This is Tim's Christmas stocking. We don't have a fireplace so naturally we don't have a mantel. So I found a way to hang it from our display cabinet in the living room. I always find a way!
My mother's mother, our Nana, made stockings for our kids. She cleverly and patiently knitted each one in red with creamy white toes and heels and a band of white around the top and then in green stitched their name into that top band.
They were the best kind of stockings. First of all, Nana-made. Then of course, since they were knit, they were stretchy. All sorts of odd shapes not only fit into those stockings but the lumps and bumps were delightfully enticing. When the boys came downstairs on Christmas mornings they would always take a moment to feel those curious shapes wonderingly. Then they would begin to remove, one wrapped package at a time, open it, and show me and remark on how "cool" it was, before moving on to the next. Times three. A little chaotic but wonderfully so.
When the boys were middle school age I once asked them, separately, what was the one Christmas tradition that best typtified Christmas for them. What one thing would it just not feel like Christmas without. Was it the tree? The cookies? What part? Interestingly, all three of them, without hesitation, said, the Christmas Stocking.
I saved it for the last beause it's one of my favourite parts of our Christmas Traditions. The part that it would just not feel like Christmas without to me. Christmas stockings! I don't know what it is about them, actually, but empty or full, I just love them. And as much as I adore receiving one, I love giving one even more. .
I love going on the search for those small things that will fit in a stocking and getting creative about it. I try to find things that are specific to that recipient, my stocking are not generic. There are some silly things, some practical things, some fun things and some serious things. Always there is a little candy. Paperback books fit well as do comic books and magazines. Socks are great (especially if they are fun socks) and I think a little stuffed animal peeking out of the top is required, regardless of gender or age. In my daughter-in-laws stockings, I have tucked little jeweled picture frames, nail polish, scented soap and hand lotions. The boys have found DVD's, ties, chapsticks and miniature chess sets. I've put in paper airplane kits, silly putty, scented candles and mittens, cookie cutters, screwdrivers, tape measures and fancy pens. Gift cards fit nicely too.
There is almost no end to the possibilities. I start looking early because you never know what you are going to find, that little perfect something to put inside a Christmas stocking that you just know that person is going to love. And I love everywhere I go. I also never know where I am going to find it. Grocery stores, car washes, drug stores and more. Possibility is everywhere
Of course it is not only acceptable but practically required that there will be a little overage. Once filled I don't put the stocking back on it's hanger. No, it goes under the tree and it leans up against the things that didn't fit. Sometimes the things that didn't fit is because they were too big or not the right shape or I got carried away and found too many perfect things. Not a zillion more things, but a few. And seriously, each of these things is wrapped. They have to be wrapped. Mostly to drag out the anticipation a little more. After all, once the gifts are open, it's over. All the anticipation, all the build up, gone. It should last as long as possible to get the maximum enjoyment out of it. Wrapped gifts force everyone to slow down a little bit.
I do have a liberal attitude about what goes in a stocking, speaking of the excess stocking gifts. But also translating what stocking gift means. There was that one Christmas that Tim and I decided that we were only exchanging stocking gifts, nothing under the tree. Unfortunately, when he came up with this idea, I had already purchased his gift. And it absolutely would no way fit in his stocking. It was a gun safe. A huge one. I knew he would love it and it was perfect for him but I didn't want to be the one to totally defy the rule either. What to do, what to do. Well when the safe arrived in it's enormous box, I had them put it in the garage. I used every single bit of wrapping paper we had, christmas, wedding, birthday, graduation to cover it and then laid his stocking carefully over the top hanging artfully down just a little on one side.
He thought it was hysterical. Afterall, he is the one who usually breaks any Christmas gift dictum. I dont' know why we even make Christmas rules for ourselves but we do. One or the other of us will decide that this year, we aren't spending more than $20 on each other, and make that a rule. We both agree to it and neither of us adheres to it. We are crazy people. We have agreed and stuck to the only exchanging stocking gifts rule for a few years now. It's an easy rule to follow because we both enjoy that part best.
I hope Santa brings each of you a stocking filled to overflowing and plump with packages that are fun and silly and practical and serious and you love every single bit of it.
Wishes to each and every one of you for a Very Merry Christmas!!
Yesterday, in a relatively new Christmas Tradition, my sister and I went to visit our Dad. He resides now at the Sarasota Memorial National Cemetary. As those sorts of places go, it's quite lovely. It's also called Patriot's Plaza. There is even a 2800 seat ceremonial amphitheatre for programs honoring our veterans. Contained within 295 ares there is space for 18,200 casket burials, 7,000 columbarium niches and 500 inground cremations. On one hand, I appreciate the dignified and powerful impact of having a special place for our veterans to rest in peace. On the other hand, it is a space that is almost unbearably sad. And yet we went there on purpose. Holidays are, after all, about family, wherever they may be.
We stopped and bought flowers on the way. We chose a festive bouquet with a mix of various red and white flowers. We were greeted, upon arrival, by the sight in the photo above. Row after row of perfectly aligned, stark white, each with a wreath. It was definitely a "wow". I had forgotten about those amazing and wonderful volunteers who, every year, make it a point to be certain that every veterans gravesite has a Christmas Wreath. I love that it's Every Single Grave. These volunteers aren't skipping anyone who observe a different faith. This isn't about what religion, if any, they followed. This is about honouring their service to our country and this season of love, peace and joy. It's bigger than one small difference between people. It's about what they have in common instead.
