Join Me on Vacation

It’s that time of year. No, not the one where we stress ourselves by chasing our tail to parties and shopping for gifts. Vacation time!

This year, my husband and I are heading to the South to visit family…and experience the joys of the holiday season in Branson, Missouri. Maybe while I’m gone, some angels will drop by my house and wrap all the gifts and spruce up the decorations.

I know I’ve been pretty quiet the past month, and it’s probably that December will be another “one post per week” time her at Sharon Lee Hughson, Author’s blog. I’ll try to jump online while I’m away (for ten days) and give you a sample of my trip to “Nashville of the Ozarks.” But I’m not making any promises.

To whet your appetite for the trip, here’s a brief itinerary:

  • Today: Fly to OKC
  • Tomorrow: Spend the day with my Aunt Betty
  • Sunday: Travel to Branson and see THIS
  • Monday: Vacate…yes, that’s the verb for what you do on vacation. I know you think it means something else, but right here and right now, it means I’m vacationing.
  • Tuesday: Watch the Miracle of Christmas
  • Wednesday & Thursday: Cruise the town, see some sights, sample some goodies, more vacating
  • Friday: Check out the Dixie Stampede
  • Saturday: Squeeze in any last minute “must see” action
  • Sunday: Return to OKC and fly home

No, that’s not all we’re going to do. But if you’ve read any of my other posts on vacation (like this one or this one), then you know I’m NOT a fan of booking every day with activities.

In short, that’s a key to stress for me…and I vacate to relax. (Notice what I did there? Using my new definition in a sentence. Oh, yeah. Oxford will be adding that definition to their dictionary soon.)

Christmas is first about Christ and second about the twinkling lights. While we’re in Branson, we also plan to check out the glory of the lights. Lights in the square and in one (two or even all three) of the drive through light shows they have in Nashville of the Ozarks.

Have you been to Branson? What would you suggest is a “must see”?

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Goodbye Paradise

It’s easy to beat the sun awake in the tropics. Or anywhere in the winter. Is this balmy breeze stirring palm leaves to dance and sing a sign of winter?

December afternoon sky
December afternoon sky

Today’s the day. It’s time to say goodbye to Paradise and return to the reality of home.

For whatever reason, that reality involves a winter storm advisory. Because after enjoying shorts weather for five days, it’s only fir to return to sub-freezing temperatures, icy roads and the wintry mix the Pacific NW is famous for–when the regular deluge gives way to colder weather.

Every morning we enjoyed a walk, either along the beach or through the quieter, sleepy streets. There won’t be any of this once we get back to the mainland. Who wants to get drenched in the name of walking outside?

shadow

What Makes it Paradise

Perhaps everyone has a different concept of Paradise.

In the Bible, it could be the Garden of Eden or a place in the center of the Earth where souls waited for release.

In my world, it’s a place where the days are sunny but not hot. Where the only thing on my schedule is whatever sounds good. Where I don’t have to wear socks and shoes.

This is how much I get in the ocean
This is how much I get in the ocean

And the pace of the day reflects my mood.

There are palm trees. The sky is a crystalline aquamarine, the color of my Caribbean blue diamond. Maybe it’s a blue topaz sky since it’s December.

Waves lap against the soft shores. The briny smell of the sea underwrites a sweet aroma of baked goods.

in_the_ocean

And there are no calories. At least in my mind.

What Makes it Goodbye

Is there any song so mournful as “Taps” when a bugle plays the cadence?

It suits the mood. It’s the perfect way to say farewell.

There’s an end, so we say goodbye.

Which also means there’s a beginning. It’s an ocean away in a colder place. Pine trees will carpet millions of homes with their needles.

Because it’s nearly Christmas.

The voices of Andy Williams and Bing Crosby have even reminding us of the season when the flush of sweaty beneath sunny rays lent to amnesia.

Seats are reserved on a flight. Cats wait our arrival thousands of miles away.

There will be a hello.

But first we must say “Aloha Hawaiian vacation.”

My birthday dinner: but I'll stick with tails after this
My birthday dinner: but I’ll stick with tails after this

Those Hawaiians knew what they were doing. Aloha means hello and goodbye.

