Friday, December 28, 2012


We have been relaxing the past few days.  Sitting in pajamas, playing games, enjoying the light of the tree.  I am savoring every moment of Christmas bliss.  We have created an insular world of joy and peace and it feels good.  I won't check emails, I won't think about work, I won't think about the countless tasks that I put off and planned to get done over the Christmas break.  They don't seem so significant now.  I won't think about sad.  We are cocooning. 

I remember after 9/11 having the same feeling.  My family had rented a house down the shore at the end of September, not knowing how much we would need it.  It was just before my brother's kidney transplant and we all needed to be together.  I remember feeling so safe and insulated against what had happened and what was to come.  Everything was happy there, the calm ocean, the quiet of a fall sun, and the lone squawk of seagulls no longer confused by the crowds of the beach, no longer drowned out by the sounds of the crowds.  We spent the days looking forward without the full knowledge of the pain that was to come.  It protected us and my brother too.  When I was little, my mother used to say, "Just think about happy things." I think she even said it when I was in labor with my second child. "Just think about happy things." She was the world's best doula.  I know she also said it to my brother on countless occassions.   And she created those "happy things" for us all the time that we could use to look back on and hold us through the painful times.   We all need those moments, those memories to carry us through.  Keep Calm and Carry On,  Keep a Hostful of Memories, and you will be able to Carry On.

In the midst of all this Christmas cocooning though, I did venture out - to BJs to pick up food I thought I needed.  Obviously I hadn't looked in the refrigerator, because we didn't need anything of anything.  I guess the habit I'd developed over the last month of planning, buying, and cooking dies hard and I bought way more than I should have.  We had to plug in the other refrigerator when I got home.  But in BJs my eye caught the cover of People, Shattered Lives, Broken Hearts.  I felt my stomach lurch when I began to think about that.  Then I quickly tried not to - think about it.  Scarlett O'Hara said it best, "I can't think about that right now.  I'll go crazy if I do.  I'll think about that tomorrow."  There is a lot of wisdom in her famous last words, and in my mother's too.   We learn that sometimes thinking about it, whatever it is, is just too much.  And thankfully we can put it off and think about Happy Things and think about it tomorrow. 

Now you may expect me to say that we do have to think about and embrace it and deal with it, but I'm not going to.  I really am not.  I am going to keep on living in my Christmas dream world until someone shakes me and says, "Look, it's over.  It's time to wake up.  You can't do this anymore. Christmas is over."  I'm not even going to clean the basement today or try to get a jump on my tax returns that I have to do or think about anything sad.  I'll  think about that tomorrow.  Today I am soaking in all the Christmas spirit that is still floating in the air around here. A quote I read, "Christmas spirit in the air comes from Christmas spirit in the heart."  The candles that are glowing with the scents of Christmas (Thank you, Aunt Barbara!)  The tree with a few added new ornaments to remind us of our adventures this year.  The kids walking around in new sweatshirts from Santa for the fourth day in a row.  The toys that clutter every living walking-sitting-eating space in the house.  The cards that I never really looked at when they arrived in the mail, so busy I was just trying to remember if I had sent the sender a card too.  Now they hang properly displayed on the garland in the archway.   As Annie just said, "I can't stop looking at these.  I just love looking at them all!"  That is part of the cocooning - the happy faces of people we love surrounding us and reminding us of all the wonderful friends we have.  My husband wrapped in his own new blanket.  Charlie hugging the red velvet pillow that says, JOY.  (And of course, the joyful sounds of brothers who are so happy with their Christmas gifts that they can't bear to share the toys!)  Then, there's my son the whistler.  As long as I hear that I know we're all good.   

That's what my brother used to say, "It's all good..."  in his surfer's drawl.  "Du-ude, it's all goo-ud!"  We all have our own language for it:  Scarlett said, "I'll think about that tomorrow."  My mother said, "Just think about happy things."  My brother, "It's all good." So I'm pretending it's all good and you know what, it's working.  So I'm saying, "Keep Calm and Christmas On!" 
Caption this picture

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Something We Can Do

Last week I was in two different Kindergarten classrooms during a Lockdown Drill.  It's always a little scary.  One student, after it was over, said, "I was so scared, and I was so brave."  I imagine the little ones in Newtown were very brave.  There are children who don't feel safe or brave right now. 

I love the idea of Ann Curry's to do 26 Acts of Kindness, and am trying my best, but if you want to one thing more, I would kindly suggest that you visit Donors Choose.  There are tons of teachers who are asking for some very basic supplies to make their classrooms more loving and nurturing learning environments.   You can see where your donation is going and what type of district it is. 

