Scaling Back

While Dad and I were putting up our outside lights today, it was getting more and more unpleasant because a cold wind was blowing and the lights were getting more and more tangled. As we moved inside to work on the tangles, both of us began to complain  about aches in various body parts.  We tried to joke about the situation, and Dad said he felt like we were in the middle of a Carol Burnett skit. He was Tim Conway. (I know that all of you are too young to get the reference, so check it out on YouTube)

We moved inside to work on the tree, and I observed that more branches no longer fitting into the fake trunk. There are more needles on the floor than last year, and I wonder how many years are left. Dad says this all makes the tree appear more realistic. I think it is a metaphor about our lives.

The lights are up and I place the red and gold beads on the tree alone, because Dad’s aching bones needed a rest. I am writing my thoughts to you now so I have the evening free to watch last night’s episode of Madam Secretary. The real reason, to be honest, is that I am a bit sore myself.  But I want to get this tree done so it is all up and ready for Lily’s visit tomorrow, so I can’t rest for long.

I recall those days when I strung up popcorn and cranberries and we made homemade ornaments. It was back then that I made dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies and sent out a ton of Christmas cards. That’s not happening to that extent any more. I told Dad that I am thinking of sending cards only to people older than eighty-five.

I thought decorating the tree was now becoming a chore, but as I looked at the ornaments, I realized I was wrong. Each one was a memory.

I saw Jamie’s “baby’s 11th and 13th Chrismas” ornaments and smiled. I saw the wooden Peanuts characters and recalled making them and giving a set to the mother of Dad’s friend in Salt Lake City. Several ceramic ornaments brought me back to those days of going to those ceramic classes, while others reminded me of trips I took and brought back souvenir ornaments.

I look forward to the songs as well as watching the movies, particularly my favorites: Love Actually, The Holiday, and White Christmas. None of us likes A Christmas Story, a revelation which I think was quite shocking to Geoff. I promised him I will give it another try.

So now it’s back to work. Are all of you in the Christmas spirit yet?

I Don’t Really Hate Kids

“I hate kids” was a common phrase that my mother says along with “don’t spill the wine,” “in my next life I am coming back as a man,” and “shit and shinola.” (And those are just a sampling of her greatest hits.)

After the particularly short night we had on Christmas Eve this year, I’d like to give you my thoughts on her most famous saying.

I don’t hate kids. I love you all—my kids, my in-law kids, and my grandkids. I would always laugh when my mom would express her hatred of all kids because I always knew in my heart that she was joking—mostly! However, just for a few moments on Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day morning this year, I shared that sentiment.

During the past few Christmases, our house has been Santa’s annex, since it would be difficult to explain the arrival of so many packages at the doorstep of a home with curious children. Both last year and this year my home has also served as Santa’s workshop since it is the perfect place to assemble some too-big-to-hide toys such as one very huge kitchen set and a three-story dollhouse.

Dad and I had to be involved in assisting Santa in transporting these gifts from our house to the house with the wee little ones. Last year, the kitchen set fit into the back of my car with just an inch to spare on either side and had to be taken into and out of the car by two very strong he-men.

This year—the year I briefly hated kids—we were faced with the problem of a child who was too excited to fall asleep until nearly 11:30, so Dad and I stayed up way past our bedtime in our clothes instead of in our heated-by-the-drier- pajamas. And in order to be able to witness the excitement of the children’s first view of the toys underneath the Christmas tree, we had to set our alarms for 5 am. That is when those infamous words of my mother ever so briefly popped into my head.

Just like that excited little boy, I also could not fall asleep because of those visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. Christmas Day 2018 confirmed that five hours of sleep is just not enough for me. However, when one not-quite-three-year-old little girl bypassed her presents under the tree to screech my name with excitement and run towards me after she came down the stairs, my hatred of kids melted away faster than a dish of Moose Tracks ice cream on a very hot Carolina summer day.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Happy!

