Start Procrastinating Those Christmas Chores Right Now!

I am early this year procrastinating all my Christmas preparations. After I was felled by the flu or whatever it was, I was very late  purchasing my tree from Hilltop Christmas Tree Farm.  Mid-week after Thanksgiving my sister and I made our way out Hwy. 144.  We thought perhaps we had missed the trees altogether, but no, there were still some, but my, they were petite.  Perfectly shaped but small.  

Which suits me fine, especially this year for some reason.  In truth, I have been hankering for a tiny see-through tree like they have in the Czech Republic. Small and  so light and you can carry them home by grasping onto the top and walking it through the streets like a toddler. Inside Hilltop, workers were rocking and chatting and it was if they opened up just for us.  

They had been swamped right after Thanksgiving and were taking a breather. I am happy with my tree and it will mean less trips to the basement for ornaments and lights.  In a week or so, my niece, Hannah, will come and do my “install.”  This means my Christmas install, which is a thing now and something she is very good at.  I keep telling her, I really don’t think my house is install-worthy, but she has shown me I am wrong.

Last year she hung the wreaths in the window by the gorgeous bows she made.  She filled out the door swags with rosemary, magnolia and I don’t know what all.  Mostly, I just like having her in my house for a little while, like when she was little.  We chat and laugh, and if all she did was stick some holly around the candles on the mantel, I would be happy. 

I still avoid, whenever possible, Hallmark movies, although one was on mid-day last week. It crested a new high for improbable. My friends have encouraged me to write a parody of them, but really, you can all write your own parodies better than I.

On the other hand, there is this little Christmas gift.  My television, the actual TV, has been a source of bewilderment and embarrassment for my nieces and nephews for years.  It is neither smart nor dumb, but one of those average TVs that falls through the cracks. But then I was visiting friends, and their TV was a thing of beauty, an object of envy.  

So I bought one. 

It is gigantic. 

It is very smart. 

It will display art, my own or the Great Masters, if I want. 

And it is on, right this minute, on the YouTtube Channel, with a video called, “Christmas Coffee.”  A steaming mug of coffee on close-up, pinecones and holiday scene all blurry and bokeh. Piano music is playing, mellow, with jazzy undertones, but happy and inane in the way you can enjoy it without thinking about it. I am my own Starbucks.

I was once accused of pulling pages out of magazines on how to “live a beautiful, singular life.” Pages on “creating new traditions when the old ones fade,”  All that.  I will cop to this, in part.  I would not say my life is “beautiful,” in the way Condé Nast means.  But it is comfortable, and kind.  Nor is it “singular.”  I need a couple of sheets of paper to list all the people who I care about, love, even. 

As for new traditions, it is interesting the way we abandoned so many things during the pandemic, or when parents die, or our lives move in directions we had not seen coming.  It is difficult and fraught with bad feeling and upset to spend all your energies trying to please Granny, especially when she has been gone for fifteen years.  Stop it. 

Unless Granny’s traditions still make you happy and warm inside.  Then, by all means, continue. That Christmas afternoon hike in the woods?  Of course!  Unless you would rather flip through those old pictures you never seem to get to. 

Me?  I am going to start baking next week or so. I’m re-reading “A Christmas Carol,” which I haven’t done in a couple of years. I might get Truman Capote out, too. But mostly, I am gonna watch that big ole mug of Joe steam on my TV.  Gonna enjoy all that Christmas Coffee on YouTube.

Winter Comforts, Inside and Out

The nights grow long and with them my level of boredom.  I am between series and I find myself  on Youtube as often as not, telling myself I am looking up a thing, but really, I am cruising the latest news on the Harkles — I didn’t make that up, someone else did —and then I want snow, so I visit weather sites, which leads to snow camping, which leads to camping inside your car, which leads to doing so in winterscapes, which leads to Walmart and Cracker Barrel overnight stays, and then I am in a camping gear review jungle, which leads to survival camping, which leads back to the snow, bringing us to fire starters and survival and bushcraft knives. 

You can’t imagine how many knives. 

Hand-made knives, Scandi blades, some with bow drill divots in the handle, stainless steel blades, high carbon steel blades, four inch long blades, eight inch, ten.  Hand-made leather sheaths, plastic sheaths, other kinds of sheaths that ride high, ride low, can be clipped sideways behind your back, which gives off a serious stealthy self-defense vibe. 

