Thursday, December 30, 2010

Undecorating the House

I'm in that tweeny time, between Christmas and New Year's. I begin decorating the house for Christmas on Thanksgiving weekend. Whatever I get out and in place is what I do for the holidays. This year, I was prolific. Heck!

Now, I have to take it down. I keep looking at everything and wondering if I should do this in one convulsive effort on New Year's Day. Or, should I begin slowly and clear out that which catches my eye.

I mean, I could strip the linens from the table, pull up the sheet under the tree and throw the Santa hat chair back covers into the washer. That would take care of some of the squishy stuff.

Or, I could pack away the Victorian carolers and clear off an entire table top. And I could put away the winter gourd collection. And take down one of the Navitiy scenes. That would undecorate an entire room.

Or, I could put away the twelve teddy bears that line the staircase. Wow! That would be another entire "room" undecorated.

Or, I could continue packing up things to take to Goodwill. I promised that if I received replacements for anything, I would evaluate the original to see if it had life in it for another family. I got many replacements, so packing up goodies for Goodwill would bring two-fold satisfaction: I can get rid of things I don't need and provide retail therapy for others.

Or, I could update the Christmas card list. (I've already written and mailed my thank you notes, so that's not on the list of stuff left to do.) Or, I could put away the last of the gifts that are still scattered across the living room floor.

Or, I could have a nap. With a purring cat on my lap.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Past

My mother has been gone for over seven years, yet I woke up at four this morning thinking about all the wonderful Christmases we shared when I was a child. We didn't have much, but we had love and fun and time together.

My mother raised me alone. My father, the sperm donor, left the family before I was a year old. I spent many of my formative years in a house filled with women: a grandmother, an aunt, a mother, and me.

As Christmas grew closer, the bestest odors came from the kitchen. Mother made terrific tollhouse cookies. She wasn't fancy. She just used the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip package. She let me eat a little bit of raw cookie dough. We didn't know it was bad for us. So far, it hasn't killed me. Grandmother made peanut butter and oatmeal cookies. I got to press the fork on the peanut butter balls to flatten them and put the criss-cross pattern on them. My aunt baked pies -- apple, pumpkin and cherry. Nothing was low fat.

On Christmas day, my aunt and mother would get up at three in the morning to put the turkey in. My mother always received a turkey from her boss, and it was the biggest damned bird you ever saw. Eventually, the cooks would make stuffing, sweet potato casserole, fresh vegetables (I confess. To this day, I have never had green bean casserole.), creamed peas and onions, tomato aspic. Without all of these foods, it wouldn't have been Christmas. Add pickles and olives on toothpicks stuck in a ceramic rooster and canned cranberry jelly and the table was ready.

With all these aromas floating in the air, what do you think is my favorite Christmas smell?

New crayons. I get a box of new Crayolas every year, along with coloring books. To this day, a box of Crayolas takes me back to Christmas mornings when I was a little kid.

I miss my mother, today as much as any other day. I'd walk a thousand miles to open one more Crayola box from her. I miss you, Mini Mommy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I'm old enough to remember sending out paper Christmas cards. I even wrote letters to go in each. Not a generic Christmas letter, but hand-written personal notes to friends and family. I'd start around November 1 in order to get 100 cards and letters done and mailed.

About a dozen years ago, I wussed out and wrote the generic Christmas letter. Around eight years ago, I turned that task over to my cat. I took more shortcuts: printed labels, return address labels, etc. I also reduced the number of cards sent. I decided if I didn't receive a card, the people to whom I was mailing cards weren't interested in what I was doing. I didn't want to annoy them. This year, I mailed fewer than 50 cards and letters.

What I'm seeing in return is a shift in the way we think about communicating. E-mail used to be a good way of sending notes to our friends. Individual notes with actual news in them. Health updates. Travel updates. A real message addressed to me. I noticed a subtle shift a few years back. More messages came in addressed to me but were clearly generic in nature. Many of my friends discovered the .bcc function in e-mail programs. Notes moved from personal to impersonal.

Time passed and people discovered Facebook and Twitter. Now, I get postings all day long from my friends. It's easy to send out a blast on FB and think you are communicating. You are, but you aren't reaching me on a personal level. Maybe you don't want to. (Think about Obama using the teleprompter instead of looking into the camera. I'm sitting in front of the TV, dammit. LOOK AT ME.)

I've been thinking about this a lot. We've lost the ability to reach people on a personal level. We mistake pokes, and jokes, and forwarded messages for communication. It's not helping us relate to our children. Oh, what's that you say? You just text your kids when you want to get their attention. At the dinner table. In the same room. In the same house. How silly is that?

Know that I'll read your messages with the attention they deserve. And then I will hit the delete key on e-mail to kill a FW: FW: FW: joke or ignore the message on FB.

I was looking through a desk drawer last weekend. It was like an archaeological dig. I discovered a fountain pen that belonged to my great-grandfather. It has a lever to draw ink into the barrel from a bottle that used to sit on his desk. I held it for a long time. What would it be like to sit with fine stationery and write a letter using a fountain pen again? Probably would make the recipient drop dead in shock. I don't want that responsibility.