Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Fruitcakes and nutcases

Monday, December 16, 2013
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The cryptic recipe.  A little of this, a little of that, at 250 or 300 degrees.

The cryptic recipe. A little of this, a little of that, at 250 or 300 degrees.

It has a terrible reputation and a whopping 450 calories per slice.  It’s often called a brick or a doorstop. My dear husband confused it with a box of fire starters.  But it’s none of those things.  Friends, we need to show more respect for….The Fruitcake.

(That means showing me a little respect, too.)

It’s the joke of the holiday season, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I love fruitcake.  I savor the sticky, chewy, sugary fruit bits that stud my teeth with candied jewels.  I love the thickness of each slice, which feels like a slab of cement in a man’s hand.  I love the stained glass look of the ingredients shining through a molasses-colored sponge soaked in artificial flavorings.  I love topping a (very) small square with a mound of whipped cream; a cloud to brighten a citrusy brownie in disguise.

Yet just try to find a good one.

This week, I’ve searched high and low and near and far for an authentic fruitcake.  The few stores that carry them stamped the seasonal dessert with a “use by” date of 2015.  That competes with the shelf life of a Twinkie, so I left the confection in the display with the other 50 that remained untouched.

I called bakeries and different sweet shops to see if I could pay somebody to make one.  “We decided against it this year,” most of them said.  A few laughed.

Oh, no, dear bakers.  You are mistaken.  There’s always one nut in the area who will pay dearly for a slice of Christmas past.  But since these pastry chefs have chosen to turn their noses up, I’ll put my head down and make my own.

Do I have a professional KitchenAid artisan stand mixer?  Why, of course not!  Do I have a finished kitchen outfitted to support such an endeavor? Why, of course not!

But I do have a vintage recipe box that contains the handwritten instructions from a few Brown and Keeney women, and I intend to make those classy ladies proud.  I can do this! 

Every Christmas, my mother would open the folded square of yellowed notebook paper to reveal the secrets of her mother’s famous Nut Cake.  Two words  — not one. It’s a cake and it contains nuts.  (Even my grandmother tried to hide her embarrassment by changing the name from Fruitcake to Nut Cake.)  And every year, my mother would send a prayer up to the great kitchen in the sky to ask for a little help in turning this harder-than-childbirth cake into a Christmas spectacular.  Then, she would begin grating, sifting, chopping, stirring, pouring — and praying — as it was delivered into a 300 degree oven for the rest of a wintery afternoon.

More years than not, my mother would pull the Nut Cake from the oven, where her face would fall just as the cake had.  Deep red maraschino cherries always sank to the bottom, creating a cake full of craters that resembled a tire stabbed with a hunting knife.  My mother referred to it as The Keeney Curse.  Only her mother, God rest her soul, was allowed to make a perfect Nut Cake.  And if we tried, well, we’d pay for it.  As in 35 dollars’ worth of wasted groceries.

I would stand near Mom’s shoulder, or in time, over it, to avoid the disappointed expression on her face.  She would linger at the counter for a moment, steaming her pores with the heat of holiday hell, and then she’d toss the cake — sometimes fluted pan and all — into the trash.  My father, sitting in the breakfast nook smoking his life away, would scream like a girl.

So now it’s my turn.  I’m pulling out the Nut Cake recipe, and I’m trusting my new LG oven to bring great tidings of joy.  But before I scoop dark raisins or crack the first of four eggs, I’ll tilt my head toward the heavens, close my eyes and silently ask my mother to once again, help me keep all my cherries in the air.

 

Dedicated to Mary Keeney, who passed on December 12, and to Betty Brown, who passed on December 18.

My Embarrassing Husband (and Truths about Marriage)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
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giles and treeHere’s a truth about marriage that no one ever tells you: the most difficult part about marriage isn’t compromise. The most difficult part is learning to bite your tongue and not make fun of your spouse’s idiosyncrasies.

By the time you’ve been married as long as I have, the challenge becomes next to impossible. The only thing that keeps me sharing more  is the realization that I have even more idiosyncrasies than Giles does. Although, for the record, our  children both voted their dad as the more embarrassing of their two parents. Also for the record, that’s probably because their dad goes out of his way to embarrass them. I’m embarrassing without even trying.

