Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an abiding love for Gretchen Rubin. I’ve read all of her books, listen to her podcast every week, and I even attended a book luncheon last year where I got to meet her in person.
For the past six weeks, since we’ve all been hunkered down at home (and those of us who are lucky enough to be safe and healthy are just trying to stay sane) Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth have been hosting “Coping with COVID-19 Conversations” on Instagram Live every weekday (1pm PT/4pm ET). It’s usually happening about the time my husband and I are sitting down to lunch, so we prop my phone up on the napkin holder on our dining table and enjoy a lunchtime chat with Gretchen and Elizabeth!
The conversations vary depending on the day, but it usually has to do with topics that Gretchen is known for: improving habits, happiness hacks, creating outer order, and her four tendencies framework. Being able to look forward to these conversations has really helped my mood and also helped me keep a sense of routine in these strange times.
Since these daily chats have been going on for so long (30 and counting!) some repeat themes and buzzwords have developed! So my husband and I like to play a little game of verbal bingo as we look out for our favorite sayings and repeats. But today, we wondered why we had been keeping this nerdy fun to ourselves! Why not make something to share my love of Gretchen Rubin with the world? So, ladies and gentlemen, here it is:
A Very Un-Official “Happier with Gretchen Rubin”
“Coping with COVID-19” BINGO!
To play along, just download my bingo card PDF (there are 5 cards to choose from), print them out, and tune in to @gretchinrubin on Instagram Live at 1pm PT/4pm ET every weekday (with any exceptions or rescheduling noted here).
If you already love Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft, I hope this bingo increases your existing enjoyment. And if Gretchen and Elizabeth are new to you, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE TUNE IN IMMEDIATELY! I hope you love it as much as I do, and it brings you some joy during these challenging times.
Hey there! I’m no lifestyle expert, and I stumble as much as the next gal with keeping it all together, but I love to help people solve problems, and I love to share things I’ve learned. So, if you enjoy this kind of “how-to” and find it helpful, please let me know in the comments and I’ll keep them coming!
Thanksgiving is two weeks away! Are you ready? Are you not ready? Are you still focused on eating your way through the Halloween candy backlog and can’t really handle anything else right now, thanks very much?!
If you’re anything like me, it’s prime time for falling down the ol’ internet rabbit hole, gazing at perfect Thanksgiving meals and decorated tables on Pinterest, Instagram and wherever else they peddle those beautiful dreams of exquisite Thanksgivings you will never have.
BUT WAIT! There is another kind of amazing Thanksgiving you can have. It is a Thanksgiving where you are relatively calm and relatively prepared and can still add a little pizazz to the festivities in order to fully enjoy the holiday.
Let’s break Thanksgiving preparations down into three categories:
Now is not the time to start a full-house, top-to-bottom deep clean. Save that fantasy for January (when it will be equally unrealistic, but much less time sensitive). You have a finite amount of energy for the holidays, so conserve as much as you can! Just hit the hotspots, and don’t save it until the last minute before guests arrive and you are still in your sweats. Do it earlier than you think you need to. You can always go back for a quick touch-up.
Give the guest bathroom a good scrub and put out fresh towels and a scented candle or plug-in (this is my all-time favorite holiday scent!)
Purge the fridge of old stuff and give it a good wipe down before you do your food shopping
Clear off your kitchen counters
Sweep/mop/vacuum your floors
Seriously, don’t go on a manic cleaning binge. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You will wear yourself out. You will wake up on Thanksgiving morning with tight hamstrings and a bad attitude and you will have nowhere to hide. I might know this from experience.
Another thing experience has taught me is that the quickest way to a Turkey Day meltdown is trying to cook everything in one day. Don’t try to be the superhero that perfectly synchronizes five hot side dishes at different cooking temperatures. You will not succeed. Potatoes will be lukewarm and tempers will be hot.
