Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tallying it Up


What We Didn't Get for Christmas

  • the gift I ordered for Bubba two weeks ago. FedEx hasn't been able to navigate the icy and snowy roads to get it here yet.
  • extended family
  • pumpkin pie (or any kind of dessert, for that matter)


What We Did Get for Christmas


  • two little girls who woke us up at 6:30 because they couldn't wait a moment longer to find out what Santa had left for them.
  • homemade calendars with examples of the girls' artwork in them - one for each of our home offices.
  • a nap (well, I got one - I don't know about anyone else).
  • squeals of delight as the girls opened their gifts from me and Bubba.
  • four games of Scrabble and a family game of Sorry.
  • not one sibling squabble (no, really. They even asked to have a sleepover with each other tonight).
  • another six inches of the fluffiest, whitest, most beautiful snow I think I've ever seen.
  • phone calls from friends and family wishing us love and peace...

...and so much more. It is difficult to estimate the vast difference between the way this day played out and the way it was planned, over two months ago. Regardless of the fact that we weren't in the city we expected to be in, eating the Christmas dinner we planned on eating, sitting in a room full of cousins and grandparents as the kids tore the wrapping off of piles of gifts, I couldn't envision a better day.

Over the past week we have all found our own way to come to terms with the circumstances that have us here in our house, without extended family. My eldest has had the most difficult time, mourning the loss of time with her cousin and the new babies she's dying to see. She has shed buckets of frustrated tears over and over again as she peers out the window to watch the snow fall. Bubba has had to overcome serious cabin fever and contend with my sanguine attitude about it all. The youngest is just happy to have us all together. She doesn't care what we're doing at all.

This morning, the oldest pulled me aside and thanked me for the gifts she received. As I hugged her she whispered, "I don't even care that we're not in Oregon. It's a perfect Christmas, Mommy."

Who needs pumpkin pie?


Saturday, December 20, 2008

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Bubba's got cabin fever. Once he emerged from his cave (aka, his home office) and realized there was no way we're heading out of town for the holidays, he began plotting. Checking the weather forecast, he felt reasonably sure that we were safe from any additional storms until late this afternoon and began throwing out ideas:
-take the girls to the gym for a swim
-take the girls out to lunch
-take the girls out for a movie
-somehow incorporate all three things

I recognized the panicked look in his eyes and figured I'd better do something quick. We found a movie close by that wouldn't require us to drive up or down any hills and would be over by 2:00pm, pitched the idea to the girls and headed out to see "The Tale of Desperaux."

Despite the fact that 75mph winds and several inches of snow were forecast, I only stepped out of the movie twice. First, I went out to get the girls a snack (and take a peek outside at the parking lot and the sky). Second, a bathroom stop (and a peek outside). Nonetheless, I have to say that the movie was great. Both girls thoroughly enjoyed it and while there were no belly-laughs, it was cute, had adventure and a message that was conveyed while not being rammed down our throats. I haven't read the book (although my eldest has and she swears the two are not radically divergent), but the movie made me want to.

Unfortunately, by the time we made our way home along the thick sheets of ice that used to be major roads, the snow had begun to fall again and the wind was swirling around us, creating mini-tornadoes of the white stuff. Lucky us, there's a Netflix distribution center not too far from us and the Postal Service came through with a movie waiting in our mailbox.

After the girls were safely in bed, assured that we would come find them if the power goes out tonight, we settled in for movie #2, wondering whether we'd manage to make it through the entire flick before losing power. After having seen the movie, I'm not sure whether we should have wished for a downed power line.

Bubba's in charge of the Netflix queue and unless I keep him honest, he often succumbs to his redneck impulses and stacks the list with 'adventure' movies. Not that I don't appreciate a good Indiana Jones or James Bond-type movie from time to time, but "The Mummy 3?" Let me just say I'm proud of Rachel Weisz for choosing not to affiliate herself with this particular sequel. Jet Li showed some poor judgement and I'm sure I won't be likely to look for another Brendan Fraser movie anytime soon. Pathetic.

For now, the winds have died down a bit, but the snow still hasn't stopped. I can only hope there is power enough to watch a pay-per-view movie to erase "The Mummy 3" from my memory. Wish us luck.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Would Someone Please Stop Shaking the Damn Snowglobe, Already?


My girls, as many others, have a fascination with snow globes. We have a collection of sorts that is placed around the base of the Christmas tree and each one has a story. One is from England and reminds us of the girls' closest friends who moved away last year. Another one features a jersey cow wearing a Santa hat in deference to Bubba's upbringing on a cattle ranch. And so on. They are all different shapes and sizes and it is difficult for any of us to pass by the tree without stopping to give one a shake.

