We finally got the tree decorated. Which is good. Because it really needed to happen. For a couple of weeks it looked like this:
What happened there was that Yaya kindly bought us a Christmas tree this year, a little before I was ready to decorate it. (Translation: She was so appalled that we didn’t get around to buying a tree last year that she took matters into her own hands this time. One day in late November I heard a some banging noises and squealing tires outside. I opened the front door to glimpse Yaya’s car speeding around the corner, and looked down to see a large Douglas Fir at my feet.)
Anyway, in between the time when we had the tree and when we were actually ready to decorate the tree, I just started throwing things in its general direction as I walked by. So when the kids talked me into getting this fancy garland at the grocery store, and I had no idea where to store it since all our places where we can put things so that they won’t be destroyed by little hands are already taken, I just threw it in the general direction of the tree and forgot about it. (And, sadly, it was kind of an improvement over The Great Can’t-Deal Christmas of 2010.)
If I keep playing my cards right, I just might be up for a spread in House Horrible magazine one of these days.
I realize that a lot of Catholic families don’t have a tree quite this early. They make sure that Advent is…Advent-ish (I am obviously tired while writing this), so that the Christmas season can be completely…Christmas-like (or maybe I just don’t have a brain anymore). Anyway, you know what I mean: the season of Advent is about preparing for the Lord, and the season of Christmas is about celebrating his coming. I love this. But we are just not able to go there yet.
Our families have been shockingly supportive of all the upheaval that’s taken place since my husband and I became Catholic. They are baffled but understanding about my husband’s choice to get on a career path that means less money but more time with family. They nod uncomfortably when they offer to serve us something that we’ve given up for Lent. They try not to think about the fact that we don’t use contraception. Heck, Yaya even goes to church with us! But there are some lines you can’t cross, and I think that if we tried to change the family Christmas traditions, we’d have big problems.
In our families, you start celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and have a tree no later than the first weekend of December. Any deviation from this is taken as a clear indicator that you are a joyless person who cares neither about the season nor about living any kind of quality life. And so, we have stuck with the traditional American Christmas schedule. Submitting to the authority of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ is one thing; not playing Jingle Bells until December 25 is another thing entirely.
All that talk in #1 about throwing things into trees that you don’t know what to do with reminded me of a story I’ve never shared, for reasons you will understand shortly:
A few years ago I had a new friend come over to the house. She is an actual classy person who has a lovely home that is always inviting to visitors, and I was hoping that we’d become friends, so before she and her kids arrived I just about worked myself to death to fix up the house to give a completely inaccurate impression of what kind of people live here. At one point she was sipping on the cup of tea I’d brewed for her, and she took a moment to gaze out the porch door and compliment our bird feeder. I stood next to her, talking about how the kids helped set up the feeder, when a horrible sight caught my eye: Out in the back yard there was a pair of horribly soiled children’s underwear, which we’d thrown out there desperately the day before while dealing with the kind of potty accident that just about called for a hazmat suit. I’d planned to do something about the underwear languishing in the middle of my back yard at some point, but, hey, you can’t remember everything.
Unfortunately my friend saw the atrocity at the same time I did, and I ran out to deal with it before she had a chance to flee. Gingerly picking up the now-retired pair of underwear with a stick, I walked it over to the side of the house, then promptly returned. As we sipped our tea back in the kitchen, I went out of my way to dissociate myself with the decision to have something like that in our back yard in the first place.
“My husband put them out there, ” I explained with a casual laugh, glossing over the part about me shrieking JUST THROW THEM OUT THERE!!! beforehand. “Aren’t men so funny?” I said with a wink. “Dirty underwear in the yard. Imagine!”
And then she asked a question that caught me completely off guard: “So what did you do with them?”
There was no way to spin this. The truth was that as soon as I’d had the muddy-looking item on the end of that stick, I’d done what I always do in these situations: I got completely overwhelmed and threw my hands up in despair, defaulting to whatever course of action would involve the least amount of effort for me. So, as I explained to my friend, who would now have a much better impression of the type of person she was dealing with here: “I, uhh, threw them in the bushes on the side of the house.”
We had the kids’ pictures taken with Santa the other day (“we” meaning “my mom, dad, and Yaya wrangled five kids under the age of eight to the mall while I stayed home and relaxed” — just keeping it real here, folks). After the pictures were finished, my dad noticed that this particular Santa must have been from the western part of the North Pole:
Speaking of Texas stories, last weekend my husband and I went out to dinner with some friends who have an 11, 000 acre ranch (that’s about 44.5 sq. km.) way out in the western part of the state. We had a lot of interesting conversations with them about what it’s like to live on that amount of land. Then we went to the next party, hosted by another friend who is also from west Texas, and told her about our other friends’ amazing ranch. She seemed kind of amused by this quaint little plot of land, which was surprising…until we remembered that she’s part of the King Ranch family. Her ranch is about 825, 000 acres (about 3, 300 sq. km.) — or, about the size of Rhode Island. I’m pretty sure that that kind of exchange would only happen in Texas, or perhaps the outer regions of Mongolia.
I have good news for you, internet: Now that my husband is done with his JD, MBA, and CPA certifications, he has turned all his intelligence and analytical ability to crafting the perfect winter drink. After a couple of weeks of experimentation on a basic rum cream, I do believe that he has achieved this lofty goal. So, as a special gift from me to you, I present you with our super secret recipe:
1 cup of ice
4 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup half & half (or heavy cream)
2 Tbsp chocolate syrup
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp coconut cream
2 Tbsp cherry juice from a jar of marischino cherries
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 to 3 shots dark rum (light rum is an acceptable alternative)
1/2 shot coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua)
Merry Christmas from the Fulwilers!
As you make your Christmas plans, don’t forget about people you know who have lost someone special through death or divorce this year. I’ve often heard people who’ve experienced loss, especially if it happened early in the year, talk about feeling especially sorrowful on their first Christmas without their loved ones. They experience an initial outpouring of support at the time of the loss, but then feel alone by the time the holiday season rolls around. So if you know folks who have been through something difficult this year, consider taking their contact with you on Christmas, and give them a call to let them know you care.
UPDATE: Robin has a powerful post about those who mourn in the Christmas season. She writes: “If you have a friend who is longing for someone else this Advent, especially someone who died in the last year or two, sit down this week-end and write a note, or send an email. It might be the most important thing you do this month.” Read the third comment too.