Thirty-six days of pure torture

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I think of myself as a thoughtful gift-giver. There were a few awkward years with my nephews at Christmas that I ended up giving them gift cards, but they were always gift cards that would get well used. It may not have been as personal a gift as I would have liked, but teenagers have very specific likes and dislikes. Gift cards are perfect for those conundrums.

The old saying “it is better to give than receive” is something I believe deeply in. I get an immense thrill watching someone open a gift that I have spent a great deal of time thinking about. I love the element of surprise and the fact I try to come up with gifts that were never a blip on the receiver’s radar. I pulled off a few of those gifts this year, the most recent being a hat for my boss that is embellished with a quote from Ozark, one I will not repeat in this blog because of its profane nature but, sufficed to say, he was surprised and he loved it.

That gift-giving shoe no longer resides on my foot, for the time-being. Right now, the shoe is on another foot. I received a text message from a friend yesterday excitedly telling me they know what they are buying me for Christmas this year. That statement was followed by the line, “I’m so excited, it’s going to be the longest five weeks of my life”.

Now, I have received some lovely gifts during my lifetime, but I’ve never had anyone dangle a rabbit in front of my greyhound five weeks before I can chase it around the track! I’m dying. There are thirty-six days until Christmas and I know am going to spend countless hours during each one of those days trying to figure out what this gift could be. This is my nature – I need to solve puzzles, I need to answer riddles.

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The next thirty-six days are going to go by at a snail’s pace and I’m sure I will receive many more text messages about this gift before the holiday is close enough to be almost tangible. There will be no hints, I know that. There will only be the endless ticking of a clock until Christmas finally arrives.

 

My letter to Santa this year

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Dear Santa,

I hope this letter finds you well and feeling the joy of the season.

I have spent many hours considering what I would like for Christmas this year.  I do believe you will find my name on the nice list so I thought I would save you some time when it came to my gift.

santa's list

I want life experiences for my gift this year.  I want to sit in a room with my family and laugh until we cry because the joke is something only we would understand.  I want my brother and I to share a toast to my parents and take a moment to remember my dad waking us up at 6:00 am by cranking the Beach Boys vinyl album and my mom inevitably leaving a price tag on at least one of our gifts and then finding the last gift sometime in April because she had hidden it so well.

I want to really watch my nephews this year as they tear open their mountain of presents.  It seems like only yesterday they had no real concept of what was happening and now I’m going to blink and they will both be off to University and, soon after that, having Christmases of their own.

I want to embrace the friends I have and let them know how lucky I feel to be able to call them friends.  I want them to know how much they mean to me and how close I hold that friendship to my heart.

I want to take a quiet moment or two during the holidays and reflect on all of the wonderful things that happened to me throughout the course of the year.  And I want the words “I love you” to be a comfortable phrase that gets shared a lot, and not just during the holidays.

I know you are a busy man this time of year so I shall leave it at that.  I will be waving at you on Christmas Eve as we stand at the end of my brother’s driveway and watch you go by on the Fire Truck as I have every year since I was seven years old.

Merry Christmas Santa.

The magic of Christmas

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Christmas, for me, doesn’t feel as magical as it used to when my parents were still alive.  My dad was the biggest kid of all and he would happily stroll through malls that were bulging at the seams with shoppers trying to find that perfect gift. He would also be on the phone at 6:00 am on Christmas morning, pulling us from our slumber to make sure we were up and ready to come over to open presents.  The Beach Boys Christmas album would be blaring in the background, as it was each Christmas morning, and he would impatiently pace around the overflowing tree until we arrived.

My mother would embrace her inner elf and make their house look like Santa’s workshop had overflowed into every room and the smell of fresh-baked cookies and other goodies always filled the air.  The dining room table, that was once filled with tins of cookies she had made for many of the local businesses, would be set to perfection with all of the festive tablecloths, napkins and candles.

Perhaps some of my Christmas spirit was taken when they left.  Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I don’t have kids of my own and my nephews are now teenagers, so the urge to feel elvish is lower on the register.  But over the last couple of years, I have been finding much more of my Christmas spirit through the annual toy drive I have run every year for the last five years.

