A Clean House is a Sign of a Wasted Life

I saw this image floating around the Internet today and it severely pissed me off.

It pissed me off on several different levels. The first level is simply that one is wasting one’s life as a woman doing “women things.” Do not get me started. I mean, totally don’t. Denigrating “women’s work” is one step away from saying that if one codes as “female” one isn’t valuable.

I started the day with a home in need of a bit of TLC in terms of tidying and cleaning. It’s the end of the day, I have my feet propped up, there’s a martini at my left elbow and when I scan my immediate surroundings, I feel happy.


Things are acceptably uncluttered.

It’s not about being Perfect Little Wifey or any nonsense like that. My husband has done “housework” today, too. He made breakfast (steak and eggs, and oh my GOD was it good), cleaned up from that, emptied the dishwasher, emptied the trash, cleaned out the aquarium, made us lunch, cleaned up from that, brought me a martini… Oh, hell, I don’t remember everything that he did. He saw what needed doin’ and did it. As did I.

Did we waste the day?

Don’t be an idiot.

To both of us, a clean house means peace. It means a launchpad for other adventures. It means a place to come back to and heal from the wounds of our adventures. We’re neither of us religious, but our home is our sanctuary.

And that’s a lot of the point. I know that some people post that because they feel bad or guilty that maybe their homes aren’t “perfect.”

Mine isn’t.

Nor should it be. A home is a sanctuary, or should be. Does it enclose you and heal you and make you feel safe? Maybe you need some clutter to feel those things. That’s okay. Maybe you feel the sanctus of the sanctuary when things are ritually cleansed. (I do).

Neither side is a waste.

Facebook is the Television of Social Media

I quit Facebook.

Okay, it’s mostly the election. It has made me realize that I’m exposing myself a lot to people and behaviors I do not want to model – even from people I consider quite decent people. I know from past experience that I will rise or sink to the behaviors around me, so, that was a no-brainer in Noël’s World. Perhaps if I were of stronger character, that would not make a difference. But I’m not. Since the human being I want to be is important to me, that’s one biggie.

The other reason is that I am finding that it is reducing my attention span and putting my attention in the wrong places. It’s a distraction from writing fiction. It’s a distraction from taking the time to build out ideas that would be useful.

I also think it was kind of like putting saccharine in a hummingbird feeder. I was getting the sweet taste I would get from my limited need for social interaction, but it wasn’t like I was actually maintaining real, live relationships. I was anxious and burnt out from all the crap online and as a byproduct didn’t want to hang out with people in real life. That’s not a good idea, either for me or people I am close to. While I can see online interaction being a boon to people who are shut-in or distant from people they want to interact with, I am not entirely sure the Facebook wall is good for that. It encourages some amazingly thin and shallow dialog that would be better served via other means of communication. As a member of alt.callahans back in the day, as well as having met many of my RL friends first online, I am not going to knock online communication as a way to connect, mind. There has been an explosion of community building that is truly excellent, and I’m glad it’s there.

I’m not even going to knock funny pictures of cats being forwarded and things like that. Sharing humor can be a good thing.

It’s that the format of Facebook doesn’t really encourage deliberate selection or what I can only call content creation. Yes, you can filter your feed down pretty heavily. But still, it’s a lot more about passive consumption even if it feels interactive. I lost my taste for passive consumption back when I was about twelve, had gotten a really bad report card and had been banned from the television for six weeks. While it wasn’t exactly my parents’ intent, it did break my fondness for being fed information without serious processing from me. (Never did fix my grades, but that’s another story entirely).

The algorithms that control your feed are influenced by your reaction and interaction with the material, but not entirely in ways that I could in any way call curation of that material. Hmmm… curating what you feed your brain. There’s a topic for another article. If you jump on it before I do, comment with the link to it, because I would like to read your thoughts on that! This goes back to passively sitting in front of the television for hours. You’re emotionally engaged. You’re reacting. But you’re not choosing very deliberately what you’re feeding your brain. If you’re at all concerned about the person you’re becoming, it’s worth a thought or two.

After being away only a few days, I do notice how interacting with Facebook has influenced my behavior. I often report silly conversations between my husband I and on my wall. It’s mildly funny and generally benign, so I can’t say it’s contributing to anything bad in the world. But, what’s the important thing – enjoying the conversation with my husband or reporting what was said and polishing it for humor’s sake? I mean, that starts to make it sound like so-called reality TV, doesn’t it? If you know me at all, you know I have Views about reality TV, and few of them printable. This morning, my husband said something funny in response to a comment, and I got the urge to polish and format it to put on Facebook. Then I felt pretty foolish.

