I never would have chosen this cardigan sweater for myself, but it has turned out to be a splendid gift Iris and Pathfinder gave me. Every time I wear it, I feel that some of its extravagant energy radiates into my bones and helps them rejoice. And not Christmas Red, but truly Christmasy. I become my own ornament!
I wore it to church yesterday, when the weather was foggy and chill, making me content to keep my wool sweater on all day. On the way home I stopped to buy a bag of black oil sunflower seeds for my feeder, and impulsively added a (little) live conifer to my cart. It’s not prickly like the one I had a couple of years ago, but rather a soft and drapey Leland Cypress. I’ll keep it outdoors for another week at least, because I’m sure it doesn’t want to be treated like a houseplant.
Then, I’ll add my favorite evergreen-appropriate decor, maybe a couple of birds and a pinecone. (The sweater I’m keeping for myself.)
I opened a gift from my daughter Pearl on Christmas Eve, an apron that she thought appropriate for me as The Queen Bee. It was a surprising metaphor, but I can see how the whole week that is just past was a picture of busy bees using the minutes and days to create sweet nourishment for all.
When my children and their families started arriving on Christmas Eve Day, you could say that I fell easily into the role of a contented queen surrounded by a humming swarm of people whose chatter and activities were endlessly fascinating. I could hardly believe my good fortune to have them all under my roof.
I will try to build this post around the activities that we engaged in for the six days that they were coming and going, sleeping here in varying numbers or coming just for a day at a time.
During the week or two beforehand I had worked like a beaver — I should say, a worker bee — to get ready. Decorating, making up beds, shopping for several meals and 25 people, wrapping scores of presents, baking more cookies.
My own master bedroom that has over the last year and a half become an untidy catch-all, staging and storage area also needed to be thoroughly dusted up and set in order for some of my guests. I would sleep in Kit’s twin bed for a few days.
On the 23rd I fell into bed aching all over, partly from a sneezy and headachey cold. And when I woke the next day (the head cold and pain had vanished!), Kate and Tom had completed a grueling journey from D.C. and arrived while I slept (almost like Santa, eh?). The cheerful hubbub quickly expanded when Soldier’s and Pippin’s and Pearl’s families pulled in over the course of the next few hours and began cooking for us all.
WE ATE: For breakfast that first morning it was Baked Oatmeal with Cranberries and Apples and Nuts with Vanilla Yogurt on top, cooked by Pippin.
Only a week before, I’d wondered via email to them all what I might cook on Christmas Eve that would be simple enough to allow us plenty of time for more than eating and clean-up — time to sing carols and open presents while the children were still awake enough to avoid meltdowns.
My colony rallied and came up with a plan whereby I would cook nothing! I could be as spacey and distracted as I wanted, play with the grandchildren or chat with the men about books and politics, while everyone else would get dinner on the table.
It was not a simple meal, but the true and traditional-for-us feast that they wanted, starting with oyster stew and finishing with cookies.
WE MADE MUSIC and SANG CAROLS… with more musicians than ever, partly because three grandchildren accompanied us this year! A violin, ukulele, two guitars, and piano. The four-year-olds danced — that is what they would call galloping around the room.
Over five days I refilled the cookie platter a couple of times per day, which was very gratifying – all those boys and men might have eaten every last cookie if I hadn’t saved some back for the one grandson who wasn’t able to be with us. By the time I took a picture the only thing left was my two favorite Trader Joe’s varieties: Chocolate Shortbread Stars and Pfeffernüsse.
WE GAVE GIFTS – And yes, we received gifts! I was given earrings and ornaments and books, a family tree chart, garden decor and an olivewood cheese board and a suet wreath for my wild birds.
The youngest grandchildren made gifts for everyone. This year they were very nicely crafted ornaments for the tree. And Pippin and Kate gave me bird ornaments, too, including a triplet of very furry owls.
I must tell you that the subtitle of the middle book in the stack is: “And Other Myths about Language Explained.” I was flattered by the gift-givers who thought me a worthy recipient of big books such as two of these are — certainly I am interested in them, but… Good King Wenceslas feels more my speed at this time, and I right away perused the wonderful illustrations.
WE WORSHIPED: Tom and Kate went to church with me on Christmas morning, where Tom hit it off with my little goddaughter Mary, and we admired all the shiny matching-sister dresses among the congregation. Kate took a video of the chandeliers swinging during a hymn commemorating the Incarnation. We sang “God is with us!” and afterward feasted on cheesecake and extravagant mounds of truffles in the church hall.
Mrs. Bread was there to give me a hug, and this darling brooch that confirmed the week’s theme. I happened to be wearing my black wool coat, which I do every two or three years, so she pinned it right on.
WE COOKED INDIAN FOOD: Tom and Kate and I started right in cooking after church: pakoras, curried lamb, roti bread, vegetable curry and basmati rice. Piles of spices and vegetables went into the curries. We all chop-chop-chopped and I made the roti dough and rolled it out, leaving Kate and Tom to figure out the most effective way to get the thin pancakes to puff up like balloons.
