Tag Archives: Christmas

My LGB Train of Happiness

24 Dec

What is it about toy trains that triggers our smiling muscles? Is it their disarming little chug, chug, chug as they circle around the track beneath the Christmas tree? Or is it their tiny whistle (or not so tiny in some cases) that echoes the steam engines of the past? Or is it just that humans like anything in miniature?

I lived in West Berlin, Germany, for my last two years of high school and I came home from school one day to discover that my dad had bought a wonderful “Lehmann Gross Bahn” toy train! The “Lehmann Large Train” is the largest gauge toy train that I’ve ever seen, though admittedly I am no expert on such things. During their four years in Germany, Dad added to the train each year until he had six cars and many other add-ons such as a Gandy Dancer, gates that rise and fall when the train approaches and passes by, street lights, a signal bridge, people, trees, and even a typical notice pillar (which I can’t remember the German name of) – a common sight around Berlin which lends a small-town atmosphere to the sprawling city.
In the 25 years since I graduated and moved back to the states, the train stayed with my parents for a few years and with my sister (who had young boys) for quite a few more. But now it has come home to me! In three large “Max Marotzke” boxes (and one smaller one holding nothing but track), the train arrived. Max Marotzke was the name of the moving company that moved Mom and Dad from Berlin to Connecticut…well, Pan Am shipped them – in their own sweet time – but that’s another story!


My sister sent the first box way back in March and my kids very much enjoyed discovering all the hidden treasures beneath all those Styrofoam peanuts! Then, this past summer, when we were out in Washington, my husband packed the rest of the train stuff and the day after we arrived home the US postal service delivered it to our door.

Now, finally, after all that waiting, the boxes are open and we’re setting up the train! It is easy enough to put together the track and set the train on top of it – even I can do that – but woe betide my children if they didn’t have their dad to make it go, light up the lights and make the engine steam. I am no engineer, but he, thankfully, is. For real. (Yet another reason this English major married a mechanically-minded man.)

The train station needs a little model glue...

The train station needs a little model glue…

And so, thanks to my husband, my father, my sister, and Max Marotzke, the train circles our tree as well as the entire living room here in Southwest Minnesota – thousands of miles and 25 years after it first circled our tree in West Berlin.

(Talk about the passage of time and miles – what about the passage of political tyrannies? I returned to a united Berlin a few years ago – what a joy it was to see the unified city as it was meant to be!)

Yes, there are many reasons that this toy train makes me smile. But the best reason of all is the newest reason – my three kids, engrossed by the circling engine as it chugs into their lives as it once chug, chug, chugged into mine.



Seasonal Writing

3 Dec

This year I took on a seasonal task that I have avoided for the past few years. No, I never stopped shopping, (though my husband probably wishes I had) nor have I quit baking, decorating, or watching Dr. Seuss’ version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. What I’ve avoided is writing the Christmas Program for my church.

I have written our program a few times in the past, but for the past several years we’ve bought our scripts. Buying a pre-fab script is not a bad thing, but every year we have to tweak it for our particular setting and group of kids and by the time I’m done doing that, I might as well have spent the time writing it from the beginning.

Last year's whole cast.


So this year I did. It was a blast sitting at my keyboard with the list of kids in our church and my page of hand-written notes, taken when inspiration hit one afternoon in October. I laughed out loud as I gave the silliest part to our silliest boy. I grinned as I pictured one girl performing a line I wrote just for her. I was inspired by their personalities.

In the past when I have written programs people have said to me that I ought to try and get them published, but I never have. Maybe this year I will. I’ll see if I can find the other old scripts (since the old computers they were written on are long gone) and I’ll spend a little time looking them over, rewriting, and rethinking.

At least I will if I get my butt in gear to actually pursue this idea. It will take some research into proper style, publishers, etc, but it will be worth it if it pays off in the end, yes? I give you all permission to bug me in a couple months and ask me if I’ve done anything about it yet!


In the mean time, rehearsals are about to begin for our December 22nd performance. I know that my patience will be tried over the next few weeks and I will ask myself yet again why I ever agreed to direct this pageant – the writing is easy compare to directing – but I know that I too, will love, love, love seeing the kids that night, belting out the songs and shouting out their lines.

I adore Christmas pageants. Here’s my favorite photo of my favorite bored little angel a few years back.

