Holiday Joy With Grown Kids

Christmas tree

I guess I could have hidden that extension cord before taking the photo, but my Christmas theme this year is “enjoying the real.” Things don’t have to look perfect to bring joy.

Our holiday celebrations are over for the most part. My older son and his partner flew in from halfway across the country to spend last week with us, flying back away last Sunday. We made Friday the 17th our Christmas Day. All of those gifts in the picture have already been opened. Add in the fact that I’m working Sunday the 26th and it’s as if I’m living in the future from everyone else, having already had Christmas, and am now merely experiencing a regular old two-day weekend.

There are aspects of holidays with little kids I miss, but let me tell you what’s great about celebrating with all adults in the group. When I was off work for their visit, I was able to sleep in if I wanted. And this morning, I slept in again. I felt no need to count and recount the packages to make sure everyone had the exact same number. We spent roughly the same amount on everyone and it was all good. I didn’t have to buy or distribute presents to teachers or friends of my kids. Truly, the workload was so much less.

In fact, as five grown-ups, we discussed and came to consensus on the idea of ordering carry-out from a local restaurant/micro-brewery our special dinner. We could each get what we wanted and I didn’t have to spend hours in the kitchen. The only real hassle came with the food pick up, which turned out to be a tricky two-person job. The location is in the middle of downtown, which was an extremely busy place on a Friday night, with no available parking. Hubs jumped out of the car and made a dash for the restaurant while I was stopped at a red light. I then circled the block three times until he came out again with our bags of food. As evidenced by the horn honks, a couple of other drivers may have been a little peeved when I held up traffic so he could jump back in with me, but I saw no other solution and it honestly didn’t take that long. I hope they’re over the aggravation by now.

Absolutely the best part of the week was getting an extended visit with my firstborn for the first time since May of last year. Since bedtime was not an issue, we spent a couple of nights sitting up late together, chatting about this and that — sharing funny videos on our phones, talking about books we’ve read, him telling me about how certain elements from The Lord of the Rings related to J.R.R. Tolkein’s life experiences. Now that we’re past the point where I make and enforce rules for him, the tension is gone. I think we’ve reached the payoff point I’ve always heard about where you get to be friends with your adult children. Lucky for me, this person makes an excellent friend.

We’re supposed to go visit him in June, but with the new virus variant, who knows. It was hard saying goodbye with the future looking so uncertain. I might have cried a tiny bit when I was tidying up the remnants of their visit. This air mattress and I deflated at about the same rate:

Only for a few moments did I feel as deflated as this air mattress.

I didn’t allow myself to wallow for too long. I’d much rather think on the fact that the week they were here was one of the happiest I’ve had in quite a while, building up my bank deposits of fond memories.

I’ve heard from many friends and family members whose holiday plans have been disrupted by the new pandemic surge. If this is you, I hope that life gets easier for you soon.

Best wishes for peace, love, and joy to all.

On-Brand Holidays for 2020

My winter holidays this year have been very on-brand for 2020. We started with the world’s skinniest Christmas tree, one of about half a dozen we could find still for sale in the entire town three weeks back. That was followed with the common affliction of some of our gifts and mail not arriving by the expected date. (I’m still waiting on one item I ordered in November!) Then on Christmas day, about three o’clock in the afternoon, I received a phone call from my manager informing me that a colleague with whom I had worked three days earlier had tested positive for COVID. We’re on top of our mask game there, but I was advised to start quarantine immediately. Good thing we’d already opened presents!

Christmas tree
Skinny Christmas tree

I informed my husband and son that game night was cancelled, then moved into my office/guest bedroom. I’ve mostly lived there since, wearing a mask when I emerge into the common areas of the house. I’ve had no symptoms and had my own COVID test done this past Tuesday, with a negative result. Yay! But my referring physician and our local health department say to quarantine for 14 days from exposure even with a negative test.

