We spent yesterday in central Illinois, visiting Ron’s family, and today in Southern Illinois, visiting my family. My nieces and nephews decorated the cookies pictured above.
Besides spending time with family, I decided self-care this week would involve the opposite of self-care most of the rest of the time: I ignored my Fitbit’s admonitions and ate whatever I wanted instead of insisting on optimal nutrition at every meal or trying to jam extra workouts into an already busy holiday schedule just to compensate. If I gain an extra pound or two, so be it; I’ve got the rest of the winter to watch Star Trek on the treadmill.
Maybe it’s the way people treated each other in the months leading up to it, or the way they’ve behaved in the weeks since.
Maybe it’s the weather.
Maybe it’s the usual seasonal depression settling over me.
Maybe it’s some combination of the above.
Whatever the reason, I haven’t had much enthusiasm for the holidays this year, and I really considered leaving my Christmas tree in its box in the garage and letting December go by more or less unacknowledged.
I considered it. But that tree is aluminum, straight out of the late 1950s, and it’s got a color wheel to light it up and a set of matte-finish red and green ornaments to hang on it, and for the first time since I bought it, I have a living room full of furniture that goes with it. How could I possibly pass up a chance to see how that Marshmallow sofa looks with a real mid-century aluminum Christmas tree glittering beside it?
And if I’m going to take myself back to the era immediately preceding my own existence, shouldn’t I have period-appropriate music to listen to while I assemble the color wheel?
Yes. Yes, I should.
So I downloaded the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, set my iPhone inside a coffee mug to amplify the sound, and let Vince Guaraldi soothe my frazzled nerves and erase all the grown-up worries and fears and frustrations from my mind.
“Christmastime Is Here” is one of those songs I took for granted for years. It wasn’t the sort of Christmas song you’d hear at church or sing in school or hear on the radio stations that switch their format to “all Christmas, all the time” during December. But it was always part of Christmas, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the way it strikes a balance between grownup melancholy and childlike wonder.
This year, finding that balance has been more difficult than usual, and I’m grateful for Guaraldi’s help finding it as I settle into a replica of a rocking chair that predates the Peanuts gang’s first animated special by several years, sip a cup of peppermint cocoa, and listen to piano and triangle and children’s voices mingle with the hum of the motor on the color wheel turning gently behind the tree.
Last year, I ran into a bit of a challenge as Christmas approached. Earlier in the year, a new Five Below store had opened in town, and on my first visit, I’d found a plethora of items I was sure my niece would love. I bought several, wrapped them, and stacked them on a high shelf in the bedroom closet.
As the year progressed, I added to the pile: a Hastings run here, a trip to World Market there, with new additions being wrapped and placed on the shelf as they came in, until the pile started encroaching on the space bags full of extra linens, and I started running out of places to stash gifts where the dogs couldn’t unwrap them.
As I wedged an awkwardly wrapped plushie into the space between a Death Star tea infuser and a set of Batman pint glasses, I thought: When we build our tiny house, everybody’s getting a gift card, because I’m not going to have anywhere to store all this.
Then the tags started falling off the presents while I was trying to figure out which ones needed to go to whose house on Christmas, and in what order, and I decided I’d just make the switch this year instead of waiting until we move.
Maaaaan. Gift cards aren’t a new concept, obviously, and I buy a few every year (ask my dad how many Barnes and Noble cards he’s gotten in the past decade), but doing the vast majority of my shopping this way? Major stress reducer. No wrapping. No storing large items. No chasing the cat out of the presents 583,742 times a day. All I have to do is buy a few Christmas cards, slip the gift cards into them, and file them so they don’t get lost in the next month.
Bonus: If the recipients have limited space, they can use their cards to buy small items or consumables, so their gifts won’t create storage issues for them, either.
If you’re too disorganized to keep track of a gift card, another good option is to treat your loved ones to dinner out. I did this for my little brother’s birthday this year, and it was great: We got a nice visit, he got a meal he liked, and I got out of shopping. So. Much. WIN.
Ron waited until Monday to tell me he didn’t have to work today, and my editor sent out an email this morning telling all the reporters we could leave as soon as we filed our stories, so we ended up with an unexpected afternoon off and no specific plans or projects on our agenda.
Ron had posted a blog entry yesterday about the fact that the folks in Devil’s Elbow — who busted their butts to save the awesome historic bridge that carries Route 66 across the Big Piney River — have decorated the bridge for Christmas, possibly for the first time in its history.
It takes about three hours to get from Cape to the Elbow Inn.
We have to work tomorrow.
The Elbow Inn has good barbecue.
I think we all know what happened next.
And that, kids, is how we came to spend Christmas Eve celebrating the birth of Jesus at a biker bar in the Ozarks.
On the way back, I insisted on stopping to take some pictures of the gorgeous neon restoration at the former Skylark Motel — now a VFW — in St. Clair: