The Big Clean: Halfway Home

Yeah, halfway. Can you believe? I didn’t think I needed a room-by-room, play-by-play like I gave last year, so I opted out of it. I’m sure you’re all devastated.

The kitchen and both bathrooms are finished; today is my bedroom, and (if I’m making good time and feeling adventurous) Bear’s room (Bear’s room is officially scheduled for tomorrow, so if I don’t make it there today, no biggie; it’s basically a stretch goal, tbh). I count the two bathrooms as one because, honestly, both are very small, and one of them is technically a half-bath, so like — really, really small. But they are also the absolute least pleasant rooms to clean for obvious reasons, so knocking them both out in the same day and being done with it would likely have been the goal even if they were considerably larger.

The kitchen was the most time consuming room by far, because quarantine plus a whole lot of cabinets and drawers with not a whole lot of organization plus one person with an awful set of executive functioning skills equals absolute fucking chaos. The majority of clean time was cabinets, drawers, and the refrigerator (which, honestly, I don’t know that we’ve ever cleaned? And, hoo boy, was that patently obvious), but which was worth the effort, because damn if they don’t look amazing now. I legit keep opening the fridge just to admire it. It’s pathetic, maybe, but I will take my glimmers of joy where I can get them, and if you had seen the fridge in it’s before state, you too would be suitable impressed by its current state.

There are things, this time around, that I’m not doing; I’m not scrubbing down the walls, for one, and that’s probably the biggest change I’ve made. After last time (which was three years into living here) I realized there wasn’t such a significant change that it was was something that warranted being done every year, especially if we are consistent about dusting the walls as part of our weekly cleaning routine. Neither of us are smokers, we don’t burn a lot of things in the oven, etc. Aside from visible stains and marks (because we do have a kid, let’s be real), I didn’t touch the walls except to dust them. Let me tell you, it was a huge sanity-saver. I want to be thorough, but I also don’t want to waste my energy doing things that are unnecessary, especially this year, when my energy is so low in general. If I’m going to expend energy, I want to make it count. That energy can be put toward cleaning out my closet, or scrubbing the kitchen floor — something that actually needs to be done, and something I tend to shirk in the day-to-day.

Today is my bedroom, which is weirdly exciting. Since my wife started transitioning and collecting a shit ton of feminine accouterments — makeup and perfume and jewelry — but has not really thought about dedicated organization for them yet, this year’s Big Clean for our room includes a ton of organizing, cleaning out, and rearranging. I’m looking forward to finding permanent homes for her new possessions, and making them something integrated into our living space instead of just scattered across our bedside tables and bookcases.

Right now, I’m waiting on lunch to replenish my reserves, and then it’s back to work. I feel like once I get the house organized, the next thing on the roster is going to be doing a little shopping, since I’m determined to buy some new art for the house (since I’m incredibly dedicated to purchasing things that genuinely bring me joy this year) and I definitely need a new planner (since it looks like there will be an end to quarantine at least by mid-year (!!!) and even before that, I want to be able to organize my work stuff, home stuff, and personal projects in one place). And then it’s just… run down the year. I won’t be sad to see it go.

Hope you all are doing well, and finding a last burst of energy to set things in motion for a positive personal start to the new year.

Stay safe and sane. We’ll get there.

Happy One Year, Merry Christmas

I’ve stuck with this blog one year.

I’ve had this blog for, I think, going on four years at this point. It’s undergone so many changes because, much like my mother before me, I am literally never happy with anything for very long. I had a really hard time finding a genuine voice for this blog, where I could be candid but still sort of focused, where I focused on creativity and productivity, but could still feel comfortable sharing stories or anecdotes from my own life. I vowed at the start of 2020 that this would be the year I stuck with projects, this blog included, and not abandon them during the inevitable awkward, getting-on-your-feet stage.

I don’t think I’ve gotten the hang of this blogging thing down one hundred percent yet, but having stuck it out for a whole year, I feel like I’m getting closer. Hopefully in 2021 I will refine it even further.

But for now, let’s put that aside.

It’s Christmas Eve. A very different feeling Christmas Eve, but not without hope for the coming months. And not without excitement for tomorrow morning.

