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Posts Tagged ‘gifts’

sass harrison christmas fire truck

We are easing back into routine over here: wrapping up against frigid temps; shoveling snow; making lots of soup (and huevos); drinking tea and answering email. It felt so good to hit pause on the responsibilities of work and church for a while, but now we’re back to it, albeit not quite at full throttle yet.

I am – I think – recovered from our annual 10-day holiday odyssey across Texas, and I’ve been thinking about the gifts it brought: not only the wrapped presents under various trees and the time with our families and friends, but a few surprises that sneaked in under the radar, and reminded me that this is a season of joy, love and – yes – magic.

In no particular order, here are the unexpected gifts I savored this Christmas season:

  • A dozen homemade gingersnaps, hand-delivered by J’s sweet Aunt Joy when we met her for lunch.
  • Singing O Holy Night at Christmas Eve service. It’s ambitious for congregational singing, but the new music minister at my parents’ church urged us to attempt it, “with gusto!” So we did.
  • Three blue-sky morning runs through my parents’ neighborhood, past houses decked with Christmas decor, with the Jennys in my ears.
  • Running into a longtime friend at a new-to-us pizza place in Abilene, and discovering later that she’d paid for our lunch.
  • My nephews, snuggled up on either side of me and listening with (mostly) rapt attention as I read the Christmas story aloud.
  • Laughing with my brother-in-law on Christmas Day about homemade sourdough pretzels and the dough that wouldn’t rise. (They were still delicious!)
  • Cuddling with my sister on the couch that night as everyone traded stories and sipped wine.
  • Playing baseball in the driveway with my dad, my husband and my older nephew, Ryder.
  • A couple of sunsets so stunning that we all piled out of my sister’s living room and onto her front porch to gaze at them.

texas sunset sky december pump jack

  • Waking up with Do You Hear What I Hear? in my head the week before Christmas. We sang it every year when I was in youth choir, and it made me think of George.
  • The moment when my niece’s hair ties ended up in one of my (bald!) dad’s Christmas presents – my husband exclaimed, “That’s where those went!” and everyone burst out laughing.
  • Half an hour to myself in front of the Christmas tree one night, journaling and reading The Dark is Rising.
  • Coconut eggnog pie, with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, as the denouement to a dinner with dear friends.
  • Picking up a novel I loved at the DFW airport bookstore.
  • Cracking up with J’s high school choir friends as we sang Christmas carols: “Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a shed…”
  • A wee girl named Genevieve Noelle, born to some of my best friends on Dec. 26. (We knew she was coming, of course, but we didn’t quite know when.)
  • The sentiment handwritten in my Aunt Cathy’s Christmas card: “And seriously, peace on earth.” (Hear, hear.)
  • Running straight into a few friends from high school at Christmas Eve service. I’ve been gone from my hometown a while, but it’s still and always where I’m from.
  • Singing hymns in the hallways of a hospice unit one night, with old friends.
  • A hilarious game of Scrabble with my in-laws.
  • The glass heirloom fruit bowls my Neno gave me.

There were plenty of gifts I was expecting this year: so much food and laughter at my parents’ house, time with beloved friends in Abilene, chips and salsa whenever we could squeeze them in. Those gifts were sweet and nourishing, and they filled me up. But these surprises have a magic all their own.

I hope your holidays included a few unexpected gifts, too.

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Every December, my husband and I pack our big suitcases with clothes and Christmas presents, trade our down coats for lighter wool ones, and hop a plane to Texas. We live and work two thousand miles away from our families and many of our dearest friends, but once a year, we get to spend about 10 days driving up and down I-20, seeing as many of our loved ones as we can.

stockings christmas texasStockings at my parents’ house

We started in Dallas, opening presents and eating at our favorite restaurants with my husband’s family. We saw a magical (if tearjerking) movie, and we drove out to East Texas to spend the day with J’s aunt and uncle, whom we hadn’t seen in five years. Despite four (yes, four) instances of the fire alarm going off at our hotel, we enjoyed having our own space – especially the free wi-fi and the cozy reading chair.

