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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

[NOTE: This is the story about the night I was born. The words the mother speaks to the baby at the end are the words I spoke to my daughters at their births. And yes, my parents really are named María and José, although they both use their middle names because they feel their names are too common. I have heard the story over and over again over the past 60 years. My mother swears it was 11:52 PM but my birth certificate says I was born at 11:19 PM. In any case, I was my mom’s Christmas baby!]

María lay in bed exhausted, yet unable to sleep. She’d had an endless day and had just finished putting out the gifts for her four children. Tomorrow would be filled with joy and much activity. The kids were sure to waken by seven, anxious to open their gifts and play with their new toys. There would be lots of cooking to do, too.

Just a week ago things had looked quite bleak. They didn’t have much money and her heart had ached at the thought of disappointing her children on Christmas. Somehow, José, her husband, had managed to work a few days and had brought her enough money for groceries and a couple of modest gifts for each of the children. They had even gotten a small tree to decorate.

He had come through and María appreciated it. It allowed her to push back the memories of all the times he’d come home late, drunk, and smelling of dime store cologne.

María thought about her life. They lived in a tiny two room house with no heat and no indoor bathroom. They were far from town. The car was always either broken or out of gas. Her husband worked in the fields during the season and at odd jobs in the winter. Her children never had new clothes. She had to accept old clothes from her neighbors and her comadre’s. María’s beautiful little girl had to wear boys’ clothes. Her boys needed shoes that didn’t fall off their feet when they ran so they wouldn’t fall and get hurt. She was very familiar with the second-hand stores where José took her to shop when the boxes of clothes from her comadre didn’t fill all of their needs.

She had given birth four times in five years and was now nine months pregnant with their fifth child. She wondered how many more times she’d give birth before José tired of her and left her alone or ended up dead on the highway on his way home from the cantina he always managed to visit, even when he said they could afford nothing else.

Sometimes things were alright. José could be thoughtful and attentive if he wanted to be. He loved playing with his children. He even helped María with the housework when he wasn’t working. He had taught María how to cook when they had married. José was a hard worker and always managed to provide his family with what they needed.

María loved her children. Sometimes they were all that kept her going. They needed her. They loved her. She loved to see their happy faces and feel their sticky kisses and tight hugs. She liked being able to console them when they were hurt and crying.

María thought about the baby inside of her that made it impossible for her to find a comfortable position. She hoped this one would be another girl. When her first child had been born, she had wished for a girl, only to get a boy. She had cried but soon she loved him so much that she had wished for sons when she had become pregnant for the second, third, and fourth times. When God gave her a daughter for her fourth child, she had cried with disappointment, only to grow to love her so quickly that now her wish for a second daughter made her smile as she rubbed her swollen belly.

She wondered what the future had to offer this innocent child. María feared that perhaps it was a sin to bring children into the world when she and José had so little to offer them. Her exhaustion finally gave way to sleep, as the infant inside of her womb settled down also.

The next morning the children woke their parents asking eagerly if they could go open their gifts. They were happy with what Santo Clos had brought them. They were not used to getting toys or new clothes. The boys had each gotten gun sets–belts, holsters, guns, and even tin badges. José’s boss had given him a small cowboy hat for one of the boys and María had found a couple of bandanas at the segunda. They had also managed to get their hands on three tricycles for the boys. José had worked on them late at night, fixing and painting them to look like new.

Their little daughter was busy playing with her life-like baby doll that had moving eyes, hair, and drank from a bottle. María’s comadre had sewn a small brown bear for her. The last trip they had made to the segunda had provided them with toy dishes for the little girl and a warm coat of red velvet.

After opening the gifts, the children had breakfast. Their mother had fixed huevos con chorizo and fresh tortillas. While she cleaned up after breakfast, María turned on the radio. She tuned to her favorite station. The announcer was excitedly bragging about how his wife had given birth to a baby daughter shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve. She thought to herself how wonderful it would be to give birth on Christmas day!

When she finished with the dishes, she sat by the tree to watch the children at play. It was cold and damp outside so they had to stay indoors. María looked at the tree. They had only a few glass ornaments on it. They were painted shiny, bright colors with dainty designs that looked and felt like fuzzy snowflakes. María could see her reflection in them. She had cut a silver star out of an old pie plate. The plain, simple star now stood guard on top of the little tree. María hoped that maybe next year they would be able to get some colored electric lights like her comadre had on her tree.