We’ve got games and movies and Zoom calls, and a boatload of snacks sent from friends, and delicious Chinese takeout and gifts to all look forward to tomorrow. I’ve got ten days off to clean and organize and recoup and return to the work grind refreshed.

Today is doing some picking up to keep from getting overwhelmed post-gift-opening, and then old school holiday vids (as in, all the shit I grew up with that my son had yet to see), and when my wife comes home she has a “family” gift for us, and then it’s just chilling and games until bed (my son has been learning how to play Boggle, and is… like, getting weirdly good at it for a six year old?)

I hope this year encourages you to forge new traditions and find innovative ways to celebrate with friends and family from afar. I hope you are as hopeful as I am for the upcoming year, and I hope you have enough on your plate to satisfy you without overwhelming you.

I hope you are staying safe.

Cheers, everyone.

PS: I run a Simu Liu thirst blog (um… yeah), and this was my last post before my holiday hiatus, and has been my most popular by far. Enjoy.

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is complicated; I don’t know that we, as Americans, celebrate any unproblematic holidays, given the mottled history of the country, but I also think that having a day devoted to reflection, gratitude, giving, and family (found or biological, both are valid) is important. We generally keep our celebration focused on those personal aspects — expressing gratitude, reflecting on our privelleges, and hopefully considering what we can do to help those who are not as fortunate as us — while acknowledging the complex and problematic origins of the holiday.

None of that I guess is especially relevant to the meat of this entry, but I guess as a personal blogger, I just kinda wanted to get my personal feelings on the holiday out in the open. Do with that as you wish! And if you have any good recommendations for books targeted towards 5 – 8 year olds that delve into the complex truth of the holiday, could y’all end them to me?

Anyway, because of the surge in COVID numbers and the corresponding surge in my own ambient anxiety, today was spent at home, getting some chores done (like, an hour and half of the three of us just tearing into Bear’s train wreck of a room), Zoom/Meet hopping, and taking phonecalls — between it all, we got to talk to/see my father-in-law and his wife, my brother-in-law, my sibling-in-law, my mom, my dad, my brother, and Kira’s mom. In the midst of it all, I decided, rather spur of the moment, that I was, in fact, going to cook a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner, despite there being, in practicality, only two of us (Bear eats… very little, both in terms of breadth and volume. Whatever I made, he likes wasn’t going to eat it).

So I foraged around, and managed to scrounge up two ham steaks, maple-butter sweet potatos, steamed baby carrots, potatos au gratin, and mac and cheese. While things were cooking, I happened upon a jar of Dole cling peaches in juice, and a couple of Pillsbury pie crusts, so I made a peach and vanilla tart for dessert. Nothing was groundbreaking, but everything turned out well, and we ended the day well-fed.

How many families didn’t? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately; how in my daily life I bitch and moan about work stress, but I still have the luxury of not only having a job, but having a job that granted me the flexibility to work from home, and on top of that, a job I enjoy. How I’ve been able to keep my job, my income, my home during this pandemic. How my quality of life, financially at least, has stayed the same. How we were able to keep our insurance, and how, while our insurance has not always covered everything, it has covered life-altering HRT for Kira and the consultations and bloodwork I needed for my diabetes scare.

I have so, so much to be grateful for, in spite of the pandemic.

My family, and friends; the chance to work on growing as an artist; a steady job and supportive coworkers; a livable wage; a home with functional heat, water, and electricity; clothes that fit; a spending budget; a wife and son who love me.

And even more things that the pandemic has taken away, or put on hold; how much will my appreciation deepen for those things now that I’ve lived life without them? How amazing will that first dinner at the winery be, post-COVID? How absolutely refreshing the smell of the ocean? How exciting the dimming lights before the curtains rising at the Opera House? How validating the first win when we have our Game Nights back? Hell, how ridiculously Zen the simple act of browsing the aisles at Target while sipping Starbucks?? And how fucking drunk am I going to get barhopping with my sister when this is all over??

Seriously. I have so much to be thankful for, and so much to look forward to.