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‘Tis the Season for Christmas Pageants

25 Dec

Merry Christmas! How handy that my favorite holiday lands on a Tuesday, my favorite day to post. I know that many of you are busy today, and this entire week (okay, month) but I’m posting anyway because I have a few pictures and thoughts to share with you.

My topic? Christmas Pageants.

If you were a star, wouldn't you use your prop as an air guitar, too?

If you were a star, wouldn’t you use your prop as an air guitar, too?

Ever since I was a wee girl, singing “Away in a Manger” (in which, apparently, I sang, “The ‘tars in the ‘ky”) in the church Christmas program, I have loved Christmas pageants.

The very phrase conjures up images of dimpled angels with crooked halos; wooly and grumpy sheep sweating under the lights, their guardian shepherds wielding eye-poking crooks; and small boys wearing their father’s bathrobes, gaudy crowns perched rakishly on their heads. Who couldn’t love such a scene?

A few of the animals at the stable.  In various degrees of happiness.

A few of the animals at the stable. In various degrees of happiness.

And don’t forget Mary and Joseph, two adolescent kids standing awkwardly side-by-side, gazing adoringly at a plastic doll and trying desperately not to look as if they despise each other while their mothers nervously wonder if, someday in the not-so-distant future, those two kids – who have, of course, known each other since diapers – could possibly ever be excited to be so linked.

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Some moms are praying that they will. Some are praying that the casting is in no way prophetic and dreaming up ways to fake an angelic visit should such a thing ever be even a remote possibility. An angel that warns girls to run far away from boys until she is at least 22 and out of college.

Mary, of course, didn’t have that option. For several reasons.

The shepherds as they received the Good News!

The shepherds as they received the Good News!

But I didn’t mean to write about theology. Though, if you really think about it, the very scene I just described – the quintessential Nativity Scene (crèche/nursery/manger scene, depending on what country you hail from) – is, in and of itself, biblically inaccurate because the wise men didn’t make it to the manger. They came when Jesus was two. But those wee boys in their robes are just too cute a tradition to break.

The whole cast in all their glory.

The whole cast in all their glory.

But I digress. Again.

I love the annual Christmas program. I love the kids tripping over their costumes. I love the shepherds pretending that their staffs are lightsabers. I love the kid who holds the “M” card upside down, turning “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S” into “C-H-R-I-S-T-W-A-S”.

Christ was what?

"Wise" men...always a debatable term...

“Wise” men…always a debatable term…

But back to the pageants.

I love the tiny band, formed of kids still learning how to hold their instruments without bonking their neighbor with the fully-extended trombone slide. I love the off-key, ear-splitting racquet. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” The band is my favorite.

That's my boy!

That’s my boy!

I love the tone-deaf kid who sings his or her heart out, two beats behind the rest of the angelic choir. I adore that kid.

My favorite wee angel - one year ago.

My favorite wee angel – one year ago.

I also adore the small, sweet voices that stumble over their lines. The bold voices who, I know, have worked nightly on their parts and stand with confidence before the microphone because they know this, though three weeks ago they feared they could never do it. (One girl, during this year’s program, gave her mom a wink after doing her line. It was priceless!) I love the expressive voices and I love the tentative voices, whose owners look at me, their die-hard director, encouraging them from the front pew, just needing that nod, that smile, to boost their confidence.

“You can do this!” I say with my grin. “Ignore Grandma and Grandpa in the audience. Don’t pay attention to Aunt Suzy’s video camera. Don’t be afraid!”

Don’t be afraid…“Fear not…The Lord is with you…Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” – Luke 1

And I do believe.

I love this photo.

I love this photo.

C-h-r-i-s-t-W-A-S…Still is.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Last year's whole cast.

Last year’s whole cast.

Stockings: The Best Part of Christmas Morning!

18 Dec

A few years ago I entered a holiday writing contest, hosted by my local newspaper. The theme of the contest was “Holiday Traditions” and from the moment I saw it advertised, I knew exactly what I needed to write about.


We don't have a mantle...so they hang here until being stuffed!

We don’t have a mantle…so they hang here until being stuffed!

In our family, Christmas stockings are the highlight of our Christmas traditions and, ultimately, of our Christmas day. There is no other part of Christmas that is so…sacred. (I probably shouldn’t use that word in the context…I mean… “sacred” is the whole point of Christmas…but setting that aside for the time being, let’s take “sacred” to mean – for the duration of this post – “THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT CHRISTMAS”!)

