Wait Your Turn

For the past few days, I’ve spent far too much time shopping for a pair of shoes to wear to my son’s upcoming wedding, fruitlessly trudging from store to store in search of the one-inch heel, black, patent-leather pumps that I need to match the dress I plan to wear.  All that time in the local malls quickly revealed two equally depressing things.  The first is that no one is selling the shoes I want (at least not in my size and without a toe so painfully pointed that it could double as a drill bit), and the second is that all the major retailers think the Christmas season is upon us.  And I started my shoe shopping before Halloween.

img_0950Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas just as much as the next person, and probably a whole lot more.  It’s my favorite holiday.  I actually tend to go a bit overboard with decorating my house, putting up two Christmas trees, covering almost every horizontal space with Santas and nativity scenes, and stringing lights all over the front of my house.  This year, I may even light up the garage if I can talk my husband into it.  But none of those decorations are going up until after Thanksgiving.  I don’t want to begin my Christmas celebrations so early that by the time December 25th actually arrives I’m already tired of Christmas.

Personally, I hate seeing the stores decorated for Christmas in  October or early November.  I don’t want to see television commercials proclaiming “the holidays are here” two months before Christmas day.  This is still Fall, for goodness sake.  The leaves are still turning colors on the trees, people still have pumpkins and mums on their porches and I haven’t even started thinking about how my family is going to celebrate Thanksgiving yet.  This is not the time to worry about Christmas shopping or wonder exactly how many extra strands of outdoor lights I’m going to need this year.

We live in a time when it is already increasingly difficult to be mindful of our surroundings and to “live in the moment.”  We are constantly distracted by our cell phones, computers, etc., and bombarded with information from all over the world, most of which is both disturbing and overwhelming.  It’s a struggle to even recognize the “here and now,” much less appreciate it.  I just don’t think we need to add this constant pressure to rush through the present by looking ahead to a holiday season that is still several weeks away.

Yes, I love Christmas and I am truly looking forward to it’s arrival.  But meanwhile, I want to fully experience the season that I am actually living in.  I want to savor the cooler weather which has finally arrived,  and to really notice the trees that are suddenly sporting such beautiful colors.  I want to live in this moment and this day.  Yes, I know Christmas is coming, but it needs to wait for its turn.

Scary Fast

I was idly scrolling down my Facebook news feed yesterday when I spotted a couple of photos my daughter had posted of my son and herself, all dressed up for Halloween.  They were taken when my children were very young, in the preschool and kindergarten years, but when I looked at the pictures, I was instantly flooded with very specific memories of those two Halloweens.

martha-and-daniel-2I remembered that my daughter’s angel costume had been borrowed from church  (one of the costumes used for the annual Christmas program), and I remembered how grateful I was that my son wanted to be a fireman two years in a row.  I wasn’t one of those moms who enjoyed putting together elaborate costumes for my children, which also explains why my daughter’s ballerina costume in the second picture is nothing more than her dance class outfit with a shirt underneath the tutu to keep her warm.

I remembered how we carved the pumpkins just before eating dinner, so that our Jack-0-Lanterns would be ready for any early arrivals.  I remember how my husband and I took turns being the parent who stayed at home to greet trick-or-treaters, and the parent who took our kids around the neighborhood.  I remember the pumpkin sugar cookies I made,  dying the frosting orange and then adding just a touch of green for the pumpkin stem.  (I may not have been big on costumes, but I put an effort into those Halloween cookies.)  Mostly I remember the barely contained excitement of my son and daughter when the big night finally arrived, and for once, getting a lot of candy wasn’t just allowed, it was actually encouraged.

When my children were young, I was a stay-at-home mom who was struggling to make a go of a free-lance writing career.  Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed by the constant demands on my time, the never-ending cycle of laundry, meals, dirty diapers, and trying to keep two very active little people safe, healthy, and happy.  Occasionally I felt isolated and lonely, missing the company of my co-workers and the way I took easy access to adult conversation for granted.  Older women, especially my mom, often told me to treasure the years when my children were young, and warned me that they would be over far too soon.  “In the blink of an eye,” they said, “this will all be gone.”

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I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I didn’t quite believe them, because time didn’t seem to be moving all that fast to me.  But now my daughter is a 30-year old married woman, and my son is a 27-year old man who will be married in less than two weeks.  It seems like only yesterday that they were a little ballerina and fireman, and so excited for Halloween they could hardly stand still.  How can that be?  How in the world did time move so very quickly?  I remember those sweet days of their early childhood so very well, but I guess I must have blinked…..

