Needing a little Christmas.

20121223-091650.jpg20121223-091724I am happy to report that Gandalf is looking down on me from the top of our tree as I type this, surveying from his uncomfortable perch, a living room that’s so overdecorated, you’d never believe that two grown-ups who aren’t hosting even one holiday party live here.

20121223-091449Yeah. I kind of overdid Christmas this year.

20121223-091251Our house is more decorated than ever, the tree is so big that we had some problems fitting our furniture back into the living room, and carols have been playing more or less nonstop for the past two weeks.

I went nuts decking our halls, because we lost almost all our ornaments in the flood that came with Hurricane Sandy, but I went nuts on a budget, because I hate spending money unless I’m buying shoes.I made it work.

600051_10151136786859249_282079868_nInstead of buying decorations, I crafted like a bunch of preschoolers on go-go juice. I made a wreath and stockings and ornaments and cards and wrapped my husband’s presents using only aluminum foil, just because I could. Every night, there was a different project.

I stopped posting my creations to Instagram after someone commented on my apparent love of Christmas, but that didn’t stop me from making stuff. I needed to make stuff. Making stuff made me feel more sane, like I was rebuilding something, even if it meant that I ingested half a teaspoon of glitter in the process. And now, looking around our insanely festooned living room (it looks like a drag queen exploded in here) I think that my crafting binge may have helped.

I think I just needed the holiday. It’s been a bad couple of months in our area of the country, and so Christmas and a new year seem particularly welcome right about now.

So happy holidays to those who celebrate. Catch as much of the spirit, and the comfort, of the season as you can.card

I’m dreaming of a Gandalf the White Christmas.

Today, after another bout of house-hunting, my husband and I stopped in at the Goodwill to unwind and I saw this:


Yes! Gandalf and Boromir. But not just Gandalf and Boromir. There were two Boromirs, two Aragorns, a Legolas and a facially deformed fellow that I can only  guess, thanks to the process of elimination, is Faramir. There were also a knee-high Aragorn and a knee-high Legolas, complete with fake flaming torch and fake bow. So the way I see it, my husband should have been impressed by my restraint when I picked up only Gandalf.

Me: Oh my god. We need this. This is our new Christmas tree topper.

Husband: If you get that, it’s coming out of your own money.

Me: It’s $4. We need a tree topper. It’s an investment.

Husband: (sighs) He’s too heavy for the tree.

Me: (shaking Gandalf) YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

Husband: I’m going to go look at the jeans.

He’s PERFECT for the tree, really. He’s like the British version of Santa Claus, only with a sword instead of presents.

My husband is not getting into the spirit of this. He didn’t support my suggestion that Aragorn should come home with us, too, which would have only made sense.
And the first thing he said when Gandalf came out of the bag at home was “Time for Gandalf to go into the dishwasher.” Which is just rude.

But seriously, Gandalf is a great find. We lost a ton of our ornaments in the flood a few weeks ago, including our tree topper, so we do need a new one. And since The Hobbit is coming out next month, Gandalf is totally appropriate. And if other nerds have the TARDIS on their trees, I see nothing wrong with putting Gandalf on ours.

Later, I was telling Tom that we should get an LED light and put it in the top of Gandalf’s staff and he said “I need to make a Balrog whip out of LED lights.”


My husband would not be talking like that if Aragorn were here.

My name is O’Connell.

The holiday cards are a-rollin’ in, and there is no better reminder of the confusion surrounding my name than the various addressees on the envelopes.

So far, this season, I’ve been Ann O’Connell, Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name, Ann O’Connell-Husband, Mrs. Ann Husband. If our vet sends us a card, I will be Ann O’Connell, but my husband will become Mr. O’Connell, because my relationship with the vet’s office predates my relationship with my husband.

The envelopes at Christmas are a jumble of familiar names sewn together in Frankenstein-esque ways, and makes me think that maybe I should have done a better job of notifying my family and friends about the state of my legal name.

This is how I wrote my full name before I got married: Miss Ann J. O’Connell

This is how I write my full name now: Ms. Ann J. O’Connell

Not a big change, but it’s caused some confusion, not least because at the time of the wedding, I had planned to hyphenate my name, and become Ann O’Connell-Husband. I filled out all the paperwork. I was ready to submit it. Then several things happened.

– The idea of no longer being a full O’Connell bothered me. I got married at 31, so I’d been an O’Connell for a long time.

– I’ve never liked the idea of the changeable female surname. It all seems – like wedding veils and white dresses –  like a throwback to the days when women were property, handed over from a father to a husband for the price of livestock and a hope chest.

– When questioned, my husband told me that he did not care whether I kept my last name or took his own.