Our Dad, was cremated and his remains are in one of the niches. The volunteers didn't leave them out. At the base of each column lay another wreath. Families have dotted these with their own additions of poinsettias and bouquets as we did.
Of course, this visit drove home that fact that someone is now mising from our lives and that made us a little weepy. I've heard other people suggest if it makes you sad, that you just skip it, don't go. Or at least don't go at Christmas, don't go on his birthday because it's too upsetting. Funny I couldn't imagine not going. The fact that he was important in our lives, that we miss him and it makes us sad just illustrates further how much he was loved.
I'm glad my sister and I went together. I'm lucky to have her to share that moment, to visit our Dad and wish him Merry Christmas one more time.
Welcome to the first day of winter. Winter? Seriously? Well yes, I know it's winter. I can read a calendar. And all the Christmas decorations are kind of a hint. But it doesn't look like the winters I remember. In fact, it doesn't remotely resemble the winters depicted in all the Hallmark Christmas movies I've been watching, or the magazine advirtisements, Christmas stories or even the Christmas carols. Florida has been absent in all Christmas related media. One notable exception, the song White Christmas wherein the singer dreams of white christmas because he isn't experiencing one. (point of fact, he is singing about Christmas in Los Angeles California, so it's still not Florida) That's it. The only thing I could find.
It's not just Florida that's snowless you know. Southern California only has snow in the mountains, Texas goes crazy if it snows. I lived in Texas for about 4 years. In that time I recall it snowing once. There was just the lightest covering of snow on the ground and some ice. It all melted by noon but the entire city shut down. It's such a rare event that nobody knew what to do with it. They don't have the equipment to clear it from the roads and frankly, few people know how to drive in it. The city made the right call. Hawaii gets snow occasionally on the mountain tops which was a surprise to me. Snow in Arizona? Maybe in the mountains. I've seen photographs of snow in New Mexico so I know it's at least possible there. But I know it's a rarity in Louisiana and Mississippi. Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina see very little snow as well. So that's ten of the fifty states that are unlikely to have white Christmases. Out of fifty states. So one in five states have little to no snow. Hmmmm. We are seriously under-represented commercially.
You know what, I'm okay with that. I think I am happy being the drinks on the beach fantasy that other people dream about while they are out shoveling their driveway. I think I like being a winter destination. And I know I like not shoveling, not worrying about slipping and falling, not bundling to my eyebrows just to walk out and get the mail. I wore shorts yesterday. Yup December 20th, shorts and sandals. Nice. Especially when I look back a year.
Pretty, yes. Traditional, yes. Cold, yes. Slippery, yes. Convenient, no. A few years ago, I fell on ice that was sneakily hiding under the snow on a sidewalk and broke my wrist. From that point forward, walking on ice was a lot scarier. It appears that I break now. Not fun. Maybe it's the novelty of no snowthis year but I think I'm liking it. I've lived in no-snow states and a little snow states when I was a lot younger so I have done it before. But I've also lived in a lot of snow states. Each of them had their charms. And I was certain that as an adult, I would always live in a lot of snow state, a state with serious seasons. I was positive that I wanted it that way and that my opinion would never change.
There is a lesson for you today. You just never know what tomorrow will bring. And never say never. It's like a challenge to the universe. Regardless of where I'm living, December 21st is still the first day of winter. That part does not change.
There actually aren't a lot of photographs of the two of us together. I had to scrounge to find these. Usually one or the other of us is taking the picture. But it's a big enough sample to know one thing for sure. We are not particularly photogenic. Important thing to know here, we don't care.
We have spent the past 23 years celebrating our anniversary in 23 different ways. Usually it involves food. We are all about food. There are times when I prepare a special anniversary dinner for us and times we we opted instead for fine dining out, other times not so fine dining out. We mostly dine alone anniversarily. But we have shared the occasion with friends as well. We have even spent our anniversary with our kids.
Because we chose to get married one week before Christmas (what were we thinking?), there is always something to do, somewhere to go, and pretty decorations. We have gone to the movies, to plays and to musical performances. We have gone on fancy cruises and to New Orleans. We have stayed in 5 star hotels and we have stayed home. We have had home made cake, ice cream cake and no cake at all.
This year our anniverary was on the weekend so we A) slept late both days..ahhhhhh! and B) relaxed....ahhhhhh! before doing anything remotely planned. We took that walk we talked about a few weeks ago in the arboretum after dark to see what it looked like all lit up. (it was beautiful) We went to see the musical of A Christmas Carol performed at the local theatre (it was wonderful) and we went out to dinner in a very nice restaurant (it was fabulous). All this on top of the Gingerbread House Competition mentioned yesterday. In total, it was a very fun weekend. It was bigger than fun. It was memorable.
That's the thing. That's why we make it a point to celebrate our anniversary in some fashion every year. Even long ago when funds were slim and we were both exhausted and spare time was an laughable concept. We still carved out that slice of time and made the effort because we matter. Both as individuals and as a unit, we are important. And if the effort is not made to make a memory, it seems as if we are not worth the energy, the time, the money. And we are.
