Reclaiming Christmas


"This is the solstice, the still point of the sun, its cusp and midnight, the year's threshold and unlocking, where the past lets go of and becomes the future; the place of caught breath . . ."
                                                                                                    ---Margaret Atwood


Welcome the light!


When I was a little girl, my mom took a ceramics class.  I was thrilled when she made this for me:


A snowman mug . . . with a candy cane handle.

Oh, man.  I remember that milk tasted so much BETTER out of this mug!  (And hot chocolate with marshmallows?  Oh, yeah.  The BEST.)

Of course, my mom made one for my sister, too.  And, being a wise, thinking-ahead kind of mother, she painted our initials in the candy cane handle, so we could make sure which mug belonged to which sister.


This year, I dug my mug out of the back of my cupboard.  I stuck a bunch of candy canes in it -- and I put it on my desk.  Right there - where I can see it every day.  It reminds me of the excitement and magic I felt as a child at Christmastime.

We're in the countdown week now; the Big Day is almost here.  I hope you all have a chance to slow down, take a deep breath, and remember the special-ness of the season.  Cheers!

A Different Kind of Christmas

For me, this could easily be one of those sad, blue Christmases.  You know . . . the ones they sing about in holiday country songs?

After all, this will be the first Christmas without my mom.  AND - for the first year ever, neither of my kids will be home for the holiday.  It's just sort of . . . layer upon layer of Christmas bummer.

But I decided . . . NO.  It will not be a sad, blue Christmas!

It will be hard.  

It will certainly be different.  

But it will NOT be a bah-humbug kind of season.


Over the years, I have gotten pretty attached to (entrenched in?) the ways we celebrate Christmas.  Traditions we all enjoy, sure.  But traditions that are hard to change --- even when the only reason we're still doing them ... is because we've always done them.

So.  This year provided me with . . . the reason, the space, and - yes - the permission to evaluate and re-think HOW I celebrate Christmas.

I've cut back on pretty much everything.  Decorating.  Gifting.  Shopping.  Wrapping.  Going.  For the first year in . . . well, decades . . . I have empty space and time in my December calendar.  I don't have a tree -- and I don't miss it a bit.  I'm not constantly on-the-go -- and it feels great.


In this year that I could easily NOT have any Christmas spirit at all, I'm finding that I actually have more than I ever expected.

It's hard, there's no denying it.  I nearly broke down the other day when I found the perfect gift for my mom . . . and then remembered I didn't need to shop for my mom this year.

But I'm enjoying the lights and the music and the decorations - and my memories.  I'm looking forward to what's next -- and how we can create a "new" way to celebrate this year. 


Christmas?  Yeah.  It's going to be different.

But it's going to be okay.


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A Christmas Tradition. Since 1992.

Back in 1992, a friend invited me to a Pampered Chef party.  And, well, you know how it is . . . you feel obligated to go.  And obligated to buy something.

I bought this . . . 

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a gingerbread mold.

It'll be fun . . . I thought.

The kids and I can make gingerbread houses . . .  I imagined.

Maybe it'll even become an annual tradition . . . I mused.

And, y'know?  I was RIGHT!


It was fun -- and it TOTALLY became an annual tradition!

In the early years, I always baked two houses worth of gingerbread, and my mom and I teamed up with my kids to decorate houses on a weekend before Christmas.  It was lots of fun - and something we all enjoyed doing together.  (Although Brian usually lost interest once the houses were assembled; he hardly ever stuck around for the finished product.)


While Brian's interest waned, Erin became the Queen of Gingerbread.  She started hosting an annual gingerbread decorating party for her friends.  Here they are in 5th grade (Erin, the hostess-with-the mostest, is in the very back of this photo; I can't remember which finished house was hers, though.) . . . 


(You'll notice I gave up on the mold when it came to Erin's parties.  We just went with graham-crackers-on-milk-cartons.)  (Works GREAT, by the way.)

Erin's annual parties continued even in high school.  She invited fewer friends -- and baked the gingerbread (in the mold) on her own.  (Just as an aside . . . one of Erin's high school friends used to decorate these incredible houses every year.  Intricate and gorgeous.  Really amazing.  She ended up becoming a pastry chef and decorator extraordinaire as an adult!  We knew her when. . . )

Once Erin finished college and moved to Pittsburgh, we started doing gingerbread houses on Thanksgiving evening after the meal.  We continued the tradition this year.  It was really hard without my mom . . . but we were thrilled to add my sister to the mix!  (She has never taken part in this particular activity with me before, although she is a veteran gingerbread house decorator.)


