It’s almost Christmas.

I’m done putting together my classes (except for minor touches).

I haven’t gotten anywhere on my story.

It just figures, doesn’t it? That story (Gaia’s Hands) will be the death of me.

I think I’ll do those final touches on class today.

Gaia’s Hands is certainly not doing well. Sigh. 

Dear Santa, I need a breakthrough on this story for Christmas. 

If the Fates allow

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is still my favorite Christmas song.

The melancholy and longing in that song seems especially poignant this Christmas, when we find ourselves separated by COVID and the measures we must take to keep from getting or spreading it. 

“Through the years we all will be together/if the Fates allow” seems extremely pertinent this year. The Fates did not allow, and we with short memories act as if this has never happened. Anyone with family in the military, in service professions, in estranged families will tell us that this happens all the time. Fate doesn’t allow everyone to get together for Christmas.

I have spent Christmas alone and with strangers, in a private psychiatric treatment center and cooking dinner for the poor. I have spent it with family, and this year I will spend it with my husband and my four cats. 

If the Fates allow.

Christmas Music

 The music playing in the house during the Christmas season is all Christmas, all the time. I’m not tired of it yet (except for “All I Want for Christmas is You”).

The Christmas album I grew up with was The Little Drummer Boy, the original 1958 version from The Harry Simeone Chorale. This is the one with the blue and white cover with a drummer boy playing on a red marching band-style drum. And how is drumming going to be good for a newborn baby? (Harry Simeone has a lot to answer for here.)

The album is very good. Choral pieces, many as medleys of Christmas music with a basso voice narrating pieces of the Christmas story. It’s a performance piece as much as anything, and if you get anything other than the 1956 version (or the reissue of the album in 1967 as a Texaco promotional item as I had growing up), you’ll miss the narration, which makes the whole album.

My most pleasant surprise is how much I like The Waitress’s 1982 hit “Christmas Wrappings”. I don’t know how I missed it all these years. It has a frenetic New Wave sensibility and a very 80’s happy ending. 

And oh, I really like Pentatonix. Too bad they only have four Christmas albums.

Christmas music is one of our music rituals in the household. We also have classical followed by jazz on Sundays. (So right now, it’s classical Christmas followed by jazz Christmas on Sundays). 

After Christmas we go back to the usual music, with me favoring the singer/songwriter playlists on Apple Music, and Richard favoring classical. By then, maybe I’ll be tired of Christmas music. Probably not. 



I’m so tired.

I’m in the end stretch, with final exams to be graded Monday and Thursday, and office hours online all week. It’s not going to be too hard, but I still wish it was all over. 

I get it. I’m getting older, old enough that I reminisce about Christmas past and old music. Old enough that I would like to do nothing except write till January. (And celebrate Christmas). Old enough that I don’t feel younger than my age anymore. Old enough that I don’t imagine younger men getting crushes on me. I have become a more sedate version of myself. And, after this semester, a more tired one.

I would like my heart to be lighter. This may not be the year, and perhaps what I need is a reprieve from work rather than joy. 

There will be Christmas


Christmas is our respite from the year of COVID.

Even if we can’t (or at least shouldn’t) visit our loved ones, even if we can’t travel, even if we have lived with this threat for months which has changed our lives, we have Christmas.

Some will have a subdued Christmas because they have lost family or friends, or because a friend or family member has ended up in the hospital because of COVID. I have one colleague with lingering symptoms and another in the hospital. Others I know have seen loved ones die.

Some will have a smaller Christmas because of restrictions on gathering size, the riskiness of travel, and the fact that hotels and restaurants are among the best places for contagion. This has been a big part of why my husband and I aren’t going to Illinois and staying at Starved Rock State Park for this Christmas. 

But there will be Christmas, and there will be workarounds for friends and family. We will put up our Christmas trees, even early, because we need that color and light. We will Zoom with family and friends. We will find a way to celebrate, because we as human beings need that celebration in the grey skies of December. 

Find a reason for joy this season, even a flickering moment of joy, because that is part of our legacy as humans. And if you can’t, let something lighten your heart for a moment and understand that the hurt will lessen and the memories remain.

Decking the Halls

The halls are decked! Well, actually, my husband decked the living room and left the hall alone. I’d get pictures of the living room, but the coffee table is a bit cluttered as always. No House Beautiful home here.

On the bench next to me we have a display of Christmasy stuffed toys — a vintage Coca Cola stuffed bear, two Ty Monstaz (Holly and Tinsel), Velveteen Rabbits male and female, Hello Kitty with a Christmas present, a sloth wearing antlers and a scarf, and Plum Puddy. If Christmas is a holiday for children, I want to indulge my inner child a little.

I’m working from home for the rest of the semester, with a dead week followed by online finals. So having the house decked out and Christmas music playing helps. Right now “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” plays on the stereo and, well, it is.

Our Christmas celebration, constrained as it is, may be just what we need right now. The pre-Christmas winter celebrations heralded the passing of the longest night and the slow return to the bright days. The Christians held onto many of the customs, knowing that they needed a celebration to get through winter. We hope for a vaccine for COVID in the New Year, so we turn to the brighter days just as our ancestors did. 

Our Inner Child and Christmases Past

Do we as adults look for touchstones to our childhood Christmases?

