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Confessions of a Christmas Junkie, 2018

I love gingerbread. And hot buttered rum. And the Elf on the Shelf. And the Nutcracker ballet. And Christmas lights. And Christmas ornaments. And A Christmas Story. And THE Christmas Story. And… did I mention gingerbread?

I am a holiday junkie. I mean, I absolutely crave all things Christmas. Alas, I married a man who does not. He does crave egg nog — so there’s that. But I think that’s it for his tolerance of the season. He tolerates me, too — although he does roll his eyes at all my holiday hoopla. In his defense, I may have been known to overdo it just a tad. Clark W. Griswold and Martha Stewart are my inspirations.

The Christmas jonesing kicks into full gear on Thanksgiving night. That’s when I throw off all pretense of self-control and set my Christmas carol playlist on shuffle, where I keep it running loud and proud straight through New Year’s Eve. Carrie Underwood’s “O Holy Night” gets me all teary-eyed. Josh Groban’s “Ave Maria” makes me weep outright. But then, I run the entire emotional gamut. I get downright giddy over Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and Julie Andrew’s “My Favorite Things,” too.

And speaking of MY favorite things, Christmas cards in the mailbox and my personalized, hand-knit stocking hanging on a peg on the fireplace are at the top of that list. As is gingerbread straight out of the oven. I know I’m repeating myself, but if I’m not mistaken, gingerbread was one of the precious gifts of the magi. There was gold, gingerbread and myrrh. Look it up 🙂 So it’s a seasonal necessity. (And a couple years back, my sister introduced me to a Williams Sonoma mix that is the absolute definition of comfort and joy. We feed each other’s addictions.)

So yes, I love gingerbread and Christmas carols, but I think my favorite Christmas accoutrements are the ornaments. I’ve collected them for years and years and years. People who know me know I take my ornament selection VERY seriously. I will search half a year to track down the perfect one for each special person in my life.

I’m an ornament snob, too, so that makes ornament purchasing even stickier. The medium doesn’t matter so much; the ornaments can be absolutely anything from anywhere. I’ve found designer blown glass Betty Boops, Pottery Barn bottle brush squirrels, and Australian handcrafted felt angels. My criteria is ambiguous and esoteric. I just know when I know. And sometimes it takes months and months of Etsy surfing and brick and mortar navigating to find each family member’s certain special something. That’s where my Martha Stewart OCD kicks in. I admit I have a problem. That’s the first step, right? Only I don’t want to be cured.

I love the freakishly sentimental feelings that Christmas stirs in me. I know I can be over-the-top in a way that can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. Especially for someone who is used to quiet, single day, perfunctory family dinners and gift card exchanges. But me, I thrive on the chaos of the season – the gazillion get togethers, the flurry of family obligations, the weeks’ worth of baking and wassailing and all-around merry making. I become a paradoxically highly-charged, gooey lump of blubbering happiness.

Because my absolute favorite thing about the holidays as a mother is being with my babies. All four of them.  And this year, as in the past few years since the girls have been full-grown and on their own, that can be tricky. And it can require some creative calendaring, and come-hell-or-highwater maneuvering, to make it happen.

This Christmas, thankfully, there are no epic road trips scheduled. This year my crew of kiddos gets to be together — at least for one day — on Christmas Eve. Plus, my baby sis is coming into town.

Unfortunately, there are many whom we won’t see this season… Mike’s folks and JoJo’s family and all sorts of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, but I will see all my babies and we’ll all be together, and for that I am eternally grateful. And it makes for a very merry me.

Tonight, we’re kicking this season off with a shindig of eggnog and cocoa, red wine and amaretto, and crazy-fun kith and kin. Tomorrow, will be calmer… with Mike lighting a fire so we can all settle in to watch The Polar Express.

And just before Josh Groban beings to sing “Believe”– when the unseen narrators says my favorite lines — I am guaranteed to get all sorts of misty-eyed. The line that speaks to the driving force beneath my unbridled Christmas cravings and addictions… 

“Seeing is believing… but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

Things like love.

Like the eye-rolling, eggnog-fueled love of a man who doesn’t get my holiday love affair, but still gets me. Who will drive to the ends of the earth – or at least the ends of the Southeast – to make my mama’s heart happy at Christmas time. Or at any time.

