We are all looking for meaning, for something to set us on fire and keep us lit, bright and hot and immune to the wind.
This is why we look for love, why we fall in love, and why we run from it when it comes too close. We are all searching for that hair’s width of perfection, the breath between running away and running towards.
I have a memory of a warm place, many years ago, where for one moment I was walking towards my life, and my life was walking towards me. It couldn’t last, but in that sweet, brief moment I was perfection. I held myself still beneath the sun, an excruciating balance of wanting and receiving, until my legs gave out and my heart lost the beat.
Sometimes now, when I should be sleeping, and when the world feels flat, I unfold that memory and hold it to my face, hoping it still holds the scent of sweet heartache I can inhale, and dreading the day that I might breathe in nothing but the past, dry and powdered and unchangeable.
We all keep trying, for what else is there to do? Keep going. It is on the wind and it is waiting for you. And there are sweet memories to be made today.
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’ve taken a long break from the blog, partly because I second guess everything that I want to write. Is anyone interested in reading it? Hasn’t everything important already been said by someone else? I stop myself before I finish because I think it won’t be perfect.
I think this is a hurdle for a lot of people. And I think the only trick for this situation is to start again. And then again. And keep starting again as many times as it takes, which is…maybe forever?
But there is another consideration that I often forget.
Sure, I haven’t been posting anything. But I’ve had lots of ideas, written scraps and scribbles of future posts, taken in new experiences and information, and basically been marinating in the good stuff that eventually ends up here.
As the saying goes, to everything there is a season. Whether it’s the weather, the decades of a life, or, in my case, a personal creative endeavor.
Willard is well-known to historians of the early republic as a pioneering educator, the founder of what is now called the Emma Willard School, in Troy, New York. But she was also a versatile writer, publisher and, yes, mapmaker. She used every tool available to teach young readers (and especially young women) how to see history in creative new ways. If the available textbooks were tedious (and they were), she would write better ones. If they lacked illustrations, she would provide them. If maps would help, so be it: she would fill in that gap as well. She worked with engravers and printers to get it done. She was finding her way forward in a male-dominated world, with no map to guide her. So she made one herself.
And yes, while still in her twenties, she opened a school for girls in her own home, so that young women could get an education comparable to that of their own brothers. From the school website (which is still in operation some 200 years later!):
She pioneered girls’ education, taking it from focusing on “the charms of youth and beauty” to intellectually stimulating and rigorous courses in mathematics, geography, history, science, and philosophy.
My favorite of her illustrations is this this “‘map of time’ [used] to convey to students the interdependence and totality of human history”:
The sheer depth of information she presents in her illustrations is astounding…
There is nothing more satisfying and hopeful to me than someone striving for clarity and context and working hard to give it to those around her. And to help other women rise up with her along the way? What a lovely and inspiring life to lead.
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!
The book’s suggestion is that we can change the way we think about goodness in order to become better judges of people and create more goodness in ourselves, in others, and in our organizations. But even outside of the workplace, you can learn to become a better judge of the people around you, and also to assess the extent to which you are meeting your own expectations in these areas.
Tjan suggests asking yourself specific questions about someone (or reflecting on your own qualities) that relate to core values that combine to form this sense of goodness: namely truth, compassion and wholeness. Here are the questions:
Do you believe this person is self-aware? (truth)
Does this person feel authentic or obsequious? (truth)
What is the talk-to-listen ratio? (compassion)
Is this person an energy giver or taker? (compassion and wholeness)
Is this person likely to act or react to a task? (compassion)
How does this person treat someone (s)he doesn’t know? (compassion)
What is their spouse or partner like? (truth)
Is there an element of struggle in the person’s history? How does (s)he respond to setbacks? (compassion)
What has this person been reading? (wholeness)
Would you ever want to go on a long car ride with this person? (truth and compassion)
Is this person comfortable with idiosyncrasies? (wholeness)
Is the person multidimensional or multidisciplinary? (wholeness)
What do you think? How would you answer these questions about yourself, or about the people around you? Do you have a favorite question from the list? As a book lover, I’m always interested in what people are reading, so number 9 is high on my list, along with envisioning taking a long car ride with someone. But they all seem like great ways to dig deeper into someone’s personality.