Until today. The weather forecasters have been predicting a big snowstorm all week. We fought our way through an incredibly cold weekend, making sure the pipes were wrapped and the outdoor cat was inside, shocked when we saw the low temperature of 17 degrees, but only got a smidge of the white stuff. Not even enough to cover all the little green points of grass in the lawn. Monday - school and record cold. Tuesday - school and record cold. We watched the flag whip in the wind and listened to the radio as we sent the children out onto the playground all bundled up. Only their eyes showed, shiny between the layers of scarves and hoods, arms artificially elongated with too-big mittens that hung down from their heavy winter coats. They lasted only about 15 minutes in the glorious sunshine before they came in, scarves floppy and eyes watering, noses red and shiny. Too cold.

We watched the sky Tuesday night, awaiting the snow that was by now hours late. We awoke Wednesday morning to lawns dusted with snow and streets not even wet. The school district closed the schools to guard against stranded children after the morning news assured us the storm would hit by noon. I ran to the school to talk to parents who were confused and angry - they had to go to work, why couldn't they bring their kids to school? The roads were clear! Ridiculous to close schools "just in case."

By 2:00pm, the storm had stood me up. I bundled up to head for home, not even bothering to stop at the grocery store on the way. I assured my kids that they would have school again on Thursday. No way was the district going to make this mistake again.

I awoke to silence at 4:30am. Not middle-of-the-night silence, absolute silence. That kind of silence that only comes with a thick insulation layer of snow. Lots of snow. I separated the blinds just enough to peer out into the backyard and was smack in the middle of a snowglobe that someone had shaken hard. This wasn't just one of those casual, turn-it-upsidedown-once scenarios. This was an overly excited kid pumping the damn thing up and down so hard you can't even figure out what the scene is inside for the white stuff falling all around.

I woke up for real at 7:00 to a foot of snow covering every horizontal surface and birds I've never seen before clustered around the last remaining suet cake hanging from the feeder. Woodpeckers, blue jays, starlings, robins, all of them pecking frantically at the seeds. We filled plastic bowls with extra seed and set them on the deck. Within an hour each and every one of them was buried under another three inches of snow. It has been snowing so hard all day that I know how that poor cow feels trapped inside the thick glass with glittering white bits raining down on him all the time. We're now closer to two feet of snow and it's still coming down.

It's gorgeous and fun. It's more snow than I've ever seen fall here at one time. It is perfectly dry and squeaky and makes awesome snowballs. But it's enough. Two feet is enough. Would someone please stop shaking this blasted thing?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heart and Soul


I've been wondering where and how Dad was going to show up this Christmas. I figured it would happen once we made our way down to Oregon to spend the holidays with family, but since the newest additions to our clan are both female, I'm not banking on anything there.

True to form, though, it seems he's surprised me again. Dad's using the girls' favorite teacher. The reason this is surprising is because she would have driven him nuts. 

About three months ago, Bubba and I decided it would be cool to get an electric keyboard and sign Lola up for piano lessons. She has a fantastic piano teacher and has yet to get bored with practicing an hour a week. She is especially excited right now because she's getting to play lots of Christmas songs that she can sing along to and every time we have family or friends over she puts on little concerts for them. The opening song and the encore melody are always the same, though, no matter the season. The first melody I taught her to play on the piano was a simple part of the song "Heart and Soul." Even though I failed to recall how to read music or play anything else on the piano from my three years of lessons, somehow I remembered how to play this little ditty.

One of my most favorite childhood memories is playing this duet with my father. He and I would sit side by side on the piano bench and tickle the ivories together. I don't think Dad knew how to play anything else on the piano, either, but man could he pound out "Heart and Soul." We would smile at each other as we took a deep breath, anticipating hitting the first keys simultaneously, turn our heads forward dramatically, and start playing. I can feel the cool keys beneath my small fingers, see Dad's dry, rough fingertips bouncing across the keyboard, my face splitting into an impossibly big grin.

Dad played the guitar and the banjo, too. As a special treat every couple of months, he would sit on the floor of the living room with us, open up the case and lift his guitar or banjo out as if it were a newborn baby. Underneath were sheafs of papers with his sharp slanty handwriting on them - lyrics to old folk songs like "Froggie Went A'Courtin" and "Greensleeves." We would cluster around him and sing together, our small voices pinging off his deep, honeyed one as we swayed back and forth grinning like fools.

Playing the piano with Dad was better, though. I got to sit with him by myself. I got to play with him. We never got to touch the guitar or the banjo. They were special, sacred objects not for kids to experiment with. When we played "Heart and Soul" our parts were equally important - each needed the other to make the whole sound good. It was just us.

