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In Between Week

What are you doing this last week of 2017? I threw out this question to Facebook friends.

I see these days as Mondays, kick-start days for tasks and chores. But I thought some people might say the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is down time, a time to kick back and do nothing. Daughter said she’d take a big nap on the 26th and then get back to me. Amy works a demanding job and is taking life easy until the end of this year and then start out strong in 2018. Peggy is resting up for an upcoming adventure in January.

Some people travel. “Get out of town,” Sherry said. Mary is travelling to NYC for shows, museums, the Downton Abby exhibit, and taking in Saks’ windows displays on Fifth Avenue. After a few days with family, Chuck will fly to Buenos Aires, and Mikey is fishing in Costa Rica where life is easy and warm.

Some hit the exercise mode and take on new classes. Michael gets back on his walking program this week with the goal of 500 miles in 2018. Jan is ready for the gym and workouts. Crystal rides her bike. Together Cousin Mike and his thirteen-year-old daughter start a beginner’s tap-dancing class that runs for four months.

Some people take on tasks. Marilyn is going through Christmas decorations and sorting them. Linda begins the decluttering that lasts through February. “It is a tradition,” she says. Crystal and her husband who are in the process of downsizing will begin to declutter. (I’ve done that. They have my sympathy.)

Some set goals. Kristy, the mother of a toddler and newborn twin babies, will make a game plan for simplifying her life and said, “So I can better take care of my now family of 5!” Alexandra will write her vision of Thrive with Hope’s Growth in 2018.

Some spoke of looking forward. I appreciate their optimism. Move toward 2018 with hope, love, faith. Look forward to new friendships, new opportunities for self-development, spiritual growth and personal well-being.

Almost all planned to spend some of this week with others. Time with family and friends tops most people’s list. Grandparents are enjoying grandbabies. Parents treasure having grown-up kids home. Out-of-towners are visiting everyone they can.

Many friends inspire me. They remind me to be in the present and count my blessings. Reminisce about the past year, the good times and the hard times, thanking God for seeing us through.

This week is like no other and I like it. I’ll do a few tasks. I’ll pack away most Christmas decorations. But not the carolers, one for each of our children and Grands, which will decorate the china hutch until Valentine’s Day and the nativity so the Wise Men can join the celebration sometime in January.

And I’ll get out my 2018 calendar and jot down planned events. And I have a new jigsaw puzzle to complete. But I’m convinced this week is a time to rest and enjoy being with those we love. I hope you do the same.

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The More I Love Christmas

Every December I reread a Christmas card Husband and I received in 2009 from Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh. The front reads ‘The older I get, the more I love Christmas’ and inside a poem begins with these words: The older I get the simpler my holiday preparations become, the closer I feel to old friends as I write my Christmas cards, the more fondly I remember Christmases past.

To give credit to the poet I googled the beginning lines and found that same card is available from Walter Drake, but no credit is given to the writer. The words inspire me to step back, away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, to appreciate Christmas moments, past and present.

Our Christmas tree is a memory tree. Each ornament tells a story. I love the plastic Santa astride a white horse that hung on my family’s tree in the 1950s. I cherish a plastic lantern, with a sprig of plastic holly, that was tied with a red bow onto a big white box Husband gave me in 1968. Inside that big box were smaller boxes and inside the smallest box was my engagement ring. I treasure the paper ornaments that Son and Daughter made in kindergarten. I hang many teacher ornaments that students gave me through the years. I remember a 6th grade girl handing me a wrapped box and saying, “Mom said you better like these. They cost a lot of money.” Now, thirty something years later, I love those birds more than the day I opened her gift.

Last week two Grands, ages 6 and 8, wore their mother’s red dresses and sang in their school Christmas program. As Elaine and Ruth sang Away in a Manger with their classmates, half my heart was in the past when Daughter wore those dresses. She was seven and a second grader when she wore one and sang Silver Bells at a Northeast Elementary School program.

As I drove Ruth and ten-year-old Lou across town a few days ago, they laughed at the music on my Christmas CD. “That’s sounds so old-timey,” one said and burst into a jazzed up version of Joy to World. I turned off the recorded music and we sang. I joined them in White Christmas and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And my Grands laughed because I sang off key.

There’s no other time of the year that friends and acquaintances greet each other with such enthusiasm. We hold hugs a little longer. Shout Merry Christmas. Smile bigger. And there’s no other time that I enjoy opening mail more. I love Christmas cards. Greetings from friends and family, from across town and across oceans.

