Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cleaning from top to bottom

Do you know how to clean a house?  I don't.

Don't get me wrong.  I know how to clean a kitchen, bathrooms, even the dining room.  I know how to put things away in the bedroom and vacuum and sweep.  But life gets in the way of daily cleaning, and eventually, our whole house looks like a tornado hit it and my poor husband has given up on me, and eventually it's time to put things to rights.  Since we are having my in-laws over after Christmas and we are having our annual New Year's Party, we need to spend the next week seriously cleaning house.  Which requires me to admit that well, I don't really know how to clean a house.  Obviously, the proper steps are:

1) Get stuff off the floor/counter/couch/bed and put it away
2) Clean/vacuum/sweep/lysol/change tablecloth, etc. until shiny.

However, I don't really know the right order to start tackling things in.  Normally I start with the dining room, because the table is kind of a vacuum/dumping ground and is covered in stuff.  However, it occurred to me recently that when doing a week-long deep clean, you must instead start with the least frequently used rooms of the house, as they are the least likely to get messed up again.  So I have opted instead to start with the guest room and the living room.  Next will be the bathrooms, the hallway/steps, the office, and then our bedroom, and lastly, the dining room/kitchen.

In addition to not knowing the right order, I'm never sure where to start.  I fixate on little things and abandon the big picture.  I focus on dusting the molding, not clearing the stuff from the coffee table.  I have helped enough other people clean to know that this failure to look at the big picture is not unique.  It ends in throwing all of the things in a box and shoving it in the bathtub/closet/under the table before people come over.  This is bad.  In the future, I plan to use this "clean from top to bottom, left to right" method to avoid fixating on anything too large or too small and move quickly.  I am also in the market for a better method for dusting besides Swiffer dusters, so if you have any suggestions, let me hear them. (I do not actually know how to dust anything.  I know how to use pledge, but I don't think I'm supposed to use pledge on the fake plants in our bookshelf.  I also don't want to just shake the dust into the air, as I have a severe dust allergy.)

As far as keeping a house in good shape, I really like a lot of the ideas from this Daily Quick Cleaning Checklist.  We try to do 10-minute cleaning bursts daily, which helps a lot, but it's easy to fall behind on them.  But I'm open to more ideas - how do you keep your house clean?  What order do you clean in?  How do you dust?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Marriage Matters: Christmas Shopping

I've recently noticed something on television that I find a little disturbing.  All of the ads about holiday shopping either show:
1) Mom/wife doing all of the shopping for the family.
2) Husband confused and terrible at buying gifts, wrapping gifts, and guessing what people want.

I find this disturbing mostly because it mimics the gender roles in my relationship, and I never thought of our holiday shopping practices as gendered.  This is because in the past, I've been a student or I've been unemployed.  Therefore I have had the free time to go do all the holiday shopping.  In fact, since high school, I've played Santa for my entire family, from my grandmother to my little cousins, and this trend continues.  My mom and I usually go Black Friday shopping to buy gifts for people, but this year we missed that and I've done most of the shopping on my own because my mom has been overwhelmed at work (it turns out being a highly successful doctor is demanding.)

So this year, as in years past, we've collected together family wishlists, organized what we are getting, and then I ordered everything on Amazon or picked it up on my way to work.  We tackle wrapping together in the evenings leading up to Christmas, and try to make sure we have everything organized and together for multiple Christmases.  It works for us, because I don't work long hours and the Amazon prime subscription is on my account.  It works for us because I love buying gifts for people.  I love the challenge of thinking of what somebody wants or needs that they don't even know they want or need.  I love writing down gift ideas I have for people months in advance, and then three months later they are delighted I have remembered something they mentioned in passing.  I am, largely, the kind of person who is a little too blunt and a little too awkward and often says the wrong thing, but with gifts, I can say or do the right thing.

It nags at me, though, the gendered-ness of it.  That we reinforce the idea that women, as the caretakers and the nurturers, are the ones responsible for the purchasing of holiday gifts.  How can I fight the stereotype while not giving up on the thing I love the most about the holidays?  What do you and your partner do?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Does getting married mean growing up?

The thing I find the most challenging about being married is this idea that being married means I'm automatically a grown-up.  Have you seen Parks & Recreation?  April and Andy, the only married couple on the show, are about as far from being grown-ups as anyone I've ever seen.  But I love the episode where they go to Bed Bath & Beyond and Andy finally admits to April that he really wants his own fork. 

April doesn't mind sharing a fork because she doesn't want to grow up because grown-ups are boring.  I won't spoil the episode if anybody hasn't seen it (and if you haven't, why haven't you seen it? Go watch it. Then we'll talk.) but I will say, these are two people that resist the idea that being married means you need to be a grown-up.

Now, I badly want to be a grown-up and I don't mind being boring.  But I do mind this idea that somehow, I'm supposed to have grown up overnight just because I'm married now.  I still leave my socks everywhere and my poor tired husband still follows me around trying to get me to put my cereal bowl in the sink (or the dishwasher) after breakfast.  I forget what day trash day is and when I don't put a new bag in the recycling bin, I still throw whatever I'm holding into it, figuring I'll put in a new bag later.

