Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reflections on the New Year...and Resolutions

Today has been one of those days.  Not horrible.  Not even particularly noteworthy.  It has just been "not fun."  Oh, I had fun at lunch with two friends and some great phone conversations tonight that made the day worth getting up and breathing through, but was not my favorite.

Come to think of it...2010 has really not been my favorite year either.  It has had its highlights...and I'm grateful for every blessing, gift, and memory that is of the positive persuasion.  I attended three family weddings this year, got to hold my precious new great-nephew, vacationed at Inlet Beach, visited Austin, Texas, saw my cousin from Pennsylvania, watched University of Alabama win a National Championship, and celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary.  I watched my daughter finish her sophomore year of college and get halfway through her junior year.  She was presented at a ball in July, turned 20, jumped up and down at another great pledge class for her sorority including three great girls from Montgomery, and introduced us to a few new faces that have since come and gone.  My son began his senior year of high school, grew taller than his sister (and heavier), was accepted to three colleges of his choice (Alabama, Auburn and AUM), and managed to amaze me with his ability to save and take care of his needs AND wants. 

Yeah, now I feel bad whining about 2010. 

Anyway, the year has had its lowlights as well.  Most have come out miraculously well, but some have kept me wishing for a different outcome.  But life is life.  It is what it is.  And sometimes what it is...totally does not rock.

There will be people that I will not receive Christmas cards from this year because they are celebrating Christmas in heaven.  There are folks that I've welcomed in my home that I likely will never lay eyes on again because breakups are like that.  There are people who have experienced illness, tragedy, and life-altering news that will forever mark the year 2010 into their consciousness. 

And this week...I've had a headache...a restlessness...and exhaustion all combined to make me declare that I am sincerely ready to see 2010 ride into the sunset.  And as a parting thought..."may the door hit ya...where the good Lord split ya."  Just sayin'.

Surely 2011 will be better.

Maybe this will be the year that the resolutions get kept, the wrongs are righted, and all will be swell with the world.  World peace?  A noble concept, but highly unlikely.  Having no major drama?  I vote for that.

I want this to be the year where the people I've upset through the years realize that although I have my moments of being unbearable...I really do mean well. 

I tend to want happy endings more than the average person and actually need to know that somebody out there is living the fairytale.  I need to know that life is working out for everyone in some capacity.  And most importantly, that it is working out for my children.  As it is said by my friend..."A mother is only as happy as her most unhappy child."  So, I want this to be the year of the fairytale for at least one of them. 

This year, I want to hope for the best, but have been disappointed so often that I can almost scarcely dare to hope anymore.  I'm tired of taking the crumbs of delight...I want to sit at the banquet table.  I want to have a spirit that is so full of joy and appreciation that disappointment cannot find a place to roost anywhere near me.

I want to spend this year being sincerely grateful for how blessed I am without having to be reminded through tragedy, loss, or other drama.  I would like to do without those for awhile..or possibly forever.

I want to make an honest effort to resolve a couple of things in my life that absolutely, positively must be dealt with...or I'm just not going to be happy.  Nothing earthshattering...but definitely overdue.

I really want to make a difference...but have almost convinced myself that this is not why I am on the planet.  May I make a small difference to someone every day. 

May I spend the coming year making some attempt at using my God-given abilities every day. 

If you think about it, though, many of these are completely out of my control. 

So, what is within my control is the following list.  It is my resolution list for 2011.  I plan to do one of these each month and will write about the experience when it is over.  I'm just not so sure what will be done when...I'm just going to let the Spirit lead me.  I don't know if I can commit to a year...but I can commit to a month.  I hope so anyway.  So here goes...

1. Exercise
2. Notes of affirmation
3. Cleaning for one hour
4. Memorizing scripture
5. Service to others
6. Nothing but water to drink
7. Giving something away - decluttering
8. Cooking/baking
9. No eating out
10. Learning something new
11. Giving anonymously
12. Healthy eating

Obviously, I'm not going to try to do #12 in December, or #6 in January when I'm living off of decaffeinated coffee because I have a vendetta against Alabama Power Company and refuse to turn on my heat.  I'll just surprise you...and probably letting you know what I did...after it was over. 

Happy New Year!  May 2011 be a wonderful year of blessing, health and happiness.  Here's hoping...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

After Christmas Reflections

Christmas was three days ago.  You really wouldn't know that looking around here with my Christmas china waiting to be put away for another year, my tree still up (it's real...and is probably a fire hazard about now) and a poinsettia that will refuse to die until 2013 (and it will live in its little foil world until then because I'm not heartless enough to throw it away while it is still looking somewhat alive) sitting across the room. 

I just moved the "12 Days of Christmas" glasses back a few inches so that I can rest my hands more comfortably on the keyboard...although there are really only "10 Days of Christmas" in my world because Day 7 and Day 12 came to some unfortunate end sometime over the past twenty years that I've owned these glasses.  Of course, the red and green M & Ms are taunting me on the other side of the room but little do they know that they aren't even remotely tempting while "Santa's White Christmas" ice cream from Publix is in the house.  Yes, after failing to find any after a week of trying at my local store, I asked them to call around and secured some at the Publix across town.  Apparently, their management is either better friends with the people in the warehouse, the people across town eat healthier, or they didn't sample this during their Christmas sample-palooza.  Beats me...but I'm fairly certain that if they had sampled this particular concoction at that Publix...they'd have run out too.