All day she waited for the pains to begin. She couldn’t believe how crazy it was that she was actually looking forward to the pains that she had dreaded so much the other times. She felt that there was something special about this child and certainly it was God’s blessing to have a baby born on Christmas day and so she was almost eager to feel the pain that would threaten to tear her apart from the inside out. She dozed for a while, as the children played and she listened to the gentle rain falling outside.

Later that afternoon María was wakened by the thunder outside, crackling loudly. It had begun to rain violently. The house was dark. The wind was deafening as it threatened to blow the tiny house away. The rain fell as if being poured directly over them from a pitcher. The sky had darkened prematurely.

The children were scared. They gathered near their mother. The radio announcer reported that many roads had been closed and that the reservoir was threatening to overflow. At this, María turned down the volume and went into the bedroom to tell José. She was frightened. Their house was just about a half mile from the reservoir. If it overflowed, their small house would be washed away. It was time to load up the car and get as far away as they could. They had friends in town. Their compadres were sure to let them stay for a night or two.

José came into the room and listened briefly to the radio reports. He told her to gather their things and get the kids into the car. They would go into town for the night. When they were all in the car, José could not get it started. He got out and tried everything he knew to try to get the old car going. Nothing worked.

The children, sensing danger, cried softly and obeyed every order given them by their parents. They seemed to know instinctively that their cooperation was an absolute necessity. Even the youngest acted like an angel.

After some time of futilely trying to start the car, José began walking the half mile to the nearest neighbors to get help. When he arrived, there was no one there. He continued to walk toward the road to look for help for his family. It was very difficult to walk against the oppressive rain and wind which seemed to be concentrating their joint efforts on keeping him from reaching the highway.

As José neared the main highway, he could make out flashing lights. He quickened his step and waved his arms, even though he knew they couldn’t see him. It was about nine o’clock and the night was black, except for the lights that flashed from the highway. Finally, as José reached the road, a Highway Patrolman spotted him.

“What are you doing out here? It’s very dangerous. We’ve evacuated the place and have road blocks to keep people out of the area. How did you get back into the restricted area?” asked the Patrolman.

“I live back there. No one evacuated us. We heard the reports on the radio and tried to get out but our car won’t start. My family is stuck back there. We need help,” answered José.

“Your family? We thought we had everyone out of there. How many people are back there? How far? Where exactly are they? Are there any others still back in there, besides your family?” quizzed the Patrolman rapidly.

“It’s about three miles back. Right up against the dam. My wife and four kids are out there. I didn’t see anyone else on my way out here,” explained José.

The Patrolman sent two cars back to get the family and some of their belongings. José rode along in the lead car to show them the way.

When they got to the house, they found the car empty. Inside the house, the only light was the flicker of a candle. When they entered, they found María in hard labor, the children gathered around her with wide, frightened eyes.

One of the Patrolmen took a single look at thescene and started to give orders. “Officer Taylor, help me get this woman into my car. I’ll take her directly to County Hospital. You can stay here with this man and help him get the children to safety, then you can bring him to County.”

They quickly and carefully carried María into the car and rushed inside the house to get the kids without waiting for the first car to drive away.

An hour later, José rushed into the Obstetrics Ward at County Hospital to ask about his wife. “She’s in labor. She’s not quite ready to deliver. You can wait downstairs. I’ll call down when there’s any word,” instructed the pretty nurse with a sympathetic smile on her face.

In the Delivery Room, María gasped for air. “Please Doctor, you have to help me deliver my baby now. It’s almost midnight. My baby has to be born before midnight. Please help my baby come now. What time is it? What time is it?”

“It’s about 11:30 María. Don’t be in such a hurry. This baby will come when it’s ready. I can’t do anything about it. Relax. It’s almost here. On the next contraction, push as hard as you can!” the young intern smiled at María reassuringly.

After pushing through three or four more contractions, María felt the baby being born. She heard the strong crying. The doctor gladly announced “It’s a girl, María! You have a beautiful, healthy baby girl!”

“What time is it?” asked María. “Did I make it? Is she a Christmas baby?”