Like the fierce, full love of a mama for her babies. All of them. The ones full grown and on their own, and the ones still underfoot in footed pajamas.  A love that will always find a way – come hell or high water (have you SEEN how much it’s rained this year??? – to get to her offspring at Christmas time. Or any time.

And like the passionate love of a God who sent his only begotten son as a gift to the entire world at Christmas time. And all the time.

Yep. I am a Christmas Junkie. And I’m not giving it up anytime soon.

I Wish You a Merry, Mid Century Modern, Swivel-Chaired Christmas

peterschristmasThat old holiday standby – “I’ll be Home for Christmas” — there’s a reason it’s a favorite. Nearly all of us yearn for those Christmas card kinda holidays — those Currier & Ives, picture perfect Christmases from our childhoods. The ones with lights twinkling, presents waiting, family hugging, baking, laughing, snuggling. Those are the ones we remember with fondness.

And as we get older, those kinds get harder and harder to recreate. In part, it’s because families get scattered to the four winds and coming home for the holidays takes a major Christmas miracle.

Take my family, for instance. I have a sibling in Phoenix, a daughter in Dallas, another in Knoxville, aunts and uncles scattered across the Southeast, in-laws in Detroit, and grandparents in Heaven. Only one of the afore-mentioned family members is home  – and it’s the first time for her in five years. So yes, distance makes family reunions impossible.

But I also think it’s because those past Christmases probably weren’t as consummately classic as our memories tend to make them. Pretty sure my grandmother’s house was more Clark Griswold than Norman Rockwell. Regardless, it is what I miss the most at Christmas.

There were uncles and cousins times twenty. There was turkey and stuffing and more. You want jingle and nog? We had plenty, but who cares? No big deal, we had more….

I wanna be back where my people are…

I wanna see, wanna see them dancing – my uncle the hambone, my Grandma the Charleston — while cousin Teresa pounds out carols on the old, rattletrap pump organ and the rest of us cousins twirl endlessly on the mid century modern swivel chair with winged backrest and threadbare upholstery.

This chair was an arm-less dame with a generous lap and endless patience, and we stacked ourselves up and spun round and round till our stomachs – or a cousin — flipped. And then we started all over again.

And while we tripped the chair fantastic, an ancient miniature schnauzer with rotting teeth nibbled hard boiled eggs at the fireplace hearth, and our aunts and mothers baked up a holiday feast worthy of Rockwell legend.

And when we  finally all sat down to eat – all those Southeast-scattered aunts and uncles, and the entire eight cousins, along with the dog, and the grandest dame of them all, our Charleston-dancing, snuff-sniffing, Melungeon-made matriarch — the table absolutely did NOT look like that iconic Saturday Evening Post holiday spread. There was no silver service, no matching white china, no apron-wearing, gray-haired grandparents delivering the glistening turkey to the masses. (My grandfather died when I was scarcely two, and my grandma never basted a butterball in her life – not to mention her hair was a deeply dyed, bitumen-black bob.)

No, our table looked more like the Grinch-down-in-Whoville’s final dinner scene. Our spread was scattered across a hodge podge of card tables and end tables linked together in a rickety centipede’s spine. No turned-mahogany matched seating for us. Instead we all bellied up to the banquet in random ladder-back and fold up and no-backed seating and heaped up our plates with turkey and pork tenderloin and cranberries and asparagus casserole and stuffing and dressing for miles.

Elbows rode tables, laughter rode faces, and our family spun straw into gold.

I miss those days and those sounds and those people so, so much.

We have a new matriarch now. And the eight cousins have doubled and quadrupled and scattered to horizons far, far away. And not a one of us is getting any younger. And some of us are nearly as old as our bitumen-bobbed matriarch was way back in those Christmases past.

Which means not many of us are able to gather round rickety card table banquets to rehash the hilarity. But I can still hold out hope. Hope that some time, very, very soon, we can get all the extended Peters back together once again to recapture the merry, mid- century modern, swivel-chaired holidays of our youth.

That is tops – absolute tops — on my grown-up Christmas list.

(Perhaps a Christmas in July this year, Santa? Whaddaya say?)