Okay, that being said, everyone looks forward to presents, right? I mean, when kids write letters to Santa, they don’t say, “Please bring me lots of tiny things that will fit into my stocking.” No, they say, “Please bring me a ball or a doll or a new bike.” Or, as in many of the letters from first graders that were printed in the paper yesterday, “ipods, ipads, computers, and a queen-sized bed”. Apparently kids are far more optimistic than they were in my day. Either that or more greedy.

My much-loved sock!

My much-loved sock!

In our family, as in any other, presents such as these under the tree are anticipated with great joy. BUT…it is the stockings, full to over-flowing with fantasticness, that inspire the most glee. They are the first things to be opened on Christmas morning and they tide us over through breakfast as the presents beneath the tree continue to beckon.

Why is it that our stockings are so admired?

Because they’re magical. And they’re huge.

Way back when my father was a boy, his mother began the family tradition of knitting these wonderful stockings for her family. My father’s – knitted with wool yarn and still in working condition – was joined by a new stocking in 1958, again knitted by Grandma, when my mom married into the family. When my sister was born a few years later, Grandma got to work again. And so the tradition continued up until the time when Grandma could no longer remember how to work her needles and my sister – that first-born grandchild – took up the needles for the family. In 2013, we’re anticipating that she’ll have to knit two. Horray!

It's not right that mine is so much smaller than my son's.  It's wool vrs. cotton yarn's fault...

It’s not right that mine is so much smaller than my son’s. It’s the fault of wool vs. cotton yarn, I think…

What is it about reaching into a bulging sock that is so marvelous? Why are the lumps and bumps and glimpses of things sticking out of the top so intriguing? I think that part of the thrill is the hinted-at-mystery – you get snippets of what’s inside, unlike with pristinely-wrapped gifts that reveal nothing of the contents within. Your imagine soars with a stocking! And, to top it off, you get to reach into a dark hole – something your mother cautions you against in normal life (“It could be a snake’s hole! Leave it alone!”) with no fear of what lies within. No biting, scratching, or hissing will send you running, squealing in fear. Squeals of delight are all that await the inquisitive hand on Christmas morning as it reaches down, down, down into the sock of wonder.

And what does that hand find at the bottom? What awaits you at the rounded toe?

An orange, of course.

My kids don’t get the orange. “Why do I want this?” one of them asked one year, holding the tangerine with furrowed brow.

“Because when your great-grandmother was a small girl in Scotland, an orange was a rare and expensive treat and having an orange in the toe of a stocking was a wonderful Christmas surprise!”

My child was unconvinced.

“Just eat it,” I said. “And be thankful. It’s tradition.”

Okay, even with huge stockings, sometimes we get a little carried away...

Okay, even with huge stockings, sometimes we get a little carried away…

Holiday traditions. They can be strange and they can be wonderful. Our stockings fit both of those descriptions. Filled with everything from new socks (hey, they’re huge and need a few big things to take up space) to toys, candy, toothbrushes, books, novelties, ornaments, ties, hats, mittens and scarves.

Oh, and sometimes babies.

The best stocking stuffer ever!

The best stocking stuffer ever!

Yes, they’re expensive to fill. But they’re marvelous to unpack.

I can’t wait ‘till Christmas morning!

Trying to make little sister happy with the jingle bells on her stocking...

Trying to make little sister happy with the jingle bells on her stocking…

P.S. – Though I won the contest, I can’t find the original story…sorry! It’s been several years and two computers since then. I have it in a physical file somewhere…in other words, it’s in some box under some bed which I’ll probably find when my kids are grown up and clearing out this house because they’re sending us to a retirement home.

Rudolf the Smooth-Nosed Reindeer

11 Dec
Our tree in all its glory.

Our tree in all its glory.

A few of my favorites.  The bird was my grandmother's, I believe.  I made the polka-dotted ball a few years ago...

A few of my favorites. The bird was my grandmother’s, I believe. I made the polka-dotted ball a few years ago…

My grandmother's Lifesaver clown.  I'm guessing the candy is...oh...about 35 years old!

My grandmother’s Lifesaver clown. I’m guessing the candy is…oh…about 35 years old!

I love unpacking our Christmas things. I don’t even mind the mess, when, for a few days, boxes and storage tubs fill the living room and I can’t get the tree sap off of my elbow. I love unwrapping the tissue from each special ornament – and, truly, each one is precious to me. The ones I’ve had since childhood, the ones my grandmother or mother or sisters made, the ones my children created, the ones that carry memories of places and people – some who are no longer with us – that speak to me of family and friends and love…

The tree was a Grandma creation - the fabulous gingerbread man was made by my niece, years ago.  My five year old daughter said, "This is kind of a weird ornament." I said, "I love it.  Hang it up."