It hasn’t been all that bad, to be honest. I have a lot of advantages. I’m not sick, is the main one. We have a spare room, which is where my desk is anyway. My husband has done curbside pickup of groceries for us. I got an extra week off of work. I’ve been sleeping and sleeping and sleeping, finally catching up after a quarter century of sleep deprivation. I’ve also done a lot of creative writing, read a couple of books, kept up with my Spanish lessons on Duolingo, and even done a little work from home for my job so that I won’t be impossibly far behind when I return. Oh, and Kakuro to keep my mind sharp, thanks to a timely Christmas gift.

Black Belt Kakuro

Still, I have felt a little claustrophobic. Thank goodness solo outdoors activities are allowed. I’ve been walking three miles a day, wearing a mask and avoiding trails that might be crowded. It’s kept me sane.

I hear the year 2020 has one last “gift” to drop off for us on its way out the door. We’re supposed to receive a massive ice storm starting around an hour before midnight tonight, New Year’s Eve. Oh 2020, you’re staying true to yourself to the very end.



800px-Candle_Light Light. It’s the primary reason I will never move north of my current home in Missouri, USA. I don’t think I could bear shorter winter days than I endure now. This year, December has been especially gloomy, with many overcast days and little sun. I’d pick up my son from school at 4:05, car headlights already on.

The longer I live this northern hemisphere existence the more I appreciate the inclusion of some celebration of light in most winter holiday traditions. I know folks who have a bonfire to mark the solstice. Then there are yule logs, the seven candles of Kwanzaa, menorahs, and good old Christmas lights. One of the things I like best is that other illumination needs to be dimmed in order to fully experience any of these. The presence of a light in the dark, rather than a bright overhead fixture to make it seem like daytime, helps me feel welcoming toward night.

Last year we bought LED lights for our Christmas tree and it’s been transformative. Because they’re not running up the electric bill (much) and they don’t get hot, I leave them on all night. Most mornings I’m up before the sun, assuming we’re even going to see it that day. This is dictated by schedule and not by choice. I’m a person who needs to ease into full wakefulness. The multi-colored fairy glow that greets me when I come down the stairs helps me transition less grumpily than I otherwise would. So far this season, we’ve avoided our traditional middle-of-the-night crashing of the greenery that usually comes with Christmas trees and cats. I have to wonder if keeping the lights on is keeping the felines at bay. Any excuse, really.

I had a “be still my heart” moment the other night when my two teens actually liked my suggestion to pile in the van and drive around town looking at Christmas lights. This was our ultimate destination: magictree.jpg

But we took a lot of side streets to get there, turning down any block that looked well-decorated. I’m grateful to my fellow residents for their efforts. In the middle of the busyness of shopping and wrapping and holiday logistics, our little outing was the equivalent of a deep, relaxing breath.

The holiday lights will be coming down in another week or so, but it’s okay. The days are getting longer again. Until then, whatever holidays you celebrate or don’t, I send out thoughts of light and love to you. Yes, I mean you.

Christmas on the Couch

It’s Christmas afternoon and I’m still in my pajamas. On the couch. Coughing up a lung. This holiday isn’t going as planned. But then I’ve always heard the way to make the Universe laugh is to make a plan. It must be chuckling up a storm. I’m trying to laugh along and make the best of it. For instance, right after typing that sentence I added to the gaiety by accidentally dumping out the contents of a nearly-full economy-sized bag of cough drops. Ha ha ha!

After my mother spent several hours at our house on Thanksgiving, it became obvious she can no longer handle so much disruption in her day. Her back problems flared worse than ever and she was exhausted. It took her days to recover. I had a little moment when my husband, kids and I were decorating our Christmas tree, our ornaments including a few vintage ones that survived my childhood. I experienced a wave of sadness knowing my mom will never decorate a tree with me again. She’ll likely never come to our house again. I also had a few seconds of irritability over the fact that humanity hasn’t developed teleportation technology yet, because it would solve this problem. She could beam in for a few minutes and then beam back to the nursing home. I settled for taking a photo of the tree to show her.

