Tag Archives: Christmas

Remember the Christmas…

I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas in third grade. Or for most Christmases for that matter. Sure, I remember the big stuff. The Cabbage Patch Doll that I hoped I got because I knew they were flying off the shelves. The black-and-white TV set that got me through the grogginess of many migraines with the help of “Dallas” and “Love Boat.”

But year after year as we pull out the box of ornaments for our tree, Christmases past come sweeping back. The green beaded ornament that my kids don’t really like has always been one of my favorites. My grandmother bought us grandkids a special ornament every year for our packages. She picked them out at craft shows and we all got something different. That ornament reminds me of Christmas Eve at her house—a velvet Christmas dress and itchy tights with a crotch that hung near my knees. I remember looking for the lighted Santa on someone’s porch before we crossed the bridge, and coming home and climbing into bed with my sister, the only night of the year I was ever allowed.favorite ornament

Many ornaments on our tree tell a story. There’s the fancy beaded ball my mom made that used to hang on my childhood tree. She used beaded pins to hold sequins and beads in place. Our tree stood in the living room then and I remember a Christmas long ago when my sister picked out a snowman soap for me. I loved snowmen. I loved that soap and it sat on my dresser for years, unused and gathering dust. I think I finally threw it out as a teenager. More than anything, I loved that my sister bought me something she thought I would like.fancy ornament

There’s a golden wreath with a picture of my sister and me dangling from the center. We’re teenagers and I remember that my hair looked decent that day, a true accomplishment. There’s a wooden Revolutionary soldier on a red horse and that’s the first ornament I ever remember being mine. My sister and I fought every Christmas over who had the red one and who had the white one and, more importantly, who would hang which on our quickly dying tree. My parents finally got smart and taped our names to the backs.

When I married, I brought my box of ornaments with me. My husband did the same. And his ornaments tell stories too. His grandmother gave him a new ornament every year, and those were always from some kind of craft venue too. The lid of his box lists each ornament and the year she gave it to him. There’s the little football player sporting a green uniform (no doubt an Eagles player), birds made from pinecones, and a simple Matchbox car with a yarn hanger.footballornament

Every year our kids hang those ornaments on our tree along with the ornaments their grandparents have given them. And while they sometimes make fun of our old, crusty ones and root through the bin in search of “better” things to hang, I know one day the kids will look back at all of those ornaments and have stories of their own.

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Gifts That Fill You Up

I remember my husband, boyfriend at the time, opening the package shipped from his grandmother. Inside sat neatly packed metal tins decorated with winter scenes and holly. My husband knew the gloriousness hiding within the cold round boxes. I had no idea. I stood next to him, craning my neck to get a good peek at his special gifts. He opened them one by one and offered me something unexpected: a Christmas cookie. Each tin held goodies more delectable than the last: butter cookies sprinkled with colored jimmies, almond crescents dusted with powdered sugar, and something called springerle, a German anise-flavored cookie imprinted with flowers and like nothing I’d ever tasted. The flavor still makes me swoon.

Baked springerle, showing typical "foot&q...

Springerle with typical foot after baking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia, Andreas Bauerle)

I immediately knew two things: I had to stay in that relationship long enough to get the recipes, and I had to get him out of the room so I could have more of those cookies that he had quickly put aside.

Every year while my husband was a bachelor, Grandma sent him tins of Christmas cookies. When she died, we got the recipes and the tradition was up to us. The springerle were a bit of a legend in the family. As a child, his grandfather used to spend 30 minutes of vigorous beating by hand to get the eggs to just the right pale yellow. I’m a bit spoiled with my kitchen gadgetry now. I make my stand mixer do all the work, mainly because my arms resemble vermicelli more than an anatomical structure.

Every Christmas, we make at least one of Grandma’s cookies and we’ve added our own through the years. The cookies don’t come from Grandma anymore, but they’re her legacy, still her gift.

springerle board

Grandma’s springerle board, a well-loved heirloom.

When my husband set out on his own, his mother gave him copies of the recipes she made when he was young, along with some of the basics. During the rest of the year, we use those recipes too: Lemon Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Barbecue Meat Loaf, cinnamon toast. “I don’t know why she thought I didn’t know how to make that,” he said. But two duplicate cards sit in his recipe box. I guess she worried.

Some recipes have been a bit more elusive, but still a gift nonetheless. When I was a kid, everyone spent a day at my grandparents’ house making tamales. No one knew the recipe when my grandmother died so my grandfather tried to replicate it. I spent a day with him mixing masa and filling corn husks. Though it was trial and error, I wrote it down. When he died months later, I was so grateful to have that recipe.

