Last night I was chatting with a friend on fb and something she said got me thinking about how we make a house a home.
Growing up my Mom often talked about people my age who were just starting out and they didn’t want to start at the bottom. What she meant by that was starting in a small apartment or a one bedroom house…they wanted to immediately go to the 4 bedroom house with all the amenities. Whenever we had to park on the side street to go to church Mom would tell me the story of their first apartment. It was in a duplex and it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I can’t imagine my Dad living in an apartment because he loved to garden and he was a person that needed lots of space.
My grandparents lived in a 3 bedroom apartment across the street from us. Alright when I was little but not so much when I was a teenager. They did not have a dining room so had the table at one end of the living room. They didn’t use the living room except for company. It had a tiny kitchen (well normal size for most apartments) so she rolled her dough out on the dining room table. Their apartment was LIVED IN. She had Knick knacks everywhere and pictures in every room. She had our grade 8 grad photos in a frame…one on one side one on the other. A visitor looked at it and asked why she changed and grandma had to explain its 2 girls.
I grew up in a 4 bedroom house. Nowadays people want a master bath…we had one for 5 people. A powder room on the main floor was a must for my Dad. I didn’t grow up with a dishwasher and we didn’t have central air until I was in my late 20s. When we had Dad’s siblings over for cake for his birthday it was a little tight but it worked.
I’ve included 2 photos of my apartment…sort of a before and after. What a different furniture and a little art does to a room. I realize that I am “lucky” (is that the right word) to live in a place with a lot of room and all the things on my wish list.
We all take what we have and make it a home. I am thankful for friends whose homes expand to include one more.
This picture was taken a few years ago after a friend and I had lunch at the Inn. This guy was a new addition at that time.
When I turned 40 my friend and I had lunch and dessert here. We have some very goofy pictures. A selfie where you can practically see up my nose and both of us pretending to jump into the fountain. Of course the more dignified people were looking at us strangely.
Last year my friend and I had our picture taken with Santa. People laugh but we should never get too old to have some “cheeky” photos. These are the friends that make life interesting.
As I wrote recently this has been a season where I have seen Christmas mice everywhere when I have been searching for gifts for friends or items for myself. About 20 years ago I bought Janet a Hallmark sister to sister ornament that always had mice on it. One was a spice cabinet, one was a tea pot, one was spools of thread. It soon became a tradition that I would buy her one every year. I have never gone looking for ornaments now they always seem to find me.
When people we love die they “relocate” from a physical place in our lives into our hearts. I know that in the times when I feel alone that’s when Janet is very near. Although it took time to get to a place where I could see that. The special thing is when friends experience it too.
This is my Christmas card for this year. Mice show up again. On the front of the card there are 3 mice playing so she duplicated it on the inside. It’s very rare to find cards with mice on them. Every year my friend draws something different. Some years I know that it’s Janet whispering in her ear…this is what Jennifer needs. It’s special because it’s continuing a tradition. Our sister bond is forever.
My friend relocated to a place that is very far away but every other year will be back to visit at Christmas. I know that walking through Victoria Park will be our new tradition. I’m so thankful for friends to help celebrate the magic of Christmas with old and new traditions.
The other night I happened upon the movie The Holiday. Unfortunately it started too late for me to watch the whole thing but it was on again yesterday afternoon. Most Christmas movies are total sap but I like this one because everything isn’t neatly tied up by the end of the movie. My favourite scene is where Amanda (played by Cameron Diaz) goes to the grocery store and buys lots and lots of wine, cheese and appetizers. The cashier says “having a party are we?” And she answers “OH YEAH”. Even though it’s a party for one.
In the evening I found Under the Tuscan Sun on which is rarely on tv. Janet and I went to see it in the movie theatre which is where you should to get the full effect of the Countryside. The movie starts off with Diane Lane getting a divorce. I remember getting near the end of the movie and thinking ok I know she’s going to find a man how is it going to happen. As we were waiting for the bus to come home Janet and I were discussing whether you would get the same effect if she ended up “alone” at the end. Truth be told we were kind of disappointed with the ending.
I was thinking about how these two movies relate. The main characters are really the women. Something happens to them and they all kind of make a leap of faith and both involve travel. Both Kate Winslet and Diane Lane transform from kind of frumpy women to stunners at the end. I know it’s supposed to be all about the white dress but that orange dress she wears to the wedding is gorgeous! As they grow stronger within themselves their “beauty” shines through. It’s about seeing ourselves as others see us.
