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!


Advertisements

Five things on Friday

Pumpkin spice drinking

1. To my utter delight, my sister and I went for our first pumpkin spice lattes of the season last week! Since then, I’ve also sampled the pumpkin wares of Tim Hortons and Dunkin’ Donuts. If you think I’m ridiculously happy, you’re right. Late summer is suddenly back — temps in the 90s! — with a vengeance, but I’m sipping that sweet autumnal nectar of the Starbucks gods and totally don’t care.

2. We were on Baltimore on Thursday for a doctor’s appointment (everything is cool), and I couldn’t get over how exhilarating it was to be out on a day when you’re “supposed” to be working. I mean, my job is very generous with vacation time, so it’s not like I’m chained to my desk all year. And never mind that we just got back from a five-day break in New York last weekend . . . but, you know, being off in the city on a random Thursday? Bliss. Also, we totally chowed down at an Irish pub serving Guinness French onion soup and poutine, so — double bliss?


photo

Poutine: fries/potatoes, gravy, cheese curds. See also: paradise


3. In a concerted effort to get myself together this fall, I started a budget worksheet. It’s a working list of what I’m spending in an attempt to figure out where my cash is going (and hopefully scale back). Though I don’t consider myself a spendthrift, per say, I don’t think I should be downright shocked to get my credit bill at the end of the month. That’s . . . probably not responsible. Anyone have any favorite budget tips, apps, methods?

4. In that vein, I was already pondering my New Year’s resolutions for 2015 when I realized I don’t have to wait for a freshly-scrubbed year to throw confetti and make some changes. The changing of seasons is as good a time as any, so I’m back to actively tracking my meals with Weight Watchers — I, er, took a “summer break” — and will commit to tracking spending with the aforementioned worksheet.

5. And that’s quite enough of the boring adult talk. Let’s talk about shopping! Perhaps dovetailing with my previous budget talk, eh? (I’m a mess, what can I say.) While I’ve definitely cut out most personal spending that isn’t house-related, I do find myself obsessively looking at dresses on Zulily because apparently that’s my new thing. As it’s nearly fall, that means sweater dresses and boots and scarves and . . . yeah, I’m just going to go run off and hunker down in my happy place.



P.S. I hope to get back on a normal posting schedule next week. Between the holiday and busy work week, I just couldn’t seem to get myself together! Hope y’all have a great weekend.


Stitch Fix in February: Polka dots and studs and solids, oh my!

Stitch Fix


This box showing up in your entryway is like Christmas morning circa 1992, I tell ya.

Like a Puppy Surprise with five puppies.

Like a whole bucket of vintage Polly Pockets for the taking.

Yes, friends, it’s time for another Stitch Fix*! Back in January, I decided to try the service as a treat to myself for hitting my goal weight this year. Now 35 pounds slimmer than I was this time last year, I’m still getting used to dressing my new shape . . . and am not entirely comfortable with my thinner frame, honestly. But my selection of clothes after losing four sizes has been pretty lackluster, and sometimes you just have to #treatyoself.

Sorry for using a hashtag in a post. I just . . . it happens sometimes.


Stitch Fix-3


How does it work? Create an account with Stitch Fix detailing your likes and dislikes, specific measurements, style preferences and much more. For a $20 styling fee, five articles of clothing chosen specifically for you by a stylist arrive at your door — and you keep only what you like. The $20 fee is applied to any items you choose to add to your closet; everything else goes in a prepaid envelope straight back to Stitch Fix. If you like everything, you will get a 25 percent off discount on your entire Fix.

Easy peasy.

My first impressions this time? Honestly, I wasn’t super excited about the muted color palette. I guess I’m just dreaming of spring and was hoping for some brighter-hued pieces. But I know better than to get too judgmental too quickly; the trick is to give everything a chance and try it on, regardless of whether you believe it’s very “you.”

“You” can change.

So away we go . . .


IMG_2508

41Hawthorn | Tess Abstract Butterfly Print Scarf | $32

Cute print, but I wasn’t crazy about the sherbet-like colors. I mean, I know I probably wear too much black, but I just couldn’t see myself reaching for this one — and my scarf collection has already reached a critical level.


Stitch Fix-2

TCEC | Stevenson Polka Dot Crew Neck Sweater | $48

Okay, okay . . . so from the time I was in kindergarten-ish, I’ve harbored a deep hatred for anything tight around my neck. Scarves are okay because they’re light, airy and easy to untie and remove. But turtle necks and crew neck-style shirts? They make me feel constricted. Tight. Uncomfortable. All this to say that I loved the polka dots, wasn’t crazy about the feel. You know, around my neck.

Also, I’m weird.


Stitch Fix-4

Just Black | Adora Skinny Jean | $88

Ah, the perils of being a short woman. I have such a hard time finding pants — and though these fit well through my seat and hips, they were too long. Most pants are too long. It’s pretty much an eternal struggle and this slimming pair put up a good fight, but I couldn’t justify keeping them for the price. I do love the offbeat, olive-toned color, though! Very unique, and a good alternative to khaki.


