Gifts vs. Presents or: How to Find the Joy in Building Forts Out of Cardboard Boxes

There has been a catalog deluge at our house. Big, glossy catalogs full of gloves and toys, and speakers. We got four just today.

The paper (yes, we still get a paper paper–we are old school) promises to be fifteen pounds on Wednesday and Thursday. Fat with ads so the teaming masses can plan to trample one another in pursuit of the joy of Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but if you threatened my life I couldn’t tell you a single present I got two years ago. I can however wax poetic about the time my Dad and Uncle took to a steep embankment of snow with a toboggan and all the kids and grown-ups road into the parking lot below until our fingers were numb and our faces hurt with laughter. I can tell you in detail what it was like to hold my Mom’s had in the Santa line at AM&As. How impressed I was as my boyfriend McGyvered a star onto my little potted Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I can tell you about late-night Christmas cookie baking with a friend that resulted in laughing so hard I collapsed on the floor holding the cookie sheet (which made us laugh more).  In fact, this blog has been, and will continue to be, peppered with the moments that have meant Christmas to me. And only one has to do with a present. All of those moments and memories were gifts I still hold close to my heart.

As the insidious Black Friday draws ever nearer, keep that in your mind. You remember the moment, not the presents. Drive around and see the lights together. Take along walk in the snow together. Hold a little hand and get lost in gingerbread, or ice skates, or stories. Take your Mom to see Santa this time. Laugh. Let your brother take all of your money playing Left Right Center (or is that just my brother?). Memories last longer than presents do–plus you don’t have to go to the mall.

PS–My friend Jen found this clip from Christella Morris (crawltheline.com) and passed it on. Thanks, Jen.

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Angel Watching Overhead: Unbreakable JOY of Baby’s First Christmas Ornament

World's most fragile Christmas ornament.

World’s most fragile Christmas ornament.

This is my baby’s first Christmas ornament. Somewhere along the lines my mother added the date in sharpie. While I am glad to have this, it has always stressed me out.

It is thin glass with a foil-y white paint and the traditional silver cap covering the sharp glass top. I have always lived in fear of breaking it. More specifically dropping it and smashing it into a million little shards that you can never quite clean up.

This is why I have taken such care in picking the baby’s first Christmas ornament for my niece, Laura.

You see, for a long time before Lola, her mom and my bff, was able to conceive Laura, we prayed for her—a lot. I never had any doubt that Laura would come, but it took a long time and a lot of patience and Lola could not hurry it. My super achiever friend who goes out and get what she wants had to be patient and wait, because there was no other choice.

Sistine Angel Babies

Sistine Angel Babies

One December, when Lola and I were in Vatican City (I know, lucky ducks) and walking through the Sistine Chapel, I saw this relief and it stopped me in my tracks. And one of the moments I remember praying about Laura with Lola was right there. I told her that those were her angel babies and from then until now, before she was a cell, before she had a name, before she was in the world, Laura was known as the angel baby.

And while I know they would have loved each other the same, no matter how they came together, having to wait and wonder and hope for their family has resulted in an endless amazement between the three of them. It is beautiful. They seem stunned by their good fortune; and grateful. So grateful.

So this Christmas as Lola and her husband celebrate their first Christmas through the eyes of their own child, I want this angel to hang on their tree and watch over them.

Baby's First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

Baby’s First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

And as Laura bounces (and man does that little one bounce!), and laughs, and a plays with boxes and paper in lieu of her toys, I don’t want them to give the ornament angel a thought. And if Laura reaches up and yanks this little angel off the tree to see how she tastes, or if someday she throws it in a backpack to take to school, or in a box to bring to her first first apartment I don’t want her to worry.

I want them all focus all of their attention on the wonder and awe of the season and begin to create the traditions and memories of a lifetime under the watch of an angel and with all the love of me, her Zia.

PS–don’t read this post to her. I want her to be surprised 🙂

Hot Cider and The Orchard

Spending the Afternoon in an apple orchard from the cozy of my couch.

Spending the Afternoon in an apple orchard from the cozy of my couch.

Speaking of not hurrying, let’s stop to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I spent part of today re reading a book that my friend Gail passed on to me. It is the kind of book you can wrap yourself in. It makes me crave apples, an old farm house, and a good day’s work.  The book is The Orchard: A Memoir by Adele Crockett Robertson.

I wonder if you could survive a winter on apples alone...

I wonder if you could survive a winter on apples alone…

The Orchard lets you into the world of a woman’s struggle to save her family farm in New England during the Depression. There is little to be depressed about in this book. Its amazing to follow along as Kitty changes from a young Radcliffe student to a dyed in the wool apple farmer, like her father. Just a girl and her dog, she survives broken machinery, overcomes debt, and shows her spunk and moxy like a good New Englander (just like my friend Gail, actually). There are instances of incredible kindness among neighbors and even a Thanksgiving that would warm Norman Rockwell’s heart.

If you look for it on Amazon (click here), you can read the beginning of the book right now…seize the moment, but don’t miss out on reading the whole book.

