A Christmas story for 2017

A dear friend gave me this adorable mini tree, which I love. If you look closely at the antique glass beads, you see bits of candle wax, left from days of lighting trees with candles.

Every Christmas, I think, has its own story. Some happy, some downright funny, some even occasionally sad. This year, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and that you have time for one more holiday story. I couldn’t tell this sooner, because it took until now to unfold.

Christmas 2017 flew by in a rush of excited little boys, lots of legos, snow flakes, champagne corks, and last minute cookies. After the “dust had settled” as my dad would say, and I got over my Christmas cold, disposed of the paper and boxes, and the returns had (mostly) been taken care of, I was thinking about the blessings of the last year, and what I might blog about, when a lightbulb went off in my head.

As has become the custom, my husband, my daughter and I traveled from Chicago to Ohio to spend the holiday with my son, his wife and our grandsons aged 4 and “almost” 7. Jack & Ben’s excitement is palpable and exhausting. It’s also magical. (Has Santa left yet? Where do you think his sleigh is right now? China? Antarctica? Do you think Santa would like a star cookie or a snowman? How many carrots for his reindeer?)

After an early start and a longer than average drive, we pulled into their Ohio driveway. First one and then two boys were bouncing in the window (I love this welcome). By the time we got in the door my daughter-in-law was sweeping up a broken ornament, the casualty of that exuberant welcome.

Since Columbus is my daughter-in-law’s home, we’re also joined on Christmas by her mother (otherwise known as Grandma B), her sister and brother-in-law, her Aunt Rosie and cousin Joe. There are at least three or four conversations going on, along with the beeping, honking or hum of some vehicle Santa has left under the tree. There are more presents to open, toys to show off, toasts to be made and news share. We’ve added extra chairs to the table and the little boys will eat at their own table. Now, this is Christmas.

(I’m just setting the stage here, but the lightbulb is about to click.)

Although I have no siblings, I grew up celebrating Christmas surrounded by an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends who were family. I miss that. I love, and am so glad, that we have been embraced by Jen’s family. Though I think all of us — in Chicago and Columbus — would find it strange to celebrate any other way, I know not every family does.

In this, we are blessed.

I have to admit that my first few Christmases in Columbus were a challenge. I missed opening packages under our tree. I missed being the hostess. I missed having my family at my table. But then I realized I was just missing the past — my parents, my grandparents and my aunt & uncle. I had lost the last of them before we adopted this new tradition which I now realize we are so lucky to have. This is the shape our family has taken.

I hope your holiday story included time with family and/or friends-who-are-family, on Christmas or another day, because there are no rules in these holiday stories.

Thanks for stopping by to read my Christmas story. I’ll see you in the New Year!

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From pumpkins to Christmas Curtains

My non-orange pumpkin patch.

How elaborate is your “fall decorating?”

When my son was 3 he asked if we could do some Halloween “decoration-ing” like his friend Brian’s mother did. So, we bought a few of those colorful pumpkin/black cat/witch cutouts to hang in the windows and a smiling skeleton (because you wouldn’t want to scare the 3-year-old) to hang on the font door. Done!

After a few years, we upped the ante, using a bale of straw as a seat for a scarecrow and “artfully” propping cornstalks in a few places. That was outside. I began to collect a variety of over-size dried gourds for inside. Then I traded the bale of straw and scarecrow for my own pumpkin patch, adding several of them to the landscape in early October.

Now we have morphed into pumpkins inside and out, especially decorative if they are not orange but rather green or white. (I even have a large pink one this year!) And we go to great lengths to get them to last until, hopefully, Thanksgiving. And I do fuss over a fruit and/or vegetable and/or floral centerpiece here and there. But I don’t make  point of adding seasonal throws to the furniture or even own fall pillows for the sofa. I don’t even have a single potted mum this year.

One “real” pumpkin with my ceramic ones from a Kentucky artisan.

Is this some sort of rebellion on my part? I am after all the person with files — electronic and paper — on her favorite rooms and decorators. (Thanks to Pinterest I can efficiently call up gallery walls, tabletop vignettes and mantels.) And I can spend hours rearranging books, collectables, and whatever on a shelf.

The Christmas Curtains

I was mentally making fun of all this when I remembered my grandmother’s seasonal change of curtains. Sometime in early November, she would start plotting the hanging of the Christmas Curtains. (And I say “plotting,” because the change of curtains required the assistance of my mother and/or my uncle to accomplish. My grandparents lived in an old, shot-gun cottage in Chicago, with high ceilings and tall, narrow windows. Grandma no longer did ladders, but it was fine with her if someone else did.)

