Count Your Blessings (and Presents) Instead of Sheep

Clump #255: Start Christmas list and present wrapping; day thirteen of National Blog Posting Month.


It’s that time of year when the holiday season is creeping into the picture before all the autumn leaves have fallen.  Though I’ve purchased a number of gifts, I needed to write them down to see where I am.


One gift I’d gotten that makes me happy is this copy of Anne of Green Gables for a young niece.  I wrote a note to go with it reminding her that when her cousin, our older daughter, was her age, she started reading the book and quickly tossed it aside because the language was too old fashioned.  I don’t know what possessed me, but I told her she couldn’t leave the cabin where we were vacationing until she had read at least two chapters.  (Mean Mother!)  She ended up loving it so much, she read the whole series and kind of turned into Anne.  I had trouble keeping a straight face when we we’d be having a heated discussion and she would assert, “For Pity’s Sake!”


Here it is, ready to delight another generation … I hope!


It’s only mid-November, so to get myself into the holly jolly spirit I turned to the reliable old chestnut, the movie White Christmas.  It’s my “ironing movie” for present wrapping: lots of good songs, and visuals I’ve seen so many times I don’t need to keep my eyes on it.  I started wondered how much of an age difference there was in real life between Bing Crosby and “The General,” Dean Jagger (just learned the actor’s name), who was such a source of pity because he was being put out to pasture.  Turns out they were the same age … fifty-one!  In the scene below, the General keeps calling “Bob” son.  And Rosemary Clooney, Bing’s romantic interest in the story, was only twenty-six!


She, with her deep, mature voice.  Such an elegant dress in the “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” number.


I challenged myself last year to organize my holiday preparations so that I might enjoy the Christmas season.  So far, though it’s still early, I’m doing pretty well.


I took a picture of the sign above — in a shop where Christmas decorations were edging out the fall ones — as a helpful reminder.

Fear Not

Clump #125:  Christmas and party cleaning.

I hosted a get together for the ladies of our small neighborhood tonight. As I was making preparations, mostly cleaning, I was conscious of how my mind would ping-pong. Everywhere I looked I saw something else I should be doing.  The finger prints on the refrigerator … the cat hair on the couch … the layer of peanut brittle dust on the floor … (below, my husband, the amazing peanut brittle-maker:)


I get pre-party anxiety.  It’s more than just having a lot to do in a limited amount of time, not to mention my current cookie and peanut brittle diet.  I was feeling frazzled and frenzied and knew it was really another f-word: fear.  What am I afraid of? These are nice people coming over.  Yes, they are superior housekeepers, but I don’t really think they’d drum me out for my substandard skills.

I tried to repeat to myself that my state of mind is the most important element of the party … the vibe that is either welcoming and fun or frantic and exhausted.  It’s a party … not a test.

Everyone seemed to have a good time, and with help from my daughters, the food and decor were great.  The invitation was for wine and bring-your-favorite hors d’oeuvres.  We had received a bottle of champagne as a gift, so I used it in a recipe I found online, from Williams-Sonoma.  Very easy: one ounce pomegranate juice, a half ounce Grand Marnier; add champagne to fill glass, and garnish with a few pomegranate seeds.  Festive and delicious!


With all of these Christmas preparations, this line has kept running through my head, speaking to my condition:  “And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

Ribbons in the Sky

Clump #122:  Return book and wrap, wrap, wrap.

Today I returned a friend’s book that I had unearthed during the pantry-clean.  I also gave her the gift of a book I knew she wanted.  Karma righted?


She had a lovely tree set up.  After putting on the lights, she had found it was so beautiful that she didn’t want to mar it with ornaments.  So that’s how it will stay for the season.


For me it was on to wrapping, wrapping, wrapping.  (Note: this is an activity usually conducted in the wee hours of Christmas morning.)


I did take a few moments to look up.  Taking photos for this blog has made me more aware of the sky and its constant changes.  I keep thinking that the people who work at The Sistine Chapel might not look up at the ceiling as much as the visitors after a while; it could become commonplace.


We have commonplace treasure overhead, too.


Deliveries and Doorways

Clump 121: Mail cards and packages.

Ah, I can breathe more easily now. Sending a bunch of presents and cards to their intended destinations is cathartic. What a clump!


I had heard on the radio that traditionally December 19, today, is the post office’s busiest day of the year.  Amazingly, when I finally arrived, there was no line.  A Christmas miracle!  The postman asked if I was sending anything fragile. I said just the peanut brittle … he (good-naturedly) threatened not to send out my packages, since I hadn’t brought him any.


It’s not really the holiday season in our house until my husband starts making his mother’s peanut brittle.


Before I got to the post office, on the way home from visiting my mom, I stopped in Strasburg and couldn’t help taking a few photos.