– Some of my friends got divorced and a couple of them went through the name dilemma all over again; do they change their names back? Do they keep their married names? What about their kids?

– After witnessing all that, I started really thinking about my name. What name will feel right to me, no matter what happens? Do I want the hassle of being one name at work and another name at home? Is that too much of a Batman/Bruce Wayne dual existence for me? What name do I want on the foot of my hospital bed when I’m 98 and in the rest home?

– After a lot of thought, the name-changing paperwork seemed like too much work for something I didn’t really want, and for something that my husband didn’t care about. I shredded the forms and went on being Ann O’Connell.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not expecting members of the oldest generation in our family to understand why I didn’t take my husband’s name. And it’s easier for members of my husband’s family who don’t know me very well to simply write “Mr. & Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name.” But after a while, it’s come to be grating to see how many people – including the ones who know better – assign my husband’s name to me. I once got a birthday card addressed to Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name from someone. I glanced at it, thought it was was actually addressed to my husband, and gave it to him. He opened it, saw what it was, and handed the card back to me. I had this strange flashback to being a small child, seeing that there was mail for me, but dutifully handing it to an adult first.

Getting cards addressed to Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name is  a little odd to me, because we were married in 2009, and women have been not changing their names for a very long time. Some forward-thinking women in the ’50s and ’60s kept their names. Many feminists in the ’70s kept their names. It’s not new. It’s not even new in my family. One of my aunts who married in the ’80s didn’t change her name and I don’t remember any fallout from that.

But there has been some resistance. I’ve been told that  if we have children, I will probably change my name so that we can all be one united family. It’s also been insinuated that I’ve been disrespectful to my husband because I did not take his name.

I’d like to suggest that neither is true. I don’t think any person should feel as if he or she has to sacrifice his or her name in order to be a member of a cohesive, healthy and loving family. And I am no less of a wife than I would be if I went by Mrs.-My-Husband’s-Name.

And also, this is not to criticize the women who choose to take their husband’s names. Every person has the right to choose the name that seems best for them. For me, the right choice was to keep O’Connell.

Free things for Christmas

I keep forgetting to use one of my own photos as a holiday card. So this isn't a holiday freebie, but it could have been.

I love Christmas. I also love free stuff. So putting the two things together always makes my day. And because sharing makes everything better, I want to share my a few of my favorite holiday freebies with you.

1) Free holiday music. Last year, I was in desperate need of holiday music. I had only one holiday CD, and I disliked that album intensely. It had exactly one good carol on it. The rest were second-rate, mid-century carols by mediocre artists. If we lived in a just world, those songs would have been lost in a record company’s basement, but we don’t. Somebody dredged the carols up and stuck them all together on a disc which I got – I kid you not – from a cereal box. Chex, I think. Anyhow, my feelings about the album are beside the point, because I lost it while moving. While I didn’t miss the album at all, I totally missed having Christmas carols. I know I could have turned on the radio and tuned in to any one of the stations that plays holiday music for the month of December – hell, WEBE 108’s signal is so strong that we can actually hear Bing Crosby singing White Christmas on appliances that aren’t radios.  Still, I was so sick of all those songs. I’ve been hearing them since I was born. The last new carol on those stations is probably Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” and that came out when I was in high school.  I wanted something new. Or at least something good. My savior was Amazon’s MP3 store, which gives away 25 holiday tunes during the month of December – one for each day. And for the most part, the music is really good. Yeah, Dan Fogelberg and Carly Simon occasionally sneak into the line-up, and there are at least three versions of “Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel.” (To be fair, there is a cool metal version this year, by the lead singer of Judas Priest.) But generally, the music is by contemporary artists and there are even new carols. My favorite this year is Winter Hymnal by the Fleet Foxes.

My New Yorker holiday bow prototype.

2.) Home-made paper bows. I got this idea from my brother, who made his own paper gift bow for my mom’s birthday present last week. I think that’s an awesome idea because I never have enough gift bows. Well, I do, but because I scavenge the bows off last year’s unwrapped presents and re-use them, all of my paper bows are smushed beyond recognition. So I’m making bows, using the below video and our pile of old New Yorkers. At left is my first attempt. It’s a one-in-the-morning bow, so it’s not winning any prizes. But it’s still really cool to be able to make them.

3.) Desktop wallpaper. This isn’t actually holiday stuff. But I thought I’d include it because stars are a part of the Christmas story and also a part of the fabric of almost every other religion on the planet. And also because this is just cool. The Hubble Space Telescope posts its best images on its website. Several of those images can be downloaded as wallpaper for your computer. I like the cloud towers in the Carina Nebula best. It’s an awesome way to see the stars, even if you’re staring at your screen.

Happy holidays.