How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing? Part One

I’ve always sort of wondered about that, so this year I decided to do a little research on it. Nothing in depth, though, but I was able to find a lot of information on line.

The problem? A lot of seemingly conflicting articles that may or may not be that accurate. Or that romantic, for sure.

Now I’ve heard of St. Valentine, but really didn’t know much about him. I figured he probably was someone who spent his life bringing couples together, marrying them in romantic settings for a happily ever after. As a writer, I was hoping for a truly “A-hah!” moment that would tell the perfect story.

Well, I was wrong. Sort of. And I also discovered several different sites (Good Housekeeping, Wikipedia,  and History.com) that told different stories, so I’m going to try and condense what I came up with, but please don’t take my word for it. Do your own research. This is a blog, after all, not a history book! And I did at least name my sources,

Here’s some of what I found out.

There were actually three Saint Valentines, but the one seemingly associated with our V-Day was a 3rd century Roman priest and physician who secretly married young couples against the orders of the authorities. (Of course the marriages were illegal in the eyes of the state.) The reason? The authorities were afraid married soldiers would be distracted from their duties if they had a wife and family. He was caught and imprisoned, and eventually beheaded on, you guessed it, February 14. 

There’s also a story about another Saint Valentine during that same time period who was the Bishop of Terni. He also was said to have performed secret marriages and eventually beheaded. Then there’s possibly another Valentine who was imprisoned supposedly for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured. This Valentine was also imprisoned and supposedly sent the first valentine greeting to a young girl he’d fallen in love with (supposedly the jailer’s daughter) and signed it “from your Valentine”.

History.com says there isn’t necessarily a lot of proof to substantiate which story is true. Evidently Valentine was a popular name during those times. Real person? Three real persons? Or a myth? Your guess is as good as mine! Either way, it’s not very romantic, at least in today’s standards.

Evidently several centuries later the idea of putting romance into the St. Valentine’s feast day evolved through the writings of the English author Geoffrey Chaucer, who write a poem called “Parliament of Fowls” which contained the line “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.” Wow, romantic sayings were sure different then! I’m not sure what that means or even has to do with love, but it was believed back then that lovebirds began mating on that day, so I guess that’s one reason. (And that’s also why we use the term “lovebirds”)

Chaucer’s poem was supposedly written to celebrate King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia on that date. She was 16 and his second wife. It’s unclear if it was originally a love match because in those days, traditionally royal marriages were arranged for strategic purposes.

So far I’m not seeing a real romantic story here…at least nothing I’d use to suggest flowers, romantic dinners, and boxes of chocolates!

But I did find a few more less-gory tidbits in my research, that I think you’ll find interesting.

This somewhat fractured Valentine’s Day history continues tomorrow, including some interesting facts about the cards and candy we traditionally see at this time of year, with Part Two of “How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing?”

Flamingos and (Pink) Chocolate

Just a few days ago the flamingos came to me with a dilemma. A very serious one, at least to them.

You see, they were trying to figure out what to do for Valentine’s Day and they were really not sure what they could do that would be extra special. And lots of fun. Because as you know, flamingos are all about fun!

But they also wanted it to be something different. Something they’d not done before.

Of course they had to have their special pink flamingo cocktails like they always do at their parties, but they wanted to add a special touch. It couldn’t be just any old Valentine’s Day party.

They needed a theme. Something pink of course, and something to fit in with the sweet theme of the day.  

I promised them I’d come up with something perfect. Fortunately, my best friend Karen is an event and party planner, so who better to talk this over with than her! Plus, she also loves flamingos!

And she quickly came up with a perfect idea. A chocolate treat baking party. Only everything that was prepared had to be in shades of pink as well as having chocolate as the main ingredient. It IS for Valentine’s Day, you know.

So the Flamingo Pink Chocolate Recipe Party was planned and scheduled! The flamingos would select their recipe in advance, buy their ingredients, and then pair off in my kitchen to create their pink chocolate masterpieces! 

While being served pink champagne and pink Valentine martinis, of course. 

You may remember they’d taken over my kitchen once before, turning everything pink and even bringing in little pink ovens and other appliances to use for preparing their food. But they cleaned up really well after themselves, and everything was back to normal the next day! And they pinkie promised they’d do it again.

How can you resist a flamingo giving you a pinkie promise?

Now the party plans were in full swing. Karen designed a beautiful party invitation on creamy pink card stock with fancy cursive fonts and using embellishments of tiny feathers and pink crystal hearts. Definitely suitable for framing. The flamingos loved it and quickly distributed them to their friends, who immediately said they wouldn’t miss this event for anything!

They quickly got to work, searching through recipes and even borrowing a couple of my cookbooks for their very best ideas for the perfect pink chocolate treat! After all, as part of their participation in the event, they had to submit their selected recipe to Karen who was making a flamingo pink chocolate recipe booklet to be given as party favors…after the contest was over, of course!

