Without Me

The day after Christmas, I woke up feeling just a little bit “off.”  At first, I thought I had probably just overdid a bit over the holidays.  But as the day wore on, I felt worse, not better.  My throat hurt, I started coughing and I felt a little achy.  By the next morning, I was well and truly sick and stayed that way for most of the week.  The good news was that I tested negative for Covid three times, but the bad news was that I was absolutely miserable and unable to do anything other than lay around feeling sorry for myself.

4F20ECF8-0FF5-4683-8705-FDA15FC89E5ETypically, I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve relaxing and getting together with friends and family.  The work of the holidays is over by then, but the decorations are still up, the kitchen is stocked with cookies and other Christmas goodies, and there’s plenty of time to enjoy it all.  I hated missing out on all that, but as the week went on, I also began to feel guilty about all the other things I wasn’t doing:  walking the shelter dogs, keeping up with my blogging, hosting a small family gathering for my out-of-town sister, and even basic housework.  (I emptied the dishwasher one day and then had to go lay down for three hours to recover.)

Even worse, I was supposed to be spending at least part of that week helping my daughter care for her newborn son.  Her husband was working and her older son’s daycare was closed for the holidays, so I had promised that I’d be around to lend a helping hand.  But even if I’d had the energy, I couldn’t risk going anywhere near her house.  I didn’t have Covid, but I was still sick and probably contagious.

So there I was, not only sick but feeling very guilty about being sick.  I remembered how hectic caring for a newborn and a young child can be, and how grateful I was for any and all assistance.  I hadn’t seen my out-of-town sister in months and hated the thought of her going back home without us getting together.  I knew that every day I wasn’t at the animal shelter meant that the other volunteers had to walk even more dogs than usual, and that there was a chance that some dogs would miss their daily walk altogether.  I even felt guilty about not keeping up with the comments on my latest blog post, or keeping up with my friends’ blogs.

The silver lining in all this mess was that eventually I realized that sometimes I’m not going to be able to do the things that others want or need me to do, and that I need to stop fretting about it and simply accept it.  There are going to be times when I can’t live up to either my expectations or the expectations of other people, and I have to learn to be okay with that.  Stuff happens, plans go awry, and sometimes, I just need to go of the ridiculous idea that the world will crash and burn if I’m not carrying my fair share of the load every single minute.

My daughter made it through the week without my help; the blogging world kept right on going without me, and the shelter dogs all got their daily walks.  Go figure.  My sister was even able to stay in town long enough for me to recover and spend time with her, but she would have forgiven me if I hadn’t.  Because the truth is, none of us is indispensable.  Some of us just need to be reminded of that now and then…….

Something New

One year, my husband and I went out for dinner on the night after Thanksgiving.  The soup special was called something like “Turkey Medley,” and it was one of the best-tasting soups I’ve ever had.  Somehow, the cook had managed to include almost all of the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in one soup…the turkey, the dressing and the roasted vegetables….all of it.  Right then and there I decided that the following year, we were going back to that same restaurant on the day after Thanksgiving so I could have that soup again.  And this time, I planned to take extra home with me.  So you can imagine my disappointment a year later when the waiter informed me that the soup special that night was clam chowder.

IMG_1071I think it’s only natural to want to repeat something that we’ve really enjoyed, and sometimes we’re able to do just that.  My husband and I fell in love with Sanibel Island the first time we visited and it’s still one of our very favorite vacation spots.  But if I’m honest, I have to say that our first visit was the best, because we were discovering someplace brand new, and to us at least, quite wonderful.  It’s the same way when I like a movie so much that I go back to the theater to watch it again.  I still like it the second time I see it, but I don’t really enjoy the movie as much as I did the first time.

And this is something I have to remember each year as we move into the holiday season, because  Christmas is a time when I find myself trying, often subconsciously, to relive the happy moments of past Christmas celebrations.  But the truth is, I’m no longer a child so I don’t feel the almost unbearable excitement of waking up on Christmas morning and knowing that there’s a pile of presents for me under our tree.  My son and daughter are also grown up now, so the joy of watching their excitement on Christmas morning is also a thing of the past.  I’ll cherish those special memories forever, but the truth is that they are not going to be repeated.

And that’s okay.  Because if we spend all our time trying to recreate the things we enjoyed in the past, we’ll never be able to appreciate all that the present has to offer.  It’s true that I’ll never again celebrate Christmas as a young child or as the mother of young children, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in this holiday and in all the ones that will follow.  For the next few years, I’ll enjoy being the grandmother of small children, which has it’s own benefits.  I get to share their excitement and joy, but their own parents have to do most of the work of preparing for the holidays.

My husband and I have been back to the restaurant that served that fabulous soup many times, but it’s never been offered again.  Clearly, it was a one-time experience.  But we have tried other menu items and specials, and many of them were absolutely delicious.  Which just goes to show, I think, that sometimes we have to let go of the past in order to fully appreciate the present…..

