The Beast had a Merry Christmas. Somone brought him a rawhide. This was not me. 

I’m not against rawhides, mind you. It’s just that I didn’t gift it. It was anothet human friend. 

So if Christmas means that your dreams may come true, The Beast is squarely on the dream to reality train. 

It is good to have simple wants that can be achieved. This is success. And, that is all. 

It’s a Wrap

It's my tree. From before. Not this year. So?

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

It’s Christmas Eve and I started a post that needs more thinking. Alot more thinking. And work. And writing.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

I glanced over at the bags with things that needed a transformation in order to become Christmas.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

The boys are out carousing. It’s not like they are asleep, awaiting Santa and his deer. Sugarplums and whatnot, all afloat.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

But some parts of Christmas are just that. A part of Christmas. And I am the maker of Christmas in this realm. This tiny realm of us.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

And, you, My Loyal Reader, are not known to give a rat’s bum about my thinkings on a holiday. Although I truly appreciate every moment you spend reading my words–no matter the day. But, it’s like Christmas. And there are gifts to be wrapped.

Write? Wrap?


The Same Word, Twice

Giotto. The Adoration of the Magi. 1304-1306. Fresco. Capella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy. Wow. This is beautiful.

Gift giving shouldn’t be a chore. It shouldn’t be a great cause of stress. It shouldn’t be a venue for disappointment.

gift: something willingly given, without payment

This is a beautiful concept. First, it’s something that you do of your own will. There is no requirement to offer a gift. That would be more like a tax. Or maybe a bribe.

A gift has no requirement for a quid pro quo. That is, there isn’t an “exchange of goods or services where one transfer is contingent upon the other.” That is more like a payment or trade.

Bottom line, if the something is required in any way, or if there is a contingency, it doesn’t meet the definition of gift.

And, now, another definition.

give: to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation

Wait. Did you just see that, too?

Gift and give mean the same thing. They’re almost interchangeable. I guess one is the action; the transfer of the something. That’s the verb. And the other is the something itself. That’s a noun version. No matter the part of speech, that redundancy of meaning–of the essence of the idea–underscores the agency of the gift giver. Without that agency, there is no gift.

So, if you are giving a gift and you feel you MUST give that gift, this is NOT giving a gift. It’s fulfilling an expectation or a responsibility. That’s fine, but it’s not giving a gift.

“Stop, Doc!” you say. “You are making my head hurt.”

Sorry, Loyal Reader, but I want you to get your mind right. If you can’t get to the point that you’re freely presenting the something, there’s an opportunity to rethink your motives and, maybe, to really give a gift. Are you running into the store and going through the junk because you gotta find something? When you found it, did you feel like you checked something off of your list? Or did you hold it in your hand and imagine the joy of sharing this something?

I don’t really have any answers, except that I refuse to be stressed about doing something that comes from my heart. Because if I’m feeling guilty or rushed or anxious, maybe it’s not really coming from my heart.

It’s like this post that I am giving to you today. I feel like I am doing this willingly and without any expectation of something in return. Maybe you don’t want it, but thanks for being gracious and taking it from me anyway.

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.–Saint Francis of Assisi

Holly and Jolly

My feet. In front of the Christmas Tree. The tree is lit.

So tonight we had a Christmas Party. It’s a party that we’ve thrown more often than not in my lifetime. This means at least two things. First, that we’ve had this party for many, many years. And second, my adulthood is now told in decades.

I was challenged by a friend last night, during someone else’s holiday soirée, to look good. So I put on my most fabulous red dress and my princess shoes. I didn’t name them princess shoes, I had a contractor on staff a different set of years ago who named them. His designation wasn’t wrong.

Anyway, I really do not want to miss writing a post because we had a party. On the other hand, I used up all of my creativity making a party. Well, maybe used up is wrong. Creativity is unlimited, so it can’t be depleted. It’s more like exhausting, as in being tired. If I really, really, really needed to be creative, like to save a life, I could do it. It’s there. But to be more easily available, it needs to have some regeneration time. I used alot today.

So there were people here. Some were little people who played tag in and outside and who were sorry that The Beast was not running around with them. They don’t know that he is a great party foul perpetrator. Like he’d eat that cookie from their hand. Without aggression, mind you, but also without remorse. That’s just who he is. And is also why he is isolated during parties. He’s now resting his heavy head on my shoulder. Very calm once we’ve move past festivities.