WE HIKED: Two hikes were taken, but I joined only the second one, after half of the houseful had gone home. My boys and their wives were on this hike, several grandchildren, plus Tom. Kate had to stay home and study Hindi. Liam marched energetically up hills while singing lustily “Joy to the world!” And “Go tell it on the mountain….” He knows the first verse of at least six carols now. I tried to sing with him through my panting.
The picture is of four people trying to get two-yr-old Laddie into the fancy new backpack. His mom is helping partly by being something for Soldier to hold on to while he squats, even while she is carrying Brodie in a front pack.
We came to a lake at the end of our hike, and sat around on benches for a half hour before starting back. On the way out we saw these berries which I think are toyon.
WE BUILT FIRES in the woodstove against the cold. It froze every morning of our Christmas week, but starting on Christmas Eve the ban on burning was lifted. Maybe it was a present from the Air Quality Board? Usually it’s on the coldest days that the prohibition is in effect. I had lots of help building and tending fires, and bringing in wood.
WE ATE MORE: Naturally, when you have all those children from 0-7, six teenagers, adult men, nursing mothers, etc., in cold weather, we go on eating. One morning Tom fried three pounds of bacon while Joy baked tender buttermilk biscuits. For dinner one night Pathfinder and Iris made their famous posole for everyone and served it with Iris’s famous cornbread.
WE PLAYED VONNIS, a cross between volleyball and tennis. Even I played! A large number of us — maybe 18? — walked a few blocks to the tennis courts where we played with a volleyball. At first the younger kids tried to participate, but they gradually trailed off to the playground with a couple of the moms; we still had two teams with many true athletes in the 13-45-yr age range. I managed to return the ball successfully a couple of times. It looked like they were trying not to serve to my area of the court, and once I heard a grandson on the opposite team instructing, “Protect Grandma!”
WE REPAIRED THINGS: Not everyone went to the park for vonnis. Soldier stayed home to work on my playhouse, whose door was coming apart. I didn’t even realize this until we got home and he was still at it. I promised him that in the spring I will put some wood preservative on the whole house.
Scout and Liam found the little rakes I’d given them in the fall, and all on their own started raking up pine needles for me. (photo credit: Pippin) In the photo above you can see the frozen jade plant, and in the one below, the lemon tree with its frost protection.
WE MOVED ROCKS: A son-in-law and a grandson worked with me for an hour on the landscape art project of placing my favorite rocks all over the new front yard so as to look as natural as possible. A couple of these were huge and required their manly brawn, but I also wanted their creative input. It was fun – and I was ever so thankful! They went on to do some other yard cleanup and tool organizing before they were done.
WE TALKED: Of course I could not overhear even a fraction of the conversations that happened while all these relations were together, people who rarely see each other and had a lot of catching up to do. It was lovely that they could use my house as a meeting place.
Annie and Maggie are 14 and 13 now — When I passed Annie’s bedroom I saw their heads together. And as I roamed upstairs and down I could hear my people discussing everything from baby care to Indian politics, from university life to cars.
After the Oregon contingent had arrived and eaten a late Christmas dinner of our Indian fare, all but three of us had gone to bed. Tom and my youngest Oregon grandson started talking about their Toyota trucks. They even showed me the Top Gear video that is famous if you know about such things, and I have to say that if I ever need a small truck, I will try to find a Toyota like one of theirs.
On the last day of our Christmas reunion, when I got home from taking Tom and Kate to the airport, I showed the OR grandsons the video I am currently renting from Netflix, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.” I thought that as they are outdoorsmen and skiers and builders, they would like watching the men cut down trees and make their own skis and traps and everything. As it turned out, we ended up talking more about Werner Herzog who co-directed and narrated the film, and about how he has written books and made many movies. That led us to the topic of other books that we have liked or want to read. One of my favorite things ever is getting book ideas from my grandsons!
Soon their father was directing them to take leaves out of the tables and help in various ways to set things back to pre-feast mode. They said good-bye, and I waved as they drove away. I was not the queen bee anymore, and I was not a worker bee…
Now I am a bee sleepy with winter and cold and fatigued by so much buzzing in my hive… sitting by the fire I built myself, with visions of dear people and memories of their hugs to sustain me.
This was my first Christmas, in Marysville, California. I seem to be more interested in my toys than in the tree, but with the decided lack of bling on that scrawny evergreen I guess it’s no wonder. Now, though, the strings of popcorn please me very much. After that year, our trees were always decorated with tinsel in typical 50’s fashion, and sometimes plastic icicles.
Amazing, to see three dolls under that tree! All these things make me think that my First Christmas may have been more formative than one would imagine.
