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  • Pine Cones and Pennies

    December 30, 2008

    If I am to be honest, I would have to say that this was not the merriest Christmas on record.  Having said that, we are well and we are fed, so it’s also not the worst Christmas on record either.

    I will not bother to whine about the particulars because I doubt that I am the only person in America who has been slapped upside the head by life lately or that my woes are worthy of mention compared to those that I know many of you are suffering.

    In addition to all that, shortly after lunch on Christmas day, my mother-in-law’s twin brother came to the backdoor unannounced.   Aunt Jean and I were in the kitchen washing up the lunch dishes when Uncle Leo appeared in the doorway.

    I could see in his face that he had come to deliver the news we had all been expecting.  “Pearl is gone,” he said quietly and matter-of-factly.  After a long illness and untold suffering, Aunt Pearl had finally yielded the pain of this life to the sweet relief of death. And I did not blame her. She was 85-years-old.

    Later that afternoon, AD and Sean and I went for a walk around the block to clear our heads and to see if we could find our misplaced merry.  The sun sparkled brightly through leafless trees and the December air was cold and cleansing; its sting felt good on my face.  AD and I walked hand-in-hand, listening to Sean chatter as he trotted ahead of us, collecting pine cones for me to carry home.

    Before we were home, I realized that next year and in the years to come,  I won’t remember the sorrows of this season, for they too shall pass.  I will only remember how Sean’s hair shimmered like a brand new penny under the winter sun and the prickly feel of a pine cone pressed into my hand.

    * * *

    What will you remember of this holiday season?

    A Children Ache

    December 28, 2008

    Every night before bedtime, and sometimes before school, Sean and AD will read at least one chapter from a book of children’s classics.

    Having gone through most of the other more exciting and well known titles, we are down to Pollyanna. But he is just as enthralled with Pollyanna as he was with The Swiss Family Robinson.

    Stepping up to chapter books like Tom Sawyer and Oliver Twist has presented many opportunities to talk about some of the more unsavory and unpleasant aspects of life.  Many of the characters are orphaned or suffer cruelty at the hands of those who should protect them.  And there is always a concern to AD and me over how much of this kind of information is appropriate for a five-year-old.

    But the thing about Sean that continually amazes us is how wise he is beyond his years and how tenderly perceptive he is about the human condition and matters of the heart.  Although we would certainly like to claim credit for that,  it’s simply the way God made him.

    If you don’t recall or haven’t read the story of Pollyanna, she is a young girl who was orphaned and goes to live with her Aunt Polly who is a cold and crusty middle-aged spinster.  Aunt Polly suffered a thwarted romance early in her life which left her bitter and she has never gotten over it.  Aunt Polly has a big house, yet she makes Pollyanna sleep in a hot, stuffy, bleak attic and in general gives Pollyanna no affection.  Nonetheless, as the story goes, it is Pollyanna’s way to see the silver lining in every gray cloud.

    At one point in the story, AD stopped reading and looked over the book at Sean who was lying in bed.  “Why do you suppose Aunt Polly is so gruff?” he asked.

    “I think she has a children ache,” Sean said quietly.

    “Oh Sean,” AD sighed, “I think you are so right. A lot of times when people are gruff on the outside, and sad or mean, it’s because they are hurting on the inside.”

    It’s true. I had a children ache once too.

    Gentleness

    December 24, 2008

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    “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”  Philippians 4:5

    Better Than Coupons: How To Save Money In Target

    December 23, 2008

    Everyone is tightening up their budgets these days and I am no exception. However I have a unique system for avoiding spending which I’m willing to share with you as a service to humanity.

    When I go into Target, but I really don’t want to spend any money, I get a cart. There are no guarantees in life, except for this:  If I push a wonky germy cart all over the store I will find nothing. Nothing. And then I will abandon the cart somewhere in housewares and then leave the store having not spent one dime (except for the regular coffee with room for cream and the petit vanilla scone at the in-store Starbucks – which is sustenance people, not spending per se.  And for the record per se means “true in circumstance” which means somewhat not true.)

    However.

