Friday, September 30, 2011

How much is too much?

Is it too early to talk about holidays? I don’t know about where you live, but here, stores have had Christmas candy on display for weeks now. And I like an early start. Also, since posting my goals, I have been thinking. How much is too much?

Last year, as I read more and more blogs, I found so many neat ideas for handmade holidays. I loved being able to give homemade presents. Not that I did any major projects, just some felt fortune cookies, some homemade chai mix, printed hankerchiefs, framed subway art, and about six batches of toffee and chocolates. Oh, and like five different kinds of cookies. And spiced liquor. And of course the advent calendar for the kids. My traditional photo book as Christmas gift to the grandmas & grandpas. Designed Christmas cards. Oh, and homemade dog biscuits, double batch, no less. Ok, maybe it was too much. Just a little.

I was always proud of fitting it in, getting it done. To me it’s important to add a homemade touch to any holiday. Much nicer than just buying everything. Much cheaper, too. And I was so happy to find ideas and tutorials that I could actually do and add to my list of traditions (which contains things like cookies, dog biscuits and photo books). I already pictured myself sewing all these great things for all the kids on my gift list. And tote bags for all female friends.

It’s slowly dawning on me that while there are a million nice things do to out there, I could also just do: nothing. Play with the kids. Read stories. Or (gasp!) sit on the couch and read a book (you know, one without pictures in it). Simply enjoy the season. Go for a walk and look at the lights. Drink hot chocolate with whipped cream - the German (European?) way of doing it, no marshmallows for us. Although I actually do make my own marshmallows every year (a friend of mine likes them). And I cut little stars and snowflakes from them. Uh yeah, maybe I am overdoing it. Just slightly.

There’s a fine line between doing  things you enjoy during the holiday season and doing so many things that it feels like chores on a way too long list. There are a lot of good posts on the topic. Such as this one from Remodeling this Life or this one by Aby from Simplify 101.

So it’s not like this is groundbreaking news in blogland. Just news to this I-want-it-all perfectionist. After all, it’s holidays. And they have to be just perfect, right? Right? Hm, maybe perfect refers to how much you enjoy them and not how much you got done. Talk about revelations here.

What are your plans? How much is too much for you and how do you know the difference? I’m still struggling with this one.

I do plan to pick the things I do carefully this season:

My fall decoration is chestnuts and leaves the kids collected. For Halloween I’ll do a little decorating the hallway (it’s tiny, so that takes like 10 minutes), maybe make a ghost garland or bat mobile since big brother needs to practice using his scissors a bit. We don’t usually dress up for Halloween here, we have Carnival early in the year and the whole trick-or-treating thing has just recently become popular here. This year, big brother decided he needs to be a magician. Of course that made me look at these great tutorials for sewing a cape and making a hat. A double sided-cape with collar and applique, no less. I think I may need a reality check here. So not sure about costumes yet. We will make ghost cookies and carve pumpkins. We always do jack-o-lanterns, it’s just so much fun. This is the first year little brother is going to get one, too. He was a bit annoyed last year when he was left out of it.

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but we do have lots of things to be ready for at the end of November, since Advent starts early this year (the first Advent Sunday is actually November 27 I think, and I hate when that happens. To me Advent is December. Oh well.) and I like to have my decorations up by then including the Advent wreath and calendars. Does it sound crazy if I tell you that I already got stuff to fill the Advent calendars with? I got a big bag of Playmobil figures at a fleamarket that I thought were perfect for the purpose. Add some of those tiny books and some small candy and I’m almost set. Anyway, last year I was forced to really sort through my Christmas decorations since some of it got moldy being packed up too tightly in that basement. So I only kept those I really loved, cleaned them and stored them in the attic. I don’t do much, I love the wooden pine trees I’ve collected and I do some pine cones and tiny red, white, green and brown ornaments that just go in a bowl with simple white candles and pine branches. Done. I do the tree about a week or so before Christmas. And I usually take it all down before New Years, since I don’t like starting the new year with pine needles and dusty ornaments. I leave only some simple lights, pine cones and white candles out.

I will, however, bake cookies. I always bake cookies. I start end of November and do at least my traditional ones plus maybe a few new recipes. I don’t do the elaborate ones that require much decorating, like my mom does. For me, they have to be done when they come out of the oven. My favorites are pecan crescents, fig swirls and stars topped with plum jam and crumbs. Yum. My mom does about a gazillion batches of the most complicated cookies. And no matter how early I would start, I could never catch up with her. So I’ve given up, do my signature Christmas cookies and try a new one if I feel like it. The biscotti we did last year could be a keeper.

Gifts. I looooooove giving gifts. I do not understand at all how some people can be so uninspired about this one. I do need to watch how much time I spend here, though (um, yes, and money). And how much stuff the kids get. That’s the hardest part to get under control: grandparents and their idea of how many and what gifts to get for the boys. I make lists. I assign things to each grandparent. They still find a way to buy some sort of cheap crap that fills my house. “Why,” they say, “the kids like it!”. Yeah. For about a day or so. The worst offenders (preferably the plastic ones that make noises and require batteries but do not have wheels) get packed up and disappear asap. Or get send to live at the grandparent’s house.

I love books as gifts. Or bigger toys that require several parties to chip in, therefore reducing overall gift clutter. Or sets that everyone can contribute to. Like a tool box. The best gift ever was when big brother was two and shortly before little brother was born. Having just decided to build a house, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. My mom had saved (and moved with her twice) my old play store that my dad had built. My husband gave it a fresh coat of paint. My in-laws bought some small boxes for the shelves and I got some wooden fruit and a cash register. Everyone had a part in it and my son was absolutely thrilled. There were some other presents (sigh), but he didn’t even look at them. It’s still sitting in his room and gets played with a lot.

Gifts for the grandparents are easy: they each get the annual photo book. They actually get two, one on their birthdays in Fall (my mom and dad get one each as my parents are divorced, so my father-in-law is the only lucky one to get a different birthday gift in May), and the second part for Christmas. I put a lot of work in that throughout the year, it’s something I enjoy and it’s a great way for me to preserve memories. And it does make a great gift. In addition to that they only get something small and personal.

Then there are friends. I usually pick something handmade, either by me, or by someone way more talented on platforms such as Dawanda or Etsy. Last: neighbors and all those people like kindergarten teachers, coworkers and so on. I usually pick one thing to make and then make batches of it. The toffee went well last year, so maybe it’s that again. You can call it boring and predictable. I call it a tradition.

Now here is where I’m not sure. Should I just skip the toffee and dog biscuits? After all, it’s not like we need to exchange gifts with all the people on that list. But I do like showing our appreciation. And I love taking the kids and delivering our gifts around town. The last two years we actually got to take a sleigh in the snow. It was magical. And we enjoyed it. And I want to show the kids that it’s fun to give something, even if it’s something small, but something you have made with love and give without expecting anything in return.

So I’m thinking we’ll do it again. Just make it simple. Pick one recipe, not three different kinds. Pick some great packaging that requires minimal effort (I love the ones here). And make sure to start early and enjoy the process.

And you know what? If the stuff on my goal list doesn’t get done by December, it’s just not going to get done this year. It’s me who made that list in the first place. I might just as well change it.

So do me a favor here. When I start posting complicated projects, long holiday to do lists or anything that requires sewing: stop me. Just stop me. Thank you.

Oh, and btw: all pictures in this post are from last year. I might be crazy, but not that crazy. 


  1. dear swantje,found your comment on my wrap-post and so your found my way to your blog. I fall in love with the spekulatiuslikör - would you pass me the recipe? I'm still in the summer mood but anyway. Have a lovely weekend! Susanne

  2. Hi Susanne - ohhhh, danke! Das freut mich aber! Du machst immer so schöne Fotos und die Rezepte - wie gesagt: HUNGER!

    Rezept kann ich gerne veröffentlichen, ist ja sooooooo einfach, dass es schon fast keinen ganzen Post wert ist ;) Braucht genau 4 Zutaten und 5 Minuten Zeit. Mag ja sonst so Möchtegern-Rezepte nicht, aber für das mache ich eine Ausnahme, ist nämlich ein prima Geschenk...

    So, for everyone: I'll post the Spekulatiuslikör Recipe sometime next month. Early next month. You might wanna make more than one batch - and drink the rest ;)



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