Anyway, there is a bowl game on television, the weather is still cold, and my kids are still out of school.  I had to go back to work yesterday, and went to bed last night at 7:30 p.m. and slept until 7:00 a.m. to gear myself up for today.  It is obviously exhausting to be on vacation. I hadn't been in I suppose I'd forgotten.  It's a good kind of exhausting, though.

I've had a wonderful week all in all.  I have received more than I asked for and way more than I deserve in gifts, thoughfulness, love, surprises, kind words, and Christmas cards.  I am so blessed to have the people that I do in my life...whether they were there for a reason, for a season, or for life.  It matters not to me. 

I had a heart-to-heart with God the other day while I was driving down the road and it was a good conversation.  With all of the busyness and preparation for the season of His birth, I had been strangely out of contact.  I suppose that He heard me because it appears that something that has been really on my heart is being rectified.  I hope that the answered prayer is indeed that and not just another temporary reprieve from the wondering.  I suppose that time will tell.  But for now...all is well.

Thinking back over all that represented this Christmas, I realize that it was an exceptionally good year.  Oh, the bills are arriving, but all in all, it went well.  I didn't send out all I intended to on time, lost one gift card that someone was supposed to get that I thought was under the tree but apparently wasn't, lost a couple of addresses and ran out of cards, but I hope I'll be forgiven this year.  I missed seeing some of my family due to circumstances beyond everyone's control; but that was the worst of it. 

The weather was brisk and felt like Christmas to me.  I met my new great-nephew...who is beyond precious.  My kids were both home, the house stayed reasonably straight, and I got everything purchased and wrapped in pretty much record time.  It helped tremendously to have a daughter who actually enjoys wrapping gifts and my over the top obsession with bargain hunting that actually worked out beyond my wildest expectations this year.

We had time with friends that we don't see often enough...and ate enough food to actually get tired of eating.  I turned down some truly wonderful food that I would have liked to consume, but I was just so over it.  Shocking!  But for me...the season is having that time to lay eyes on people that I care give them a hug and catch up on what is going on in their lives.  I've also met new people this Christmas and I've enjoyed that as well...friends of to speak.  If there's going to be any "expanding" going on around here...I want it to be in my circle of friends and not my waistline.

Now the upcoming year is just in front of us like a brand new promise of something wonderful.  In January, my daughter will be 21.  In May, my son - and my baby - will graduate from high school.  In August, he will begin his first year of college, and my girl will begin her last.  This time next year, we will be paying for her final semester in college.  She is still on schedule.  Both the fact that she is...and that she is three semesters away from finishing totally amazes me.

I don't know if you are like me and make resolutions every year that you try to keep but can't seem to generate enthusiasm for past February.  This year, I'd like to actually keep my resolutions short I'm coming up with twelve month long changes that I'm going to try very diligently to keep...for one month each.  Maybe I can keep it up longer...but I won't feel guilty if I don't.  I promise to outline these in the next day or so as I get myself all fired up for the new year that lies ahead.

I suppose it is time to decorate my house for "not Christmas" as my friend, Stan, stated on his Facebook status recently.  But I'm really not ready to let go yet.  Maybe it's because we got a really wonderful gift for Christmas that we aren't sure is what we think it is...but may actually be.  Perhaps I want to learn how to use my new Nook before I undress the tree.  Maybe I want to balance my checkbook and just rest after six weeks of go-go-go for a day or so before I drag the umpteen dozen boxes out of the attic and adjust to my house looking like it does most of the time. 

I just want to bask in the Christmas after-glow a little longer.  After will be back around before we know it. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Gown

Today is Day 6 of vacation week (yes, I count the weekends) and I am sitting here at 8:05 a.m. in my gown.  I've realized something really pertinent this week...and that is...that my gown apparently renders me incapable of productivity.  If I get up and put clothes on, I can clean house, make a grocery list, feed the dogs, prepare something to eat, make plans for my day, and actually execute them.  If I stay in my gown, I end up on the couch at mid-morning watching television, wondering where the dogs are, forgetting to do anything I've planned, and eating cake while watching something mindless like "The View" or reruns of Christmas movies that I've already seen fifteen times each since Thanksgiving because I'm too lazy to fix anything even remotely nutritious.

Never mind that I have people coming to my house at the end of the week, that I'm not supposed to eat sugar until 2012 or that I always whine about not having enough time to do anything...and now I do.  Forget that Christmas is two days away, that my laundry is piling up and will require a John Deere to excavate from my bedroom, or that the grocery store will resemble Times Square on New Years' Eve tomorrow before the sidewalks roll up at 7:00 throughout the world so that people can spend time with their I need to get in there today if absolutely necessary.

In my world it is always absolutely necessary because I cannot seem to pull it together like a normal person.

Yeah, I don't want to forget about that stores closing early thing because I actually did that one year.  I suppose that this is so that the people working retail this Christmas don't snap and choke some woman who is whining because the store is out of boxes on Christmas Eve or that an item that has been sold out since November 15th isn't available in her size.  Never mind the men that think that no Christmas shopping whatsoever should occur before December 24th.

But if you really want a job that will make you contemplate violence...wrap gifts.