The big day finally arrived. I walked into my kitchen that morning and it had already been transformed into a pink wonderland of pink kitchen equipment, from mixers to pot holders to small pink ovens, set up at individual baking stations. There were even pink mixing bowls and Valentine utensils set out for the participants to use. How they did it so quickly and quietly I have no idea, but they ARE flamingos, you know….

Of course on the party day, the guests arrived perfectly on time, carrying their (pink) bags of ingredients. They were greeted by my husband, wearing his best pink and white tuxedo, and he presented each of the birds with a specially designed flamingo valentine party apron, and of course a flute of pink champagne!

Let the party fun begin!

You should have seen them! Pink feathers everywhere, squawking and whistling to each other as they worked, sipping pink champagne and pink martinis, flour and sugar flying all over the kitchen!

Maybe this wasn’t the best idea??

However, it was all worth it when the flamingos presented their final creations to us for judging. They’d certainly gone all out, not only in making their desserts, but in their presentation of the finished creations, adorned with shaved chocolate, strawberries, raspberries, and even pink roses!

It was a sight to behold! There were pink cookies, pink flamingo cakes, chocolate and raspberry desserts, pink chocolate fudge, even pink macaroons!

And the winners? Well, it was definitely a difficult decision, and required quite a bit of tasting each entry, just to be sure we selected the right one.

To find out who won, and even get a copy of a few of the recipes, be sure to read “The Flamingos’ Valentine Creations” to be published on February 5,

And believe it or not, the next morning when we came downstairs, my kitchen was back to normal, except for a big plate of Valentine goodies the flamingos had left us as a gift for letting them use our kitchen. Oh, and the last bottle of pink champagne!

I guess we’ll let them do this again. As long as we still get to be the judges!

De-Ornamenting the Trees 2022

I had originally posted this a few years ago, but decided to update it for this year,

I think I just invented a new word in 2018. Maybe. But it sure says what I’m feeling right now!

De-ornamenting. Better known as taking down the Christmas trees and other holiday decorations. Returning to whatever state of normalcy we live in the rest of the year.

We actually have 8 Christmas trees every year. Well, if you want to be technical there’s actually now 12, but the skinny white flamingo tree in the Florida room stays up all year with its clear mini lights and huge assortment of the various flamingo decorations we’ve collected over the years. And there are now three 2 foot little trees which are in the kitchen, our granddaughters’ guest bedroom, and my craft studio, but they only take a few minutes to take down. There’s also a lighted palm tree in the far corner of our family room, with its clear lights and eclectic collection of beach and a few extra flamingo ornaments that wouldn’t fit on the other tree, but we don’t count that one. (If you missed my blog series “Each Tree Has a Story” check it out to see all these trees in their full grlory!)

And yes, putting up all those trees is a lot of work, along with hanging the stockings, putting out the silk poinsettias, and decorating the foyer ledge in a holiday theme. It takes several days. But it was worth it. And it’s worth it every year.

Because there’s just something special about the beauty of Christmas decorations. The sparkling lights, the candles, the shiny ornaments on the trees, and the magnificent sight of so many homes lit up with colorful and imaginative lighted displays in front yards. It just gives each home a touch of brand new elegance, and when the only light in your living room or family room comes from that Christmas tree, it just feels different. Almost magical, with an air of expectancy. The perfect room for enjoying time with family and friends.

And then in all too short a time, it’s all over. It’s time to take everything down, pack it carefully away, and wait another year to bring it back and create those feelings all over again. Even thought taking it down is a bit quicker, it’s still an awful lot of work.

Many people say they’re done with it all the day after Christmas Day, and can’t wait to pull everything down and put things back the way they were. Before the decorating…before the transformation began…before the magical beauty entered their home and took over, just for an all too brief time. Maybe they just don’t feel that special sense of magic that some of us do.

I’m just the opposite. I dread taking down all the decorations. Not because of all the work involved, because my husband and I do it together as a team. But because I just don’t like giving up the sparkle…the glow…and the special feelings that all the decorations bring, not only to our home, but to our lives. There’s a special feeling in our home when all those trees are decorated and lighted that just appears for that one all-too-short time. I really can’t describe the feeling. But I know there are more of you out there that feel the same way.

A few of our friends have actually left their trees up and just changed the theme. One friend re-did hers as a winter tree with icicles, silver ornaments, and snowmen. Another friend re-did hers in a Mardi Gras theme. Well, I do keep our flamingo tree up year round, so i guess I’m right there with them.

Spending the weekend removing and carefully packing up ornaments was not fun. And we’re still not quite done. It wasn’t just all the tedious work involved in doing it. It was thinking about all the memories so many of those ornaments evoked. My grandmother’s glass birds that have survived over 100 Christmases still intact. The ornaments that graced my mother’s tree when she still put one up. The special ornaments memorializing my husband’s and my first Christmas together…our daughter’s first Christmas. And now our two granddaughters’ first Christmas ornaments, along with framed picture ornaments of our daughter’s wedding the grandchildren growing up, and their trips to see Santa Claus.

