A tale of two trees.

Dear friends,

xmastree

If you’re like me, Christmas is the most sentimental time of year. By the time my birthday rolls around in early December, I am inevitably lulled into a month-long reverie of reminiscences that make January and its stoic resolutions seem like an especially cold slap in the face.

Decorating the tree has long been the focus of my nostalgia. I have collected dozens of ornaments over nearly 40 years. I’d like to claim they are each carefully wrapped in tissue and stored in tidy containers, but the truth is while some are, most aren’t, and my containers wear the heavy dust of a basement I rarely venture into.

Still, when I open my boxes and begin the ritual of adorning the tree, it’s as if the concentrated essence of Christmases past fills the room like the steamy aroma of mulled cider. My kids know the drill: I put on my favorite Christmas music (classics recorded by the likes of Tom Petty, the Eagles, and John Mellencamp); Parker manages the bird’s nest of wire hooks, pulling them free one by one; Kate attaches a hook to each ornament and passes it to me; and I select the perfect spot for each and every ornament. Along the way, I tell the same stories year after year after year.

“This doll is the from the set of six wooden ornaments I sold in high school to raise money for my cheerleading team. This is the dough ornament I made in middle school, the only one Grannie saved. This is the cross stitch ornament my sorority sister at TU gave me my junior year. This is the first ornament I purchased for Kate after she was born. This is the first ornament Parker made and brought home from Kiddie Kollege. This is the ornament I bought on the trip to Yellowstone – remember how sick Parker was with chicken pox on our trip?”

Besides my own enjoyment, the annual recitation is likely a thinly veiled stab at maternal immortality.  If I keep telling the stories, as my rationalization goes, my kids will remember them and pass them on. And some December day, four or five or six generations from now, my timeworn ornaments will hang on a tree and remind a great-great-great-somebody of Joan-Marie. Sometimes I think that’s all a mother really wants. To be remembered.

But this year, for the first time, we broke with tradition. I was at the dining room table sewing up a birthday quilt for a friend back home – too busy to pause I declared – so Kate decided to take charge. Parker fell in line with the hooks and Kate carefully curated my collection with a discerning eye.

“I’m done,” she declared, far too soon to have paid proper homage to each of my ornaments. “What?” I said. “You can’t possibly be!” “Come look,” she teased. “It’s beautiful. And not at all like your tree.”

And there, in our den, was a Christmas tree straight out of a magazine. “Look how balanced it is,” Kate said, beaming. “It’s a perfect mix of white, gold and red. Not cluttered. Not overdone.”

I was speechless. There were no popsicle-stick stars with plastic beads hot-glued on. No Hallmark/Disney frames with faded photos of every deceased but beloved pet in our family’s history. No tiny coffee mugs with each of our names painted on, purchased on family road trips from roadside souvenir joints. It was if our ornaments held a beauty contest and only the loveliest and most elegant made it on stage.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, surprised by an unexpected dose of equanimity. “Really, it is. I can’t believe I like it, but I do. You’ve done a lovely job.”

“I like it, too” Parker added quickly. “Since we’re finished, can I go hang with my friends now?”

And just like that, this old dog proved she could learn a new trick, even on the touchiest of topics, on the most sentimental of days. Instead of insisting my children watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with me (another of Joan-Marie’s treasured traditions), we turned down the music, turned up the college football game, and settled into a new holiday rhythm, one no less modulated by a mother’s heart, but newly attuned to the vicissitudes of family affections.

With gratitude {for holiday family time, whether by my own design or another’s},

Joan, who likes her Christmas trees like her baked potatoes — loaded

Day 29 and 30: Yeah, yeah, I’m behind.

Dear friends,

holiday

On day 29 and 30 of the month of Thanksgiving, I was so busy being happy I didn’t have time to post why I was happy.

So much for daily posting!

But rest assured my daily gratitude was in full force.

I don’t know why, exactly, but my joy-otometer has been red-lined. Something about having a house full of college girls and plenty of time to cook and nest. I did more dishes in six days than I’d care to do in a month, but I suppose if you’re gonna eat home-cooked food, you’re gonna have to hit the sink. It was a small price to pay for so many smiles and a Tweet from my daughter on day two of her break that said “You know you’re home when momma’s in the kitchen cooking away.”

To return the favor, Kate decorated the house for Christmas while I quilted. Talk about luxury! Parker hauled the boxes up from the basement and Kate unpacked and arranged. From my vantage point at the dining room table, I gave advice and sang Christmas carols while my Bernina merrily hummed along in unison.