If you feel like reheating is cheating, it is not (although, dang, that’s a catchy phrase). Reheating means you are being strategic and realistic. Why these qualities are applauded in the business world and frowned upon in the kitchen beats the hell outta me. Gordon Ramsay’s philosophy of avoiding “Chef Mike” at all costs may apply to restaurants, but restaurant patrons (unlike Thanksgiving guests) rarely wander into the kitchen obliquely offering help, asking for the Wifi password and telling the chef to “just relax and enjoy the day.”
I love/hate doing Thanksgiving grocery shopping. I start out strong and brave and feeling virtuous, and then about 20 minutes in I lose steam and things can go south pretty quickly. One thing that helps is to have a clear plan of attack. If you don’t already have a good system to keep track of your shopping lists, might I humbly suggest the Wunderlist app? You can change the order of items on your list, share the list with others, and check things off as you go with a very satisfying *ding.*
Make a simple schedule
Even though you will have trusty Chef Mike by your side on this most thankful of days, you’ll probably still need to plan out the timing for your oven, since certain dishes (like turkey and stuffing) don’t fare too well on your sous-chef’s glass turntable. But fear not, you shall have a plan, and you shall write it down! I made a printable to help! Here’s an example:
You can download the Thanksgiving Meal Plan blank template here. First, write in your specific dishes in the top of each column. Then, write in your time increments in the far left column, from when you’ll start cooking to when you’ll serve dinner. I used 30 minute increments in the above example, but you can use 15 minutes or 1 hour, whatever works for you. Finally, block out the times when you’ll be cooking or reheating each item.
Is it nerdy to have a spreadsheet for cooking Thanksgiving? Absolutely. Will it will make it much easier to keep track of what you’re cooking and when? Damn straight it will.
I love to stock up on inexpensive items that make my life simpler and tasks more pleasant. And there’s no better time than before the holidays! Here are some items you might want to stock up on:
A big stack of microfiber towels (good for the kitchen, the bathroom, and for cleaning up spills!)
For me, the best part of hosting Thanksgiving is thinking about fun decorations and festive little touches! Here are my favorites:
Instead of getting a big expensive flower centerpiece, get several inexpensive bunches of greenery filler from the supermarket and fill vases, glasses or mason jars with it and put them all over the house for an instant perk up. Greenery lasts much longer than flowers do, so you can prep them well in advance and enjoy them long after the guest are gone.
There are hundreds of sites with free fall and Thanksgiving printables on Pinterest, in lots of different styles. Just do a search!
If you want something a little fancier, or that doubles as a fun activity, there are lots of inexpensive printables you can buy for anywhere from $3-$10 and print yourself. Some of my favorites are from The House That Lars Built and Etsy.
To give your printables a more polished look, print them on cardstock instead of regular paper. If you can’t sneak a few pieces from your office copy room (I won’t tell!), you can buy it online or at an office supply store. I also like to put printables in small wood frames and group them together with the greenery. Add a few candles or tea lights and you’ve got simple, elegant decorations that feel substantial, without a bunch of fuss.
I would suggest steering clear of anything that contains the phrase “pumpkin spice” or “happy fall y’all.” They know what they did.
If your guests like to play games (other than the kind where they don’t RSVP and then show up with extra mouths to feed), you can put out some decks of playing cards, Uno, or the forever classic Yahtzee to play after your meal. Nothing steers familial tension and one-upmanship away from politics and religion and into more neutral territory than a game that involves literal score cards.
Let everyone DJ
To have a diverse music selection that everyone can contribute to, you can make a collaborative playlist on Spotify. Send the link to your friends and family in advance, and they can add the songs they want to hear, either before or on Thanksgiving. Then all you have to do is launch the Spotify app and hit play! If you want to avoid the commercials, you can sign up for their free three-month Spotify Premium trial and enjoy it for the whole holiday season before deciding if you want to keep it or cancel in February.