A teacher asked her kindergartners this week to write letters to Santa.  Their wishes are so simple, yet so complex.  "I wish my daddy would come home,"  "I wish my mommy would get a house so she would be happy." 

In memory of those in Newtown, and for all the children everywhere, we can do one thing more.


We Need a Little Christmas

I have heard/seen reports that Newtown is taking down their Christmas decorations.  I beg them not to do it.  Newtown, you are precisely who Christmas is for. 

Christmas is not just for the little children who believe in Santa Claus and presents and whose faces light up under the lights of the tree.  Christmas is for those who need to believe in hope and love and joy again.  Christmas is the greatest gift to grown-ups, the ones whose hearts are hurting the most.

I know some grief.  I know that it would be easy to curl up and not be around this Christmas.  It's not going to be easy when you are missing someone who has been there every Christmas and who has brought joy and light to every Christmas celebration.  (One year my brother was not supposed to be home for Christmas.  He created this elaborate plan to surprise my mother.  His friend came to the door on Christmas Eve and asked for Austin.  My mom told him, sorry, Austin was not coming home this year... and Austin popped out of the coat closet!)  It is not going to be easy to smile at every happy face and be gleeful when we raise our glasses.  We'll be remembering all the wonderful times that we shared and we'll be sad.  But we can be happy too.  We have to.   One of the mothers from Newtown said as much to her son who was in the class.  "It's ok to be sad, it's ok to be happy," she told him.   And that is it.  We are human and we celebrate all the emotions of the season, missing those we miss, celebrating with those we love right now.  I don't want to remember this as the Christmas we didn't have Christmas.  We need a little Christmas now!  more than ever.

I listen to the songs playing and I know we are not the first ones to feel this way.  Why else would they say things like, "Make merry".  "May your days be merry and bright."  Because there has always been war.  There has always been grieving.  There have always been heavy hearts and broken spirits and torn apart families and children who are gone from us and mothers who are dying and dads who have disappeared.  And these are the ones who most need Christmas.  "Let your heart be light".  It seems like we can't, but we can.  This is why Christmas came:  to bring us hope and joy.   For I've grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older, and with Newtown we have all grown a little more cynical. 
And here's a lyric I didn't know until I looked it up:  (Apparently the song, We need a little Christmas is from a musical, Mame)
Mame says:  live each living day. 
It's going to take some work this year, more than before.  It's going to take some effort to be joyful.  We are no longer naive and innocent because our spirits have been eroded by chaos and sadness.  But we are still here.  Our spirits can be lightened.  We have children and families who depend on us and who need us to be joyful and light.  And we can be.

So roll out the holly, put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen... because we need a little dancing, need a little laughter, need a little singing, ringing in the rafters...

Why do we put candles in the window?  Lights on the tree?  Because there is darkness in our world and in our midst and we need to remind ourselves in a real way that there is hope.  It's a little source of light that helps heal our hearts.  We will find love again, we will find hope again, we will find our faith in humanity again.  Christmas is a Sustaining Ritual that gives our broken hearts some peace and consoles our spirits.  That is the true meaning of it all.  The truest meaning of Christmas.  Christmas returns us to love.

 So now for the hauling-out-the-holly part.  sigh...  I'm sharing my mantle. 

The Mantle.  It's always such a big deal.  Garland?  Lights?  Stockings?  Holly?  What else?  Candles?  Angels?

In our family room I'm going simple.  I used these old candle wreaths as wreaths on either side of the old Warren Kimble painting my husband gave me on one of our first Christmases together.  (a little peace...)

I bought the candle sticks in Jackson Hole at a cool antique store on our trip this summer.  (feeling better already...)  I don't want to put them in the attic for Christmas. 

I like the caramel candles and the way they are melted just so.  :)   The lights were up from Annie's birthday and I don't feel like trying to add green garland. 

The joy and peace are old craft show finds.  (joy and peace, joy and peace

This burlap ribbon is about $10 a yard at Pottery Barn, but you can find it for $.79 a yard (yes that's right, the decimal goes there!) at JoAnn.  It's called chair webbing and it only comes in this color. And if you use a 50% coupon, well, Merry Christmas to me!!  I bought twenty yards.  Not joking.  (smile) Maybe that was a little crazy.  I don't know where I'll use it all.
I made big bows because this stuff is made to be used on a chair and hold like 250 pounds and so it is super thick and hard to bend, but it does.   I hung my "decorative balls" from garden twine and so we have our mantle decorations.  
My inspiration came from a little garden store around here.
I snipped some holly from a neighbor and may add that to the ribbons.

