Memories

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I have a mug that I have been using all winter for my morning coffee. It made its way from the back of the cabinet right after Thanksgiving, and I have been using it ever since. Supposedly, it’s a Christmas mug, but in truth, there isn’t much about it that screams Christmas. Aside from the wreath on the door of the house in the background, it is more of a winter mug. Which is a good thing because I’m having a tough time putting it away this year.

When I was little and winters were snowy, we would spend hours playing outside in the snow. We built snowmen and snow forts and entire houses with room upon room upon room on top of the snow banks in the parking lot across the street. Our fingers and toes would be numb, and it would be dark outside before we finally retreated to the warmth and light of the house. Or we’d wait until Dad got home from work and we had to go in for dinner….

These memories are why this mug has always reminded me of home. But this year, especially, it reminds me. When we were little, Dad would take us sledding on one of several different hills in town. We would load the sleds in the back of the car (or the back of the truck) and off we’d go. Dad built snowmen with us, sometimes adding an extra couple of snowballs for ears and noses and calling them snow bears, families of them, at times, populated our yard.

This year, winter has been a challenge, and I’m not ready to put away my Christmas mug. So I’m calling it a winter mug. This mug, it’s keeping me centered. It’s giving me pause to sigh and remember the good times. Remember Dad.

So if you see me using what looks like a Christmas mug in the middle of the summer, just let it go. I’m reliving some good times. And holding tight to some memories.

Altered Messages

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I have a set of “grown up” alphabet letter blocks as part of my living room décor. With these blocks, I can create a wide variety of sayings and greetings—pretty much anything that can be said in 18 or fewer letters. I have had the letters for many years, though I don’t remember which mail order catalogue I found them in. After my initial set of letters, I asked for the images and numbers for Christmas (or my birthday) one year. Over the years, I have used the blocks for greetings, holiday sayings, birthday wishes, announcements, etc.

The sayings have a spot on the top of the shelf-unit where the television sits. The shelf is six feet high, so I create the sayings on the living room rug, and move the words to their perch one at a time. I move the bottom word first and work in ascending order, placing one word on top of the other until the message is complete. For many years, I could create a saying, place it on the shelf, and not even think about it again until I it was time to change it.

Lately, however, I have noticed that the sayings I write are often … well, altered in some subtle (or not so subtle) way. For example, my Christmas message: Joy, Peace & Love morphed over time. After only a couple of days of sitting on the shelf, it suddenly read: Joy, Geese & Love. Hmm… because everyone hopes for geese at this time of year…?

Now that everyone is tall enough to reach the block sayings, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the message will change from what I write, but there is no doubt that it will be altered in one way or another. I can only sit back, relax, and anticipate the changes. Certainly, the message I put on the shelf makes sense. At least for the first day or two….

One final thought–Christmas antics

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Stuffing stockings—one of my annual Christmas challenges. Have I found enough stuff to fill each stocking? Will I have too much stuff, and if so, what will I do with the extra? Even after years of filling the same stockings, I always second-guess myself.

This year, we approached the holiday in “scaled down” mode. Finances are a little tight, so when I was searching for stocking stuffers, I decided to go the practical route. In addition to some toiletries, toothbrushes, and a tiny puzzle-y-thing or two (okay, and the requisite chocolate…), I purchased socks and underwear to fill the extra space in the stockings because, well… practical (and necessary).

When I started to actually fill the stockings, I found that I did not have enough room for the underwear. I had purchased a package of underwear for each of the teens in my house. While the packages were a good idea and would have taken up a sizeable chunk of space, the stockings were full enough without them. So late on Christmas Eve, I made the decision to place the packages of underwear in the children’s rooms, as if Santa, himself, had gone to their rooms to check on them and placed the item there.

On Christmas morning, I wanted to make sure none of them missed this amazing Christmas treasure. W was the first one up. “Did you see that there is underwear in your room?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he told me, and then his face brightened. “I was so excited that I had to wake C to let him know. ‘Santa came! Santa came! And look what he brought us: new underwear!’” he recounted the scene for me, and I had to smile at his sense of humor and fun. In fact, he actually did wake his older brother with his humorous rendition of childlike Christmas excitement.

And because that childlike excitement of their younger days has tempered to a much calmer holiday emotion, I always smile at the moments like this one—humorous or not.

The big brother who is trying to sleep in … maybe he doesn’t find these antics quite so entertaining.