But this past weekend, my husband wasn’t trying to embarrass anyone. He was just being over protective of our Christmas tree, which, in turn, was really embarrassing for the rest of us.

Every year, our family goes to a local Christmas tree farm to hunt down the perfect tree. And every year, we pick one that is too tall and requires a great deal of trimming down before it actually fits in our living room.

But not this year.

This year, all four of us went out of our way to find a short tree that would fit in our living room with no problem.

The selection didn’t take long, nor did cutting it down, hauling it back to be bailed and paying for it.

Getting it secured on top of the Jeep lasted so long that at least five other families went through the entire process while the kids and I waited and waited and waited. We waited so long that Giles became an embarrassment as he continued to pull ropes and check the ties on our smaller than normal tree.

The guys who drive the ATVs that haul the trees watched him. The other families watched him. Even the tree farm mutt, Molly, watched him.

But Giles continued to tie ropes, pull on them then tie more knots.

To be fair, I understand my husband’s concern.

Years ago, we were driving down a Virginia highway when the Christmas tree on top of the vehicle in front of us fell off, bounced across the highway and was left on the side of the road. The vehicle in front of us kept going at full speed as though nothing had happened.

Since no one was hurt in the incident, I was amused.

My husband, on the other hand, was apparently traumatized.

To this day, he lives in fear that our Christmas tree will fall off the roof of the Jeep.

“Going to get the family Christmas tree is a tradition,” I recently told a co-worker. “And the most important part  is waiting for Giles to secure the tree. That’s followed by his taking side roads because he’s afraid the tree will fall off if we go too fast on a major highway. We also have to stop at least twice to check if the tree is secure.”

This year, Giles broke with tradition. He only stopped once to check that  the tree was still secure. But then, it was a much smaller tree than we normally get and therefore only required one stop.

At some point, Giles must have realized how ridiculous he was being, but that was only after he was absolutely convinced that the tree was secure enough for transport. He looked at me and said, “You know, this tree is small enough we probably could have put it in the back of the Jeep and let the kids deal with some branches in their face.”

I agreed, but I also knew that putting the tree on top of the Jeep is as important to Giles as putting the star on top of the tree is for my daughter.

Sometimes, you just have to carry on the tradition.

Which leads me to another truth about marriage that no one ever tells you: the best memories aren’t the romantic ones. The best memories are the ones that highlight our idiosyncrasies, because those are the ones that make each family unique. And those are also the ones that bond us together as a true family.

Getting pinned

Monday, November 25, 2013
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believe wreathI used to think Facebook was the greatest time suck, but it’s not.  Pinterest is.  In the evenings, when the girls are looming and knitting and being creative with their precious time, I’m sitting with a computer on my lap collecting other people’s hobbies – 4,820 to be exact.  I’ve never seen so many beautiful ideas all in one place.  From rare black and white images of Jackie Kennedy to Crock Pot cheesecakes, I could spend days — weeks — pinning pretties to my virtual corkboard.  But every time I try to recreate someone else’s inspiration, I’m reminded that I’m no Martha Stewart.

Last season, I borrowed an idea from a “Gardening Bliss” board to invert metal tomato cages to make topiary Christmas trees.  These stunning cones of white lights sparkled with the theme of Handmade Holiday. I followed each step, jabbing my palms with rusted spokes of wire, and bending the triangular tree into a squoval shape trying to jam it into an equally distressed planter.  I wound garland according to the pinned image, and tucked lights into the greenery. That night, a cold front blew tree and pot into the neighbor’s yard.

A few weeks later, I got another hairbrained idea to make Santa hats out of strawberries and canned whipped cream.  These little nibbles of Saint Nick would add touches of charm and whimsy to my Christmas Eve buffet!  That morning, when the girls were at Mike’s office for cocoa and cookies (a slick way of getting employees to show up on December 24th), I carefully capped each berry and stacked it onto a dark chocolate brownie bite.  I was so proud of myself that I decided to make a dozen more.  That evening, when I pulled my delightful culinary creations out of the refrigerator to wow guests from near and far, the strawberry juice had bled into the piped whipped cream, which had deflated after several hours of rest. Mini Kris Kringles had suffered fatal aneurisms.

