All I Don’t Want for Christmas

I announced a few blogs ago that my Christmas presents will be green this year. Bird feeders, bee houses, bat houses, milkweed seeds… But then I got to thinking (after a big spree in the Wild Bird Store), why give any thing? One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve come across this year was Lost Connections, by Johann Hari.

The book examines causes of depression beyond “a chemical imbalance in the brain.” One chapter is devoted to consumerism, the profitable and highly toxic myth that we can (and really should) buy our way out of sadness, discontent, obesity, boredom, loneliness, and so forth. Underlying that falsehood is the corollary that most of us are living lives that–really, let’s be honest–could do with a make over.

GRRRR. Most of us are wonderful people, if you ask me, and doing the best we can despite many challenges. Getting out our wallets in slavish obeisance to ad psychology won’t do much of anything to improve our lives or extend the life expectancy of the planet–just the opposite, in fact.

Which brings me to the question of the day: What do I want for Christmas?

My first thought was, “Lordy, I want a truly clean house…” My little farmhouse is humble, but it could be charming. As I type this, I sit facing an interior wall of exposed chestnut logs bigger around than I am (in some places). I can see the ax marks where somebody, nearly 200 years ago, chopped off the bark before the raw beams were set aside to season. I love this house. I raised my kid here, made my lawyer-stand from this place, and have spent hours and hours playing in this yard. I write all of my books here, and I am profoundly grateful to have this domicile for my own.

But my house is not exactly company-ready and seldom has been. I don’t much care about the appearances–I can meet friends elsewhere, after all–but I live and work here. Sparkling windows, new curtains (what I have are 20+ years old), scrubbed floors and so forth would make this place more commodious for me, but I just don’t have the gumption to get after it. I do what’s necessary, and occasionally tackle a bigger job, but not often enough to make a lasting difference.

For Christmas, if it were possible, I’d like some gumption. I’d also like for the lonely folks to have love and companionship. I’d like for the homeless to have shelter, for those who are ill or exhausted to have health or rest. I’d like to give a batch of hope to the despairing, mix up a pot of loveliness for those suffering from a chronic vista of ugliness.

I’d like for us to treasure one another and our lovely planet, to put the myth of consumerism on indefinite hiatus, and see if maybe THAT doesn’t light the sort of candles that glow all year long. To three commenters, I’ll send a signed copy of Forever and a Duke (Frank not included), and then the blog will go on a year-end break. See you in January, but first: What gift, if any, would really make your life better?

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54 comments on “All I Don’t Want for Christmas

  1. It’s interesting you thought the gift of a *clean house* would be something you’d really like. For my 25th wedding anniversary, my Darling Husband gave me a Cleaning Lady! Well, not an actual person but the gift of hiring someone to come to the house every four weeks or so to clean.

    For the last 15 years, we’ve had someone come every four weeks to clean. We’re on the third cleaning company (the first one I didn’t like–they just *re-arranged the dirt*–and the second went out of business. The folks we have now are workers from the second who bought it from the owner) and for the most part, it’s been great. It’s not expensive and I know it makes a difference in these ladies lives to have this business. They do a good job too.

    I do a *deep clean* myself every once (one room at a time) in a while but Our Cleaners maintain what I do. It’s also helpful to KNOW someone is coming to clean on a certain date so you want to put books back on the shelf, recycle magazines and other little piddly things BEFORE they get here. What a motivation! And because of that motivation, things are a lot neater than they would be if it were left up to me alone. Something to think about!

    I have an old wing back chair from my Grandma D sitting in my basement. I bought lovely upholstery fabric a year or so ago so it’s ready to be done. I have to find someone to do it… wouldn’t necessarily make my life better but it WOULD make me Happy!:)

    Have a lovely holiday, Grace. See you next year!

    • I do have friends who have to “clean for the cleaning lady,” and I know what they mean: Get the minor skirmishes fought and won so the big guns can go after the heavy artillery. I hope your grandma’s chair magically gets re-upholstered this Christmas!

