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

 

Not Yet

I don’t think anyone loves Christmas more than I do.  I love the lights, the smell of a real Christmas tree, the music, the cookies, the cards, the parties, and even the shopping.  Christmas is the one holiday I really look forward to each year, and have ever since I can remember.  But here’s the thing:  the last time I checked, Christmas doesn’t actually come until December 25.

I still remember standing on our front lawn one night with my father, looking at at the Christmas lights on the house across the street.  “Now that’s really pushing the season!” my father told me, shaking his head in disgust.  He couldn’t believe that anyone would put their Christmas lights up on December 1st.  I wonder what my father would have said about the woman I recently saw happily stringing lights and bells across her fence on November 1st.  Then again, I probably know exactly what he would have said, and it wouldn’t have been complimentary.

IMG_2107Personally, I think my father may have been a little bit too strict in holding off on his Christmas celebrations.  (The first year my parents were married, he didn’t look for a tree until late Christmas eve and all the lots were closed, but that’s another story.)  But I admit that it bothers me to see Christmas lights up in early November and to see fully-decorated trees in windows weeks before Thanksgiving.  Yes, we all get to decide when we begin decorating for our favorite holidays, but it seems to me that there’s such a thing as “too early.”

It’s weird to see someone’s leftover Halloween decorations being displayed right next to a house that is all decked out for Christmas.  It’s annoying to hear Christmas carols being played in the grocery store while I’m still trying to decide what size turkey I’m going to need for Thanksgiving this year.  And while I understand that stores want to put out their holiday merchandise as early as possible, I resent being forced to buy wrapping paper and other Christmas paraphernalia in November because I know perfectly well it will all be picked over by December 6th.  And replaced with Valentine’s Day decorations by December 20th, if not before.

Besides, my tiny little mind doesn’t multi-task well, so all this blending of the holidays is confusing for me.  I like to concentrate on one thing at a time.  So what’s wrong with waiting until one holiday is over before we begin the celebrations for the next one?  Whatever happened to “living in the moment?”  And how can we possibly enjoy the anticipation of our favorite holiday when we’re surrounded by people who insist on acting as if it’s already here?

Yes, I love Christmas.  Always have, and always will.  Which is why I also believe that it’s a holiday worth waiting for…..

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

 

 

Winter Time

IMG_0963Like most people who are on the “wrong side of fifty,” I’ve reached a stage in my life where time has become a precious thing.  I know that I have more years behind me that I do ahead of me, which means I have to be more intentional about how I use the time I have left.  And this time of year, with its ever-shortening days, can make it particularly hard to find time for all the extra activities that Christmas brings for those of us who celebrate it.  I love all the baking, wrapping, decorating and parties that Christmas brings, but I really wish it came with a few extra hours each day just to deal with it all.

Since I have yet to figure out a way to find those extra hours, I try very hard to use the time I do have wisely.  When I was young enough to believe I had all the time in the world, I didn’t think twice about taking on new commitments, but now I do.  It may have taken me a few decades, but I have finally figured out that when I’m over-committed, I am also frazzled and cranky, and not pleasant company at all (just ask my husband).  The key, I think, is to keep a clear set of priorities in my head of what is necessary, what is important, and what is just plain fun.  Because if something I am being asked to do doesn’t fit into one of those three categories, then what’s the point of doing it?

The necessities are pretty much the same for most people, as they are the things that keep us going and our households running.  What’s important to us and what is fun for us is much more individual, and requires some thought.  For me, it’s important to spend time with the people I care about, to help others in need whenever I am able, to use the few talents I have been given, and to always find a way to be creative.  My definition of fun changes as I age, but I still know fun when I see it, and sometimes what is important is also fun.

Last night I was lucky enough to spend time with my family walking around the “Garden Glow” at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  It was an almost magical experience with the beautiful music playing as we walked among the gorgeous lights, stopping now and then to take some family photos.  Sure it was the weekend before Christmas and all of us had a long list of things we still need to do, but this was more important, and more fun, than wrapping the rest of the gifts, etc.  It was time well spent, no matter how I looked at it.

IMG_0973There are times when I find the shorter days of early winter a bit depressing, and the chaos of the holiday season a little overwhelming.  But then I realize that those things can also be a gift, because they help me remember that I must always be careful to choose how I spend the time I still have, and how important it is that I always choose wisely.

 

 

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.

A Merry Middle-Aged Christmas

I wasn’t really looking forward to Christmas this year.  I’m not sure why, but it may have been that I didn’t feel prepared.  Thanksgiving was late and I was sick a lot in early December.  Or it may have been the civil unrest St. Louis has been experiencing lately.  But for whatever reason, I just wasn’t looking forward to Christmas as much as I usually do.

As an adult, I know I can never get as excited for Christmas as I did when I was a child.  Back then, Christmas was the most exciting day of the year, and I could hardly wait for it to arrive.  Then I had my own kids, and through them, I was able to relive some of the old joy:  baking cookies, decorating the tree, singing “Away in the Manger” at church, and waiting for Santa’s big visit is so much fun with small children.

But now my son and daughter are grown up and in serious relationships, and Christmas has become a bit more complicated.  We juggle schedules  to accommodate everyone’s family, buy grown-up presents instead of toys (and those presents are often some piece of technology that I can’t operate or even identify,) and I realize there’s no longer any need for me to make my usual eight different kinds of Christmas cookies.  Maybe I thought things had changed a little too much for Christmas to be really fun anymore.

But it was fun.  In fact, Christmas this year was great!  We invited my mom over to help decorate our tree, and enjoyed that so much it will probably be a new tradition.  And since I no longer have to bake all those cookies for our kids’ various activities, I was free to make just a few batches of the cookies I like best.  Best of all, I didn’t have to set foot in a crowded toy store or worry about anyone being sold out of the one toy my child desperately wanted this year, which made Christmas shopping pretty darned easy.

Even the schedule juggling worked out.  We were lucky enough to be together with our kids and their significant others for part of both Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  And those times when they were with other families turned out to be the perfect time for my husband and I to have some much-appreciated down time:  we walked the dogs, took naps and watched “The Christmas Story” on TV for the umpteenth time.  It’s amazing how relaxing Christmas can be when you’re able to take a little break from it now and then.

Christmas is definitely different now that I’m an adult, and my son and daughter are also adults.  But different doesn’t mean worse.  On the contrary,  I’ve discovered that a “middle-aged Christmas” can be very merry indeed!