A Few Of My Favorite Things


When Joe and I carried the Christmas storage containers into the house from the attic and shed, it was like getting re-acquainted with some old friends. After all, it’s been two years since we’ve seen each other.

Without going into the details, let’s just say that Joe and I erased Christmas 2020 from the calendar. Between his father’s deteriorating health and COVID anxieties, all was not merry and bright. It was, in fact, dark and dreary. With the rest of the world on hyper-happy, our sadness felt heavier — and no amount of holiday decorations could lighten our moods.

Earlier this year, the Fates did not allow us all to be together once more. Joe’s father passed away in February. While we find comfort in knowing he’s no longer suffering, there’s also the need to reconnect with traditions that were placed on hiatus. In a move to not feel so bad, Joe and I unboxed and unwrapped a few of our favorite things.

My favorite tradition, by far, is the Christmas tree. When we lived in New York, we always had a real tree, and we did the same when we first arrived in Florida. There’s a big difference when buying a real tree in NY as compared to buying one in South Florida. Shopping for a tree in a tent in 80-plus degree weather, while wearing shorts and listening to “White Christmas” felt like wearing an ugly Christmas sweater that’s sewn incorrectly. It never really fits the way it’s supposed to — so it’s an artificial tree for us.

This is the 33rd Christmas Joe and I have celebrated — and I know this because of the lone white ornament on a tree of red ornaments. I purchased it to commemorate our first Christmas together and it has its place on a lower branch in the back of the tree. It’s our little secret — although, you now all know.

Our first Christmas decoration investment was this Weihnachtspyramide, which I have translated to mean the Flying Nativity. With enough heat rising through the propellers, this thing can really spin! We found it in a Long Island pool store that used to switch out its summer stock for a holiday hodgepodge of decorations, trees, and lights. (This was so long ago that customers could bring in strands of lights and have the bulbs tested and replaced.)

Besides all of the spinning parts and its Old Worldness, I love its smell.  I’m not sure if the wood or packaging material was treated with incense, but as soon as I open the box, it’s as if the Christmas season has announced its arrival.

This is Grace Jones. Joe’s sister made this ceramic head long before I entered the picture. He referred to the head as Grace Jones. I continued it — and the Santa hat with the jingle bell on the end belongs to Grace — and no other ceramic head can claim it. Ever.

Nearby, is a small bowl holding a collection of my grandmother’s ornaments. I cherish these vintage glass ornaments. Like her, these are the things that can never be replaced.

The under-the-tree stuff is a game of “I Spy,” a collection of things that hold special meanings to us. . .

There’s the small Christmas book, The Magic of Christmas, my Aunt Pat gave me when I was kid. At the time, she worked at the Richmond Hill Savings Bank in Queens, NY — when banks actually gave things away! I’ve spent hours reading these classic Christmas stories and poems and staring at the illustrations.

When Joe was a boy living in Coney Island, he and his grandmother walked down the stairs of the final stop on the D-Line. At ground level, there were various shops under the elevated subway, one of which sold Christmas and novelty items. That’s when this Santa Claus (above, to the right of the book) — thanks to Nana — entered Joe’s life. . .  and he’s been with Joe (and now us) ever since.

Speaking of Nana, a few years later she surprised Joe with a Wishnick Santa. He may not be the Clausiest of Santas, but he’s sort of adorable in his own big-eyed way.

Front and center, is the nativity. My mother made the figurines in ceramics and my father built the crèche using branches from a tree in their front yard, my childhood home, and modeled it after their own crèche.

Of course, a list of our favorite things would not be complete without mentioning whiskers on kittens — or in this case, Muffola the cat. She’s never made an attempt to climb into the branches or knock over anything. Instead, she’s content to lounge on a prime piece of tree skirt real estate, behind all the stuff and under the lights.

Once fully decorated, its difficult to not be reflective this holiday season. So much has happened to us in the past few years that it’s a little difficult to not feel battered and exhausted. Now, supply chain issues are the latest source of anxiety, stoking fears that the holidays will be ruined.

Maybe, just maybe, this is a chance to return to a simpler Christmas and to cherish what we have. One of the simplest Christmas treats I have is this musical matchbox, an impulse buy with a wind up key. Slide open the box and music plays and skaters spin around the pond. Just a few seconds of this and I’m content.

My wish for all of you is that you find peace and strength this holiday season, that you find comfort in your favorite things (let me know in the comments what they are), and that you and yours have a happy and very, very healthy 2022.

A quick aside… After writing this post, tornadoes tore through several states and I can’t help thinking of so many people who lost so much in a matter of minutes. My heart and thoughts are with all of you. 

Repost: And So This Is Christmas


I used to love the news. Over the past several years, though, I’ve found that it brings me more stress and anxiety than information. As a result, I’ve done my best to avoid it. Every so often, though, a news story breaks through my wall — and one such item was the recent school shooting in Oxford, MI, which — according to CBS News — was the 28th school shooting of 2021. (There were 10 in 2020. Thank you, COVID.)

