Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So This is Christmas

It came, it went. Why does it always happen so quickly? We worked and worked making peppermint bark, homemade wrapping paper, a batch of winter brew, cinnamon rolls and spinach balls, and spent hours sewing up a storm of soft goodies to get everything ready for The Big Day, and then it came and went in a giant holiday rush of sweet goodness.

After the big San Francisco trip, I kind of freaked out when I realized how soon Christmas really was, re-prioritized a few things, then downsized our Christmas gift giving list. We worked with the "less is more" concept and I think it turned out pretty well. Most people got a small, homemade token of some sort that Jack and/or Sawyer had participated in the making of. (In case you are wondering, it is now perfectly acceptable to end your sentence with a preposition. Trust me, I am an English teacher.)

I also decided that instead of being the family events photographer, I would put down my camera and live in the moment, rather than stuck behind the lens attempting to capture the moment.

So less was more. At least I hope it was. I'm not sure if it was a combination of laziness and frugality or simply common sense that led us to the decision not to give the kids many toys this year. They each got a pair of pajamas, a homemade doll, and a few little trinkets that were sure to please. Sawyer got his own water bottle and Jack got a Lego headlamp (and in case you didn't know, it was the year of the headlamp, apparently.).

Sawyer got an apron, and I'm not quite sure what I was thinking, because I quickly realized that I'm not quite ready to have his very special brand of "help" in the kitchen just yet.

Even thought we had deliberately simplified our gift giving to the kids, I did catch myself in a fleeting moment of panic on Christmas Eve when the stockings were filled and the few gifts sat beneath the tree. Had we done enough? Would they be happy? Would it be magical and special and everything that Christmas is supposed to be?

Then again, isn't the better gift the one that's gained when you learn to appreciate what you have instead of wanting what you don't? But how do you teach that? And I guess that's really all I want for my kids. I know we'll never be rich, and I know that because that's not one of our life goals. I also know that we'll never buy the kids indulgent toys or things we can't really afford, because those things don't reflect our family values. So how do we teach our boys to recognize gifts as sentiments rather than items? Can it be done? I welcome any suggestions in this department...

I think that we all experienced the feeling as a child of opening a present that you didn't really want. And trying to fake like you liked it, when in reality you wanted to toss it into the pile of wrapping paper and cross your fingers for the next one. I vividly remember this happening one Christmas when I was probably nine or ten. My mom had put together this tackle box filled with sewing tools and it seemed to me, the ungrateful daughter that I was, that she had given me this gift with herself in mind, rather than me. As is ME! ME! CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE! To put it simply, I thought it was a stupid present and I remember posing for the camera while wistfully eyeing the remaining packages under the tree. What was I hoping for? Headbands? The newest Wham! tape? A pair of Guess jeans? I don't remember, but I'm pretty sure I didn't fake my enthusiasm well about that sewing box.

But now that I am an adult and a mother and a daughter who no longer has her mother, I see that sewing box through a completely different lens. I can imagine my mom strolling through the aisles of FabricLand, picking and choosing through seam rippers and pincushions and buttons for just the right things. I imagine that she loved every moment she spent creating that unique gift for me and thinking of the sewing we would do together and reflecting on the gift of the craft that she was passing on to me. I bet she knew in her heart that deep down inside I was a seamstress, just like she was, and I'm sure she knew that someday I'd experience the supreme satisfaction of making the things that cannot be bought.

And now, today and every day that I live this life, I wish I could go back and appreciate that gift. I would lay my head against her fuzzy blue robe and inhale her sweet mom-smell and feel her soft hands stroking my hair and say thank you. Thank you for this gift. And for all of the gifts. Thank you.

I hope she knew.

I find myself writing about my mom a lot on this blog. In case you don't already know, my mom died at the age of 45 of colon cancer. I was 19 and my brother was 13. I won't insult her spirit by saying that she "fought hard" or "lost the battle" because that somehow implies that some people fight harder than others and that somehow effort, willpower, or some unseen attribute can "beat" cancer. I never went to grief counseling and I can say with absolute certainty that I have not "gotten over" her death. So it just comes out at certain times and I guess I just need to let it flow.

