And so the holidays are over. The snowy, frigid, icy holidays. But that was just the weather.
The days themselves were lovely.
My brother and his family arrived at my mom's house of Christmas Eve and my niece was beaming as she walked into the house, carrying a curiously wrapped package. We dove into the appetizers (mom lets the kids pick the appetizers; the kids have exceptional taste) and those were gone in about 5 minutes.
Everyone was hungry, turns out.
And then we had dinner, the completely non-traditional-but-no-muss-no-fuss-at-the-last-minute lasagne and tetrazzini.
Our Christmas Eve schedule looks like this:
So, with the first two "Eats" behind us, we retired to the living room to dole out presents. We always gift the kids first. They're old enough now that a) they can contain themselves during dinner, whereas when they were younger, they were practically bursting, so anxious to get to the goods, and b) they don't receive as many gifts because what they receive is more valuable.
My older nephew asked for an art book – called "The Art Book" – that I also have, so I was happy to buy that for him. (I have the mini version. He got the heavy-as-a-phone book version.) He also received an iTunes gift certificate.
My younger nephew will be traveling this summer, so he received French Phrases for Dummies. I have German Phrases for Dummies and while I don't have much use for it these days, it's a very nifty little book. He also received an iTunes gift card.
And my niece asked for an Ugly Doll, which I thought was adorable. We're never too old for soft, squishy, huggable things. I have an Ugly Doll named Ox, who was a gift from all of them for a birthday a few years ago. Ox sits in the "booster seat" created by the fold-down armrest in the back seat of my car. For my niece, I chose Moxy because I like the idea of her embracing moxie in her life. And Moxy and Ox are siblings. We have Ugly Doll siblings. And she also received a Barnes & Noble gift card. I'm always happy to help them procure more books.
Once they were done opening all their gifts from my parents as well as me, including the little treats in their stockings, my sister-in-law handed out the gifts they brought for us. My parents received a gift card to a restaurant as well as tickets to a show. Which is perfect for them. "Consumable" gifts are ideal. They have plenty of stuff. So it's cool of my bro and sister-in-law to give them "experiences." They also received a framed family portrait. Also perfect. Even more perfect, actually. (Yes, I know that you can't quantify "perfect," that "perfect" is an absolute. Don't leave a grammar citation in the comments.)
I received a digital photo frame and a flash drive that my sister-in-law loaded with a zillion pictures but which still has room for a zillion more. I LOVE it. And then she gave me another gift. Two? Woot! The second, of course, was a framed family portrait. Except for this year's photo card, the most recent family portrait I have of them is just a photo taken on vacation one year, and the kids were much younger. So now I'm up to date.
Very pleased with both my gifts, I was surprised when my niece arrived with the curious package and handed it to me.
She had been at my house a few days earlier and once we'd baked cookies, we watched a bit of "Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit." We both love the bunnies. She announced that she was going to make a bunny when she went to work with her dad that week.
The package, of course, contained a bunny. And a carrot. And because I am the sappiest of saps, I started crying. Over the years, the kids have made drawings for me, and I have them all. And my niece, when she was little little, made a "necklace" out of a piece of string and a ball of foil. Onto the ball of foil she affixed two googly eyes and a paper "beak." It's a chicken necklace. And I love it.
But I love the bunny most of all. It's my favorite-est thing ever, and I have a lot of favorite things. I'm not quite sure where to put him. For now, he and his carrot are on my bedroom dresser. I need to find the perfect place of honor, a place where he can be seen and admired but is out of harm's way. I might buy a special display shelf or cube.
After we cleaned up all the wrapping detritus, we headed back into the kitchen for the final Eat on the schedule: dessert and coffee. My niece disappeared into the living room for a minute and returned hugging her Ugly Doll. My nephews had their books with them at the table. There's nothing like new Christmas stuff.
Later, they headed for home and my parents headed to church. I cleaned up the kitchen and put out presents for the morning and tried to stay awake until they got home. I almost made it.
In the morning, I was up first. I'm always up first. Mom followed a minute later. I try to be very quiet, but I always seem to wake her up. Dad eventually emerged from bed, bundled up in his pajamas and robe and slippers. Armed with coffee all around, we doled out presents to each other so that we each had our gifts next to us and could open them without having to get up and pass our another round.
Mom was concerned that I didn't have more to open, but I'd asked her to contribute money to the Greater Chicago Food Depository in my name in lieu of gifts. I have enough stuff. Still, she wanted me to have something to open, which was sweet.
So I received fabulous sheep slippers like ones I'd once bought for her. They're wool slippers and there's a half-sheep on each slipper so that when you put your feet together, you form a whole sheep. (She also received a replacement pair from dad this year. It was a very sheep-slipper Christmas. But dad didn't get a pair. They don't make him in his size. He did, however, get to pairs of slippers, an "outdoor" pair from mom, made of leather, and a squishier pair from me to keep at my house.)
And they very graciously gave me some money toward new tires for my car, the purchase of which is imminent.
But mostly, I watched them open their gifts, which I really loved. Dad is difficult to buy for but easy to please. He was happy with the clothes we picked out for him and his new pajamas. Dad is always up for new pajamas. Some dads receive ties, my dad receives pajamas.
And mom was happy with her gifts, including a really beautiful Irish fisherman's knit sweater and the aforementioned sheep slippers. And books. And her perfume. And she was inordinately pleased with a basket I bought for her. She wanted a serving basket. I found one that I knew she'd like at Crate & Barrel. I think it was the least-expensive thing she received, but mom has never been about the monetary worth of things. With her, it really is the thought that counts.
Christmas breakfast is always a nosh-fest: cookies, toast, leftovers, whatever strikes us at the moment. I made a coffeecake for the morning that we shared with my brother's family. We used to make it every year. This year, it just didn't taste the same. I think my taste buds have grown up. Well, part of me has to, I guess.
Mom and Dad went back to bed for a bit. I puttered around the house. I tried to nap later but it didn't work.
Christmas dinner was just the three of us. Mom roasted a crown roast of pork. For three people. We had a lot of leftovers, which was fine by us. With Christmas Eve's leftovers, mom didn't have to cook for about a week.
Christmas evening, we went to her brother-in-law's house for a little while. We don't usually go anywhere on Christmas evening, but we were invited for dessert, so we went. But we were all tired, so we didn't stay long.
Since then, I've doled out more cookies and still have more in the freezer, awaiting the return of neighbors who are out of town.
And yesterday, I de-decorated the house, which I do every New Year's Eve. I like to start the new year with my house back to "normal."
Every year, I write goals for the next year and seal them in an envelope. When I was done putting away decorations, I sat down at my desk and opened last year's envelope and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I accomplished from last year's list. Then I wrote a new list and sealed it and tucked it away.
Last night, I fell asleep watching "Hancock" (from what I saw of it, it's awful) and then headed to bed well before midnight. I heard some things blowing up outside and presumed it was the new year and then I woke up at 1:45 a.m. "Oh, we're doing this," I said, and turned over. I'm leaving insomnia in 2008, thankyouverymuch.
And so here I am, at my desk in my freshly organized office, coffee cup in need of refilling. The new year lies ahead of me, full of promise. This is the year I turn 40. Last night, the clock ushered in not just a new year for me but what will be a new decade. And I couldn't be more pleased about that.
I hope your holidays were all you hoped they would be, that you spent them with those you cherish.
And I hope you received something special. Everyone should experience the feeling that comes from receiving a bunny molded out of clay and love.