Post-Christmas Thanks

I’ve had a wonderful week with my parents, both sisters, and my youngest sister’s husband and two boys… we had a ton of fun.  LK’s boys are just a few years younger than my girls, so Delta gets a chance to be the big one for a while.  They’ve played Halo 3 and other assorted XBox games well into the night at my mother’s house, and engaged in some sort of Wii free-for-all at our house Wednesday afternoon.

With the kids all thoroughly entertained, that gave the adults a little time to just sit and catch up.  I enjoyed that.

Somewhere along the line — probably in those last few days of frantic shopping — I picked up a gift that I’d just as soon return: a cold.  The good old-fashioned winter cold, complete with aches and a feeling that my throat has been stripped raw.  But, it’s okay — I have my tea, and my schedule today is light.  Tomorrow, LK and her crew will drive back to Houston; Alpha’s returning to her apartment at UT tonight.

Middle sister KD is going back to Bristol on Sunday.  It was wonderful to see them all, to know that everyone is thriving.

I’ve missed my friends this week, but after the hectic schedule of the holiday subsides, we’ll plan a quiet evening somewhere along the way.  It’s about time.  Might have to learn to play Texas Hold-Em, so that HWTFM can get some use out of that spiffy new card set.

Next week, we’ll get to visit with siblings and cousins from HIS side of the family — and another good time will be had by all.

The road less traveled

Last weekend, taking advantage of a few days of Fall Break, we took off for a mental health holiday.  Winding through Oliver Springs, then Wartburg, up past Huntsville and taking a left at Oneida, we explored a tiny portion of the national treasure that is Big South Fork.

Gamma’s taking a lifeguarding class, so she had to stay behind (thanks Girlfriend, for giving her a safe place to sleep and making sure she was well fed).  HWTFM, Delta, and I camped.

On Saturday night after setting up camp and fixing a quick supper, we headed up to Stearns, KY to ride the Big South Fork Scenic Railway — or more specifically, the Haunted Hollow Express.  It was a little scary, but very, very entertaining!  We’ll definitely go back for a longer, daytime ride to Devil’s Jump someday.

Yes, it was 33 degrees Sunday morning.  But, the fire was warm and we fixed a good breakfast… bacon sizzling over an open fire cures a world of ills.  By noon or so, we took off on an ambitious mountain bike adventure — about fourteen miles, but it was fourteen miles of steep terrain.  We forded a couple of streams, and one small river.

On Monday, we hiked.  Dog enjoyed the hike, but even more so, the swim that he took at our turnaround point.  He didn’t bark at the many horses, nor at other hikers.  He stayed close to us, but enjoying every scent, every sound in the forest.  We saw giant leaves that I can’t identify, but some other hikers told us they were known as "hillbilly toilet paper."

Three days (well, two full days and two half days) of no phone, no internet, no television, no radio, no news, no politics.  Double doses of fresh air, sunshine, and quiet.  We went to bed tired every night, and slept soundly.

Today, we returned home to attend to real life — things like HWTFM’s Charter Commission campaign, finishing Gamma’s halloween costume, Delta’s geometry homework, school board stuff… the eveyday stresses that make sleeping in the woods away from everything and everyone else so attractive to begin with.

We’re fortuate to live so close to such paradise.  Every day, we hear endless griping about what’s wrong with our [country/city/state/school/fill-in-the-blank], yet we’re only a short drive away from getting away from it all.  If everyone took such a break once in a while — it’s a national park, so it’s an absolutely affordable getaway — we’d all be in a better mood, easier to get along with.

I certainly am.

Fresh Start

On the first day of the new year, I feel satisfied — though I haven’t accomplished any extraordinary feats beyond getting the living room cleaned up and vacuumed before the start of the Outback Bowl, and getting the Christmas tree un-decorated and taken outside to be planted.  I made minor repairs to a couple of oft-used quilts, worked a bit more on a scarf I started knitting on our way home from Michigan, and put on a pot of homemade soup for supper.