I hope today was a relaxing day for you, however you celebrate, or whether you celebrate or not.

Stay safe and sane.


I also keep a gratitude journal, often for more mundane experiences or things, on Tumblr: @plum-blossoms. If you also keep a gratitude journal, I would be happy to follow or be followed by you.

Darkness and Light

It’s ten minutes to four as I start this entry, and it feels like 7 pm. It’s been getting gradually darker outside for the last 40 minutes, which has left the living room (where I’ve been camping most of the day) glowing cozily in the light of the tree.

Yes, we put up our Christmas tree. We have a five-year-old, and his year (and ours) has sucked. Its been my mantra for years, but I will stand by it most vehemently this year: let people have their silly, insignificant little joys. Let them have their frivolous fun. Just, for God’s sake, let them eek whatever enjoyment they can out of the fleeting moments of levity this year.

And for those who just can’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm for the holidays (or anything) right now, that’s also okay. This has been a clusterfuck of a year; it’s been rough, and traumatic, and depressing, and some people have been hit especially hard. We all cope in different ways. But that’s just it: we all cope in different ways. Putting up my tree and cranking Christmas carols is cathartic for me. Like, is there something to be said about the agressive pushing and commercialization of the holiday and it’s increasing encroachment on the calendar? Oh, absolutely. But maybe not this year, ok?**

This has long been my favorite part of the year, and even though this year is going to be a lot different, I still love the chill in the air, the lights and the music, finding gifts to make people smile, and having time at home with my family.

I’m not sure how that’s going to play out this year; for a long time, my state was at something like a .5% positivity rate, so we opened up our quarantine pod to my parents and brother (and the family they live with). Now with rates soaring again, even though their lifestyle has not changed (they are still exercising all the same precautions as they were at the start of the pandemic), I’ve become paranoid and nervous once more. There was never a plan for a big gathering, but I had considered stopping by to see them over the long weekend, to do a Hunt a Killer box or have a movie night. Now, I’m not sure about seeing them at all for the foreseeable future.

This is the first time, I think, since the start of the pandemic, that I have acutely felt like I’m going to be missing out on something important. My birthday hasn’t been a major event in years (my last “big” hurrah was my 30th, and even that was only about six people, and a fairly cozy upscale brewery experience), and our anniversary has traditionally been a quiet affair (an overnight babysitter, a really nice dinner out, and then home to cozy up and watch Netflix, because we are secretly 80 years old). The winter holidays have always been the consistent biggest celebration of the year since… huh. Since I was born, really.

My folks went all out on Christmas. I mean, gift tallies in the thousands of dollars, seeing every conceivable relative on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, prepping and eating massive amounts of food, bottles of wine and bear everywhere, heaps of homemade pastries, new frilly outfits, special breakfasts. Going to a Catholic school — as I did for sixteen years — meant that even the run-up to the holidays was festive. We had nativity plays, devoted Christmas prayer services, holiday gift exchanges, Christmas talents shows, movie days. The holiday was huge and immersive.

We… have pared it back. Quite a bit. We do the tree, and some crafts; we always visit Kira’s family on Christmas Eve and mine on Christmas Day. We watch holiday movies and play Christmas music, and I make a special breakfast Christmas morning. My parents still go all out, and Bear, as well as both Kira and I , are showered with more gifts than we know what to do with, but our at-home affair is more modest. Even so, it’s going to be quite a deviation to not be able to tour around and see the families this year.

I mean, I get it. I understand it.

It still sucks.

But. I’m hearing news of three viable vaccines; I’m hearing some of the early rounds could start being distributed next month. I’m hearing experts hopeful that this will be “over” by mid-year 2021. I feel like we still have a ways to go — and I don’t plan to abandon the mask in public anytime soon (or ever, honestly; I think it’s a great idea if you’re sick, or in huge crowds, or during cold/flu season), but it’s still nice to see the glimmer of a light at the end of a tunnel. It’s nice to think of this as something finite. I will sacrifice a face-to-face Christmas if it means full freedom to visit my parents, and play with my game Night crew, and have dinner at our favorite vineyard spot, and hold the babies my friends delivered in the midst of COVID, and be the Matron of Honor at my best friend’s wedding.