The tree was a Grandma creation – the fabulous gingerbread man was made by my niece, years ago. My five year old daughter said, “This is kind of a weird ornament.” I said, “I love it. Hang it up.”

Okay, enough schmaltz. But, really, I do love them. I just am not usually so gushy about it. I’ve told my husband – more than once – that if we ever have a fire, getting out the Christmas boxes is his number one priority. After the kids, that is. And my computer. And my Cutco knives.

Boo made the white "bell" this year.  She was attempting to make a snowflake and then decided that it was actually a bell.

Boo made the white “bell” this year. She was attempting to make a snowflake and then decided that it was actually a bell.

I love taking every day things and making them ornaments...like this antique cookie cutter!

I love taking every day things and making them ornaments…like this antique cookie cutter!

My son has picked up my tendency to use non-ornaments as ornaments.  Though, to be sure, I wasn't aware that the Death Star from Star Wars was very Christmasy...still, it's quite marvelous!

My son has picked up my tendency to use non-ornaments as ornaments. Though, to be sure, I wasn’t aware that the Death Star from Star Wars was very Christmasy…still, it’s quite marvelous!

Well, the knives can be replaced. But not so the Christmas decorations. There are some which should be replaced, probably. Like the Rudolf which came as a gift tie-on when I was a kid from one of those cheese-sausage-and-petit-four companies. I loved that Rudolf. I played with him so long that his fuzzy, sprayed-on red nose rubbed off and even my kids think he’s hideous but I won’t ditch him. “Mom, why don’t you throw him away?”

“Because he’s part of my history!” I replied, shocked, as I held him gently the other day. And then I put him back in the box rather than in the “to be put on the tree” pile.

Okay, now do you see why he's not on the tree?

Okay, now do you see why he’s not on the tree?

“Aren’t you going to hang him up?” the kids asked.

“Nope,” I said. “I’ve seen him. That’s enough.” They shook their heads at the unexplainable ways of their mother. I smiled to myself as I remembered making Rudolf run across piano keys and the branches of the 15 foot Christmas trees my dad would cut down from up the mountain behind our house. Those trees – so tall that they had to be tied to the beams across our cathedral ceilings – were part of my childhood too. Tossing Rudolf would be like tossing the memories. And, really, how much room does one four-inch Rudolf take up in the box? Please don’t answer that question.

This is Oscar.  I've had him since I was wee.  I've had to replace his shell a few times...

This is Oscar. I’ve had him since I was wee. I’ve had to replace his shell a few times…

My husband's aunt recently gave us this - it was his grandmothers.  A lovely reminder of a lovely woman.

My husband’s aunt recently gave us this – it was his grandmothers. A lovely reminder of a lovely woman.

So many of our ornaments were made by loved-ones. My grandmother would make us all a felt, sequined ornament each year. As she aged, they became increasingly less fancy and also increasingly…odd…but that was okay. I love the tassel octopus just as much as the others. Though, admittedly, if I’m hanging the ornaments it will possibly be placed strategically at the back of the tree. The back needs covering, too!

Two of my grandmother's creations, made in her prime.

Two of my grandmother’s creations, made in her prime.

The stocking was made by my aunt years ago.  I made ones for my family to match.  The marvelous snowman is one of my favorites made by my mother.

The stocking was made by my aunt years ago. The marvelous snowman is one of my favorites made by my mother.

My kids, of course, have been notorious for hanging ornaments on one branch. I think I counted 13 on one tiny twig one year. The older two don’t really do that anymore, but Boo, at age five, still does a little bit. I love it, though. But, yes, I admit that I tend to spread the love a bit after they go to bed. 13 is just a few too many for two inches of twig to handle. But I’m not nuts about moving their stuff. I want it to be their tree…not some magazine-perfect, untouchable thing.

A couple of my newer Swedish finds.  I love these, too!

A couple of my newer Swedish finds. I love these, too!

I always thought our tree was beautiful. Then I looked back at photos from previous years and suddenly it occurred to me that, possibly, it wasn’t as gorgeous as I thought it was. But who cares? I love it as it is and that’s what matters, yes?

