Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Bug in the Family

My youngest niece (we call her Bug) is a shutter bug just like me.

In fact there are many ways she is like me, she's impossible to get out of bed in the morning, she's a bit of a drama queen.
Unlike me, she is the most flippin' adorable teenager you've ever met!

Her parents seem to buy Bug a different camera every year - she's always clicking away.
On Christmas Eve, I let her go snap happy with my DSLR. She was teaching herself to focus and zoom with the manual controls. Apologies to my brother, he'll have to buy her a DSLR next year! She LOVES it! Sorry.

I spent some time showing Miss Bug how to control the shutter speed, ISO and F stop so that she could take photos without a flash. We practiced on the Christmas tree - and there we had the bright idea to capture our reflections in a tree ornament.
Setting the self-timer, Miss Bug toyed with a self-portrait.

Isn't she darling?

More Christmas Music Inspiration

As you know, I just spent nearly 20 hours in the car listening to Christmas music - so over my next few posts I want to share some of my favorites with you.

A few years ago my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Home Alone Christmas. I wondered what the heck she was thinking!

My copy is a burned copy - so I'm not sure if it is the movie soundtrack - or a compelation of Christmas songs from the various movies... but surprise - it's really pretty good.

Sometimes I really appreciate CDs with a variety of music rather than all one artist - and this one has a nice variety.

1. All Alone on Christmas - Darlene Love
2. A Holly Jolly Christmas - Alan Jackson
3. My Christmas Tree - The Fox Albert Choir
4. Somewhere in My Memory - John Williams
5. Silver Bells - Atlantic Starr
6. Sleigh Ride - TLC
7. Christmas All Over Again - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
8. Please Come Home For Christmas - Southside Johnny Lyon
9. Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas - John Williams
10. Carol of the Bells - John Williams
11. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Mel Torme
12. O Come All Ye Faithful - Lisa Fischer
Click here to hear clips.

All Alone on Christmas - Hi. Can you say Single Person's Christmas Anthem? It's a peppy sing-along that helps to pass the miles.
My Christmas Tree is so sweet. It's a choir of beautiful children's voices. I sing along with this one too. "When I see, my Christmas tree, can loved ones be far? Christmas tree, I'm certain, wherever I roam, the glow from, your branches, will light my way home" Oh! My lip quivers every time!
Somewhere in My Memory - I think it's the theme to the movie, strains of the instrumental float throughout the movie. Strings, orchestra style it's very nice.
Silver Bells - this is a very well-done version of the standard. Sing-along-able.
Sleigh Ride - Not my favorite but not offensive.
Christmas All Over Again - I love Tom Petty, so this is a good song. But the words hit me funny this time around. It's sort of a song about how it's just Christmas. Again. It's not about the joy of Christmas, and certainly not about the meaning of Christmas.

The rest of the songs sort of fade into the background. They're all good.
This is the sort of CD that is great to have as background music at a party. Or while wrapping presents. Or killing time in the car.

It's definately a go-to CD for me. Some songs I would pick off to make a CD of my favorite Christmas songs. Maybe I'll actually get around to it for next Christmas, if I do, I'll let you all know.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Best Christmas Album Ever

A lot of bloggers this year were writing about how they started listening to Christmas music in October.

I'm just not that kind of girl.

I guess I feel that by isolating my Christmas music into the two weeks surrounding Christmas I can keep it a bit more precious. (the same reason I only watch It's A Wonderful Life every other year - I don't want to grow tired of it.)

Plus, I save my Christmas CDs for the car ride home. With two 10 hour trips to fill - you want the content to be as fresh as possible.

This year I treated myself to a new Christmas CD when I was ordering other gifts on &m&zon. Oh, what a treat!!!

Clearly, I'm a little late to get the memo but the best Christmas Album in the world is Selah - Rose of Bethlehem. Seriously people. This is my gift to you. If you don't already have it, order it now and tuck it away for next Christmas. (In fact, I see no reason not to play it all year round. It's that good and I can't imagine ever growing tired of it. Which is high praise coming from me.)