Share the WiFi
Speaking of apps, my last tip is to write your WiFi password down on a piece of paper and post it where everyone will congregate. It will be much appreciated and you can get on with other things, like remembering to take that weird plastic bag of gizzards out of the turkey carcass before you roast it. I mean, why do they keep putting that in there when they know that 99% of us forget to take it out??
Finally, Enjoy Yourself!
I hope some of these ideas might be helpful for planning a fun Thanksgiving with enough time and energy left over for you to truly enjoy the holiday. You deserve to have as much fun as your guests! Let me know how it goes, and if you have some other helpful tips, tell us about them in the comments!
I’m a sucker for a useful (or even just fun) personality test. If you enjoyed the Creative Type test I shared a while back, here are a few of my other favorites:
The Four Tendencies
This is a personality theory developed by one of my favorite authors and podcasters, Gretchen Rubin. It is a very broad framework, but can be really useful in helping you change your habits by working WITH your personality type instead of against it. From Rubin’s website:
We all face two kinds of expectations—outer expectations (meet work deadlines, answer a request from a friend) and inner expectations (keep a New Year’s resolution, start meditating). Our response to expectations determines our “Tendency”—that is, whether we fit into the category of Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.
Knowing our Tendency can help us set up situations in the ways that make it more likely that we’ll achieve our aims. We can make better decisions, meet deadlines, meet our promises to ourselves, suffer less stress, and engage more deeply with others.
With 16 possible types, this personality framework gets much more specific than a lot of others, and some people consider this typing to be the most informative, detailed and the most fun. It’s definitely my favorite quiz, and there is so much information to find out there once you know your specific type. (I’m an INFJ!)
The Enneagram has 9 types. I took a one-unit course on the personality framework when I was in college and it was the quiz that piqued my interest in personality tests as a whole. Because it appears to be based on archetypal personalities, it is easy to quickly learn about and be able to identify the types.
Many enneagram companies charge to take the quiz, but you can find a free test at 9types.com.
This is basically a coffee table book about the kooky history of personality tests, and includes just-for fun quizzes to take based on those old assessments, like ink blots, word association and even doodle completions.
The New Yorker sums it up well:
“Psychobook comprises an eclectic assortment of tests from the early twentieth century to the present, along with new artworks and whimsical questionnaires inspired by the originals. It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.”
There is also a companion website for the book that has some additional multimedia quizzes you might enjoy.
What do you think, would you take any of these quizzes? I’d love to hear some of your results in the comments!
If you haven’t read Tamara Shopsin’s book Arbitrary Stupid Goal (published in 2017), stop everything and get a copy immediately. It’s a memoir about growing up in 1970’s Greenwich Village, and her family’s diner/market, known affectionately as “The Store.”
The book is structured as a rapid-fire avalanche of vignettes, some several pages, some only a few sentences: remembrances, retellings and nostalgia all mixed together with a giant dose of humor, a realistic amount of sadness and several celebrity cameos.
Although the stories involving John Belushi (a regular at the diner who had his own key) are the most poignant and sometimes heartbreaking, one story involving Jeff Goldblum was the standout bite of delicious cake for me. Goldblum was in the diner with Shopsin’s parents and another employee when a well-dressed armed robber bursts in, herds them to the bathroom and tells them to empty their pockets…
“The thief takes fifteen dollars from my mom, forty off of Tommy, twenty off my dad, and hands Jeff back his ten, saying ‘you need this more than me.’”
Arbitrary Stupid Goal is the kind of book that marketers love to mention you can “dip in and out” of in bite-sized pieces, but it’s so good you’ll want to devour it in one sitting.
And if you’re hungry for more, make sure to check out the famous eleven page EPIC menu of the original Shopsin’s, and patriarch Kenny Shopsin’s tribute in the New Yorker after his death in 2018.
Today is the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It occurred at 8:54am PDT, to be exact! It’s the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, which begs to be marked in some special way, doesn’t it? You could:
Eat some strawberries! June’s full moon is known as the strawberry full moon, and in Sweden they would eat the first strawberries of the season to mark the first day of summer
Head to the beach, a lake or just your backyard or roof to watch the sunset! You can find sunset times for your location at the Farmer’s Almanac.
