Christmas Eve reading thoughts . . .

     I have a tall stack of Christmas story books that I get out every Season. Among them are two stories by Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas that I reread every December: A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and A Conversation About Christmas. I love the man’s poetry. 

     In the final excerpt from A Conversation About Christmas, the adult finishes his dialogue with the younger one about Christmas: 

 . . . Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the flying, unending, smoke-coloured snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill, and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. 

SMALL BOY: But it all sounds like an ordinary Christmas.

SELF: It was.

SMALL BOY: But Christmas when you were a boy wasn’t any different to Christmas now.

SELF: It was, it was.

SMALL BOY: Why was Christmas different then?

SELF: I mustn’t tell you.

SMALL BOY: Why mustn’t you tell me? Why is Christmas different for me?

SELF: I mustn’t tell you.

SMALL BOY: Why can’t Christmas be the same for me as it was for you when you were a boy?

SELF: I mustn’t tell you. I mustn’t tell you because it is Christmas now. 

     All of our family is home safe tonight, and since nearly 8 inches of snow canceled out our Christmas Eve Service we lit the fireplace and dug out some games we hadn’t played in a while.

     A million calories were prepared today for tomorrow’s family Christmas dinner, and I only had to tie up a couple of loose ends for the editor on last week’s assignments and they are a ‘go.’ New assignments are on deck for next week already—which is good— but for tonight I only have to think about Christmas Eve and an old, old story. 

     Wishing peace, safety and contentment to all of you reading this. 

R’becca G.

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Traditions pave the way.

Never far away

She was our third kid for the sixteen years we had her, and she will have a spot somewhere on our Christmas trees for as long as I’m the one doing the decorating. We used to have a red braided rug just like the one this lab is sleeping on. Our yellow lab Ginger logged in a lot of nap hours on said rug, so the first Christmas without her I bought this ornament and clipped it to the tree. That’s been the practice for the past six years. It’s become a tradition. My take on traditions is that they are like friends we invite back for a short visit every year. Our daughters, as well as friends who visit, look for ‘Ginger’ on the tree when they come for the holidays.

That same Christmas our youngest daughter Jennifer started another tradition for our family. She created the Christmas Wish box you see in the photo below.

That Christmas evening before we all said our good-byes she handed us small slips of paper and instructed us to write our wish for the approaching New Year. We all complied, placed them inside the box, and she took it back home with her for safekeeping until the next Christmas. There’s one major rule: No one is allowed to say their wish out loud.

She’ll be bringing that box home in another week, and at the end of Christmas night we’ll open it up, read our own wish for 2010—share it only if we want to–and then we’ll write down a new wish for 2011.

I honestly can’t remember the exact wish that I wrote 12 months ago, but as a writer looking to expand her horizons I have a faint idea,  and I am looking forward to rereading it.

A writer friend of mine shared the following quote with me that she remembered from some local radio program: Traditions are fine as long as they are tempered by the progress today brings.

In my case—writing down my wish helps me lay a mental plan for moving ahead—as a writer.

If you were asked to commit to a wish for 2011—do you know what it would be?

"Wishes Enclosed"

Weaving Through a December Tornado

Has your kitchen ever looked like this?

This was our kitchen two years ago. A blizzard was moving in with ice pelting the side of the house as I sprinted around that kitchen trying to finish off baking. I needed to get a Christmas box packed and delivered to the UPS terminal before the roads got any worse that day. Luckily, I made it without any mishaps on the road.

I’m back in the race again this month, only this year I added in several freelance assignments that have to be handed in by December 20th, travel to NW Iowa for a book signing on the 18th, moved up a writer’s group holiday gathering for the 11th, and volunteered to help with an additional holiday celebration on the 12th. I don’t have all of my shopping done yet either.

So last week while I was box diving, the name I have for the activity where I paw through rickety, bent-up boxes containing all sorts of saved shrapnel in the form of old letters, photograph albums, and corsage corpses, I turned up an envelope aged to the color of weak tea. Its postmark said: Lake Park, Iowa, November 17, 1976. It cost my mother thirteen cents to mail it.