I was browsing through Paper Source and saw these garland kits for $$$too much money and so we made some of our own.  I love gingerbread men!  They're so cute! And seasonless too.

The living room is not so simple.  I don't know why.  I think it needs more pine.  Or balls.  Or something.  I am most excited about the curtain rod which holds our stockings.  I think each year I end up with broken nails and broken finger nails trying to hammer in tacks that don't show and do damage on the mantle.  I found this idea on Pinterest and bought two (instead of six) stocking holders to anchor the rod.  What I really love is that it is so flexible.  The kids can take their stockings down, they can go to one side if we use the fireplace, and they hang so nicely.  The problem is the hanger fabric has also torn over the years and I'm ready to replace them.  Is it a crime to buy new stockings?  The kids have each had theirs since their first Christmas.  But I'm thinking we need more burlap around here and I'm not afraid to take out my sewing machine.  (I'm just too lazy to hang garland.)  Burlap or green velvet or something that ties in more with the other decor.  Am I sounding snobby, because I really don't mean to be.  You know, you just get tired of the same old sometimes.  So here are my options:
monogrammed stockings
Very stocking-y!  Christmas-y, traditional-y.  Might be a winner.

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Love the colors, the individualism, the warmth.  (And recycled?  From my dad's old shirts that my mom has been trying to get rid of?)
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Nah.  Let me be more emphatic:  NO!

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Basket instead of a tree-stand
green + white christmas. I like the letter labels for each stocking... Then you can change out the stockings when you're ready for new decor!

And the winner is...  No monogramming necessary but still individual, simple.  Generic.  Cute.  Timeless.
Tonight I'll be sewing. 
Just remember...
He will bring us goodness and light.  Joy is on the way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


When I teach religion classes, I teach the children that our prayers are really just like magic words to God - the same magic words we say to everyone else, "Thank you", "Please", and "I'm sorry".  "I love you" is a prayer too.  But I've learned this week that saying I'm sorry is so much more profound.  I am so sorry for those families affected by the violence in Connecticut.  We mourn with those who mourn, we cry with those who cry, we pray with those who pray.  I can't imagine what the people of Newtown are going through. I don't know why or how or what to say. The only consolation I have is this, that in the time of great need we are lifted up.  I am so so sorry.

On Friday morning I found myself in a little chapel for mass.  I hadn't planned to go.  It just happened.  The feast day was that of St. John of the Cross, and whatever your faith, there was an important lesson there that carried me through the news that would come later that day.  It's odd that in the midst of the Christmas season we think about suffering and sorrow.  We ought to be rejoicing, we may think.  Yet there is a gift in sorrow, the priest said.  In suffering we are brought together; we are consoled in our humanity, and we reach out and are connected to others who need us.  This was his homily.  I had no idea that one hour later this point would be made by a man, a very young man, who seems so absolutely disconnected from us and our humanity. 

Those poor babies in the classroom - I can't imagine.  But this is what I choose to believe.  That they were carried by angels, our prayers and our love, and didn't feel any pain.  I know that when the news first came that something had happened to my brother, I was able to be calm and to do what I had to do.  I didn't focus on the pain, I just began to go through the motions.  In the days that followed and led to his funeral, there was an amazing sense of peace that carried me through.  At the funeral I felt it most strongly and I know now what it was.  It was the love of the people around me that made the experience surreal.  It was the people who said, "I'm sorry".  It was the people who said, "I love you".  They were magic words.  In the midst of that extraordinarily hard time, call it surrealneass, call it shock, I felt separated from the pain, immune to the heartache, and I hope, I believe, that those children did too.  They were not in the room with that man, they had gone to a different place already and as they looked around their bright and happy classroom they thought about their blocks and their books and their stuffed animals, because their teacher seems like the kind of teacher who brought so much love into her room.  They thought about the gingerbread houses they would make that afternoon and they thought about their parents coming that afternoon to celebrate.  They did not know pain or grief because they were too young, thank God, to even comprehend what was in their midst.  They remained innocent in their hearts and were surrounded by the love of the people who loved them most. 