Easter Reality

IMG_1209I’m not sure why, but I was really looking forward to Easter this year.  I bought a bunch of Easter cards and sent them out to various friends and family, filled several candy dishes with chocolate eggs and other colorful candies, and even broke out my “Easter ornament tree” much earlier than I usually do.  I told my extended family that I wanted to have the after-church Easter brunch at my house this year, and looked up a few new recipes to serve. Maybe it’s the early spring we are enjoying, since it means we have flowers and beautiful budding trees everywhere I look, but in the past few weeks, I have been more than ready for a fun and festive Easter celebration.

But life doesn’t always go according to plan.  Two days ago, we got the very sad news that my son-in-law’s father passed away after a long and valiant battle against cancer.  He was a hardworking, smart and extremely kind man who was devoted to his wife and family, and his passing has left a huge hole in the lives of the many people who loved him. And somehow, celebrating anything, including Easter, didn’t seem so appropriate anymore.

Of course I knew that dispensing with my usual Easter traditions wasn’t going to lessen anyone’s grief, so I stuck with my normal routine.  I still invited my mother over to dye eggs on Easter Saturday; I still put together the usual Easter baskets for my immediate family, and I am still hosting Easter brunch, with the understanding that it is perfectly okay for my daughter and son-in-law to skip it this year.  But in many ways, it feels like nothing more than just going through the motions.

So this Easter, I am honoring the holiday mostly by remembering what a fragile gift life is, how important it is to spend time with our loved ones while we still can, and how necessary it is to reach out and support one another in our times of suffering and great personal loss.  This year, I am just concentrating on what, for me, is Easter’s true message of hope in in the midst of despair, and the enduring and ultimate power of love.

And Now It’s Over

Now that Epiphany (January 6) has come, it’s time for me to begin one of my least favorite jobs:  putting away all my Christmas decorations.  Since I put up two big trees, one small ornament tree, and cover almost every horizontal space in my house with Christmas-related knick knacks, packing it all away for next year is no small chore.  It takes me a few days, doing a little bit at a time, carefully wrapping all the breakable ornaments and decorations in tissue paper before placing them in one of the many plastic bins I use to store all my Christmas stuff.

IMG_0934I usually have a hard time getting started, because I really like the way my house looks when it’s decorated for Christmas.  I like the way my upstairs tree casts a warm glow over the living room when I turn on its lights.  I like the way the vintage glass ornaments shimmer on the tree, and the way almost every household decoration holds a special meaning or memory.  I have a lovely nativity set that was a joint effort of my father (he made the stable) and my mother-in-law (she made the ceramic figurines).  Both my father and my mother-in-law have been gone for several years, but every time I look at that nativity set, I’m reminded of them.

And I really, really, like the way the outdoor Christmas lights make the long, dark winter nights bright and beautiful.  If I had my way, we’d all come to an agreement to leave the outdoor lights up through the end of February, and everyone would put up a few extra lights, whether they celebrate Christmas or not.IMG_0950

Eventually, I suck it up and get started taking down the decorations, and it always gets easier as I go along.  With each full bin I carry downstairs and place on a basement shelf, I let go of my Christmas nostalgia just a little bit more, and discover that my house doesn’t really look so plain, even without all the extra holiday decorations.  By the time I’ve packed the last of the decorations away, I realize that I’ve finally let go of this Christmas season, and am ready to plunge into the year ahead, with all the possibilities that a new year brings.

I make my usual vows to live a bit healthier this year, to try to be a little kinder and more tolerant towards others, and to find the courage to chase my dreams a little harder.  I look forward to a few nice snowfalls, and then to the warmth of spring and summer that I know will follow.  And because I’m me, a true Christmas nut, I also know that in a mere eleven months, I’ll get to haul all of my Christmas treasures back out and decorate everything all over again….

More For Christmas

Generally speaking, I’m a firm believer in the old saying “less is more.”  I don’t want or need a closet the size of a small bedroom to store my clothes;  I don’t dream of living in a huge mansion, and if I had the choice between winning fifty million dollars or five hundred million dollars, I’d pick fifty.  Because seriously, what can you do with five hundred million that you can’t do with fifty million?  In short, excess is just not my thing.