Almost Done

The Christmas tree is up, my ceramic tree, Santas, snowmen, angels, and nativity set are scattered throughout the house.  The stockings are hung by the fireplace with care.

The outside lights have been shining brightly for more than a week, albeit less than previous years. I just could not decorate the porch with the garland lights in time to beat the rain and cold weather.

This morning I completed my Christmas cards and placed them in the mail slot at the post office, but I sent out much less than when we were first married and a stamp cost just fifteen cents. I did not even know until today that there had been an increase to fifty cents this year. I had been unaware because I had only purchased postcard stamps in 2018, which was to support some of my favorite candidates.

The presents have been purchased (except for one certain birthday gift) but not yet wrapped. The cookies have not been baked because we are waiting until the weekend to complete that task with the kiddies.

My first book, Do Svidanya Dad has had a facelift and given a new name: Trapped in Russia. I think the new title is not as confusing as the old because I feel that not all readers have a clue about the meaning of do svidanya.

My final accomplishment has been to publish a selection of my favorite stories from this blog—152 of the now 415 postings I have written since its inception 3 ½ years ago.

They can all be read here on your computer, or you can purchase a paperback or Kindle version (free for my Amazon Prime readers).

And as my Russian grandmother would say, “Happy Happy!”

Hurry Hurry Hurry

Hurry, hurry, hurry, everyone! Today is November 2, so the Christmas season has officially begun. I became acutely aware of this yesterday when I started channel-surfing on my car radio and discovered that the Christmas station is already up and running. (Channel 4 for anyone interested.) I am already late in acknowledging this.

So toss out those pumpkins before they rot. Take down those Halloween wreaths from your front doors and put away your costumes and decorations. Eat that candy before you begin baking the cookies. Begin creating your Christmas lists for Santa and your loved ones.

Should I even bother displaying my Thanksgiving decorations—the ceramic pilgrims and tacky Mr. Rushmore salt and pepper shakers that I love? It’s time to put up those outdoor lights and drag out the Christmas tree. Hurry, hurry, hurry, before it’s too late!


Another Christmas- Tweaking the Traditions Again

Most of my presents are wrapped, the cards which will be sent are out (so much less than in the early years of my marriage in this digital age of sending greetings via Facebook and email), and today, Dad and I went out to purchase our 2016 hors d’oeuvres. That tradition has been tweaked based upon our audience, and now that we are officially Southerners, we are having a grits-based appetizer prepared by our Louisiana Southern man.

When you were all young, we would pick up Grandma and head to a late-afternoon Christmas Eve mass (except for that year when I forgot her), while Dad remained home to prepare the feast. Afterwards, we would go on the drive to check out the lights and luminaries in Boonton Twp. It was always quite spectacular, and I truly believe that participation in that event must be part of the contract when anyone purchases a home on that street.

This year, we will have our appetizer-feast at lunchtime at our house, so that we can head off to church early to see Bryce sing in the church choir—an event I am anxiously awaiting. I think he will not bolt to his mom and dad, but we will see!

Then they will head home to put out their cookies for Santa. I am wondering if that tradition will be accompanied by music like you all did—“Alvin and the Chipmunks” in the early years followed by the more sophisticated “March of the Toy Soldiers” from the Nutcracker later on. (Check out Cookies for Santa and Such for more details about Christmases in our days of yore.)

Then Dad and I will go home by ourselves this year, and we will settle down to at least one Christmas movie. Will it be one of my favorites (Love Actually or The Holiday), Dad’s Christmas flick (Die Hard), or a classic (The Santa Clause, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life)?

I am not complaining this year. Life is full of changes, and we saw all of you a lot this year. Truly I am good with this. I have nothing to complain about and look forward to another good year and a new hip.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all of you. See you in 2017. (You can’t deny that this is the perfect card this year based on the publication of my book!)


