Friday, December 20, 2013

Twas the night before ten years ago

In 2004 I had an opportunity to throw a little humorous Christmas spirit into the mix with an editorial for a local newspaper where I worked at the time (as a lowly community news clerk, mind you). Since then everything has changed, naturally (for example, my updated kitchen floor has since replaced the 35-year-old tiles referred to). My girls are now 25 and 19 and as a family we have seen a lot in the last nine years since this was originally penned - loss of jobs, stress on relationships, and cancer among them. Through it all we found our way and at the same time drew strength out of new traditions, but the tradition of the gingerbread house debacle, which started ten years ago this week, carries on.

We will be reunited tomorrow with OK and The Fiance for a wonderful week of Christmas and family time, so I thought it might be a good time to "rewind" and share this with you.

A note about this tradition: If you are paying attention you will realize it takes place after Christmas - for two reasons. First, because hey - HUGE discount. Second, because really, when your kids are off for a minimum of a week from school you do a lot of conjuring up of activities/distractions in order to keep whatever sanity you have left. We don't ski and we couldn't afford to hightail it to a warmer climate. This was the best we could do. As it turns out, it was the Best Thing Ever.

One thought before we break into the fun stuff...

Many of us have faced difficult losses of loved ones this past year, and those losses are especially heartbreaking during the holidays. I have no intention of swaying anybody one way or the other as to their beliefs, but I would like to share  these simple words that our church service ends each week...

"Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of others. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind..."

My wish for you is simply time spent with those who matter most in your heart.


***
This holiday season I plan to refrain from another lame attempt at forming a new Talbot tradition by creating a Hallmark card family scene. It’s about time I accept that the only Christmas tradition I can depend on is the annual panic-gift-wrapping at 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Last year I was still under the illusion that I could force my family to duplicate one of those happy “all together now” scenes out of The Brady Bunch (though I only have two children, not six). I convinced myself my kids want me to benefit from the example of Martha Stewart (the crafty side of Martha, not the ex-con side). So I invested $3.75 (marked down from $15 just before New Year’s) at Wal-Mart for an adorable gingerbread manger scene kit for that perfect, warm-hearted holiday moment. I envisioned laughter, my girls sneaking little tastes of frosting, quiet admiration of our combined efforts as the manger stood proudly with sugar candies and a gold star embedded into the shredded wheat straw on the roof.

My 16-year old managed to pull herself away from the computer after I pleaded for 20 or so minutes, and ambled into the kitchen. She decorated one shepherd. At least I think it was a shepherd. It looked a little like someone from MTV but I wasn’t going to ask. She also painted the camel blue. I didn’t want to offend her by criticizing her color choice - after all, at this point I had nine different colors of frosting and if I didn’t use them up soon after mixing them I would wind up with multi-colored mortar that just might work to patch the 35-year-old kitchen tiles.

My 10-year-old was more willing to participate, probably due to the fact that the mortar was basically pure sugar (one of her two favorite food groups, the other being macaroni and cheese) and she isn’t allowed to smear sticky things on the kitchen table too often. Within eight minutes she was back in the living room with her sister, watching Nickelodeon and munching on a red and purple Joseph. Or maybe it was Mary, I’m not sure. This left me with enough metal bowls of frosting to construct a tower the height of the kitchen ceiling, three grayish looking shepherds and a not-quite-one-quarter-decorated manger being held together by soup cans on my kitchen table while the walls dried.

I decided the project was now defunct and the girls would eventually wind up eating the blobs they had left drying (rapidly) on the table. After an hour had passed I figured it was safe to remove the soup cans from their post holding together the manger walls, assuming by now that the mortar hardened. Oh boy, did it harden. I soon discovered one of the cans was now adjoined to two of the walls with such force, I wondered if I could market this stuff to the highway repair crews. I carefully attempted to pry the can away.

THUNK.

I now had two walls attached to the roof and one wall attached to Progresso Vegetable Beef Soup.

Thus endeth my illusion.

Eventually I reclaimed my kitchen, chiseled the last of the mortar remnants off the table, and wound up tossing most of the unidentified gingerbread bodies as well as the dilapidated shack - I mean, manger. I probably should have warned my husband before trash night that there was cement in the kitchen garbage bag, but he did manage to drag it out with only mild back strain.

This year, as we sip hot chocolate with candy canes and begin to decorate our tree, I expect my family to maintain that sentimental holiday mood for approximately 23 minutes before they individually wander away, leaving me with malfunctioning lights, stray hooks and knotted garland beads.

Ahhh, tradition.

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