I first listened to Selah's music on Yo#t#be, and was mightily impressed. When I first heard their rendition of O Holy Night (my favorite Christmas song) - I was sold. It has to be the best version of the song ever recorded. They also do amazing things with Silent Night and O Come O Come Emmanuel.

I have no words that can do justice for their original compositions. How they are not already seasonal standards is beyond me!!! Amazing. Gifted. Truly their voices and talent are ordained by the Lord Himself.

I realize I'm far behind on the bandwagon - everybody probably already knows about them. But now that I know I cannot remain silent.
I'd like to share more Christmas music recommendations with you later. I'm working on a little surprise for you all!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Behind The Stable

This time of year is so difficult for me.
I realized a few years ago that part of the reason Christmas feels empty to me is because it has turned into little more than a deadline. Rushing around - trying to jam a car trip into a few days off of work.
I spent some time really thinking about why it felt like a deadline, and what would make the season feel precious to me again - and I realized I needed to share it with someone. I realized that Christmas is precious when you get to see it again through the eyes of a child. When you teach a child about the miracle.

Now, as much as a try - I can't shake the emptiness. There is this big, gaping hole in my life.

I want to set up my nativity scene with my children. The wise men stand at the far end of the credenza while Mary and Joseph wait in the stable. Little baby Jesus is hidden in the hay behind the stable until we get home from Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. That's when He is born and joins the Holy Family in the manger.

I long to delight in the wonder of a child seeing presents beneath the tree on Christmas morning. To read Bible stories as I teach my children the story of Jesus' birth. How the wonderous star guided those who believe to find the tiny Christ Child. To explain that wise men still seek Him. To share the joy in the knowledge that the destiny of the Savior - while unknown completely to young Mary - was predestined by God for all of us. And she was His willing servant.

I need to be more like Mary.

But it's so hard. I lived my entire life with the assumption that I would have a family. When I tucked away Newsweek magazines plastered with images from the start of the Gulf War, I did so with the belief that my children would find them some day, and use them to write a history report. (I remember finding newspapers with headlines of JFK's assassination that my mom had saved. I was awed by the yellowed print depicting day of reports of something I only knew as history.)

I have saved some of my favorite dresses and some amazing shoes - moved them across three states more than 7 times - with the thought of my daughter longing to try them on - wanting to be as glamorous as mommy in the faded photo.

I can't tell you how many times I have moved 'stuff' that will someday be perfect if I ever have a house that echoes with the scurry of little feet. (not mice)

Now that dream is fading, pulling away from me. And I'm a little pissed.

I went to Mass today, and the Gospel told the story of the angel that appeared to Mary. Telling her plans that she could not understand. When she questioned, the angel explained, "God will handle the details, if you only say yes."

I need to be more like Mary.

I've heard and read this story so many times. But today as I read along, God spoke to me, in the words of Mary's visitor angel.

"And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old
age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will
be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to
me according to your word." ~Luke1:26-38

This was an inspiration. That God has all the details worked out and I just need to keep saying yes.
But I go back and forth.
I want to see the plans. The assignment. A schedule.
I need to have faith and willingness like Mary.
Yeah, but He used Mary. He's not even doing anything with me.
I have to believe that God has the desires of my heart in His capable hands.

I can relate to Elizabeth. I feel barren. I feel the same pain as the many women who struggle with infertility, longing to have a family. Except, I don't even get to try.

I was so lonely and sad all weekend, and as I called my friends on Saturday to talk, to keep me company as I cleaned my house - no one answered.
I could only picture them out with their kids, picking up a present for daddy. Sledding down the big hill. Stopping for hot chocolate and singing Christmas songs in the car.

I finally called a single girlfriend who understood. She sympathized. She had emailed a bunch of friends in our social circle - asking about options for New Years Eve. Most of what she got back - were responses from one half of some couple saying they were going out with other couples. The unwritten message was clear - you're not in a couple so we're not asking you to join us. She was hurt.

