A Lot Less Commercialism… and a Little More Christmas, Please!

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me–again.

texas christmasI don’t know if this is a result of living in Texas where December is more in line with the fall of my childhood, or perhaps it’s from the general chaotic pace my life has taken on, or maybe it’s some other factor that I have yet to identify. Whatever the reason, I’m staring Christmas in the face, and I feel totally unprepared.

ChristmasTooEarlyI used to put my tree up on November 1. I figured that, so long as we had passed Halloween, it was fair game. It wasn’t a matter of finding the time, but more a waiting a respectable amount of time before putting up that first sign of Christmas. I was ready and waiting, a runner poised for the blast that singled “Let the games begin!”

My Christmas shopping used to be done by December 1, and the only thing I needed to scramble for were a few extra stocking stuffers. I leisurely wrapped the gifts while listening to Bing croon about the white Christmas I could already see outside my window. I savored the season: enjoying the moments, admiring them, fingering them one by one.

christmas_stress_shoppingNow it’s more of a mad scramble, a dash from one event to the next–a chaotic sprinting, not a leisurely stroll.

The tree is put up in stages. First there is the bare tree, then days later it acquires some lights and maybe a ribbon or two. Finally, when we can all fit in a spare couple of hours together, we add the ornaments. And then at last the tree bedecked in all its glory to remind us that, yes, Christmas is coming (like a freight train), despite the blue skies and sunshine outside my window!

mom paperGifts are bought in a helter-skelter, often last minute fashion these days. Presents are wrapped only to be opened moments later–literally moments later. No enjoying that pretty wrapping paper peaking from beneath the tree branches. No children having days to wonder about the mysteries wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. There’s no shaking of the boxes, wild guesses, and the peeled back corners of gifts that sit under the tree to tantalize the little people in my life. Nope, there is a still puffing Mama who did a wrapping marathon only to thrust the presents into the eagerly waiting hands. I barely wipe the sweat from my fevered brow before the little people are tearing that pretty paper off and all my efforts are now crumpled in a heap on the floor…

And then there is the Christmas baking…don’t let me get started on the Christmas baking!

I used to love the smells wafting through my kitchen, the strains of the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the background, and the cup of Joe or the glass of red in my hand (depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment). I relished my role in my husband’s family as the maker of delectable desserts (it probably helps that their idea of a Christmas spread is cookies and pie bought at the local supermarket, but never mind that, I relished my role as the Martha Stewart of Christmas yumminess). They waited with anticipation for me to walk in with my homemade oreo cookies, my peanut butter bonbons, and what ever else I decided to throw into the mix that year.

They start anticipating early, at Easter, throughout the summer (never mind that I have spring and summer versions of dessert decadence), already anticipating the Christmas treats that are to come.

Oh, the pressure! I created this beast and now I have to feed it!

cooking messAnd the baking, no longer the savored Christmas experience, is something that I smoosh into my hectic Christmas Eve morning somewhere between the candlelight service (which they now have early in the afternoon which allows us to maintain our scavenger hunt tradition in the evening) and the scant few hours of sleep I’ve managed to cram in with all those last minute Christmas errands the day before the stores begin to close up shop and tell us procrastinators to “go the hell home! We have families too!”

Ah, Christmas. Still my favorite time of year, despite how quickly it comes and how quickly it’s over! How I miss the time to savor you as you so deserve!

My house may not be decorated to perfection, my array of treats might be appallingly scant, and the gifts might yet be crammed in shopping bags in the corners of my closet, but somehow, I don’t think that is what my children are going to remember (I know that’s not what I remember, though I’m pretty sure my mom was probably the chaotic, sweating, marathon running mess that I am today!).

Family-exchanging-presents-at-ChristmasMy children will remember, not the presents or decorations, but the time spent together. They will remember the traditions, the games, and the warm fuzzy feelings that Christmas will bring their way for years to come (until they have kids of their own and the chaotic insanity becomes their very own!).

I find myself reminding myself that it’s not about perfection. It’s not about a beautifully set array of cookies and perfectly wrapped presents. It’s not about the perfect kids’ craft that results in perfect little treasures for grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.

The kids won’t notice the clutter around the house. They won’t notice that there are only two kinds of cookies this year. They won’t notice that the handmade presents are a bit less spectacular this year.

And I shouldn’t either.

Christmas CardIt’s time to stop running around like a crazy person and settle in and just enjoy being with my family.

And it’s time to remember what this season is really all about. Not the great commercial rush it has become, but something so much more–infinitely more.

Sometimes I need to remember that.

You can only do what you can do, and really that’s not the point of it all anyway.

Merry Christmas from my chaotic family to your own! May it be perfect in its imperfection!

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When life is speeding by too quickly, what should you do? Why shop, of course!

Unlike most people who take stock of their year at the end of the calendar year, I tend to take mine at the end of the school year, being that I’m a teacher and all. I’ve found myself spending a lot of time thinking about this year, and I have to admit, my thoughts have been very bitter sweet. It has been a year of firsts, and a year of feeling myself on the brink of a new chapter and new beginnings.