  2. One of the most escapist/entertaining/vicariously cathartic things about your books for me are all the absolutely fantastic descriptions of the immaculate housekeeping.

    I’ve also had a cleaning lady, and once we are out of the toddler years, I’ll have one again. (It’s demoralizing now to have someone over, pay good money and two days later the place is trashed again.) Money for Liz the cleaning lady is some of the best money we’ve ever spent. One of my sisters hired a lady, and it changed her life too.

    I used to feel guilty about getting outside help. Like it was something I should be able to handle on my own. But. Keeping a house clean, floors scrubbed, etc, is a job. A HARD job. One that requires time and TONS of energy if it’s to be done well. One of my grandmothers was a pro, made it look easy. My mom is like that too. My niece once asked my mom, “How are you so fast and so good at this, Grandmaire?”

    “Oh,” she said, “I like it.”

    I don’t. I really don’t. It feels like penance, punishment, a waste of my finite resources of time and energy…because although I certainly -can- do it (and do, imperfectly), I don’t enjoy it. I’ll knit and knit, crochet a sweater, cook a four course dinner, throw a party (one of the few times I can clean without hating life is in preparation for a party), but the routine household chores? No, ma’am. I’d happily teach another section of English 1A and hand some of that money over to someone who needs it and will clean our house better than I ever could.

    Quality of life definitely improves in clean, well-kept spaces, at least for me. And since clean and organized are not my gifts, I’m more than happy to regularly pay those who have them.

    We get our windows professionally done, too. It’s CRAZY the difference it makes.

    And I COMPLETELY agree that the vast majority of people are wonderful and shouldering challenges with a tremendous amount of grace.

    Merry Christmas! Happy 2020!

    (BTW, Prime will usually give you a good quote from a bonded on-the-books cleaning company.) #soworthit

    • Never feel guilty about a cleaning person, Ona. Hubby asked me what I wanted for that anniversary and I told him I had cleaned toilets for 25 years, and I was done with it….so: cleaning lady. My Mom, the mother of six, had someone come in when we were kids but when we were teenagers, she turned over the dusting to us. Both of my Grandmas has someone come in too. One hated scrubbing floors and the other hated dusting so they had someone in after their kids were grown to do those jobs. Made a difference!

    • Yes! I am the sister who hired a cleaning lady this year. Miss Elvia has changed my life. She is an amazing professional and entrepreneur. She comes with an assistant and four hours later my house is immaculate, and I have more bandwidth for my kiddos and their special needs. Eight hours of women power to clean a house every two weeks is time I don’t have. Especially when you consider what Teenie Marie said above, that some piddling putting away tasks are warranted before your cleaning team arrives.

      I also hired a milkman. Every Friday morning at 2AM fresh, local milk (and eggnog) in re-usable glass jugs are dropped off in a cooler on my front stoop.

      Do I feel guilty about the help and support I employ? Nope. I do feel some rage though. Somehow modern parenting turned into one-woman-village-ing. And the idea that I can be the shopper, the cleaner, the therapist, the nurse, the coach, the baker, the chef, a bread-winner, IT department, cruise-director, cheer-squad, gardener, interior designer, and etc. is unsustainable, insulting, and maddening. And the fact that I am expect to do this work for free??? Care has a $$$$ value to it. But it largely remains unpaid, undignified, and unsupported. Women are just supposed to do it all without any training or support AND we’re supposed to be good at it, like it, and be happy about it???

      • We could go on and on and on…. Women over fifty are the fastest growing homeless group, in part because as you note, much female labor is uncompensated. No benefits, no paid leave, no SOCIAL SECURITY, not even weekends or evening off, much less a couple weeks to go mess around in Scotland. Then some fool walks in the door at the end of the day wanting attention and a hot meal and complaining about what a hard “day,” he’s had… a day. What, ten, twelve hours with people who don’t even spit up on him?

        Popo had a cleaning lady when all the kids were still home. She went to play tennis weekly with her friends, she did the Altar Society (which I took to mean her night out to giggle and vent with the ladies), she put her kids to work on house chores… she occasionally sent her husband off to the playground with three or four kids after dinner.