IMG_0935Which is why I am always surprised when the Christmas season rolls around and I inevitably find myself wanting more….of just about everything.  I have so many antique Christmas ornaments that they don’t even fit on the two trees (three, if you count my little ornament tree) that I put up every year, but I still buy more.  I buy my family a reasonable amount of gifts, and then, at the last minute, I find myself buying just a few more.  The lights we hang outside our house look just fine, but I’m always trying to figure out where we can hang another strand..or two.

IMG_0948I don’t pretent to understand why the holidays effect me this way, I only know that they do.  It’s the only time of year when I eat so many sweets that I have an almost continual stomach-ache, and yet still find myself reaching into the cookie jar for just one more snicker doodle.  It’s the only time of the year when I will stay up long after I am tired, just so I can sit in the living room a little bit longer, looking at the Christmas tree and listening to Nat King Cole sing carols.  And Christmas Eve is the only day of the entire year when I think I would go to church twice if I could talk my husband into it…I like the candle light service that much.

Now that we’re in the week between Christmas and New Years, I am slowly recovering from my annual fit of Christmas greed.  I still have a few celebrations with family and friends to attend, and I still have a refrigerator and pantry stuffed with holiday goodies, but I’m not baking any more and each day I find it a bit easier to resist the temptation to pig out yet again.  And in another week I’ll begin taking down my decorations and packing them away carefully for next year.

I know there’s probably some reason I tend to celebrate Christmas with such wild abandon.  Maybe I’m trying to recapture the Christmas excitement I felt as a child, or maybe my elaborate decorations are a feeble attempt to make the world around me just a little bit brighter.  It’s possible I’m reacting to the mixture of memories and emotions that the Christmas season brings, since it’s a time when both the joy and the sorrow we feel are much more intense.  I honestly don’t know.

I do know that while I really love Christmas, I’m also glad it only comes once a year.   I don’t think I could handle it more often than that.  My jeans will only stretch so far….

A Very Lucy Christmas

IMG_0415I have never known a dog who enjoys Christmas quite as much as my dog Lucy.  I believe if she could figure out a way to write a letter to Santa Claus (or in her case, Santa Dog) she would.  Because she not only receives a couple of Christmas presents each year, she makes it quite clear that expects them.

Her interest begins the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, when we put up the big tree in the living room.  Lucy is right there, checking out the ornament boxes, sniffing at the strands of lights, and generally making herself useful by being constantly underfoot while we are hanging the fragile antique ornaments I love so much.   And if we have put out a plate of cheese and crackers to go with the champagne we sip while we are decorating our tree, she makes sure she gets her fair share of the food, whether we actually offer it to her or not.  She is fast and our coffee table is conveniently low.

Still, she doesn’t get truly excited until closer to Christmas day, when we start placing our wrapped gifts under the tree.  She gives the wrapped boxes a quick sniff, and if they smell interesting enough, perhaps a quick lick as well, just to taste.  It’s the gift bags she’s really interested in, because she knows that her gifts always come in a gift bag.  Each and every gift bag placed under the tree gets a thorough inspection so that she can assure herself that its not the bag that contains her gift.  Don’t ask me how she can tell the difference between a sealed gift bag that holds a scarf for my daughter or a stuffed toy squirrel for her  just by smelling, but she does.

IMG_4396Sadly for Lucy, she has to wait until Christmas morning before the presents from Santa Dog arrive.  (And they can’t be put under the tree until that actual morning, usually when she’s out in the back yard for a potty break, or she will open them before we want her to.  We found that one out the hard way.)  But when the big morning finally comes and everyone is assembled in the living room to open gifts, Lucy is always the first one at the tree,  joyously  nosing through the stack of presents until she finds the two that are hers.  She always opens first, plunging her face right in the gift bag to get at her toy, then settles down to a happy morning of destuffing her toy squirrel while the rest of us open our gifts.

Lucy is fourteen this year and is really starting to show her age, so there is something bittersweet about this Christmas, because we know full well that it might be her last. She’s at the age where it’s easy to forget the stolen Christmas cookies, the gingerbread house she helped herself to a few years ago, and all of her other holiday transgressions.  We’re just glad that she’ll be here this Christmas with her bad little self, and who knows?  Santa Dog may even bring her three gifts this year.DSC03692 2

 

 

Tis The Season

IMG_0346The Christmas season has begun, and that’s just fine with me.  I’m one of those people who loves listening to Christmas music (yes, even in the grocery store), who puts up two Christmas trees and covers her house with Christmas decorations that are more tacky than tasteful, who enjoys baking Christmas cookies and even wrapping the presents.  If I could figure out a way to get out of actually having to shop (and pay for) those presents, I would be a completely happy camper this time of the year.

