Happy Holidays

1V5A5417From the very minute that I was adopted from the animal shelter, I had  a feeling I was going to really, really like living with my new family.  And I was right.  I’ve got my own bed, my own crate, a basket full of dog toys and a big yard to run around in.  I have two doggie cousins, Frankie and Roxy, who sometimes come over to play with me.   Plus, I’ve got my parents trained to be very generous with the dog biscuits…they even use them to “bribe” me to go outside for a potty break when it’s raining.  All in all, I’ve been pretty darned happy with my new family and thought that things couldn’t possibly get any better.  But they did!

I didn’t know much about holidays before I came to live here, so I had no idea what I was missing.  Turns out, there’s a holiday called Thanksgiving, and we celebrated it yesterday.  I knew something good was going to happen when Mom put a big turkey in the oven to bake, and then spent the next few hours in the kitchen, making even more food.  The house smelled so good that I could hardly stand it!

But things got even better when the rest of the family showed up.  Because get this:  every single one of them showed up with some sort of food!  From what I can tell, Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about food and sharing it with friends and family.  How cool is that?  We started in the afternoon with lots of appetizers (I made sure I got my share), and then everyone sat down at the big table that was loaded with all the rest of the food, including that fabulous turkey.  I sat right beside the little guy in the high chair, because I knew I could count on him to drop some tasty tidbits my way.   Finally, when everyone crowded in the kitchen to clean up, I helped dispose of anything that was left on their plates.  I know it’s my job to help whenever I can, but it’s especially nice to be able to combine business with pleasure.

Frankly, I’d be a little sad right now that it’s all over if I hadn’t discovered that there’s another holiday coming up in a few weeks.  It’s called Christmas, and I’ve heard it also involves a lot of extra food, especially cookies.  Of course I’m all in favor of that!

In addition to the food, Christmas seems to require putting up lots of lights and decorations, which is fine with me.  But I really got excited when I saw the big tree that Dad put up in the living room.  I know exactly what that’s for, and I can hardly believe my good luck.  They’ve given me my very own indoor bathroom!  No more going out in the cold and rain when I need to pee….how thoughtful is that?  And that’s not all.  They’re going to put all these shiny balls all over it, and I love balls! I can hardly wait to take them off and play with them.

It’s too early to compare, but it just might be that I’m going to love Christmas even more than I loved Thanksgiving!

Love,  Finn

 

Year After Year

I’m a big fan of Christmas traditions.  This is the one time of the year when “doing things the way we’ve always done them” feels not only right, but almost mandatory.  I love trimming my tree with ornaments I’ve had for decades, and I do it while listening to Nat King Cole’s Christmas music, just the way my family did when I was a child.  I find it both meaningful and comforting to carry on old family Christmas traditions….most of the time.  But there are a few traditions that I would love to abandon, if only I could.

I could do without the nasty Christmas cold I manage to come down with every year, and just once I’d like the breakfast casserole I make for Christmas morning to turn out the way the recipe promised.  But it never does.  It’s either under-cooked and soggy, or over-cooked and dry, and it always sticks to the baking dish.  Still, my family chokes it down each year and assures me that it tastes just fine, because (of course) that casserole is a Christmas tradition.

IMG_2768But if I could abandon just one of my Christmas traditions, it would be the annual battle to put the lights on my Christmas tree.  I prefer the large, old-fashioned lights that throw out a warm, cozy glow on a dark night, just like the ones my family has always used.  You’d think that putting a few strands of them on the tree would be easy.  But each and every year year, something goes dreadfully wrong when we try to light up our tree.

Last year the Christmas lights I had been using finally wore out and refused to work, so I embarked on a frantic search for replacement lights.  Which every single store I went to seemed to be sold out of.  I even gave the LED lights a try, but after carefully putting them on the tree I realized that while they are indeed bright to look at, they don’t actually light up a room.  Eventually, after much time and effort, I did find some satisfactory lights and was able to spend my December evenings basking in their glow.

This year I had the lights and figured it would take twenty minutes, tops, to string them and then we could hang the ornaments.  I was wrong.  I put the lights on the tree, but then realized there weren’t nearly enough.  So I took them back off, found another strand in our basement and put them all back on again.  Then the strand in the middle of the tree stopped working, so I took those off while my husband went to the store to get some more.  By the time we finally got the tree lit and looking good, the entire afternoon was shot and we decided to go have pizza and hang the stupid ornaments the next day.

