Encore: Deck the Halls (Part Three)

Pastor John says God wants us to be a blessing to others. There’s a lot of that going around this Christmas, with layaway accounts being paid in full by mysterious strangers and other random acts of kindness we haven’t seen much in decades past. I’ve asked myself if I have ever been a blessing to anyone. The answer is…I’m not so sure. I’ve always been more a holy terror than a heavenly gift. But I am still a work in progress, so as long as there’s breath in me, there’s hope.

Hope…that’s what Christmas is really all about, isn’t it? My hope for each of you, my friends, is that the spirit of Christmas finds its way into your heart an burrows deep so that it flourishes. One person really can change the world. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of one who did. Today, I leave you with the last repost for this year of my visits with the Ghosts of Christmases Past….

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12/25/09: Merry Christmas, everybody! 

OK, it’s not politically correct. I’m not politically correct. Stats say 80% of the U.S. is Christian. That means I’m in the majority, and last time I checked, majority rules. Even if it didn’t, I’m a Christian and proud of it. 

I have a lot to apologize for, but that’s not on the list. 

Christmas 2008: In Iraq, Santa was making the rounds wearing a bullet-proof vest and packin’ heat. Who’d ever have thought Santa would have to travel with weapons? 



Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus–and he’s armed and dangerous.Don’t let him catch you being naughty. There’s a stiff penalty for being naughty. 

In New Zealand in 2007, a bunch of drunken Santas invaded a cineplex. Drunken Santas? Wow…it’s so hard to get good help these days. 



Normally, I try to be done with everything long before the Big Day because I detest crowds and insanity (except my own, of course), but yesterday, I not only ventured out into the last-minute chaos, I was oblivious to it. I had my trusty MP3 player with me, so all was well. 

Music really does soothe the savage beast. I’m living proof of that. 

First stop: the bank, to make a deposit before their early close at noon. We’ve been with the same bank for something like seventeen years, through numerous mergers and name changes. I’ve been there longer than most of the personnel. At the teller window (I don’t think they call ’em teller cages anymore, though at times they probably should), Pat was smiling. She had good reason to smile: a holiday falling on a weekday. They get, if you’ll pardon the expression, screwed on Sunday holidays. Not even a half day off.

Big smiles all around. 

“I’m going to get my turkey,” I mentioned. 

She didn’t miss a beat. “I thought he was at work,” she deadpanned, referring to Collin, not the edible turkey awaiting me at Dierbergs’ deli. 

I laughed like a looney tune. Couldn’t help it. That was a good line. Wish I’d thought of it. 



We had a pre-fab (OK, pre-cooked) turkey. My son, then an aspiring chef, had no intention of preparing the Christmas dinner. (Did I mention this before? Or maybe I only mentioned it repeatedly to HIM.) He worked all week at the restaurant and had no interest in cooking on his one and only day off. So with our pre-cooked bird, instant sides and my aversion to cooking anything other than in a microwave, dinner was ready in a record 30 minutes. 

Hey, I have better things to do on Christmas Day than cook.

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Encore: Deck the Halls (Part Two)

It’s now Christmas Eve and I still have not sent out Christmas cards. Okay, I have no excuse–I do ecards. Don’t make fun of me–contrary to popular opinion, they are NOT free. They are cute (I love the animated cards) and no trees are killed to make them. So there! I have a bit more grocery shopping to do and revisions to finish, so here, hopefully for your enjoyment, is another Blog of Christmas Past….

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And a parrot in a pear tree…. 

Ooops! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah…Mom had a roll of TP under the tree and Dad was trying to explain a box of poop to Homeland Security. Well, not exactly.But he was a repeat offender. As a matter of fact, he chose one victim twice simply because she swore he’d never fool her again. 



The target was Cathy, a friend of mine from high school. After Poopapalooza 1, she tried and tried to find a way to exact her revenge–but a whoopee cushion in his truck just didn’t quite equal Dad’s prank. When she told him she’d never fall for it again, well, that was like throwing down the gauntlet. He looked for a way to trick her into opening the box for a second time, and she unwittingly gave him the solution when she commented on a local souvenir–an outhouse ashtray. (Yep, we’re about as redneck as you can get without being Jeff Foxworthy’s blood relative.) 