The best Christmas tree. We got a spectacular one this year.
The best Christmas tree. We got a spectacular one this year. Not many ornaments down low because three cats.

I asked Mom if she thought she could handle a short outing to a restaurant. She believes she can, so our plan was to pick her up on Christmas Eve and go to IHOP, her favorite. For today, I thought I’d make a lasagna and some sides to have at home and at some time during the day pop over to visit Mom again. But over the weekend I developed a tickle in my throat, the same tickle reported by some of my local acquaintances before they fell all-out sick. Yep, I caught the thing that’s going around. Also, over the weekend, one of my molars broke and I managed to acquire a second-degree burn on my arm while removing a dish from the oven. At some point, my life started to resemble a sit-com plot. However, if I’ve learned anything from my mother, it’s to make the best of the situation, whatever it is.

Though I’m sad not to be with my mom on Christmas, I’m reminded once again how blessed I am with family, both immediate and extended. My husband and my 15-year-old son went over yesterday to see my mom (the 18-year-old caught what I have, so stayed home) and take her gift plus the staff gift bag I put together.

Let me go off the rails here, and recommend this idea for nurses, aides and housekeeping staff at skilled nursing facilities. Since there are so many of them, I put together a bag of items for the break room: hot cocoa mix, including regular and sugar-free, a variety of teas, popcorn, mixed nuts, snack crackers, etc. It’s easy and covers everyone.

For the staff break room at the nursing home.
For the staff break room at the nursing home.

Back to family now – my two guys had a good visit with my mom. Plus I put out the word to far-flung relatives that I couldn’t see her on Christmas, so she might appreciate some phone calls. When I called her about an hour ago, she was thrilled to report her phone had been ringing all yesterday and today. This cheers me up.

Also, my spouse and kids make the holiday fun. We’re a geeky crew who all like a good joke. After my two teens went on errands without me the other day, a package appeared under our tree with a gift tag saying it was to the whole family, and from:

We are favored by the Marvel superheroes.
We are favored by the Marvel superheroes.

The kids come by this creative packaging honestly. Here’s what my husband gave me this year:

My husband gave me a box of rocks.
My husband gave me a box of rocks.

No really, it's a box of rocks.
No really, it’s a box of rocks.

Oh wait, there was something underneath the rocks. Michelle Obama arms, here I come!
Oh wait, there was something underneath the rocks. Michelle Obama arms, here I come!

It’s hard not to have fun when the people around you are putting so much effort into making the event enjoyable.

Our three cats have helped, too, taking turns sitting on my lap.

Top Seniority Cat - my 15-year-old kid doesn't remember life without her.
Top Seniority Cat – my 15-year-old kid doesn’t remember life without her.

Cat who is on a diet, but sneaks the other cats' food if we're not careful.
Cat who is on a diet, but sneaks the other cats’ food if we’re not careful.

Cat who showed up and adopted us a few months ago.
Cat who showed up and adopted us a few months ago.

Then there’s the Pandora Christmas station for holiday cheer, and Netflix to give me a chance to watch some of those movies I’ve been meaning to watch over the years. I finally saw “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Not much of a story, after all, but the singing and dancing is wonderful. I tried watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and now take comfort in the knowledge I haven’t been missing much. After 15 minutes, I switched to “Men in Black.” Much more entertaining. I’ll have to dial up the sequels.

While I languish on the couch, my family members have been foraging in lieu of a Christmas dinner appearing for them. Macaroni and cheese has been cooked, and we’ve wiped out the back stock of canned soup. Meanwhile, IHOP awaits for the day when we’re all well again. And I still have the ingredients for lasagna.

Holidays With Young Adults – What Now?

Seed Cake - Yum!
Seed Cake – Yum!

It’s noon on Easter and my 17-year-old is still asleep. But she made a seed cake for us some time during the night. It was on the kitchen counter when I got up this morning. We’re not a formally religious family, so we don’t do the whole big church thing for Easter. Our tradition has been to decorate eggs the night before. Then I get up way too early for a non-work day and hide them in the yard for the kids to find. (Handy hint – make a written list of hiding places as you go.)

