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Memories are glimpses in the mirror of what is past. My memory feels fractured – I only have bits and pieces that I don’t think about much anymore, some parts of my life I can’t remember at all.  Call it what you will – old age, self-protection or just having an unimpressive childhood but it may be helpful to write them down so here goes:

“I’m at a party, it’s my party – a birthday party!  There were lots of kids there and we played games. But I’m sad because all of the other children got a present..and I didn’t.”  I’ve been told that this party was for my 2nd birthday so that should make it my oldest memory.  I was also told that I received all kinds of presents at that party and the other kids were given some sort of treat bag as they left with a box of crayons inside and probably some candy.  Fascinating what the mind latches on to – I wonder what Freud would make of that memory?

Speaking of parties, my mother used to make fun cakes for my birthday parties – the cake I remember the most was a Raggedy Ann cake, she cut the cake into the shape of a Raggedy Ann doll and then frosted it with the most wonderful frosting and then decorated it with candy to look like the clothing.  I want to say that it was around my 7th birthday that she made that cake – somewhere I may even have a picture of it, but I’ll have to look.

As an early grade-schooler I adored Native Americans, although back then we just called them Indians and nothing disrespectful was meant by it.  I grew up in Montana and I thought their darker skin and black hair made them the most beautiful people I’d ever seen.  We operated a family business and went to Pow Wow’s, selling our wares, and I was able to see the dances and hear the drums beat late into the night, those were some of my favorite times.  In spite of being a tow-head I desperately wanted to be an Indian.  I learned how to walk softly and with the exception of a short period of high school where I wore heels all the time, I really dislike shoes that make a lot of noise with every step.  I checked out books from the library and learned that Indians in California ground up acorns and ate them…so I did too!  They didn’t taste very good though, even after I put salt on the mash.  I learned about beading and traditional clothing, how to make moccasins from deer skin, hunting with a bow and arrow, how to make a fire, tanning hides, how to set up a teepee and as many other things that traditional Indians did as I possibly could.  I refused to have my hair cut more than just a trim and I frequently wore either two long braids hanging over my shoulders or one long braid down my back.  When my two brothers and I would play outside we were constantly playing Cowboys and Indians and I was always the Indian.  We moved to another state before I completed grade school and for years I keenly missed the rustic Montana atmosphere and seeing Indians everywhere.

One Christmas I woke up extra early and went to gaze at the tree with it’s lights glowing softly in the dark living room.  Back then the lights didn’t twinkle or change colors, they just were on or off but I loved to sneak out of my room in the night and sit and stare at the tree…  Anyway, back to my story, I woke up extra early and in my tree-gazing I noticed a piece of paper on the tree.  What?  Why is there paper on the tree?  “It probably needs to be thrown away”, was my first thought so I took it off the tree ad noticed there was writing on it.  It was a note telling me to go look in the silverware drawer…  Very, very quietly I followed all of the notes until they led me to a bicycle under the basement stairs – I was so (quietly) excited!  And then I realized, oh crap, I’ve totally ruined the surprise.  I put as many of the notes back as I could find, I lost one or two somewhere along the way, and snuck back into bed until it was a more decent hour to get up and open Christmas presents.  Then I had to do it all over again, find this note and then that note, go here and go there, and where on earth were all the notes hidden?  I couldn’t remember so I looked in several cupboards and drawers hoping my parents wouldn’t remember where they hid all the slips.  Finally I made it back down to the basement and “found” the bike, yay!  I did not fool my mother, however.  She could tell that I wasn’t as happy or surprised as I should have been and she asked me later if I had found the bicycle before they got up.  I had to tell her yes, because that was the truth, and she was not very pleased.

In that same house we had one of those weight-loss gimmicks, some sort of vibrator belt.  You stood next to the machine and put a thick, canvas-type belt around your waist and backed up enough so that the belt was taut and then you turned it on…and jiggled all over.  My brothers and I thought it was great fun to talk, sing, laugh and what not while we had the bet turned on because it made our voices all funny.  I think we mostly told jokes while we were on the belt.

My brothers didn’t like playing Barbie with me so I usually wound up playing whatever boy game they wanted to play…but sometimes they would play Barbies with me.

I was maybe 10ish and mad at my parents so I thought I would run away, but I didn’t have any money.  My next oldest brother had $10 and I tried to get him to run away with me so we would have that $10, which I thought would be plenty of money get by on, but he wouldn’t do it… he wouldn’t go with me and he wouldn’t loan me the money… so I didn’t run away.