I was seven months pregnant with Collin at the time and had been visiting Cathy, her then-husband, Ralph, and their son Damien (no connection to the character in “The Omen”). Dad sent the ashtray to Cathy with a message I was to relate: he knew she liked it and was sending it as a peace offering. She was touched–until she opened the little outhouse and saw the tiny turd, standing straight up in the tiny potty. 

                           (Not exactly like the one he gave Cathy, but close enough.)

“I’m gonna kill that old man!” Cathy shrieked. (She didn’t know it couldn’t be done without a silver bullet.) 

I’ve got a lot of Christmases to cover, so please bear with me. Twelve days may not be enough.

Encore: Deck the Halls

Because I’m still not back to 100%, I’m going to repeat a post I did back in 2007. Most of you weren’t reading my blog then (it was still on MySpace!), so it will be new to you. For those who have seen it before, it’s been a while, so please don’t send me lumps of coal! And be sure you check out all the cool blogs listed on my sidebar, like William’s photoblog–which, coincidentally, has the same title as mine today–Gayle’s Square Dog Friday post featuring Hamish in an elf hat, and London Lulu’s Christmas blog!

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I love Christmas. I love the big dinners and the music and the presents and the family all together for that one special day. Most of all I love the real reason for Christmas. I love knowing that 2000 years ago, God came to earth to live among us, to know us and to save us. I love thinking about what that first Christmas must have been like, and being able to see it so clearly in my own mind. 

I don’t love so much of what Christmas has become: angry people on the roads and in the malls, pushing and shoving, jostling for position in the lines for the most popular gift items. I don’t love crowds and high-pressured sales pitches and lazy bums who prefer to steal someone else’s money and/or gifts instead of working for their own. 

I was at the mall last Christmas. It was funny, actually–as I went from one store to another, a young man attempted to charm his way to a sale: arms outstretched, big smile, big tube of very expensive lotion in hand in a bid to convince me I could not live without that lotion. Little did he know. I changed lanes, moving to the other side of the aisle, and that big smile instantly vanished. I can only imagine what I was called in that disappointing moment! 

Then there was the turkey who attempted to help himself to my cash. I felt his hand the minute it hit the zipper on my messenger bag. I came down hard on the trespassing hand. “If you want to keep that, buddy, you’d better take it back NOW.” 

I think he had an accident, if you know what I mean. 

I don’t love that there are some who want to celebrate Christmas even though they don’t believe in God, in Jesus. And I’m not referring to religions other than Christianity. Our Jewish friends celebrate Hannukah. Our Muslim neighbors have their holy days. I don’t know much about other religions, but I’m sure they have theirs as well. No…my gripe is with atheists, the real party poopers. They don’t believe in God, don’t believe that he came to live in our world as the infant Jesus, but they want the holiday anyway. They want to say the more politically correct “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” so they can have all of the fun without belonging to the club. 


I wonder how they explain to their kids what they’re celebrating? “Oh, we’re celebrating Daddy being sober for a whole year!” 

I say to them, don’t celebrate a holiday if you don’t believe in it. Too bad, Mr. and Ms. Grinch. No presents for you. 

My cousin Jeff, who grew up with us, is a Jehovah’s Witness. They don’t celebrate holidays or birthdays. My father always said Jeff became a Witness not because he really believed in their doctrine, but because he was just plain cheap and didn’t want to have to buy any gifts. Jeff bristled every year when we put up our Christmas tree. He thought we should give up our tree because HE didn’t believe in it. He claimed we were worshipping the tree, of all things! Dad couldn’t resist–when he’d see Jeff’s truck pull up in front of the house, he told us to get down on our knees and bow to the tree when Dipstick came through the door. 


Mom complained that was a little hard on the knees. 

Christmas was always a big deal for Mom and Dad, and it’s at this time of the year that I miss them most. (Dad’s been gone 16 years now, and Mom 9.) They were always like a couple of kids in their unabashed enthusiasm. They’d spend weeks preparing, shopping for gifts and trying to hide them from us. We were never allowed to put the tree up until Christmas Eve, and it was always the same: we’d get some form of takeout so Mom wouldn’t have to cook–she’d begin preparing our Christmas dinner that night and couldn’t deal with TWO meals at once. We’d watch a rerun of A Christmas Carol on TV–always the 1938 black-and-white version. 

