Not Quite Perfect Christmas

In the hours before company started arriving on Christmas Eve, while I was puttering around doing last-minute cleaning and putting food together, I told my kids, “I think this is going to be my favorite part of Christmas. This time right now, when you are all here, helping me out, relaxing, and having fun with each other.” I’m glad I thought to tell them that.

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A quick nap for Dacotah and Kacey

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Brad and Jake having a friendly war

I had all weekend and Monday to get things ready for a house full of extended family on Christmas Eve. I was on top of things. Brad was supposed to work a half day on Tuesday, Christmas Eve. He and Heather were then going to drive home and arrive here in the late afternoon, just ahead of our company. But on Monday came reports of a big snowstorm in their area, beginning Tuesday in the early morning hours. Brad’s boss generously gave him Tuesday off and told him to get a head start on his drive home. He and Heather arrived home at midnight on Monday.  I was relieved to have them home safe and sound. During the day on Tuesday, while we prepared for the big night, my boys moved furniture in the living room to play Call of Duty on the X-Box. Kacey and Heather helped me in the kitchen. Connor passed through a time or two while taking care of his own last-minute Christmas preparations. They all laughed and joked and seemed to enjoy each other. It was a joy to be in the midst of it all.

I worried about other stuff, though. I’m sorry to say that I worried my way through Christmas. I wanted to pull off a nice Christmas for my parents. My dad had made it a point to say how happy he was to be home for Christmas this year and how much he was looking forward to spending it with all of his kids and grandkids.

Bu every family has its tensions at one time or another. I’ve had my share of family tension this year. I thought I could put it all aside for Christmas and particularly for my parents. The brother who had hurt me and my kids so much this past summer with his cruel, alcohol-induced words really seemed not to get that what he had done was so hurtful. I told myself that he had no idea how hurt I was and I should just let it go. I was ready. I wanted to let it go. But it wasn’t to be. Some people are just unhappy in life and the only thing that seems to help is making other people feel small so that they can feel bigger. I’m a non-confrontational person. When someone gets out of line with me, I seem to be physically incapable of speaking up. I do not sling hurtful words back in anger, as much as I sometimes wish I could. (Believe me, those words are inside of me. I just can’t make them come out.) In particular, with this brother, biting my tongue means keeping my parents happy. They don’t want their kids fighting and disliking each other. But I think I’ve hit the end of my rope with always having to say, “That’s just how he is. Let it go. Walk away. Be the bigger person.” A string of passive-aggressive communications from my brother and his wife during the days leading up to Christmas had frayed every last nerve in my body. It was stupid, juvenile, unprovoked stuff, like a text message conversation. “What food can we bring for Christmas? How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray.” … and then no further commitment to what, if any food they might bring to what is traditionally a somewhat pot-luck type of event. Their family of six showed up at the door with a 12-pack of Pepsi instead. There was the annoyed-sounding phone message left after I’d missed a call to my cell phone. “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about something, but apparently you don’t want to answer my call. CRAZY!” And then when I picked up the land line, “Oh. Nice of you to answer the house phone at least.” I tried to brush it off, not take it personally, and did my best to appease them, the end result being a knot of anxiety in my chest that would not go away. Still hasn’t.

I think I managed to pull off something resembling a decent holiday for the rest of the family, but I came out of it…. scratch that… I went through it and came out of it feeling defeated and angry. I know that Mark and the kids were not the least bit oblivious to my stress. I clearly have not really let go of the old hurts and now every new hurt, no matter how small, seems monumental. I told Mark that I’m done… really done with the extended family gatherings. It’s just not worth it to make myself and my own family miserable before, during and after every event, just because one person can’t manage to treat other people with respect. Or maybe because I take things so personally. Either way, Mark says in another year’s time, I will have forgotten how passionate I feel about this right now and I will change my mind. Not that he disagrees that I have a right to feel hurt after opening up our home and spending hundreds of dollars to entertain twenty plus people. He just doesn’t feel as fiery inside as I seem to. Maybe I will change my mind. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t be so abnormal for us to start “doing our own thing” on the holidays. Our kids are adults. Not long from now, they’ll be getting married and having children of their own. It’s normal for the holidays to become more fragmented as families grow. I want to create good holiday memories with my kids, not leave them with a string of dysfunctional scenarios to mark the years.

I want to love my brother, but right now, I need to love him from afar.

After the big, loud, chaotic family party, Mark and I settled in the living room with our kids and Heather and Connor to open our family gifts. And it was wonderful. Wonderful. My kids are grown ups now, and I love to see how much more joy they now feel in the giving, rather than receiving. We laughed. I smiled. It was such a happy, relaxed time. I no longer felt as if I were walking a tight-rope.