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Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: Small Packages & Good Things


As 2019 comes to a close, I thought this would be an excellent time to wrap up a few loose ends — or, rather, unwrap a few small packages and share the good things inside.

Small Package #1:

In April 2018, before I left my nursery job in a local box store, I purchased a small vanda orchid. Vandas are incredibly beautiful plants. Flowers are large and plentiful, and the roots hang down from the pot openings in long strands, absorbing moisture from the air. Normally, when these orchids are sold fully grown and in full bloom, they can cost as much as $30 — and that’s on the low end.

It’s always been my gardening opinion to not purchase expensive plants, and to never purchase plants in bloom. Personally, I’d rather have a plant that hasn’t been forced into bloom so that I can enjoy the flowers for a longer period of time.

Such was the case with my vanda, a large purple and white speckled variety. I noticed it on an endcap in the garden center, part of  a display of various orchids packaged in small bags made of netting. These are younger plants, grown from award-winning stock, and all that’s needed is time, patience, and about $11.

The plant, though, never seemed to get any larger and I was surprised to see it send up a flower spike. Maybe, I thought, this is what they do. Eventually, the flower buds opened — and the flowers, although lovely, looked nothing like the original package. They were red and they were small. Very small.

Although, I no longer had the receipt, I reached out to the company, Better-Gro, on Facebook. I shared photos of the original packaging, which I had saved, and of the flowers that bloomed. In a true testament to their excellent customer service, they quickly responded with an apology

Good Thing #1:

Within two days, a small package arrived. Inside was a replacement plant that was my original intended purchase, and one which I am now showering with time and patience.

Small Package #2:

At about the same time, another package arrived in the mail. It was from a former colleague of mine, Diana Marik, an English teacher who is now living her retirement as a paranormal romance writer.

Good Thing #2:

I opened the package and there was the most recent addition to her Seven Deadly Veils series, Veil of Orion, a story of enduring love and the forces trying to tear it apart. There was also a note.

Hello Kevin,

 This is a surprise, I’m sure… In this trying world a spark of joy is here. Since I’ve already dedicated the first six books to close friends and family, I decided to dedicate this book to you.

When we had worked together, we were both independently thinking — dreaming — of writing a book. At the time, I was playing around with the idea of compiling blog posts and photos into a book format, which eventually became Seeing Green. I had heard through the school grapevine that Diana was also exploring writing.

One day, I visited Diana while she was on hall duty and we had our first book-writing conversation. We spoke of the stresses and time, genres and the possibility of self-publishing. At some point, I mentioned that I had registered for a self-publishing conference in NYC and I gave Diana the information. We met in the city that day, attended various workshops, and shared what each of us had learned.

I never forgot the simple act of kindness of informing me about the Self-Pub Expo in Manhattan and pretty much holding my hand when I was so nervous about discovering this ever-changing, crazy world of publishing.

 Isn’t it amazing how simple acts have such a profound rippling effect even when we’re unaware of it?

Amazing, indeed. Uncharacteristically, I found myself at a loss for words. I was touched, honored, humbled, flattered — and none of these words can truly capture the feeling. It was amazing.

Small Package #3:

Joe and I stopped sending paper Christmas cards years ago. As much as we love the idea of sending holiday messages to friends and family, there was something — whether it was the number of trees needed to produce the paper or the money for the cards and the postage, and then to have all of it tossed out at the end of the season… It all seemed wasteful and especially unnecessary in this digital age.

We did, though, have so many peoples’ emails, Facebook contact info, and cell phone numbers. For us, it made better sense to make our own digital card and send it to everyone — and they could print it or delete it. Either way, they would know they were in our thoughts.

Good Thing #3:

So, from Joe and me to all of you:

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas


 

Christmas

A local weather forecaster reminded me that in a few days it will be winter. The predicted high in Zone 10 for the day is 80 degrees, and I have to ask myself: “This is Christmas?”

It’s a lot like the question most people ask whenever I tell them I’m spending the holidays in south Florida. “Does it even feel like Christmas there?” they wonder. “I don’t think I would enjoy Christmas down there. How can it even feel like Christmas?”

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Repost: To All The Christmas Trees I’ve Loved Before


Adonidia Palm -- also known as the Christmas Palm.

Adonidia Palm — also known as the Christmas Palm.

If there’s snow falling on this WordPress blog, it must mean that it’s December — and since I’m in south Florida at the moment, I have a feeling these digital dots may be the closest I come to the white stuff this holiday season.

Take, for example, my recent trip to purchase a Christmas tree.

In recent weeks, large tents have popped up all over. It’s as if lots and lots of circuses have come to town. But under these big tops — necessary to protect the fresh trees from the heat of the sun — freshly bundled Christmas trees are lined up like soldiers, the smell of pine is everywhere, and Christmas carols play from the speakers.

It’s also 75 degrees — and I’m wearing shorts and sandals, which are a far cry from my typical bundled-up Christmas tree shopping gear, although I did add a sweatshirt to at least create the illusion that it’s chilly.

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