I am going to send my copy of the book to another friend who needs to have it. She is one of those selfless, hardworking New Englanders, too. I want to make sure she knows I admire those qualities in her and I am thankful for her friendship. When I am done with that I am going to work on warming my boyfriend up to the idea of getting a dog.

As an aside, so that I don’t paint an unrealistic picture, I should also mention that I had to go to the dentist today, so it wasn’t all falling leaves and warm drinks today. You take the good moments where you can get ‘um!

Thanksgiving Memories Across the Pond

Amalfi on a rainy day!

Amalfi on a rainy day! That’s me on the right and my BFF, Lola on the left.

Thanksgiving has always been a time to create new traditions for me. I grew up in a very large extended family–and while I love my family, as an adult I took the first chance to excuse myself from the chaos and follow a more contemplative, relaxed, and, as long as I am being honest, quieter road.

For a while, before boyfriends, husbands, and babies, my best friend and I hopped across the pond and explored Europe. Thanksgiving is a great time to go to Europe–rates are low and its off season for London and Rome. If you are on a budget, this is a way to make the dream of going to Europe come true for a lot less money. The memories we made were worth every cent we spent. On Thanksgiving we always celebrated with a great dinner and good wine. I don’t think we were too obnoxious, but we were always happy to tell the people around us it was American Thanksgiving.

Look at the excitement of those faces! And we are on a bus to Pompeii here.

Look at the excitement of those faces! And we are on a bus to Pompeii here.

This is an excerpt from my journal at the time. It still makes me smile…and want to plan another trip:

Time in Sorrento: Hours

Gelato eaten: Who cares. Did I mention I was in Sorrento?

When we drove out of Naples and into the rocky cliffs to Sorrento. We checked into the Hotel Michaelangelo (not Buonarotti, they were all very quick to point out, another one). I took a bath in the most fantastic coral marble bathtub. After all that talk about Roman Baths in Pompei, I was thrilled to have a chance to splash around.

I thought about leaving this story out, but I have to share it.

We had dinner in the hotel. It was Thanksgiving! We decided two things–1. We were getting dressed up and 2. We were drinking three bottles of wine. When we walked in to the well appointed dining room and were seated I noticed a commotion in the corner. When I looked over, several members of the wait staff and the men from the kitchen had dashed to the door and were more or less drooling on the travertine tile. I couldn‘ t help but grin at them but them I immediately looked away. I distinctly heard a Mamma Mia (they actually say that?). Even when they are lusting after the

new girls in town, they are still calling for their mothers 😉 Anything Lola tells you about the rest of this evening is likely to be untrue. She was making things up about me kissing a hot Italian waiter. All lies. He kissed me.

Early the next morning, we were up and ready to catch a hydrofoil to Capri. Through an act of divine intervention, our day in Capri turned into a private, escorted tour to Amalfi in a Mercedes instead.

We headed up and down and around the cliffs, through the three towns of Sorrento and around the coast. From the single lane road we could see Capri and the other islands in the Bay of Naples being beaten with waves. We pressed on, stopping to take some pictures, buy some pottery and nearly give in to car sickness (seems to me our driver would speed up, hit a curve, slam on the breaks and repeat). We went through Positano and Salerno and ended up in heaven.

Amalfi is the most beautiful place on earth. The drive is not for the faint hearted, the destination is remote and to say it is paradise would be to insult it. I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough.

Three steps from the small port, there is a rail, stone steps and a pebble and black lava sand beach. I stood at that rail unable to form words. There in front of me swelling and crashing and emphatically waving hello was the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea.

When I could pull myself away, Lola and I went back to the square and took it all in. They were putting up Christmas lights around the town’s patron saint, Andrew. His feast was the next day. We wandered into a chocolate shop (mmmm. Ginger), and wandered into the winding back alley streets. We stopped to buy a present for our favorite new baby and started talking to the shop owner, Maria. Maria has two unmarried sons in their thirties. She is 62 and would like to be a Nonna. Wink. Nudge. By the end of our chat, I think I found an apartment to rent in Amalfi. So, I am going to use it. More on that when I get home.

Before we headed out, I went back to the seaside view and it had improved. There beside me, out of nowhere was an olive skinned man the Hollywood could not have cast any better. He started talking (va bene) about two men on the beach by the waves and so on 😉 When I started to leave he made the pleading gesture and asked: Where are you going bella? And you wonder why American woman leave and never come back. Lola got a beautiful picture of an enormous wave smashing into the coast. I asked our guide about a stone structure on the very, very top of the mountain and she told me it belonged to the town hermit. The town hermit! That is awesome. She also told me the townspeople used to bring food up to him every week. This made me think; perhaps he didn’t intend to be a hermit. Maybe he just did not want to have to walk down the mountain every week and lug back groceries 🙂

The ride back to the hotel, which we nicknamed the Georges V, was harrowing. We made it one piece. I spent the rest of the evening savoring Amalfi…and when Lola took a nap, I mapped out my return strategy. If (and by if, I mean when) I am ever missing, don’t worry. You will find me somewhere between Sorrento and Amalfi.

Ciao for Now…

Sigh. Those were some good days of being unhurried.

Friends we met on the road!

Friends we met on the road!

Looking over Positano.

Looking over Positano.