 

 

 

Christmas with Twin Toddlers: Building Memories, not Designer Trees

Our Christmas tree – the boys’ Christmas tree – hardly looks like an HGTV tree. Chip and Joanna would not approve. And I have to admit, I don’t rightly know that I do either. But I am letting it stand — As Is – a bead-dripping, ball-clumping conglomeration of toddler artistic interpretation and strategic disarray. I mean, it is an absolute cluster.

In the beginning, I tried to go behind and guide my boys toward proper ornament placement — to demonstrate scale and visual hierarchy, leading lines and symmetry — to advocate for the balance and brilliance of a beautifully appointed Christmas tree (or at least to show them empty branches begging for attention), but they would have none of it. They knew exactly where they wanted those twelve tangled strings of beads and precisely where to place that Santa head with the snowy, tousled beard — it catches on every pine needle and if you’re not careful he can wind up looking more like Marley’s Ghost than Jolly Old Saint Nick. (Ahem, they weren’t careful.)

Now if you know me and my love of Christmas Villages and my passion for perfectly placed blown glass ornaments collected over a lifetime, you know this has not been easy for me.  My fingers are just itching to get in there and tidy things up.

But I was cautioned by their dad that it doesn’t really matter if I like it or not: it’s their tree. And what matters is that they’re proud of it. Which they are. They have touched up and tweaked their masterpiece all day long.

Now our boys have distinct personalities – and they trimmed the tree with tactical procedures and divergent techniques entirely reflective of those distinct personalities.

Parker is our motion machine. He loves trucks and running – and he used both in his approach. He ran. Fast. From packing box to pre-lit bough. Laughing all the way. And the trucks, you ask? Well, when he wasn’t hauling ass, he was hauling ornaments in his green metal dump truck. At first, he hauled them the old-fashioned way – piled in its bed in a giant, glittering heap. But then he got a bit creative and hung them off the rear end like metallic ball fringe, Beep-Beep-Beeping as he backed it into place. He front-loaded the tree with about a dozen balls this way – some frosted, some glittered, some gleaming — all on the same two branches, reinforced with the cording from the lights.

Tate, our theatrical boy, well, his presentation was all splash and pizzazz (jazz hands may have been involved.) He danced to Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic as he worked, twisting and jiving all the while.  He flung crimson beads with gleeful abandon into the tree, preferring a vertical configuration to the more traditional horizontal swag. There they remain, dripping and pooling to the floor like a flapper’s beaded skirt tossed carelessly to the side after a long night at a speakeasy.

While their styles may be polar-opposite, both boys had one thing in common: they were all about that base, ‘bout that base, no treetop… So I had to take it upon myself to bedazzle our evergreen’s upper registers.  Her higher frequencies are arranged in a modest, classical tempo, her rhythm and chords carefully constructed to provide an aesthetically pleasing harmony. But she never takes herself too seriously —  I mean how, could she, when she resembles a Gatsby party-goer the morning after – un-gartered and unraveled and entirely unashamed.

Yes, our tree is a sight. She’s definitely not winning any Southern Living photo shoots, that’s for sure. But she IS winning big time in our boys’ hearts.

After all, we’re building memories here, not designer trees.

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Confessions of a Christmas Junkie

christmasboys

I love gingerbread. And hot buttered rum. And the Elf on the Shelf. And the Nutcracker ballet. And Christmas lights. And Christmas ornaments. And A Christmas Story. And THE Christmas Story. And… did I mention gingerbread?

I am a holiday junkie. I mean, I absolutely crave all things Christmas. Alas, I married a man who does not. He does crave egg nog — so there’s that. But I think that’s it for his tolerance of the season. He tolerates me, too — although he does roll his eyes at all my holiday hoopla. In his defense, I may have been known to overdo it just a tad. Clark W. Griswold and Martha Stewart are my inspirations.

The Christmas jonesing kicks into full gear on Thanksgiving night. That’s when I throw off all pretense of self-control and set my Christmas carol playlist on shuffle, where I keep it running loud and proud straight through New Year’s Eve. Carrie Underwood’s “O Holy Night” gets me all teary-eyed. Josh Groban’s “Ave Maria” makes me weep outright. But then, I run the entire emotional gamut. I get downright giddy over Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and Julie Andrew’s “My Favorite Things,” too.