Once the tree was up and completely decorated, the gifts would start to appear from their hiding places. They would be placed under the tree and Dad would do a count to make sure everyone had an equal number of packages. There was never one gift per person, always at least 7 or 8, usually 10. 

I remember one year Mom was a package short. Dad quickly remedied the problem with cash. He didn’t want her to know it was cash, of course, so he wrapped it around a roll of toilet paper. Mom knew it probably wasn’t just TP–Dad was notorious for gag gifts. He could be very creative in his gift-giving. His Christmas tradition was a little weird: instead of a lump of coal, the unfortunate target of his ire would get a beautifully-wrapped box of poop. 

I kid you not. POOP. Usually of the canine variety. I remember one Christmas when I was in college, he actually mailed the poop to a friend who was living in Tennessee at the time. I held my breath until it was received, wondering what would happen if postal inspectors happened to open the darned thing! 

I miss those good old days. 

Collin and I are making new traditions, new memories. Collin has never been good at keeping a secret–it’s like lying. He didn’t get that gene, for which I am grateful. 

Trouble is, I will know every gift he’s giving me BEFORE Christmas. The Christmas before Dad died, he wanted a self-propelling lawn mower. He had a bad heart (only in the physical sense) and was having trouble using his old mower. To haul it in Mom’s Escort, we’d have to put the back seat down, so we left Collin, then 11 years old, with Dad while we went to get it. All of our plans to sneak the thing into the back yard to hide it were, as it turned out, unnecessary–Dad came to the front door when we arrived, grinning from ear to ear. I knew immediately that my darling son had ratted me out. 

I miss those days.

(Credits: cartoons are all from Dumpday.com)

 

Whatever Happened to Tradition?

Recently, I had a discussion with a close friend who lost his mother this year. He talked about dreading Christmas without her. I understand how he feels. I’ve been through twenty-two years now without Dad, and fifteen without Mom. Christmas has never been the same and probably never will be again. Collin doesn’t even mind the possibility of having to work on Christmas.

When I was a child, Christmas was a major event in my family. My mother was the youngest of nine children (she had two siblings and six half-siblings), who recalled Christmas as a wonderful time in their home. My father, on the other hand, did not have any good childhood memories–of Christmas or any other day. As a result, they both went all-out to give me–and later, Collin–the best Christmases imaginable. Mom wanted for us the kind of Christmases she’d had as a child; Dad wanted for us–and in a way, for himself–what he’d never had.

He insisted the tree not be put up and decorated until Christmas Eve. When I was very young and believed in Santa Claus, they wouldn’t put it up until after I went to bed. When I was older, I got to participate. Every year, it was the same routine: we’d get takeout–pizza, fried chicken, anything so that Mom didn’t have to cook–and watch the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. One of our local TV stations aired it every Christmas Eve, and I loved it. Looking back, I’m not sure if it was because it’s a good movie, or because I associate it with how happy that time in my life was. I don’t even have photos of those Christmases anymore.

Once the tree was up and the gifts under it, Dad would do a quick count to make sure we all had an equal number of gifts. They never just bought us one gift. Often, there would be 10-12 per person. If anyone was short, he could be pretty creative in correcting the oversight. One year, he gave Mom a $50 bill wrapped around a roll of toilet paper….

After Dad died, we tried for a while to keep to the family tradition, but Mom’s heart wasn’t really in it anymore. After she was gone, Collin and I didn’t really celebrate at all. Oh, we’d put up our little tree and get gifts for each other, but it was never the same again. There were no more surprises under the tree on Christmas morning–we already knew what we were getting. We didn’t even have to bother with wrapping them.

There were no longer any aromas of the Christmas dinner cooking in the oven. If I had tried to make a home-cooked dinner, the only smell that would have come out of our kitchen would have been smoke! We spent one Christmas, eight years ago, in a motel room. We put up the tree, but our Christmas dinner came already prepared from the grocery store.

