Decide To Be Happy

Sometimes, life hands us lemons. We’ve all heard it…we need to make lemonade. My mother used to always say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

Every single day since I lost my mother in December of 2017, I remind myself that I have to decide to be happy. It’s not that I haven’t experienced any happiness, but sometimes, when I get sad about having lost her, it’s hard to bring myself out of it. And every time, I hear her say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

I try not to write about death and loss very often, because I know people don’t want to hear about it. I know it’s a downer. I know that sometimes, I feel better if I think of something happy. But right now, it’s OK if no one wants to hear about it. It’s OK if everybody skips over this, because right now, I need to write about it.

I’m in the process of closing out Mother’s estate. No, there were no loose ends to tie up. She made it as easy as possible. She had a will. She listed survivors on bank accounts. She didn’t have any debt. She made it easy. Maybe if she had made it complicated, I could have gotten angry with her and been in a bigger hurry to close everything, but nope…she made the division of assets easy. Yet, I still haven’t closed out the estate, and it’s time for me to do it. I should have done it six months ago, but it’s downright depressing.

In fact, I feel more sad now than I did immediately after her passing. Weird, I know, but I guess I feel like closing out the estate is like closing the final chapter on her life. There have been days that I knew would be difficult…my parents’ anniversary, Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas Eve (the anniversary of her hospitalization), Christmas Day, the anniversary of her death (December 30)…but I never expected this part to be so difficult. I thought it was completely transactional, and being a tough chick, I thought I’d be able to treat this as a transaction. But I can’t. I realize that now, because I’ve been delaying it…and I’ve been sad.

And I’ve been off my game. Sure, I’ve gone through the motions of regular life, but deep inside, I’ve been off my game since she took her last breath.

And now I’m faced with closing the book on the estate.

But something occurred to me today: Maybe…just maybe…it will be freeing. That’s all I can hope. Maybe I will feel a little sense of freedom, like a weight has been lifted, when I sign all the papers. Maybe closing the estate will actually make me feel better. We’ve all had times like that. We put something off because it’s scary, but once it happens, we feel a sense of relief or freedom. I have friends who put off signing divorce papers, because it was depressing, but once they did it, they felt like the albatross had been removed from their necks. Maybe the estate is my albatross? That sounds terrible. My mother would not like it that I referred to it that way, but she doesn’t get a vote in this.

After my daddy died, mother was talking with her doctor about anti-depressants, and she said, “My husband wouldn’t like it.” The doctor, very calmly, said, “Your husband’s not here anymore. He doesn’t get a vote in this.” And he was right! She knew it, and she actually laughed! For the record, she started taking the anti-depressant, and it made a big difference in her approach to life. Sure, she was still grieving Daddy, but the anti-depressant helped her decide to be happy.

As soon as I receive all the paperwork, I’ll sign off on closing the estate. In fact, I’m going to invite friends to a brunch at my house for that very day, so they can come over and drink some champagne with me to celebrate the closure…the freedom.

Mother would laugh about that, and she would be happy to know that it’s done.

I will decide to be happy…just in time for spring!

 

 

 

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The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

School’s Out For the Holidays

Finally. School is out for the holidays. As a mother, I might look forward to it as much as I did when I was a kid.

Yesterday, I went to school to pick up my daughter, who is a freshman in high school. We had been told all students would be released at noon at her K-12 school. The break didn’t exactly get started on the right foot. I arrived early, so I was near the front of the carpool line, waiting for dismissal. I had texted my daughter, telling her to hurry when school got out, because I was near the front of the line. I was looking forward to getting out of there quickly, so I could meet some friends for lunch. I was listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album in my car. I was happily waiting. And then…

At noon, the security officer came over to my car near the front of the line and told me the high school students wouldn’t get out till 12:20, because their testing was taking longer than planned, and he asked me to “park over in the lot or go back around.” You know that record scratch sound? That’s what belongs here.

Well, I got out of line (without grumbling) and drove toward the lot. I didn’t get too aggravated till I realized there were no spots in the parking lot, and I couldn’t possibly go back around to get in line, because the officer who was supposed to be directing traffic outside the school wasn’t there yet. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see, and there was no way I was getting in the middle of that. No, really…there was no way I would have been able to navigate my way back into the line. Cars were bumper to bumper. I took a deep breath. I had made the effort to get there on time…there was no way I was sitting there waiting for someone in that cluster to have mercy on me and let me in.