“It’s 11:52. You made it! You have a Christmas baby! Congratulations, María.” The intern smiled as he continued to examine both mother and baby. “Why was it so important to have a Christmas baby anyway, María?”

“Because this baby is special. She is my gift to the world. She’s going to be a very special person,” beamed María as she put her arms out to take her baby.

Later, when she was in the ward, after José had come in to see her and the 5 pound little girl María held in her arms, María spoke to her daughter with complete adoration: “You are my hope for the future. You are a gift. A gift to me…to our family…a gift to all the world. You will bring good things into this world. I know you will be a special daughter. You bring me hope that out of the darkness of my life, something beautiful will come. Joyful, beautiful, and wonderful things will follow you wherever you go and everyone you touch will be blessed with your joy. You are my joy today, tomorrow, and always.”

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Just me and my mom, around May,1956.

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Re-posting an old favorite:

One of my fondest Christmas memories is also one of the saddest.  It happened in 1978, the year I got married.

My mother lived in Long Beach, California and my husband and I lived in Santa Monica.  His parents lived in Mexicali, Baja California, which is about a four or so hour drive from where my mom lived.  I had never missed a Christmas at home.  It was very important to me that I not miss being home, not just for my sake but for my mother’s.  I knew she wanted me to be home.  So we consulted with everyone and figured out a plan where my husband and I would drive to Mexicali a few days before Christmas.  We would have an early Christmas lunch after opening presents with his family, then we would leave there and come across the border by one in the afternoon or so.  We would then drive to Long Beach and be there for a late Christmas dinner and opening presents with my family.

We were staying on the U.S. side of the border, in Calexico, at my husband’s grandmother’s house while we were down there.  On Christmas Eve when it was time for bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I talked for hours and hours.  My husband heard about every one of my Christmases that night.  I think I was nervous about being with my new family (I had just met them two months previously and had not spent much time with them) and also nervous about the timing of the drive to my mom’s house.  I didn’t want anything to go wrong that would keep us from spending a part of the holiday with my family.  They were all waiting for us, including a number of nieces and nephews who weren’t going to open presents until we got there. So I went on and on about Christmas and about birthday cakes (my birthday is on Christmas).  I think I recalled every single gift I had gotten in my 22 years!  Finally, I let him fall asleep at what was probably about three in the morning.   I stayed awake after he fell asleep.

The next day, everything on his family’s end of the planning went well.  By nine we were finished opening presents and our lunch was being prepared.  We ate by noon and even though I offered to stay and help with the clean up, we were ushered out of there so we wouldn’t be late getting to my mother’s house.

To get on the road, we had to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.  The road we took to get from my in-law’s to the border, was the fastest route.  It had businesses on one side and a very high fence on the other side, which served as the division between the third world country and the richest country in the world (at least in those days).  As the road approaches the border, the last mile or two, the fence is just a cyclone fence and you can see right through it, (at least in 1978 you could; I’m not sure what it’s like now).  We slowed as the road ahead of us narrowed from four lanes to the two border patrol booths that were open.  It was not a long wait but to me, it was way too long.  Because there was little traffic that day, there were no cars between us and the cyclone fence, giving us full view of the “dividing line.”  As I sat there, I looked over and watched as families congregated at the fence, exchanging gifts through the openings in the cyclone fence.  Once I realized what it was that they were doing, the excitement I felt about being on my way home left me along with my breath.  For what seemed like forever, I couldn’t breathe.  I was riveted to the scene before me.  There were mothers and their children passing crudely wrapped gifts from one side of the fence to the other.  On both sides of the fence, people were smiling and chatting as they exchanged Christmas gifts.  It seemed to be normal to them, and I’m sure it was.

I was struck by the fact that these families could not embrace or pass any gift bigger than three or so inches to the other side.  The families’ economic differences were clear.  The ones on the Mexico side of the fence were very poorly clad, especially for what was a crisp December day with the promise of rain in the sky.  The ones on the U.S. side were better dressed and wore shoes and coats appropriate for the weather.  The families although together, were very far apart in many ways.  Before I knew it, I was crying.  My chattiness was gone and we drove home to my mother’s house in almost complete silence.  When we arrived, being there with my family, in the same piece of earth, was more special than it had ever been.  I could hug them and kiss them and hold them near to me.

That was the Christmas in which I left my childhood innocence behind in many ways.

