‘Tis the Season

For some reason, I feel surrounded by people who love Christmas and revel in cookie exchanges, lights, and special dinnerware with seasonal themes.  They might as well have “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” tattooed on their foreheads.  I have a more ambivalent relationship with everything that commences after Thanksgiving and lasts until the holiday ornaments are stowed away in their special boxes…..

I should start at the beginning.  I grew up, as I noted in my decluttering blog, in a Swedish-American family where Christmas was elevated to the critical role of proving that the American had not crowded out the Swedish.  Unlike every other family that I knew growing up, Christmas Eve was the big event – the day when we brought in the tree and decorated it, where the “adult beverage” was glögg that my father made from a family tested (and highly alcoholic) recipe several weeks before. My mother worked all day to bake two kinds of Swedish bread (julekage and limpa), in addition to making a Julbord with Swedish cheese (no cheddar allowed!),  lutefisk (look it up – ugh), potatiskorv (a bland Swedish sausage), and a miscellany of other things to keep the traditions alive.  We made the four kinds of Swedish Christmas cookies (absolutely no red and green sprinkles) well ahead of time, of course, and served them up with a baked rice pudding.  NOTHING COULD EVER BE CHANGED or SUBSTITUTED – and as others have noted, all the foods seemed to have been subjected to a “whitening agent” so that no color deeper than beige was visible.  The American part was that Santa Claus came and the presents opened on Christmas Day. 

When I had my own family, my parents were always part of my holidays, and the Christmas Eve traditions continued unabated (much to my children’s dismay).  It was only after my mother died that, after a long consultation, we deleted the detested lutefisk and substituted fresh torsk (cod). I add, however, that because we lived in Minnesota we were able to get my father a takeout serving of lutefisk from a local restaurant…

Although I didn’t like the food very much, I always felt sorry for families who lacked the set-in-stone traditions that solidified their family identity. But life changes when the kids leave home, and they are able to make their own choices….And, with each year I “declutter” my holiday life by becoming temporarily willing to give up another tradition.  Try to buy potatiskorv in Boston or Boulder (although if we were genuinely serious, we could have made our own, Instead, my sister and brother-in-law created a kind of pork burger-with-potato that almost passed). 

Last week I was with a group of “women of a certain age” when the topic of “making it through the holidays” came up.  The person who raised it felt rather anxious, because she was traveling “home” to a family gathering that included both frail parents and alcoholic relatives who had, in the past, behaved badly.  She had already made a backup motel reservation…..

What an unexpected Pandora’s Box!  As each woman spoke about their upcoming holiday plans, there was a consistent theme:  Stress, low-level conflict, fatigue – and a sense that perhaps even the most vivid childhood memories of the perfect Christmas were less than truthful.  One chimed in that she had always disliked Christmas, but her husband loved it.  Recently married, they were traveling to another state to be with his parents in a retirement community.  She looked hesitant when she described the trip.  A third noted that, as an adult, she experienced Christmas as a time when people drank too much and were not always able to participate in the joyfulness that young children have when they see the lights and a stocking from Santa.  But it was Sue, whose quiet story put me into alert mode:  “My mother wanted everything to be perfect.  Our tree was decorated to the teeth, with every matching ornament perfectly placed.  The food was lovely, served on those special Christmas plates.  Her wrapped packages were works of art before we tore in to them.  And then, as soon as the packages were opened, she collapsed….”  What I recall from my later adolescence was the same:  My mother would go to bed starting around noon on Christmas Day, and we would not see her until late evening, as we munched on leftovers.  While I never went quite as far in trying to create the perfect Swedish-American Christmas, as she said that, I remember vividly how quickly my Christmas Eve fun melted into fatigue….

Sue has found a new approach:  Her husband makes a list of every Christmas light tour, pageant, special concert, etc. – and wants to do it all with her.  They experience joyfulness because they have removed the work to get ready, the travel, the strained family relationships – by sequencing experiences that are fun, but not exhausting—while staying home.  And whatever Christmas cookies they bake are ones that they like, and not those prescribed by tradition.

