Christmas Eve Under the Arches 

(I wrote this for a newspaper contest when I was 14 and won, and now I’m making you read it, suckers, because I just rediscovered it in my basement excursions.)

Our family doesn’t have strict or ornate Christmas traditions. I’m not going to tell you about some fascinating cultured experience. After all, the Grimms are pretty much your average bunch of Americans. But one family ritual stands out above the rest in a quirky example of an unconventional Christmas.

That famed night sneaks up and we head for the Christmas vigil Mass as the stars prick the dark sky. After the Mass has ended and frazzled parents are chasing their giddy offspring in all directions, we have one destination that is set in stone: McDonald’s. Our car pulls up by the kiddie play place and the four of us emerge into the brisk night air, headed for the Golden Arches. Dressed in our Christmas finest, we slide into a vinyl seat and eat our meals from paper gags.

The Grimm clan has chosen Mickey D’s for Christmas Eve dinner ever since we moved to Tallahassee about seven years ago.

I think it was my father who suggested it as a joke, but the slightly insane tradition stuck. While many families are devouring beautifully prepared dinners in their dining rooms, we sit in a plastic booth and unwrap our Big Macs.

There are slight variations on the routine, because time alters traditions slowly. When we were younger, we insisted on playing on the slides and ball pits after popping off our little patent leather shoes.

Only forfeited when the weather was bitterly cold, we had the little plastic playground to ourselves and played to our hearts’ content. As tastes change, the meal we choose from the menu also changes. And alas! We kiddies are no longer devastated by not getting the toy we hoped for in our Happy Meals.

But many customs still withstand. Dad always teases us with the threat to take us back to church for Midnight Mass if we don’t behave. Mom always insists that we order whatever we want and top it off with big gooey sundaes, providing we clear our plates (so to speak). It’s quite an experience to munch calorie-laden food and shoot straw papers at your family while enjoying the fast-food restaurant that is so uncannily devoid of anyone else, much less a very cheery family like ourselves. The roads are always nearly deserted at 8 o’clock on Christmas Eve, and as the four of us coast home we absorb the vibrant holiday spirit bedecked on all the houses, and think of the morning to come.

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(Just a couple years after writing this contest entry, I met a boy I eventually married, a boy whose Christmas Eve birthday changed my traditions forever. These days, our family is divided between three states. My sister is vegetarian and doesn’t eat much McDonald’s; I have three children who already eat too much McDonald’s. But our family still manages to get ourselves to Mass, somehow, and we are still a very cheery family. Merry Christmas.)

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The Discipline of Christmas Cards

Since Pippin was born five years ago, I’ve been sending out photo Christmas cards each year. It’s an opportunity to take stock of what’s happened in the year, of what’s worth reporting, as I sift through pictures from the year and maybe add a message. It’s an opportunity to be grateful.

If you’ve had a new baby this year you can combine the Christmas card roster with birth announcements or baby gift thank you cards. And if you haven’t had any babies in this or any year STILL SEND ME A CARD. I want to see your face and I will leave your card hanging for an embarrassingly long time. (You can even take hilarious pictures of yourself with your pets, like my sister does.) Whatever you choose, you’re giving a little beauty to the people in your life.

It doesn’t have to be a big and expensive ordeal. Use your Google address spreadsheet. Buy postcards — they’re less expensive and require cheaper stamps, and you don’t have to write a long personal message. Timeliness isn’t that important. Send 12 Days of Christmas cards, or new year cards, if you’re getting a late start this year. If you get an early start next year, you can buy a voucher or get 50% off deals around Thanksgiving.

Watch a movie and knock out the whole set, or challenge yourself to address five a day. Sit beside the fire listening to Christmas music or a good audiobook.

Put in the effort and start your year off right — not with more stress but with a small, thoughtful hello to the people who have touched your life this year.

Your friends will be glad you did.

Do you send Christmas cards?

In Favor of Lying In

Lying in view

Last month, J and my parents gave me the gift of a lying in week. For a whole week, I mostly stayed in bed with little Elizabeth Ann.

