Holidays

On being Jewish and my favorite Christmas present

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So I’m not Jewish – but for about forty minutes this morning, while pouring over a fellow blogger’s three short stories – full of descriptive imagery that opened a world I’ve never known – I could have been. In writing, I tell my kids it isn’t enough just to give me a telling, I need to be in that moment and sense it for myself. To digest the tale, I’ve got to believe it and to believe it I have to see it, taste it, smell it as if I existed in the same moment with the writer. I appreciate the less travelled- the rare- the authentic and the narrative always adds to the quality of any experience to bring it to the palate of the reader. Here’s my ‘thank you’ note to one of my budding writers when ‘thanks’ doesn’t really do justice in detailing the whole experience.

During the holiday season, we are told it is more important to give than to receive. In this case, what I received enabled me to pay it forward to someone else. Thank you for my gift because it was my most treasured present this year.

It was December 20th, the last day of school before winter break, and ready to kick off the holiday in true vacation spirit, I decided to stop for pizza. Pizza joints are always bustling on Friday nights, and this Friday, right before the holidays, was no exception. The weather was atypical for impending winter, so we sat outside waiting for my husband to meet up with us to avoid the crowded restaurant. When he finally arrived, I waited in line to place our order, while encouraging my husband to save a table in the swamped restaurant. He found one in an alcove buried under already used pasta dishes and leftover pizza crusts on paper plates, but I saw him nudge the mess over with the back of his hand and sit down. At about the same time, a lady who’d just placed her order before me set up camp across from him. From behind, I heard them making small talk and laughing so I placed our order and took our number to the table. I figured this would be interesting, battle of the wills staking claim to the single empty table.

There, across from my husband, sat a complete stranger. We introduced ourselves and noted the congested restaurant; she explained that she was waiting on her carry out and was Italian herself and quite comfortable with sharing a table while she waited; we welcomed her to wait at our table as our food hadn’t yet arrived. She described some of her life experiences – she was an accountant, divorced, single parent of a grown daughter; she was an avid traveler and had been to 48 of 50 states. She’d been to countless countries and dined on various cuisines. She was an expert on Italian cooking and shared some of her family’s recipes and even lived in Italy for years during young adulthood. She was knowledgeable of the world, politics, and well read.

Our pizza was up and the waitress brought out a blistering hot silver tray with a bubbly cheese and dough pie, accompanied by a handful of napkins and utensils. We enjoyed the company of our guest so much that we insisted she join us for dinner since her carry out order, strangely enough, still hadn’t arrived. We ate dinner and talked throughout our meal – she served my son seconds on pizza and helped him arrange his chosen toppings on his slice with her fingers that were made oily from the task. Sometime later, her carry out order was brought to the table, but she was already in the midst of eating a vegetarian pizza so it would’ve been silly for her to take her order home to eat alone. My son complaining about eating vegetarian, she tipped open the top of her meatball pizza box and removed the meatballs from her untouched order to arrange them on his plate as he watched wide eyed with gratitude.

Afterward, we hugged her goodbye and wished her a happy holiday and the best for the coming new year. As we walked to our car in silence, my husband and I suddenly both commented to each other that she must be very lonely to be out on a Friday to pick up her dinner, anticipating to eat at home alone. A unique evening to have shared a meal with a complete stranger who many may have overlooked and not recognized how appreciative she would have been at being included in a family dinner. The holidays become too busy for all of us focusing on too much of the commercial, less important aspects of Christmas buying and cramming events into schedules long on tasks but short on moments. This beginning to my holiday was the true reason for the season and the pause as my reminder to focus on the spirit of the season.

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Woah horsey, stop trying to control everything

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With the rain flicking the roof all day making me feel as though I’m a Seattle resident, it’s the perfect day to sit on my bed and evaluate a stack of papers for usage, mechanics, and punctuation. I always feel badly about shirking home duties while I’m at home as I hear the finished dryer cycle beep and the echoes of the dishwasher being emptied by little hands that are oh so new to household responsibilities, but en route to 365 days of a better me – with my ebb and flow change of New Year’s resolutions – I’ve decided to add another goal for myself: stop trying to control everything and expect it to be done in the manner in which I deem ‘perfect.’