Right then we realized - we work hard not to be jealous. And we're not. We just feel left out. We are sincerely happy for all of our friends when they pair off, get engaged, get married, start having babies.
But are they equally sympathetic for us the other way around? We don't think it even occurs to them.

This holiday is all about family and it's so empty without one. Last year, at least I had hope that I might soon start a family. This year, it just sucks.

I am trying hard to get this sadness out of my head and heart - before I put myself in a car for 10 hours - stuck with my own thoughts. Maybe if I leave the thoughts here, they won't follow me to Nebraska.

Maybe there are bloggy angels who will carry my thoughts in their prayers.
I'm counting on that.

Merry Christmas. Have a most blessed celebration. May all the joy and peace of that first Christmas be with you all - always.
I probably won't have computer access for a week - but I expect you all to be away from the computer too!
Check in with you later!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rest Not

My house is an embarrassing mess. Has been for a while now. Seriously. I am ashamed. I haven't allowed anyone inside for longer than I care to admit.

Today is the day. The laundry is going. I've vaccummed the rug. Now here I am on the internet again... a great source of my timewasting.

The other great timewaster is my couch.
Since my Christmas gifts have all yet to be wrapped - I stacked them all on the sofa so that I have no choice but to keep moving!

The most brilliant thing I've done all week!

Also learned: if the kitchen floor ought to be washed, but it's not bad enough to compell me to actually get down on my hands and knees - inevitably, I'll break something made of glass.
For me, the only way to ensure that my perpetually barefoot self doesn't end up with a bloody shard a few days later when I've blissfully forgotten the risk... is a wet cloth.
Sometimes I think that's God's way of saying, "Seriously. Wash the floor."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Dad the Non-Consumer

My dad doesn't shop.
He doesn't want anything. He doesn't need anything. He doesn't buy anything.

Window shopping. A foreign concept.

It's no stretch to think that us kids are adopted so that he would have someone to help him buy mom's Christmas gift.
Because that is exactly what happens.

My sister and I were usually enlisted to help him find a gift for Mom.
When my sister died, the job fell to me and my sister-in-law. We used to alternate the task each year.

One year, we forced an embargo. Dad, you've known the woman for 35 years. Man up and buy a gift.
That ended in disaster. Poor mom was nearly heartbroken.

A couple of years ago, I was totally on top of things. I had finished my shopping three weeks before Christmas. Everything was wrapped.
Then, the week before Christmas Dad called and asked me to help.

Oh man! Dad, I'm done shopping. I am NOT going back to the stores!
But I couldn't let him down. I told him I'd call him when I figured out what to get her.

The next day he called again, wanting to know what I decided.

"You're getting her a new watch. The watch she has is more than 20 years old. It's a quality watch but it's starting to come apart."

Okay, dad says. Why don't you go to W*lM*rt and... ?

I interuppted -

"NO! Dad. Seriously. You can't afford the finders fee I would charge if I had to go to W*lM*rt the week before Christmas! Besides. She has a Se!ko. We're not replacing that with a T!mex from W*lM*rt!"

He was worried. He just hates spending money and he knows my taste so he knew he wasn't going to get off cheap.

I shopped and shopped for the right watch. Finally, I told him the damage.
A heavy sigh on his end of the line, even though I'd done really well. Frugal but quality.

Then came Christmas Eve.
When my sister-in-law saw that Mom was about to open a gift from Dad, she panicked. Leaning over she whispered, "I didn't help him. Are we okay?"

"Yeah. I took care of it."

Mom was thrilled!
After we cleaned up all the damaged wrapping paper, she sat next to me admiring her new watch.
"I just love it." she said, "It's so pretty."

and then
"Has Dad seen it?"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Made Something Yummy

I don't enjoy cooking and I'm horrible at grocery shopping. The two sort of go hand in hand.
But I've found when I do cook... it's really yummy.