I took matters into my own hands, and drove around to the other side of the building, where I’m not supposed to go for carpool, and after fighting a little traffic, I parked in one of the student lots…totally against the rules. Just call me a rule breaker…a maverick… a rogue parent.

While I was “going rogue,” my daughter, who had clearly been released at noon, texted me…at 12:05… “Where are you? I thought you were at the front of the line?” Fortunately, I parked in the student lot soon after her text, and I called her, telling her to walk back across campus in the pouring rain to the other side, where I was parked in the student lot. I think she knew not to give me any grief, because she could tell by the tone of my voice that I was not happy.

My daughter and her friend eventually made it to the car…soaking wet…but they seemed happy. I guess the fact that they were getting out for the holiday break totally made up for the fact that they had to double-back in the rain to get to my car.

I still don’t know why the security officer thought the high school students were being released late. There was some sort of miscommunication…not his fault. I feel sure someone somewhere gave him incorrect information, and for about ten minutes, I was really ticked off, because it was going to mess up my lunch plans. And then I realized something…

Getting upset about a little misinformation and a traffic cluster…well, those are first world problems. I also realized I had a cell phone, so I could call my friends and tell them I would likely be late. My daughter and her friend were happy to have school behind them for a couple of weeks, and even though it was raining cats and dogs, today was a good day.

It was a good day, because we all woke up. We have plenty to eat. We have a house that’s warm and dry, and we have cars that are in good working order, so we can get around pretty easily. We have a nice break ahead of us, and we will celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, with our wonderful friends and family.

Sure, life is full of aggravations. Life is full of real problems. But getting re-routed for no reason is not one of those real problems. It was a little hiccup, and I found a way around it…and I still made it to lunch on time!

Now…let’s get this holiday break started!

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Santa Claus

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “When is the right time to tell my kids about Santa?” She has two children under ten. Almost every person who responded said not to tell any child EVER that there is no Santa. Unless your child is about to be embarrassed by peers because he/she still believes in Santa, I agree.

What is more magical than waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve and then getting up to see what he left on Christmas Day?

Most kids figure it out before 10 or 11. I figured it out in 1976, at age 9, and though I thought I wanted to know, I really didn’t. Once the magic of Santa is gone, part of childhood is over. I know…Christmas isn’t all about the gifts, but kids sure like the gifts.

I remember sitting in my fourth grade classroom at Spanish Fort Elementary School, talking with friends about Santa. Most of us still believed Santa flew around the world in a magic sleigh with reindeer and went down every child’s chimney in one night. We were a sheltered bunch. Oh, I was a firm believer, but someone must have created some doubt along the way, because, well, just read on…

About a month before Christmas 1976, my mother couldn’t find her car keys. She was searching all over the house, and in desperation, she asked me to go out to the car and see if they were in the glove compartment. When I opened the glove compartment, of course, there were no keys, but I did find an address book and diary that would be perfect gifts for a girl my age. I didn’t take them inside and ask Mother about them. Instead, I left them where I found them…as a test. My thinking? If Mother and Daddy gave them to me for Christmas, then Santa was alive and well. BUT…If Santa brought them on Christmas Day, then I would know he wasn’t real. So, I left them and waited for Christmas.

I have a picture of me from that Christmas morning, sitting on the sofa in our den, wearing my yellow nightgown with the number 12 on the front (Joe Namath’s number) and looking less than thrilled. Oh, I was thrilled with my gifts…a 110 camera with plenty of film and flashcubes (remember those?), a telescope, Yahtzee, some 45 records (KC and the Sunshine Band, Rick Dees singing Disco Duck, The Eagles), some clothes, some books, and yes…the diary and address book. The magic was over. I knew Santa didn’t exist. My heart was broken. But I didn’t tell anyone. I just sucked it up and enjoyed the day, but Christmas morning was never the same.

But that brings us back to the original question: when is the right time to tell  kids about Santa Claus? Most people would say never, and I tend to agree. I never told my own daughter, but she figured it out eventually. When she was 10, she still believed. I remember, because she came down with the flu in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve, and she was up sick all night. I had the hardest time figuring out when I would play Santa that night. Thank God I had wrapped all the gifts in advance. (She had asked Santa several years before to wrap her gifts instead of just leaving them out in the living room.) But by the next year, when she was  11, my daughter no longer believed in Santa Claus. She now tells me someone at school told her. And Christmas has never been as much fun.

But there is an exception to the “don’t tell” rule: your 13-yr-old child is about to do presentation to his 8th grade class about Santa Claus. You have to save him from himself. You have to tell him.