Part of my heart wants to cheer “Let’s try it – get rid of all of it except presents for the younger kids!  Eat Thai takeout on Christmas Eve if we want to!  Give the money we would spend on presents to the food shelf – or use it to take a real vacation!  Maybe if we did less we might even be awake enough to go to a midnight candlelight service (isn’t that what we should be thinking about?)”  But the other part (and I am split down the middle) screams “No!  Family is cemented when the holiday traditions are strong but a little flexible!  I really LOVE making stockings for everyone, and don’t want to stop!  We already have given up on making only Swedish cookies—isn’t that enough?” 

If I think Marie Kondo, I have to ask:  Which of the traditions makes me smile and brings me joy?  And, which could be adapted to a new generation – my grandchildren – for whom we all want to create a sense of being part of a special family time.  And who will tell the stories about the takeout lutefisk unless there is the smell of julekage to elicit it?

The Key Card:

It Takes a Worried Woman to Sing a Worried Song

“Do you want me to turn this in?” My daughter asked as I handed her my hotel key card. 

“Well sure, why not?” I answered.

“You know they can store all your information on this card, your credit card number, address. . . “

“Really? Don’t they just reprogram them, which means one less tiny piece of plastic in a landfill somewhere.” It was my turn to be the smart one.

“Aren’t you worried?” Carrie asked again.

“No, you can turn it in.” And I started to load the car with our luggage.


Really? Was she really all that concerned about what a hotel clerk was doing with the key cards after guests checked out? Were they in the back office downloading information they would use later to access my credit card account and buy a car maybe? But more important should I worry about this?

That was the big question for me. I’m 75. There’s not much room left in the worry portion of my brain. Just to get started, I’m worried about my friends’ health, my health, global warming, and the Trump presidency. Stuff I can do nothing about.

There’s a whole folder, rather several folders in my brain of things to worry about. Should I take Allegra for summer allergies—actually a debilitating headache that accompanies the allergies? It might give me Alzheimer’s. Speaking of Alzheimer’s, what about the fact that when I get up in the morning, my words come out like I have paste in my mouth—slowly. And I might even search for a word. This gets worse when I listen to myself and try to speak at the same time. And while we’re on the subject of health, what about gum erosion and the tense shoulders I get when I sit over the computer for a long time? I do love it when a young person complains about this. Or the good ol’ mucus, much more, it seems, as I’ve aged. Does this mean anything? A cancerous polyp in my throat, maybe? Do throats even get polyps?

Every day I open my email to advice on health. I probably clicked on these sites once, and now they target me. Usually they want to sell me something, and showing me something scary might get me to spend money on a “cure.” Why am I sluggish? What about menopause fat? Is it real or do I just eat too much? Is that fat around my middle indicative of silent diabetes? Is plaque accumulating in my arteries, threatening to break away and give me a stroke that will leave my tongue paralyzed so I can never speak with paste in my mouth again?

And my daughter’s worried about someone stealing my credit card information from my hotel key card. Daughter dear, have I got worries for you! What about that non-grass fed steak my husband keeps buying? I do so want to eat it, but that animal might have prions, which everyone knows will give you Alzheimer’s. Then there’s the question of whether the animal had a good life. I suspect not, but unless I go out and inspect the fields of happily grazing cows, I’ll never know, will I? 

The list of worries about food is probably the longest—well, on any given day health worries will probably Trump food worries—notice I capitalized “Trump” because there’s always that worry. Right now, he could be watching TV, maybe a thriller, and he looks at that button that deploys nuclear weapons and before anyone can stop him, he’s pressed it. Meanwhile Federal lands are being sold to oil producers, but then it won’t matter when whomever Trump bombs will by now have retaliated.

Image result for Worry

Back to that hotel key card. Baby, I’m just holding it together at 75. The world threatens to come back at me every day of my life. I can’t possibly worry about everything I should be worrying about, least of all my key card.  

Maybe I’ll just settle down with a nice cold drink (Yes, I know, soda is bad for me, so it can’t be soda. Maybe iced tea.) and read some escapist fiction, if I can find any, that is.  Or I’ll look out the window at the chickadees, who’ve built a nest in our birdhouse, flying back and forth from the feeder tending hopefully to the next generation. When I take a walk later, I’ll see marigolds lifting their heads to the sun. In spite of a terrible winter and rainy spring, they wisely celebrate our Minnesota summer. And maybe, for a short time, I won’t have anything to worry about.

The preponderance of evidence suggests that key-card data theft is nothing more than an urban legend, but some travelers remain unconvinced.

(And a shout out to my daughter, who claims that throwing away that key card is one less thing to worry about.)