Christmas Cookies

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Each year at Christmas time, I bake several different kinds of cookies, which I immediately place in the freezer until Christmas Eve. On that day, I make up plates of cookies and distribute them to friends and neighbors.

The day before my son came home from college, I texted him a picture of his favorite Christmas cookies. (Please ignore the fact that one is missing from the cookie sheet. It accidentally slipped from the spatula into my mouth when I was freeing them from the pan. Quality control is imperative, you know).

“Yum!” he texted in reply.

When he arrived home the next day, we sat down to dinner, and when we were done eating, he looked around the kitchen. “Where are the Christmas cookies?” he asked.

“That picture was from last year,” I lied, realizing I shouldn’t have let him know his favorite cookies were in the house. In my head, I could picture nearly empty containers of cookies on Christmas Eve….

“Oh!” he exclaimed in deflated response. “I was looking forward to those….”

And then I felt bad for telling him I didn’t have any. What kind of mother was I, sending him a picture of his favorite cookies and then telling him they weren’t in the house? I was caught between a lie and the possibility that my cookies would disappear before Christmas Eve.

I took a deep breath to calm myself. “They’re down in the freezer,” the words escaped me in a very small, quiet voice.

I sat back and watched as he ate a cookie. Then another. And another. Finally, I spoke up. “You have to put the cookies back in the freezer now.” And he did. Of course, I haven’t checked the contents of the containers since that night about a week ago now, so I am only assuming he hasn’t had more since.

But having my cookie connoisseur home with me has its advantages, as well. Last night, I made a new type of cookie for my Christmas plates. When they came out of the oven, I cut one in half and tried it. It was good. I brought the other half into the living room for C, who was the only one still awake. He thought it was good.

Of course, half a cookie isn’t a good indication of whether or not a recipe is actually tasty. A little while later, C came into the kitchen and asked if he could have one of the cookies fresh from the oven. I nodded and steered him to the baking sheet that had been cooling the longest.

I was at the sink cleaning up the dishes. I pretended not to notice when he polished off his first full cookie and took another, but secretly, I knew these cookies were a success. Score one for the new recipe!

Snow day with a side of snark

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Monday was a snow day in our school district, the first for the school year, and an early one, at that. Despite the fact that a day off will have to be made up at the end of the year, I must say, it was a welcome break at this busy time of year.

Throughout the day, it seemed my daughter’s mood was fueled by the energy and anticipation that pre-Christmas snow days can bring. I was folding her laundry when I realized I once made a sweater very much like one she had in the wash. I dug it out of the cedar chest and brought it to her room. I let her know that I made it when I was in college, and asked her if she would want to wear it.

“Sure,” she responded, taking the sweater from me and holding it up to examine it. “It’s perfect! I have an ugly sweater party on Friday, and I can wear it!”

“Um…” I started, reminiscing on the January term that I had painstakingly knit the sweater in question, placing each stitch of the Fair Isle pattern in exactly the right place. And now it was considered an ugly sweater? She looked up and saw my expression.

“I don’t mean this is an ugly sweater,” she back-tracked. “But it would work for the party because it’s in the style of an ugly sweater. There’s a difference.” This last bit was said as she turned to walk back into her room. No doubt so I would not see her silently laughing.

Her snark-streak continued after lunch, when she asked if she could eat one of the Christmas cookies I had just made, my famous snowman cookies. These cookies end up dispersed among family and friends, so I tend to be a bit stingy with them. “You can have one of the ugly ones,” I told her. “Pick one that’s cracked or deformed.”

She looked them all over. “Don’t worry,” she assured me as she selected a cookie. “There are plenty of ugly ones here.” Indeed.

Still later, I was coming up the stairs from the laundry. I had been singing made up songs that probably were a bit crazier than I thought. “Hey Mom…. Oh, never mind, that wasn’t going to come out right,” she said as I entered the living room.

“You’ve spent the day saying things that didn’t come out right. You may as well just say it,” I coaxed. It was actually a challenge, but she didn’t know it.

“I was just wondering, is it ever too early to put someone in assisted living?”

“Oh my. So I’m going to assisted living already?”

“I’m not planning anything. I’m just preparing. In case you might be going crazy….” Her voice trailed off. “But don’t worry. I’d take care of you at home before I put you in a facility.” She smiled that sweet smile that let me know she was going to do whatever she needed to once I had slipped into the depths of crazy. It’s always nice to know your kids have plans to keep you safe.