There were some big people here, too. And returning to the decades thing, I introduced a friend of twenty years to a friend of thirty. I guess they are both old friends. Some people drank red. Some drank white. And some hit up the keg. It’s always fun to have a keg at a party. That’s why we do it. And The Spouse likes having alot of beer.

Speaking of alot, there was the Ham. We always have the Ham. It has been known to flip new vegetarians back to meat. Sadly, for at least one, their second slip was a double mcCheeseburger. The Ham was also partook by a guest who doesn’t eat pork. Since this was a guest, I did not correct her. She was enjoying herself. And, for the knowing meat eaters, suffice it to say that it is enough to keep them coming back. Year after year.

Someone asked if I made the most amazing dessert of the chocolate thing on top of the mini pretzel. First, the dessert snack offering was brilliant. And second, I don’t make dessert. It is either bought or brought. This one was brought. If I new the elf who made this simple ambrosia (where ambrosia=food of the gods), I would kiss them on the lips. So, it’s likely they are happy to remain anonymous.

Last, and apropos of absolutely nothing, the Big Guy gave me a Baby Ruth, after everyone left and the remaining scraps of food were refrigerated and I was sitting on the couch trying to scratch out this post. I ate the entire candy bar. Even thought it’s very late. I’m now going to brush my teeth and turn in. Okay. So that’s it for tonight. And a good night was had by all. I hope yours was a good one, too, Loyal Reader.


Smell of the Season

a array of green candles

She stood in the aisle of the discount store. It wasn’t a dollar store discount store. It was a store that sold department store goods at value prices. The price tags included the standard retail prices above the “you’ll pay” price. This type of store has been called Macy’s nightmare, because customers get everything on sale. The sale price is on last season’s or last year’s goods. Usually.

She walked in, as she always did when she was nearby. She really didn’t have a shopping agenda. After aimlessly strolling through the store, she found herself assessing shelves full of scented candles. She was developing a strategy before she went in.

She started looking at the candles presented at her eye level. There were round containers and square containers. Mostly round, though. Some were tall. Some were short. Some were squat, others elegantly shaped. Some had two or three wicks. Those were usually short and squat. There was one brand with wood wicks–they called them branches. They purportedly crackled as they burned. She thought that the wood ones were unlikely to burn through. Gimmicky wicks.

She knew that she would skip any orange ones. Those were leftover from Halloween and Thanksgiving, with fall scents of pumpkin spices and woody cinnamons. There was likely one that was going to imitate the smell of leaves, too. None were scents that she liked. She saw a coral colored candle. That one was trying to evoke a beach sunset. Her eyes dismissed all of the firey colored waxes to focus on the dark shades. She was looking for whiffs of Christmas.

She began her evaluation by grabbing the small green glass in front of her. It was called margarita. She placed it back on the shelf. Not Christmasy. She awkwardly pulled the winter balsam. It was almost too big for her hand. She opened the lid and drew in a breath. It had a very weak scent, and not of trees. Lid back on. She picked up balsam fir. The container was a pretty vase shape with decorative nobs. It smelled of a Christmas tree lot on a cold day. She put it in her cart.

She went through the balsam bough, pine evening, winter fir.  Oddly, Christmas Tree smelled more of vanilla than tree. She tried the white candle that was called winter wonderland. This smelled of cookie dough. She put that back. She looked in her cart and counted four candles. As she scanned the bottom shelf for a yet unseen treasure another woman joined her.

Standing at the candle altar, the new shopper started her own examination. She picked up one of the pastel candles and removed the lid. She held it to her nose and sniffed. Her head shot up and away from the container in her hand. She wrinkled up her nose to close the airwaves and block the smell. She frowned from her forehead and placed the lid back on the glass. She looked over at the other shopper and they laughed at each other, and at themselves.

Outside In

There’s a tree in my house. Like INSIDE my HOUSE.

It is tall, way taller than me. It is green. It has thousands of tiny needles, which is its version of leaves. It has little, browned leaves hidden in its boughs. It stands upright in a small red metal vase filled with water that it thirstily drinks. It smells of winter, of cold, of outside.

It will be in my house for the next few weeks. Tomorrow it will lose its wildness. I will string bright lights on its branches, pushing some deep inside so that it glows and leaving some on the outside so that it shines. I will hang a hundred or so trinkets on it, some are as old as me, some as old as the boys and some even younger than The Beast. I will top it off with a star.