The Christmas undecorating extravaganza this year experienced a marked change. With me still in recovery mode and unable to lift and bend, for the first time my husband and the kids stripped the trees and packaged the holiday decor to be squirreled away for the year. It was done as one of those ‘surprise mama’ moments. I heard whispers coming from downstairs up the stairwell that evening, but aside from the hushed voices I’d never have suspected a thing as I half slept through the process. The next morning, during ‘the Grinch stole Christmas’ prideful unveiling by my very own Max and Cindy Lou Who with Christmas stashed away, I winced at the thought of trudging up to the attic alone during the blistering heat of the summer for my own celebration of Christmas in July trying to sort what they’d packed in their own method of organizing. Especially after finding the little terra cotta pot that had been painstakingly repaired with clear nail polish and neatly placed on a paper towel, I wondered what other carefully repaired items were packed away. I’d had the inclination to toss the pot one day this week when I’d found it mistakingly lingering in the kitchen cabinet, forgotten by its fellow comrades from the properly label maker labeled ‘nature tree’ Christmas container, but as it rolled in my hand with its jagged imperfection, seeping dried nail polish lines, and poor repair job, I marveled that it wasn’t ‘my perfect’ but made me so happy that it was the most charming attempt. Whatever treasures to behold next holiday season from the expedited whisking away of the holiday baubles this year was done with their sweetest intentions – with that even this old Grinch’s cold heart swelled at the thought and I stuck the pot back in the wrong spot to enjoy it again the next time I open the cabinet.

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Resolutions

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Oh to be so carefree.

In anticipation of the new year, I’m never so easy going to lounge belly up in a tussle of blankets well into mid morning like some – but have already assembled my list of resolutions that will continue to grow as I seek self improvement and healthier family life all the time.

My list so far:
-Only make positive comments
-Limit sugar (more for the kids but I have to model good practices)
-Floss during brushing every night (I try to unless I’m wiped out but this is another good one for the kids)
-Play more family games together- brain games like checkers, spot it, strategy games with number patterns etc.
-Practice gratitude
-Go paperless
-Organize basement- major purging

It’ll change during the coming weeks as I reflect on who I’d like to be and the dreams I have for the adult versions of who my children are becoming but it’s a start.
Happy January 1. It’s a great beginning.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

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A couple of weeks ago we woke up to a morning blanketed in white and gleefully rejoiced that it meant a day at home – no work, no school, just inside snuggled up warmly. It set the perfect stage for Christmas so I had to take a couple of pictures.

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There’s nothing like fresh snow to make Christmas seem to have already arrived. I took several more pictures to showcase my Christmas home – it’s always changing from year to year despite how I tell ornaments ‘No!’ when they plead to hop into my cart on a 90% off after Christmas sale. I guess there are worse infractions in life – especially when I’m the one rifling through the attic to unpack and repack.

Every room has a touch of Christmas. My daughter got her white tree for her vintage French country bedroom decor and she decorated it with gold ornaments. I had to make her a cream moire satin tree skirt with an olive velvet ruffled trim and her monogram.

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My dining and living rooms are my favorite. They are decorated in golds and blues and get lots of attention because that’s where we spend Christmas Eve for our formal dinner. I like to use glass and silver. The vessels on the buffet will be filled with seasonal fruits and holiday sweets.

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The magnolia wreath is homemade and greens cut from the bottom of the Christmas tree are used in wreaths and arrangements.

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The kitchen is the hustle and bustle center of the holiday where everything is homemade for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day brunch so decorations are kept simple and either easily movable or out of the way. Our nature tree features raffia wrapped around it with sparrows perched on branch tips, little pots, vintage seed packets, small pieces from my copper collection- assembled as if the birds built their nests there and decorated the tree themselves; the nature tree is backdropped by a sleeping garden.

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This year’s addition is the greenery on the railing. I used greenery that I’ve had for years and stocked up on flocked juniper sprays, glittered orchids, glittered money plant, peacock feathers wrapped in white lights.

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Our vintage vibe tree features strictly antique ornaments on the tree and the mantle. This room is also a busy one where we celebrate Christmas morning and every seat is taken so I didn’t overfill it this year.

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It’s been warmer during the past couple of days but we’ve begun the cool off to my favorite days of the year. I look forward to celebrating Christmas each year and it seems to roll around faster each time. Here’s to celebrations with family and laughter – Merry Christmas!

My vintage vibe tree

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Over the past couple of years I’ve added slowly to a vintage ornament collection. I came across a huge stash for sale this fall that sat in a box in the family room well before the much anticipated Christmas season commenced – certain that I’d use many of the newest additions from my collection. After considering how many I had amassed, I decided my family room decor theme would strictly be vintage. Anything that hadn’t patina-ed, tarnished, chipped, or muddled in color wouldn’t have a place; not that my familiar ornaments aren’t special but this is me living wild and crazy Christmas.