During the school year, I am too busy to really think about things, but in the summer, I am able to give free rein to my reflective nature and I have felt the movement of time like a train headed straight for me, and I feel that most when I look at my nine year old daughter Arabelle.

gavinGavin is older; he turned eleven in May, so maybe he should be the one who makes me feel the movement toward change most, but somehow the changes with him seem more subtle. Yes, he’s up to my chin, and yes, he had his first real crush this year, but other than height, there have been no physical changes. He’s matured (thank God), and I know there’s more coming, but, well, somehow either the changes aren’t big enough, or maybe because I’ve been anticipating them, it hasn’t had the emotional impact that the changes in Arabelle have had on me.

strawberry shortcakeArabelle is nine. Did you catch that? Only nine. She has always been my sweetest child, honestly, the sweetest child I have ever met. She always makes me think of Beth in “Little Women.” I have also called her my Strawberry Shortcake. That was just the kind of kid she has always been. She will give her little sister the last cookie. She will look out for the outcast. When she was about three and I had two cookies, with one significantly bigger than the other, Gavin quickly grabbed the large one, and not only did Belle not make a big deal about getting the smaller cookie, she looked at her cookie and said, “Oh, look at my cookie, the cutie, cutie little cookie.” That’s my Arabelle.

adolescentThis year Arabelle has started rolling her eyes at me…and slamming doors…and shooting me this look that says, “Mom, how can you be so stupid?!” She’s happy one minute, and bursting into tears the next. She ignores me, and outright disobeys (not a lot, but that she’s doing it at all…). My sweet girl is changing.

Not all the change is bad. She’s a lot of fun to hang around with. She always has a book or a notebook with her because her brain is always thinking about things, whether it be God, life, philosophy or her next story idea. She’s funny. And she still is sweet, just more of a grown up sort of sweet.

These things have been going on all year, but I still looked at my daughter and saw a little girl–at least for a while longer–but I heard the clock ticking, almost physically sometimes. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. It’s just a matter of time.

Excited Shopping Woman isolated on white

To deal with the advancement of time and this whirlwind of change, I have done what every mother would do (well, at least that’s what I tell myself), I shop.

Shopping, much to my husband’s dismay, has always been one of my coping mechanisms, and since I love fashion, there’s always so much shopping potential.

Though I love women’s fashion, the 30+ pounds that my children left me (thanks so much kiddos) and my own lack of willpower have kept me from vanquishing (thank you all you cupcake specialty stores and the new Krispy Kreme that is less than 10 minutes away!) the poundage and thus keep me from dabbling too much in that industry. My layers of pudge and my big kahunas often make the trends look quite ridiculous on me. So what is a girl to do?

paper-doll-costumeWhy, but what are children but big dollies that I can play with and dress up! 😉 Problem solved!

I never went through a doll stage or a Barbie stage as a kid. I was more into painting and drawing, reading and writing, so my children have brought out the latent urges that I bypassed in my youth. My husband says I’m making up for lost time. I personally call it therapy. I can’t shop the trends for myself, but I have these two skinny, beautiful daughters who look good in everything (even those full body rompers–they may be two of the only people anywhere to pull those off), so, when I need shopping therapy, it tends to benefit their wardrobes, not my own.

When they were younger, I went through a Gymboree stage (doesn’t everyone?), but as they got older, I shifted to a Gap stage–less cutsie. But then I started to explore boutique brands, and there is just some of the cutest stuff ever out there! I crossed over into dangerous territory!

So, as Arabelle enters the last stage of her childhood (as signified by the necessity to go training bra shopping a few weeks ago! Yikes! Again, remember, she’s nine!!!!!), I have found myself wanting to dress her in as many of my favorite brands as I possibly can before her will and taste (which leans toward Justice) makes her unwilling to wear the things I love. Perish the thought!

CAM00914-1So I have bought more Matilda Jane, Giggle Moon, Mustard Pie, Jelly the Pug,  and, my favorite of favorites, Persnickety, in the last few months than in the nine years proceeding this one. Call me silly, but it is my way of saying goodbye to the child she is before embracing the young woman she is becoming…and it is reminding me to appreciate the last couple of years I have with Lilian before she too begins to leave childhood behind.

I have loved the elementary years with my children. I have loved them little. I will miss all the cuddles. I will miss being their favorite person in the world (and the smartest one too!). They have been wonderful years.

But, when I look at Arabelle, I see the beautiful, smart, thoughtful young lady she is becoming, and I am just so belleproud.

I look at Gavin and I see this handsome young man, and I just think wow! This young man is mine, and I am so proud of who he is becoming.

And I know, that in saying goodbye to the childhood years, I am saying hello, to many new firsts. New beginnings. A whole new adventure all its own.

And I always have loved an adventure!

You Never Can Tell What Your Kids Might Pick Up From You . . .

                Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good bargain. My motto is “Why buy new when you can buy almost new for a fraction of the price?” It’s as much about the hunt as the purchase. It’s a game of sorts, and there is a high that comes from stumbling on a new with tags Macy’s cocktail dress that looks amazing on you for ten bucks at the local thrift store (Yeah, that happened last week 🙂 ). I mean seriously, how can you not love that?

            Since our family has had some hard economic times the last few years, I have become quite the pro at finding exactly what I want at the price tag I can afford. I started with garage sales (way too hit and miss), graduated to ebay and since moving to Dallas where everything is truly bigger and better, the fun has really exploded. Dallas thrift stores are simply way too much fun!

            Don’t get me wrong, I don’t settle. The things I buy are not only top brand, but they look brand new. Thanks to craigslist, my home is filled with Pottery Barn and Bombay Company furniture that I paid next to nothing for. My kids closets are full not only of Gap and Crew Cuts clothing but even the harder to find top brands like Narrtjie, TEA and even a few Deux Par Deux and Matilda Jane dresses. Like I said, I take the hunt seriously and I know my brands! 🙂

            What I didn’t realize is that my little recreation would rub off on my children.

            I was chatting on the phone with my husband the other day when I noticed that my seven year old son was on the computer. Normally, that wouldn’t phase me. However, being that Gavin lost his gaming privileges due to a VERY bad week at school, I not only noticed, but instantly assumed that he was defying us by playing anyway.

            With extreme wariness I asked Gavin what he was doing. His answer floored me.

            “I’m on Ebay.com mom. I’m looking for some Batman toys.”

            I stared at him. He’s seven after all.

            “I can get this Batman for $1.50 and it’s way more than that at the store.”

            I couldn’t help laughing and I filled my husband in on what was going on. My husband responded that it was a good thing that Gavin didn’t know my password as Gavin said, “Mom, I want to put a bid on this. What’s your password?”

            “There is no way I’m giving you my password!”

            “That’s okay, I’ll try the password you use for the computer.”

            I was very glad that my ebay account predated my current password trend or I might have a nightmare on my hands! Though I’m thrilled that my son is learning wise money habits from me, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder if I’m inadvertently creating a monster?!

Thank You Geeky Half Price Books Guy!

            All of us have coping methods we use to handle stress. For some, it is eating (often specifically chocolate or other very bad for you things). Others work out (I really wish that was mine! With all the stress in my life, I bet I’d look great!). My coping method of choice is shopping. Not just any shopping, it’s typically thrift shopping. I love finding a good deal. This coping method only works when you have money, which is definitely a major drawback and so I haven’t really been able to use this one lately. Instead I fallback to my second choice, escapism.

            Around this time last year, I found myself in the doldrums (gotta love that word! Doldroms . . . ) probably having something to do with the fact that I am an event junkie (See my previous blog) and it’s that stagnant time of year. My escapism of choice last year was Charlene Harris, writer of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series, a very entertaining (and far better than the offshoot HBO series Trueblood imop) read. This year I kind of scratched my head and wasn’t real sure what to try, so I went to Half Price books and kind of meandered.

            I was browsing the fantasy section wishing that George R.R. Martin had a new book (I know, kind of laughable since it took eight years to get his last new book!). I pulled out this book, glanced at it, put it back. Then I grabbed that book ,glanced at it, only to put it back. You see, though I love fantasy, it has to be GOOD fantasy. I am extremely picky. I really didn’t want to try anything without a recommendation from someone willing to say that it was worth the read.

            Well, one of those annoying workers (obviously a complete geek btw!) who feel obligated to come by and ask you if you needed anything came over. I told him I was just browsing, like I usually do. Luckily this guy was persistent. So we started up a conversation about the kind of fantasy I liked.

           I of course mentioned Martin because he is just so awesome. Then I brought up Robert Jordan (yes, despite all the critics dissing him, I still love the Wheel of Time! He may be weak on characterization but he is a master at plot!) I dissed Terry Brooks and the Shanara series (great in junior high, but far too juvenile for me these days).

            I guess that must have given him enough of an idea of my taster, because he pulled a book off the shelf and told me he thought I would like it. Some guy named Jim Butcher who I had never heard of was the author. The series was called the Codex of Alera. It looked like a book that some geeky high school boy would like, but I was desperate. It was only a couple of bucks so I shrugged and said, “Why not” and bought it, honestly, with very low expectations.

            At first, the book was about what I expected. The first sixty pages or so were laborious. But then, it took off and hasn’t stopped. He has the characterization of Martin without ever slowing the plot. No plodding for Butcher! Maybe he goes a little more into the military/battle stuff than I would like, but let’s be honest, I’m not exactly his target audience! How many stay at home moms are into fantasy? Not many I would think! 🙂

I am now on book four and have been more than happy with my New Year escapism! I am looking forward to escaping into his world for us long as I can, and I hope he continues to write more of the same!

            Thank you geeky Half Price Books guy for convincing me to give Butcher a try! I’m hooked! 😀