A St. Patrick’s Day Walk

Jennie's Garden and House

One of the glories of living in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood is how ideal it is for walking in. Not only does Candler Park have sidewalks and contain several parks (and is within walking distance of several others), but the architecture of the neighborhood’s homes is lovely to look at, and almost every home, regardless of whether it’s something grand or cottage-sized, sports a beautiful or unusual garden.

As I am still healthy enough to take what I consider to be longish walks, the welcome return of decent – and drier – weather has spurred me on to taking several recent excursions through my neighborhood.

What I noticed this afternoon, besides the blue skies and the tolerable temperature was that Spring is already in full swing in these parts. What I mean by that is that not only are there the expected daffodils and tulips…

Single Tulip

..the earliest stands of thrift at the edge of people’s gardens…


…the last, glorious gasps of the forsythia…


…the flowering of the Bradford Pear and the fruit trees that so richly punctuate the sidewalks of my neighborhood…

Peach tree

…the purple blossoming of the redbud trees (probably my very favorite harbinger of spring)…

Redbud tree.JPG

…but what I didn’t expect to see today was, here and there, azaleas! Azaleas in March!

Azaleas in March

One of the best parts of walking before spring actually arrives is that whole “Nature’s first green is gold” thing that Robert Frost wrote about:

Nature's First Green is Gold

Still ahead for me – I’m mostly waiting for that sneaky last frost that can show up around here as late as mid-April – are this year’s annual spring trips to my favorite nurseries and the mostly-delightful set of annual chores in my own (mercifully small) front and back yards.

For now, it’s enough to continue my recently-begun series of chore-free strolls looking at other people’s gardens and the burgeoning plants in the neighborhood parks. There are a lot of things I enjoy about being retired, but spending a few hours every week walking around one’s beautiful neighborhood is one of the best!

Incidentally, over this past winter I posted to this my Commonplace Book some four dozen memorable quotations about the pleasures of walking that I’ve gleaned from my reading about this activity. I hope you will read some of them, and are able to get out soon and do some walking of your own.




Year-End Holiday Chores and Rituals


As we head into another round of year-end holidays, my daily routine is gradually becoming monopolized by the seasonal tasks and activities I undertake at this time of year with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because I’ve always loved celebrating these holidays, trepidation because I sometimes get a bit carried away and there are moments when I notice I’m feeling more exhausted than festive!

Back in 2001 when, finding myself again in the throes of trying to get a handle on how to minimize the stress of preparing for the holidays, I created two checklists to help me more efficiently navigate what amounts to the entire month of December. I tried to identify all my self-imposed annual holiday chores, plus a separate list of holiday rituals that I particularly enjoy. I had to use a really tiny font to get those two checklists onto a single page, but I managed! Recently I unearthed a copy of this document and thought it would be interesting to post them here as a sort of index to the way I typically  go about celebrating the holiday season.

Two things have changed in my life since I created those checklists fifteen years ago  – two things, I mean, in addition to the still-rather-recent but clearly relevant fact that as a retiree I have so much more time for everything, including the past four annual cycles of holiday-related chores and pleasures!

The two changes since I first compiled my checklists:

  • I’ve re-framed (for myself, anyway) what I’m celebrating. After gradually realizing I prefer to celebrate the annual change of seasons rather than the birthday of someone who many revere as the Savior of Mankind, I have tried to deliberately de-Christianize the objects I use to decorate my house for these holidays. I also have made progress on trying to de-commercialize my holiday festoonery, getting rid of most of the Santy Clausey ornaments, etc. (I have hung onto a few non-Americanized “Father Christmas” things.) These two decisions resulted in my jettisoning several bins worth of decorations I’d hauled down from my attic every year for decades to mark the season, while preserving (and seeking out additional) images and symbols that are more evocative of references to the Winter Solstice. For example, I still love the idea of bringing a tree into the house, and I like using lots of candlelight the final week of December.
  • I have tried to simplify my year-end house decorating, food preparing, and gift-giving activities. I like to think that one day I’ll be content with merely setting out a few bowls full of ornaments and serving my visitors only cheese and crackers along with their cups of tea every December – but as anyone who knows me well could tell you, I’m not quite there yet.

