Saturday, December 6, 2014

In the Christmas Frame of Mind


I have managed to get things moving for Christmas in a reasonable manner this year. This has not always been the case. I used to be the kind of person who sent Christmas cards closer to New Year's Eve every year. Then, one year something happened to trigger a change. Someone, who used to be a casual acquaintance friend back when we lived in DeKalb - you know, the kind you make through your child's friends, but they just seem to stand out more than the rest - responded to my Christmas card with a card of her own and a few choice words.

Her note read something like this: "I don't know why you still send us a card. You don't live here anymore. Plus, we always get your card way after Christmas, like it was something you just did because you received our card in the mail. Feel free to take us off your Christmas card list in the future."

I was speechless. It was especially puzzling since she had sent a letter thanking me for my newsy Christmas card in February of the year before (probably another year when I was far, far behind). In that note, she had responded to almost every bullet point I had made in my Christmas letter, had included a note of greeting from her daughter to Bryce, and had gone on to say, "Some people might not like holiday letters, but I really enjoy them & reading how everyone is." Was she feeling that I share too many tidbits about my family? Did she think I only sent the card out of obligation? Do you really stop sending cards to old friends when you move away from a place? Is the friendship just supposed to stop because there is no immediate contact any more? To this day, that note of hers disturbs me.

Thus, I have taken to attempting to get my cards out shortly after Thanksgiving, lest anyone think they are on my list out of obligation. This year, I sent them on December 1st. If I only sent them to current friends, my list would be quite short. No, I continue to send them to old friends I haven't seen in years (all except for the one who basically requested I remove her from my list). They go overseas, to about ten different states, and to a wide range of individuals I have met and come to care about over the years.


The decorations are now up. Our big tree is up on the back porch, where we can turn up the heaters and sit and enjoy the tree as if we were outside with it. Usually, this is the place where we all congregate when we have the big gathering with my side of the family. (We are taking a year off from hosting my family's Christmas gathering this year and my boys are already moaning about missing seeing their cousins.)

Trevor put almost all of the ornaments on and remarked over the various special ornaments (I always try to buy a special significant ornament each year for each of the boys, with the intention of passing them on when they marry.) He noted that the last few years, Bryce has received football ornaments (because of his involvement with his h.s. football team). I had an extra football ornament (a Hallmark keepsake one snatched up at a resale shop) and Trevor has claimed that as his ornament for 2014. I found another resale store find in a Purdue ornament for Bryce. Now I must find something to represent Sean's year. I doubt I can find something with stitches (he fell on the school bus steps and required four stitches to his chin last month), but I will probably look for something with a roller skate (since he just had a field trip to a roller rink and discovered that he loves skating ... this was quite an accomplishment because he was quaking in fear about the whole thing for weeks before the trip).

I've pared back quite a bit of our decorations (things I was simply tired of, like the singing Christmas tree which used to so amuse the kids and so annoy me). The biggest issue has always been the stockings. We had purchased three matching ones back when there were only three of us, but after the two little guys came along, I just couldn't bring myself to spend a heap of change on five new matching ones. Thus, we've always had a mix-match mess of a stocking display. If only one of the matching ones wasn't an angel, I could simply use the three matching ones for the boys and two others for John and me. This year, I finally settled on something which looks a bit better. I had the stockings my mother used to use when we used to have family gatherings at their house (now that they're in Florida, in a tiny house, this isn't feasible). John and Bryce's are both red, so I added a third red one for Sean and now have an alternating theme. It still isn't the way I want it to look, but it is better than it has been.

The stockings make me think of a funny story. A few years ago, my sister was aware of my stocking dilemma and so whenever she was out and about and saw a set of stockings she thought I might like, she took a picture with her phone and then sent them to me. When we gathered that year for Christmas, she asked why I never responded to any of her stocking suggestions, I shook my head and chuckled. Then, I pulled my old-fashioned flip phone from my pocket to let her know that I'm so far behind the times that I couldn't even receive the photos she was sending to my phone. Ha!

One of the decorations I still put out every year is one we acquired from my husband's work, when they were getting rid of it (it is fully functional, so I'll never get understand that). It is a ceramic village display with lit up trees and houses. I love it. But this year, in my eagerness to get things moving more quickly, I tried to carry the whole thing to the back of the piano, without taking each piece separately. Note to self - Don't ever do something that stupid again! One of the sets of trees fell off and shattered to the ground. Thankfully it was only in a few pieces and I was able to superglue the whole thing back together again. Now, I'm waiting for my husband to look at one of the bulbs which will not light this year.


Another favorite decoration is one I only just received last year. It was displayed in our library's Christmas shop and I came home and added it to my husband's list of gift suggestions for me. It is a beautiful snow-capped house cookie jar. I have already baked up a small batch of cookies to fill the jar (simple peanut butter cup ones from a fundraiser the boys participated in at school). Sadly, I am practically the only one eating the cookies. I may need to add a new wardrobe to my Christmas list, if I continue with my cookie baking plans.