Last night, the girls' favorite teacher came for dinner. My oldest daughter was singing in a Christmas choral concert and she was going to go with us. When she walked in the door, Lola immediately ordered her to sit and listen to a piano concert. She complied. Weeks before, Mrs. H had confided in me that Christmas was a rough time for her. Having lost both her parents and her husband, she was nearly alone during the holidays. Her favorite memories of the holiday were of gathering around the piano with her siblings to sing Christmas carols as her mother accompanied them.

Mrs. H is scattered and brilliant. She has difficulty finishing a conversation and is easily distracted. She loves her students and ignites them with an amazing excitement for learning and life. She is wacky and irreverent, flaky and spontaneous, and incredibly well-read. She has a heart of gold and has lost an awful lot. She was very close to her father and was devastated when he died and has come back to build her life slowly and determinedly to include only authentic people.

She would have made my father crazy. Insane. He would have been worried that she is not only one of my girls' teachers, but their favorite one. The two of them have nothing in common.

But when Mrs. H, a woman who doesn't actually know how to play an instrument or read sheet music, sat down at the piano and played "Heart and Soul" with Lola, I knew. He's back. He's here. He is with us. Just when I least expect it.
Click on the link below to hear the song. I listened to it this morning and it brought me to my knees.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Eaglets Have Landed!


I'm an auntie again. Bubba's brother and his wife had twin girls last night and I am over the moon. This sweet couple are parents to a lovely son already and are excited about taking on the challenge of bringing home two new babies.

Let me just say that the past two weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster. On bed rest for the past five weeks or so, my sister-in-law was no doubt inundated with phone calls from family and friends inquiring about her health and due date until she couldn't stand it anymore. We spent Thanksgiving with Bubba's family (except for the notably absent couple) and phoned them as a group every day for updates. While she had been to the hospital a few times that week, she was sent home because her labor was not progressing and she chose not to have it accelerated.

This woman is strong in mind and body. When they put her on bed rest, they noted that both babies were in the breech position and brought up the subject of a C-section. Her response was to lie on a 30 degree incline three times a day in order to help the babies "flip." One of them did. A week later, the other one did. Unfortunately, she changed her mind a day or two later and went back.

By the time she was 38 weeks along, the doctors were more and more interested in inducing her, but she remained firm. She was determined to have these babies vaginally if at all possible. I'm happy to report that she got her wish - at least halfway. Yesterday afternoon, at 39 weeks and counting, they broke her water and she delivered baby A vaginally. Unfortunately, they had to go in and get baby B out via emergency C-section, but I talked to my brother-in-law this morning and everyone is doing tremendously.

At least until we all realize that there will be FOUR TEENAGE GIRLS in the family in about 11 years' time. Oh crap. We'd better all start our relaxation techniques now. And I'm thinking that at least once a year, Bubba, his brother and the lone nephew will escape for some testosterone-time.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Hold That Holiday!


For a great many people, the day after Thanksgiving falls like the hammer on a starter's pistol. Game on! Even if you've started shopping for Christmas gifts, the real race to prepare has begun. As I drove home from my sister-in-law's feast of leftovers on Friday evening I quietly noticed how many of the houses lining the streets were already adorned with festive lights. Here and there I was able to catch a glimpse of an evergreen tree through a front window, but I didn't say anything. Shhh. I'm not drawing attention to any of this. Nope, not risking rousing the attentions of the children lolling in their turkey-based comas in the seats behind me.

But it only takes once. One joker in an SUV blowing past us in the fast lane with a seven-footer bound to the roof to destroy the peace.

"AAARGHHH!" comes the bellow from the back seat, "We can't start celebrating Christmas until after my birthday, people!"

And we won't. No tree. No doors on the advent calendar will be pried open to spy the treasures beneath. Not a single box of ornaments or holiday decorations hauled downstairs from the attic. We are not allowed. Not until the day after each and every gift has been unwrapped, the birthday paper recycled, the ribbons hung on the bedposts are we free to think about what happens on December 25th.

For now, we must forget that there are 24 days until the big day. Nope, for our family, the only upcoming holiday that registers on our radar is the one that is racing our way like a runaway train. This weekend we will celebrate the most important day in December - the day our oldest daughter, our first child, our drama queen was born. We are allowed to eat leftover birthday cake as we decorate our tree the day after her birthday. We are allowed to begin counting down to Christmas Day the day after her birthday. Then and only then is Bubba allowed to climb the ladder and hang the lights from our eaves. Until then, just hold your horses, Bub.

Or else.
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