Twenty-three years is not the longest marriage on record, but nowadays, it's sadly becoming an anomaly. I know of people who married anticipating it being a short term situation. There are TV shows that, disguised as entertainment, demean the concept of marriage by setting up "marriages" between strangers! That's how casual some people are treating marriage nowadays. How have we come to this? Having so little regard for something so signifigant, so important. It's a damned shame.
I've heard a lot of arguements against marriage and monogamy. "It's against human nature", "it's a meaningless social construct". Well, maybe that's why 23 very happy years together is important. Maybe the voices are correct. If monogamy opposes human nature, perhaps the fact that we have suceeded in spite of that is important. Perhaps marriage doesn't come with built in meaning, maybe over time we have given it meaning.
It doesn't matter if you celebrate your anniversary at Delmonico's or McDonalds. It really doesn't. What matters is that you celebrate it, together, on purpose, because you want to, because you love being together with this other person so much that you want to make a big deal out of it.
Here's to our next twenty-three!
This weekend, Tim and I celebrated our 23rd Anniversary! We essentially celebrated the entire weekend and why not? Twenty-three years, still together and more importantly, still loving each other is kind of a big deal.
One of the things we did in our revelry was hold the 1st annual Gingerbread House making championship of Bayshore Dr, Venice. We were actually inspired by youngest son and his wife. They each made a gingerbread house the previous weekend and had such fun doing it, with such terrific results that it kind of made me want to give it a go myself.
We once attended a Christmas Party hosted by good friends where we were encouraged to make gingerbread houses with Graham Crackers and sweets and my results were just shy of tragic. I needed an opportunity to redeem myself. While I've made many a gingerbread man and even more gingerbread cakes in my life, that party years ago was my first gingerbread house and, my friends, if you've never done this before yourself let me tell you, 3-D houses are a lot harder to achieve success with than something that lays quietly and obediently flat.
I will say the kit house was a tad more cooperative than the cracker houses. I think partly because the pieces are more substantial, heavier, more solid and therefore less apt to break than a graham cracker. The royal icing in the kit was really thick and gooey and set up fairly quickly. But the candy decorations were paltry. We were forewarned of this by youngest son and bought extra goodies to augement to the process. Naturally choosing things that we liked. Eating ones mistakes is not a problem when ones mistakes are yummy.
We started out being quite silly about the project but became seriously involved in short order. Tim brought out his laptop and had a Christmas movie playing for background ambience. I dropped a lot of bits on the floor and since I do not adhere to the 5-second rule, that lot got thrown away. And there was a good deal of icing that we ended up wearing. Somehow I did not align my house pieces properly so it's a little wonky but it stands. There was a bit of swearing involved specifically directed to the pieces that kept falling off. And of course we did have to taste test the candy just to be sure it was good.
In the end, Tim's house is looks like a Gingerbread log cabin. It's nicely squared and each piece meticulously placed. His choices were creative and appealing. Mine looks messy but enthusisastic. There was nobody to judge our finished pieces, but were it up to me, I'd have to say that his house is the clear winner by a mile. Mine however, takes the silver medal. I can live with that.
Remember the old nursery story of Hansel and Gretel walking in the woods, finding the gingerbread house with the wicked witch living it? I am now finding a number of things wrong with that story. First and foremost, how on earth did she find an oven big enough to make the gingerbread pieces for her house? If these houses were big enough to actually live in, the individual pieces would be incredibly huge. Oh yeah, and no heavy power equipment back then to work with either. And then the candies. Unless that forest was ice cold all the time, anything chocolate would absolutely melt. Just the heat of my always cold fingers were softening it as I worked. Even if nothing was made out of chocolatge, it could not possibly have been royal icing holding things in place. Construction nails, maybe. And then an edible house in the forest? Did anyone else think, bugs? She would have been not only infested, but bugs would have eaten that house up in no time. No, I do not think Hansel and Gretel have anything to fear from Gingerbread House dwelling witches in the forest. Bears, yes. Witches who live in giant gingerbread houses, no.
So, anyway, the finished houses are on the kithen table festively cheering the room and nothing more had fallen off, so I think it's set through the rest of the holiday anyway. I will be a little sad when Christmas is over and I throw it away. But I will. And then I'll do a little research for next year. Because I fully intend to win the 2nd annual Bayshore Dr Gingerbread Making Championship. Oh yeah, we know how to party.
Christmas Cards! Do you love them or hate them? I honestly love 'em. The anticipation each day this time of year as I walk to the mailbox, wondering "are their any cards today" and " if so, from whom?". And then the happiness, as I sort through the handfull pulled from the box, " let's see, bill bill, ad, catalogue, ad, woohoo, Christmas Card!!! "Who is it from? Awesome! How are they? How are the kids?" I drag it out as long as possible. I am a fan of anticipation. I read their notes or letters and admire the photographs. Then hang it up for display.
I love the pictures on the cards and, when the boys were small, used the picture side of the cards the next year as gift tags. So we enjoyed them twice. I've known people who hole punch the cards, string them with ribbon and hang them on their tree. I love that idea too.
