Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Serious Question...

OK, I have to ask...is it possible to have too many Christmas ornaments? I know that my sisters would instantly scream, "No!" but looking at my tree tonight the thought did occur to me. The thing almost looks like it was dipped in glue and rolled in ornaments, and I have to admit that I did have trouble getting all of the decorations situated on the branches.

At least I come by this honestly, care of my mother. When I was a kid, every year we would all join in decorating the tree. Carefully unwrapping each ornament from miles of toilet paper and stealthily repositioning favorite ornaments that someone else had foolishly hung in the wrong spot. Sometimes this happened to the same ornament two or three times.

There's something about Christmas ornaments that carry powerful memories, so poignant and sweet that just holding one in your hand can instantly transport you back to when you were 8 or 10 years old. My collection has been added to slowly over the years as I search for the exact decorations that I grew up with. Thanks to estate sales, thrift stores and ebay, I've partially succeeded. My tree sports, for instance, two oddly shaped ornaments that look just like the ones we used to call "Ramblers" as children. Not until years later did I think to wonder why we named these particular decorations such an odd name--it is because they were the same pale metallic blue as my Dad's Rambler American, a faithful but boxy little car. My ornaments even have the same stripes as the ones from my childhood, and I call mine "Ramblers" as well. Note to self: Explain this line of descent to my daughter, so she won't suddenly wonder in her later years why the Hell she's calling those damned things "Ramblers". Another fav is a plain red ball from the 50's with a white snowy church scene and the words, 'Silent Night' painted on the side. Nearby are the colorful glass clip-on birds with the fiberglass tails, the fabulous indented teardrop ornaments, the red, silver and blue glass bells, the oversized glass balls with the elaborate, glittered scenes painted all around them and the four color glass church with glittered 'snow' on it's roof.

To these nods to childhood I've added my own special pieces: the ornate set of red, gold and silver plastic teardrops that were attached to the top of the first Christmas gift from my husband, the 24 long, sliver-like glass icicles that are ALWAYS a royal pain to retrieve off of the tree each year, the three small handpainted china bells from an estate sale of a couple named Ken and Shirley who lived down the street from me, the two beautiful tiny glass chickens from my sister, the wooden cat ornament from my sister--it waves it's arms and legs wildly when you pull on it's string--, the delicate snowflake sequin ball from Eva, the cinnamon-apple dough ornaments my 5 year old and I made last year, the three ultra-tiny wooden ornaments that barely cling to the very tippy-top of the tree each year and somehow over the last 20 years have miraculously never gotten lost, the gigantic silver ball that I refer to as 'The Queen Mother'--always the last to be hung, with a large red glittered set of poinsettias on one side and an ornate old-world 'Merry Christmas' in blue glitter on the other. And new this year--a replica ornament of the fabulous 'leg lamp' from the movie 'A Christmas Story', a gift from my husband.

The decorations mentioned here barely scratch the surface, of course. This year and last, it took me three days to finish decorating the tree. Last year I put it down to being ill and moving slow, and to some extent the same was true this year thanks to a sinus/ear infection. But the truth is that decorating the tree is something I really love to do, and taking the time to unwrap each ornament and getting that childhood zing and a smile just by seeing it again and holding it in my hands just can't be beat. The tree will stay up until New Year's Day for my OTHER personal tradition, rising early in the quiet while everyone else sleeps, removing the ornaments and packing them away while watching the Rose Parade. So what if I end up watching the Rose Parade a few times because it takes so damned long to unload the tree, right? Which brings me back to the original question: Is it possible to have too many Christmas ornaments?

Ah, um...never mind--I see a bare spot on the tree. There's room for more. Come to think of it, I'm still searching the the heavy plastic filligree bells and the handpainted pale blue ball with the glittering white snowman on it from my childhood.

Forget I said anything.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Another Christmas...so far!

Well, another day of happiness, Conspicious California Consumer style. Right now I don't care if I EVER see another chunk of that Hellish gray wire that toymakers insist on winding around every toy in weird, inaccessable, unexplainable places. And that damned super-strong clear tape they then cover the stupid gray wire with, as if it wasn't already anough of a pain in the neck. All this while an over-sugared, under-slept, hot-wired 5 year dances and emits high-pitched yowls of anticipation at your feet. Something about this makes my brain just flatline and I lose what little fine motor skills remained in my fingers. Soon the kids are watching me with an expression pretty darned close to pity on their faces. This year I tried to circumvent this somewhat by taking the items out ahead of the wrap session and doing away with the annoying gray wire and tape and placing batteries. This worked fine at home but I still looked bad once we got to N's paternal grandparents home and tore paper there. And we still have another family holiday shinding to go to on MY side of the family. I'll tackle that when the time comes, hopefully I'll have a day to rest up beforehand.