Recipes tell the timeline of your life. When my husband and I first married, we had a repertoire of entrees we liked to cook together. We eventually grew tired of them. We reminisce about them now, but we still don’t cook them. Our tastes have changed. I’ll never throw those recipes away because when I see them, they remind me of less chaotic evenings cooking with him in our first house, talking about our day without the interruption of squawking children.

Those recipes are all gifts to me. They have provided more memories and more smiles than any store-bought present. You know the saying: The way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. I can tell you, my heart is always full.

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Santa Is Real If You Know Where to Look

I’ll never forget it. I was in fourth grade, December, cheerleading practice after school in a room full of bubbly girls. One minute I jumped with excitement, innocence. The world was a good place. The next minute, Anna walked up to me, got in my face, and stared hard at me with her enormous eyes. I wondered what I had done to tick her off.

“Did you hear?” she asked.

“What?” I cowered.

“Santa isn’t real,” she said. With those three words, my childhood was crushed. I never doubted her. She was a fifth grader after all. I was stinkin’ mad. “Why did you tell me that?” I growled back. The magic, the possibility, the awe—she yanked it away like my favorite baby doll and ripped its head off. And I’ve always kind of hated her for that.

I never mentioned to my parents what Anna said. I played the charade, spent several Christmases pretending I believed because I didn’t know whether I would still get presents, but Christmas morning just wasn’t as fun anymore. (Turns out, you do still get presents.)santapic

And it turns out the magic didn’t really go away either. It just took me a long time to find it again. I never got it as a kid, that whole thing about giving is better than receiving. I’ve found in my older age that if I can do a little something extra every year for at least one person, that’s what the season is about. It’s about giving to someone in need, giving to someone you love, giving to someone you don’t know, making or doing something a little extra special for even one person. In a world where there’s never enough time to stop, this is the time of year when I try to go out of my way anyway.

That’s what I try to teach my kids, but it’s hard when I’m also trying to get them to pare down their Christmas lists. I don’t know if they get that, but one day they will. And I don’t mind them wanting some Christmas magic too. I know how important it was to me as a child, daring to dream of bigger things.

So when my fourth-grade son asked me yesterday, “Is Santa real? I think it’s you. Please tell me,” it was hard for me. I thought about Anna and how I didn’t want to be that person for him. But I told him the truth because one thing I’ve learned after all these years: Santa exists, in all of us.

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A Santa Surprise

I didn’t think we’d visit Santa this year. Having a third-grader, I thought he’d deem telling his Christmas wishes to the man in the red suit too babyish. So when my son announced he did want a visit, of course we made a last-minute holiday dash. This, after all, will surely be the last year for him, and I couldn’t let the last opportunity to have both of my kids visit Santa together slip by.

At the head of the line, large signs displayed the rules: no personal photography. Now frankly, I’m cheap when it comes to buying photos of my kids. If I spend money, they better be good. I don’t want to shell out $20 for a picture of my kids on Santa’s lap even if it is for the last time. I’ve bought school pictures of my kids in hopes of quality material only to get squinty eyes and a goober grin that makes my kid look like a constipated, no-lipped goof. I don’t like paying for that mess. And I don’t like paying for Santa when I used to be able to snap my own unposed shots for free. I want candid photos of them talking to Santa or clamming up or whatever the experience may be.

I asked Santa’s helper whether I could snap a few of my own pictures because we always have. Sure, the girl said. Did I want to buy any? Um, no, not really.

So while my kids chatted with Santa, I vied for position with some other lady to get snapshots of them. There wasn’t a lot of time to spare, and this lady and her camera kept getting in my space. Angling for a better view, I was about to nudge her out of the way, those being my offspring after all, and I thought, “Why is she shooting pictures of my kids?”

She leaned toward me, beaming, and whispered between her own shots, “That’s my son.” I guess moms are proud of their kids no matter the age or what they do, and that includes being mall Santa. At least she didn’t have to pay either.santapic

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No Elf on This Shelf

I wasn’t going to join in on this whole Elf on the Shelf craze. I just wasn’t going to write about it. But here I am. The bandwagon rode by and I jumped. I’ve read the blogs. Some friends and I have talked about it. And if anything, my decision has been made that much stronger: I will not be buying one of those elves.

When some gal named Jen wrote about overachieving Elf on the Shelf moms on her blog (read here if you missed it), she got a lot of attention. People got mad at her. But some of the moms I know totally agreed with her. And they have the elf.

Real-deal vintage. No fuss, no mess.

