Christmas shopping stress: practical tips to help

It’s that time of year for many of us.

I’ve got my list (mostly). I’ve determined my budget (I think). And I’ve made plans to go out this weekend and hopefully finish my Christmas shopping. I want to be excited about the gifts I will give but something is holding me back. It’s the stress of finding the right thing with limited knowledge. The stress of how much will come out of my wallet while I don’t have work or income for 10+ days. It’s also the stress of trying to stay mindful of the environmental impact of the materials I buy. At some point, I experience an information overload. We can only deal with so much at one time. So, I’ve made a small list to help simplify my shopping process while staying true to my values. I’ve written this list as a how-to. It’s not exhaustive but if you experience some of what I have described you may find it helpful:

  • Reach out and ask the people who you are buying for what they want. Yes, it sounds obvious but it doesn’t always happen. This can help alleviate so much stress when done in time.
  • Create your list with what you know people want and some ideas of your own. This list is meant to be updated and changed. It’s also okay if it stays exactly the way you first wrote it.
  • When you are ready to shop, group your list by the stores/websites you want to visit. If you can knock out part of your list at one location it can save you extra trips, time, and stress.
  • Search for second-hand items when appropriate. Some gifts (like undergarments if you buy those) shouldn’t be second-hand. This also depends on the person for whom you are shopping. Some people love vintage items. Some prefer new. The advantages of second-hand shopping are that you are giving those items another chance, keeping them out of landfills, and likely saving money.
  • If you have the materials make Christmas cards at home instead of buying them. I have a large quantity of scrap booking paper given to me by a friend. With some $2 glue, a little creativity, and some trimming and pasting, I can make all my cards at home. It’s also a bonus that they are so personal.
  • Brown craft paper is recyclable and fairly cheap. If you are concerned with making it more festive stamp it with Christmas scenes or add a bow.
  • Remember, Christmas isn’t a contest. You don’t have to have the most decorated house or apartment on the block. You don’t have to buy the most expensive gifts of anyone in your family. Think about how you want to experience Christmas and explore your reasoning about this. In the end, make sure that you take care of yourself over the holidays.
My 4 foot Christmas tree, up and away from grabby little rabbit paws.

Reflections on death: A letter about compassion

This is a letter I wrote that I intended to send out to local funeral homes essentially as a cold contact cover letter but I doubted my decision and I’m sitting on it. The letter is edited slightly and does not include the introduction which is specific to the funeral home. It is a short reflection on death and compassion through selected stories I wanted to share. I want to help start a discussion we all need to have but might feel uncomfortable to face. My hope is that we, as a culture, can change our attitudes about death. Instead of considering it a morbid, edgy, or depressive subject I want to shape a discussion that is honest, thoughtful, and considerate to the needs and desires of us future decedents. If you want to learn more about the good death, check out The Order of the Good Death.

Growing up, my mother and I would visit the Lexington Cemetery as other families might stroll around Veterans Park or the Arboretum. Sometimes we would visit family there but many times we simply came to enjoy the peace and sit by the side of the pond gazing at ducks bobbing for fish. I would spend hours reading the names off headstones and wondering about each person and their life.

One year I went alone after Valentine’s Day with some roses for my great aunt’s grave. I ended up not finding my way to the plot but I was determined that someone would get nice flowers. Wondering around I noticed some rather old markers broken down by the elements over the years. I could barely read them. No one seemed to be tending to them. How long have they laid, unnoticed? I divided my roses and set them upon a small row of these markers.

As an undergraduate, I was privileged to join one of my peers in a tour of Bellarmine University’s anatomy lab. Well, “tour” is not the right word. It was a guided visit to where the university housed the donated cadavers participating in human anatomy courses. Before we entered the facility, our group sat through a thorough presentation and discussion of what we prepared to see. At that point, my only experience with decedents had been open casket funerals. They fascinated me but I kept my space. What would it be like to see someone who wasn’t prepared for viewing in the careful, ritualistic, and sterile type of setting I knew? I was nervous. There was a distinct air of solemnity as we held our breath going in. Not because we had some fear of contaminants but because we had approached the unknown. It was the chance of a life time. We put on our gloves and masks as the professors directed us. Most of what they said I do not remember. What I do remember is how I felt. I was in awe of the human body and humbled by the gift the decedents had given us. To see and learn and feel life and death. I will never forget how special that day was.

As an adult, death is never far. The day after I visited the anatomy lab I drove back to Lexington to attend by uncle’s funeral. He was 38. I have held my grandmother through her sobbing at her twin’s funeral. More recently, I had a coworker pass away suddenly this year. I miss him a lot. Sometimes when I drive to my mother-in-law’s house there is a car parked on a nearby street that looks just like his spotless old red Jaguar. Moments like this make it feel like grief never left but went into hiding and decided one day, enough was enough, and it popped out to surprise me.