The Christmas curtains I remember were sturdy barkcloth with red poinsettias and deep green leaves on a white ground. (And in truth, if my adult self had seen them on their way out, I would have rescued them and found a way to use them at my own house!) First, the living room and dining room windows and woodwork needed to be washed and/or polished before hanging the curtains, because who would hang nice, clean curtains on a window that could be dirty? (Thus making it even more of a project.)

Because these were Christmas Curtains, the process had to be repeated in January to hang the Winter Curtains. Then in the Spring, came the Easter Curtains. And, I think, there were separate Summer Curtains, though she may have eventually given them up. This was Julia’s salute to the seasons, so perhaps I come by this seasonal urge genetically.

No images of Christmas curtains, but here are my Grandmother and Grandfather with a Christmas tree in 1943 or 1944. This is a favorite photo. I love those smiles. War-time holidays were melancholy, but these two always made the most of every holiday.

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother and her curtains. To us it may seem an odd choice. If she knew how infrequently I wash or otherwise freshen up the few curtains I do have and how many of my windows are frankly unadorned, she would be wagging her finger at me. But in my grandmother’s day curtains were one of the few ways she could indulge in a little decorative pizzazz. And she liked that.

So I’m thinking that though she would have found my alternatively-colored pumpkins a little odd, she would have liked the idea of a pumpkin patch and maybe even a scarecrow.

My pumpkins will stay outside at least until the squirrels devour them. The gourds will remain in place inside until Thanksgiving weekend, when ready or not my husband will start bringing up Christmas boxes. And we’ll probably eat turkey leftovers on the Spode Christmas Tree plates.

What about you, are you holding off on Christmas until after Thanksgiving?

Thanks so much for stopping by! See you soon.

Today the topic is Mother’s Day

Mom, shortly before she retired at 67.

Sometimes I struggle for a blog topic…

And sometimes I have too many.

That’s where I am today. Then I realized Mother’s Day really is “just around the corner,” so here I am. And here’s the truth: I have a love/hate thing going with Mother’s Day.

On the one hand, I think it’s wonderful that we stop, take a breath, and think about the impact of all the mothers in our lives. Not just my mom (whom I described at her memorial service as a “great dame”), but also my grandmother, who taught me so much about making room at the table (literally and figuratively) and my mother-in-law, who taught in a rural elementary school to pay her way through the University of Georgia during the Depression.

On the other hand, I think the Hallmark-card, gift-giving, Sunday-brunch side of Mother’s Day can be exhausting, expensive and — yes, I’ll say it — stressful. It’s about expectations, of course, and I’m as guilty as anyone. There were so many years when I was working and hosting a family dinner, buying presents, sending cards, and admittedly also being “feted” by my own kids (the free breakfasts at MacDonald’s really were the best!).

Later, when my kids were away at school and then off launching their adult lives in other cities, a friend expressed regret that they “would not be home for Mother’s Day.” That gave me pause; was she serious? Was it a “coming home” kind of holiday or a “don’t-forget-to-call-Mom-Sunday.” I vote for the latter. Let’s not get crazy about this. (As a mother, I was pretty proud of the fact that my son and daughter were out there succeeding on their own in the world.)

One of the really great things about my mom was that she was more than happy to dial back expectations. I took this lesson to heart. She understood how tough and “unnecessary” (one of her favorite words) some of this “fussing” could be.

Mom had a demanding career running a major department in a hospital. She was very, very good at what she did. She took her responsibilities seriously and often worked weekends and holidays. And she did it starting in the early sixties, when most women did not work outside the home. My dad always backed her up, but I think it was often a somewhat lonely stance. It took years for her friends and family to really understand and appreciate her professionalism. Mom, Dad and I learned years ago how to “bend” a celebration around other circumstances.

Celebrating the mother, not the day

I offered a glimpse into my mom, here, where I talked about her example of a lifelong friendship, and now you know a little about her career. Mom’s experience as a working woman was a huge support to me throughout my working life. She understood the ying and yang between family and work. She understood the pride in a job well done and the flip side, when you were having a truly horrible day.

One of my favorite memories of my mother’s work advice came on just such a day for me. I cannot even remember all that was going wrong, just that my day was totally off the rails and she happened to call me. I was pretty abrupt about what a bad day I was having and she sympathized.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, then added, “Maybe you could just crawl under your desk and hide for awhile.”

Looong pause.

We both burst out laughing, and suddenly I had my perspective back. A little Mom wisdom, a little Mom humor, then get back up, put one foot in front of the other, and move on.

I’ve remembered that afternoon call so many times since, especially the laugh that followed. It still makes me smile. Thanks, Mom.

Wishing you a wonderful Mother’s Day and a few quiet moments to remember the mothers in your life.

See you next time.