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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Beachcombing for the Holidays

Yesterday our family was getting anxious about our plans to go to Germany for the holidays.  Mind you, one of the reasons for taking this holiday trip  abroad was to avoid the usual holiday tensions: the decorating, cleaning the house, getting the right gifts, making plans and so on. But the joke is on us. Instead, we are dealing with endless details like booking flights and getting the right seats (two of us have special circumstances), renting a car for part of our trip, contacting and recontacting the friends and relatives we’ll be visiting, trying to coordinate everyone’s needs and parameters; and getting appropriate gifts that won’t weigh us down.

It was a beautiful Saturday, so my daughter suggested that she and I go for a walk,  one of our favorite things to do.  We drove toward the beach about two miles away to walk on the “causeway,” a stretch of land with a straight path along the Long Island Sound on one side and on the other side of the road a beautiful wetlands area fed by the Sound.  The walk itself is about a mile and a half roundtrip and usually offers some form of nature to enjoy whatever the season.

That day was remarkably quiet.  For a place that can be quite windy, there was barely a breeze.  It was 3 o’clock; the sun was already beginning to set and the colors were beautiful fall colors, though somewhat muted by the time of day. We both remarked on the lack of bird activity.  In Spring and Fall we are often rewarded by the activities of the osprey who build their nests on very tall poles, and care for their single (most often) offspring diligently through the early fall.  It’s an absolute joy to watch the parents soar overhead as they hunt for fish to feed their baby; hence, their common name fishhawk.

The winter ducks hadn’t yet arrived so we couldn’t engage in one of our other favorite pastimes of spotting them riding the crests of the waves in small flocks, diving for food and making their unique calls to each other.  No osprey; no breeze; no winter ducks.  Just a remarkably golden sunset streaking the surface of the waters of the Sound.

Meanwhile, we had wandered onto the beach. We usually stay on the path for the duration of our walk, but neither of us was in a hurry to get home and face more stressful travel planning. Within minutes I noticed a  heap of very white sun- bleached bones lying askew at the high tide line. I called my daughter over to see; she is an amateur physical anthropolist and loves nothing more than an abandoned skull or skeleon or animal shell that she will make great efforts to identify.She was very pleased with my discovery; it turned out to be a bird synsacrum (pelvis and sacrum) and sternum.

Not long after, I found another much smaller bone artifact and again she identified it.  It turned out to be part of the skull of a sea robin, also a rare find.  This was turning out to be quite an adventure.  For the next half hour we combed the beach gathering all kinds of local shells: oyster, mussel, channel whelk, clam and numerous others.  She had discovered a couple of small pieces of sea sponge and was delighted since she had never encountered them on the local beaches.  By the end of our hour of beachcombing we had quite a treasure trove of found objects and had forgotten all about the anxieties that had driven us out of the house.

We drove home refreshed and very proud of ourselves. We will carefully pack our treasures in tissue and place them in a special box to bring to one of our landlocked relatives in Weimar, Central Germany. She is also a nature lover, her particular passion being fossils and stones.  Oddly enough, this is the “gift” I am most excited about bringing to Germany.  These are real treasures that are reminders of our life here by the sea, and soon they will become the treasures that will remind her of us, so far away.