Delightfully December…

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We’ve made it. Arrived. December sits at our feet and what do we do with it? Rush around, picking out the perfect tree, lit with fifteen strands of lights at least, baking perfectly homemade cookies, while attending holiday events looking incredibly composed even though we feel slightly crazed, desperate to create the perfect holiday (as if that exists), with Christmas cards written and sent before December 25th.  I forgot the gifts! Shop for the perfect gift for everyone on our overly long lists, including the mailman, as long as the monetary value is less than $20 per regulation. But not me. Not this year. I’m embracing a form of simplicity. I decorated with eight Christmas trees because that is my thing, but I let other tasks slide. Store-bought cookies taste great. That’s why I buy them.

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The point is to do the things you most enjoy. Christmas brings out the tree fanatic within me, but my neighbor rocks an outdoor colored light show each evening, and my friend bakes long into the nights, sharing her assortment of cookies with us every year. What do you like to do around the holidays? What makes you happy? Focus on that. Bring your brand of beauty to December, and the other stuff is just stuff.

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Christmas is not a competitive sport. No one wins an award for doing it all, even if we did it all well. Which isn’t humanly possible. Here’s a secret to my eight trees: I don’t adorn every one with ornaments even though one year my mother decided to bring a U-Haul filled with Christmas to me, as a surprise. I have enough ornaments (massive understatement); I just don’t feel the need to place them on every tree. Though the first year after the U-Haul I did re-create a Santa tree, and all my kids said that year was how utterly creepy the Santa heads with full beards and no bodies were. And I placed the Santa-head tree in the front room so everyone had a month of laughter each time they strode through the door. Not quite the look I was going for, but, I laughed too.

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In dark December, I crave light, and my trees bring that to me. I have different lights on each tree and the glow makes my soul warm even in this terribly chilly month. Candles, fires, lanterns and lights bedazzle my eyes and I don’t feel the dark descending upon the world. I love the soul who places a lit Santa next to our winding, heavily treed road, and this year Mrs Claus joined him. I smile every night and wonder how many extension cords they needed to plug in the Clauses in the middle of their woods.

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Embrace December, regardless of your beliefs. Be willing to change traditions. I don’t know how this started, but after going to church on Christmas Eve, my family loves to go to China Town Buffet. So we do. I only have to produce one dinner then, as expected on Christmas Day. But if you don’t do Christmas, go to the movies (though I think that is becoming very popular), or stay all day in your P.J.’s doing what you love. Spend these dark nights with those who light up your world.

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And even better than that; spend some time with others who struggle with bills, loneliness, bad health, and face a bleak winter. Give. Give away your manicure. One December, I really wanted to take a romantic horse ride through the city, but decided to hand the cash to a homeless man. I’m so warm thinking of his smile. I feel it years later. Find the beauty in this month. She might be hiding a bit, but search for her.

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I’m back on the hunt for beauty and happiness, and it feels so good. Spread the warmth. Light up your soul. My goal this month is to set aside the time to read a good novel. Iced tea and a book, even if December brings more cold and cloudy days.  I’ll sit by my Christmas forest and smile in sheer contentment. I’ll be back in a few days. We have so much to look forward to…together.

The wonder of wandering…

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Who takes a trip to see family in mid-December, with plenty of wrapping, baking and card writing waiting back home? Looking at all the people in the airport today, swirling with moms soothing toddlers and couples sitting this-close to each other and the long lines of passengers waiting for a cup of patience, either at the bar or my personal favorite, Starbucks, I’d say a good many do. My oldest had time between semesters,  so a trip back east sounded perfect.

We begged my dad to show us some honest to goodness Amish farms, and out there in the country we found a pond, freezing over. Another week of very cold air and some lucky kids can skate and slide until their toes turn frosty cold.

 

 

My father obliged the two of us and we wound through the hills, knowing the farms would be magical, thinking we knew best and then… we fell in love with the winding road that brought us to some mid-century homes complete with electricity, tucked into the hills and hollows of the land. I think sometimes we go out searching for what we think will make us happy and are taken by surprise when our heads are turned in a different direction.