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

We hit the sack well after midnight and Christmas Day arrived with a repeat of the extended family gathering with Mark’s relatives. I was physically exhausted, but much more relaxed not having to play hostess. There were family tensions there too, but at least they weren’t mine. And the day provided some of the most heart-warming moments and biggest smiles I’d felt in days.

My kids really seem to have grown up to like each other and enjoy one another’s company.

Christmas 2013 1We are all so excited that Heather will soon be our daughter- and sister-in law.

Christmas 2013 2And my kids are proving that they will someday be fabulous parents, aunts and uncles.

Christmas 2013 3

Ryan knows you are never too old to race Matchbox cars.

Christmas 2013 4

And Jake knows how to get a belly-laugh out of a kid.

I’m always sad that Christmas is over so soon. This year I have mixed feelings. There is too much I want to put behind me. I’m not proud of the way I let things eat away at me and the person I became as a result. I complained too much and couldn’t seem to let things go. This Christmas brought me many reason to feel blessed, but instead, I chose to dwell on the hurts. I need to move past this and move on.

New Year’s Eve, I’ll have another chance to spend time with all of the kids and Mark. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ve decided that we don’t want to go out, don’t want to have people over either. We’re going to get into our comfy clothes, eat appetizers, maybe play some games and watch movies until we fall asleep. I owe this to them.

A new year is just around the corner. A fresh start. A chance to learn how to deal with life better. I’m ready.

Frenzy

I have just been a crazy woman lately. The holiday panic really set in last weekend when I didn’t manage to finish the Christmas shopping and hadn’t yet decided on a menu for the Christmas Eve festivities happening at my house.  I know I’ll get things under control. I always do. Every day after work, I tackle one or two things on the holiday to-do list or find one more gift to put under the tree, so I’m getting stuff done.  I just seem to feel more edgy about it all than usual.

Just so you know, if you were wondering when my weekly goals progress report would show up, it ain’t happening this week.

I don’t know. I guess I just thought that we were going to simplify a little bit this year. And we have. Some. It just doesn’t seem to be simplified enough. We have a good amount of family, all in close proximity. Over the course of two days, we will entertain or visit them all. We are not familiar with the “quiet” holiday.

I  want all the gifts to be just perfect. There are some homemade gifts in the works, something simple and inexpensive, but I need time to make them. WHY didn’t I start sooner? Seriously. When I’m waking up at three in the morning and my mind races with thoughts of what if and did I and what am I forgetting, there is clearly a problem. And I know I’m doing this to myself. As much as I hate to admit it, I know this is all due to my need to do it all, make it all perfect, and manage it without asking for any major help.

Thankfully, Kacey has been home from school for almost a week already. She’s done all the gift wrapping so far and helped me slap mailing labels and stamps on Christmas cards. She was home before most of her friends and she was bored, without a job, and totally in the holiday spirit. I don’t know what I would do without her!

Don’t get me wrong. Part of me loves the craze and welcomes the challenge. And I always have fun getting ready for Christmas, even if every day I’m kicking myself for not starting to get my ducks in a row sooner. But Christmas always seems to come and go in a flash and I always find myself wondering how it passed us by so quickly. And the reality is, I can work my butt off trying to get the house perfect, make the food perfect, and make sure everyone is beyond happy. But Christmas Eve will come and the house will be bursting at the seams with my family and it will quickly look like a bomb went off in here anyway. And no one will care. Really.

One of these years, I’ll figure out how to enjoy the Christmas season with a better sense of peace and calm.

If you ever wanted to be a fly on my wall…

Not surprisingly, I’ve been asked several times recently how my holidays were. That’s what we do after the holidays, isn’t it? We ask our friends if they had a good Christmas and New Years. And I was just thinking today that my Christmas was really good. Family times … well, they have their ups and downs. Sometimes the holidays leave a lasting impression, and not always for the right reasons.

My family, though? When we’re at our best, we laugh… and we laugh hard. This video is really poor, but you get the gist of it. If you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of our family gatherings, this is what you’d see.

… My brothers mixing up a combination of impersonations, eighties rock music and making up new lyrics to old songs.

… The nephews, thinking I was simply snapping a photo, posing in the background and waiting for me to say, “Got it.”

… A little bit of alcohol.

… A lot of food, especially French Silk pie, (not pecan pie.)

… An abundance of silliness.

… And lots and lots of laughter…

I love that my brother-in-law said, “And we’re eating not pecan pie! … Wait, did I just say ‘not pecan pie?’ Who am I? Yoda?”

That just put us over the edge!

My brothers would probably kill me if they knew I was posting this video online. But I think they’d forgive me if I told them how much I loved spending this time with them on Christmas Eve.