I look forward to Christmas Eve candlelight service. The tradition of worshipping and hearing the birth story from the book of Luke and holding a single lit candle while singing Silent Night. Celebrating the miracle of Christmas.

The older I get, the more I realize Christmas is a matter of the heart.

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It Wouldn’t be Christmas Without….

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-8-09-58-amWhat are the ‘musts’ for Christmas at your house? I threw that question out to Facebook friends and they commented. Christmas is about family, friends, church services, gifts, games, movies, carols, food, and the nativity.

Traditional food ranks high on everyone’s list. Anne said, “We have the exact same food every year. You can add, but you CANNOT take away. We tried doing something different about thirty years ago and it was a disaster. The kids love their tradition.” So do adults. Vegetable soup, shrimp, spinach balls, fruitcake, dried apple stack cake, coconut cake, gingerbread houses. And while most of my friends enjoy southern foods, two honor their family heritage by eating eat lutefisk and lebkuchen.

Christmas isn’t complete without watching movies. We laugh when we know that Raphie’s father in A Christmas Story won a prize. Laugh before we even see the lamp, shaped like a leg and wearing a fishnet stocking. We celebrate that miracles still happen on 34th street and that George Baily learns that his life really is wonderful and we listen for the angel’s bell.

Two friends shared stories about boxes. Mike wrote that in 1989 he bought an aquarium for his daughters and the filter box was the perfect size for a small Christmas gift. Every year since someone gets the ‘fish box.’ It has continued to be passed around from person to person.

Jo’s story goes back to 1965 when her future mother-in-law wrapped a gift in a Texas Instrument box. After Jo married into the family, she learned about the box and always thought it was fun to see whom Grandma chose to get it. The family grew, and Jo never got the box. It went around the family over and over, and Grandma recorded the year and the box’s recipient on a paper she kept inside the box.

Jo writes, “I have to admit, I knew she loved me, but she never gave me the box and I couldn’t understand why. It was just a box, but not to this family, and you knew you were in if you got The Box. I gave up, but not without heckling Grandma, when she gave the box to my new son-in-law. Then, lo and behold, the last Christmas she was with us, before she died in the spring, I got the box.”

Jo’s family took pictures while she squealed and hugged and carried on like it was a golden box of treasure. The gift inside was a pair of old pillowcases from the 1970s, but never used. Jo says, “The perfect gift for the old box that carried so much clout, and now, I am in charge! I get to pick whose gift goes inside the box.”

I love the stories that friends shared. Myra said it best. “While we may have different rituals and traditions, we find such comfort in the power of consistency. It connects us with those no longer with us.”

That’s exactly why I make dried apple stack cake. Mom did.

Christmas Moments

Version 2Eight Grands. Five, age 4 and under.   Four adults, the Grands’ parents. We had a full house for three and a half days last week when Son brought his family across country to celebrate Christmas and Daughter’s family came from across town.   As I reflect, those days were filled with moments to hold close. Some moments when a camera wasn’t close or couldn’t be captured in a picture.

Eight-month-old Annie lay on the floor when her four-year-old cousin, Elaine, first saw her. Elaine ran and stretched out on her tummy, just like Annie, with her nose inches from Annie’s. Both giggled and squealed, kicked their feet, waved their arms. Then Elaine gave her little cousin a nose-to-nose kiss.

Neil, age 2 ½, sat in the small rocking chair that was his dad’s and hummed to the Cabbage Patch doll he held tightly. Four-year-old Grands, Elaine and Dean, lay side-by-side playing with the Fisher Price playhouse and garage, toys that their parents once played with. These cousins parked cars and lined up the little people and disagreed about who had what first.

While playing in the bathtub, Neil named the three rubber ducks: baby, big brother, momma and hid them under washcloths. Dean held the biggest one, ten inches tall, and said, “This is biggest rubber ducky ever!” (The duck someone left on my front porch a few months ago. Thank you, whoever you are.)

More food crossed our kitchen counter than Husband and I eat in a month. Young to old voices recited the prayer I learned as a child: “God bless us and bless this food.” Every minute preparing and cleaning up messes was rewarded by Neil’s comment after one bite of sweet potato fries: “YUM! This is really good!” And the Grands declared Husband’s ice cream sandwich cake the best dessert.

