Slowing Down the Holidays

This year we are doing something special for the holidays. We’ll be spending much of Christmas week visiting my daughter in law’s parents in Boston. She and my son are expecting their first child in April, so in many ways this is probably the beginning of other changes in our customary life.

With all that in mind, I was really looking forward to cutting back on all the stuff we usually do for the holidays. After preparing for days before Thanksgiving and then getting sick that night, I wanted to take a different approach, preferably one that wouldn’t be so exhausting.

My first plan was to ditch the big Christmas tree and get a very small one just for ourselves. After all we’d be gone most of the week at Christmas. Well, that idea didn’t last long because my son insisted we get a full sized tree. We compromised and got a medium sized one, but somehow that didn’t change at all the preparations for putting up the tree. All the boxes of Christmas paraphernalia still had to brought down from the attic and sorted through. My husband searched an hour for the silver garland we wrap around the tree. He still spent hours putting up the Christmas lights inside and outside.

I still have Christmas cards to send and I am slowly cleaning the house so it’s in good shape before we leave. Why bother? Because it’s no fun to come back to a topsy turvy house when you’ve been on the road for almost a week. And besides, I’m German. I can’t help myself. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is the mantra I grew up with. Ugh.

There are still Christmas presents to buy. This requires hours of thought and in some cases searching for just the right gift. I spent hours last night on the internet looking for a weekender bag for my daughter in law that she could use for herself, or as a diaper bag if need be. I didn’t want the bag to scream “diaper bag” so I had to find one that would masquerade as one. In the wee hours of the morning I decided on a navy blue and white canvas bag which I had monogrammed in red with her initials. It would look “smart” I conjectured, and serve multiple uses.

However, in the middle of the night I had second thoughts and decided that I would not have the bag monogrammed after all. This would allow her to exchange the bag for something else she might prefer. I woke up early anticipating making the phone call to cancel the monogram. At 9am I called Lands End and…guess what? The bag had already been sent out! “Was it monogrammed” I asked, since the delivery instructions said an extra day or two would be needed for monogramming. “Yes, it was,” the sales person replied. “Oh well,” I replied. Disappointed, I adjusted my thoughts about it all and decided “It is what it is!” (I hate that expression, don’t you?)

The living room now looks like a bomb hit it with all the Christmas decoration boxes strewn everywhere; my curtains which I ironed a few days ago are still draped across the living room sofa; the cards still need to be written and mailed; and I still have a few presents to get. I DO NOT have to prepare for Christmas dinner which is a huge relief, and the house does not have to be whistle clean for guests like it was last year. But my daughter and did spend hours and hours searching for a suitable Airbnb for our family visit in Boston. Oh, and did I mention, my husband and I have been car shopping the past week because one of our PT Cruisers is not reliable to drive anymore.

My stress-free Christmas is turning out to be just another variation on the usual Christmas insanity. Next year there will be a new baby in the mix. Hopefully that will make it all worthwhile. What are you doing to reduce stress for your holidays?

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The Relatives Are Coming… for Easter!

One of my and my ESL students’ favorite books was The Relatives Came! This was definitely a book we enjoyed reading and talking about together. Almost all my students were born in the US into immigrant families; nonetheless, they all had relatives who came to visit, sometimes from very far away. It was not unusual for me to hear comments like: “My grandmother is coming from El Salvador to spend the summer with us.” Or, “My grandparents are coming from China to live with us.” And, of course, there were always the nearby relatives, the cousins, who came to visit more often.

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The children always seemed happy when they told me about their relatives coming to visit. Perhaps it was because they hadn’t seen each other, in some cases, for several years; or because it was just something special to look forward to in their lives which could often be quite dull. I am sure their happiness reflected that of their parents who were probably also excited at seeing loved ones after a long separation.

When I was younger there was much more back and forth visiting of nearby relatives. There were, of course, relatives who were still living far away in Germany and Hungary, but we never got to meet them and never would for many reasons. But the relatives who lived nearby tended to stay close and visit often as immigrant extended families often do. So when my students talked about their cousins coming to visit, I always smiled because I remember my own romps with my cousins. Usually well behaved, we became feral children in the presence of cousins. I think it’s because the grownups released the reins and were having such a good time being with each other they forgot about us!

Now I have my own small family and in a few hours my son and his significant other will be brought to visit for the weekend by my husband who will pick them up after work in Brooklyn. They will have a quick dinner in Brooklyn, then brave the traffic on the LI Expressway (LIE) along with so many others doing the same. It’s not as arduous a trip as from China or El Salvador, but when there’s traffic in NY it can feel almost as draining.

I have spent the week doing things here and there to begin to prepare for their visit. Today I amped up the efforts to get ready. I swept and mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors; folded the laundry; got sheets and towels ready for the guests; did some errands and went grocery shopping. My plans almost fell through when I saw the size of the legs of lamb on sale at the supermarket. They were huge and expensive. I was stumped since I had planned on lamb for Easter Dinner. I mentioned to the butcher that all the legs of lamb were too big for me and he quickly offered to cut one in half. Saved! I came home with strawberries, asparagus, string beans, carrots and other spring delights.

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Human beings are very social creatures for the most part. We enjoy being with family members and sharing occasions, but I no longer go overboard: a lovely brunch with Easter eggs and mimosas will do the trick. Dinner will be a roast leg of lamb with potatoes, carrots and stringbeans. And our special treat will be a chocolate babka from our local bakery.

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Of course, there will be Easter baskets which my grown kids still look forward to, egg dying and, weather permitting, an Easter egg hunt for my 30+ almost-daughter-in-law who is an only child and never got to have one with siblings.

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So…the relatives are coming, and yes, we are all excited. Hope your weekend holds some special moments for you as well.

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