Because in this temperate land of sweet pineapple and aromatic coffee, they’re really the same thing.

Aloha.

Mexico in Pictures

We took several hundred photos while in Mexico. Some I will share with you when I do a series of posts about some of our experiences (come back next year to see these).

Hope you enjoy this brief tour!

I want to wake up to this view every morning
I want to wake up to this view every morning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruise ships made regular stops to the harbor by our resort
Cruise ships made regular stops to the harbor by our resort
Fun and games after the sun has set
Fun and games after the sun has set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes strangers lead you to the best places
Sometimes strangers lead you to the best places
Our family saying "Adios" to Mexico
Our family saying “Adios” to Mexico

 

Merry Christmas, friends!

All I Want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas is to skip the whole thing.

I’m not looking forward to it. At all. I have reasons. Darn good ones too. So why don’t you hear me out before you label me “Scrooge” and move on?

Reason #1

Last year my mother was in the hospital at Christmas. This year – she’s in Heaven.

While that’s great for her, it leaves a pretty large hole in our family. If you knew my mother, you would understand that her shoes might have appeared small, but they are impossibly unfillable.

Just like I cried through Mother’s Day, I have to face my first Christmas without my mom. It’s not easy. They say people are more depressed at Christmas than any other time of the year. And I can see it.

It’s a time built around memories. Sometimes memories hurt. Grief cuts like a knife.

This is the biggest reason I vote for skipping directly from December 23rd to December 26th this year. I have others…

Reason #2

Things are changing in the old Hughson household.

This year, Christmas morning will be different. Next year, it will be different again. I’m the one who instituted a host of Christmas morning traditions. Same breakfast. Same cocoa. Same reading of Luke 2.

Change is great. It is inevitable. It is not for Christmas.

Reason #3

I am going to Mexico for a week and return home on December 20th.

This is great news for my sun-loving psyche.

This is horrible news for the traditional holiday baking plans. I am not planning to decorate my house – must keep it staged for prospective buyers for one thing. Who will water the tree while we’re gone? Why do I want to expend energy decorating when I’ll be gone for a week?

Reason #4

I get sick of all the hype and materialism. I’ve posted about that subject in the past.

Christmas is about two things in my world: Jesus and family. None of that needs a Black Friday for shopping explosions and excellent deals. I’m happy to sit around singing carols and playing games while with my family. Who wants to fight the crowds to find the perfect gift only to realize – there is no such thing?

Reason #5

Everything gets topsy-turvy in my daily schedule once December arrives.

I just want to lock myself away with my computer and finish writing something. I want to check off my writing goals and reach that pedestal of published bliss.

Yes, I’m out of touch with reality. This could be why I write fantasy novels.

No one is going to fast forward past the next few weeks. I don’t want to miss a moment of the family vacation in Mexico.

I might want to skip Christmas, but it won’t happen. As the Grinch found out,

“He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!”

I guess there’s no chance for me to actually skip Christmas, is there? In that case, all I want for Christmas is … a happy day with my family.

What is a holiday – really?

A holiday is when you don’t have to go to work. If that is the true definition, every person who is retired from employment, or unemployed, experiences a holiday each and every day of the year.

Merriam-Webster says a holiday is “a special day of celebration when one is exempt from work or specifically a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.” Of course, the first full definition listed is simply “holy day.”

Ah, yes. A holy day. Something specific to religious celebration and thus not politically correct to address in polite conversation. As you’ve long suspected, political correctness falls further down my list of priorities than simple straightforward honest expression.

My list of “holy day”s

As for days of religious significance, I would mark three: Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.

In my mind, all three of these days draw special attention to the One in my world to whom I ascribe deity and offer worship. In honor of political correctness, I want everyone to understand these dates reflect my personal opinion and aren’t meant to infringe on anyone’s freedom to disagree.

Even though Christmas, like almost all “holy days” on our traditional calendar, has pagan roots, I consider it the day to honor the birth of Jesus Christ. He is a historical figure so my celebration of his birth should be no more offensive than honoring February 12 as Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

In my world, this date involves revisiting the account of Christ’s birth as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. This generally happens in the wee, dark hours of December 25. Afterwards, my family does paganistic things like opening Christmas stockings and unwrapping gifts beneath the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree.

In the spring, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a foundational doctrine for the sect called Christianity. For me, it offers hope that transcends the life I now live.

Easter always falls on Sunday. My family attends church services (as we do each Sunday of the year) and worships the living Savior. Afterwards, we feast on ham and buttered noodles (sacrilegious according to Old Testament dietary guidelines) and play games. Laughter is a staple around our table.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts on the subject, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Although it is a manmade day, it was founded on the principal of giving thanks to God. Our family shares one thing we’re thankful for as we surround the table laden with turkey, stuffing and all the traditional trimmings.

My list of commemorative celebrations

How crazy is it that in a country where the federal government claims eleven national holidays, I consider only three to be “holy days”? One of my holidays isn’t even considered to be a “national holiday” to the U.S. government.

Bonus points to you if you can list these eleven holidays and their dates (without checking either your calendar or an internet search engine). Can you do it? Make sure to take credit in the comments if you can.

In my family, we celebrate January 1 with food and games. Sometimes a large crowd gathers and other times it is just the four who reside under our roof. In case you’re wondering, this is New Year’s Day, and Uncle Sam consents to call this a holiday (not that I need his approval).

Other dates that fall on neither my nor the national register are Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps these are important days in your world. Aren’t you glad you’re free to observe them – even if you have to call in sick or take a personal day from your place of employment to do so?

My family ushers in the barbecuing season on Memorial Day. No, this isn’t what the day is supposed to be about. Most of the time, it is also near my wedding anniversary, so my husband and I have been known to fly the coop together during this holiday.

Both my mother and grandmother actually took flowers and visited the graves of people who had passed away on this day. That is a more accurate celebration for a holiday that was originally known as “Decoration Day.” You guessed it. People actually decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers on this day. Some people consider it the beginning of summer recreation (making my barbecuing tradition less blasphemous).

For many years, July 4th was a family gathering with a picnic and birthday cake. Not in honor of Independence Day (the official name of the holiday), but in honor of my only niece’s birthday. Now, she’s an adult. We still like to fire up the barbie and the kid’s like to blow money on fireworks.

Amidst all off these dates, we have other special days known as “birthdays.” I won’t bog you down with the actual calendar numbers, but our family likes to celebrate these days. I’ve even lobbied for this day being granted as a day off from traditional employment.

Around here, I like to make the person’s favorite meal for dinner and whatever sort of dessert they want for their “birthday cake.” My sons believe I’m a terrible person because I stopped wrapping up packages for them on their 19th birthday. Cards and dinners, I’m still on top of that, but why does a birthday have to be about getting gifts?

For years, we celebrated Labor Day by going camping. We wanted to get one last hurrah in before the drudgery of school set in for the kids. Now that we’re all finished with school (well, my youngest has one more year of college), we might have a barbecue and play games.

My actual list of holidays numbers less than eleven, unless you count the birthdays individually. If you do that, I have eleven special days every year – in perfect harmony with Uncle Sam (well, except for the actual dates and significance).

Your list

Please chime in with comments about those days you find significant on your calendar of events. You know, special days of “celebration when you are exempt from work in commemoration of an event.”

Don’t forget to take the poll. Share it with your friends. Don’t you wonder what they consider the most commemorative days of the year?

Tradition or Bust

Annual Cookie Baking Day
Annual Cookie Baking Day

A great irony greeted me. The source was flesh of my flesh. Traditions that had been acclaimed as unchangeable fell beneath the barrage of personal plans.

A son of mine was incensed when I mentioned to him last year in December that things were changing. The kids were becoming adults. Soon, the family Christmas traditions of his childhood would become a thing of the past.

One of the tragedies of adulthood – you have to let the childish things go.

“We will always get together on Christmas Eve. All of us.” His emphatic announcement of one year ago.

When you get married, I told him, you might discover that your spouse’s family has their own Christmas Eve traditions. Somehow, the two of you will meld these into a new set of traditions for your own household.