Well, that was FUN!

The guest bedroom is vacant again and the house is quiet for the first time in four days. Brad and Heather have packed up and headed back home again. A new year has begun and after more than a month of preparations and celebrations, it’s time to start getting back to routine.

It was a full and happy long weekend at our house. My family was a bit scattered over Christmas, but the New Year’s weekend provided the perfect opportunity for all of us to gather together. We celebrated our Christmas on Saturday and it was wonderful. We had nowhere else to go, no other obligations to worry about. We made it all about us. I told the kids I would make whatever they wanted to eat. Turkey dinner? That amazing lasagna we all love? They requested hors d’oeuvres and made it easy on me. Gifts were shared. A particular wish was granted for each. Each of the kids received a Mad Bomber hat. No one requested one, but everyone loved them. They put them on and Lucy barked in confusion at the strange furry things on their heads.

Warm winter wear

Warm winter wear

Happiness and good cheer was abundant!

Brad was happy with his new goose decoys.

Brad was happy with his new goose decoys.

Kacey had a smile even though she wasn't feeling so well.

Kacey had a smile even though she wasn’t feeling so well.

Jake enjoyed a tall glass of chocolate milk.

Jake enjoyed a tall glass of chocolate milk.

I love when all the kids are home. We do things to feed the soul, things that slip by the wayside in the midst of our daily routines. We make big, hot breakfasts and eat together at the table. We lounge around and watch movies and play with the dogs. We talk to each other and remember how good it feels to be together.

I’ve not adjusted easily to the fact that my kids have grown up and are beginning lives of their own. I’ve often missed the days of knowing they were all safe under my roof, of knowing they needed me and that I was there to protect them. But this weekend, a sense of understanding and acceptance came over me. It came with the sweet sound of my boys talking to one another, ribbing each other, with good nature in their voices. At 21 and 23 years old, they are coming to accept one another for both their differences and their similarities. I listened to their conversation from the kitchen, not wanting to interrupt. I waited for something to break down as always seems to happen. I waited for one to move away from the other in frustration, but that moment didn’t come. My boys have grown up and I think I like it.

We took time to sit back and relax, but there was also much to do. Brad made time to get together with a long-time friend whom he hadn’t seen in much too long. I too carved out time to be with my best friend who was in town for a few days. New Years Eve was coming and the party was at our house this year. Kacey was a godsend. Because of my still-aching back, (pinched nerve, I think) and knowing that I get a bit crazy as I prepare to entertain, she made herself available to do whatever I needed her to do. She’s growing up too, and that means I miss her a lot. But I am really proud of the adult she has become.

We had such a good time, and as expected, it all went by too fast. The Christmas tree is still up and I think I’ll leave it until next weekend. It’s so pretty and I’m in no hurry to take it down just yet.

I tend to get the blues after the holidays have passed. My focus before the holidays gets so centered on being with family and the happiness and fun that the holidays bring. It’s hard to go back to the same old same old. And I’ve realized that I feel the worst when I have nothing to work towards and nothing to look forward to. So maybe some resolutions are in order – nothing too rigid – just some things that need continued improvement.

So I’m resolving to get back into a good routine at the gym. I’ve been a slacker of late. I got sick over Thanksgiving weekend and I let it keep me out of the gym for more than a week. That chest cold hung on for weeks and even when I got back to the gym, there were days I just gave in to the urge for an extra hour of rest instead. And then came the back pain and there were days I couldn’t get out of bed without assistance, much less go run on a treadmill. It’s eased up now, and I think getting these muscles back to work will help heal me completely. And once that happens, I want to just push myself harder than before and get into better shape.

Last year I resolved to cook more and eat better. I made some improvement, but I’ve still got a long way to go. As I began to improve my cooking skills I realized that I needed better tools in my kitchen. I’ve added some cookware and better utensils and they deserve to be put to use. So I’m going to work on better meal planning and learning to say no when Mark says, “Should we just order a pizza?”

I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations, so I only have two other resolutions. Read more. Write more. These are two things that bring me serious fulfillment. They deserve more effort.

So while it is hard to say goodbye to my kids as they go back to their lives, I’m not going to dwell on the sadness it brings. I’ll look forward to the next time and while I wait, I’ll give myself things to work toward. But today? I’m dedicating today to some serious lounging!

Lucy Lounging

… and so is Lucy …

 

Happy New Year, all!

Holidays and Family and the Wisdom of our Elders

So what’dja get for Christmas? I got back pain. It arrived on Christmas Eve and stayed through today. That was fun. Good timing too! ‘Cause I’m usually an insane maniac over Christmas and having to move like a hundred year-old lady just gave all that holiday stress a nice twist. Thank goodness for my daughter who made sure she covered all my bases for me while I hobbled around in pain. She was my Christmas angel.