I learned that Kate is much more a minimalist than I am — even in my new pared-down phase. Declaring my approach to Christmas trees “cluttered,” she created a lovely if spare tree in a perfect balance of red, white and gold trim. She also took an understated approach to to the mantle. At the last minute, I pulled out several of my favorites, including the old-fashioned wooden sign I like to hang in our kitchen, and we called it good. There’s just enough holly-jolly adornment to know it’s Christmas without being overwhelmed by either the decor or the eventual chore of putting it away.

Finally, in a furious burst of seasonal energy, I finished two quilts and mailed them to unsuspecting recipients. (Photos to come when the gifts are no longer surprises.) Standing in line at the Post Office I was insanely happy at the prospect of sending my latest creations out into the world. And in a perfectly symmetrical turn of events, I arrived home to find a package for me: eight new bundles of fabric from my favorite online retailer, ensuring the Unaquilter is restocked to spread all kinds of joy throughout her land.

With gratitude {for nearly everything that makes my heart full, crammed into a single, glorious week of November},

Joan, who turns 51 today and is too happy to care (unlike last year’s angst-filled milestone)

Day 28: The Turkey Trotters.

Dear friends,

turkeytrot2

On the 28th day of this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the family and friends who humored me by starting the day with a 5K.

It was a chilly 25 degrees and I must have asked each person in our group no fewer than five times if they were dressed warmly enough. Parker answered yes more than once then froze to death without gloves and a hat. (Told ya!)

Must be why he flew through the course. He placed 6th out of 67 runners with a very respectable 24:17.

I flew through dinner afterwards.

plate

And later, I’m going to fly through pumpkin cake and pecan pie.

A girl’s got to play to her strengths, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever},

Joan, who didn’t come in last (or even next to last) among her group, which is no small feat given she was the oldest of the six Turkey Trotters

Day 27: Girls bearing gifts.

Dear friends,

gifts

Kate and her teammates made it home today, just in time for a fabulous dinner of lemon cream pasta, grilled shrimp, Greek salad, and lemon-blueberry cake. Mr. Mom and I tag-teamed in the kitchen and I think the girls were impressed that dinner was served a half hour after Kate mentioned she was hungry.

More impressive were the gifts Kate’s friends gave us. Lusy, a sophomore from Slovakia, gave me a book with select sentiments about gratitude. (How perfect is that?) And her roommate, Kris, a sophomore from Russia, gave us a bottle of vodka from her homeland.

Girls bearing gratitude and liquor . . . I don’t think it gets any better than that! I think I’ll toast them with a Thanksgiving Day cocktail.

With gratitude {for the sweet college girls who have made our last two Thanksgivings holidays that I’ll never forget},

Joan, who, in preparation for Thursday’s 5K, will run at least 10K around the kitchen island today

Day 24, 25 and 26: Whirlwind.

Dear friends,

buddy2

I’ve spent the last three days on a pre-holiday whirlwind.

I made a blazing trip to Tulsa and back to see CupKate and meet our favorite reality television star Buddy Valastro of Cake Boss.

I’ve been quilting like a maniac to meet an upcoming deadline.

I’ve been furiously cleaning house and planning our Thanksgiving-stravaganza in preparation for the arrival of Kate and two of her teammates later today.

I’ve been running.

I’ve been Christmas shopping.

I’ve been having the time of my life, if only I could catch my breath!

With gratitude (for my favorite time of year spent with my favorite people},

Joan, who is sad to report Mr. Mom learned this week that his “tennis shoulder” is actually a torn rotator cuff and surgery will be scheduled soon, prompting a domestic crisis because Mr. Mom in a sling? Lord bless the helpless family!

Yay, yay, vacay.

Dear friends,

Joan, living it up on vacation, circa 1974

Joan, living it up on vacation, circa 1974

This morning, I began an 18-day stretch of uninterrupted vacation time. I haven’t had this much time off, EVER, and I know exactly what to do with myself.

