The Perfect Gift

Back gift Awhen Christmas shopping meant heading downtown to wander in and out of neighborhood shops and window shopping meant peering through glass at wonderfully imaginative scenes, Christmas shopping was almost fun. There was feeling of anticipation, even with having to brave December weather, slippery sidewalks and little ones whining, crying or wanting to see Santa. It was just all part of Christmas shopping adventure. After I finished, there was exhaustion, but a good exhaustion, knowing I had found and chosen a special gift for each person on my list.

Those days gave way to shopping centers and mega-stores and then mega-shopping centers, with temperature controlled environments, carpeted walkways and imitation nostalgia.  The entire experience became a bit surreal, like being plopped into the middle of a movie set. I knew exactly what was around the corner of any walkway.  More of the same.

I felt trapped in some enormous maze without any exit in sight…all of which was a bit ironic, given that I had fought so hard and so long for an actual parking place, which in itself was the equivalent to an E ticket admission. 

I think that just gave away my age.

More than a few years ago, I recall sitting at my computer, phone on speaker, listening to my daughter, then daughter-in-law on the other end and sitting in front of her computer screen. It took under an hour to get through all five grandkids’ wish lists, moms directing me to websites and the perfectly desired item and grandma pushing the BUY and SEND buttons.  Efficient, yes. And the kids got what they wanted. But not a whole lot of fun.

Today, regardless of the time of day or night, I simply wandered up and down my laptop, ipad or smart phone screen, looking pictures, descriptions and reviews of special gifts for special someones, all while I sit cozy at home in my robe with a mug of hot coffee. Christmas will arrive at someone’s doorstep, professionally wrapped with a generic holiday tag of well wishes. 

I love Small Business Saturdays. It reminds me of times past, and even though the grandkids now just want cash, easier yet, I can still wander in and out of the local shops in search of a small item or two that may make Christmas just a wee bit more special.

This Thanksgiving, my eldest grandson sat down to catch me up on his university studies.  He shared that he was so very excited about math — Advanced Calculus — and had set the curve on the midterm.  He has found his passion in a subject area I avoid like the plague.  He obviously got that gene from the other end of his DNA pool.

Eldest grandson had learned that he transferred in sufficient credits so he could easily obtain a minor or double major; his counselor suggested something in Engineering, perhaps Software Engineering.  His aunt jumped into the mix, asking if he wanted an internship with her large company that is working on the next generation of satellite and space exploration.

I’ve seldom seen my grandson so excited as he explained the future possibilities of space exploration.

When he paused to catch his breath, I asked, do you have any idea what your great-grandfather did?


It was my opening to share about his grandfather’s father, who was systems manager for the Pioneer satellite probes to a number of planets and then, into deep space.  Evidently, this young apple didn’t fall far from the family tree. 

Eldest grandson was amazed. He wanted to see the binder of all of his great-grandfather’s achievements, which has sat safe in a binder in my bookcase for years, and is making a special trip up to see the binder (and, of course, me) after finals.

It’s not quite time yet, but I do know of a very special future Christmas gift that already has Eldest Grandson’s name on it.



The Christmas Village

Homes speak to me, especially older homes. They call out with all kinds of ideas, usually excellent, about decorating or renovating. Problem is, they keep badgering me to make the changes.  At times I think I could end up with something akin to the Winchester Mystery House.

Long time past, I moved into a new-older home one February.  There was an enormous bay window in the dining room, with a built in shelf across its base.  It called out to me. 

I need a Christmas Village.

That was all that was needed. I pretty much did the rest on my own. 

Because I had never even seen a Christmas Village, other than a group of Victorian homes sitting on a blanket of snow, it seemed that a bit of  research was in order. I wanted a village that would fit on that very large window shelf.

Like Christmas trees, there are all kinds of Christmas Villages on the internet and YouTube but, unlike trees, not a lot of practical information — more in the neighborhood of Show and Tell.  