    If I don’t get a cart, I will find everything I’ve ever been looking for, for 75% off.  So if you are in Target and you see someone making her way towards the registers with her arms overflowing and attempting to carry stuff on her head and you are wondering why she just doesn’t get a cart – that’s me working out the details on my new economic theory.

    shopper

    Now you may be thinking, why not just stay home, why not just not go to Target.  Haven’t quite worked out that part either.

    Fashion Gifts I Don’t Want For Christmas

    December 21, 2008

    Skinny Jeans. In my ill-informed fashion opinion, skinny jeans are for skinny people — tall, long-legged, skinny people. I’ve never been tall or long-legged and I’m no longer skinny. I’m guessing there are probably only two other people besides Heidi Klum who should be wearing skinny jeans. Oprah and I are not those two people.

    Leggings. See above. I bought leggings the first time around and I’m not falling for that again.

    A shrug
    .  For one thing, it’s a sweater, and it’s not even a whole sweater.  It’s like 1/3 of a sweater.  It’s like the thong of the sweater world — another prank played upon women by the fashion industry.

    Any sweater or sweatshirt that has little bells sewn to the front.

    Anything from Victoria’s Secret.  I do not want to open a pair of cashmere undies in front of my father-in-law and then have to exclaim, “Oh! It’s just what I wanted! It’s just my size!  I can’t wait to try these on!” And if I won’t dry clean a sweater, I certainly am not going to dry clean undies.

    Fashion boots – is that what they are even called?  The kind that go up to your knee and have 3-inch heels?  You can have my share of fashion boots and I’ll admire yours.  I’m pretty sure just the fact that I’m using the term “fashion boots” means I shouldn’t be allowed to own a pair.  I’ll stick to my cowboy boots and hiking boots while I anxiously await the return of flip flop season.

    Adult footsie pajamas.

    Toe socks.

    Uggs — aptly named because they are UGGly. I would never put those on my feet unless I was stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. And only then, not because they would keep me warm, but because they are so ugly even a hungry bear would turn away.

    Diamond earrings – I would lose one before the end of the day and then I would have to feel badly about that and I’m opposed to feeling badly.

    Make-up kits that have 25 different eye shadows.

    Because I am a positive and upbeat person, I will leave you with one fashion item I would like for Christmas. I would like to have a new chenille bathrobe as my current one has bald patches and leaves a trail of pink fuzz everywhere I go.

    * * *

    So then tell me, what is one fashion item you would not like to get for Christmas (or the winter holiday of your choice) and one that you would.

    Gray Day

    December 19, 2008

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    This is a Christmas ornament that for some reason is hanging in my dining room window.  Other than cropping, this photo is right out of the box – it’s been just that still and colorless around here the past few days.

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    And now, thanks to Picasa, it’s an icy day!

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    And now? It’s a sunny day! Much better. Improve your attitude with Picasa.

    Random Christmas Stuff About Me You Weren’t Really Itching To Know

    December 17, 2008

    I’ve never owned a Christmas sweater. I’ve always felt like maybe I should have one. On several occasions I’ve even carried one around the store.  But I just can’t seem to take the plunge.  Just seems like too big of a commitment.

    As well, I’ve never owned a pair of Christmas earrings, little dangling bulbs or ornaments or whatever.  I guess I’m not all about festive after all.

    The red turtleneck is my standard holiday party outfit.

    I’ve always wanted some nice Christmas china but never wanted to spend the big bucks on it or spend a lifetime collecting it.  Since it’s unlikely that I would inherit or win a set in a raffle, about 10 years ago I bought four boxes of $20/box  Christmas “china” and I love it.  We use it all through December. It makes every meal of the season a little brighter and the best part? I worry not one bit about breaking it.

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    See how festive a reindeer pancake can look on cheap Christmas china – does that not just scream Joyeux Noel y’all? It does, you know it does.

    The best thing I ever did was buy a 6ft pre-lit tree for $30 at Target for Sean when he was three. It’s his tree. He’s got a box of soft and unbreakable ornaments and he can decorate and undecorated it to his heart’s content all season long.  He can put all the ornaments on one branch and I will not twitch nor will I flinch.  He can even pull it over on himself and no harm done. This $30 tree has ratcheted down the freak out level around here substantially.