And I thought about my mom a lot as I sewed those pajamas and dolls. I thought about the skill that she taught me and what a gift it truly is. I thought these things as I stitched on her old machine, using her old pincushions and scissors. I thought about how much I miss her. I thought about how much I love her for the things she taught me.

It turns out that the boys loved their pajamas and dolls and new things. And all of the grandparents made up for any of our shortcomings in the giving of toys, and maybe that's how it should be. The boys were happy, satisfied, fulfilled, and loved. It was a beautiful Christmas, with just a tiny bit of sorrow.

Jack and Sawyer spent Christmas day with their adorable cousin Xavier, who turned two on Christmas Eve. Jack could not believe his luck when he realized we'd be having birthday cake on Christmas.

And there were Christmas games! Sound corny? I assure you they were not!

Sawyer and Xavier had some serious male bonding time. If you are wondering why my son is topless, it is because he stuffed his face at dinner and then ran laps around the house until he threw up on himself. I guess it's not really a party unless somebody pukes.

Just when we thought the festivities were winding down, we received a dinner invite from some of my oldest family friends. We were treated to the company of dear friends, gourmet pizza, fine wine, and the now infamous phrase "I'll watch the kids while you guys get naked!", which was Liz's effervescent way of inviting us to take a sauna.

If I never cut my boys' hair again, it will be Soleo's fault.

I wanted to show you the dolls up close, but when I tried to set up a photo shoot, Sawyer came along looking for a snuggle. His blanket has an opium-like effect on him.

I'd been harassing Brent about building a play kitchen for the boys and it just so turned out that Liz had an extra play stove, circa 1980. I bet you had this one, too.

I did let Sawyer help a bit in the kitchen. He's pretty good at turning the cookbook pages.

So that's it. The whole big Christmas shebang. And maybe more about me and my childhood and damaged psyche than you ever wanted to know. But hey, if you can't stand the carbonation of Talking Rain, maybe you should switch to Perrier.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Went to San Francisco. I Took My Camera.

It all started with Eve Bunting.

What? You mean you've never heard of Eve Bunting before? But she's an award winning author!

I was in the fifth grade and for some reason I felt compelled to check out her book from the Brattain Elementary School library. The very weak plot of the story is that Danny, a shrimpy teenager, tangles with a motley crew called The Outlaws (whose threatening gang monikers include Jelly Bean, Priest, Maxie, and Cowboy) and flees to Alcatraz Island, where he hides from his pursuers in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Oh, and there's a romantic subplot, too, involving a redhead named Biddy. So anyways, the book totally sucks. And especially you should not read it as an adult because her writing is sexually suggestive if your mind tends to wander at all toward the gutter. But I was a naive ten-year-old who completely missed those references (phantom pounder!) and on that day in Springfield, Oregon in 1986 a dream was born.

I knew that someday I would make a pilgrimage to Alcatraz. Was it for Danny? For Biddy? I guess we'll never know, but for sure I was going to make it to that rock at some point in my lifetime. Then, this fall, along came Amberlee with her talk of the annual GeologicalphysicrockformationSANFRANCISCOsymposiumlavaearthmantleblahblahblah Nerd Fest, which just so happened to end on MY FIRST DAY OF WINTER BREAK! Clearly the divine forces were calling me to Alcatraz. Clearly.

It is a true friend indeed who will track down an out of print relic from your childhood and special order it to be delivered to your doorstep. This is the same kind of friend who will memorize the words to this song just so she can sing along with you.

For the record, I was not the Sarstedt fan. Additionally for the record DO NOT BUY HIS GREATEST HITS ALBUM! We thought Eve Bunting was a perv. Sheesh.

Back to the narrative here (whoa, Eve Bunting! Stick to the plot!). I was to meet Amberlee in the city and I swung by Arcata to get our friend Emily, who I will henceforth refer to as MLE because 1. I know a lot of Emilys and sometimes I write about Emily (hi Emily!) and I wouldn't want anyone getting confused. 2. because it's cool to write the name MLE out in letters like that (makes it more difficult for people to find "oracle" anagrams in your name like Mallard Beer Doe and Acid Ass Sores). And finally 3. it makes her seem kind of French, as in Mlle, the abbreviation for Mademoiselle. So yeah. I'm avoiding confusion here.