I don’t even want to get into what the habit of paying attention in tiny slices has done to my writing. It’s going to take years for me to recover from that!

Misunderstood Genius


My husband has finally gotten me to agree to get around to watching the third season of Sherlock with him.

There is a scene between Sherlock and Mycroft discussing their contempt of lesser beings with lesser intellects and it got under my fingernails.

I’m in sort of a similar situation to Sherlock.  Let’s just say while I knew I was smart, when I found out what my IQ actually was, I was startled.  Like Sherlock, I have a brother whose IQ is higher. (He also has a son who is smarter than both of us)

We do NOT sit around rolling our eyes at the idiotic proles, okay?  We’re bright, that’s great, and there’s a lot more to being a superior human being than the ability to do well on a standardized test.  There are lots of people with lower IQs and more drive that are more successful than me, ‘kay?

But more than that.  Kindness matters.  I mean really matters.  Yes, intelligence is awesome and useful and I bless the people who used their amazing brains to make the device I’m typing this on, who develop cures for diseases, who help people.

But brains do not give you a free pass to be an asshole.

You Don’t Have to be Beautiful

I’m tired of the “All Bodies are Beautiful” rhetoric.

Why?  There’s still the goddamned pressure to think of yourself as beautiful above anything else.

Am I beautiful?  As in photogenic?

Hell no.

Does that mean I feel badly about my looks?

Not unless I have to deal with some asshole deciding to be mean to me because I’m not beautiful, and therefore need to be punished for it in his eyes.

And that’s exactly the point.  If we do the “all bodies are beautiful” thing, what we’re really saying is that beauty is the most important value to have, and trying to make people who aren’t physically beautiful focus on that as the important value.

I’m not beautiful.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s cool for people who are, and goodness knows they should enjoy it.  I enjoy being smart.  I enjoy being determined.  I enjoy that partners find me attractive.  (Beauty and charisma are two very different things. Charisma is a skill, and yes, I can turn that on if I want to).  I am blessed with a strong, agile body and I love that.

Do I like my body?

Good heavens, YES!  I am an extremely physical person and yes, I like my body.  I love the way it feels when I pull through the water during a swim.  I love the agility of my fingers as I knit.  I love dancing and letting my body and mind merge with music.  I love the way I can use facial expressions to communicate volumes without saying a word.  I love the feel of well-tailored fabric and admire the way good clothes move with my body.

I love these things independent of any aesthetic view of my body, and it takes the pressure off to be goddamned “beautiful” all the time.

‘Cause, come on, I’ve got stuff to do!


Adult Video Gamer

adultvideogamer-1Think of a 45 year old man playing a video game.

Do you have a specific image in mind? If you, yourself are not particularly into video games, you might have a specific image of someone who is not particularly successful in life. If he has a job or family, he’s probably not very successful in either activity.


Gamers know the answer to this one. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Here’s a dirty little secret about gaming. If you pick the right games, you’re training your brain to think along certain pathways.

I first encountered this phenomenon when I was playing Sid Meyer’s Civilization II. The premise of the game is to build a civilization from the Mud Hut stage to Space Flight. Think of developing technology. Think of how the terrain and available resources effect that. (Can’t make steel without carbon and iron, right?)

I mean, if you have a decent education, you already know it. You’ve been exposed to that fact. But chances are very good unless you’re involved in making metal objects you haven’t used that random knowledge, so it’s not something you’ll immediately think of as part of an intuitive process.

So what? I hear you asking.

Well… Knowledge isn’t useful unless you have the habit of accessing it outside of its acquisition environment. In human speech, learning Stop Drop and Roll in first grade doesn’t do much unless you’re going to remember that if you see someone catch fire at a picnic or something.

If you use something in a game, your mental pathways retain that.

I self-published a fantasy novel some years ago. When people gave feedback on it and were trying to be nice, the one common thread was how realistically the world worked. When I was doing the development work on it, a partner of mine at the time saw me swearing over a map I was drawing and suggested, “Play Civ.”