And speaking of MY favorite things, Christmas cards in the mailbox and my personalized, hand-knit stocking hanging on a peg on the fireplace are at the top of that list. As is gingerbread straight out of the oven. I know I’m repeating myself, but if I’m not mistaken, gingerbread was one of the precious gifts of the magi. There was gold, gingerbread and myrrh. Look it up 🙂 So it’s a seasonal necessity. (And this year, my sister introduced me to a Williams Sonoma mix that is the absolute definition of comfort and joy. We feed each other’s addictions.)

So yes, I love gingerbread and Christmas carols, but I think my favorite Christmas accoutrements are the ornaments. I’ve collected them for years and years and years. People who know me know I take my ornament selection VERY seriously. I will search half a year to track down the perfect one for each special person in my life. I’m an ornament snob, too, so that makes ornament purchasing even stickier. The medium doesn’t matter so much; the ornaments can be anything and from anywhere. I’ve found designer blown glass Betty Boops, Pottery Barn bottle brush squirrels, and Australian handcrafted felt angels. My criteria is ambiguous and esoteric. I just know when I know. And sometimes it takes months and months of Etsy surfing and brick and mortar navigating to find each family member’s certain special something. That’s where my Martha Stewart OCD kicks in. I admit I have a problem. That’s the first step, right? Only I don’t want to be cured.

I love the freakishly sentimental feelings that Christmas stirs in me. I know I can be over-the-top in a way that can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. Especially for someone who is used to quiet, single day, perfunctory family dinners and gift card exchanges. But me, I thrive on the chaos of the season – the gazillion get togethers, the flurry of family obligations, the weeks’ worth of baking and wassailing and all-around merry making. I become a paradoxically highly-charged, gooey lump of blubbering happiness.

Because my absolute favorite thing about the holidays as a mother is being with my babies. All four of them.  And this year, as in the past few years since the girls have been full-grown and on their own, that can be tricky. And it can require some creative calendaring, and come-hell-or-highwater maneuvering, to make it happen.

This year my crew is scattered far-and-wide, so out of necessity, we’ve sprinkled our celebrations generously (like powdered sugar on gingerbread) until they’ve coated a two-week span. First up, we traveled over the river and through four states to Caitlin’s house for a grand total of seven hundred and eighty-four miles. One way. A road trip of epic proportions when you have toddler twin boys. In case you haven’t heard, boys don’t like to sit still. But, according to federal regulations, sit still they MUST. Strapped into seats with harnesses at their chests and crotches. For seven-hundred-and-eighty-four miles. So that was fun.

christmascarseats

We knew from past experience that the drive might not go well. The last time we navigated the expressways – which are ironically named since there is nothing express about them when you’re packing twin toddlers – the boys were fifteen months old. We had to stop every two hours to let them run around for an hour or so. We felt like Odysseus trying to make it home to Ithaca. I’m pretty sure we entered a Calypso time warp at some point because our twelve-hour journey evolved into a twenty-three hour return trip. I vaguely recall standing in a moving vehicle hanging a boob up and over a car seat headrest at 1:30 AM so I could nurse a boy while he was strapped in because we didn’t want to stop YET AGAIN.

So we entered into this week’s journey to visit Caitlin — eldest daughter, biggest sister, superstar surgeon and all-around awesome human — with tremendous anticipation, but also with  tremendous trepidation. Thankfully, though, all our fears proved unfounded. This year, our road trip was SO much easier. This year, our round trip grand total (26 hours) was ALMOST equal to the return trip from last time… so I consider that a HUGE success.

christmascaycay

Plus, we had a fantastic time with our Cay Cay, who couldn’t come to us this year – or any year on residency thus far – because she was on 24-hour call. We filled our three days in Dallas with Vitruvian Christmas lights, winter landscaped model trains with super hero passengers, window shopping, real shopping, pasta and wine and gingerbread, and a dumpster dive by Mike, who went rummaging through an entire apartment complex’s rubbish in search of an inadvertently discarded paring knife. We love her super very much a lot, and wouldn’t have missed a second of it.

