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greetingsLast Christmas I did the shopping, the wrapping, the decorating, the tree cutting, light stringing, bulb hanging and pine needle sweeping all in that mythical land of “spare time”. I remember collapsing into the couch one evening with a glass of wine and a cup of resentment, ready to smash every Christmas CD and swearing I’d never do it again. Why in the name of the Sweet Baby Jesus should I go dashing through the snow to fight for a parking place and the last Xbox game to feel guilty for spending too much money? It’s been a long time since Santa graced our chimney and we don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday, so what is it then, peer pressure? My sons have more than they need yet somehow I’ve been duped into thinking I must add to their infinite taste for consuming so they won’t be disappointed on Christmas morning. Spend the money now or on therapy later.
This year wants a lot more laughter and a lot less stress.
I’ve always loved the hunt for something surprising and special, the delight on the face of its pajama-clad recipient and the Christmas memory that lingers. When the boys were little Santa brought the highly-coveted goodies from his workshop while mom replenished the sock drawer, but as they grew up, those Legos became laptops and the joy of giving became the dread of obligation.
Honestly I don’t have bad kids, but like most middle class kids they are part of the generation who feels entitled to an Xbox or an iPod or a smartphone; whatever the latest invention served up to our youth for consumption. When did that letter to Santa morph into the “list of things mom should get me or she’ll feel like crap on Christmas morning”? It makes me sad. Maybe even sadder than the boys would feel if I pulled the plug on this whole string of blinking lights. I’m not sure if I have the ornaments to go that far, but I can make this be a Christmas to remember.christmas tree
This year will be more about giving than getting.

So on December first, in the spirit of renewal and re-connection, I popped the Sarah McLaughlin CD into the player, gathered the boys around a pot of coffee to talk about changin it up this year. “Rather than me producing the Christmas extravaganza while you kill zombies and aliens, why don’t we do something different? Ya know, do something good in the world, create something memorable, maybe have a little fun while we’re at it?” Rather than ask what they want, I ask what we can we give. I hear the sigh as the cheek hits the table; this isn’t going over too well. I dig deeper. “What do you think gives Christmas its magic? (Beat.) What do you want it to be about this year? I could have served up a bowl of boiled brussels sprouts for the same reaction. Mother’s getting desperate. “How ’bout a Twelve Days of Christmas where we exchange small things, or funny gifts?” I ask, trying to mask my ridiculous cheerleader expectation. *ping of incoming text* “What about a movie night? Doing something for charity?… Scrabble?” *sigh* “Can we go snowboarding?” Witherspoon fils queries.

This year there will be no presents, there will be gifts.
Somewhere between the end of the world and the fiscal cliff I vow to bring a kinder, gentler and cheaper holiday experience to our hearts. Rather than sweat it out at the mall, we’ll work it up at the holiday skating rink. Rather than online shopping, I’ll Google “Things to do in Denver in December”. We’ll return to the things we did when they were young and full of wonder- Zoo Lights, the Nutcracker, Christmas Eve service–each event building anticipation of the big day. It’s harder now, exhausted by the eye rolls and resistance. Maybe the magic isn’t gone, just lost in Teenville.
This year there will be no electronics, there will be turn-ons.
As a nation of stressed-out spenders, constantly bombarded with the notion that we must impale ourselves on our credit limits, strive to meet over-inflated expectations, and lose our connection in the process. If Jesus ain’t the reason for your season, American Express and Martha Stewart will gladly step in to take his place? I don’t think so, not this year. What if I took back the wonder? What if we discovered time within our crazy schedules, replaced the standard with the unusual and mixed the kitch into the cookie dough. What if we watched “Elf”, made tacky Christmas sweaters and wore them around town? What if what we gave to one another came from the true exchange of our gifts?
This isn’t a new thought, I know. Every year Hollywood cranks out a heartwarming holiday tale extolling the miracle of the season, the simple things that give it meaning, and for forty bucks sans popcorn, you and your family can be reminded of this.
It is something to think about. As you’re driving around the parking lot looking for a space.


An autumn past, a dear new friend sent me a Max Coots prayer/poem/chant for Thanksgiving. It has been his tradition for many years and now it is mine as well; a simple connection, a virtual whisper of thanks. I thought long and hard about posting it on my blog, as I usually send it as an email. In the end I chose to include it as the spirit is wider than my contact list and my feelings about it aren’t constrained by form.
If this is your first time receiving it we might have just met or perhaps reconnected after many years. Perhaps you are a stranger, stumbling on it as a novice and to you I say welcome. If you remember it from seasons past, I hope you enjoy it once more and wrap yourself in the true feeling it comes with. If you are one of the lucky ones, receiving this both from me and my dear friend…you are twice blessed.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:
For children who are our second planting.
And though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away,
May they forgive us our cultivation and remember fondly where their roots are.
Let us give thanks:
For generous friends, with hearts as big as hubbards and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples; for continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us we’ve had them.
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible.
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, as plain as potatoes and so good for you.
For funny friends who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions.
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you throughout the winter.
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time and young friends coming on as fast as radishes.
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings.
And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter; for all these we give thanks.
— Max Coots
1928-2009

The holidays are coming and along with them… house guests.
If you’re like me, the shopping and cooking and cleaning miraculously manage to get done. Having a snappy home office leaves me without a proper guest room, but the sheets get changed, sleeping accommodations are made and everyone seems to be happy. I mean…they come back, right?
Through the years I’ve found a few personal touches to make my guests feel like I’m glad to have them. Here are my old favorites and one I’m adding.
1. Have you ever slept on someone’s sofa-bed? Their owners preface your evening turn-in with “Oh, it’s so comfortable” but obviously they haven’t slept on it since college. Rather than have your guests spend their nights on “the rack” and their days in traction, why not invest in a mattress topper? I purchased a gel foam topper for my son’s futon and it makes a world of difference. With company coming, I ran down to Costco and bought another for the guest (sofa) bed. If you have guests who fold that thing up every night you may want a different type of topper but my family tends to spread out and stay out and the gel pad with find a post-holiday home on the other son’s bed.
2. Add some flowers. Whether I’m creating guest space in the boys’ rooms, my office or in the basement, adding some seasonal sprigs brings a bright distraction. Those unexpected peach poinsettias make any room feel festive.
3. Sweet treats. Though I don’t go all Martha with chocolates on the pillow, I love to pre-set a few fun and useful things. Taking a tip from my travels, it’s easy to stay a step ahead by providing for their needs in advance. Arrange an extra toothbrush, toothpaste, a few bottles of water and that shampoo, conditioner and lotion from your last hotel stay in a holiday cookie tin. You may want to throw in some drugstore items (aspirin, antacids, etc), then place a few clementines, home baked cookies or some peppermint for some festive pop.
4. Basket of soft things. Rather than stack towels and toiletries on the bed, wrap them in ribbon and place them in a deep basket. Step it up with a robe, extra throw blanket and pillows and top it off with a small box of chocolates.
5. Double check the necessities. Though you may use the room for another reason, make sure your guests have everything they need. An adjustable desk lamp, reading light or bathroom nightlight, make your night owl guests feel at home, and have an alarm clock handy for the early birds. Have an old iPod and headphones? Load it up with soothing music or snappy jazz and make it handy, place a good book (one you’ve already read) and some recent magazines on the bedside table, or pick up some gallery guides and touristy pamphlets for that B&B touch.
6. Make all of the above easy to store and reuse.

Chances are your friends and family will be with you more than the three day limit, so make the most of their stay by starting with a warm and thoughtful welcome. Happy Holidays!

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