Tag Archives: christmas

Expectations

wedding

I’m standing in front of a tent full of people. I’ve finished my glass of white wine, my cowboy boots are cutting into my ankles, and my lace dress feels just a bit too sweaty to be beautiful. I unfold the crumpled paper, look out at these faces, some I know, some I do not, and I begin to read.

Joe, I have known Ashley a long time.

It feels a lot like singing, this performance, in the way that time moves so swiftly I don’t quite notice it’s passing. I read all the words. I look up once in awhile, smile at the appropriate times, slow down when I feel like I’m rushing. But I’m not really aware of what I’m doing or how I’m doing it. It might be that everyone’s looking at me but hardly anyone knows my name. It might be the heat of June. It could be stage fright. It’s probably all three.

I know what I talked about only because I wrote it down. I painted a picture of when we were little girls, playing Little House on the Prairie and baking together, playing Manhunt on summer nights. I talked about loyalty and love — only briefly — because they are things I don’t feel fully equipped to address. How can anyone wax wise on ideas of lifelong and commitment and trust?

Suddenly, I am done. I smile again, she is crying, and we hug. I hug Joe, too, and sit down quickly. I feel embarrassed, surprised, that I have just given my first maid-of-honor speech, and I’m not even sure how it went.

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I knew in the back of my mind that one day, I would be a maid-of-honor. I thought that perhaps I would have to give a speech, tell a story, celebrate two lives becoming one. I knew all of this, and yet I was surprised.

~     ~     ~

I sit across from him and I think: I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you.

It’s hard to give someone a shot when you compare him to someone you’ve known for awhile, or, at least, someone you thought you knew, and who now colors your interactions with but I wanted someone like this, and this. 

Things never end up the way you expect.

~     ~     ~

We sit in a restaurant, and the waitress gives us free watermelon sangrias. Someone’s mistake has become our blessing. Susie looks at me and says, “A good omen!”, and we toast to the beginning of our new lives in a city busier than my little hometown of 26 years. Who knows what lies ahead? So we toast and smile and hope.

summer

We pose for a picture — two high school friends who accidentally followed each other into adulthood. The caption? “2015-2016…bring it!” Even as we’re smiling, I am aware that much lies ahead. Every year is unknown. Bad things happen. Students cry. I get frustrated with myself for everything that I lack, and as I’m smiling for this photo in late August, a little bit of fear creeps in and settles in my stomach.

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It’s December in two days. We want to get a Christmas tree, but we’re not sure how to get it home. The convertible is not conducive to carrying trees, so we’re pretty sure we’ll be trekking it two miles. I can picture cars whizzing past us, shaking their heads with pity at those poor girls in L.L. Bean boots dragging a tree halfway across the city. Worse things have happened. I climb the winding stairs to the third floor apartment, open the door, see the perfect place for a tiny tree in the living room.

I drink tea and hang Christmas lights around the windows in my room. I am at the same time content and longing, happy with a tinge of sadness. I burn a cedar candle because we haven’t gotten the tree yet and I want that fresh smell. I wonder what to get my mother for Christmas, and I think about last Christmas and how much I stressed over a gift that didn’t end up mattering. I think of two books that sit on a shelf — haphazardly, I’m sure, or perhaps on the floor — and I wonder how many things will end up differently than I expect a year from now.

What will Christmas 2016 look like?

Will I look back and think, Praise God?

Will I focus on the smell of fresh-cut trees, the laughter of roommates floating in from the living room, the joyful way we ate breakfast on the back porch in the sunlight?

Or will I feel heavy with the weight of the unknown? Or, perhaps, the now-known but not-wanted?

Sometimes you are maid-of-honor at a childhood friend’s wedding. Sometimes you stop talking to someone you love. Sometimes, you sit across from a man and give him a chance.

Nothing ever turns out exactly the way you expect.

Scatterings

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I haven’t sat down to write in I don’t know how long. My journal is a picture that seems to say my life is empty and not worth documenting. My blog is a snapshot of nothingness.

We had this idea to do “LoDe” (Local December Writing Month) because we thought there’d be time during the holidays to write that whatever-we’ve-been-meaning-to-write.

Nope.

Two more grad school classes down, and I’m feeling a little closer to the goal. I wrote a unit on The Odyssey because somehow I graduated with a B.A. in English and never once read it in class. I read it on my own sometime in high school, but I’ve gotta say – Classical literature is not really my jam. It’s so verbose. It’s so formulaic.

