And we aren’t really traditional Christians. Still, I’ve always enjoyed the gatherings of family and friends each year. But it’s 2021. Not a year for fun, comfort and joy, or peace.
It’s okay to be sad this year. We’ve all lost a lot, one way or another. For me, I’ve been sitting with the sadness and allowing peace to replace it in my heart.
My husband loves me. My dogs, horses, and chickens love me in their animal ways. My family love me, from their respective holiday locations. My dear friends are full of love as well. I’m grateful for all the kind messages. Nothing cheers one up quite like newborn baby pictures, so I’m happy to have my unofficial grandchild.
So, since the damned COVID kept our intended guests from coming, I told them I’d send pictures of how I decorated for the meal and relaxing with snacks. I was making lasagna, and Anita was bringing the other stuff. Here’s my decorations:
I also spent an hour or two getting the back porch ready for guests. Everything was dusty and dirty from pool construction. I swept everything, which is so futile, since the wind deposits Alfred hair in every corner as soon as I sweep. And I arranged the newly cleaned cheap patio furniture in a way that gives us a shady sitting area and a sunny one.
I’ve enjoyed butterflies today, so here’s a gift for Anita, Declan, and Rollie to say I miss them but am glad they are being responsible.
Not job work. Work around the ranch. I’ve been being sure to get a couple hours of chores done every day. Today I crafted, I guess. The end result was this.
I took the old brown naked tree and revived it.
First I spent a LONG time cutting the nonfunctional lights off. I’m so glad I found the wire cutters (they also helped me attach wreaths by the gate).
Then I tried to perk the tan tree up by painting it green. I artistically used two shades. It’s debatable how successful that was.
I did use paint designed for plastic, so maybe it will stick.
Still, since I spent all that time on it, I put it on a table and did my best to put lights on. I’m too short. There is also nothing on top yet. I wish I could find my white peacock from the house in Austin.
I put a bunch of old ornaments I found but stopped short of putting all the childhood ornaments of my older son. Made me sad. Next year I’ll find my nice ornaments and make a pretty tree. Until then, it’s at least cheerful.
Tomorrow no more holiday cheesiness. I hope to ride the horse.
Today I had to do grownup things. Things I do not enjoy doing and that exhaust me physically and mentally. I cleaned up some stuff that had been sitting around too long, and the hardest part was taking all the ornaments off my “nature tree,” which is this weird leafless artificial tree we’ve had up in this house since we started building it, even before it was finished. I used to put it in the closet every year, but there is a bunch of padding from Lee’s sleeping arrangements. The really cute lights stopped working a couple of years ago, so it was time to remove it.
Plus, my autumn tree had gotten knocked down by some dogs one time when I was gone (I came home to find it missing, and the ornaments in a bowl…the ones that made it). It was time to do something else.
My plan is to spray paint the tan tree green and put some nice lights on it, then put it up on a table in the family room, so I can put good ornaments on it. I may paint the nonfunctional lights red, to look like berries or something. I hope I am able to do that, anyway. Maybe then I can take down my weird decorated branch that lives in the family room. But, I love that thing, even if people keep turning the lights off.
It becomes clear that I am more of a fan of trees than of Christmas, since these things stay up all year around and have a distinct lack of specifically Christian elements. I respect that religion, but my fondness for Jesus and his acts doesn’t make me what counts as a Christian to most people in the US.
Where was I. Yes, I spent a long time taking down ornaments and dusting them off, then I put the tree outside. I put up the few decorations I can find around the house, so it looks like wintry cheer around here. I’ll spare you photos.
Then I decided that, since I’d made space in the entry, I could put a tree in the entryway, where people could see it driving by and we’d look at least a little American. I went to the dollar store and got an inexpensive white tree and a bunch of lights. First, I could not put the tree on the table I intended to put it on, (which got damaged on the trip between the church and the ranch anyway, sigh) because it would hit the chandelier. Okay, so I can only put unbreakable ornaments on it.
Mandi came over and we were chatting as I put the tree together. It doesn’t look bad, I thought. Then I went to put lights on. Oh, poop. Green light cords do NOT look good on a white tree. So, I just put up all my nature and dog-related unbreakable ornaments. It looks, well, okay.
