"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Friday, December 31, 2010

The problem with going on vacation ...

Is you always have to come back to reality.

I always wish my house looked like some of the vacation homes we stay in. Reality is, mine doesn't. We're usually returning to a lived in explosion.

Why is it so easy to get along with the bare essentials on a vacation? And why do I always come home wondering how to simplify my life accordingly?

Vacations wear everyone out and keep us all so busy there isn't as much time for petty disagreements that wear on my last nerve. That right there is enough to make me want to be a perminant vacationer.

If only it were that easy.

Eliza and I turned into the ski shuttle for these guys all week.

And in our spare time, we rode the gondola and played in a snow fort at the resort... that is until our feet got cold and we had a good cry and some pumpkin pie at the peak restaurant.

And this day, she wasn't a fan of the big tubing hill so we found something more our speed. She nearly fell asleep riding this thing.

Vacationing forever to escape life's realities??? Okay, I guess some ideas just seem good at the time but in the long run wouldn't be the most well thought out of plans.

Because, if we did this everyday, what would we have to look forward to. Time to head back into reality.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

When I try to recall gifts received at Christmas, I find them over shadowed by fond memories of times spent together. I'm not sure why I can't remember the stuff. Maybe because it was just stuff.

Before the holidays, I get this urge to de-junk. I throw out by the black bag load. I find myself contemplating re-gifting all of that forgotten mess on Christmas morning but I don't think that would make the people around here very happy. So there I am, shoveling out the stuff, preparing to replace it with more stuff, and I get down right tired of all the ... stuff.

This year, we downsized and enjoyed a Christmas all about the joy of giving between family members eager to share the simplest of gifts.

The novelty of kisses left everywhere by Santa Claus

Teens get harder to please the older they get and after awhile, do they really need one more thing? A brother who is so easy to please, is so refreshing.

Bananas for stocking stuffers.

A girl who let jealousy over her brother's new glasses get the best of her. All she would ask, write or say she wanted from Santa was fake glasses to make her look smart. I scoffed, I scorned, I told her she'd best think of something better than that. But I guess Santa knows how to win a little girl's heart.

Christian's idea for a new line of wrapping paper made entirely of foil. No tape needed and perfect in wrapping lip gloss for sisters.

The most anticipated gift earning the best response. I curse those school holiday shops every year but this time was a winner.

No idea what the gift, but this was the point.

And as soon as the unwrapping was over, we loaded our family to give them the gift of memories together. Skiing the Rockies ... better than stuff.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Peace on earth

Probably the second most commonly asked question next to "When's it going to be here?" must have been, "Mom, what do you want for Christmas?"

Each and every time my answer was the same. "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, guys!"

"Come on mom -- that's not a gift!"

Oh contrare monfrare, I say. No gift would be greater than to have a peaceful home full of love and kind words. Eager helpers, with no sighs or eye rolls. A family full of best friends. No tears, no frustrations, just good times to remember.

Maybe it felt like I really had to squint to see it sometimes, but I did get the gift I was wanting most. Here are a few moments of peace on earth and goodwill toward men worth keeping forever.

Our dad began his vacation with ours. Grant looked forward to this for a long time and had their first day all planned out. But, he abandoned the project before too long returning later to a dad still working away. "Boy Dad, you're dang good at Legos." was the quote of the day.

Game nights.

Sleeping under and by the Christmas tree.

NORAD Santa tracker.

Moments of peace and goodwill not to be forgotten.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kitty in a box

I'll admit that on Christmas Eve, I worried there would be no topping this.

Sometimes the simple things are simply the best.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas Tonight

Mom: I wanted to tell you all how much Dad has especially enjoyed the stories. He said he had forgotten every memory and it has been so special for him to hear all of these things. He has talked about the stories and even begun to remember a few of his own. But this is what surprised me - yesterday, he and I went to town and he kept saying he had to stop at Lowes. We finally got there and I found out why. He needed hooks and/or nylon ties for hanging our Christmas lights! When we got home, he came in and got out the tree and asked about the noodle Jesus. He needed to know y'all cared. It has made a great Christmas for him. He has the printed copies on his desk and is reading them again and again. Thank you all so much.

