Posts tagged ‘winter’

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

WARNING: For those of you who are sensitive about this topic, I am going to be discussing the true nature of Santa Claus.  So read further at your own peril.

tree

As I mentioned in a previous post, I celebrated every Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house.  This meant that my family and I were in Rhode Island on Christmas Day every year, while our house, our tree, and — most importantly — our chimney were all in upstate New York, 365 miles away.  So I didn’t grow up with the experience of waking my parents before dawn on December 25th to see what Santa had left under our tree.  We had to wait until we got home.  We would usually stay in Rhode Island through the New Year, and then drive the 8 hours home along I-90.  When we got home, no matter what time of day or night it was, the Christmas tree lights would be lit, the stockings would be full, and presents would fill the space beneath our tree.  It was an extra layer of Christmas magic that could not be easily explained, since our parents were in the car with us the whole way home.

One year, I distinctly remember Santa coming early so that we could have Christmas before we drove to my grandparents’.  My mom, sister and I had gone out to buy some last-minute gifts, and when we got home, the tree that we had left off was lit in the middle of the day.  My mom first noticed this and pointed it out when we were in the driveway.  When we got inside, Santa had come early, just for us!  I immediately ran back outside, thinking that I would be able to see the reindeer’s tracks in the fresh snow on our roof — and they were there.  A single line of tracks, to be sure, and roughly squirrel-sized, but the poem says tiny reindeer, right?  It was proof enough for me.

angel

So every year, my sister and I went through the toy section of the thick department store catalogues that were sent to the house (anyone else old enough to remember this?), made out our Christmas lists, and then sent them off to Santa.  As my sister and I got older, belief in most of the pantheon of magical beings went by the wayside.  (I actually remember going to the principal of my elementary school with a few other kids in 2nd or 3rd grade to complain about a book in our classroom that debunked the Tooth Fairy myth.  We were trying to be morally outraged.  He was surprisingly unsympathetic.)  But we could never quite explain away Santa.

We took a crack at it one year.  My mom promised to tell the truth, if we guessed right.  Did my parents put the gifts under the tree while we were waiting for them in the car?  No, there clearly wasn’t enough time for that.  Did they hide the gifts with our neighbor Elaine, who always took care of our cats while we were gone, and have her put them under the tree?  No, they didn’t do that either.  Several minutes of questioning left us stumped.  There was no other explanation: Santa was real.

shadows

I remember walking home from school with my best friend Stacey at age 12, with the two of us comparing all of the evidence we had for the existence of Santa.  We compared traditions, told stories of the year we got a letter, or an ornament direct from Santa, complete with our names on them.  We were proving to ourselves that he could be real, willingly suspending a belief that most kids have grown out of by the time they get to that age.

So that year, or maybe even the next, my family came home from Rhode Island, and walked into a house that was cold and dark.  The stockings were empty.  The floor under the tree was bare.  I was shocked to see the house looking so desolate.  I turned to my mother and burst into tears.  She was surprised, and hugged me with a somewhat bewildered look on her face.  And then she reminded us that, years ago, she had told us Santa would stop coming to our house when we stopped believing in him.  I’m pretty sure I wailed something along the lines of, “I do believe in him!”  But she pointed out the simple fact that I had missed: this was the first year that neither my sister or I had made out a list for Santa.  And I realized that she was right, I deserved nothing under the tree, because for the first time I had forgotten about Santa.

ornaments

We went upstairs, gathered up all the wrapped presents, brought them downstairs, and filled the stockings.  It was a fine Christmas, once I got over the initial shock.  And I got used to walking into a dark house every year, and then bringing down the presents one at a time to put under the tree.  But I think there was a grain of truth hidden in what my mother said.  Santa only stops coming if you stop believing.  And I decided at a young age to believe. 

Because now, every year, I am excited to make and give gifts from my heart to the people I love, and to see the surprise and excitement on their faces when I manage to find exactly the right gift.  That’s my inner Santa at work.  And as long as you learn how to go from waiting for Santa, to being Santa, you know that he will be there every year, bringing the magic and the surprise of Christmas into your home.  At least, that’s what I believe.

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Christmas Funk

For some reason, I am not at all in the Christmas spirit this year.  Maybe it’s the lack of snow, since the foot of snow we got around Thanksgiving has long since melted away.  Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from dealing with Cara’s injuries.  Maybe it’s the monetary stress added by her vet bills.  Maybe it’s simply the fact that T and I will be celebrating by ourselves in our new home, instead of joining the Christmas hullabaloo that is generated by my family in Rhode Island.  All I know is, I am not feeling Christmassy this year.

We don’t have a tree yet.  I haven’t decorated the house in any way, shape, or form.  I couldn’t even come up with a good Christmas list this year.  And I just did all of my Christmas shopping online, today, during my lunch break.  It was quick and dirty, and I’m not very excited about the gifts I got for my family.

I am happy with the gift we got for my dad, relatively satisfied with what we got for my sister, feeling like I didn’t do enough for my mom, and still thinking about T’s present.  I have made gifts for my aunts and all my cousins, as is my tradition, but they are small and, I fear, unimpressive this year, even if they are useful.  I did knit a few gifts on request, and I hope that they will go over well.  But I won’t see anyone’s faces when they open my presents, and that is the best part, really.