This year I put up my faux tree for the second time. Who would have dreamed, even three years ago, that I would ever have a faux, (a.k.a. fake), tree for any reason? (When I mentioned my faux tree to friend Mr. Bread, he burst out laughing.) But while we were shopping during my late husband’s last Christmas season, he looked at the faux trees on display and said, “Gretchen, next year you should get one of these.” I brushed him off and never gave it another thought until the following November when I realized I couldn’t manage getting a cut tree home, not to mention setting it up, and taking it down again in January.
If you didn’t read the poem by Robert Frost about the Christmas trees he didn’t know he had, I put it up last year Here.
This year I decorated my tree all by myself one day when I was alone in the house. That was also a totally new experience for me, and I enjoyed it so much! I should not be surprised about that, either, knowing how I’m never at my best doing group projects. In the past our whole family would take an evening to decorate while we drank eggnog and hot cider, and many times listened to a recording of “A Christmas Carol.” Seven people decorating one tree is a challenging group project, but it was our tradition that we loved.
I’m pretty sure that introverted decorating will be my new tradition. I will listen to carols while I make the tree into a work of art. As I try to remember who gave me which beloved ornament, I will thank God for Christmas Past and Christmas Now.
The days surrounding and including Christmas Day have been full and flowing with love and friendship and good times. It feels like a river in which I am dreamily floating along, but somehow not up to speed, not able to live up to my expectations for myself or participate in all the activities planned by others that I’d like to. For example:
Cookies: I bought almond paste, but didn’t bake any cookies. Instead, I’ve been nibbling away at one log of paste, and thinking of making stöllen with the other package. Pearl and Joy brought plenty of cookies, so no one was lacking in that department.
Scout gave me nut brittle and chocolate-dipped pretzels he had made, for when the cookies run out.
Christmas Dinner: I marinated my becoming-traditional leg of lamb for Christmas dinner, with rosemary and wine and garlic. Then on Christmas Day I overcooked it!
It was a great feast that day, with lots of vegetables: roasted butternut squash from my garden, sautéed mushrooms and sweet red peppers, creamed spinach — plus tamales! I guess we were trying to keep track of too many courses at once. Most people loved the lamb anyway, and I will make lentil soup out of the leftovers.
We ate at the big table using all of its leaves, covered with a new green tablecloth I got on Freecycle, and a new table runner that carried the theme of my evergreen tree with its birds.
Decorating: I’m tired of some of my decorations; I’d like to get some good quality faux greenery to hang on the railings in the future. This year I hung tiny LED lights on the manzanita branch and they were pretty, but a real chore to manage; I think I’ll just take them down now that the first batteries wore down, and be low-tech with my branch in the future. This year I didn’t put any lights around the kitchen window, so I’ll have to get in touch with other sources of winter cheer.
Caroling: Sixteen of us were here for our usual Christmas Eve festivities, mostly squeezed into about six hours during which families arrived from other towns, unloaded their cars full of children, food and gifts, and for some, sleeping gear; prepared and ate dinner; arranged ourselves and our presents around the living room and took turns opening gifts in a civilized and grateful manner; re-grouped to eat cookies and eggnog and put some children to bed; departed to our rooms or other houses and towns very late…
That wasn’t enough time to sing carols, which was a disappointment to many of us, but with the little children’s needs… Just now thinking that perhaps I could plan an easier meal somehow next Christmas Eve, so that we could sing carols before dinner?
The day after Christmas “we” did make giant snowflakes, with instructions from Kit. And we did read Christmas stories, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. So it was different, but very nice. Some of us took a walk on Christmas Day, and others a longer hike the next. Soldier made more finishing touches on my greenhouse and the playhouse, and I began to clean the patio. I held Jamie a lot and he fell asleep on my chest as we sat by the fire.
Cleaning: This is the second year in a row that I didn’t get around to dusting the living room furniture before the festivities! On Christmas morning when I was alone downstairs I noticed the dust on the piano… I’m lucky to be in a family where probably no one noticed things like that, especially with the humans and torn-up wrapping paper filling the space and all over the piano and other furniture…
It’s been cold, but that didn’t prevent Scout and Ivy from playing in the fountain from which the ice had only recently melted. One night an action figure got frozen in up to his waist — he was the same guy whom I’d seen underwater in the tarps that covered the planting boxes until last week.
I’ve spent a lot of effort morning and evening the last few days covering the lemon tree, melting ice in the fountain, and going out before sunup to survey the estate.
Only concern for my fountain could get me to do that! I was rewarded by seeing the various plants with their frosty crystals. The Iceland poppy shrivels to a bright crisp when it’s 27°, but by midday it relaxes as the thermometer rises, and sways gracefully again.
Tonight may be the last of the freezing temps for a while; I will go out soon and turn on the fountain to run through the coldest hours in hopes of keeping the water in the pipes from freezing completely.
In this new week we are looking forward to our parish feast day, and to Theophany. It’s good to be carried along on that river, the flow of the church calendar that keeps me centered on my life in Christ. I am thankful this Christmas, for Him and for all His gifts.