This weekend, we have a much quicker little jaunt up to Chattanooga planned in order to see Bethany and Baby Bentley and the crew and finish off our Christmas celebrations. It’s only a two-hour round trip trek, but it should prove monumental. We’ll be taking a ride on the Tennessee Railroad. Parker and Tate and Bentley and his big sis Braylen should love it. I can’t wait to see their faces and feel their excitement when that engine starts chugging. Modeled after The Polar Express, the kids will get some sort of chocolate drink and a sleigh bell. And rest assured, I’ll get some sort of misty eyed. Because that close up of that bell in the final scene of The Polar Express… just before Josh Groban begins to sing “Believe,” when the unseen narrator says his final lines… That scene gets me. It speaks to the driving force beneath my unbridled Christmas cravings and addictions…

“Seeing is believing… but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

Things like love.

Like the eye-rolling, eggnog-fueled love of a man who doesn’t get my holiday love affair, but still gets me. Who will drive to the ends of the earth – or at least the ends of the Southeast – to make my mama’s heart happy at Christmas time. Or at any time.

Like the fierce, full love of a mama for her babies. All of them. The ones full grown and on their own, and the ones still underfoot in footed pajamas.  A love that will always find a way – come hell or high water or four-state odysseys – to get to her offspring at Christmas time. Or any time.

And like the passionate love of a God who sent his only begotten son as a gift to the entire world at Christmas time. And all the time.

Yep. I am a Christmas Junkie. And I’m not giving it up anytime soon.

 

 

 

Nice Guys and Misfits Still Win

I love Claymation Christmas specials. I grew up on The Little Drummer Boy, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Jack Frost… but I’ve always especially loved Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Maybe, subconsciously (long before I was an English major) the alliteration appealed to me.

Then, in November of 2008, Rudolph went down in history as my all-time favorite when Mike made the romantic gesture to end all romantic gestures. He brought along a digital projector, a Rudolph dvd, and a portable player to Caitlin’s med school interview to take all our minds off an extraordinarily stressful and momentous situation. The motel room was moldy, the carpet was spongy, the drapes were dingy, but I knew right then and there that Mike Candela was a keeper. He had brought us Rudolph for the road.

Growing up, I wanted to live in Rudolph’s soft focus, pulled-felt world.  I wanted to be Clarice, the fuzzy, long-lashed doe with the French name. She was spunky and kind-hearted, and she had the most amazing polka dot, red bow.

And then, to top it all off, she fell in love with the misfit – the social outcast with the blinking beacon. I’ve always been one to go for the oddball, too. (Sorry, Mike, but you’re one of the weird ones. It’s okay – I am, too).

Image result for rudolph and clarice

But even though Clarice was my goal, I think Rudolph was my reality. I am, and always have been, the ultimate misfit. For one thing, as a kid, I was in that crazy cult – it doesn’t get any odder than that! And I was tall –5’10’—which was way taller than almost any girl my age. (Still am, for that matter). And, since I suffered from acne, I had that whole glaringly red facial imperfection thing kicking, too..

Even now, after having outlived my awkward early years (sort of) and bizarre cult activities, I still find myself a misfit. I’m a mother of four-year-olds at the age when most of my friends have children in their teens or beyond. (Oh, I have those kinds, too!)

But now, along with my grown girls, I have fifteen-to-thirty years on all the other moms. (Case in point — several of the young parents at our boys’ school were actually the friends of my daughters growing up!) So, yeah, I’m still a misfit.

I also sport those hesitant, herky-jerky movements of stop action film. Not because of bad joints (I may be fifty-something, but I’m not arthritic), but because so very often I stop action in the middle of my errand because I don’t remember what in the sam hill I was about to do.  Because even though I’m a new mother again after nearly a quarter of a century, my brain isn’t new again!  It has a whole nother quarter century stamped and imprinted deep within its gray matter since the last time I gave child-rearing a go.

But mainly, the one thing I love most about Rudolph is how everyone who is targeted as a misfit – those who don’t fit within society’s expectations or generalizations – is welcomed with open arms by the story’s end. One, great, big, felt-covered happily-ever-after. It fits so nicely with my oh-so-progressive bleeding heart.