I read The Awakening of Miss Prim and half of An Inqusitor’s Tale and a third of another novel I abandoned. I watched the first season of The Durrells in Corfu on my phone. I nursed and texted when I needed a snack. I wafted downstairs once a day like Mary Crawley to greet the older kids before retreating back to my life of luxury. I took the maddening advice of old ladies everywhere and slept when the baby slept. It was glorious.

When Pippin was born five years ago, I felt banished to the bedroom. Like I was too messy and immodest for human company as I tried to figure out nursing. Like I’d be pinned down by this baby forever and unable to accomplish anything ever again.
Fast forward five years and I know this season is fleeting, and a luxury — if still messy and tired and tender. Soon enough I reentered the swing of things, but Elizabeth and I were both strengthened and relaxed by our snuggle time getting to know each other and recover.

Have you been able to take a lying in before easing back into real life?

Commonplace Book, 42

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

 

What I’m fixing:

  • Still coasting on the kindness of others.
  • Suet, with the kids. Gross, I️ guess. But it uses up pantry odds and ends and seemed an appropriate activity for St Nicholas Day because, you know, generosity. We used:
    • melted bacon grease, beef fat, coconut oil
    • the last bits of: golden raisins, grits, oatmeal, sunflower seeds and chopped peanuts.
    • I read you could add cayenne to scare off other critters and since a friend recently found an opossum in our trashcan, we added some.

We poured the satisfyingly creepy brew into the silicone snowflake mold I thought would be awesome for compound butter (no) and set it on the porch to cool. Then we froze them, popped the pucks out and put one in the mesh bag you get with oranges or onions. Please don’t tell me if one of these ingredients will decimate the local avian population. The kids are so proud.

Classing up the neighborhood

What I’m reading:

  • 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest or Dad — found and shared by a friend. #4 and #5 made me laugh out loud.
  • How Chickens and Goats Are Helping to Stop Child Marriage
  • The Bear and the NightingaleI’ve been reading this Roo’s whole life (ha!) and can’t decide if it’s worth it or not. Anyone have an opinion one way or another?
  • A Christmas Carolwhich J is reading aloud to me and the kids after the dinner. I think Pippin is getting maybe 10-20% and Scout none at all, but we are communicating something we love, and it’s time we might otherwise allot to TV or more chores. Instead, we sit around the Advent wreath and then the fireplace and kids snuggle with us and we slow down just a bit, and if that’s all they take away from the reading this year, that still seems like a wonderful start.

 

In other news, occasionally Roo deigns to open her eyes now
This time last year:

    Sisters

    Today my little sister turns 30. Today our little family also continues the long, giddy, exhausting process of adjusting to growing a bit larger with my kids’ own little sister finally here in our arms. And both have me thinking about sisters.

    I have lousy pregnancies and probably it’s slightly insane that I keep enduring pregnancy (always secretly hoping for different results, but as one friend said, I have a pretty damning data set at this point). But one of my big driving factors, one of my best sustaining thoughts, is how much I’ve loved going through life with my sister.


    We are, it must be admitted, dramatically, often comically different people. (Gamely attending a kid’s birthday party with me recently, she was asked her main areas of freelancing, and with only a deep breath, admitted cooly to the inquiring Catholic moms, “Sex and relationships.”) When we were kids, we squabbled a lot, but couldn’t resist reconciling — who else were we going to play school or grocery store with? She’s the only other Floridian I know who basically can’t swim, and when I come across something on the internet I find bizarrely funny, she’s the first person I want to share it with.

    Even when we fought mostly bitterly, it’s been such a gift to have someone who grew up the same way, who knows about our mother’s penchant for lipstick or the way our dad blared classic rock on Saturday mornings while he waxed the car. We are very different, but I admire so much about Beca. She can put anyone at ease around her, while I stumble through small talk. She mustered enough determination to survive the cesspool that is Brooklyn [my opinion, not hers], carve out a freelance career, and light out for Atlanta. She’s also an enthusiastic and indefatigable aunt to my kids, snagging them books and gummy bears and gobbling their bellies till they squeal with delight — and while I don’t require that you like my kids, I’m going to like you much better if you do.