I should know about this, by the way.  I used to wrap Christmas presents at Belk when I was in college.  There's nothing that will wreck your holiday spirit like trying to be all festive and sunny when people are trying to get the twenty gifts that they spent $2 each for wrapped while the line is snaking into the parking lot.  Waiting in line transforms even the nicest person into a snarling wildebeast if they are left there long enough.  Heaven forbid you should run out of boxes.

I also had the misfortune of working with at least a couple of people who truly had no business wrapping gifts whatsoever.  They didn't tuck their ends under.  Cut enough paper to wrap two gifts and then had to reconfigure each gift in such a way that it took four times longer to slap paper on the box than it should.  Folks that talked the entire time...but found that when their mouth was moving...their hands apparently couldn't.  People who moved slower than molasses because they'd apparently never spent time on the counter at McDonald's when a bus would pull in.  Oh yeah, I have that on my resume too.

This particular employment stint at Belk's had the added bonus of having to be Mrs. Claus several times a week while kids came to have their pictures made with Santa.  This involved dressing in a short red dress with fur trim and a Santa hat.  "Precious" would be an understatement.  Frankly, right now I actually look more like Mrs. Claus than I care to reflect upon right now and would kill to have those thighs back.  Well, not literally, but you know what I mean.

Anyway...back to the gown.

I'm going to get up and change in a minute and am going to try to snap myself out of it before my kids get up.  That means that I have until approximately noon today.  My big "sleeping in" this week has been until about 7:30...which...if you know scandalous.  I'm usually up at 6:00 every morning whether I have to be or not.  Frankly, I like being up after Big Dave goes to work and before they get up so that the house is quiet and I can have some "me" time.  With the kids home, as much as I love them, this has become more of a necessity than I thought was possible. 

So, here I go to get away from whatever kryptonite forms the threads of this gown that keeps productivity at bay.  I'll make yet another to-do list...and then whatever doesn't get done today...just doesn't get done.  Except for cleaning the bathrooms and doing some laundry.  That has to get done whether the curse of the gown wins out or not.

Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 10 Most Annoying Christmas Songs EVER (IMHO)

Tonight the dogs were outside barking at a leaf blowing across the lawn or a cat running through a field three counties over or something equally random.  It being the holiday season and all, all of that barking made me start thinking about the classic rendition of "Jingle Bells" performed by the barking dogs.  I remember thinking at one point in time that this was really clever...although now I find it only slightly less annoying than the ridiculous chorale being yipped outside my garage door right now.

I've been on vacation this week, and have been so delighted to not have a million things on my mind that need to be done.  I've slept in.  I've cooked and cleaned.  I've written and I've read.  I've planned, bought, wrapped, mailed, straightened, decorated, and made list upon list.  I've enjoyed the cold weather and the fact that all of my "must-do" chores have been done.

Well, until TODAY.

Earlier today, I went outside and realized that it is back to ridiculously warm weather just before Christmas.  I vote NO to this, by the way.  All I needed was another week of cold.  I'm not asking for snow...although I am battling some serious "snow envy" right now.  I'm just requesting that we actually have winter weather through Christmas.  It can jump back up to spring weather next week for all I care.  But for now, I am protesting having to endure "Winter Wonderland," "White Christmas," or "Frosty the Snowman" in the musical realm until the weather gets brisk again. 

I've gone from "Ho! Ho! Ho!" to "Bah, humbug!" faster than people snatch "Santa's White Christmas" ice cream off the shelves at the local Publix.  And in my personal experience...that's fast.

Frankly, because I'm in a non-Christmas-y mood today, there are a number of other annoying songs that I'd like to think up an excuse to completely avoid.  I'll probably end up offending someone, but I'm going to list the songs that annoy me - personally - beyond belief.   Oh, there are definitely more than just this list...but these are the worst offenders.  And NO, I didn't include the barking dogs' rendition of "Jingle Bells" here.  I'd rather listen to that repeatedly than to any of these.

10. 12 Days of Christmas

This song is well intentioned.  It is about giving and true love and going the distance.  But it is much like singing "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" lose interest somewhere along the way.  And frankly, other than the five golden rings...I'm not particularly enamored with any of the other gifts noted.  Like at all.  And you just KNOW that there was no gift receipt for any of it.  And in my mind's eye, I can only see the results of numerous birds and livestock combined with maids, lords, drummers and pipers en masse and just know that it cannot end well.

9. A Hippopotumus for Christmas

No.  Just no.  Whoever thought this song up was seriously on crack.

8. Blue Christmas

Christmas isn't blue.  It is red and green, silver and gold.  Anything else is fraudulent.  I don't care if it is Elvis or Porky Pig that is singing this sucks. 

7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

All I can think when I hear this is that this kid is going to end up on Jerry Springer someday.  I don't even like the Michael Jackson version as unpopular as I'm sure this will make me.  It just screams "I will now become dysfunctional and will blame it all on this traumatic experience."

6. All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

The first time you hear this's cute.  Every other's ridiculous.  In my case, it has been ridiculous since 1967.  Please don't wish me a "May-we Cwith-mus"...unless you are actually six years old and really talk like that. 

5. Santa Baby

This song sounds like someone is belting this one while simultaneously working the pole.  And I don't mean the North one, either.  I mean, puhleeze...this one is commonly sung by Eartha Kitt and Madonna.  That alone should ban it from the airwaves.