Then, there was the idea to spank seasonal pomegranates to rain ruby red seeds onto salad greens.  I cut the fruit in half, leaving a pool of juice on my counter, which stained my hands and 35-year old Formica.  With strict obedience, I grasped a wooden spoon and began smacking the halved pomegranate over the bowl, flinging seeds and red dye all over the ceiling and cat.  I could’ve changed the address of our house to 875 South Bundy.

This year, I still haven’t learned my lesson.  I’ve been hit with another wave of want and need thanks to Pinterest, such as setting up a hot chocolate station to wake up to on Christmas morning.  It helps to have red and green mugs, peppermint stick stirrers, and ramekins of fluffy, homemade marshmallows.  It also helps to hire someone to get up at 4:00 a.m. to melt Ghirardelli chocolate over a pot of simmering water.   I’m also intrigued by an idea to shower my trees with icicle lights.  Instead of winding them around each branch, decorators are encouraged to let strands hang down effortlessly….naturally.  Of course, if our zip code is hit with another night of 45mph winds, I’ll have trees full of illuminated snowballs.  I also don’t know where the featured homeowners hid the plugs or extension cords, because their trees looked like God Himself said “let there be light.”  And it was good.

My final bright idea is to try to make one of the wildly popular mesh wreaths for our front door.  Pinterest tutorials state there are three ways to make this circle of holiday joy.  I have no idea how long it will take to conceal the wire form, or to adorn the silvery mesh and ornaments with a hot glue gun.  It can’t possibly take as long as the tomato cage trees, which turned me off from gardening altogether.  The Clumsy Crafter blogs that this is the easiest wreath to make, especially if I can find a coupon to Hobby Lobby. But don’t try to buy supplies on a Sunday.

Now a half-hour into writing this post, I wonder what types of pins have been added to my home feed wall.  There has to be a project that the girls and I can do together.  Some genius preschool teacher will share her ideas for family togetherness, such as Pin the Nose on Rudolph or Pin the Tail on Blitzen. But I really don’t care if this idea falls through.  I already know of a fool-proof way to tie one on.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Crazy Eight

Saturday, December 17, 2011
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My husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this week.

It has become our annual tradition to look back through our wedding album and reminisce about all of the fun we had on our wedding day. We had a beautiful, Christmas “theme” wedding in Elkins. I still get a little teary eyed looking through the pictures.

Halliehurst, where we held our reception, on the campus of Daivs & Elkins College

This year’s trip down memory lane was a new experience.

For the first time, I noticed how much older we look now. My hair was different. It was straighter and more highlighted. The chemo took care of the straight part. I think our monthly day care bill takes care of the highlight issue. There’s not as much money left in the budget to get highlights now, unless newly sprouted grays count as a highlighted color. I’m ashamed to admit that I was a bit thinner and my husband was a bit heavier. We both had fewer wrinkles.

Then I started thinking, what else has changed about our anniversary celebration since we got married? We used to celebrate with an expensive romantic dinner for two. Since our anniversary is so close to Christmas, we have always forgone gifts and opted for a nice evening on the town. This year we ate egg salad on white bread while Henry ran around the dining room and played his guitar and drums. I guess you could perhaps call that a serenade.

We used to decorate our tree the weekend after our anniversary. We’d have a bottle of wine and listen to Christmas music together. All of the ornaments hung perfectly in place and the tree looked like a post card until the day we took it down. Fast forward to today. I am waiting to come home from work and find my tree in the middle of the living room floor because Henry has “re-decorated” by moving all of the ornaments to one side.

Or because he tried to climb the tree. Or both.

On a recent trip to Lowe’s my husband, who once Grinched his way through the holidays, actually offered to hang up outside lights and picked out the bows for our front porch pillars. I asked who this strange man was pushing my shopping cart and what he did with the real George Gannon. When my husband offers to help decorate for Christmas I know a change is in the air.

Change is the best word I can use to describe my 8th anniversary. Our looks have changed. The way we celebrate has changed. Our budget has changed. But so has our spirit. Children make Christmas wonderful. Even the things that are sort of a pain, like forcing him into dress clothes for holiday pictures and moving the good ornaments to the top of the tree (again), can be joyful when I remember that the toddler years are fleeting. Henry is so excited about all of the fun Christmas brings. His wish list contains two things – a trumpet and a candy cane. He finally went out on a limb and sat on Santa’s lap and wore his Star of Bethlehem costume during the Christmas musical. I can check those two things off of my proud mama list.

I listen to my friends with older children talk about teenage issues – like how their kids would rather be with their friends than at home for the evening and whether or not they should bother to even put up a tree. They have more time to themselves. They get more sleep at night. They have time to brush and floss every night before bed. I must admit it does make me a little envious.

God willing, the teenage years will come for my family too. Until then, I want to spend as much time as I can watching my son dance to Christmas music and stare at the tree with innocence and wonder.

How have your holiday traditions changed since you’ve had children?

 

Choosing to Receive

Monday, December 12, 2011
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This year is a wrap.

Audrey Hepburn, a.k.a. “Holly Golightly,” defined classic style, simplified elegance and…The Mean Reds.

In the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly tells her friend, Fred that having the blues is a result of getting fat or watching it rain for days on end. You’re just sad. “But the mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.”

I have a case of The Mean Reds. And I’m taking it out on Christmas.

While I think I know what’s wrong, I’ll pound out about 500 words in this blog to see if I’m correct (Have you stopped reading yet?).  It began a few days before Thanksgiving when I literally got mad that bright orange pumpkins were displayed next to bright green trees.  It seems silly to get so wrapped up — no pun intended — in the rush of the holiday season. But, I can’t ignore how I feel.  I want to yell at someone, anyone: Stop speeding up my life!  Stop making me fast-forward through special occasions!  Stop forcing me to ignore the present and focus on the future!

This was one of the first years since my childhood that our Christmas tree didn’t go up on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.  It’s as if I were hosting a little, private protest in my own home.

ABSOLUTELY NO CHRISTMAS TREES, WREATHS OR CHARACTERS UNTIL DECEMBER 1st.

Or until December 4th, as it turned out.

I decorated the Christmas trees because of my girls. Just because I’m in a mood doesn’t mean that I should take away from their happiness. I could tell Ava and Maryn were curious as to why our house was dark when we pulled into the driveway.  Our neighbors’ homes are outfitted with sparkling white lights and inflatable reindeer.  Why not ours? What’s our problem?

“I’m just not into it this year,” I told a friend.  “I can’t put my finger on it, but I haven’t felt this ‘blah’ in a long, long time.”

She isn’t feeling festive this year, either.  Another friend agreed.  “Nope.  Not in the spirit,” she replied. “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.”

What does Christmas feel like? This is one of the things that bothers me.  I’m starting to lose that child-like spark of uncontrolled happiness that comes with the thought of (what should be) the most wonderful time of the year.  My mother lost it.  My father lost it.   The parents portrayed in The Polar Express lost it.  Christmas has become another event to organize and plan.  To host.  To guarantee.

Now I love to shop, so buying presents for others is always a lot of fun. I enjoy searching for that special something that will bring shock and awe into Christmas morning.  I love waking up and remembering the trees are surrounded by packages that are just waiting to be ripped open; paper and bows tossed over each other’s head. I do love that.

But it feels like we just did that.  Didn’t I just carry the trees back to the basement?  Didn’t I just buy gift tags and tissue paper?  Didn’t I just throw out the last of the candy canes?  Didn’t I just pay off that credit card?

And here we go again.  It’s back.  I’m traveling at the speed of life, and the year has gone by so quickly that I can’t really tell you what happened. All of us have gotten so busy that time is truly flying, and I don’t know how to slow it down. I’m right in the middle of the chaos, yet it feels like I’m missing everything.  Simply put, I’m too involved.

So that’s it.  I’m too “into” everything to experience anything.  I never saw my children talk to Santa because I was too busy cutting cinnamon rolls for the buffet breakfast.  I didn’t go trick-or-treating with my girls because I was at home giving out candy to everyone else’s kid.  I didn’t sit on the couch with my girls during the Macy’s parade, because I was digging giblets out of a turkey’s . . . cavity.