 

For a lighter Christmas Story, click on the link:

Baby Jesus Bridge

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Again

We got snow again on Wednesday, the second time in just under a week. This time we got at least 4 inches outside my door. Not much but enough to make it messy on the roads.

My daughter asked me to babysit for just about an hour so I ran out the door with just my canvas shoes. We weren’t supposed to get snow for several hours. But then she got home and asked me to go to the grocery store with her, for a “quick trip.”  I went. That turned in to a Target trip, then Costco, then the grocery store. By then, it had been snowing for three hours, steady, windy, snow. We were five minutes from home but it was very messy out there and that’s about the time everyone decided to go home before it got worse. That five minute trip home took us an hour and five minutes. That included my daughter taking a less traveled street to “beat the traffic” and then spinning out. We hit a fence which was lucky because just an inch further and we would have hit a power pole. It’s very strange to watch it happening and know you are going to hit but not be able to do anything to avert it.

We’re okay. Here car is mostly okay. She says it’s not worth the deductible. But that was in the dark. We’ll see what she thinks in daylight. I’m sore. All over. Mostly my knee and neck, though.

Then we got home and we were supposed to make tamales (that was what the stop at the grocery store was for) which should have been finished withing a very few hours. However, things move slowly there. 🙂  So we didn’t actually start assembling them until after midnight. They brought me home about two this morning. I went right to sleep. I was exhausted as I had been up since four in the morning so that meant about twenty-two hours awake!

We got more snow overnight and this morning. I haven’t been out there today. In fact, all I’ve done is get dressed and had coffee. I’m sore all over. I haven’t heard from my daughter today. I guess I should check on them. Maybe she’s still asleep. I know she’s probably still sleeping. The boys’ dad is home until Monday so he can take care of all of them today.

We are supposed to go to Peacock Lane tonight. It’s a short street, about three or so blocks, where all the houses (mostly Tudor style) are decorated very nicely. It’s a pedestrian night. However, it’s supposed to be cold (well, it hasn’t warmed up, we’re still at freezing temps) and icy so we probably won’t go. That’s fine but I wish it would not be icy so we could take the boys. I know they would love it. And we’re supposed to be under very similar freezing temps until Sunday so it would be good to get out for just a little bit. But no spinning out this time!

The spin out incident triggered another memory which I will tell you about next time. Right now I’m headed to the kitchen for something warm.

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The Gift

Note: This is one of my new stories. It appeared on Solveig Werner’s blog on Sunday. Only a couple of my readers have made it over there to read it so I thought I would post it here. It is a rewrite of an old story; I changed the point of view and I think it’s a much better story. I hope you enjoy it. 

 

Vince had hidden the package from his wife for over a week. He was so excited to finally be able to give her this special gift. He had been so afraid that she would find the package that he had asked his compadre, Roy, to keep it at his house for him. Roy had gladly taken the package home with him and his wife, Jenny had offered to wrap it for him, gladly agreeing to his idea for the wrapping of this special gift.

Finally it was Christmas Eve and his comadre and compadre had come to the house to make tamales. Before they left, Roy had found a way to get the package to him without Bea seeing it. Mission accomplished! When bedtime came around and all the kids were put to bed, Vince found a way to get the package under the Christmas tree without Bea knowing. He put it in the back of the tree where it was hidden by the all the gifts for the kids. He went to bed and then he got nervous. What if she didn’t like it? Maybe he should have taken her to the store to pick it out for herself. But he had wanted it to be a surprise. She loved surprises. She was like a little girl when he treated her the way she deserved and he realized that he didn’t always treat her that way. Life had been very difficult for them for the past eleven years since they had married. There had never been enough money and there had always been all the kids, one new one each year. They had seven in all and he was pretty sure there would be no more. At least he hoped because although he loved each and every one of his children, he also wanted to be able to give them all the things he had never had when he was growing up and for that, he needed to be sure there were no more. Seven was enough.

On Christmas morning, they managed to keep the kids out of the living room where the Christmas tree was set up in front of the big bay window. The older kids knew the rule, no going in to see the presents until their parents were up and said it was okay. So the older kids, all boys, made sure the girls stayed out. They were all crowding at the door to the living room anxiously awaiting their parents’ appearance so they could get to their presents.

