How I’m getting it together — for the holidays and beyond

LifePlanner

I know, I know: the “H” word.

For every delighted person out there reaching for their carol book and favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, there are the folks who just want to burrow back in bed and pretend the whole season just isn’t happening. Yet.

For the most part, I’m in the former category . . . and this year, I’m starting early.

No scrambling through Target three days before Christmas, looking for something — anything — for that hard-to-buy-for relative . . . and miraculously coming up with something that fits the bill, but not without a great deal of stress.

I’m also not blowing a ton of cash in a desperate attempt to “just be done” with my holiday shopping already, as I’m wont to do when exasperated.

Now that I have an infant, I feel especially compelled to take care of huge, pressing matters — like the extravaganza that is Christmas — as efficiently as possible.

So I started. The Great Holiday Gift Spreadsheet 2015 has been created, and the first gifts are on their way.

I know it seems crazy to talk about this now on the cusp of a golden October. Thinking about Santa with a pumpkin spice latte in my hand feels off, but I don’t want anything sneaking up on me this year.

I’m 30 now — time to get my stuff together.

I considered making this “spreadsheet” just a physical group of notes I could carry around in my purse, but decided that would too easily fall into the wrong hands (my husband’s), revealing all of Santa’s top-secret machinations, or just get lost in my bottomless bag.

So. It’s definitely digital. But I did make a big non-digital change in September.

In a desperate attempt to stop feeling like a crazy person who is constantly two steps behind, I broke down and ordered an Erin Condren LifePlanner*. I’ve officially returned to the world of paper planning. I still use Google Calendar daily for appointments, birthdays, trips, etc., but I’ve started using the ECLP to track day-to-day tasks and things I need to accomplish.

Bills to pay.
Calls to return.
Birthdays I can’t forget.
Meals for the week.

All the stuff that my cluttered, tired brain can’t hold anymore.

Returning to a paper planner for the first time since college has been . . . interesting. In our digital world, I’m so used to tapping everything into my iPhone that it felt strange at first: a miniature time warp.

But using a physical planner has been hugely beneficial for my mental health, friends. I’m cool with preaching the Gospel of the Planner.

The literal act of writing something down makes a huge difference in whether I actually remember to do it, for one. Just as taking notes in class once helped to commit concepts to memory, scrawling out a reminder to bake cupcakes for a coworker’s birthday means I may actually do that. You know: before her next one.

I don’t want to blame it all on that sweet baby, y’all — but the hard truth is that I have less energy and mental storage than I did six months ago. Work is challenging, too, and I’m a mom who comes home to care for a child, make dinner with her husband and figure out something reasonably unwrinkled to wear to work before getting up at 5 a.m. to do it all over again.

I was forgetting things — silly things — and, honestly, I’ve just been extremely stressed out.

Something had to give.

I’m going on three weeks of meticulous note-taking now. Though initially it felt like writing in the LifePlanner was just something else to do, I’ve definitely gotten used to it and really enjoy having everything I want to do in a single place. My anxiety has dropped, no doubt.

Beyond the planner, I took some time last week to set up a few spreadsheets to get me through the next few months. With so many celebrations, birthdays and holidays through January, I knew I needed a way to keep track of gifts, cards, etc.

I take these things very seriously.

If you’ll pardon a moment of gender-based generalization, I typically find women are responsible for a great deal of anything that falls under the category of “Holidays, Celebrations Thereof.”

Gift buying.
Tree trimming.
Baking.
Cooking.
Party hosting.
Card-sending.
Stocking stuffing.
Thank-you-note writing.

You get the drift.

I hope the gentlemen reading this aren’t offended. I don’t mean to imply you’re not interested at all or don’t help . . but women do tend to take the lead in these matters.

And that’s okay! I’m not complaining. I love traditions, and I love to do those things.

But . . . it’s a lot. Lots to take care of, keep track of. I know you can do as little or as much as you want (for any occasion), but our family has always liked to do it up big — and I don’t want to overlook a detail or forget someone. I’m afraid of something . . . coming up short.

That’s a personal issue. But this is only my second married Christmas, and my first as a mom, so . . . yeah. Oliver’s first Christmas? This is major.

Enter the spreadsheet.

Mine is nothing fancy, but I’m happy to share the ol’ tools of the Meg trade with you. If you’re interested in creating your own, spreadsheets through Google Drive is basically where I store the contents of my caffeine-addled brain.

While signed into your Google account, start by accessing Drive. Click that handy-dandy red “New” button at the top left in the sidebar. Select “Google Sheets.” A fresh, blank spreadsheet should open.


Xmas spreadsheet


In the “A” column, I put the names of everyone I need to shop for: husband, son, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. Everyone has their own color, just ’cause it’s pretty and helpful when scrolling.

The “B” column is for presents. Black text means it’s already purchased; red text means it’s just a gift idea, and has not yet been ordered or brought home.

