Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Hangover

I'm not surprised that I got bored by the daily "journal your Christmas" prompts halfway through -- they started getting really redundant, and my decision to actually blog them was a mistake... I think they were intended to be pondered over more deeply than I usually do for a blog entry, but I hoped that blogging them would at least get me started, so I could then transfer them into my scrapbooks later.

So I have Christmas hangover this morning. That feeling of, "That's it??" Nothing a little spending of gift cards won't cure, though...

My friend Jason has posted his year-end Top 10 singles over at his blog -- you should check it out for some new and different music:

What else... not much. We just had the building maintenance guy over here for 45 minutes repairing our kitchen light fixture. He's so bizarre. He was basically throwing a temper tantrum the whole time because he had to come back after putting in new bulbs last week; he didn't put the cover back on properly, and the new bulbs were flickering like strobe lights. Once he finished up today, he was all, "Next time call sooner for new bulbs." Like it was our fault. And then he wanted to stay and chitchat about football and his shitty Christmas.

I'm not sure he's all there upstairs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

O! Christmas Tree

It isn't Christmas if the tree isn't up and decorated.

We tried to skip it last year because we went away for the week after Thanksgiving, which is when I usually decorate the house. By the time we got back to town, it seemed so late, like we'd get it up and it'd be Christmas so soon after and then I'd just have to take it right back down. But it turns out it was depressing to not have it up. It didn't feel like Christmas at all. We were broke, my job wasn't going well, etc. etc. But the minute we finally got the tree up, things started to look up.

And that's the point. The tree isn't for other people to see. It isn't intended to impress anyone. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it's okay if it is. All it needs are some lights. It's your own personal beacon of hope in a world that can sometimes feel really dark.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Write about your favorite holiday movies or shows.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the original, cartoon version).

A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Snow (this is one of those cheesy ABC Family movies that came out a few years ago).

The Night They Saved Christmas.

The Brady Bunch Christmas episode.


The Polar Express.

The Holiday (Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Jude Law and Cameron Diaz).

Love, Actually.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Parties

We don't host a holiday party; we just attend the parties of other people. Or make an effort to get together with long-time friends for a meal or whatever. My son's dad hosts a Hanukkah party every year, so we usually go over there for that. My best friend's birthday is the 23rd and most years we do something to celebrate for her -- she likes Indian food and a visit to the Zoo Lights best, but sometimes it's too cold so we've taken all the kids to a movie instead. My friends Rob and Marci from high school have an annual Christmas party at their house and we went this year; it was fun -- lots of kids for The Pook to run around with and lots of old friends to catch up with!

After we moved to Colorado when I was 9, our friends the Leahys down the street always had a party on Christmas Eve, with lots of friends and food and fun. The only year it didn't happen was in 1982, the year of the Christmas blizzard, but we were able to go over anyway since we were just two doors away. I loved those Christmas Eve parties. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that sometimes, they were more fun than actual Christmas morning! I know that's crazy... you know how much I love presents...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday Lights

When I was little, really little, after Christmas Eve service at church, my dad would drive us around town to look at Christmas lights. It would be the four of us -- eventually the five of us -- snuggled into our little car, looking for the best lights and the best decorations. Back then, people didn't get too crazy with the decorations, but there were always houses that were more lavishly decorated than others. Those were my favorites. Lots of colored lights, maybe a plastic Santa and reindeer.

And now that I'm a lot older I find that I love the houses where the people go all out and make a complete spectacle of their holiday lights. The whole point behind the "Holidays of Light" is that humans have always looked for a way to light up the darkest days of the year, and turned to annual rituals to do so. Christmas lights on houses are part of these rituals. My feeling, as someone who gets a little depressed by the dark days, is "the lighter, the better." And so it cheers me to see a house where the lights are nutty and overdone; I love that people do up their houses just to cheer up other people. I love to visit the Denver Zoo for the Zoo Lights; this year we're going to try the Botanic Gardens, which we've seen from the highway a few times and looks quite beautiful.

So my favorite holiday sight is the lights. I love it when I look at the lights of the city this time of year and they're brighter than usual.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What is your favorite Christmas book?

I have enjoyed many Christmas books over the years -- The House Without a Christmas Tree. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The Gift of the Magi. A Christmas Carol. They're all great. But what I'm really, really a sucker for is lavish illustration and a cute story. So my very favorite is Jan Brett's The Wild Christmas Reindeer. It's about a little elf girl who is charged with prepping Santa's reindeer for the Christmas Eve voyage, but the reindeer don't want to cooperate. She learns how to be more patient and gentle, and the reindeer are ready on time.