That’s it.  I’m afraid that I’m simply too involved.  I’m missing out because I’m giving back.  And, yes, we’re supposed to do these things, but like usual, I’ve overdone it. I have to make some changes, because it’s becoming apparent that I’m so preoccupied working on things — all kinds of things — that I don’t have much left for my own family.  And that’s not acceptable.

Therefore, I’ve decided 2012 is the year that I give myself the gift of permission to be selfish. I’ve got to trim some stuff out of my life (and off my waistline), and I’ve got to cut the words, “Sure I’ll help” from my vocabulary.  I need to let someone else do it for a change.

When our heroine, Holly suffers a case of The Mean Reds, she jumps into a cab and goes to Tiffany’s.  “Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.”

Thank goodness I can visit the website. A little retail therapy is just what The Doc ordered. As long as I go lightly.

Giving up on giving back

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
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            I’ve been feeling abundantly blessed lately. I have a beautiful, healthy, smart, sweet, funny… I could go on but you get the point… daughter. I have family, friends, health, a job, a roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in, plenty to eat and clothes to wear (even if I’m severely lacking in appropriate winter attire after five years in Florida).

            And as we approach Christmas I’m feeling especially compelled to give back.

            I also want to teach my daughter to appreciate all that she has and to help others who aren’t as fortunate as we are. But as I’m learning, that’s a hard lesson to teach a 5-year-old.

            The church where she goes to preschool was collecting toys for a giveaway program. I thought this would be a good place to start. The plan was to go to Target, buy a few things and drop them off. Simple, right?

            We lovingly selected some Hello Kitty items. What little girl wouldn’t love some Hello Kitty coloring books and hair ribbons and stationary? My little girl sure would. So much so that she didn’t want to drop off the goodies in the collection bin. She likes Hello Kitty too. Those ribbons and papers should be hers, she loudly informed me.

            Trying to explain to a preschooler that she already has a roomful of toys and we needed to give these to someone who didn’t went over like a lead balloon.

            I ended up prying the bag out of her death grip.

            Last week, we participated in V100’s Secret Santa program. We were given a 12-year-old girl who wanted a fishing pole, board games and hair accessories. This time, I did my shopping alone. I let Julia help me wrap them and she even went with me to drop them off. Without incident.

            Whew, I thought she was finally getting it.

            Then the questions came.

            Why are we buying presents for this girl? Because her family needs a little extra help with Christmas this year.

            Why isn’t Santa bringing her presents? Uh, oh, um…

            OH CRAP!

            (See above where I mentioned that I was thankful for my smart daughter.)

            I wasn’t prepared for that. Luckily, she moved on to the next thing.

Can I watch Phineas and Ferb? Yes, yes you can. Here’s the remote. Watch all day. Do you want a cookie?

I think I’m the one who needs a lesson here. How do you teach your children to count their blessings and to help others?

Needing to Want Less

Monday, December 5, 2011
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"I want an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle!"

As I looked back at my entries in the 30 Days of Gratitude journal that celebrated the month of November, I was surprised to see that I was most appreciative of intangible “things”.

I was grateful that my husband returned home safely from business trips; thankful that my daughters’ ear infections went away; relieved to have been given a new project that promised a paid invoice by Christmastime.  But as we move deeper into the gift-giving season, I should add an important footnote to my gratitude inventory:

I’m especially mindful that my two children rarely ask for anything.

Yes, I know my last blog post covered the story of Ava and Maryn finding their Christmas gifts.  But, what I didn’t write about is that they didn’t ask for half of the stuff on the list.  I prompted them, as I have to do every year.  “Would you like to have a new bike?  Did you see this cute little otter that claps his flippers when you talk to him?”

They smile politely and shake their heads in approval of the baby blue Schwinn and the baby harp seal.  Then, I go out the next day and buy them.  But they didn’t specifically say they wanted those things.

I’m blessed that I can take my kids into a store and walk around for 30 minutes without having to hear them whine about this toy or that game.  The girls have never wanted anything, really, except experience. Ava and Maryn would rather go to the beach than press the fluffer-stuffer pedal at Build-a-Bear.  They love concerts and amusement parks, and one of their greatest joys is exploring a hotel and splashing around in a heated pool.  Expensive, yes, but also more meaningful. More memorable. And I’m indebted that their brains are wired this way…for now.

