Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

The Naked Christmas Tree

Wednesday, December 10, 2014
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There is a naked fir tree in my living room right now. Well, it’s not completely naked. A  few lights  are strung around its fragrant limbs, but the lights aren’t on so the tree looks much the same as it did on a hilly farm only days agochristmas tree

My family hasn’t had time to decorate. We barely even found the time together to get the tree. Our days of leisurely trips to the tree farm are long gone. Choosing the tree has become a mission that must be executed with precision to insure we all make our next appointment or activity.

Every time I pass by the living room, the naked tree serves as a reminder of life as it is today: more things to do than we have time to do, the energy and opportunity to do them and an appreciation that the fullness of each and every day.

The unpacked brown cardboard boxes and plastic crates that surround the tree serve as reminders of life as it once was. Most of our holidays decorations and ornaments represent a person, an event, a pet, an interest or a special occasion. Collectively, they  have written the history of my family’s life. Almost every object has a story that we read each December, put in a place of honor then pack away for eleven months only to be taken out the next year and read again.

Our new kitten Artemis, who adopted us a couple of months ago, serves as a reminder that life will be different in the years to come.  In fewer than 24 months, Artemis will be a full-grown cat who may or may not be jumping at the limbs of the Christmas tree and poking her pink nose into the boxes of decorations. My son will be in college and may or may not be participating in the family’s annual pilgrimage to get the tree. And I’ll be older and  shaped by circumstances I can’t even begin to predict today.

There is a naked fir tree in my living room right now, but it won’t remain naked much longer. Soon, it will be decorated, glowing and the center of celebration. After the presents are opened, the cookies eaten and the holiday meals enjoyed, it will stand in my living room for a few more days, but it won’t receive the attention it once did. If history holds true, we will forget to water the tree, and the needles will dry up and start to fall out.

By New’s Year Day, the ornaments will once again be packed up, the tree will be dragged to the curb and the needles will be vacuumed. All that will remain of this year’s Christmas tree will be photos, a few ornaments and the memories attached to both.

Time marches on, and change is a constant. We can’t hold on to the past, and we shouldn’t try. But we can hold on to traditions. They are the architects of memories and the link between the past and the future. They can also be found anywhere we can find family – even in a naked Christmas tree.

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Since the beginning of November, I’ve been seeing social media posts discouraging retail stores from opening on Thanksgiving Day.

I get that. Thanksgiving is intended to be a time for families and friends to spend quality and meaningful time together. But whether or not stores open on Thanksgiving, there will always be people who have to work.

I should know. I grew up in such a family and I married into another. Because of that, I am fascinated by the people who are oblivious to the moms and dads who have to work regardless of a special day on the calendar.

Anyone who watches the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or football games should recognize  all of the people who have to work to make those events possible and broadcast them.

Anyone who expects up-to-date news and information should recognize that reporters and editors are hard at work trying to keep the world informed.

Anyone who  is traveling and needs gasoline or a meal on the way to the family feast should recognize that the clerks and cooks and waiters providing that service probably want to be with their own families.

Anyone who is feeling sick should recognize that health care providers are at work or on call  regardless of the day or time.

Police officers are still on patrol, movie theaters are still open and hotels are available for weary travelers on every holiday.

And for that, I am appreciative. I am also appreciative that this year, my husband does not have to work on Thanksgiving or on Christmas. But he has on previous years, and my children learned to accommodate. In doing so, they received a great gift: they learned that celebrating isn’t so much about the actual date or time but about cherishing special  moments with people we love.

Here’s wishing everyone those moments of celebration this upcoming holiday season.

A New Mom’s List of Thanks

Friday, November 21, 2014
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Next week I will celebrate my first Thanksgiving as a mom. I have many things to be thankful for that don’t involve motherhood, but I thought I would share some of the things for which I am thankful as a mom (list is not comprehensive – I could list pages and pages but I’ll stick to the basics).

This year, I am thankful for:

Epidurals. Ms. “I want to have a natural birth” got the epidural and I have never made a better decision. I think my husband would agree; it was a lifesaver.

Nurses who help their patients with things I cannot even imagine helping someone with. The nurses who took care of me in the hospital were compassionate, caring and generally amazing.

My doctors and AJ’s pediatrician. What can I say about the people who made sure my little one made it into the world safely, made sure I was healthy and now make sure AJ stays healthy? I respect and rely on our doctors more than I can say and I know they truly care about our well-being.