What an appropriate word for today since tonight is the Lighting of the Lights at Victoria Park (which is what this picture is…the entrance). I walked past there this morning after running some errands and part of the parking lot was blocked off. For me it feels like the official start of the Christmas season and I know I’m not alone in that. Every year my friend who at the time lived in Vancouver would write in my card “I hope you are going to take a walk in the park” and it had to be with hot chocolate. I will admit that I kind of took it for granted so the fact that I live within walking distance makes it nice. The night my friend and I went it wasn’t that busy and we took our picture at the Santa house. We acted like big kids and we both had so much fun.
Less than a month before Christmas I’m sure most of us are thinking about what we are going to buy for people on our list. I have a friend that I go for coffee with once a month and the value we put on the gift is more or less what you would use for a Secret Santa exchange. Sometimes it might be a little more if I see something that I think she would like. I was thinking last night how do we determine what the right amount is? A gift should bring someone joy…except underwear nobody wants underwear under the tree! I have friends whose “value” to me is beyond measure. They are a gift that can’t be put under the tree. People who will show up when I need them. My friend is currently wearing my gift to her and it makes me happy. Sending a gift in the mail I can’t physically see them opening it but I can imagine the sparkle in their eyes when they open it. I have always been the type of person that loves the spirit of giving. When the person opens it up and says “oh my goodness I love it”. It’s like capturing lightening in a bottle because it doesn’t always happen but more often than not it does.
Life doesn’t always sparkle but Christmas is a time when we surround ourselves with people who love us whether that is family or friends (near or far). Each one spreads a little joy.
And if they give you a Christmas card with glitter you’ll sparkle for DAYS.
The other day the word for the day was knit. My grandmother could crochet and tried to teach both of us how to do it. I didn’t catch on but Janet quickly learned how to make afghans. She made me a white clutch. It amazes me that a ball of yarn could be made into a beautiful sweater, throw. I used to bemoan the fact that I wasn’t talented like grandma and Janet so Janet told me you have other gifts. At the time I didn’t think scrapbooking or taking a picture was a gift but as time passes I realize that it is. I recently found a photo in an album that happened to be the only one taken at a wedding. When my cousin got married in 1995 she ended up putting my photos in her wedding album because she liked them so much (her brother’s mother-in-law thought they were professional). I made a Christmas card for a friend. It’s literally just plunking pictures into a template that they give you but for her it’s more than that. For both of us it captures a happy memory. It makes me so happy that I could brighten her day.
This is why I continue the tradition of sending cards for the smile it puts on someone’s face. Last year I received an unexpected package from a twin friend in the US. Sending a card is a way of saying I was thinking of you. When my Mom sent a letter it was her way of catching the family up on what we had done during the year.
Yesterday a fellow blogger wrote about Christmas music which reminded me of Mom telling me the story of this woman who she worked who every year brought out the Alvin and the Chipmunks song. Of course Janet and I would start singing it. Not the whole thing just the first line and she would run from the room. She used to wonder who thought up the song “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” she thought it was horrible. Mine would be Santa Baby. I don’t know why I just think it’s so hokey.
Christmas is full of these little “snippets” in time. Memories that bring a smile or a tear (sometimes both).
Yesterday I met up with a family friend who happened to be in Shoppers Drug Mart at the same time as I was. After we were finished shopping we went to the market for coffee. In the course of conversation I mentioned that I hadn’t put up my tree yet and I’m not sure whether I will or not. He tells me “do it anyway”.
Here’s the thing about grief, it doesn’t go in a straight line. I can’t explain why I felt so excited last year and this year I’m having to force myself to write a few cards and buy presents. I learned at a bereavement support group that we have to do what is best for ourselves. Every ornament on the tree has a memory and right now it hurts to much to have that reminder to look at.
Christmas was pretty low key in our house. We would go to the Christmas Eve service and then go for a drive to look at the lights. Mom would get up early to put the turkey in. Dad would be up long before we were and he would watch the fireplace or log channel. My job was always to break up the bread for stuffing. We rarely bought stuffing bread we just used the end pieces because nobody ate them. Mom would make the whip cream for the pumpkin pie (store bought). We opened presents after we ate and if Christmas was during the week we would watch Days of our Lives the hanging of the ornaments. Yes, even the men watched.
Christmas is so full of traditions and every family has their own. Last year my friend and I got to walk through Victoria Park to look at the lights. She has drawn a picture in my Christmas card for the past 9 years which is now a special tradition. Janet and I used to go to Starbucks for hot chocolate so I bought coffee cup ornaments as a reminder.
Last year I wrote a post that it’s not Christmas without love and that will always be true.