I packed up the contents of a supply room at work last week and moved it all out in preparation for our move to the new office. I was supposed to have a partner, but she never showed up to help, so I did it all by my lonesome. Pretty sure that was the catalyst for the back pain. I went to the chiropractor on Wednesday and he suggested that I’m not as young anymore as I might think I am. Oh, he padded those comments with statements about how he knows that I work out and all, but I might want to think about doing some stretches before doing a whole bunch of bending and twisting and lifting that my back is not accustomed to. I know he’s right, but the aging remarks still sting a bit.

Other than that, Christmas was good. Our holiday celebrations are stretching out even more than usual this year. We had to work around a few things, like a husband who had to work on Christmas and a son who was taking a turn celebrating the holiday with his girlfriend’s family this year. So we’ll have our family Christmas this weekend. And even though the kids are all adults now, they’re still giddy with anticipation for their gifts. And I will not give in and let Kacey open “just one!” She has to wait.

Those of us who were home on Christmas Eve attended my family’s celebration at my sister’s house. We got this nice picture of the siblings where we’re all smiling and looking happy. Think I’ll make a copy of this for my parents. It will make them happy to see all of us getting along so nicely! :D

Three, One, Two and Four

Three, One, Two and Four

And as crazy as family Christmas can be, I still love to see the little ones get excited over their gifts. My nephew, Josh (a hockey fanatic) loved the hockey themed clothing that Brad picked out for him.

Happy kid!

Happy kid!

Christmas Day was spent with Mark’s family – all fifty-some of them. It was chaos, but the food was good. And there was an adorable baby there too. Too bad I couldn’t catch him on camera with a smile. He has the most beautiful dimples when he smiles!

Blue eyes

Blue eyes

And the nerve of that Kacey, photobombing the adorable baby picture!

But really, the highlight of Christmas Day was sitting with Mark’s parents and enjoying dinner and conversation with them. Since there were so many people in attendance, there were several tables to seat all of the family. Mark’s parents picked a small table and were sitting alone until I joined them. 83 year-old Dad-in-law was contemplating how big the family had become over the years. He said to me, “It’s hard to believe we have such a big family considering that Mom and I came from such small families.”

I nodded as he reminded me that he only had two brothers (both now gone) and mom-in-law grew up alone, her only sister having died at a very young age. I looked around at all of Dad-in-law’s children, their spouses, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As I marveled at how far-reaching this family was, Dad-in-law motioned with his thumb toward Mom-in-law and with an air of wisdom and experience, said, “This is what happens when you have an over-sexed wife!”

Mom-in-law didn’t even look embarrassed as she simply smiled at me. That’s okay. I’m sure my face was burning enough for the two of us and I don’t think they even noticed me trying to gather my jaw back up from where it had dropped to the table.

Ahh, family. Gotta love ‘em!

Christmas Calm

2012 Christmas TreeI woke up this morning while it was still dark outside. The dogs followed me to the back door and when I opened the blinds, I was greeted by the sight of huge, fluffy white snowflakes drifting gently down from the sky. Even Lucy and Bella, normally hyper and anxious to go outside after a long night’s sleep, stopped a moment to appreciate this scene.

I feel like I’ve been going non-stop for the past month; a combination of work stuff and the preparation for the holidays. I was still rushing around just yesterday, picking up a few last-minute things and wrapping gifts for my family.

Now Christmas is upon us. As soon as the family celebrations begin tonight, I expect it will all pass in a blur, as it always does. So I’m grateful for this quiet morning, taking some time to just sit by the Christmas tree and breathe. For a few moments anyway, there are no worries, no rushing… just an appreciation for how blessed I am.

Merry Christmas, my friends and family!

Christmas Activities

Wow, this blog has been sadly neglected. The Kitchen Aid, however, has been getting a workout. Kacey and I have been baking Christmas cookies.

Chocolate Crinkles

Chocolate Crinkles

Peanut Blossoms

Peanut Blossoms

Spritz Cookies

Spritz Cookies

The Spritz cookies were made with my grandma’s cookie press. It worked like a charm!

Old-fashioned, but still works great!

Old-fashioned, but still works great!

And we used Grandma’s recipe too.

A TYPED recipe card!

A TYPED recipe card!

And we used Mark’s grandma’s recipe for these Sugar Cookies…

Frosted Sugar Cookies

Frosted Sugar Cookies

We’re almost done with our baking. I’m almost done with my shopping. There is still much wrapping to be done. And then hopefully I’ll have time to write about a really important event. If you’ve got connections with Santa’s elves, please send some my way. I could use a helping hand.