        And she was a very angry woman much of the time, which–I think–is what a lot of what that house cleaning was about.

        Hugs to you, Amy. One problem you face is that most men have simply not seen 50-50 parenting or home-managing modeled. Even among couples who honestly believe they are splitting the work 50/50, the actual data was 70/30 even if Mom brought in the larger salary.

        We are making progress, kids do grow up, and this too shall pass.

  3. I’d love more time.
    I realize you can’t wrap it in a box and put a bow on it…but that’s my desire.
    I would like the time to bake, read, write reviews, clean my bedroom…or to just me.

    I carve out time in my day to spend time with my dogs and to work on their obedience training. It’s a little me time. I walk during my lunch with a friend to get away from my desk and the emails that never seem to go away.

    I guess when I retire…I will have time to do all of these things. That’s something to look forward to.

    Have a peaceful Holiday Grace!

    • Most of my retired friends are sooooo busy, but sooooo happy. They finally get to put their time where their heart is, and it’s wonderful. I hope that day some for you soon, Sue, because, lordy, woman, you have EARNED it!

  4. My Grandmother had a plaque on her wall that said “My house is clean enough to be happy and dirty enough to be healthy”. I have that plaque on my wall now.
    What I would like for Christmas is time. My other Grandmother told me the older one gets the faster time goes. I have decided it just takes longer to do things than when I was younger.

  5. Laughing as i just sat down for a breather from house cleaning. One foot was in assorted casts & braces for 3 months, now I’m on my 3rd cortisone shot + orthotics as the last of the torn bits heal. Ive never been so grateful in my life for the ability to get up & move around to clean.

    A few surgeries back i treated myself to a robotic vacuum & mop set. Was it cheap? No. Did it take a load off & keep my floors from looking like lost footage from Hoarders? Yes.

    The one thing I’d like & I’m saving up for as I’m not putting things on credit cards unless it’s an emergency, is a new dishwasher. The rusted out 3 year old hulk in my kitchen that came with my new house is a commentary for another day. Could i wash by hand? Sure. Just like great grandpa used to cut the grass with a scythe. One of the ways I’ve found to “make” time is to take advantage of tech & cut out the busy work. Saving up to pay the nice man with the power washer to blast the algae off my windows & porch (side effect of lakefront living in the tropics) is best use of my resources.

    • Yard Guy is my hero. If I had to mow two acres of yard that desperately wants to “go back to the mountain,” it would not happen. I would be at the top of the Weed Control Officer’s Most Wanted list, and proud to be there. All the mowers, whackers, trimmners, blowers… I love watching him do his magic with that stuff.
      Without doubt, there are times when your bounden dooty to the economy, your neighbors, and your own wellbeing means acquiring some functional tech. (And then taking plenty of IG pics of it doing its thing.)

  6. I’d want all four of my sons together again like they were when they were little . I’d hope their families came too. Just remembering those long ago Christmases when reindeer landed on the roof and Santa ate the cookies we left out. And their daddy was still part of it all. Before years past and loss was not part of our holiday.

    • And THAT is one of the biggest heartaches about the holidays. For many of us, the holidays punctuate loss and distance, not blessings and closeness. It’s almost impossible not to take notice of who is no longer with us, who is deployed, who is feuding and boycotting or simply moving on to a more nuclear holiday.
      I hope the memories can be a comfort, Florine, and that those grandkids are old enough to Facetime with you. My sister has grandkids in Sweden, and every Sunday they connect with “Mormor” (Swedish for grandma), through the magic of Facetime.

  7. I love Amy’s list. I’ll add “and look good doing it all.”

    And I would like the seamstresses from Loretta Chase’s Maison Noirot crafting me a bespoke wardrobe starting from the skin out. I have needed a swimsuit that fits, for example, for at least 5 years.

    May all of you have light in the darkness, good health in ‘flu season and a measure of joy in each and every day.

