Courage to Face the Holidays

As November draws to a close, I can feel my anxiety ramping up with the approach of the Christmas Season proper. Much to do and the list grows ever longer and time ever shorter. I have three weeks left before school closes for Christmas break, along with all the work comes with them. I have my daughter’s birthday to plan, not to mention our work on finishing her new big girl area upstairs. Then there is decorating the house for the holidays, wrapping gifts, and managing the actual day of Christmas. I can feel myself getting tired and achy with just the thought of it all.

As I hid away upstairs with the most recent edition of Bella Grace on Thanksgiving evening, I read about “sacred graces”, taking time to notice those little beautiful things and to hold space for them in my life. I will, uncheerfully, admit that I do not do this. I know I did at one point, though. I marveled over the sweetness of an apple. I would run back inside to grab my camera to snap a picture of the mist lying silvery and soft in my backyard. I haven’t done this in a long, long time. I find that busyness has stolen and does indeed steal my wonder most of the time. I am tired of that.

I desperately do not want this Christmas to pass by with only busyness to mark it. I hate coming down to Christmas Eve–when we are home from church and I finally stop moving–and feeling as though I have nothing of note or meaning throughout the entirety of the Season. I miss Christmases of viewing beautiful lights and displays (there was such magic in that for me as a child), going to concerts/shows, enjoying well-beloved movies or specials on television (Mom and I planned days in advance not to be busy on those particular nights), journaling by the lights of the Christmas tree. I feel as though, every year recently, I end up apologizing to my husband. Apologizing that our Christmas hasn’t been more special, that we haven’t donated more of our time, made more memories, taught our daughter more about generosity and the meaning of Christmas. I really enjoy the Christmas Season, and its fast approach scares me witless.

          Right now, I feel like it is going to take an inordinate amount of courage to face the Holidays this year: to face the demands but to also seek out the graces, the sacred spaces. I do not want to spend the next four weeks being irritable, snappish, and unpleasant to be around.  I do want to find and savor those special, sacred moments with my dear ones.

Watching my husband lift our daughter up to put the star on the tree, as he has every year since she was born.

Looking at the intricate designs of the ice on the windows in the wan light of morning.

Turning on the Christmas tree lights as I come out into the living room in the morning.

The profound quiet that fills the world as snow falls.

Tucking cards and gifts into the mail for friends and dear ones.

The Holidays will take courage. They are often not easy, I know, for one or another of a myriad of reasons. I want to breathe in the sunlight spilled from Aslan’s mane, hold fast, and step forward. One day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time. One kindness at a time. One gentle word at a time. The Holidays will take courage, from you and from me, but we can do this. Let’s have courage for the next step, dear ones. Courage for the next right thing.

I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath
This next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

“The Next Right Thing” – Frozen II


A Winter’s See You Soon

Author’s Note: Back in April, I visited Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. As my companion and I were heading down the walkway to catch the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley from Hogsmeade, I had the distinct feeling and vision of two students, arm in arm, making their way from Hogwarts Castle to Hogsmeade to catch the train home for the holidays. I even wrote it up but I do not think I ever posted it. Perhaps I am wrong but, either way, this is a good thing. I had originally envisioned and written this as a summer holiday leave-taking, BUT in honor of the Christmas holidays of which we are in the midst, I changed it slightly. I hope you enjoy, dear Readers. 

Also, standard disclaimers: All things Harry Potter, Hogwarts, etc., belong to Ms. J.K. Rowling. They are her creative babies and I thank her for lending us all the use of them to enjoy. The image belongs to

= = =

Arm in arm, they walked down the path to Hogsmeade, much slower than the gaggles of fellow students streaming out of Hogwarts and into the gently-swirling snow. The Christmas excitement was palpable, but, for those two students, it was bittersweet.

“So I can still come down to London for New Year’s Eve?” she asked hopefully.

“Definitely, and don’t forget: I’m taking you to see Celestina on Twelfth Night, right before we come back,” he reminded her tenderly.

She beamed at that. “I still canna believe you wrangled tickets to it! It’ll be the best!” she gushed, at which her Slytherin companion tapped the cold-pinked tip of her nose, causing her cheeks to flush an even deeper shade of the rosy color.

