Turkey Day came early this year, and so did decorating the Christmas tree. I love freeing each ornament from its nest of tissue paper and placing them on two big cookie sheets until I'm ready to start. It's always nostalgic to remember the Christmas holidays of my life. Perhaps my favorites are the wooden ones we brought back from a long-ago trip to Germany. I have ornaments purchased from places we've traveled and some that were gifts from friends. There are pieces we acquired when we married nearly 50 years ago, including straw decorations made in Poland. I even have a few cute ornaments from my elementary school students. One year, I made shapes from the same recipe I use to build gingerbread houses, only thinner. I punched a hole for a ribbon and decorated them with puffy acrylic paints (they still have a faint spicy aroma). There are more than a dozen dachshund ornaments, lots of Santas, and several wine ornaments for Andy.
I sent the girls "their" ornaments years ago. Sigh. Still saving Pete's in case he ever puts up a tree. Every year, I have to repair a few using my trusty hot glue gun. When we lived in Pennsylvania, mice sniffing the aroma of candy chewed up the white felt of the stockings I'd made for the kids when they were little. I sewed through both thicknesses of the felt around each gingerbread man, train, bell, etc. and then stuffed them and added a gold cord for hanging.
Each year, I add a couple new ornaments to replace broken ones. Last year, it was a ceramic pig and mushroom made in Poland sporting the blue and red patterns typical of that country. When the tree is ablaze with lights and all the ornaments have been hung, I sit down and treat myself to reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote and enjoy the descriptions of Buddy and his elderly cousin Souk making paper ornaments, stringing popcorn and baking fruitcakes (which I still love, in spite of their bad press).
The best part now is enjoying the excitement of my three grandchildren as they see the ornaments on the tree, my Santa collection and the three candle-powered German pyramids that twirl around with choirs of angels and solemn wise men. One day, I'll pass all these special things on to them for another generation to enjoy. Until then, I'll love every minute of the Christmas season and everything I've collected or made through the years.
The Best Kind of Chaos
What a week this has been. I celebrated my 73rd with a family dinner the Sunday before Halloween. The kids went trick-or-treating with their friends on a rainy evening. On Friday, our son Pete arrived from Richmond, VA. The next day, Reagan and Hannah hosted their annual Friendsgiving dinner. Eighty friends, neighbors, co-workers and others came, including a herd of kids who jumped in the backyard bounce house. Andy and I roasted a whole turkey, a turkey breast and made a big pan of sausage cornbread dressing, as well as gravy, cranberry relishes and miniature pumpkin cheesecakes. The hosts provided ham and a brisket (this is Texas) and guests brought a big assortment of side dishes, including scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole, desserts and even tamales! The guys watched football and everyone went home with very full tummies.
The next day, Pete spent time with his brother-in-law Reagan and we all went out for a casual dinner at The Lot, which features a bar, restaurant and a huge lighted playground, a set-up I had not seen until we moved to Texas. My son and I went to the movies (A Star is Born) and sadly, it was soon time to put him on a plane.
Then it was time for a another birthday dinner. This time for Booker, who turned 11. He requested breakfast for dinner so I made everyone's favorite buttermilk pancakes with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and fruit. The glow on his face was unmistakable as he opened gifts with help from Noah, who can't resist ripping off the paper. The two boys and Lena spent the rest of the time making as much noise as possible before we headed home, Andy to watch football, me to hole up in the bedroom with Toby to watch mid-term election coverage.
And so it goes. Next up is Thanksgiving and Christmas. More chaos will ensue, but we love it all.
My Pet, Peeve
Readers of The New York Times Magazine column On Language by the late (great) William Safire will recognize this little play on words. It made me double over with laughter when I first read it. Safire actually had a Portuguese Water Dog named Peeve. I'm sure he chose the name so he could have the pleasure of introducing the canine to visitors as "Meet my pet, Peeve." Mr. Safire claimed that this dog understood quite a few words, some of which might not be in my vocabulary. I think our dachshund Tobler (named after the triangular Toblerone chocolate bar), does actually know a number of words: Mommy, Daddy, cookie, walk, etc. However, when I say "outside" in a loud voice, he usually runs away and hops up on the furthest bed, chair or couch. This activity must be his idea, not mine. But I digress.
Many of my personal pet peeves have to do with language: specifically misspellings and poor grammar. Some of the things I hear people say and write make me cringe. (I won't name names.) If I had made these mistakes, My English teacher, Mr. Lloyd, would have certainly kept me after school at the blackboard. This particular instructor (ghostly pale and always wearing a black suit and tie) would get out his red pencil if you so much as used a contraction. He viewed it as a weak form of writing. Actually, I think he was right about that.
In my final job, I was the oldest person in my office. Several times each day, someone would show up at my desk to ask the correct spelling of a word or for assistance with grammar. Do they not teach these things in school anymore? One of my favorite moments was when a colleague challenged me about a phrase in an article. The interviewee had said "my children, having reached their majority," meaning that her offspring had reached the age of 21. This colleague, who was my supervisor at the time, was so sure I was wrong that she hadn't bothered to Google it.
I'll admit to being a language snob. Maybe I should get that T-shirt that says, "In my mind, I am silently correcting your grammar." I taught school for five years so I cannot help myself. When someone mispronounces a word, I have to bite my tongue. The Greek and Latin roots of words fascinate me. Crossword puzzles, Scrabble and writing make me happy. I'm a word person through and through. Just don't make me do algebra, calculus or even Sudoku.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.