Aside from my determination to de-commercialize, de-Christianize, and de-complicate my celebration of the end of the year, there are many things I love about the way most of my friends and family celebrate the year-end holidays:

  • the more-festive-than-usual gatherings of families, friends, and neighbors – although, for me, the smaller those gatherings, the more I tend to enjoy them.
  • the seasonal decorations (especially the ones that aren’t religion-themed).
  • the exchanging of greeting cards and/or gifts and the bonds and the acknowledgement of fondness and gratitude that these rituals represent.
  • most of the traditional foods and beverages.
  • some of the traditional seasonal music. Not the inane stuff that relentlessly assault the ears of the hapless customers of most retail establishments, mind you, but a handful of the traditional carols (especially Celtic-inflected instrumental versions) and the classical pieces.

Despite my ongoing efforts to simplify the hoopla I put myself through to make December more visibly festive than other months of the year, I was surprised to notice that I continue to look forward to undertaking many of the tasks and activities appearing on my fifteen year old holiday checklists. I probably shouldn’t be surprised: even though I’ve morphed and tweaked my holiday routines to make them more consistent with my beliefs and less stressful to carry out, I’ve always liked the notion of seasonal festivals, and I am notoriously sentimental.

At any rate, I’m reproducing here updated versions of the aforementioned year-end seasonal checklists partly as an acknowledgement of how enthusiastically I immerse myself in the seasonal madness (or what I consider to be its most positive aspects), partly out of curiosity at how many of the items on these lists will disappear from the lists over the next fifteen years, and partly in case the checklists might be useful to someone else who finds checklists immensely useful in minimizing stressful undertakings!

The photos of some of my holiday house decorations that I’m including below were taken at various different Christmases/Solstices Past – some of them in houses or apartments where I lived before moving to McLendon Avenue in 1993.

Checklist #1: Cal’s Year-End Holiday Chores


 bring down from the attic the dozen bins of holiday festoonery

 sort through each bin to decide what to use this year (and what to discard)

 return the dozen empty bins to the attic until after the holidays


 buy    set up    decorate the tree





 arrange presents, extra ornaments, fruit, etc. under the tree



 obtain evergreens to use throughout the house

 buy a sufficient supply of votive and pillar candles to minimize the need for electric       lights when visitors come to call during the holidays

 buy poinsettias and/or amaryllis and/or Christmas cacti and/or rosemary topiaries

 decorate the mantel




 install outdoor decorations:
 front porch & railings    front door     front windows      mailbox


 wash and iron the dining room tablecloth




 make centerpieces for   the dining room table   coffee table


 decorate living room












 decorate the dining room









 decorate the kitchen



 decorate the alcove in the hallway


 decorate the study



 decorate the bathroom


 return to the attic all the now-empty bins

 buy     bring inside a sufficient supply of firewood

Greeting Cards

 pick out and purchase a sufficient supply of this year’s cards

 buy a sufficient number of commemorative stamps

 assemble holiday rubber stamps, stamp pads, seals, sealing wax, inks, etc.

 create    type    print annual holiday newsletter and reading list

 prepare a digital version of my newsletter and reading list to post to my blog

 update addresses on my holiday card list

 fold and insert the printed newsletter into each card

 address the cards

 take to the post office the finished cards with newsletter enclosure
and mail to  in-town friends & family    out-of-town friends & family


 locate and purchase this year’s supply of gift wrapping

 compile   create   duplicate   type & print playlist   wrap    deliver or mail multiple copies of holiday music recordings as gifts

 buy   wrap annual jigsaw puzzle & chocolate cherries for Mom’s stocking

 buy my copy of   wrap Flanders’s copy of the annual teapot calendar

 buy    wrap gifts or stocking presents  for in-town   friends   family

 buy   wrap    mail gifts for out-of-town   friends   family

 buy & wrap all stocking gifts for    friends    family


 prepare contributions to holiday potlucks

 buy ingredients for   prepare   package   deliver
whatever homemade treat I’m making for friends (cranberry compote? chocolate bark? rum balls?)