The big hit with N. this year (so far) is the replica stuffed bunny I made, using her favorite, worn-out-to-the-nub toy as a pattern. The problem was that I could only work on it at night after she was asleep, and by then I was so tired and wrung out from fighting a sinus/ear infection that I was making all sorts of weird mistakes--sewing heads on backwards and the like. But eventually New Bunny got done, and N. now carries them BOTH around. The other big hit of the day was the huge--HUGE--34 inches--plastic spider courtesy of our ol' fav, Archie McPhee.

She LOVES things like this--no dolls for her, she's a plastic dinosaur and rubber bug kinda girl. She hauled both the stuffed bunny and the spider along to Grandma and Grandpa's house to share. They looked at us as if we had three heads, but oh, well.

My big hit of the day is the beautiful black and purple velvet dress/blouse that J. got me. It's got dragons on the purple velvet, a lace-up bodice, long, flowing sleeves and a long, draped back the reaches below my knees. It's so cool I don't think I'll ever take it off.

Along with the goodies, we try to get N. to appreciate and savor the season. We check NORAD's website as they track Santa's progress on Christmas Eve. We make a point of reading The Polar Express and The Night Before Christmas. Another treat is to turn off the TV and stereo and turn off all of the lights in the house except those on the tree, then just sit quietly and look at it. I remember as a child doing this-I'd crawl under the dining room table all by myself, take off my glasses and just enjoy the beautiful, blurry, colored blobs. Our tree this year is a nice one, but sadly is too full to allow the hanging of the lead tinsel (NOT plastic, haz mat be damned). Another fun tradition we started, is that every year on New Year's Day when it is time to take down the tree, we each take a pen and write a short note, memory or comment on the tissue that wraps the ornaments. That way we have a fun history of notes to read aloud to each other NEXT year when we unwrap the ornaments. So far we have about 7 years worth of this. My favorite is the one from a few years ago that notes that N. took her first steps that New Year's Day.

Last night we went for our annual drive to look at Christmas lights. I took along a bundle of jingle bells and periodically held them out the car window and shook them in a Santa's sleigh-type cadence. Several times we got small children to freeze in their tracks. The outing to view holiday lights always turns up with lots of strange ones. This year's oddest was the large, expensive McMansion wearing obviously the OLD house's lights. Waaaay undersized and pathetic looking in a amusing way. Interestingly, we started our annual Christmas light hunt armed with a video camera to search out the hideous, tacky houses. We'd tape it to show our family--surely no one would beleive us otherwise--and our snarky, smart-ass comments ended up on the tape. It's impossible NOT to comment when you see some of these (Santa on a surfboard!). The trip got to be popular with the family and ended up becoming a Pointless Family Tradition--just like putting the bows off of the packages on my brother's head.

I've just spent the last 2 hours clipping tags from new clothing, setting up new toys, wrestling other items from their packaging and reading instructions. Our giant curbside trash can is stuffed to the gills, it's maw overflowing with bright shreds of paper and loose strands of ribbon. "A Christmas Story" has been running all day on one of the TV stations, last night they were running "A Miracle on 34th Street" over and over. Today we allowed N. to tank up on as much candy as she wanted, to her cautiously puzzled happiness. Little half-eaten bits of it are gathered in a small dish for tomorrow. I'm sure this is typical and a great reason why school resumes NEXT week.

N. still gets up at a reasonable hour, today was 7AM. We are especially thankful for this when J's sister tells us that HER kids start trying to get everyone up starting at around 4AM. I'd use strap clamps and industrial strength epoxy to keep them in bed if they did that to me.

Time to download today's pictures off of the camera. As an aside, the chickens were NOT amused by the giant plastic spider that N. ran out into the yard to "share" with them. I believe they will need extended therapy after today...

Friday, December 3, 2004

Progress, I Guess...

I HATE it, just HATE IT, when a long-time, favorite store of mine closes.

This time it's Stat's--a floral and craft supply store nearby. It's been a family-owned business since way back, and they have something like 5 locations so I figured they were safe. No such luck.

Stat's was one of those stores that was a teensy bit pricey but always carried way cool stuff, especially during the holidays. I love the old-time glass Christmas ornaments that are painted, glittered or otherwise done up in a fancy way, and Stat's carried literally hundreds of them in all shapes and sizes.

The other night we stopped by on a whim and the place looked...wierd. Open, but not. Then we realized that while some of the lights were on, most were not, and they had very little merchandise inside. We knew then what was going on, but went inside anyway to see what was left.

While we did score some great things at 75% off, it was strange and sad to walk around the empty, cavernous space inside. There was no heat and only a few lights were on. People were talking in whispers to each other, don't ask me why. They had drug everything out of the back storerooms to sell, even things that hadn't seen the light of day in 20 or 40 years. Out of pure sentimental value I picked up a couple of rolls of 1960 era corrugated border paper, it's white and says 'Season's Greetings' in red Atomic Age font with blue Sputnick-style starbursts, the edges of the paper are scalloped to look like icicles. I remember it from my grade school days.

Much of the remainder of the stuff was damaged in some way, which left it looking like decorations for the Island of Misfit Toys--unloved, unwanted and more than likely destined for the dumpster.