This is my experience with death. It is always the living who have to deal with the consequences, of course. But I also believe in a deep spiritual need to take care of the dead. I believe that most of us could heal better after the death of a loved one if we can participate directly in funeral rituals and preparation. Some people have such an aversion or traumatic past experiences that they cannot do this and that is okay too. It would be an honor for me to be able to be that person who could step in to take care of your loved one in your time of need. To this end, I have written to you today to ask you to consider me for future openings that you find appropriate.

…And the letter is more or less finished. What do you think? Would this be completely weird to send out? Or is it a letter a funeral director would be delighted to read? I can’t make up my mind.

Great Reads Pt. I of 2019

These are a few of the notable books I spent this Spring and Summer reading that I encourage you to check out. I have provided the title, author, year of first publication, a brief introduction, and some detail on why I enjoyed the book. They are listed by title in alphabetical order.

Eileen Gray. François Baudot (1998). This book is part biography and part exhibition of this artist’s work. Eileen Gray was born in Ireland in 1878 and came to spend her time in Paris and New York. Her expertise was lacquered furniture and her pieces were far ahead of their time. This book includes 52 illustrations.

Eileen Gray side table, couch, and screen. Photo sourced from LZF Lamps Blog.

New Spaces, Old World Charm The Art of Elegant Interiors. Ann Sample (2004). This is another book on design. With 250 full color photos you can look through this as a picture book but there are a great many homes featured that inspired me so much I had to know how they came to be.

Designer Carl D’Aquino. Image by Architectural Digest.

Flora: Inside the Secret World of Plants. Kathy Willis for The Smithsonian (2018). An astonishingly detailed study of plant botany with vivid photos and illustrations. This book will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about how plants work. It held me reading and scribbling notes for countless hours because I had to share what I found.

Image by Summerfield Books.

How to Make a Plant Love You, Cultivate Green Space in Your Home and Heart. Summer Rayne Oakes (2019). This book came out in April this year and I was thrilled to get my hands on it in August. This is not one of those guides that proposes to list the watering schedule and “secrets” of dozens of house plant varieties. Summer invites you to take a far more holistic approach to plant care. She shows you how to reconnect with nature and bring it into your life. How to appreciate, nourish, and cultivate your senses to the needs of life around you.

A detail of the Cook Forest in Pennsylvania, the state where Summer grew up.

Planning for a family without children: a bold new paradigm

I am of the so-called “child-bearing age” and one of the last things I want in life is to have a child. My husband and I have taken almost every precaution to ensure this does not happen. We married not only because we love one another and have devoted ourselves to care for one another, but also to seen and treated as family in the eyes of the law and civil matters. We are family yet we have no children. We chose this life after years of careful thought and examining of our values, experiences, and desires. I am happy with our decision to be childfree I’m here to give you a peek into why I feel the way I do and how I think our attitudes toward families without children should change.

This is it. Definitely us. All we do is relax and have money. Oh, yes, a perfect portrait of the reality of childfree life.

Lots of people have children for a multitude of poorly thought out reasons. However, I have yet to hear of one poorly thought out reason not to have kids. It’s not that that I think people shouldn’t have children at all, that’s ridiculous. It’s that I think the bar is set waaaay too low in American culture. In general, we aren’t taught to think about the choice of having children. We are expected to simply accept it. As early as our own childhood, we are bombarded with messages that parenthood is our future. This is especially true for young girls. It is drilled into our heads that we will be moms one day. If you aren’t aware you have choices, are you truly free to make them?

I view the modern childfree lifestyle as a series of intentions and processes. First, a person has to realize that they have the choice to be childfree. This might be the most difficult part since, as I mentioned above, it is so ingrained into us that parenthood is a part of our destiny. Next, the person considers their options and weighs the benefits and disadvantages of having a child. At one point or another, if the person has a partner or the means to procreate, they must decide whether to use protection and take precautions or not. This is important and this is where many of us came to be. From an accident. That isn’t to say it wasn’t a happy accident on many occasions. But on others it was earth-shattering, terrifying, and unwanted.

Perhaps the most taboo subject of all, aside from abortion itself (which I do not feel the need to discuss any further aside from this mention), is the subject of parental regret. Parents who regret having their children. To read stories about this you can search online forums like Reddit. This is where I first heard about these people’s experiences. It is all too easy to demonize these individuals when our society takes pride in parenthood and bases so much of our self-worth upon it. Of course, a child should never feel unwanted or like a burden on their family. But don’t rush to criticize and demean people who disclose their honest struggles with parenthood. If nothing else, consider it a cautionary tale. It couldn’t happen to me. Oh but it could.