They feel like, “Oh, If I’m paying attention to something and no one else is talking about it, I guess it’s not important.” And the truth is totally the opposite. The things that you are noticing that other people are overlooking, those are the most important; those are the things that make you a person….the culture’s never gonna push that, you gotta push that yourself.
Sometimes the best way to add some simple luxury to your life is to buy a BUNCH of something inexpensive. It can be really visually pleasing and give you a feeling of abundance. Also: one breaks, gets lost or wears out? No problem, you’ve got 11 more! If you’re looking to get a big ‘ol bunch of something, here are a few of my favorites:
We’re all creative in our own way. And if you’re in the mood for a fun quiz (which I ALWAYS am), check out Adobe’s My Creative Type. It’s a beautiful, fun and interactive quiz that aims to identify your specific kind of creativity and also give you tips on which other creative types to partner with in order to maximize your efforts.
Here’s a bit of the description for my type, The DREAMER:
The world is a place of beauty and magic in the eyes of a DREAMER. Where others see facts and figures, you see symbols, metaphors, and hidden meanings.
You’re deeply emotional and intuitive, with a vivid imagination—the quintessential idealist and romantic. The inner world is always where you’ve felt most at home. You’re happy to roam your mental landscape of thoughts, emotions, and fantasies for hours on end.
You’re naturally drawn to express your inner world through literary pursuits, music, and the visual arts. Think of yourself as the “magical realist” of the creative types: like the literary masters of that genre, you naturally infuse your everyday life with the beauty and wonder of the imagination.
That feels pretty spot on to me! It’s always so gratifying to read something that so perfectly captures a part of your personality you’ve never been able to put into words yourself.
Maybe you’ve memorized all of the U.S. presidents since George Washington. Or you can instantly recognize any type of flower and remember it by name. Whatever the subject, being a “minor expert” can be really gratifying and a lot of fun.
What’s a minor expert?
I first heard of the term a few years ago on an episode of the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. As a minor expert, you don’t know everything about a subject, but you know more than the average person. And it seems that whenever you dig in deeper to any subject or pursuit that you’re interested in, you want to continue to learn more.
The key to identifying an area where you can be a minor expert is that you genuinely LIKE the subject and are curious about it. Otherwise, it’s just no fun. There should be no forcing yourself to learn about the Civil War if it bores you, or trying to learn about trendy whisky cocktails if you prefer gin. But if you follow your natural interests wherever they lead, you really can’t go wrong.
A trick to help you on your way
One trick I’ve found to easily absorb chunks of information associated with minor expertise is to keep the information out in plain sight, where you can interact with it on a daily basis. It’s a trick that teachers use all the time. My third grade teacher listed all of the helping verbs (there are 22, in case you’re even remotely interested) on a chalkboard and left it up all year. Every time I was bored or my mind wandered, I’d look over at that chalkboard and those verbs. Eventually, I could recite them from memory. And I still can! In high school, I’d stare at a banner that snaked around my math classroom with the first 20 or so digits of pi, and after a while, I could remember way more of that number than any mass communications major would EVER need to know.
Holy crap Jenna these are SUPER nerdy examples. Get it together. The point is, even random, not-so-interesting stuff sticks if you’re exposed to it enough.
If you prefer your inputs to be audio-based (and not as nerdy), you could replay a song or a podcast or a recitation of a poem. They key is repetition and familiarity. Personally, I’d like to learn how to tie some fancy knots, so I think I’ll dive into this website and print some photos to keep by my desk!
Whatever your topic, becoming a minor expert can help you meet new people, discover new interests and increase your confidence in your abilities. Because the goal of becoming a minor expert is not just the knowledge itself, but, as Gretchen Rubin asks, “where will it lead?”
Are you a minor expert in something, or do you want to be? I’d love to hear!