Finding out the truth about Santa can’t possibly be fun for any child. But there is something that’s more fun than believing in Santa: being Santa. Until I had a child, I had no idea that Christmas morning is a lot more fun as a parent than it ever was as a child. Sure, a lot of work goes into making it “perfect,” but seeing the excitement of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve and the pure joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning were better than I could have ever dreamed it would be. Even now, when I know she knows Santa isn’t “real,” it’s fun to see her excitement as she opens her gifts.

I will be playing Santa till I can’t play Santa anymore.

Rudolph Made Me Cry

Last week, I had planned to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my teenage daughter. It didn’t work out. I don’t remember what we did instead…maybe I took her to a high school basketball game? Instead, I recorded it on the DVR, and I had not had the opportunity to watch it till this morning.

I was home alone. My husband had dropped off our daughter at club lacrosse tryouts before going to the gym, so I sat in my warm bed on a rainy morning and watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I even turned off all the lights in my room to create some darkness (it was cloudy outside too!), so I could watch it the way we watched it when we were kids. Back then, in the 1970s, we would lie on the floor in front of the big, console Zenith television…not too close, because well, we had been told we might start to glow in the dark if we sat too close to the TV. Mother and Daddy turned off all the lights in the family den, and we watched Rudolph in our pajamas.

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And for about an hour this morning, I was five years old again. Every character brought back memories…Rudolph, Clarice, Hermey, Burl Ives, the Abominable Snowman…ahhh…the good old days. Remember the days before VCRs and DVRs? We had to watch the Christmas specials when they came on once a year, or we had to wait till the next year. Remember looking forward to all your favorite Christmas specials?

Oh, I had favorites, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being at or near the top of the list. I also loved Frosty the Snowman, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. As a teen, I fell in love with classic movies: Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Holiday Inn, and I would stay up late at night, watching them with my mother, because for some reason, TBS always ran those movies late at night.

As for watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as an adult…I don’t care what they say…for one hour, I was a little girl again…right up till the end, when Santa and the reindeer land on the Island of Misfit Toys.

As soon as Santa and the reindeer, led by Rudolph, landed on the Island of Misfit Toys on Christmas Eve to pick up the misfits, I cried. I will admit it. I cried. I cried, because I remembered exactly how magical it was to watch it when I was five. I remembered how exciting it was to see Rudolph, having been banished from the reindeer games, leading Santa’s sleigh through the fog….landing safely to pick up the Misfit Toys. And then the beautiful take-off! Wow! Rudolph had overcome adversity, and back in the day, every kid in the Eastern and Central time zones cheered him on simultaneously. We were all excited that Rudolph had saved Christmas!

And we were believing that Santa really did visit every household in the whole world in one night. After all, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, an “official government agency,” tracked the sleigh’s whereabouts, reporting to local television and radio stations, who then passed on the information to all the children who were having trouble falling asleep. That was proof that Santa existed!

As kids, we all wondered what Santa’s take-offs and landings looked like, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer showed us how spectacular they were! As I watched this morning, I remembered, and so yes, I cried. As we get older, life loses some of the “magic,” but don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible to feel it again for a little while. Don’t believe me? Sit down in a quiet, dark room, and watch it. You’ll see…

You know Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Get This Christmas Started!

As I drove home from a friend’s house last night, I realized lots of folks in Charlotte have decorated their homes and lawns for Christmas. I’m behind the curve. I haven’t done a single thing to decorate for Christmas. It’s only December 1, so I’m impressed at how many people are on the ball. But it made me wonder:

When is the perfect time to decorate for Christmas?

I guess that depends on who you ask. I have one friend who was ready to put up her tree as soon as Halloween was over. But I have others who haven’t removed the jack-o-lanterns from their porches yet.

I’m neither of those people. In fact, I don’t even do anything for Halloween. It’s just not my thing, but at least I didn’t have to figure out what to do with a bunch of rotting pumpkins.

I would never decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but the weather hasn’t been particularly cooperative since. I had hoped this would be the weekend I’d get off my duff and get things decorated, but it’s raining, so no outdoor decor yet. The very least I can do is bring down the big fake poinsettia for the table in the foyer and put our leg lamp in the dining room window. We will likely get the tree up before Monday too. One can dream.

We don’t do a lot of outdoor decor, but we will eventually (as soon as the rain stops) do some lights on the trees closest to the house. Lots of people hire someone to do it, but where’s the fun in that?!?! It’s not Christmas decor till you’ve had to re-wrap a tree a few times and get into a “discussion” with family members about the extension cords.

