Two months left (of 2023)

150 150 Frances
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Dear Kristin–

I’m writing this on October 25th, a date that’s significant for two reasons. First, it’s the anniversary of the day I met Clifton in 1991. He’s now been my boyfriend for 32 years! Second, October 25th means we have two months before Christmas. Eight weeks. 56 days. 

Once upon a time, the idea that I only had two months to get ready for Christmas struck terror in my heart. Whatever your cultural traditions, the weeks leading up winter break will suck the life right out of you when your kids are in school. All those class parties and holiday recitals! All those teacher gifts! If you observe Christmas, you can add the burden of holiday shopping, prepping, decorating, wrapping, cooking. Even if your spouse helps out (and Clifton always has), it’s too much. 

But I’m done with all of that (mostly), which begs the question: How do I fill these formerly frantic weeks, now that my circumstances allow me to ease a bit more gracefully into the holiday season? 

This November and December, I plan to really dig into the attic project. Yeah, that old ball and chain. I’ve made some progress over the last ten months, but not as much as I’d hoped. One thing that has me motivated right now is that we have lots of good (and pretty well-preserved) toys and games that people shopping for Christmas at the Scrap Exchange and Good Will might really appreciate. 

Another thing that motivates me is the idea of starting 2024 off with a near-to-clean slate. I’ve felt in the last year or so that my life is shifting in some way–maybe the way a ship sailing on the open seas changes course, which is to say, slowly, almost imperceptibly. You feel it more than see it. You sense a new horizon before its outline emerges in the distance. 

As I’m sure I’ve written here before, I’ve always felt that if I actually put the attic to rights, something would open up in my emotional landscape. There would be a significant psychological shift. I used to be wary of that shifting. When you’re raising children, you need to stay steady and calm. But now I’m ready to take the risk, open things up, see what’s out there. And it seems to me there’s something about literally letting things go that helps with the process.

Having an empty nest means this time of year–the holidays, which I suppose officially begin on Halloween these days (Will’s birthday! 21! His first beer! jk!)–can be more of a time of contemplation, of reckoning, even. So it’s back to the attic for me, to clear out the cluttered spaces. 

What does this time of year bring up for you? How are your resolutions coming along?


Dear Frances,

What? Two months? You really know how to bring a girl down! I’m writing this on October 26, so now it’s only 55 days!

Kidding aside, I used to feel a little guilty about the fact that I didn’t love the Christmas season. I mean, I do love it–but it was so much work! I’ve learned over the years what matters, what doesn’t, and how to simplify things. And all of that helps to keep it from being too overwhelming. Like all of life, I think it’s all about managing expectations.

I’ve just started thinking about the holidays and how I want them to feel, now that it’s not all about little kids. Last year was the first year when all three kids were out of the house and “came home” for Christmas. That felt like a big transition. At first it felt a little sad that they weren’t around to enjoy the holiday decorations, music, lights, etc. during the whole month of December. But it also took the pressure off a bit. Speaking of taking the pressure off, I stopped sending Christmas cards last year and that was a relief! I would normally start stressing about that in October. Let’s face it, they aren’t adorable little kiddos anymore, who change substantially from year to year (except maybe the fullness of Jonah’s facial hair). It seemed like time to end that tradition.

Too soon?

I’m just starting to think about gifts (but those are changing now that the kids are older), and I’ve scaled back the decorating every year for the last few years. And I may scale it back even more this year. The menus for both Thanksgiving and Christmas are pretty much set. So, that really does free up some time! Gone are the days of Secret Santa gifts, lots of baking, and music recitals, so you’ve got me thinking about what I could focus on at this time of year. Maybe it’s time to do a little holiday volunteer work? I’m not sure. Mostly I want to appreciate the slow down. Maybe I can recapture my love of Christmas when the calendar isn’t so jam packed. That’s something to think about.