When their parents appeared and gave them the okay, they burst through the living room door to see all the presents. There were so many! The gifts were passed around to the right owner and opened, one by one. Each package brought glee to the owner. As the gifts were opened, the large box at the back of the tree began to show. Each of the kids wondered if the package was for them. The older ones dared to look for a tag on it but didn’t find one. When the gifts were all opened, there was still the last one, a big square box wrapped in shiny silver paper and topped with a big fancy white bow. Who did it belong to? There was no name on it. Everyone had gotten their presents except one person. She didn’t always get anything for Christmas because of the money so she had learned not to expect anything. Surely this package could not be for her but for who?

Finally, Vince smiled broadly and passed the gift to her. She looked at him with a puzzled look. This couldn’t be for her. She knew there hadn’t been any extra money but he was pushing the box at her and telling her to open it. He looked so happy this morning and she was glad that he was happy and sober and hoped that it would last at least a while but she knew that on most holidays he would be drunk before dinner.

“Open it. It’s for you,” he beamed at her.

“For me? Really? What is it?” Her eyes were smiling at him.

“Just open it. It’s a surprise. I can’t tell you what it is!”

She took the box and held it for a minute, trying not to shake it. She said it felt light. Was it a dress or a blouse, she asked? He looked at her and just said, “open it!”

She carefully un-taped the wrapping paper, not wanting to rip it because she always reused the paper for gifts throughout the year. When the paper was off and carefully folded at her side, she lifted the top off of the box and found a lot of strips of newspaper. She looked at Vince with hurt in her eyes.

“It’s a trick! It’s a mean trick. There isn’t anything in here.”

“Look around. There’s something in there. It’s not a trick!”

She moved the paper around and found another box, also wrapped in the pretty paper. She opened it carefully only to find more newspaper strips. Not willing to believe either that there was a gift in there or that he would trick her like this, she moved the paper strips and found another box which was also wrapped and contained more strips of paper and another box. She kept going until she got to a very small box wrapped in shiny gold paper with a silver metallic bow almost bigger than the box itself. She carefully opened it and found another box in there. She looked at this box, which wasn’t wrapped. She held her breath. The box was from Kay Jewelers but she didn’t dare think it was actually a piece of jewelry. She lifted her eyes and looked at her husband with disbelief. Could he be mean enough to trick her and give her an empty box from the jewelry store? Her eyes filled with tears as she hesitated before opening the jewelry box. When she did, all she could do was look at the contents with disbelief and an open mouth. She looked at her husband and asked “How? How could we afford this? You have to take it back!”

“I am not taking it back. I saved up money for weeks; a few dollars each week. I paid for it. I didn’t get it on credit. It’s for you. You deserve to have it. I only wish I could have bought it for you when we married. Take it out! Put it on. See if it fits. They can fix the size if it doesn’t fit.” His eyes were also tear filled and his face was taken up by a huge smile!

The kids looked at the parents, not knowing what was going on, yet knowing it was something good. Their parents were happy. They weren’t fighting. They were happy and so the kids were happy, too. They watched as their mother took two rings out of the little black box. She took her silver band off and put the two new rings on. She looked at the rings and then waved her hand around so the kids could see. Her cheeks were wet but she was happy, not sad.

The kids asked why she had taken off her silver ring and she explained to them that the new rings were “real wedding rings” and the one she had taken off was a ring their father had made for her out of a silver quarter. And the kids remembered the summer day a few years before when their father had gotten the quarters and worked in the back yard all day long, tapping the middle of the quarters over and over again with a small hammer he had borrowed from a neighbor. It had been like magic to see the flat round quarters slowly turn into rings. He had made their mother’s ring thinner than his but they matched. And he had shown the kids how he had left the year on the inside of each band and how he had chosen a quarter with their mother’s birth year and one with his own birth year. Their mom had been wearing the band for a few years. Now they looked at it inside the little box the new rings had been in. Their mother held the box in her right hand as she looked at the new rings on her left hand. She got up and hugged their father. He asked her if she liked the set and if they fit and she assured him that they fit and that she loved them. Again she asked him if he was sure that they could afford this extravagant gift and he repeated that she didn’t have to worry about it. They were hers to keep. They were paid for. They didn’t owe anyone for them.