These were the same type of lovely boughs and berries that had been arranged so beautifully at Meeting on Sunday.


This was the porch of a shop … not someone’s home. I’ve gotten bold with my prying camera, but not that bold!


If you ever want creative house decorating ideas, Strasburg is the place to go.


This was a cute little reminder on the porch of the shop, a fitting holiday sentiment.


Thank you to you, my kind friends who make life good.

Wooden Sticks and Warriors

Clump #119:  Finish shopping (?) and print Christmas newsletter.

As the bag says below, the printing of Ye Old Christmas Newsletter was, indeed, “easy” … after it was written, reviewed, edited, and returned to me by four other people.  When I was at Staples I remembered to get some Ticonderoga pencils, “The World’s BEST PENCIL.”  And maybe not the worlds BEST stocking stuffer, but certainly up there, in my book. I love giving practical gifts like socks, nice soap, lint removers … what a fun mom!


Seems like only yesterday that it was Thanksgiving and we were enjoying our friends’ bonfire.  Where did the time go?!  iI haven’t been sharpening too many pencils, but I have been doing a bit of procrastinating.  Below, my younger daughter was throwing some old, decrepit matches, from the avalanching-cabinet-cleaning-clump, into the flames.


Appropriately, it was the same weekend we saw the movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  As an aside, I discovered many similarities between it and the Disney animated movie, Mulan.  Finding this picture made it all the more clear.



Both are about strong female characters forced into battle, where brains win over brawn.  In both movies the leads get dolled up in fancy dresses (Katniss in The Hunger Games gives new meaning to “a dress to die for”), designed for marriage, not by choice, but by expectation.  The warrior-woman character in each film makes a stunning move at a moment when they turn their gaze upward, as opposed to the expected ground level.

Enough movie and culture analysis … let me just say that I feel like I won the battle of the present list today.  I’m a mall and catalog warrior … hear me roar!  Timely tip for those still in the heat of battle: I read that tomorrow, December 18, is a day when over 1,000 retailers will be offering no-cost shipping, guaranteed to arrive before Christmas day.  More info at

I think it’s important to give yourself a reward for clumps conquered.  My recent guilty pleasure of choice is The Voice.  And don’t think I haven’t drawn comparisons to The Hunger Games, a game played to the death, like the Romans feeding the Christians to the lions.  (Coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton make the show.)


Tonight is the finale of season five.  For anyone interested, here’s my prediction:  1st place: Tessanne Chin (right); 2nd place: Jaquie Lee (left); 3rd place: Will Champlin (center).  Fingers crossed!  Go Tessanne!

This Shelf’s a Wrap

Clump #108:  Clear off fourth shelf in pantry.

“I just want to say one word to you.  One word … plastics.”*  Ah, chapter four in the scintillating story of the pantry purge.

My mom taught me to keep a back-up of certain items on hand, like plastic wrap and aluminum foil, but I guess my plastic collection got a little out of control.


Look what was hidden in there.  A desiccated hermit crab?  No, a common, oddly non-malodorous, kind-of-beautiful-in-its-shriveled-state onion.


Also, Christmas napkins bought on sale, ready to go for this holiday season.  And last year’s candy canes Santa used to adorn the tree; I’ll use these again, since no one seems to want to eat them anymore.

This is a lesson I need to highlight for myself, especially in the season of running around and buying more, more, more:  We often have what we need, if only we can find it.


The happily, wrappily after … with the floor left to go.  Just looking at the floor makes me want to run screaming.  All the more reason to take it clump by clump.


*If you’re like me, and would enjoy a little trip down memory lane to revisit this line in the movie The Graduate, then  click here. Classic.

A Less Wild Welcome

Clump #98:  Clean (most of) upstairs to prepare for Thanksgiving guests.

At holiday time I usually greet my guests with the vacuum cleaner in one hand and the can of Comet in the other.  (When I started this blog I never realized it would become such a confessional!)  I thought I’d give myself one more challenge — get the house cleaned before Wednesday — within a challenge — Project Enjoy Christmas — within a challenge — the 30-day, 30-clumps, 30-posts.  Kind of like a Turducken. (Just googled the name for correct spelling, and wouldn’t you know Paula Deen has a recipe for it?)

This calendar page belongs to a friend who is a wild woman in the best sense of the word:


Just getting started is sometimes the hardest part of the job.  So True! And now I’m on a roll.

I’m ashamed to say that when my kids were young, whenever I got out the vacuum cleaner, one or more would ask, “Who’s coming over?” Also, when I’m feeling stressed out for any reason, I’ll soon notice that someone (usually my son) has put on the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, composed by the incomparable Vince Guaraldi.  With the first eloquent piano notes of  O Tannenbaum , I relax and smile.  It’s a surefire way to get Mom to chill.