In no particular order, I’m going to:

  • Bike ride (with Mr. Mom, including a picnic outing later today).
  • Watch fireworks (also tonight, at our annual Lion’s Club Carnival, for which the entire county turns out).
  • Take naps.
  • Quilt. (Got a trip to St. Louis planned for Saturday to stock up on fabric).
  • Take a quilting class. (July 16th! Can’t wait! And what a novel idea . . . learning by instruction rather than trial and error.)
  • Take a family vacation to rural Iowa, where we will commune with nearly 100 members of Mr. Mom’s extended family, and where the planned activities include a hay ride, pond swimming, barn dance, horseshoes, watermelon seed spitting contest, pig roast, agronomy lesson, family farm tour, corn shucking, scavenger hunt, and lots of eating and story telling.
  • Luxuriate in the company of those I love most.
  • Have lunch with a girlfriend or two.
  • Clean my closet (in a single nod to productivity).
  • Cook, cook, and cook some more ’cause nothing makes Mama happier than being in the kitchen.
  • Chill.
  • Watch Gunsmoke, because Mr. Mom and I love the old episodes on the Encore Westerns Channel and enjoy our nightly ritual of viewing them together with a cocktail. (Yes, we’re weird that way. But never underestimate the power of kooky shared rituals to keep a marriage happy.)
  • Maybe write a little if the muse visits me.
  • Breathe, love, and laugh in full measure, every day, because isn’t that the essence of gratitude?

With gratitude {for the great good fortune of paid vacation, the 20th Century’s greatest invention},

Joan, who loves her some summer, especially the Missouri variety where the temps are moderate

Summer snap.

Dear friends,

summer

Summer has snapped ’round my house.

How do I know? Every change of season and arriving holiday announces itself via the mirror above my buffet. The latest bedecking involves twinkly lights (but of course), some printed burlap ribbon, a red-white-and-blue wreath, a handful of mini-flags, and a pennant banner I made a few weeks ago.  The opening day of Memorial Day weekend seemed like the perfect time for a little redecorating. I’ve got a big supper planned for tonight — beef brisket, coleslaw and baked beans — and I thought we needed to mark the official start of our summer fun with seasonal decor.

By the way, the phrase “summer fun” is used carefully around our house. When Kate and Parker were in grade school — back when their Grannie was still their nanny — I got the notion they were frittering away their summers like lazybugs. So one May I spent hours developing a summer curriculum that involved trips to the library, book reports, chores, and all sorts of forced, Mom-approved activity. I created a tabbed binder with to-do lists, charts and progress reports and insisted my mother, Grannie, implement my regimen. I labeled my big binder of instructions”Kate and Parker’s Summer Fun Plan.”  You can imagine the look on their faces when I unveiled my creation.

You can also imagine how well it went over, with both the kids and their reluctant drill sergeant. Let’s just say no trace remains of the binder and I rarely utter the word “fun” right after the word “summer” lest I be ridiculed out of the room. Ever since then, my approach to summer with my children has been decidedly laissez-faire.

Speaking of laissez, here’s where I plan to do most of it this summer:

deck

This is the easternmost corner of our deck, and it’s the view you see from our living room sofa. Our deck is giant and wraps two sides of our home. We grill near the kitchen door, eat and recline near the dining room windows, and have our coffee here, right outside the living room. Though you can’t see it in this photo, just to the left of this spot is my cutting garden. Since I plant from seed every year (because I’m too lazy and too cheap to buy seedlings), there are no blooms yet. But in another couple of weeks, I’m sure there will be a riot of color to gaze upon from this spot. I can’t wait.

Here’s a shot from last year to tide us over:

newflower

With gratitude {for a long weekend and the urge to enjoy it with nothing more than good food and good company},

Joan, who figures if spring sprung, then summer snapped, although she has no idea why she thinks so, and is generally confused by things like past participles and probably should have avoided  this train of thought

Love.

Dear friends,

mirror_Snapseed

You know what I love in January?

I love a national holiday that gives me a Monday off.

I love easy craft projects like Valentine’s pennant banners strung with heart-shaped twinkly lights.

I love afternoon naps under wool blankets when it’s 20 degrees outside.

I love being home all day with my boys.

I love chicken thighs cooked in wine and butter and then braised for several hours with mushrooms and leeks and brussel sprouts for supper.

And, I love a workweek that’s 20% complete before it ever begins.

With gratitude {for all of these things on a bright January day},

Joan, who can’t seem to reconcile her love for homespun pennant banners with her modern house and has given up trying

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Dear friends,

I spent my evenings last week putting up the new Christmas tree in the Den and spreading a little holiday cheer around the house.

