Sometimes I feel like Clark W. Griswold

As Christmas gets closer, I look forward to it less. I know that, like Clark, I “set standards that no family activity can live up to.”  So by the 23rd of December, I’ve kind of had enough of it all already.

I’m anticipating what I know will be difficult moments.  I’ve got 3 days of family festivities coming up:  Christmas Eve with my husband’s huge extended family, Christmas Day at home, just us and my mother-in-law, and Christmas:  The Day After with my family in the Great White North.

There will be people with whom I’ve never really gotten along well, and we’ll have to make nice.

There will be people who’ve hurt me, and I’ll have to pretend I’ve let it go.

There will be people who like to give me “career advice” because my kids are “too old” for me to still stay at home with them.

There will be an extremely shaggy dog that sets off my asthma, and I’ll have to be extra careful about that, because I have to sing at church on Christmas Day and I don’t want to sound like Bonnie Tyler in “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

It’s not going to be a picture-perfect three days by any stretch of the imagination.  To be honest, I’m dreading them.  That shot in the arm of Christmas spirit I got from our Festival of Lessons & Carols?  It’s pretty much worn off.  I feel less and less like celebrating, and more and more like I’ve got to just grit my teeth and get through it.

(It’s for the kids, after all.  And I think one of them still believes.)

All of that does nothing to shake that feeling I’ve got right now, that “we’re standing at the threshold of Hell.”  The feeling that this one, as bad as I am expecting it to be, is going to be better than the one next year.  It’s all downhill from here, for various reasons, and I’m not feeling up for it.

Like Clark, I want it perfect.  It’s never going to live up to that dream, and I know it.  Let’s face it:  the very first Christmas sure didn’t live up to Mary’s dreams.  Maybe that’s what Christmas is all about…

Still to be done

I’m not done shopping–for my husband’s gift, the kids’ gifts, and food for Christmas dinner.  Not to mention gifts for Little Brother’s teacher and bus driver.

Nothing is wrapped.

I haven’t even started baking, and my cookie recipe makes at least 10 dozen and takes at least a full afternoon.

Little Brother has a rehearsal tonight, so it will be another late night (that makes 4 in a row!)

Last night, though, I spent two hours sitting at the front of a church with my guitar, and my son and his bass, and a children’s choir that included Little Brother, and various string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments, and a group of about 30 amazing singers, one extremely talented pianist, and an awesome music director who kept us all together.  We celebrated a “Festival of Lessons and Carols” with beautiful music and nine readings from the Old and New Testaments.

Four hours before the festival began, I still wasn’t sure if I could play one of the songs.  It was unbelievably difficult.  I spent part of the morning transposing it.  Then I practiced, and practiced again.

I won’t say it was perfect by any means, but I’m happy that I got through it decently enough.  What a challenge!

Last night was a gift.  50 people shared their talents last night–and for many nights before at rehearsals.  Every one of those people could have been doing something else, like Christmas shopping, or homework, or watching football games, or sleeping…but this is what they chose to do.

I suspect that all 50, if asked, would respond the same way I do:  it was definitely worth it.  So worth it.

The rest of it will happen.  If I had it to do over again, I’d put off the shopping and the baking and the housecleaning (who am I kidding–I’m always ready to put off housecleaning).  I’d put it off in a second to be able to be a part of an experience like that.

What a wonderful early Christmas gift.  I am tired, proud, and very grateful.

Not a Musical Genius

One thing I enjoy about having an iPod is the “genius” feature in iTunes.  I can pick a song I like, click the Genius button, and immediately a playlist will be generated from the other songs in my library.  It works great–most of the time.

It does not work with Christmas music.

I wanted some background music when I was baking the gingerbread cookies just now.  Some will go to a bake sale tonight, others to a care package for Big Brother, and whatever’s left after that will get eaten here.  I made 9 dozen cookies today, so there’s enough to go around.

So I cued up Taylor Swift’s “Silent Night, Holy Night” and told the Genius to do its thing.  It went from the sublime to the ridiculous.  The second tune was Rascal Flatt’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which was very nice.  And then the third tune was “Who’s Your Daddy” by Toby Keith.