Since our daughter was a little girl, I’ve tortured my husband by putting various lighted Christmas animals on the front porch and occasionally, in the yard. If I can find my Christmas pig, we’ll put it out for good luck. We have an elephant we’ll put out too…for the Alabama Crimson Tide. And two cardinals. In my family, when a cardinal “visits” you, it symbolizes a “visit” from a deceased loved one. My daddy died twelve years ago, and this will be our first Christmas without Mother. She died on December 30 of last year. So, when I was in Target and saw some cardinals that are lawn decor, I scooped up two of them for the front porch steps. Every time I see them over the holidays, I’ll think of Mother and Daddy.

We have other yard decor. I’ll have to decide which pieces to put out. I’m sure the neighborhood frowns on our decor every year. Oh well! We have some inflatables, and we have something from my childhood: remember those plastic Noel candles everyone had in the 70s? Well, we have some just like the ones we had when I was a little girl. I didn’t get them out last year, but I might drag them out this year.

My husband, as sweet as he is, will reluctantly help me whenever I ask. I’ll do as much as possible by myself or with our daughter, but if there’s something I can’t reach, we’ll summon him to help us. He’ll grumble a little. He’ll act like we’ve put the lights on the outdoor trees wrong. He’ll act like he hates the outdoor decor, but he’ll help us.

And every night till Christmas, he’ll plug in all the lights and decorations. He’ll still act like he doesn’t really like them, but he won’t miss one single night of plugging them in.

So, while lots of folks believe Christmas decor goes up the day after Thanksgiving (and some before that!), our tradition is this: we put up the Christmas decor when we get ready to do it. We don’t have a designated day. And really, I don’t like it all up too early, because frankly, I don’t want to get tired of looking at it before Christmas.

I’m on my way to the storage room now…

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Holiday Parties

December is rapidly approaching, and with it, holiday parties! I love when folks get creative with parties, so I’m going to share some of the best party ideas/themes I’ve come across over the years. I love holiday fun!

  • Holiday Cookie Swap. This one is old school, and almost everyone has heard of it, but because it’s fun, I’m starting with it. If you aren’t familiar with it, it works like this: Plan to have between eight and sixteen guests, and ask them to bring three dozen of their favorite homemade cookies on a platter. Serve finger foods and beverages of your choice. After visiting for a while, have everyone two or three of each type of cookie and put them on paper plates (divided by you), because their platters will be on the table till they are ready to leave. So easy and so fun, and everyone gets to take home lots of cookies! I also think it’s fun to have prize drawing for small prizes like fun cocktail napkins or tea towels. See some at Swoozie’s here.
  • Ornament Exchange. A fun, holiday-themed party, this one is super easy too. Have guests bring wrapped ornaments to put under the tree when they arrive. Serve finger foods and beverages, and maybe play a game like “Who’s Most Likely To…” if everyone knows each other. Have guests draw numbers from a hat, and whoever gets number one starts picking an ornament to take home. Remember, they’re wrapped, so they can’t see the ornament they’re getting till everyone picks one, and they are unwrapped! Anthropologie has some cute ornaments. Shop them here.

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  • My Favorites Party. A friend told me about this recently. Everyone brings a gift valued at $25 or less. One of their favorite things, and it can be anything…soap, candle, earbuds, beanie…anything you like. Again, it needs to be wrapped. It works the same way as the Ornament Exchange by drawing numbers to decide the picking order. Serve finger foods and beverages. As a host, I would want to have four or five of my own favorite things to give away in a prize drawing.
  • Gingerbread House Party. It sounds like something kids do, but moms can build them too! It’s OK to use the pre-fab kits or put the houses together before the guests arrive. That way everyone just does the fun part…decorating the houses! Of course, serve finger foods and beverages. At the end of the night, the guests take home their creations! You can purchase pre-fab kits for $9.99 each from Target here.

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  • Christmas Show PJ Party. I don’t know about your kids, but my daughter doesn’t enjoy the Christmas shows I watched when I was a little girl. My friends do, though! For this party, invite friends to show up in their pajamas and watch shows you’ve downloaded on your DVR or something from Amazon Prime. It can be a few old shows like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, or maybe a Christmas movie you love like Miracle on 34th Street. Serve popcorn and candy and fun beverages! It’s a great thing to do with good friends.

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Maybe you have some other ideas! If so, please share them! I’m always looking for something fun to do during the holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

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