My husband and I spoke about this while we were listening to Little Drummer Boy (Harry Simeone Chorale, 1959 version), the harbinger of Christmas in my childhood. I was born in 1963, but the trappings of those late 50’s still lingered in my house, as we listened to the album (33 1/3) on a 1957 Magnavox Continental console. 

This is the exact make/model of our old stereo. I wish I had it because a restoration would be lovely.

My husband grew up in a town smaller than mine that still managed to have a Christmas parade, unlike mine. Both of us remember captivating displays in local businesses. He remembers church choirs, while my childhood was more secular. 

We both remember Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer complete with the GE tie-in commercials, and we watch that and How the Grinch Stole Christmas and other children’s Christmas TV staples, and we still watch those every year. 

We remember the iconic outdoor displays of our home towns — me, the industrial pipe frame-and-lights tree on top of the Nabisco carton factory, and he the star on top of the grain elevator. I remember a whole era of my life where I could look out the dining room window and see the tree lit in green or red across the neighborhood, waiting for my father to get home from his job 30 miles away, waiting for Rudolph to come on TV, worried about my father traveling through the snow.

We’ve made our own traditions — one of those being going to Starved Rock State Park in my hometown area to visit my dad and my sister’s family every year. Starved Rock Lodge was also a piece of my childhood, a massive log construction that existed since the 1930’s. To me it’s the epitome of Christmas, which its Great Hall sporting Christmas lights and families getting together there to open their presents. Again, a part of my past. We will not go there because of COVID, and I will miss that.

This makes me wonder if other people have this sentimentalism for the past when it comes to Christmas. Are we touched by our childhood Christmases and clinging to the traditions to keep our adult selves buoyant? I wonder this especially for this year, when we can’t have those big gatherings because of the contagion, when we put our Christmas trees out early for the colorful lights of hope. 

The Owl in the Christmas Tree

 This week in the US News, a story unfolded that is just too cute for the Christmas season. A small saw-whet owl rode two hours from Oneonta, New York to Rockefeller Center, New York City.  The tiny and photogenic creature is now living in a box in Saugerties, New York until it can be released tomorrow.

I have a special fondness for this story, having spent five years in Oneonta. Oneonta is a small town sitting at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, known for its university (SUNY Oneonta) and its summer little league baseball tournaments. It’s a charming town of old houses and a park full of evergreens; it’s a quirky town with an eclectic mix of stores in its downtown.

Oneonta is a place where there should be Christmas stories. Nothing quite as virginal as a Hallmark Christmas movie, but maybe a Lifetime movie with its more complicated line set to a white Christmas. 

So fitting it is that a tiny owl in a lopsided tree would venture forth from there and find itself in the big city. 

Someone will write a children’s book about this. I wish it would be me, but I don’t write children’s books. I hope it’s an Oneonta native, for there are many artsy sorts in the foothills of the Catskills. I would read that book, and possibly try to get it signed with my other autographed children’s books.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a picture:

Christmas and the Days After

It’s Christmas day, and I’m sitting in the Great Hall at Starved Rock State Park, in front of the fireplace. My husband just snapped a picture of the fireplace and some Christmas decor for us:

Despite my fretting, it has been a good Christmas. I knew pretty much what I was getting before Christmas, because that’s how Richard and I do our shopping. He managed to surprise me with the chocolate in the stocking (given that I’m eating responsibly again, the chocolate should lasr me a long time.

Once Christmas is over, I’m going to need to strategize. January and February are hard for me, particularly because the weather is so bleak and the celebrations are over. I’m more prone to depression at this time. I will have to find things to celebrate and time to celebrate them until springtime comes with its sun.

But in the meantime, Wingless Dreamer wants a headshot of me so they can publish one of my poems. That’s a positive.

Christmases in My Family

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m sitting in the cabin at Starved Rock writing this. There’s a small fire in the fireplace, and I’ve just gotten done watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.We go to my dad’s at noon today, which almost didn’t happen because Christmas is strange in my family.

Christmas was my mother’s holiday — she decorated the house elaborately with red ribbons and greens and ornaments until it looked like a Victorian fantasy. She chose presents with care and wrapped them in a way Martha Stewart would envy (for my overseas visitors, look up Martha Stewart. She’s a personality whose fame is based on her overly-involved home decor aesthetic).  Mom planned menus and created a spread of Christmas buffet (but no cookies; she found those too fussy).

Even on her last Christmas in 2007, she orchestrated Christmas from the hospital bed in her living room when she could no longer make it up and down the stairs. She decided she would wear her grey robe with Christmas jewelry and direct the Christmas action from her bed. My mom died of the tumor in her brain just before Christmas.

I am my mother’s child, and I celebrate Christmas rather vigorously. My husband, luckily, loves Christmas as much as I do, so the house is decorated, Christmas carols play all season, and we have our yearly ritual of Starved Rock because there are few places so welcoming at Christmas as the Lodge there. But there’s still that remembrance of my mother mixed up in there, and all the complex feelings memories of my mother stir up — sorrow, joy, frustration, anger, love. 

So my Christmases are strangely textured now. I accept that, and I accept my remembrances of prior Christmases are likely romanticized. It’s all part of life.