I'm hoping to make up at least five different types of Christmas cookies this year. My paternal grandmother always greeted us with trays of Christmas cookies which she baked in advance and froze to have ready for our visits. I'm talking wide variety! She would bake up a dozen different kinds and freeze them in little baggies, then array them on her special Christmas trays. It is a happy memory I would love to duplicate for my kids ... even if they don't end up eating very many of them.

At least, if I manage to bake the five types of cookies, I will be able to take a tin of cookies to the guy who hunts in our woods every year. He always favors us with a fruit basket or a tray of cookies (or dark chocolate - because he knows how much I adore dark chocolate) and I like to be able to reciprocate in some small way. He is always good to keep an eye out for trespassers on our property and he feeds the deer to keep them coming back.


I have all of the Christmas presents purchased for my boys. This is the first year I failed to buy them books. There are a few reasons. Primarily, it is because we have just participated in the school's book fair and they both picked out a selection of books they had been wanting (including the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book - which was another good one - a Weird But True book, a Minecraft book and an Eye Twister optical illusions book). Plus, it is just heartbreaking, when they are allowed to open one present early on Christmas Eve and they happen to grab for the book box and then groan because they were expecting something better. Even my youngest, who is an avid reader, doesn't seem to care for receiving books as a gift. Sob, sob. What's a book lover to do when the rest of her family scorns her passion?

For my part, I did put a few books on my gift suggestion list for my husband. My husband and I don't share the same view on gifts. The other day, I mentioned a gift I had purchased for Trevor and he immediately replied, "That wasn't on his list of things he wanted." Another comment he recently made was "would you like a new set of Cutco knives for Christmas?" Cutco knives? Really?

His list of gift suggestions always includes things that he is in need of (and most of them are things he could really just pick up himself). Here's his list for this year: "work out gloves, sweatbands, black belts, ties, pictures of the boys in frames, sweatpants, nutcracker; and holiday blend coffee." Have you ever heard such a boring list?

Thus, I tend to buy things I think he would like which don't appear on the list. So far, I have purchased a squirrel-proof bird feeder (because he is all about feeding the birds), the nutcracker, and a word-a-day calendar (he loves learning new words). I can list these purchases because he never reads my blog. I have also been keeping my eye out for another Uncle John's Bathroom Reader (he loves those books, filled with tidbits and anecdotal stories). I like to veer off the list. He remains glued to his and only adds things which are practical needs ... like the knife set.

I have to spell out exactly what I would like and where he could find it (example - the special seasonal flavor of Lindt truffles with the snowman on the blue package which offers milk chocolate on the outside with white chocolate on the inside - yum - available at Walmart or Walgreens). But then, I tend to only get what I already listed and that feels like something of a let-down. I always find myself hoping he will have taken the initiative to pay attention to the things I might like outside of my list (I've collected monkeys for years and thus my list often has things like a monkey flash drive). Alas, that doesn't happen very often.

Then, there's the half-way joking comment I made the other day about a trip to London-Paris-Rome. He immediately gets incensed that I would even think about making such an expensive journey (despite his intention to fly us all to Mexico this year for his niece's wedding - that doesn't count as frivolous in his book ... only my dream trips are frivolous). This is definitely another area where we don't see eye-to-eye. Groan.

But, although I won't receive a ticket for my dream trip in my stocking this year, and I won't be surprised by anything I receive, I still enjoy the process of the gift-giving. I love to find the choice treasures and wrap them and see bright faces when they are unwrapped. I enjoy sending unexpected gifts to friends out of the blue. One year, I sent a loaf of my banana-chocolate-chip bread, along with an alto horn pin, to an old Salvation Army friend who used to play alto horn with me in the band when I was a teenager. This year, I'm thinking about sending a soccer door-knob hanger to a college- age girl who used to be Bryce's best friend back in DeKalb (she is an avid soccer player and won a soccer scholarship for her first year in college). I just enjoy doing little things like that. It warms my heart to give.


This year, I had the unexpected pleasure of participating in a Salvation Army ensemble as we played a spot for the K-Love radio station's morning show. I listen to K-Love all the time, so it was quite thrilling to meet the DJs, especially Kankelfritz (because his name is so unique) and to put faces behind the voices I hear on the morning show. Our little quintet had never played together before, but, of course, we're all familiar with the music from the Salvation Army carol book. We each introduced ourselves and the instrument we play and played four little carols. They are supposed to air sometime during the week of December 13th on national radio and our photo will be up on the K-Love Morning Show's Facebook page. How exciting is that?

Thus, my Christmas is off to a good start. How about you? Do you still send cards to old friends from long ago? Do you manage to get them sent prior to Christmas? Do your stockings match? Do you bake reams of Christmas cookies? Do you only purchase practical gifts? Have you ever played or sung on national radio for the holidays? All these things are on my mind. What's on yours?

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