J’s niece, Annalynn (17 months), entertained us all. She’s a sweetie:

annalynn

The day before Christmas Eve, we headed west to my hometown, stopping in Abilene for a long lunch with Shanna. My nephew, Ryder, was waiting for us when we arrived:

ryder book papa d

This kid is so much fun. At 19 months, he’s a bundle of energy, and we all spent large portions of the next few days chasing him around. He wasn’t sure about J at first, but bonded with him pretty quickly:

ryder jeremiah

(Throwing golf balls in the backyard is apparently big fun.)

We made, and ate, all our Christmas favorites: sweet potato casserole topped with pecans and brown sugar, fluffy mashed potatoes, hot rolls, whole cranberries in Jell-O, green bean casserole. We grilled ribs one night, steak another night, and toasted each other on Christmas Eve with eggnog. Even the boys (my husband and brother-in-law) got more than enough to eat:

food christmas eve jeremiah stephen

We went to my parents’ church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, one of my favorite evenings in the whole year. Our beloved music minister, George, is receiving treatment for cancer, but he was onstage leading the carols, his voice as strong as ever. We sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Mom’s favorite, and ended with Dad’s favorite, “Silent Night.”

This was the year of the camel, since my dad is obsessed with the Geico hump day commercial. My sister even bought him a T-shirt:

camel t-shirt dad christmas

And we must have watched the commercial 15 times. The best part was watching him laugh:

dad betsy laughter

Ryder’s favorite gift was a tractor he can ride (closely followed by a pair of socks with tractors on them):

ryder opening tractor

His legs don’t quite reach the pedals yet, so we all took turns pushing him around.

ryder tractor fun

Mostly, we just had so much fun hanging out with my family.

mom betsy kitchen

(That’s my mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen – where we spent a lot of time.)

Christmas 2013 106

We ended our trip with three days in Abilene, where we lived for eight years (including our undergraduate years, J’s time in graduate school and our first two years of marriage). I never take many photos there because we’re too busy hugging everyone we know and talking as hard as we can, trying to catch up on all the news. But I did snap this photo of J playing dominoes with our hosts:

donagheys 42

So that was our Christmas. Merry, bright, magical, and full of hugs and Tex-Mex food. Pretty wonderful.

How were your holidays? (And happy belated New Year!)

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There was Christmas knitting this year, folks. Oh my, was there Christmas knitting. (I did start early – for once – so I didn’t get panicky about finishing everything in time. A novel approach – I think I’ll try it again next year.)

First, there was a blue Cloudy Day beret for my blue-eyed sister:

And then a red Rustling Leaves beret for Abi, my friend who believes with me that red is best. (I knitted myself an identical one.)

Then a pair of red mittens for Roxanne, which traveled across the world and (thank heaven) reached her just in time for Christmas. The right one has a wee hole so she can stick her index finger out to take photos. (I used the Evangeline cable pattern and followed a fellow Raveler’s helpful notes to turn them into mittens.)

There was a similar pair of red Evangeline fingerless mitts for my mom (my third time using this pattern):

And finally, there were a pair of wee Ugg-like booties for that nephew I’ll have in May. They are too big for a newborn, but I figure he’ll grow into them by next fall, when it’ll be Ugg-season anyway.

I’ve been working on a commissioned hat for a friend, and that big, cozy red cowl I promised myself. What are you knitting – or making – these days?

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I’ve made no secret of my love for Castle – the show that blends crime-solving drama with relationship tension and hilarious one-liners. J loves it almost as much as I do – so it’s no surprise that it was a Castle Christmas at our house:

Striking a pose

If you can’t tell, the apron reads “I really am ruggedly handsome” – one of Richard Castle’s classic lines.

And it’s not bulletproof (like the vest it mimics), but I do love my new shirt:

Happy New Year, friends. I’m still savoring the joy of 9 days in Texas with family and dear friends-who-are-family – but I’m glad to be back in Boston, and in this space. More soon.

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Some of the best gifts: tea, handknits, chocolate, time in front of the Christmas tree.

The gift-buying season is in full swing, and while I started my Christmas knitting early, I’m now into the what-do-I-buy-everyone panic that hits every year, no matter how carefully I plan. (Stereotypically, the men in my family – father, husband, brother-in-law – are particularly difficult to shop for.)