The real challenge comes in the next 12 hours: can I get my children, now with their days and nights quite backward, in bed and awake on time to be ready for school tomorrow?  Delta slept until 3 p.m. today… it’s going to be tough.

I’ve given little thought to resolutions this year, but there are a few.  I want to keep house better (not my strong suit); to write more often, and to write more about relevant issues.  Lastly, I want to encourage others, because without the people who have done the same for me over a number of years, I would be a decidedly lesser person.

Get to bed early, because tomorrow starts the longest stretch of the year without a break. 

Merry Christmas!

Santa had a bit of fun at our house last night, yes he did.  The girls decided that a glass of milk and homemade fudge would be better for him than the recommended scotch and popcorn; maybe it was the sugar rush that made him feel impish.

The stockings were stuffed, wrapped packages stacked carefully nearby, but there was a dearth of the usual Christmas morning shrieking when I awakened this morning.  As I wandered out to make coffee, Beta thrust a gift into my hands, not to be deterred: it was a bottle of my favorite Starbucks peppermint syrup for my morning jolt.  The younger two were calm, though.

Between the emptied stockings (chocolates, a new toothbrush, art supplies, etc.) and new pajamas though, was a small unopened box, yet unnoticed on the floor.  They were hoping for a Wii bit bigger box, but there was none to be found.  I inquired about the lonely little box, addressed to Gamma and Delta, so they obliged by opening it.

Inside were some random glass fishbowl rocks (for weight and sound effect), and a note:  "Look where it’s cold, icy like the North Pole."  First they looked outside on the back porch, then the front, before someone thought to check the freezer, where they found a box of soap.  With another note: "Delta’s chore." 

Everyone here knows that Delta’s job is to empty the dishwasher and put the clean dishes away, but there wasn’t anything in the dishwasher but clean dishes.  After a few moments’ frustration, they began putting away the dishes, and found yet another small box with a note: "Where Delta reads, look for the invisible ink."  Now this could have been a real goose chase, since Delta devours books, but they soon figured out that the kitchen computer has a printer above it that’s out of ink… and on that printer was yet another box.  This clue read, "Brush your teeth."

Near their toothbrushes was a slightly larger package, containing a Wii nunchuk, and yet another note: "There’s a basket in the living room with things to be put away."  Upon putting away the the clean folded towels, they discovered Zach and Wiki, followed by squeals and excitement when they looked into the farthest reaches of the linen closet, finding a shiny wrapped package of the proper dimensions to be the coveted, most wished-for item.

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all, and thanks to whatever stroke of luck allowed this to happen.  I hate that there’s another video game in this house with already too many electronic distractions, but there’s nothing like happy children on Christmas night.

The Christmas meme

LissaKay tagged me for the "Christmas Meme" a few days ago, so here goes:

1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share Christmas facts about yourself.
3. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Welcome to the Christmas edition of "Getting to Know Your Friends."

1. Wrapping or gift bags?
Wrapping. Even the odd-shaped things, because gift bags don’t stack nicely under the tree.

2. Real or artificial tree?
Real — with a burlap root ball so I can plant it in my yard after Christmas.  The ultimate recycling — I can decorate it outside next year!

3. When do you put up the tree?
Usually after my birthday, so it doesn’t stress the tree (or me) too much.

4. When do you take the tree down?
The week between Christmas and New Year’s, whichever day isn’t raining.

5. Do you like egg nog?
Not especially, but I’ll usually drink a bit for holiday spirit.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
It’s a tie between a trampoline, and a season’s pass to the 1982 World’s Fair.  I still have the trampoline, and my kids get as much out of it as I did.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Several (small ones).

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
Probably math books. That’s the kid equivalent of getting a new mop or vacuum cleaner now.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Sadly, neither.  I never get my act together in time.  

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Tough choices; probably the Santa Clause.