I’m going to order some lights with white cords from Target or somewhere, and they will get here soon. I need a 2021 ornament and my annual Target Christmas globe, too. There, I am decorating for the season of light this year, and doing a much better job than last year, when I simply failed.
I also unpacked two, count them, two boxes from the move. One contained some nice things from my old living room. The other was a mystery! Lee had brought it in when he dragged some things in the last day of the move. I do not recognize the contents. It’s dishes from some grandmother.
The dishes were wrapped in Chicago Tribune issues from 1988, then later wrapped more in Austin American-Statesman paper from 2003. Whose could it be? None of my relatives ever lived in Austin. Nor did anyone else who ever lived in my house, unless maybe Declan’s girlfriend from high school. Well, everyone loves a good mystery.
My next unpleasant adult task is to repot the plants that got messed up in the move. I also hate repotting plants. But, these are good ones, so I will do it. And Lee is helping me unpack at least a couple of boxes per week. And some furniture will show up here soon as we have some help and they have time. When does deer season end, anyway?
One of the things I like about the way Hearts, Homes and Hands does its business is that they do lots of nice things for the clients and staff. Every year, goodie bags and flowers show up out of thin air to give out to everyone.
Just kidding. Many hours are spent making those goodies. Last night, after a long day of work, Kathleen, Meghan, and CC showed up at the Hermits’ Rest to go into goody overdrive. I got to help, and even Lee measured some cocoa for fudge! (I picked and shelled a small bunch of pecans from the tree outside our office, but Lee ate most of them.)
Meghan and I made many, many pretzels dipped in almond bark and sprinkled with sugar. We got better as we went along. Everyone laughed at how I wanted to be sure every treat bag had the same number of treats. Well, MAYBE I enjoy divvying them up! (Hey, I spelled divvying right the first time!)
The other half of the crew made Kathleen’s special fudge recipe, which contains cheese product (you’d never guess). The microwave was going nonstop between melting fudge ingredients and almond bark. Good thing we have a big kitchen.
After the fudge was done, Kathleen made “trash,” which is her version of Chex Mix. It’s spicy! That’s mostly for the caregivers, since we don’t want to shock the systems of the clients.
We had so much fun making a mess, enjoying adult beverages (some of us), and telling stories to each other. I’d say the management team put a LOT of love into our gifts.
This morning, they discovered our fridge wasn’t quite cold enough, and the fudge hadn’t solidified. It got re-melted and put in the freezer for a while. Our poor saucepan was traumatized, but everything worked out, and after a good soak, that saucepan can cook Christmas foods.
Eventually, everything was all packed up and ready to be delivered by Kathleen and Meghan at some point today.
I’m really proud of them. They work SO danged hard, taking phone calls at all hours, filling out paperwork, supervising…trying to help team members better themselves…etc.
A personal assistance service is not an easy business to be in, since you tend to be surrounded by sick people, hurting people, grumpy people (and FUN people, too, don’t get me wrong) and doing your best to make their lives easier. Luckily, the great people on our team and the truly wonderful and appreciative clients make up for it. I’ve always felt that work that helps others is the best, and I think the Hearts, Homes and Hands team will agree.
Glorious. That’s the word for today. So, I went out to the woods to look for signs of Christmas and miracles. I found some of each!
I ended up standing right where the above photo was taken for a long time, just listening to bird songs and watching them flit around. It’s lots easier to spot them in winter. I saw one I could not identify that could have been a black phoebe.
Once I got walking, the subtle signs of Texas Christmas began to appear. First, there was a Christmas cholla. That’s pretty obvious.
Then I found our one holly plant, a possumhaw (deciduous holly).
So, how much more holiday greenery could I find? Of course, mistletoe!
I’m tired. I’d hit all my exercise goals by 3 pm, so you know I’ve been physically active. It’s all good, though. Some of that time I even spent walking with my son. Finally. We got to walk and chat outside. It takes a lot of coordination to get to see each other, but it’s just so nice to hear stories of his work, his friends, and normal stuff like that. It was a pretty day, too. Cloudless!
