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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

betsy boys presents christmas

I never quite know how to write about Christmas, once it’s over. The presents have all been opened and admired, the holiday cards (finally) sent out, the suitcases packed and repacked and finally unpacked. We’re back in the routine of work and winter and daily life, and the 10 days we spent in Texas, driving up and down I-20 to see people we love, seem very far away.

This year will go down as the year of not-quite-normal: so many of our usual family traditions were altered or skipped over altogether. My sister has two small boys and was hobbling around in a knee brace this year (see above), so we opened family presents at her house instead of at my parents’ on Christmas Eve. For the same reason, J and I drove to Christmas Eve service by ourselves, slipping into a center pew to listen to a sermon by an unfamiliar minister. My dad, despite his best efforts, could not find any eggnog, so we missed having our annual cup together. And the small-child chaos was such that we completely forgot to read Luke 2 aloud before diving into the presents.

My husband’s family moved to a new house in a new town this summer, so we spent the first weekend of our trip navigating unfamiliar territory – a string of small towns in the East Texas countryside. The weather swung wildly from unseasonably warm (73 degrees on Christmas Day) to icy sleet and snow two days later. Our favorite Mexican restaurant was closed on the day we tried to go, and I had a 24-hour bug earlier in the week that prevented me from enjoying another Tex-Mex meal with my parents. All in all, it felt – I have to say – a little weird.

And yet.

On a breezy Monday night, J and I stood in a semicircle and sang Christmas carols a cappella with a few of his choir buddies from high school. The notes of those familiar tunes – “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” an absurdly complicated arrangement of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – touched something deep inside me. This was our second time at this choral reunion, and though I am technically an outsider, they welcomed me like an old friend. Afterward, we walked to a local bar for snacks and cocktails, and told stories and laughed late into the evening.

My in-laws may have changed their address, but we are always sure of a welcome there: from J’s parents, his sister, the two cats, and three-year-old Annie, who jumped on J the minute we walked in the door and hardly let go for three days. She danced around, effervescent with joy, trying out her new rocking horse while clad in a pink princess dress. “Look at me, Uncle Miah! Watch me, Aunt Katie!”

jer annie shoulders smiles

It felt odd to be at Christmas Eve service without my parents, but their church, where I grew up, is still and always my favorite place to be on that night. We found seats in front of some family friends and lit our candles during “Silent Night.” Our beloved music minister, George, led the service with his customary joie de vivre. I slipped through the crowd to give him a hug afterward. And that felt – unmistakably – like Christmas.

My grandparents drove up from their house near San Antonio, and Pop brought me a gorgeous bookcase that he’d worked on for months. Neno brought a stack of old photos for Betsy and me to look through, and we spent a happy afternoon in Betsy’s kitchen, riffling through them and laughing and telling stories while we snacked on Pop’s guacamole and took turns making dishes for Christmas dinner.

We had all our traditional favorites: smoked brisket with Neno’s barbecue sauce, sweet potato casserole, Mom’s cranberries suspended in Jell-O, peanut butter kiss cookies. We ate several meals around the table that Pop made for Betsy, with my nephews in their high chairs and all of us squeezed in elbow to elbow. We had stockings at Mom and Dad’s on Christmas morning, with Mom’s three Christmas trees twinkling, and Dad and I sneaked in our favorite parts of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

cookie monster christmas eve telephone

“The best is being together, even if it is chaotic,” I said to Mom after Christmas, when we were discussing this year’s craziness. And it might sound cliched, but it’s true.

The best was sitting on the big sectional couch in Betsy’s living room, telling stories and cracking up at inside family jokes and hugging my nephews (when they stood still long enough). The best was catching up with multiple friends in Abilene, cramming in so many stories from the past year, sitting around a table until nearly midnight and laughing until our sides hurt. The best was chicken and dumplings around Frankie’s table, homemade pizza with Laura and Bill, cups of chai with Lisa and Mike, hugs from Shanna and Calvin and Gail.

The best, always, is heading two thousand miles south and west, knowing what’s at the end of that road: home. (And those small, wiggly cuties we love.)

jer harrison christmas

I hope your holidays were wonderful, and that 2016 is treating you right so far.

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christmas lights tree dog slippers
I was struck recently by a couple of posts on Ali Edwards’ site about making her (our) own magic.

I love Ali’s thoughtful, practical approach to life and memory-keeping, and although I am not (nearly) the scrapbooker she is, I love seeing how she captures moments and memories for herself and her family, in each season. Her December Daily project is always so lovely, and though I haven’t participated in several years, I enjoy watching it unfold.

This year, Ali’s Day 4 post included some wise words for those of us who face challenges (personal, emotional, logistical) in this season: “Magic is something we make. We don’t always get to choose what story we step into, but we get to choose how we respond to it and how we move forward from there.”