There was an Italian Plum tree in the yard and once they had ripened our mother would tell us to go eat plums if we complained we were hungry and wanted a snack.

Several years in a row I went and spent a whole month each summer with a couple at church who were old enough to be my grandparents.  They had a granddaughter from California that would come spend the summers with them and they brought me over as a playmate.  I don’t remember her name anymore but I remember all the fun we had, going to the creek, reading books, playing games and sleeping outside in mummy bags next to a fire.  Those times hold a very special place in my heart.

Well, that was easier than I thought it would be, and I still have more memories to share!  Enough for tonight, I need to go get my beauty sleep…  Sweet dreams to all and to all a good night!

Our 8-day Christmas Adventure began the Thursday before Christmas in a suburban – my husband and I in the captain’s chairs up front and our oldest daughter in the first bench seat back and our youngest daughter in the bench seat after that.  It was warm, spacious and my youngest spent the first half of our 8-hour drive fast asleep while I put a movie on my laptop for my oldest and I to watch while my husband listened to the audio.  It was a good trip, lots of pretty scenery as we wound our way through the river road, up and over the pass and through tiny little towns in the middle of nowhere.  Although we could see snow here and there the roads were bare and dry and we arrived safely at my father and step-mom’s house about 10 pm.

Unfortunately we could only stay for two nights and one full day but it was a nice day, we had a fabulous Christmas dinner of ham, assorted salads, scalloped potatoes, olives and finished dinner up with a lovely banana cream pie.  We exchanged gifts and watched a couple of movies together, played a few games of cards and while it didn’t work out to have a private conversation with my father I took a walk with my step-mother and we talked a bit.  It’s been a rough year with them, relationship-wise, and I think the visit helped to start the healing process – at least with her and hopefully I can work on re-establishing communication with my father this coming year.  He gave me one of his old cameras after I mentioned mine was broke – and I wasn’t even hinting or asking for another camera, I was just trying to explain why I wasn’t taking family pictures while he was!  It was kind of an awkward time but overall it was a good visit with family.

Saturday we drove to one of my brother’s house, about a 4 hour trip, but an hour or so away our transmission broke and we lost Overdrive, 2nd gear and Reverse.  Holding our breath we slowly drove the rest of the way to my brothers but we made it safely, yay!

At my brother’s house on the backside of a mountain we had a get-together with both of him and his family and my other brother and his family came over as well.  Unfortunately our sister was sick and unable to come to Christmas; I missed seeing her so much!  We had ham, mashed potatoes, green salad, a veggie tray, chips, sodas and baked goodies for dessert.  Instead of buying everyone a gift we did a White Elephant Gift Exchange instead and I took lots of fun pictures of the 10 cousins opening and “stealing” gifts.  When it was all over and I shared childhood memories of the times before our parents had divorced with the brother that was hosting us and his wife.  She seemed fascinated but he looked unhappy.  I wondered if it was because so many of my memories included the phrase “I knew I couldn’t tell Mom because she would get mad” or “Mom was so mad at me”, something my sister-in-law noticed and commented on.  The next day when my husband asked him about it my brother said he barely remembered my stories because he was too tired.  Hmmm…  That night it snowed almost a foot – if we thought it was beautiful before, wow!

Sunday morning we borrowed a teeny, tiny pickup truck from my brother, squeezed our two teenaged daughters into the side-facing rear seats and traveled through a Winter Wonderland – pine trees with snowy boughs and unplowed roads, snowflakes falling as we drove, we even saw a moose with huge antlers!  It was a much-needed infusion of Christmas…  We went to church with my husband’s parents, had lunch and then visited some friends before going back to my brother’s house to spend more time with them.

Monday, Christmas Eve, belonged to my husband’s parents.  We limped our suburban into town, unloaded our stuff at their place and then my husband and his father dropped the burb off at a transmission shop and then we spent a few hours waiting for my brother-in-law and family to show up.  Once they arrived we opened stockings and presents (Christmas is very Proper there) and then we had a family meal together.  Ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, soda, pumpkin and apple pies.  I am so hammed out…  Then we sat around and played  with our presents until my youngest fell asleep on the couch.  At that point we said we needed to go to the hotel and rest because we were exhausted and getting sick.  We were reluctantly allowed to borrow a vehicle escorted to the hotel with a promise that my in-laws would return to share the hotel’s continental breakfast with us in the morning so no sleeping in for us.  We were so tired we just sat in the beds and watched “The Mummy”.  As soon as it ended we turned the lights out and I think we were all asleep by 9 pm.