So MLE and I rocked out to some serious Peter Sarstedt as we drove down the coast and we arrived late and hungry to meet Amberlee, who had taken the company of a delightful young man by the name of Tom. Although we begged our new friend to join us in our dining excursion, his pressing social engagements interfered and we bid him adieu.

Au reviour, Tom. Bonjour pizza. And wine. And staying up really late in our hotel room (which was totally awesome and a steal of a deal, if you don't mind the sixth floor. We did not) and taking turns reading aloud from the book Someone is Hiding on Alcatraz Island. Because that is just how freaking rad we ladies really are. Poor Tom, he'll never know.

With two days to kill before The Rock, we embarked on some serious tourism. Because we are hardcore, we went running down to the wharf on that first morning before we walked about twelve miles in Chinatown. And we also climbed up to the gigantic phallus that is Coit Tower. It was a good thing we found some kick ass coffee back near our hotel. I mean really, they make their own almond milk! Who does that?

Just what exactly is Dim Sum? We may never know for sure, but I'm happy to report that we ate some from the Good Mang Kok Bakery. Yes, we ate there based on name alone. Yes, our minds were totally in the gutter at this point in the journey. I blame Bunting and Sarstedt.

We walked into the restaurant and saw this:

So we just did the whole point and smile and hope for the best routine and we ended up with a lunch feast of mostly edible items for $7.50. Yum! I guess I like Dim Sum, whatever it is.

Chinatown totally rules. I had no idea.

(in bed!)

I've been to San Francisco plenty of times before, but I don't know, this time the city spoke to me. Maybe it was the trolley cars, the holiday lights of a big city, the Irish coffees, or the parrots of Telegraph Hill. For whatever reason, I fell hard for the city. I love that place.

At last the big day came: Alcatraz or bust! Except it almost was a bust because we slightly (ahem) underestimated the walking time to get to pier 33 and ended up making a mad dash to the ferry boarding area just in the nick of time. Well, with about twenty seconds to spare.

If you don't know about the Native American occupation of Alcatraz during the early 1970's, you should read up on it. Some serious sh*t went down on that rock. In fact, if you don't know much about the history of Alcatraz, I suggest you stop reading this drivel immediately and get yourself on over to Wikipedia post haste.

I found the Christmas menu to be strangely fascinating. Consomme?

The whole Alcatraz experience was slightly creepy at first. We opted for the night tour, and the sinister effect was definitely achieved. I thought the escape stories were pretty cool (even though the audio tour guide kept saying "excape") and you find yourself rooting for the escapees ("excapees", as it were), even if they were mob bosses and serial killers. Oddly enough, most seemed to be bank robbers. I had always thought Alcatraz inmates were more of the axe murdering persuasion. Ah well, live and learn.

But once we got up into the hospital and saw the surgery rooms and the solitary cells where they kept the mentally ill inmates, I started to find the whole thing kind of depressing. That place definitely has some weird juju going on.

But mission accomplished! Dream realized! And so to celebrate, we ate at The Stinking Rose (get your mind out of the gutter, it's a garlic restaurant!) and then picked up some tiramisu from a bakery in Little Italy.

We left the city the next day and drove north to Arcata. We stayed the night at MLE's house and watched the lunar eclipse from her backyard, I geeked out about her antique Singer (treadle!!), and we were treated to a Dutch baby for breakfast.

So yes, to answer your question, I had an amazing trip. Adjectives do not do it justice. But if you've ever driven a station wagon through treacherous and icy northern California hills while rediscovering your love for Metallica with one of your best friends in the world, you maybe have an idea what I'm talking about.

Oh, and if you are wondering what happened with Danny and Biddy, I'll loan you the book. But be careful, it just might inspire an epic road trip adventure to Alcatraz.