He was quite right. It worked very well, and having the many, many hours I spent playing that game opening the neural pathways to the integration of terrain and politics did, indeed, help me build a world that worked realistically and drove political conflict very logically. (Not that I can plot for crap, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It doesn’t just help creative work, though.

I work at a help desk. I was getting in early, so I was often the only person there to help someone to pick up a computer. Now, if it’s a laptop in a public area that isn’t locked down, we do have a cable lock on those computers. In reality, all I needed to do was hand this person a computer. But it was locked, and I didn’t know which key was the laptop lock. I could have tried individual keys from a ring I had access to. I would have gotten to the appropriate one easily enough, albeit with some fumbling.

But what I did, and this is because I had been playing a game called The Room, was look at the shape of the lock and then at the shape of the keys on the keyring. Got the key right away, first try. The customer had no idea that I had no idea which key to use or how to unlock her computer.

Trivial? Sure.

But to me it was illustrative of the value of video games and how they integrate the kinetic aspects of learning with the purely informational. It’s also why I hate lecture-based classes over hands-on classes for things that will ultimately have a kinetic component.

Two Shawls, Eleven Years

twoshawls-1I got a wild hare and started wondering if a certain garment had made the cut during the Great Konmari Experiment of 2015. I dug it out. It had.

This is a shawl I made back in 2005. The yarn is actually much, much nicer than a newbie knitting project deserves, though I did not know that at the time. It’s a fairly heavy hand-spun and hand-dyed that I was given by a pushe^h^h^h co-worker who was also a knitting fanatic and wanted to encourage a budding knitter. This was an amazingly kind gift. I knew enough to know this was special wool and deserved to be used on a special project, but I was not skilled enough to figure out either what kind of project I had enough yarn for, or what kind of project the wool was appropriate for.

There are lots of errors in it (yarn badly joined, ends not woven in properly… a dozen other things), and it’s not a garment I wear out of the house much, but I do wear it at home from time to time when it’s a little chilly in the house, but I don’t want to dress heavily. The wool is quite warm on the back of my neck and my shoulders, so it’s a good in-between type of shawl.

For all the errors in it, it made that Konmari cut out of pure sentiment. I held it, and I smiled because it made me happy to think about making it and how proud of myself I was to be able to integrate knit and purl stitches in an actual pattern.


Eleven years on, this is the shawl I am working on right now. It’s a lot more complex. I’ll probably wear it to the office and other places quite a bit. It makes me happy for geeky reasons as well as because I am enjoying knitting it. The yarn is actually about as inexpensive as you can get and still be all wool, and possibly something this complex really deserves a high end yarn. The recommended yarn for this project cost upwards of $60. I spent more like $15.

I like to look at how I have progressed in activities – be it swimming or whatever. Not because I feel like I necessarily have a specific goal to reach, mind. I think people who happily knit garter stitch scarves are making as good a use of their time as I do with my knitting projects. But I do like to tack on and master skills. It’s a thing, and it’s ultimately useful, so I don’t mind running with it.

(It also took me well on to 40 years before the habit was in any way a big financial return, but that’s neither here nor there. Formal education would have been much quicker!)

But I am as proud of the first shawl I made as the one I am currently working on. I cannot bring myself to blow it off as too easy or amateurish. That first shawl made me a little nervous, was stretching my skill set and made me happy to make – just like the one I am doing now.

I just wish I could read my old writing and have that same attitude. With that, for some idiotic reason, I still wince and I shouldn’t. I was doing the same thing, right?

Not Knitworthy


I’ve been on rather a knitting kick lately, and have been reading some knitting boards. There’s been a recent discussion thread that has gotten me at first to being sympathetic, then wrinkling my nose at the snowflake nonsense that I’m seeing.

The thread is about being annoyed at not being thanked for a knitted gift.

At first blush, yeah. Not being thanked for a gift is certainly an irritant, and certainly a show of terrible manners. I won’t argue that for a second. But as the thread went along, a lot of people were using a term that I don’t really like when it comes to yarnwork gifts.

The term?


I don’t like it at all and don’t use it. Are there people I knit for and people I don’t. You bet. It has very little to do with my closeness to the person or not, though, or how much I value them. It has to do with whether or not I think the person will (and you probably need to brace yourself for this one) like what I was thinking of knitting them. You know, as in a gift?

