Tag Archives: Christmas

A Perfect Christmas

A Perfect Christmas

The title got you, didn’t it?  Everyone wants to find the secret to “A Perfect Christmas”.  Do you know that if you Google that particular phrase, you’ll get nearly 57 MILLION results?  We’re obsessed.  We all want to reach that pinnacle of holiday transcendence!

What does that even mean, and why are we so willing to sacrifice our finances, energy, mental and emotional health to achieve it?  Why are there so many Clark Griswold’s among us?


What if you could have a wonderful Christmas without going broke?  Without feeling like it’s never enough?  Without your year end calendar looking like the Dave Matthews Band tour schedule?  You can.  The best Christmases are made up of one thing, and one thing only:  Great memories.  Let’s talk about making those, shall we?

Like most people in my generation (dear God, if you ever want to feel old, just say – or type – “my generation”), we didn’t have extravagant Christmases when I was growing up.  Or extravagant anything.  Forget extravagant…I don’t think we even had standard-vagant.  But no matter….my Christmas memories are stunning and warm and wonderful.

We didn’t have much, but we had the important things.  We had the Firestone Christmas Collection albums that played Vic Damone, Julie Andrews, and the Vienna Boys Choir on the console stereo.  I would RUSH to turn the LPs over when one side finished, and my mother warned each time “don’t you scratch those records!”  We had visits from my grandparents, and an Advent wreath, and red tapered candles that were only lit at Christmas.  We had a real tree that made the house smell glorious all by itself, no pine sprays needed. (We didn’t worry about pine needles in the carpet then.  We had this nifty thing called a vacuum, and if that didn’t work, the kids crawled around on the floor and picked up every last one of them.)

Oh, and with real tinsel.  That had to be put on one strand at a time.  ONE strand at a time.  Or risk the wrath of my oldest sister.  Then the cat would eat the tinsel off the tree.  And you’d find tinsel in their poop.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever cleaned a litter box with tinsel-poop in it!


My grandmother would bake pies that were simply perfect, and my mother would completely ruin a potentially scrumptious turkey by baking it for 12 hours.  We used the real bone china, which was older than the hills and only removed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  The fancy cutlery also came out of its velvet lined box, and was painstakingly polished the week before.

There were Christmas specials on television, usually strung together on one or two nights, that meant staying up late and getting popcorn and Kool-Aid. There were parades, and festivals, and potlucks.  Our teachers spent weeks preparing for chorale programs that filled the gymnasium with assorted relatives and neighbors, and ended with each of us getting our own candy cane.

Midnight Mass was never missed, which meant my Mother’s mandate of an afternoon nap so I could stay awake at church.  A nap.  On Christmas Eve. When every child in the world is so excited they can feel their hair growing.  I’m sure I never dozed off, and I’m sure she knew I wouldn’t doze off, but it gave her some extra free time to get those last minute tasks done…or maybe just have a glass of wine in peace.

It. Was. Amazing.

But you know what I don’t remember?  What gifts I received.  With the exception of a stuffed snake that was bigger than I was from my sister the year I was almost 7, I only recall new handmade flannel gowns from my grandmother.  That’s it.

Then I had my own family, and for a short while, lost my mind trying to have THE BEST CHRISTMASES EVER!  I started the Toys R Us layaways around June or something equally ridiculous.  I fussed over the latest hors d’oeuvres featured in Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest.  I put up trees in the living room, the family room, the dining room…and table top trees in the kids’ rooms.  I coordinated outfits, and made my daughters wear crushed velvet dresses in August to take advantage of the Olan Mills’ pre-holiday sales.

I digress.  My revelation about what truly matters was hard earned, and for another post.  In a nutshell:  Got divorced, got really poor, and yada yada yada…learned that my kids didn’t care about all that stuff.  I call it “The Miracle of the Paper Chain”, and I promise to write about it soon.

Now, about having that wonderful Christmas.  Let’s apply the K.I.S.S. principal (Keep It Simple, Sweetie!):

Keep A Tradition (or Make a New One)

It doesn’t really matter what it is, but there is precious sentimentality in being able to say, “Every year, we…..”  Took photos at the giant tree in front of City Hall?  Had a movie/popcorn night on Christmas Eve?  Went caroling?  Made handmade cards?  Not everyone is cut out to read “T’was The Night Before Christmas” in front of a roaring fireplace.  Whether you want to carry on something significant from your past, or break the mold and go in a new direction, commit to a holiday tradition.