But at least the lights are on the tree, and soon I can add the ornaments.  My Nat King Cole CD is still working (I checked), so I think I’m all set.  By this time tomorrow my tree will be fully decorated and I can just relax and enjoy the rest of the season.  Until, of course, I catch my annual Christmas cold….

Wear the White Jeans

IMG_0290Like many women, whenever I get invited to an event, one of my first thoughts is, “What in the world am I going to wear?”  So when I received an invitation to my future daughter-in-law’s bachelorette party, my first reaction was to be very touched and happy that I was included.  My second reaction was to start fretting about exactly what I was going to wear for this occasion.

We were going to a nearby historical town to spend the afternoon visiting wineries, and since we would to be outside some of the time, I decided to wait and see what the weather was going to be before I decided on my outfit.  I have reached the age where the more clothes I have on, the better I look.  But I also knew that August can be very hot and humid, and had to take that into consideration.  Luckily, the day of the party turned out to be only pleasantly warm, which gave me more choice in my attire.  I decided that I was going to aim for a casual, yet festive look, with an eye toward maximum coverage.

Pairing white jeans with a light-weight, dressy top seemed to be the obvious solution, but I found myself hesitating, as I always do when I consider wearing my white jeans.  I usually wear dark pants, which help hide the fact that the lower half of my body is bigger than the top half, and was afraid that the white jeans might highlight the fact that my body shape is, in essence, that of a pyramid with legs.  Also, I was afraid that the white jeans might be ruined.  Even though I always drink white wine (the wine of choice for clumsy people), I knew there would be plenty of red wine around, as well as other things that could stain white jeans, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk it.

I think if I hadn’t been rushed for time when I was getting ready, I probably would have made a different clothing choice.  But I didn’t want to be late, so I just threw on the white jeans, found a top with a “busy” enough design to counter-balance the vast whiteness below, and headed off for the party.  And had a wonderful, wonderful, time with my future daughter-in-law, her mother, and her close friends, including my daughter.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post.  My white jeans have sat in my drawer for most of this past summer, as well as the summer before that.  I have been too afraid to wear them, because I didn’t have the figure for them and/or that they would get dirty or stained.  So each time I tried them on before going out, I almost always took them back off and put on a different, “safer,” pair of pants or jeans, believing that I would wear the white ones later.

What exactly I was waiting for, I don’t know.  It’s not as though, at age 58, I’m going to suddenly lose a ton of weight or develop “buns of steel.”   If anything, I’m going in the opposite direction, with the needle on my scale moving steadily upward, and the best I can boast at this point in my life is “buns of Jello.”  And yes, white does show the dirt and get stained, but so what?  That’s what bleach and washing machines are for.

The bottom line is that if going to a party that celebrates the fact that a lovely, sweet and intelligent young woman is going to marry my son isn’t worth finally wearing my white jeans, I don’t know what is.  I may be getting old, but I can still learn something new.  And what I learned yesterday is: appreciate all the good things that are going on in your life right now.  And wear the white jeans!

Birthday Wishes

IMG_1116Recently, my son sent me a text asking what I would like for my birthday this year.  I wasted no time in sending the answer:  a beachfront condo on Sanibel Island, a wrinkle-free neck, skinny thighs and good eyesight.  Even though I graciously told him he could select which of the gifts he would prefer to give me, I didn’t get a reply.  Perhaps he was too busy comparing the costs and labor involved in each of my selections before settling on his final choice.

I remember very well how easily I used to come up with a list of things I wanted for my birthday.  Like most children raised on lots of television, I always had a ready list of new toys and games I had seen advertised and that I was dying to have.  Later, as a teenager and young adult, I yearned for a wardrobe full of expensive and beautiful clothes that would allow me to have whatever look was trendy at the time.  Still later, as a not-so-young adult, there were always books, jewelry, a few clothes and other various household items that I would be pleased to receive, so even then the question of “what do you want for your birthday?” wasn’t hard to answer.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere in my journey through middle age, I just stopped wanting quite so many things.  Maybe I don’t long for beautiful clothes any more because I know that those clothes probably aren’t going to look all that great on my middle-aged body.  (And I’m actually okay with that:  one of the benefits of aging is that I no longer feel the pressure to strive for the “perfect” appearance.)  I don’t mind wearing the same few necklaces and bracelets each time I go out, and as for household items, my house is already as full as I want it to be.