I have one more gift to knit, and then I can pop everything homemade into prepaid shipping boxes and send them on their way.

family

I can tell you exactly what will happen to my gifts as Christmas Eve nears.  They will join the pile under and around the Christmas tree in the house that was my grandparents’, where my cousin D now lives.  It is an artificial tree, set on top of milk crates to make lots of room below, tied to the ceiling so it doesn’t tip over, with spotlights on it so that its glory can be seen by any and all passers-by through the front window.  The pile underneath it will start building on the 22nd or 23rd, eventually being topped off on the evening of 24th.

There’s a good chance, since everyone knows I make the same gift for the whole family, that my presents will actually end up on the shelf above the couch.  From there, they will have a good view of the long table in the center of the room, set for at least 12 people, and they might even be able to peek into the kitchen to see the extra 5-7 seats there, along with the buffet spread out around the perimeter of the room.  They will see my parents, my aunt, and all my cousins as they begin to gather for a feast of ham, pork pie, pasta with my grandmother’s meat sauce, and all the trimmings, including the requisite relish trays filled with pickles and olives that run down the center of the table.  They will see someone turn the heat down or off as so many bodies and voices fill and heat the room.  My gifts won’t be able to hear themselves think over the din, but they can sit back and listen to any of a half-dozen conversations criss-crossing over the tables.

After dinner is complete, the table will be pushed back so that the far end is against the kitchen wall, making more room in front of the tree.  Some people will have come for dinner in their pajamas, while some will change into them now.  Everyone will take their traditional seats on the couches to either side of the tree, at the table, on chairs, and on the floor.  My dad will go around the room and take bets on the total number of presents under the tree, just like my grandfather used to, and he will keep track on the very same blotter that has been used for almost 20 years, reminding everyone of last years’ total so they can gauge their guess this year.

One person, probably my cousin N, will play Santa, passing out gifts to everyone in turn, and calling out who it is to and from, along with the cry “One more, Uncle J-!” to my father each time.  Each gift will be opened and admired by the whole group before the next one is passed out.  Someone, usually a young male cousin, will be stuck with a trash bag for wrapping paper, which will be lobbed in crinkled balls at his head throughout the night.

Throughout it all, conversations will continue to flow.  At some point, as everyone’s attention starts to wane, my mother will come out of the kitchen with dessert.  There is always monkey bread, and cream sandwiches, made from puff pastry filled with homemade whipped cream and either chocolate pudding or raspberry jam.  After everyone has had the opportunity to eat and stretch, it’s back to your places to finish opening presents.

Throughout the night there will be phone calls, from cousins in Maine and Colorado, my sister in North Carolina and me in Utah, with the phone passed around to say Merry Christmas to everyone.  As the crates supporting the tree become visible and the presents start to run out, someone will reach up onto the shelf and N will pass all my gifts out at once, giving my father a total count to add to his tally.  I hope, for my gifts’ sake, there will be some oohs and aahs when they are opened.  The final few gifts are stashed in the tree itself, and my cousins’ youngest children get to hunt through the branches to find them.

Once the last gift has been passed out, the total number is announced, and the person whose guess came the closest without going over gets a crisp $5 bill.  Then there is more nibbling of cookies and desserts, chatting and laughing, the packing up of gifts into boxes and bags to be carried out to cars, accompanied by the grandfather clock striking 10 pm, 11, maybe even midnight.  And then our family Christmas is over, and the little ones go home to bed, knowing that Santa will come with even more gifts the next day.

That is the Christmas that I am missing this year.  I know that T and I will be making Christmas traditions of our own, and maybe that is what I need to focus on to get my Christmas groove back.  Family is what makes Christmas special, and the two of us are all the family we need for it to be magic.

Winter fun

It’s a week later, and I am finally getting the time to blog about what my family and I did while they were here for Thanksgiving.

For the most part, we sat around in the warm house, watched TV and movies, cooked and ate lots of good food, and played with laptops and video games.  But despite the bad weather for most of the weekend, we did venture out a few times.  My sister was the inspiration for the first adventure.

Althought we grew up in upstate New York and are no strangers to snow, my sister J has been living in warmer climes for almost 10 years now.  So she really wanted to go sledding.  We went and picked up a few cheap plastic saucer and toboggan sleds, and then tried to figure out where to go.  T called a few coworkers with kids, but didn’t get much info, since most of them live well to the south of us.  So my fearless mom walked up to total strangers in the parking lot and got directions to a sledding hill that wasn’t too far away.

When we got close, we saw a family carrying sleds and followed them to the hill.  There were a couple of slopes behind an LDS temple for us to choose from.  We had the dogs with us, since they love the snow, so we decided to take a slope that no one else was on.  The last thing we needed was to freak out some parents if a giant, playful German shepherd decided to chase their kids down the hill.