4. I Saw Three Ships

And the significance of this would be?  That we can count?  On Christmas Day in the morning?  (As opposed to the evening, apparently.)  Okay, so the ships are carrying the Magi...but I still hate the song.

3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I'm a big fan of the movie and consider it mandatory to experiencing full-blown Christmas cheer, but the song itself is stupid.  I mean, we're gleefully singing "all of the other reindeer...used to laugh and call him names...they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games..." and we're okay with this?  I think not.  In this day and age, Rudolph's Mama would have sued the school board.  I still want to punch the stop-motion animated coach reindeer for being such a jerk. 

2. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

Really? No.  And the cheerleader raspy voice is so not working for me.  Thanks, anyway.  I don't "rock" around my Christmas tree.  I put gifts under it and pray that it doesn't ignite from the gazillion lights that I put on it the weekend after Thanksgiving.  But rock?  Um. No.

1. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer

Although I could probably expound upon why this particular song is the most heinous one of all, I'll just say that it just makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  And not in a good way.  I mean, how festive can it be to croon about a drunk geriatric person getting run over by a mythical being?  Just sayin'.  And YES, I did laugh the first time I heard it kind of like you laugh when someone falls down just before you realize that you need to dial 911.

Oh, I'm sure that there are many, many lists out there that include some of the above and some that I haven't thrown under the bus.  Like "The Little Drummer Boy" (what new mother would allow THAT?  Answer: none...and newborns don't smile unless they have gas) or "Jingle Bell Rock" (which I confuse with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and turn off immediately if at all possible.) 

But whatever...I only have three more days to "enjoy" these before the music turns back to the same c-rap that plays the other eleven months of the year.  And when it does...I'm sure I'll miss even these truly awful ones.  But I'll have eleven months to get over it. 

I always do.

(And if truth be told...I did some research to see how my list compared to that of others through the magic of Google.  I'm actually in sync with approximately 80% of the songs.  Which totally rocks.  But not around the Christmas tree.  Please spare me that.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reflections on Christmas

Right now, my house is quiet except for the ticking of a clock, the occasional nail taps of Dixie moving about on the hardwood floor, and the sound of my typing.  I have a pile of bills beside me, a lukewarm cup of decaf coffee in front of me, and a to-do list formulating in my brain.  I'm on vacation, though, and I refuse to spend the entire week running about doing errands that keep me from doing some of what I love doing...writing...thinking...sitting...dreaming.

Life normally shuts most of that today, I'm doing nothing else until I sit here and ponder life just a little bit.  Except possibly get a refill on this coffee that is truly ridiculously colder than lukewarm if truth be told.

It is a few days before Christmas.  Last night was a lunar eclipse, it is the first day of winter, and a vocal group from Alabama won the "Sing Off" on television last night.  Friends of mine are making plans to go to Arizona for the National Championship Game next month, and others are racing around trying to finish up Christmas shopping.  Some have plans to travel this Christmas, and others are content to cook and bake themselves into oblivion and welcome family and friends from afar into their homes.  Some have new lives growing inside of them, and others are enjoying their first Christmas with their new babies.  A few have deep fears about the future, and others are grateful for the news that the health concerns that have plagued them are improving with each passing day.

In other is going on.

I know that most of the time we try to genuinely take time to reflect on the blessings in our life.  Sometimes we fail at that because some big, hairy, awful something is looming over our lives.  Wolves are at the door, or the unknown looks like some frightening nightmare that threatens to overtake us.  We want resolution, comfort, or for the big something horrible to be reversed, eliminated, or blown to bits.  We know that we are in a pit...or in a valley...and we begin to actually fear that we will never see the light again.  It takes all of our strength...and the rest from God...just to put one foot in front of the other, plaster a smile on our face, and carry on the business of life.  For those of you who are walking this rocky road this Christmas...I wish for you an extra measure of joy, love, and peace this holiday season.    Before long, there will be a bend in the road, and you will see that all is well.  Just keep walking.

Other times we look ahead and ponder the big decisions that we assume are still to be written in our stories. For young people it is...who we will marry, where we will live, what we will do, or what our purpose for drawing breath really is.  Frankly, those questions aren't only limited to the young.  Some people seem to instinctively know the answers to these questions, and others have to discover them after bitter disappointments, years in the wilderness, or trial and error.  But the beauty of the journey is that all of us get some of it right...which enables us to forgive ourselves for those times that we don't...and gives us hope that all will eventually end well.  So, if you are wondering if you have a purpose here...know that if you are breathing...the answer is "yes."  Be open to possibilities, and just sit back and prepare for a miracle. 

During Christmas, we honestly have the opportunity of making magic for others in a somewhat effortless way.  We can toss coins into a kettle, pick an angel off of a tree, or speak words of healing into the life of someone who needs to hear them.  We may send a card to someone who is lonely, choose a gift that reflects our love, or transport ourselves back to a simpler time and place through the aromas of  Christmas baking and the sounds of Christmas carols playing on the radio.  We have a little extra time to reflect on our temporal blessings...and our long term ones. 

We can also start over if we have overindulged along with everyone else who will be packing the gyms in January.  We can believe that all will be well, that peace is possible, and that love will conquer all.  The New Year is right in front of us with all of its possibilities. 