It will scent the house with pine and outside. It will hit us square for the next few days, then it will be the background smell, taken for granted. It will cause us to change our paths through the room, walking around its fat bottom, bumping into it and making the bells that I hang low jingle.

It will protect the boxes and bags that will be stacked underneath it on Christmas Eve. It will watch over us as we have parties, imbibe, nibble and feast. It will hear our secrets, our disagreements, our barks and our love.

And then, after the New Year, it will be gone, leaving an invisible mass that we will walk around for a few days, until we forget. It will hide a few needles in a corner, between the floorboards, camouflaged in the pile of the rug. And I will pick a needle out of the bottom of my sock sometime in July and remember that there was a tree that finished it’s own time inside of my house.

Bing Bells

Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas album cover.

The baritone of Bing brings Christmas to my house. Every year, for as long as I can remember, he croons Christmas to me as I string the lights and find the exact right ornament placements on my WTF-themed Tannenbaum.

My mom had what might have been an original press of the 1955 12-inch LP. It definitely was before my time. It always was in our house. Mom said that when we were little, she’d start playing Christmas music in October so we’d know all the words to the songs by the time the tree went up after Thanksgiving. There were other Christmas albums–that Sing Along with Mitch with the printouts of lyrics we’d pass around, a jazzy compilation headed by Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack and, of course, Elvis. Her technique worked. We knew all the words.

I didn’t know that the Bing was my favorite, though, until I left home and put up my first tree in my college dorm. I went out to buy my own copy of the album. I couldn’t feel Christmas until he sang Silver Bells. I remember walking across campus at dusk with the first real December snowflakes, city sidewalks dressed in holiday style the internal soundtrack to my first adult holidays.

I bought this album first on vinyl, then on cassette tape so I could listen in the car. We added it to our old reel to reel Christmas party tape. And, a decade or more ago, I purchased it again, this time on CD. My next car didn’t have a tape player. I ripped the CD, so I had digital files first for my iPod and now on my phone.

Tonight, I asked my new friend Alexa to play it for me from Amazon Prime. She went to the depths of her collection and served up Bing and the Andrew Sisters (theirs is the only version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town that beats The E Street Band‘s). I mumbled and stumbled along to the second and third verses of a Latin hymn. I was good, as usual, on the first. And, like I have since I was a teeny-tiny tot, imagined the holidays from Irish blarney to Hawaiian greetings. I remember that year I realized that you could have Christmas without snow. I thought that all your Christmases would be white. Wouldn’t Santa be too hot? And the reindeer? Mind blown.

I’ve infected or inoculated–maybe both?–the Boyz with this set of holiday tunes. Even the Spouse adds his baritone to our home choir that accompanies Bing. Turns out this was his dad’s favorite Christmas record, too.

I was going to rant a bit about owning music, since it doesn’t seem that I can actually own it, even though I buy it. I was gong to get righteous about buying multiple soon-to-be-obsolete media just to feed my fix. And then, I realized that I don’t even feel ripped off. Now that’s some charitable Christmas spirit there.

Mele Kalikimaka, y’all.

All Comes Down

Dog reviewing the lit up Christmas tree.

I’m doing it this weekend.

Unlike in many, many, many years in the past, when it would stand until the branches bowed convex and were favoring the brown side of green and when the needles had become little weapons stabbing you to protect their ornaments until they sacrificed themselves to carpet the carpet with their barbed edges awaiting an unsuspecting stockinged foot. So sneaky. But not this year.

Yet, this year’s tree was not without its own dramas. It begins with a process.

First, I placate my conscience by making sure that the proceeds for a pricey fire-hazard farmed for my holiday pleasure goes to a “good cause.”

Then there’s the search for the right tree. It has to be a very tall tree that isn’t too wide (old house with small rooms and high ceilings). I really like the impact of a TALL tree. It’s so impressive.

I don’t like the really long needles, so there’s that. And I can’t ever remember the type tree that we usually get. White pine? Douglas Fir? Fraser? Colorado Blue Spruce? Some people know. I don’t. But I know what it should smell like. And the smell is key. I usually grab a branch and run my hands along it to feel the needles and, if it feels good, I sink my nose into its cold body and take a big whiff, because when you get your tree it needs be cold and smell like cold and sweet pungent pine.

So it looks and smells right, but, and this is critical and based on prior trauma, will it stand upright for the duration? This is when we hold it and spin it and study the trunk, because depending on the cut and any squirrely bend in the tree, you can find yourself rehanging ornaments all season. Or, as in one year, someone might just pick it up off of the ground and javelin it across the room accompanied by a volley of sharp words not appropriate for you, Loyal Reader.

After much scrutiny, unwrapping and review of trees in the secret stash and a highly supervised and exacting chainsawing of the bottom branches, we brought the tree home. (Also after a most excellent and celebratory hot toddy and bar snacks.)

Guess what? The damn tree was unstable in the tree stand.

Yup. So there was much additional doctoring of the branches, backs and forths with hacksaws, crosscut saws, heavy duty pruners, and likely a switch blade. It stood, but if a heavy truck drove down our street, it would surely drop.

It was time for the big gun. But that was not without some regret as the Big Gun’s solution included screwing the tree stand into a block of wood that ended up breaking in half and then taking a pair of these bad boys

and posting them on top of that plank for additionally stability. This is where the size of the tree is important since you can almost–almost I say–cover them with a tree skirt and still have room for presents underneath in the front.

The next day I climbed the rickety ladder–I mean why buy a new ladder when you can continue to use the one that your Spouse found in the shed at the group house he lived in 30 years ago?–to place the star on the top of the tree.

Heavy star tree topperI got the star about four or five years ago. Decent tree toppers are almost impossible to find and this star has faceted mirrors to reflect the lights on the tree. I was ecstatic that it didn’t light up with some garish LED lights that looked more like a downtown Cincinnati bar sign (drink bush lite here). It would light from the tree itself. But when you buy something online, you might find yourself focusing on how it looks, because, well that’s what you see online, a beautiful star on a beautiful Pottery Barn tree in an amazingly beautiful curated holiday scene. You don’t recognize, for instance, that the star weighs 75 pounds and there is no discernable way to attach it to the tree.

So you get on the rickety ladder and braid together some old bread ties so they are long enough to wrap around the top of the tree and the tree topper (you don’t do the braiding until you are on the top of the ladder because, I don’t know, you like to swing back and forth with a 75 pound fragile star in your hand at the top of a rickety ladder while crocheting wire ties together?!). And you do this same thing every year because, I don’t know, Christmas?

Anyway, you get on the top of the rickety ladder with your ties and your star and start the process of braiding and then affixing it to the top of the tree. Lot’s of twists of lots of ties.

And then, and then, and then—you notice that the tree is starting to list to starboard. It seems strange since there are 100 pounds of weights holding it down, but it pitches anyway, and there is no time for additional analysis. It’s time for action. From the top of the rickety ladder you un-secure the twist ties that you really really twisted while trying to hold the tree upright and trying to keep yourself from losing balance and tumbling off the ladder onto the tree.

You know just what is needed. The tree needs to be tied to the wall. And you need a Bulleit.

And, today, it’s coming down.

Rules Rule the Season

I sit here furiously typing (okay, furiously thinking about what to type. Okay, maybe just a little furious?) because I made up a rule. The rule is at least four thinkings each month. And it’s getting to the end and I have only two. (Three if this actually gets posted.)

I am not a big fan of rules and obligations. We impose rules on ourselves. This four entries a month rule is a rule to impose discipline. I am not so good on that discipline-thing. So I trick myself with rules I make up. I usually break them, but I am not so hard on myself.

And now, here we are, at the time of year of obligations and expectations. There are a bunch of rules that we impose on ourselves. The big thing I heard this year was card trouble. “I need to get my cards done….I am so late this year….I haven’t ever been THIS late….Do you think it’s okay if they get there like the day after Christmas?”

But there is also the expectation that others have about the cards. You know, staying on the list. Reciprocating. Keeping in touch.

The 15-year-old is saving up for a new phone. He has become the evil superhero Phone-Destroyer. He’s been through 3 so far this year. I said the next one was on his dime.

He had enough for a non-cool phone. The cool phone was in reach with after a few weeks of significant yard work.

I learned yesterday that he was back in the hole. Turns out that he was sneaking off to the mall after school to use his money to buy Christmas gifts for us. For us!?! I don’t know how we raised a kid with his generosity and kindness. Yet somehow he assimilated these excellent qualities–maybe applied as rules.

Merry Christmas!