. I don’t believe I’ve ever read the actual story before; I’ve just seen a bazillion movie and cartoon renditions. The prose isn’t difficult to understand and it’s pretty spare for Victorian literature. The descriptions of the hauntings are surprisingly spooky and creepy. Dickens is always good for hopelessness and despair, I suppose.

Anyway, I cracked open A Christmas Carol because, as I mentioned in this post, I like the idea of organizing a literary Advent calendar for yourself or your family. It doesn’t have to be fancy: just a list of favorite Christmas- or winter-related passages to read for a few minutes every day in December leading up to the 25th. It would be fun to read your daily bit with your morning coffee or before you drift off to sleep.

It might seem early, but now is probably the best time to make your list and begin to gather your material from the library, your bookshelves, etc. I’ve included some ideas below. Some of these are novels or essay collections and some are individual stories, chapters, picture books, or poems. The longer books can be divided across multiple days, of course:

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (free Kindle book)
  • Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
  • The American Girl historical character Christmas books: A Surprise for Felicity/Kirsten/Addy/Samantha/Molly, etc.
  • The Christmas chapters in Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
  • The Christmas chapters in each Laura Ingalls Wilder book (Little House on the Prairie, The Long Winter, etc.). Here’s a handy compilation of many of the Christmas chapters.
  • “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen (text can be found online)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
  • The first few chapters of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (free Kindle book)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (did you see these stamps?!)
  • “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore (text can be found online)
  • The Bible (Book of Luke, etc. describing the birth of Jesus)

There are so many other Christmas books and stories, too, especially for kids. Almost every book/television/toy series has one or more Christmas books: Bernstein Bears, Little Critter, Pete the Cat, Llama Llama, Sesame Street, Richard Scarry, etc.

Would you consider creating your own literary Advent calendar? What passages would you include?