A Full Moon in December

It has been a full week fraught with surprise, worry, and anticipation. We are near the end of our fall semester, which means tests and papers and sorting grades, and then I came down with an upper respiratory infection suddenly. (It’s not the flu, praise God. I got tested.)

And then my father had a medical emergency on the other side of the country, followed by a midnight trip to the emergency vet for Salem just last night.

So much came at us at once, and every day since Saturday has felt too heavy to carry. I’m low on sleep, so I’m pacing myself.

Then I saw the moon, and it was so bright that it lit up the entire neighborhood. For the first time in a long while, I grabbed my camera, full of inspiration. (I’ve missed that feeling, that pull to take photos and capture something in the moment. Honestly, it’s been a long time.)

Photographing the moon is tricky. You cannot rely on auto settings or a tripod. You have to know exactly how to account for distance, darkness, and the high contrast of a bright moon.

Using the Nikkor 55-200 mm lens, I set my Nikon 5300: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/125th, aperture f/8. Then I dug my elbows into my sides and snapped.

Full moon on Dec. 11, 2019, 8 p.m. EST. Nikon 5300/Nikkor 55-200 mm. Setting: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/125th, aperture f/8

It could be clearer, and, truthfully, I wish I’d captured it earlier in the night when it appeared even bigger. But, it is was it is, and I am pleased.

With Advent underway, I can’t help but feel extra pensive. More than usual, even! This is a season of waiting, but after this week, I feel like I’ve waited beyond my portion – waiting for phone calls, waiting for updates, waiting for doctors to finally work their way around to me, to my dad, to Salem.

Mercifully, this moon made me stop and take a breath. It pushed pause on my list of worries. It reminded me that there is much more going on in the world than I am privy to and still, I am not forgotten.

How Christmas is 13 days away, I cannot understand. I swear it was just Halloween. More than ever, I need to unburden our schedule and intentionally slow down. This moon was just what I needed to remind me that time doesn’t have to go by so quickly.

The rain is not helping

I’m trying hard to unearth some Christmas spirit, but so far it hasn’t arrived. Thanksgiving came and went without Tami, which is still very strange and hard to understand. Dare I say it still doesn’t feel real? I thought that it would feel real when the holidays came around but I cooked all day with people in the house and caught myself thinking, “Nope. Still doesn’t feel real.”

Also, today marks one year that Aunt Debbie has been gone, and I’m reminded that I need to get another dove for our Christmas tree. Off to Hobby Lobby I go.

Doves on Christmas trees

Since we are doing a non-traditional Christmas this year and won’t be putting up a tree, I’ll pull out a few decorations from the basement so our house is somewhat festive. I have two small decorative trees that I’ll adorn with doves so we can remember those who aren’t with us anymore. I’ll pull out the nutcrackers and the Christmas books and, of course, we can’t forget Timmy. I refuse to let my fog affect the boys. At 12 and 9 years old, Christmas should still be wondrous and exciting. We still need to acknowledge Advent and carry on with a few of our traditions.

But I swear this rain isn’t helping. The weather man says it’s going to stick around for a few days. If only the temperature would drop thirty degrees.

Thanksgiving Family Photo 2014

Years ago my sister and I settled into a holiday rotation for hosting and being together so both sides of our families get equal shares of each other. We’re together for Thanksgiving one year and Christmas the next and vice versa.

This year we met at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, including my parents and Mamaw. Per usual, the week went by too quickly but I’m left feeling ever thankful that we had the time at all.
Family photo high resThis is my last week of graduate school. It’s not even going to be a full week since the novel (my capstone project) is due Thursday. I have one remaining assignment for Genre Writing and then I’m officially done. I’ll take a short break to enjoy Christmas and then I’ll start writing query letters (and crossing my fingers, and rubbing a rabbit’s foot, and looking for four-leaf clovers, and picking up pennies when I find them on the street…)

Being December 1 and all, Timmy showed up. I admit that I wasn’t prepared for Timmy to show up so soon, but we made it work. Thanks, Mom, for providing Timmy’s first treat to the boys.

Timmy on December 1

St. Nicholas came today

When I was in elementary school my family lived in Germany. Even though I attended an English-speaking Department of Defense school on an Army base, all students were required to take Host Nation, a course led by a German woman who taught us all about the country’s traditions, holidays, and history. We also learned basic German – enough to order from menus, to ask how much something cost in a store, and how to find the bathroom. We lived on base for only a short while, until my parents found a rental house in the German town. We became immersed in culture, riding our bikes back and forth to base, going to German shops, and swimming at the city pool. The best memories, however, were from the Christmas holidays.

St. Nicholas Day is a big deal in Europe. Children leave their shoes outside the front door so St. Nicholas can fill them with little trinkets and coins. He’s the centerpiece of every town parade and festival, dressed as Father Christmas the religious figure, not like Santa who slips down your chimney.

Like every other religious holiday, we’ve done well to commercialize it. St. Nicholas is why we hang stockings on the fireplace, after all. But originally, St. Nicholas was a compassionate bishop who cared for the “least of these,” particularly children. It is his goodness and generosity that we celebrate.