Now there are empty spots in our rooms where the trees were. Not literally, because the furniture we moved to make room for our Christmas trees is slowly going back into place. But it still takes while to have it feel “right” again. But it will. In a few weeks or so. And we’ll forget about all the beauty and “specialness” of those Christmas decorations until about ten months later until it’s time to start thinking about it again.

But then the cycle starts again as the next Christmas season approaches and we once again get to experience that special excitement, that magical feeling as the trees once again are dressed in their familiar splendor with, of course, a few new ornaments that we traditionally add every year.

Am I looking ahead already? Of course! Because I’m already looking forward to that special magic that starts to happen when we start putting it all back together again. And we don’t wait til after Thanksgiving any more to start decorating.

Or maybe we could even do Christmas in July? Maybe a beach themed masterpiece. Decorated shells and starfish…clear ornaments with sea glass and sand inside of them…some kind of beachy garland…maybe on a blue Christmas tree? What do you think? Who wants to help join in the fun?

Gingerbread House Fails Inspection

I really didn’t plan on having a second blog on this subject, at least not this Christas season.

Christmas may be over, but there are still a few stories left to tell.

But since I did buy those four little gingerbread house kits right before Thanksgiving, I thought, what the heck?!

And as you may have already guessed, it certainly wasn’t the greatest of Christmas projects. The granddaughters still had fun, as kids usually do. But Mom and Grandmom? Not so much.

I think I mentioned in my previous gingerbread story I’d ordered these cute gingerbread house kits on line because they weren’t in stock in the store. Not in any of the stores in our area. Being a regular online shopper, it shouldn’t have been a problem, right? Well, it wasn’t. Until we opened the first two kits and several pieces were broken. And of course they were the little reindeer gingerbread cookies that the younger granddaughter wanted to do, and the sparkly pink cottage the older one wanted to make.  And none of the stores had received any more.

So on to the set of the four small gingerbread chalets.  Shouldn’t be too bad, right? Actually they’re really cute. Right?

Notice I said there were FOUR of them. Yes, they were small, but what was I thinking when I ordered them? That was four times putting together houses, icing the walls and the roofs, making sure they all stayed “glued” together til the icing hardened…. Why did I do that? And yes, I was also thinking to myself, why weren’t THESE the ones that were broken?

As you’ve guessed, the construction job is left to me. My daughter doesn’t have the patience. She and her daughters like the decorating part.

So being the good grandmother that I am, I set out to construct the FOUR little houses. Which came in a block of pieces that needed to be (carefully) broken apart in order to make the house.  And I do have to confess, I almost wanted them to break in the wrong places so I’d have an excuse not to put them together. But being a good grandmother, I separated the pieces carefully, and none of them broke. Would it be wrong of me to say “unfortunately”? Yeah, probably.

Actually, three out of the four went together fairly easy. It was that last one with the funky side roof that didn’t. If you look carefully, the roof sort of has a gap in it.  Which was filled in with a lot of the “snow” icing, which will most likely cause it to fall in. Our son in law said it most certainly failed the final building inspection! (I’m not even sure it had a building permit to start!)

But I guess the other three don’t look all that bad. At least the girls had fun decorating them, and getting almost as many candy decorations and sprinkles on the floor as they did on the houses.

Of course, as luck would have it, when we returned the broken kits, the cashier told us they had pre-assembled gingerbread houses in the Christmas department which only needed the icing and candy decorations to be added to it. Well…….let me tell you how quickly we bought one of those!

You certainly don’t think I’d try to make one from scratch, do you? After all, these were difficult enough!

And even better, guess whose job it was to help his daughters decorate that house! And Daddy did a really good job!  I think we have a new assignment for him next Christmas. Why not?

It’s a Brand New Year

What are you going to do with it?

That’s 365 days. It’s a lot of time to do something you haven’t done before.

To try something new. Something you’ve always wanted to do. Something you’ve thought about but just haven’t had the opportunity – or the confidence – to try. 

You’re not happy with where you are, what you’re doing? What’s keeping you from changing it? Fear of failure? Or fear of succeeding? Lack of motivation? Lack of self-confidence? Or just not knowing what to do or where to go next?

You’ve heard me say many times I don’t make New Years resolutions. Resolutions are broken usually within the first couple of weeks of the new year. Everyone can resolve to do something, but resolving and actually doing are two different things.

To be successful in this new year you’ve been given takes planning, determination, focus, willpower, and something one of my favorite high school teachers called stick-to-it-ive-ness. Keeping at it no matter what.

It’s always easier to give up when it gets difficult rather than to keep pushing through to your goal. It’s easier to say “I can’t” rather than “I can.”

That’s not saying you have to keep doing the same thing over and over if what you’re doing just isn’t working. Take a hard look at what you’re trying to accomplish and try to figure out how to do it differently to produce the desired results. Ask others to give their input and don’t be afraid to listen to what they have to say. Many times a fresh pair of eyes can see things you can’t, and suddenly you figure out a new plan that will change your outcome.

What’s your first and most important thing that you need to re-do?

