Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Every year at the end of November I make a photo book.

The tradition started two years ago. My Christmas plans that year were shaky, and my Christmas the year before had been…not super Christmas-y. So I sat down and thought about what I could do that would make the day special. And the idea I came up with was the yearly photo book.

Here’s what I do:  I put together all my photos (and friends’ photos) from the previous year, and I combine them into a beautiful, customized hardcover book. When the book is shipped to me, I am not allowed to open it and look at it. Instead, I wrap it up right away and am not allowed to open it until Christmas.

It turns out this idea was completely inspired. There is no way I’d rather spend part of my Christmas Day than by looking at photos of the people I love and the special times I’ve had over the course of the last year. It is hard for me to feel lonely while doing such a thing, and it is very, very easy to feel grateful.

Now I think about this tradition all year long. I do a better job remembering to take photos throughout the year, and sometimes I tell people, “I want this photo for my photo book,” and it makes them a part of the tradition. I put it out on the coffee table for my friends to enjoy as they wish. And I think I will really enjoy having a visual record of many of the important people and events in my life in the future as well. Of course, I always have the digital files of the photos, but looking through the books is more a curated and intimate experience.

Here are a few examples:

I used two years worth of photos for my first book.

I used two years worth of photos for my first book.


Last year's book

Last year’s book


And here, have a Nala spread!

And here, have a Nala spread!

If you would like to make your own photo book, here are some tips I have learned over the last few years:

  • I use shutterfly.com to make my books. Their layout interface is a little glitchy, but it could be worse, and I like how many options they offer. That being said, these photo books are expensive, and I suspect there are cheaper options out there.
  • If you do use shutterfly, never pay full price. Instead, wait until they have a promotion, which they seem to have constantly. You can build your book and save it and wait until the best (cheapest) time to buy. You should be able to get 50% off your book and free shipping. This year I got 50% and a free photo calendar.
  • It takes many hours to make a comprehensive book covering a year. It takes less time if you are making a book that covers a single event or trip, but the year-long books are a big project. My books usually include over 100 pages of photos, and that much layout takes time. (Shutterfly does offer to automatically lay it out for you if you prefer.)
  • One of the most time-consuming tasks is culling your photos and getting them all onto shutterfly. I try to do a little of this work ahead of time by downloading likely photos from Facebook as they are posted and putting them in a special folder. The more you can organize your photos ahead of time, the easier it will be to put together your book.
  • Keep in mind that resolution will matter, and it will matter more the bigger you want the photo to be in your book. (You can get away with lower resolutions at smaller sizes.) This is mostly an issue with photos downloaded from Facebook. If you can get people to send you the full image file instead, that is better. (This encourages me to take as many pictures on my own devices as possible. Especially because when the photos are on other people’s cameras, you sometimes just never get them at any resolution.)
  • I like to have a balance between some large photos that take up most of the page, and some collage pages that contain multiple photos (occasionally I do up to 16 on a page). That way I can highlight particularly special moments or great shots while also not having to cull so aggressively, which comes in handy when I’m faced with the several hundred cute photos of Nala that I inevitably have by the end of the year.
  • I do multi-page spreads for important events like trips and my birthday party, but I also like to include spreads that highlight my more everyday life. This year I included lists of the concerts, plays, and movies I’ve seen, and I have spreads for blues dancing, playing board games, yummy foods, and cute Nala photos.

I’m really looking forward to getting to see my 2015 photo book. Only a few weeks left to wait!

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I remember the first holiday when I had nowhere to go.

I was twenty-two years old. I had just graduated from college, and in a few weeks I was moving to London. It was Christmastime. It would have been the last Christmas in my childhood home, as the plan was to sell the house sometime the next year. Would have been, because my dad and his girlfriend decided to go on a romantic getaway for Christmas instead. I made plans to spend Christmas with my boyfriend and his family. But then we broke up like a week beforehand.

And I had nowhere to go.