I could look at the artwork in Jan Brett's books for hours. It's very Norwegian and colorful. There are all kinds of hidden details, including side panels featuring Hedgie the hedgehog looking for a cozy winter home or something like that. My son and I love Hedgie. Jan Brett visited his school when he was in kindergarten and gave all the kids a little beginning reader book about Hedgie.

Anyway, if you're looking for something to read with your kids for Christmas, Jan Brett's book are the best.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Write about the significance of at least one of your items of holiday decor.

Most of my holiday decor takes the form of Christmas tree ornaments. I have so many that are significant and cherished more than others -- see previous entry about all the stuff my son has made for our tree. And then my Mom gives me ornaments every year in my Christmas stocking, and the ones she gives me are particularly cherished. And then there are the ornaments I pick up when we travel, which is something I just vowed to begin doing a handful of years ago, so I don't have a ton yet. What we do have: a gold glass ball ornament with an Inukshuk painted inside of it that we got in Canada last time we went up; and a giant red glass Mickey Mouse head with Mickey clothes painted on it that we got at Disney World last year.

A few years back my Mom gave me some little glass ball ornaments with white snowy owls painted on them -- Hedwig from Harry Potter, essentially. I love them. Oh, and my favorite ornament is this little purple "love bus" I picked up at a Christmas store on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder a few years ago. It has flowers and peace symbols and hippie stuff on it; it's Dept. 56. I love it and always have to find a very prominent spot on the tree for it.

We also have a little statue of Mickey Mouse dressed as Santa that my Mom bought for Daniel the year the three of us went to Disney World together, to remind him of what a great time she had with him there. That's a special piece too. It's by my favorite Christmas artist, Jim Shore. He does folk art painting on wood figurines, in bright colors. We also have a Nativity scene by him that I like to just leave out all year long because it's so lovely.

Honestly? I'd leave the tree up all year long if I thought I could get away with it. And wouldn't have to find a way to dust it.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Describe some of your favorite holiday foods.

Candy canes.

French Canadian Meat Pies.

Christmas nougat.


Hot chocolate.

Sugar cookies.

Tagliatelle with bolognese sauce.

Chocolate fondue.


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Write about one symbol of the holidays that has particular meaning to you.

It's the Christmas tree, stupid.

I don't mean you're stupid. I just mean the question is a little daft.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved Christmas trees. When I was small, we still got real trees (my mom and I are deathly allergic, so now we all have fake trees), and the process would begin by the family heading out to a Christmas tree lot to pick out a tree. My sisters and I didn't really care about the tree, per se. We were more interested in running around through the maze of trees, playing hide and seek. Usually the tree choosing evening also included a meal at someplace like McDonald's, which was a treat for us.

But the real magic began when my mom pulled out the ornaments so we could start trimming the tree. All those lovely treasures that we hadn't seen for a year -- it was such fun to go through them and find the ones we'd missed the most. For me, it was the ceramic faeries, one for each of us (my mom tried to get rid of them a few years ago, but I rescued them and now they hang on our tree).

The lights are the most important part for me. I love the lights. The lights are the entire point. The Christmas tree is a holdover from pagan traditions to welcome the Winter Solstice. Lights were placed in trees to ward off evil spirits. In this day and age, I only know of one evil spirit that I need to ward off: the dark and cold that characterize this time of year. So I love to sit with the tree lights on and drink tea and read a book and listen to George Winston's December album. It fills me with peace.

Also, my Grandma McEwen loved Christmas trees. She used to try to teach me how to sing "O Tannenbaum" in German. I never quite grasped it, but she never stopped trying. Anything Grandma McEwen loved, I was willing to love.

The Christmas tree makes Christmas. As soon as it's up, it becomes the Christmas season.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Write about a specific holiday song that has meaning to you.

What, I have to choose just one? I don't think so.

Silent Night. Aside from just being an all around great song, there are a couple of recorded versions of it out there that I love -- Stevie Nicks' version from 1986 and Mahalia Jackson's gospel version. I could listen to those a thousand times. And then there was the church service at my church following the Columbine High School shootings. We sang "Silent Night" even though it was the middle of April, and candles were lit for all the victims of the shooting, and all the other lights were turned out, and it was one of the most beautiful moments of humanity I've ever been a part of. It was a special song to me before that, but ever since, it means just the slightest bit more. It's like a light in the darkness when all hope is lost...