And ferro rods.  All of the videos I watch feature individuals with enough pockets to house  several small lighters, but they all build fires by striking sparks into a little nest of wood shavings with a ferro rod.  Now, the ferro rod is a slender rod crafted of ferrocerium, an alloy of materials that make lots of sparks when struck. 

The are small and will work when wet, cold, hot, you name it, and affordable as all get out.  Mine arrived last week and I spent a good half hour outside in the dark thrilling myself with all the mighty sparks I was throwing.  This afternoon I plan to set alight something combustable to see if I can start a fire in earnest.  I have loads of lighters around here, but honestly, it is just so tough to be able harness fire in this sparkly way.  

The ferro rods come with a small metal striker, but, really, you want one of the survival knives for that, one with a flat spine.  Again, because it is just so tough.  My choices in survival/camp/bushcraft knives are so extensive, I will need a few more hours in front of the TV to decide.

These videos lead to other videos, especially of the prepper persuasion, and I can now heat a corner of my house for several weeks with a match, a long taper and a can of Crisco.  

Warmth is a big theme in wilderness survival as well as with the doomsday crowd.  Toward that end, I have also purchased a stack of those survival blankets, the shiny ones that look like you are wrapping up in party balloon material.  Well, actually, you are.  But they can save your life. 

As t the small packs of hand-warmers I have sitting in a box in my vestibule might save your life. They aren’t just for your hands while sitting at the football game or up in the deer blind.  You can throw them into your sleeping bag, your socks, lots of places to keep you warm.

A canteen filled with hot water can be taken into that same sleeping bag or under the mylar blanket, and clutched in desperation against your chest—it, too, can keep you warm. 

Which led me to some web pages for plain old garden variety hot water bottles.  Our cousins across the pond love them, use them almost every night, and I have friends who set their houseguests up with them, too. 

And they are the most wonderful things.  Why don’t we use them more often?

If you come visit me overnight, I can fix you a hot water bottle.  I have several.  And when I fix you that hot water bottle, it will be cute, too, because it will be wearing a sweet little cable knit sweater, a turtleneck sweater, to be exact. When I ordered my hot water bottles, I was led to Etsy, and an artisan in Latvia knit these for me. 

So, lots of old and new going on over here.  All the algorithms advancing my horizons in new ways, taking me to sites that embrace and celebrate starting fires with sparks, sleeping in the snow under a tarp, warming the family around a can of Crisco, a hot water bottle at your feet, which will surely hasten every sweet dream.

What Room There May Be

The last white Christmas I remember was many years ago, at a time when I was entertaining on the regular, and I was getting ready for my annual Solstice party.  The idea of celebrating the Solstice horrified my mother, even when I explained it was the most benign of parties,  merely a symbolic awaiting for the return of the light, but she was having none of it. 

Early on the day of the party I began receiving calls from guests who were traveling for the holiday.  They had decided to leave town early to beat the weather and so had to send regrets.  Because I was busy cooking and cleaning I hadn’t watched the news for a couple of days and assumed my pals were worried about the weather where they were headed. 

As I saw off the last of my guests that night,  it began to rain a little, maybe a flake or two thrown in.  I awoke the next morning to a foot of snow, as unexpected and as magical as I remember snow when I was a child.  We were snowbound for several days, with only the most trepidatious sorties out for family gatherings, or supplies. 

Again, we look to the skies for signs of snowfall.  We are assured the temperatures will be frigid, dangerously and life-threatening cold, with or without the white stuff.  The eight-year old kid in me hopes for snow, the running to the front door at night, checking for the shimmery swirl of flakes in the lamplight.  Peeking through the blinds in the middle of the night, the way the room is brighter in the morning after a snow, even with the shades drawn, the thrill of untouched drifts in the backyard. 

But another part of me has already been on the phone minding other people’s business as it pertains to their Friday appointments in Nashville.  Already I have offered my car to make a late-in-the-week airport run because I have all-wheel drive, and I think those are magic words this time of year. I have helped to crash the weather website I like best, checking every half hour or so for updates, even though the updates are still just speculation, at least for snowfall.

I have the luxury of sitting in my warm little house with no travel plans and dreaming of snow.  And I also have the grown-up worry of traveling loved ones, icy steps and pregnant nieces. I have become my worry-wart grandmother. I am not just concerned about my family, either, but yours, and anyone who will travel, or have their travel plans derailed because of the bitter cold, the snow that will fall somewhere this Christmas weekend. The disappointment of that.