Sadly, the end of this Christmas season will coincide with the beginning of  a new season that I will definitely NOT enjoy:  the 2016 election season.  I hate all election years, but the Presidential elections are the worst as they seem to take the political ugliness to the highest possible level.  We’re not even done with the year 2015 yet, and I’m already seeing the hateful editorials in newspapers, the snarky Facebook posts, and the mean-spirited bumper stickers and yard signs.

I have no problem at all with people who have strong political convictions, and I actually admire the commitment of people who donate to and/or work on the election campaigns of a candidate they believe in. If you believe in a cause, you should be willing to support it with your time and money, in my opinion.   But I do have a problem, a huge problem, with people using their political beliefs as an excuse to to ridicule and attack those who don’t happen to share them.

Personally, I have never met a single person who has changed their politics just because someone else has made fun of them.  People don’t read a scathing blog post or hateful Facebook post and suddenly have an epiphany, see the error of their ways and resolve to vote for the other political party from now on.  It’s true that people whose views are attacked often enough can be silenced, choosing to just keep quiet rather than engage in ugly arguments, but I very much doubt that they have changed their beliefs (or the way they vote) at all.

I admit that when I read or hear something political that I find really offensive, there is always a small part of me that wants to lash out and let them know in no uncertain terms just how very wrong they are.  But I try hard not to do that, because lashing out through ridicule, snide put-downs, name-calling, etc. doesn’t help a thing, and actually does a lot of harm.  It makes the other person feel attacked, which means there is absolutely no hope they are going to listen to anything I have to say.  It’s completely possible for people with different points of views, even on something as important as politics, to have a polite and informative discussion about it, but only if we remember to always speak to the other person exactly as we want them to speak to us.

I know it’s naive of me to hope that this political season will be any nicer or more civilized than the ones before it, or that the candidates and their supporters will really treat each other with the respect and dignity that every human being deserves.  So all I can do is enjoy the rest of my Christmas season, and focus on its true message of hope, love and peace.  And then do my best to keep that focus through the upcoming election year…..

Christmas Presence

One of my earliest Christmas memories is of sitting at the kitchen table with my father, working together to make “shadow box” nativity scene.  Shadow boxes were popular at the time, and as far as I can remember, they consisted of a box that housed knick-knacks or scenes in a decorative wooden box covered with glass to protect the contents.  Since I was about five years old at the time, we were making our shadow box out of a cardboard shoe box.

We had gone out into the back yard to cut some dormant, yellowed zoysia grass, which we glued on the bottom of the box to represent straw.  We glued strips of brown construction paper to the walls for the stable beams, and added a blue square window complete with gold star stickers on the back wall. Then we glued down the ceramic figures of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger, with a little plastic angel standing guard.  Finally, we taped on clear plastic wrap to cover the whole front of the box.  I thought it was absolutely beautiful.

Our family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but we always got a nice pile of presents for Christmas, and almost always got the gift we wanted the most of all (not counting the Shetland pony I was always secretly hoping for).  But as much as I looked forward to unwrapping my presents on Christmas morning, as happy as I was with the presents I received, I have forgotten almost all of them by now.  Sometimes my memory is helped by looking at an old photo and thinking, “Oh, that was the year I got the Chatty Cathy doll,” but I can’t remember that on my own, or even a few days after I look at the photo.

What I do remember, easily and clearly, is sitting at the kitchen table with my father, working together to make that cardboard shadow box.  I remember how special it made me feel that he was taking the time to teach me how to make something beautiful out of some dried-out grass, construction paper, ceramic figures and a cardboard shoe box.

IMG_0938I have no idea how long that cardboard shadow box actually lasted…our household had lots of rambunctious kids, so the chances are, it didn’t last very long…but I still have the figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the angel.  And even though they are old and chipped, I still put them out every year, to remind me that the best Christmas gifts aren’t the ones we put under the tree.

