Merry Christmas!

I am grateful for the silence of winter mornings, for the beauty and wonder of the glint of sunlight in frost melting to dew, for the early-riser’s peaceful solitude that sets a mood of thankfulness, hope, and calm for the dawning day. ~Terri Guillemets, American quotation anthologist and author

First snowfall, winter 2017

I’m taking a few days off to do holiday things with my family, but I’ll be back soon. Love to all, Happy Christmas, and thank you for coming along on this blogging journey with me! I’ll leave you with an Irish Christmas Blessing:

The light of the Christmas star to you,
The warmth of home and hearth to you,
The cheer and good will of friends to you,
The hope of a childlike heart to you,
The joy of a thousand angels to you,
The love of the Son and God’s peace to you.

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Seasonal Cold

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.  ~Irish Proverb

Dallas here.

‘Tis hard for a doggin to get a good sleep around here these days.

Mama, you see, has gone and got herself a cold.

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Brain-Overload

You know, there are times in our lives when we’re on brain-overload and just getting through another day requires super-human effort.

Life has been like that for me for the past six weeks or so.

It started in August with a new Web Design project. Can I ever admit I’ve bitten off more than I can chew? Nope, not gonna happen. So I buckle down and deal, cursing that I’m not a programmer, trying to educate myself on code, and wishing for simple solutions to complex problems.

It continued through Domer’s first semester, when he was juggling Band, classes, projects, job applications, and interviews. Having your only son travel ’round the country via plane, bus, and auto isn’t easy, but at least he was putting forth a concerted effort. He could have been like his mom, who at his age embraced Scarlett O’Hara’s “I’ll worry about that tomorrow” philosophy.

It increased in the  Fall, when my mom started having trouble with her hernia. Every few days, I had to take her to the emergency room at the hospital or an after-hours clinic when she complained of pain. It seemed a portion of her bowel was beginning to poke through the abdominal muscle — a complication from surgery she’d had years before — and it was creating a hernia. They’d fix her up and send her home, only to have it happen again and again.

Finally, someone told her she needed to have surgery to repair it. You don’t want to wait until it’s an emergency, they said.

Three weeks later, they scheduled surgery. And that, too, was hectic, from the actual procedure to the recovery. Released after just two days, she developed extreme pain from the buildup of air in the bowel, which “hadn’t woken up” from anesthesia; they readmitted her.

That crisis, too, passed, and she came home again over the weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve found myself shouldering the lion’s share of work — decorating inside and out for Christmas, buying and wrapping presents, chauffeuring her to appointments, and so forth. My sister would do the same, if she were here. Which she’s not.

My novel-writing has suffered. So has my blog. In fact, there have been days when I haven’t even turned on my laptop.

And the other day I turned on the TV to hear of yet another senseless shooting. This time, of innocent children while they were in school.

So I’ve been AWOL. Trying to gather my bearings. Trying to heal my heart.

I call it brain-overload. And it’s best not to keep shouldering on when it happens, but to take a break.

Before I break.

The holidays seem like a perfect time to do just that. Call it paring down. Or taking a siesta. Or lightening my load.

Recharging.

Best wishes to all my blogging friends for a Happy Christmas and New Year’s Day. I’ll miss you, but I’ll be back in early January.

Nostalgia in a Pickle Jar

I spent Christmas along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, visiting my sis and her family and soaking up some warmer weather (though they, too, had some nights below freezing!)

When you’re away from home base for several days, you find yourself attending a different church, patronizing different restaurants and stores, and running into different people than usual.

I want to recapture some of those experiences here.

One of the churches I attended has a custom — after the adults’ collection plate has been passed — of inviting the children to come forward and drop their donations into a huge glass pickle jar to be given to charity.

Because of the holidays, the kids were dressed to the nines. Fancy crinoline dresses, little Christmas vests, bows in hair, khaki trousers, patent Mary Janes.

They looked darling.

They also seemed a bit hesitant about dropping their coins and bills into the jar (fortunately, no one reached back in to retrieve their donation!)

Anyway, one little girl with dark curls, a satin-looking red dress, and matching red shoes was the last to give. When she finished, she balked at leaving the altar, holding her arms up until daddy rescued her and carried her back to the pew.

The whole church giggled.

Grandparents and those of us with older kids reminisced over days gone by; parents of younger kids were all-too-familiar with the scene.

It brought to mind something My Favorite Domer said recently about how Christmas “just isn’t as much fun” as it was when he was little.

No toys, not as many presents, nothing from Santa.

Well, duh!

Part of me wanted to argue that his “toys” now are much more expensive than when he was little and to snidely tell him, “Welcome to the adult world,” but I stopped myself.