Christmas morning we woke about 9:30 to the knowledge that my husband’s parents were on their way and would be waiting for us in the lobby for breakfast.  They were as good as their word and we spent about an hour enjoying homemade waffles and what not from the hotel’s breakfast selection.  We then rushed back to the room to check out by 11 am and headed back to their place for another few hours.  The trip was beginning to feel about two days too long at that point – and we couldn’t even go home because our suburban was still in the shop!  But we had a good visit with his parents and then came the best part of the trip (for me!)

 

Christmas afternoon we went to my best friend from high school’s house, yay!  It was like coming home…  It was so nice to hang out and visit with her and her family again – we even got an extra day with them because the transmission was still in the shop and we couldn’t leave on Wednesday as planned.  We spent some time together, talked a little, watched some movies as families and had a blast playing around with my new camera and looking at some art books.

Thursday morning we said goodbye to my friend and her family, picked up the burb out of the shop (over $3,000 – oh crap!), returned my in-laws car and headed towards home, arriving just after dark about 6 pm.  We unloaded the car and I discovered one of my daughters left my pillow in the car so I headed off to Wally World to get another one.

Friday my husband and I both went to work for a one-day workweek, which that and being casual jeans day for me were the only redeeming features about it, and today, Saturday, I slept in until 1 pm – it was wonderful!  I am hoping to make it all day without having to get dressed…

And that was our Christmas adventure… so now you know why I don’t write a lot about the everyday details – they’re kind of boring.  I did not recapture the Christmas Spirit but I did catch a glimpse of it here and there and that will have to be enough for this year.  Next year I will continue my quest to experience the peace and wonder of Christmas time…next year maybe I will come closer!

I think that as I grew up I realized that, more often than not, I received great gifts at Christmas but was not able to give “good” gifts at Christmas time (and birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) primarily due to lack of funding.  This realization caused a little part of me to die.  Especially since I married into a family where gifts are really important to them and they seem to feel I don’t love them very much when they don’t receive as much from me as they give.  <disgusted noise>

For years I would spend October and November blissfully make things at home and have them all ready to give at Christmas with joy in my heart and I loved the giving!  I made terrible tasting brownies in a cute canning jar, poorly made necklaces (my first attempts at beading) with a beautiful stone centerpiece, “kisses” from my daughters  blown into an empty jar that I covered with a mosaic of decorative glass and black mortar, sponges from the dollar store hand-cut into animal shapes that required significant imagination to identify, I wrote and recorded songs and gave out the CD’s and I think I even wrote terrible poetry one year for Christmas.  (Good thing you’re not related to me, huh?)

I guess it was last year when I finally realized that nobody really wants these things I make and what I had been viewing as their look of wide-eyed wonderment as they accepted my gifts was actually a startled look and their emotional “Wow, that’s really something!” was not necessarily a compliment.  Hmmm…  However, the knowledge that my gifts from the heart are not appreciated like a professional, mall-bought gift would have been did not stop me as once again, this year for my parents and in-laws, I have forced my family to put their handprints on a canvas and then I turned them into a “family tree” painting – 11 x 17 or some larger size… my siblings are sooo very lucky that the paintings are very time-consuming and I couldn’t make them one too 😉

So it is in my heart to give.  Give, give, give.  I try to give all year long and I find that when I cannot purchase a gift I am driven by something inside me to make a gift so I have something to give…something, anything!  When I don’t have the time, money or energy to buy/make a gift it changes me inside and life becomes a little less enjoyable.  Is that weird?  I cannot live a full and happy life without giving.

It is something to reflect on – is feeling like I am not able to give causing my depression and changing my views on life?  And how do I stop caring if the receiver thinks my gift is “tacky homemade”?  Good gift-givers give something the receiver wants to have while it seems like all I can do to give is whip up something from stuff around the house or bargain finds that I hope they like.  Most of the time that is the best I can do but is it enough?  Is it OK?

