Santa vs The Wisemen

I’m a baby boomer who grew up in a neighborhood built for the returning veterans of WWII. The homes were all pretty much identical, cape styles with a small kitchen and living room, one bathroom, two small bedrooms and an unfinished attic where the dads with handyman skills could expand the little house to include two additional bedrooms to accommodate the growing families.

It was the type of neighborhood where all the kids knew one another and hung out until the street lights came on at dusk.  We organized our own basketball and kickball games, and we even managed to choreograph shows that we would perform for our moms in the finished or sometimes unfinished basements of the little houses.  It was a fun childhood.

At Christmas time the little neighborhood would come alive with Santa and his reindeer on the front lawns and roofs, lots of big bright colorful lights covering every shrub and tree and various renditions of  large wrapped gifts on the front lawns. That was every house, except ours….my mom and dad weren’t like the other moms and dads in the neighborhood. My folks were a little different, they enjoyed the theater, the arts and my mom especially enjoyed her opera and show tunes.  It wasn’t unusual for me to come home from school to mom singing along to her favorite music.

But, back to Christmas, our house had no outward signs of Santa and bright lights, instead, my artistic dad painted a beautiful mural of the Three Wisemen which he put on the front door and illuminated with a single spotlight.  As a kid, I was embarrassed, we were the only ones in the subdivision without a Santa and we were the only ones probably in the entire town with the Three Wisemen on the front door…kids would ask us, what’s that, and where is Santa and how come you don’t have any lights? We were confused…which led to the anxiety…what if Santa gets mad…what if he skips our house because we don’t have bright colorful lights and an image of him on our front lawn? How could our parents do this to us?

Many years later I was able to reflect that this was an early lesson about the importance of being just a bit different. Whether it was the Christmas decorations, or being the only Protestant family in the neighborhood, or the parents that weren’t like the rest…at the time, when you’re little and you just want to fit in, it seemed a bit unnerving,  but as an adult and looking back, my folks were mavericks, they were ahead of their time. And if my dad could market his artistic interpretation of the Three Wiseman today he’d probably be a rich guy!

Thankfully, I’ve managed to get over the trauma of not having a Santa and flashing bright lights at my childhood home. I’ve found that in the scheme of things, it’s not such a big deal. What’s important is the love that’s in your house and not the flashing lights and decorations outside…and looking back, I can never think of a time when I didn’t feel unconditional love from my parents, and that was always the best present of all.

 

 

Decorating for Christmas

It’s that time of year when I spend lots of time decorating the house for Christmas. When I was working I had a very stringent schedule, prepare Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, visit the relatives on Friday, put away the fall decorations and clean on Saturday and after church on Sunday decorate the house for Christmas. Now that I’m retired I sometimes forget I can use all the week days.

Decorating the house means dragging all the boxes up from the basement and then going through each box, ornament by ornament, Santa by Santa, angel by angel, snowman by snowman to try to find just the right spot for everything. This is the time of year I’m envious of people that have been in their same home for decades, they just open the boxes and place everything in their appointed places. For those of us who have moved way too many times, like 5 moves in 15 years for me….it’s been a struggle to match the decorations to the space. In the 5 moves, some things were left behind or just tossed.

My favorite decorations are the ones my kids made when they were little, the Christmas Nativity pyramid powered by candles and the colorful collection of Nutcrackers my folks bought in Germany the years they spent the holidays with my sister and her family overseas. Also precious to me are the few ornaments my husband and I have added to our collection since we’ve been together these past 10 years.

When I was helping one of my daughters clean out her basement, I was reunited with my Christmas Village where it had been carefully stored away for safe keeping during one of the many moves. My challenge was to find the right spot to set up the village, complete with the fake snow, laden with glitter that leaves a trail of sparkle throughout the house, the houses that light up, and the little fake snow covered pine trees. Thankfully I found a perfect spot for my little village.

It’s amazing how we can get so attached to the stuff during this particular season, especially since everything we pick up reminds us of that period in our life. Memories of loved ones no longer with us, of friends who have moved away and children who are now grown and have young ones of their own. It’s a wonder that between digging up the past; good, bad or indifferent, coupled with the unrealistic expectations of what’s expected during the holidays, that we’re able to power through until at last on Christmas Day we’re able to kick back and enjoy the fruits of all our labor.

This season, I want to take my own sweet time and go lovingly through each box and keep what makes my heart happy and give away or toss the things I no longer need or want or will fit in our small house. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about the stuff, it never is, stuff can always be replaced, rather, it’s about the people in your life that you love. That’s the nice thing about the decorations, especially the ones that remind us that our loved ones are always with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we gather with family and friends to eat an enormous meal and to give thanks for all we’ve been given. I’m thankful for an understanding husband, our children and grandchildren, our three remaining parents all healthy and in their 90’s, a warm house, a full refrigerator, good health, a caring, loving community…..and Netflix..