Gift opening time. Such chaos. Such smiles. Seven Grands sat on the floor. Baby Annie in her mother’s lap. Son and Son-in-law good naturally wore flashing Rudolph noses, treasures from their stockings; their wives donned oversized plastic gold glasses. Lou, age 8, hugged her Little House on the Prairie books and said, “Thank you! I’m so happy to have all of these! Now I can turn down page corners and a bookmark won’t fall out because these are my very own books.”

Ten-year-old David said, “Oh, look! What a surprise.” after he ripped paper from the Lego set that he had chosen months ago and told me, “This one, Gran.” Ruth, age 6, passed her turn to open a gift and explained, “I know what’s in the big box. I want to open it last.” When she did, she hugged Samantha, her first American Girl doll. Amid the ripped paper, ribbons, and open boxes, 18-month-old Micah, his arms stretched wide, ran to me. “Gen!” he said. He snuggled in my arms.

I almost let the biscuits burn while standing at the kitchen window and watching Son and his nephew, my 10-year old Grand, play basketball. Surely, it wasn’t almost thirty years ago that Son was 10 and shot balls through that same goal.

Then came the morning when Son and Daughter-in-Law packed to fly home. Husband and I walked with their sons to our backyard creek. Dean threw rocks in the water, and said, in a pitiful voice that only a toddler can master, “Gran, I sure wish my cousins would come play with me.”

Even my young Grand knows the best Christmas joy is people, not his new matchbox car garage that I thought was the perfect gift.

Merry Christmas from Husband and me to each of you!

Love, Janet

start_bg.ny One more Christmas card came in my mailbox today. A card from Huron, Ohio. From Janet Gordon, who became my aunt’s best friend when they were young housewives and raising children.

Aunt Doris and Janet and their husbands developed a friendship that emerged from living far away from their families and in the same neighborhood. It was the late 1940’s. Akron, Ohio. That close relationship continued even after Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh moved to Tennessee in 1962. The two couples vacationed together and stayed connected through Sunday night telephone calls.

As a kid, I played with Janet’s daughter while visiting Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh in Akron, and I saw the Gordon family a few times when they visited here in Tennessee. In more recent years, Aunt Doris had shared the Gordon family news with me. Of the four friends, only Janet survives. After Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh passed away within a month of each other in 2013, Janet’s daughter called me. She said that her mother needed to connect with Doris and Hugh’s family. Janet had talked with my cousin and her daughter asked that I also call her.

Janet and I talked about Aunt Doris keeping up with fashion and her determination to act young. We talked about a time that I played at Janet’s house when I ate too many marshmallows and had a stomachache. Janet lamented that she never thought she’d be the last of the four friends and declared that she was doing well. I hung up the phone and added her name to my Christmas card list.

Janet’s card included a copy of her Christmas letter. She wrote, “2014 has been a happy year for me. I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself. The goal that stands out the most is that I know if I put others first in my life, and try to encourage someone every day, I am happy and able to cope with living alone.” June 2014 was a special time because her granddaughter visited for a week and had a surprise 91st birthday party for her.

In March, Jane fell and required hospital care and caregivers during a three-month recuperation. She learned “to never underestimate what a fall can do to slow you down.” About a mild ischemic stroke that she suffered in November, she wrote “The Good Lord still wants me here as I had help immediately.” She spent four days in the hospital and continues to have speech therapy and the care of a home health nurse twice a week.

Janet ended her letter. “I am doing very well. I will start setting my personal goals for 2015. I wish you and yours joy, peace, and loving warmth as you fellowship with your family and friends. Have a safe, happy, and blessed Christmas. May you have a prosperous 2015.”

She’s 91 and lives alone. After two hospital stays in 2014 and a three month recuperation from a fall and while currently working with a speech therapist and receiving care from home health nurse, Janet is happy and doing well. She accomplished most of her 2014 goals and I’m sure she’s set 2015 goals.

I tucked Janet’s letter under my writing calendar. When there’s a day that I feel the least bit down in the dumps, I’ll read Janet’s words again. And be blessed.

Are Ornaments Necessary?

 

DSC03225For just a moment, long enough to take a picture, I decided our Christmas tree was beautiful with only lights – no ornaments, no angel, no red ropes -just lights. It was late one night in early December, and I was really tired when I posted that picture on Facebook and wrote “Are ornaments necessary?” And Facebook friends chimed in.

Nell: Real Simple magazine recommended this style of decorating about twelve years ago. I tried it and got zero votes of approval from my grown and gone children.

Kim: If they are special to you.

Janet: Well, you know the hard part is over. Go for it. (I didn’t even do the hard part. Husband did.)