We mourn with those who mourn, we celebrate with those who celebrate.  It seems impossible to celebrate now.  It's hard to draw on any joyful energy when our hearts are broken.  Yet for my children and for those children, we do.  We will celebrate and we will keep on praying and keep on crying too.  They are all gifts of the season.  In our deepest pain, there is a human connection and the magic words that we were taught in first grade still work, we are so sorry.  We love you and we share your pain. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Wrap It Up

The other night in Dick's I hit the gift wrap jackpot:  BOXES!  I had asked for one box and they told me to take the whole case - they got their shipment late and had more boxes than they knew what to do with.  Being that it was ten o'clock at night on a Friday and no one else was around, another shopper and I loaded up with as many as we could carry, laughing all the way! 

However, in North Face on Saturday, the clerk looked at me very accusingly when I asked for a box (for a winter coat, it had to be bigger.)  "WE are a GREEN store.  WE are trying to ELIMINATE waste."  Yes, I am an awful person because I use boxes to wrap gifts.  I tried to explain to her that I am trying to go green and so was going to wrap JUST the lid this year, so I can reuse them and not have to throw away paper on Christmas morning, and I started blabbering and blabbering about how I HATE trash too and I really am at least a LITTLE green and all that wrapping paper on Christmas morning just gets in the way of seeing the kids and the presents and inevitably leads to something small being thrown away and that, too, is always a problem.  She was not impressed.  "NEXT!" she said in response to my apologetic tirade. 

But really, this has been on my mind a long time.  How do we manage gifts under the tree?  Can each child really tell whose pile is whose?  Should I wrap in different colors?  Still how do they know where to go?  (I eliminated tags a long time ago, when JJ told me Santa wrote just like I did!)  I really don't want to waste paper or trees or anything else, so I think I found a solution:
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So cute, right?  And so practical.  It's another present in and of itself!  And it makes such impact under the tree.  However, I'm a little too late to order them.  They charge extra to ship by Christmas. They might be a little feminine for my boys as well. 
Pottery Barn Kids has this version.
 Medium Canvas Buckets
Wouldn't that have been great if I thought of this in July, or even October?  Too late. 
Here's another idea that might work:
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Wire baskets would be good.  My husband has already warned me that the kids do not like wicker baskets, so I'm avoiding those but these might work.
However my ulterior motive is to have something that can corral legos and other toy debris when the kids go from room to room (like PigPen with his cloud of dust.)  An open wire basket would not be effective.

So how about this?
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 Galvanized buckets.  They look okay here, but might need some brightening up.  I can spray each one a different color and maybe a chevron pattern with a mongram, like this:
Spray paint a galvanized bucket & add monogram...simple & adorable! by jessicaj
I love this!  And I hadn't even thought of bows!  But I do have three boys.  Maybe Chalkboard paint would be more appropriate and I hear that is big this year. 
Another option:
Custom Burlap Covered Galvanized Bucket Pail with Black Lab......OR monogram for wedding OR home....Unique hostess or birthday gift.
How much fun can we have with this!
One more design:
Sherbet Chevron Galvanized Tub Rectangular Storage Bin

I'm glad to see that these can work for just about anything, boy, girl, big kid, little kid.  Really they are just grown-up toy boxes and isn't that the best, when we get to feel like little kids but act like grown ups!

So I'm not going to the mall to shop, I'll be at Lowe's or Home Depot.  And I won't be up all night baking cookies, I'll be spray painting down the basement.  Most importantly, I won't ask one more clerk if she has any boxes!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cookie Day

The December calendar is practically full already and I don't see where I'm going to fit in baking or wrapping or even bathing, but I know it has to happen. On Christmas there will be presents and food and fun and the lights will all be hung and the stockings too, but right now there's a lot more work to do. And I still have to work work. But I think I'm going to take a Cookie Day, not a day off, not a sick day, just a Cookie Day. I'll be in my kitchen all day with the butter and the flour and the mixer and the radio turned up high enough that I can still hear it. I'll dance around the kitchen all day. 

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
One of my earliest childhood memories is baking with my mother.  She used to bake in our grandmother's kitchen when I was very young, filling poinsettia-covered cookie tins with sprinkle cookies and sugar cookies. The cookie tins were stacked on a shelf of a built-in hutch in my grandmother's pantry, and given to guests and relatives at Christmas. I remember Gran asking me to get a tin for someone off the shelf and feeling that that hutch held all the cookies in the world. Next to the tins was a canister of chocolate straws that she would bring out for guests as well and I can still feel that melting chocolate on my tongue. 