It didn’t really matter; I had my own personal bay window with its own personal plan:  it wanted a downtown area with a Christmas carousel as well as a mountain area for winter sports and an outlying home area.  oh, as there was a bit of an ocean view from that very large bay window, of course the village needed some water, a shore, a lighthouse and a couple of sailboats.

This had all the makings of a Winchester Mystery Christmas Village, which meant that the next step was pricing said village.  Holy Mackerel, after looking at the retail prices, I could purchase a real village with its own mountain and ocean front resorts. 

Then I remembered Ebay.  March and April are not particularly high demand months for Christmas villages and I got some very good deals.  The village just sort of grew and grew.  I was fast becoming the Christmas Village mogul or sucker, depending on your point of view.

As the boxes arrived, one after another, the postman began looking at me like I was nuts.  Perhaps he was correct.  He finally asked if he could see this village once it was finished.  I invited him back for a December show. Now, I was committed. 

I realized I had no idea, and the internet was of no help, as to how to actually build the village.  The pieces were all sitting on the dining room table, ready to go but the questions were Where? How?

I knew the mountain area had to have height, so I pulled out the grandkids’ old wooden block set and built a mountain.  In time, the framework actually stayed upright and held a village piece, then a second piece and a third.  Whoo Hoo! 

Next came the town and outlying areas.  As I had purchased everything piecemeal, not everything matched, but oh well, that’s the way it goes. Few people even noticed.

The electrical was interesting which is another way of saying it’s an electrical nightmare. It still is. I have visions of my dad, an electrical contractor, sitting on a cloud, shaking his head and keeping watch over the maze of wires and extension cords that worm their way through the wooden block formations.  It all works, thank you, Dad.

The last part was putting on the snow, ice and small pieces that make the whole visual move and dance.  People walking, kids building a snowman, well, you get the idea. This was getting more and more complicated.  I wondered if I would soon need a script.

Finally, everything got packed away until December, when I discovered that the trial runs were time well spent.  The village went up reasonably easily for a two day project and ran all through December. 

My four young grandsons delighted in it and wanted to visit often over the years.  I learned about the current superhero by who was left on the ski slopes to prank me.  I’ve entertained Superman, Spiderman and Darth Vader among others. 

What I didn’t expect was that grown up boys — aka, men, including Mr. Postman — also took as much delight in the village as my grandsons and would spend great amounts of time reminiscing over the village as well as wondering how a mere woman could build such a monster.

It’s been a number of homes since the home of the original large bay window, which is no doubt very sad and empty this December, and I realize that this will be the last year of my hosting the Christmas Village; the grandkids are growing up and superheroes, Santa and family Christmases at Grandma’s are fading into warm memories. 

It’s no doubt time the village gets divided among the boys so that they’ll be ready to entertain their children and grandchildren in future Christmases that I suspect will come all too quickly…





Brain Candy

brain candyIt sort of sneaked up on me and hit without warning.  The steady diet of brain candy has officially turned my few remaining brain cells to carb-induced mush.

It started innocently enough with not wanting to sit through the television reruns populating evening watching options, so I turned to the sugary, saccharin holiday movies. You know the genre — a lonely person here, an unlikely match there and by the end of the two hours (one and a half fast-forwarding through the ads), the couple are together in a sugar-coated match made in a Christmas heaven.

Brain Candy Holiday Movies. You know the ones…those with the predictable plot line, sugary sweet save for a few requisite tears at the conclusion.  I can walk away for 15 minutes, an hour, come back and pick up the story by the time I have a sip or two of spiced cider. Double shot of sweet.

I am just beginning to realize the Hallmark movie genre is extremely addictive.  I started taping the entire lot and cannot quite delete them just yet — not that I will ever watch them more than once.  But the taped library is just like the cookies in the freezer — comfort food in case blood sugars begin to drop. Only this time it’s comfort food for the brain.