This year, my sister and I got our inspiration from Pinterest.  Like . . . maybe too much inspiration.  We got really excited about . . . thatched roofs and stone fireplaces.

My sister's kind of worked . . . 


But mine?  Not so much. . . The "stones" are falling off in little piles around the base of my house!


(There will be no "stones" left by Christmas. . . )

But, you know.  That's how it goes!  Some years, our gingerbread houses turn out GREAT.  And some years . . . well, they just don't.  

But it doesn't matter at all.  

Because it's really not about the finished product!  Like most beloved family holiday traditions, it's ALL about the being together, having fun --  and creating memories.

I'm really blessed . . . to have some great memories coming out of that silly Pampered Chef party.  These houses really just . . . warm my heart.  Every single year.


This post is part of Think Write Thursday.  To read more contributions, click here.  And to sign up to receive the weekly prompts, click here.

Bring It!

Hello, December!


I'm so happy you're here.  Oh, I know.  There have been other years where I have dreaded your arrival and maybe even cursed your name.  This year, though?  This year I welcome you with open arms.

You see, I'm ready for a little merry-and-bright.  And we all could use some peace-on-earth-goodwill-toward-men (that's for sure).

So.  December. . .

I long for your sparkle (to keep me smiling).

I await your lights (to brighten the dark spots).

I seek your wonder (to help me believe).

I need your hope (to keep me moving forward).

I wish for your joy (to add fun to my days).

I crave your peace (to blanket us all).

Hey, December?



This post is part of Think Write Thursday.  To read other contributions, click here.  And to receive the weekly prompts, click here.


PS - Today's photo is a winter shot from a past year.  Today it is cloudy and gloomy and rain/snowing and generally not good for photos.




Christmases Long, Long Ago

Over the past ten years or so, my parents have been slowly down-sizing their Christmas decorating.  They've found a full-size tree is just too much in their condo, and have replaced it with a tabletop tree.  While they still deck the halls, it's just become more . . . manageable.  

With many boxes of unused and not-seen-in-years holiday decor lurking in their basement, my Mom and Dad decided to KonMari their Christmas decorations -- and I volunteered to assist.

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On Saturday, we carefully went through each box of decorations and ornaments, dividing everything into the usual categories: Keep, Pitch, Goodwill.  But this time, we also knew that some of the ornaments would be going to my sister and I -- and to our kids.  (Those garland beads my Mom is dealing with?  Goodwill.)

My Mom and Dad and I had such a great time . . . revisiting Christmases long, long ago as we worked through the boxes.  It's hard to part with old holiday decorations and ornaments when they hold so many happy memories -- even when they haven't been unpacked or used for many years.  I think it helped my Mom and Dad to know that their most meaningful decorations were going to be welcomed by me and my sister and our children.

Take this angel tree-topper, for example.

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My Mom and Dad bought this little angel to top their very first Christmas tree (back in 1956).  My Mom remembers that it was very cheap -- and was meant to just get them through until they could afford something nicer.  Instead, it topped every full-size tree they ever had -- including all of my childhood Christmas trees - becoming more precious over time.  (She's now safely packed away with my Christmas decorations, ready to make an appearance somewhere in my house next December.)

Or these rather ratty-looking ornaments.

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The bell . . . was one of a set of (I think) eight.  They were plastic and "touchable" -- and my Mom and Dad got them when their toddler (that would be me) noticed (ahem) the ornaments on the tree.  As an older child, I remember that we always hung the bells near the bottom of the tree -- for tradition's sake.  My sister and I loved to sit under the tree, and spin those bells . . . dreaming of Santa Claus and the wonders of Christmas morning.  Now, only two of the original bells remain -- one for me, and one for my sister.

The foil ball . . . was one of a set of four - red, green, silver, and blue.  I actually remember when my Mom bought them from Junior Achievement students selling them door-to-door.  I was in early elementary school, and I thought they looked like satellites!  So cool.  Again, just two remain.  One for me (red), and one for my sister (silver).

And, speaking of satellites . . . 