    I hate wrapping gifts. I have not bought wrapping paper in 15 years.  I love the gift bag – the bag that keeps on giving gifts.  Economic, easy, re-useable and no tape.

    However, I love ribbon and can’t seem to stop myself from buying it.

    I took four years of piano lessons in my early 30s just so that I could play Christmas songs. I’m not very good, but I enjoy it immensely, even if no one else does.

    I don’t like to sing, but I love to sing Christmas songs.  I enjoy it immensely, even if no one else does.

    I do not like Christmas shopping.  Truthfully, I don’t like the gifts part of Christmas.  The only time gift giving is not awkward to me is when it is spontaneous and not reciprocal.

    My favorite memory of Christmas from when I was a child was going to Midnight Mass with my Godparents and coming home to drink hot chocolate and eat pizelles.

    Three things always on my Christmas list:  inexpensive earrings, a tree ornament, books (art/photography books, poetry, cookbooks are my favorites).

    The first year we were married, I warned AD to never buy me anything for Christmas that plugs in. Over the years, my stance on appliances has changed. I wouldn’t mind having a power washer.

    When I was about five, I got a red velvet dress and a white rabbit fur muff for Christmas.  I only remember one or two other Christmas gifts which confirms my theory that sweating over finding the perfect gift is a waste of energy. Chances are you don’t even remember what you got for Christmas by the next day, let alone the year before.

    On December 26th, I will be itching to box it all up and get back to routine. On January 2nd AD and I will have our annual fight about when the boxing up should occur.  He will lobby for a day in March.  On January 3rd, he will concede.

    Sean was due on Christmas day. He is by far the best gift of my entire life, because indeed, every good and perfect gift is from above.

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    * * * *

    If you’ve made it this far, tell me some random holiday factoid about yourself.

    It Doesn’t Get Much Better

    December 16, 2008

    Awhile back our church had a food drive of some sort and there were rows of filled grocery sacks lined up in the lobby.  As we walked past,  Sean noticed  that one of the sacks had a big bag of marshmallows on top.  “Oh Mom!” he exclaimed, “Do you think we could get some marshmallows some day?”  I told him I thought we might be able to swing that.

    * * *

    For his recent birthday,  he said he wanted a headset that had a mouthpiece so he could be an air traffic controller.  No problem.  I dug out an old telephone headset from the obsolete electronics box, wrapped it up and called it a birthday.  And he was thrilled.  Since then, many an airplane has been safely landed in my den.

    * * *

    And this! This is what he said he wants for Christmas. It just so happens that his teacher at school has one.

    handpointer

    A trip to the teacher store this morning and $3.99 and my Christmas shopping is done.  Oh I’ll get him something else too — what kind of mom do you think I am?   I’ll probably spring for a nice orange or maybe even a new pair of underwear.

    * * *

    These days when I can make his every wish come true are golden, especially given that I can grant any wish for for $5 or less.  When his desires move beyond a bag of marshmallow or a roll of scotch tape, I could be in trouble.

    Fake And Sparkly Not Necessarily A Bad Thing

    December 15, 2008

    One day last week, Sean and I spent the afternoon putting up Christmas decorations.  I used to really enjoy decking the halls, but I have come to a point in life where it seems to be more work than fun.

    As I root through box after box of stuff, I wonder if hanging fake glittery stuff on a fake tree only to be removed and boxed up again in 30 days is a good use of my time and energy, both of which seem to be in short supply these days.  Sparkle and glitter and garland is not really what the season is about after all.

    But then I look at my little five-year-old boyfriend who is totally into Christmas and the decorating and how he is thrilled with each ornament, even the cruddy ones. I realize then that it’s worth it because one day too soon he will be too busy or too cool to spend an afternoon decorating for Christmas with his mama.  And oh how I will rue the day.

    That thought however did not stop me from lying down on the living room floor in an attempt to stave off that spinning sensation of being overwhelmed that often comes with the holidays but this year seems to be magnified in light of the economy and world and personal events.