And hey, maybe we can have a Christmas in July.


**An addendum to the, “don’t be a dick about people celebrating the holidays early:”

While no one should be crapping on your happy-fun-times, where you are simply trying to find some joy in this dumpster fire of a year, neither should you be compounding other people’s troubles or hardships. While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Retail workers, who are some of the hardest working and least appreciated people on the planet in ordinary time, do not need to be dealing with a Christmas rush this year, and — sorry — have a right to be upset at masses of unruly crowds, this year more than ever. COVID is still happening, people; string up your lights, put up your tree, buy gifts online, send them to your loved ones, hunker down at home in front of the computer with a big mug of hot cocoa and have a fun Zoom Christmas (or go and see the select members of your quarantine pod). But stay out of stores. Stay away from crowds. Shop local when you can; shop independent makers; shop digitally.

Stay safe.

Merry Christmas

There’s some relief that the holiday is over, I’m not going to lie, but I also had a really wonderful Christmas.  I got to spend time with my family, my son absolutely loved everything he got, my family liked the presents I got them, and I am thrilled with the gifts I got this year.

My mother shopped off my wish list, which is a mixed blessing; she likes “surprising” her giftees, and feels like buying off the wish list is “less fun.”  I had to ask her, for whom is it “less fun?”  I adore surprises, don’t get me wrong, and to her credit, my mom is actually very good at getting me good surprises, but items are on my wish list because I want them.  And, especially since I had a kid, I am less and less likely to buy said items for myself, so getting them is — for me — pretty damn fun.  Also, the older we get and the less intimately privy she is to our interests, she literally begs us to send her wish lists and then complains about the contents (she was (mostly performatively, but somewhat genuinely) irritated with my husband because all of the items on his wish list were books).

I was actually kind of shocked that two of the items my mom got for me off my wish list were two non-binary pride shirts, making this the first time she’s ever acknowledged my affinity for that identity, which was really lovely (less heart-warmingly, but still pretty happily, I also got a The Good Place t-shirt that I am most definitely wearing all the time).  Misha Collins’s The Adventurous Eater’s Club, both the Good Omens TV Companion and Script Book (plus replicas of TV Crowley’s glasses!), and a set each of micron pens and new acrylics and brushes rounded out some of the highlights.  I’m going to do some line tests with the microns in my sketchbook tonight and start working on some art this weekend (after my cleaning project; expect updates about that later).

My son has over 2200 Legos now, and couldn’t be happier.  He’s also been gifted about a half dozen various building sets.  I think all the grandparents are pretty set on raising an engineer.

Oh, and to answer my own question from last time: Bear came in after a bad dream at 6:00 am, at which point I had been awake (and then sort of half dozing) since 4 am.  It was a surprisingly low-key day:  we didn’t actually get out of bed until 7:00, eating breakfast at 8:00, and opening gifts at 9.  We got to my parents’ house at 10 am, and he didn’t open gifts until 1:00 pm, with minimal complaint.  He was incredibly, incredibly patient today, despite being likewise incredibly excited.  I’m very proud of him.

Whether or not you celebrate the holiday, I hope you got some time to relax and spend doing something you love.

 

Christmas Eve

Now that, right there, is a throwback to an entirely embarrassing part of my life — my intense and extended involvement in the Clay Aiken fandom.  I will never apologize for loving Clay Aiken, because I still maintain that he has a beautiful voice, and even at the time of our fandom, we knew how insanely cookie-cutter and vanilla his songs were, so we were very self-aware about how ridiculous the fandom was, which was actually part of the fun of it.  Sadly, the fandom wound up becoming so incredibly toxic that I can’t help but admit to being a part of it with anything but an instinctive cringe.

That being said, this song brings back a lot of good memories.  When Clay did his Christmas tour in the early aughts, I was unable to go; I was still in college and didn’t have a job, and my family was pretty tight on money.  So my two best friends — one whom has since passed away, the other of whom has recently asked me to be her Maid of Honor — went to the concert and called me when he sang all my favorite songs, so that I could at least experience a little of it in real time with them.  It was incredibly sweet, and something I still think about.