The gold of her cozy scarf lent a softer glow to the emerald and silver sheen of his, and he found himself drawing her closer. She responded in kind, her grip a bit tighter on him.

“We will have the whole train ride, don’t worry,” he reassured her, to which she smiled, completely ignoring the looks some of Slytherin girls gave as they passed them.

“I hate leaving,” she then murmured softly, “Even if only for a little bit.”

“Me, too,” he agreed, gazing at her with those piercing blue eyes, once again marveling at the warmth of the Hufflepuff’s brown ones.

The peaked, snow-capped roofs of Hogsmeade appeared in the closing distance and they could see the hot steam of the Hogwarts Express frothing up in the cold December air, waiting to take the students back to Kings Cross and their families. Professor—excuse me, Headmistress—McGonagall had waved those heading home off from the gates of the castle, warmly wishing them a Happy Christmas and good winter holiday. Now these two drew closer and closer to goodbye, for now, at least.

She drew physically closer to him, her arm around his waist and his over her shoulders, a kiss dropped sweetly on her temple beneath her grey knit hat. Friends rushed by the sedately-strolling pair, calling out teasings and happy Christmases and see-you-soons, to which they replied with smiles and waves. They would be there in plenty of time, and she knew a friend would save a compartment for them; sixth years had a code, after all.

The train ride from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross felt all too short, filled with soft moments, laughter and reminisces and plans made with friends for the new year, last hours of togetherness shared. When they reached snowy Kings Cross and all were about to part ways—him staying in London and her for the platform back up north—he reached out and drew her to him before leaving their compartment. This kiss was deep but gentle, almost chaste and yet still blistering.

“To tide us over,” he murmured, squeezing his lovely Hufflegirl close.

“Just a week,” she agreed, sniffling back tears and clinging to the back of the hoodie he’d changed into.

Donning their coats, they left the train hand in hand. Their families waited in opposite directions and so fingertips lingered and parted, and he watched the lovely coral of her flutter beneath the warm, plummy coat as she moved to greet her parents, a look over her shoulder given just for him.

All around were shouts and greetings and well-mets and holiday greetings; one couldn’t help but smile, for whatever reason. Christmas was here.


Chasing the Moments

Greeting cards have all been sent
The Christmas rush is through
But I still have one wish to make
A special one for you

Christmas is over, the night is winding down. My toddler is abed, Ben is in his den, and Mom is flipping through channels on the TV. I’ve had my plate and a half of ham and side dishes, watched the “Call the Midwife” Holiday Special, had a glass of wine, and, now, a glass of sparkling white grape juice with my two Aleve before bedtime. As I reflect over this Christmas season, I find myself having to admit that someone on Twitter was correct at the Christmas season, at least partially. I spent a goodly deal of this Christmas weary, worn out, and stressed to the point of breaking. All I wanted were the quiet times, the periods of wonder and Christmas magic, of soft light glow amidst snowfall, and, except for a few all-too-fleeting moments, I didn’t really get them. And I complained about it (privately), a lot. But, as I sit here in the quiet of my living room, I realize that there are some changes I’d like to make to how we ‘do Christmas’, but, also, that I am having that moment right now, the one I’ve been chasing after all season.

As I get older and my daughter gets older and life gets busier, I need to be far more vigilant in seeing those moments for what they are and not just wishing for more of them. I had that moment when Ben and I were at the Luminary Walk. I had that moment while wrapping presents with my mother. I had that moment sitting quietly alone at the back of the church before Christmas Eve service. I had that moment before bedtime last night. I had it tonight with my daughter cuddled in my lap in her Christmas pjs. In all my rushing, I missed those moments for the gift they were and that makes me sad. I don’t want to do that again, and it will take hard work and awareness not to, but it is worth it. I am also happy, at the same time, in that I recognize those moments now for what they were and can remember them with a smile and a warm heart.

And, with that, I wish a merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Keeping My Eye on the Ball…Er, Box

Not long ago, I was worried about having too few Christmas gifts for our daughter. More accurately, I was worried about her receiving too much for her birthday and Christmas from other family members and felt that the hubby’s and my hands were tied as to how many gifts we could/should get her for Christmas ourselves. However, today, as I wrapped said presents with my mother, I realized how dangerously close I had come to falling away from the reason for the Christmas season. No, I’m not just talking about the story of Jesus’ birth. What I mean is the spirit of giving, of generosity, compassion, and care for others rather than self. I desperately DO NOT want Christmas to become about what or how many gifts Elizabeth receives. I knew too many people who that was ALL they cared about with Christmas and it broke my heart. I do NOT want that for my daughter.

So, yeah, for a hot minute I fell into that trap and let it stress me out. But, no, Elizabeth has everything she needs and more than enough of her potential ‘wants’. She will have her first big birthday party this Saturday (which is stress enough for me); her family and friends are all around. She is smart and strong, clever and healthy. She is loved and cared for, with food in her belly, a roof over her head, and clothes on her back. She has all she needs. The gifts are icing.

Now, I love giving gifts. I love surprising people and making them smile. What I give them might not always be exactly what they want, but I do enjoy trying to find gifts that might mean something to them or, at least, give a grin and/or a chuckle, even if it is accompanied by a shake of the head. Buying gifts for family is often difficult as it is hard to know what they might want or need. For some reason, I feel a bit more freedom with buying and putting together gifts for friends. So, in addition to getting gifts for my family, I have done my best to get gifts for my closest friends, though I know that I couldn’t get everyone something. I honestly don’t expect anything, not really, though I didn’t really realize it until I said it aloud to my husband. I know that these seasons are hard enough on others, and they already have given me a great gift in their friendship and time. This is just another way for me to say thank you for that particular gift of theirs.

So while it might be stressful and tiring, crazy and hectic. I really do hope that we are able to find the happy moments in the midst of the rush of this season. I had to agree with a family friend today in that, yes, it finally was feeling like Christmas as I wrapped and stacked presents for these friends and loved ones. Your smiles (hopefully) are on their way, dear ones.

Looking Back at Christmas

This coming weekend, I will be presenting a program at my church’s Ladies’ Christmas Breakfast and Cookie Exchange. I am presenting on Christmas traditions in the Cayman Islands, where I grew up, with the help of my mother. That’s another big thing about Saturday: my mother, my mother-in-law, AND my daughter will be there. I also haven’t presented or anything of the like since I resigned from teaching in 2013, so I’m more than a little nervous.

There are several Christmas “traditions” that I remember fondly from growing up. One of them was going to tour the lit and decorated yards of the wealthier homes on the south side of the island. These folks went ALL OUT. They lit every tree and bush in the garden, had the animatronics displays out, sometimes even Santa himself there for the little ones to take pictures with. I really enjoyed it, as there would always be Christmas music playing and it felt a bit magical to me, especially when I was little. As I became a teenager, our youth group from church would head out there on the last Friday before Christmas. The folks who owned these homes knew most of us – our families – pretty well and, jokingly, one year they said that, if we were going to tour their yards, we should pay for it somehow. What they requested in recompense was for us to sing. Most of us in the youth group were also in the choir at school and, with places taken and a few pitches given, we launched into our Christmas program repertoire. Soon, most of the people touring the property had gathered to hear the voices that carried on the air across the yard. We enjoyed it and the owners were delighted. It was one of our favorite things to do on the bus: sing our choir pieces a capella. It kept us honest and in practice with the pieces that we had to memorize and perform. Plus, it was a heck of a lot of fun to just sing with my friends.

Another tradition was Christmas Eve dinner. On Christmas Eve, my parents and I would dress up and go out to a nice restaurant for dinner, usually my choice. Usually, it was just us, though sometimes it included some family friends. Eventually, for a few years, that dinner included me, my parents, my high school teacher (one of my favorite people in the world), her husband, and her son. We would spend hours at dinner, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. I recall one night, as we sat on the restaurant’s patio, watching the new moon course from one corner of the sky to the next in the time of our dinner together. I remember wearing a particular dress to one of these dinners and, before bed that night, I received an email from my teacher’s son, telling me that I looked beautiful in my dress. I must admit, that had me chuffed for the rest of the season.

After dinner, the remainder of Christmas Eve was often spent with me and my mother in the darkened living room, “Carpenters Christmas Portrait” playing on the stereo, enjoying the glow of the Christmas tree. Some years, I would open one present on Christmas Eve, some years not. But I always ended Christmas Eve in front of the tree, ready for that flutter of anticipation in my heart come morning. It’s gotten milder as I have grown older, of course, but it’s still there and it’s nice.

NaBloPoMo 2014 Day 20: As the Old Song Goes…

This time next week, if all goes well, Thanksgiving dinner will be over and my little home will still be full of family and delicious smells. Turkey, sweet potatoes, broccoli casserole, pies. The food will have been consumed with all the gusto and gratitude for which we are known, and the leftovers will have been divvied up into their respective containers (though I’ll probably still be filching dark meat from the bottom of the turkey pan). The tables, plates, flat- and glassware will have been cleared away and maybe even washed by now, the family will be spread over the couches and chairs, and maybe, if I am supremely lucky, my daughter will be snoozing along with her grandfather on his lap while the songs and quips of “White Christmas” fill the room. It’s a tradition: Thanksgiving dinner and the watching of “White Christmas” usher in the Christmas season in our family.

I love Thanksgiving! I love the time spent with family, as well as the fact that there are no presents, no pressure. On the whole, though, it is just relaxing, meditating on all the good that we have in this life, enjoying each other’s company, plates (several) of good food, and good, fun conversation (I say silly things when on the verge of a food coma). While Christmas season might be my favorite, Thanksgiving is probably (I am just now realizing) my favorite holiday with family. I mean, think about it: it’s a day specifically set aside to count our blessings. And that’s always a good practice.

That Time of Year

It’s fast approaching. That time of year. The holidays. Dinners and parties and get-togethers. Decorating, dressing, and entertaining. The time to decorate our homes with warm fall colors, pumpkins, squashes, autumnal leaves. And I look around my little house and wonder, “What I can do to make it look classy and gorgeous for the holidays. How I can make it perfect?”

That’s the trap, though, isn’t it? Perfection. I want my home to be warm and inviting, to smell of spiced cider and cranberry. I want people to walk into my home and gasp (or at least smile) at the elegance of the decoration because, let’s be honest, there’s nothing elegant about my house in and of itself. I want to make it worth the drive for people to come to my home. I want my table to be lovely. I want my living room to be clean, classy, and inviting. I want people to be comfortable and delighted in my home, simple though it may be. As I look around, I cannot help but wonder if they would be now. My child’s toys are tucked into a corner and in front of the entertainment center in my living room, and the fake fireplace of said entertainment center no longer works, which makes me sad (it served me well for almost six years, though). Half of the bookshelves are overflowing and really need to be neatened up. My couches could use a good scrubbing. So I look at the inner sanctum of my life and wonder what I can do to make it elegant and perfect. I want my home to be worth the travel. I just changed the curtains and put new covers on the couch pillows so now they all tie in with the couches and the floor rug and are rather pretty in their greens, browns, tans, and blues. But I still wonder: what more can I do? What can I do to make it perfect?

I want my home to be a place where people feel safe and comfortable and at home. Where they can come to rest and enjoy the company of friends and feel welcome. But I don’t want to get caught in that trap of being perfect. My home will never grace the pages of a magazine. I will never have articles written about my decorating style and creative hacks. And that’s OK. I don’t want that. I want a living room full of friends lounging on couches, flopped on pillows, curled up in blankets with mugs of cider or mulled wine, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. So I guess the question should be: what can I do to make my home welcoming? What can I do to make my home a place where people feel safe, refreshed, encouraged, and always welcome?

Because I want you to be.

NaBloPoMo Day 27: Thanksgiving

No, it’s not “Turkey Day”. It’s THANKSGIVING.

While we should be thankful each and every day, Thanksgiving Day is set aside particularly for that instance. As I think back over the past year, I know that I have a great deal to be thankful for, namely for a daughter who is hale and hearty and happy, a husband who works hard every single day to do what he needs to as well as what he feels he ought to or is led to do, and for the chance to be able to focus the majority of my time and energy to raising my daughter for at least her first year.

This year I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to hearing my daughter’s voice babble around her grandparents’ house, to watch her toddle a few steps here and there to Grandma and Grandpa. I am looking forward to listening to my husband chat with his family. I’m just looking forward to the feeling of home and just sitting on the couch quietly for a little while.