Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas Without a Card You Love

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, yet every trip I take to the mailbox makes me increasingly anxious. No, no, no, I’m not avoiding bill collectors. It’s Christmas cards that make me nervous.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love receiving Christmas cards. I savor every family photo and update that comes my way. It’s just that each joyful greeting serves as a reminder that in spite of good intentions, no matter what I do I never can get my cards in the mailbox before it’s time to set out the milk and cookies for Santa on December 24. This year promises to be no exception.

I’m as fond of spreading good cheer as the next gal and it wouldn’t be so bad if all I felt compelled to do was buy a big box of assorted commercially manufactured cards, sign ’em and slap computer-generated address labels on the envelopes, but nooooo. Can’t do that. That would be far too easy, not to mention (and I hope I’m not offending anyone here) impersonal.

The truth is, I dug myself into this hole and with each passing year it gets harder and harder to pull myself out of it. Confused? Let me explain.

About 20 years ago I started getting creative. No store-bought cards for the Datocs. No-siree. At first I sent out simple photo cards. You know the kind you order from Wolf Camera with a picture of your kids and the dog wearing matching sweaters. Next I started inserting entertaining year-in-review newsletters, which led to photo collages, which led to graphic timelines, and eventually to one-of-a-kind super-duper-fantastic cards, designed and produced single-handedly by yours-truly.

It’s grown into an annual tradition that consumes more time and cash than I’m willing to admit. I am the proud owner of a vast range of professional photo editing and graphic design applications as well as the world’s fastest, all-in-one, photosmart, two-sided commercial grade printer.

Even with state of the art equipment and technology, it takes a lot of time. A lot of time. Concept development routinely begins in July. By November I’ve got a couple of firm ideas which I dutifully run by the husband and kids for approval. Each year I am met with their blank expressions indicating a general lack of interest in the process. This prompts my annual frustrated fist shaking and idle threat to scrap the whole project which is met by more blank staring from said husband and kids (and dog who always stares at me when I throw tantrums).

It is at this stage that I become more annoyed than I ever have been (except perhaps for the time I went shopping on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and some lady in front of me at the check out counter refused to bag her own groceries…don’t get me started).

Anyway, I stomp around the house thinking… FINE. I’ll pick the one I like best…and Nobody appreciates what I do around here… and suddenly I remember It’s Christmas for heaven’s sake…snap out of it. I recall comments from friends and relatives who receive my cards each year. They think I’m clever and witty and… (sigh) People do appreciate me. Oh all right. I’ll do it. After my sour mood runs it’s course, my husband hops on the band-wagon and together we manage to pull off another terrific card… one even better than last year’s.

Unfortunately, this year there’s a problem. See, I’ve set the bar rather high all these years. It’s not easy being the one who sends out the best-ever Christmas cards year in and year out. People expect the Datoc family Christmas cards to be funny and unique and engaging. In fact, just writing about it makes me want to take a nap.

This year I found myself in quite a predicament. Thanksgiving leftovers were already a distant memory. The yuletide season was breathing down my neck and I still had not started working on our Christmas card. I was forced to admit what I’d been denying since last summer. The wellspring of ideas had run dry. Yep. I was fresh out of clever Christmas card concepts. It was bound to happen after nearly two decades. I had nothing. Nada.

I hated to concede, but I needed help this year and I needed it fast. I was in a tizzy and since Prozac was not an option, I decided to think outside the box. What can I do to stimulate some ideas?

Imagine an assembly line of industrial Christmas elves. One elf signs “Merry Christmas from the Datocs” in swirly elfin penmanship. Another elf stuffs the cards into envelopes. A third elf addresses and stamps the envelopes. Finally the most responsible elf of the bunch drives me to the post office to mail somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 Christmas cards (he’d go by himself, but he’s too short to reach the after hours mail slot).

All of this is completed by Black Friday leaving me with ample time, after a full day of shopping, to roast chestnuts on an open fire whilst Jack Frost nips at my nose and my husband and sons serenade me with yuletide carols, which they sing by the same fire on which I am roasting chestnuts. Ahhhhh…

Okay so maybe we just watch football and maybe harboring elves to secretly assuage my Christmas card burden is ridiculous (Santa would never hire out during the Christmas rush), but my fantasy got me thinking. I’d been so consumed with thoughts of impending writers’ cramp, paper cuts on my tongue, lingering glue after-taste and all the other unpleasantries associated with the mammoth task ahead, I was unable to generate a single creative idea. That’s when it hit me. I’m still creative. I’m just lazy.