Last night I was bored of eating frozen Lean Cuisine's... so I stared at the guts of my fridge for a while. Hmmm yellow squash. If I don't eat it today or tomorrow it's bound to go bad. Ah hah... yellow potatoes too.
I chopped them up and put them in the steamer 'til they were nice and soft - then tossed them into a bowl and drizzled basalmic vinegar and grapeseed oil over everything.

Can I say... DeLish!

In other news... did you know that Tootsie Pops have a new flavor? Pomegranate. Serious yum. And that's really important because I only eat red Tootsie Pops - and now there is another red flavor.
Wow. Everything's going my way!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Always Wanted a Cat

Today was the coldest day I've encountered so far since the start of my relationship with Sylvia.
Sylvia is my car - we were joined in a civil union in August.

She started right up like a champ - but when I backed out of my parking space and turned to manuveur out of the alley - I swear I heard a faint 'Mew'.

As I turned onto the street (a right turn) she Mew'ed again.
Oh, it's too cold for her! I felt so bad - but I didn't really have time to let her warm up.

I spent a few hours out - and when I started her again to go home - more Meows.

It's kind of cute. I always wanted a cat but I'm allergic. This car is such a blessing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Here Comes Santa Claus

Can't remember when I started playing Santa. Was it during college? Or after?
I don't know but I've been doing it for years now... but only for my mom and dad!

You see, as I explained in my last post - when I was a kid we opened family gifts on Christmas Eve, then dove into Santa's gifts on Christmas morning.
So once we were all grown up - under the tree was bare on Christmas mornings.

I think I needed the satisfaction of playing Santa despite the fact that I don't have kids.

I decided to leave something under the tree for mom and dad. The first time, I think it was a cute pair of earrings for mom, some funky camping gear for dad.

On Christmas morning I asked mom if Santa had come.
"I don't know." she said, always the type to play along.
"You better check your stocking."

She did, and fished out a pair of darling earrings.

Now I do this every year. It's just mom and dad and me at their house and since I'm the night owl in the family, I wait 'til they are snug in bed and I set out little trinket gifts like slippers, a cool little tool or flashlight, peanuts and something warm for dad - fun jewelry for mom.

I don't know if they expect it now or not. Sometimes they don't even notice until noon or so that Santa left his calling card. Usually, mom is tickled to death. Dad just hates to see me spend money. (more on my non-consumer dad in another post!)

But I love to do it. I love that I've reversed roles with my parents in this little way.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas Plan

I've made it pretty clear here on my bloggity blog that I'm not crazy about the way my family celebrates Christmas these days.

Part of it is resentment that I have to be the one travel every year - even though I live in a really cool city adjacent to mountains. Why on earth would they not want to come here? I can't figure it out either.

The resentment continues with the fact that my brother runs his own business and doesn't exactly have to work out vacation time for the holidays.
Unlike me.
And my friends who point out that we never get to take real vacations because all our time off and disposable savings is spent on just going 'home' every year.


As children, our family tradition on Christmas Eve was a special meal before opening family gifts. (the extra 20 -30 minutes it took to do the dishes - no dishwasher - was pure torture cuz we were so hyped up for presents!!)

Firm rules only one person could open at a time - everyone savoring the sweet gifts. Then we'd revel in our loot, clean up the torn wrapping paper and get a little shut eye before mom woke us to go to Midnight Mass.

After Midnight Mass, Mom and Dad would have to sedate three hyper kids to get us back into bed so Santa could visit. In the morning - Santa's gifts under the tree! Then we spent the day with my favorite Aunt & Uncle and their kids - having a big meal, playing in the snow and checking out all the new toys!

Now, my brother invites another family (who I barely know - but they have three wild noisy little boys) to open gifts with us on Christmas eve.
I hate to complain about that, because it started when the husband was away in Iraq - and we welcomed mom and her boys to join us for Christmas eve. That was nice - and the right thing to do and I enjoyed it the first two years, but now it's just a loud mess and it's not about family at all. Oh - and my nephew (our deceased sister's son) isn't invited to anything at my brother's house so that just emphasizes my point.