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Black Friday.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My mom’s Christmas Morning Casserole!

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?

14. Favorite Christmas song(s)?
Mannheim Steamroller, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and the Nutcracker Suite.  Traditional: Angels We Have Heard on High.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We usually travel during Winter Break, but try to be home for Christmas.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Sure, but I might have to sing it.

17. Angel on the tree top or a star?

18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
Christmas morning, no matter how the kids beg, plead, or insist that everyone else opens them early.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Crowds, short tempers, bad drivers.  Losing sight of the real meaning of Christmas.

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
The theme is eclectic — lots of ornaments that the kids have made, or that were given to them, over the years.

21. What do you leave for Santa?
Santa liked scotch & peanuts or popcorn when I was a kid, and he still does.

22. Least favorite holiday song?
"Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"

23. Favorite ornament?
I don’t really have just one favorite.  I like them all, or I don’t put them on the tree.

24. Family tradition?
Something hidden, or a tiny present in a giant box with something heavy or noisy in it to trick the gift-rattlers.  We once gave my grandmother a big box with an enormous log (tree stump, really) in it, with a picture of her new television taped to the top.  The actual television had already been delivered to her house, unbeknownst to her, with some help from a friendly neighbor.

25. Ever been to Midnight Mass or late-night Christmas Eve services?

I will be passing this "tag" on to the following blogfriends:

AtomicTumor, Daco, Trina, David Bolling, Shane (who’s already finished),

Christmas Eve’s Eve

I’m back now, but here’s a picture of where I was for the last week — what the week before Christmas should look like.

My dear mother-in-law is doing so much better than just a few scant months ago.  Once again, she’s up before the sun, cooking and baking and planning her day.  She’s now willing to get out of the house now and then, going to church on Sunday to show off her bountiful crop of grandchildren, and out to eat a couple of times.

We had to go out to eat a few times to avoid overeating, as her kitchen was filled with innumerable goodies — apple pie, apple cake, custard pie, brownies, fudge, applesauce cookies (can you tell that they had a wonderful apple crop this year?).

The kids had great fun tying an old plastic sled to the back of a three-wheeled ATV, pulling each other through the orchards and trails on the farm.  Oft as not, Dog was chasing behind, burning off some of his energy.

We left about 3 pm yesterday — seven people and Dog, ski gear, apples, and all our winter accoutrements — and drove through a driving rain for fifteen hours.  Coming across Jellico Mountain this morning was rough, with a brutal wind shaking the Suburban all over the road.  Watching the Weather Channel this afternoon though, I’m glad we left when we did, because all that rain is now ice and snow the entire length of Indiana and lower Michigan.

I love snow when I don’t have to drive long distances in it.  Now home, it’s time to finish preparations for the exciting days to come.

O Tannenbaum…

If you’re planning to have a real Christmas tree this year, here’s a great chance to get a beautiful, fresh tree, and help some folks who need you at the same time.

The ARC of Anderson County sells the most beautiful, fresh-cut Christmas trees I’ve seen, along with wreaths and garland, at reasonable prices.  DH Johnson, a longtime member of that organization, gets them from his farm (or his family’s farm, not sure which) in North Carolina, and has them ready for pickup within 2-3 days.

There’s an order form online, along with pricing and delivery options.

The ARC serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities; sadly, many of these people — our neighbors, members of our own community — have little or no family to provide for their social and recreational needs, medical assistance, gifts for birthdays and holidays, or much of anything else.

It feels good to give where your help is needed and appreciated; it also feels good to get a quality product at an attractive price.  To do both, at once, is better still.

If you’ve never visited a sheltered workshop (such as the Emory Valley Center), you’ve missed out.  There, you will find men and women who have been dealt one of the roughest hands imaginable in the game of life, yet, they work cheerfully and industriously to contribute to society each and every day.  Still, more is needed than they are able to accomplish on their own, so it’s up to us.