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I spent the afternoon yesterday decorating the tree with my daughter and we hung more ornaments than I’ve ever put on any tree before. Literally each bough is adorned with multiple baubles in different styles, colors, and ‘circas’. I guess I will never decorate with this latest set of ornaments again without thinking of the seller. He said his grown kids and their families didn’t want the ornaments – even though many had been his since childhood- and they were downsizing so he was glad to part with them. Not even my family, but I can’t help but think of him as a child- small hands that grew into elderly hands that held onto new shaky, chubby fingers each year at this time as they prepared for holiday festivities. How to part with such cheerful history…

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I love how the cracks and imperfections of each globe pick up the lights and the crooked hangers have carefully been rebent until they’ve weakened tightly grabbing onto piney branches. The horizontal stripes wrapping in even bands, the dry thick glitter, and the non existent ringer underneath the bell just aren’t manufactured with this kinda holiday charm anymore. There are no two ornaments alike and it’s the perfectly vintage not perfect tree for all time for us.

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Another time around

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Anything old is my favorite of favorite things. When I find a stack of appetizer plates and can trace the pattern back to the early 1900s, I think about the parties they’d been invited to over the years- guests holding them in hand and laughing merrily in a time gone by. The scratches and imperfections visible memories of evenings that were – birthdays, weddings, celebrations. Antique furniture has the same appeal. While sitting at an old dining table, I think about the countless gatherings for family dinners, holidays, and late night conversations between parents and their children as they grew. It’s authentic history when cherished belongings are passed down through generations- the silent folklore that resides if only these pieces could talk. There is nothing like reflecting on this when I have a vintage piece – so imagine my delight when I found a stash of ornaments that belonged to an elderly gentleman for sale. I started yet another collection last year- this time ornaments. When I picked these ‘new’ additions up the other day I didn’t even look inside the boxes to count or explore until I got home. I was more intent as I listened as he told me about how the ornaments were from his own childhood while he helped me put them in my car – perplexed how he was able to part with them. I drove around with them seat-belted next to me in the passenger seat until the afternoon delight of Friday arrived. Immediately inside the door, on the floor, I gently unpacked the ornaments and began sorting them into cardboard compartments to store for one more month. Each color was unique and delicately detailed, the mottled color almost flaking off on some, and the genuine patina of old metal tops unmistakable. All in all, there easily must have been 200 ornaments packed within the three boxes – an entire tree worth of someone’s life story – who I met for a moment and will never see again. This season add to a collection from someone else’s past and see how that makes the holiday more precious.

Stretch your roots

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My dad once told me that the roots of a grape will go down as far as 30 feet in search of water. We have five grape plants on the south side of the house that I let run wild. In summers before I’ve harvested handfuls over my shoulder thrown into baskets and the grass behind me. This year, the deer were quicker and I didn’t see as much as a single grape. Since grapevines are vigorous growers and overtake the fence line when left unkempt over the summer, my husband suggested that we get rid of them in favor of allowing some fruit trees to grow larger. Once I learned how hard the roots of a grape worked to find water, I had a new admiration for them and have never forgotten it. Every time I pass them in the yard I think of that miraculous fact. Quietly, beneath the earth, searching deep within to find what they need.

I do not have copious amounts of time on my hands, nor am I adverse to splurging for the $3.99 to buy a grapevine wreath at the craft shop down the street, but grapes or no grapes, anybody who works that hard in my yard is going to have some celebrating. I’ve never made a grapevine wreath before but that never stopped me with anything.

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I began by tearing the vines off of the fence, leaving only the base of the plant in tact – about 2-3 feet high.

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I stripped the leaves from the branches. The larger branches are drier and brown, while the younger shoots are still green and fresh.

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Once stripped of the leaves, I brought the branches into the garage to begin wrapping the wreath. I started with the thicker branches for stability. It’s entirely green – the grapevines themselves weave naturally together and I did not need to use anything to anchor them.

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I started with one large branch and braided the offshoots together to have a skeleton to work with. I kept adding additional branches and worked to give it the desired shape. It’s fairly pliable at this point so I shifted and tried to picture my ultimate shape. Don’t be discouraged at first if it’s lumpy bumpy- it will even out.

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Somewhat improved shape taking hold. Just keep weaving together until you have the thickness or you use all of your branches.

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I used every shred of grapevine that I’d cut and I ended up with a very full grapevine wreath. I added some pampas grass and a wired white polka dot burlap ribbon for fall. Since the pampas grass may shed, I hung it above the kitchen sink for quick clean ups. The seasonal additions can be changed but the grapevine wreath is a great base for different color schemes. The best part is it’s mine and in the season of gratitude I’m thankful for my grapevine’s hard work.

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