I still love books, but years of diligently collecting the works of my favorite authors means that my bookshelves are basically full.  I don’t want to end up like my father, who had more than sixty boxes of books that he insisted on bringing with him on each of our family’s many moves.  (A family friend once commented, “By the time your dad finally gets all his books unpacked and on his shelves, it’s basically time to start packing them up again for the next move.”)  I go through my books every so often, getting rid of the ones that I no longer read so that I have room for any new books I add to my collection.  So far, my system is working, because I haven’t bought a new bookshelf in years.

So now, at the age of almost fifty-eight, I have a hard time coming up with a birthday wish list of things that anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy (beachfront condos don’t come cheap) could actually buy for me.  And that’s a good thing, because it means I have reached the point where I have figured out that the things that I want the most, and the things that are the most important to me, have absolutely nothing to do with money.

Valentine Love

IMG_1130Since Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, my husband and I decided to go out for a nice dinner on Saturday night instead.  Sadly, it seemed as if everyone else had the same idea, because when we arrived at our favorite restaurant for our seven o’clock reservation, the place was packed.  The host asked if we minded waiting in the bar for a few minutes until our table was ready, which was fine with us.  But after a while, it became apparent that the “few minutes” was a very optimistic prediction, and as the hunger pangs set in, we started surveying the restaurant to see if we could spot an open table that the staff might have missed.

There weren’t any empty tables, but there were several tables occupied by young couples who had finished their meals and paid their bills, but were still lingering, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, holding hands, and in general totally oblivious to the fact that there were hungry people waiting to be seated.  We tried giving a few of them the stink eye as a subtle hint that it was time to move on, but they were too wrapped up in each other to notice.  Eventually, we were seated at a nice corner table that gave us a good view of the dining room, and happily settled in, working our way steadily through the bread basket as we waited for our food to arrive.

Between bites, we studied the diners at the tables around us, especially the young couples who had obviously made a special effort for a romantic dinner.  They were quite dressed up, with the young men in ties and the young women in short dresses and high heels. They leaned in close to talk, smiled and flirted a lot, and stretched their meal out as long as possible by ordering appetizers, coffee and dessert.  Watching them brought back memories of how we used to celebrate Valentine’s Day, all those years ago when we were young.

At our table, the conversation was much less intimate, and contained phrases such as, “do you think the waitress will bring more bread?” and “we’d better hit the ATM on our way home,” none of which were uttered while holding hands or gazing deeply into each other’s eyes.   These days, if my husband is gazing deeply into my eyes at a restaurant, it’s because I’ve asked him to see if I’ve got an eyelash stuck in on of them.  And we don’t hold hands across the table, because that would mean we’d have to put our utensils down.

True, we had made the effort to look nice, but we were also mindful of the wind chill when we selected our outfits.  My husband had on three layers of shirts, but no tie.  I no longer wear a dress when the temperature is under 35, so I had on a nice pair of slacks and a turtleneck sweater.  My one concession to romance was to forgo my usual knee socks in favor of control-top panty hose, which I hoped would both look dressy and take five pounds off of my figure.

But don’t think I’m complaining.  We had a lovely evening out, just in our own, somewhat quiet, middle-aged way.  We don’t need to stare at each other while we’re eating dinner.  When you’ve been married for thirty five years, you know what your spouse looks like and there’s no need to keep checking.  We may not flirt in public any more, but we both knew we were sitting across the table from the one and only person we wanted to share in our Valentine’s dinner.

And when we were done with our meal, we promptly paid our bill and left, opening the table for the next couple who wanted to enjoy a nice Valentine’s dinner.  I’m thinking that next year, we should choose a restaurant that caters exclusively to people who are middle-aged and older.  The clientele may not look as good, but we won’t have to wait so long for a table, either.

 

 

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

 

 

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.

The Season of Change

It may sound odd, but I’ve always found autumn to be just a little bit depressing.  I do love the crisp, cool air; the beautiful colors of the turning leaves, and the pumpkins and gourds that are used to decorate our houses and yards.  But even while I’m enjoying all the good things that autumn brings, I also feel an underlying sense of sadness and loss.  The days are getting shorter, those beautiful leaves are going to fall to the ground and leave the trees stark and bare, and I know that cool, crisp air is soon going to be replaced by cold, snow and ice.  I’m not a huge fan of winter (it should end the day after Christmas, as far as I am concerned), and so maybe the problem is that I’m just too aware that when autumn comes, winter is not far behind.