With a stuffed Rudolph safely tucked onto my dashboard so his red nose could lead the way, we drove two cars full of toys to the Food Bank today and were able to be there to help some of the families find the perfect gifts to give to their kids on Christmas morning.  To say I am now bursting with Christmas spirit is a gross understatement.  It was so heart-warming being able to stay and see the smiles as parents got to pick out the toys they knew their kids would love.

The spirit of giving is truly what the holiday is about.  And since I have just been injected with an overdose of that spirit, I think it’s time to go home, turn the tree lights on and crank some carols by the Beach Boys.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

#heartgrew3sizes

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My early Christmas memories consist of an overflowing Christmas tree with presents that never seemed to end.  As as child, I thought that was normal.  I lived with the belief that every voice in the world was hoarse from saying thank you after each gift had been torn open.   I assumed every house was just like mine and every child was lost in a sea of wrapping paper, ribbons and tags after the last gift had been opened.

But that mound of brightly decorated paper blinded me from the reality I would come to know as I got older.  My Christmas was not the normal image of the holiday celebration.  The large roasted turkey and all the accompanying dishes that adorned our table did not magically appear in every other house on Christmas day.  When I learned that fact, my happiness was changed.

I had been oblivious to reality until I was in my last years of public school.  I honestly don’t even remember if there were food and toy drives when I was that age.  I just recall the anticipation of Christmas morning, not even realizing that there were kids I went to school with that may not see anything under their tree on December 25th.

Over the last three years, the Christmas tree that has become most important to me is the one in our hotel lobby.  It has become a temporary home for gifts that we have collected or purchased with the generous donations of our many supporters.   This tree overflows, much like the one I remember from my youth, but it will bring smiles to many more kids than just the two children who stumbled upon our family Christmas tree on that much-anticipated morning every year.

Toy Drive1Toy Drive2

This tree holds the hope that so many more children will be able to open a gift on Christmas morning.  This tree embodies the true essence of Christmas because the gifts that lay under its branches come from people who will not get the gift of seeing a child’s smile as they open their presents on Christmas day.  This tree truly represents the spirit of giving.

I can only hope that my future Christmas celebrations will embody the generosity I have seen over the last three years.  And my Christmas wish is that everyone takes a moment to remember those less fortunate, especially during the holidays.  The season is about giving to everyone…..not just the ones on your list.

 

 

Boys will be boys, and then they make you cry

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I knew this Christmas season would be difficult for me.  I’ve done my best to write my feelings into submission but they are stealthily lying just below the surface, waiting to bubble up when I least expect them.

Last night I celebrated Christmas with my brother and his family.  Nagging work schedules bumped the holiday up by a couple of days but any change in the old routine is a welcome change.  I arrived at the house with my food contributions, my secret Santa gift and the scrapbook I made of pictures of my mom so she could be with us in spirit.  What I wasn’t expecting was this:

shrine

My nephew had taken one of the candles I made for my mom’s memorial service in May, created a beautiful Christmas display and placed it in the middle of the room so she was with us during our celebration.  I now know how the Grinch felt when his heart grew three sizes.  I was so moved and my heart swelled so much that I thought it would burst out of my chest.  It was all I could do not to hug him until he turned blue.

That gift, that display made by a 14-year-old boy to honor the memory of his Nana, is, by far, the best gift of 2014.  I could not bring myself to show too much emotion for fear that the tears would come and never stop.  Instead, we high-fived and continued on with the merriment.  Gifts were opened, food was consumed and a great amount of laughter was shared.  I learned to never again go in a swimming pool with my brother (future blog post) and I learned that the spirit of Christmas was not tarnished by the absence of my mother, but lives on in the way we keep her spirit alive.

The tears finally came shortly after I got home.  They did not come slowly or poetically but exploded out of my body to make room for my swollen heart.  I can only hope that both of my nephews learned a few things about Christmas.  It isn’t about the material things wrapped in bags or boxes.  Christmas is about the people who are wrapped in your heart and doing everything you can to make sure they stay there.

Merry Christmas to all of you and may you enjoy the true spirit of the holidays.

