Not All is Merry and Bright

In spite of the almost non-stop showings of Hallmark Christmas movies at our house, not all is merry and bright. I did something to a muscle (or tendon or ligament or something) in my left thigh that pulls on the knee and zings right into the groin when I raise my knee (say, to walk or anything). And getting the leg up into bed with the leg lifter is excruciating. It’s hard to get comfortable IN bed, too, especially with Ellie plastered against my other leg. She rarely sleeps with me and I don’t want to push her away – but trying to find any position that doesn’t hurt is a challenge. My therapist has been using the diathermy machine on me – but I only have a few more sessions left. It will just take time, but meanwhile, it hurts.

This is my first Christmas away from my home in Emerald Bay. I was back last week for the Women’s Club Christmas luncheon to hear my friend Curtis offer a Soul-ebration of the season and had the chance to see lots of people for about 2 minutes each. But I’m very aware that I’m no longer part of that community and it felt weird to be back with so many people and activities that I knew nothing about. Lots of changes in just four months but it feels like so much longer since my life was normal.

I want to go hear Messiah and sing the Christmas Cantata, and to go Christmas shopping, even if just to look. But I can’t do that. Transportation is tricky and not available evenings and weekends. I’m learning to live a smaller life and it’s a hard adjustment. I’m trying to remember that I’m giving this one year to just be what it is and see how much healing happens. But waiting is hard and it’s lonely. Oh, there are things to do here in my new community but it’s still a big adjustment and I have to work around therapy and my aide’s schedule.

Three of my new friends here are moving to be closer to their children. It’s logical, it’s sensible, and it’s another loss for me. I need to get used to it – there’s a lot of turnover with moves to new places, moves to assisted living, and deaths. It’s part of living in a community of older people – and have I mentioned that I’m the youngest resident here?

So I’m feeling a bit depressed and sad, and eating more than I should, which makes me depressed and sad. I have the lovely kitties to keep me company, books to read, Hallmark movies to watch, but still. I want to bake cookies but don’t trust my ability to stand and maneuver around the hot oven, so that’s out. I want to rearrange the closet but can’t stand up and do it. And I want to weed out stuff to take to the thrift store, but can’t do that either. I can’t even set up a puzzle at the table because my legs are too swollen and I need to keep them raised up. Arrrrgh. Whine. Sorry.

Image credit: Photo 66773269 © Androlia |

Decorating from the Chair

I wasn’t really sure how it would work to put up my Christmas decorations this year, working from the chair and in a new place – and not remembering what things I actually brought with me in the first place. Many of my decorations were given away before I moved but I didn’t remember which ones went, which stayed – or really, which ones I had in the first place. I’ve always been surprised in opening my boxes at what was inside and this year was no different.

The decoration boxes were stowed away in the storage closet back in August when I could actually stand up and move them around myself; that’s not possible now, so it was a bit of a challenge to get them out. But with a few exceptions, I did get most of the boxes down and out of the closet, though putting things where I wanted them wasn’t quite as easy. I did manage to get my new cute gnome wreath on the door, and the shorty nutcracker out in the hallway outside my door, and the cats’ stockings, nativity, and all the elves. I have LOTS of elves, and in fact gave away my really big one to help decorate our common space downstairs.

My aide helped me with two boxes and moved around things that needed to be taller than I could place them, such as the metal gnome with a little planter; the cats tried to eat the fake greenery when it was closer to their level so it had to go high. We put out the Christmas pillows and the vintage Christmas card box I made for my parents 45 years ago and still love. Today we put up my metal tree in my bedroom and decorated a table top tree that runs the risk of cats batting around the Shiny Brite ornaments. Jamie had to do all of the work of setting up the wrought iron tree and placing ornaments while I unwrapped them and remembered their history – this one came from Harrods, this squirrel is from Boston to remind me of squirrels in the Public Garden, the flamingo represents Emerald Bay, the swan from my days going to the UVA Christmas concert and singing in the “seven swans” section for 12 days of Christmas. Most had a story; all had a memory.

Small things that decorate my space and remind me of places and people past. It’s not the same as last year, but it looks like home.

The Christmas Tree Letter

Christmas 1975 was the first year my parents shopped for a Christmas tree without us children. My brother and I were both away in college, one a freshman and one a senior, at different schools hundreds of miles apart from each other and from our parents in Dallas.  They were on their own.

We had tree standards – always tall, live trees that were fat and aromatic.  They sat outside in buckets of water until closer to Christmas to keep them fresh as long as possible, or at least so the trees didn’t drop needles everywhere before Christmas even arrived. Mom put on the lights (because Dad never got it right), and together we’d put on ornaments collected over the years, with the unbreakable ones at the bottom by custom rather than real necessity since the cat barely batted them anymore.

When we were little, we added strands of shiny tinsel. My brother and I liked to just throw it at the tree but Mom insisted we “place” the strands so they would be untangled and shiny.  Since we reused old tinsel the next year, that made more sense to do, but it wasn’t as much fun. Our “tree skirt” was an old white sheet wrapped around the bottom. By the time we were in Texas, though, we’d graduated to using strings of gold balls instead of garland or tinsel, and the tree sported a skirt made by my mom.

But the first step was finding a tree and 1975 they did it without us. Dad memorialized this activity in what has become known in the family as “The Christmas Tree Letter.” His handwriting was terrible and the letter was written in black felt tip pen on yellow legal pad, but it’s pure Dad. And on this, my first Christmas without him, it’s a precious memory.