O Holy Night. This one I love just because I do. It's a hell of a song. It is gorgeous. Even country singers can't manage to screw it up. I used to play an instrumental version of it on the piano when I was in high school that was totally awesome.

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). The U2 version, but also the original version with Darlene Love. I just love how U2 rocked this song out; it's perfect for their hard-driving sound, and Bono's vocals just soar. It was on the first volume of A Very Special Christmas, which I bought one early December on a lunch break from Youth In Government. I believe I bought it on cassette so I could listen to it right away on my Walkman, and I damn near wore the tape out listening to it over and over. It's not Christmas time for me until I hear this song.

Fairytale of New York. This is by the Pogues. Strictly speaking, it's not really a Christmas song, but it is a song about a particular Christmas, which in rock and roll terms, makes it a Christmas song. The thing that I love about it is how the lyrics contrast with the pure joyfulness of the music itself. And the lyrics are clever.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. This was my first favorite Christmas hymn. I think my Grandma McEwen loved it, so I loved it too. We had an album of Christmas music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I think it was the first time I understood how amazing choral music could be.

O Come O Come Emmanuel. This one, when properly done, is lovely. It should be simple and quiet. It's a prayer. It's not a bombastic "Christ is born!" chorus. I've heard a rash of crap versions of it lately, though, with too much going on, and that annoys me. Why mess with perfection?

Silver Bells. We sang this in 1st grade for our Christmas concert, which we took on the road to a couple of malls in Salt Lake City. I just remember loving the words, all about Christmas time in the city, and imagined how I would grow up and live in the city someday, and it would presumably be Christmas all the time. My mom drove all the way down to Salt Lake to see us sing, and then I got to go home with her instead of on the bus with the other kids. I loved that day.

I'm a sucker for Christmas music, but I'm also fussy about it. It can't be just ANY old Christmas music. It has to be good.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Talk about a sentimental piece of holiday decor.

My son is not into art. Or crafts. He will do art when threatened with a trip to Mrs. Gray, the assistant principal. He will do crafts if he is well compensated... with cash. So I don't get much from him in the way of artwork to adorn my walls or my fridge or my cubicle at work. When he does throw me a bone in the way of bringing something home that resembles a painting of a sunflower, I promptly display it in the most prominent location I can find and keep it there about 4 years longer than necessary (actually, the sunflower painting isn't ever getting put away). You can imagine, then, how I feel about any Christmas ornaments he's made for me.

When he was 3 years old, he made me a bell. This bell is a styrofoam cup painted with gold glitter paint, with a little jingle bell strung inside it and a pipe cleaner hanger. He's not big into color, so the gold glitter paint was used sparingly on this bell. It is, of course, the finest bell ornament ever created, and I always find a special spot front and center on the tree for its display.

The following year, he made me a gingerbread snowman and tree. They are scented with cinnamon, and I keep them in a tin box in storage so they won't break. They smell delicious. They are -- of course -- the finest gingerbread snowman and tree ever created.

When he was 5, he painted a little wooden Christmas tree and, in a departure from his usual spare use of color, he coated it with red and green from top to bottom. It is stunning and perfect.

When he was 6, he made a snowman pin. I wear it on my winter coat.

When he was 7, he made another gingerbread tree. It's larger and thicker than the first one, and doesn't have quite as much scent. It has some funny shaped branches, just like a real tree. It is also perfect.

This year, he made a snowflake out of salt crystals. It is sparkling on my tree as I type this, right near the front, two thirds of the way to the top. Right next to the bell and the gingerbread snowman. I love it.

It's difficult to choose a favorite, though.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What does the word "joy" mean to you? Does it play a part at the holidays?

I like the word "joy." I mean, it conveys joyfulness, doesn't it? Pure, unadulterated happiness and exuberance. That's my definition of it, anyway. And it's only three letters, but it means all that. I think the first place I ever heard the word "joy" was in the holiday carol "Joy to World." And that carol, when properly performed, epitomizes joy.

Joy is also the way a little kid feels on Christmas morning. After all the weeks of anticipation, the joy of wrapping paper flying, new gifts to discover, the excitement of what's inside the box... that's joy. Joy is also knowing you made your family happy. And it's the delight you take in your own little pile of presents. And it's the fun you have with your family for the rest of the day, sharing gifts, reminiscing, laughing at the geeky antics of your dad. It's the meal your mom spent days planning, and hours cooking, because it's her way of telling you she loves you to pieces. It's the rousing game of Trivial Pursuit, if you can convince everyone to play.