That red text? Super important. Whenever I think of a cool gift for those folks who seem to have everything, I tap it in there so I won’t forget. As soon as the gift is purchased, it’s changed to black text and I go on my merry way.

The “C” column has been getting more use in the past few years: cost. The price of each item goes there. After a bracing glass of eggnog (or four), you can click the top of the “C” column for a fast, Google-calculated sum of everything you’ve spent.

The “D” column may seem a little redundant at first, but that’s where I keep track of everything spent on each individual. I just add up the cost of each present and tally it there as I go, which helps me stay on budget.

And I am on budget.

That’s the other reason I’m starting so far in advance, friends: money. Shopping in September and October allows me to spread out the payments before the mad post-Thanksgiving rush, though I’m sure I will still be gathering up odds and ends in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

But my goal this year is to have most presents purchased and wrapped by Thanksgiving, so I can really relax and soak up the season. No mad dashes, frantic Amazon scrolling or anxious running through the mall on my lunch break.

Which leaves more time for hot chocolate sipping, “Home Alone” watching, party throwing — and photo shoots featuring Oliver as an elf or reindeer, of course.

Definitely scheduling that in the planner.


*Affiliate link. I will earn referral credit if you click through and make a purchase,
but I only ever discuss products I love!


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Etsy find Fridays: Lovely bookish finds

As a friend has helpfully pointed out, there are six Fridays until Christmas. Three pay days. Seven weekends.

I’m someone who has, in recent years, relied on the Internet for most of my shopping needs — but I’m already struggling this year. With limited time and a limited budget, how do we find gifts that impress? Everyone loves the look of delight on friends’ faces when they open something tailor-made for them, but getting there — that magical moment with gift wrap shredded — is the hard part.

I’m something of a gift lover. Presenting presents means more to me than receiving them, even, and I’ve been spoiled by thoughtful parents who always seemed to find “the right thing.” The right thing does not mean “the expensive thing,” of course — just the perfect little something you never knew you’ve always wanted.

And that’s a lot of pressure.

Everyone knows I’m a reader. Despite my awful track record in 2014 (let’s not speak of it), books will always be my solace. Many of my friends are readers, too, but we all know the perils of trying to buy novels for the readers who have everything.

The odds of me picking out a paperback that a devoted reader has not read are pretty slim, honestly — so I rely upon Etsy for inspiration to wow literary pals. When I was working on the library at home, I drew inspiration from many of these items, too, and may hope Santa has a few hiding under the tree for me.

You never know when he’s listening . . .


Books are the quietest print

Books print, $20, by ladypoppins


Jane Eyre book scarf

Jane Eyre book scarf, $42, by storiarts


Book lover clock

Book lover clock, $49, by the accessory corner


Jane Austen bookmarks

Jane Austen bookmarks (set of 6), $9.50, by CastleOnTheHill


Library card shirt

Library card shirt, $22, by GrammaticalArt


This post was not sponsored in any way;
I just love Etsy and sharing cool finds with you!


A language of gifts

Presents


Man, have we been getting some beautiful presents lately.

Between two bridal showers and the upcoming wedding, so many people have generously helped feather our nest and gotten us fun, useful and totally splurge-worthy items to start our married life. Most of the gifts are currently piled in our living room, unable to be put away until we figure out some magical new organizational method for the apartment — a fact that makes me feel simultaneously grateful and overwhelmed.

Twice last week I received unexpected gifts. One was an homage to my pumpkin love: an incredibly kind reader brought me a set of fall-scented candles and gift card to go enjoy a pumpkin spice latte on her.

A really sweet gesture — and from a stranger. From someone who knows me only from my words in the paper. When I emailed to thank her, she responded with a note that pierced my heart:

Life is not always easy and this has been the most challenging year of my life. I look forward to the time when I feel true all over joy again, without the twinge of loss. You just have to seize the day and wring everything out of it and look forward to the next, but sometimes that is easier said than done. So in the meantime it brings me happiness to bring others happiness.

What a lovely thought from a beautiful woman.

And I’d never thought of gifts that way.

In the scheme of Love Languages, I’m definitely an acts of service. Nothing means more to me than someone swooping in help alleviate the crushing weight of obligation. When a friend makes a phone call I don’t want to make, when Spencer does all the dishes, when a coworker helps proof a project . . . all incredibly meaningful to me. Moments that fill me gratitude.

But gifts are good, too. And I love giving gifts. I don’t enjoy receiving them half as much as giving, in fact — and I spend a long time trying to come up with thoughtful presents for family and friends. I’m not someone out shopping on Christmas Eve, y’all (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) — partly because I’m too OCD to wait that long, but mostly because I want to find the perfect present for you. And I probably have to order it online from some super obscure place a month ahead of time.