Stitch Fix-5

41Hawthorn | Moni Stud Detailed 3/4 Sleeve Blouse | $58

Comfortable, stylish and well-made, this top and I clicked right away. I love the stud details — a little edgy for this bookworm! — and thought it looked super cute with the included skinny jeans, though it will work with black slacks, too!


Stitch Fix-6

41Hawthorn | Capitola Fit & Flare Tank Dress | $78

The color! The fabric! The flare! I really loved the style of this dress and wanted it to work, especially because I fell in love with a blue dress in my first Fix, but alas — the fit wasn’t quite right. Though it’s not obvious here, the top of the dress around the shoulders was loose with too-large arm holes. Sadly, I would have to wear a camisole underneath to prevent, like, half my bra from showing. That could have made for some interesting stares . . .


So what did I keep? Well . . .


Stitch Fix-7


The black stud top! YAY!

I like it with jeans and flats as well as black pants for work, and I’m going to throw on a pair of chevron earrings to make it fancier for the office.

Though I’ve only kept two items so far, Stitch Fix is so much fun — a delightful surprise in every box. The best part about the service is that the more honest feedback you provide, the better your future selections will be. Stylists even check out your Pinterest style board, if you provide it. I plan to tweak my profile to forgo pants moving forward, concentrating instead on tops and dresses. It’s hard enough for me to find slacks that work, let alone a kindhearted stranger across the country!

I’ve already scheduled my March Fix and look forward to seeing what arrives just in time for spring! I am so ready. Bring on the sandals and cherry blossoms!


*Stitch Fix affiliate links. Though I paid for this Fix myself, I will receive a referral credit if you sign up through my links (thank you!). Stitch Fix did not sponsor or request this post; I just dig it and am spreading the love!


Bargains and a barn

photo(1)


Last weekend was beautiful. Really beautiful. Not like winter at all here in Maryland, with abundant sunshine and temperatures in the 50s and a glorious hunt of spring to come. (In six more weeks, apparently.)

When we ran out Sunday to complete a Craigslist transaction (always nerve-wracking, but we meet folks in very public locations — and this man turned out not to be a serial killer, thankfully), Spencer and I swung into a local barn renovated to hold . . . well, to hold junk. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s a combination of a thrift store, salvage shop and last-resort home for stuff no one else wants.

My husband can’t get enough of it.

Spencer leaves no box unturned, no screw unscrewed. A yard sale devotee and serious handyman, Spence loves the thrill of the hunt — and in the dead of winter with no Saturday morning sales in sight, we tend to pop into places like the Bargain Barn more often.

I used to dread going into places like that . . . out of pure snobbery, I guess. I just didn’t “get” the allure of pawing through others’ discarded ephemera, seeking this or that at a discount. I never found anything. I never really looked.

But Spencer has introduced me to the wide world of treasure-hunting. We all know the saying, right? One man’s trash . . . ? I didn’t believe it until recently, but I’m starting to see the light. I haven’t found anything life-altering, but I have found a skein of hard-to-find Christmas yarn (woo!), some books, nice artwork. We came across some Ethan Allen nightstands Spencer lovingly refinished years back for our bedroom, plus an assortment of tools he wanted at a steep discount.

The Bargain Barn isn’t quite the haven of disaster I once fashioned it, and I really do enjoy the feeling of giving used items a new home — and second chance. Though I’m not the craftiest of folks, I’ve been spending lots of time hovering around home blogs and see the value in repurposing, freshening up something old again.

Giving new life to things as we build our new life.

And who knows what we’ll find next time?


Sidenote: My normal Twosday/Wordless Wednesday posts should resume in coming weeks. I wasn’t feeling well some of the weekend and without my camera, so inspiration has been a little lacking. But I’m hoping to pull myself together here shortly!


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.

—–

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.


Of holiday decorating and skinny pants


I used to think we were the only people who decorated so early.

Then I got an iPhone — and an Instagram account. My feed has been flooded with others’ Christmas trees, presents, stockings and ornaments since Friday — and I’m firmly in that camp! After the excitement and good eats of Thanksgiving, we plunged straight into Black Friday shopping and getting the house all decorated for the holidays.

My family almost always puts the tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving — and that held true this year. Ours went up Saturday, and Spencer’s tree (with many of my favorite ornaments, and a few we’ve purchased together) was finished yesterday. With Spence’s mom and dad in town for Thanksgiving, we took advantage of their presence to get his place decorated together. It was great having them here — especially because his mom can totally get him to do things his girlfriend can’t. Like put a balsam swag on the front door. (Hey, it’s not a wreath — the least masculine of all decorating devices, according to the dudes. So whatever.)