    As I lay there on the floor trying to create some order in my mind so that I might create some order in my life, Sean wanders over and straddles me with his hands on his hips.  I feel like the worker who has been caught napping in the janitor’s closet.  He  plops down on my tummy.  He leans over and looks me square in the face.  He searches my face with a furrowed brow, lips pursed in concern.  I’m afraid that he knows, that I’ve not done a good job of keeping my adult worries and cynicism to myself.

    “Mom?” he asks as he leans over me.

    “Yes?” I say, bracing myself.

    “Did you know that you have farkles on your face?”

    He draws his face closely into mine and like a surgeon,  he ever so delicately plucks a dot of glitter from my cheek.

    “See?” he says, holding his be-glittered finger one inch from my eyeball, “Farkles!”

    He jumps up, ready to keep going.

    “C’mon mom, let’s keep decorating!” he cries with glee as he tugs on my arm.

    This boy, he is good medicine for a bad attitude.

    I decide that for him, that I would do a better job of at least pretending to find joy in the fake and sparkly, that I would be careful not spoil these few precious years in his life when the world is small and uncomplicated and magical.

    So for now, for the boy, my attitude shall be like my tree — fake and sparkly.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    The Sweater

    December 12, 2008

    The following post was originally published November 2007.

    * * * * *

    I have a love-hate relationship. With sweaters.

    They catch my eye in the store. They are so pretty. They call to me, “Pssst! Hey you! Over here! Touch me! You know you want to – I’m soft, you’ll like it. Trust me.”

    Never trust a sweater, trust ME on this.

    And like a sailor who can’t resist the call of the Sirens, I am unable to resist the call of the sweaters.

    So I sidle over to the rack and pull out just the sleeve of one lovely limey green cashmere and yes, I confess, I pet it, right there in TJMaxx. And then I rub it lightly on my cheek. I pull it from the rack and free it from the acrylic and cable knits and the lesser sweaters. I hold it up. To my heart. I sniff it! I embrace it! And yes! Yes! Yes! It is soft. It is beautiful. And then I imagine for a moment that I too will be soft and beautiful wearing it.

    I waltz The Sweater to the register, stopping to dip only once. Then I hand over my credit card signifying my promise to love The Sweater forever. I place the new limey green love of my life right next to me on the car seat, patting and stroking it as I drive it home where we will begin our life together. Joy abounds.

    When I get The Sweater home, I put it on. I look in the mirror. I am soft and not altogether hideous beautiful in The Sweater. We are a lovely couple, The Sweater and I. Even Antique Daddy thinks so. He cannot resist The Sweater either. He wants to pet it too. But then again, he likes to pet the coffee stained t-shirt I wear. Yet, still. It is my new sweater and I am in love.

    The next day, things begin to sour between The Sweater and me.  The Sweater is high maintenance.  The Sweater is needy. The Sweater wants to be washed. By hand. With special soap. Or better yet, The Sweater wants to be taken to the dry cleaners, which we all know is just a spa for sweaters. If anyone is going to the spa, it’s me and not The Sweater.

    I sigh loudly and then I run a warm bubble bath for The Sweater.

    The Sweater can’t go in the dryer like the other laundry. Oh no, The Sweater wants to be laid out flat to dry, on a special little hammock, not for just one, but two days. The Sweater needs to reshape in a quiet place. The Sweater must not be disturbed. Shhh! Be quiet! Do not talk to The Sweater – it is lying flat and reshaping and can not be bothered.

    After The Sweater has fully recovered from its singular wearing experience, I must now find The Sweater a suitable abode. The Sweater cannot just move in with the t-shirts! No, The Sweater has to have its own place, preferably something with cedar.

    And that’s when I have had enough of The Sweater. The Sweater no longer controls me.

    I slam dunk The Sweater into a plastic bin, along with Sweaters past, and then I shove the lid down tight so I can’t hear their screams.  I turn and walk away. I no longer care about the needs of The Sweater. I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling for The Sweater, for all sweaters.  I promise myself that I won’t be fooled by a sweater again.

    I still have feelings for Hanes.