What if he’s right?

Does growing up have to make us jaded? Can’t we find a way to approach the holidays with childlike wonder, to enjoy and fully live in the present without sacrificing memories of the past?

Our Dilemma over The Presents

What do other people do about The Presents when they’re going “over the river and through the woods” for the Christmas holidays?

Yes, you read that right — The Presents.

You know, the GIFTS.

I’m not talking about the ones you have to take to Uncle Mike, Grandma, or Cousin Harry.

I mean the ones you exchange with your immediate family.

Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, maybe Fido and Fluffy.

In the overall scheme of things, this might not seem to be much of an issue, but it is (and has been) a controversy in our family for as long as I can remember.

It started after my parents married and moved far away from home. Lonely for their families during the holidays, they decided to make an annual pilgrimage south for Christmas. This “tradition” continued when we kids came along — and that’s where things got sticky.

You see, my parents’ siblings, too, had married and were having children. So the family was growing. Money was tight, and we kids often balked at having to travel several hundred miles to visit kith and kin, when we could be enjoying a break from school with our friends.

And then there was the dilemma over the presents.

Basically, there were two options — neither of which was appealing:

a) Leave the presents at home, or
b) Take the presents with us

Sounds simple, right? Wrong.

Let’s look closer at these choices.

If we left the presents at home, we’d have to celebrate Christmas morning with nothing to unwrap (unless our parents went out and replenished the stash, which, as I said before, was cost-prohibitive).

And just try telling little kids (or teenagers!) that they have to wait until they get back home to open their presents!

Not gonna fly, I’m telling you.

By the time we got back home, school was starting up again, meaning we never really got to enjoy those presents. And it’s anti-climactic to open presents after the holidays!

Option B isn’t ideal either.

Sure, you have something to open on Christmas Day, but at what cost? Packing presents in the trunk of a car means boxes get crushed and bows unraveled. Packing them inside left little wiggle room for us.

And there are some things (bicycles, for instance) that take up too much space to pack. Who wants to leave behind an extra suitcase or two when you really don’t know what the weather might bring or what you’ll need when you arrive?

Many times, we compromised. We’d open the big stuff early and take the smaller presents with us.

I imagine our relatives must have thought we’d been extremely naughty since our “loot” pile looked so small!

So I’m looking for advice. If you’ve been in this kind of situation, how did you handle it? What works?

Another farewell

About two weeks before Christmas, one of my mom’s sisters suddenly collapsed on her kitchen floor after suffering  a massive stroke.
She was dead less than 36 hours later.
Once again, my family is experiencing grief and coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays (my dad passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2008).
Once again, our focus shifts from happiness and gift-giving and tinsel on Christmas trees to sorrow and funeral arrangements and tears.
The child in me screams, “Enough already! Turn Death off! He’s too cruel at this time of year.”
But nobody asked for my opinion.
Auntie M. was one-of-a-kind. Clean as a pin, she always had a dishrag in her hands, mopping up someone’s messes, toweling off her already-spotless counters.
Her kitchen was one of my favorite places. The smells wafting around there were enough to melt the cockles of the meanest heart — warm butter (a stick at a time), chocolate chip cookies (mine, without nuts), snow-white divinity, rich and creamy fudge, fig cake cookies (made from an old family recipe).
And you couldn’t get out of her house without at least one colorful round tin filled to the brim with some of those treats!
As if anybody would turn down goodies, fattening or not!
In her younger days, Auntie M. was quite a hoot. We kids would listen enthralled as she and her husband, my parents, and the other siblings and their spouses would gather with their mother (my grandma) around the kitchen table for a rousing game of penny poker.
Oh, the laughter! Oh, the chiding! Oh, sound of coins and cards hitting the table and ice cubes clinking in glasses!
Auntie M. also was quite the fisherwoman. She and her husband had a cabin of sorts along a lake (in addition to their family home), and they loved spending time reeling in fish, which she promptly battered and fried (more yummy smells!)
One of Auntie M.’s favorite expressions was “cotton pickin’.” Only years later did I realize it was her way of protecting us kids from some of the not-so-nice words flying from the mouths of my other relatives!
My mom talked to Auntie M. the evening before her collapse. She said she’d had a wonderful day visiting with her kids and their kids, and she was looking forward to getting together wih my mom over Christmas, to share a few laughs, catch up on old times, and do sisterly things.
It wasn’t to be.
While we mourn for the woman who left us, we rejoice that she’s no longer in pain, that she’s reunited with her beloved husband and parents, and that one day, we’ll see her again.
This is the hope of Christmas, that the Baby lying in the manger came to free us from death and draw us to Himself forever.
Merry Christmas 2010 to all my family and friends!