Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Empty-Nest Christmas Eve

An unusually quiet home on Christmas Eve.

I really am enjoying the whole "empty nest" thing, as a general rule. This is my first Christmas, though, in which all of my children are married and settled into their own homes. Not one remains under my roof. Sarah and Chris spent this evening having Christmas Eve with Chris's family. Dylan and Jake planned to meet up with friends to see the Christmas lights around town and then go back to their apartment to watch Christmas movies. And Jacob and Danielle, of course, live far away in Utah.

That left just Mark and me. I made us a tasty chicken stir-fry for dinner and then we settled in to watch a Netflix movie, the new version of Ben-Hur, which was actually quite good. As usual, Mark retired to his bed at 9:00, since he has to get up at 5:00 a.m. for work five days a week. Yes, even on Christmas Day. Denny's never closes. At least, not unless we're under threat of evacuation due to a nearby forest fire, which isn't likely when it's snowing outside.

With the house now truly silent, I retired to my office at the back of the house to write this blog post. Around 9:15, I thought I heard car doors slamming outside. I paused to listen, and then I heard feet clomping on my porch. As I approached the front door to see who was stopping by, I heard singing. I opened the door to find my brother Jeff, sister-in-law Dana, and several of my nieces standing in the freshly fallen snow, singing a carol. Too bad Mark missed it! They didn't stay long, having other homes to visit, but it was a joy to see them and share chilly-jacket hugs before they went on their way. Suddenly, it really felt like Christmas Eve.

My new little artificial Christmas tree on the day I set it up, a week ago.
The branches were still not arranged right because I'd given up halfway.
I was still sick and became too short of breath to finish it that first day.
The gifts on the floor beneath the tree are the ones we sent to Utah
a few days later for Jacob and Danielle.

The whole Christmas season has felt a little "off" for me this year. Some of it was due to taking on so many extra duties at work in order to be more prepared financially for retirement, as well as the non-joy of coming down with a cold just fifteen days before Christmas. (I'm doing much better now.) But I know it was mostly the adjustment to no longer having children here to make a Christmas for. They were my reason for decorating, for choosing the perfect tree, for putting up lights, for hanging stockings, for honoring traditions. Without them here, it was easier to be too busy, too sick.

Again, I'm not feeling "Bah, humbug!" at all. I love Christmas. I'm proud of my children for building such good lives and not needing me so much anymore. There's a certain level of peace and contentment in that, a feeling of a job well done and the happiness of knowing your adult children love you and will always be there for you, even after they've moved on. It's not really what I'd call "sad." It's just different.

Last Sunday, Sarah tried different configurations of our family gifts going to Utah for
Jacob and Danielle, as we tried to decide what size box to put them in for shipping.

And so I did finally plunge into the buying of gifts, going a bit overboard, as usual. I don't spend a ton of money, but I like everyone to have plenty of presents to open. That's why there are so many boxes under the tree. I don't think my family believes me, but I'd be perfectly satisfied with no gifts for myself. My joy comes from the excitement of my kids unwrapping presents and seeing their eyes sparkle with the fun and surprises.

She also tried this configuration...

The Christmas tree and the decorating of the house presented more of a challenge. In the end, I decided not to decorate this year. I just couldn't bring myself to put my clean, treasured Christmas decorations on my dusty shelves, and I simply didn't have the energy to stir up the dust that would only further irritate my stuffy sinuses and scratchy throat. Luckily, the Christmas lights Dylan had strung around the living room last year were still up, so that lends a more festive air to the room.

...and this one. We finally settled on a box and I got them mailed out on Monday.
Jacob and Danielle received them on Wednesday. Nicely done, USPS!

As for the Christmas tree, I surrendered to convenience at last. Mark and I had had a fake tree, an old one my parents had given us, for the first two years we were married. From that time forward, though, I insisted on real trees, which we oftentimes went out into the nearby forests to choose and cut for ourselves. Seven-footers, adorned with dozens and dozens of ornaments collected over the years, many made in school and featuring my children's artwork, hand prints, and photos. That's what I'd grown up with, you see, except for a couple of years in my teens when we had one of those silver aluminum trees (which I actually thought was pretty cool at the time).

However, the last two years of slogging up and down through deep mountain snow to find the perfect tree took it's toll on my knee and hip. I was finally forced to admit that, maybe, the time had come to purchase an artificial tree.

The box of gifts for us from Jacob and Danielle in Utah arrived on Monday.

Early in December, I started looking at the artificial trees in Walmart, Lowe's, and Home Depot. I had a list of requirements. First, I wanted a smaller tree, preferably a four-footer, so it would be easier to handle. I could set it up on the coffee table and make it look nice. Second, I wanted it to be pre-lit, preferably with colored rather than white or clear bulbs. No more messing with a long string of tangled Christmas lights. Third, and most importantly, it had to look real. If I had to have an artificial tree, gosh darn it, it was not going to look fake!

I very nearly ended up with no tree at all. There were lots of beautiful seven-foot trees for sale, but the few smaller trees they offered looked terribly cheap to me. I just couldn't spend the money, not even a mere twenty dollars, for a tree that was clearly covered with cut green-paper needles. I was pretty close to giving up, figuring I'd start looking earlier next year, maybe check online.

All the gifts are finally under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve,
including the ones added beneath the table, sent by Jacob and Danielle.

Then, one day after I picked Mark up from work, I suggested we check out Lowe's again. And there it was: four feet tall, covered with fat little colored bulbs, with realistic-looking needles. It was a $120 tree, but I was more than willing to pay it. However, as luck would have it, the guy who helped us said "corporate" had just marked it down to $83. Plus I used my Lowe's credit card for the five percent discount and got the tree for just $79! Well, $85.55 when you tack the taxes on.

It isn't totally perfect, of course. It was a bit harder to set up than I'd anticipated, although much of that may have been because I was still pretty sick at the time. And, sadly, there's no place for a tree topper, so my little porcelain angel no longer has a home. I bought a small, lighted star, but even that was too heavy and just bent the top branches over. Maybe by next year I can find a very small, very light tree topper that will work. For this year, there will be no angel or star.

I also decided not to put ornaments on the tree this year. Originally, I'd intended to hang some favorite ornaments, but since the tree went up only a week ago and I was still in school for two days of this week, it didn't seem worth the effort for such a short time. On the other hand, I did splurge on a big, sparkly-red tree skirt! I've been using the little white-felt skirt showing Santa on a train since Sarah was a baby. See? I'm already starting to move on!

A closeup of the branches shows the needles are fairly realistic.

As for tomorrow, it will be a quiet morning as my children celebrate Christmas in their own homes with their spouses. I'll be up early to take Mark to work, and then it will be just me. But that's just the morning. By 4:00 we'll all be together again for Christmas dinner and the opening of our gifts to each other. That's why there are still so many presents under the tree. We always wait until we're together to open those special ones we exchange. Even Jacob and Danielle will be Skype-ing to see us open the presents they sent, and letting us watch while they open the gifts we sent to them. Then it will be Christmas, indeed!

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