Everything is wrapped and packed for the Christmas festivities.  It took longer than I would have liked this year, but we spent a lot of the two weeks leading up to Christmas unable to be in the house because Columbia Gas kept shutting our heat off because of water in the line.  They’ve been on our street literally every day for the week and a half, and the heat has gone off an additional four times since that first event, when we were without for between 38-44 hours and we all had to stay at my parents’.  Needless to say, that put a pause on anything holiday-related we could have hoped to accomplish in the house.

Knock on wood, we have heat now, and are looking forward to seeing friends,  hunkering down for the night, and seeing people in the morning.  I have to admit, Christmas doesn’t have that same aura of magic as it did as a kid, but there is still something that I love about Christmas Eve, especially now that I have my son.

Anyone want to place bets on what ungodly hour Bear will have us up at?

Holidays

My son is five (and if that didn’t happen in the blink of an eye), and this feels like the first real year we’re experiencing the whole “magic of Christmas” with him.  I think he got the general gist of Santa and gift-giving and what-not last year, at four, but his ability to articulate his excitement and the sheer up-shoot in the level of said excitement is just exponential.  Last year, it kind of felt like he was along for the ride; this year, he’s pulling the sleigh.

Which puts a little pressure on us, I guess.  I don’t know, I feel like we went a little buckwild this year, when generally we try to restrain ourselves from going overboard with gifting.  I, especially, grew up with intense financial anxiety which has not abated at all over time (if anything, it’s gotten worse), and I refuse to go into debt over trying to having The Biggest and Best Christmas.  Bear is never lacking, never without, and while I think Christmas is a nice chance to splurge, I refuse to let my own mental health suffer so I can out Just One More Present under the tree.

I think it’s another way in which I am trying so hard to very conscientiously not be like my mom, who (after the Santa charade was up), would spend days leading up to Christmas lamenting how lame our holiday was going to be and mentally brow-beating herself over her inability to do More, More, More.  And every year, the actual resultant display of gifts on Christmas morning was almost embarrassingly lavish; looking back on some of those childhood Christmases, I actually feel something bordering shame.  It was all just So Much.  And I appreciated the sentiment (still do), since my folks hustled hardcore around the holidays to give us the extras we often went without the remainder of the year.  But then they always felt the need to keep up that momentum, or worse, out do it year to year, and that just isn’t always feasible.  I’m not going to get myself in that situation.

Bear has woken up every morning since about the 18th asking if it’s Christmas yet, so he is quite excited for tomorrow, when I’ve promised him baking Christmas cookies, Christmas movies, a game of Qwirkle, making a holiday video message for Facebook, playing Christmas games online, and keeping at eye on the Santa Tracker.  We’ve got a holiday open house at a friend’s tomorrow night after my husband gets out of work, so hopefully Bear will be well and tuckered out by the time we leave the party.  We’ve been trying to set ground rules about when it’s ok to wake Mommy and Daddy up on Christmas morning, but given that he doesn’t have a clock it his room, the best we can do is, “not until you see the sun.”

He is deathly afraid that Christmas morning will be cloudy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about holiday traditions; we didn’t have a ton as a kid, but there were a few things that just elicited an almost Pavlovian response; like, as soon as we put on those heavy crushed velvet dresses, or as soon as the Animaniacs Christmas special came on, as soon as I could smell my mom’s hair spray and the sharp, ozone scent of the curling iron.  Just these little sensations and experiences that triggered a Christmas Nerve.  We each opened one present on Christmas Eve, snacked on antipasto, went to my Grandmother’s and my cousin Helena’s open house, and then all caught a few hours of fitful sleep before all waking up and congregating on the pullout couch in the living room to watch late night TV.

We haven’t developed anything consistent yet, but it also occurs to me that Bear’s holiday experiences are going to be fundamentally different as an only child than mine was, with two siblings two and three-and-half years younger than me.  There’s no one for him to have those late-night Christmas moments with, which are honestly the thing I look back on with the fondest and most vivid memories.  I’d like to come up with something, though, something that will say “It’s Christmas” for him the way those little rituals did for me.