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The Amish farms were sedate and quiet on this Wednesday, so we wandered further afield and found an afternoon filled with pure joy! I spent the day with my dad and daughter and wandered around aimlessly until the car turned into a quaint village, almost like the town from It’s A Wonderful Life. I fell in love with the shops, and while my dad made friends at the pub down the street, my eldest and I discovered a shared love of all things vintage. Who knew? We sampled teas and chocolates, oohed over fragile glass ornaments that couldn’t possibly be taken home, and found treasures in the $5 and under closet at the men’s haberdashery. I bought a tartan blanket, some Christmas signs and potpourri. Purchases that would arrive home intact and ready to make our homes feel cozy and festive.

 

 

By the time we turned back to wend our way to the pub, our fingers were cold but our hearts were warm as toast. Then the pub topped off the day, so sweetly. We all ordered off the menu and ate our dinner while watching the attached hotel fill up with travelers and other shoppers seeking respite. My mom waited back home, but we knew she needed a little break from us (can you imagine?), so we chatted up the bartender while we feasted on fish and chips.

 

 

I drove home, since coffee and tea were my choice yesterday, and the twinkling lights and small towns called me back to the places where I once played, long ago with cousins and a grandma who fried chicken for dinner with no thought to cholesterol. And when I felt my heart burst with gladness, we topped off the night with a movie. Dad dropped into sleep rather early, so we sought out my mom who regaled us for hours with stories of Christmas in the 1940’s. Do you find moments of wonder in the unexpected? Isn’t it beautiful to listen to the ones who came before us? Who might know secrets we have yet to discover? Listen. Ponder. Wonder. Wander.

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December can drive you crazy and the finish line is New Year’s Day, when you collapse in a heap, vowing to make next year’s holiday better. More efficient. I say you could go the other way. Do something unexpected this December. Take a side trip to some out of the way place. Put off the cookie baking (you can always buy them at a local bakery) and watch the pond, the rivers or the woods. Find a space in the city away from the noise. Hang out in a cafe, tucked away from the world. Who knows what you might discover?

 

 

I desperately wanted to see the Amish farms, since they are slowly being devoured by subdivisions. I longed to see a buggy with proud horses trotting gaily down the same roads I used to drive. But the Amish stayed hidden this day. The corn fields stood quiet, almost sullen. No wash hung out to dry. So we took different roads home and stumbled upon something different, and our day was better for it. We found what we were looking for in another place. Do you do that too? It’s there. This very moment…

Revel in the magic of the end of the year.

The very trappings of happiness are so elusive. Really. We’ve had frugal Christmases in our home. That’s when we focused on other things. The dinner with whatever family members decided to ride out Christmas in frozen, snowy winters up north. You would find us in the kitchen, close to midnight, singing along with the songs on the radio. The Carpenters and Frank Sinatra. Half of having happiness is making your own happiness, filled with a good measure of kindness.

 

 

I hope this December has brought you lapfuls of contentment, but if you’re struggling, you’re not the only one. You have a lot of company.

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Don’t fight the twists and turns. They’re leading you somewhere better, someplace beautiful. We have so much to learn.

There’s an old Icelandic tradition on Christmas Eve, where they exchange books that evening, snuggle up in warm chairs together and read, while they eat chocolate. Chocolate! That’s my kind of holiday, and we’re doing that this year. I told my family I must have Icelandic roots, because books and chocolate would keep me happy for days.

Grab onto your traditions. Even if it’s a new one.

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Look for the beauty down the road. It’s there. You might find yourself standing in the middle of a road you never thought you’d be on. There might be something to learn, something to savor or something to celebrate. Grab your slice of happiness and bring a cup of it to someone else who needs that right now.

I hope you are somewhere cozy and safe tonight sweet friend. Be happy.