The snowflake my middle sister made, the heart our oldest sister made.  The blue ball is my son's work of art, the girl on the swing is from Okinawa in the 60's and the wonderful candycane rocking horse was another of my grandmother's amazing creations.

The snowflake my middle sister made, the heart our oldest sister made. The blue ball is my son’s work of art, the girl on the swing is from Okinawa in the 60’s and the wonderful candycane rocking horse was another of my grandmother’s amazing creations.

More of my sister's handiwork.

More of my sister’s handiwork.

My oldest sister's work again.  Oh, to have her sewing machine!

My oldest sister’s work again. Oh, to have her sewing machine!

And my kids love it, too. All three of them. They corrected me several times when I mistakenly identified certain ornaments as belonging to so-and-so but really they belong to someone else entirely. They know. And someday, when they head off to homes of their own, they’ll have a stash of their very own ornaments to decorate their trees with and I’ll be stuck with the tassel octopus.

Oh, and Rudolf of the rubbed-off nose.

This was from 2009 - looks pretty much the same!

This was from 2009 – looks pretty much the same from year to year, only with a few new ornaments hanging from its evergreen branches.

The obligatory night shot.

The obligatory night shot.

Tiny Doors of Mystery

4 Dec
A very old Advent calendar kept by my mom.  Isn't it wonderful?  There are angels...and also Santa inside, sitting at his desk, checking his list.  So fun!

A very old Advent calendar kept by my mom. Isn’t it wonderful? There are angels…and also Santa inside, sitting at his desk, checking his list. So fun!

“Guess what?” I said to Boo, age 5, in an attempt to distract her grumpy self from the fact that she HAD to finish her toast, brush her teeth, and get dressed because the daddy-school bus would be leaving in 7 minutes.

“What?” she asked, frowning as she struggled into her shirt.

“Saturday is the first day of Advent!” I said, mustering all the excitement I could into my tone as I shoved her legs into her pants.

Boo's Advent calendar from school.  Each day she gets to color in a "button".  It's awesome.

Boo’s Advent calendar from school. Each day she gets to color in a “button”. It’s awesome.

“What’s ‘Advent’?” she asked, a little curious despite her mood.

“It means that something important is coming,” I explained as I forced her feet into her shoes. “In this case, Christmas!”

“Advent calendars!” Boo exalted, remembering.

“Yep! Now stand up, let’s do your hair.”

Boo dutifully stood, and I looked at her feet.

I had put her shoes on the wrong feet. I had. Not her. me.

“Sit down,” I said, already ripping out the knots.

“I thought you were doing it wrong,” she said.

“Then why didn’t you say so?!” I asked a little crossly.

“I didn’t want to interrupt.”

As we somehow got her into the car along with her siblings, I wondered how on earth we’d be able to fit Advent calendar time into our morning routine. I mean, I might have to wake up a few minutes earlier in the mornings. Heaven forbid.

My Nativity drawing, circa 1975.  How fun is this?!

My Nativity drawing, circa 1975. How fun is this?!

But, the truth is, we love Advent calendars. Though, to be sure, our main one is rather non-traditional. A few years back I bought a felt banner of the Nativity scene – not just a picture, but rather many individual felt characters – wisemen, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus et al – and we began using that as our Advent calendar. I separated them out into little numbered bags, and each day they add to the scene, counting down to the day when the last image of all – Jesus – is placed into his manger.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, we have to keep careful track of who placed Jesus from year to year, otherwise it becomes a fight. Over baby Jesus. Not good.

Little by little, day by day, we count down to Christmas as we add to the picture.

Little by little, day by day, we count down to Christmas as we add to the picture.

This is what it looks like when it's finished!

This is what it looks like when it’s finished!

We love this “calendar” of ours…but we love the more conventional calendars with their tiny doors of mystery as well. I think it appeals to the love of all things miniature that is alive and well within me. Just as I loved my doll house as a child, I love the little numbered doors of the Advent calendars, the wee little pictures of jolly Christmas things hidden behind each opening.

Several years ago my kids made their own Advent calendars and I kept them – now rather ragged –because I couldn’t bear to part with them. My son actually spent quite a bit of his saved-up allowance money last year to buy a Lego Advent Calendar. It was pretty cool, though kind of humorous, too. As I said to him, “What says ‘Merry Christmas’ more than Darth Maul?”

My kid's homemade Advent calendars from several years ago...not very fancy, but they had fun!

My kid’s homemade Advent calendars from several years ago…not very fancy, but they had fun!

Last year we spent Christmas out in Washington State with my family. As we were unpacking parts of my sister’s German LGB train that runs around her Christmas tree, my mouth dropped open in surprise at something I found in the bottom of the box.

The box had come from our parent’s house and there, wrapped in tissue, was a picture I had drawn probably more than 35 years ago, and, along with it, two advent calendars that had been mine when I was a child.

Yes, I come by this love of Advent calendars honestly.

One of the old Advent calendars kept by my mom.

One of the old Advent calendars kept by my mom.

Today my aunt sent us an Advent calendar app for my computer. And, while it won’t ever be found, years from now, at the bottom of a box, it continues the tradition that my family loves: counting down the days to the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Thanks, Aunt Sandy! And Happy Counting to you all!

A couple "real" Advent calendars that I've kept over the years.

A couple “real” Advent calendars that I’ve kept over the years.

A Clod-Hopper Goes to the Ballet

27 Dec

We went to The Nutcracker Ballet last night. My two daughters, my two nieces, one of my sisters and I. We left the boys behind. One can only force so much merriment on men this time of year.

It’s been years since I’ve been to the ballet. College, probably. (Which, loathe though I am to admit it, ended 20 years ago this spring.) The Nutcracker is probably the last ballet I saw, in fact, though it might have been Swan Lake. I did cultured stuff in college. I like to think that I still do, though I’m not sure if attending “Spamalot” counts as culture. (Well, it’s culture, all right, but not, perhaps, the refined part of it. It was fun, though!)

I attended the opera back then, too. My aunt sang in the opera chorus of the Eugene Opera, and my mom and I would drive over from Bend, OR, (I lived there in tenth grade) whenever she had a performance. La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Carmen, she was in them all. It was a great season! She always got me posters, too, with which I decorated my room in Berlin, months later. Lovely reminders of home.

I suppose that all nutcrackers come from Germany...but this one came directly from East Berlin circa 1987.

But I digress – as usual.

Going to The Nutcracker was terribly fun. We dressed up. We put on airs (well, I did anyway) and we relaxed into the artistic atmosphere. And now, of course, my daughters are prancing around the house, taking turns being Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Lucy boogied big-time right after the intermission and then fell asleep three minutes later in my arms. Pretty sweet.

I love the rocking horse guy. I saw a smaller identical version of him in February when I was back in Berlin but instead of getting him I got the wee one in the front. He'd be a good guy to have on your side in a fight.

I was in The Nutcracker twice when I was small. It was an interesting production; a strange conglomeration of local ballet students and kids who could not dance but who wanted to act. No, I was not one of the dancers. (See my posts about my dancing horrors this past summer.) I was one of the supporting cast. The second year I was the mouse mother, Dame Mouserick, by name. I think the director gave me that title to compensate for the fact that I was not given the same role I’d been given the first year. Whether the role was denied me because I’d been so bad at it the first year, I do not know. I prefer to think that it was just a case of a better person coming along, rather than desperately moving me to a different part.

Who was I that first year?

The Mouse King!


My first nutcracker. Mom gave him to me when I was the Mouse King. He's still my favorite...even if less sophisticated than his shelf-buddies. He does pretty quick work with a walnut. Yum!

I have no idea why I was chosen to be the Mouse King, other than the fact that I was bold and willing and not nearly as embarrassed to wear tights as the boys of the cast would have been, given as I was used to such garments. I don’t remember being embarrassed to be playing the part of a boy. I must have embraced my inner Mary Martin (who played Peter Pan) and given it all I could. I think I also was a Chinese “dancer” (read “clod-hopper”), though how I pulled that off, I truly do not know, given as I am neither Chinese nor, as previously mentioned with painful clarity, a dancer.

I dearly wish that we had those performances on video, but way back in the dark ages circa 1980, we didn’t have such things. How I would love to be able to watch myself wielding my sword, lurching across the stage – and how my kids would love it, too!

If you’re ever in Seattle and have a yen for the Nutcracker, I highly recommend it. It was a wonderful performance and features sets and costumes designed by Maurice Sendak of “Where the Wild Things Are” fame.

A great time was had by all…plus, it was a wonderful way to escape from the rain…

The Traumatic Santa Boat

20 Dec

My sister reminded me of something the other day. Something I’d tried to forget, it was so traumatic. Something which, whenever I’ve thought about it over the years, always made me feel creepy and slightly soiled.

What could be so horrible?

The Santa Boat.