Are you trying for a new job, but nothing seems to be working? Is it because you’re not presenting your qualifications properly? Or maybe you’re trying for a job that’s just not right for your skills and interests? Or maybe you’re trying for a job instead of a position that excites you; a position that enables you to use your past experiences in a new way, maybe in a new field.

Try writing out a job description of your ideal position, using your qualifications and experience as a base for what you’d enjoy doing. And don’t give that position a name, because it limits your creativity and boxes you in to a particular job. Again. Then make your plan to look for a position that incorporates those skills. Who says you have to stay in the same line of work you’ve always been in?  Your unique set of skills may open you up to an entire new career.

Maybe you want to start your own business. Be your own boss. While that’s not as easy as it sounds, if you want to do it, what’s holding you back? Try it. Put together your business plan. And if it doesn’t work right at first, instead of getting discouraged and giving up, take a hard look at what your business is. Are you selling a product, and if so, is it a product lots of people will want, and can you sell enough of that product to make it a full time endeavor? Maybe, although it’s a product you’re excited about, maybe you’re one of the few who are excited about that product. So what could you change about it to make it more desirable to others? Or what could you add to your product line to generate business?

If you’re offering a service, is it service that lots of people need? Who are you trying to reach? How are you trying to reach them? Look closely at how you’re marketing the service. Are you reaching your target audience?  If not, what can you do differently so those people will know you’re out there, ready to help them?

And if your business plan isn’t working, maybe you need to redo that plan so it’ll work.

Or maybe you’re looking for a new relationship. Maybe you’re stuck in a relationship that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. You don’t want to give up, but you also aren’t happy. So are you going to settle for what you’ve got or decide to go for someone who’s more suited to you, whose interests are the same as yours, and who enjoys spending quality time with you? Rather than being afraid you’ll not have anyone at all, look for someone who’s more suited to you. Which is worse – settling for what you think you have, or deciding there’s more to life than what you currently have, and doing what’s necessary to change it? Being alone with yourself is usually better than being alone in an unhappy relationship.

Maybe you want to improve your health, exercise more, eat healthier. That’s a great goal, but you still need a plan, and you need to stick to it. You’re the only one who can make that plan work. And remember that’s going to be a lifetime commitment. Not just for this coming year. And believe it or not, this will be the hardest of the four ideas I’ve just presented to be accomplished. 

These are just a few things you can look at changing for the new year. Notice I still didn’t say the word “resolution”. Because resolutions don’t work. Plans can work. But change only works when you make a plan and stick to it. 

And remember all plans have to be flexible. Because something is always going to come up and try to derail your plan, no matter how well thought out it is. And that’s called life. Life happens to all of us. And we have to continually be prepared to change our plans to fit in with what life brings us.

Sound like an impossible situation? Not at all. All our plans and goals are important to us. It’s what makes us who we are. And just because our first set of plans don’t work, it doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means we’re learning. And growing.

Happy New Year to everyone!

After Christmas Blues?

Yes, it happens. It’s real. And there are reasons it happens to some people, most of us, really, to some degree. It’s a natural reaction.

Think about it for a minute. 

You work so hard at preparing for this one big, important day. For many of us it starts before Thanksgiving. We’re bombarded with Christmas shopping ads on the radio, TV, and social media almost as soon as Halloween is over. 

Suddenly the stores are filling with gift ideas and holiday decorations. Craft stores are stuffed with Christmas goodies of every kind to make special gifts and fun projects for the kids and grandkids. You’re hearing wall to wall Christmas music everywhere you go.

It’s already overwhelming and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

There’s an unspoken push to rush to get everything done so you can have a picture perfect Christmas. Which actually doesn’t exist, by the way.

We’re almost as bad in our household. Our ten trees (yes, ten; read my series describing them “Each Tree Has a Story”) go up every year now before Thanksgiving. Why? Because I love the beauty of them and the way it brightens our home. It’s a lot of work, but I really do enjoy it.

But then there’s shopping, baking, gift wrapping (thank goodness for my husband who enjoys it), visits to Santa with the grandkids, Christmas lists, parties (well, not so many of them in recent years). It’s almost an overload, and for some people it is.

Instead of taking time to enjoy the beauty and peace of the season, many of us frantically rush around and knock ourselves out trying to be sure every little detail is perfect. Our lists have lists, even.

It just gets totally crazy. 

And for those with kids, it’s even crazier, because they’re so excited about Santa Claus, and presents they just can’t wait. “How many more days, Mommy?” is heard at least ten times a day, or so it begins to seem.

It’s exhausting. 

And Christmas Eve sometimes brings panic in procrastinators who put everything off til the last minute. Those of us with lists go over them two or three more times to be sure everything is done, from presents for everyone on our lists to Christmas Day breakfast and dinner. Do we have everything?  What did we forget? Instead of breathing a sigh of relief and relaxing, our nerves are on edge. 

Then comes Christmas Day with all the madness. All the carefully wrapped gifts are torn open, wrapping paper and bows discarded everywhere, and quickly the room where presents are opened goes from beautiful anticipation of what’s inside those boxes and bags to a blur of chaos, trashed paper, and boxes piled around everywhere. And at our home, the grandkids deciding to play with the empty gift bags and putting the dogs’ toys in them to give as more “gifts”.

And suddenly it’s over. Done. All that hard work for an hour or two of excitement.

And now what? We have our traditional dinner and eat too much, friends and families may drop by, and then suddenly it’s over, almost as quickly as it began that morning. 

To some of us it means another Christmas of happy memories to cherish. To some it’s a relief that it’s all over and things can return to normal again. To some it’s the opportunity to go out the next day and collect more things on sale for next Christmas. Like we really need to do that.

But for many others, it’s a sense of letdown. There’s nothing left to anticipate. There’s nothing to plan for right away. Nothing to look forward to with excitement. Just the remnants that have to be put away for another year.

Or for some, it’s disappointment that Christmas didn’t measure up to what they expected, what they wanted, or what they hoped for. All that hype and preparation, and for what?

Suddenly life returns with a vengeance. All the things we put out of our minds for this special time quickly come back, and once again we’re overwhelmed in a different way. This beautiful time of friends and family and joy we just experienced is gone. 

Or so it seems. We think about how we’d like to go back to those feelings we had on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but sadly, the magic seems to be have left when the clock struck midnight. And now the winter is ahead and we realize it’s back to our day to day world. As if Christmas never happened.

We miss that anticipation of something wonderful being about to happen. And worry about what life is going to bring next. And it depresses a lot of people.

Why can’t every day have the excitement of Christmas? Wouldn’t it be nice? But then, we’d lose the sense of excitement of those special days in our lives.

Why not start changing your outlook now by taking a moment each day to think about something you’re anticipating. Not the daily dreading of a day that might not go as you’d like, but the anticipation that something wonderful could happen at any time. Something to look forward to.

A surprise phone call. A chance meeting with someone you never expected. A friend bringing good news. Reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in months, or even years.

Something great can happen at any time. And it usually does when you least expect it. 

Because not everything wonderful that happens is limited to Christmas. That’s just the beginning. It’s time to turn those blues into sunshine.

When Holidays Make Us Remember

For me, it happens just about every year around this time. Thanksgiving is done, and leftovers have been enjoyed. Black Friday shopping is thankfully over. And the decorating is finally over.

Getting out the tree, or trees, in our case, starts it all.  As I unwrap certain ornaments I can’t help but remember where I got them, and the story behind them. I remember the ones that were my grandmother’s, and my mother’s. The ones my mother bought for us, and ones she’d given us for her granddaughter, especially the baby’s first Christmas series. And my eyes almost always get a little damp….

I really think I’m over the loss, the emptiness of my mom being gone; of our traditions being over, or, I guess I should say, carried on in new ways. But then I realize I will never be totally over it, because you never are. The loss, and the memories, are always there. Even this close to Christmas itself, I still feel it the loss.

It’s not just her empty place at our table; her not being around for our traditional Black Friday shopping; her name no longer on our gift list. Her Christmas stocking still hung, except now filled with her favorite red roses (silk, of course) rather than gifts.   Not being able to go to her house during the holidays. Her not being with us Christmas morning to watch presents being opened. She’s certainly with us in spirit, and always will be.

It’s the knowing she won’t be here ever again to share the joys of the holidays with us in our new ways. Her precious granddaughter Ashley is now married, with two beautiful daughters of her own. She never got to meet our Chris, or their little girls Rachel and Ryleigh. My mother would have been over the moon in love with our little girls, and I’m sure she would delight in everything our granddaughters (her great-granddaughters) did, every gift they opened, just like she did with our daughter every Christmas. She’d have sat and played with them all day, while the rest of us prepared dinner. I can even picture the three of them playing together in the stack of new toys Santa delivered for the girls, with so much laughter and so much joy. She’d act like a little kid, right along with them.

My mom never laughed or smiled a lot after my dad died, but at Christmas time, when she had her granddaughter Ashley with her, that’s all we saw. Smiles and happiness. Laughter. Even when our toddler daughter was having a temper tantrum while shopping, or doing something else that wouldn’t necessarily put her on Santa’s “good list”, my mother just smiled and said, “She’ll be fine. Just let her be.” And she was.

I so miss those days. And I think of them even more often now that we have granddaughters who are so much like their mother. I just can’t help wishing “if only my mother could be here….”

But the past is the past, and as much as we wish, and dream, we can’t change it. We can’t bring our loved ones back, as much as we’d like to. We can only imagine how things would be, picture them in our minds, and treasure them in our hearts.

No matter how old I get, no matter how many years will have passed, I will still have these feelings. They’re part of me; part of who I am. No matter how many years have passed I will still picture my mother the way she looked during her last years. Except her face will have softened, the lines disappeared, and that beautiful smile she had whenever she was with our daughter will be lighting up her entire being.

I wonder if some day our daughter, and our granddaughters, will have these thoughts, these feelings. Especially, many years from now, as they pull out the Christmas ornaments that used to be ours, and place them on their Christmas trees. Will they remember? Will they long for those “old days” as I still do?

The holidays are not only a time of joy and excitement. It’s also a time for dreams; for family; and for memories that we’ll treasure forever.

What memories do you treasure most from Christmases past? What are the things you’d most like to be able to re-live? And what memories do you hope your children and grandchildren will most remember about you?

Merry Christmas, and may this year be joyous and full of making wonderful memories.

Each Tree Has a Story, Part 10

Yes, this is the last installment. A short one, at that.

Yes, we’ve basically run out of room for more Christmas trees. Big ones, that is.

But there are tabletop trees. Which fit conveniently in small places. And a few other decorating ideas as well.

I’d been given a little 2 foot tabletop tree a couple of years ago from a coworker to use in my office. I loved it, and I even made my own garland to go on it. It was a perfect addition for Christmas, and I also added some Santa Claus flamingo ornaments (of course) to the little tree skirt. Everyone loved it.

Because of Covid, last March my department started working remotely, and we have been ever since. So this year I brought that little tree home and set it up in my craft studio. And it fit perfectly! I can work on my jewelry and have a Christmas tree with me.

That gave me an idea though, of course, and I decided to do a little tabletop gingerbread man tree in the desk area of our kitchen. After all, I bake Christmas cookies in there every year, so it was only appropriate. The size was perfect. Plus there was no room in the kitchen for another tree. I love these ornaments with the cookies holding the spoons and such, and so did the grandkids! And yes, the wine cork snowman sitting beside it is also my creation.

Then there are the wine cork trees I made for the dining room bar. They actually aren’t quite as easy as I thought they’d be, but since I had several bags of corks just waiting to be used, who was I to just let them sit around and do nothing?

And since I had a few of those Styrofoam cones left over from the wine cork trees, I decided to try making the yarn wrapped decorative trees, which were a lot easier to do. My husband says I’m done now for this year, because we’re running out of room again!

And as a surprise for our granddaughters, in their mermaid bedroom we‘d decorated for them at our house, I set up another little white tabletop tree with mermaid and seahorse ornaments. They were so excited! They may not spend the night here often, but it doesn’t mean their room has to go undecorated for the season.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s our Christmas ledge, decorated by my husband. When we built our home some 20+ years ago we had the builder add this feature we’d seen in another model house. We thought it gave a finishing touch to the two story foyer, and it absolutely did.

Although usually decorated with a generic theme most of the year, Ben also loves to decorate it for Christmas. Over the years we’ve had small Christmas trees up there, several wrapped packages, Christmas angels, lighted poinsettias, and for the last couple of years two fancy Santa Clauses we just couldn’t resist. All set up on lighted Buffalo snow. 

It’s something he really enjoys doing, and he changes it up just a bit every year.  Of course I sort of assist by helping him take the current decor down and handing him the lights, snow, and whatever else he wants to add, but this is his creation, and lots of our neighbors have told us how much they enjoy seeing the lights from our ledge every year.

Yes, all of this is a lot of work, but it’s worth it to see the house just filled with Christmas every year. It puts us all in such a happy holiday spirit.

And just about every room now has its own Christmas tree, so I guess there may not be any new ones for next year. But….I saw this really pretty little blue Christmas tree decorated with teal ornaments on the December issue of Southern Living just a few nights ago, and I’d sure like to figure out a way to add that one next year, but please don’t tell my husband yet….

So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. Spend time with your family. Love each other. 

And remember the reason for the season. It’s not all about Christmas trees, you know. They’re just a nice accent!

Each Tree Has a Story, Part 9

Each Tree Has a Story, Part 9

I hinted a little about this one in Part 2 of this series. But I don’t know how many of you caught it.

The year before last, our family room tree had so many ornaments on it, I actually had to search and search in order to find a place for them all. Which meant I seriously started thinking about how to solve that problem. 

After a total of 4-5 hours of placing ornaments on it, I knew I had to make a suggestion for the following year. I hinted to my husband about it, but he just looked at me like I had two heads, and said, “Yeah, right! We need to do that like I need another hole in my head.”

Well. He should’ve known by now not to say anything to me like that. I already had it planned. And the hole in his head could be arranged.

So the following year as soon as the artificial trees were out in the stores, I started looking for what I wanted. And since I wasn’t being totally successful, I finally told him about it. And believe it or not, he bought into the idea!

As I mentioned in Part 2, I’ve collected the Hallmark Barbie ornaments since they came out with them in 1993. I think I have almost all of them, but I do check eBay every so often to make sure. And if I happen to find one that’s not already in my collection, somehow it finds its way to our house. Can’t imagine how that happens….

And yes, when Barbie was first introduced, as a toy in 1962, I certainly got one. Then another, and, well, the rest is history.  Thus my Barbie fascination. I even added several collector Barbie dolls that I really liked, which are displayed in my curio cabinet.

I’d envisioned a skinny white tree like we have for the flamingos, but Ben quickly decided if we were going to put it in the master bedroom, and really there was no other place for one, it needed to be a regular full sized tree. 

Who was I to argue?

So we found one, brought it home, and set it up. That year as I started decorating our family room tree, I pulled out all the Barbie ornaments to put on the new tree. I started to count them, but I saved that for another time. (Actually I lost count.)

Over the years I’ve also collected the little shoes from the “Just the Right Shoe” series, and had dozens of them around the house, so I made them into ornaments to add to the new tree, using hot glue and ribbon. Perfect!

The ironic thing about my little shoe collection? I don’t like shoes. I don’t like buying them. I’m not fond of wearing them. Give me boots or sandals (in the summer, of course), and I’m ok. Shoes just aren’t my thing. However, that’s another story.

Even adding all the shoes, the tree wasn’t quite full enough yet, even for its first year, so I decided to add some retro style ornaments, along with glitzy things like champagne bottles, pink poodles, pink cars with Christmas trees on them, and similar goodies, as you can see from the pictures! It turned out great! And if you look carefully, there are even a couple of Ken ornaments.

It’s still a work in progress, but it really looks wonderful. Unfortunately it’s not in a public area of the house. Getting to see it in person is by invitation only.

Until I find a place to put it downstairs.

There are still a few more little tree surprises, though. So be sure to read the final installment of “Each Tree has a Story, Part 10,” to be published on December 23.

Remembrances of Holidays Past

Unfortunately I only vaguely remember a few holidays spent with my family with my dad also there. Being only eight years old when he died wasn’t an easy thing, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. Oh, I do have some fuzzy ones in which we were all seated at my grandmother’s huge ornate walnut dining table, with her and my mom and my aunts bringing in huge plates of food, and my grandfather bowing his head and saying his quick “grace” before we all dug in to eat. But unfortunately, they are, as I said, fuzzy. Faces blur with time, as do my memories of who was really there at those early family holiday meals when my grandparents were still alive.

But the years have a way of fast-forwarding. Children grow up, adults grow older, and loved ones are gradually no longer with us. Holidays become increasingly difficult because our most special loved ones are living only in our memories, and our memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past are sometimes remembered as being a lot more “perfect” than they ever actually were.

And we’re bombarded with holiday commercials where we see families joyously sitting down together, a perfect meal on the perfectly set table, adults and children alike beautifully dressed up, everyone laughing and smiling, clinking glasses together in holiday toasts, Christmas carols playing in the background, and perfectly wrapped presents under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree.

Those are my real holiday memories. They were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family. And yes, I miss those days.

I totally understand now why my mom and her sisters used to talk about “the old days” when we were younger. Because now those “old days” I just described, that to me are just memories from what seems just a few years ago, are now “the old days” in the eyes of my daughter and her friends. How I wish I knew what “the old days” had really been like for my mother when she and her sisters and brothers were younger.

As the holiday season is ready to culminate this week with our Christmas Day celebration, I still long to look back and relive the memories of those family Christmases so long ago. But those special times, as I’ve said, still live on in the memories in my mind, shared by just a few who are still with us. We’re all scattered now, and yes, we’ve all made our own new traditions now, just as our daughter Ashley and her husband Chris and their two daughters will be doing again this year.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many of my friends are going through similar feelings, for various reasons. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy at this most festive season of the year, a season that celebrates love and family. But many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we force ourselves to wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. We’re afraid to let anyone else know; but chances are, many of those we meet while wearing that smile, are wearing that same forced smile, because they’re hurting, too.

The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. Don’t think you’re alone. If you’re having a tough time, you’re not the only one. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And it’s OK to feel that way, because there’s a loss there that is still all too real, whether the loss is recent, or months or even years ago.

You may be bombarded right now with all kinds of reminders of the holiday season that trigger your emotions. Scents of spicy pumpkin, pine and spruce trees, or fresh-baked Christmas cookies. Colored lights on a tree, or glowing candles. A child’s laughter, or the sounds of Christmas carols. Though these reminders evoke memories of happier times that are now in the past, let them also be a reminder that there ARE better times coming, new memories to be made, and new delights in the smile of new friends who are yet to come into your world. While it may be difficult now, the hope and joy that is Christmas, and always has been Christmas, is just around the corner, waiting to be found. Find one thing that makes you the happiest right now, and share it with someone else as your gift to them. It’ll make you feel a bit better that you were able to share with someone, and it just may very well do the same thing for that person, too. They may end up doing the same for someone else.

We never know how we’ll impact someone else with just a small gesture, especially during this very special season. Make it your gift to someone else, even if you don’t know them. Isn’t that part of what the Christmas spirit is all about? You may be surprised at how much better it makes you feel that you’ve been able to bless someone else.

I know I’m going to try it.

Each Tree Has a Story, Part 8

By now you’re thinking we have to be a little bit ( or a lot) crazy to have all these Christmas trees, and they’re only up for about 6 weeks til it’s time to take them down and put them away until the  next year. 

All that work for such a short time. There are so many times I’d say how I wish we could leave them up all year.

Which brings me to the next tree.

Many of you know about our flamingo fascination. Over the years we’ve both collected all kinds of flamingo stuff. Figurines, pillows, outdoor decor, dinnerware, and yes, flamingo ornaments. We had them on our family Christmas tree for years, but the collection grew so quickly we had to move a lot of them to a lighted palm tree in the Florida room, and another one in the family room corner.

But the palm tree in the Florida room finally gave out, and we really didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t find a suitable replacement. The flamingo ornaments HAD to have a home. And not one that only came out for a few weeks each year. How could those gorgeous pink birds possibly survive without being on display year round?

Flamingos as you know are very flamboyant creatures, and they like to be in the spotlight. The center of attention, so to speak.

Finally I decided the only way to do this right, and keep the flamingos happy, was to find the perfect Christmas tree that we could leave up all year long.  But what kind?

The corner of the Florida room isn’t that big, but problem solved when we found a skinny shaped white tree to put there. Pink and white…a perfect combination.

Of course my husband and I disagreed on this. He didn’t want a Christmas tree up all year. Well, this one isn’t really a Christmas tree. It’s a flamingo tree, because most of the ornaments on there aren’t really Christmas themed. And I’d fix it so it didn’t look like a Christmas tree.

So we did it. The flamingos were delighted with their new perch, especially with the little white lights. And it certainly serves as a topic of conversation when we have guests. 

The ornaments that are actually Christmas themed flamingos are still on the family room tree, and they understand that’s because they’re special and need to be given that place of honor. Jealous flamingos are not a good thing.

What else can I say? It’s a flamingo tree. We’re into flamingos. Just wish I could take a better picture!

And flamingos love Christmas, too.

Now we’re not quite done with this. There’s one more tree to talk about. So be sure to read “Each Tree Has a Story, Part 9,” to be published December 22.

The Magic of Santa Claus

There’s something special about believing in Santa Claus when you’re a child. I remember how excited I became the closer it got to Christmas, just thinking about what I might find under the tree Christmas morning. I remember being so excited I could hardly go to sleep on Christmas Eve. 

My mom made sure we left cookies and milk out for him on Christmas Eve, and she always emphasized that I had to stay in bed and get to sleep so he’d come with all the presents. It was sure hard to do.

But somehow I managed to go to sleep and sleep through the night (oh, how I wish I could do that now!) and wake up so excited I didn’t know what to do!

And I was always even more excited when I looked under the tree at the wrapped presents that hadn’t been there the night before. He’d been there! He really had! Santa Claus himself! And I knew it because he’d also left some cookie crumbs on the plate and almost finished the milk in his glass. I knew he was real.

That special feeling of wonder and excitement just can’t be duplicated. Children need that wonderment, that excitement, that feeling of awe and amazement that only comes once a year, on Christmas morning, under that Christmas tree.

I still remember when one of my friends told me there was no Santa Claus, and I came home from school so upset I didn’t know what to do. When I told my mother about it though, I didn’t ask her if my friend was correct. Because I knew in my heart she was wrong. I told my mom I was upset because now my friend wouldn’t have Santa visit her anymore and bring her presents.

Ahhh….the wonder and magic of Santa Claus to a child at Christmas is just indescribable sometimes.

 And it’s so important.

Our adult minds can’t fathom and certainly can’t believe in the man in the red suit who never ages and who lives in the utter cold of the North Pole with his wife and a bunch of elves who spend all year working tirelessly to make one night the most special one ever for children around the world.

We can’t fathom how this man can get in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, of all things, filled with an inexhaustible supply of toys and gifts, and deliver them to every child in the world on Christmas Eve, stopping long enough at each house to also sample the cookies and milk left out for him by sleeping children.

We can’t understand it with our adult minds because we’ve lost the gift of imagination. We’ve lost the ability, and perhaps even the desire, to see things the way we used to, when the world was a far different place. Many of us have become jaded and cynical, preferring to stomp on the dreams and imagination of others because we don’t believe, and we want others to agree with us, and validate our truths.

Let me tell you this, the wonder and excitement and joy I see in the eyes of our granddaughters when they think about Santa Claus, when they see him, when they talk about him…that’s all I need to know how real he is.

And I briefly go back to being that little girl in this picture seeing Santa Claus in Wanamaker’s department store and telling him what I want for Christmas and knowing (hopefully) I’m going to get it.

I see the excitement in our older granddaughter’s eyes and hear it in her voice when she holds this little green Beanie Baby reindeer we have with our decorations and saying how she really, REALLY wants Santa to bring her one like it. And talks about how she’s going to introduce hers to this one and let them play together.

And guess what. I truly believe Santa is going to do just that. 

Because he’s Santa Claus.

And for those who don’t believe, or don’t want their children to believe, well I have to say I’m sorry, because you really don’t know what you’re missing out on.