Even if I think someone will like it, I do not (unless they do some sort of handwork, themselves) expect them to have any real idea what went into whatever I made. If you don’t knit, you probably think it takes an hour to make the average stocking cap. See that tea cozy? It’s about the size of a stocking cap with some cables, so it might have taken a bit longer to make than the average hat, right? But you can still whip it up.

Friends, I am a very fast knitter and that took me about nine hours of work.

When I give someone a present, though, I do not expect them to know this, understand it, or treat whatever I’ve given them like that. If someone turns out not to be into whatever I made for them, I don’t take it personally. Knitwear is an extremely specific taste at the best of times. Sometimes I guess right and sometimes I don’t.

Oh, sure, a polite person will say thanks for a gift. I’m not excusing poor manners. It was the indignance at people not knowing how to or being willing to care for 100% wool (it is something of a PITA unless you’re very motivated to care for it). It was annoyance at people not wearing something that was given.

Knitter, please.

Get a grip.

Knitting is not a piece of your soul that needs to be enshrined and treasured. It’s a hobby, and a fun one that some people will enjoy you sharing with them. That’s all.

Can you use MS Office?

A random blogger, in trying to help bolster the confidence of some people, wrote up an article talking about skills that were translatable to Real Life job skills. Most of the article was really quite good, so I am no trying to tear it down. But one of the items in the list was along the lines of, “Can use MS Office. Because come on, you live on the computer and probably type really fast.”

I commented (as gently as I could because I didn’t want to tear the person down, and a lot of the ideas were genuinely good) that if the person claimed to be good at Office and was applying for a job where I worked, they might very well get turned over to me for verification of their skills. And if you’ve read my rants before, you know I DON’T think that just because you can make a WYSIWYG interface look okay in print that you really know Word. Unfortunately, “Skilled at MS Office” would pretty much get this list of questions. They wouldn’t have to say “yes” to everything to get my confidence, but they’d have to say yes on at least half of each of the big three applications for me to give ’em a pass.


  1. Do you understand document structure and the advantages of formatting in styles?
  2. Can you edit styles to create style-driven pagination?
  3. Can you create custom styles?
  4. Can you use the outline feature?
  5. Can you create and format a table?
  6. Can you make use of tables in formatting?
  7. Do you know when to use tables or styles in formatting?
  8. Can you insert an image and then format it so that it will be anchored to a specific paragraph?
  9. Can you use the Table of Contents object?
  10. Do you know how to format a document using sections so that you can have different headers and footers within a single document?
  11. Do you know how to use footnotes and endnotes?
  12. Can you manage sources and use them for citations, footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies?
  13. Can you use the indexing features to index a document?
  14. Can you use a table of authorities?
  15. Do you understand standard pagination and how to use it?
  16. Can you use SmartArt effectively?
  17. Do you understand when and where WordArt is professional?
  18. Do you understand the limitations of the image editing features of MS Office and when to use or not use them?
  19. Can you use Quick Parts?
  20. Can you insert a Drop Cap effectively?
  21. Can you format pull quotes?
  22. Can you create a text box effectively so that the text of the document flows around it attractively?
  23. Can you insert shapes and format drawing objects?
  24. Do you understand Themes?
  25. Can you create your own themes?
  26. Can you create custom color layouts?
  27. Can you insert a chart in Word without using cut-n-paste from Excel?
  28. Do you know how to use comments effectively?
  29. Do you know how to use the Track Changes feature?
  30. Do you know Mail Merge?
  31. Can you manage Mail Merge sources to filter by specific criteria? (Needed this one today, as a matter of fact, to help improve a user’s workflow).
  32. Can you use mail merge to create envelopes and labels?
  33. Can you use mail merge to send email?
  34. Can you use Find and Replace?
  35. Do you know how to use find and replace to edit formatting?