I stopped getting excited about Christmas years ago…but lately, I’ve felt a yearning to renew old traditions. I want Collin to be surprised on Christmas morning. I want a real Christmas dinner. I want to watch A Christmas Carol over takeout and eat cookies and candy and say a prayer to observe what Christmas is really all about. I want to talk about Christmases past with Collin and remember how it used to be…before everything went wrong.

This year? No, not quite.

Maybe next year….

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Be sure to check out William’s latest Day in the Life blog–and he has some beautiful shots at his photoblog today as well. Also, we have a new post at our joint blog featuring a snippet of Same Time Tomorrow….

Christmas Comes But Once a Year….

Merry Christmas, everyone! Before I start, allow me to direct you to other Christmas-related blogs. William Kendall is at his hilarious best with his take on Christmas. At our joint blog, it’s a Christmas image blog for adults only. Karla Telega has a special greeting and offer for her readers. Grace at Perth Daily Photo has a greeting that will have you drooling! For the best ideas for food and decorating, check out Krisztina Williams‘ blog. Gayle at Two Little Square Black Dogs has an original Christmas display. And be sure to check out Ten Lives and Second Chances for a holiday greeting from Charlie and Gumtree, as well as The Desert Rocks for a Night Before Christmas parody from Evie and Fiona. And for a serious look at different religions this holiday season, don’t miss Lena Winfrey Seder’s Pearldrops on the Page. And for festive photoblogs, check out LondonLulu at Princeton Daily Photo and Bob’s St. Louis Daily Photo!

When I was a child, I couldn’t wait for Christmas. The excitement in our house would build for weeks, starting with Thanksgiving. My parents observed certain traditions and almost never strayed from them. Christmas shopping was done a few weeks before Christmas, when my dad received his bonus check from the union. He, Mom and I always went to Cherokee Street. We’d have a big lunch. Then we’d hit the stores, often going our separate ways so we wouldn’t know what we were getting from each other. We didn’t mind the crowds or even the inclement weather, because it was so much fun.It was time spent together, and it doesn’t get any better than that.


Our tree was never put up until Christmas Eve, a holdover from the days when Santa brought my presents. (Looking back, I’m not really sure Christmases at our house would have been any less wonderful, had we skipped the Santa thing–but I always had the feeling Dad wanted to go all-out because his own childhood, especially Christmas, was anything but merry. I was happy to oblige him.)

We never just got one gift. Dad, who only got a pair of gloves or socks for Christmas when he was a boy, and Mom, whose parents thrived at Christmas, made sure I had a mountain of gifts. Dad would count the packages to make sure we each had an equal number–one year, upon discovering Mom was short a gift, he hastily wrapped cash around a roll of toilet paper for her. (I’ll never forget the expression on her face when she saw that familiar-shaped package under the tree!) They’d spend hours putting up the tree, decorations, and lights on the outside of the house. Christmas cards would be hung on decorative ropes (but with fewer and fewer people sending cards, that seemed pointless in more recent years). Dad insisted that Christmas was to be spent at home. For years, my maternal grandparents came for Christmas dinner, but we never went out. Family friends used to come on Christmas Eve and we’d exchange gifts. It was great.

Mom baked cookies and pies for Christmas. She wasn’t big on that sort of thing the rest of the year, but Christmas was a special time. We always had two or three pies–at least one pumpkin and one mincemeat (for Dad). We’d have a traditional dinner: turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot rolls…and even though I’ve never much cared for turkey, I did look forward to those meals!

We’d all get up early Christmas morning, open our gifts, and then Mom would head off to the kitchen to get the turkey into the oven. I did look forward to Christmas!

But after Dad died, things changed. Mom tried, but her heart wasn’t in it anymore. She and I did the best we could while Collin was still a child, but as he grew older, we dropped the old traditions one by one. Now, with both Mom and Dad gone for several years, Collin and I usually know what we’re giving each other in advance. We don’t have a big dinner, and sometimes opt to eat out. We put up our tree, but don’t bother with the elaborate decorations Mom and Dad spent hours on every year. This year, we almost forgot to put up the tree, and I didn’t send out ecards until yesterday. Cherokee Street is no longer the cheerful, bustling shopping district it once was. I get depressed just passing through. These days, we do most of our shopping online.

