Sunday, December 26, 2010

This Week's column

Breathe in Christmas
Christmas decorating hasn’t been as exciting this year as in years past.

The outdoor lighting has been minimized; it seemed more of a hassle than enjoyable. But part of this year's d├ęcor includes a few simple window candle lights.

At night, I turn off the lights in the house and let the warm glow of the window lights and the lights on the Christmas trees fill my home.

I noticed one night while watching Masterpiece Classics on KET that this gives my house a nice old-time Christmas feel.

Surrounded by the antiques that fill my home year round and the flickering glow from the lights, my mind was transported back to Christmases of decades past. The Victorian feel of the show I was watching probably helped that mind set.

Then my mind wondered instantly to my affection towards the novels of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and the like. I thought of what Christmas might be like if it were truly by candlelight, under the deep night of a sky uninterrupted by streetlights and electric hums.

On many nights I cuddle up under my UK blanket with my trusty Labrador curled at my feet and just sit at the window and watch it snow in the glow of the window light.

If I had a fireplace I would have used it to hear the slow crackle of the fire and feel the warmth flow through the room.

I thought of a time when a simple piece of fruit or a handmade gift brought joy to those on Christmas morning. When the day truly was more about being with the people they loved the most rather than the elaborate nature of a gift.

Popcorn and handmade ornaments filled the tree and the fresh smell of evergreen welcomed the morning. I can almost smell the popcorn popping over the fireplace now.

It wasn’t a race to get to as many places as possible. And when families did visit, it wasn’t for a few short hours. They stayed together in each other's homes and the time stretched for days rather than hours.

Even though the temperatures have dropped outside, the more I continued to think about it the warmer I felt.

With the advances in technology and the speed of life, we often find ourselves as a culture thinking the best times are now. Sure, I like modern convenience the same as the next person. But at Christmas it would be nice to sit back, enjoy the moment and slow down a bit.

I find myself so busy with the “things” of Christmas that I don’t have time to reflect on the true meaning. To some that means family, for others the celebration of the end of a year leading into the new one.

But Christmas for me is about something more.

For me it’s about the birth of Jesus and everything he means to me. I get so caught up in getting the right gifts, making sure the house is decorated, getting the cards mailed and going to parties that I don’t take the time to stop and reflect why I am celebrating the holiday to begin with.

So I’ve tried to make a pact with myself to take some time during this season to just sit and be still. To quietly reflect on the reality of a birth that changed my history.

To sit in the warm glow of the lights with a warm cup of coffee and a dog curled at my feet, enjoy the feel of the past and reflect on life and what Christmas means to me.

My wish this Christmas is to take a moment to breathe in the spirit of Christmas. To slow down and not get caught up in the business and stress of the season.

Everyone do it together now. One, two, three ... breathe. Doesn’t that feel better?

Have a merry and calm Christmas

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This week's column

Farewell to a furry friend
He came into her life as a young dog, first belonging to her son, who had always wanted a black lab named Vader.
A lab golden retriever mix, he always had been an anomaly, afraid of water. He even sunk to a bottom of a pool once, requiring someone to jump in and rescue him. His swimming instincts never worked quite right.
When her son was home from college one weekend they sat down for a friendly game of cards. As a joke, her son put Vader up as a bid during one hand. She won decidedly; in return Vader was hers for keeps.
He became her BGB — that’s best good boy. A smart dog, he could put a dog biscuit on his nose and flip it up into his mouth. He loved going “bye bye in the car” and riding with his family.
Vader also had his quirks. The food bowl had to be in the perfect spot before he would eat out of it. It if was in the wrong spot he would sit by it and bark and whine until someone moved it for him. Did I mention he was a bit rotten?
For 13 years Vader was a great companion for my mom. She would sit and talk to him and probably tell him more than she would her closest friend.
Sadly, a few weeks ago Vader passed away. He had gotten older, riddled with fatty tumors and arthritis, until finally his age caught up with him.
It wasn’t like losing an actual person, but he did become a part of the family, always in the background keeping watch.
While at home for Thanksgiving it was the little things I missed about him.
Vader’s spot during meal time was under the table, and I usually would have to either prop my feet on him or find somewhere else for my feet to rest. This time, when I sat down to eat, I actually had a place to put my feet.
He also used to sit and wait for me to finish my Diet Coke when I was there. He loved to take the plastic bottle and chew off the top. He never ate it. He just liked taking off the top for some reason.
I even missed aggravating him. You see, it was often I who moved the food bowl just to hear him fuss.
While not a human member of the family, he was a furry one who will be missed. It’s weird coming in their door with Vader not there to greet me.
They still have Dad’s dog, Jack the Wonder Dog, but I think even he’s missing old Vader a bit.
Dogs quietly come in and out of our lives, but each leaves a special mark. The cuddly face that warms your heart in the sad moments, the funny things they do not realizing how entertaining they are or just the comfort they give curled up beside you on the couch or at your feet.
They hold you close to their heart and treat you like you are the most wonderful thing they’ve ever encountered, or at least a close second to peanut butter.
Mom claims she’ll never get another dog because the emotional attachment is too great. But I’ve heard that story at least three or four times before.
Vader Dog , as I often called him, will be missed and will never truly be replaced.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

As Seen on TV Holiday Gift Guide column

If your family’s like mine the gift exchange at the family Christmas party can be a bit frustrating. Getting together with family is always good but sometimes the pressure of finding the right gift can be a bit challenging.
If this is what you see in your future for this Christmas I have a suggestion for you. Reading that back sounds a lot like an infomercial. Please read in a loud obnoxious announcer voice.
My family used to draw names for Christmas. Last year we decided to spice it up a bit and have an “As Seen on TV” gift exchange. Most of us went to a local store to get the gifts instead of going with the two for one deals with outrageous shipping on TV.
We played it a bit like a white elephant and were able to steal each other’s gifts.
There was a plethora of useful, semi-useful and completely useless gifts.
It was so much fun we are trying to think of a new theme for this year. Thinking of a theme can be a fun new way to look at the gift exchange. Especially, if like us, there’s nothing you really need but still want to get into the spirit of giving gifts to your loved ones.
There were a few hot items people sought after in the exchange and my poor uncle was the unfortunate one to open all the good stuff, only to have it stolen shortly after opening it.
My grandmother had been talking about one of the Perfect Slice Brownie pans for a while leading up to Christmas. When it was her turn she made a beeline for it. Of course, she kept it the entire night because no one wanted to steal anything from our grandmother.
A Pet Zoom, Slap Chop, Mighty Putty, Jupiter Jack, Liquid Leather and the ever popular Snuggie were exchanged.
I was very happy to wind up with a combo gift. I got the Big City Slider Station and a Titan Peeler. That’s right, I said Titan Peeler. It’s just as amazing as it looks on TV.
But wait, there’s more!
During the exchange my aunt was so distraught to find out I didn’t have an Ove Glove that she sent me one in the mail a few days later. I have to admit it’s pretty good too.
So my advice is to get creative with the gift exchange and make it fun. That way it becomes less about the gift and more about the fun of being together.
This year we’ve kicked around a book or DVD exchange. When asked which one he preferred, an ever helpful uncle only answered “yes.” There’s one in every family.
So, if your Christmas gift exchange is getting a bit drab, be creative and spice it up a bit. Oh, a cooking spices exchange. That’s another good idea and can create yummy cooking too.
See, the theme possibilities are endless.