Tag Archives: Christmas

Turducken Trees and Other Thoughts on the Season

I am told there is a dish called turducken—a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. The name came to mind when shopping for a new artificial Christmas tree. That industry seems to think it a good idea to combine multiple types of foliage in one tree—mixing tips of white pine, fir, spruce—a frucepine? We were almost forced to buy one.

We put up an artificial tree, largely because of allergies. I could extol other virtues, but you have heard all the arguments and have come down on one side or the other. I am not here to change your mind. We have reaped a quarter-century of use out of just two such trees.

Last year, when we plugged our tree in and noted the large dark section where yet another string of lights had failed, we felt it was time to buy a new tree. That’s when we discovered turducken trees. And no other choices.

We had hoped to upgrade to LED lighting, but the price was too steep, so we hauled home the least ugly of the incandescent-lit turduckens and unpacked our treasure. It was a day of thrill upon thrill. Somehow, the lights had been strung on this tree with the branches in the upright (folded for storage) position. There was not enough slack in the wiring to allow the branches to unfold. We re-boxed the turducken (mostly turkey at this point) and used part of the refund to buy yet another supplemental string of lights to stuff into the dark places on our old tree. We’d make it last one more year.

Fast forward to last weekend. An even larger dark section greeted us this year. Again, the question, Is this the year? Again, the trip to Home Depot. We found the turducken fad still alive and well. But, this year there is choice. And the price of LEDs has fallen. We scored a new, LED-lit, mono-species, fake tree. Sometimes, it pays to wait a year.

Waiting. That’s what we do in Advent. Liturgically, that is part of what the season tries to teach us. Wait. Anticipate. Long for. With faith and patience. But it is a hard lesson, one never fully learned.

We went to visit my mother recently. At a coffee stop, I was watching the baristas—how fast they worked, how they juggled to keep the inside line and the drive-through moving! I was grateful to not have their job, their stress. At the same time, I realized that I was also getting restless, slightly irritated—Why is this taking so long? Waiting. It will take a few more Advents for me to learn that lesson.

During our visit, Nancy’s Advent word-of-the-day site served up “Be.” To be, not to act, is another take on the waiting that Advent requires of us. Just be present and attentive. It is a lesson especially appropriate to visits with Mother. There is not much to be said, not much to be done. We sit together, sometimes just reading, napping, or watching the birds outside her window.

This weekend, Nancy and I are dog-sitting. Like our Mona, the “grand-dog,” Wonton, was rescued from the pound. He’d ended up there after the previous owners were caught up in a drug bust. He’s a big, exuberant sweetie. He’s missing his folks. Like our Mona, he needs his loving cup topped up often. A nap on my lap is just the ticket. So here we sit, 70-pound Wonton snoring on my lap and Mona napping beside Nancy. These dogs can teach us a thing or two about Advent.

P.S.—I took the old tree outside and extracted the supplemental strings we had added over the years as the originals failed. Four strings, all still working, totaling 300 lights.

Are You Ready … ?

My non-scientific survey suggests that the most common greeting this time of year is not “Merry Christmas,” but “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Is your tree up? Are your garlands and wreaths hung? Are your wireframe reindeer nodding and your blowup Santa bobbing in the wind?

Is your shopping done, the gifts wrapped and shipped (or hidden from curious children and pets)? Are your cards mailed, your invitations delivered, your party eats and drinks laid in the larder? Are the guest beds made, or the travel tickets purchased?

Have you procured the turkey (or ham), the cranberries and yams, the rolls and relish, the beans and beets, the pumpkin pie? Are the table linens ironed, the yule log laid, the scented candles burning? Have you bought your party dress?

It’s a formidable list. And I am sure I remember someone asking me that question the Monday after Thanksgiving. Am I ready? Of course I am n…  Well, wait! Maybe I am.

Time was, I spent many hours Christmas shopping for my family—extended lunch hours and afternoons off from work wandering book stores and toy stores and department stores and hardware stores. Happy hours for the most part. I enjoyed the looking, at least until the pressure of unfilled stockings and the approaching big day began to accumulate between my shoulder blades. More than once, I settled for a book that I had enjoyed, in hopes that my teenage son would find a similar pleasure or inspiration in it.

But as our children grew older and moved away, the drive to pile presents under the tree gave way to the convenience and fungibility of a check written out on Christmas Eve. As the number of people around the Christmas table shrunk year by year, so too did the complexity of the meal.

Xmas Tree-Wreath1We’d already simplified the decorating. We use an artificial tree. No need to argue the merits—tradition and aesthetics vs. convenience and cost. Allergies to conifers dictate the artificial route. The pre-lit tree is half-way done when unwrapped from its 11-month slumber, and the other major elements are similarly quick to unwrap and hang. We have foregone the Christmas card tradition, abandoned the annual newsletter, and rarely entertain, seasonal or not.

The upshot is that I could almost respond, Yes, to the question of the season, even on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Yes, give or take a few hours.

Why? Why the countercultural approach to Christmas? We are not Scrooges, contemptuous of the season. We are not hair-shirt, it’s-Advent-until-late-on-the-24th types; in fact we bemoan the tiny, less-than-12-days window in which our church lets the carols sparkle between the Advent and Epiphany hymns. Nor are we militant about keeping the secular out of the religious holiday.