Giving Thanks

IMG_0919Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the holiday that reminds us of all the things we have to be thankful for as we gather with family and friends for a terrific meal.  Traditionally, we are thankful for what we already have, but I think that this year, I’d like to list a few things that I’m hoping to be thankful for this Thanksgiving instead:

I’m having everyone at my house for the Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I will be very thankful if I manage to get through the whole day without the smoke alarm in my kitchen going off.  Just once, I’d like to know that the turkey is done by seeing the little thingamajig pop up, rather than hearing the annoying screech of the smoke alarm.

I know it sounds odd, but I’ll be extraordinarily thankful if our 14 year-old dog Lucy makes her annual bid for a part of the Thanksgiving meal, either by stealing some tasty scraps from the trashcan, going after a plate of appetizers that someone left within her reach, or even by jumping on the dining room table to grab whatever food is left once the rest of us are in the kitchen washing up.  Because I know that the day Lucy stops being bad and breaking the household rules is also going to be the day she stops breathing, and I am absolutely not ready for that.

IMG_0914I’ll be thankful if this is the year that, after stuffing myself with way too much turkey and all the usual side dishes, I finally realize that I do not need to also eat quite so much dessert.  Although I’ll probably do it anyway.   It’s not that I really want those desserts, its just that I don’t want to offend the people who made them and brought them to my house to share.  Really, that’s the reason I eat that second piece of pie.  It is.  I swear.

But mostly, I’ll be thankful if, amid all the cleaning to get ready for company, all the cooking and food preparation, all the eating and drinking and all the lively conversation, I remember to appreciate how very lucky I am to have so many things to be thankful for.  Even if that stupid smoke alarm goes off again….

 

Halloween Memories

Lea and I halloweenThere’s something about Halloween that almost makes me wish I was a kid again.  I remember when I was very young, and Halloween meant a trip to the local Woolworth’s to pick out my costume, back in the days when they came in a cardboard box with a clear cellophane top so you could see what you were getting.  Later, I’d help carve the family pumpkin, and then we’d head out to trick our treat in the neighborhood.  The best part was after trick or treating, when I’d come home and sort through my haul, eating as much candy as I could before my mom noticed what I was up to.

When I got a bit older, my friends and I would piece together our own costumes from whatever we could find around the house.  None of us had fancy costumes, either store bought or hand made, but we didn’t care.  My favorite was when I put a black cape over a white sheet, and went trick or treating as Dracula’s ghost.  By then the chief attraction of the holiday wasn’t so much the candy as it was a fun night out with my friends, telling jokes and trying to scare each other as we walked down the dark streets toward the next house.


Later, when I had my own kids, I could revive a little bit of that Halloween excitement through them.  I helped pick out or make their costumes (I wasn’t very good at sewing, but they didn’t seem to notice), enjoyed watching them in the school Halloween parade, helped with the class parties and took them trick or treating.  But eventually my kids got old enough to trick or treat without me, and then stopped going altogether.

Martha and Daniel HalloweenNow I am middle aged, and I think I have just outgrown Halloween.  I still put real pumpkins on my porch and set out a couple of ceramic pumpkins in my living room, but I can’t be bothered to string orange lights, stretch fake spider webs across my bushes or place crime scene tape across the steps.  And I certainly don’t want to turn my front yard into a fake cemetery or put zombie figures on my lawn.  I don’t believe that Halloween decorations should ever be graphic enough to scare small children, the way the the barbecue pit with a bloody Santa Claus head on it I once saw on someone’s porch most certainly would.

I know there are lots of adults who still enjoy Halloween, and love the elaborate decorations and the Halloween parties that require costumes, and that’s fine.  I’m just not one of them. My husband and I did go to several costume parties when we were newly married, and I thought they were fun, although my husband didn’t like dressing up.  (One year he went as an Accountant, which he is, so that meant he didn’t have to wear a costume.  And that was the only year he didn’t whine about having to go to a Halloween party.) But it’s been many years since I’ve dressed up on Halloween, and I honestly don’t miss it.

These days my Halloween celebration consists of carving a jack-o-lantern, maybe making a few pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies and handing out candy to the kids who ring our doorbell on Halloween night.  It’s true I don’t get the same feelings of anticipation and excitement that Halloween used to bring, but that’s okay.  I  believe that Halloween is for the young, and I’m no longer young.   And I know I’m lucky to have a lot of great memories from when I was.