I miss the way things used to be, but I wonder if going back to tradition would be a good thing…or would it just make us even more painfully aware of who’s not here, of what we’ve lost?

What are your family’s holiday traditions? Do you still observe them?

It’s the Happiest Time of the Year (Getting There, Anyway)

I decided to start my Christmas shopping early. I hate shopping…the crowds, the long lines, the screaming, temper-tantrum-throwing brats, the rudeness of some salespeople and shoppers, the insanity of the holiday. But this year, I think I’ve discovered gifts that are sure to please everyone.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to draft my letter to the big guy up north….

Dear Santa:

I haven’t been good this year…but come on, did you really expect me to change this late in the game? Do you think you could overlook it just this once? I’ve already accumulated enough coal to start my own energy co-op. (Hey, President Obama got re-elected…maybe I’ll qualify for one of those government bailouts!)  

I’m really not asking for much–just this:

Think about it, okay? It would keep me off the streets…most of the time. And I won’t be putting out cookies and milk like the kids do. Bring me the TV and you’ll find rum balls…and peppermint schnapps. Christmas can’t get merrier than that! Just watch out for the cop who lives down the street.

By the way, who was the blonde chick in the Victoria’s Secret getup? She sure didn’t look like Mrs. Claus. What’s that you say? Blackmail is such an ugly word….

Missing the Point?

Yesterday at church, it was announced that, because Christmas falls on Sunday this year, there would be no church services that day. Huh? No services on Christmas? Isn’t that kinda like having a birthday celebration without the guest of honor?





Seriously, I do get it. One does not have to be in church to worship God or to celebrate Jesus’ birth. One can worship in their own home, in the beauty of nature, in a car in rush hour traffic, or anywhere else. God is everywhere. And as long as our Christmas celebrations commemorate what the holiday is really all about, we’re good.


My grandmother used to go to church every Sunday. Grandpa, on the other hand, read his Bible down by his still. Guess who knew it chapter and verse?





And here’s a bit of advice: forget about Santa. God knows when you’re sleeping, when you’re awake, when you’ve been bad or good…. If you’ve been good, breathe a sigh of relief. If you’ve been bad, well, I hear those life reviews on the other side can be painful. You get to see every screw-up you’ve ever made. And when you’re asked when you want to be for eternity, you’d better have the right answer!





Bear in mind that He doesn’t care how much money you’ve made, how successful you’ve been, what property you own or other such unimportant crap. He cares that we have loved well. He cares how we’ve treated others  (being an animal lover, I like to think this includes all creatures). He cares that we’ve accepted his gift of salvation and put Him first in our lives.


Not too long ago, I told my pastor I believed God created me to be a warrior. Much to my surprise, he didn’t disagree with me. I didn’t get that look that says so much without a word. He said he thought I’d been made a warrior to enable me to survive all I’d experienced. I’ll take it one step further and suggest that he made me who I am and gave me the experiences I had for two reasons: one, I had pride issues. Of all the Seven Deadly Sins, that’s the one that always gave me the most trouble. I had to hit bottom to free myself of it, and I had to be a fighter to make the climb out of that pit. Sometimes, God lets us struggle, just as any parent allows their children to struggle to enable them to grow. I’d been a spoiled child who was given everything I wanted. I was a spoiled author who was given too much too fast. 


So I had to start all over again.





In the journey back from rock bottom,  I did evolve. I came back stronger, but also more compassionate. I have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of people or animals who are unable to defend themselves. Hey, I don’t mind kicking butt when the object of the butt-kicking really has it coming, but there’s no sport in kicking puppies!


I’m the one who will go to the animal shelter and, while everyone else is  snapping up the really cute puppies and kittens, I’ll seek out the most pathetic creature in the place–the one that’s old and scruffy, days away from execution, huddled in the back of the cage, looking as if he/she has lost all hope. Collin once said I’d look at the most butt-ugly critter on the planet and say, “Oh, isn’t he cute….”


Guilty as charged.


I leave you today with a final thought from the words of St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.”


I invite you to check out William’s and my discussion on collaborations at Writers of Mass Distraction and the new look Collin and I created for Sam’s Story, along with William’s review of A Time for Legends (The Unicorn’s Daughter) at  Speak of the Devil and  Beishir Books!