My mother baked cookies in a continuous loop.  The press out cookies, the chocolate chip, and something special, our "hand" cookies.  She would gently trace around our little hands with a sharp knife as it hovered over the sugar cookie dough.  I can still feel the tickle trying to move my fingers out far enough to get each finger cut just right.  If you pressed too hard with your hand the dough wouldn't come off the surface and we'd have to start over.  She somehow put our names on these and hung them on the tree.  Then we got to eat them!  It was our first breakfast on Christmas morning.  So fun!  (I know I threw her under the bus in another post, but these were the kinds of things she did to make holidays magical and Christmas was the most magical of all!) 
When we were older my mother hid the cookies on the top shelf of our kitchen coat closet, out of reach of ten little hands that would have eaten through them in one day.   She had a huge Tupperware tub that she lined with wax paper and layered the cookies carefully so they wouldn't crumble or break.  You can't find that Tupperware any more: I know because I've tried.  There's just no need for something that big any more I suppose. 
When my brothers were finally old enough they could reach right into the tub and get a cookie without too much effort - they didn't even have to tippy-toe.  They peeled the seal back and reached in without taking it down or pulling it off the shelf.  I remember asking for one because I couldn't reach.  My mother was determined to keep it filled though and would pull it out each night and lament about the fact that no matter what, she just couldn't get that tub filled and so would pull out her baking again, with the mixer and the vanilla and the chocolate chips and the eggs. 
So I am taking a cookie day and I am going to bake my heart out.  I'll leave the butter out the night before, or maybe get the doughs all ready so all I have to do is scoop the next day. (Then I can wrap while the trays are in the oven.)  Really I've been to countless cookie exchanges, but the only ones truly worth baking are the Tollhouse chocolate chips.  My family's not into anything fancy or with rum and coconut and chopped pistachios and pine nuts, just good old fashioned Toll house at Christmas.  Ginger snaps aren't bad, maybe some snickerdoodles and peanut butter.  Simple is best. Maybe I'll make some sugar cookies because Annie loves sprinkles and I'll cut out a few hand cookies too for Christmas morning.  It's going to be a great day. 

Here are two claiming to be the best:

** One note - I saw on America's test kitchens that the vanilla doesn't really make a difference, and that it can be eliminated.  I also heard somewhere that chocolate is best complimented by coffee, so I'm substituting Coffee (strong, left over kind that's been sitting there all day) for the vanilla.  I'll let you know how it turns out!!  I'm going to make sure I have good chips too!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dear Austin

Dear Austin,
I can't believe it's been six months since you've been gone.  We miss you something fierce.  I hope you are content.  I bid you peace.
There is so much to fill you in on, so much you have missed.  We have to catch up.  First, you'll be happy to know that Obama won the election.  I think I would have heard you yell from way over here if you had seen that election night.  It was pretty cool. 
You'll also be happy to know that Avalon survived Hurricane Sandy.  It was a really bad storm in October that knocked out much of New Jersey and some of New York.  I'm sorry to say that Breezy did not do so well.  Lots of damage.  Remember when we drove up there to pick up Walt?  That was a great trip.  Didn't we go on to New England?  We drove all day and night it seems.  Is that when you bought that Yale sweatshirt that I "stole" from you?  I can't find it now, but I'm still looking.  I know you ripped the collar when it didn't fit you anymore, but you kept it, right? 
Speaking of trips we went on our own cross country trip this summer just like we did when we were little.  It was amazing.  There were so many things we saw.  The kids were great and had a blast.  My favorite is still Jackson Hole.  I remember when you went fishing there and I love looking at the picture mom has of you fly fishing.  I hope you can do that again. 
The kids are growing up so fast.  Can you believe JJ and Dory are looking at high schools?  I remember when you used to come over to First Avenue to walk and see JJ and we would sit and talk on the front porch.  I miss those days, but hey, we all move on. 
We had a great time down the shore for your birthday.  We took some great pictures of the kids on the beach together.  Don't worry, we didn't torment them like for our old Christmas pictures.  It was really fun and they did a terrific job.  I think Walt and Jay and I took about 200 pictures in the blink of about 5 minutes, maybe a little longer.  We are giving one to Mom and Dad for Christmas. 
What else?  You know so many people miss you.  There were so many at your funeral and we all love you so! 
I'll never forget you sitting on the hearth here at the house last year at Christmas.  I think this year I'll save that spot for you so I can feel your presence.  I can hear the kids shouting "Uncle Austin, Uncle Austin!"  Annie is planning the annual family Christmas concert and is also concerned that we don't have enough decorations up yet, so I'm getting to work on that. 
I know I'm forgetting a lot of things, but I wanted to let you know that we love you.