    • Amy is a writer–can you tell?
      If we’re going blue sky here, I wouldn’t mind a kilt get up. Women do wear them, or kilty-skirts, with all the Highland dress accoutrements, and I especially like that part about carrying a fancy little knife in my sock.

      • Our daughter danced. Have an adult sized piper weight dancer’s kilt, socks, vest etc. They didn’t dance with knives. Hard enough to keep those socks up as it was. Or would you like one of those long hostess style skirts? Tartan preference? Just curious. The teacher here has a closet full of fabric that was never made up, I’m sure she’s not the only one.

  8. Like you, a clean house, but mine also needs decluttering. Also the yard cleaned up, and repaired where the dogs are digging to the other side of the world, new sod where they have destroyed the grass, and new furniture for the house to replace the stuff they ate.

    Unfortunately for that to do any good, the 3 youngish adult dogs and the shelter puppy would have to go and that ain’t happening (except for the shelter puppy, who will hopefully soon be well enough to go get adopted).

    So, I guess what I really need for Christmas is more patience and the wisdom to appreciate and enjoy my lively, untidy, chaotic life.

    Merry Christmas to all of you, and a Happy New Year!

    • My cats aren’t allowed upstairs, for the reason you note: The beasts have an impact on housekeeping and yard keeping. I loved having a dog (or two), but their impact on the furniture made the cats look invisible. Might be time to get a house turtle or something that doesn’t shed!

  9. I’m trying to organize & get rid of things to make keeping my house clean easier – one problem is that the way I go thru to organize things first makes a mess. Since I’m hosting Christmas Eve dinner I have to get cleaned up & maybe even do a little decorating. I’ve told everyone that I don’t want much for Christmas – some dark chocolate, some new summer slippers, a new hairbrush & a genealogy notebook. Hope all have a very happy holiday season!

  10. Dear Grace,
    I would love to put my name in for a signed copy of your latest book. I ordered my copy from our largest book supplier in Canada, but they are having a problem finding a copy for me. I know it will eventually come, but I would be willing to give away that copy to a friend, if I could get a signed copy from you.
    Thanks so much,

  11. Oh I agree…the clean house would be wonderful to have help! One thing that I would love is gift certificates to garden centers for the spring. We raise monarchs in the summer months, and I would love to go and buy tons and tons of new milkweed and some new monarch favorite flowers to plant.

  12. I understand what you’re saying about your house. You could ask as a present from someone you know and trust, that they come and help you pick out curtains and so on. I’m sure you know what you want if you see it and they can do the running around or ordering to get it for you. Good luck whatever you decide

  13. The gift of my mother living closer would make my life better, but I would not for the life of me make her move away from her friends and her sister that lives next door!

  14. That’s ok. I have my own frank, but there are days when my DD and I would gladly loan him out. He does housework including laundry, just have to pry him off the couch at times.

  15. I have been dealing with an auto-immune condition for the past few years, and exhaustion is my normal state. My house is therefore a mess and I haven’t the energy to clean it up. I don’t even have the energy to clean enough to have someone clean it without me being totally embarrassed. I guess it’s pride, or something . . . or acceptance of reality, but I just can’t let go and have someone go through all of my stuff. Giving myself this gift would be huge, so why am I stingy?

  16. I love what you wrote so much! Not only can I not compete with all the materialism that has come to mark the holidays; I dislike it very much. It wasn’t always this way.

    What I really want for Christmas is a cup of tea or hot cocoa, along with a few cookies perhaps, and time spent with my daughter and kitties. I may listen to some Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie, and I’ll call my mother, who lives far away. I want to think for awhile about the very first Christmas.

    I love this time of year. Merry Christmas!

  17. I’m really in a pretty good place this Christmas. 2019 brought a major knee injury with surgery, severe sleep apnea, Lupus diagnosis, rosacea, and basal skin cancer. After setting up my classroom and teaching one week, I aggravated my knee injury and have been on extended medical leave since. I’ve given my retirement notice and will be selling my condo to move to another state to share the cost of housing with my sister. Leaving teaching has brought me peace of mind from an oppressive, impossible job. Living on 1/3 of my usual income will force me to live a simpler life. And for the most part, I’m good with that. What I really wish for Christmas is that people would find a way to stand up for what is good and just and to refuse to accept that which is cruel, deceitful and unfair. Wishing you peace and joy in your little house in the woods,Grace Burrowes, along with plenty of free-flowing characters plots, and conversations for books.

  18. The things I want most aren’t really things that can be purchased as gifts.

    I want my daughter’s most enjoyable of her jobs to be a full time one so she could have just one job. Plus, it is a job with the county parks department, and she would love to eventually work at one of the big outdoors National Parks.

    I want my son to find a job in his field – biology – that he enjoys and that will pay the bills. He is working retail this year and will not be able to make it home for Christmas. So let’s add that bit to my wish list, having him home for Christmas. As upset that I am that he will be alone over Christmas it is nothing compared to the way his grandmother feels about him not being here for the first time in 25 years. My husband and I are going out to see him between Christmas and New Year’s, but it isn’t the same.

    I don’t believe in retail therapy. I do believe in reading therapy. My default with list always has books or the request for $$ for books on it. Getting lost in a book doesn’t make my real wishes come true, but it does help me relax and not stress as much over life being complicated.

    Merry Christmas and Happy All the Holidays!!

  19. I want to be a better person; more motivated and organized. I don’t know how to accomplish that, so I wish someone would take me in hand and come up with some systems and whatnot that would help me stay on track.

  20. I finished reading Forever and a Duke, it may well be the best of the series. My brother and sister ate spending a week with me, we are having an early Chrstmas tomorrow. Bob came in from Portland, Oregon, Layne lives in the same town as myself. We have been having a wonderful time together, preparing meals together, reminiscing. Hard to say how often we will,manage to get together in the future, I am 82, Bob is 79 ad Layne is 76. My youngest son and his family will,be here near Cristmas, I saw my oldest an and 2 grandchildren at thanksgiving,have talked with my daughter so I really feel I don’t need any other gifts. Jan

  21. My house probably looks similar to yours. It isn’t very large and we probably have more stuff (insert George Carlin word here) than we really need. I would like someone to come and force all of us to do the keep, donate, and trash sorting. It took an entire week to ready the kitchen for the Thanksgiving marathon cooking. Each day required sorting of items and then deep cleaning. The rest of the house could use the same treatment. I have refused to go into the basement since any free space is now filled with stuff. I had to tell my son that if he decides to live in an off campus apartment, any furniture he buys can’t come home when he is finished with university. I am trying to get rid of stuff not add more stuff. I want the guy who used to be on HGTV with the British accent to come and help us sort out our house.

  22. Your place sounds lovely and homey. I do much the same now that I am on my own. Since my husband passed away I do not have to clean as much and I am OK with that. The house gets basic cleaning if anyone is coming over. They all know I am not an interior decorator, so it is comfortable, casual and the way I like it. Yes there is much I could do but the house is not for sale at this time so why live in one that is a showcase and does not feel like home. Those are the things we enjoy now. I can still manage all that needs to be done around the house. During the other three seasons I am kept busy outside maintaining my two acres which are a mix of lawn, wild growth for wildlife and interest. I have lots that I should do inside, but it can wait.

    Since most of my family are adults now the only gifts I buy are for some dear friends who I get together with and we all give something to each other. My daughter gets her book list out and I order some for her, that is it. The rest of us long ago decided no more gifts and the pressure is off – that is something we grew up with and it is so nice not to feel pressure to buy. We enjoy each other’s company and fix meals when together, we sing a lot – all those songs we learned as children – German, English, European carols.

    Thanks to authors like you who write good books that I can enjoy while I put my feet up, the cat sits in my lap and I am transported elsewhere. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year celebration. Looking forward to a fun numbered year 2020.

  23. I like your idea of gumption, Grace. I would really like the p.t. I am doing for my back pain to work. Also I would also like to turn on the news in the morning without being fearful of what I will see. Happy Holidays.

