The Arts Amid A Pandemic

There is a well-known, nearly cliché, story that most of us remember from history class. Like most over-told tales, there is a reason for its repetition in our lexicon. We over-use examples when they speak to a large number of people, are easily palatable, or represent the rare gem of a perfect analogy. The factoid I’m thinking about today – and have been for the last weeks – is about the Titanic. Not the fictitious Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet story, but the tales that came from the actual Titanic sinking. Namely: that every member of the band perished because they chose to keep playing music instead of getting into lifeboats.

Most of you have heard that fact. I’m probably not surprising or educating anyone with this sliver of history. It’s a piece of information that conjures appreciation and respect in all types of people, even the most ardent slash-the-Arts-budget individual. Yet somehow, in our culture and so many others, this story seems like an anomaly, the exception about the Arts rather than the rule. Creative people are rarely portrayed as the heroes who sacrifice. We are not the ones rushing into burning buildings or performing surgeries or squinting into telescopes for years trying to find that elusive cure. Instead, we are seen as the frivolous ones. We matter and are appreciated, but only during midsummer outdoor concerts or Friday night date night at the movies. We are our culture’s entertainment, the jesters who keep them preoccupied. And we share a significant – if not majority – portion of the blame for this stereotype because we have played directly into it.

Whatever our creative pursuit, most of us aren’t performing Mozart on a cello as the waters literally rise up our feet.

These weird and strange days have brought opportunity to change that. As we continue to watch our world devolve into panicked toilet paper purchases and lonely isolation, the Arts have a unique platform to bring the same comfort and ease to people as those heroic musicians. And its already happening.

Famous musicians are streaming Live concerts from their living rooms. Art galleries are offering digital tours. Writers are starting virtual book clubs. Mostly free of charge, all giving the stir-crazy public a distraction.

But is it just a distraction?

Artists believe that we have something to say. And everyone is going to need something a little different from us as these next few weeks unfold. Some will need encouragement, inspiration and motivation. Some will need comfort. Others will need something a little stronger – a metaphoric shot of whiskey as they bravely face the virus infecting their body or another night shift at the hospital. All of these things are in our disposal to offer. And all of them matter in ways that are far more tangible today than they were yesterday.

This is my hope for our world as we move through the coronavirus pandemic: that we would come out the other side finally understanding the full value of creativity.

Because herein lies our most neglected message: the Arts were never about a specific art form. It’s not a debate about whether pop music is better than country or whether there is more depth in an abstract painting than a sculpture or whether your local theater should sensor a certain number of swear words.

The Arts are about exercising the creative channels of the brain, in both the performer and consumer. And while debates about your High School musical truly are trivial, the value of a mind that thinks outside the box is a necessity in every single field, especially today.

As I watch social media and the news, I am both heartbroken and encouraged to see parents wobbly attempting to adjust to a life of remote work and full childcare responsibility. They are baking and playing music and buying books. They are inventing new board games when their children get literally bored by the old ones. They are being creative. But mostly, they are desperately seeking. They are following other creative profiles and begging the broader internet world for suggestions.

This is our time to rise up, artists. This is our time to use our talents as a service. To promote an exchange of ideas. To offer calm into the chaos. To give dormant minds and bodies new exercise. And lest we forget that this pandemic is still a real danger, and not just about people cooped up in their houses, it is our opportunity to create something of true comfort and depth for someone who may be in pain or may not live through this ordeal.

But bear no illusions: this will cost us. It may not cost a literal life, unless you are exposing yourself to an infected population (please don’t, as you’ll be contributing the virus’ spread!). But it will mean significant sacrifices of time and finances.

This is something that non-artists probably don’t understand. Our culture grasps the depressing realities for our local businesses and the far-reaching consequences this quarantine is going to have on our economy. But it’s not just retail who is feeling the sting. The Arts run on events. The majority of money made by those in creative fields is through events. When concerts are cancelled and book tours suspended and gallery openings postponed, artists lose the primary chunk of their yearly income and have significant portions of their marketing strategy upended. To replace those with services to help the public, most of which are free, puts artists in difficult positions.