But then, watching it again with the boys, I’ve realized it isn’t quite the idyllic, little anti-bullying, feel-good statement piece I remember. For one, Donner is a sexist son of a bovid. And two, Santa is an absolute donkey’s rear. (Now, neither of the nouns I just used to label these characters are as colorful as what I would like to use, but Clarice is the only French word I’ve vowed to use in this particular blog entry, so you may read between the italices, here.)

So how is Donner sexist?  You may not realize it – because I’m fairly certain they’ve cut this line from the television broadcast — but on the dvd version, he rejects his wife and Clarice’s offer to help find Rudolph by proclaiming, “This is man’s work.” Yup. MAN’S work. WTF?!?! (btw, those are initials, my dear reader, and if you heard French, it’s because YOU – that’s right YOU — provided the fancy foreign phrase there, not I. So I’m still technically sticking to my G-Rated guidelines…) Yep. Donner’s a piece of work.

And the offensiveness doesn’t stop there. The narrator kicks in some misogynistic commentary as well. It is after Clarice and Mrs. Donner (the only name she is ever given…) successfully find Rudolph –despite Donner’s orders –only to find themselves in the clutches of the abominable snow monster.

At this point, Yukon Cornelius, keeper of sled dogs, an open-carry revolver, and elaborate facial hair (evidence, once again, of the potency and divine might of beards) sweeps in to save the day, sending himself and Bumbles tumbling into a giant abyss. The narrator then proclaims people are  “very sad at the loss of their friend, but realize that the best thing to do is get the women back to Christmas town.” Ugh.

And then finally, there’s Santa. The mean-spirited, faultfinding, curmudgeonly Santa who pokes fun of tiny infant Rudolph, right out of his mama’s belly. I mean, it’s to be expected that the other reindeer will call him names — it’s in the lyrics, after all. But Santa?

Santa is Father Christmas! He’s a saint, for Christmas sake!!  He’s supposed to be all jolly and twinkly and eat cookies and go Ho Ho Ho! and bring along a sack full of goodies everywhere he goes.

But not in Rudolph. In Rudolph, he’s mean to the elves when they give him a Christmas concert. He’s mean to Rudolph when his shiny nose is too bright for sore eyes. He’s mean enough to banish handicapped toys to an island for misfits. He’s even mean enough to almost cancel Christmas — all because of a little storm! That’s not the Santa I remember!

I swear, I think they’ve edited a lot of the unfortunate 1960’s political incorrectness out of the broadcast version because I don’t remember any of the patronizing gender roles and rude behavior when I was little.

Then again, I was programmed and conditioned to overlook male misconduct. Plus, I wasn’t allowed to believe in Santa – so I didn’t pay him much mind, anyway. Instead, I hung onto every word out of Clarice and Rudolph’s felted wool muzzles, along with those physically deformed and bullied misfit toys. Those parts are still as awesomely iconic and compellingly relevant as ever.

Yeah, the show isn’t quite what I remembered from my childhood. But will that keep me from curling up on my sofa with a soft, flannel throw and my boys at my side, watching it every single Christmas season? Of course not.

The way I look at it, I’m a mom and I’m a teacher. And the fallibility of the cautionary tale gives it that much more impact. It provides so many teachable moments. I have a responsibility “to train up a child in the way he should go” so that “when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

And the way I want my boys to go is that same generous-hearted, progressive route of their father – who appreciates women, who respects women, who listens to the insights of women, and who values the opinions of women.

He sees my strengths, even when I find myself blinded by the conditioning of my youth. He knows that my worth is so much more than my ability to flutter long lashes and dress in comely red finery.

He doesn’t believe in Woman’s Work or Man’s Work. He just believes in hard work. And he’s a man who truly appreciates that my fluency in French far outshines his own – a rare find, indeed. Yes, Rudolph will provide me some pretty, solid, serious teaching moments for me and our boys for years to come.

So things are never quite the same as you remember from your childhood, I guess… But despite all the flaws and imperfections (funny, I guess the show is ironically a bit of a misfit itself) Rudolph still has a happy ending. That hasn’t changed. The nice guys and the misfits still win in the end.

Yes, yes they do.

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