Category Archives: Holidays

Epiphany

January. I don’t have much use for it; hate it, really.

January is a dark and cold reminder that we’ve eaten too much, drunk too much, spent too much, perhaps slept too little, for way too long. Boom. The scale. The credit card bills. Dry, cracking, pasty skin. Freezing pipes.

Every January I’d like to turn myself inside out and hide until the first crocus peeps through the thawing ground.

Not today.

Call me nuts, but today I added about 20 Christmas cards, which have trickled in over the last two weeks, to our sprawling display. Every year I use nearly two full rolls of masking tape to affix incoming cards to the molding around the doorways in our home. One hundred seven in all this year–so far.

Today it hit me. One hundred seven people or families expressed their love and good wishes – to us!

One hundred seven people went to the time and expense to buy or hand-make cards. Some signed their names or wrote lengthy personal notes. Some even addressed envelopes. They spent 46 cents apiece for stamps. They went to the mailbox. To wish us a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

Today, in the frigid darkness of the month I despise, I counted 107 expressions of good wishes. And, as I counted these blessings, I saw light. I felt warmth.

In the rush of opening the mail, we can forget that there is meaning in the wishes that honor the holy event we celebrate in December, and there’s immeasurable hope in the wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

Fellow January-haters: Let us thumb our noses at seasonal affective disorder by re-reading our Christmas cards (if they haven’t already gone out with our dried out evergreens) or remembering at least one person who wished us well, and appreciate how much we are loved.

And let there be light.

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Filed under Hearth and Home, Holidays

In the hairy scary month of May

There was a time when the end of May sprang forth with new possibilities – the end of a college semester, a fresh season at Dewey Beach, the inaugural igniting of the Weber grill, white jeans unfolded after hibernation in the attic. The aroma of new-mown grass, the jingle of the Good Humor man turning the corner on to your block and the first sighting of the season’s fireflies used to be the sights, sounds and smells we soaked in on the eve of the first of June.

Decades later, I say to what was once my favorite month, Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out. Good riddance, Hasta la vista, Sayonara and every other cliché I can spit this day.

Since we last met in April, the only May flowers around here are the ones my husband was planting when he yelled out “Call 911!”

Not to worry, he’s okay. After a Memorial Day weekend stay in our neighborhood hospital, he was deemed to be suffering from benign positional vertigo. He is slowly getting back to work, though he can’t yet drive himself there.

The week before, the mister’s head was covered in electrodes for a 72-hour take-home EEG. Picture a 64-year-old man in a luau shirt, with colored wires running from the back of his head to a shoulder bag–out in public. It’s a miracle he wasn’t taken into custody.

While my husband suffered two medical emergencies and spent much of April and May with various docs for various ills, I had to get in on the fun. By Memorial Day, I had had 11 appointments with five specialists, undergone five diagnostic procedures for what is essentially an aching back, and gotten two dental crowns. I even had my piano tuned. That’s not code for anything. It just seemed like the thing to do.

We visited a friend who’s had two liver transplants since Christmas and remains in the ICU five months later; buried a cousin and a family friend; prayed for twin babies born four months premature, and offered there-theres to a friend suffering a fierce animal attack. And many moooore… including a friend who also spent Memorial Day weekend in the hospital with benign positional vertigo. This could be an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Oh right. It was.

So what have I learned from this period of trial?

  1. When your husband calls out “911!” he doesn’t mean finish taking in the groceries and bring him some grape juice and a cheese stick.
  2. When you walk into pain clinic and hear blood curdling screams, turn around and limp for your life.
  3. It is possible to make a daisy chain out of hospital bracelets.
  4. If you and your spouse get sick at the same time, make sure one of you can drive. But know this: There is a 10-minute stage of benign positional vertigo, between extended periods of total incapacitation, when a patient is able to hop in the car and drive to Baskin-Robbins. (You won’t read that on WebMD.)
  5. If one is carrying around a bag with electrical wires attached to one’s head, putting on a floppy hat isn’t going to make him look any less like a suicide bomber.
  6. When the slightest drop of self pity seeps in, remember the guy in the ICU.

As the great modern philosopher Michael Bublé once sang:

Golden haze,
Another morning feels like yesterday.
End of May
Now you’re gone and there are still bills to pay.

Medical bills, no doubt.