There’s nothing like that moment when someone tears into the package, their face a mix of anticipation and bewilderment. As soon as the bow is untied, their eyes flash with surprise. That’s it! The Thing! The Perfect Thing they didn’t know they’ve always wanted! And though not every gift-giving occasion can be a home run, I strive for awesome. I want others to know they matter. I want to show it.

We don’t define ourselves by stuff, of course — and I’m certainly not advocating the “buying” of love. But it’s interesting to think of gifts as an extension of love. For as much as I appreciate acts of service for myself, perhaps I’m still a “gift” (giving) person as well. It’s all about the element of surprise, the little “I’m thinking of you.” It’s consideration and love all tied into one little trinket.

Like my friend, it brings me happiness to make others happy. One tchotchke at a time.


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Have you ever taken the Love Languages test or read the book(s)? What’s your love language? Do you enjoy giving gifts or receiving them more?


Mail love from Arizona

If there’s something I love more than mail, I’m not quite sure what it is.

(Well, maybe Coke Slurpees. And pumpkin spice lattes. And books . . . but you get what I mean.)

When I first heard about The Snail Mail Collective, a postcard-and-small-present swap pairing bloggers in different locales, I jumped at the opportunity. Melyssa at The Nectar Collective helped organize a July theme in which we were encouraged to celebrate what makes our hometown — or home state — special. (And by the way, Melyssa’s site is awesome.)

To my delight, I was paired with the lovely Cassie of Sage, a California-turned-Arizona girl who is also engaged and planning her wedding as we speak! She’s a kick-butt student preparing to get her PhD in Missouri and someone who loves the great outdoors, and her healthy living and positive attitude are contagious.

Her package arrived at the perfect time and was incredibly sweet: fantastic (and delicious!) prickly pear cactus honey; silver and turquoise earrings indicative of the Southwest (so pretty); and a pine cone celebrating Flagstaff’s diverse natural elements (so different from the desert!). Cassie’s gifts were incredibly thoughtful, and I’m stoked to slather that honey on  . . . well, everything.


IMG_9562


If you’re interested in playing along in August, sign-ups are open now through August 7. And if you want to check out what I sent Cassie from the good ol’ Old Line State (hint: it’s tasty), check it out over at Sage!


One of the most exciting gifts of all time

Puppy Surprise


Thinking about gifts this week, I remembered one of my favorite Christmas presents of all time: Puppy Surprise, a stuffed animal that kept her “babies” in a belly pouch. Kind of like a kangaroo but, you know, a dog.

My little sister and I were absolutely nuts over these things — and I remember begging for one for months. I probably saw it in a catalog or something. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was desperate in my pleas for the dog family — and probably none too quiet about it. My grandparents always let us open one gift apiece on Christmas Eve, and when we ripped into that colorful paper? There she was: my white dog and her multi-colored pups. Surprise!

As you can see from Kate’s photo above, we. lost. our. minds. And this photo was taken after we actually opened the toys at Gram’s, guys — not even a live-action shot. My sister has always been a cat person, so her kitty variation was a huge hit. I remember being so excited over Puppy Surprise that I woke up multiple times in the night, peeking into the darkness to make sure she was still by my bed.

And then, eh, Santa brought some more stuff — and a merry Christmas was had by all.

But nothing could top that fluffy dog.

I found the photo above when flipping through some old family albums; that gem came from 1992. Though I often pitched a fit as a kid, I’m so glad my mom had us pose for countless photos at all the right moments.

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What’s the most exciting gift you remember from childhood — something akin to “A Christmas Story’s” Red Ryder BB gun? Or one of your most memorable holidays?


For the girl who has everything . . .

Santa


The wishlist.

When I was a kid, coming up with gift ideas was no. big. deal. Give me a slice of paper, a pencil, the Sear’s catalog and boom: my sister and I had finely-tuned lists of everything our little toy-loving hearts could want. And if the Sears catalog with toys wasn’t available? We’d just watch TV, then parrot back every commercial we saw.

Commercials work, guys. Don’t ever forget it.

As I’ve gotten older, the wishlist has fallen away. I’ll attribute this to:

A) age. Because Polly Pockets aren’t as alluring as they used to be.
B) a paycheck — as in, I receive one. Having my own money has definitely impacted the wants I’d stack on a Christmas list.

I’m fortunate to be able to purchase what I need — save, you know, a brand new car or a house or something. Day to day, I don’t need much. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, clean clothes on my back. I have a good job. I have my column. I have family and wonderful boyfriend and friends and readers. When I wake up, I feel a sense of purpose. Even at dark moments, life holds enormous appeal.

So what would I want for Christmas?

I’m struggling. Really struggling. Spencer has asked me multiple times for a wishlist, a catalog of modern-day desires — but the things I really want can’t be purchased. Full-time work for my sister? A clean bill of health for relatives? A lucrative publishing deal? To magically drop 40 pounds overnight?

PresentMy lists usually look the same: a dress or two; some shoes; a few books and movies. Maybe a cool scarf I saw. Some makeup I like but wouldn’t buy for myself. A favorite perfume that sits three-quarters empty, saved for special occasions. If I’m feeling really crazy, a new lens for my camera.

Many men like to buy practical presents. I can’t hand Spence a list of clothes and expect him to feel satisfied with that purchase. And anyway, what size should he get? What color? What if it’s too long? Too short? Being the sweet (and delusional!) guy that he is, Spence always . . . well, he sizes down, friends. He thinks I’m thinner than I actually am, which leads to angst when I have to admit I need a size (or three) larger.

Ack.

So, the quandary. The things guys like to buy — gadgets, appliances, software — are superfluous. I don’t need them and don’t want them to waste their money. I actually thought of breaking down and asking for an e-reader for Christmas — a cheap Kindle or something — but have decided to just stick to physical books for the moment. (That’s a post in itself.) Other than that? Nothing.

I’m stuck! Stuck! Totally stumped! I realize this “problem” is no problem whatsoever, not in the grand scheme of things (and life, and the world), but we’re drawing closer to the big day — and I know everyone wants to finish their shopping soon. I’m almost done . . . just a few more items to order online. And then I will wrap and drink hot chocolate and congratulate myself on another successful season.

Hopefully.

If Spence gets too stressed, I guess I’ll just hand my non-existent list over to Santa. I hear he has “gift” for choosing just the right thing.

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What’s on your wishlist this year? Are you going for practical items or fun ones? Choosing not to exchange gifts this year, or scaling back? Have any ideas for a curly-haired bookworm to pass along to her guy? Hit me with ’em.


A few of my Etsy favorite things

Now that it’s November, I’m getting into that slightly-stressed, spreadsheet-making phase of my year I like to call Christmas shopping.

I love buying people presents — sometimes too much — and genuinely enjoy the process of choosing just the right gift for everyone. I consider about their likes and dislikes, the items they discuss, the colors they usually wear. Things they might want or need, and which of those I can actually afford. I dig around a bit, do some research. Shop carefully. Add everything to my spreadsheet.

It’s all quite time-consuming.

Maybe you’re already starting to shop — or maybe you’re waiting until Christmas Eve. Regardless, I’m here to offer a few of Meg’s Favorite Etsy Things as the official kick-off to the holiday season. These are all items I’ve purchased with my own dough-re-mi, and no one is paying for promotion. I just thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite Etsy finds — and maybe help get your gift-giving juices flowing.

They’re all Meg tested and approved. If I had a Meg Seal of Approval, it would be slapped on all of these. And pink, of course.


Holiday lip butters from
Baby Duck Soap Co.

In scents like sugar cookie, gingerbread house and pumpkin cheesecake, these lip butters are delicious — and only $6 for three! I mean, really. I’m a lip product addict who has, at this very moment, everything pictured at right in one purse. And I don’t even feel guilty about it, because my lips are soft and lightly scented at any moment. You’re welcome, Spencer.

But anyway. Back to Baby Duck Soap Co. Their products are fabulous, the lip butters are crazy moisturizing without feeling sticky or greasy and I absolutely love the scents/flavors. I get tired of everyone shouting, “Makes a great stocking stuffer!” come the holidays, but really . . . um, these would make a great stocking stuffer.


• Handstamped copper jewelry
from bama + ry

I first discovered Jasmine, a fellow blogger, a few years back — and I’ve loved watching the evolution of her jewelry company. These miniature heart-stamped earrings ($12) are a new favorite addition to my wardrobe, and Jasmine has about a billion other lovely pieces — many of which can be personalized for you and/or your family. I like this one. And this. (Photo by bama + ry)


• Cute pottery from Darielle’s Clay Art

This little heart-shaped ring dish catches my jewelry at the end of the day, and I just think it is adorable. At $9 each, they make great gifts — and you can choose all sorts of colors. Paired with a bauble for your sister, friend or grandma? Perfect.


• Gourmet spice kits from Purpose Design

What do you get the cook who has everything? Why, a gourmet spice kit, of course! My boyfriend the culinary adventurer loves to try new things, so I picked up a kit of French spices back around Valentine’s Day. We’ve added all sorts of new items to dishes — tarragon, herbes de provence, edible blue lavender — and I highly recommend these kits. You’ve got plenty of options. (Photo by Purpose Design)


• Inspirational, colorful prints from The Wheatfield by Katie Daisy

If you’ve spent any time around Etsy, you’ve likely run into some of the lovely Katie Daisy’s work. Her beautiful, original artwork earned a spot on my bookcase with the very helpful reminder to be here now ($18). I love “Let Go,” too — and I’m pretty sure a browse-around will produce a little something for everyone. (Photo by Katie Daisy)