Since I put my shoes on the front porch for St. Nicholas when I was a kid, I decided to make that a tradition with my boys. They put their shoes outside last night and paced the living room this morning until I finally gave them the okay. The each received a few chocolates and a little toy. Then our advent lesson was on generosity.

I wouldn’t say that I’m anti-Santa Claus, because I’m not. I’m just pro-St. Nicholas. I just like having the historical reference to lay as a foundation next to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I like that we can marry Christmas traditions together instead of picking sides.

Advent houseTraveling St. Nicholas is our tree topper. St. Nick Oh – and guess who used my typewriter last night without permission? Silly elf. Timmy at the typewriter Timmy was here

The Christmas Season begins

We’re hitting all the angles this Christmas, from religious to silly, and we’re taking them all very seriously. We read scripture every morning in celebration of Advent, but only after the boys have searched the house for Timmy.

Timmy's spots

We also have an Advent house with 25 little doors, and inside each tiny compartment I slip a small piece of paper. Some mornings bring a piece of candy or a coupon for one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. Sometimes it’s just a reminder of how much they are loved, and other times it’s a special gift. For example, on the first day of Advent I gave the boys each a new Webkinz, which rocked their little socks off. To ensure the secrecy, I had to make SURE they wouldn’t open the December 1st door without us there.

Advent houseThough all of our interior and exterior decorations are up, we are still without a Christmas tree. Years ago we started the tradition of cutting down our own tree, which was suspended while we lived in Amarillo since there aren’t any tree farms in the area. Last year we found a local farm with good trees, but it didn’t measure up to the wonderful farm we used to visit while living in North Georgia. Rumor has it we might just take a little road trip.

In keeping (mostly) with the Four Gift Rule, my Christmas shopping is complete. I wrapped everything last week and ALL of the gifts fit in ONE Rubbermaid container. That has never happened before now and it actually makes me feel good that we’ve not overdone it.

Rethinking Christmas

It’s everywhere now that Halloween is over. Retailers pounce on the first of November ready to suck you into the “season of giving” and I have to physically restrain myself from joining in early. A few years ago Chuck made this crazy family rule about not putting up the Christmas tree until after Thanksgiving and because I choose my battles wisely I’ve not contested it. (Even though I totally disagree, Scrooge.)

Anyway, it’s been on my mind in recent years that my kids are getting too many gifts for Christmas. I know that sounds weird, and in comparison to other families and folks I know the amount of loot my boys get is noticeably less. Still, as they get older they ask for more things and Christmas becomes more about getting than giving. Thanks to the people of Target, who sent their Holiday Toy Catalogue to my house somehow, the boys are now obsessed over what might come their way on Christmas morning. I hear about it every day. They even flip through the catalogue while sitting on the toilet. No lie.

And then I saw this on Pinterest:

It’s almost like a challenge. How brilliant! When the boys were toddlers I attempted a three-gift rule (Jesus got three gifts so you get three gifts) but I failed miserably. I kept finding great deals or little things I knew they’d love to have, and that problem is no different today. Shopping for them is a blast! I’ve already found three or four things for both of them and tucked them away in my closet for Christmas. But now with this Four Gift Rule in mind, I’m reconsidering. Perhaps I’ll keep things tucked away for birthdays or special treats throughout the year, or maybe I’ll give these things away to other children on behalf of the boys. I’m not sure how it will play out but I’m trying hard to listen to the voice in my head telling me to scale it back.

Last year was the first year I made a bigger deal about Advent, which totally debunks Chuck’s argument that Christmas is a day and not a season, which is the foundation of his argument about no Christmas trees before Thanksgiving… But I digress. (I love you, babe!) Christmas is absolutely a season. It’s all about the preparation of our hearts and minds for the birth of Christ, but I’m afraid we’ve conditioned the boys to instead prepare their hearts and minds for the receiving of toys and video games. They might be disappointed this year when all of their hopes and dreams don’t come true under the Christmas tree, but I’m thinking this shift to a less-is-more holiday is necessary.

Remind me of this when I find a massive Lego sale or all the Avengers toys are half off.

Omen

I was all excited to make my Tennessee Vols pumpkin in early October.

And then it rained.

Cruel omen, no?

Anyway, let’s move on to Advent, shall we? I don’t have an official wreath but I’ve printed off a number of coloring pages and art projects to teach the boys about the season of Advent. December begins on Thursday, so we’ll have a lesson each day (even on weekends, which feels so wrong) leading up to December 25. We started talking about it this morning and Jackson’s eyes sort of glazed over, but for a five year old, he hung in there.

We also started decorating the house for Christmas yesterday and I found that I preferred some of the DIY holiday decorations I made last year while we were still in Amarillo and our things were in storage. I’m making the entire house as lovely as possible in anticipation of my family’s visit. This will be the first time they come to east Tennessee since we moved here in March, so I’m not leaving a single room untouched.