Create Something

Are you artistic?  I’m not.  At all.  No skills.  I can’t sew, I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument.  I can cook a bit, but I’m not a natural and I have a limited repertoire.  OK, pretty much I’m the queen of chili and French silk pie….anything else is a crap shoot.  The bottom line is that the effort matters more than the result.  Whether you make a digital holiday card, whip up dozens of cookies, write an entertaining Christmas letter or poem, knit some mittens for your neighbor, or bedazzle your way to the 1st place award in the office Ugly Sweater Contest, use your creativity and share it with those around you.


Give of Yourself

Easy option:  write a check to a local charity.  I would never discourage anyone who has the means from supporting organizations that help others.  If you want to genuinely fill your heart, though, cash won’t do it.  Adopt a family for Christmas.  Volunteer at a local animal shelter, homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food pantry.  Take a turn as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.  If you can play a piano, there are nursing homes everywhere that would welcome an hour of Christmas songs filling the halls.  Short on funds, but have energy to offer?  Clean a house for a neighbor, put up someone’s Christmas lights, offer to address Christmas cards for someone whose arthritis makes it hard for them to do, offer to babysit for a friend who needs some private time.  I promise you, there is an abundance of need for things you can do.   The “Season of Giving” was never meant to mean material things.


Eat, Play, Love

I will be the last person to advise you to throw caution to the wind on what you eat, because I know those who struggle with food choices (like myself) don’t need anyone telling them to just enjoy the holidays and eat whatever they want.  I will tell you, though, that you should not feel guilty if your coworker makes the best cookies ever and you have one.  The anxiety we create for ourselves by obsessing over what not to indulge in effects the scale more than that cookie does, I promise you.

Be silly.  Play the Pie in the Face game or Twister.  Yes, you’ll look ridiculous.  It’s OK.  Sing Karaoke.  Get out the Monopoly game.  When’s the last time you played a rousing game of War with a deck of cards?  Do you have snow where you are?  If you do, know that I’m jealous, and you practically owe it to me to either have a snowball fight or build a snowman or make snow ice cream. The critical thing is to put down your phone or tablet, and engage with people.

Love each other.  While most aren’t comfortable with an abundance of emotional gushing, the holiday season offers a free pass for getting gushy without being branded a weirdo.  Whether it’s the general vibe or the result of the eggnog, it’s ok to look someone in the eye and say “You mean the world to me”.  And unless you’re saying that to someone you’ve been secretly stalking for six months, it will mean the world to them to hear it.  So if you’re reminiscing about good times and someone’s name comes up that isn’t with you, pick up your phone and reach out.  Be genuine.

Oh, and my final thought:  If you want a happier life, don’t abandon these tips when January rolls around.  If you live your life with appreciation, generosity, and love, it will come back to you.




T’was the Week After Christmas….

T’was the Week After Christmas….
T’was the Week After Christmas….

T’was the week after Christmas and all through the house
Nothing would fit me, not even a blouse.

The cookies I’d nibble, the eggnog I’d taste.
All the holiday parties had gone to my waist.

When I got on the scales there arose such a number!
When I walked to the store (less a walk than a lumber).

I’d remember the marvelous meals I’d prepared;
The gravies and sauces and beef nicely rared,

The wine and the rum balls, the bread and the cheese
And the way I’d never said, “No thank you, please.”

As I dressed myself in my husband’s old shirt
And prepared once again to do battle with dirt—

I said to myself, as I only can
“You can’t spend a winter disguised as a man!”

So–away with the last of the sour cream dip,
Get rid of the fruit cake, every cracker and chip

Every last bit of food that I like must be banished
Till all the additional ounces have vanished.

I won’t have a cookie–not even a lick.
I’ll want only to chew on a long celery stick.

I won’t have hot biscuits, or corn bread, or pie,
I’ll munch on a carrot and quietly cry.

I’m hungry, I’m lonesome, and life is a bore—
But isn’t that what January is for?

Unable to giggle, no longer a riot.
Happy New Year to all and to all a good diet!

(author unknown)


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?”


“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