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Filed under Health, Holidays

Tackier than thou

What’s the tackiest gift you received last year? Or ever?

Over the years, my family members and I have engaged fiercely in Olympic-level competitive gag-gift-giving.

My mother and I send each other kitsch personalized with names—of people we don’t know. She once sent me his and hers coffee mugs meant for “Dwight” and “Daisy.” In return, I bought her a doggie bowl from our church thrift shop, personalized for “Georgina.” Mom doesn’t have a dog.

My father and I have exchanged nativity scenes and other collectibles constructed of everything from neon-painted seashells to rusty beer caps.

My husband and I have passed the same can of Pepperidge Farm Vichyssoise back and forth for more than 25 years. Not exactly a tacky souvenir, but something neither of us wanted to keep. Obviously.

It’s my turn to re-gift a 32-year-old bourbon decanter in the likeness of the head of John Lennon. I’ve been mulling who in my life deserves such a treasure. So far, no one qualifies.

Those worthy relics notwithstanding, I’m here to announce that we might have a gold medal winner in this Kitchlympic event. You be the judges. Better yet – it’s not too late to submit an entry.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Hearth and Home, Holidays

Worst wishes

Words to consider as we face another season of long lists and short tempers:

In the season of good will,
If you find you’re wishing ill
To those who help you to prepare,
It’s time to stop and get some air.

This year I dedicate this ditty with apologies to clerks at CVS and FedEx-Kinko’s.

The design and production of our Christmas greetings hit some snags this year. I might be on the naughty list of a few retailers, though I’ve tried to walk the line between charitable kindness and insistence on reasonable service. It’s taken years of experience to recognize that, when I catch myself about to wish someone harm, I need to take a breath and shut up, let up and, if needed, give up and do the job myself.

My husband and I often enjoy designing our own cards, though our creativity waxes and wanes with the years. One of our best featured a picture of our son in front of Italy’s leaning tower, with a caption reading “Pisa on Earth.” Another good one featured the son, after not having seen a barber in eight months, with the caption, “Hairy Christmas.”

One year, I took my design to Ritz Photo, which lost the order, botched the order, lost it again, and then pretty much banned me from the store. Eventually, I cancelled the order and channeled my anger into a new hand-made card:

‘Twas the month before Christmas
When the Welch family went
To order the greeting cards
They’ve traditionally sent.

They chose a cute photo
Of their 10-year-old son.
From a year’s worth of pictures
They chose the best one.

They went to Ritz Photo,
A reputable shop,
To make a photo greeting
But, oh, what a flop!

Surely Ritz can do photos
(Or so one would think)
Who’d have known that their service
To High Heaven would stink?

The incompetence displayed
By the photo shop staff
Got progressively worse
With each stupid gaffe
(They messed it up so many times, one should laugh!)

But it wasn’t so funny
For the Welches, this time
As they felt their patience vanish
And their anger level climb.

Back and forth to the lab
The Christmas greeting was sent
And back and forth and back and forth
Into oblivion it went.

The Welches gave up,
It just wasn’t worth
The stress in this season
Of the Christ Child’s birth.

So with help from their computer
And the angels above
They send you this hand-made
Christmas greeting with love.

Come to think of it, most of the Ritz Photo stores in our area have since closed.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays, Rants and Raves

A zip of the lip

A very wise man—my late father-in-law—was known to say, “He who talks often is seldom heard.”

He also used to ask, “Is all that talking really necessary?”

For someone to whom words are a profession, a hobby, a love, even half a moniker, this Word Nymph has been thinking a lot about silence.

Perhaps it’s the time of year, or the signs appearing before me in recent days. The Sounds of Silence playing on the radio. References to the evils of loquaciousness in my daily horoscope. A favorite hymn in church yesterday, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, stirred me to wordlessness. Message from the universe: Shut yer yap.

In my faith tradition, the upcoming season of Advent is much ado about silence. Many kick off the season with a silent retreat, followed by three weeks of quiet reflection, listening, expectation, focus outside oneself. Regardless of our traditions, this isn’t a bad discipline to follow.

Modern humans have spurred a society that abhors dead air and assaults it with voices. While others speak we are already thinking of what we will say next—and, ever impatient, we interrupt them mid-sentence with our treasured views. As a child whose report cards often reported that “Monica talks too much in class,” I plead talkative as charged.