Since my sister was the instigator here, she definitely took the most runs.  There were a couple of jumps built into the hillside, and she even went over them a few times.  But my mom and dad and I hit the slope too.  We had a great time, and the dogs thought it was a lot of fun to chase us around, and try to “fetch” snowballs.  Finally, even though T’s back was acting up, he decided to take a couple of runs with the dogs.  He could only convince Cara to get on the toboggan with him once, but it was hilarious!

The only photos we got were on cell phones, so the quality isn’t great, but we definitely had fun.

J heading for a jump

landing jumps hurts!

me and the dogs

"That was fun Mom!"

Dad going backwards

T and Cara on the sled, with Diezel chasing

A few days later, I was trying to get us motivated to get out of the house again.  For some reason, my family and I decided to go visit Antelope Island.  It’s a small island in the Great Salt Lake, that was historically used by the LDS church to herd sheep, horses, and other animals to raise money to help LDS settlers come out west to Utah.  I’d been out there last spring with my mom, and several family members had gone when they were here for the wedding.  Nowadays, there are bison and pronghorn antelopes on the island.
There is an 8-mile causeway across the lake to get to the island.  Once we got to the island, the roads were snowy and not very well cleared.  We drove around a little bit, and got to see several small groups of bison grazing in the snow.  There were several different species of raptors and other birds flying around, too.  We drove around a bit, eventually stopping at a lookout spot.  There were a few bison and a bevy of ground birds, either partridges or chukkars, right nearby that I managed to snap a picture of.

snowy wonderland

Those are the bison, just past the edge of the hillside

After just a few minutes out in the snow and wind, we decided it was time to head home.  On the way back across the causeway, we saw an open area in the lake where several flocks of wild ducks and seagulls were swimming around.  There was a canid of some sort standing on the far bank, hoping to get close enough to snag a duck or two, although they were definitely keeping their distance.  With J the zookeeper in the car with us, we had a long conversation about whether it was a coyote, a gray fox, or a Mexican wolf.  His tail looked too thick for a coyote to most of us, but I thought he looked too big to be a fox, and he had the wrong proportions for a wolf.  We drove a little further along the causeway, and spotted another of the canids, really close to the edge of the lake.  After doing a little research on canid species in Utah and looking at some photos, I am pretty sure what we were seeing was a coyote in his thick, winter coat.
All in all, I think we had a really good time while my family was here.  Good thing my dad knew how to drive all over an isolated island in a minivan in the snow.  *smile*

Paper Snowflakes for Grownups

As soon as Halloween was over and the first white flake was floating in the air, my coworker C was making paper snowflakes.  She has a passion for them, and makes dozens every year.  Soon, not only did the windows of her office start to fill up, but snowflakes started appearing in other people’s offices too, all snipped by C.

flakes indoors and out

I’m pretty good with paper and a pair of scissors, and I always loved making snowflakes, even into my teens, but it had been a long time since I’d made one.  Then a lovely, delicate snowflake appeared on my office window:

C's flake

The gauntlet had been thrown.  I had to make a flake.

Because some of the curlicues in C’s flakes reminded me of the designs the Kyrgyz people use in their felt carpets, called shyrdaks, I decided to make a shyrdak-inspired snowflake.  My their nature, these designs are bi-laterally symmetrical, so I knew they would work well in this medium.  I also had practice drawing these designs, since I wrote my thesis on them, and often sketched a design in my field notes.  I folded my sheet of copier paper into eighths, took a long while to draw a complete design out, and then started snipping away.

Kyrgyz-inspired flake

the inspiration

(I was really quite proud of how this came out, and am trying to figure out how I can preserve it once the holidays are over.  But that’s another post.)

Meanwhile, C was still snipping away.  Turns out, she does all of her flakes freehand.  Since I used to make snowflakes that way, I decided to try one.  It came out looking like the Girl Scout symbol in tiger print.  I hated it, but C pretended that she liked it, so it went in with the growing collection on her office door.

find my flake?

 It was back to the drawing board, literally.  Once I realized that symmetry was the key, I started thinking about other possible themed designs.  Since I’m an archaeologist, I figured I needed to make one of these:

projectile point flake

And then for the historical archaeologists in the office, I of course had to make this one:

bottle flake

 I started looking up actual photographs of snowflakes for inspiration, and realized that ice crystals for in a six-spoke pattern, not an eight-spoke one.  So I folded a sheet of copier paper in half, then accordioned it into just three folds, and lined up the edges as best I could before creasing.  (I shared this technique with C, as you can tell from a few of the flakes on her office door.)  Looking at real snowflake outlines for inspiration, I drew and cut this flake:

ice flake

When I tried another one, attempting to somehow integrate all the great patterns created by ice crystals in the center of real flakes, I ended up with something that looked like Eastern European folk art, or a wood block print:

Polish flake

Meanwhile, I had mentioned colored snowflakes to C, who was having a great time experimenting with them in her office:

bright flakes

spiders, crabs, or frogs?

Finally, she gave me another inspiration for a snowflake design, something she does all the time freehand, but that I had to draw out before I could pull it off.  Can you figure out the basis for this design?

mystery design

In a year when budgets are tight, why not try making snowflakes for your office, home, or tree decorations?  You don’t need to be a little kid to like them!