The tree is loaded with all our favorite ornaments:

xmastree

The mantle is festooned:

manatle

And the buffet is adorned with my Grandmother’s Santa Mug collection:

buffet

I’ve got more than a dozen large totes of Christmas decorations. Given that I limited myself to a single tree, the mantle, and the buffet, I think I showed considerable restraint. (I also sent a tote with Kate so she could decorate her college apartment even though I know I’ll have to haul it home for the summer). Gone are the days when it looks like the Macy’s Christmas Store exploded in every room of my home.

Now all I need to do is buy a handful of additional gifts and get to wrapping. I gave up on the whole holiday card thing years ago. I’m deeply appreciative of those folks who take the time to send them, but in an era of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and blogging, there’s really not anyone who desires to keep up with us who can’t do so electronically. I don’t know if I’ve succumbed to the forces of modernity or indolence, but I’ve succumbed.

And, finally, I made reservations for our family at our favorite restaurant for Christmas Eve. I’ll cook on Christmas Day, but our family has always celebrated both occasions and last year I decided I didn’t really have to prepare two lavish spreads in less than 12 hours. The impulse to do it all has faded, thank goodness.

So that’s it. My list is checked twice and the stockings are hung with care. It’s starting to look and feel a lot like Christmas.

With gratitude {for a season of maternal maturity when Christmas can feel like relaxed contentment},

Joan, who’d love to tell you all about the cool tradition she decided to start this year but is still keeping it a surprise from Kate and Parker, who are known to read her blog now and then, so she must keep her lip zipped until after Christmas

Oh Tannenbaum.

Dear friends,

I bought a Christmas tree on Sunday. For most people this would not be remarkable; for me, however, it represents my first tree purchase in more than a decade.

I’m notoriously cheap when it comes to some things. Food is not one of them. Certain other necessary items such as fashionable clothing and shoes and purses are also not among the things I scrimp on. Nor are Christmas gifts.

But holiday decorations — I’m always looking for 80% off or better. Which explains why I only buy lights and wrapping paper and such on the day after Christmas and why our family used the same faux Christmas tree for as long as everybody can remember.

When we left Oklahoma 18 months ago, our not-so-gently-used Christmas tree had long passed its expiration date so we tossed it rather than pack it. The problem was, once we settled into our new home I couldn’t find a tree I considered suitable for our thoroughly modern home.

Maybe I was homesick. Maybe I was too sentimental to unpack all my careworn ornaments and hang them on a new tree in a place that didn’t yet feel like home. Or, maybe, as I claimed, a traditional tree would look silly in my contemporary living area. Whatever the reason, I decided to make my own “modern” tree. (It was a cinch. Mr. Mom cut a tree branch and I spray painted it, strung a bit of tinsel and lights, and hung a few tree-themed ornaments.)

At the time, I thought it was Charlie-Brown cool and funky, my own little art installation. Holiday visitors to our home said they liked it, but I secretly wondered if they were just being polite.

See what you think:

Anyway, this year I just couldn’t get revved up to create another funky tree. Even though Kate is off to college and there’s no way I could ever talk Parker or Mr. Mom into helping me decorate a traditional tree, I was itching to pull out all my beloved ornaments collected since my childhood and throughout my kids’ school years.

For me, Christmas is about cherished memories and my memories, for better or worse, are inexplicably tied to my ornaments. There’s the ones I made in grade school and gave to my mother. There’s the ones I sold to raise money for my high school cheerleading squad. There’s the ones given to me in college by my sorority sisters. There’s the ones hand-painted and given to me by a family friend. There’s several given to me by coworkers over the years. There’s the ones collected for my children, who were allowed to select their favorite Disney characters and Barbie dolls.  There’s a slew of “Baby’s First Christmas” and 2nd, and 3rd, and so on, for both Kate and Parker. And then there’s the ones Kate and Parker made in grade school out of dough or Popsicle sticks and beads. There’s far too many to fit on a single tree, but that’s part of the fun, rotating the display each year.

So I broke down and bought a new tree. I decided to give it a run in the den, where the furniture and colors are far more traditional and where a tree overloaded with homespun ornaments won’t look so out of place. I think I’ll spend Saturday decorating the new tree and playing Christmas carols and walking down memory lane and probably even getting weepy, but what’s the Christmas season without a few tears, nostalgic or otherwise?

With gratitude {for a lifetime of Christmas memories packed away in tissue paper},

Joan, who invites you to tell me about your Christmas tree and favorite ornaments because she’s convinced she can’t be the only woman who knows and treasures the origin of every single ornament in her stash

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 765 other followers

%d bloggers like this: