Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Dreams

Christmas. Always such a stressful season. We work so hard to achieve--or avoid--the fantasy. This year I put aside the ambitions and the worries. Nina came up and actually stayed with us for a week. She brought back episodes of "Due South," a silly but fun detective show about a true-blue Canadian mountie who finds himself in the gritty world of Chicago crime.

In a spectacular act of self interest, I got her the first season of "West Wing" for Christmas. We watched some of it together and Nina the first disc with us to watch later. That and "Due South" will keep us mindlessly entertained for a week or two.

Friday before Christmas, we got the tree. Our choice was between the one Christmas tree farm that was still open--when did they start closing the Christmas tree farms before Christmas eve?--which wanted $40 for any sized tree in stock, and that meant those conical sheared monstrosities that seem to be all the rage; or a Christmas tree lot that was actually more interested in getting rid of their trees than in stiffing the customer. We got a small tree--which is what we wanted--for $12.

Our Christmas ornaments consist of a number of small pine cones I've gathered over the years and spray-painted gold, and paper snowflakes we've made over a decade or so out of round white coffee filters. And tinsel. Sorry, folks, it's one of those childhood tradition things. I remember when the tinsel was actually made of metal--aluminum I think, and my mother and I would carefully separate the fragile strands. Now tinsel is made of mylar, is unbreakable, and comes in silver, gold, white, red, whatever color you want. I chose gold.

We have those little Christmas lights, but one string had gone defunct. Fortunately, the tree was small. Fortunately, I had picked up some more lights at a garage sale over the summer, quite a long string for $1. Well, it turned out the new string was more than just a string of lights. Depending on how you set the dial, its 8 settings flashed and blinked, faded all at once or by color, chased, alternated or did all of these by turns.

I strung the lights around the the walls above the windows and doors, and Steve soon discovered the delights of lying on the floor in the middle of the room and watching the lights go through their changes. He's one guy who doesn't need to get loaded to get high.

Nina is still hobbling around on crutches with a broken foot. So the week of her visit was a matter of being at her beck and call for many of her needs. It caused me to get behind in my work--why did I take on an assignment that was due two days after Christmas?--but it was kind of fun in a way. My task during her upbringing was to try to make her as self-sufficient as possible. I no longer have to fulfill that role, so I can spoil her as much as I want. She's so much fun to have around. We have our shared delights, and those interests we don't share tend to be ones she shares with Steve.

Sky came up for Christmas morning, even though it meant getting up at 8 a.m. Actually closer to 8:30. He was cross when I called, but promised to arrive by 11 if I made popovers. Deal!

Sky gave me an iPOD Nano! ("So you'll be cool!" "You mean I wasn't cool before?" "Yes, but now people will know it.") This is not an item I would have thought to ask for, and I was completely surprised. Truth is, I haven't listened to much music lately, so I was initially dubious about what I would use the iPOD for. Then I realized I could download podcasts of my favorite radio shows and listen to them while I worked in the garden or did housework.

But what has actually happened is that I've started listening to music again. Sky gave me a whole bunch of Beatles songs and Nina gave me her entire folk collection. I've been going through the music, selecting my favorites and rating them. So I have this gift of wonderful music and a way to listen to it without being chained to my computer.

After opening our presents, we journeyed to San Francisco for Christmas dinner at my mom's house. Many years ago we decided to give actual gifts only to the kids. But it was still okay to give cookies or a modest homemade gift basket to adults. Well, the adult gifts got more and more elaborate, with marathon baking sessions alternating with elaborate assemblages of chocolate, cheese, wine or jellies from Costco--in short, stuff that merely served to challenge whatever New Year's resolution we might have made in respect to health, nutrition and simple living.

This year we finally decided to put the brakes on the potlatch. Each person drew a name in advance to give a gift to, and I got my mom. It was so relaxing to have just one present to open. It was nice that the room wasn't so full of presents that we couldn't get close to the tree.

It was also a smaller group, with fewer children. Our children have all grown up! The branch of the family that is now working on a new generation has finally decided to hold their own separate celebration. So instead of 26 to 30 people, there were only 18 in my mother's smallish condo atop Diamond Heights. All of them adults or within shouting distance of adulthood.

Dinner was the quintessential American feast: king turkey and his obligatory constellation of mushy, gooey and sweetened courtiers--mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, creamed string beans, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce. The dinner you absolutely can't get in a restaurant.

We came home with one of Mama's canes for Nina to try out as a replacement for crutches. Naturally, she had to practice walking like House, and arranged to be photographed leaning on the cane next to a piano and popping a pill from a borrowed pill tube. (A sham, of course, since Nina is incapable of swallowing a Vicodin-sized pill even with water, let alone dry, as House does it.)

From Ben and Christine, a framed photo from their wedding.

My intended gift to my mom was to scan all the really old family pictures, which I have in my possession, but what with everything else, I ran out of time, so decided to concentrate on one picture of my mom at age 4, romping in the river with my grandpa. I scanned the black and white photo and hand colored it. It's not perfect, being my very first effort at hand coloring, but it's amazing how it made the subjects stand out from the background.

It was a touching experience, selecting the flesh of these two people who are my flesh and blood, and experimenting with skin tones for them. I felt a newly intimate connection to my grandfather, who died 50 years ago.


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