If I wanted to get really deep, I would point out that middle age is basically the early autumn of our life, but I try to keep this blog light and positive, so I won’t go there.  I will just say that I am at a period of my life when the losses are beginning to pile up, and as a blogger friend of mine so aptly put it, “there are more endings than there are beginnings.”

IMG_0878But this autumn has been an exceptionally good one for me and my family, and I can honestly say that for once, I’m not melancholy or sad.  Just last month, we celebrated the wedding of our daughter and our terrific new son-in-law, and that was a joyful, happy occasion for all of us.  Yesterday, my son proposed to his long-time girlfriend, which means that not only do we have another wedding to look forward to, but that our family is changing and growing in a very wonderful way.

Yes, being middle aged means that I am sometimes dealing with too many changes that are challenging and sad.  But other times, the changes that come to me and my family are very positive, exciting and hopeful, and knowing that both of my children have found a special person to love and share their life with is a change of the very best kind.  I know our family will never be the same, but in this case, that’s a good thing.

Last night we gathered at a local restaurant with a small group of friends and family to celebrate the engagement of my son and his new fiancé.  We were celebrating the beginning of their new life together, the joining of two families who will support them throughout their journey, and of all the possibilities that the future may bring them.  It’s a good, happy and hopeful change for us all. And for me, it’s a powerful reminder that there are still lots of good things in life to come, no matter what the season.

Wedding Memories

IMG_0615When my daughter’s fiancé first told us he was going to propose, I was very happy and excited for her, right up to the moment I realized I was going to have to help plan and host the wedding, at which point the panic set in.  I just couldn’t imagine that we would be able to pull together all the little details of such a huge event (whatever happened to the days when a wedding meant a quick ceremony in the sanctuary, followed by cake and punch in the church basement?) even knowing that my daughter is a very organized person who would be doing most of the work herself.  Multi-tasking has never been my strong point, and in weddings, the devil is definitely in the details.  There were many times in the past year when I thought herding fifty cats would have been much easier.

But we did it.  My daughter got married last Saturday, and all the important things went according to plan.  The weather was perfect, everyone was where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, the ceremony was beautiful, and the reception was fun.  I had been told that, after all that planning and work, the day would just fly by, and that was so true.  I really don’t have a strong, clear memory of it that I can share when people ask, “How did the wedding go?”

IMG_0666What I do have are a series of mental pictures of the highlights of the day.  First, I remember how beautiful my daughter looked when she first put on her dress in the chapel of the church, and how proud I was when she walked down the aisle with her father.  After the ceremony, I remember watching everyone gather in the front of the church for family pictures, and I remember thinking how lucky the bride and groom were to have such a large, loving family to support them in their marriage.

I remember the slight panic I felt during the cocktail hour, as I stood on the edge of the crowded room and realized that I needed to circulate and greet the guests.  I much prefer to stay “behind the scenes” at large social gatherings, working quietly to make sure everything is going well, and I am never comfortable in large crowds.

Later, when we were seated in the ballroom and they introduced the wedding party as they came in, I remember the precious sight of my son (a groomsman) walking in with a bridesmaid on his left arm while holding the hand of the little Junior Bridesmaid on his right.  And then my daughter and her new husband came in, and I realized that all the planning, work and money had been worth it, just for that moment alone.

There are lots of other special memories:  the toasts, the first dance, seeing my eight-five year old mother dancing to some modern song with my nephew (as one of my friends told me later, “your mother still has the moves!”), and finally, everyone out on the dance floor for the final song, dancing and singing along to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”  (I knew my daughter would work a country song in there somewhere.)

I firmly believe that every bride is beautiful on her wedding day, just as every groom is handsome.  I also firmly believe that true beauty comes from within, and what made my daughter and her new husband so pleasing to look at had nothing to do with their physical appearance, and everything to do with the way they kept looking at each other throughout the day.  The happiness and the love for each other I saw on their faces made them a very beautiful couple, and that’s a beauty that will, hopefully, stay with them for the rest of their lives ….