This is how it happened for me. Christmas Eve was born after my mom remarried and her husband’s parents had a mandatory Christmas Day gathering. Mom’s family gathered on Christmas Eve and the other family on Christmas Day.

Happily, this worked right into my husband’s family traditions. They had never really celebrated on the eve before Christmas. It became the time my mom, sister and I brought our families together to exchange gifts.

Every year, we added another item to the tradition. The kids performed a pageant of sorts every year. My husband and I shared a Biblical perspective on the holiday. Gathering around the piano to sing carols is the newest addition to the list.

Christmas Eve caroling
Christmas Eve caroling

This is what my son wants to continue.

Except this year he will be spending Christmas Eve “day” with his girlfriend’s family. What happened to the tradition being set in stone?

I’m sad that my son will miss most of the festivities. “I’ll be there by 4pm,” he says. Just in time for darkness to fall and gifts to be exchanged. After most of the other traditional happenings are finished.

Did I say “I told you so” to my son? Not in so many words, but I parroted his words from twelve months ago back to him.

Did he say, “You were right, Mom. Things are going to change”? *Falls on the floor laughing* That would be an emphatic “no.”

But we both know who won this argument. If there was an argument. Which there wasn’t because that’s not part of our traditional Christmas. Ha!

What traditions do you hope to hold onto as your children grow into adulthood?

Trimming the Tree

Lights on - ready for trimming
Lights on – ready for trimming

Some of you will call me Scrooge. Some of you will second my sentiment. A handful of you might gasp. Others may nod (unless someone is watching). The truth is: I hate putting up a Christmas tree.

I heard the gasps. Really. I prefer it to the tirade I received from my youngest son a few years back when I said I didn’t want to put up a tree. In all fairness, he lectured his dad for wanting to put up an artificial tree, so it’s about more than having a tree to sonny boy.

My son loves the tradition involved. This is what he remembers: the first Saturday in December, we bundled up in warm coats and mud boots and headed to a local Christmas tree farm.

Wandering through the rows, they would point out possibilities. I had the final say. Some people think I’m picky about the tree.

Such a conclusion was probably formed when I frowned at the fat Douglas fir tree my husband brought home one Christmas. I told him – I like Noble fir trees. Was this a Noble? A tree is a tree, he says. He never made that mistake again.

Back to the story at hand: when we found the perfect tree, my husband would saw along the base of the tree. We would cart it up to the cashier (there was no “cart” but my husband is a pro at walking it beside him).

Unlike those people who drive around with a tree strapped to the top of the car, ours goes in the back of the truck. In fact, I feel that one of the reasons my husband keeps our rarely-driven truck is just for hauling a tree. And other hauling emergencies, of course. Like when we cleaned out the garage. Did I mention the truck is seldom put to use?

What was I writing about again? Oh, right, the idea of not having a Christmas tree.

Tree trimming is a family activity
Tree trimming is a family activity

It’s so much work to move the furniture around to make space for the tree. Dragging out all the lights and ornaments is another hassle. What I hate the most? Decorating it. No, un-decorating it (is that a word?) is worse.

Let’s just agree that decorating (or un-decorating) the tree isn’t my favorite thing. The same son who throws a tantrum at the thought of having no tree disappears when time for dressing the tree in all its sparkling finery approaches.

Or he puts a dozen ornaments on the branches in the middle and calls it done.

If I’m going to have a tree, it’s going to be done right. Glaring gaps are strictly forbidden. Two ornaments the same color hanging directly next to each other is a gaffe. All sides must contain equal disbursement of embellishments.

Since I have standards, a few people who live in my home think I should do the decorating myself. I’m happy to remind them that I would gladly choose to have no tree at all. More grumbling and complaining and another flippant attempt to trim the tree.

Last year, I just let it look ridiculously unbalanced. No one mentioned it. Of course, I could only bear to look at the thing in the dark.

Here I freely admit that I would miss having a tree for one reason. I like to get up early in the morning, plug in the tree and then just sit in the darkened room sipping coffee and watching the lights twinkle, reflecting off the different ornaments and painting patterns on the wall.

How do you feel about having a Christmas tree? Is there a specific aspect of Christmas that you strive to keep the same every year, as a matter of tradition?