But everyone is in a difficult position right now; its all the same ship. And out of every industry, artists are used to using ingenuity to create alternative income streams. We have a lot we can teach our neighbors about practical things like that, too.

We live in a society that hasn’t practiced creativity very well. We have our regular work flow and very rarely think outside the box. Businesses that now have to go virtual are run by people who don’t know how to make that transition. Parents who haven’t used Algebra in 30 years now have to teach it to their adolescent children. A world that literally runs on the 9-to-5 schedule now has to balance work and family 24/7. None of these are specifically “artistic” things, but all are going to require creative solutions from people whose brains have not been well-groomed to practice life this way. We can help with that.

This is our time, artists. Our time to finally prove that music isn’t just entertainment and painting isn’t just inspiration.

I hope we are willing to make the sacrifice and do the service. And I hope when this pandemic is over, society will come out of it with a new priority for ensuring the next generation is better prepared. Not only when it comes to health and flexible business models. But also in the ways we use art to prepare our children for whatever crisis they will inevitably have to face, by molding them to have a deeper understanding of creativity and a looser dependency on rules, models and boxes.

Prudence

Writers are usually emotional people. They’re a type of artist, so like all creative people, they live with full imaginations and deep personal investment. I tell everyone that I’m the most practical artist I’ve ever met. I don’t get worked up about most things and can generally allow most of life to slide off my back.

But every once in awhile something happens to remind me that this claim only works when comparing myself to other artists. As soon as I measure myself against the general public, I lose all bragging rights to common sense pragmatism. I am, it would seem, an artist, too.

John and I thought we were buying our first house this week. It’s a big life step. And honestly, not our first attempt at home ownership. It’s been a long year-and-change of searching, finding a place we love, attempting to put in a bid, and having it all fall through.

But this place felt different. It felt familiar, somehow. Fated. Very close to what I’d been picturing in my head for years. It was a bit of a Fixer Upper, but that only endeared me more to it.

Maybe it was the artist in me. Maybe the woman. Maybe an unfair mix of both. But almost immediately my mind took over ownership. Before we’d even signed a single paper, I’d replaced the kitchen floor twice, and packed each of the extra bedrooms with multiple children. My claws sank in deep before I even knew what I was holding onto.

The bank approved a loan. The sellers agreed to our price. We signed enough papers to get carpel tunnel. And then, while waiting for the final rounds of approval, we had fun. We researched DIY websites. Strolled through Home Depot, marking prices. Planned a giant party with everyone we’ve ever met invited. This was the farthest we’d ever gotten in the home-buying process, so this time it was surely real.

And then we brought in the home inspector.

At first I resisted the man’s negativity. It’s his job to find flaws; that doesn’t make this house particularly bad. But as he went through room by room detailing costly safety hazards, that practical Emily started fighting for her voice again. First I simply re-budgeted – the kitchen can have cheap linoleum and I can kill off a few children.

Truthfully, I have often made decisions that were impractical and said ‘yes’ to my artistic nature. I got a degree in something as useless as English. I got married at 21, agreeing to marry a man I hadn’t known for even a full year yet. Then John and I moved to New York with a duffel bag of clothes and an air mattress in the trunk, clutching a meager sum in the un-cashable form of banker’s checks. I will loudly proclaim that it can be wonderfully brave to do the foolish thing; it has filled my life with adventure and story.

But I’m also a farm kid. I have a DNA weathered by millennia of gamblers who bet on the fickle risk of reaping from the earth. Who instinctively plan for unexpected elements. Who understand big loss and big reward. Who’s practiced discernment is as much a part of them as the smudged dirt that permanently stains their fingerprints.

So I understand that sometimes you gotta know when to fold your hand. To realize that even if everyone is watching your first jump off the high dive, there’s no shame in backing from the edge and going down the way you came.

“This job can be really hard,” the inspector admitted as he watched our faces grow more discouraged. “I often feel like I’m coming in and crushing people’s dreams.”

I nearly offered to pay him extra for being both honest and kind – a disappearing trait in today’s politically-charged atmosphere.

John and I spent some time thinking and researching. Trying to determine what we really, truly wanted deep down. And then trying to determine if what we wanted to do and what we should do were at odds. And finally, because I am the most practical artist I’ve ever met, I erased the mental picture I’d been curating, called my husband at work and said, “How would you feel about just walking away?”

This house had felt like mine, but it didn’t belong to me. It was meant for someone older. Someone with more life experience to put into fixing it, who had deeper pockets and fewer restrictions than First Time Home Buyer Loans regulate.

My yin and yang will probably always fight. And the artistic side will often win. Not because she should, but because she is spoiled and pouts, so it’s just easier to give in to her. She hasn’t lost very often these past few years, so when she does, she sits around moping and feeling her sorrow and writing exaggerated blog posts in her pajamas. It’s annoying, especially to my pragmatic side who has the responsibility of picking her up and shaking sense into her.

But pragmatism needs to win. Because her victory gives my whole self a sense of pride. She’s the one who grounds me and connects me back to my roots. She won’t allow the apple to roll so far from the tree that it can’t be sheltered from the rain. And it’s her influence that gives my artistic side a more unique voice in a world that is making far too many emotionally-driven decisions.

Which is all to simply say, it’s okay. In fact, it’s great. There’s sorrow but it’s mixed with intense relief, both at dodging a 30-year headache and knowing that I haven’t completely lost the ability to make decisions that are wise. The roots still hold, thank God.

Opie

My husband doesn’t like children. It’s not that he hates them. He’s just one of those guys who is more comfortable with adult conversation. As he’ll readily confess, “I didn’t like being around kids when I was a kid. And I definitely don’t understand them better now.”

But I have a theory about children: I think they are drawn to the very people who dislike them most. Isn’t every good young adult story about the precocious kid who softens the heart of the old geezer yelling at him to be quiet? Not that John would ever be a yelling old man. I mean, I hope he isn’t that bad. Then again, one time after I recounted a funny experience that happened in the church nursery, John solemnly responded, “You realize you just described my personal version of hell, right?”

But despite his dislike, I have seen more than one young boy attempt to draw John out of his Adults Only comfort zone. Many people have heard the story that happened shortly after we moved into our current house. John tilled up a garden spot for me in the backyard. Unbeknownst to us, a visiting boy sat in his treehouse for over an hour, just watching my husband work. When John finally finished what turned out to be a harder job than anticipated, the little boy shouted down at him, “Hey mister, why’d that take you so long? That took you hours and hours!”

Cute, right? But if the kid was trying for Opie Taylor, he needs to get in line for the Mayberry Auditions. Another young boy has been riding his bike around our block lately. To be honest, I haven’t seen him. But I don’t get outside as much as I should — unlike John, who converted our one-stall garage into a workshop and spends most evenings out there. Apparently, Bicycle Kid stopped by our open garage once to ask John to go on a bike ride with him. Just out of the blue like that. My poor, socially-awkward-around-kids husband then had to mumble, “Uhhhh. No….. Sorry.”

When I first found out, I was upset. “You should have gone with the kid!” I said. But then I realized that riding around with a minor you don’t know might be a lawsuit waiting to happen. It’s okay, though, because Bicycle Kid didn’t give up. He came back last night just as John was finishing up a project. The kid parked his bike and watched as John cleaned and swept up all the sawdust chips from the garage floor. Apparently he chatted a bit and attempted to lift a few of the free weights in the corner. The kid asked if John had any work he could be hired for, because apparently he’s riding around town trying to earn some spending money. He’s saving up to buy some tools.

Poor John was done working and didn’t have anything he could give Bicycle Kid to do. But then he did something pretty brilliant. “You know, I have a lot of extra tools and multiple sets. Why don’t you take a look and see if I’ve got something you want to try. You can just have it.”