Time to Whine

It’s that time of the year: time for me to begin whining and complaining already. How did this happen so soon? I realize I should have known when I saw the Christmas decorations begin to appear shortly after Labor Day and then a few weeks ago when “The Love” station on Sirius radio switched to Christmas music.

As you all know, Christmas is not my favorite time of the year because of the shopping. I hate to shop! Oh how I really wish Santa was real! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike all that is Christmas. I enjoy the music (just not in September), getting presents, the lights (just not dragging them up and decorating the bushes and trees outside), and the Christmas movies.

But it’s not the same anymore. I remember when the three of you were little, and you all loved going through the JC Penney Christmas catalog each year, each of you carefully circling the toys you wanted Santa to bring to you. That helped me tremendously in knowing what you wanted.

Now you are spread near and far, so I don’t hear anyone dropping hints nor do I see anyone carefully circling their secret wishes in a catalog. I try to come up with clever gifts, but it is just so difficult.

I don’t make the spread of cookies any more—mostly because there are not a lot of little mouths in my household or at the Christmas Day dinner at our house to scoff up the chocolate chip, spritz, peanut butter kisses, chocolate candy canes, and oatmeal cookies that I always began baking weeks before Christmas and stored in the freezer. Also, now Dad and I need to worry about the extra pounds which seem to now settle around our waists more and more each year.

We have our own favorite movies—Love Actually and The Holiday—are two of my nontraditional now classics which we enjoy.

Dad still makes our Christmas Eve hors d’oeuvres, and we now have the next generation of children to watch as they visit Santa at the zoo (our new Southern tradition) and see their excitement on Christmas morning.

I will try really, really hard to remember these fun parts of Christmas when the shopping Grinch begins to creep my way.

Evolution of a Holiday

I guess Casey inherited her dislike of change from me, at least when it comes to the holidays. Although I am surprised that I have enjoyed moving around so much—living in 5 states—I don’t like all the changes in my holiday celebrations. Can’t I just choose a point in time and freeze it? So I thought that if I review the evolution of Christmas through my life, maybe I will feel better.

When I was very young, Grandma and Grandpa would take me to see Santa in Morristown. In the center of town was “The Green,” or Morristown’s answer to Central Park. Santa had an annex to the North Pole there, complete with elves and the biggest wooden rocking horses you ever saw. I loved going to visit Santa there.

I do not believe any of my siblings went to that Santa Land. I believe they visited Santa at another satellite house located in Grace Lord Park in Boonton. (Change #1) Every year, his house magically appeared there, and that is where we visited him sometime after Aunt Ar was born.

We had no special Christmas Eve traditional meals or any Christmas traditions for that matter. All that I recall is that we were given a time when we were permitted to come downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought us. Grandma and Grandpa were not strict, but that was one rule you just didn’t break—except for one particular Christmas. I was the culprit.

I remember tip toeing down those very steep stairs and peaking around the corner into the living room. The unwrapped presents were all under the tree (Santa never bothered to wrap our presents!), and next to the tree were Grandma and Grandpa. How could that be? Their explanation, which to this day I believe, was that they were fast asleep when suddenly, “from out on the lawn there arose such a clatter.” Naturally, “they sprang from their beds to see what was the matter,” and there in our living room were presents galore. Of course, I believed them. My parents would never lie.

One Christmas, Aunt El and Uncle Mart (perhaps Uncle Dave too) got up early, but they knew they could not venture downstairs. So they passed the time playing a board game in the bathtub until the anointed time arrived.

During the week when we were on our Christmas vacation, we would all take turns visiting the houses of our cousins so we could check out the loot that Santa brought to them. Grandma said that usually someone would mess up the plans by getting sick, but I guess we still hit as many houses as possible.

As the years passed, and our extended family grew, we stopped visiting every aunt, uncle and cousin. So that was change #2.  I think the logistics just got too hard. A new tradition was born and we all survived.

Then we started to grow up, get married, and now began to add the in-laws. Stay tuned for more.

Christmas- 19 Kids and 13 Adults
Christmas 1959