I’m such a millennial.

I do love the mythology, though. And I love the themes. I’m hoping on this second read-through I’ll be more appreciative of the artistry that went into crafting this epic.

I wrote a unit on it so I’d be better at teaching it because if there’s one thing students pick up on right away, it’s if you love your subject or not.

We’re singing Veni, Veni in Latin since it’s the last week before break. We talk about the difference between Classical Latin and Ecclesiastical Latin, how Classical Latin is what was spoken during the Roman Empire and Ecclesiastical Latin is what developed during the medieval period and what was (is) used by the Catholic Church. Then, we attempt to sing, with a little processional thrown in for good measure.

There’s such a disconnect between middle school and high school when it comes to singing; my high schoolers look like I’m asking them to chop their arms off when really all I want is a little melody. I always show this video because I love the harmonies and the beautiful vowels and the hilarious way the men contort their faces to make these beautiful vowels.

We finished up our voice lessons for the semester. Two of my voice students sang in the recital, and all six of them sang in the Christmas concerts. I told them I’d better see them open their mouths on the high notes. We still have some “fig-leaf” positions to address, but overall, I was pleased.

My ivy plant still hasn’t died.

I’ve consumed a decent number of cookies this week.

I’ve attended two Christmas concerts and one middle school play in four days.

I realized – last night, in the middle of the Upper School Christmas concert – that I was so out of it, I didn’t even KNOW I hadn’t bought Christmas presents. Wait. I’m supposed to be doing this. Or at least, I’m supposed to be upset that I’m not yet doing this.

I have three Christmas gifts.

I have a lot more people.

Phone calls with distant friends and letters from Philly and an island in Maine help to hide the fact that we’re far away and spread thin.

I ran into my dear friend I haven’t seen since July, and suddenly her baby is five months old and the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. Suddenly, time has passed and I haven’t changed much but look at this little human. 

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Every day in December, I have kept my promise to read the Advent devotional from the local seminary. Haven’t missed a day, and that’s rare around these parts. Granted, they’re short. One step at a time.

I’m still working on my dad’s sweater. Yep. The same one I started last fall. It’s like I can’t finish a project in under a year. In my defense, it is a sweater that will fit my dad, not an infant. And it is hunter green covered in cables.

So, that’s what’s been going on in my neck of the woods. As friends busy about applying for grad school, raising babies, settling into newlywed life, teaching various subjects, I find myself orbiting my little sector, hoping soon to slow down enough to create what I feel bubbling.

Home Movies

My sister is home for Christmas. She only lives about twenty-five minutes away, but there’s something so wonderful about having her right in the same house. Suddenly it’s all six of us again with a great-grandma thrown in, and now that we’re grown-up, vacations and time together seem a lot more important.

Last night, after Grandma went to bed, we sat in the living room and watched home movies. We re-plugged in the VCR (yes, unbelievable, really, that we still have one) and watched tape after tape. It was the strangest sensation, looking at those little faces I used to know so well, and then seeing those same faces grown and changed in the chair across from me. Not only the faces, though. The voices changed, too.

I never recognize my voice, singing or speaking or laughing or anything. I’m not sure why that is. I think in my head, my voice is lower, more grown-up, and it isn’t until someone points out that, yes, indeed, that is your voice, that I realize that high-pitched person speaking is me. On the opposite note, for some reason my sister’s voice used to be low, husky, and we tease her mercilessly about her little-girl voice. It’s not like that at all now. How in the world do these things happen?

[There is possibly no baby or toddler cuter than my littlest brother. I mean, the rest of us were decently cute, but my goodness, this kid was absolutely adorable.]

We watched the Christmas when I was six and my brother opened socks and was silently bummed out. We watched the day Mom and Dad surprised us with a new Viszla puppy and we all blinked awake to its cuteness running all over the room.

My favorite, though, was the video of us at camp. The sun, shining bright and hot on our blonde heads. Fishing off the dock, hoping to catch a bigger pickerel even than last year. Running down the gravel driveway at breakneck speed, our little plastic bikes giving Mom a near heart attack. Luddy, our dog, the tough hunter, scared of the water. Dad taking us out in the canoe and the kids, feeling grown up and big, waving from maybe a quarter mile away. Swimming all day long, doing jump after terrible jump off the dock.

Back when all we needed was the bunch of us and a long day.

We went there every summer for one week in August and it’s easy to forget who we were.