Modern media have ignited an explosion of expression. Talk radio, talking heads, talk-talk-talk. Tap-tap-tap a 2,500-word Christmas letter and a 750-word status update.

Enough already.

It seems a good time to undertake a new social discipline. While word count is a key metric in my work as an editor, it never occurred to me that I could put it to use elsewhere. What if I followed the Twitter theory and kept my utterances to fewer than 140 characters?

As an experiment, I pledge to do my best for the rest of this year to use my words more judiciously. To the best of my ability I will:

  • Listen first, speak second. After all, there’s a reason we were given two ears and only one mouth.
  • Not feel compelled to fill silence with talking. Silence can create an opening to ideas, energy and more thoughtful words–while excessive talking can suck the energy out of the room and everyone in it.
  • Not overestimate others’ interest in what I have to say. That story, that memory, that dream I find so fascinating? Others, not so much.
  • Not consume more than my share of the airwaves, leaving plenty open for others.
  • Begin fewer sentences with I and My.

Join me, won’t you?

One final comment: Some of the most stirring renditions of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence are the ones without lyrics.

Word Count: 439 (still too many)

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Music

Change of address

When my son was six, he lost a tooth on Christmas Eve.

What are the chances that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy would visit on the same night? Pretty slim, feared my son. The problem? We were 2,500 miles from home.

Suddenly the idea that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t be able to find him was troubling. This fueled further doubt that Santa himself would be able to find us in Arizona. My child slept anxiously that night, but awoke to abundant reward.

As my son wondered how both Santa and the Fairy were able to find us in a nondescript condo we had rented for the week, I offered a plausible theory:  Mr. Claus and Ms. Fairy had both gone to our house in Maryland to find no one there. Santa had a full bag and the fairy had some heavy coins to leave, but they wouldn’t dream of making their drops in an empty house.

The two teamed up and searched for clues as to where Joseph might be. They noticed three suitcases were missing, and very little food in the refrigerator, and no cookies left out on a plate. Just then they happened upon a copy of our itinerary. When no hotel was listed, they followed clues–souvenir coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets to home in on the city and state, perhaps a return address label from a Christmas card–to Joe’s grandmother’s condo, right next door to where we were staying. Bingo, working as a dynamic duo, they solved the mystery and deposited the treasure.

We returned to Arizona 15 months later. Just before leaving for the airport, as my husband and I checked to be sure the stove was off and all the doors and windows were locked, I found a small piece of blue notepaper, marked in my son’s printing:

Dear Easter Bunny,

We are at the Hilton East in Tucson.

Love,
Joseph

It’s almost Easter; does the bunny know where you are?

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Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays

Ashes, ashes

I started today a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to attend Ash Wednesday services at our church. I had a plane to catch, so it just wasn’t possible.

As for many Christians, Ash Wednesday serves as a definitive and dramatic crossover into the contemplative season of Lent. The hour-long service at our church bathes me in an almost magical blend of prayer, music and liturgy that sends me back out into the world calm and unhurried and inspired for the next 40 days.

Before heading to the airport this morning,  I went online and tried to find an Ash Wednesday service—of any denomination—in my destination city. As best I could see, none of the churches in the area had services posted. I had no time to call any of them, so I acknowledged sadly that I’d have to sit it out this year.

Just after clearing security at National Airport’s Delta terminal at 10:55 a.m., an announcement sounded over the intercom that there would be an Ash Wednesday service in the airport chapel beginning at 11:00.

I didn’t have to board my flight until 11:25, so I exited the secure area and hightailed it to the chapel, tucked behind Dunkin’ Donuts.

I was the second worshiper to arrive and the only passenger; the rest of the 14-member congregation were airport employees and crew members.

Granted, it wasn’t the hour at St. Alban’s I had hoped for. Still, we recited Psalm 51, read two verses from Hebrews, heard a bit of Mark’s Gospel and sang along to a boom box blasting out “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” A swift imposition of ashes, and we were out in under 15 minutes. I went back through security, where the TSA agent spotted my ashes, scanned my ID and remarked how fitting that my name is Monica Bernadette. I was at the gate five minutes before boarding.

No, it wasn’t the hour of contemplative prayer and soothing Taizé music I might have enjoyed at my home church. But considering I had already written it off, the Ash-n-Dash was an unexpected blessing.

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Filed under Holidays, Travel