You’re supposed to move the elf around at night when your kids are sleeping so they’ll think the elf went back to the North Pole to report to Santa and returned to a different post in your house. Simple. Some make their elf leave notes or move things, hang from the ceiling fan. It becomes a lot to keep up with every day and I don’t have the time or creativity to keep up with it at this time of year. It’s cute but it’s too much right now. Isn’t shopping, wrapping, baking, and partying enough to squeeze into an overloaded schedule? Evidently some people have taken it a bit far with elf behavior. Aren’t the kids supposed to be the naughty ones?

I told a friend I’m not getting an elf and I hoped my kids didn’t see the one at her house. “Oh, you’re getting an elf, Karen.”

No, I’m not.

Here’s why. I already have two elves who leave a mess everywhere and don’t clean it up. Legos multiply overnight. A flashcard rug covers my living room. (Setting the standard for the next big decorating craze.) And cars nearly send me spinning at the bottom of the stairs. I don’t think any of that is cute and fun. I also already have two elves who report to me when either child is naughty. As leader of this workshop, I don’t find that charming either.

The thing that sealed the deal on this no elf thing? As my third-grade son pointed out to his believing sister, “They’re not real. You can’t buy a person for fifteen dollars.” I just can’t argue with that.

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The Holiday Party

All along my husband said the dress for the holiday work party at his new job was pretty casual, slacks and a blouse. Two days before the party he learned women would be wearing cocktail dresses.

“What? Cocktail dresses? That’s not casual,” I said. Panic set in big time. The outfit I had planned wouldn’t cut it. I don’t own anything that resembles a cocktail dress. That all went to Goodwill ages ago when my whole body shifted after having kids. Not to mention the fact that half the clothes in my closet have rotted on the hangers and shoes have literally busted on my feet. I still can’t escape the embarrassment of leaving a trail of one-inch rubber crumbs at my son’s first-grade play when my heel exploded the minute we got there. What’s a girl to do? I hoped the last big chunk would just hang on until we got outside.

“You can wear the dress you have. It will be fine,” my husband said. I’m no fashionista, but even I know that you cannot wear a sweater dress to a fancy shindig.

“You don’t want people to think you have a frumpy wife,” I said.

“But you’re my frumpy wife.” Uuugh!

I emailed my neighbor about my fashion crisis. Could I wear a skirt? Did I have to buy a cocktail dress? She said she would kill him. I raced to the nearest department store because I knew the ladies there would know what to do.

There I was, skirt and sweater in hand. No, no. That would not do, the lady told me. She walked me to the dresses. It had to be a dress. They all had flowers and ruffles. Things that are not me. Price tags that are not me. Where was a bargain rack when I needed one?

I grabbed some dresses, picking the saleslady’s brain about hose and boots and heels. I didn’t have time to look for accessories. Women spend weeks on this stuff. I had only an hour to shop. And nothing ever fits me. But something did and it looked pretty good. It was on sale, and by golly, I had a coupon!

When the big night arrived and we walked in the room, I saw a mix of all kinds of fashion, everything from fancy and festive to khaki and preppy. Apparently, not everyone got the same message. I could have worn any damn thing I wanted and played dumb.

But for the first time ever, my family was cleaned up and we planned to make an evening out of it. Though I prefer jeans and sneaks to hose and heels, and hiking trails to ballrooms, it was fun playing dress-up with the kids. And after a little wine, nothing much bothered me at all.

My son will be nine soon and seeing what lies under that layer of dirt with hair neatly parted and nice duds, it made me proud. He’s a handsome little man and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at him, in wonder of the handsome fellow he’ll one day become. You don’t see it every day when your kid fusses at you, rolls in the dirt with a football, or tells a dozen fart jokes, but there’s a handsome, calm being in there and it’s a sight to behold.

My husband took my daughter to the dance floor and for many reasons, it makes you love the man you married a million times more and cherish your baby girl who will one day do the same with her daddy in a big white dress. I tried to drag my son out, but I think he feared I’d perform some of the same spastic dance moves I’m known for in the kitchen.

When most of the good songs were over and it was about time to go, we finally got both of the kids out for the Twist, and then my daughter and I did the YMCA song. I think I even had my C backward. A vision of elegance, I’m sure. No dignified foxtrots for us. But I can’t think of three dates I’d rather have, and it was all done in true Karen fashion.

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Filed under Can't Get a Break, Everyday Life

The Holiday Card

Come hell or high water this year, I was getting a picture for our holiday cards. It was going to be good. OK, it was going to be decent. And I had to get it done quickly and with the least amount of tears possible.