So, find a quiet time somewhere in the hustle and bustle of all that we know represents the holidays.  Maybe it is sitting on your porch swing with a cup of hot chocolate and a thick blanket.  Perhaps it is reading a book to a child or praying for the person who is to receive the gifts you are wrapping.  Maybe it is ordering a goat through World Vision and imagining it arriving in some village in Africa or Indonesia to a family who will be blessed because of it.  Or it may be that you get to embrace the people that you love that are all sleeping under your roof tonight.

Enjoy your holiday.  Take in all of the sights, smells and sounds of the season.  Celebrate the birthday of our Lord, and the oasis in the desert of "musts" that normally dominate our lives.  Quiet your heart and let your spirit soar.  Even if this year is one that you will remember as bittersweet somewhere down the road of life...try to remember that it sometimes takes the bittersweet to make us appreciate the carefree days and blessings that we often take for granted.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dirty Santa

Last night I had the privilege of hanging out with my coworkers for our annual branch Christmas party.  It is always a lot of fun, and there is more bad food (which is actually good food that does bad things to your arteries) and a great deal of Christmas cheer to be had by all.  The host home was decorated beautifully, and it was a very festive atmosphere.  Never mind that I left my spinach dip I'd prepared in the refrigerator at work and had to fly into Publix at the last minute to get some of theirs and doll it up with some water chestnuts while apologizing profusely for being tardy. 

Such is my life sometimes.  At least I had the Fritos in the car.  (And why is it that we call them Fritos?  Because of the name of the company?  That has always freaked me out.)

After eating until we had surpassed healthy levels, we all started that game that I love and hate simultaneously..."Dirty Santa."  This game is aptly named because you think you're going to get something nice (Santa!  Yay!)...and then someone will inevitably snatch it out from under you at the last minute...(thus the "Dirty.")  For those of you who have never endured, played this particular game, well, let's just say that it can easily get off of the rails. 

The rules generally involve setting a dollar limit ahead of time, and then drawing numbers for the order in which to choose a gift.  The person with a "1" goes to the pile of gifts, chooses one, and unwraps it.  The person with "2" and then subsequent numbers have the choice of getting a gift or "stealing" the gift that another person has unwrapped.  This goes on until all of the numbers are exhausted and often the person who drew first has the option to choose among all of the "unretired" available gifts.  A gift is typically retired after three "steals."  This "limited steals" policy is to prevent fistfights, bad blood, or the involvement of law enforcement over a $10 Applebee's gift card or a blue velvet pillow with silver tassels. 

Been there.  Seen that.  Not really.  But almost. 

Some people tend to do very well with this game.  They see it for what it opportunity to get something cool, fun, or useful...but something that they could actually afford to go out and purchase for themselves.   If they end up with the "gift that keeps on being regifted" they honestly do not care.  In fact, Big Dave thrives off of the gifts that make you go "WHAT?"  They're his favorite.  Hardly surprising from a man that wears Christmas tee shirts around that house that are truly hideous while watching "Elf" three thousand times between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Others see it as a competitive sport replete with manuvering, late hits, and a "winner takes all" mentality.  Never mind that we have to actually work, attend church, or live with the people we are supposed to be "in fellowship" with...the truly competitive have no qualms about going for the jugular over a $15 WalMart gift card.

Or...ahem...a silver Hallmark reindeer.

Yes, many moons ago, I was attending a Sunday School party with about thirty five couples, and we were playing "Dirty Santa" with ornaments.  I thought that my chances of getting something I liked were pretty good as I had a late number, and most of the ornaments were lovely.  So, I watched and waited patiently as about twenty-five couples unwrapped theirs and stole them back and forth.  Sadly, we were about to run out of time, and just as our number came up, they changed the rules to disallow any "steals" beyond two.  Well, the reindeer that I had my eye on had been stolen twice, but I had apparently missed one or the other.  As I went to steal my beautiful reindeer...I was told that I needed to unwrap one of the ornaments instead.  I did...and got possibly the only ornament that I didn't like. 

To say that I didn't handle this well would be an understatement.  It was too much for my poor little competitive nature to stand. 

I did mention that this was at a Sunday School Christmas party, didn't I? 

Needless to say, it was not a good experience.  I was, however, able to locate the reindeer at the local Hallmark store the next day and he is currently on my tree.  He's a little tarnished from his bright silver lustre through these past 22 or so years, but he is a reminder that people can change...for the better.

And, of course, that "Dirty Santa" needs to be avoided by the hyper-competitive.

Another year, I had a beautiful blanket taken from me at the last minute and I had no choice but to unwrap a gift.  I got a skating pig toy.  I'm so serious.  I didn't handle that one particularly well either.  I left it on the table and had someone bring it to me because they didn't realize I left it there so that I wouldn't smash it into a million pieces in front of everyone and stomp on it like some adult Veruka from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

Yes, I have been known to channel my "inner Veruka."  She's a real treat (not).

Those, of course, trumped by my first experience with a $2 gift limit during my Girl Scout days.  I got a pair of No Nonsense pantyhose.  I was so not impressed.

Oh, I've had a couple of good years where I've brought something home that I've enjoyed, and one specific time that people thought I was getting something not so great (a mini iron skillet).  What they didn't know was that the skillet had a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant taped to it.  I didn't know it either until after the game was over because I left it in the gift bag. 

Boy, was that awesome.

And then there was last night.  I got a gift that was fine, but was not what I wanted.  Out of nine people, there were five gift cards.  I managed to not get any of them.  I had several of them for awhile, but as usual...I got stuck unwrapping the last gift under the tree and nobody wanted to swap with me.