To be on the road, and cold, and worried—pregnant, perhaps, and stranded.  This is how the Christmas story begins. An ordinary, “story of my life” kind of tale that seems to hit hardest those with the least. 

The innkeeper often comes off badly in Nativity plays.  We think he’s mean.  Yet, he didn’t turn them away.  He sent them around back, to the only sheltered place he had left.  Might he have brought them blankets?  We don’t know, but, surely if he had one to spare he would have.  Some bread, an oil lamp for the long night ahead. 

I chatted today with my friend, Kveta, by email, sending her Christmas greetings and remembering our time together in Ukraine. War-town, cold and cast into darkness now, and what can we do?  The suffering in so many places.  It is enough to make us hide in our beds and view the world through the same blinds we peek through, waiting for snow.  

We only have so much room. 

But might we still be a blanket for others, that manger of hay?  Might we look for and keep some small corner swept out and tidy, somewhere warm and safe for anyone who needs it?

The gift of that. Small perhaps, but loving.  Just enough, and therefore, perfect. 

When the People you Love Make You Sick

I rise from my sickbed to send you post-Thanksgiving greetings. My illness has been impressive, with high temperature and aches, and a couple of times there, I may have hallucinated.  This is not hyperbola.  This is fact, and had it persisted I would have been in the ER, along with some of you, I hear.

I just partied too much, I guess. Not the partying of my youth, with late nights and smokey places, but with so many family gatherings, beginning on Wednesday and carrying over to Saturday evening.  I was already run down before the festivities began.  For all my gathering up celery and day old bread, for the all the bags of sugar and brown sugar and pecans, I failed to check my vanilla. 

Vanilla. Another trip to the store.

But the idea of being spotted in public looking as I did, all streaked with flour and blobs of butter was more than even I could bear.  I decided instead to use bourbon, which mostly went unnoticed by everyone except for one super-taster nephew.. 

I cooked, baked, stirred, folded dough, and brined the turkey in a Gott cooler. My nights were late, my mornings early.  But really, things pulled together pretty well, better than last year when I set the oven on fire. We had fourteen for dinner, but mercifully not here, and it was all so pleasant we stayed until evening.  On Friday my niece, Alex, thought it would be fun for the two new toddler cousins to gather at my house to make cinnamon ornaments, as she and her grown cousins had done at Sutton Elementary.  

She showed up with supplies and all the toys her little one, Arthur, had outgrown, bringing them  for Cy, the younger cuz. I decided why not ask all the adult nieces and nephews, and their parents to join us, not to make ornaments, but to visit—my grandmother’s favorite word—and to spend an nice afternoon before they all take off for evening plans.  

We never got to the ornaments, as you would imagine, but the boys, who hardly know each other, thank you Covid, played well and sweetly, with only little bitty grabs for toys.  Cy, who was born smack dab in the middle of Covid, couldn’t get over his cousin, the little person just like him, and he spend a good deal of time squatting down and getting in Arthur’s face, saying. “Baby?  Baby?”  

It’s his new word, and everyone is a baby now. 

Then Saturday and dinner with the newlyweds, Brad and Hannah.  I think there was a game on, too, and part of the point of the party, but by then I was beginning to fade.  It was still nice to get to know Brad’s parents a bit better, to spend time with his kids, who are great. But mostly I wanted to go home and cough my head off in peace. 

By Sunday, I could hardly move. I crawled to the medicine cabinet for a  thermometer, and after a time, as I faded in and out, it began to beep in a frantic way to signal I was in the danger zone.  I lay on the couch with my barking cough, my fever-addled dreams, and moaned a lot.

My sister, ahem, was unwell, too. So I am inclined to blame her. Of course, I was out and about in an intense way getting ready for Thanksgiving.  I spent time with more people in a three day period than I have seen in the last three months. And the little ones.  Who knows where those hands have been?

I did my due diligence and took one, then two, Covid tests.  Both negative. I rallied a bit, my temperature went down, slowly, but still.  I had a doctor’s appointment already on the books, so with luck she can help me to a full recovery when I see her later today. 

And yet, the time with my dear hearts couldn’t have been better, unless a few more of them had been able to join us. I don’t know about the others, but I loved every minute of our being together.  So, let’s face it.  Sometimes your family makes you sick.  But then, sometimes, like this past weekend, it is worth the risk.