Evidently I was dealing with headaches at the time. I don’t recall them but the opening paragraph in her letter reads like this:

      I think part of your headaches might be caused by frustration because you always have so much lined up for yourself to do and if it doesn’t get done, it bothers you. I wish that you would ease up on yourself. Take it from me–it just isn’t worth it in the long run. Just take care of your health and do what you can get done and forget about the rest. We are all going to leave this world with something left undone!

Reading that bit of advice from my mother smacks of synchronicity in light of the approaching hoard of activity. The trick is to weave. It helps to have a laptop sitting on the kitchen table. While I’m waiting for a pan of something to bake, I can be drafting from my materials spread around me. I think my mother would be proud to know I’ve learned to avoid that fretting part that probably gave me those headaches a long time ago, and just get on with the weaving part.

I didn’t turn down the writing jobs because I didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities or income.

I didn’t shy away from throwing a party last week because I treasure time with friends that I don’t see very often.

I hired someone else to dust and clean the house while I enjoyed working on the article assignments and baking delicious, fun things for my guests.

And there isn’t even a glimmer of a headache in sight. Weaving is a good thing.

Nourish the Magic (with fruitcake to boot!)

I offer you the gift of the attached video.  It epitomizes what it is that I love so much about the approaching holiday season, and about maintaining the child still in us.

The smell of Christmas spice is lingering in our house this morning. Over the weekend I baked fruitcake. I used two different recipes yielding six “bricks” as some fruitcake haters might call them. We don’t call them bricks around here—my family likes fruitcake. One recipe uses absolutely no “scary stuff”—those sticky, candied fruit peels. It requires only dried fruits of all kinds and three kinds of nuts. The other recipe has some of the scary stickies in it—and chocolate chips. Quite fun.

Last week when the temps hit 70 degrees one day I got a jump on the season and strung our Christmas lights across the bushes in front of our house. I also went browsing in a floral shop that is decorated for the Season already, and I bought this new snow globe. I picked it up and put it down twice before I decided to give myself permission to buy a new Christmas decoration. We hardly need another thing to be packed away after the day has come and gone, but this globe pulled me in when I turned its switch and watched the lights change color against the snow glitter inside. That evening when I saw the way it lit up the room with its “quiet” way, it reminded me of why I will never grow up completely. I don’t want to miss out on that simple magic.

I cringe when I hear people in the stores say things like, “Christmas isn’t that far off . . .” ‘Oh, I know . . . I’m just dreading it.’

Are you kidding me?! What’s to dread? Christmas isn’t the problem. We have a choice: allow the super-commercialization to clobber us and our debit cards over the head, or guard our time and energy for what really resonates with us.

There’s nothing Pollyanna about my approach here. I have a brother-in-law facing “suspicious” medical unknowns this week. My sister-in-law experienced a near-fatal medical episode a while back. A church I’ve been a part of for many years will decide this week if they need to close their doors; people will be losing their jobs. Friends of mine are dealing with job burn-out and are nowhere near retirement age. I am mindful and concerned for all of them.

I hope you haven’t grown up so much that you no longer ‘get it,’ and I also hope you will keep this snow globe handy for when things get crazy for you.

AUTHOR NOTE: The video was made while listening to the music of W.G. Snuffy Walden’s arrangement of “The First Noel,” as recorded on the CD titled: A Windham Hill Christmas. My family and I own a broad range of both Mr. Walden’s work as well as other Windham Hill musicians/products.

Feel like giving the eternally maligned fruitcake another chance? See if this recipe works for you.

 “No scary sticky things” Fruitcake

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. allspice

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. cloves

½ tsp. mace

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ cup melted butter

2 eggs

¾ cup black coffee (cold)

½ cup brown sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup dried fruits (cherries, cranberries, craisins, peaches, apricots, etc.)

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds or pecans—your choice)

1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

¼ cup rum or brandy (apple cider could be used, but why?)

DIRECTIONS:

 Mix the melted butter, eggs, rum and coffee together.

Add brown sugar and mix well.

Add rest of dry ingredients and place in a sprayed and floured loaf pans. I use two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans.

Bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until done. Test with a cake tester.

NOTE: Do not use glass baking dishes for this.

After cakes have cooled for 10 minutes, remove them from pans; allow to finish cooling, and then wrap well and freeze until needed.