As a kid, I remember my mother sitting at the dining table, surrounded by address books, cards, envelopes, stamps, stickers, writing paper and pens for days writing their cards. Back then she wrote a long note in each card and sometimes a full multi-age letter. She had pens that looked like candy canes and wrote in either green or red ink. Very festive. She had to hand write the return address but sealed the envelopes with stickers. It was far from her favourite chore and made her a little cranky. The sheer difficulty of sitting still that long in one spot was a real challenge for her. And we won't even mention her handwriting which was illegible.
My parents kept all the cards they received in a big glass bowl in the dining room. I remember thinking what a shame it was that those pretty pictures were hidden. So when Tim and I still lived in Connecticut, I taped those pretty cards to the door frames all over the house so as anyone walked through, rather than traditional garland, there were christmas cards to cheer us. In Colorado, rather than fight with tape that dried out so very quickly, I stood the cards up on, eventually, every horizontal surface in the house. Still cheery even if some of them had a tendency to want to fall over.
Here in Florida I have revived an old custom. I have, as you can see in the picture, ribbon strung across the kitchen windows and the cards hung from there. Photo cards are pinned in place via paperclip. As more cards arrive, I simply put up another ribbon. Of course in it's origin the custom would be string or twine not flimsy ribbon and it would be wooden laundry pegs not paperclips, but it still works. It's cheery and pretty and each day as I look at it, I think about the people who sent the cards.
Now we are big fans of the computer generated letter. I know some people are dead set against it. To be absolutely honest, if I had to hand write essentially the same note over and over (and over!) again in the many cards we send each year, there would be no note. Or if there was, you would not be able to read it. (I inherited more than a love of all things sparkly from my Mother)
Of course, nowadays some folks send e-cards and I love those too. It's about the connection to the people far away, we dearly love receiving cards in any form. Catching up on the lives of the people we miss, even if it's just that one time a year, is important. And the photographs! Don't even get me started on my love of photographs! That could go on for far too long.
Sadly, we receive fewer cards each year. I get it. Of course, some of our usual senders have passed away. And other folks just cannot add one more chore to their list of Christmas falderol. Totally get that too. Understand it. Support it even!
But the cards that we do receive will be cherished and saved until the day when I finally pull them back out of my memory bins and are ready to part with them. Probably I will never be ready and my poor kids will be stuck with that chore when I'm gone.
Meanwhile, it's Friday, which means that the mailman will come again today! I wonder if he is bringing any more cards?
It's hard to decorate a palm tree. Probably never crossed your mind before but facts are facts. And the fact is, the shape, the texture, the size of a palm tree does not lend itself easily to decorating. And yet, people do. At least some of these people here on the island do.
We have, here on Venice Island, a surprisingly large number of parks. Some larger, some smaller, all charming and one, an arboretum. It is a lovely place to walk, with a path, a gazebo and many varieties of shrubs and trees, all labeled. Naturally, this being Florida, a considerable number of those trees are palm trees. Considering that there are more than 2500 different varities of palm trees in existence, I think there is a very nice sampling. Hard to imagine that many different ways to make the exact same tree and yet, there it is. Some only look a tiny bit different to the uneducated eye, others tremendously dissimilar. Still each of them share at least one thing in common. They are hard to decorate.
We took a walk last weekend and ended up at the arboretum. It was filling up rapidly with people preparing for an event. We learned that it was the official annual Tree Lighting ceremony of the arboretum that was being set up. Decorations at every turn. It seems that groups and individuals take responsibility for a tree and dress it up pretty for the season. Each group or person's take on Christmas Decor was different and a delight. But it was obvious immediately that some greenery lends itself more easily to being "fancied up". And we loved how people faced this challenge.
ere was a lot of "wrap the belly" methodology going on. The more slender varities of palm are, I'm sure, easier to wrap but the fatter bellied trees must be like putting a belt on Santa himself, or tying a ribbon around a globe. Still, whether it was a rope light, brightly coloured garland or a string of old fashioned lights, it was festive and bright.
Everything imaginable was dangling from these trees, from traditional balls to glittering snowflakes to the silly flipflop tree. There were silver bells and red bows, bright green "fish" and re-purposed real shells, there were snowmen and snoopys, reindeer and angels, each of them waiting to be admired by the gathering crowds.
Some people didn't try to wrap the trunk, regardless of it's shape and instead stacked decorations at the base. There were wreaths and faux trees and gingerbread men. There were even stacks of "gifts" sitting below the tree as if Santa had just placed them to be opened Christmas morning.
We walked and marvelled over the creativity and enjoyed our stroll. We will make it a point to go back after dark one night before Christmas to see it again with the lights all aglow.
There was not one single duplication in decoration which amazes me. As many different types of palm trees as there are, there are at least that many different ways to dress it, or so it seems. Some were rather minimalist, some very tastefully done in moderation and a few that were decorated to the max. I think perhaps those were my favourites. The enthusiasm far outweighs any failings in "taste" as far as I'm concerned. The best dressed trees are the over dressed trees. And that goes double for palm trees.
Last night I had the opportunity to experience another old-fashioned Christmas Tradition, the school Christmas Concert! In some places, this has gone completely out the window. In a frenzy of political correctness, some people have chosen to be offended by this bit of charm. In some towns, if they have an event at all, it is called a seasonal performance or a holiday show and then there is nothing remotely holiday-ish about it. Or if there is, it's every single holiday, except Christmas. I was so pleased that this particular school is courageous enough to have a Christmas, no question about it, Concert.
When did Christmas become so offensive? And what about it, exactly offends you? I'm not offended by other people's celebrations, so it is a mystery to me. I celebrate Christmas. But I am not even remotely offended by someone who wishes me a Happy Hanukkah or a Joyous Kwanzaa. I accept the sentiment in the spirit in which it is given and wish them the same.
I love the idea of including music from other cultures and countries. The performance I saw last night had music from Spain, France, Scotland and Rwanda amoung many others. In fact, there were very few pieces in English. It was wonderful, delightful even. The kids did a great job, which is to say, their choir director, who is my niece as it so happens, did an amazing job. Each group was better than the last. They all looked so excited and so proud of themselves.
I remember being oe of those kids surprisingly well myself, considering how long ago it was. The giggling nerves, that prickly feeling that fills you up and makes it hard to breathe for a moment while climbing those metal risers. I even recall the sound of all those shoes ringing against the metal. Initially there is a fear of falling off those stepped platforms, but once all the kids are packed in, you couldn't fall off it you tried. The kids fidget in place and fuss with their hair, their tie, their jewlery, they bump elbows and sweat a little, suddenly worrying that they will forget the words, or hit the wrong note. And then it begins.
All those earnest young faces singing their hearts out searching the audience for faces they recognize. Can you imagine how disappointed they must be when they find that familiar face only to witness that person either engaged in conversation with their neighbor or worse staring at their cellphones? That's what I saw last night. I was so pleased to see a full house. In fact, it was an SRO crowd! They had to pull chairs from all over the school to accomodate the number of people who attended. How exciting! And then to endure a constant buzz of conversation in the audience that continued throughout the performance was disheartening to me. How must it have felt to those kids?
Oh they weren't perfect either. In their excitement, a few of them got a little silly and their teacher (again my niece) had to get after them once or twice, but maybe it was the example shown to them by the adults in their lives that dictated their behaviour. Maybe its the adults who show up in body but not in spirit that make them believe that what they do doesn't really matter, that it's not important. That's sad.
It was important. It does matter. Those kids were amazing last night. It was a delightful performance, the music was wonderful and I enjoyed nearly every moment of it. I wish I could explain, in some way, to the misbehaving adults (to be fair not all of them, but far too many) what a big deal last night was, in their kids lives and in their own. This should have been a treasured memory captured forever so that in years to come, sitting with future generations they have a story to tell their grandchildren. It would be so great if all of those adults could honestly say that was a night to remember and how awesome the performance was and how special the memory.
If you aren't paying attention, there is nothing special to remember.
Last Friday was a "wintery" day here. It was 52 degrees, drizzly, windy and mostly grey. So naturally, I headed to the beach. I was pretty sure nobody else would be around and, initially, I was right. I love the ocean regardless of the weather. In fact, I think I may like it best when others don't. Stormy, drizzly, windy, foggy, cold days all whisper "come to the beach Sam". Of course, let's be honest here, sunny, dry and warm days whisper that to me too.
But I think I have a different kind of admiration on the atypical beach weather days. Peace, solitude, introspection and perhaps a greater appreciation of nature when I'm alone with my thoughts. It's very important to me to have some of those moments. And I did have that for just about a moment. Then a car pulled up and a man got out followed by two adorable little boys came tumbling out from the backdoor liked an upended basket of pingpong balls. They were dressed for the cooler weather in jeans and hoodies, and to my delight, stocking caps, but were carrying sand pails and shovels. Clearly these were also people who do not let inclement weather deter there plans! Awesome. Nice to know I'm not the only one who understands the many moods of the sea and enjoys them all.
This morning for example, we woke to heavy fog. I rushed to get out on my bike. I pedalled like a mad woman afraid that the sun would rise and burn it off. There was no one else foolish enough to be out that early in the foggy morning. It was very twilight zone. The waves seemed to appear out of nothing at all. Grey and white birds emerged from clouds of fog startling me. It was wonderful!
Not to say that I don't enjoy the oceanside on a perfect summers day. I do. Sunshine, blue sky, clear blue water. Who wouldn't love that? There is a reason they call this place paradise Are you starting to hear it call too? Mermaids, of course, are just stories, but the siren call of the sea is very much a reality. Most of us can hear the whisper. But like anyone you love, you have to love her in all her moods. Sunny or dark, stormy or smooth seas, foggy or clear. She is alway beautiful to me.
How many of you remember having an Advent Calendar as a child? I remember it vividly. It was one of our traditions. It was alway a very elaborate Christmas, or at least winter, scene, all glittery with numbers that seemed near-impossible to find! Some years my sister and I took turns opening the little doors, other times we each had our own. Generally they were displayed on the piano, standing up like sheet music. I just love them. The nostaliga of enjoying the holiday through the eyes of a child once more.
This year I have not one, not two but three of them! My cup runneth over! My wonderful and sentimental sister sent me an e-advent calendar. Every day I click on a different ornament and since it's interactive it takes me to a new adventure. I could be decorating a wreath or learning a new recipe or watching a Christmas scene unfold or listening to a choir. It's adorable and charming and I love it.