The Voice of Reason

There’s no point in denying it:  I’m a creature of habit.  When I shop for new clothes, I usually come home with outfits that are essentially new versions of the worn-out clothes that I’m replacing.  People are often shocked when they learn that I’ve been a volunteer dog walker at a local shelter for almost twenty years, but it seems normal to me.  I’m perfectly happy going on our annual Florida vacation each year, and my husband and I eat at our favorite restaurant so often that the manager not only knows us by name, he also knows our preferred choice of wine.

IMG_0631And things just get worse when Christmas rolls around.  I drag out the same decorations each year and place them where I always have always placed them.  OccasionaIly I get daring and add something new or give away a decoration I no longer care for, but if I look at photos of our Christmas celebrations in the past ten years or so, my house looks basically the same.   There’s just something about Christmas that makes me embrace tradition even more that I usually do, and I guess that’s why I was really looking forward to the holidays this year, because it meant I could get back to my “normal” celebrations.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…..they really do “often go astray.”  At least where I live, the pandemic is under much better control than it was last year, but it’s still a factor that has to be considered in our celebrations.  Beyond that, our daughter was expecting her second child in mid-December.  Not knowing when the baby would actually arrive and how comfortable my daughter and son-in-law will feel being a part of family celebrations means we won’t be able to make our usual plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year.  “We’ll see how it goes” has become our new mantra, and rightly so.

And while I understood that our family traditions couldn’t be guaranteed this year, I still clung to the idea that all of my other Christmas traditions would proceed as normal.  Never mind that this resulted in a schedule that became so hectic I couldn’t possibly keep up with it, I stubbornly refused to cancel even a single gathering or commitment.  It’s the Christmas season, so I had to carry on as normal, right?

Luckily, I have a friends who are not only willing to confront me with truths I’m not willing to admit to myself, but they are able to do it with tact and kindness.  It takes a special sort of person to be able to say to you, “What in the world are you thinking?  You can’t possibly manage all this!” in such a way that I not only took no offense, but actually believed cancelling a few of my commitments was my idea.

As we move into what is often a far too hectic holiday season, my hope is that we all have that friend who will gently speak the truth to us.  Because we need to hear, and believe, that it really is okay to slow down and simply enjoy the season, doing only what doesn’t feel like “too much.”  And maybe, if we’re really lucky, that’s a truth that will stick with us well into the new year……

Changes in Attitude

JXHyluo%SGWcmbt7MgVpvgTraditions have always been a big part of my holiday celebrations.  We always use our good china for the meals at Easter and Thanksgiving, my Christmas tree is lit with the old-fashioned bulbs of my childhood, and champagne must be served on New Year’s Eve.  I go a little overboard when decorating my house at Christmas, but the actual process goes quickly because I put the exact same decorations in the exact same place every year.

I suppose I like my holiday traditions so much because they remind me of  the happy celebrations of years past.  Carrying on traditions of my childhood might also be a way of honoring family members who have passed.  (This could be why it was years before I was able to ignore my father’s strict rules about decorating a Christmas tree:  smallest ornaments on the top, biggest ornaments on the bottom, a white light bulb at the top of the tree, and if icicles are used, only one strand may be placed on each branch.  I felt like true rebel the first time I hung a large ornament near the top of the tree and dared to put three strands of icicles on an especially bare branch.)

But for whatever reason, I’ve always held on tightly to my holiday traditions, and only changed them when I had to in order to accommodate the changes in my growing family.  But then the year 2020 happened, and I decided that it’s rather pointless to try to hold on to traditions in a year when the world has been basically turned upside down.

So this year, we had our family dinner with just our kids on the night before Thanksgiving, and my mother joined my sister and her husband for their own separate dinner.  My husband and I spent Thanksgiving day putting up our Christmas tree and hanging our outdoor lights, adding a new string of Christmas lights around our patio. While I have absolutely no idea how we’ll be celebrating Christmas this year, I do know it will be very different from years past.

And you know what?  I’m mostly okay with it.  Sure, I worry about my 90-year old mother’s emotional health if she has to be alone on Christmas, but I’ll do everything in my power to prevent that.  (Because when you’re 90, “staying apart this year so we can be together next year” has a very hollow ring to it.)   But I’m also learning that different doesn’t always mean worse.  And there’s something kind of liberating about knowing that I can’t keep up with all my traditions this year, because that means that I’m free to think of new ways to celebrate the holidays that work in these strange and trying times.

I’m truly hoping that next year we will be able to celebrate the holidays however we please.  But this year, I’m going to have to rely on a major change of attitude and expectations to get me through the season.  And who knows?  In the midst of all this craziness, I just might just find a new tradition that is worth keeping long after this pandemic is gone.

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.