Carolyn: I found out I could do without some ornaments this year. Got tired of finding a place to hang all of them. I looked at them, remembered, and put them back in the box. Does that count? (Yes!)

Jimmie: I’ve made the grievous move from a live tree to an artificial one. I’ll enjoy going through the ornaments, but there will be serious downsizing. Things change, but the tree will be pretty, just different.

Sara: The ornaments tell stories of our life and Christmas past and present. I’ve seen many lovely trees, but for us, the ornaments matter because they connect us to one another, whether present or absent, living or not, family or friends.

Becky: I’ve passed the ornament memories to Staci (daughter), which she loves, and I simplified my tree, just red ornaments and frosted pinecones. Different tree, same Christmas memories! It’s all in the heart anyway.

Carol: (a retired teacher) I still enjoy the ornaments because I have names of students written on many and I say a prayer for each of them as I hang their ornaments. The ornaments bring such fond memories of days gone by and remind me of the love we shared during the school year and beyond.

Tanya: I love personal ornaments. It warms me so when I open my box of decorations and see all those handmade ornaments given to me by my children and special friends.

Daughter: Yes!!!! I’ll send some elves over to help tomorrow. So you only have to do the top third and maybe a little rearranging on the bottom. And don’t forget the train underneath!

My friends encouraged me. The next morning I strung the red bead ropes and hung my fragile ornaments near the top of the tree and my bird ornaments nestled in a flock. My two oldest Grands and I decorated our most beautiful tree ever, and then they helped Husband set up the train.

I didn’t rearrange a single ornament that my Grands hung. Not even the three that touched each other on one branch. A plastic glitter bell from the first Christmas that Husband and I celebrated as man and wife. A glove ornament cut from one of Granny’s quilts. An elegant green and red ball that was gift from a friend.

I knew the real answer to my question. Ornaments aren’t necessary. Neither are lights or angels or electric trains or even a tree. None are necessary to celebrate Christmas. But my tree is beautiful and late on Christmas night, I plan to sip tea and cherish each ornament. Its memory. Its love. Its story.

 

 

 

 

 

A Surprise Christmas Gift

outline_of_a_television_set_0515-0911-0317-3308_SMUWhile shopping at the Goodwill Store, I hear the crackle of an intercom and then a lady’s voice.  “Is this on?” she said.  I looked toward the checkout counter.

“Will the young man who looked at a TV and wanted it please come to the front?” the lady said.  I looked around.  No one walked toward the front.  Without using the microphone, the lady turned to three other store employees who stood crowded around the counter close to her and said, “What if he doesn’t know who he is?  Anything else I can say?”  They talked among themselves, but I could only hear the lady who made the announcement.

“Will the tall young man who told someone that you wished you could buy a TV please come to the check-out counter?”  she announced.  “Think he’ll come now?”  she said without the microphone.  “Shouldn’t we go look for him?”

He was tall.  Taller than six feet and slim.  He walked in a slow, easy-going way with his chin tucked low as he approached the checkout counter.  The Goodwill employees parted to make space for him.  A TV sat on the counter.  “This is for you,” the lady to the man.  I couldn’t see his face or hear him.  “No, really, it’s yours.  A gift.” she said.

The employees clapped and laughed.  One patted him on the back and all except the lady who’d made the announcement walked away.  “Another customer brought it up here and said to give it to the young man who wished he could buy it.  He paid for it,” she said.

The young man obviously said something and I wanted to walk closer and hear the conversation, but an audience would have been an intrusion.  “All I know is he wanted you to have this TV and he paid for it and it’s yours.  So Merry Christmas!”  she said.  He didn’t pick up the TV.  “Yes, you can take it right now unless you have some other shopping.  I’ll keep it right here till you’re ready to go.”

He wrapped his arms around the portable TV and picked it up.  He walked a few steps away from the counter.  “Oh, wait,” the lady called to him.  “I forgot something.  There’s money left over.  The man said to give it to you.”  He shook his head and walked back to the counter where he set the TV.  “Yes, I’m sure,” said the lady.  She laid some bills in his hand.  With the back of his other hand, he wiped his eyes.

I hope the anonymous donor saw that tall young man as he walked toward the store’s door. He took long intentional steps and held his head high.  And he was smiling.  As he walked out the door, he dropped his head and shook it from side to side.

A surprise Christmas gift for one young man.  A gift that was generous and kind.  A gift that reminded me the reason we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas from the Ray household to yours!  May all your Christmas wishes come true.  Look for the next Where We Are column on Tuesday, December 31st.

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