Hmmm. Keep thinking outside the box. I enjoy the Christmas e-cards that find their way through cyberspace into my Inbox just as much as I do the paper ones the postman delivers to the mailbox at the end of my driveway, right? So…why not join the 21st century and send a Christmas e-card?

In less time than it takes to say partridge in a pear tree…okay make that four calling birds-three French hens-two turtle doves-and a partridge in a pear tree…I created the first ever one-of-a-kind super-duper-fantastic Datoc family Christmas e-card, designed and produced single-handedly by yours-truly.

You know what they say. Christmas just ain’t Christmas without a card you love…so here’s mine. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas from my family to yours.


No Peeking Allowed

I can’t spend as much time on blogging today as I’d like because I am up against a firm gift wrapping deadline.  For one thing, I am working to beat the holiday shipping rush.  I have to wrap gifts for family in Virginia with enough time to pack them in the neat and orderly manner that annoys the guy at the UPS store.  Yes, in case you are wondering, I will be patronizing my favorite UPS store run by the guy who asks me without fail, “Have you shipped with us before?”  Goodness, it drives me crazy.  I AM A REGULAR CUSTOMER. (Deep breath).  Maybe I’ll play along with the whole charade this time.  Maybe I’ll act like I’ve never been there and ask all sorts of questions before I disclose that yes, indeed, I am in his computer.  We’ll see how Mr. UPS Store Guy likes a taste of his own medicine.

Anyway the most pressing reason I have for completing my gift wrapping today is because Jared will take his last final exam at nine o’clock this morning.  This means Christmas break in the Datoc household officially starts at 11 o’clock.  HURRAY!  What does this have to do with gift wrapping, you wonder.  Let me tell you.  The minute Jared crosses the threshold of our home, the following words will pop into his head.  LET THE SNOOPING BEGIN!  He will immediately run upstairs to wake his brother, who incidentally has been sleeping since he got home from college on Wednesday evening.  Together they will begin creeping around the house, snooping for Christmas gifts.  This is a time-honored tradition in the Datoc home, having been passed down from my side of the family.  I’m pretty sure my mom was (and may still be) a snooper.  I am a snooper.  Both of my kids are snoopers.  I am fine with the snooping.  In fact I’m better than fine.  I like the idea of Christian and Jared sneaking around the house, snooping in closets, corners, behind the furniture, in the attic, in the basement, and pretending they are not.  It’s a bit of a game, and just thinking about it makes me giggle.  Pat and I will pretend we don’t know the kids are snooping and they will pretend they don’t know that we’re pretending that we don’t know.  You know the drill.  I’m not sure if Pat knows I’m still a snooper.  He actually may believe that at my age I have outgrown this sort of thing.  I am here to tell you I have not.  I still snoop, but I NEVER, EVER peek.  Peeking is worse than having bad manners.  Peeking is mean-spirited.  In fact, peeking is stealing.  That’s right…stealing.    Frankly, I think there needs to be a nationwide, no make that a worldwide, prohibition on peeking.  Legal or not, hear me when I say this.  Under no circumstances is peeking ever allowed in the Datoc home.  Peeking will not be tolerated.

Contrary to popular beliefs, Christmas snooping and Christmas peeking are NOT one in the same.  Christmas snooping involves only the search.  Finding the stash puts an end to the snooping.  It is at this point that the snooper realizes there will be a gift waiting for him under the tree on Christmas morning.  He may be tempted to peek, but he will not.  He does not remove the wrapping paper, open the box, examine or even steal the tiniest peek at the package contents.  Christmas peeking deprives the bestower of a very precious gift;  the gift of seeing the recipient’s face as he rips off the wrapping from the package and beholds its contents for the very first time.  Remember there is only ever one very first time for anything.  I tell you, Christmas peeking is stealing.  It is tantamount to stealing an actual physical Christmas gift before it ever  has been given because for some people experiencing the excitement and joy expressed in the surprised looks on their children’s faces is the best Christmas gift of all.  I’m just saying that’s how it is for some people.

Peeking is not allowed in this family.  NO PEEKING ALLOWED!  I won’t have it.  It’s mean-spirited and on top of that  it’s flat-out stealing.  We are not a bunch of thieves.  We Datocs may snoop, but we NEVER, EVER peek.  We weren’t raised that way.   Now you’ll have to excuse me.  It is eight o’clock.  Jared just left for school which means I have exactly two hours and thirty minutes to complete my gift wrapping.  Wish me luck.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a… Good Night.  Sleep Tight.