Growing up on Orcas Island, WA, was unique in many ways. One of those ways was that Santa, rather than sliding into town on a sledge as he might here in Minnesota, would sail up to the Orcas Landing in a ship.

Well, a boat. A grubby, frightening boat, filled with terrifying creatures impersonating elves.

What I mean is, Santa came in an old boat and he had pirates and clowns for a crew.

He scared me to death.

The dreadful pirates were gaudy and loud and I have a memory of one of them trying to kiss my friend’s mother.

As everyone knows, clowns are horrible anyway. Add raunchy pirates masquerading as elves and you have one strange tradition. I don’t remember much about Santa himself. I presume he was round and bearded and tattooed. He had to be to fit in with that crew.

Now, in the Santa Boat’s defense, I only attended once (that I remember) and I don’t know if every year was quite as raucous as that one was. Nor am I sure if the tradition continues or if it went the way of most other pirate ships the world over, Somalia excluded.

All I know is that no toy or candy or promise of gifts to be delivered down the chimney on Christmas morning, could induce me to set foot on the Santa Boat ever again.

Anyone else have horrifying Santa memories?

PS – I do know for sure that the Santa Boat still goes to Waldron Island, another island in the San Juans. I sure hope that it’s less frightening for those Waldron kids…

Why I Will Never Win the Pulitzer for Photography

13 Dec

You may find this hard to believe – then again, as you’re reading my blog, you may not – but I LOVE writing our annual Christmas letter. Truly love it.

The Christmas card photo my husband thought we should use this year.

I know that there are people for whom writing an annual letter is worse than going to the dentist. Especially in this day of televisions on the ceiling above the dentist chair and x-rays that don’t threaten the lives of all your unborn children. For me, however, writing our letter is like writing this blog: it’s a chance to visit with you, my friends both old and new, it’s a chance to use my sense of humor which is all too often absent from my conversation but crops up in my writing, and it’s a chance to talk about myself. All good things, in my opinion.

The picture we used last year. Because I gave up.

Notice, however, that I said WRITING my letter is all these good things. I did not say that addressing the envelopes, signing the letters and getting the adorable picture of my children is part of the fun. That part is comparable to the dentist visit. Not the present-day visit, either, but the torturous kind of a few decades ago. But, it must be done so I watch mind-numbing TV and get to work.

Items needed for the job:

1) 176 envelopes, non-lick variety (praise Jesus for such an invention) and security-tinted because I hate seeing through envelopes that aren’t meant to be seen through.

2) Self-sticking stamps (ditto on the praise Jesus above).

3) My address book, which is a scribbled-out-mess-with-tiny-addresses-written-in-the-margins-of-every-single-page-junk-yard.

4) The letters themselves (hopefully with some sort of decoration but often not because I’ve talked too long again and covered both sides of the paper) each signed personally with a hand-written greeting included. (Don’t get me started about photocopied signatures.)

One try a few years back.

Some years I MAKE my cards. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. Or at least for praise. One year, when I had two children and only half a brain, I made ones so complicated that it took 15 steps to complete ONE card. And yes, I made over 150 even back then. It was beautiful: a giant white snowflake on opaque vellum with blue cardstock behind it and tiny sparkling snowflakes surrounding it. I was so sick of them by the time I was done that I didn’t even make one for myself to keep. Hopefully my mother kept hers.

I haven’t been that foolish since. Close. But not quite.

5) The photo.

Oy, vey, the photo.

Grumpy baby. Unhappy mama.

One year it took us four tries – of about 20 shots each try – to get a new one. This is because I am too cheap to go to a real photographer and prefer to torture myself after church each week during the month of November.

So far this year I haven’t even tried yet. I would have last Sunday except that I had the stomach flu like as unto the pain of childbirth. ‘nuf said.

So I have set a new photo-taking goal. I plan to “borrow” the Christmas tree at church as a background and wait until the Christmas pageant to capture the kids in all their angelic and wise-man glory. I’m hoping it will take less than 5 minutes. Even with a digital camera that may be optimism way beyond my usual standards.

"Mmmm...tasty shoe!"

I must say one last thing about my Christmas letters. They are NOT brag sheets about the kids. Yes, my sixth grade son tested at a 12th grade level for math, but why must everyone know that? And really, do they care? Nor do they need to know that my fourth grade daughter earned all sorts of Girl Scout badges or that our four year old is the cutest, smartest, most clever child ever born. I mean, really…

What I write about is living. With a few facts about our family thrown in for leavening.