Sleep. Glorious, uninterrupted sleep. This is one of those “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” kind of things. Oh how I miss sleeping in on Saturdays. I’m thankful I once got to sleep so soundly.

Only waking up once a night to feed AJ. After waking up every two hours for weeks on end, once a night is nothing. I remember thinking the day would never come. It did, and I was so grateful.

Velcro swaddle blankets. This wonderful invention helped us reach those amazing once-a-night feedings.

Our family and our friends. I am beyond thankful that we have loving, supportive family members and friends that care about and love AJ and us. We were overwhelmed with the good wishes, help and love we received when AJ was born. Chris and I are truly lucky to have such wonderful people in our lives.

Baby Zantac. If you have had a baby with acid reflux, you know this stuff is like gold.

Coffee. Oh how I missed it while pregnant, and although I still closely monitor my caffeine intake, I’m back to enjoying my morning cup.

The “speak to a nurse” option at my pediatrician’s office – a great resource for when you want to know if your baby’s poop is a normal color.

Daycare. AJ seems to really enjoy going to daycare and they take such good care of her. They also love to feed my mom ego by saying things like, “She is just such a beautiful baby!”

My coworkers. Going back to work was made much easier by the warm welcomes I received.

My husband who gets up at night to change diapers, takes out the dog at 6 a.m. and who tells me I have a beautiful voice when I sing lullabies off-key (which is always).

My mom friends. I’m so glad I have good friends who I can spend hours talking to about stroller brands and baby fingernails and the best way to get a baby to take a nap without them wanting to poke their eyes out (or if they do, they hide it well).

Google. HOW did moms survive without Google??

Smart phones. Again, HOW?

Mommy blogs. There is nothing more therapeutic for me than to read the honest and wonderful stories moms around the world are sharing. It’s so helpful to know you are not alone.

And of course, I am most thankful for my healthy, happy, wonderful baby girl. She has changed my life in a million ways and I’m thankful for every one of them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

A Reason To Celebrate Birthday Number 150

Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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West Virginia is turning 150, and true to form, many Mountain State residents will be celebrating.

Thirty years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and questioned why anyone would care about a state’s birthday.

But thirty years ago, I didn’t know West Virginia.

At the time, I was a shy, awkward adolescent trying to recover from culture shock after my parents moved our family from Oregon to West Virginia.

I was truly baffled when complete strangers acted as though they already knew us. I understood common courtesy, but West Virginians were truly friendly to everyone.

I argued that the nickname Mountain State was inappropriate. To me, real mountains reached higher than 10,000 feet and were snow-covered all year. You couldn’t convince me that the steep hills were ancient mountains that were worn but wise with age.

And I was afraid I would pick up the distinct West Virginia accent that television and movie actors never get quite right.

Yet at some point, despite my resolution not to become attached to West Virginia, that accent began to grow on me.

West Virginia had befriended me by charming me with its character, its beauty and, most of all, its history. As a state born out of the Civil War when it seceded from Virginia, its residents have never forgotten what the motto “Mountaineers are Always Free” really means.

I may never understand the appeal of a pepperoni roll, why anyone would want coleslaw on a hot dog or the allure of the smell of ramps, but I will always be awed by the New River Gorge Bridge, the gold dome of the state capitol building and the eery beauty of Dolly Sods.

Living in the narrow strip of land between Maryland and Virginia, I often cross state lines several times a week. Yet every time I cross back into West Virginia, I  always break into song.  John Denver wasn’t from West Virginia either, but “Country Roads” expresses the feelings of so many who call the Mountain State home.

It may not be Happy Birthday, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be singing those lyrics tomorrow.

Cheers!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
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A peppermint cocktail courtesy of Pebble Beach Inn. Almost looks too good to drink.

  It’s the end of the year and I’m frazzled, frenzied and flat-out tired. So I thought this week I would share with you what gets me through the Christmas season, my favorite Christmas cocktail: the peppermintini.

  I’ve made a few variations over the years. But this is my favorite. It’s decadent and potent. Perfect for the holidays.

  1 shot vanilla vodka

 1 shot peppermint schnapps

  2 shots Godiva white chocolate liqueur

 Pour into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well mixed. Strain into a martini glass rimmed with crushed candy canes, or garnish with a candy cane.   

 Enjoy!

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.

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?