One of my friends defined being a grown-up as, "realizing your actions have consequences, and learning from that."  For example, when I started working, I realized I could not just throw my suits on the bedroom floor because I did not have time to iron them daily.  So I started hanging my suits up.  I was continuously late to work because I couldn't find my keys. I'm now much better about hanging my keys on the key hook we keep next to the door.  I hope that in a few years, I will be the kind of person that puts all my clothes away or in the hamper, that makes sure both socks make it into and out of the laundry, and never has to soak another cereal bowl. 

What does being a grown-up mean to you?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Marriage Matters: Holiday Cards

I started sending holiday cards after my first year in Law School. I made my own cards, and found post-finals to be a great time to get my craft on and relax with a big pile of red and green paper, rubber stamps, and glue dots.  Mark sent his own cards, and occasionally, signed cards to his friends that I wrote out.  This continued for three years of thoughtful, heartfelt Christmas cards which went out in a haphazard process of me not having any idea who I actually sent cards to (and later finding a card that did not get mailed to x, y, or z under my craft table.)  It was not a good system, but I found that I really liked the tradition of keeping in touch with certain people via holiday card (something my parents value as well, because for people that do not have Facebook, the holiday cards are how you keep in touch with people.)  Last year, we made the jump to photo cards which do not require exhausting heartfelt sentiments and instead let you generally wish people the best for the coming year.  (And a Merry Christmas if you and they celebrate it.)

I loved last year's cards that I did on Shutterfly (who sponsored them), except they broke my one rule: dont send cards that say Merry Christmas.  But the thing was, I really wanted a card that let me tell people that I passed the bar exam, because that was news that I got in November after the wedding and if you weren't on Facebook, you didn't know.  So I used one of Shutterfly's "year in review" cards that let us talk about the highlights of the year.  We listed exciting things that happened to me, to Mark, and to both of us, followed by "yay!!!" at appropriate intervals. 

It was cheesy, but we were told it was just cheesy enough.  (I think the key when you don't have kids and send Christmas cards that are a little ironic.) We didn't send it to Jews who are offended by Christmas cards, and we didn't send to our friends because we didn't want to spend the money on extra cards (erm, sorry friends).  The year-in-review theme is a good option to consider if you are sick of writing Thank You notes, don't want to write a holiday letter, but have news to share with people. 

This year we ordered holiday cards from Vistaprint.  I don't expect the quality to be as good as Shutterfly, but we are sending 80+ cards this year and they were less than $40 for 80.  I also looked into Mixbook, and both Mixbook and Vistaprint let you customize the text of your card so it says Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings or Happy New Year or Let it Snow.  I am anxiously awaiting our holiday cards arrival in the mail, but since we picked the "Slow" shipping, I suspect they will end up arriving the week between Christmas and New Years.  That's fine, since really, they are New Year's cards.

This is our refined holiday card strategy (roughly the same as our process for wedding invites, so this might look familiar to you):
1.) Pick a photo, bicker over whether holiday photo is holiday-y enough since you took it over the summer and are wearing t-shirts. If no photo can be agreed on, stage a photo shoot.  Ask your parents to take the photo. Argue over photographic style differences and whether a flash is necessary with said parent. Vow to hire a professional next year. Upload photo to card website. Debate card layouts and language. Order cards. 
2.) Consolidate and update addresses before cards arrive, perform a mail merge and print labels
3.) Buy stamps (when you have 15 overseas family members needing cards, you spend more on postage than cards).
4.) When cards arrive, label and stamp while watching a favorite holiday film (my preferred favorite is The Santa Clause).  Write personal notes on cards if you really want to.  Add a "Happy Hanukkah" note on the Jewish cards unless Hanukkah has already ended for the year.  Look up spelling of Hanukkah if you are not sure.
5.) Mail cards!

What do you do about holiday cards? 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The New Blog

Our domain name expired recently, and so, instead of renewing it, I think we'll be changing the name/direction of the blog.  I'm pretty much done writing about weddings.  They still excite and interest me, but I feel that I have very little left to say on the subject that you couldn't find in the archives, which, as part of the redesign and renaming, I will probably get around to organizing better.

I want to keep writing, and as several of you have expressed that you would like it if I kept writing, I would like to know what you want me to keep writing about.  If you want Mark to keep writing, I think you'll need to start a petition or something, he's a really terrible blogger.  But he does the laundry, so I really can't complain.

I will continue Monday Marriage Matters, and then I would like to write 1-2 more posts during the week about...something.  I want to talk about married life, and nesting, and other things, but not in the "home decor and throw pillows" way, more like in the "creating an intentional home that represents who we are and is a pleasant place to spend time".  I want to talk about crafting, not necessarily in the making tutorials and sharing all my craft projects, but instead, in the "oh my goodness I'm a busy professional and however will I fit in enough time to do the things I want to do instead of just the things I have to do?"  And most importantly, I want to talk about these things with you guys, not at you guys.  Which means installing a plug in so we can have conversations, but also, talking about things you want to talk about.  So please!  Come on over, answer the poll in the left hand corner, or comment, and tell me what you want to talk about.  And please suggest a name for the new blog!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Did you buy the book yet?

