Best. Elves. Ever.

Best. Elves. Ever.

 

 

 

 

Warning:  this post is sickeningly sweet.  It’s about an early Christmas surprise that made me cry.  If this description makes you roll your eyes or let out a big sigh, you might want to scroll on past.

The older I get, the less I want gifts.  Especially at Christmas.  I want to spend time with my friends and family.  I want to watch the wondrous anticipation on my grandchildren’s faces when we go to see the lights.  I want to laugh.  I want to cook, and eat, and bake, and eat some more.  I want to chortle through “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and cry through “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I want to see parades – the local ones with floats made from farm trailers and hay bales.  I want to make wreaths, decorate trees, light candles, and spend every waking minute with Christmas music playing.

Yeah, I’m one of those.

This year, my Christmas spirit has been a little muted.  Steve’s Dad took a fall in mid-November, and the injury was much worse than initially thought.  Just before Thanksgiving, Steve headed to Canada to help out while his Dad recovered.  I had put my Christmas spirit on ice a bit, wanting to wait until Steve was here to do it all with me.  We both kind of knew that Christmas was a long shot, but decided we’d jump off that bridge when we came to it.

Last week, we jumped.  No doubt about it, we’ll be spending the holiday 1,000 miles apart, for the first time in 17 years.

On the bright side, it’s been too many years since his Mom & Dad have had Christmas with both of their children, and that makes me really happy for all of them.  This will be Steve’s first Christmas with his niece and nephew, which he’s really excited about.  On the down side, it’s really throwing us all off.   The grands miss their Papa something fierce, and I miss him more than that.  He doesn’t realize it  (hell, *I* didn’t realize it), but he’s kind of the frosting that keeps our gingerbread house together, even if I’m the one that makes sure all the gumdrops get put on.

This is my world without Steve

This is my world without Steve

Bottom line, I’ve been wallowing and whining more than I’ve been decking the halls.  I’ve made some half-hearted attempts at leading the  HoHoHo charge.  I changed the regular porch light bulbs to colored bulbs.  I put the tree up (but didn’t decorate it), put the Santa head on the door (which isn’t nearly as gnarly as it reads), and threw up some wreaths.  I even made my own pine roping for the front porch.  I was trying, by God!

Regarding the creation of 50 feet of pine roping:  if you’re already in the throes of Christmas joy, you will find the scent of the pine intoxicating, and hum Christmas carols while you patiently attach small sprigs of holly among the pine.  You’ll sigh with a warm heart when you see the completed project.  If you’re NOT yet basking in the glow of the season, making your own pine roping will cause your arthritis to flare, you’ll fall off the ladder while gathering your cuttings, and it will take you 3 days to get the sap off of everything.  Care to guess which experience I had?

Pine Rope Creation 101:  Wear Gloves

Pine Rope Creation 101: Wear Gloves

I digress.  The bottom line is that rather than swimming in a pool of Christmas bliss, I’ve been flailing around in a bucket of Yuletide pity.  I even traded the Sirius Holly station (channel 17, if you’re still looking for it) to CNN.  You know, nothing like listening to endlessly depressing news to put you in a good mood.  December blasphemy.

Last week I was off on my final business trip for 2014.  I was rather grateful for the distraction.  3 long days of meetings and spreadsheets and budgets, a few good meals, and no boxes of ornaments staring at me at the end of the day.  I’ll take it.

My daughter Krista agreed to stay at the house with the dogs, as Moose is really too old to be boarded any longer.  A further testament to my funk, I stocked up on frozen pizza and cereal for her and Ethan before I left.  The real me would have made her a pan of lasagna (her favorite), and made sure the E-man had Nutella and biscuits.  Welcome to Slacker Central, and I hope the milk isn’t sour.

I came home on Thursday afternoon, buoyed by on time flights and decent weather.  One more work day before my holiday vacation started.  I was, once again, trying to rally my holiday mood.  I picked up Lexi on my way home from the airport since she was exempt from finals (smarty pants!) and needed something to do for the next couple of days.  She’d be a great incentive to get the tree done, and maybe even put out a candle or two.  I flipped back to Sirius channel 17 and focused on happy things.

Since Krista had my house key, she left the back door unlocked for me.  Lexi offered to run around and open the front door while I unloaded luggage, and dogs racing out of the house to greet me (even the hobble-race by Moose) was a welcome sight.  It was nothing, though, compared to walking in the house.

It had been transformed.

Spotlessly cleaned.  Christmas tea towels on display.  Ornaments and garland hanging from the tree.  Table runners.  Winter pine candles.  Most stunning was the removal of a built in, room length table in the dining room that I had wanted to destruct for months, but didn’t have the energy to do it.  It’s gone, and you’d never even know it had been there.

Lexi was beaming.

“Did you know about this?”

Nods.

“Who did it?”