Tim, knowing of my love of these calendars and not knowing what my sister had planned, sent away for two of them for me. I was absolutely delighted! I have them set up in the bookcases which flank the entry to the family room. Every day I open not one but two new doors that have little christmassy pictures inside. These two are slowly revealing the Clement Moore, Night Before Christmas story. I love both of these too!
Since this was such a happy memory for me, I tried to pass it along to the next generation. When the boys were young, I tried every year to find an advent calendar for them. All three had to share so it was with great ceremony that the child of the day would look for his numbered door with his brothers crowding around rather impatiently "helping" him look, with me shushing their assitance. It was chaos but of a wonderful type. Once the door was open revealing the picture, they would all, in turn, admire it before blasting forward into the next adventure of their day. It helped them to understand the passage of time between this moment and the far distant all important Christmas Day. Between the advent calendars and the Christmas activity books (which were ESSENTIAL) all that little boy Christmas excitement was slightly more in control.
Because I'm a curious sort, I was wondering where this wonderful idea came from. So I did some reading. It began in the early 19th century in Protestant Germany as a way to marking the days between Advent and Christmas Day. Originally it was a chalk mark on each family's front door. Gradually it morphed into such things a candle wreaths,where the family would light a candle every day to mark passage of time. Then handmade calendars of every clever sort were made by each family. Since that's where the printing press was invented, thank you Mr. Guttenburg, eventually they became mass produced paper calendars similar to what most of us saw when we were young. Each little door might reveal a bible verse or a Christmas or winter picture. Some had hard candies attached, one for each day.
In the 1940's the idea jumped the pond to America. In the 50's someone came up with the idea of having a chocolate behind each door (YUM!) And now there are advent calendars of every imaging, including as interactive electronic cards. And I adore them all.
If you are among the unfortunate souls who have never had this experience, give it a try, for yourselves, your children or your grandkids. It is one of my favourite of all the Christmas traditions even though it's rather low-key and inexpensive. It's a sort of slow down and step back a minute kind of experience. And, especially this time of year, who couldn't use a little bit of that.
So, in case you were wondering how that whole decorate the tree with chaos thing worked out, here it is. I spent quite some time working on the balance of it all, blending the traditional with the wacky. But when I finished I stepped back and thought to myself, "Not horrible". But it was missing something. Garland of some sort. Something to pull it all together.
Since I had used up everything in the bin already and no garland was to be found, I headed off to my favourite store, the Dollar Store, to see what I could find. I cruised up and down the Christmas aisles. Nope. And looked through the gift wrapping section thinking maybe, wide ribbon? Nothing. A little disappointed, I wandered aimlessly through the store prepared to admit defeat and return home empty handed when I found.......tulle.! Yards and yards and yards of tulle. Awesome! Exactly what I was looking for but didn't know it until I found it. (I love when that happens)
Excited, I zoomed back home, climbed up on the step ladder and seemingly endlessly circled the tree wrapping and twisting and tucking. The end result just tickles me beyond description. It's not just completed, it's magical. It looks almost enchanted. And yes I kow how silly that sounds, but I'm okay with that.
There is something about Christmas that makes it not only acceptable but expected to allow your inner child out to play. Mine was singing and dancing with joy.
Remember now, just yesterday, I began the project so unhappy because it wasn't what I had planned. Yet it has turned out to be the best tree I've ever put together. Happens that way a lot in life. Which is why I never let disappointment stop me. Might slow me down a little, but never stop me entirely.
And last night I found out what it looks like at after dark. (hint: it's even better)
Today is Christmas Tree Decorating Day! Back in Colorado, we eventually had three Christmas Trees. Started out with the normal one tree and I'm not certain anymore how it morphed into multiples. It's not like we are crazy tree people, after all. But however it happened, it did. And ultimately I had a different theme for each tree, which means, different ornaments. Completely different. One tree, usually the one in the living room, had an old fashioned traditional feel. The red, green and gold balls, some shiny and some more of a satin finish, a few of them with glittered designs. There were miniature stockings and little wooden ships and houses and sleds. And happy, jolly, chubby Santas ho ho ho'd from every angle. Candy canes of course were present too. You have to have candy canes on a traditional tree. The lights were multicoloured and binked in a random pattern. And then it was all wrapped up with yards and yards of gold ribbon spun around the tree so that the tree itself appeared to be a gift.
The second tree, often in the dining room was the one I called the Elegant Tree. It had a more slim, lean silhouette. Very breakable glass ornaments sparkled from it's branches in clear, white, gold and silver. It wasn't the shape of the ornament that mattered to me so much on that tree but the colours. There were spheres and ovals and icicles twinkling. A few glass birds and elaborate shapes that I cannot even accurately describe as well as teardrops and prisms. The lights were bright white and didn't twinkle at all. If that tree had a pinky finger it would have been lifted when it drank tea. The ribbon wrapped around that one was silver and white.
In the loft was the changeable tree. It was huge and lush and filled with possibility. Once it was soft white twinkle light and stuffed animals. Not hung from the branches of course, that would be cruel. But rather stuffed into every nook and cranny. Over the years, despite my advanced years, I have accumulated quite the stuffed animal collection. All gifts, by the way. Primarily bears but other animals as well. A veritable zoo of critters. Small, large and in between, zebras, bears, owls, kittens and bunnies perched on branches, looking out at the world. That tree had a small train set chugging away underneath.