Requiem for a Nativity Set

Spanish nativity setIn 1974 I came home from my semester in Madrid with a nativity set, or nacimiento as they are called in Spain.  I first bought a “starter set” of Mary, Joseph and little baby Jesus (on a white fuzzy cloth) plus an angel to hang overhead, a donkey and a cow.  As the weeks passed and we got closer to Christmas, I added a set of 3 kings on camels (with camel drivers in matching garb), several shepherds and a few fuzzy sheep.  I used some of my last pesetas buying a stable in the Plaza Mayor the day before my flight home.

Every year for 36 years I’ve set up my nacimiento, carefully placing the figures in appropriate relationship to each other.  The donkey is behind Mary, the cow behind Joseph to her right, and baby Jesus on the ground between them (my stable didn’t have any managers; it was a cheap model).  The angel hung from a sewing pin stuck in the stable.  The shepherds and sheep were scattered around to the left and front, while the kings and their color-coordinated camel drivers were in order to the right, moving closer each day until it got to Epiphany.  Oh, and I had two little plastic palm trees for ambience.

I have loved this nativity and setting it up every year reminded me of that time in a distant place (pre-Internet, no less) and the friends and world I was part of.  I see my landlady’s little grandson showing me how the figures should be set up, and watch myself shopping in the Plaza Mayor to add to my growing little family.  I see my roommates smiles as we sat in our room gabbing with the then-stable-less nativity set up on one of the bookshelves.  I remember finally getting home and setting it up under the Christmas tree for my family to see in the morning.

The figures have not held up very well, but then they’re 36 years old and weren’t all that well made in the first place.  The stable is starting to fall apart, the shepherds are losing arms, the sheep’s legs fell off, and the kings and Holy Family have paint chipped off their faces.  Baby Jesus looks fine, though, but the rest looks …. shabby.

So this year when I set up my Christmas decorations, the nativity won’t be part of it.  It feels disrespectful to put it up when it’s so worn out and tattered.  After so many years, I’ve said goodbye to it.  I don’t need to see it to remember Christmases past, the places and the people that were part of it.  Vaya con Dios, nacimiento mio.

Snow for Winter

Today is the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter.  It’s not unusual for us to already have snow by now but honestly, Mother Nature, you outdid yourself this time.  My area only got about a foot of snow, though other places in the state ranged from 0-26″ — but at least we are prepared for snow here.  We know how to drive, we have adequate plows and sanders, people understand you go out and shovel as soon as the snow stops if not several times while it’s happening, just to get it gone ASAP to make for safer walking and driving.

The DC area, and my friends in Virginia (waves to Lori) took a wallop with this storm, which hit at such a terrible time for those shopping and/or traveling for the holidays.  Frances had her flight cancelled and rescheduled for today after a 3 hour wait on hold.  Thousands of travelers will end up stranded because, as we all know, snow and airport closures in one part of the country have a domino effect everywhere.

Last year it was my turn, spending 3 days to go from CT to TX after not one but two storms that came one day apart.  I told my family then that I loved them but that I wasn’t going to do that again this year.  I meant it, and I’m keeping my word – and happy to do so.   I love my family a lot but in these days of overcrowded stressed skies, why push it?

So I’m thrilled that this year I  have family up near me and I’ll have company for Christmas — my football-playing nephew who gets only Christmas Day off.  It’s his first time to not be with his family in Texas and I know he was homesick for family over Thanksgiving.  Weather permitting (and it’s definitely a factor in any plans), he’ll drive down on Christmas Eve after they finish team meetings and spend the night with me.  I have the inflatable bed and a tree and will be cooking him a home-cooked meal, even if I won’t be able to eat most of it.

It’s funny the things that people really miss and that make them feel at home.  We’re having a crockpot turkey breast, my mom’s sweet potato casserole with oranges, his mom’s cornbread dressing, and by request, green bean casserole.  He offered to help me make it so it would be easier, obviously not knowing it’s one of the world’s easiest dishes.  Dessert will be a pumpkin ice cream pie, also a kind of family tradition.  I’m also making a sour cream coffee cake for breakfast (his) and for him to take back with him to share with his roommate.  He couldn’t believe I knew how to make Grandma’s coffee cake, though I pointed out to him I’d been making it longer than he’s been alive.

What’s ironic is that I don’t think I’ll be able to eat much of anything.  I’m going to the doctor for a fill in my lapband today, which means a day or two of liquids only, followed by mushies, and only then by soft foods.  I’ve had some instances of stuck food or just the sensation of it, and frankly am not that interested in eating solid anything.  So the appointment comes at a good time to check in, make sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing instead of making something up out of a lack of direction.

I had a nice visit to NYC last week to spend part of a day with Our Frances.  We did our traditional visit to Chinatown for Qi Dong massages (omg, they are to die for if your body is tied in knots), followed by walking around and being lured into a backroom to check out knock off purses.  Honestly, what’s a trip to Chinatown without knock off purses?  We each bought one 🙂  Then it was on to Little Italy for lunch (a bowl of minestrone for me) and quick subway hop to the Union Square Christmas Fair.  I love going but a lot of the booths look the same now that I’ve been several times.  It’s still fun to be outside listening to Christmas music and being part of the crowds checking out the booths.

I hope you and yours are safe and warm today, not stranded by the side of the road in a snowbank or without power in frigid weather.  I hope you either can stay home or have safe passage on roads to get where you’re going.  Remember – it’s winter now!