Can you imagine being 10 years old, and having the cool stranger down the block — the man you’ve heard pounding away all summer — whip open his big red tool chest and tell you to take your pick? That’s gotta be better than Christmas!

John said Bicycle Kid was actually pretty quiet about the whole thing, but he picked out a socket set, including the wrench.

Methinks he’ll come back yet again.

When it was all done, John came into the house with a very confused expression and recounted it to me. “Well, that was the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.

But I was over the moon with pride. “Do you realize what you just did?” I asked. “That kid probably has a life of lame babysitters — teenage girls who make him watch dumb movies like Barnie or Frozen or something. You gave him free tools! Babe, you just became that little boy’s hero!”

I’ll probably never get him to volunteer in the church nursery, but I think he understands kids a whole lot more than he realizes.

Our garage, aka John's workshop.
Our garage, aka John’s workshop.

Chapter 3

When John and I moved to New York, I wrote a blog post called Chapter 2. Now that we’ve circled back to Minnesota, I figured it would only be right to follow up with another reflection and record of anticipation about our next phase.

It’s a Monday afternoon, a wet and miserable day. The rain isn’t hard, but it just keeps falling! It’s been raining off and on for about a week. On the sunny, in-between days, I got some yard work in. Good thing, too. The weather is really dictating what I get done. Every morning that I wake up to sunshine instead of rain, I immediately grab the rake or pruning shears or Roundup. I’m still waiting to till a spot for my garden and the rain just keeps taunting, singing, “Welcome back to the Midwest, Emily!”

Our new house is only partially put together, despite long work days, help from my mother, and an easy drive to Walmart and the Home Depot. I forgot how systematic decorating and homemaking is! You can’t do Part B until you finish Part A, but as fate would have it, Part A is not in stock at the store and your order won’t arrive for two weeks. Grrrr. So a less-than-desirable amount gets accomplished while I wait for everything to arrive in the correct order. Lucky for me, my last job was editing for trade magazines, so I have been practicing this very type of patience.

Despite my dismal rant, Chapter 3 continues to fill me with excitement and anticipation. How could it not? Everything thus far seems ideal – and Bemidji itself is quite picturesque. Last night was the first in several without rain and John and I broke out our bicycles. We found the bike trail that circles Lake Bemidji but we only made it part way around, stopping at a park instead. We spent dusk sitting in plastic Adirondack chairs watching the chilled lake lap towards us, waves coming within feet of our tennis shoes. Enjoying the sounds of nature while not moving a single muscle is my new favorite type of exercise!

I’d be dishonest if I claimed the only thing I feel is excitement, though. I am less innocent than when I left for New York and common sense and maturity warn that there’s plenty ahead to make me nervous, too. In New York, I sometimes felt like my life was on pause; that I was on an extended honeymoon and nothing I did had consequences because it wasn’t part of my overall character arc.

But we’re in full motion now – and in a big way! Chapter 3 is a more permanent plot point. This isn’t just a scene to establish the personality of the characters. The first turning point is here. The risk happens here. I don’t expect failure; I’m too confident for that (or just cocky). But I know I will need to make adjustments, because I anticipate that this will also be the longest chapter thus far. So I must train for a marathon when I prefer to sprint. And learn to write entire novels instead of blogs and short stories. This chapter will be about patience and pacing, both of which are predominant weaknesses of mine.

To summarize: I enter this phase gladly but carefully, testing the ground a little, because roots sink deep and seeds either drown or grow too fast when the soil is as wet as it is here.

DSC_0843

Traditions & Memories

On a bleak December day 70 years ago, my grandfather jumped from a ruined B-17, a cold Minnesota farm boy tumbling from the sky into occupied Greece. That image is hard for me to picture because I remember him stooped, impossibly old to my little eye, and far too gentle to be a radio gunner in a fighter plane.

This year I spent Memorial Day in the garden. It wasn’t the traditional cemetery visit or parade, but I found it quite fitting. The man who taught me how to garden was the same man wounded that December day, the same man who spent a year and a half writing hopeful lies to his mother from a Nazi prison camp and the same man whose government forgot to decorate him until shortly before his death.