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

What is the world coming to?!  Global warming?  The polar ice caps are melting?  I don’t know, but I’ll bet Al Gore has an explanation.  It was 50 degrees in Connecticut last weekend, but it snowed in Atlanta.  You heard me.  It snowed in Atlanta.  In fact, it snowed here for three consecutive days.  Nope…I take that back.  Make that four consecutive snow days for Atlanta because it’s snowing again today…right this very minute.  Did you get that?  IT’S SNOWING AGAIN TODAY!  That has to be some kind of record.  It snowed on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and some more today.  Really!  Ask anyone.  Okay.  So nothing accumulated, and it’s been anemic at best, but catching a glimpse of even the tiniest of snow flakes floating gracefully through the air makes me giddy!  (Speaking of giddy, CHRISTIAN WILL BE HOME FROM COLLEGE IN JUST A FEW HOURS!)

I get giddy over snow, and it’s not because it stirs up memories of my childhood winters in Connecticut.  No, no.  It’s because snow whips southern folks into a frenzy and it’s fun for transplants like me to watch.  The minute Glenn Burns (one of our local weather personalities…FYI they’re not weather men anymore…sheesh) even hints at dropping the “S” bomb, Atlantans (and I can only assume this is true for all southerners) rush out and buy up all the toilet paper, bottled water, milk, and bread from every grocery store in the entire metropolitan area and surrounding counties.  I swear it’s true.  And another thing.  Native Atlantans think snow flurries call for umbrellas.  Now any self-respecting Yankee knows that you do not, I repeat YOU DO NOT, use an umbrella when it is snowing.  No, no, no.  When it is snowing, you drop your head back as far as it will go, look up toward the heavens, open your mouth and catch snow flakes on your tongue.  Please do not attempt to argue with me about this.  That is what you do when it snows, and it cannot be done if you are holding an umbrella up over your head.  It’s not proper snow protocol.  I mean the whole point of walking around outside in the snow is to let it land on you for Pete’s sake.  Plus, it’s just plain weird to see people walking around outside in the snow with umbrellas hoisted up over their heads.  And how about those people, caught without snow boots or galoshes, who wrap their shoes in plastic grocery bags and think they can walk around in the snow?  Do they know how ridiculous they look?  Umbrellas overhead, plastic bags for shoes, carrying sacks full of toilet paper and bottled water?

As if southerners walking around in the snow isn’t insane enough, you should see what happens when they get behind the wheel of a car after a good dusting of the white stuff.  Good heavens.  It’s sliding and skidding and spinning and car after car, having bumped into one thing or another, pulled off to the side of the road every ten yards for miles on end.  I’ll tell you what.  Southerners just need to stay put when it snows.  Start a fire in the fireplace, people.  Pop some popcorn and drink some cocoa.  Please.  It’s like the song says, “Oh the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful.  Since we’ve no place to go.  Let it snow!  Let it snow!  Let it snow!”

Merry Christmas to all and to all a…  Good night.  Sleep tight.

Ho, Ho, Ho and Mistletoe and Presents for Pretty Girls

Here I stand, beneath the mistletoe that dangles from the bottom of the light fixture in my foyer.  Here I stand trying to get Pat to notice me and the sprig of mistletoe directly above my head.  Here I stand,  like Lucy Van Pelt craning over the back of Schroeder’s piano, trying to capture his attention, “Ho, ho, ho and mistletoe and presents for pretty girls.”   I have wandered over to this spot beneath the mistletoe every so often over the last few weeks.  Now I am wondering how long it will take my husband to notice me and, in keeping with Christmas tradition, give me the kiss to which I am entitled.

I can’t blame Pat for not noticing me right off the bat.  This is the first year, in all the time we’ve been married, that I have decorated with mistletoe.  I’ve wanted to do it every year, but it seems it’s one of those non-essential things that ends up getting crossed off my To Do list without getting done.  For one thing, it’s not easy to find.  I’ve never seen mistletoe growing in pots along with the plethora of Paper Whites, Poinsettia, and Christmas tree shaped topiaries of rosemary that grace the entrances to garden centers at this time of year.  I’ve never seen it in Christmas tree lots along with natural wreaths and pine garlands, and you certainly don’t find fresh-cut bunches of it in the produce section of the local grocery store (it’s poisonous to humans if ingested).  This year, however, an artificial sprig of it caught my eye as I was rushing through Target one day.  There it was, smack on the floor, having been knocked from where it had been displayed among the other Christmas baubles.  I picked it up and searched aisle after aisle of picked-over Christmas spangle to find the spot on the shelf where it belonged.  It appeared to be the last one.  $6.99 for a sprig of artificial mistletoe.  Hmmm.  Was it worth it?  Hmmm.  I’ve always wanted to hang mistletoe at Christmas.  Hmmm.  It was adorned with a pretty red velvet ribbon.  SOLD!  To the lady shopping for a new mop!