It’s not even mid-December — not even two weeks into the candy-caned season, which, come to think of it, evidently officially kicked off sometime before Halloween — and already I have to have my evening fix.  So far, it’s just one movie an evening, but it worries me that soon I’ll need two schmaltzy movies to satisfy the brain candy cravings.

Even the brightly decorated flippen’ Christmas tree, Christmas Village and holiday lights aren’t satisfying the brain candy cravings.  I am officially addicted to these syrupy holiday movies.

I know I could watch other programs that aren’t supposed to take a lot of mental energy — sports for example.  As a San Francisco Bay Area native, this is an unexpectedly intense season for fans and instead of entertaining, the games are draining  a lot of energy. 

We have the 49ers playing somewhat lower than the belly of a pregnant snake and evidently intent on cleaning the entire basement all by themselves while the Warriors — oh my gosh! — are doing so incredibly well that  I find myself holding my breath and turning blue wondering just how long the winning streak can be maintained. So much of my energy and brain cells expended while curled up on the couch watching young men play games.

I think world-wide events have also helped drive me to this place of sugary fantasy.  I used to enjoy the news. But, do I really want to watch 24 hour coverage of terrorist attacks, knowing every few minutes another commentator will be speculating on cause, effect and what’s in store for the future?  Bad enough to hear the known facts without be re-terrorized by 24 hour, non-stop conjecture mongers.

And the presidential contenders?  Do I even need to begin?

Football, basketball, terrorists, commentators and politicians.  They’re draining way too much of my mental energy. Instead, I’m opting for the brain candy.

Bring on the next schmaltzy movie. I’ll bring the Kleenex and hot spiced cider.




o Christmas Tree

ChristmasChristmas tree (1) trees have always been at the center of my Decembers.  The lights and ornaments chase away the dark and gloom and essentially get me through the month until the Winter Solstice, which conveniently falls on my youngest grandson’s birthday. Then I can breathe again, knowing that the days are getting longer and we’re on the downhill side of the darkest winter days. 

I love winter for about twenty minutes and then I long for spring.

Around fifteen years ago, give or take, it dawned on me that I could no longer handle a freshly cut, or even lot cut, Christmas tree.  It was too messy, too heavy, all the too’s that said, go forth and buy and artificial tree.  At the time, I remember looking at a 7 ft. tall Christmas tree at the exorbitant cost of $79 and debating its worth.  I bought it and hauled it home where it has stood proud and well decorated, gracing the Christmas holidays.

A Christmas or two ago, my two middle grandsons — just entering their teens and sprouting like weeds — stood silently in front of my tree. Then, they turned in unison and announced with all the wisdom of 13 year olds, Grandma, when we were young, your tree seemed enormous and so tall.  But now….”

With that, a wee bit of Christmas magic simply evaporated into the pine and cinnamon scented air.

In the midst of this last move, I took a  critical look at the tree.  It was old and tired — of course, so am I — but, it was a tree and it was time.  So, the tree and I parted ways without so much as a tear.

Now, as daylight savings time is no longer and the darkness of winter has closed in all too quickly, I am in search of a new Christmas tree.  But, 15 years older, I am well aware that I can no longer lug 80 lb trees around and set them up, even if they’re artificial and look like the real thing.

My old neighbor, who is now my new neighbor in one of those ironies of moving — except she’s still much younger in years — purchased an artificial tree last year that is very beautiful.  Armed with iphone photos of the box and label, I went in search of the tree.  It looked a whole lot better in her home than the Lowe’s forest and I quickly realized that it was still going to be a challenge to set up.

Thank goodness for Goggle — how did we function pre-goggle, internet and smart phones? — and there is an encyclopedia worth of information regarding artificial Christmas trees. I narrowed down my selection and, as luck would have it, there was an artificial tree farm in the bay area in addition to their online farm.  I decided to make the three hour trek down to the farm.