I don’t think that one quite fits the Christmas theme.

I won’t be leaving my Christmas music to the Geniuses anymore.

Santa Claus Goes to Our Church

Santa Claus is an usher at the noon Mass at our parish, except during November and December when he’s extra busy.  Kids who attend the noon Mass are used to seeing him there all year ’round, and have been known to tell their friends that Santa Claus goes to our church.

Santa wears red (and sometimes green) regardless of the season, and is always happy to take a break from handing out bulletins after Mass to talk to children.  Last November, before his schedule forced him to switch to an earlier Mass for a couple of months, he gave out little cards to the children with his picture on it and the message, “I saw Santa today, and he said I’m on the Good List.”

On the Sunday after Christmas, Santa is back in his usual spot as an usher, sporting his red parka.  You can see that the kids are all watching him:  Santa is here!  After Mass, they like to go and greet him.  Little Brother makes it a point to thank Santa for his Christmas gifts.

I’m grateful this year that the magic of Santa Claus is still alive in my home.  Little Brother and Adventure Boy still believe.  In fact, just before Christmas, there was almost a fistfight in here when one of the other Street Urchins suggested that Santa might not be real.  It was 3 to 1 FOR Santa, I’m happy to report.  I’m sure that our Christmas Eve tradition, as well as Santa’s quiet presence in our church, have plenty to do with that.


Santa gave me a new camera for Christmas, which is great because my old camera bit the dust just before Little Brother’s First Communion, and the crummy point-and-shoot I bought, in a hurry, so I could get pictures of that special day was, well, crummy.

Little Brother was happy to take it off my hands. For an 8-year-old, it does just fine.

Middle Sister has been enjoying my camera. She’s 15 today, so I trust her with it. She has a good eye. I love this picture of some of my favorite Christmas decorations.

Here’s a shot of my Christmas tree, which I briefly got to light up again.  The lights went back out sometime yesterday.  Apparently I’m burning through the extension cord.  Guess it’s time to use 2 cords for this many lights (about 1600).  I took a break from cookie baking on the 23rd to replace the cord that I had originally used.

Last, two pictures of the results of the snowstorm.  There will be more later but I don’t want to go outside yet!  One is of my across-the-street neighbor’s house; I thought their Christmas lights looked cool in the snowstorm.  The other is around the edge of my pool, where the 40-mph-winds created a moat, exposing the rocks around the sides.

Last Thing on the List

There is SO MUCH on the list right now.
Haircuts for me and Little Brother
Wrap gifts
Do Tons o’Laundry
Freelance work here and here
And, of course, all the baking

So when the Christmas tree went dark the other night, I left it for another day. I think it’s going to be left for a few more days unless someone else decides they want to troubleshoot the extension-cord situation. The tree’s pretty without lights–prettier with lights, but it’s loaded with colorful ornaments and that might just have to do.

Grade-School Drama

…of the cutest kind.

The primary grades at Little Brother’s school put on their Christmas play tonight. It’s always a “play within a play” in which something happens that might prevent the Christmas pageant.

This year Little Brother played the Grinch/Scrooge character–actually a politician more concerned with getting votes than with the Christmas story. He wore a suit–and a “red power tie.” And a top hat. My big kids said he was “totally a boss.” He had some great one-liners in his part and nailed the comic timing.

The rest of the play was enjoyable because it was a primary-school Christmas play. That means it came complete with:
–can-can dancers that danced in opposite directions and sometimes kicked each other
–battery-operated candles, some of which did not light
–two kids on the top riser that nearly came to blows
–dueling verses of the same Christmas carol (kids were apparently confused about whether to sing verse 2 or verse 3. Both were going at once.)
–hippies, and a “rich couple” named Thurston and Lovey. The kids didn’t get that joke.
–two kids who spoke in a strange accent (but who don’t in real life.)
–lots of adorable off-key singing
–and a light-up star.

The first, second, and third graders did a great job. The play was lots of fun to watch–and the prelude by the pre-K and kindergarten was nothing short of adorable. Little kids + carols + reindeer headgear = completely cute.


Every year that weather permits, our Secular Franciscan Fraternity hosts a “Live Nativity at Grecciocelebration.

Last time we had it, it was in a new place, indoors, without live animals, but we had 117 people to enjoy the Live Nativity. This year, it’s going to be even more different.

It will no longer simply be a Live Nativity, but will be incorporated into our parish’s “Catholics Come Home” Christmas Carol Festival. That means that it’s going to turn into a Battle of the Bands of sorts, with all 3 parish ensembles (Religious Education Kids’ Choir, Adult Choir, and Folk Group) all participating.

A few diehard Greccio participants have bowed out this year–the changes are just too much for them. I kind of want to join them, but I’m bound to hang in there with both the Folk Group and the Secular Franciscans. And I do have to say that I’m relieved for us Seculars, because the membership in general is getting up in age and it’s hard for many of them do to much to help with the event. I was getting pretty tired of handling most if it myself. This year, my role is much more limited, and those SFOs who are physically able will bring cookies and help hand out (and collect) costumes.

Tonight I have to go over to the church to represent the Folk Group as we do a walk-through of the whole event to figure out how long it will take. I know it’s going to be a bittersweet time. I’m going to have to compromise, as if I haven’t done enough of that already with this event and this parish merger.

And in the end I’m going to have to hope that this event touches the hearts of those attending and those participating. After all, “that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Saturday Miscellaneous–with a bunch of Christmas thrown in

  • I’m thankful that my kids “get” that it’s too early for Christmas decorations–and even Christmas music.  Yesterday I had Middle Sister in the car when I stopped at church to hang an announcement on the bulletin board.  She saw the “Giving Tree” in the church lobby.  “It’s too early for Christmas trees,” she told me.  Sure, I know you have to plan ahead with those Giving Trees, but it just doesn’t feel right.  Our tree will go up, as usual, on Pink Candle Sunday.
  • It’s not too early, however, to enjoy a Christmas present from Big Brother, who bought tickets for me and TheDad for today’s TransSiberian Orchestra concert.  TheDad bought 3 more tickets so the whole family can go together.  We’ll all make a collective exception to the “no Christmas music before Advent” rule and enjoy the amazingly talented TSO.
  • Sarah has Seven Advent Tips that are very good.  Listed among them:  wait to decorate!  Count me in as one who decorates gradually, throughout the season.  It works well for me and it brings Christmas gradually into the house instead of one big BANG on Black Friday.  Basically, here’s how it goes:  First Sunday of Advent I bring out the Advent wreath, Christmas storybooks and the empty manger scene.  Nothing else.  Second Sunday of Advent I hang a few pine garlands around the house and put up some other decorations.  Pink Candle Sunday is Christmas-tree day.  Fourth Sunday of Advent, anything else–and animals (only) in the manger.  Christmas Eve:  Holy Family in the manger.  Christmas Day:  shepherds in the manger.  Epiphany:  Wise men in the manger.
  • Speaking of Christmas Storybooks, this may be the first year I don’t bring those out.  They’re all picture books and no one in this house is still reading those.  I guess it’s time to put them in a nice safe container and save them for when we have grandchildren.  And unlike Denise, I’m not ready for that to happen anytime soon.
  • I’ve really got to get down to business and figure out the timing for the Thanksgiving Morning Cook-a-Thon.  I’ve done all of the “nonperishable” shopping and secured a promise from TheDad that he will get the kids off to school on Monday or Tuesday morning so I can go to ShopRite the second they open (7 AM) and avoid all the Amateur Shoppers who are in search of unusual Thanksgiving ingredients, but who have no clue how to even find the canned gravy and Red Delicious apples.  I’m banking on the hope that most of the Amateurs don’t wake up that early.
  • Too Good Not To Share:  Heidi’s prayer for the Adventure Boys in her neighborhood.  Pray this one for Adventure Boys everywhere:  Heavenly Father, watch over all the children in my community whose parents aren’t there to influence their daily choices and habits. Give these children wisdom beyond their years, to protect their hearts from the evil one and his schemes. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!