So that’s why you never see potted mistletoe along with other festive seasonal favorites.

KIssing beneath the mistletoe.  It’s a funny tradition if you think about it, especially once you know something about  the life cycle of this species of flora.

Phoradendron, the botanical name for mistletoe, is Greek for “thief of the tree.”  You see, this affable Christmas symbol of flirtation is a bit of a parasite.  While Phoradendron manufactures its own chlorophyll,  it is unable to do so alone.  Phoradendron anchors its roots in the branches or bark of a host tree and steals the nutrients it needs to supplement its own process of photosynthesis, hence “thief of a tree.”  A little stalker-like, if you ask me, but wait it gets better.  A few hundred years ago, people noticed that Phoradendron seemed to flourish amid branches and twigs that happened to be covered in bird droppings.  That’s right, bird poop.  I’m not kidding.  The translation of the common name, mistletoe, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words mistal (dung) and tas (twig).  Mistaltas. So mistletoe really means dung on a twig.  Nice.

Here I stand, beneath dung on a twig that dangles from the bottom of the light fixture in my foyer.  Here I stand trying to get Pat to notice me and the sprig of dung on a twig beneath which I stand.   Here I stand,  like Lucy Van Pelt craning over the back of Schroeder’s piano, trying to capture his attention, “Ho, ho, ho and dung on a twig and presents for pretty girls.”  Gee wiz.  When you put it like that, it’s no wonder Pat and Schroeder aren’t inspired to dole out kisses.  Who can blame them?  I mean it’s not particularly romantic.  Dung on a twig.  Go figure.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a…  Good night.  Sleep tight.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

It’s 5 o’clock in the morning.  I’ve been awake since 3, but forced myself to stay in bed until now.  I slept a little fitfully.  My Uncookie Swap is today and I have some last-minute things to do, finishing touches, in order to get ready.  I suppose I’m excited.  I’m almost, but not quite as, excited as I get on Christmas morning.  You know as a kid when you’re certain you’ve heard Santa’s sleigh bells and reindeer hooves pawing on the rooftop above your bedroom?  You rush, with no concept of time, into your parents’ bedroom asking if you can go downstairs and  open gifts yet and they answer sleepily because it’s something like 2 a.m, “Not yet.  Ge back to bed.  We’ll tell you when it’s time.”  Promise not to tell, but I’m 48 years old and I still get excited enough to do that kind of thing.   Since I’m married with children of my own, instead of rushing into my parents’ room which would require a car ride, all I have to do is nudge Pat and whisper loudly with my morning breath, “Is it time to wake up the kids and open gifts yet?”  I’ve been doing that for 25 years.  Last year I circumvented Pat and ran straight down the hall into the kids’ rooms when I woke up.  It must have been pretty early because I was in that morning stupor where you can’t decide if you’re really doing something or if you’re dreaming.  “Mom, please…”  is what they both growled  sleepily at me,” Not yet.  Go back to bed.  We’ll tell you when it’s time.”  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming, but the kids don’t remember it happening, so I can’t be sure.  Plus, we opened gifts before going to bed on Christmas Eve last year so I have no idea why this memory is so vivid in my  mind’s eye, but it is.  Maybe we left our stockings for Christmas morning?  I hate it that I can’t remember details.  I need to start writing things down.

Three things on my To Do list involve a quick stop at the grocery store.  The store opens at 7 so I can’t do that yet.  I also need to vacuum the kitchen and family room, empty the dish washer and throw a load of towels in the washing machine.  All of those chores involve creating a fair amount of noise which is not a prudent thing to do.  I could go jump on the treadmill.  That wouldn’t disturb anybody, but it does involve putting on running shoes.  Frankly, it’s cold and  I just can’t  bring myself to slip my tootsies out of the warm, sherpa-lined slippers I’m currently  sporting.

Oh my gosh!  I just glanced at the clock at the top of my computer screen and it’s already 6:10 a.m.  My goodness, did it really take me an hour and ten minutes to write two paragraphs?  I suppose not.  I suppose  I got lost in reminiscing about Christmases past.  Ten days from today Jared will be done with exams and starting a two-week holiday.  Christian will be home from college in a week and it will be nearly a month before he returns to Greenville.  My emotions are mixed.  You see on one hand, I simply cannot wait!  Yet on the other, I can hardly believe another year has slipped through my fingers.  Slow down, I say to passing time.  Slow down!   Charles Dickens’ ghost of Christmas Yet to Come did not pay me a visit this morning so I have no way of forecasting what the future will bring.  I can only hope that as the years and Christmases come and go they  will continue to leave me with the precious gift of memories that put a smile on this face of mine.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a…  Good night.  Sleep tight.