Dang.  But I'm happy to report that we didn't have to call the po-po, and everyone was still speaking this morning.  So there's that.  Plus, I came home, wrapped it up, and will be giving it to one of my kids for Christmas. 

Rock on.  Oh, don't judge me...they have a gazillion other presents anyway.

Anyway, I think that this game is a little like a microcosm of real life.  We are all given an equal chance when we start out in life...and then we get a number.  We're in the "blue" group or the "red" group...and then we keep moving along.  We unwrap what is ours, and we look around to see if there is anything else that is better than what we have.  Sometimes we want to "steal" it and then other times we are told that it is not possible...just like a retired gift.  So, we keep playing the game...hoping for the best...and enjoying the process.  The end result, though, may or may not be to our liking.  How we handle that, though, honestly says a whole lot about us. 

I suppose that after spending years of avoiding this game because it brought out the worst in me, I do have a few rules that might be helpful to keeping people from mauling each other over a Ho! Ho! Ho! doormat.  I mean, with all of that emotion...I suppose it could happen.

1. If you participate, please buy a gift that is valued at whatever the agreed upon amount is.  It makes me mad when the limit is $10 and someone tries to do a Scrooge and get something that is clearly worth less.  The reason I care is because I will be the person who ends up with it, and I'd at least like to recoup my investment.  It will also keep me from secretly hating your guts.

2. Try to remember that when someone is whining...they are emotionally attached to the gift.  If you take may draw back a nub.  They may also remember it for the rest of their natural lives...and this is not good.

3.  Just some advice...get excited about the one gift that nobody will like.  That way...when they take won't care. If you focus on something that you could actually use...they will inevitably take it and you will end up wanting to go all redneck on somebody.

4. It's just a game...not a contact sport.  This is particularly important if you are everybody's "b-word" in this game and they take great joy in taking your stuff at every available opportunity.

Anyway, here's hoping that you enjoy your experience with this game immensely.  Even though I hate it with every fiber of my being doesn't necessarily mean that you have to...and I hope that you don't.  After all, it IS supposed to be fun. 

Or so I've heard...

Monday, December 13, 2010


I've been spending a lot of time making lists and checking them twice these days.  With due respect to Saint Nicholas and his minions, I personally am obsessed with list-making as an antidote against my basic paranoia that I'm going to forget something crucial on Christmas morning.  Like leave a gift languishing in a closet...unwrapped and forgotten...and realize that someone that I care about is thinking that I've intentionally overlooked them.  In my family, those things tend to happen...and nobody will say anything about it at the time.

But they will later on...privately.  Like, for decades. 

Anyway, I've felt pretty good about getting everything done and actually having time to enjoy the holidays this year.  I always prefer cold weather in December, and I certainly haven't been disappointed this year.  Some years I've had to run the air conditioning just to keep from sweating while putting ornaments on the tree.  I gave up on having a "white Christmas" years ago after realizing that if we actually DID get would shut down life as I know it.  We don't do snow down at all.  We close our schools and more often than not...our power goes out.  Heaven forbid that we even think about driving in it either.

A few minutes ago, I looked under the Christmas tree and saw way more gifts than I intended to spite of the fact that I have really not spent a tremendous amount of money, generally speaking.  But a few people remain on my gift list...and continue to absolutely baffle me.  I am hoping that I will have an epiphany while coasting through a store with a 30% off coupon in my hand, but the odds of that happening are about the same as me landing on the front of the Victoria's Secret catalog.  Or quite frankly, being able to order anything myself anything from there other than cosmetics, slippers, or gift cards.

I suppose that I've been thinking about material gifts for so long...acquiring the right items, getting them in the mail, wrapping them, tagging them, (and in January...paying for them) that I honestly wish that there was some kind of clearinghouse for the kind of gifts that really mean a lot to me.  Gifts that people sometimes give freely without even thinking about it because they don't realize the value of it to another person.  And if you do actually dare to point them are normally greeted with a blank stare and a denial that it was any big deal.  I suppose that they fail to realize that most of us might be overfed physically...but emotionally...we are starving to death for a kind word, recognition that we have something to offer, or simply confirmation that what we bring to this party called "life" actually matters.

Because it is certainly easy to get the message that we don't matter at all.  Especially if we have children.

I suppose I'd like to ask Santa to bring me an extra measure of encouragement this year.  And I mean the "real" stuff...not the fake platitudes or the social niceties that all of us are prone to do in awkward situations.  I mean...I hope that God will put the right people in my path to keep me from quitting when the going gets tough.  I have a tendency to be a little bit like the Energizer bunny, but I don't normally have those nice little rechargeable batteries.  I think I'm going to need those next year. 

After putting my dreams on hold for many years, I'm realizing that the time has come for some of those dreams to be revived, defrosted, or nursed to health.  It wasn't until fairly recently that I even realized that they were still on life-support. 

And while I am becoming aware of my own dreams...I hope that I will speak up in those situations when someone else's accomplishments, courage, or creativity really inspire me.  Sometimes I stop myself because I'm worried that people will think I'm nuts for saying anything.  But who am I to do that?  I hope that I won't really care what people think in the coming year.  I need to speak up!