A little black cloud lingered over Thanksgiving Thursday — a twinge of sadness that the holiday wasn’t as important in our society as it once was.  I commented to a friend on Facebook that Thanksgiving had become a buffet of carbohydrate-stuffed foods that provided fuel to help doorbusters fight their way through Walmart at 9PM.  Thanksgiving is now about the feast, first of food and drink and then of material things.  Merchants make us celebrate the day in August when pumpkins are plucked from the patch and turkeys take their place on store shelves. Have you ever tried to find a harvest-themed tablecloth on the Monday of Thanksgiving week?  Forget it.

I’m not a procrastinator by any means.  I shop for Christmas gifts year-round out of financial necessity and seasonal impatience.  Few things are as unbearable to me than standing in line for hours, risking getting trampled by thrill-seekers racing to the Xbox display. Nothing on God’s Green Earth is that important to me and perhaps it’s because I’m not the competitive type.  But above all else, I don’t want my girls to assume Thanksgiving is the day we express our gratitude for store discounts. Calling Black Friday “Gobble-Palooza” doesn’t change the way I feel, either.

No, my girls don’t write five-page, single-spaced letters to Santa, but yes, I admit they do ask for gifts that are rather significant.

“I’d like to have an American Girl doll and a bed for her to sleep in.”

“I want a monkey.”

A $95 doll and her $75 bed aren’t easy to pay for, and those 18-inch “babies” never go on sale.  I have to plan ahead if I’m to grant these wishes, and I have to let them know that if Santa is able to deliver, there won’t be as much under the tree.  Heaven knows a monkey is a hard beast to cage!  But for some strange reason that I can’t explain — particularly since I was a “more, more more!” child at their age – the girls aren’t worried about coming up short. They’re content with what they have, and while we’ve provided well for them (and we’re grateful for our ability to do so), they seem to possess a peacefulness that we adults don’t have.  We’re hunters — fighting for what we want and bargaining to get it for less.

It’s been a long time since I had one, simple Christmas wish.  Even as a grown woman, I find myself sending Mike links to store websites that reveal a handsome, navy blue pea coat with matching boots. I still circle item numbers in favorite catalogs, dog-earing the pages that contain pretty necklaces that come wrapped in famous blue boxes. To this day, I suffer from Want Syndrome, yet my daughters – who are surrounded by advertisements and commercials — seem totally unaffected and rather unimpressed. Sometimes I wonder where they came from. But I know for a fact that I got the steal of the century.

Living in the Christmas Present

Saturday, December 3, 2011
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Photo by Steve Shaluta/West Virginia Division of Culture and History

This week marks my ten year anniversary of living in Charleston. It is hard to believe I’ve been in this city for an entire decade! Prior to moving here, I was on a nomadic trajectory, basically living anywhere I could find a decent job.

Reflecting over the past ten years brings to mind all of the major events that have happened while I’ve lived here. I’ve married, bought a house, finished my Master’s Degree, started my own nutrition consulting practice, changed jobs several times, adopted a dog and cat, made new friends and watched friends marry, divorce, give birth and sadly, pass away. I have battled cancer and most of all become a mother! Whew! It seems like most of the major milestones of my life have happened since I’ve lived here.

I fondly think of the past, remembering all of the good times I had with friends and family – a seemingly easier time before I was aware of the worry that accompanies motherhood and the nagging feeling of fear which complicates cancer survivorship. I often let my mind wander to the years ahead. I consider lessons that I’ve learned during the past decade and use them as a guide as I face new challenges and struggles. My favorite pearl of wisdom is “begin with the end in mind.” In other words, set your eye on the prize – look toward the future and learn from your mistakes along the way.

However, spending too much time reliving the past and pondering the future only equals one outcome- not living in the present.

