I’m up early, the cinnamon rolls are rising in the oven, the house is quiet (for a bit longer), we’ve got a couple inches of new snow to shovel… it’s a little easier to forget about all that feels wrong with the world these days and focus on what’s good and right and all the ways we’ve been blessed.
This post comes out of a recent conversation with friends over coffee, in which we were talking about our respective families’ traditions for the Christmas season and where those traditions came from.
Food: we cook much more frequently over the Christmas break than during the rest of the year, where by “cook” I mean really cook (as in make stuff that takes more time than we would normally have during a typical day). A big part of this is tied to work schedules: the lab where I work shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s Day each year and I usually bracket that with additional personal leave to stretch it even longer. This is something we’ve just sort of grown into over the past 10 years or so.
The Christmas tree: usually up around mid-December (these days tied to Ian’s arrival home from school) and down on the 1st or 2nd of January. My least favorite tradition, truth be told.
Christmas music: we almost always have some sort of Christmas or holiday-ish music playing during this same period, with “The Andy Williams Christmas Album” occupying a special place in the play list as the most important. I remember listening to this each year as a kid, and at some point we ended up with it on CD. Cheesy, but still my favorite Christmas album (probably as much for the memories as for the actual music).
Baking Christmas goodies: my fudge, Ian’s peppermint strips, sugar cookies (most decorated, of course), Deb’s pecan fingers, holiday breads. Some to eat, lots to share and give as gifts. This is something both Deb’s and my families did as we were growing up.
Clam chowder and candlelight church on Christmas Eve: the clam chowder part is from my family; we both grew up going to church on Christmas eve.
Hot chocolate and cookies before bed on Christmas Eve: something my family always did after coming home from church.
Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning: this is something my mom did some years as I was growing up, and I love getting up early on Christmas morning and making them for my family.
Christmas stockings before breakfast on Christmas morning, opening gifts after breakfast: definitely from my family, rather than Deb’s. Stockings were always one of my favorite parts of Christmas growing up, and still are. The challenge at this point is convincing Li to let Ian sleep until something he would consider a “reasonable” hour (maybe a little after 8:00 am, these days).
The bibliophilic elf: each year, each of us gets a book from a certain literature-loving elf, something we started about 10 years ago. This tradition is one of our own.
Jigsaw puzzles: more from Deb and Deb’s family than mine. Deb always gets a puzzle started and everyone helps, whether it is looking for a piece or two as they walk by, or pulling up a chair and sitting down for an extended period of time to work on it. There is almost always a puzzle or two under the tree for all of us each year, and we often work through half a dozen or more before the puzzle table gets put away.
We also tend to play lots of board and card games, and we tend to stay up late watching movies (or, the past couple years, binge-watching something Ian has found like “Firefly” or “Battlestar Galactica”), but I’m not sure those have yet reached what I would consider full tradition status. We also almost always spend a few days with my parents and with Deb’s parents somewhere during time around Christmas, either here or at their respective homes; again, part of our typical Christmas Season but not necessarily what I would call tradition.
I’ve thought about some of these things this Christmas, given a conversation with Deb back in mid-December when we were talking about Christmas. There is actually quite a bit about “Christmas” I really don’t like: the busyness, shopping, unwanted obligations or things we do just because we feel like we ought to or are expected to (we all have them, right?), dicey travel conditions, the clutter, the overly-commercial aspect that Christmas has taken on. The parts I really like are the time spent together as a family (all of us home from work and school) and the food (the eating but even more so the preparation together). Some of that almost certainly comes through in looking at what we’ve turned into our family traditions.
A bit of a catch-up post for the start of the new year: Christmas, Li, Deb, Ian, a bit of reading, and some geek stuff.
It has been a bit since I last wrote anything here, I realize, but I will try to get caught up on a variety of fronts with sort of a catch-all post here…
Christmas and Li
We survived Christmas, with the combination of the holidays and an extended break from work (for me) and school (for Ian) being something of a mixed bag. My workplace shuts down (officially) between Christmas and New Year’s Day for a holiday curtailment, so I took all of the week ahead of Christmas (mostly) off as I had some banked comp hours I needed to use ahead of the end of the year (or lose them) and I’m taking a couple more days after New Year’s, as well, which will stretch my holiday break to almost three weeks. Ian has had the past week and a half off from school, too, so we’ve all been home together for the first time in a long time — which has been wonderful.
Li was definitely “in” to Christmas this year, and loved having three Christmases: ours as a family on Christmas Day, followed by two more as both sets of grandparents came to stay with us for a couple days each. We had decided, after traveling with her for Ian’s state soccer tournament in October, that travel just wasn’t in the cards for us at this point and in retrospect staying home with her (and having visitors here) was the right move.
We tried to keep as much of a routine through the holidays for Li as possible, but we still ended up with some sleep struggles beginning the Friday before Christmas. Lots of rest-less nights, particularly ahead of Christmas itself, and several days with no naps… which were trying and exhausting for all of us to varying degrees. Just in the past couple of days, it seems — based on sleep patterns — that she is working her way out this latest cycle.
Aside from the sleep problems, Li is doing great. She continues to grow and develop in leaps and bounds. When it comes to food, her palette is continuing to expand (her new favorite is “pork chop” — pork tenderloin, in actuality, which she tried for Christmas dinner when I grilled a couple) and she’s more willing to try new things. She “participated” in her first Christmas program at church this year, where “participated” would be defined as learning “Away in a Manger” and then standing stoically at the front of the sanctuary with the other kids while they sang. It’s about what we had expected; when we asked if she was going to sing, she responded “No, I already sang that song.” She’s close to reading at this point, and her sense of humor is pretty amazing for a not-yet three year old. We took her sledding for the first time yesterday and she loved it, even being willing to go down the hill by herself.
Deb and Ian
Ian has a bad case of “end of break blues” right now, but other than that is doing well. He found out in early December that he and a couple of other interns from his summer job won the high school division of an international digital forensics competition sponsored by the DoD and will be traveling to St. Louis for a related conference in late January (we’re still trying to figure out how this will work). He’s in the midst of the college application process (continually being prodded slowly forward by Deb) but hasn’t yet decided where he will attend. He’s squeezing in a bit of soccer (indoor) when he can and generally suffering through his senior year of high school.
Deb also has been playing a bit of soccer (also indoor), playing in a women’s league and on a team that competed in a Christmas break tournament which was definitely a change of pace for all of us. The highlight of their tournament was playing the eventual tournament winners 3-2 (Deb’s team lost) with the winning goal being scored in the last minute of the match; not bad for a team with 3 players over 50 against a bunch of college-aged players. She has also been attending a weekly Bible study (one that provides childcare for Li during the class), which is a good change of pace for her in a couple of ways.
A Bit of Reading
Over the break, I managed to squeeze in a bit of reading, too. I finished “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy (a gift from Santa’s bibliophilic elf — a tradition at our house) and “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, sandwiched around a bit fluff (“Thunderhead” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child). To Thunderhead’s fluff, “The Road” is flint: beautifully and sparely written, gripping, haunting, disturbing. It’s a movie I won’t see; the book is extraordinary and more troubling than anything I’ve read in a while. It’s the first of his works that I have read, but almost certainly will not be the last. “Into Thin Air” was a gift from Ian; engaging, fairly well-written, tragic.
Some Geek Stuff
I’m in the middle of a couple of projects on the geek front these days, too, in the odd moments of spare time I can squeeze out: working on getting a lightweight CFML and database server environment up and running on my netbook (based on Railo and Apache Derby, respectively) and also working on a CFML mode for ActiveState’s excellent Komodo editor. I will write a bit more on both of those at some point in the near future. I also did a bit of troubleshooting on another project (a cross-platform editor called “redcar” intended to be semi-compatible with TextMate but capable of running on Mac, Linux, and that other OS) and got to play a bit with Ruby in the process.
Those of you with reasonably modern semi-standards-compliant browsers (read: not MSIE) will notice a bit of geekery in the handling of the pix on this particular post. I’ve tweaked the styling for my blog here based on some CSS stuff I was playing with ahead of Christmas. Those of you still clinging to MSIE should consider an alternative…