I read an essay in the New York Times last week that hit me hard in the gut. Life: An Unspooling, it was called. The writer, Rachel Louise Snyder, was writing about loneliness:

“I imagine myself alone in ways other people are not…. People who know where they’ll go on holidays and with whom and for how long. People with plans. With extended family they complain about, but then spend the most important days of the year with.”

I imagine myself alone in ways other people are not. There’s the rub, isn’t it? We have these ideas in our minds, maybe even expectations, about how things are, about how things should be, about the way other people live their lives. We feel the rawness of the intersection of how we imagine other people live and how our own lives fall short of this ideal. And all of these mental gymnastics make the loneliness ache that much more acutely.

And then there’s that feeling of free fall. Because there are most important days of the year, however arbitrary they may be, and to have nowhere to go for them–to lack that comfortable sense of belonging–it is hard. And knowing there are many people who also lack that certainty about those important days doesn’t lessen the loneliness of it.

Those of us who know this reality have to create anchors in other ways. And there is no instruction manual on how to accomplish this.


I read this essay in the Times, and then I got in my car and drove to the movies to see Mr. Holmes with one of my close friends.

Oh, Mr. Holmes. The movie is a meditation on loneliness. Every character is lonely in his or her own way, alienated in his or her own way, and the loneliness we see is profound. Alienation between father and son, between mother and child, between two best friends, between husband and wife, between oneself and one’s aging and failing body. People who fail to understand one another, who let each other down in terrible ways. Who feel like they do not belong.

Oh, this movie. I love it, I hate it, thinking about it now makes me want to cry, the ending is sublime. I want to find my own field somewhere and a bunch of big white rocks (even as I was watching, I thought to myself, where in the world does one obtain rocks like those).  I want to remember the people who are not here anymore. The people whose absence still speaks. The people who, in their own ways, have taught me about loneliness, all unknowing.


This last Christmas I did my best to let go. It was actually a very good Christmas. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with two of my favorite people, and I looked through the year’s photobook for the first time, and I spent time with Nala, and I ate well, and I Skyped with my sister.

Tree Day, however, I spent alone.

Tree Day, for me, is perhaps of an equivalent importance to Christmas Day itself. It is the first Saturday of December. It is the day I go pick out a tree and bring it home and string up the lights and decorate it. It tends to smoosh out into two days and sometimes even more.

For last Tree Day, I thought about asking around and trying to find someone who would go with me, someone who would help me carry the tree in from the car, someone who would decorate with me and perhaps even listen to the occasional memory ignited by one of the many old ornaments in my collection. I thought about it, and it was an exhausting thought, and so I just went by myself and hoped for the best, and then a neighbor I didn’t know helped me carry the tree into the apartment, and everything worked out.

I was happy because my anchor held. I could do it on my own. I could let go, and I wasn’t deeply unhappy about it. I was just a tiny bit unhappy. And I was still able to create the beauty I wished to see.

It looks like fairies live here.

It looks like fairies live here.

But I was also sad. Because I knew–because I know–that I will always want that. I will always want people I belong to and who belong to me. I will always want one or more people who will of course spend Tree Day with me because it is one of my Most Important Days. I will always want a place to be.

It’s okay. It’s okay that I will always want this and I won’t always get it. But it is also sad.


I want you to know the only reason I can publish this piece is that I’m not feeling particularly lonely right now.

Also, the holidays are still a safe distance away. I won’t start to feel a hollow pit of dread until at least October.

I hope you won’t feel sorry for me. I hope, instead, that you will experience some kind of resonance, reading this. That you will think of your own way of being lonely, whatever that looks like, and that perhaps its edge will be slightly dulled hearing about one of my ways. That you will gain a greater appreciation for the place you have to be, or that you will find courage in not having that place, in knowing that the not having is workable and that it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.

That perhaps we can continue to understand each other better, you and I.


I spend a lot of time feeling deep gratitude towards the people who give me less obvious places to go.

I don’t know if these people know what they’re giving me. Every invitation, whether accepted or not, I gather them up and they become part of that all-important anchor. They help me remember my place in the world.