The quiet man who never spoke about any of it — the man I think of every Memorial Day.

To many people, Memorial Day is an appropriate gardening day. It’s a long weekend and marks the beginning of consistent warmth. My grandpa never had the patience to wait until May to do the planting, though. He mail ordered his seeds mid-winter. Come spring, he started them in cut up milk cartons on his window sill. His dirt-streaked laundry room was as much a part of spring as the melting snow.

The early 1990s: The Twin Towers still stood, pop music began to infiltrate every genre, and I struggled to keep up with this man’s limp.

Of course, when you plant early, you typically harvest early, as well. Grandpa’s garden always seemed like the first in our area to produce, with yields enough to end world hunger! Some days, I’d get to be his helper, riding along in the passenger seat of his little pickup truck to deliver vegetables to his neighbors… and his neighbor’s neighbors, and their out-of-state friends unlucky enough to be visiting when we arrived. Nobody could refuse my grandpa. The tassled corn in these people’s own gardens was turning the tell-tale shade of brown even as they accepted my grandpa’s corn. But if a quiet old man and his little blonde granddaughter showed up on your doorstep with five gallon pails of homegrown produce… would you really be able to say ‘no thank you?’

This year, my husband and I busted up new soil for our first garden. He worked harder than I did. I stripped off my gloves to kneel in the soil and let a worm slink across my palm while he used a spade to turn over the sod.

In my excitement and lack of sensitivity, I continually pushed for him to do more, to expand the garden’s size. In comparison to my memories, it never looked quite big enough.

“You have to get over this idea that we’re farming!” was his exasperated — and exhausted — rebuttal.

The dirt and chirping robins brought back details of former gardening days — most of which had nothing to do with actual gardening.

My grandpa’s garden was 20 miles from where he lived, therefore certain amenities were needed. Namely the outhouse. I spent the warm days dreading future uses of that moist cavern of bad smells. He only occasionally remembered to fill the thing with toilet paper. Honestly, that was okay. After a while the roll would start to smell like the outhouse… plus many weeks in what is essentially a closed sewer with no ventilation left it wet and cold, prone to tearing. It was better to not use it.

There were better memories, though. Specifically from harvest time. As my grandpa drove his personal delivery route all across the county, I strained to see over the dash from my position in the passenger seat. (This was before children had to be in booster seats in the back. Or at least before we followed those laws.) To entertain me, my grandfather would joke around on the barren rural roads. He’d swerve into the wrong lane, stop the truck, or lay on the horn… all attempts to avoid crashing into the rhinoceros or giraffe he insisted was in the middle of the street. I assume he wanted me to look around, wide-eyed for the zoo animal I’d missed. Instead, my precocious voice accused, “There’s nothing there. You’re lying!” Then he’d just smile.

Whether on the road or pulling weeds, gardening always ended the same way: a glass of homemade iced tea. Grandpa liked his tea sweet enough to be hummingbird food. My sweet tooth is not quite so evolved, though you wouldn’t have convinced my child-self of that fact. I can still hear the tink of grandpa’s spoon against his polymer glass, which smelt like melting plastic, and see the hurricane inside my own glass as I, too, valiantly tried to dissolve more sugar in the cold beverage — nearly a scientific impossibility.

Last weekend, while watching my husband work and sipping my own blend of that iced tea, I did the math. My grandfather was a POW when he was exactly the age I am now.

I spent my day off as a 23 year old happily puttering in her first garden alongside her husband of two years, in still-basically-newlywed bliss. A slight breeze cooled the sun on our backs. We had a picnic of hot dogs and baked beans cooked on a Coleman stove. It was perfect.

I have these days in my youth because when my grandfather was 23, his days were spent looking forward to the next pack of cigarettes rationed out by German officers.