Today I discovered that just one of the benefits of cleaning early is that I have enough time to do a much more thorough job.  I even started with my husband’s and my bedroom.  Usually this would be last priority, after the guest rooms … “the shoemaker’s children go without shoes.”

Note to self: books left on the floor are not more likely to be read than books on a shelf.  Here’s the second Hunger Games book, which I mean to read before seeing the movie.  (Have the books been out since the first movie of the series was in theaters?)


The trees I photographed this morning are a testament to the beauty of clear and clean.


This year I might just arrive at the door to greet guests with a calm demeanor and nary a cleaning product in sight.  The funny thing is, my Thanksgiving guests will probably miss the traditional greeting and the laugh we have about it, but it’s a tradition I have to let go!


Clump #95:  Look through and order from catalogs; make one more plea for family gift ideas.

I put out the last call for gift ideas today.   It’s now or never, but the task shouldn’t be too hard.  Buying presents for loved ones should be a pleasure for both parties.  When I was emailing my kids, I wanted to put one word in italics, and then couldn’t get the italic icon to un-click.  My note ended:

“…Please let me know soon!”

Thanks, Mom (can’t seem to get out of the italic setting, so just continue to hear the desperation in my voice).”

A wonderful comment was left on yesterday’s post: “Would that our lives were ordered with the peak of beauty coming at the end.”  This was a reference to the deep, red, gorgeous leaves of the Japanese maple.  It really affected me, especially since I’ve been thinking recently along the same lines.  I was purchasing a gift for someone “over 50.” Without giving away the specifics to a person on my list who might be reading, I could choose this item either billed “for older people,” many “for seniors,” but the one I was attracted to was entitled “… for enlighteners.”

It made me want to start a new movement to change the lexicon, and of course, then, the image of older people.  Instead of worshiping youth, we would revere enlighteners.  No more “crones,” evoking crooked noses and hairy warts.  A new definition of beauty would certainly follow.

Here is a photo of a beautiful rose in full glory, not in June,  but late fall:


I must acknowledge that today is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.  I still have a scrapbook I kept during that time.


Between torn out magazine photos of babies and dream rooms, I placed the Weekly Reader insert that was given out to our class to explain the tragedy:


I must have had a sense of the historic importance.


The flyer introduced our new president:


And contained a very factual description of the murder:


I remember sitting that night, on our front steps, in a state of disbelief. The phrase “trying to wrap my head around it” hadn’t been coined yet. But that was the feeling.  Lost was the trust I had previously felt for the adults in running the world. I know I wasn’t alone.

“the peak of beauty coming at the end.”

Write Christmas

Clump #90:  Write and address Christmas cards, part one.

At first, I was stressing about not having the time to finish addressing these Christmas cards and blog about it.  Then it suddenly occurred to me: writing the cards in November means I don’t feel under the gun to crank them out in haste.  This is what life is like for a person who does not procrastinate. What relief!  Joy!

To get in the mood, I set up a little table in front of the TV with the cards and our old address book.


I can tell how old “the cat address book” is by checking inside its cover. When was the last time I was known as “Mommy” instead of “Mom”?


I turned on one of my favorite seasonal movies to get in the mood, Irving Berlin’s  Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  How can you go wrong with those two …


Well, they managed to go very wrong with the song Abraham, in a number celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday.  This musical number done in blackface is beyond cringeworthy:


The dance where Fred Astaire lights fire crackers with his cigarette, in the spectacular Fourth of July number, dates the movie.  But what style and beautiful line.  I could watch any film featuring his peerless dancing. Fred Astaire’s daughter talks about her father in a special feature,  Ava Astaire MacKenzie In Conversation With Ken Barnes.  She reveals that the fire cracker dance number took 38 takes to film.  That’s a lot of smoking!


She also shares that her father took two shots of whiskey before the first take of the number where he was to dance inebriated, then apparently took one more before each subsequent take … and there were seven takes.  So, as she says, by the final take, “he was well on his way,” and that was the take they used in the film.


I love the witty repartee between Bing and Fred.  The morning after the drunken dance scene, Ted (Fred Astaire) wakes up and asks Jim (Bing Crosby), “Where am I?”  Bing tells him, “Holiday Inn.”  “How did I get here?”  “You were clinging to the undercarriage of a Jeep, I think. Then, pouring him coffee, “Here, have a slug out of the mug.”


(I also love Fred Astaire’s hands.)

The plot is inane: Bing’s character wants to get out of show business so he doesn’t have to work holidays.  Farm life gives him a nervous breakdown, so he comes up with the idea of working only on holidays … fifteen days a year.

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor during filming, thus, the patriotic war scenes were added to the Fourth of July number.  The song White Christmas originated in this movie (not the movie White Christmas) and became an anthem for homesick troops in WWII.


With every Christmas card I write   May your days be merry and bright.