After all, one of the greatest gifts that we can give each Christmas...or the gift of encouragement.  And the good news is budget-friendly.  Yet to the person receiving can be more precious than gold.  I mean...there IS no price on a word of encouragement aptly spoken.  The results can be life-altering...and world-changing.

Works for me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What If We Didn't Celebrate Christmas?

It is a cold December morning is two weeks before Christmas.  The gifts are inventoried on my list, most have been shipped from wherever I ordered them, and those that have arrived have already been wrapped, tagged, and placed under the tree.  Oh, I realize that I'm a little bit too Martha Stewart about that for some people's taste, but I've had gifts languishing in a closet on Christmas morning because I didn't make my list and check it twice...and someone thought they'd been naughty, when in actuality, the reverse was true. 

My Christmas decorations - acquired over the past twenty-five years of marriage - are covering every conceivable surface in my home, and there's an equal number in the attic waiting for my kids to move out on their own or for my tastes to change back to dancing bears or "early WalMart with a shade of ABC Distributing Company."  I look at my tree with its more sophisticated ornaments (Jill insisted) and those of the past that passed her inspection, and I am delighted with this wonderful mix of past and present.  The beautiful glass angel that a sweet friend gave me years ago, along with an ornament that has a handwritten note that I've never wanted to remove, and the reindeer that replaced one that someone stole from me in "Dirty Santa" at a Sunday School party years ago.  (I was later banned from playing this game by Big Dave because my competitive nature overrode my good sense.)

I am pleased that we have a social calendar that includes an excellent mix of friends, family, and work associates.  I've missed a couple of very important things this year, and I do regret that Baking Day did not happen.  But I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to have something to look forward to, and am thrilled that I have people who care enough about me to have invited me in the first place.

It makes me wonder, though, what life would be like in December without the joy of the season to anticipate.  If my belief system did not include the celebration of the birth of the tiny Christ child in a stable over two thousand years ago.  If I had nothing to be grateful for, and nobody to look forward to seeing.  If the time between the bookends of Thanksgiving and New Year's Day was completely devoid of all that I have come to know and love about the Christmas season.

Every year, I watch some version of "A Christmas Carol" and see Scrooge being transformed from a man of the world to a man of spirit.  I believe that most of us have been blessed with some magic in our lives...and we see his transformation as reassurance that the magic is still out there...that it exists.  People that we somehow believe will always be there for us...or traditions that seem to go on year after year until the next generation claims them as their own.  At Christmas, we have time to reflect on our life after the one we are currently living, and we tend to have moments of clarity when we see that we should spend more time appreciating what we have.  We see the wonder of the Santa Claus tradition in the eyes of the little people, and the joy in the eyes of someone who is opening a gift that we were able to give them out of our abundance.

I cannot imagine life without the Christmas cards that come into this house.  To look at the faces of our sweet friends and their children, and we read the messages and even see the precious words that are written by those we love who are far away.  I realized that I will mail two fewer cards this year than I did last year, and that thought saddens me.  I suppose as time goes on, my list will continue to dwindle if everything remains the same.  But I do so hope that the opposite will occur.  That I will have a larger list because I've been blessed with more people who make up my past and my present.

When I hear the song "Silver Bells" - I always think of my mother, uncle, and aunt, who sing this song together...or at least did several times as I was growing up.  I can be standing in the middle of Stein Mart, and if it comes on...I pause for a moment to think back.  It isn't the only Christmas song that transports me, either.  I suppose that's why I have little patience with what I call the "junk songs" of Christmas like "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" or the one about the hippopotumus.  I remember playing "What Child Is This?" on the piano at my grandmother's house because I could actually figure out a chord or two, and I rarely hear the "Hallelujah Chorus" without feeling my spirit being lifted.  Tonight I am going to the cantata at our church.  I know that people who are gifted singers cannot imagine my reluctance to attend these every year, but I have been anti-cantata for some inexplicable reason for as far back as I can now remember.  Tonight - Lord willing - the cycle breaks.  And I'll get to see my friend sing her heart out with an amazing choir and drama group.

I suppose that if we didn't celebrate Christmas, that void would be replaced with something else.  We might have some other federally mandated holiday, or we would simply create something to mark the winter solstice.  But I love the fact that we do have these weeks to celebrate the past, enjoy the present, and look ahead to the future.  I love the knowledge that because He future is secure.  My current circumstances are but temporary afflictions or temporary joys.  The blessings I now know are but pale reflections of the life that is being stored up for me in heaven.

Maybe we should appreciate the fact that we do get to celebrate as we attend church services, look at our dwindling bank accounts, and deal with intermittant bursts of parking lot rage as we are out and about in the thickening traffic.  Perhaps we should look at the dragging out boxes of Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, and lists of wants from our loved ones as a privilege and not a burden.  We should enjoy with abandon the scents and tastes of the season, and sing along to our favorite Christmas music because we have senses to take it all in.  We can allow our hearts to be filled with joy and appreciation for the blessings that we have...right here...and right now.  But most of all...we should appreciate the true "reason for the season" and what this birth means for each of us who accept the gift that keeps on

Thursday, December 9, 2010

General Christmas Rambling

I have spent the better part of the last two weeks primarily doing four things...eating, working, sleeping, and shopping...and not necessarily in that order.  I've done other things I'm sure, but thinking back right now, I'm a little fuzzy on exactly WHAT.  I've been fairly determined that this Christmas was going to all be in order by the first week...and so good.