In a lot of ways, we’ve changed – taller, bigger, more experience, more hurt – but we’re not that much different, really. It was constantly loud in those home videos, and it is consistently so to this day. We screeched, we pushed, we danced, we hollered. My parents were amazingly patient, I realize now, watching their nearly-perfect hands-off parenting, because what is accomplished by helicoptering? It amazes me that from two people grew a whole family. How crazy it must feel to look at your best friend and then over at the four children you are blessed enough (or crazy enough) to have.

My hair’s a little darker, I’m (only a little bit) taller, and at least now I KNOW I have a problem with being bossy. Admitting it is the first step.

[A little part of me would go back there in a heartbeat.]

[This photo is from the ocean, our more recent family spot.]

Good Things #26: A Smattering of Things

Friends who don’t twist your arm but somehow always get it out of you. I’d been holding it in the whole time. That’s something I’m not particularly good at, but there are some things better off left to stew for awhile. I’d been smiling and laughing and whatever else the moment called for, but finally, on the phone in the dark, I spilled my guts.

They weren’t pretty.

I didn’t do it because she begged me, and I didn’t do it because I felt an obligation. It was like a letting go, a release of all that I’d been holding onto for far too long.

And what did my city-friend say, miles away in her apartment?

She reminded me that every week I write about something good, and I should remember that.

Exactly what I needed on a Sunday night in December.

My bedroom at Christmas. There are few things more delightful than a cozy bedroom, and while I can’t fit a tree in here, I do have a balsam candle that’s almost as good. I strung lights around the window and made an attempt at a garland (gingerbread cookies and cranberries – the logistics are harder than you’d think).

photo 1I also set out the Christmas dolls my mom bought me when I was little (I think they may have partly been for her, but I hold on to them nonetheless).

Set them out on my new bookshelf, made for me by a friend. Yes, you read that right. Seems the stacks of books surrounding my bed was an abomination that couldn’t wait. Pretty pleased with how it turned out.

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Aladdin. The musical is over. It was so much work. The kids were wonderful, and I laughed through the whole show. My father chided me, saying it wasn’t nice, but they know me. They’ve been listening to me laugh for two months now. They know it’s for love.

Surprise packages. I don’t remember the last time I got a package in the mail. Okay, I do. I bought some cds with an Amazon gift card last year. But you know what I mean. Yesterday, I came home to a little white package on the island. I didn’t recognize the address. Out came a paperback of flash fiction with a card from my uncle. I don’t even think he knows I have an affinity for flash fiction, but there it was in my kitchen. I stuck it in my bag and carried it around all day, but it looks like it’ll have to wait for evening and a glass of wine.

Sippican[Also, not quite sure about this character. Sippican Cottage? That can’t be his real name. And his blog is hilarious. More to come.]

Music. I rediscovered this classic from my friend’s blog last week. Nothing like a good, melancholy Christmas song.

Only one week left, guys. Buckle up. Today’s my shopping day. Watch out.

Ways I Recuperate

It started snowing unexpectedly, swirling around the light posts, coating the brick walkways. I was wearing a wool sweater (with, of course, a colorful yoke to suit the time of year and my desire to be Norwegian or Swedish or something along those lines). My five-year-old brown winter coat did nothing against the wind, and I kept tucking my fingers deeper into my fingerless arm-warmer-mitts, but it didn’t seem to matter.

We couldn’t get inside fast enough. The shop smelled of incense and the colors and textures that surrounded me made me think of India. I wanted to buy the entire store but settled on a few small things (can’t say, Christmas is coming) and I reconsidered getting my nose pierced, a thought I periodically mull over.

Then to a slice of delicious pizza with mozzarella chunks and basil. We talked about family and work and Christmas on the high stools, and we both checked the time because work was calling.

To top it all off? Peppermint mochas, hot and steaming. I wanted a whoopie pie. Or a croissant. Or a cookie. But I sipped my mocha and counted that as enough.

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That was Friday. This is Saturday. Aladdin, Jr., opened last night, and the looks on the kids’ faces made every frustration, every moment of What are we DOING?! completely worth it.

This is Saturday morning, and I am recuperating. That looks different, depending on what I’m recuperating from. Yesterday, it meant wandering around my favorite port town, relishing Christmas shopping and good food. This morning, it includes writing (as you can see), french press coffee, a chat with my brother, who, even though we live in the same house, I find hard to pin down, and Love Actually.

Because love, actually, is all around us, and it’s helping me recuperate.

Good Things #25: The Season of Waiting

Because this is the truth: if we were perfectly put together; if the world wasn’t full of disappointments and betrayals; if we didn’t spend weeks and weeks waiting for someone to stop hurting us…if we weren’t having our hearts broken right and left by this broken world – we wouldn’t need a savior. –Lindsay

I got this in my inbox this Sunday and it was oddly positioned to hit me at the worst (best?) moment possible.

Waiting is often harder than I expect. I can be quite good at it…when I am absolutely sure what I am waiting for. I can wait for 70% dark chocolate when I know I have some at my house instead of pounding back the milk variety at work. I can wait to get gas at Prime because I know it’ll be a good ten cents cheaper.

I’m even pretty good at waiting for Christmas, because I know that on that day my whole family will be here and the food will be amazing and hopefully this year it’ll be white.

But I haven’t been so good at waiting for other things.

Advent, the season of waiting. I pretend to listen for truth, but mostly I like my ears tickled.

What’s that? I don’t have to be kind? Yes! I knew it.

I can take that thing from that person because they don’t need whatever it is as much as I do.

And my favorite: I’ve got it all figured out.

This season of Advent, I’ve been re-realizing that I do not have it all figured out. To be honest, those moments of AHA! are rare, but I could feel myself settling into them nonetheless. My second year teaching, my junior year of adulthood, and surrounded by people I love.

But this Advent things have been topsy-turvy and un-beautiful and not quite as I want them.

What promises are true?

What am I waiting for again? LIke I wrote in this essay on sex and waiting, I’m not always sure. And it’s not only sex, it’s every good and perfect gift. Maybe I’ll own a cozy home with farm-like qualities one day. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll want to pull my hair out over my children’s myriad annoyances, or maybe I’ll never have children, and I’ll pour myself into my church and my community.

It’s not as easy as it has been, this waiting, especially because I’m not sure what’s coming.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31

The truth is, I’m pretty weary, and try as I might to squash this inner anger, I can’t seem to.

So what is this Good Thing #25, anyway? Cause it all seems a little bit less than good to me.

The Good Thing is this:

My mother saying, “It hurts, time passes, and good things happen.”

This is what I cling to. Time passes, good things happen. Even though I still try to shape what those things look like, I’m given renewed faith.

We do not know how to praise God because we do not know all that He has saved us from.

I look back at past relationships, and only now can I say Thank you. Only now do I see our butting heads, our squirming with uncertainty and un-compatibleness, the un-meeting of our strengths.

I don’t know all He has saved me from, but I rejoice. And I wait.

Winter Rest?

I look out my bedroom window and see a row of newly-planted blackberries. The wooden posts are easily three times the height of the twigs that promise fruit in the spring. They’re surrounded by browned-up leaves and it’s hard to imagine the spring of 2014 on November 11, 2013.

A few days ago, one of my tenth-graders asked me, “Do you like your job?”, and I was caught off guard because a student has never asked me that before.

“Yes, I do,” I said, and it was true. I left out the part about “You guys drive me crazy!” and “There’s so much stuff behind the scenes – so much planning – you people have no idea!”, because really, I do love my job. She looked at me, her head cocked in cheeky questioning, because I don’t think she believes it possible to like school. Who knows? I might get her to change her mind come spring.

I’ve counted down the days to Christmas and it scares me how quickly it will come and go and I’ll be unceremoniously shoved into 2014.

The musical will go up in mid-December. I’ll be consumed with writing my unit for grad school, writing a research paper, directing Aladdin, Jr. with patience and creativity (yes, yes? right? patience?), and then *blink!* Christmas, and unless I get my act together, my family will suffer from lack of planning and “I love you, but I’m sorry! Shopping is hard for me! Sorry!”

(Maybe I write these posts as a warning? “Heads-up, guys, my gifts might be less-than-awesome”? Or perhaps as a way to force myself to plan enough time to get just. the. right. gift. Either way, I hope it works.)

The girls have slowed down as the days are shortening – we only get about eleven eggs a day, which is barely enough to fill our orders. I coax them with sweet singing, but alas, they are stubborn old birds. The light in the henhouse extends the day, but there’s something about the cold they just don’t like.

This is what is running through my mind as I look at the bare twigs out my window. Not much is expected of them right now: just lie there, dormant. Come April, though, little leaves will unfurl and a winter’s worth of rest will fill my belly with sweetness.

I may not have a whole winter, but I do have today.