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My Mom and I made these "satellite" ornaments from kits when I was in about 4th or 5th grade.  Based on the precision of these bead-and-sequin beauties, I'm betting my Mom had me load up the pins, and she handled the placement.  (She was a very patient Mother.)

And more sequins . . . 

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We had several ornaments of this type on the Christmas trees of my childhood.  My Mom made several beautiful - and personalized - ornaments of styrofoam with rick-rack, sequins and special beads.  She let me help (I was probably in 2nd-3rd grade).  This is one of my creations.  Mine were much more . . . random . . . than my Mom's.  Here's were perfectly precise.  My sister was just young enough to not really be interested - or able - to join us in creating these ornaments.  She would've been in kindergarten at the time.  But she has fond memories of these special ornaments on our trees.

Speaking of sequins . . . this ornament is part of my family's Christmas Lore. . .

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MC.  (For Merry Christmas, of course.)  Yep.  I created this one.  I hung it proudly on the tree -- right in front! -- the year I made it.  But.  After that, it was always shoved to the back.  But only after a lot of laughing and good natured hilarity.  MC.  I'm so glad it survived!  

We painted ornaments, too.

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Sometimes (well . . . most times), my sister and I started strong.  But lost our focus toward the end!

My parents and I had a great time, sorting through the ornament boxes and sharing our memories of those long-ago Christmases.  And my own Christmas tree?  Well, it will be bursting with some "new" ornaments next year!


Right Now . . . December 2015

You've been such a notable month, December.  Full of activity.  Warmer than ever.  And gone in a flash!  (Of course, you're also ushering in the new year with ice and sleet and snow.  Cue winter . . . )


Here's what's happening . . . RIGHT NOW.

Watching . . . Movies.  All the movies!  Tom and I have been on a movie tear lately (because this is the season for all the movies we've been waiting to see).  Before Christmas we saw Spotlight (excellent; my favorite so far), Room (good - but the book was better), and Brooklyn (great - and far better than the book).  This week (so far!) we've seen the new Star Wars (so fun), The Big Short (excellent, plus awesome soundtrack), and Joy (Jennifer Lawerence is great; much better movie than the reviews would have you believe).

Reading . . . In the ears -- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Elena Ferrante) (Neapolitan #3); on the page -- H is for Hawk (Helen MacDonald).  Earlier this week, I finished the challenging, heart-breaking, and eye-opening Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates).  (Really . . . everyone should read this one.)  I'm also enjoying my new Christmas gift cookbook Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix.

Knitting . . . I've just picked up my never-ending sweater again.  (You know why it's never-ending don't you?  Because I'm never-knitting. . . )  (I WILL finish, though.)

Listening to . . . a Solstice playlist.  Tom and I hosted a Solstice party this year, and we created a special playlist for the party.  It's, well . . . very eclectic!  We chose songs about the sun, sunshine, light, darkness, winter . . . and burning (as in candles) -- and it beats the heck out of Christmas music!


Dreading . . . the January People at the gym.  (They've already arrived, actually.)  (I hate January at the gym.)

Drinking . . . Ballast Point Sculpin.   (A new discovery.)  (YUM.)

Planning . . .  How to move forward with my intentions for 2016.  I have some cool things in mind, and I'm looking forward to putting some of those plans and ideas into action.

Humming . . . this one, from the Gorrillaz.  (I have it on several playlists, but heard it again in The Big Short the other day.)


Wondering . . . what the new year will bring!  It's always kind of amazing to look back and see all that happened in the year just ending - expected and unexpected.  So I'm just wondering what will come with the new year.

Itching to . . . just sit and knit for awhile.  But there are so many other "shiny objects" to play with right now . . . 

Organizing . . . my digital photos.  Ugh.  What a monumental undertaking.  My advice:  DON'T store all your photos (like. . . for years) on your hard drive.  And, really.  Get rid of the bad ones and dubplicates right away.  (Just sayin.)

Delighted by . . . a new Alabama Chanin kit I received for Christmas from Tom.  (He got a big hint.)  (It's the wrap skirt!)

Needing to . . . clean out my refrigerator.  And clean my oven, too.


Enjoying . . . Erin and Keith!  Thanks to an extended vacation, I've got them through the weekend!

Celebrating . . . the end of a challenging year.  (Although we've certainly risen to the occasion!)

Looking forward to . . . returning to my Regular Life . . . after all the Holiday Madness!

How about YOU?  What's happening for you . . . RIGHT NOW?