The Perfect Christmas?

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrated that holiday. This past Friday (Black Friday here in the U.S.), my sister-in-law and I made my brother turn from a Star Trek marathon so we could watch a Hallmark movie. Lest you misunderstand, I also was enjoying the Star Trek marathon. But around the fourth episode, I wanted to watch something else.

Anyway, the plot of the movie involved a woman following a list of activities she believed would make the perfect Christmas. For example, staying in a cozy cabin in the mountains (with the perfect covering of snow on the roof), singing Christmas carols, seeing The Nutcracker, making a gingerbread house, buying a real Christmas tree, baking, ice skating, taking a picture with Santa, etc.

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My brother glared at the television. “That’s every Christmas stereotype there is!” he declared, his lip curled.

I laughed, because he was right. But I couldn’t help recalling one Christmas season years ago, when a friend of mine and I followed a list of the quintessential Chicago Christmas activities. It included having lunch near the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at Macy’s (which was Marshall Field back then), oohing and ahing over the Christmas display in the store windows, ice skating, checking out the Christmas trees at the Museum of and Industry (see photo below; it is not one of mine, however), going to see The Nutcracker (fail), etc. (Click here for a list of holiday things to do in and around Chicago.)

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We waited two hours just to get into the Walnut Room (see photo below; I did not take that photo either). While I was glad we checked that off on our Christmas to-do list, I can’t say the meal I had was memorable. It certainly hadn’t met my extraordinarily high expectations.

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And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Unrealistic expectations often put a damper on our enjoyment of the holidays. I learned that the hard way.

This year, I don’t feel motivated to rush around, doing holiday things while trying to manufacture the “perfect” Christmas season. Case in point: I skipped shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Instead, over the weekend, I took in a good movie (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) with friends.

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And I don’t plan to stress about Christmas shopping. This year, I’m focusing on the things in which I truly delight, rather than the “have-to’s” of the season. Guess that means crocheting more reindeer to give away (not a have-to, but a want-to), seeing more great films (Moana, you are next), and having quality conversations with friends and family.

What, if anything, constitutes the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah season for you? What are your plans for the season?
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Crocheted reindeer thugs stage a coupe by blocking my coffee mug. While I’m not exactly sure what their demands are, I will make it a priority to find good homes for them this season. And yes, the keyboard below them is very dusty. It’s not one that I use these days.

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Rainbow Kate and her BFF Popette finally finished hanging the Christmas lights on Rainbow Kate’s house, to the delight of the children Kate babysat. But the delight turned to consternation when they discovered Kitty in the living room, drinking the last of the cocoa.

Christmas tree in the Walnut room from anadesigns.blogspot. Christmas tree at the Museum of Science and Industry from commons.wikimedia.org. Santa from hdwallpapersforiphone.blogspot. Fantastic Beasts logo from geeknation.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Thanksgiving

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Poor Thanksgiving. You often get lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas or Hanukkah, don’t you?

Mostly, you’re lumped into the general autumn scheme of things when it comes to decorating. Well, you are a holiday born out of thanksgiving to God for a good harvest (and for survival) back in 1621. And thanks to President Lincoln, you were celebrated nationally on a Thursday, though you didn’t become an official national holiday until 1941.

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I’m grateful for all of the Thanksgiving meals I’ve had in the past, where I consumed mass quantities of food, played board games with my family, then vegged out in front of the television, watching football. This year will be a little different. I plan to hang out with friends, play board games, and eat mass quantities of food. (As I said it will be a little different.)

What are you thankful for? My attitude this past week was anything but thankful, though. I received a record number of rejections from manuscript queries—four. I felt like a failure. But some good friends encouraged me (thank you, Sharon, Laura S., and Megan). Someone else did too. A few days ago, I made a quick stop at a jewelry party at the home of another friend. A young woman was there, whom I hadn’t seen since she was a kid.

“I still have some books of yours from when I was a kid,” she said, referring to a series I’d written many years ago, that went out of print within a year. “They were some of my favorite books. They helped me decide to be an author/illustrator.”

Her words made me tear up. How could I have so quickly forgotten the power of reaching even one kid by the written word? How easily swayed I was by discouragement.

Sometimes you have to kick discouragement in the teeth. And what better way to do that than with the giveaway I introduced in my last post? (Click here for the list of books.) At first, I was going to give away just one book. But I decided to give away more than that. It is Thanksgiving (soon) anyway.