In years past, it started out well: The kids suited up in coordinating outfits with hair neatly brushed. I had a host of clever tricks to distract them at the first sign of distress: sighs, groans, questions, slumped poses, sloppy smiles. I could manage.

If only the kids could pose as patiently as this guy.

Lately, the taking of the holiday card photo has been surrounded by high drama. Mention getting dressed for the picture and tears flow. Hair brushing is done at a quick trot. Before anyone has struck a pose, the mood is ruined. I admit it. I use bribes, lots of bribes. The kids have caught on. They do not like the holiday picture.

The kids used to sit patiently as I snapped pictures of them on the porch or in front of the holly bush.

A few years ago, things went terribly wrong. It was like choreographing the stooges. One kid smiled, the other collapsed the moment I clicked. My daughter kept making funny faces, closing her eyes. When she smiled, my son looked dazed. I knew I had a short window of time. My son now despised having his picture taken. I ended up with a series of blooper-style photos, and only one decent picture.

Last year, the kids were in tears before I took two shots. I mentioned the words “holiday card” and they lost it, knowing they were in for an hourlong modeling session.

I had already made one attempt at the picture this year at a festival. I made the mistake of saying, “Let me get your picture for our card.” My son smiled and my daughter quietly boohooed. I urged her to get over it so I could quickly snap a picture. It didn’t go so well. My son kneed my daughter for not cooperating. That saga ended in a family meltdown. Over a photo.

This week with time ticking away, I knew I had to get that photo. After school in a slow drizzle, I took the kids outside in their dingy, mismatched school clothes, stuck hats on their heads to cover unbrushed hair, and told them to sit on the fence. If I made the photo black-and-white, everything would look great. Maybe.

“If you’ll just cooperate and smile, it will be quick,” I reasoned with them.

They asked for a gumdrop afterward. “If you don’t whine or fuss through this,” I explained.

Game on.

I clicked away, urging them closer. My daughter smiled beautifully. My son gave a few smiles but mostly looked like a limp fish. After six shots, he started to get antsy. “Let me just get a good one for the card,” I said.

“This is for the holiday card?” he whined.

Great. I blew it. Things began to unravel. He wouldn’t smile. “The fence is hurting my butt,” he complained.

Then he tore off his hat and scarf and threw them to the ground. That’s OK. I can work with that. I would keep snapping. But he screamed, grabbed his mouth, and ran. He had bumped his lip on the fence. Game over.

When he came in, he still wanted his gumdrop. “Did you fuss or whine while we were out there?”

“No, not during the pictures,” he said.

“I meant during the whole process,” I said.

“Oh.”

Maybe I should have been more clear.

The pictures? Thankfully, I have something to work with. And in black-and-white, everything does match.

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It Is a Wonderful Life

Twenty-five years ago I sat in an itchy brown chair in a brown paneled den, flipping through channels to escape the heat of a scorching summer day. I landed on a black-and-white movie that was just beginning, though I didn’t catch the name. Several minutes in, I was hooked.

Some kids were using shovels to sled down a hill, and one of them went too far and plunged into icy water. I had to see what happened next. I was instantly captivated by the scene’s hero, George Bailey. The movie turned out to be It’s a Wonderful Life. It also turned out to be my all-time favorite. Ever.

I can’t think of a movie that I have loved as long or that speaks to me as this movie has. Even then, as an awkward sixth-grader, wondering when boys would ever notice me (and they didn’t for many, many years) and dealing with friendship woes and other social plagues, I could see how life can get the better of you. I could see how a person who has so much doesn’t see the difference he makes every day, and how attitude and loved ones can pull you through life’s rough patches.

I spent an entire afternoon in that chair, running to the bathroom between commercial breaks or bolting to the kitchen for a bag of chips. I didn’t want to miss a second.

I pulled for George Bailey. I learned that sometimes life doesn’t turn out like you expect it to, but you roll with it and make the best of it, just like George Bailey did. He didn’t have much. But he had so much. The gift of family and friends, happiness and good health, and doing good for others. Wealth can’t buy any of that. It didn’t for Mr. Potter.

Each year, when George Bailey sees what a good life he has and runs through the snow-covered streets, I’m there, yelling, “Merry Christmas, George Bailey!” through teary eyes and a lump in my throat because it still moves me. Every year, this movie is a reminder that I have everything I need.

It is a wonderful life. Your family and friends are your riches, and life is what you make of it. That’s what a sixth grader learned on a hot summer day. Merry Christmas, George Bailey.

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