Okay, for starters, today is my big sister's birthday.  And she's all kinds of awesome.  So Happy Birthday, Margaret!
(at the wedding weekend 5k)
During wedding planning, my big sister was my sanity saver, my rock, my reminder that, "none of this really matters" and "it's your wedding, but x is a bad idea".  (x being: running the 5k on the actual wedding day; doing my own flowers while also making my own dress; serving non-vegetarians nothing but eggplant or tofu).  It was my sister who told me that "your wedding is going to start late, there is nothing you can do about it, stop freaking out."  It was my sister who negotiated with all the other brides at Running of the Brides to get me my dress, and my sister who talked me off the ledge when I decided it wasn't the right dress, and convinced me that really, it was the right dress. I freely admit that I totally botched the bridesmaids dress picking (look, it's a disaster no matter what), and she didn't complain about any of it.  None of the advice she gave me while planning, or now, while being a wife, has been wrong.

So, it seems really fitting that the APW Book Buy is on her birthday.  Because this book is going to be the big sister you don't have, if you don't have one, or yours isn't doing the things big sisters are supposed to do and you need some serious sanity.  It will be the calming voice of reason telling you that there is no wrong way to get married.  It will be the thing that helps you stay grounded when your mom is going on and on about favors or great Aunt Ida or needing to have a church wedding.  And for those of us who are already married?  It will give us better ways to give unsolicited wedding advice to others, because we all need to be the big sister to somebody down the line.

So get thee to Amazon or the bookstore and pre-purchase your copy now!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Monday Marriage Matters: It's Beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I've become very interested lately in the rituals of different members of couples surrounding the holiday season.   My sister-in-law and her husband, for their first Christmas living together, are negotiating whether to decorate the Christmas tree before December 24th, as his family always decorates their tree together on Christmas Eve.  For the past couple of years, my sister has gotten a mini tree from Whole Foods and decked it out with Hanukkah lights and ornaments, compromising with her Jewish husband over how much Christmas they should have in their house.  One friend admitted that in her family, they got their tree the day after Thanksgiving, but in her spouse's family, they got it much closer to Christmas, and they were trying to negotiate that.  Mark and I are lucky, because we have relatively similar feelings about how to handle Christmas, and trees.  Mostly learned through a series of trial and error. 

My first Christmas in my own apartment, my roommates and I got a tree.  We drove to the sketchy discount tree lot on Greenbelt Road in College Park, loaded a big evergreen into the backseat of my Ford Taurus, piled the three of us in the front seat, and then took it back to Courtyards, where we carried it up three flights of steps and managed to somehow get it in a tree stand.

After three weeks of watering the tree and getting pine needles stuck in my hair, and vacuuming needles until sometime after Easter, I started to see the merits of an artificial tree.  Mark, probably sensing he would be the one carrying the tree up several flights of steps, agreed.  We tried the live potted tree one year and when that didn't work, we broke down, and purchased a six foot, pre-lit, Christmas tree.  Now, there are people who are hardcore about wanting live trees.  Those people have probably never watched this video.  I have nothing against live trees, but cutting a tree down every year just to decorate my house seemed wasteful, although it's not like my artificial tree is significantly more environmentally friendly.  (But seriously, I love live trees.  I just don't think the "smell" is worth all that work.)

I come from a family that does not decorate.  For holidays, or generally.  My parents have stark white walls in every room of the house, with a few paintings done by my great-grandfather.  They are wonderful people, but they are not skilled at decorating.  Christmas decorating for my folks involves my dad throwing lights at the bushes, my mom breaking out the ceramic Christmas tree that my great-grandpa painted for her, and my dad putting those electric candles in the windows.  For Mark's family, Christmas decorating involves my mother-in-law hauling out ten bins of Christmas decorating materials, crafting a Christmas village on a special table, rearranging furniture, hanging Christmas paraphernalia everywhere, and stocking candy dishes with holiday m&ms. 

When it comes to how much we decorate, the answer has been largely one that appeals to Mark's frugality and my laziness.  Mark hangs holiday lights in the windows, we put up the tree, a wreath goes on the door, and we hang stockings.  We are slowly but surely amassing a collection of Christmas figurines that decorate the mantel and bookcases, but our decorating remains fairly subtle. Every year, I pick up some stuff at the after-Christmas sales and stick it in the bins for next year, leading to a pleasant surprise the following December. 

We are lucky, I think, that we are both able to be flexible enough on our traditions and rituals and are generally in line that: you do not celebrate Christmas before Thanksgiving, that holiday cards should be non-denominational, that Christmas should be spent with family.  We are trying to create our own traditions - we take Christmas Eve (or the day before) off from family and spend it just with each other, cooking an elaborate meal that takes an insane amount of time and is fantastically good.  Then we open our stockings by the fire. 

What do you do to celebrate the holidays? Do you and your partner celebrate the same holidays?  How do you make it work if you don't?  Are you creating new traditions together or building on ones you already had with your family?