Joy is the sound of my favorite Christmas music, the way it lifts my soul. It's the lights. It's the peppermint candy canes. It's the cup of hot tea sipped as I sit in front of my lit up tree.

Joy is the light in the dark that leads us out of the cold.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Read the article "Welcome Home, for the Holidays," and write your thoughts...

Honestly? I am the opposite of the author of this article. I think there are two types of people: those who notice the cleanliness of the carpet in a home, and those who do not. I am the former, the author is clearly the latter. I grew up in a beautiful, clean house filled with lovely things. Lots of them we weren't allowed to touch, or mess with, but it doesn't make me feel cold or empty inside at the memory. I loved being surrounded by all that loveliness. My mom's Christmas decorations could kick the ass of any Manhattan store window display any day of the week, and are decidedly less tacky. Martha Stewart works hard at the same sort of thing that comes easily to my mom. And I still love being surrounded by it. My mom's house at Christmas is beautiful and perfect. There's no place I'd rather be during the season than in her living room, sipping a cup of tea and looking at the lights on the living room tree.

Did I just say living room tree, you ask? Yes, I did. Does that mean...?? Yes. There is more than one tree. There is also the family room tree. The origin of the two-tree scenario has its roots with our old house, the house I mostly grew up in when we moved to Colorado in 1979. The family room was not situated well to accommodate a Christmas tree, because of a wall of built-in bookcases that got a lot of use. The living room was filled with a lot of furniture and was kind of formal, so it was hard to imagine doing Christmas morning in there. So my parents decided to place the tree in the hallway between the two rooms. It was more a doorway-type opening than a hallway -- the floor plan of the house worked quite well for this. My mom being who she is felt that the living room side of the tree should be decorated to complement the living room decor, and the family room side decorated to complement the family room. Thus began her years of collecting ornaments for each side -- pinks and creams and whites and sparkles for the living room side, primary colors and more "fun" ornaments for the family room side.

When my parents moved to their new house, she realized she could actually just have two trees, since the living room is 6 miles away from the family room, give or take a few miles. (We are prone to making wisecracks about how much larger the new house is than the house we all grew up in, since when they moved there, all three of us girls were grown and moved on. Some of us have since made the occasional stopover for a month or three or even six, but basically, my parents live there alone.) So she set about collecting enough ornaments for two entire trees, rather than enough ornaments to fit on two sides of one tree. The family room tree is brightly colored and still sort of the "fun" tree, while the living room tree is more fancy looking, and much taller. I love both trees.

Anyway, I don't get a complex about the state of my house because of the impending holidays. Part of it is that I always have a complex about the state of my house because I live with two total slobs, and the other part is that I just do what I can do, and that's good enough. I did have an issue with my tree the first day we got it up, after Daniel had started the trimming and then lost interest. I wasn't in the mood to finish the job until several days later, and so the tree looked sort of half-assed and sad for those several days. But then as soon as I finished, the tree looked awesome and I took 50 pictures of it to share on Facebook.

And the kind of house I look forward to visiting during the holidays is a house like my mom's. Pretty and clean and free of pet dander... because there are no pets. Enough seating for everyone, and a large family room for the entire family to spread out in as we dig into our Christmas stockings and exchange gifts with each other. It's just the way I am.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Write about your family's holiday values...

"Values" can be such a loaded word for me, since I am a (Nearly) Bleeding-Heart Liberal who chafes regularly at the religious right's attempts to claim a monopoly on having values at all. But in my calmer moments, I can enumerate the things I think are important to me, and to Rob and me as a couple, and the things we want The Pook to grow to value as well. I can't say as they really change for the holidays, but a spotlight kind of shines on them this time of year. Here are the words that spring to mind most often when I think about our values:


We're no longer churchgoing, as the appeal of mass religion has waned for us, so our Christmas is more pagan than anything -- a holiday of light to guide us through the darkest nights of the year. Probably the most important aspect of our Christmas is the family togetherness we experience. I am lucky to have one of those rare families where we actually enjoy one another's company; occasionally there is a smidgen of drama over this or that, but it's never anything major, never anything you'd have to ask Dear Abby for advice in dealing with. Our Christmas days together are, for the most part, a blast. And it's mainly because we are together, laughing and carrying on, celebrating. So that's the crux of the holiday for us: family togetherness.