The same tree, other years, was declared the anti-traditional tree. Not one single traditional colour was allowed. (other than the twinkle lights) but rather pink and purple and turqoise ornaments. Chartruse mushrooms with pink polka dots and big purple egg shapes with gold glittered designs. There are lime green and powder blue glass balls and a giant peony pink butterfly. It was a glorious Seussian tribute to a Christmas where I obviously wasn't feeling very christmassy. But, I loved it.
So that was Christmasses past. All those trees are gone. Donated to Goodwill before we left. Last weekend, we bought one (note that - one) new tree. The old ornaments we kept and should be here....somewhere. I have found one bin of ornaments. That's all I can find. One bin. And for no reason that I can even begin to imagine, it's a mishmosh of things from each tree. Crazy! I am the tidy queen. I always put things away properly. Each ornament carefully wrapped in it's proper box with tissue paper and then each tree's worth decorations put in a separate bin. I'm not sure who undecorated last year. My alter-ego? The Bizzaro-World Sam? The cat? Tim? Because I opened that bin filled with the excitement of wonder which tree's ornaments I would behold in my head and looked with dismay at this kookoo mashup of stuff that does not remotely go together.
I just starred at it for awhile, hoping that I was wrong. I sorted through the stuff. There were red, gold and green balls, , but over here were pink, lavender and navy blue balls. Giant fuchsia and purple globes nestled beside a gaggle of jolly santas. A sled, some stockings, and a bright pink tree with purple squiggles sat side by side. Then I saw it, the giant bright pink butterfly. These are our ornaments. They didn't get mixed up with someone's else's stuff in the move. Can you imagine my dismay? I almost cried. Where are my perfect decorations?
I walked in and out of the room many times. I would look at everything, look at the tree and walk back out. Finally, I decided. Ok I'll make this work. So today, I'm putting it all on the tree. Yes that's right all of it. Not sure how, but I'm going to make this work. Santas will sit right next to giant turquoise balls and the wooden nutcrackers will dangle beside purple egg-shapes that are practically aflame with glitter. And I'll put that doggone pink sparkly butterfly right in front, up near the top.
And it will be perfect because that is part of the magic of Christmas.
These people sure do love a parade! Wow And that suits us right down to our toes. We are parade fans. We had never been to a boat parade before so looked eagerly forward to this one. Wiser since the past few experiences, we bought folding chairs, those kinds that fit in bags with straps for easy carrying. The parade was scheduled to begin one town north in Nokomis and would be coming through Venice via the jetty and the Intercoastal Waterway. Handily, there is a trail running the length of the Incoastal and we are very nearby an access point so we walked over to the North Bridge, also known as the KMI Bridge and set up camp with a lot of other folks just under the bridge in our comfy new folding chairs. Ahhhh. Much better.
There was a partyparty happening on the other side of the North Bridge and the music was terrific. Even though we weren't attending their private festivities, we got the proximity benefit for sure. Things got underway a little later than anticipated but it was a beautiful night, cool enough to wear a sweater but not cold at all. The sky was clear and the water was as smooth as glass. Someone added to the occasion by occasionally showering the sky with fireworks. Finally we heard the uproar from the other side, the boats were on their way~
We knew they would be decorated but I don't think I was prepared for how elaborate some of them were. The one above was just a crazy chaotic amalgamation of lights but I loved the watercolour effect that followed them. Others were more themed with a very specific plan that was beautifully carried out. Two of our favourites were a Christmas Tree and a Sleigh.
Others were a little less specific but still had a holiday feel. (take note of the "gator" on Santa's rooftop) And one was lovely in it's elegant simplicity.
Cleverly taking a completely different turn on the trail, there was one in particular that had a rather modern look to it. That one also had some terrific tunes blasting. I really hope the folks on board were wearing ear protection. Can you imagine how loud that would be if you were standing on deck if we could hear it perfectly on shore? Mercy.
We enjoyed them all and were sorry when it ended. Part of the tradition, as I understand it, is to notify the local newspaper of your favourite and the winner's entry will be published in the newspaper. We paid close attention but we just couldn't pick a single favourite. There was a reason to like each and every one!!
Sadly, I got so carried away enjoying the parade, I didn't get photos of every entry. But this was a good sampling. Interestingly, the next day I took a nice long walk in the daytime and as I walked past a pier, saw one of the entrants in the daylight. It was still cute, but the magic of the lights in the night just wasn't there. We have a few more days to get our vote for best parade boat in, but I"ll let you be the judge. We just cannot choose!!
I don't know if this has been mentioned before, but the fact of the matter is, I have no discernible artistic ability whatsoever. My sister got all those genes. The proof, if required, of my lack of talent is here in this photo. I try, Lord knows, I try but this is honestly a best effort. I was filled with Christmas Decorating spirit. I know that we brought with us a little bit of our previous collection of holiday decor (although I'm not positive what we kept to be honest) but I'm not certain where it is. Somewhere in the utility room in one of the dozen or so bins which are stacked to the ceiling. There is no hope of me reaching the top ones to get to the bottom ones and so rather than be defeated, I hie me off to the local dollar store (a recent addiction).