I spent much of today outside, which was much better than the hours I spent yesterday in a chilly drizzle. My decoration and home improvements have been quite 2020. Allow me to explain.
I worked so hard that I bruised my hands, but I got stuff done I’d been putting off, boring things like changing the air conditioning filter that’s practically inaccessible in the attic, and replacing all the burned out porch light bulbs.
Unfortunately, the teeny nut that holds one fixture together fell out of my hand and landed somewhere under the deck. Anita and I searched for it, but no luck. I tried many things to save it, but failed big time. Duct tape only lasted a few minutes.
Finally, today it occurred to me I had wire. It worked and hardly shows. 2020 ingenuity!
The main project I worked on yesterday was outdoor lights. Our next-door neighbor, Ruth, gave us 3 boxes of icicle lights. We had another one just like it, hanging around in the Big Box of Lights. So, I set about lining a long stretch of our deck with them. I used pushpins to hold them up (one way I got bruised). I finally finished, in a dripping rain, only to realize I’d put the female end on the far side, rather than close to the extension cord. Face palm. After going inside and sulking, I figured out a way to rearrange the cords to make them plug in. A 2020 Holiday Miracle.
I also set up some lights in a different spot from usual, down by the basement, where people driving by could see them. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before. It was a start on a winter wonderland to match my indoor stuff.
I managed to get up lights around the front door, with Anita’s help, and think it looks cheerful.
At some point, I had to drag myself inside and warm up. This morning, I was back at it, driven to use every single light we have. I’m not sure why I felt so strongly about it, but I think there were two reasons. One, it cheers me up to decorate. I’m not as good, nor do I have as many nice things as a lot of people who decorate do, but I have fun and it looks like “me” when it’s over with.
The other thing is I know how I get cheered up when I see cheerful lights on houses, and I just want to give back. No one’s going to be able to enjoy our inside lights but me and Anita, so I’m sharing 2020 Christmas Hope with others by my decorations.
The first thing I did was complete the winter wonderland. I added our snowflake lights that we’ve had a few years down at ground level. I hope they look pretty. And then I also brought down our sleigh with a tree in it, which usually sits on the deck. I had no way to light it, thanks to my icicle-light-stringing faux pas, so it didn’t hurt to give it a new spot.
I put some decorations on the rocking chair area on the porch, so it didn’t look neglected, and put some stuff in my sad Texas mountain laurel at the entrance to the deck, too.
Then I went into some kind of overdrive. Honestly, I had decided to tone down my lighting this year, you know, because it’s a somber time.
But nope, I kept thinking of Anita walking Pickle, making her tea, or whatever. She needs cheer, as hard as she works every day. So every light that was left got strung in a tree branch.
It’s not a thing of true beauty, but no matter what window you look out, you’ll see lights this year. Woo!
Plus, it’s a family tradition to just sorta throw lights on trees and call it done. Declan remembered us doing it at our Braesgate house for many years. Back then we used brooms to get higher in the trees. No professional light-stringing service for us! And it showed. But, it was cheerful.
What’s left now is decorating our villa-sized tree. It may be the tree’s last year, since it no longer will sit up straight in its pot. Anita tied it up with string, and at least from the front it looks all right. From the side, though, it’s a 2020 Christmas tree.
I feel better having done this. And a neighbor texted that it looks good. My 2020 Christmas is just fine.
Do whatever works for YOU to get through the season. I will support you! Now this is a real Blogmas post!
Yes, I have now broken down and begun turning my Austin house into a winter wonderland, even after saying how much I loved the autumn décor. It got cold. That did the trick. Thus, I’ve been wandering into all our secret storage areas and getting out items. And thanks to those crazy people at JoAnn Fabric and Crafts, with their 80% off (with coupon) sale and curbside delivery, I got more.
But, there’s another Yule mystery going on! It all has to do with our YOJ sign. I shared the story of it back in 2018, but I bet you weren’t reading the blog in 2018. In brief, I bought this light-up sign that said “JOY” at Target back when we lived at the tiny casita house in north Austin, when Anita first moved here. I proudly set it up in my bedroom window, which was the only window in the house visible from the street. I went outside to view it in its glory, only to realize that I’d set it up backwards, and the sign said “YOJ” (with the J backwards).