I applaud your efforts on the never-ending attic project. It would feel so nice to head into the holidays and the new year feeling light and uncluttered. I’m continuing to focus on my three yearly goals. As I’ve talked about here before (incessantly), the two kids’ rooms are basically done! Painting, furniture, bedding, lamps–all done! The walls are bare, but I can live with that for a while. The rooms are ready for the kids to come home and have a comfortable place to stay. That was my priority. Maybe I’ll get a picture or two up on the walls before Christmas. Who knows? I have these grand plans for making wall quilts, but I may be too impatient for that.

My goal of getting prepped for emergencies is basically where I want it to be. Our hurricane scare here in So Cal was a great dress rehearsal! It was a way to think through if we had what we needed–and we did! (Though I’m thankful that we didn’t actually need it.)

And my health goal of finding a strength training program that I can live with and losing some weight is actually going well! I’ve got the exercise program on the rails and I’m down a few pounds. In fact, that’s where I’d really like to finish out the year strong. I’d love to walk into 2024 feeling strong and a bit lighter (both physically and mentally).

How about you, dear readers? What do you want for the last two months of the year?


  • Tracie

    Like Frances and Clifton, my husband and I always celebrate when we met — 40 years ago this month! And today Minnesotans are feeling the shift from autumn to winter weather. Tomorrow might be our first snowfall, ready or not! I’ll buy groceries today because my pantry and freezer are getting low on staples.

    When our kids were young, October marked the beginning of the crazy season, just like you both wrote about. It’s been such a relief to be beyond all that extra stuff that did not feel like a celebration but rather a duty. Nowadays, Thanksgiving and Christmas are about church services and family gatherings around special meals. I still buy or make gifts for a few of our family members, and that’s enjoyable. I want to make potholders for everyone (siblings, nieces, and nephews) from my stash of Rifle Paper Co. Those fabrics seem extra special, and everyone can use a nice set of potholders. If I don’t get it done this year, I can do it next year.

    I anticipate a quieter, more reflective holiday season like I experienced last year. I’m not taking on anything extra this year because my plate feels full enough. I’m finally learning the importance of margin so that I can stay afloat during all the inevitable twists and turns life rains down on us.

    I wish you all cozy days of rest interspersed with busy, joy-filled days of productivity.

  • Robin Leftwich

    Wow, you all are in a great place!
    We’ve been dealing with some healt issues, but everything s going to be ok. This time of year is kind of an emotional mess, with some pretty bad anniversaries.
    So our holiday season is different. We sort of started new traditions. A lot less stress, less decorating, just a lot of togetherness and good meals!
    I learned this week that stress is a real thing and causes real physical symptoms. So please take are of yourselves!

  • Patty

    Our holidays have been low key for several years now. The decorations are simple – a tree in the living room, outdoor lights thrown on the bushes in a warm afternoon near Thanksgiving (not turned on until December 1!), and my Santa collection on display. We will fancy up the dinner for Thanksgiving and Christmas – a full vegan feast with some mac & cheese on the side for one of my daughters. My son will come home mid-December and we’ll celebrate an early Christmas then with a turkey dinner plus plenty of began choices too.

    For the rest of the year, my goal is really what it has been all year. Get outside as much as possible each day to enjoy sunshine and a walk and maybe some pickleball. Find time to read and sew. And – similar to the attic goal – remove all the fabric scraps and stuff I’ll never use from my sewing room. Some of the scraps are becoming projects, some have ended up in the trash, and others will go live in someone else’s house!

  • Colleen

    For me, Christmas prep starts on Remembrance Day (November 11 in Canada). I always had the day off work so it was a good day to do Christmas baking. I make Christmas cakes, soak them in brandy, then put them away till Christmas. Then I make a steamed Christmas pudding and it goes in the freezer. Finally I make shortbread. I used to try and put that away till Christmas, but somehow it never worked. We would “just one” until they were all gone and I would have to make another batch around December 20!

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