Annual Calendar Post, 2018 Calendar Edition!

I told Paul this morning that TODAY WAS THE DAY for the calendar post. I went on at some length about how fun it was to do, and why. I wonder if he’s coming down with something, because his eyes had an odd glazed quality.

My only Really Very Important Requirements for a wall calendar is that it have squares to write things in, and good pictures. There are many gorgeous wall calendars that have no room to write appointments (like these—oh I love them), and there are many calendars with tons of writing room that have mediocre pictures (or NO pictures); neither of those will do. Squares to write things. Good pictures.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years we’ve been doing this is that there are many, MANY calendars I love but don’t want for a whole year. I’ll see one of, say, alpacas, and think, “Oh, ALPACAS! I like alpacas!” But—twelve whole months of alpacas? Hm. What I would probably love best of all would be a calendar that was completely different all twelve pages: one French artwork, one ballerina pig, one cool treehouse, one weird chicken, one pop-art, one serene landscape, one modern art, one songbird, and so on. Anyway! We must at least narrow it down!

(image from

Succulents calendar. I have been seeing this theme everywhere, including for CUPCAKES, and I am all in.


(image from

Secret Garden calendar. Peaceful. Pretty. Nicer than the view outside my own window, where we took out a bunch of old shrubs and haven’t put anything else in yet.


(image from

National Parks calendar. This is put out by the National Park Foundation, so I would like to support this concept. (Here’s another gorgeous one, if you don’t need room to write.) I’m afraid, though, that it would make me angry every month, to see these amazing parks that have been preserved so long and are now in jeopardy.


(image from

Every Day’s a Holiday calendar. This breaks the rules I JUST FINISHED mentioning: some of the squares have stuff in them, and there’s no main picture. But this is the kind the kids sometimes want.


(image from

Unlikely Friendships calendar. This is the kind of pure I have been CRAVING this whole past year. Sometimes after another day of baffling news alerts, I just need to see a dog hanging out with a pygmy owl.


(image from

Berkley Bestiary Animal Portrait calendar. Or a guinea pig dressed for a barbershop quartet.


(image from

Cow Yoga calendar. Or cows doing yoga.


(image from

For the Love of Color calendar. No good pictures, but I do love this whole concept of colored squares, and there’s extra room to write. This won’t make my finalist list, but I could see it being perfect for someone else.


(image from

Farmer’s Market calendar. I had this one a few years ago, and I highly recommend it. Wholesome, soothing, pretty. I liked it so much, Paul tracked down the artist and bought me two large prints, which I have in the kitchen and still like year after year.


(image from

Chihuly calendar. Blown glass sculptures. Art persists.


(image from

Posters for Peace and Justice calendar. I like the concept, but I don’t like enough of the pages.


(image from

Marijuana calendar. Whatever it takes to get through the year. And it comes with a free marijuana-themed key ring, which could double as a festive Christmas ornament.


(image from

Kilty Pleasures calendar. Like I said: whatever it takes to get through the year.


(image from

William Morris calendar. This reminds me pleasantly of the wallpaper-themed calendars I’ve had in the past. (The children feel there is nothing blander than appreciating wallpaper, but just wait until they are old enough to care about choosing a shade of white paint.)


(image from

Stitch the Stars calendar. This is so cool: it comes with glow-in-the-dark thread, and you stitch along each constellation. But it does not have squares for writing down appointments.


(image from

Daily Dress calendar. Breaks both requirements but I love it anyway; it reminds me of the Love of Color calendar, in that there is no main picture but it is still beautiful to look at. I wonder if I could have something like this by my desk. I hardly ever write anything on that one. Hardly ever. And I could use post-its or something.


(image from

Shoebox Faux-spirational calendar. I vastly prefer fauxpirational messages to inspirational ones, but I don’t think I’d find each joke funny for a whole month. Like, I smiled at “You Can’t Run From Your Problems — Unless Your Problem Is Slugs,” but would I smile for 30 days in a row?


(image from

It’s Just Not Your Day calendar. I like this one better. Prettier, for one thing. Sample page: “Swearing Might Help” in fancy writing.


(image from

Oh, and those remind me of the Mary Engeldark calendar brought to my attention by Doing My Best. You are familiar with Mary Engelbreit, she of the “Life is but a chair of bowlies” and similar cheerful colorful sentiments? This is instead: “When life shuts a door, open it again. It’s a door. That’s how it works” and “People hate the truth. Luckily, the truth doesn’t care.” Nice. This one is a strong candidate this year.


(image from

Space Cats calendar. This calendar isn’t even trying to make sense, and I think my kids would love it.


(image from

Sloths calendar. Another candidate for the kids.


(image from

Fat Cats calendar. Elizabeth had this one last year and loved it. I thought it looked kind of low-budget, but she liked it enough to mention maybe getting it again this year.


(image from

Cats in Sweaters calendar. Another popular choice here.


(image from

Paper Source Art Calendar. Ooh. Ooh ooh ooh. This has the LOOK of the calendars I often pine for, the kind that don’t have squares to write in—but it DOES HAVE SQUARES. This is a very strong candidate.


(image from

William S. Rice Arts and Crafts calendar. I liked this one a whole lot better than I thought I would after seeing only the cover. Peaceful and pretty. Another strong candidate.


(image from

Passport to the World calendar. Beautiful World Photos calendars never get to first place with me, but I always want to consider them.


