All the feelings at Christmas-time

On a whim, tonight I bought a rope of silver garland to add to my tabletop Christmas tree. The sparkles are exactly what I’d hoped for. I’m having a Christmas-time flashback of lying on the floor with my head under our family tree – a real one, unlike my current one – blurring my eyes so the lights and garland and tinsel and ornaments sparkled like some kind of trippy holiday kaleidoscope. Oh, how I loved that.

That was in my old house, in NH, which has long since been sold. That was the house where my dad set up his model trains, and where I played Ewoks in the snow with my cousins. Where giant pine trees loomed over the backyard, and orange shag rug lingered in the den. Where the shoe dropoff at the front door was always a muddy mess in winter, and where my grandma’s mobile home was a mere dash across the yard. For some 30 years, that house was Home for Christmas.

Home is different now. I have a home, that I have built for myself, here in Boston, but I have never had Christmas here, nor did I ever have it in Arkansas. Christmas doesn’t mean home anymore. I don’t say that as a negative. It’s just the way it is.

This year, my dog will be part of my Christmas for the first time ever. I am kind of giddy about that. I went down to the Seaport district to hear Christmas carols the other night. I have cookies baked and more to be baked, and presents to be wrapped. It all feels warm and cozy and right.

But amid this nostalgia, my heart is cracking a little bit. My sister-in-law leaves on deployment tomorrow. She’ll be gone for more than 6 months, missing Christmas with her family, including her two-year-old daughter, my niece.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that we, as a society, apply WAY too much pressure to this time of year. I can remember Christmases when I felt like a complete and utter failure, because I was the lame single person going to hang with her parents while everyone else had Baby’s First Christmas. Luckily, I got over that nonsense, but Christmas demands a lot from us – travel, shopping, cooking, good cheer, assembling of family, and oh yeah, pondering the story that started it all.

At any rate, it’s a lot, but despite our grousing about it, I suspect we’d never, ever, give it up. So as everyone decks the halls and debates which greeting to use (I like Happy Holidays, mostly because I like alliteration and guess what? Not everyone celebrates Christmas!), I’d like to ask that you take a second to think about my sister-in-law. She’s going to be on a ship with literally thousands of people who are not home for Christmas. Most of them missed Thanksgiving, too. Like her, there are many, many people out there, military and civilian, who keep things running during the holidays, who don’t get to chill around the fire or the tree.

I hope they have a chance to look at some sparkly lights at some point.

Cookies for Santa (1 of 1)

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Happy Holidays from Boston

I’ve been Boston for 20 days now, not counting my little “training” visit back in November. And I have a problem. I can’t seem to figure out what to say about it.

The problem is that this whole thing, this whole adventure – it doesn’t feel real. I keep waiting for the conference to end and for me to hop a flight back to Arkansas. 

I’m sure some of it has to do with not having my apartment or my stuff yet; I miss my books and my DVD’s and my striped chair, and weirdly, my Christmas tree.  The route I take to work isn’t mine yet and the walks Sadie and I take aren’t ours yet. I’m weary of the constant stream of details: permits, movers, packing, unpacking, paperwork, etc. My brain is tired from a new job and all the stuff I have learned, and have yet to learn. None of this is particularly exciting stuff to write about.

There are many little things that cause me to smile in delight; none are big enough for a whole blog post. I can’t imagine anyone caring that I find the sight of my dog’s footprints in the sidewalk snow (now melted) to be magical. My excitement at getting a package full of turtlenecks and new gloves is pretty silly in the grand scheme of things. The cycle of ice freezing/melting on Jamaica Pond is wondrous to me; to others? Yawn.

I am so impressed with the guys at the post office where I have my PO Box; they face lines 10-humans deep every day and are always polite and helpful (and one of them is named Vinnie. VINNIE.). There is a hat shop near where I live – a shop with nothing but hats, people. The other night I bought Christmas presents at a cute little store full of American-made jewelry and gifts…one block from my B&B. I looked up movie theaters the other day online and there are dozens of them nearby. I have a season pass to the RED SOX this summer. During a break in packing last night, I walked down to the best ice cream store ever and bought myself and my pooch a little frozen treat.

And best of all in all of these little things? I like these people. Sure, there are too many tiny girls in leggings and skinny jeans for my taste, but I walk out of the house wearing just a little mascara and don’t feel like I’ve failed a makeup version of the Hunger Games. I’m surrounded by people of all colors and ethnicities; I hear different languages on the bus every day and I love it. And I have found the people to be nice, if not as effusive as I’m used to; the other night I had my backpack open, waiting for my takeout to go in there, and a young man made sure to let me know. Another night, I slipped a bit on the ice and the lady passing by asked if I was ok. More often than not, the bus drivers say hello to me if I say hello to them.  Yes, we all keep our heads down and there’s not a lot of eye contact, but that’s because there’s ice and slush all over our roads and, well, falling sucks.

And yeah, it’s snowed a lot already and it’s not even Christmas. If there’s any doubt that I’m back in New England, the weather has convinced me otherwise. Perhaps when I have to shovel my own stairs it will cement the reality of the fact that I actually, really, truly live here.

For now, here I sit at the airport, heading south to my niece’s first Christmas, a little glum to leave my dog behind, but looking forward to hanging with my family and eating all the wonderful foods I only get to eat once a year. A little girl just raced to the window, squealed, and ran back to her dad, crying “Daddy, I saw an airplane!!” I don’t remember when travel became mundane to me, but I’m glad that it’s still a new adventure for some. I want to give Southwest Airlines a high-five; the gate agents sound like real people while saying the same things over and over. I wish you all Happy Holidays – and I mean that as it’s meant; I love that my circle includes people of all faiths and beliefs, and I welcome you to say whatever holiday greeting you want to me. In fact, if you come up with something I’ve never heard before, that would be awesome.

Good tidings of comfort and joy to you all. Here’s hoping someone makes you wear foolish Christmas attire like this, and takes incriminating photos after:

Dog wearing antlers

Day 1 in Paris

Twas the day after Christmas
And all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring
Except me, how weird is that?

Bonjour from Paris, mes amis!  It’s about 8:40am local time, and I’ve been awake since about 8, pondering why, after spending yesterday day kicking some pretty serious jet lag’s butt, I’m not still sleeping.  And why I appear to be awake when my flatmates/travel buddies aren’t, since that’s NEVER the case.

So, jet lag.  What a bitch she can be.  For example, I’ve gotten a bunch of sleep, and still feel mildly hungover (I had ONE glass of wine last night, quit judging).  We had a great day yesterday, but there were multiple times when I honestly felt my eyes crossing as I tried to stay awake.

Briefly, the reason for this was that our flight left Dallas at about 5pm Dallas time, and arrived 9ish, Paris time.  Paris is 7 hours ahead of CST, for those keeping track.  Anyway – 9 hours on the plane with about 1 hour of sleep over that time – and then we decided to push through and have a full day in Paris so we’d get ourselves onto Parisian time.

So, we hauled our baggage up stairs, onto buses, onto the metro, and back to the flat.  For the first few days, we all have our own room, which is BLISS!  Then, we headed to Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris for the 12:30 Christmas Mass.

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The entire service was in French, so I spent much of it pondering the incredible architecture of the space, and the very real fact that, over the 850 year history of the cathedral, thousands of people have sought God there.  The inside of the cathedral is beautiful and awe inspiring, but I couldn’t help but feel that, for this non-denominational yet spiritually seeking girl, God, in whatever form you choose to worship, is just as present in the cathedral of the woods as he/she is in places like Notre Dame.  We can build places to inspire wonder, and we do, but they also exist in nature.

Anyway, lest I get too philosophical, let’s continue.

The next few hours were spent wandering the streets looking for shop windows.  Allow me to explain.  Most of the big department stores in Paris have huge windows facing onto the street, and at Christmas they deck them out in delightfully bizarre and creative displays that both highlight whatever fashion they are promoting and draw crowds to see the puppets and artwork.  Here are two of my favorites:

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Aside from the buildings reflected in the window, I hope you can see that these penguins are holding handbags and wearing wicked cool sunglasses. This was from the Louis Vutton window.

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I’m pretty sure this was a Dior window. One of the few with just one marionette – lovely!

Next, we headed to the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, where we skipped the museum and headed straight for for the tea room for some much needed sugar and caffeine.

Then, we headed down to the Champs-Elysees, that most famous of boulevards in Paris, with the Arc de Triomphe on one end and the Place de la Concorde on the other.  The street was dripping in lights, and there was a pretty impressive Christmas Market going on both sides of the street.