Looking back on Thanksgivings past, so many memories flood my mind. As a young child with my parents, brother and sister, cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents we would often spend the holiday with my mothers Italian family.  Our Thanksgiving dinners always included some type of pasta and I have a memory of a stuffing that contained ricotta cheese. Yup, ricotta stuffed turkey…along with some other awesome Italian dishes not usually considered typical Thanksgiving fare.

Next, as a young wife and mother we would generally go to my parents for Thanksgiving, my mother was not only a fantastic cook, but she would also go the extra steps to set an elegant table and create a warm inviting atmosphere for our meal together. Between me, my brother and sister, we managed to produce 8 grandchildren in 10 years, which meant various booster seats, high chairs, tantrums and food fights…I think it took my mom the entire long weekend to put her house back together after Thanksgiving dinner.

One Thanksgiving that I will always remember took place in 2008. My sister Janet had passed away earlier in the year and my sister-in-law Joan was dealing with terminal cancer. At the last minute, my parents decided not to come, it was just too painful for them, the thought of never spending a holiday with their beloved Janet was just too much to bear. We ate dinner with our children, grandchildren, Joan and her husband and pretended there was nothing wrong. One of the biggest regrets in my life was never mustering the courage to tell Joan to her face what she meant to me. I was so afraid if I told her she would think that I was giving up hope that she would somehow survive her cancer. I looked and looked through all our pictures and none exist for Thanksgiving 2008 or Christmas 2008, we were all in shock, paralyzed with grief and pain. No one thought to take a picture, no one wanted to document the sadness. Sadly Joan passed 2 weeks after Christmas of 2008.

I can understand how some people like to avoid Thanksgiving, maybe they’re alone for the first time due to a death or a divorce. Maybe there is an estrangement with family members or different political views (very popular this year!) or anticipation of the consumption of too much alcohol which brings on its own share of craziness…

This Thanksgiving we will gather again and give thanks for all the blessings in our life. We will remember our loved ones who are not with us and we will celebrate our newest members, all gifts to remind us that life is an unending circle of love. And maybe, just maybe sometime over the long weekend we’ll watch Elf…

Happy Thanksgiving to you

 

 

 

Changing Seasons

The squirrels in our backyard have been crazy busy since early September getting ready for the changing season. They scramble up the oak trees and chew off the the small branches laden with acorns. Once the branch hits the ground, the squirrels come back down the trees, gather the acorns and put them in their secret hiding place.  After the acorns are stripped, the branches remain on the ground in a scene that resembles a micro burst storm.  All this work so they’ll have enough food to sustain them through the winter.

As I was putting the duvet cover on the down comforter today, I thought about the squirrels and how we prepare for changing seasons. If you’ve never had the opportunity to put a down comforter in a duvet cover, you should try it sometime. You’ll need a large room devoid of all furniture because you’ll need lots of room, and you may want to check out Youtube just in case someone’s figured out a better way to put these two things together. It’s not an easy job, it requires concentration, the ability to crawl on your hands and knees and dexterity to tie tiny knots.

Putting the down comforter on the bed represents the beginning of the next season. The season of harvest vegetable soups simmering on the stove, of real wood fires in the fireplace, of long brisk hikes along trails laden with leaves and pine needles. It’s the short season between the onset of the cooler weather and the impending holidays. It’s a time to savor the change while it’s still new, embrace the darkness at 4:30 and like the squirrels gather our treasures to sustain us for when we enter the next season of craziness called the holidays.

Making Lists

Making Lists

“Making a list, checking it twice”. we all know where that’s going. How many out there are list makers? I plead 100% guilty to this habit of constantly making lists. Sometimes I’ve actually caught myself making a list of the lists I need to make! That usually happens around the holidays when I struggle to juggle the schedules of our family that includes our parents, six grown kids, their significant others, and our six gifted and extremely talented and very loud grand-kids. Have you ever wasted time on Pinterest or Amazon looking for just right vehicle to use to make your list? Have you seen the really cool journals you can use to make the lists? Of course, once you get the new journal, you just can’t use an ordinary pen or God forbid a pencil…you need the right type of pen, preferably in many colors, and you need some fancy stickers, and some type of tape…and then you get hooked into watching a 20 something set up a journal on Youtube. Of course all of these lists could be made on the back of the envelopes that we get on a daily basis letting us know we’ve just been approved for a new car or a credit card!  But there is some type of satisfaction in the ritual of both writing the lists and then the best part, crossing off stuff you’ve accomplished! Writing lists is how I arrived here today with my very fist blog post. I made lots and lots of lists during the year preceding my retirement, it mostly helped me to get through the endless flights when the battery died on the iPad when I was stuck in a seat without a plug…So here’s to lists and journals and retirement..stay tuned, there’s lots more to come!