I did not have to spend Mother’s Day alone. I did not have to spend Christmas alone. I did not have to spend Thanksgiving alone. There is no price that can be put on things like this.

That Christmas, back when I was twenty-two, it had a happy ending. One of my best friends from college invited me into her home. Her entire family welcomed me and included me in all the festivities. To this day, I think about the generosity and warmth they showed me, and I tear up, and it changes how I see the world.

They didn’t have to offer me a place to go. But they did.

It meant everything to me. It still does.

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I love Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and the end of the year because it’s a time that can be filled with joy and gratitude and renewal. It is the darkest time of year for those of us in the northern hemisphere, and we hold onto the knowledge that things change, that the world around us is  in constant motion, as are we. We think with hope of longer, warmer days and the blooming of spring.

But sometimes the holidays can be quite challenging. For many, it can be a time of loneliness, missing people who are not here or not being involved in the hustle and bustle of the masses. We might be confronted with people and patterns that are difficult for us to deal with gracefully. We might be overscheduled, overcommitted, or overburdened with expectations, either our own or other people’s. We might be tired from the year that’s ending.

I’ve come up with a list of tips for my own personal sanity this year, and I’m going to share them with you. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

1. Prioritize and let go. Let go of as much as you can. Figure out what is truly important to you, and be flexible about everything else. This might include letting go of what other people might want from you, too.

2. Treat yourself. For me, this often means yummy consumables: pumpkin spice chai, hot cider, cookies, ice cream, holiday treats. For others, this might mean a massage or a trip to the library or window shopping or playing a video game.

3. Give yourself time. If you’re really busy, maybe this is five minutes at the end of the day to sit and do nothing. Maybe it’s time to take a bubble bath or time to take a walk or time to watch a favorite movie. For me this year, it’s time to read, and it’s truly blissful.

4. Let yourself feel how you feel. There can be so many shoulds, especially around the holidays when you “should” be perfectly happy and want to do all the things. But give yourself space to feel sad or lonely or angry or anxious or whatever emotion comes up. It’s fine to have a multilayered experience. It’s fine if the holidays are hard.

5. Make health a priority. Do your best to get enough sleep, to eat healthy foods, and to exercise to the best of your ability. (With a healing ankle, that means a five minute walk for me, but hey! Five minutes are five minutes.) Wash your hands. Stretch. Dress warmly if it’s cold outside.

6. Reach out to your people. Take the initiative to make plans that make you feel happy and safe. If you’re not able to spend the holidays physically with your people, remind yourself of their existence. Text, call, comment on Facebook. Surround yourself, either physically or virtually, with people who you like and who like you.

7. Hold onto hope. The future is full of possibilities.

This year's TREE. :)

This year’s TREE. 🙂

I hope you all have a peaceful and happy End of Year. But if that isn’t your experience, that’s just fine too. The wheel keeps turning, and the days keep going by. 2014 will be here soon enough.

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My Christmas Friends

I’d like to introduce you all to my new friend Chewie.

Chewbacca helps in kitchen

Today he was helping me in the kitchen. After Thanksgiving’s success, I made more cranberry sauce…

Chewbacca and cinnamon rolls

And he ate several of my cinnamon rolls. Luckily the pumpkin pie is still safe in the oven, baking.

Meanwhile, Nala was her normal clever self and stole her stocking from where it hung above the fireplace.


I was able to distract her with Chewie and get the stocking back. She’s finding his name misleading, because she thinks it means he’s another one of her chewtoys.

Nala meets Chewbacca

Chewie also makes strange Wookie noises that encourage Nala to bark. In a friendly way, of course.

We’re ready to celebrate Christmas. For all of you who are celebrating today, Merry Christmas! And for those of you who aren’t, I hope you’re having a fabulous day.


The days are growing longer once more, and today is a time I’m reminded of the human spirit. Each of us has so much potential and so much to offer the world. Here’s to another year of living large!

Nala says Merry Christmas

I’ll see you on Thursday!

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