    I got through my pregnancy with Scout knowing I was giving Pippin the gift of a sibling, and I was buoyed through the long and waddling months carrying Roo, knowing that our house would someday have the laughter and arguments and comradeship of sisters: like the Dashwoods, or the Marches, or the Penderwicks, or the Grimm girls. Scout and Elizabeth are only a few months further apart than Beca and I are, and I can’t wait to see their friendship and sisterhood develop in the coming decades.


    And I’m forever glad to know my little sister will be there to watch it, too.

    Pippin’s Books of 2017 (Age 4)

    This was the year of a chapter book awakening for Pip — we started with Ramona for reasons I can’t remember and from there he was insatiable. J had been working slowly through Hobbit and others since Pippin was twoish but now both adults were reading aloud to him and he was devouring audiobooks during quiet time much faster than I could source them.

    We’ve only just started phonics so the only words he can read himself are “Pippin,” “police,” and “Grandpa” (!!!). We read a lot of picture books for fun, too, but I don’t track those. And his comprehension of these chapter books can vary — he regularly refers to plot details from Beverly Cleary books, but didn’t realize Beth March died until we watched a movie version of Little WomenBut he only has to listen to things that interest him, and I figure even if he doesn’t absorb all of some of the books he listens to, letting the words wash over him is still beneficial, especially if he enjoys it.

    I didn’t keep perfect records but I think he “read” 40-something unique books in 2017, which doesn’t account for the frankly disturbing number of times he wan’t to re-read the Henry Huggins books and other favorites. You can see the full list on Goodreads if you’re interested.

    I thought it would be fun to have him review his year in reading. You can probably tell from his answers he was less enthused!

    • What kind of books do you like?
      • “Police car ones.”
    • What was your favorite book Mama read aloud?
      • Henry Huggins
    • What was your favorite book Papa read aloud?
    • What was your favorite audiobook?
    • Who was your favorite character in a book?
      • “Captain John [from Swallows and Amazons] and also the Boxcar Children, Henry Alden.”
    • What books do you want to read next year?
      • All the same ones I did.
    Reading Swallowdale last month

     


    Commonplace Book, 41

    What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

    I’m soaking up “maternity leave,” which for a homemaker means having my husband home nearly full time and having meals brought almost every evening. We are still schooling and nursing and laundering and all the rest, but the pace is significantly relaxed.

    I am also counting down to Advent and trying to resist getting a tree till Sunday. It’s not easy, especially since Pip remembered about the feast of St Nicholas and started asking daily when he’ll get candy in his shoes.

    What I’m fixing:

    • Basically nothing. People are bringing us meals, which continues to be just the best. For Thanksgiving I️ fixed slow cooker green bean casserole (double the onions, of course), my mom’s chocolate chip pecan pie, and my mother-in-law’s cranberry sauce, and it was such a joy to cook again, no longer heavy-footed and heartburn-ridden, but I’m grateful that my holiday cooking was just a novelty in this season — it’s such a gift to have dinners taken care of instead of frantically attempting to cook with a clingy baby too small to fit in the Ergo.
    Even cuter than the pie maker in Pushing Daisies

    What I’m reading:

    • The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz. I️ don’t know if I️ loved it, but it was certainly awfully interesting:

    “Life is a song, composed and sung by God. We are but characters in His song. […] If we could hear our own songs, if we could see God’s creation the way God does, we would know it’s the most beautiful song there is.”

    • Five Little Peppers and How They Grew: aloud to the kiddos. So far I’m meh, but I was looking for something in the spirit of Little Women and Little Men, which Pip loved as audiobooks, and then I found this at a Little Free Library. At least they’re loving siblings, which can sometimes be hard to find, and it’s very anti-materialist (a la Little Women), just as the Christmas greed sets in.
    • How to Pray As a Busy Family: A Beginner’s Guide — mostly stuff I’d intuited but handily collected in one spot.

    This time last year:

    • Anosmia is a thing you probably didn’t know existed. Now you do.