I remember the amazing joy I felt last year when Henry ran down the steps on Christmas morning. He saw the bundles of brightly wrapped packages under the tree and was completely delighted by the treasures this stranger known as Santa Claus left for him. This year, he understands the concept of Christmas and Santa a little more, but doesn’t get that Christmas is only one day on the calendar. He wakes up most days and tells me that Santa is coming tonight. He also tells me that every day is his birthday. His innocence is as delicious as his chubby cheeks. It makes me so happy I get butterflies just thinking about it.

The amazing thing about children is they have the ability to tie together the future and the past in a way that makes us live in the present. The business of everyday life can overshadow the joy the Christmas season brings. But watching my child’s excitement at the twinkle of Christmas lights, and his awe at the story of Jesus’ birth, is a great reminder that this season, and every season, is a gift that we should appreciate. This is what helps me live in the Christmas present.

Is there something that helps you live in the Christmas present too?

A tale of two Christmases

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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*Disclaimer: The following blog is not for believing eyes 

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, pro wrestling.

All of these things have something in common, and I think you know where I’m going with this. There is a certain imaginative quality about each. A figure of youthful, wishful innocence.

Some believe, some do not. I happen to fall into the latter category, and I always have. Before you start throwing silver bells and beating me with candy canes, let me explain.

When I was a young elf, my parents made the decision to be open and not to mislead their children about the existence of Kris Kringle. I grew up in a Christian household, but Christmas was not a religious holiday. It was, and continues to be, a time where we celebrate family and friends. We exchange gifts, eat special treats and just enjoy each other.

Christmas was flexible. We always visit my mother’s side of the family on Christmas Eve, but the rest is up in the air. Sometimes my immediate family would exchange one gift a day, from Christmas until New Year’s. Sometimes we would do everything on Christmas Eve. Trees were not always included. One year we made Thanksgiving our big holiday. Whatever we did, it was what WE wanted, to create a most joyful experience.

Our gifts came from our loved ones, and we knew that and were grateful. The man whose belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly was still included in the fun, but we knew a regular Joe was under the layers of red and white.

My boyfriend, my partner in this thing called parenthood, had the exact opposite Christmas experience. He is all about tradition and formality. He is also a believer, and wants our son to be. It’s part of Christmas, he says. I’m just not into it. I can play along with other children, but when it comes to my own I have trouble.

It’s not because I want my son to shower us with praise for the gifts which he received. A “thank you” is polite, but I could care less about that.

I was talking with a friend about this issue and she worried about fairness. How could Santa bring a NintendoDS-3D to one child, but not to another? Or, why does Santa not bring gifts to the children on the Angel Tree? We don’t really buy gifts for our son, because we have a very generous family, and we don’t need a lot of stuff. A couple necessities are wrapped for our gift time, but nothing big.

Is it a time for good behavior? I remember one year saying that I had to be good, because Christmas was near. My mom said, “No, you need to be good, because you should always be good.” Regardless of the time of year, or what holiday was approaching, good behavior was expected.

I don’t want to lie to my children. Not even a little white lie. Especially when caught off-guard by a sweet child with an investigative personality. I’m a horrible, horrible liar, and I know I’d end up getting something wrong which I believe would cause more harm than not believing.

More importantly, I want my children to trust me. If I say something as matter-of-factly as I say S.C. is real, then he turns out not to be, what else will they think I’ve lied about? I find no joy in misleading people. What if I tell them he does exist, and a bully on the playground tells them otherwise?

The flexibility is nice. At Thanksgiving dinner, we were talking about when my little family of 3 would celebrate our Christmas together. We are blessed with a big family, that is mostly spread between Cabell and Kanawha counties. Last year, we hit up Cabell families on Christmas Eve and Kanawha families on Christmas. It worked beautifully and was the best Christmas we’ve had together, yet.

I mentioned doing our Christmas on the 26th, or maybe the 23rd. My FSFIL (faux step-father-in-law) alluded to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do that much longer, because we’ll have to start opening our gifts Christmas morning so the magic won’t be broken. That had never crossed my mind. I prefer taking the time that we want, when we want it.

I see no harm in letting my son believe, but I don’t feel the need to foster the belief. I plan on remaining honest and if he decides, as he gets older, that he wants Santa to be more than imaginative, well, we’ll see what happens.