That was a happy Christmas for the family. They were all happy on that day. Happy and hopeful that their futures would be bright and happy. There were lots of tears that year as the kids were happy for their mom and happy that their father was in a good mood. They were happy it had been a very good year for their gifts but soon they ran off to play with new toys, leaving their mother and father to go on with their life together, thinking happiness was in the bag.

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It’s the day after the snow day. A lot of people are still home from work and school as the roads are icy. I’m sitting at home, nice and warm. I left the house for about twenty minutes to get some food my daughter picked up for me. Yay for food!

Otherwise, I am looking online for ideas for inexpensive but useful groups for the adults I need to get things for. I also order two things for the youngest grandbaby. I have the kids’ gifts ordered or already in my possession so if I don’t get anything else, that’s fine, I’ve got the babies covered!

I also wrote a new Christmas story. This one is a short flash piece (under 800 words). It’s for a guest blog post later this month. It’s fiction. It feels good to sit and write something new. That’s twice this month, both for other bloggers. I’m going to try to come up with something else later today…maybe for MY blog this time!

Are you finished with your shopping? Who is the most difficult person to get a gift for? I’d love to hear!

 

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When my kids were growing up, we lived in a small town near Los Angeles and in another town right next to us, one much smaller than ours, they had a Christmas parade each year, during the first weekend of December. Because it was in California, we didn’t often have to worry about wet weather but we did have to bundle up because even there, in the foothills of the Crescenta Valley, it could, and did, get very cold and windy.

For a small town, Montrose had a big parade. It wasn’t fancy. It featured every local school’s marching banc, every gymnastics troop, every scout group, a local motorcycle group performing stunts, and the last few years I attended, even the preschool participated with parents pulling the little ones in wagons and pushing them in strollers.

It was fun. It didn’t matter that there were no big, fancy floats. It just mattered that everyone was there for the same reason, to celebrate all the kids in the parade, young and old.  I remember the excitement as we headed for the parade each year. We had to get there early so we could get front row seats, sitting on the curb with blankets and taking a big thermos of hot chocolate and some snacks. It wasn’t until years after we started attending that the started to sell hot chocolate and cookies and all sorts of stuff. In fact, it makes me wonder what that little parade is like now. I’m sure it’s very different from the days when I marched the parade route with my Cub Scouts and my Girl Scouts. In fact, I had to do it twice. I had the parade organizers place my Cub Scouts and Girls Scouts far enough apart so I could march with one troop then run back to the beginning of the route to march with my other troop! Those were the days when I was young and had a lot more energy. I’m sure I couldn’t do that now!

Of course, the highlight each year was Santa Claus arriving over the parade route on the search and rescue helicopter! The helicopter hovered above the parade route with spotlights shining on Santa as he hung out the door waving to the kids below. It really was kinda neat!

Those memories bring back the good times; the times when all was good and we were happy; the times of innocence and believing in magic and the good in the world.

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I Need Christmas

I need Christmas. I think a lot of us do this year. I need the tree to be set up in the corner and to be indoors enjoying being warm and listening to Christmas music. I need it this year more than most.

I usually don’t set up a tree this early; not until the middle of the month most years. However, as I have seen a lot of people post on FB and mention in real life, there seems to be a need for the Christmas spirit quite early this year. I think, for most, it’s a comment on the political situation, not only here in the United States, but also internationally.

Christmas is not only about giving and receiving. To me, it’s about slowing down; it’s about reflecting; it’s about imagining; it’s about the past and about the future; about the young and the old. Christmas is inside of us but it’s best when it escapes a bit so it can be shared with those around us.

I don’t want to rush it. I want to relish it. I’m starting early this year. I’ve already watched my favorite holiday movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. I’ve already listened to my favorite Christmas playlist, complete with Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Dean Martin, Rod Stewart, and so many others. I have gotten gifts for just the grandsons. I might not make it to getting for others but I will try. I want to be able to sit and enjoy making some gifts (I’m going to try to remember how to crochet!) and learning some new crafty things. I think I will also have the boys over here to make a few Christmas crafts and maybe a gift for their mom and dad and for their other grandparents.

I’m so wanting Christmas that I might break down and bake. And for sure, there will be tamale making in the next couple of weeks!

Yes, I need Christmas and I’m setting it out to get it!

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