Yes, of course, I have a list.  What would my holiday be without a little OCD?

As I am writing this, it is December 9th.  I'm officially supposed to be onto "baking, wrapping incoming gifts, and planning the menu."  I guess one out of three is acceptable.  One really must be in the mood to bake. 

As far as the big ticket items are concerned...the tree got up with very little fanfare.  I didn't have to whine, pout or threaten to go get the tree myself this year.  This usually lasts approximately a week beginning at Thanksgiving with the tree being up by the 7th of December.  This year, Big Dave just sucked it up and let me get it done as November was exiting stage left.  He didn't complain...he just pulled into Home Depot and we picked out a nice tree.  Of couse, he made me wait 24 hours to get the decorations out of the attic while it just sat there naked in the stand.  He said it was that he wanted the branches to "settle" but the truth is that Big Dave is passive-aggressive and thought I should wait since he didn't hassle me about getting the tree in the first place as some kind of trade-off.  The whining actually came from Brian this year...who was enlisted to get the decorations out of the attic. 

After the boxes were retrieved, I got the tree decorated, the Christmas decorations out and the wreaths ready for the front of the house.  The wreaths are Big Dave's domain.  Because of this, they actually sat by the front door in a pile for close to a week before Jill came home and asked her Dad why they weren't on the house.  Within thirty minutes...they were. 

I've been trying to be a good steward of what little money I do have for Christmas this year.  The presentation, tons of car repairs and the final tuition payment at Trinity have been hovering like little thugs around my bank I was determined to find bargains while at the same time attempting to fulfill the wish lists that both of the the kids came up with in starts and fits over the past month or so.  Never mind that I've inquired about thirty times for them to let me have a running start.  No.  They weren't entirely sure what they wanted.  Oh, they threw me a bone every so often so I would quit asking them incessantly, but it is only that I have finished spending and am only in the wrapping phase...NOW they have a whole host of wishes on their lists. 

And wishes some of them will remain.  Fortunately for Jill, her birthday is in January.

Anyway, as a result, the final result was in budget...and is a very eclectic mish-mash of totally random items in some cases that they will probably love but won't realize they need until they think about it.  And yes, I did get everything that they specifically asked for (up to a point) except for new cars, a maid, and unlimited Bagel Bites from Costco.

(Wait!  The maid was on my wish list.  Never mind.)

I think that now that my company Christmas party is over and everything else is pretty much scheduled...I am really enjoying the thought of the holiday season.  I've loved that the temperatures have been positively arctic over the past week.  Yes, we even managed to turn on the heat earlier in the week because the dogs were looking at us like "How DO you people survive without fur?" 

(And NO, I will not go there.)

Anyway, my girl is coming home tomorrow after her final exams and that will be fun.  I've really missed her despite the fact that she has been home more often than normal over the past month.  This excitement will last for about three days...and then she will tire of our boring existence and long for something more interesting to do than watching "Elf" again.  Yet, as far as I'm concerned...her arrival marks the official start of the holiday season for us.  Of course, as I previously mentioned, the tree has been up for two weeks and will soon be potentially flamable in another week or so since I put it up a week ahead of schedule, put a gazillion lights on it, and insist on keeping it lit while we are home.  But HEY! who cares, right?

After all, it's Christmas!

But for now...the shopping is over.  Yesterday, I arrived home and found eight packages from various delivery agencies on my couch where they had been picked up from the porch by Big Dave.  I have at least that many - if not more - waiting to be delivered.  Of course, because I cannot have an unwrapped gift in my presence...all of the gifts are immediately wrapped and placed under the tree.  I'm personally amazed that the dogs haven't bothered any of them.  Probably because none of the packages are in the shape of a ball.  So there's that.

I've watched the Hallmark movies and the traditional holiday shows already.  I suppose that I enjoy seeing these like I did when I was younger.  I used to find the TV Guide (a fixture at my grandmother's house) and map out the Christmas specials including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" when I was little.  For years, it wasn't Christmas if I happened to miss "Rudolph."  And I mean...a LOT longer than was college age.  I could miss "Frosty" and survive...even if the little girl on it was named Karen and I thought that was really cool.

Tonight I am sitting here looking at the Christmas cards that are beginning to arrive and feeling very happy that I have friends who send them to me.  I am also happy that I have a place to work, a family that cares, and the prospect of a happy Christmas ahead.  So many blessings.

I hope that my fixation with will lessen in the coming days and that the UPS guy won't just start throwing the packages from the truck to the porch because he's sick of dodging Rebel in the driveway.  I also hope that on Christmas morning that the gifts will be well received instead of that look that is sometimes hard to disguise that says "What WAS that woman thinking?"  Hey, I tried.

I believe that right now it is time for me to retire for the night.  I'm trying to make sure that I am well rested because I have a cantata to attend Saturday night.  My friend, Beverly, calls me every year to check my attendance plans, and this year...barring a stomach virus, unexpected problem, or weather related issue...I'm planning to attend.  I hear that I'll be blessed if I do. 

Here's hoping that your Christmas is getting off to a good start.  Some of you may be trying to figure out how to get it all done...and others may simply be just delaying the inevitable fear-laden flight to the mall on Christmas Eve to finish (or...well...START) your shopping.  Just try to enjoy something about the season.  I know I'm trying...

and succeeding...hope you are as well.