When it comes to criticism, I’ve heard it all. And what I haven’t heard I’ve read from other’s experiences. Here are some of the greatest hits of childfree critics, italics being things actually said to me:

  • That’s very selfish of you
  • Oh, you’ll change your mind (with a smirk or eye roll added)
  • Who will take care of you when you get old?
  • You are far too young to decide this
  • You should give your parents grandchildren
  • You would look cute with kids though
  • You’ll feel different when your biological clock kicks in
  • But you would be such a great parent!
  • Honey, that’s what I said too

Maybe you’ve heard these before too. Maybe you’ve said some of them. Either way I’m sorry for that. No one should have to constantly justify, argue, defend, or explain their decision to be childfree yet most of us do. If you do want to understand some reasons people don’t want kids, here is another handy list, where all reasons are completely valid, italics being mine (let me also stress that I don’t think any one reason is more moral or better than another when deciding to have children or not):

  • I don’t make very much money to support a child
  • I make enough money to support a child and I don’t want one
  • I don’t want a kid, no reason in particular
  • I don’t have a partner and I prefer to be alone
  • My partner and I don’t like kids
  • My partner and I like children but we don’t want to change our lives with a child
  • I’m scared of childbirth
  • I don’t want my body to go through pregnancy
  • I’m not scared of childbirth but I don’t want my body to change
  • I’m focusing on my job
  • I’m focusing on my education
  • I don’t have a particular focus right now and it’s not a good time for me to have a child
  • I absolutely love kids but I want to spend my time focusing on me
  • My parents were great but I’m not sure I could do it
  • My parents were terrible and I’m not sure I could do it
  • I feel a sense of existential dread when I think about having a child
  • I want to travel without restriction
  • I want to stay at home and children don’t fit into my life

I could go on all day if you let me. But allow me to conclude: There are many reasons a person might not want to become a parent. It’s okay to reject parenthood just as much as it’s okay to embrace it. You can change your mind too. Plan to be childfree your whole life? Great! Plan to be childfree for one summer? Awesome! Plan to have kids right away? That’s great too! Take charge of your life when and where you can. I made my decision along with my partner not to have children and I’m looking forward to our lives together. We wish you all the best.

Natural elements: adding greenery in small spaces

There are infinite ways to style your home. Why not bring it to life with attractive foliage and pops of color from flowers? If you find yourself overwhelmed but awed at the indoor jungles present on social media today, you’re not alone. I’ve been watching the youtube channel Planterina and I absolutely long for a big beautiful house filled with plants like Amanda’s. Alas, I have a rabbit, a particular budget, and an apartment with exactly four windows (counting the sliding glass door). Not too bad but these do complicate my plant aspirations!

In this article I’ll show you some of my solutions to keeping plants in small spaces and away from pets.

The first picture on the top left is a small collection of some of the plants I’ve been keeping on my balcony. I had assembled them here together to get a look at what I had and to plan where they would end up. There are ferns, basil, a croton, an aloe, a schefflera plant, and a couple of small flowering plants. The table is a perfect height to keep plants well out of my rabbit’s reach.

The two plants in the center are enjoying my latest creation- a DIY light station. I got this tube light at Goodwill a few weeks ago for $5. I mounted it to the glass panel of a bookshelf with one of those picture hanging velcro sets.

On the right is my very first attempt at a terrarium. It’s not yet finished because I am expecting a shipment of moss next week. All it has right now is the bottom layer of pebbles and a layer of activated charcoal. I put my fern straight into it to start acclimating and with a few light misting sprays it’s looking great.

Terrariums are an excellent solution for fitting in greenery in small spaces. You can find pre-assembled ones that are teeny tiny (jars, cups, bowls, and even necklaces) or you can build one in a former aquarium. Humidity-loving plants can really thrive in an old aquarium and they create a lovely conversation piece.

Here’s what my patio table looked like at one point. I’m constantly moving plants around. I set an old shower curtain on it to keep it clean of dirt and debris. My aloe is loving the morning sun here and it’s protected from the rain getting in at the other end of the balcony.

Top left: Two lavender plants soaking up the sun. I found that cute little white container at a thrift shop. It jazzes up the plants without blocking their light and helps protect against predators (like rabbits) when closed. I’ve read from several places that lavender is safe for rabbit consumption but my boy is a piggie and he would leave none left for me to showcase.

Top middle: A funky little flower I picked up at Trader Joe’s for $1.99. I’m surprised it has survived a week because I had no idea what it was until I stumbled upon some larger ones at Meijer with tags. This plant is the Cyclamen flower common to Europe and the Mediterranean. It is actually a perennial (could have fooled me) and prefers cooler air in the 50’s to 60’s and high humidity. How it is still alive on my balcony is a miracle.

Top right: A yarrow plant. I picked this plant because of its luscious yellow color and safety for rabbits. I’ve used one of my patio chairs as a plant stand for it and I covered its nursery pot with a white wicker basket.

Extra suggestions for adding plants to small spaces:

  • Use every surface available (within reason). When you are thinking about introducing a plant in your home think about its needs. Foremost, where would it get appropriate light? You may need to rearrange your space a bit. I have plants on a tray on my printer, on my dresser, on an end table, a bookcase, and on chairs.
  • If you can’t build out, build up. You can get cheap shelves at the hardware store and make your own built-in plant paradise near a good window. This saves tons of space.
  • Remember to rotate your plants when necessary. Once you place a plant it doesn’t have to stay there forever. Sometimes the light isn’t right or you find a draft, etc. Swap plants around every once and a while to change things up. Even if you only have a few plants it makes a difference visually.