Lazy? Maybe. I prefer to believe, however, that we are making conscious decisions to have a merry, not a madding, Christmas. We have watched friends and family driven by the season, and decided early on to enjoy it, not be consumed by it.

This year, however, I find myself wandering book stores and hardware stores and big boxes again. I baked cookies yesterday. Gluten-free cookies. Just for the fun of it. Just for Nancy and me. Maybe it has something to do with having grandkids. Even though we probably will not see them during the holidays, I have an urge to see packages under the tree.

Am I ready? Well, I wouldn’t mind finding another gift for one or two of those on my list. We are expecting some company, and I haven’t decided what to serve. The guest beds are not made, the floors not vacuumed, the de-cluttering not done. But if you jiggered the calendar and it was suddenly Christmas Eve, I’d be OK with that. I am ready.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Seasons Greetings.

A Hamster’s Christmas

Recently found in a remote corner of my hard drive:

Humans think they are so smart and we hamsters are simple-minded.  Humbug!  I sleep all day, play and eat and poop and pee all night.  They clean my cage and feed me and supply fresh water.  Tell me, who’s the smart one?  

And my family is still wondering where I spent last Christmas!  To them, it’s a great mystery.  It’s no big deal, really.  I was bored, the Big S needed help, so I took a vacation … a working vacation … to the North Pole.

I was jogging on my treadmill and had just taken a break to gnaw enamel off the cage bars when this elf popped up on the other side of the bars.  Yep, a real elf — green suit, pointy hat, the whole bit — singing his own tacky, made-up words to the familiar tune.

“Snowball, with your teeth so tough, won’t you help us out of the rough?”

Turns out that big operation at the North Pole had almost ground to a halt for lack of cutters.  For ribbons and wrapping paper and such.  And the Big S had heard of me and my fine cutters.  I guess my sleek white coat didn’t hurt either.  I’m a natural for all that snow.

Anyway, Elvis (that’s what he said his name was, cross my heart) was practically begging me on bended knee to come on up the North Pole and help them out.  

“Please, Snowball!  We need you, Snowball!  You’re our last hope, Snowball!”

Honestly!  He was laying it on thick.

I can’t say much about my time away — trade secrets, they claim. But we got the job done. And those elves do know how to party after a hard day’s work! I was so worn out, getting back to my treadmill was a relief. 

Silly humans! They’ll never figure it out. 

Some may doubt parts of this story.  This much is certain.  On December 20, 2003, Jay’s hamster cage was found open and empty.  On December 26, Snowball was back in her cage.  No trace of her missing week was ever found in the house — no nest, no chewings, no pee, no poop, no evidence of stolen food.

Advent, So Far

We are a third of the way through December and halfway through Advent, and the fall leaf show keeps on coming. On this morning’s walk with Mona, I saw two different Japanese maples, only half denuded; their fallen drapery carpeting the ground underneath with the same scarlet as that remaining on their limbs. Farther down the street, bright yellow adorned a tree I cannot identify. Nor could the lady of the house, out retrieving her morning paper.

Apparently, we are not very social; the holiday busyness others brag/complain of has never afflicted us in past years. This year, however, is an exception, due mostly to music groups that Nancy has joined. Her community band is busy giving concerts in nursing homes, and another group performed two sing-along presentations of “The Messiah” this past weekend. Our Sunday morning ensemble also has new music to learn.

Nancy’s now the proud owner of full-sized concert bells, a beautiful instrument weighing nearly 40 pounds, which is lugged back and forth between home and church or home and band three or more times a week. Adding in the bass drum she also uses in the band, inventing schemes for transporting musical instruments has become a major part of our lives.

As to Christmas decoration, we traditionally tend toward the church calendar more than the secular one. That is, the decorations do not go up on Thanksgiving to be taken down on the 26th. Rather, we wait until closer to Christmas, and leave them up until Epiphany. The big star is the exception. We like to get it up early in Advent. This year, like our holiday busyness, our decorating schedule is topsy-turvy. Nancy was in the attic shortly after Thanksgiving, and dragged out the Christmas stuff while she was at the other task. So the tree, the lighted wreath adorning our dining room picture window (two-sided, so attractive from indoors or out), and the twinkle lights above the door went up early. But rainy weather prevented hanging the star, which still sits on the porch. I willingly procrastinate on that task; I hate ladders.

That star is a convex sheet metal construction, 36 inches point-to-point, mounted several inches in front of a larger plywood background. A light bulb is fixed in the concavity, so what is seen from the street is the white outline of the metal star. It is a fairly large device, hanging in the peak above the second story. Three years ago, a gust of wind lifted it off its hook. I found it the next morning, quivering above the point embedded in our son’s window ledge. Lethal when flying! So I added a safety screw, driven into the siding. Hanging it now requires two trips up the ladder; one with the star, the next with the drill-driver. Did I mention that I hate ladders?

I am writing this while sitting in the waiting room of Nancy’s doctor. Little more than a year ago, I accompanied her on these trips because she was nearly immobilized. Then came bi-lateral hip joint replacement, enabling her to return to gardening and hardscaping and other physical activity. Today, I am here in my role as sherpa for the musical instruments; her band is playing for hospital staff at lunchtime. In Nancy’s return to music, to painting, to health, we have much for which to be grateful.