I think this is part of the work of adulthood: recognizing that we are, largely, responsible for our own internal weather. We can choose – ideally, with wisdom and grace – how to respond to, and move forward from, what happens to us. (We can also choose to be gentle with ourselves when we don’t respond well initially. We are human, after all.)

In a season like this one, which can be fraught with so many expectations (our own and other people’s), this is key. We get to choose how we respond to the delights and pressures of the season.

Sometimes, that means making the effort to create our own magic – whether it’s wrapping your front porch with pine garland, as Ali did, or unraveling ten (!) strands of Christmas lights for the tree, as I did (see above).

Sometimes, it means taking a step back from all that work, and sitting quietly (even for a few minutes) to find some peace amid the bustle.

christmas tree cloister walk

I was lucky to grow up in a house where my parents worked hard to create a magic atmosphere at Christmas. My mother loves a tall, sparkling Christmas tree, and my dad gets so excited about playing “head elf” (filling stockings, distributing presents) every year. I’m still lucky to get to participate in (and contribute to) that magic when I go home for Christmas. But if I want Christmas magic in my own apartment here in Boston (oh, and I do), then it’s up to me to make it.

On Day 8, Ali wrote,  “Part of making your own magic includes setting stuff up in order to have it actually happen.” This resonated deeply with me too, because magic often takes effort and planning. There are processes – some which have solidified into traditions – in place for our magic-making. And even though it’s a lot of work sometimes, I do it, because I know I will love the outcome.

I hang the stockings, haul the boxes of ornaments up from the basement, dig out the Christmas CDs. I buy the mint M&Ms to fill the candy dish (and some plain M&Ms, too, because my husband likes those better). I keep apple cider in the fridge. I buy wrapping paper and extra Scotch tape and order Christmas cards. My husband chips in to help, of course, but I am the chief magic-maker at our house. And it feels good. Satisfying. Magical, even.

How do you make magic for yourself in this season?

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merry and bright

christmas card 2014

From our household to yours, the happiest of holidays.

I’m taking the week off, friends. See you back here next week.

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red door wreath cambridge christmas

I love so many things about this festive season: the traditional decorations and music, the fun of buying gifts for friends and family, the Christmas cards that show up in my mailbox,  the reverent preparation of Advent.

I know Christmas is beset by commercialism these days (the sale emails are piling up in my inbox), but I confess I love a festive shop window (or outdoor display). And the streets of Harvard Square, where I work, are bursting with holiday spirit.

The Brattle Square Florist has piles of fresh-smelling greens, which spill out onto the sidewalk:

brattle square florist christmas reindeer

I love the little birch reindeer.

The barbershop down the street has Linus, Lucy, Frosty the Snowman and the whole gang from the Claymation version of Rudolph. (Yukon Cornelius! Hermey the elf!)

rudolph christmas barbershop cambridge

I spotted this deconstructed reindeer outside a landscaper’s office.

abstract reindeer cambridge christmas

The cupcake shop Sweet has gotten into the spirit:

pink christmas tree sweet cambridge

At Black Ink, the display is subtle but festive. (I could spend hundreds of dollars in here.)

christmas cards window black ink cambridge

And the Anthropologie windows, as always, are sheer magic.

anthropologie christmas window cambridge

What does this season look like in your neighborhood? Any fun window displays?

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get your jingle on sign christmas

We put up our Christmas tree last weekend, while listening to the traditional Christmas music: the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, Elvis’ Blue Christmas, and some a cappella carols by the Robert Shaw Chorale – my husband’s choice. (They take him back to his high school days, singing carols with his show choir while wearing a Dickensian suit and top hat.)

christmas tree

I always love unwrapping our funky, mismatched ornaments and reminiscing about their origins: This ruby slipper came from the Smithsonian gift shop in D.C. Jana gave me this bell when I helped assemble her kids’ teacher gifts one year. These glass balls came from my parents’ first Christmas tree.

Every year, I share a few photos of beloved ornaments and their stories. For the sixth (!) year, here they are:

songbird ornament music

Last December, when J and I met Shanna for a pre-Christmas lunch in Abilene, she handed us this lovely bird ornament – “because you guys are my songbird friends,” she said. I miss singing with Shanna at church (she used to live here in Boston, but lives in Atlanta now), but the songbird makes me smile.

gingerbread house ornament

I ordered a set of three stuffed gingerbread houses from Etsy a few years ago. I gave two of them to my friends Abi and Bethany, and kept this one for myself. We all lived in Abilene at the time; now Bethany is in Nashville and Abi and I are in Boston. I like thinking of these ornaments on each of our trees every year.

snowflake ornament sparkly

A dozen or so of my ornaments came from It’s About Time, a lovely shop in Abilene filled with antiques and housewares and all kinds of beautiful things, run by my friend Pam. This sparkly snowflake-esque one might be my favorite.

silver bell ornament

For our first Christmas as a married couple, my mom gave us a gift card to buy our Christmas tree and a few dozen ornaments from Hobby Lobby. These silver bells are from that shopping trip, and of course they evoke the Bing Crosby song.

tree ornament

My aunt Charlene – my mother’s best friend, who lives in Ohio – used to send us Christmas ornaments every year. This little tree is one of them – and as the hubs pointed out, it’s so meta. A tree on a tree.