It’s been many years since I’ve stood upon that sacred soil my grandpa used to garden in. Grandpa died ten years ago — hard to believe I’ve had a decade without him already — and his last few years left him too frail to garden. The land was sold to the neighboring farmer, who I presume added it to his field. That’s okay; I’m glad it’s still producing. I never think about it as the corner of some guy’s field, though. In my mind, it resembles the classic children’s story “The Secret Garden.” It’s a little oasis overgrown with vines, herbs and wild flowers. Weeds, too — but only the pretty varieties. A place where orphans discover adventure and crippled children walk.

My sentimentality is mostly fueled by imaginative questions about grandpa that were never answered. Why did he spend so much time in obsession over what should have been a hobby? Did the stillness and chirping of nature give him needed thinking time? Was it how he coped with the extreme advancements of society? Did he miss the farming lifestyle he was raised in? Was it the only place he could handle the fading echoes of harsh Germanic yells?

Or maybe I look too deep, trying to connect dots and add backstory where none exist. Maybe my grandfather gardened for the same reason most people do: maybe he just enjoyed it.

John and my first garden
Me and my new gardening partner — a good man and hard worker who I wish my grandpa could have met.

The above essay was originally published in The Country Editor. It is reprinted here with permission.
(C) Emily Enger, 2013

Blonde girl

It is considered derogatory and sexist to refer to people’s moments of stupidity as “blonde moments” or stereotype them as “girl mistakes.” These terms have never really bothered me, perhaps because I know that, truthfully, I could easily fill a weekly blog called “Confessions of a blonde chic.” Between cooking disasters, car troubles, ignorant comments, and aimless, direction-less passion, I can fit into any box or stereotype you’ve ever heard of.

Like all writers and creative types, I suffer the bane of absent-mindedness. (My co-workers are slowly learning to call out my name before speaking to me, because they are learning that just because I’m looking at someone is no guarantee that I’m listening.) Due to this, I am a list person. No palm pilot planner, just simple sticky notes around my desk, and my home fridge and dining room table. I usually remember to check my lists because I am accustomed to myself. The problem is when my lists are for John; he is not yet accustomed to all my habits.

So when he took my car to the mechanics awhile back, he did not take the list I left him detailing everything I needed detailed. Instead I received a phone call and Emily-without-her-list was left to remember the many problems I had previously written down. I am proud to report that I only forgot one unimportant thing: I was out of windshield wiper fluid.

Of course, driving my long commute to work in questionable weather with a dirty windshield is not great. But I’m a busy gal and just wasn’t getting around to making another appointment at the garage.

Then this weekend John cleaned out his filthy car. He proudly recounted the crap he had ridded, including trash in his trunk from before we were even married. (We have moved twice and driven to our honeymoon in this car!) He also mentioned refilling his wiper fluid. I looked at him in awe.

“You know how to do that by yourself?”

I got a look of deep offense but cut me some slack – I didn’t marry a “car guy.” I mean, he thinks he is. If the television show “Top Gear” were the Bible, John’s insistence on the superiority of the British version over the American would wreak with the snobbish devoutness of a King–James-version-only purist. But in our generation, the attachment to a culture and ethic far supersedes practical ability.

Unfortunately, this was more than me slighting my husband’s knowledge of vehicles and I continued to put my foot in my mouth as I confessed surprise that washer fluid was something one could just buy anywhere — like Wal-Mart — and that the process was as simple as he later demonstrated.

Yes, I do have a driver’s license. I also am a farm kid who can drive stick shift and has operated various types of large machinery. But just because I was taught about cars doesn’t mean I was listening.

John never once called me a “girl,” nor did he throw in a blonde joke, despite how much I deserved the retaliation. I did get a look that basically encapsulated those things, but it was the least I deserved.

He’s a bigger person than I am.

Remember that Christmas when…

Last weekend John and I decorated for Christmas. We picked out our tree at a pre-cut farm (no choose-and-cut for us — we aren’t that ambitious!) and managed to keep our tempers reigned in while shopping in crowded stores for trimmings that were the appropriate size. While decorating, we reminisced about last year.