Part of me loves to hunt for (and make) gifts for my loved ones – because I believe a thoughtful, well-chosen gift is a wonderful way to say “I love you.” The best part is finding that elusive perfect gift, wrapping it up, and anticipating the look of joy when they unwrap it on Christmas morning. A gift that says I really know them, and I care deeply enough to either buy or make them something that fits perfectly with their personality and lifestyle.

Quite a lot of pressure for a few smallish packages, isn’t it?

And that’s just the emotional side of it. We haven’t even tackled the pressure to buy local/handmade/fair trade/ethically sourced gifts when possible; to support my favorite stores; to buy people gifts they’ll actually use; and to stay on budget, not to mention the headache and expense of fitting some presents into my suitcase and shipping the rest.

And then there’s the big reason, the one I usually ignore because I’m embarrassed to admit it: I want these packages to do something they cannot do.

I want the presents I buy to express how much I love (and often miss) the folks who are receiving them, of course. And that’s fine. But somehow, I wish these gifts could make up for all the times and all the ways I can’t be there as I would like to. (This anxiety hits particularly hard when I shop for my parents, who are proud and supportive of their globe-trotting daughter but really wish she still lived a couple of hours away, or even down the street.) And those presents, no matter how wonderful, simply can’t do that.

Because in the end, they’re only Christmas gifts. Inanimate objects, even if they’re made with (and express) great love. They can delight and inspire and amuse; they can look fashionable or provide warmth or engender hours of entertainment. But they cannot take the place of a relationship. They can only be a token of the love I feel for these people who are my family, by blood or by choice. And, sadly, they cannot make up for all the ways I sometimes feel inadequate as a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend. Nor should they be made to bear that burden.

So as I finish up my shopping, I’m trying to breathe deeply and remember that. They’re only presents, after all. And if I don’t expect them to save the world, it’s much easier to delight in buying and giving them.

Do any of you get as tied up in knots about gift-giving as I do? And for the moderately sane among us, what are your secrets? (HELP.)

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‘Tis the season to knit accessories – well, for some people it’s always that season. But for me, knitting tends to ebb and flow with the temperatures, and after my summer binge of hats for Sanctuary Home (total: 10), I took a break. And then I started my Christmas knitting in October. (I know. But since I usually get all kinds of great ideas at the last minute and have no time to knit them, this was a step in the right direction.)

Anyway. I’ve knit three Christmas gifts and a baby gift, which I can’t show you yet, but I did finally do some knitting for me – a Rustling Leaves Beret (Ravelry link), from the gorgeous new book Coastal Knits:

It came in handy when our Veterans’ Day excursion to Amherst proved a bit windy:

Handknits and apple cider. Mmmm.

Jane Richmond came out with a cute new cowl pattern, chunky and cozy and quite satisfying. It’s not meant for frigid weather, as it lets the breezes in, but it’s a fun fall accessory and I love these big braided cables:

Then my hubs asked for a long black scarf – not too exciting, but I’m always thrilled when he asks me to knit for him. So I’ve been working on that as we watch Castle (and on the T, when I can get a seat). I love the squooshy Mistake Rib pattern, and it’ll keep him warm this winter. (I also knit him a pair of ribbed charcoal mitts, since he lost one of the black ones I knit him last year.)

And – since my sister announced her pregnancy about a month ago – I am drooling over baby knits and wondering: what shall I knit the little one first? (She’s not due until spring, but of COURSE I need to start knitting!)

What are you making these days?

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I love getting mail. And sending it. Especially in this age of email, Facebook, texts and Twitter, receiving something tangible in the mail feels even more like a gift. Related: it’s always fun to make tangible connections with those you meet on the Internet. And who couldn’t use a little extra sparkle in their days? So when I read about Kaileen Elise’s Sparkle Swap, I was in.

I put together a package to send off to Chelsea in Iowa, and about a week later, I got my own parcel in the mail, all the way from Sharni in Australia:

Delicious lemon-ginger tea, two literary pencils, fun postcards, sweet treats, a music mix, a pretty notepad, and other little bits of sparkle. Such fun.

Happy Love Thursday, friends. May you be the recipient of some unexpected (and sparkly) love today.

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