Who knew there were so many choices?  Vermont, Colorado, Stratford, Norway, Blue and Red Spruces; Balsam, Frasier, Douglas Firs; Pines, Redwoods — the choices were overwhelming.  It was akin to walking down a hundred cereal aisles of the local supermarket, except this time I couldn’t just zero in on the old fashion oatmeal.

I walked up and down the rows of trees, tall trees, short trees, narrow trees, wide trees, trees with led lights, warm lights, clear lights, multi-color lights and the newest tree, the tree that rolls in on wheels and then just flips into place. It really does flip. I flipped it. A flippen’ tree.

This was not your Charlie Brown Christmas tree lot.  Far too many choices, and, no, I still haven’t made up my mind.

A Cat, A Dog and A Christmas Tree

Over the years, the kids and grandkids have shown up to stay a few days, hauling in luggage, sporting gear, computers and whatever else they could fit into the car. That has also included their dogs.  As BlackJack is the master of the house, the dogs have given him wide berth.  They’re relatively smart dogs and most have known better than to tangle with claws and fangs. 

A long time past, though, daughter showed up for the Christmas holiday from college with an unexpected bundle of grey fluff in her purse.  It was Misha, the kitten that I would later inherit.

I had Fero, the K9 German Shepherd. Fero was not only perfectly behaved, he had been around cats in the kennel and had been friendly with most of them.  He expected to have the same relationship with Misha.

Misha was not so inclined to befriend a dog, especially a large dog.

We would walk into the living room, where both animals were hanging out, to find that Fero had picked up Misha in his mouth, gently gumming her so as not to hurt the kitten, walk her to where he planned to snooze, and then curl up with her to nap.

Misha’s look of terror quickly turned to fangs, claws and hissing as soon as Fero put her down.  Needless to say, Plan A did not work.

So, Fero moved to plan B; that is, wait for Misha to fall asleep and then curl up next to her, with his front legs wrapped around her.  That seemed to work for a short time until the kitten awoke.  Then, all hell would break lose once again.

It was shortly after Christmas, for which I did thank the Christmas Tree Goddess, when Misha awoke from her Fero-surrounded nap.  She had figured out the house sufficiently to know where hiding places were and, with as much of a hiss as a pint sized kitten could muster, Misha bolted out of Fero’s hug, across the room and up the Christmas tree.

Misha was too small to do much harm, but none of us had counted on Fero joining in the fun.  The fully decorated tree crashed to the carpet and the two animals took their chase into the back parts of the house.

Fast forward twenty some years and son, daughter-in-law, two grandsons and a young, very active, very friendly dog named Clementine came to spend this Christmas holiday. BlackJack enjoys the boys, but took issue with Clem and dove under my bed, where he spent most of the weekend complaining.

IMG_0327 (1)BlackJack ventured out to cuddle with oldest grandson when the others ventured out into the snow with Clem, but most of the time was spent keeping an overly friendly pup from trying to play with a grumpy old cat.

That detente seemed to be almost working, with BlackJack taking full adIMG_0322 (1)vantage of his situation by tucking himself into my bed at night and Clem curled up on her bed, exhausted from her day in the snow. Then, during the night after Christmas, about 3 or 4 AM, BlackJack decided to venture out and Clem thought she should join him, probably thinking they could have fun playing.

By the time I awoke to the noise and intervened, BlackJack was in full fur, hissing, and backing his way under the decorated Christmas tree, with Clem in full pursuit.  It was a vision of Christmas past, with the fully decorated fully decorated flippen Christmas tree and ornaments swaying back and forth as two animals faced off.  This time, however, the tree stayed upright, thanks again to the Christmas Tree Goddess.

It was amazing the two animals didn’t wake the entire household with all the hissing, clawing and whining, but everyone, except me, slept soundly as the two animals were successfully separated and tucked back into their respective beds.

Then, once again, peace settled over our home for a few more hours.