I looked at the list of people who mentioned books. Here it is:

Charles (Star Wars)
Penny (Meetings)
Pamela (Meetings)
Karen Gradient (Grace Lin)
Reocochran (Star Wars)
Lyn (Grace Lin)
Nicki (Grace Lin)

Congrats. You’re all getting a book. Please comment below to confirm. Then I’ll need you to email your snail mail address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com (or email my primary email account if you know it, which would be faster). If you would prefer that I not have your snail address, please let me know, and we can make other arrangements.

If you commented and mentioned a book, but don’t see your name on the above list, please comment below. I’m going by the honor system here.

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Seriously, have a good Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it, that is; if not, have a great Thursday)!

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Rudolph and his gang of unfinished crocheted reindeer discovered a new house in the neighborhood. Perhaps they could spend Thanksgiving here.

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After booting out the reindeer, the new neighbor, Rainbow Kate, took up residence in her new house. But Kitty invited herself over for a Thanksgiving meal. Chaos is sure to ensue.

Turkey images from latintimes.com and openclipart.org. Thanksgiving image from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Thanks, Winter!

Here in the Midwest, you get used to the temperature changing in the blink of an eye. One day you might have 50-degree (10 Celsius) weather; the next, a steady snowfall with a temperature of 24 (-4 Celsius). I can thank my friend Winter for that.

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Thanks, Winter, though you’re not officially due till next month. But it’s nice that you made your presence felt over the weekend. There was nothing gradual about you, was there? No, you kept snow falling late Friday night and practically all day Saturday. And you’re still here, clinging to the grass, trees, sidewalks, and streets with your icy sheen. I slipped on some ice Sunday and narrowly avoided a face plant, thanks to the quick thinking of a friend who grabbed my arm.

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But, Winter, I can thank you for the way you lace the trees with snow. On my drive to church Sunday, the trees on both sides of the road were so beautifully dressed. I couldn’t get a photo of them because (a) I was driving at the time and (b) my phone had died. But the scene was like a postcard. Perhaps memories like that were simply meant to be savored in the moment and not shut away in a computer the way my other photos are.

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But Winter, with the dichotomy of your hard edges and soft surfaces you remind me to be thankful for the way life is sometimes. Especially this year. I’ve endured the hardness of failure and a parent’s serious illness as well as the softness of caring people. But winter has taught me to find beauty in barrenness. Branches shorn of leaves wear the close-fitting garment of snow much better (IMHO) than evergreen trees. Winter’s barrenness makes spring’s renewal all the more vivid and celebratory. This makes me think that the barrenness of dashed hopes may someday give way to the celebration of a victory wrought by persistence. One can only hope.

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So with Thanksgiving rolling around and you as an early guest, Winter, thanks for the reminder that seasons change. And in the changes, good and bad, I can still give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Thanksgiving sign from imageslist.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Holiday Hush

Man-Sitting-AloneLet me start out by saying, Happy Thanksgiving to all. With the holiday season upon us and the hustle and bustle of it waiting around the corner like a mugger intent on grabbing our wallets, we seldom take time to pause and reflect. How can we, when we have to pick up relatives at the airport, the kids won’t stop arguing over whose turn it is on the game console, the turkey hasn’t quite thawed, the house needs cleaning, our favorite team is down by six points on TV, and we’re bombarded with buy-this-for-Christmas ads?

There’s so much to do! We dive into the holiday season with our hands full of to-do lists and our bank accounts slowly depleting along with our patience and our peace. All because we gotta do this—c’mon it’s the holidays, right?

Yet many of us have other things on our minds—the loss of loved ones or jobs or expectations sadly thwarted. These losses color the holidays a bleak gray. And some homes are so filled with anger, the holidays become a minefield to get through as best as we can.

When we’re at our busiest or our emptiest or saddest, we desperately need a bit of solitude to collect our thoughts, even if we only have a minute between waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven or waiting on line at the grocery store to pay for that can of cranberry sauce. We need the hush to collect ourselves, to take a step back, and just be.

Be what? Thankful? That’s the punch line you’re getting at, isn’t it? Are you thinking that right now? Being thankful is an automatic default due to the season. Many people have lists of the people and things for which they are thankful. I do too. But maybe thankful is not what you have the energy to be right now. So instead, I’m asking you to put aside the obligations, the holiday mask (happy grins all), and the frantic I-have-to-dos just for a moment. Now, take a breath, let it out, and just be. Be whoever you are in this moment. Embrace the hush.

Wishing you a peace-filled holiday. And if you live in an area where Thanksgiving is not celebrated, but you’re gearing up for next month’s holidays, I hope you’ll take a moment of stillness sometime soon.

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Turkey from wallyball.homestead.com. Person alone from for-the-masses.com.