My 24th Christmas

Christmas Checklist

Christmas Eve Service. Went to two this year (Presbyterian and Anglican services are VERY different). Candles and “Silent Night” and beautiful bells harolding Christ’s birth.

Hospitality. My friend from college who was too far from home came over Christmas Eve. Two nights in our crazy house, a long day of family traditions, and good talks on the couch with rooibos tea, a cozy fire, and the lit tree. It added a new dimension to hospitality, to sharing our blessings.

Christmas morning. Stockings and gifts among the seven of us, waiting for the aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmas. It was a slower Christmas this year (due, in part, to the fact that Anglican Christmas Eve services don’t get out til 12:15am…), but that was a good way to ease into the day.

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Christmas walk. Because things were a little behind, we had an hour before the big dinner. The cousins and friend and uncle and the little dog Sammy walked around town. We delivered a gift of honey to some family friends and talked about all the silly things we did before we knew enough to be embarrassed.

Christmas dinner. I could cut the roast beef with a butter knife. My dad made the oatmeal bread. Enough said.

Games. We played our traditional Trivial Pursuit game. It was obvious that Dad’s team was going to win (wow. shocker.), but somehow, miraculously, our team pulled ahead. There was much rejoicing.


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Cousin picture. The six of us piled up and took pictures. It wasn’t perfect (the adults in our family are still working out the kinks of all this new-fangled technology), but it was worth it.

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Oh, and please note: my brother is wearing the sweater I knit him. It took almost a whole year (because seriously, it gets a little boring knitting round after round of gray), but I couldn’t have given it to a more appreciative guy.

Another reason this year was great: it was my friend’s first (semi) white Christmas.

Christmas number 24, you were pretty sweet.

How Last Friday Changed Me

I sat with the kids, even though I probably should’ve been with the parents.

It was my first elementary school Christmas concert ever – of my whole life – and I was pretty sure I was in for some poor quality. Five and six year olds look adorable, so it (kind of) makes up for the three different keys going on at once. The church was filled with parents, grandparents, siblings, and the room was lit up with bright reds and greens, just to prove we were in the Christmas spirit.

I sat with my colleague and friend, the fourth and fifth and sixth grades surrounding us. I could feel their adrenaline

I didn’t play a role in the evening at all. I got to sit back and enjoy their company (with only a few whispered “hushes” and shaking of my head). Each grade got up, Pre-K-6th, and I sat there and thought, there is so much.

I wanted to be sitting right there with them, my students, the pews and pews of them. Some coughing, some sneezing, but healthy.

I wanted to give each one a hug, to remind them that God loves them, that He is in control.

But instead I clapped and smiled, and hid the sadness until I got to my car.


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Mr. Van Allsburg

When I nannyed, I used to read Polar Express to the boys, curled up on the couch. I would make homemade hot chocolate, and I remember showing them how to sprinkle cinnamon over the top before we settled in to read. The story was cute, but what I remember most were the illustrations – the rich colors, the shapes of the snow, the train through the countryside.

Today at the bookshop, we had Chris Van Allsburg himself. He signed copy after copy of Polar Express, but other titles, too: Jumanji, The Sweetest Fig, The Wreck of the Zephyr. People lined up out the door, down the sidewalk. It was a good day at the little bookshop! All of us were there – from the owners and the manager to every last part-time employee – all a-buzz. We even wore necklaces with gigantic colored bells that jingled when we moved. It was like we were Polar Express elves or something.

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[We couldn’t believe it when large white flakes began to fall against the gray sky. And when the train came through, it was like a fairytale.]

There was a moment when I was ringing in a customer and the ancient register was whirring away, that I thought Oh my gosh, what if this thing freaks out? What’ll we do?! I’m pretty sure the register is from the 1940s (or pretty close), and I could’ve sworn I saw smoke. I wasn’t the only one eyeing it with a little trepidation.

It held out, though, and at the end of three hours of asking customers if they needed a book, ringing them in, running their credit cards, etc., I was finally able to meet Mr. Van Allsburg. He was quiet, reserved-seeming (but he had been signing books for three hours). He wore an argyle sweater and he had a nice, white beard. He shook my hand and smiled, writing To Catherine – Chris Van Allsburg, 2012.

It’s nice to see how an author does a book-signing; there are kind, soft-spoken, interesting-and-interested writers out there. When I left for the night, I went back and thanked him, shook his hand again. I gathered my things, put my coat on, and stepped out into the lightly falling snow.

What a privilege.