  1. Can you use basic functions to add, subtract, multiply, divide, take averages, find the minimum and the maximum value in a range of cells?
  2. Can you use conditional formatting?
  3. Do you know how to filter a range?
  4. Do you know the difference between a list and a table?
  5. Can you use structured referencing in a table?
  6. Can you make a basic chart?
  7. Do you know how to insert a trend line?
  8. Can you format a single chart element (Data point, data series, or even title?)
  9. Can you create a PivotTable?
  10. Can you use Sparklines?
  11. Do you know what a named range is, and can you use it in a formula?
  12. Can you use nested functions?
  13. Do you know how to trace errors?
  14. Can you use a Watch Window?
  15. Can you rename worksheets?
  16. Can you import data from other sources into a workbook?
  17. Can you create 3-D formulas in a single workbook?
  18. Can you use 3-D formulas from external data sources?
  19. Can you use text to columns?
  20. Can you calculate time duration in minutes and hours using Excel formulas?
  21. Can you use text functions to analyze data?
  22. Can you set a cell so you can only put certain data in it?
  23. Can you do a what if analysis?
  24. Can you use the PMT function?
  25. Can you use Outlines?
  26. Can you use Subtotals?
  27. Can you use SUMIF and SUMIFS?
  28. Do you know what a syntax prompt is and do you find it useful?
  29. Can you protect specific cells in a worksheet while leaving other cells available to edit?
  30. Do you know how to share and merge workbooks?
  31. Can you create a macro?
  32. How’s your VB script? (FWIW, I can change happy to glad in the arguments. I’m not really a programmer)
  33. Can you create custom views?
  34. Can you use a formula in Conditional Formatting?
  35. Do you know how to handle page breaks to create well-formatted, printable worksheets?


  1. Do you know how to use the standard layouts on slides?
  2. Can you format a presentation using Master Slides?
  3. Do you know how to use Themes?
  4. Do you know how to change the order in which images are layered?
  5. Can you group a set of images?
  6. Can you use SmartArt?
  7. Do you know how to add headers and footers to slides?
  8. Do you know how to use Themes?
  9. Do you know how to edit Themes and color schemes?
  10. Do you know how to create transitions on slides? Do you know WHEN you should or should not do so?
  11. Do you know how to add sound to a presentation?
  12. Do you know how to create an auto-advance for slides?
  13. Do you know how to add animations to a slide?
  14. Can you create custom animation paths?
  15. Can you reorder animations?
  16. Can you use the Presenter View?
  17. Can you add notes to a presentation for the presenter view’s use?
  18. Can you add narration and timing to slides?
  19. Can you use the Notes Master to create printable notes for a presentation?
  20. Can you create a photo album slide show?
  21. Can you use the alignment guides for image and text layout?
  22. Can you create a PowerPoint Presentation from a Word outline?
  23. Do you know when and where you should NOT use animation?
  24. Do you know the difference between designing a presentation for a speaker and designing it for online purposes?
  25. Can you create custom action buttons for an interactive, online presentation?

Flow and Gendered Work

My husband is on call for Tier Two support for his job for the next week or so. It’s not a part of the job he loves, as he feels tethered to the house. But worse, he has a deadline on an art project and he doesn’t feel like he’s safe to dive into an art project when he knows he’s going to have to context switch from tech support to art.

As is my wont, I started analyzing it and got into pulling a thread about flow states and gendered work.

What is flow?

Flow is that state in which you have a task that is challenging, but that you have a high confidence that you can accomplish it. But more than that, as you are working on that task, you are completely engaged – mentally, physically and emotionally to the point that you tend to lose consciousness of time and self.

How does flow work?

Flow is when you are fully engaged. We experience it many ways. I experience it often when I am swimming. For that matter, I am experiencing it now as I am writing an article I am excited about.

That’s the point. You’re getting into a task. Maybe you’re painting a picture, or maybe you’re building a house. It might be that you’re analyzing why the plumbing keeps stopping up and what to do about that faulty sump pump in the basement. But you’re into it. You’re utterly focused and you might not be conscious of the outside work. Often physical discomforts or sensations not related to the task fade away and you’re utterly and completely in that moment.

The cool thing about it, in my opinion, is how it tends to engage the whole being. It’s intellect and emotion and physicality all wrapped up together and working together in an integrated and smoothly-functioning system. When it is interrupted, it can feel upsetting or jarring.

To achieve flow:

  1. You are working on something with a clear set of goals and rules for progress. It does require structure.
  2. Your task must give clear and immediate feedback. (I know, it would sound like writing wouldn’t work for this, but hey, I am seeing words marching across the screen as I am writing this, so I can see that I am accomplishing something.
  3. There should be a good balance between the perceived challenge and your perceived skills. Basically, you feel like it’s a stretch, but that you can do it.
  4. You should not be forced to context switch and change to tasks irrelevant to the primary task at hand.

How does flow contribute to human advancement?