My parents don't like it either. I think that's the only reason they still want me to get married and have kids so that together we can reclaim Christmas!

Now everyone rips through wrapping paper like it's a race. We don't even get to see the expression on the face of the recipient of our gifts - cuz everyone is tearing through the boxes with no order!

The worst part is, we go to the children's Mass at 5:00pm on Christmas eve. The youth choir puts on a sort of pageant - singing the same explicative songs I sang when I was in the youth choir 20 explicative years ago!

If I hear Happy Birthday Baby Jesus one more time I'll spit - from the choir loft! I'm not kidding.

I miss Midnight Mass.
Last year, I stayed here and had Christmas with Mr. Burns. We went to the Cathedral for Midnight Mass and I was moved to tears. It was amazing.

I'm learning that what I really want is my own Christmas Traditions. Rather than be forced into what is convenient for my brother. And I'm not going to wait until I have kids to do it. I figure I'll bring them on one by one.

This year, I've decided that the first step in incorporating my own traditions is to forgo the annoying Children's Mass on Christmas eve. I'm going to go to Midnight Mass if I have to go all by myself.

I'm going to tell my nieces and nephews that I'll be attending Midnight Mass and if they want to get up and go with me - I'd be the happiest Auntie in Nebraska. I'm pretty sure my nieces will want to join me. I'm betting my little nephew will too.

And that will make me such a happy Auntie.

Even (or especially) if it ticks my Sister-in-law off.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Well, Less Commercial Anyway

Because you sometimes have to get off your lazy butt to find God's message.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


I'm still working at the portrait studio on weekends... at least through Christmas.
So I was there today - and got to photograph a fun family - Mom, Dad, their 3 grown daughters and their significant others and their kids.

I like to know how to group people, so as I'm getting to know a family of this size I like to ask who belongs to whom. (is that the right grammar?)

They pointed out: "Al is Abby's husband and both kids are theirs. Sarah is dating Sam, and Elly is the only single one."

I smiled at her and said, "Good for you!" sort of to squelch the sting of her dad pointing out her glaring difference in the family.
As Elly and I exchanged a little high five, her dad leaned in and joked, "Loser!"

"Hey hey HEY!" I said, "That only means she hasn't made any big mistakes!"

She smiled at my support, and the jabs the family was gearing up - petered out.

Man, people are so freakin' dense!!!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Party Girl

My Condo building is having a little Holiday Mixer tomorrow night. Isn't that nice?

To help out, I went to my party closet and got... wait, you don't know this term 'party closet'? Seriously?

Well, friends. A party closet is where you store all the goodies you keep on hand to throw any last minute party with very little shopping or preparation. A really good party closet is magic. Mmm hmmm. Magic. The magic of a party closet is its reproductive quality. You always put in more than you take out. For example, right now I have a half liter of Bacardi Rum in the party closet. By the end of my next party, it's safe to say there will be at least one unopened bottle of rum in it's place. It's a special kind of magic.

Okay. Now that you know what a party closet is (I'll wait here while you go organize a shelf to make room for your own party closet) I can tell you that I pulled out two pretty bins with which to ice drinks - a couple tablecloths - stacks of glass dessert plates to accommodate appetizers (I hate using paper plates - we should toss them in the landfill cuz I'm too lazy to wash?) - and a flat of wine glasses to contribute to this little party.

While digging around in there, I also reacquainted myself with BBQ skewers - birthday candles - clip-on tablecloth weights for outdoor dining - wine glass stakes for lawn-level entertaining - various decorations and a variety of other party goodies.

Suddenly I realized that I am more than prepared to throw a party at a moments notice. I remembered how I've done it before.

One summer I hosted a party that fell on my birthday - I had been traveling for months for work - neglecting my social life - and thought, since I would be home on my birthday I might as well get everyone in one place so I could see them. During the party, everyone speculated about what to do on July 4th... just a few weeks away... and I said, if you all come back I'll have the party here. Ta da... everyone was happy to return! No planning involved!