Last Christmas we were fresh out of college, the ink on our degrees still bleeding. We had no job and no options for one. Our savings and a not-even-part-time tutoring gig I picked up were the only things getting us by; the couple of students I worked with only occasionally showed up, so I only occasionally got paid. We lived in a quaint, beautiful one bedroom apartment with rooms so small we couldn’t fit a full-size couch or a normal table. I loved that place. It had stucco walls and hard wood floors and interesting neighbors. There was the young gentleman whose marijuana you could sometimes smell leaking through his door (and all the drug paraphernalia he left behind when one day he just skitched out of town) and the heavy-set elderly woman, a chain-smoking hoarder who thought the solution to her breathing problems was to habitually call an ambulance instead of trying a nicotine patch.

To fit a Christmas tree in that place, I ditched an end table that had multiple shelves holding pictures and knick-knacks. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice. The end table was a free gift that druggy-neighbor had offered us when we moved in. There were no hurt feelings, as by this time he was long-gone, both the rent and drug police tracking his whereabouts. Plus John hates knick-knacks, so he was happy to see the rather ugly thing go. We bought our tree off of some Catholic Sunday School kids selling them in their church parking lot. We asked for the smallest one they had; it was hard to find one that fit. We had forgot to bring cash and had to run to the bank. Then we had nothing but John’s little Honda Civic and no twine to transport the little fir back home. So John carried it.

I kid you not. He walked that little tree the four-to-five blocks to our place — even crossing a busy four-lane highway with no crosswalk. Then we placed it in the stand…and found out that our tree was crooked. Very crooked; its stem was bent at about a 30 degree angle, and we had simply been too green and too excited to remember to check for that. We made up for it every way we could think of since we didn’t have a saw; the repositioning helped, but in the end the tree was still slightly bent. (It’s a good thing people don’t decorate with candles anymore…) John jokes that our tree was a symbolic Tiny Tim who you could almost hear squeak out, “God bless us…everyone.” And of course, every single person who visited made comment about our tilting tree, which we had decorated with tiny red and silver bulbs I bought at a dollar store, but I was proud of it anyway.

2011 Christmas Tree
2011 Christmas Tree
2012 Christmas Tree
2012 Christmas Tree

This year we have a much bigger tree. We had to trim the top to fit the star beneath our 8-foot ceiling. Without a doubt it’s a prettier tree; and since we bought it about 20 miles from our home, John is very thankful that the only carrying he had to do was up our steps!

John and I are hosting Christmas with both our families this year. It’ll be a full house so we decided to exchange gifts with each other early. John normally works Sundays but by a stroke of luck, got next Sunday off due to some rescheduling issues. That means we will have an entire weekend together! We decided to do “our” Christmas then and had started to plan a lovely couple of days with presents and stockings…the whole bit, just moved up a couple weeks. We wrapped each other’s presents last night and stuffed the big boxes beneath the tree. Then we sat staring at them, shaking them, squeezing them…completely and utterly tempted.

“Hey,” John nodded slyly at me. “You wanna just open them tonight?”
“No!” I cried. “We can’t do that.”
“Why not?” he countered. “It’s not like we have children we’re teaching to be patient or anything.”
“But what about our own willpower?” I giggled. “We’re supposed to be adults!”

You guessed it — we opened our gifts anyway. Normally I like Christmas Eve to be fancy with fun food, a nice dress, soft music… This time, we’d already eaten a thrown-together meal of black beans and I was wearing plain clothes but…we did have a small glass of box wine from the back of the fridge and threw our last paper log in the fireplace. Some Michael Buble Christmas music on Youtube serenaded us and afterwards John ran up to the gas station to buy a chocolate bar.

We mocked ourselves — two impatient kids who opened their Christmas presents on December 3! But we also knew that this would be one of those memories when we will look back nostalgically and say “Remember that Christmas when we just couldn’t wait for the special weekend we had planned?” Like last year’s tree, I fully expect to remember this Christmas memory fondly.

What about you? What is the special “Remember that one Christmas” moment in your life? That time your family did something out-of-ordinary. That first year in college with your new-found friends. Please share….’tis the Season!