There I found the simple plain green circlets, various sparkely do-dads and a package of small scale tinsel garland in varying colours. I don't know why I believed it to be true, but in that moment, I honestly believed that I could make something wonderful with it. I loaded up my cart with items, came home and immediately got to work. I laboured mightily over my creations and in the end, this is what we have. I actually have two of these now hanging on either side of the entrance to the courtyard of our home. I'm sure passersby believe that I am the indulgent grandmother of toddlers and am proudly displaying their craft. Either that or I have particularly gifted cats.
Oh, and I didn't stop there either. Encouraged by my wreaths, I then created these.....what are these? To hang by the front door. The lizards find them fun to play hide and seek in. The baskets in their frame is actually something leftover by the previous owners. I found it amoungst other knickknacks and decided that this could be something. And now it is.....something. Worse, in the summer I filled each basket with brightly coloured silk flowers, again dollar store finds. Colours that do not exist in actual nature. Nice and bright and eye catching. Maybe eye attacking is more accurate. At least these winter decorations are muted in colour intensity. The funniest part is that while I'm creating these, I was thinking, "Wow, these look good" And then I hung them up, admired them and thought, "Not bad". And then I was so encouraged that I went on to do another.
There are actually two of these. The containers are terracotta, I assume they are intended to be filled with real flowers. There were already here when we arrived, permanently affixed to the wall. So I could leave them empty, attempt futilely to keep real plants alive, or put faux plants in them. As I have not yet managed to kill a fake plant or flower, I choose that option. Again, during the hot humid summer, they were chockablock with neon coloured flowers of the silk variety. But once it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas I took all my leftover dollar store goodies and loaded it up. Looks like a messy birds nest.
I may have no artistic ability to show for it, but I have enthusiasm for days. So much so that I couldn't resist hanging lights as well. White twinkle lights. Ok I misjudged the actual number of strings of light that I needed but it's sort of centered, that must count for something! The point is, I am well aware of my strengths and weaknesses, but I don't ever let that stop me. Might slow me down a little, but that's all. Is it perfect? No. But it's festive and it makes me smile. In fact, I watched the FedEx guy walking up the driveway a few days ago, he paused to look at the decorations and a huge smile bloomed on his fact despite how busy he is this time of year. So again, while not perfect, not very pretty, certainly not professional looking, it looks happy, it looks holidays and it even made the FedEx guy smile. There is some value in that.
Beware clever and artistic people, I may begin decorating the inside next. When it comes to Christmas decor, too much is just enough.
The past three days have been a blur of butter and sugar. It was the annual Cookie Baking Marathon! Every year, for at least the past eleven years, right about this time, I embark upon a baking adventure! Thanksgiving is the kick off. It's kind of exciting to see what new idea I can come up with. Oh there are old favourites of course, but it's also fun to create something completely different.
Most of these are the sorts of cookies I only make once a year. Frosted sugar cookies and peanut blossoms for example. They are practically Christmas icons. Everyone recognizes them and automatically thinks...Santa! Some of the others may just be associated with the holiday by family and friends due to being my Guinea Pigs. Like the Dirty Snowballs. (It's a mint chocolate cookie) When I come up with a new idea, somebody has to do Quality Check for me, right?
Over the years, there have been some winners, like Ginger Snaps and some serious loosers, such as cookie press cookies. Nobody voted yes on those. Some are delightful cookies, but they just do not travel well. Whoppie pies come to mind. I have some new ones to surprise people with this year. Spoiler alert, Double Chocolate with mini Reece's pieces for example. I eagerly await those reviews.
Cookies, for me, are an expression of love. They take time, effort, creativity, attention to detail and a little patience, just like the very best relationships. Cookies are also a wonderful memory for me. My maternal grandmother, Nana, was an amazing baker. I remember as a child sneaking peeks into the kitchen as she worked. With awe, I watched her magic. The alchemy of turning all that random product into cookies, cakes, pies and donuts was something beyond my understanding but completely within my appreciation.
Once, when the boys were grade school age, I made a huge batch of Gingerbread Men. I made bowls of coloured icings of every colour in the rainbow. I chopped nuts and bought sprinkles and decorating stuff beyond imaging. The kids invited some friends over and for an entire wintery, cold, snowy afternoon, they laughed and created and decorated and made the biggest most wonderful mess. Those were the most decorated Gingerbread Men ever in the history of humankind! It was awesome!
Of course it was messy. It's supposed to be messy. If you haven't made a mess, you aren't really baking. When I'm done there is flour and sugar everywhere. It's on the walls, the floors, me, every horizontal surface within range and probably the neighbors dog. Ii fling cookie making product with abandon as I labour. It took nearly as long to clean up as it did to make the cookies! I listened to Christmas Songs and sang along as I washed the floors late last night. I scrubbed surfaces and did dishes as I crooned with the likes of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. I hummed along with Jewell (I can't hit her high notes) and declared that I wanted a Hippopotamus for Christmas.
Today I will pack most of them up and ship them out and the kitchen will appear as normal as it ever is once more. But there are a few cookies still tucked away safely in my own freezer. We won't have snow this Christmas but we will absolutely have cookies.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.