A Little Holiday Nostalgia

Saturday, November 26, 2011
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This Thanksgiving seemed easier than most. My Mom and I didn’t fuss or fight and we prepared the whole meal without a single argument. As my husband will attest, this was one for the record books. My in-laws came early and stayed late for some after dinner conversation. My son, although only two and a half, was especially good – no crying or tantrums. He enjoyed all of the attention from both sets of grandparents, and his aunt, all at the same time. Everyone pitched in to make the day a little easier. My husband would describe the day as smooth as butter.

Last year we celebrated Thanksgiving with the joy of having my chemotherapy over, but with the uncertainty of six weeks of daily radiation ahead. This year, it was a blessing to know that my cancer treatments were behind me. It created a deep sense of nostalgia.

My father in law celebrated his 81st birthday on Thanksgiving Day. We sang happy birthday as he blew out the candles on a fall-themed cake. When someone you love is lucky enough to reach that age, it is impossible not to wonder how many more holidays you’ll have together. It was a heartwarming sight to watch little Henry sit on his Giddee’s (grandfather) lap and blow out the candles. I also used a table cloth that belonged to his mother. It is a beautiful cream-colored linen cloth stitched with faint fall-like flowers. My father-in-law was totally surprised when I told him that I had “rescued” it last summer from the bag he intended to send to the Salvation Army. Although he would never admit it, I’m sure he was delighted that we were using something that belonged to his mother.  It was an unspoken birthday gift- the best kind for someone who has accumulated eighty years’ worth of possessions.

My husband agreed that he felt more nostalgic this year than most, too. After everyone went to bed, we stayed up late chatting about how much the world has changed in the 81 years since his dad was born. What was life like back then?  America was gripped by The Great Depression. In their small Lebanese community in Detroit, they were probably surrounded by lots of family and friends during holidays. With no television, no Internet, no text messages and no excitement over Black Friday shopping, we couldn’t help but think their holiday celebrations were probably simpler and likely more down to earth.

I read an article this week that explained the psychology of holiday nostalgia. Doing something repeatedly over the years – preparing our favorite dishes, trimming the Christmas tree after our Thanksgiving meal, holding hands during grace – fulfills our need to connect with family and friends. As I have watched my little one grow from an infant during this first holiday season to full blown toddler this year, I can’t help but wonder what special memories he’s creating. I hold on to the hope that we will all be here, healthy and happy, to celebrate many holiday seasons ahead.

What special holiday traditions do you celebrate with your children? Is there a certain custom that makes you especially nostalgic this time of the year? I am looking forward to hearing from you.

One at a time

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
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A scene from the Charlie Brown Easter special. At least it's not that bad… yet.

I was driving down I-64 the other day, admiring the leaves. After seven years living in a place where fall doesn’t exist, it was like heaven. Blazing oranges, fiery reds, sunny yellows.

  Then a song came on the radio that jarred me out of my bliss. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Really? It looks like autumn to me.

  Am I being a Scrooge here? It’s true that the stores started putting up their Christmas trees before I even bought my daughter’s Halloween costume, but I draw the line at 24/7 carols on the radio.

  I’m in search of a simpler holiday season this year.

  This will be the second Christmas since my husband died. The first fell flat in the middle of the sale of our house in Florida and all the work that went into packing and relocating a thousand miles away. I was thankful for the chaos and the distraction.

  Another widow (God I hate that word) likened the beginning of November to being at the starting line of a marathon she didn’t sign up for. That’s a pretty apt description.

  I just don’t feel the joy right now. And quite frankly, if it were just me, I would stay in bed from Thanksgiving through the New Year.

  But there’s a small person in my house who is starting to grasp the whole Santa thing and lights up like, well a Christmas tree, when she sees holiday decorations.

  So I will muddle through.

  This year, we won’t have our extended family around us. So I’m looking to create some traditions that are just our own. And I’d really like to focus on just one holiday at a time.

  Maybe we’ll try fellow Mommyhood blogger Amy’s “thankful tree” as a way to write down and give thanks for something every day. Maybe we’ll veg out in our PJs for the Macy’s parade. Maybe we’ll go see the Muppets. Maybe we’ll pull a name from an angel tree and do some Christmas shopping for someone less fortunate than us.

  Anyone have any suggestions for creating traditions and keeping the holidays simple? In the meantime, I’m blocking the all-Christmas, all-the-time stations from my radio. Bah humbug!