I also realized that I did not throw a party not once while I was dating Mr. Burns. That may have more to do with the fact that I was unemployed for most of our relationship, and unwilling to spend money on party food and drinks -- but it does have something do to with the fact that I mentioned a number of times that we should throw a party together -- and he never wanted to go out on that limb.

I sort of regret that he never got to see my fabulous hostess side.

I have been planning though - that once I got a job I was going to throw a party! Once I replenish my bank account with a paycheck or two... that's just what I'm going to do.

Lonely Christmas

I love Christmas but I still find it difficult to look forward to it.

Every year I think it would be more meaningful if only I had a child or two to teach about our Savior's birth - slowly revealing the wonder of the great gift as the kids get older - watching the wonder in their faces as they experience the magic of Christmas. The wonder of new fallen snow. The beautiful grace of wishes granted, either by Christ or by Santa or by a generous stranger. Oh how I long for a Christmas like that.

Instead, Christmas is little more than a deadline for me. And I hate that.
I hate that I can't experience the joy, peace and wonder of Christmas because I'm stuck in a car by myself (trapped with my own thoughts) driving 10 hours to get 'home'... and then another 10 hours to get back to MY home before I have to be back at work.

People with families have absolutely no idea how lonely it is.

Last night I was checking out a few purchases at L!nens&Th!ngs. (stuff for myself of course -I've barely started Christmas shopping!)
The friendly sales clerk asked if I was ready for Christmas.
Oh heavens no, I joked.

"I am." she said, "I love Christmas, I can't wait."
Oh. I thought you meant am I done putting up the tree and wrapping gifts. That's a big fat no!

We bantered back and forth and somehow it fell out of my mouth.

"When you're the only one in your family without kids, Christmas is just a deadline."

The woman behind me in line nodded in agreement. She knew just what I was talking about.

I continued, "You rush around to get gifts that nobody really even wants, they do the same for you, you pack them in a car, drive across a state and a half to people that don't even seem to appreciate that you bothered to make the trip - but would surely gripe, and call you selfish if you DIDN'T make the trip. I miss all the joy of Christmas, and I hate that."

The woman behind the counter, a grandmotherly type - just stared at me like I told her that I eat kittens for dessert.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Never Believe Grownups.

It was snowing very lightly as I drove to work this morning.
When I stopped at a light, I could see perfect little individual snowflakes gracing my car's windows. Each one perfectly, artistically formed. So beautiful! I wished so badly to have my camera with me.

For proof.

Because I remember when I was a kid, the teachers told us that every single snowflake is different. Which I believe. They also told us you couldn't see individual snowflakes (the same thing they said about germs.) But I know that I saw many individual flakes. They were stunning! Miraculous!

Maybe the teachers meant that you couldn't pick one snowflake out of a pile of snow. Okay, I'll give them that. It's possible I was a very literal child.

Or maybe they were talking about Nebraska snowflakes - which are so wet they don't even fall down one by one. It more or less snows in globs there.
But here in Colorado, the air is dry and snowflakes make solo journeys straight to the tip of your nose.

I just want so desparately to photograph a single snowflake.
Maybe one day this winter. If I do, I'll definately post it!

Monday, December 01, 2008

With Ma in Her Kercheif

I, the queen of bargain shopping, have been having a heck of a time finding a simple winter nightgown! I've scoured the racks at many a TJMaxx and Ross and I can't find anything that doesn't look like it should belong to my mom... the grandma!


There are tons of top and bottom sets - but I don't want pants to sleep in because the legs always climb up and twist around my legs in my sleep.
I just want something with long sleeves - that comes down to my knees.... that doesn't have embroidery or ruffles or flowers or lace.

I found two night gowns that were ideal in structure - but were made with prints that were so loud and busy I feared they'd keep me awake at night!

Finally, I searched the web for current listings... ah yes... this is what I want:
from Land's End.

But $36 bucks seems like a lot to spend on a stupid night gown - doesn't it? I mean, I have silk dresses that I spent less on. I've spent less on designer shoes!

It's hard being cheap.