2016 : Better

For Christmas I was delighted to receive Better Than Before, by Gretchen RubinBetter than Before. So delighted, in fact, that I read it on my journey back to London. I inhaled that book and look forward to reading it again soon. She focuses on habits- the hows and whys and how to use them to your advantage. Some people can find her a little prescriptive, but I find her method of discussing her own habits and reasons quite enlightening. I find the examples more useful to me than generic instructions. I’ve started brushing my teeth whilst standing on one leg to work on my balance because it never would have occurred to me until I read it in her book.

I haven’t made new year’s resolutions for 2016. My thinking is that Project Adult is probably enough. That being said, having read about it in her original Happiness Project, I do have a Word for the Year, which she describes as “one idea, summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year

This year, my word is BETTER. It encompasses improvement, without putting the pressure of definite goals or deadlines. So far, I’ve eaten some fish and drank tonnes of water (eat BETTER), deliberately not stressed about a particular friendship that is rocky (feel BETTER), helped a friend with her children (do BETTER) and put back a pair of impractical black shoes, but bought a pair of jeans (shop BETTER) amongst other things. They aren’t revolutionary, but they’re helping me be better than before.

I’m also looking at situations slightly differently now. I look at them and think about my usual way of handling things and try and think through how that would work out. I don’t want to do things in a similar way for the rest of my life. I want to do things better (which, as a sentence, feels terrible, but that’s the base principle!). Before I do something now, I take a moment to think through what I usually do, how it usually works out, how I usually feel and try and see if I can do something different to improve the outcome. Sometimes I put the dessert back. Sometimes I buy the striped v-neck jumper. Sometimes I send that message now rather than put it off. Sometimes I stay away from the internet for a day or so. It’s felt better.

The rocky friendship I mentioned? Before, I would have fallen over myself to “fix” the situation and pretend it was fine like a good little people-pleaser, but now I’m not doing that. My friend and I haven’t had a falling out- he knowingly did something that annoyed me and then disappeared for months. He got in touch as though nothing were wrong and, for a change, I didn’t let it go smoothly for him. I explained why I hadn’t contacted him and he apologised for a different reason. He’s disappeared again and I’m not chasing after him. My friend isn’t valuing me or my opinion, as is his right, but I also don’t have to pretend to be alright about it. It feels better that I’m not doing the heavy lifting in the friendship at the moment. He broke it, he can fix it. And he isn’t fixing it. He’s not even trying to fix it. I feel BETTER for having realised that and not putting in unnecessary energy and emotional effort.

I want to be a BETTER adult, the word BETTER is helping.

Breaking Tradition

So we survived Christmas. The new year finally arrived. We made it to the other side. Hello Adele.

This Christmas I went back to BDomestic Scienceelfast, as always, to spend with my family. Christmas without my dad, who passed away the summer before last, is very odd. All the old traditions still play out, but with a glaring difference. This year we’d had a bit of practice, so it was a little less jarring. We were ten people for dinner on Christmas day. My mum had invited a substantial number of guests, which was great. It took the pressure off a little and entertaining the guests gave her something to do, so my sister and I could manage the cooking relatively calmly. God love my sister. She’d got two stressful flights to get there from Canada and, after a few hours catch up sleep, we broke it to her that she was cooking the dinner the next day.

As part of working on my hostessing skills, I was determined that the house would be clean and the table would be ready long before any of the guests arrived. I spent two days cleaning the house and troubleshooting various minor things, managing not to upset my mother or imply that her housekeeping skills weren’t up to scratch.

I also spent an evening getting her to pull out ten place settings. This was a lot harder than it sounds. Nothing in our house matches. My mother is a frugal magpie and I’m aware I have picked up the same tendency. She loves pretty things, so if she sees some pretty plates, she’ll buy some. Not enough for a whole set, because that would be extravagant and too much of a financial outlay on something we don’t *really* need, but maybe three. They will not “go” with any of the other plates in the house. They will be “kept for good.”

My parents’ house initially belonged to my great aunt Rodie. She and her businessman husband were quite fancy. Not having children allows you to have fur coats, parquet flooring and chandeliers. When we inherited her house, the cocktail glasses by the bathtub went into a cupboard, the parquet flooring was carpeted over and the fur coats became dressing up items. She had fabulous china and glass ware, which were kept for good. We also had my parents wedding china which we kept for good and the china and cut glassware from my grandmother as well. That’s three sets of crockery and glassware being stored.

I have never seen any of these used. I think one set has a gold rim, but that’s about all I could tell you. I have no idea what they even look like. Full sets of at least 8 place settings. Being kept for Good. I’m 32 and in the last three decades, nothing sufficiently Good has happened apparently.

Most years, I suggest we use one of these sets for Christmas (or at least some of the cut glass glasses when we have nice wine!) and a Tense Discussion is held. Once, when my ex-boyfriend came, my mother relented and he was permitted a Good Glass. No one else at the Christmas table. He was utterly confused. Not least because it was a port glass and he was having to drink white wine from it. I was mortified. This year, I didn’t even mention the Good Glasses. That’s a sure sign of Adulting right there! I asked my mum to gather ten of everything (bringing her back to the task when she got distracted by nipping out to do some last minute gardening at 9pm or boiling the ham in Coca Cola. Cheers, Nigella) and I made sure it was clean. I didn’t worry about it matching (although I did gently guide a colour scheme of sorts). We had to buy new glasses in Sainsburys. Glasses that looked acceptable, but weren’t Too Good, obviously.

I believe only when the current Pope, the Pope Emeritus *and* the Queen come on the same day will we take out the Good Glasses.

Having the table set with starter plates, dinner plates, dessert pates, water and wine glasses, dishes for various sauces and gravies, complementary serving plates and utensils made me feel like we were ready for guests. It also meant that there wasn’t a mad scramble when people actually arrived. We were able to focus on welcoming our guests and making them feel comfortable, rather than an inconvenience. It also meant we could have the Good Glass argument beforehand! It was a fuss, but I’m glad I did it.

I’m also glad that I speadsheeted (spreadshot?) the entire grocery list for the week. Nothing was forgotten, all the drinks were covered (usually we forget lemons and gin & tonics become a little embarrassing, although I am just realising we didn’t get ice. Not that there was anywhere to put it. The freezer was, as ever, packed full of garlic butter), we had enough milk for tea and my sister and I scheduled the day’s eating properly and everyone was on the same page.

I’m counting it as a success. Mentally running through the whole day and making a list of exactly what would happen and then everything we would need as a result, really helped. It was an enjoyable day with no disasters or frayed tempers.

Next year I’m going to campaign for a slightly smaller turkey. We had turkey for 22 and a ham. Which is ridiculous as no one *really* likes turkey that much!