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There were big crowds, cheesy Christmas music, and the smells of hot wine, churros and roasted nuts.  We strolled from one end to the other (and also saw La Tour Eiffel sparkling like crazy for the holiday) and then headed to Goumard, which according to their website, is one of the most famous seafood places in Paris.  Thanks to a coupon, we ate there and didn’t blow our entire budget, and the food was tres yummy (although I spent most of the meal trying not to nod off into the superior fish).

And then, back to the flat where I passed out within moments of lying down.  And now, Day 2. My fellow creatures are definitely stirring, and it’s time to see what la jour has in store.  My goal for today?  Not to feel inadequate about all the French I’ve forgotten since the last time I was here, 15 years ago.

A bientot!

Holiday shopping survival tips

Other than a trip to the grocery store tomorrow, I am officially never shopping in America again…until 2013.   I’m sure I’ll drop some significant euros in France, but that’s another blog entry (or several).

Surprisingly, I didn’t kill anyone, either personally or vehicular-ly, during this year’s shopping escapades, and I’m in a pretty chill mood even after it’s all over.  I attribute that to several tactics that I hereby give to you:

1. Break up your shopping into segments – know what you want, and plan to go to the stores that are near each other.

2. Accept that you will have to walk from your car to the store.  And let’s face it, we can all use the exercise.

3.  Always turn right or use a traffic light.  Avoid left turns at all cost.

4.  Avoid Walmart & Target.

5. If you must go to Walmart or Target, go in the evening, on a weekday, around 9pm or 10pm.  You’ll breeze in and out with your sanity intact.

6.  Find some non-commercial Christmas tunes to keep you company.  It’s hard to be bitchy when Cantus is serenading you with their amazing a capella.

7.  Shop early (I didn’t do this, but I hear it works).

For those who aren’t done yet, I salute you.  Stay strong…you can do it.  And for those like me, who are done, try to keep the smugness to a minimum.  After all, everyone can’t be as awesome as we are.

It takes a village to get to Paris

This vacation planning thing is complicated, y’all.  Two weeks in a foreign country is a different animal than a few days in a gated community in Florida, or even a visit to the Rocky Mountains. There is so much to do I honestly wonder if the list will even end.  I think a lot of my sense of overwhelm comes from this being Christmas and the end of the year.  Or the end of the world, depending on your point of view.

Anyway…

Things I HAVE done that I’m impressed with myself for accomplishing

Completed all of my holiday shopping & mailing for other people, local and far away.

Distributed most of the booty from Cookiefest 2012.

Spent most of my Flex benefits money before the end of the year (new glasses – ordered online – I’m a genius)

Determined which three pairs of shoes/boots I will bring with me.

Decided on my baggage strategy: cross-shoulder purse, backpack (the same one I traveled around Europe with in 1997!) and small suitcase.

Notified my bank and credit card companies that I’ll be traveling.

Held my mail, stopped my paper.

Set up out of office messages on my computer at work.

Booked the Sadie Christmas Tour – 4 different places for one dog.  Poor pooch.  She’s not gonna recognize me when I get home.  Have I mentioned that I have awesome friends who are watching her for me?

Bribed another friend into taking me to the airport so I don’t have to pay for parking.

Managed to get American Airlines to move my flight to a later time, meaning I only have a 6 hour layover.

Scavenged two Admirals Lounge passes so that those 6 hours will pass in comfort with the “executives” in the American terminal.

Booked a hotel in Bayeux.

Things I haven’t done that mean I can’t relax just yet

Clean my house.

Buy a bunch of saline and bandaids to finish off my Flex account.

Locate and copy my passport.

Book a tour of Normandy.

Do enough laundry for two weeks of underwear.

Decide on my book/kindle strategy for the plane flight.

Pack.

Buy jeans, gloves, a new scarf and a hat.

Decide which coat/jacket to bring.

Complete my work week.

Sleep for more than 6 hours a night.

Figure out how not to kill my office plants.

***

Anyway, I just wanted to give a shout out to everyone who has offered their help to me.  I’m not sure if I could have pulled this off without you.  And if you have advice on the stuff I haven’t done yet, or more things to add to the list, let me know.  Maybe this post will become a vacation checklist in the future.  🙂