(image from

Simple Landscapes calendar. Beautiful. I love it.


(image from

Trees calendar. Peaceful, pretty, soothing in a “The world existed before humans, and will probably continue on after they’re gone, as long as they don’t blow the place up on their way out” kind of way.


(image from

Pusheen the Cat calendar. Highly, highly recommend. This is the calendar that was most enjoyed by the entire family. If I were trying to please them, I would get it every year. But I am not.


(image from

Banksy calendar. This seems like a nice edgy choice. I can picture the college student liking it.


(image from

A Primitive Past calendar. Not quite my own style, but I can see the appeal. Style-adjacent.


(image from

Art Deco fairytales calendar. Style-adjacent.


(image from

Sea Food calendar. I don’t know if it’s the same artist, but we had some books that looked like this long ago, and a matching calendar for one of the kids’ rooms. Cute and fun. Maybe just a little creepy in a cute/fun way.


(image from

Pizza calendar. I appreciate the concept, without wanting to try to write on the top half of a calendar. Also, I already think about pizza too much.


(image from

Hello Kitty calendar. Elizabeth has, sadly for me, outgrown Hello Kitty, which makes it less tempting to buy; it was more fun when she and I BOTH liked Hello Kitty.


(image from

Pokémon calendar. The fad is finally dying down at my house, but it still has appeal.


(image from

Masha D’yans calendar. I consider this one seriously every year; this year it looks particularly pretty to me.


(image from

This Is Us calendar. Oh my gosh! I have recently started watching this! I will say four things about it. (1) I really like this show and all the characters. (2) There is WAY too much “grabbing people and swinging them around and tickling them.” (3) Also too much dramatic monologuing. (4) But I still really, really like it. I don’t want a calendar of it, though.


(image from

Hamilton calendar. I hear this was a pretty good show too.


(image from

DK Ultimate Train calendar. This made me feel a little sentimental: we had a set of DK books that I read about a million times to Rob (to the other kids, too, but Rob was the one who was obsessed with them).


(image from

Bob Ross calendar. Oh, wow, speaking of sentimental. We’ve watched some of his shows with the kids, who always groan when we put an episode on, and then soon after are quiet and mesmerized. I sit there with tears seeping slowly at how kind and gentle he is. And look at the additional images for the calendar: there’s a Bob Ross face at the top of each page, and a Bob Ross quote at the bottom of each one! “You have to have dark in order to show light, just like in life.” *throat clenches*


(image from

Art of the Heart calendar. I am more willing than during previous administrations to lean toward even somewhat-trite images representing love and acceptance, but I don’t like enough of the pages in this one this year. TWO are of, like, real hearts.


(image from

Guinea Pigs calendar. I had one of these guinea pig calendars a couple of years ago and it was one of my most successful. Twelve whole months of guinea pigs might not have been sufficient guinea pigs.


(image from

BTS calendar. All I know is that this group keeps coming up in my Twitter feed.


(image from

Paint-by-Sticker calendar. I don’t THINK I want to do this in calendar form, even though I’ve really enjoyed the books. But maybe.


(image from

Cats in Color calendar. I had this one next to my desk this year, and can recommend it. Nice bold appealing pictures.


(image from

Women in Science calendar. I found this when searching to see if there was a calendar for art by women. There was not, but there was the calendar version of a book that’s on my wish list.



As always, I would love to hear about your calendar choices, if you still use paper calendars. I am pretty sure I’m going for Masha D’yans for the kitchen, and Bob Ross for next to my desk.

More Christmas Gift Ideas

I have two kids home sick from school, but they only had one barfing session each (one kid last night, the other kid this morning), and since then they have been absolutely well enough to play video games, so I am hoping hoping hoping that they just had too much dinner last night or something.

Every year at Christmas I re-read This Year It Will Be Different. This time I’m deliberately reading one story each night, after it’s dark enough outside for the Christmas lights to look peak beautiful. This has been a very pleasant way to do it, as it turns out.

Certain Christmas carols bug me; I won’t list them all, because one person’s teeth-clenching irritant is another’s sentimental favorite, but I did want to mention a little issue with Do You Hear What I Hear. That’s the one where the night wind tells the lamb about a special star, and then the lamb tells the shepherd boy about a special song, and then the shepherd boy tells the king about a special baby, and then the king tells his people about the special baby too. But in the actual Bible story, what the king actually does upon hearing the news of a special baby is order the execution of all boys two years and younger. I can see how that wasn’t as nice a verse for the song, but what if the shepherd boy had instead continued the game of Telephone with a grown-up shepherd or a magi or something? Then we could have had another good verse without the story veering.

We are right at that point where “There is PLENTY of time to prepare for Christmas” has the potential to turn into wild panic about how little time there is left. Rather than trying to make idea lists around a certain type of person, I am going to just show you what I’ve been buying and trust you to figure out which person on your list it might work for, if any.


(image from

Pokémon wallet for my six-year-old nephew who just started getting an allowance. I had Paul and the three youngest kids all weigh on the decision, because there were several pretty good ones; this one was the winner, but not by a lot. The runner up was this one. Arguments for the one we got: it’s cuter; it’s a more attractive design overall; you can act like you’re putting your money into a Pokéball. Argument for the runner-up: more Pokémons is better.