  24. I would love a house manager. I can not keep track of everything for the four people in my house much less contain the chaos of the physical environment due to having four people in a smallish space. Managing takes up more brain room than I’d like and the cleaning does not get done to a standard that makes me happy. I always think Mrs. Reynolds in Pride and Prejudice would be a godsend. Too bad staff is not in my price range! If I can get things cleared out and organized enough though, a periodic visit from a cleaner would be amazing.

  25. For the holidays, I would like to see the ability to disagree without rancor, insults and alienation. While that blessing of cordial difference has never been easy to achieve, it seems to have nearly disappeared and our circles of family and friends have been diminished if not decimated by it. Tolerance and courtesy for the holidays, please.

  26. Hi Grace, All those things you wished for Christmas? I think you do give them. Your books are awlays a lovely escape and pleasure, for those of us out there struggling, you do give us hope and strength to keep going.

    I always love your advice on writing and living.

    Happy Holidays!


  27. I would love to be younger again when I was 21 with my entire family around me; or then I would love it if my kids were younger at that adorable age where we were altogether and they would all fit in my arms.

  28. Oh Grace, My gift list is very like yours. My house is not at all company-ready, and I can deal with that, but I’d dearly like a little uncluttered space all my own where I could work in peace. But my second wish is even more intangible and less likely – I’d like time to read!!!! I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a great start to the new year.

  29. My biggest wish is health. I’ve been dealing with chronic pain and depressia for many, years now, our daughter suffers from the consequences of a bad accident that left her in a coma when she was ten. She woke up, she studies and loves to climb and do martial arts but still, she is handicapped. Her younger sister suffers from rheumatism and depressia. Needless to say that I’d love to take that away from her. And then there is my mother who we lost to Alzheimer’s many years ago. So – health it is.

  30. The gift of time would make my life better, but alas there are only so many hours to go around! I’ll settle for some quiet time reading Christmas Regencies Romances by my Christmas tree, preferably with a fire going and something hot to drink.

  31. First, I love the picture of your book with Frank. I couldn’t get my ginger cat to stay still long enough to get that picture. LOL
    Second, I have enjoyed the stories provided by your fans. I have cleaners come in once a week, which is a blessing. I don’t clean before they come, but knowing they are coming forces me to pick stuff up and put it away so they have a surface to clean.
    Last, my wish for Christmas is that you live a long, healthy life so you can write many, many more stories!

  32. I have had many blessings and for all of those I’m eternally grateful, but a gift that would make my life better would be more contact with my kids and grandkids. They are 1500 miles away from me and I miss them like crazy. They are all so busy with careers that there is never enough time for Granny and Gramps. Holidays are the worst, when there are only just us two.

  33. I’m at the point in my life I need a serious bout of decluttering. That is a must! My husband and I have no children, so why am I saving generations of stuff! I’m living in my parent’s house, which is too much for us. Before I can get any serious cleaning done, I need to remove the clutter. This Christmas Season, I’m committed to removing twenty-four bags of stuff. It’s similar to my yearly Lenten commitment of forty bags of stuff gone. That can be; One bag of trash, one box of donation, one bag of recycling, one box of clothes going to the consignment shop out a day. So Like you, I need the gumption to get up out of my chair to do it.

  34. Amen!! I want some rest, physical and mental. I really want all my fosters cats to find homes and for no one to contact me about taking in any more for a day or two. I want a day to read books & nothing else!!

  35. Bless my mom for ” cancelling” Christmas when I was about 12. No presants. We would share a poem or story and someone would always read the Bible story of the birth of Christ. As years went on anyone who knew of something someone wanted or needed you just baught it then, not wait for Christmas.It made gift giving easier and more meaningful and the holidays less stressful.I hope the same for everyone!

  36. My worst habit is one of procrastination. I have been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember I to eventually get somethings done but not everything I eventually give up and concentrate on something new.I still run into the same problem but would like to feel am getting better at getting things done on a timely basis especially since I’m getting older and have more time on my hands — since I’m retired. That on occasion has backfired on me!!