I try to accept all gifts as if they are my very favorite thing in the world and just what I wanted…even if it’s 2 sizes too small and neon pink…  I think that is the right way to receive a gift and I have tried to teach my children to respond to gifts they are given that way as well. In my opinion the receiver needs to show the giver that you are happy with whatever they gave you and never to give the impression that their gift wasn’t “good enough” because they didn’t have to give you anything at all.  Gifts are “bonus”, a “perk”, if you will, of a relationship and should never be expected.  The expectation that gifts will be received at a specific time/place or that a gift will be a certain thing is a Joy killer for everybody – don’t be that person!  Accept the gift in the spirit it was given and love the giver for loving you enough to spend their own precious time and resources on you.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, I hope that you are appreciated more than your gifts and that you appreciate the givers in your life more than what you receive.  This is one of the biggest parts to the meaning of Christmas – unconditional love.

In late October I visited a Winter Wonderland a few hours away from our home.  There was thick, fluffy snow falling down on the pine trees, Christmas carols, snowball fights, and busses getting stuck in the snow.  Listening to “Christmas songs being sung by the choir” while the snow fell outside all I could think of is “Christmas is here, Christmas is now”.  I closed my eyes and let it all wash over me, I let everything go and held on to the peace and wonder of Love come down.  Renewed and refreshed, I was filled with contentment and – for once – ready to go home.  The whole experience was just so beautiful and it filled my heart with wonder and awe of Christmas that I knew as a child…and some how lost.

When did Christmas lose it’s magic for me?  It wasn’t even about the presents because we didn’t get that many, it was about the atmosphere, the peace and sense of hope that came with the music and the tree and decorations every year.  Christmas was peace in a time of despair, a ray of hope in the darkness.  I’m thinking that Christmas is a heart-set more than a mind-set, but something changed – what was it?

Christmas didn’t change, I changed…  I stopped believing, I lost my hope.  Where is it?  I want it back!  The joy, the magic, the hope, the belief, everything, I want it back…  How does one wounded, worn-down and very weary grown-up get back to having the awe and wonder of a child?  It is not in my strength to accomplish, especially when it is barely in my heart to desire anymore.

Christmas carols, baking cookies and making candies, visiting with family that you hardly ever see, decorating the tree and having parties – these are the things that make up the basic traditions of Christmas, right?  So this year, I am trying once again to go through the motions in hopes that they will awaken something in my heart.  So far it’s the 9th of December and I don’t know that I’m feeling much yet but I will be helping one of my daughters have a choir Christmas party this weekend and all her friends love me and call me “Mom” so I’m hoping the joy of being around people who like being around me will help restore some of that Christmas spirit…or perhaps a glimmer of any spirit at all.

Awe and wonder, child-like faith, unconditional trust, genuine love, these are things I feel like I had as a child and have had them torn out of me as I grew up.  Or maybe I gave them up in order to build my defensive walls – not knowing the true cost of protecting myself was losing myself.  Bilbo Baggins said in The Lord of the Rings “I feel thin, like butter scraped over too much bread” and that is a very apt description of where I have been for a long time now.  I feel like I need to gather myself together, to bring everything that I think I am and what I think I love into one spot to examine them.  To ask “Is this truly me?”  When I go through my house to de-clutter I always have three piles:  “To Keep”, “To Give Away” and “To Throw Away” but when one goes through their heart the only options are “Keep” and “Toss”.  Unfortunately the “Toss” pile tends to primarily consist of things I don’t want to be any more, not actually things that I genuinely am not.  The pieces in the “Toss” bin that are a part of me whether I want them or not are the products of my life choices and therefore must be consciously un-chosen in order to remove their power over me, not merely discarded like a sweater donated to the GoodWill.  It is hard to un-choose a choice that has become a habit and so much a part of my personality that other people define me by them.

This Christmas will be an whirlwind of activities…in seven days we will drive over 1200 miles and visit my father and step-mother, my brothers and sister, friends, my husband’s family, and then back home.  After which I have to get up early and go to work the very next day – I’m going to need a vacation from my vacation, ugh!  Maybe we’ve made Christmas too hectic and don’t have time for the magic anymore…but how do we stop being busy?  Or perhaps the bigger question is how do we stop being so busy without offending all of our friends and relatives?  Christmas is supposed to be a time to share love and laughter, not hunker down and wait for the candy cane hurricane to pass and yet that’s all I want to do, this year and for the last several years.  I guess I’ll see what this holiday season brings…