 buy sufficient quantities of    eggnog    tea    sparkling cider

 make a trip to Farmer’s Market to buy abundant supplies of fresh fruit (and, less abundantly, fresh flowers) to display on the mantel and in assorted baskets

Visitor Prep

 schedule holiday season visits  with   in-town friends     out-of-town friends

 email invitations to the three Solstice Teas I host in my living room

 clean the house for the scheduled (and any impromptu) tea parties

 change linens for any overnight guests visiting during the holidays

Checklist #2: Cal’s Annual Holiday Rituals

 Reflect on my ongoing ambivalence about what celebrating Christmas and/or the Winter Solstice currently means to me

 Transform the house with seasonal festoonery (ideally, a bit differently than in previous years and minimizing the purchasing of additional decorations)

 Decide what I’m going to mention in my annual holiday newsletter

 Consider fooling around with some old-fashioned (i.e., snailmail-related) materials like colored inks, sealing wax, and commemorative postage stamps)when sending out Solstice cards (and newsletter)

 Unearth the presents I’ve bought throughout the year for specific people, and wrapping them

 Formulate a series of shopping trips, preferably to non-chain stores, for purchasing as-yet-unpurchased gifts; time those trips to minimize exposure to traffic or parking nightmares and to blaring Xmas carols

 Take time while I’m wrapping each gift to think about the person whose gift I’m wrapping

 Schedule a visit with my friend Kris to the cabin in North Georgia to address our holiday cards and consider doing some holiday baking

 Eagerly anticipate the ritual of receiving, opening, reading, and displaying the holiday cards people mail to me

 Sift through and re-enjoying holiday cards (and annual newsletters) from Holidays Past

 Make time to sit down in front of the fireplace and enjoy a mindful cup of tea, hot cider, or hot chocolate

 Enjoy the annual round of visits with friends and family

 Temporarily abandon moderation in consuming artery-clogging, yummy holiday treats like eggnog, homemade baked goodies, chocolate fudge, etc.

 Listen to each of the holiday music recordings I’ve made over the past fifteen years as gifts for friends and family

 Participate in at least one year-end public festivity—a candlelit tour of homes, the Botanical Garden’s Xmas Stroll, the Historical Society candlelight tour, a holiday choral concert, etc.

 Create and enjoy holiday smells: evergreen boughs, bayberry candle wax, simmering cider, baking cookie dough, etc.

 Reflect on my gratitude for relationships past and present with friends and family alive and not alive

 Invite my friends to the house (individually or in groups) for a candlelit tea-drinking salute to the Winter Solstice

 Listen by candlelight to a recording of poet Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales or re-watching John Huston’s movie version of James Joyce’s short story The Dead (set at Christmas in Dublin in the early 1900s)

 Be startled by walking into a room with a tree in it

 Gaze at the indoor tree and enjoy the resulting trance state

 Set aside at least one evening in late December for driving through nearby neighborhoods looking at outdoor decorations

 Try to finishing all my holiday chores – including all giftwrapping – early enough to relax and enjoy a completely chore-free evening on December 24th

 Join the other Goughs (and assorted others) for the family’s Xmas Morning traditions: being together, munching down on mom’s sausage balls before opening the presents, emptying out our Xmas stockings, savoring the mincemeat pie, etc.

 Escape the city to spend an exquisitely calm New Year’s Eve in a cozy cabin in the middle of the woods in the mountains of North Georgia

If you happen to enjoy certain holiday rituals or seasonal pleasures that aren’t mentioned in Checklist #2, please consider mentioning them in a comment to this blogpost. I’m always hoping to incorporate additional ways to enjoy the holidays, and you might have found some I haven’t discovered yet!