She pointed to a gingerbread train on the kitchen island, with a note.  “Mommy and Aunt Krista and Uncle Alex.  Surprise!”

Best. Elves. Ever.

Best. Elves. Ever.

I wiped my eyes and started dialing the phone.  One after the other.

“Merry Christmas, Mom.”  “I hope you like it.”  “We wanted to help.”  Each one downplayed their role and filled me in on the efforts of the other two.  Of course they did:  these are my kids.  My selfless, giving, children.  If I had known what fabulous adults those little snot buckets were going to mature into, I probably would have grounded them less as teenagers.

I can’t adequately articulate what they gave me this year.  Not just a boost, an attitude adjustment, a helping hand.  All of those things, certainly, but much more.  They reminded me that we’re a family, and families pick each other up.  That when our chain gets weak, they won’t let it break; they link arms and fix it.  They gave me their time and energy, even though they have their own houses to clean and decorate, and their own families to tend to.

They gave me a great big “I love you” Christmas.

And I’m crying again.

Yesterday, Lexi and I went on a whirlwind thrift store adventure.  We bought enough stuffed  bears and bear accessories to create an outdoor Bear Family Display.  We looked up some Pinterest pins on gifts she wanted to make and gathered supplies.  As we arrived home, my kids and the other 6 grandchildren were pulling in, preparing for our Holiday Baking extravaganza.  We laughed and disciplined kids for jumping on furniture and talked about how much we miss Steve and snuck bites of cookie dough and ate sandwiches.

The ManHeisHolShop Bear Family

The ManHeisHolShop Bear Family

We celebrated Christmas.

Just like my friend the Grinch said

Maybe....Christmas means a little bit more

Maybe….Christmas means a little bit more

Enjoy your day, my friends.  I’m going to head into the kitchen and help Lexi with her Pinterest project.  Then some shopping.  Oh, and a lasagna to make for someone who will really love it.

Never doubt how meaningful an act of kindness can be for someone.  You can give someone their best Christmas ever without spending a dime.

Merry Christmas.

merry christmas

 

 

 

Happy Holidays, You Old Biddy

Happy Holidays, You Old Biddy

You may remember (or you may not, who knows?) that I live near Branson, MO.  The heart of the Ozarks.  The place that The Shepherd of the Hills was written about.  By the way, you can still see a live performance of The Shepherd of the Hills if you visit Branson, and I highly recommend it.

Depending upon whom you ask, Branson is known for many things:  live music, country music, God & Country, veterans remembrances, traffic, family values, chicken-fried everything, bass fishing…..and Christmas.  Branson loves Christmas.  Christmas shows, Christmas lights, Christmas parades, and ugly Christmas sweaters as far as the eye can see.  As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago, Branson even began getting some national recognition as a place to enjoy Christmas.

https://www.yahoo.com/travel/s/america-s-best-places-for-holiday-lights-184214027.html

Branson Christmas

I tell you all that to tell you this:  lots of people come to Branson in November and December.  When flying into the area this time of year, it’s pretty likely that you will be sharing that crowded space with people who are coming to celebrate the season.

And so it was yesterday on my flight home from Texas.  Families with small children, retired couples, a few ladies groups, and I think even some residents of the area.  It’s a short flight from Houston, just over an hour, and the Saturday afternoon passengers seemed in good spirits.  With Thanksgiving less than a week away, I was ready to get home and start indulging my holiday spirit.

My seat mate was Ruth,  a retired lady traveling with a group of friends to Branson for Christmas shows. They’d left their men folk at home so they could enjoy some girl time.  If I were asked to guess, I would think Ruth was mid 70’s, though she looked younger.  She was bubbly, smiling, and excited for the coming week.  She was really quite sweet.  She told me about some favorite Branson experiences from prior years, and we shared a genuine sadness over the loss of Andy Williams.  She asked me if I’d ever seen Shoji Tabuchi (which she’d be doing on this trip), and what I thought.  In all honesty, my favorite part of the Shoji experience is the bathroom, and that’s exactly what I told her.  She laughed because that wasn’t the first time she’d heard that answer.  She complimented Branson as if I was somehow personally responsible for it, like Branson was my 12 year old child who consistently made the Honor Roll.  Not that I minded; I’m quite proud of this little part of the world.

Shoji Tabuchi's Famed Restrooms

One thing she especially appreciates about Branson is the beloved “Merry Christmas” greeting.  While I have real mixed emotions about that particular subject, I smiled and concurred that, yeppers, Branson rejects the theory of wishing anyone “Happy Holidays”…. it’s all about Christmas.  Ruth told me that she was a devout Christian, and she loved the fact that Branson was (in her words) “a Christian place”.