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas – Blog Edition

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Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the blogs
Edward Hotspur had his bacon, Angie’s Grapevine had her dogs.
The synonyms were used by Honie Briggs with care,
And Conscious Cacophony, her feelings she would share.

Short Stories was nestled, all snug amongst his words,
While Sethsnap had artistic visions and took pictures of the birds.
Sage Doyle was getting poetic, authoring memorable scenes,
While Drinking Tips was creating, snacking on Poutine.

JannaTWrites newest blog had created such a clatter,
And Moderate Mama’s  comments only added to the chatter.
Away to the keyboard The Daily Post flew on its quest,
Tore open the gates of creativity and posted its newest contest.

The Modern Philosopher, his brilliance did show,
And masterful words from Dianne Gray, were shared from below. (well, Down Under, but it didn’t rhyme)
When, what to YarnSpinner’s eyes should appear,
Ned’s Blog, in all its glory, showing no WordPress fear.

With a well-versed writer, so lively in blog,
I knew in a moment it must be Trudging Through Fog.
More majestic than eagles the stanzas were put,
And I knew in a heartbeat, El Guapo was afoot.

“Now Grammar Ghoul! now Wordy! now Notebook and Leash!
On, Margie! On, Lindau! On, Bad Guy! on, Wine and Cheese!
To the top of the Fresh Press! to the top of the wall!
Now write away! Write away! Write away all!”

As Rarasaur roars before the wild hurricanes fly,
When they meet with Two Sentences, and mount to the sky.
So up to the Matticus Kingdom they flew,
With High Five & Raspberries and a Writer Fellow too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in my Realm,
The Ambling and Rambling of TwinDaddy at the helm.
As I closed my keyboard, and was winding it down,
Unawarebutunderlined was making a sound.

Jill Weatherholt spoke with a great deal of fervor,
And words were carefully crafted by The Mercenary Researcher.
A bundle of phrases HastyWords took from her stack,
And Shouts from the Abyss, the words he attacked.

With their keyboards they created with zest and with zeal,
They wrote just as passionately as brunch for every meal!
It was Apoplectic Apostrophes, the words she did reap,
And, in between writing, they read shrinksarentcheap.

They wrote from their hearts, like it was their favorite job,
And inside of them all lurked a Geeky Book Snob.
The Cutter rambled and wrote to make you think,
While a little Fish of Gold was readied with paper and ink.

On The Homefront took a few precious moments to reflect,
While somewhere during Red’s Rants and Raves their writing they did perfect!
JoeTwo spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Blending a symphony of phrases, responsibilities they did shirk.

The Writer I could be pounded endlessly on the keys,
While My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog kept up the pace with ease.
 You’ve been Hooked had amused us, FortyOneTeen surely did see,
And we quickly lost H.E. Ellis to the feeling of writer’s glee.

Inspiration sprang to its feet, to its words gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like a high powered missile.
But I heard it exclaim, as our brains turned to fog,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good blog!”

 typewriter

(image credit: lhj.com)

 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

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With the barrage of holiday movies on television and the impending calendar date of the actual Christmas celebration just around the corner, the many images of Santa Claus, old and new, are generously scattered throughout our channel selections.  Animated versions of the benevolent being as well as the portrayal of Kris Kringle by well-known actors give us abundant opportunity to delve back into that childhood fantasy that all of us once had.

Santa

Each portrayal of Pere Noel allows me to travel back in time and dip into the well of innocence I had as a child.  It lets me live in a simpler time when life was less complicated and everything seemed magical.

Santa Claus embodies the spirit of happiness and giving.  His cherubic face symbolizes unending love and perhaps it is that feeling of love that keeps the spirit of his message alive in my heart.  Santa Claus may not have a genuine physical presence, or more feasibly the cynicism of my adult life disallows me from seeing that presence, but the true message of his existence still flows through my veins.

Perhaps the North Pole is that idyllic peace of mind I am wrapped in when I allow myself the child-like happiness that I inexplicably only allow myself to feel this time of year.  Sure, I’m generally a happy person throughout the rest of the year but there is a more youthful quality to my happiness during the Christmas holidays that I wish I could capture and recreate on a more frequent basis.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He lives in our hearts and will continue to exist there as long as we believe in the magic of happiness.