Archive for December, 2006

Christmas Cleanup

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

Decorating for Christmas in my house is a production that begins the day after Thanksgiving. Every garland, candle, and ornament is carefully placed to set the scene for our Christmas celebration. But by 7:00 am on December 26th I’m thinking about how soon I can strike the set.

However the buildup to Christmas is so big, that immediately stripping the house of every Santa and snowflake seems downright irreverent. So I try to ignore the cobwebs growing on the garlands and the ornaments sliding off the sloping branches and soak up the Spirit a little bit longer.

But two days after Christmas when the kids and I sit in the room with the lights on the tree blazing, we all agree that it feels a little sad. Christmas, especially for the kids, is all about expectation. Once the hope of getting the American Girl “Kickin’ Back” outfit has become a reality, the tree loses its magic.

This is especially true for my youngest daughter. She felt cheated out of a good portion of her enjoyment of Christmas this year because she (and every other school age child in Sonoma County) was still in school until December 22nd. In other years, the school calendar has been arranged so that the kids have the week before Christmas off as part of their winter break. So the cookie baking, gingerbread house decorating, and present wrapping was spread out over several days and there was a full week to revel in anticipation. However, because she only had three days at home before the 25th, I think she’s planning to use all that free time after Christmas to write a strongly worded letter to the school board.

So after a few days of what we consider a proper amount of time mourning the passing of a day we look forward to all year, we set aside a morning to dismantle the mantel of its pine boughs, candles, and angels”¦and to pack up the ornaments and every other vestige of the holiday. And by now, the tree is so dry that it is practically spitting pine needles onto the carpet.

The kids would be fine with tossing it all in a box and being done with it. But I insist that every ornament be wrapped in tissue, laid carefully in the box, heaviest ones on the bottom. Each ornament is precious to me and my husband and represents a certain time in our lives. For instance, the little carved tree that Steve and I shopped for together in San Francisco before we were married. The stuffed Santas I made when our son (whose now 18) was a baby during his naptime. Other ornaments that friends gave to me decades ago. Every holiday season I marvel at the charming ornaments that can be bought at Target for $4.99. But our collection, as the MasterCard ads say, it’s priceless.

My teenage daughter shakes me out of my sentimentality by asking if it’s really necessary to pack an angel made out of fabric and batting in bubble wrap. We light the Norwegian candle holder that dings as the angels spin around one more time and then add it to the last box and tape it shut. We drag out the crunchy tree. But the one bright spot about packing up Christmas is the last job. Is there any more satisfying task than vacuuming up pine needles?

In the process, I notice an escapee. One of the figures from our nativity scene has avoided being packed up and is peeking out from under the couch. It’s one of the wise men bearing gifts. I’ll take that as a good omen for the coming year.

Christmas Card Strategy

Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

One element of the Christmas season that can easily deteriorate from “an expression of the spirit of the season” to “tedious chore” is sending Christmas cards. I want to stay in touch with friends and relatives in a personal way yet I don’t want to have to start the day after Halloween hand-addressing envelopes to a list as long as Santa’s.

I don’t think I’m alone in this struggle. Every year we get a card from a family that is signed in such a way that that I can tell she’s counting how many she’s done and how many more cards she has to sign before she can go on to the next task of the season. I understand the feeling ““ when I’ve got 75 cards to send out plus all the other shopping, decorating and usual work that still needs to be done, I consider skipping a hand-written sentiment and instead signing our names with an X.

The first step, determining who to send cards to always poses a challenge and always leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. I want to continue to send cards to people who we may have lost touch with but I also know that I’m going to be adding new friends to the end of list. I try not to panic as I anticipate a Christmas card mailing to 200. I consider calling the mailing house we work with in our marketing business to see if instead of sending the cards from our house with a stamp, if we can do a bulk mailing. My husband reminds me that we’re sending family Christmas cards not mortgage refinancing offers.

I start the process by pulling up last year’s list on the computer. Siblings in other states of course stay; that one’s easy. Then I move onto relatives who have the same last name but I don’t know if they’re aunts, cousins, or an even scarier thought, are they still alive? I check with my husband and he reminds me they visited us once when I was pregnant with our now 18 year old son. OK, they stay.

Then there are those on the list who at one time in our lives were people we saw every day at work, some for a year, some for many years but we probably haven’t spoken to them for at least a decade, yet I’ve continued to send them a card every year. Have we ever gotten a card from them? No. Here’s where it gets painful. Since I’ve got a limited amount of time, energy, and postage budget, they get crossed off. But what if the highlight of their holiday season was getting our card and when they no longer get a card from us, they live the remainder of their lives wondering what ever happened to the Rustads ““ were they abducted by aliens? Well, I just have to trust that if they really want to know, they’ll type our name into Google and in about a split-second, find out that we’re still on terra firma here in Petaluma.

With the non-responders (that sounds so cold) deleted, I move on to who gets added to the list. Again something I agonize over. For instance, parents that I’ve gotten to know because our kids are in the same activities ““ do they make it on the list? And if they do, how long do they stay on the list? About now, I start thinking I need a Christmas Cards for Dummies handbook.

And then there’s the other side of the coin, when someone I hadn’t planned to send a card to, sends one to us. With any luck, it shows up far enough in advance that there’s still time to get a card off to them and have it arrive before Christmas. And if I print out a mailing label instead of hand addressing it, I hope it will give the impression that I’m just slow getting my cards out, not that they weren’t on my list to start with.

No wonder doing the cards takes me so long. I do more strategizing then Condoleezza Rice.

st. Again something I agonize over. For instance, parents that I’ve gotten to know because our kids are in the same activities ““ do they make it on the list? And if they do, how long do they stay on the list? About now, I start thinking I need a Christmas Cards for Dummies handbook.

And then there’s the other side of the coin, when someone I hadn’t planned to send a card to, sends one to us. With any luck, it shows up far enough in advance that there’s still time to get a card off to them and have it arrive before Christmas. And if I print out a mailing label instead of hand addressing it, I hope it will give the impression that I’m just slow getting my cards out, not that they weren’t on my list to start with.

No wonder doing the cards takes me so long. I do more strategizing then Condoleezza Rice.

O Tannenbaum

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

I’m going to go out on a limb, and say that it doesn’t matter how or where you get your Christmas tree, it’s the end result that counts.

I haven’t arrived at this conclusion lightly; I’m generally the kind of person who believes that going through the process makes the end result more meaningful. There was an TV commercial a couple of years ago for pre-packaged sugar cookie dough that showed a mom and daughter separating little cubes of plastic-looking dough, rolling them into shapes, and then decorating the cookies. The idea was that by using their prepared dough, you skip the tedious part of making Christmas cookies ““ measuring, mixing, cleaning up ““ and get to the fun part ““ adding frosting, sprinkles, and of course, eating ““ a lot faster.

I was outraged. That’s the easy way out! In my house we do things the old-fashioned way and we don’t take any shortcuts, at least when it comes to a few sacred rituals like making Christmas cookies. And that was my attitude for many years about the getting the Christmas tree, too.

Years ago when I moved to Sonoma County, I heard people talking about going to cut down the Christmas tree with their family. I started imagining this wonderful scene of the kids all bundled up, strolling through the rows of trees until everyone agreed they had found the perfect one, dad sawing it down and tying it to the top of the car, and everybody returning home flushed with the warmth of the experience. Oh boy! This was an opportunity to enhance the tree experience; we wouldn’t just have the fun of decorating it, now we could cut it down too. It was the tree version of making the cookie dough from scratch.

The reality was a little different. One year because of Nutcracker rehearsals, the only time we could get to the tree farm it was practically dark; and choosing a sap covered tree by touch leaves you pretty sticky. Another year it started to rain the day after Thanksgiving and didn’t stop until Christmas Eve so there was so much mud around the trees that my daughter’s shoe got swallowed up by it. I think that was after the 30 minutes that the kids spent bickering about which tree to get. We left dad at home so he could keep working and we didn’t have to take out another line of credit to pay for the tree, so the sawing and hauling was up to me. And then there was the inch of mud that was left on the floor of the car to clean up. And just to top it off, the tree was so fresh that the cats loved eating the pine needles, and in return, left me new little presents under the tree every day.

This year, my 10 year old daughter and I, drove to Costco, chose a tree with the netting still on, shoved it in the back of the SUV and were home in about 20 minutes.

Yes, I’ve taken the quick, pre-packaged way out when it comes to getting a Christmas tree. The worst part is the guilt I feel as I drive past the Christmas tree farm on my way to take my daughter to and from school everyday. But I think I actually enjoy the tree more because I don’t resent what I had to go through to get it. And making cookies”¦we’ll still start from scratch.