In the end, I know it doesn’t really matter. It’s childhood fun and whether they believe or not, the holidays won’t be ruined. I guess. I’m new to this mothering thing, so what do I know?

Are you a believer? Are your children?

Making a List and Hiding it Twice

Monday, November 28, 2011
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For the past three years, my daughters have found their Christmas presents before December 25th.  No matter how hard I try to keep their gifts out of sight, I always get busted.  Last year, I had to weave a fascinating story about Santa’s special layaway plan.  But this year, I decided that if one single present was uncovered, I was going to drop the elf bomb.

Top shelf elf. We call him Jack-Daniel.

“Mama, is Santa real or is he…?”

Fake.

Ava froze.  Her blue eyes met mine, their color changing from pastel to navy.

“I don’t believe you.”

She doesn’t believe me? She just found every toy on her list, and she doesn’t believe me? American Girl model number G-1948?  Preschool Teacher Barbie and her favorite student, Kelly? Enough composition notebooks and pens to put Mead and Bic back in business?

She found all of this, and she still doesn’t believe me?

Before I learned that I had to be smarter than the average bear, I hid toys in the trunk of my car and in our dreary basement. I even delivered a few things to a friend’s house for safe-keeping, but then her son found the Target bag of unwrapped items. He burst into tears thinking he had gotten a Rapunzel wig for Christmas.

I avoid storing anything in the attic, because I have visions of Clark Griswold getting hit in the face with a pull-down ladder; his feet exploding through the ceiling of the bedroom below.  These types of things happen to me, in addition to coming face-to-face with wildlife that secure seasonal housing in the dark corners of my roof.

But it’s becoming harder to hide boxes that are deeper than most closets, and it’s becoming more challenging to keep the spirit alive for our younger daughter who’s only five.  While I’m giving up all hope for my eight-year-old who’s destined to become an investigative reporter one day, my energy moves to our little one, who deserves a few more years of holiday magic.

I have this year’s loot stashed in the closet of our guest room, but I stacked towers of Rubbermaid containers in front of their most desired stuff.  I then draped sheets over those bins, causing the double-doors to bulge off their rolling tracks.  I guarded the entry door with a Shark Steam Vac and a Hoover Wind Tunnel, a folding chair and a basket full of summer clothes that will be outgrown before they’ll be laundered.  Satisfied with my sophisticated trap, I went about my day feeling excited about Christmas morning…their little faces sparkling with unparalleled joy.

But that night, I found Maryn in the sacred bedroom — the baracade broken down, blocking the hallway so I couldn’t pass.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?!?

“You locked up Bailey!” she yelled.  “He was meowing and I had to let him out!”

I needn’t explain to you what twelve hours in a maximum-security guest bedroom can do to a cat with a sensitive digestive system.  I’ll be adding “new area rug” to my own list this year.

Maryn assured me that she didn’t see anything, but I won’t be too certain until Christmas morning when I can measure her level of excitement.  Ava, on the other hand, beat me at my own cyber game by hacking into the Notes section of my iPad — the place were my shopping list is stored.  Gifts ideas are typed in according to the prospective recipient; the websites indentified for future ordering. Already purchased gifts received a strike-through; gifts to be bought are highlighted in yellow.  At the end of my file, I noticed something that I didn’t remember keying in:

fred savage videos

Discovering that I had been out-smarted for the fourth year in a row, I elected to use one of my mother’s old tricks.  I foolishly left an opened diary on my bed before going to school one morning, which she picked up — and read — and then added a comment of her own:

You’re GROUNDED!

A highly-effective tactic that promises a surge of fear to light up one’s body like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, I recycled her version of the naughty list:

The Elf on the Shelf is watching you.

I haven’t said anything to Ava directly, but I can tell by her behavior that she found my note.  One, she hasn’t touched my iPad in days, and two, she won’t go near the Elf on the Shelf display at Books-a-Million.  In fact, she walks on the other side of the aisle to get to the children’s section.

We have less than a month until Mike sits at the top of the stairs making sure the girls don’t slip out of bed to catch me arranging their gifts under the tree. Once the stage has been set, Mr. and Mrs. Claus plan to sit in front of the twinkling lights and drink an extra special cup of Christmas cheer.

And then to all a good night.