As we took off, there was some crying from several rows back, obviously one of the toddlers.  I’ve learned over the years that no matter what tactics parents employ to keep a child from crying on a plane, it’s a crap shoot….especially when the change in air pressure hurts those little ears.  I really appreciate the parents who prepare for travel, and have books and snacks and patience, even when all that preparation is for naught and their 2 year old just freaks out.  You win some, you lose some.

You can understand my surprise when Ruth went on a little rant about rude parents letting their children “howl” on a plane.  A) This child was NOT howling; and B) what are parents supposed to do?  Duct tape?  Time out?  Since the Mom was  having a lucky day, the child stopped crying just about the time Ruth finished her diatribe against the spoiled little humans who cry willy nilly and their inconsiderate parents.  Soon, though, the crying episode was forgotten and we were talking about the best places for dessert.  (Sugar Leaf Treats in the Grand Village shopping center for bakery items, and Andy’s Frozen Custard for a frozen treat, in case you were wondering.)

Sugar Leaf Treats

As I said, it’s a short flight.  Before I knew it, the flight attendant announced that we had started our initial descent.  Apparently, the Crying Child was made aware that she was now “almost there”, and she got excited….and loud.

“ALMOST THERE!  WE’RE GONNA SEE  YAYA & POP-POP!”

First of all, I love kids who call their grandmothers “YaYa”.  If I had it to do over, I would have started that with my own grandchildren.  YaYa is just cute and precious.  Second of all, I love it when children are filled with anticipation.  Unbridled excitement and joy is just good for the soul, and if you’re not feeling it, witnessing it is pretty darn good.

“FROOOOOOOOOOSTY THE ‘NO-MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN” filled the inside of the plane.  Hearing her belt out a Christmas song made me realize how restrained the earlier crying actually was.  This kid had a set of lungs on her.

“TWO EYES MADE OUT OF COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL”

Shushing from the Mom.  Something about an inside voice, which was ridiculous even to me because we were soaring through the clouds.

“A, B, C, DDDDD, E, F, GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG, H, I, J, K, L & M & PPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP”  Not bad for what I was now thinking to be the little brunette imp that I’d noticed before boarding.  Maybe 3 years old or so.

Ruth had had enough.  Pursed lips.  Almost imperceptible shaking of the head.  Best of all, the sucking of air through her teeth during the long notes.

Conspiratorially, “Isn’t that the most annoying thing?”  Clucking her tongue against her teeth for emphasis.

Yes, Ruth.  Yes, it is.  The level of annoying is off the charts.  Tell me again about what a devout Christian you are.  Tell me again how this is your favorite season because it celebrates the birth of your Savior.  Speaking of Him, would He be sucking air through his teeth at the sound of a child singing?  Didn’t Jesus love the little children, Ruth?  Do you think He only loved quiet children?   Was He annoyed by their exuberance?  Their uncontrolled excitement and joy?

Did Jesus cluck in disgust at the little children, Ruth?

This is where I struggle.  I should display patience and kindness towards Ruth just as I think she should towards the little munchkin 6 rows back.  I don’t want to display patience.  I want to turn off my filter and let all those cutting, spiteful words that are bouncing around in my brain come pouring out of my mouth.  I want to justify my urge for bad behavior, since I don’t boast about being a devout Christian.  On the contrary, I’m pretty open about the fact that it’s a battle for me to demonstrate the virtues that I know I should strive for.  My freakin’ acid tongue has caused mountains of hurt over the years, more than I can ever make amends for.

Ruth is still looking at me, waiting for me to concur.  I smiled and said “Well, at least she’s not crying” and immediately hated myself.  I had just betrayed that little elf back there, the one with a YaYa and Pop-Pop that probably can’t wait to see her.

What’s worse?  Slinging some verbal venom at Ruth, or not defending someone who doesn’t even know they’re being disparaged?

How many times have I been “Ruth”?  How many times have I made snap judgments, not shown any tolerance, been thoughtless and hurtful in my interactions with people?  I think those times probably outnumber the Christmas bulbs in Branson.

“WE’RE HERE!  WE’RE HERE!  WE’RE HERE!”

As I retrieved my bag from the luggage cart, I told Ruth that I enjoyed meeting her, and thanked her for the nice chat on the flight.  Every word of that was true.

Then I wished her Happy Holidays and walked away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheater Cheater Pumpkin (Pie) Eater

Cheater Cheater Pumpkin (Pie) Eater

I have so many fond memories of Thanksgiving traditions as a child:  the carefully set table; the beautiful presentation of the turkey before my Father expertly carved it; going around the table recounting the things we were grateful for that year.

Oh wait, those weren’t our Thanksgiving traditions.  That was the 1970 Brady Bunch Thanksgiving episode.

A Very Brady Thanksgiving

Our family holidays seemed to start out on a good note, with the good china coming out of the hutch, and beautiful brass candleholders nestled on the table.  Great classic albums played from the console stereo, like Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Neil Diamond, and Andy Williams.  To top it all off, there would be a big bowl of nuts in the living room, complete with nutracker and little picks, to serve as an appetizer before the meal was served.  It was downright festive.