I wish I could say that was it for the day, but it was not. After dinner, I prepared for my tap class. I was talking to myself as I walked through the kitchen, saying how much I loved tap and how happy I was to be going to class. But then I stopped. I looked right at her, and I said, “But no worries. I would never dance on stage, like in the recital. I would look ridiculous, and nobody wants to see that.”

Her eyes narrowed as she considered my words. “I think you should dance on stage, Mom. Everyone would watch you, and they would see how much you love it. They would be so happy for you.”

I might have thought that was a very sweet thing to say. But as teenagers too often do, she continued down this road, one she should not have traveled. “They might be laughing, Mom, but they would be laughing with you, not at you. Because you just said you know how ridiculous you would look.” And again, the smile.

Ah, life with teenagers. If you ever have a moment when you think you might actually feel good about something, just wait. One snarky comment, and they will humble you in an instant.

And if I am perfectly honest… I wouldn’t want it any other way!

[Image is the “ugly” sweater in question]

The Things that are Missing…

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At that university where I work, I meet with student writers from all walks and backgrounds. I mainly meet with undergraduate writers, but I also work with students who are professionals in the midst of careers—returning to school for professional development or to get a degree. And then there are the graduate students who range in age from 22 to 92.

Recently, I met with a woman who was an acquaintance of mine in a former iteration of my life—years ago when I was single and worked a different job. She is in a demanding graduate program, she works full time, and she deals with the every day stresses and curve-balls of life that we all deal with.

She was struggling. Her professor had told her that her final essay could end her participation in the program; she was under more pressure than usual, and she was taking it out on herself. Briefly, she let me in on the frustrations she had with the class—the only class in which she had struggled in the program thus far. Now, she felt the need to put exactly the right words on the page, which is never good for the writing process; she was over-editing because she felt under-confident.

I asked her how many classes she had completed in the program. Seven. And then I reminded her that she had seen me two years earlier—when she had first started her program—feeling almost exactly the same way. And I reminded her that she hadn’t seen me since. “What is it about these two classes that stripped you of your confidence?” I asked her.

Her response had nothing to do with school. She mentioned the loss of a loved one several years earlier; the holiday season without that person; the stresses of her work; a birthday celebration that needed to happen in the midst of everything else. And the pressure to finish this one last paper.

Often at this time of the year, we are too able to focus on what’s missing. The longing for what is missing blurs the present and what we have. And sometimes, we don’t even consciously recognize that we are struggling with loss or stress or the need to be everything to everyone.

And so I say this: be gentle with yourself, not just at this time of year, but always. You are not alone. We are all in this together. Chances are, if you are willing to say, “You know what? I am struggling today,” someone will step in to offer support and to lift you up.

The Butter Monster

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When my children were little, I tried to make boring chores relatively entertaining for them. I felt that if I could bring a little fun to the mundane, it would help my children to develop a sense of adventure as they approached every day situations. I don’t believe I always succeeded, but we certainly had some fun along the way.

Years ago, as school was starting, the stores were pushing autumn baking, I was in the grocery store with two little ones taking care of our weekly shopping. Because I knew it was not their favorite time, we began to play a game. As we walked through the store, out of the blue, I told them that we had to be careful not to be seen by The Butter Monster.

Truth be told, I have no idea where that came from. Nor did I have any idea what we were running from. However, we made our way through the store, ducking behind displays and dodging other shoppers. We moved quickly up and down the aisles, grabbing the items we needed as we passed.

My two little children (I think they were maybe 4 and 6 at the time) were giggling and squealing like they were outside playing a game of tag. And then it happened….

We turned into the baking aisle and nearly bumped into a display of baking mixes, that was topped by a huge cardboard cut-out of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. “Ah!” I practically screamed, trying to maintain some composure while I still entertained my children. “It’s the Butter Monster!!” I whipped the grocery cart around and high-tailed it out of that aisle. We hid one aisle over while we caught our breath and tried to stifle our giggles. Somehow, we managed to finish our shopping.

On my next trip to the store, I asked the manager if it would be possible for us to have the cut out of Dough Boy when the store was done with the display. While they thought I was completely insane, they saved it for me. We brought the Butter Monster with us to Thanksgiving dinner that year and sat him at the table, spreading our fun to extended family.

Maybe grocery shopping isn’t such a “boring chore” after all. I realize that I might have made a hasty judgment. Just because I find a chore “boring” doesn’t mean my kids need to, as well. Perhaps, with memories such as these, my children can reframe the “boring chores” and look on tasks such as food shopping as an adventure!

{Image is a photo of the Butter Monster being placed at the Thanksgiving table years ago}