When my daughter was around seven, she said to me “You know, some people get candy on Easter.” After that, we added a few  candy-filled plastic eggs to the mix. Even though our holiday celebrations have never been elaborate, they’ve been fun and have brought me great joy as a mother. One of the best perks of being a parent is having a reason to do again all of the fun things you did as a kid – play at the park, blow bubbles, decorate Easter eggs, re-read all of the “Little House” books.

But now my kids are big. They’re 17 and 14 years old respectively, coming right up on 18 and 15 in a few weeks. So much of how I mother is no longer relevant. I’m grasping around for new ways to connect, and the holidays seem to bring this dilemma to the fore. As recently as last year, we did an egg hunt. A few days ago, we discussed whether they wanted to do one this year. Everyone was ambivalent. It’s been fun, but they are kind of old for it. And this is our ninth Easter in the same house. All of the hiding places are well-known. A day of rain yesterday, resulting in mud and more mud made the decision for us. We’d still decorate eggs – of course you have to do that! – but no morning hunt.

The kids’ egg creations have grown funnier and more imaginative with each year, so I thought we’d have a great time just dying and decorating, but reality didn’t match my vision. I was tired after a long day at work.  My daughter’s feelings got hurt when I thought she was about to knock over the dye cups through her exuberant hand gestures while telling a story. My son, who is recovering from a cold, wanted nothing more than to be left in peace to play a computer game. And I was annoyed that people couldn’t just enjoy this cheerful family tradition dammit! By the end of the evening, I’m pretty sure my husband was the only one who had not shed tears. While the kids retreated to their rooms, he and I dyed all of the eggs ourselves, because I had gone to the trouble of cooking them and setting everything up after working all day. I wasn’t about to put 18 plain white eggs back in the fridge.

But later in the evening my daughter invited me to watch Doctor Who with her. And sometime during the night she made us a cake. I’ll take some to my mom later today. My son seemed happy enough to have candy with breakfast.  So maybe all is not lost. As my kids become young adults, we need to develop new family traditions to replace the old. We just need to get past the hurdle of figuring out what those are going to be.

Trying to Be Home for the Holidays

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it. Not to panic anyone. My oldest brother and his wife will be coming in from out of state, and we will bring my mom out from the nursing home for part of the day. It should be great. I’m looking forward to it. There’s only one slight major problem: accessibility.

Front entrance to our house.

A different view of the front entrance












We also have a side door, but once you step inside it, you immediately have to go up stairs to get to the main level. And our parking area is behind the house. What we really need is a back door.

We could use a back door, about here.










And a wheelchair ramp from the there to where we park.

We could use a ramp along here.










So we’re having it done. Dispensing with our usual do-it-yourself mode that can make projects stretch out for months, we’re hiring a contractor my husband knows to put in a back door and build a ramp. He says he can have it done in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.

Putting aside my anxiety dreams about Thanksgiving arriving to find a half-finished project and unusable guest room in a still-inaccessible house because something’s sure to go wrong, we have to pay for this thing. Since the contractor is a friend, we’re getting a good price, but I’ve discovered nobody wants to loan you $4,500. They’ll happily loan us ten times that much, however. It’s crazy.

So we’re refinancing the whole shebang, trading in our old mortgage and rolling the cost of the project into a new one. Man alive, has that meant a lot of form filling out and information tracking down.The good news is how much interest rates have dropped. Our payments will be a lot lower.

The construction materials should arrive Friday, and work begins next week. We’ve talked about making the house accessible since we moved in nine years ago, but it’s never risen to the top of the to-do list until now. I’m happy to know we’ll have an ADA compliant entrance.

Oh, about the back room where the door is going – I mentioned it’s our guest bedroom. My son helped me move out the furniture already. It’s scattered in other places throughout the house. There’s a tight squeeze to get to my home office at the moment, but I can still make it.

Temporary bed storage