(image from

Pokémon Throw ‘N’ Pop Charmander and Great Ball, also for the six-year-old nephew. I thought this looked really cute and fun. The hardest part was picking which Pokémon/ball combination.


(image from

Pusheen 12″ plush for my eight-year-old niece. I hope I made the right call on this. Elizabeth thinks the ones eating things (cookie, cupcake, sushi, doughnut, pizza, ice cream, chips) are cuter, but I thought a more basic edition would have more long-term cuteness/appeal. (By the way, there is a 41″ version too if you are of the go-big-or-go-home temperament.)

I also bought the Pusheen stamp set, which by the way is TINY—tinier than I was imagining, because I failed to read the perfectly clear description. It’s a nice stocking item, though. And if you’re thinking of buying some Pusheen stuff, I definitely recommend the Pusheen book. All my kids love it.


(image from

Nerf Dart refill, for ten-year-old Henry. When we are old and moving into a nursing home, they will clean out our house and, one assumes, find thousands of Nerf darts, because where do they all go?


(image from

OPI in Madame President. For me. I had a bottle already, but Elizabeth uses up a lot of nail polish and so when the price dipped I bought another bottle to set aside and not let her use. I’ll have Paul put it in my stocking.


(image from

Pizzacraft dough docker, for Paul. He likes trying new kitchen toys, even if they don’t end up being useful.


(image from

LEGO Space Shuttle Explorer / Moon Station / Space Rover. For Paul, who recently said he was in the mood to build with LEGOs again. I like that you can make three different projects with the same set.


(image from

Portal the board game, for either Edward or Henry, depending on who has fewer presents. The video games Portal and Portal 2 have been extremely and persistently popular at our house, so even if the board game ends up being terrible it’ll be fun to open. I’m also buying this little LEGO Portal set; probably I’ll give it to Paul because he can be relied on to share graciously.


(image from

Dixit, for 16-year-old William. I am picky about games, and I do like this one. I like that it’s low-pressure, and everyone plays for themselves so you don’t have to worry about letting teammates down, and it’s relaxed and creative, and it allows time to pause and chat for awhile mid-game-play. I was explaining the game to William (I played it at someone else’s house) and he really liked the sound of it so I’m getting it for him.


(image from

Chicago Cutlery Fusion II 5-inch utility knife and 7-3/4-inch chef knife. We have the 3-inch paring knife and Paul commented recently that it’s one of his top favorites and he wishes he had a second one so he didn’t have to keep washing it. So I’m buying him a second one, and also these two different knives from the same line so he can see if he likes those too. I see they say hand-wash only, but we have been putting the paring knife through the dishwasher daily.


(image from

Hedgehog journal, for niece who loves hedgehogs. Also hedgehog stickers.


Melissa and Doug Giant Deer. For me, and as a friend for my giraffe. I can’t fully explain myself, except that I saw him in a store and his nose was perfectly off-center and he was looking at me like this:


You should have seen all the adoring looks he got as I wheeled him around in the cart. Everyone who saw him wished they’d seen him first! Everyone! I have him standing next to the Christmas tree with Christmas lights draped over his antlers, and I have no regrets.


College Student Care Package for Christmas/Finals

I just sent off a care package to Rob. I meant to FIRST write down what was in it, for a post. I remembered that right after I handed the box to the clerk. So this post will be a test of my memory. A second test of my memory, since I failed the first one about remembering to document beforehand.

I didn’t want to send too much stuff, because in a few weeks I’m going to be filling Christmas stockings and a lot of that is the same sort of things I’d put in a care package. But he has finals coming up and I wanted to send good snacks for that, and also I wanted to send some Christmassy stuff, so here’s what I put in there:

A package of trail mix
Two different boxes of protein-emphasizing granola bars
A theater-size box of Christmas M&Ms
One Little Debbie Christmas-tree-shaped brownie (the other kids ate the rest)
A box of red/green/white Tic Tacs
Four chocolate ornaments
A 50-light string of mini Christmas lights ($2.49 at Target)
A Christmassy pillowcase (I found two-packs at HomeGoods and Marshalls and TJMaxx)
A baggie of just his favorite flavor of the chewable multivitamins from the assorted bottle
Half dozen or so of the best pages from our page-a-day calendars

I would have added a candy cane, but I forgot to buy them. I meant to add a big green floofy curly ribbon, but I see it sitting here on my desk.

A Fair Amount of Complaining About Cleaning the Bathroom

I only need to do ONE thing today, I mean in addition to the usual things like dishes and laundry and meals and child transportation, just ONE extra thing, and that is to clean the bathroom. And not even the whole bathroom but just the sink and toilet and maybe I will dab a paper towel in the corners of the floor and that is IT, no one is asking me to do anything actually difficult. I don’t need to negotiate for a hostage or clean an entire house or stand at a cash register all day, ALL I need to do is clean one sink and one toilet and then I can play Candy Crush with a clear conscience, it is impossible to comprehend the privilege and luxury of my life, so why am I instead sulking at my computer? Gah. I will just write this ONE post and then I will do it. So soon, I will do it. Before you know it, you will glance up and there I’ll be, smelling faintly of lemon 409, proud and a little grossed out, and the bathroom will be about half shiny.

I don’t even have anything to write about, so what if I went and cleaned it NOW and then came back? I even have my radio in there! I could be thinking of what to write while I worked and listened to music! Ug, I don’t want to. And to think that just last night I was bragging about how good I was at making myself do things I don’t want to do, which is a complete and obvious lie: I am TERRIBLE at making myself do things I don’t want to do. Or, let’s think positively: I am strong-willed!

This morning instead of cleaning the bathroom I toasted some pecans, which is one of those things that seemed like way too much fuss to me until I did it the first time, and now I’m like “What is the big deal, you just put them on a baking sheet at 350F for four minutes, stir them, put them back in for another four minutes and then you have TOASTED PECANS.” I also made another batch of the vegetable dish because the oven could be efficiently shared with the pecans, and we still have leftover turkey. Then I planted an amaryllis bulb. Meanwhile the bathroom waits in vain for an equal share of my housewifely attention.

One issue is that we have one of those toilet seats that’s easy to completely remove, for easy cleaning. (It’s this one.) This is such a great feature, so why does it increase the mental burden? Partly it’s that it increases the grossness: now the toilet seat has been in the tub. I don’t really HAVE to remove it, I could just clean it as if it were a regular toilet seat—but the toilet seat and I both know that I could do better. Plus, it’s gross but satisfying to scrub the hinges under hot water.

It’s also discouraging that Paul leaves his nail clippers to rust-stain the countertop instead of lifting his arm slightly higher to put them into the cabinet, and it’s discouraging that a number of years ago William lit cotton balls on fire in the sink and stained it with yellow-brown marks. The sink/counter never looks clean even when it is, and every time I clean it I’m reminded that I’M NOT THE ONE WHO MADE ANY OF THOSE UGLY AND AVOIDABLE AND PERMANENT MARKS. Why DO we live with other people?

Seriously, it doesn’t even take very long. I’m going to do it right now, and I’m going to time how long it takes, and then won’t I feel silly for spending so long avoiding it?

*there is the sound of country music, and someone seems to be attempting to sing along*
*the faint lemony tinge of 409 drifts to your nostrils*
*followed by a rather stronger scent of bleach*
*someone just swore, and there was a sound of a toilet seat landing too hard in the tub*
*there is muttering; it seems to be directed at people who don’t sit to pee*
*oh god oh god oh god okay that part’s done*
*the singing is sounding more cheerful*
*there’s the sound of the trash being emptied, so we must be close now*

Okay, DONE. It took 30 minutes almost exactly. I myself won’t feel clean until my next shower, but the bathroom is looking pretty good. The bowl water is bluish and bleachy, and no one else is home so I will get to be the one to flush it down later after it’s soaked for awhile. The mirror is cracked but shiny. The sink is stained but clean. The toilet seat…well, I won’t say WHO, but apparently SOMEONE let the bleachy spray soak too long, because there are now streaks in the whiteness. But we will not worry about it! It’s fine! It’s absolutely fine!

Christmas Earrings

May I remind you of Christmas earrings, for wearing all month to gradually increase the holiday spirit? I’m so sad and sorry the ones I mentioned in that post, the ones with a Christmas tree on top of a car, never came back into stock; those are the BEST ONES.

(image from

I’m wearing these today, and freshly appreciating their subtlety. (I like flashy earrings too, but I like them a little closer to Christmas.) I’m sorry to say they ship from a company called Body Candy, which may give the wrong idea to another adult in your household when the mail comes.

Since the original post, which I am surprised to see was three years ago because it feels as if we were JUST talking about it, I’ve acquired a new pair:

(image from

Lunch at the Ritz Jingle Jewels. These are the size I like: kind of smallish to mediumish. One reviewer says she thought they’d be rounded out all the way around like real ornaments, so I will mention that they are flat—or rather, not completely flat, but a flat piece of metal slightly curved. I love that they don’t match. Be prepared for a little bit of sticker shock: they’re not CRAZY expensive, but they were expensive enough that I used birthday money to justify buying them. They go up and down a bit in price; I paid $40 with shipping.


(image from

I considered these, but I think having faint jingling near my ears all day would drive me crazy.


(image from

Sienna Sky Cascading Christmas Ornaments. I have these on my wish list this year. One problem with a lot of holiday earrings is that most of them are sold as novelties, six pairs for under $10 or whatever, and then they bother my ears. Sienna Sky is a brand I really like: very light earrings, totally neutral to my ears. But…they’re expensive. So they make good gifts.

Charlie; It’s/Its

Every so often I use my ancient bottle of Charlie perfume, which is the perfume I wore in high school, though this is a less-ancient bottle than that. I do hope I didn’t use multiple sprays of it back then, because it is Quite Strong. Well, if I DID use a lot of it, I was in good company: I am pretty sure I still have other people’s Benetton Colors and Drakkar Noir residue in my nostrils.

This morning I had an academic revelation. It reminds me of the time when, in my early 30s, I suddenly realized that the horizontal line in a fraction MEANS “divided by.” You can SAY IT that way: “1/4” is “1 divided by 4.” Anyway, this morning’s revelation concerns its/it’s and may be as obvious to some of you as the fraction line, but to me it was mind-altering. I have been successfully using its/it’s (though I found a misuse in this very post), but I could not have explained to you WHY—UNTIL NOW.

Here is where my confusion was, before this morning: we say “Swistle’s name,” so why isn’t it correct to say “it’s name”? I know it ISN’T correct, but why?? HERE IS WHY: because “it” is a pronoun, and so it follows PRONOUN rules rather than NOUN rules (“Swistle” is a noun). This is no way to construct a language, but this is what we’ve got.

Here is what we do with possessive NOUNS: we leave the noun the same and we add an apostrophe-S or an apostrophe, depending on the particular noun and its singular/plural status. Possessive nouns: Swistle’s name, the cats’ names, people’s names, the tree’s name, the estate’s name, the babies’ names, the movie’s name. Apostrophes galore!

For possessive PRONOUNS, we don’t do that; instead, we use whole new words. “He” is a pronoun, so we don’t say “he’s name” as we would if “he” were a noun; instead we say “his name.” The possessive for “he” is a whole new word: “his.” “She” is a pronoun, so we don’t say “she’s name” as we would if “she” were a noun; instead we say “her name.” The possessive for “she” is a whole new word: “her.” “They” is a pronoun, so we don’t say “they’s names” as we would if “they” were a noun; instead we say “their names.” The possessive for “they” is a whole new word: “their.” And “it” is a pronoun, so we don’t say “it’s name” as we would if “it” were a noun; instead we say “its name.” The possessive for “it” is a whole new word, “its.” Which is not enough of a whole new word, in my opinion, and is confusingly similar to what we do to make nouns possessive. No wonder people have trouble learning this. It should have been an actual whole new word such as “eir.”

But it’s too late now; we’re stuck with it. The contraction “it’s” sounds the same as the possessive pronoun “its,” and that is just how it is. The contraction “he’s” sounds different from the possessive pronoun “his,” and the contraction “she’s” sounds different from the possessive pronoun “her,” and so everyone understands the difference. We only get muddled by “it’s”/”its,” and frankly we have good reason to be confused. Oh! And we also get muddled by “they’re”/”their,” ALSO for good reason: because THEY SOUND THE SAME, and because the NON-possessive form is the one with the apostrophe! Really, we should pat ourselves on the back if we get it right 50% of the time.

Whooo, thanks for hanging in there on this boring topic. It’s just, I finally have a mnemonic for remembering the it’s/its thing: “its” goes with “his”; “it’s” goes with “he’s.” (I would prefer to remember it with “her”/”she’s,” but the matching S-endings of “its” and “his” is essential for it to click into place in my mind.)

Turkey-Vegetable-Egg Scramble Recipe and Gift Ideas from Swistle’s House

I was going to tell you about one of my favorite ways to use leftover turkey, but then I realized it also uses up an atypical Thanksgiving side dish so let’s start with that. It’s an easy vegetable dish that I started making as a thing to go with salmon and rice. I’m afraid this is one of those recipes without good measurements; if I’d realized I was going to tell it to you, I would have measured as I made it last time. But I will try to at least give you an IDEA of the measurements, unlike my late mother-in-law who gave me her treasured cinnamon roll recipe that tells me to combine “cinnamon, butter, and sugar”—no measurements at all.

Cut up one red bell pepper, one small/medium summer squash or zucchini (I don’t peel it), and some carrots (I do peel those, or else I use baby carrots). The goal is to have about equal amounts of the three vegetables, all in smaller than bite-sized pieces because I like to have a couple of pieces combined with each bite of whatever else I’m eating; I cut the carrots in not-too-thin slices because I don’t like them to get mushy and cooked-carroty. I put all the cut-up vegetables in a 2-quart casserole dish because that’s the only one I have that has a lid, but they don’t fill it so you could use something smaller. I pour on some bottled lemon juice; my guess is that I put on a tablespoon or two. Then I add a pinch or two of thyme, and some ground pepper, and stir it all up. (You could skip the thyme/pepper or use a different spice.) Then I drop in a blop of butter, probably a tablespoon. I put the lid on, and I put it in the oven for roughly half an hour at roughly 350 degrees F, but really it goes in with whatever I’m cooking—so if I’m cooking at 400 degrees F, it goes in at 400 degrees F and I just take it out sooner. When it’s done, I give it another stir to mix the butter around, and I add some salt.

So! Now for how I use up the leftover turkey: scramble some eggs with cut-up turkey and a good scoop of these vegetables (ideally the right number so that every bite has one piece of egg, one piece of turkey, and one to two pieces of vegetable), plus as much Tostitos Queso Blanco dip as I can heap on a spoon. Just stir it alllll around.

Now. What was it I was going to say after the recipe part? Oh, yes! Today we are doing Gift Ideas from Swistle’s House: I am going to wander through my house finding things I highly recommend buying for other people. This idea seemed so great when I thought of it, but the execution was more challenging than anticipated: one’s own possessions sort of VANISH into the house, so that even though I periodically think, “Oh, I just love this shower radio; I should recommend it!,” I don’t then SEE the shower radio when I’m looking for gift ideas. Well, I did see the shower radio. But there are other things I DIDN’T see, is my guess.

Bloom County Complete Library. Children ruin everything, including one’s cherished paperback Bloom County books. There are five hardcover volumes altogether (I have the first three, because those are my favorite era of Bloom County), and the children are not allowed to touch them.

Texts from Jane Eyre. These are even funnier if you’ve read all the books featuring these characters, I imagine, but I haven’t read Wuthering Heights and still laughed a LOT at Cathy and Heathcliff’s texts:

good that’s so much love


Tinted Chapstick in Merlot, for someone’s stocking. It’s $4.99 at Target, sometimes a better price on Amazon. It’s just the right amount of color for not needing to look in the mirror. I tried Hello Bordeaux as well, and it’s pretty good but a little bright on me; the Merlot is my definite favorite.

Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer in Plum. A more intense color; I need the mirror for it.


The promised shower radio. This surprisingly expensive item ($80 as I’m posting) happened because Paul ordered me a much less expensive one that we couldn’t get to work, and he got frustrated and ordered this one to replace it. Anyway, I love it. I use it the whole time I’m getting ready in the morning. If you don’t need Bluetooth, there’s a radio-only version for $60 at time of posting.


Drambuie. My friend Miss Grace suggested this when I had a lingering cough that was driving me crazy. I bought it as Very Expensive Cough Syrup (it’s around $30 for the bottle), but now I like to have a bottle on hand for occasional treats: it’s one of the only liquors I like the taste of well enough to sip. It’s sweet and warming, and I guess it tastes like black licorice but I strongly dislike black licorice so I don’t understand why I like it, then. To me it tastes more like honey and spice, not spice like pumpkin spice but more like…well, licorice. But I don’t LIKE licorice! It’s puzzling.


Honeywell Circulator Fan. I tend to run hot, and I hate being hot, so I love this fan. It’s just the right size to get a pleasant breeze going, and it tips to various angles. I discovered it because my sister-in-law put one in their guest room and I stayed over and it was perfect.


Munchkin Deluxe. I hate this game. But the children love it, and fortunately Paul will play it with them. We also have the Munchkin Apocalypse, which is a complete playable game on its own (but not Deluxe, so it doesn’t have the playing board) but can also be used as an expansion pack with the basic game.


Vintage Charm Lidded Bowls. These try very hard to imply that they are Pyrex, but as far as I can tell, they are not. They are INSPIRED by Pyrex. I do love them so much, and they have LIDS. The price goes up and down a lot; I got a pack of three bowls with three lids on a Goldbox deal for $20, but more often they seem to be in the $30s.


Melissa and Doug giraffe. Have I…mentioned this giraffe before, or is this a little awkward? I bought it impulsively on clearance at HomeGoods last year and it is one of the joys of my life. The comments/photos on Amazon are funny/entertaining and show that others feel the same about their giraffes. We often dress her in hats and scarves, but I happened to catch her in a contemplative moment right between wearing a small turkey on her head and being draped in Christmas lights and a Santa hat.


Anker PowerCore 5000 portable phone charger, or the smaller/lighter Anker PowerCore Mini 3350. My brother bought me one of these for Christmas one year and now I always have one in my purse. We have about five of them total because they help soothe my Disaster/Preparation Anxieties, too.


Dishers! I have the Oxo small (2 teaspoons) and the Oxo medium (1.5 tablespoons), both of which are good for cookies, depending on how big you like to make cookies. I also have a Vollrath size 20 (1-5/8ths ounce), which is good for muffins. They are surprisingly expensive, so they make nice gifts. Paul gave me the Vollrath one and I thought it was way too expensive until I tried it, at which point I added “more dishers” to my wish list.

TacoProper Taco Holders. Before we had these, it was impossible to contemplate dishing up plates of tacos for five children. By the way, I don’t have any but have you seen the triceratops taco holders? I love them.

Joie Oink pig spatula. A good spatula AND ALSO VERY CUTE. The mini ones are good for scraping the last bits of peanut butter out of the peanut butter jar and into your mouth.

The cuteness of the pig spatulas reminds me of my Happy Spoons (not shown—they’re in a utensil jar on the counter).


LG microwave. Speaking of expensive. But maybe you and a house-sharing adult like to buy each other household appliances for holidays. The price varies a bit; I bought it for about $150, but I’ve mostly seen it higher than that. It is not a compact microwave, by the way, and I hadn’t realized there was a difference, so that was a bit of a surprise (our old microwave was compact). I was like, “Look how it fits EXACTLY on the microwave cart! …..Ohhhhhhhhhh!”


Denim 24/7 Bootcut Jeans. I really like these. (Don’t buy anything on the Roaman’s site for full price: they are the kind of site that has constant sales.) I have them in a few different shades of denim (I particularly like Stonewash Sanded), and recently got bold and ordered them in Red Ochre, which reminds me of the red-orange Crayola crayon. I wish I’d been a little bolder and gotten the Golden Amber instead, which I wanted more than the red-orange but was also more nervous about wearing; I saw them on someone else and they were fabulous. Well. I’ll add them to the next order.


Wet Brush. I bought this because Kelly told me to (which is also why I have Daisy razors instead of the crummy ones I used to have). You don’t have to use it on wet hair. It’s the best brush I’ve ever owned, and Elizabeth and I now own four of them between us. For a gift, I recommend combining it with a Turbie Twist hair towel.


Duluth Fire Hose pants. If you are buying for a gentleman who prefers pants to be cargo and sturdy, I can tell you that Paul says these are the best pants he has ever owned. They have pockets upon pockets within pockets, and they seem beautifully stitched. Furthermore, his barber took one look and said “Great pants. Duluth?” Also, as the one who does the laundry, I can add that they don’t get all wrinkly in the dryer if you don’t take them out right away. They are kind of expensive; sign up for the email list first, because they have constant sales of the “25% off plus free shipping” type. If you need something to bring the total up a bit to meet a free-shipping requirement, Paul also likes their Big Ass Bricks of Soap.

End-of-Pottery-Class Report

You know what, actually I am not going to wait to write about the pottery class until I have photos for illustration. For one thing, photos basically FORCE you to praise the things I made, and though that would be enjoyable for me, it could be considerably more of a strain for you. For another thing, I now have just enough pottery experience to know that glaze is so pretty it makes every Very Poor pieces look deceptively great, especially in a photo. So I am just going to go ahead and tell you about the class.

To review, first I spontaneously signed up for a wheel-thrown pottery class, and I was surprised at and pleased with myself for having done so. Then I started the class, and after two sessions I didn’t really like it at all and was considering dropping out. Then, after talking to you about it, I changed my strategies and started doing things differently than my teacher wanted me to, and things were going much better, though I was still counting down how many classes were left, and taking Discouragement Breaks in the bathroom. I don’t think I’ve given any updates since.

After one glorious class where the teacher was out of the room and I was doing my own thing and having much happier results, the next session the teacher was back in the room and back to insisting (nicely, gently, quietly, but PERSISTENTLY) that I continue to try to make a straight-sided cylinder. I modified my strategy again: I chose to have some faith in her belief that learning to make a straight-sided cylinder would benefit me in the long run—but, considering the class was half over and there would be no Long Run, I would also work on things I wanted to have as souvenirs when the class was over. I did not want to end the class with nothing more to show for it than a collection of failed straight-sided cylinders. So each day I went in, I worked for awhile on cylinders, and as each one failed I tried to make something else out of it. I continued to feel happy that we were past the halfway point, and continued to think in terms of “Only four classes left!,” “Only three classes left!,” etc. I was unprompt in my arrivals and overprompt in my departures (“Oh, I just reached a breaking point so I cleaned up early”).

On the second-to-last day of class (“This class and then one more and then I’m DONE!”), I learned glazing, which is where you choose what colors to make things. And because I still had things to trim (i.e., partially-dry pieces that needed to be scraped to be thinner and more even), and could only glaze THOSE if they were done BEFORE the last class, I came in the next day for an Open Session: a time when students can come in and work on their projects without the teacher there. I’d never done that before, but I really needed to if I was going to finish everything, so I did.

I can’t quite explain what happened, but on the day I went in for extra work-time, I went home feeling HIGH. My theory is that what did it was learning the last step in the process: now I knew all the basics for taking a 25-pound bag of clay and turning it into glazed finished pieces; and because some of my main anxieties are New Things and Not Knowing How Things Work (like, which cart does this go on when I’m done? and what do I do next? and where are things located when they’ve been fired? and when do I put on the glaze? and then what cart do I put it on?), learning that last step removed a bunch of anxiety. Another part of my theory is that the Must! Finish! adrenaline got mistakenly interpreted by my brain as excitement and enthusiasm. There is also room to question the effects of glaze fumes.

Whatever it was, I started to have a mad, mad, mad idea: Maybe I should sign up for the next session! I recognized this for the crazy near-the-finish-line idea it was. It was relief, that was all: I was having such a surge of relief that the class was almost done, and satisfaction with getting things completed, and sentimental feelings about my nice classmates, and as previously theorized I was mistaking it for excitement and enthusiasm. Also, one of the huge benefits of the class was that it made me appreciate OTHER PEOPLE’S work, so that now perhaps I could take the cost of another session and instead use it to buy some pretty things made by SOMEONE WHO KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING. I could support an artist AND end up with a much nicer-looking item than I could make! Win-win!

But then I kept thinking happily all week about getting back to the studio and glazing the things I’d trimmed. I kept thinking of more ideas I wanted to try. I thought about how neat it would be to be thinking about the glaze options AS I WAS SHAPING THE CLAY, rather than standing stupidly in the glazing room with no idea of what I wanted to do. And how nice it would be, now that I knew all the steps, to stagger things: do some wheel-throwing and then do some trimming and then some glazing, and have things at every stage of the process. And maybe I could come in for more open sessions, now that I was not trying to MINIMIZE the number of hours I spent there. And I had seen a marked difference between my first batch of items and my second batch of items, and I wondered if there would be another jump between the second batch and the third. And I went to a pottery store with my mom and didn’t really want to buy anything because I kind of wanted to keep trying to make all those things myself.

In short, brain-error or no, I WAS IN FACT excited and enthusiastic, and counting days until the next class instead of feeling increasing dread. And then on the last day I glazed my last items and I didn’t want to leave early and I was wishing I could have tried painting on the clay before firing, and anyway long story short is that I signed up for the next session.

Christmas Mugs and Country Music

Christmas mugs, gurl

I should be writing over at my poor neglected baby-name blog, but instead I want to talk about Christmas mugs and country music.

My ideal number of Christmas mugs is four: two smaller ones, two larger ones. The number of Christmas mugs I in fact own has been creeping up somewhat past that ideal, and then I added that happy squirrel mug this year, so I donated two others I don’t like as much, and left two more in the Christmas box, and just brought up these four.

The one with little drawings all over it was a happy find. My mom and I saw it years ago at Marshalls, and we both immediately loved it. I don’t remember how much it cost, but I remember it was more than I could justify at the time—like $12.99 for a single mug (it’s a Dunoon, which meant nothing to me at the time but now I know it’s an expensive brand), so my mom bought it as a gift for my sister-in-law. Then I pined for the mug for years. Then I put a search on eBay for it, and one day a search result came up, and I bought it. So now I have one and I am happy, and also happy to be mug-twins with my sister-in-law. If you feel any stirrings of pining in yourself, the mug is called “Little Bits of Christmas.” (If instead you are pining for any of the others, I got them all at HomeGoods: the Potter’s Studio squirrel is from this year, the larger Christmas tree mug is Fringe from last year, and the smaller Christmas tree mug is from a Myott pattern I’ve seen at HomeGoods and Marshalls year after year but haven’t yet seen this year.)


I have slowly turned from someone who likes a few country-crossover songs and owns one Dixie Chicks album into someone who has put a country station on one of her carefully-hoarded pre-sets. So you still would not call me a super fan at this point, and I still prefer Top 40 and pop-alternative stations, but there has been a definite change. My friend Surely said something long ago about how country music has more love songs for grown-ups—I think at the time I was complaining about how every single pop love song seemed to be about clubs and dancing and bodies rather than, like, LOVE. Anyway, here are a few country songs I like, in case you would be interested in sampling them:

If I Had a Boat, by Lyle Lovett. Country crossover: I first heard it on the alternative rock station.


I Could Use a Love Song, by Maren Morris. With country songs more than with pop songs, sometimes I like a song for the lyrics more than for the tune/artist. This one is me feeling moony while listening to my Peter Cetera Pandora station.


’80s Mercedes, by Maren Morris. This one is the opposite: the lyrics do nothing for me, but I like the rest of the song.


Unforgettable, by Thomas Rhett. Another one where I like the song okay but don’t love it; the real reason I’m including this is that it has shown me the bar pick-up that would work on me: “Then I tried to guess your middle name; for 30 minutes bet we played that game.” Yes. That and a gin-and-tonic gets you your best possible shot.


No Such Thing as a Broken Heart, by Old Dominion. I really like this song and also the video is fun to watch.


Sippin’ on Fire, by Florida Georgia Line. The first song I liked by them was the crossover remix they did with Nelly: Cruise (I like the original version too, but I love how much fun they all look like they’re having making the remix).


Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not, by Thompson Square. I appreciate the way they manage to rhyme “not” with “what”: Are you gonna kiss me or not / Are we gonna do this or wat.


Hurricane, by Luke Combs. Sad and I like it.


Every Little Thing, by Carly Pearce. Sad and I like it.


Games, by Luke Bryan. This is the song where I ran out of things to say about the songs, so now I will just list them.


What Ifs, by Kane Brown.


Small Town Boy, by Dustin Lynch.


In Case You Didn’t Know, by Brett Lynch.

Be Yourself, Unless You Can Be Holtzmann

The art center where I took the wheel pottery class did a Student Expo at the end of the term, with work on display from all the classes. The teachers did such a cool job setting all the projects up as if they were pieces in a museum. My pieces, which had previously looked lumpy and tipped to me, now looked like Significant Primitives With Artistic Value. And I will have more to say about the pottery class, now that it’s over, but I want to wait until I have all my pieces back (some things haven’t been fired yet) (or do I mean kilned) (anyway they’re not done) so that I can illustrate the post with a picture—and because the way those final pieces turn out will contribute to my final evaluation of the class.

What I wanted to talk about today is that as I was looking at all the art, a guy came up to me and started telling me about the acrylic paintings I was looking at. I thought he must have been a member of that class, so I nodded and smiled politely. Then I moved on to the next display, with work from another class. He followed me, and started telling me about that display too, standing at Friend Closeness instead of Stranger Distance. I showed even less interest. I started being more deliberate with my body language: closed, turned away, stepping back to Stranger Distance, no eye contact, sounds instead of words, leaving the display as soon as he joined me and going to one across the room rather than to the next natural one along the path. He kept following me and talking, and there was no one else in the room. I had been feeling uncomfortable from the beginning, but now I started to feel increasingly anxious. Why was he telling me all this? Why did he know so much about every single class? Did he work here, or had he taken all the classes, or was he Not Quite Right and he was making it all up?

Then Paul, who had been looking at something in the next room over, came over and joined me. The guy turned into mist and vanished. I was relieved, and also upset. I felt as if I’d had to use Paul’s protection—and that the guy had respected Paul’s mere existence as a man, when he hadn’t respected my clear social signals to leave me alone. The guy had been nearing the point where, if Paul hadn’t been there, I would have had to either leave the building or else start an uncomfortable confrontation. But Paul just appears next to me, and THAT’S what communicates to this guy that I don’t want him near me? If he were actually genuinely thinking I wanted to have him following me and talking to me, he would have stayed and continued “educating” me even with Paul there, and in fact would have included Paul in his informative lectures; his swift departure indicates that he knew perfectly well I didn’t want him around me, and that he was counting on social pressure to keep me from saying anything to stop him.

Thinking about this in the days afterward, I’ve wished a bunch of things. I wished I were Holtzmann in Ghostbusters. She would have glanced in his direction and then licked a gun or something, and he would have backed away, first slowly and then much more rapidly. I wished I were someone who would say the uncomfortable thing and get rid of the guy myself. I wished for, like, a completely different culture, where women don’t have very good reasons to feel nervous about the risks involved in strange men and confronting them.