With four days off from work, I’m slowly getting back into a groove — and trying to get my head screwed on straight. I’ve been so preoccupied with holiday prep that I’ve neglected my space here and my reading. Ack. I feel completely out of sorts when not immersed in a book, so I’m making my books a priority again starting tonight. Hopefully I’ll re-enter the literary world without issue.

Also, apropos of nothing, I’m wearing a pair of “skinny” pants today. Well, the pants are skinny . . . I am not, of course. It feels really weird to have pant legs hugging my ankles, but I decided I’m too young to look so completely unfashionable — and I needed to ditch my ill-fitting black slacks for something that didn’t make me look like I was wearing harem pants. Eh. Though I’m still undecided, I’m trying something new — and I think I like them. Or have the potential to like them, anyway.

I’ll take it.

—-

How are you this Monday? How was your Thanksgiving? Did you put up your Christmas tree last weekend, or do you wait until the week before to dig out all your decorations? So many questions. And you have all the answers.


Random thoughts on the second day of summer

Because sometimes we all need a random post, right?

1. My obsession with nail polish has reached a critical point. I’ve actually taken to selling a few new bottles on eBay to feed my addiction, because really — much like my overflowing bookcases, I can no longer store all the shiny bottles of lacquer arriving from Julep and, um, everywhere else. My nails are currently painted with Julep’s Claire, at right. When a friend commented on it being a “wild” choice for me, I decided I’m not daring enough. My goal is to wear whacky colors all summer long.

2. And in the same vein, I’m buying way too many pairs of flats. I’ve purchased three new pairs of shoes in the past month, which has to be some sort of record for my typical shoe-hating self, but I’m getting them cheaper than expected (eBay!) and trying to replace some older pairs that have really had the ax. I’m trying to up my fashion game . . . marginally, anyway.

3. I finally saw “The Shawshank Redemption” from start to finish — and wow, it’s depressing. (“But it has a happy ending!” my dad recently crowed. To which I say: yes, but just barely.) It was really good, though. Really good. Morgan Freeman is amazing — but that’s not breaking news.

4. My birthday is in less than a month. I typically love celebrating, but July 18 is a Wednesday this year — and that happens to be a serious deadline day for me. With a big section going to press plus all my normal weekly duties, there’s no way I’ll be anything but slammed . . . and that depresses me. But I guess that’s adulthood. I’ll have to settle for checking my Facebook notifications and treat myself to post-work dessert. If I’m lucky, maybe someone else will make me cupcakes. I don’t have to bake my own birthday dessert, right?

5. Speaking of dessert, I’m the head baker for my good friend Erin’s baby shower at the end of June! Blue velvet cupcakes — maybe 72 of them. I’m a little nervous. Baking is no problem, and even decorating doesn’t scare me . . . but the thought of transporting 72 cupcakes along bumpy roads makes my stomach drop. I have one of those big plastic carrying cases, but it only holds 24. Hmm
. . . if anyone has any transportation suggestions, please send ’em my way.

6. I’ve become obsessed with Brussels sprouts. I know that’s, like, really weird, but they’re my new favorite vegetable. Spencer got me hooked on them, bringing home the steam-in-the-bag variety, and I find myself requesting them at least once a week. Maybe we should try roasting them for something different.

7. I’m in a book-hopping mood. Sometimes I gobble up novels in a sitting or two, never flitting between books — and other times, like now, I’m restless and anxious and . . . I don’t know. Unfocused. I’ve picked up and put down three or four books in the last week, reading 30-50 pages of each before casting them aside. I’m not ready to throw them in the “abandoned” category, but nothing I’ve read since Beautiful Ruins has really held my attention. Really great books seem to do that: ruin you for a while.

8. Despite being a huge and long-standing fan of “The Bachelor” franchise (I know, I know . . .), I just can’t get into Emily’s season. While I initially loved her on Brad’s show, I’m very lukewarm on he rnow. Obviously she’s a real person and I don’t know her, but I always thought she was sweet and maybe a little “above” competing on a reality show for love. (Not that I judge that — I don’t, honestly; everyone has to meet somewhere.) Now she seems like yet another sell-out. But that’s just me; many people still luuuuurve her.

9. A show I am actually enjoying? “Dallas.” Considering I was in diapers when its first incarnation was on air, I have nothing to compare it to . . . but it’s filling the gaping hole in my life left by “Revenge” ending for the season. (My God, that finale. That finale. My jaw = on the floor.) And the actor playing John Ross reminds me of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, which reminds me of “The Tudors,” which reminds me of when I was actually excited about TV. So good times all around.

10. And because I like ending on even numbers . . . I’m really excited to see my family for our annual crab feast/reunion in a few weeks. You can’t be a Marylander without developing some affinity (or appreciation, at least) for seafood, and I haven’t gone crab pickin’ yet this year. Blasphemy, I know . . . but I feel like I’ve barely been home. Here’s to settling back in and wielding a crab mallet in the weeks to come.