Suffice it to say that at some point, the festivities would turn ugly.  I don’t recall what would start the shift, likely because I wasn’t great at picking up subtleties when I was a kid.  Certainly not when I had a whole bowl full of pecans and Brazil nuts to eat to my heart’s content, anyway.  In my memory, we would all be enjoying a lovely day with parades on the TV and Sweet Caroline bouncing off the walls, and the next thing I knew there was crying, cussing, slamming, and occasionally a small kitchen appliance sailing through the air towards my Father’s head.  On a few occasions, there were actual physical confrontations, squealing tires, and police involvement.  Ah, memories.

Once I had my own family, I was determined to have traditions that my children would hold dear and pass on in their adult lives.  I don’t know why, but it seemed incredibly important.  I think I watched too much TV, and certainly my monthly devouring of Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal didn’t do anything to discourage me.

(Speaking of those magazines, have you ever noticed that virtually every woman’s magazine has 2 consistent cover focuses?  1.  Some sort of weight loss story; and 2. a fabulous picture of some decadent dessert.  They get ya comin’ and goin’!)

ww-cover-558

Anyway, I developed an obsession for Happy Holiday Events, and Thanksgiving was like Opening Day of my Happy Holiday Season.  Tablescapes.  Ridiculously elaborate menus, with 2-3 appetizers, 2 main dishes, 5-7 side dishes, and at least 3 desserts. I planned what time we would wake up, when the parades came on, and who would set the table.  I made sure beer and bourbon were left off the list, as I had picked up on the relationship between spirits and the haywire holidays of my youth.

The first time I met Steve’s parents was over Thanksgiving weekend.  They made the trip from Jackson, MS to Denver, CO to meet this divorced woman with 3 teenagers, a dozen years senior to their only son.  As much as Steve kept telling me to not worry about it, that they didn’t like ANYBODY when they first met them, I was intent on winning them over with a Happy Holiday Event.  I approached Steve about 3 weeks before the big day, and in all seriousness, presented him with 3 different turkey recipes.  Should I go with the citrus zest?  The traditional herbed turkey?  He laughed at me.  I burst into tears.  He laughed harder.  THEN he called his Mother and told her about my dilemma over the recipes, and they both laughed.

I married that jackass anyway.  Oh, and despite his warnings, his parents loved me.  Probably because of the amazing turkey, whole smoked salmon, two varieties of stuffing, and the stunning tablescape.

monochromatic-thanksgiving

Fast forward 15 years.  I am lucky enough to be near my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren.  I am still obsessed with Happy Holiday Events.  The girls and I make menus, plan, schedule movie nigths, make decor, bake, and create traditions.  I am Matriarch, hear me roar!

Last year, due to conflicting schedules and extended family obligations, we decided to forego our traditional Thanksgiving meal. Instead, we carved out a 2-hour window in the morning to go out for breakfast.  It was great.  Certainly less complicated.  Less expensive.  How wonderful! No stress.  No house preparation.  It was fine.  My kids didn’t have to drive to different corners of the tri-county area and stuff themselves with 2 full meals and 3 dessert stops, but we still had “together time”.  I’ve got the photos to prove it.

tday2013

 

Once was enough for me.  A few weeks ago, I opened the conversation about Thanksgiving, and was relieved when all the kids admitted that they missed having a real Thanksgiving dinner here.  YES!  TRADITIONS!  I was more than ready to get some menus going, and spend my evenings devouring the Pinterest boards.  (I’ve long since given up the print versions of Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal.)

Steve was the lone hold out.  He thought last year’s breakfast was a perfect Thanksgiving celebration.  WHAT?!?   No stress, no shopping, no prepping, no dishes, no housecleaning, just a relaxing day.

“But, honey, don’t you remember that later that day we tried to find somewhere to eat and everything was closed?  We ended up at a bad Chinese buffet.  It was sad.”

“Right, you’re right.  We’ll go earlier this year and hit Denny’s.  They do the whole plated dinner thing.”

“Seriously?”

After about an hour of Point / Counterpoint, we reached a deal.  We are having a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with our family.  In a restaurant.  No stress, no shopping, no prepping, no dishes, no housecleaning….but turkey and decor and dressing up and desserts on fine china.  I think it’s cheating, but what the hell…..it’s still better than the days of small kitchen appliances being zinged at my Father’s head.

Oh, and we’ve already agreed that Christmas is untouchable.  Probably even accelerated a bit.  More outdoor decor.  Maybe some new furniture.  There’s a 6 ft. Santa statue I have my eye on.  And, as always, there will be a big bowl of nuts and the sounds of Andy Williams floating through the house.

There is much to be thankful for.