Last night I was looking through a bag in my closet that I hadn’t emptied since I moved. I found the first drawing my friend drew in a Christmas card. I remember showing it to my Dad and he couldn’t believe the detail. It was slightly cheeky too because she drew me with a campaign button on (we were polar opposites when it came to political parties). I found some loose photos taken at my grandparents. There is one that is so Janet she’s leaning over with her arms spread wide with the goofiest grin on her face. I didn’t turn it over to see the age but think we must have been about 11.
There were formal church photos too. I think it was 1995. We couldn’t get my brother to agree to go. The one of the 3 of us is not one I like. It looks so unnatural and Mom isn’t even recognizable. The one of the 2 of us is “ok” but the thing about formal photos like these is it rarely captures the essence of the person. I guess that’s why the last portrait we had taken as a family in 2008 is so special because 1 Dad is in it and 2 although we are all dressed up there is something about it that looks natural.
We don’t have many photos after 1993 which is the year we graduated high school. I had one when I graduated college. There were 2 sisters that were in our class who got their picture taken together. At the time I wanted my own photo but now I wonder why we didn’t do it. 20 yrs ago film was expensive so I only used it for vacations and special occasions like a wedding. I wish we had more. I remember going to my cousin’s wedding in 2000 and my parents were sitting at another table. I had wanted to get a family picture since my brother was moving to the States for work but it didn’t happen.
Looking at photos transports me back to the time when the photo was taken. I have friends that don’t believe I used to have natural curl in my hair because it’s so straight now. We went to West Virginia in August and well it’s humid!! In one picture my hair was quite full. I will have to scan it so that I have proof! Our hair would develop red highlights in the summer too which came from Mom. The funny thing about photos is it captures that one moment when everyone is smiling and not the other 75% of the time when I couldn’t wait to get away from them! There were 5 adults that went on that trip and it was like having 5 parents and we were stuck in a van together for many hours. This proves there is too much togetherness!!!
There are days when I can look at photos and smile and other times it makes me miss them so much it hurts. I treasure all of them…even the ones with Grandpa’s thumb, or Grandma caught me sneezing (that one’s the best!).
Yesterday I caught a segment on The Social where they asked if it’s too early to start decorating for Christmas. About half of the audience said yes and half said no. Personally I think the first Sunday in advent is a nice guide but growing up we didn’t put it up before the second week in December. My Dad was not big on Christmas so this was the earliest we were allowed. At the same time I can understand the one hosts point of view that it’s extending the spirit of Christmas. I know that some years I feel so sad when I have to put everything away.
Last night I was watching The Little Couple and he had a huge inflatable Rudolph, Santa, nutcracker and snowman. His wife thinks they are tacky but she lets him have free rein on decorating the outside. Personally I think less is more but if it makes people happy go for it.
My friend’s husband gives mall gift certificates for Christmas. For a long time I thought it was an impersonal gift. My Dad liked to have something to open and thought it was cheating but I would tell him at least I knew he could use it.
I’ve titled this post have mercy because as I was thinking of all of these things there is some sort of judgement there. I remember a few years when my brother would get expensive gifts for us and I couldn’t affford it. My cousin told me it’s ok just take it for the spirt in which it is given. I send out Christmas cards and sometimes I get one from someone I didn’t send to. I don’t always send one in return. Maybe I phone, maybe I don’t. I don’t beat myself up over it.
I was rereading a poem I wrote for my writing class titled ?Traditions. It’s about the little things…decorating the tree while listening to music, baking, taking a walk to look at the lights. 2 out of 3 don’t cost any money but the memory lives on forever. That’s the spirit of Christmas.
This morning a memory came up on Facebook where a twin friend wrote on my wall thanking me for a gift that I gave her. At that time she was working at a farmers market about half an hour outside of the city. I remember that it wasn’t about the gift but the big hug I got. She wrote that it would have been something her twin would have bought her.
I decided to get a package ready for a friend that lives in
Australia. I hunted in the desk because I was pretty sure I had a card with her address on it. Although it’s early to send I wanted to avoid the rush of people at the postal outlets closer to Christmas. I always figure it’s better to allow lots of time too.
Sending cards is the way I get into the spirit of Christmas. I don’t have many that I send to anymore. I don’t think of the monetary cost because thinking of the person opening up a gift that I specifically picked out for them is priceless.
With email and Facebook I can keep in touch with people easier but it’s not the same as sitting down and writing a letter. My friend takes the time to draw a picture in my card. Somehow she always knows what I need. She and I both know that it’s Janet whispering in her ear.
Mom and Janet aren’t physically with me sitting at the table but I know they are glad I’m keeping the tradition alive.