Kinda like my blog posts.

PS – Stay tuned over the next couple weeks for more examples of my Christmas card photos gone horribly wrong.

The one we used this year. Not exactly professional.

Gift-Buying: the Scourge of the Holidays

9 Dec

It’s time for a bonus mid-week blog post. There’s just too much to write about this time of year!!!

I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop – Benlee’s – and basking in the Christmas glory of about a dozen Christmas trees of various sizes, carols playing, and Highlander Grogg in my coffee cup. A fire blazes – well, smolders – in the hearth and I am forced to admit something to myself. Something that I have secretly known for a long time but have never said out loud before. (What is this blog becoming anyway? A confessional?)

I am not good at choosing Christmas gifts.

Finding the perfect items for my immediate family is not too difficult, though it’s funny how some years are easier for certain people. I’m doing pretty well for my husband this year, for example, whereas in other years I’ve been pulling out my hair by this point in Santa-induced frustration. The kids, too, are usually not too hard to figure out…though my pocketbook may beg to differ.

My favorite antique ornaments - all bought for a song at various "antique"/junk stores or garage sales.

But consider this: THE BROTHERS-IN-LAW.

Oy, vey, how I have failed them!

I try. I try all year long. Come January, I’m on the lookout for The Perfect Gift – for my sisters and their husbands, my dad, my mom, my nieces and nephews and their kids. (Yes, I’m a great-aunt. Makes me sound like I wear horned-rimmed spectacles and scold the neighborhood children every time they roll a ball into my pristine yard. “You hoodlums!” she said, shaking her fist. “Leave my flowers alone! Now get over here and help me rescue my cat from the tree.”)

Part of the problem, of course, is that with adults, you’re dealing with people who can go out and buy whatever the heck they want at any time of the year so they’re not sitting around, writing hopeful wish-lists and posting them to the North Pole.

This means you are forced to be creative. Or very smart. Or to shop on Black Friday. (NO STINKIN’ WAY.) Or to spend vast amounts of money. Problem: my self-imposed Christmas budget-per-person is approximately the same as it was during the Bush Administration. The first George. About 24 years ago.

My door swag. I like making wreaths, but I got lazy this year. A wreath takes...oh, an hour or so. Time for this swag: 10 minutes, tops.

So I try being creative, because when it comes to gifts, I simply am not smart. Exhibit A: A few years back, I found myself, come this time of year, pondering my brother-in-law who lives on Orcas Island. “He’s an out-doors-ish kind of guy,” I thought. “He goes hunting and camps out when he hunts. Doesn’t he?” (Answer: not exactly. He’s in an RV…but it’s an ancient, only-slightly-above-a-tent sort of vehicle with no running water and even its delusions of grandeur were long-ago rusted off.)

So, taking my vast knowledge of him to the L.L.Bean website, I began to shop. “This thing? Too expensive. That thing? I think he has one. This? Hmmm…well…maybe!” And so Charley got a lantern for Christmas that year. Now, lest you applaud me, allow me to describe said lantern: it was eight inches tall, black, decorated with a moose, and held a tea light candle as its entire light-source.

Charley, bless his heart, has a sense of humor. I don’t THINK he said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” but he probably thought it. I responded to his unsaid thought like this: “Well, everyone needs a light when camping, right?” Charley [tentatively]: “Yes…” Me [always the optimist]: “Well, now you have a nice new one!” Charley [looking skeptical]: “But it’s too small to help much.” Me [looking on the bright side]: “Yes, but it’s so romantic!”

Charley burst into laughter. It lasted quite a long time.

This year I’m afraid that I’ve given him new reason to laugh. But at least his gift will be practical. That is, if he doesn’t mind holding open-mouthed fish cozies on his beer cans.

Charley's gift this year. He's a fisherman...so...he'll like these. Right?

Yes. I’m serious. That’s what I got him. What? It fit my budget. And my sister says he’ll use them. That and the Mini Mexican sombrero set with tiny-bottle-of-tequila that my husband bought in Mexico for all the bros-in-law and nephews (they’re all adults!) for their stocking gifts will fit the bill quite nicely.

Good thing they don’t read my blog.

Stocking gifts for the brothers-in-law and nephews. We have these giant stockings...and you've got to fill them somehow!!

Merry shopping, everyone!!

PS – my sister really liked the lantern.

PS #2 – I really do love my brothers-in-law. Good thing they know that.

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