This struck Anita and me as totally hilarious. It really felt just right to us, with our contrarian bent and strong dislike of the commercialization of the season. So, we left it that way. A few neighbors pointed it out and enjoyed the story. So, we’ve put up YOJ ever since.
The sign fell in the garage and lost a light, so now it doesn’t shine with, um, joy anymore. But it lives in our current living room year around, along with our tree for all seasons, etc. We had a second YOJ in 2008, but I don’t recall it returning last year (which was not our best year for decorating).
This year, though, we spotted some stocking holders in a catalog, so Anita got them. Now we have matching signs in our living room windows, which makes up for the other one, which is probably hiding in the garage, where we haven’t looked yet.
Sadly, we can’t light them up, because they don’t go on and off automatically, and we will not be climbing up there every evening to turn them on to save batteries. Maybe the last week I’m in Austin before Christmas, we’ll light them up.
I’m not sure if the neighbors can see the signs in our windows, but I like the idea of bringing in some joy to our lives so much that I got a couple of smaller signs to go in the windows. They also look like they are knitted, which endears them to me more.
As you look around my decorations, you will see a lot of large, white branches with bells and snowflakes. I thought they were much smaller, and was going to put them on the mantel. Instead, even the sad cactus that got messed up last year looks happy again, thanks to those branches. And the little palm tree. Whatever, I made it all cheery and like a woodland snow scene around the house.
We will drag out the Christmas tree from the garage tomorrow, I guess. I hate to admit it, but that cheers me up. As for the ranch, we’ll see if I can come up with anything dog-proof. Maybe we will get a new branch or something. And I can look forward to doing something in my office next week! There, I have a reason to live!
Just kidding. What are YOU doing to keep your spirits up? Suggestions are welcome!
Let’s talk about something less serious for once. To start of, I’m happy to say that the meal Anita and I created for ourselves yesterday was quite nice. I made a very moist and yummy turkey and am looking forward to a sandwich for lunch. I spent many hours turning the carcass into broth that will make a fine soup tomorrow, too. And we sat around being thankful we weren’t sick or endangering anyone else. Wow, such smugness. Moving right along.
Right now I’m going to declare that I am not one of those people with a compulsion to slap up my Christmas decorations the second they go for sale in the stores, nor mid-November, nor US Thanksgiving, and sometimes, not even in early December. Shocking!
How can I be so un-traditional? First, for many families in the not-so-distant past, trees didn’t go up until December 24 and they went down at some other holiday in January, which I’m too lazy to look up (readers have helpfully pointed out it’s Epiphany, which is on January 6). So, this whole frenzy to decorate and keep the décor up for a few months is not a hallowed tradition; it’s a marketing thing. Granted, lights and shiny things are cheerful, and we could all use some cheer right now, so if it makes you happy, decorate away.
Second, and this is my big reason, so I have a legitimate excuse, I’m not someone who celebrates the religious Christmas holiday, given that I’m on a more Buddhist/tree-hugging path and growing fonder of some of the more “Christ-like” groups of Christians these days. So, I’ll decorate for winter solstice, for which there is no frenzy.
And another thing (like this matters one bit, right, but it’s fun!), I like to enjoy the autumn decorations while it’s still autumn, I think our tree is really pretty, and all we had to do is remove the overtly Halloween/Samhain decorations to create a lovely ambiance here at the Bobcat Lair (the poor ranch missed my decorative touch this year, which probably didn’t bother Lee one bit).
Here in Texas, it just doesn’t feel all that wintry, so I don’t feel awful about enjoying the leaves, acorns and such.
On the Other Hand
I do have some winter decorations out all year round. I happen to love my green glass trees and peace plates from the late, lamented Pier One (the online version is NOT the same). And there are a few wintry bird items I can’t bear to put away.
And then there are all my glass pumpkins and acorns that never go away. Pumpkins are attractive year round, so I am not hiding them. I guess I just focus on the things for each time of the year, dragging flowery things to the foreground in the spring, etc.
Where Do You Put It All?
Something I ponder about the people with all the decorations, like complete re-decorating of many rooms for the Christmas period, is where do they put it all when it’s not Christmas? If you have separate linens, towels, pillows, rugs, and assorted décor items, where do they go? I know my friend Maggie has an entire garage for that stuff. At the ranch I happen to have a holiday closet, since we added SO MANY closets when we built the house that there’s space. And dear Aunt Margie in North Carolina had a “present room” in her house; now she had some decorations!
But, these are all people who are, shall we say, privileged. The examples I gave have or had big ole houses with only two occupants. There was space to put all this excess stuff. I feel rather wasteful for having duplicates of my dishes and other items that I can drag out every year. Or maybe I’m just grumpy.
This year, with all the struggle going on, I’m going to tone things down. It just doesn’t feel right to wallow in excess right now. That’s just me, a person who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. I do like shiny things, and don’t hold it against any family that wants to decorate every surface of their home, inside and out, it just doesn’t feel right for ME.
One Final Gripe
Plus, I really don’t like those inflatable decorations. They seem to spend most of their time as sad, deflates, non-festive lumps. Again, that’s just me. Feel free to convince me otherwise in the comments!
Here I sit, alone with my fellow Hermit, each of us typing on our separate keyboards, listening to a dog bark in the distance. Ah, Christmas Eve.
More than one of my friends, and one family member in particular, has asked why I’ve gone out of town for the past three Christmases. So, I’ll answer that instead of giving another boring nature report (I’ll do that tomorrow; I did cool stuff today). The short answer is: self preservation. The longer answer, and how I plan to deal with my holiday angst follows.
Background on how I’m wired: One of my major “love languages” is gifts. I’m one of those people who hang on to things for years, just because they remind me of the person who gave them. I have my Kathy Dettwyler Faberge pansy thing, my cake cover and weird quilts from my Granny Kendall, a pod sculpture and a goddess from my friends in Illinois…on and on.
Because of this, I always loved Christmas. I treasured so many gifts, even ones I didn’t actually like, because I knew some family member or friend took time and effort to choose it. That made me feel loved. I looked forward to my sister’s gifts, as well as those from my brother and later my boyfriend, because they were just what I liked (all three of them have the gift knack, which I don’t think I actually got). I just loved being with family and enjoying each other as we exchanged thoughtful and fun gifts (we were never much for expensive ones).
When my kids came along, I just loved buying and making gifts for them, because I loved them so much and wanted to see them happy. Same for the rest of the family.
At some point, I realized I was going way overboard and buying too many things for too many people I cared for. It became clear when I found many carefully chosen and hand-made gifts discarded when Declan’s first girlfriend moved out. I realized many of the nice/carefully chosen things I’d given my own kids weren’t treasured; they were just tossed in a pile in their rooms to be found when I cleaned them out. (I KNOW some kid gifts are just for fun and don’t last forever!)
Then it dawned on me that no one in my current family was big on giving gifts. I guess it isn’t their love language. (My spouse likes to give surprise gifts, but doesn’t like Christmas.)
PLUS, I always wanted to have a wonderful family meal for Christmas. When it began to also include all the neighbors and many friends, I got overwhelmed, though, and the planning started to stress me out. The last time I hosted a dinner, I looked out and saw three people cooking and serving like crazy and the rest just staring at each other.
That was 2016, the same year that half the people invited didn’t even have the courtesy to bring a token gift or food contribution. I’m all for giving. Honest. It just suddenly struck me as really unequal, and I felt like I was giving like crazy without even thanks (I am sure I was thanked; I was over-exaggerating, a thing I have been known to do.)
I looked around after that Christmas dinner and exchange of 90% gifts from me and very few gifts for me. I said this isn’t working for me. It’s also not working for them. Why am I trying to give them the Christmas experience I want? What do they actually want? I decided that next Christmas would be different.
The next year I booked us a week in New Mexico, and my kids, the current partner of Declan, Lee, and Anita all showed up. We drove around, hiked, shopped, relaxed, and played games. It was great.