The geek who has been working all night on a programming problem and then is surprised by someone who points out that dawn has come and they haven’t slept is probably experiencing flow. This is the state when your brain is working at optimum. There have been several studies that link the flow state to optimum learning, and to scientific and creative advancement.

Basically the flow state is where we learn, grow and create.

Why does gender make a difference in flow?

From a purely psychological standpoint, it kind of doesn’t. From a sociological standpoint, it makes a great deal of difference. How we approach work, how we are trained to see work, and what kinds of work we are expected to do are heavily gendered in our society.

Traditional “women’s work” is often broken down into small chunks. Making a bed doesn’t take long. Cooking a meal is often broken down into work times and waiting times. If you have small children, you probably fantasize about being able to go to the bathroom or take a shower without little hands knocking on the door. Certainly women are expected to be on call1 to respond.

Thing is, if your time is subject to constant interrupt, flow is hard. One of the reasons I adore swimming is that no-one bugs me during that time. A flow state is very easy to enter during this time, and it feels good enough that I order my own life in ways to invite it.

So, back to my husband. He’s on call. He could be interrupted at any minute and he’s deeply conscious of it. What is he doing while keeping an ear out for those interrupts? Things that don’t require flow – cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.

Women’s work.


1 Yes, I went there.

A Very Important Christmas Stocking


My parents are not perfect. No, there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that they’re human and perfect people don’t exist. As people, we get things wrong and we get things right.

I want to talk about something my parents got spectacularly, stunningly right.

About <mubmlemurf> years ago, a young couple was speeding along King’s Highway from Dahlgren into Fredericksburg in a VW Bug, with the wife begging her husband to be careful and watch the bumps. She was in labor and it was two o’clock or so on Christmas morning. The closest hospital was about 45 minutes away. Well, 25, given the way her husband drove.

At the hospital, there was some blasé behavior from the nurses. It was a first baby, after all. But at 4:35 that morning, she had her baby. The little girl was then cleaned up, given all the medical tests that were usual at the time, then put in a stocking and given to her parents.

That cemented an idea that had already been settling in my parents’ minds – that a Christmas baby was Important and Special.

It was treated that way from then on. I was named Noel. (I didn’t add the trema for another 12 years when I got sick of my name being mispronounced, and being misgendered). My birthday was treated as something wonderful and awesome rather than an afterthought.

Did I get a birthday party? Well, I kinda got two. I got one with my friends the week before Christmas with a cake (I got some pretty awesome cakes – winter scenes, dolls in ball gowns, Miss Piggy. They were great). That was all kinds of fun.

Then on Christmas Day, my birthday was celebrated with my family. Oh, we did Christmas as a holiday with Santa and presents and feasts and family and fun. It was wonderful. But I always got a couple of nice presents wrapped in birthday paper, and usually another cake with another rousing version of Happy Birthday from the family.

Heck no, I didn’t hate my birthday, nor do I now. I love it. All the emotional stuff surrounding my birthday goes on for a whole month. I’m lucky beyond belief.

But not everyone gets that.

When I was turning 13, the Free-Lance Star did a piece on Christmas birthdays (there were three in my neighborhood, and a few others in town). If I recall correctly, I was the only one who had much positive to say about it. Everyone else felt like the afterthought, or celebrated their birthday in June.

Lots of December babies, Christmas or not, get their birthdays treated as afterthoughts – another burden at an already overwhelmed time. I hate this for them. It’s utterly awful.

So, I’d like to propose some Rules for December Birthdays.

  1. If the birthday is not on an actual holiday, let the WHOLE CELEBRATION be about them. Don’t wrap it in with a Christmas party.
  2. If they are a Christmas baby in a family that celebrates Christmas, they get the whole day can’t be about them. It’s really okay. But let a part of it be Birthday and not Christmas. A cake and a song doesn’t take enormous amounts of time.
  3. Don’t wrap birthday presents in red or green, or use any other standard Christmas imagery surrounding their birthday.
  4. Avoid using Christmas stamps on birthday cards, if you can.
  5. Find out in advance if it bothers them that Christmas and birthday presents get combined. (This varies. If you ask and get a weary shrug, it probably does bother them and they’re just too polite to say so)

For those of you who are parents of December children, keep in mind a lot of how they feel about their birthdays rests in your hands. Don’t let them be afterthoughts.