If you celebrate, do you have a color-coordinated tree, or one with assorted ornaments, like mine? (If you have ornament stories, I’d love to hear them.)

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brookline advent sunday

On Saturday morning, after Turkeypalooza, J and I went up to the church to decorate for Advent. Our friend Bob had made his annual nursery pilgrimage to pick up the wreaths, pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen, but it turned out the nursery workers forgot the greenery. So we set out the flowers then, and put the greenery up the next morning, right before service started, as people drank coffee and greeted guests and chased their kids around the back of the church.

I wandered around with flowerpots and a roll of packing tape in my hands, dirt and pine sap on my fingers. We did not start remotely on time (though we never do, if we’re honest). And J was fighting a chest cold as he led singing. But the notes of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” soared through the building, as hopeful and aching as they are every year.

On Monday, I made it to Morning Prayers for the first time in months, slipping into a high-walled box pew in Memorial Church as the choir sang. I recited the Lord’s Prayer with the other congregants, and stumbled through an unfamiliar Advent hymn. As I walked through Harvard Yard on my way to the office, I hummed a different tune: Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free…

I’ve pulled out my Advent book, Watch for the Light, for what I think is the 14th year. It is a little battered by now, and I am not making myself read every single word this year. I am dipping in when it suits me, turning to favorite pieces by Henri Nouwen and Kathleen Norris and Gail Godwin, letting their words wake me up, letting them sink in and rest a while.

christmas tree

We’ve put up our tree (above), hung the stockings and mistletoe, bought our annual supply of mint M&Ms, even wrapped a few gifts. But even so, things still feel hopeful, expectant. We are easing into Advent, trying (always trying) to pay attention, to savor a bit of stillness in these days before the exaltation of Christmas.

I am turning to the words of Isaiah and the Gospels, clinging to their promises as to a solid rock in an unsteady world:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

I have heard those words all my life, and I know I still don’t understand their full meaning. But every Advent, I try to slow down a little, and listen.

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thanksgiving plate

This was our fifth Thanksgiving in Boston, our fifth time to sit down with friends in our church basement and enjoy a feast of everyone’s favorite dishes. We are no longer shy newbies: instead, we help organize, plan, set up and make the whole thing happen.

By now, we’ve learned a few things: for example, a Google doc sign-up sheet saves the day. Related: there will still be a hurried conference at church on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to make sure we’ve got all the traditional dishes covered. And lots and lots of lists. (Abi’s is on the left, mine on the right.)

thanksgiving lists

Every year on Thanksgiving morning, we head over to Nate and Abi’s to eat breakfast and watch some Thanksgiving episodes of Friends.

katie abi aprons

They are in a different apartment this year, and it was just the four of us, plus Nate’s attention was diverted by having two turkeys to baste (one in their oven, one in the neighbors’ oven) and gravy to make. But we ate blueberry scones and peppery bacon, and laughed as Rachel made her disastrous trifle and the Friends gang reminisced about Thanksgivings past. (“In this life, Phoebe!”)

rachel trifle friends thanksgiving

Every year, Abi goes to the church ahead of time to set out tablecloths and candles, and string twinkle lights. Every year we wonder if we’ll have enough food, enough paper napkins, enough glass goblets to make the table sparkle. (Every year, somehow, there are enough – even if “somehow” includes a last-minute run to Target.)

thanksgiving table turkeypalooza

The weather might be sunny and mid-50s or frigid and snowy. Either way, my husband will tuck a Frisbee or a football into the car among the casseroles. The oven will be crowded with foil-covered dishes, reheating; the two food tables will be jammed with tempting dishes, and everyone will go home with leftovers.

dessert table turkeypalooza

Every year, we say we’ll eat around one o’clock, but it really means we might all sit down by two. There is always a mix of old friends and new faces; this year there was a birthday cake for Adam, age 2. (Nate, whose birthday is the day before Adam’s, helped him blow out the candles.)

Every year, there is laughter and mulled apple cider and so much pie. There are roasted vegetables and five kinds of potatoes and Abi’s peanut butter balls. There are people from half a dozen countries and native New Englanders and American transplants to Boston, like us. There are family favorites and brand-new recipes and so much love.

jer katie turkeypalooza

I miss my family on Thanksgiving every year – especially this year when my sister and baby nephew have been ill. (They’re home now, and improving.) But I am grateful to gather, every year, with this group of friends, to break bread and give thanks and enjoy being together.

If you celebrated last week, I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful. (And happy December!)

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