 

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Midnight singing with sunny blues skies…

Waking up before dawn, I witnessed frost covering every twig, leaf and blade of silvery grass. I didn’t have time to take a picture, since I was rushing around trying to get too many December errands done, but I thought about the frost all day. It is beautiful, and we can only find it in the quiet season, this time of rest. And yes, you’re probably laughing at the irony of it, that at the very time the earth slows down and offers up time for us to not plant, not weed, not water the grass, we might be up to our ears in busyness.    And if that’s true, know that it’s just a season in life and one day you’ll have the time to look up at a December sky and see the palest baby blue you’ll ever know.

 

And while those days of herding little ones through the wonders of Christmas are gone for me, I don’t mind. I’m happiest seeing what’s just ahead of me and enjoying life as it hits me. Can you settle into your days? Enjoy where you are? If you’re working crazy overtime, walk outside and enjoy the sun, even for a minute. If the only time you can break away for a breath of fresh air is at night, then do it. Yoga at sunrise? Sure. A stolen glance at the evening stars? Take it! When I had little ones, and then they turned into teens (no one told me about babies changing into hormonal teenagers!), I had a super secret stash of dark chocolate in my closet. When I needed a boost of serotonin, I would hide in my closet and unwrap a delicious chocolate or three, and that would hold me steady for the next five minutes. Until I could get my hands on a cup of hot Starbucks.

When I lived in Wisconsin, the only time I could get out for a walk or a run was after sunset. Long after. And for a season, we lived in a subdivision that had one street, going in a circle. One circle? One mile. I would bundle up and begin the first mile around in the very dark that only a place without streetlights brings. This place was out in the country, away from city lights, and one half of the circle had houses decorated merrily that dared the dark to dwindle their glitter and shine. But the other half of the circle? No one decorated for the holidays, except for one house that had a limp ornament hanging halfway off the tree, and it tinkled one Christmas carol, over and over.  Every mile I ran meant a pass past the tree with the somewhat dissonant music chiming away in the dark, with only me to bear witness. I got chills from it. And not the “oh it’s twenty below and I’m freezing here” kind of chills.

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Ever since then, I decided to bring color and shine and glitter into each December.  I smile when I see Christmas everywhere in my house, and up and down my street. We all throw on our lights each night and dare the cold to snatch away the same happiness we felt when silky June evenings whispered to us.

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See that cute sign I picked up for a song? Anything that glitters has my rapt attention. Wonder. This is the time for wonder. Wonder felt when a neighbor gives us a plate of Christmas cookies she labored over late at night. Wonder at the excitement of children waiting for Christmas Eve to finally show her face. Or the kind of wonder that wraps you up this time of year, remembering holidays long past. The warmth of family. Traditions carried forward. Wonder at the trees casting hauntingly beautiful shadows across snow. Across brown leaves that we reveled in a mere month ago.

My first year out of college found me working in a major city a long way from home, and at the last minute I decided to fly home, on Christmas Eve, as soon as I could scoot out of the office. I desperately wanted to make it back in time for Midnight Mass, because I knew my mom would be singing, and I wanted to be there in the warmth of that night. But a busted engine on a plane in Detroit kept me stranded until almost ten o’clock. I went to join other weary souls at the bar in the terminal, and while I sipped a festive drink, I started my own singing of the carols right there. I might have been missing the church choir in all their regal splendor, but we all piped up and joined in and shared Christmas Eve together. When I straggled into church a bit past midnight, my mother spied me tiptoeing in and when we finally hugged, I noticed her tears. We were together. I was home! Wonder of wonders, that plane took me to Syracuse in time for Christmas.

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I hope this finds you somewhere warm and happy. Even cold, as long as you are happy. But I’m learning about happiness and her secrets. Somedays you have to make your own kind of happiness. It might mean sneaking into your favorite stash of candy or a drive-through hot chocolate with extra whip, or it could be hanging out another strand of lights. Find the wonder and you’ll find a good measure of happiness there too.

Have a beautiful week sweet friend.