Every once in a while, I come across a piece of writing that describes an aspect of everyday life SO PERFECTLY that it stops me in my tracks. It names an emotion, a pattern or a situation that I (like most people) have never really thought about head on. But it clicks so easily into the web of our human experience that once it’s been identified, we can’t imagine a time before we knew about it. Lots of examples come to mind (gaslighting being one of them).
Are you ready for a new one?
A few years ago, I happened upon a link to an article by a blogger named issendai, which described the phenomenon of the Sick System, and how both individuals and organizations alike create sick systems to keep people tied to them indefinitely:
So you want to keep your lover or your employee close. Bound to you, even. You have a few options. You could be the best lover they’ve ever had, kind, charming, thoughtful, competent, witty, and a tiger in bed. You could be the best workplace they’ve ever had, with challenging work, rewards for talent, initiative, and professional development, an excellent work/life balance, and good pay. But both of those options demand a lot from you. Besides, your lover (or employee) will stay only as long as she wants to under those systems, and you want to keep her even when she doesn’t want to stay. How do you pin her to your side, irrevocably, permanently, and perfectly legally?
You create a sick system.
The sick system has four basic rules:
Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think. Thinking is dangerous. If people can stop and think about their situation logically, they might realize how crazy things are.
Rule 2: Keep them tired. Exhaustion is the perfect defense against any good thinking that might slip through. Fixing the system requires change, and change requires effort, and effort requires energy that just isn’t there. No energy, and your lover’s dangerous epiphany is converted into nothing but a couple of boring fights.
This is also a corollary to keeping them too busy to think. Of course you can’t turn off anyone’s thought processes completely—but you can keep them too tired to do any original thinking. The decision center in the brain tires out just like a muscle, and when it’s exhausted, people start making certain predictable types of logic mistakes. Found a system based on those mistakes, and you’re golden.
Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved. Make them love you if you can, or if you’re a company, foster a company culture of extreme loyalty. Otherwise, tie their success to yours, so if you do well, they do well, and if you fail, they fail. If you’re working in an industry where failure isn’t a possibility (the government, utilities), establish a status system where workers do better or worse based on seniority. (This also works in bad relationships if you’re polyamorous.)
Also note that if you set up a system in which personal loyalty and devotion are proof of your lover’s worthiness as a person, you can make people love you. Or at least think they love you. In fact, any combination of intermittent rewards plus too much exhaustion to consider other alternatives will induce people to think they love you, even if they hate you as well.
Rule 4: Reward intermittently. Intermittent gratification is the most addictive kind there is. If you know the lever will always produce a pellet, you’ll push it only as often as you need a pellet. If you know it never produces a pellet, you’ll stop pushing. But if the lever sometimes produces a pellet and sometimes doesn’t, you’ll keep pushing forever, even if you have more than enough pellets (because what if there’s a dry run and you have no pellets at all?). It’s the motivation behind gambling, collectible cards, most video games, the Internet itself, and relationships with crazy people.
Is any of this sounding familiar to you? Have you experienced this kind of system? You may think that you are savvy enough to avoid this kind of relationship in your personal life. But in professional settings, it is INCREDIBLY easy to get caught up in a sick system and not realize it for years, especially when it is tied to your livelihood. They are everywhere.
The article goes on to explain how sick systems are so simple to sustain for the people behind them, and the tactics they use:
Keep the crises rolling. Incompetence is a great way to do this: If the office system routinely works badly or the controlling partner routinely makes major mistakes, you’re guaranteed ongoing crises. Poor money management works well, too. So does being in an industry where the clients are guaranteed to be volatile and flaky, or preferring friends who are themselves in perpetual crisis. You can also institutionalize regular crises: Workers in the Sea Org, the elite wing of Scientology, must exceed the previous week’s production every single week or face serious penalties. Because this is impossible, it guarantees regular crises as the deadline approaches.
Regular crises perform two functions: They keep people too busy to think, and they provide intermittent reinforcement. After all, sometimes you win—and when you’ve mostly lost, a taste of success is addictive.
But why wouldn’t people eventually realize that the crises are a permanent state of affairs? Because you’ve explained them away with an explanation that gives them hope.
Things will be better when... I get a new job. I’m mean to you now because I’m so stressed, but I’m sure that will go away when I’m not working at this awful place.
The production schedule is crazy because the client is nuts. We just need to get through this cycle, then we’ll have a new client, and they’ll be much better.
She has a bad temper because she just started with a new therapist. She’ll be better when she settles in.
Now, the first person isn’t actually looking for a job. (They’re too stressed to fill out applications.) The second industry always has another crazy client, because all the clients are crazy. (Or better yet, because the company is set up to destroy the workflow and make the client look crazy.) The third person has been with her “new” therapist for a year. (But not for three years! Or five!) But the explanation sounds plausible, and every now and then the person has a good day or a production cycle goes smoothly. Intermittent reinforcement + hope = “Someday it will always be like this.” Perpetual crises mean the person is too tired to notice that it has never been like this for long.
This is where I’m supposed to follow up with What to Do to Fix the World, but the answer is: nothing. You can’t fix a sick system from within unless you have power, and you can’t fix a sick system from outside, period. You can’t compel people to leave. You can convince them to leave, but the moment that convinces them is individual, like enlightenment striking a monk because his master made a joke about a spade. And when a stuck person chooses to leave, it will be long, long, long after they should have gotten out.
So instead I offer you a list:
Qualities That Keep You in a Sick System
A strong work ethic
A need to be useful to others
You don’t need to lose these qualities to get out. But if you’re stuck and trying to figure out what’s keeping you in, remember that people rarely get stuck because of their vices. They’re usually caught by their virtues.
That last part always hits me like a ton of bricks, how about you? And what lessons can we take from all of this? For me, the most important lessons are the simplest (but often the hardest to master):
Stores like Michaels, Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond will send out great coupons if you’re on their email list. But they’ll also clog up your inbox with an annoyingly large number of promo emails (sometimes up to 5 a day!). And unless you’re fully in the throes of blank notebook syndrome, no one needs that many trips to Michaels.
If you want to keep getting store coupons but don’t want to see the emails, here’s a handy hack for Gmail:
Log in to Gmail from a computer (you can’t do this on your phone or tablet)
Find an email from the store in your inbox and check the checkbox to the left of it.
Click the Moreicon at the top of your inbox
Select Filter messages like these.
Confirm the email address appears in the “From” section, then click Create filter
Check Skip the Inbox and Mark as read as your actions
Click Create filter
Now, whenever an email from that store comes in, Gmail will automatically archive it and you’ll never see it in your inbox. The next time you head to that store (perhaps to buy supplies for your Saturday tub?) just open your email on your phone and search for the store name. You’ll be able to see all the emails that have been archived and use that snazzy 40% off coupon like a boss.
Some stores might send emails from more than one address, so you might need to set up a few filters over time, but it’s so worth the effort. If you try it, let me know how it goes. And Happy Couponing!
I’ve bought enough fancy notebooks and journals in my life to outfit a small stationery store. And most of them stay empty. It seems like the nicer the notebook, the more preciously you treat what you should write in it (which is basically…nothing). And I’m not the only one…
Today I was sorting through a bunch of papers and things that I’d written in the past few years, and I realized the ONLY notebooks I write regularly in are…
Composition books are really the best kind of notebook. They’re cheap. Really cheap. They travel well. You can buy them at any grocery store. They’re not pretty, which is a good thing. You can write anything in them: good writing, bad writing, terrible writing, sketches of ponies….it doesn’t matter. YOU JUST GET IT ON THE PAGE. It’s the first step. And a cheap-ass composition notebook gets you there with a lot less fuss.
Do you suffer from the blank notebook syndrome too? Try picking up a STACK of these bad boys for the price of one of those fancy little numbers with the leather cover they sell at Barnes & Noble. Let me know how it goes!
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.