I love family traditions. We are full of them. For as long as I can remember our family has gathered children together on Christmas Eve before bedtime, to read the poem "Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas tonight". I remember being a little girl and my grandfather who has long since passed, reading it with tears in his eyes as he was brought to remembrance his own father reading as he sat listening as a boy.

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.
Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,
Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine;
Christmas where snow-peaks stand solemn and white,
Christmas where corn-fields lie sunny and bright;

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,
Christmas where old men are patient and gray,
Christmas where peace, like a dove in its flight,
Broods o'er brave men in the thick of the fight;

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all,
No palace too great and no cottage too small.

A few years ago, my mother gave us all a copy of the One Hundred and One Book of Poems from which to read it.

Tonight brings me home to you all. I love you and Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

One last Christmas memory

Erin (#5): Just recently a new little antique store opened in our town. It’s called “It’s a Wonderful Life” and it’s on Christmas Avenue in Bethlehem, GA. Cute, huh? It’s right next to the post office, and as I drove by its black-and-white sign this week, I thought about that Christmas when Dad watched that movie over and over and over.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we seem to have (at least) two sets of memories of the things that have happened in our lives? There’s the memory of our immediate reaction, of what we said, did, and thought at the time, and there’s the memory of what really went on, as softened and understood through the filter of years or decades of experience with life. I remember walking in and out of the living room as Dad watched that old boring black-and-white movie again and again, and wondering what at all he could see in it. I mean, it wasn’t even in color!

But I wonder now, in light of Mom’s statement, if Dad didn’t identify with George. We all know George’s story, of harsh reality, of life, of all the things he was “supposed” to do crowding out the things he dreamed of doing. All of us as adults have felt, or will have felt, that same way. Old house, lots of kids, a job that doesn’t fulfill my dreams. “Why do we have to have so many kids? You call this a happy family?” I can hear Dad saying it today, and laughing until he nearly cried.

But I want you to know, Dad, what I remember about Christmas.

We know now, and we knew then, that you and Mom scraped to fill our stockings with coloring books and My Little Ponies. Eleven stockings is an awful lot. I don’t know if you thought about it at the time, when what you could see was the columns of numbers that didn’t quite add up, but every one of those children that you scraped for would someday be an adult. Every one of them needed to know that our lives aren’t about getting what we want all the time. That it’s better, somehow, to scrape it all together to give somebody else a beautiful Christmas than it is to take your money and buy yourself all the things you want. Every one of us, I think, learned that lesson, a lesson we couldn’t possibly have learned from lavish Christmases year after year. Why was it, after all, that Mom was always so overjoyed to get a new dish drainer from Santa? And I know now that they sell those cordial cherries for a slap dollar a box, and you acted like you’d gotten solid gold.

In my little box of cherished items that I lug with me from house to house as I go, I have a little blue-green sweater. It’s about a size six, and I remember the Christmas morning I found it under the tree in a box with my name on it. I don’t remember who told me, but I knew that Dad had picked that sweater out just for me. We must have a picture of that moment somewhere, because I can see myself more clearly than memory usually allows. I’m sitting in front of the brick hearth with Meg, frowzy-haired, with the blue-green sweater pulled on over my pajamas. What was so wonderful to me about that sweater, the reason I loved it that morning and have kept it for so many years, was this.

My father, a man with lots of cares, with worry about the Christmas bills adding up, with eight other children, took the time to pick out a sweater just for me. Because he knew me. Because even though I often felt like just one more amid a sea of hollering children, my Daddy cared whether I smiled on Christmas morning. And not just enough to tell Mom to go get me something nice, but to pick out, with his own busy hands, a sweater that he knew I’d love. “Is this her size?” I imagined him saying. Her. Me. Every time I see that sweater, I take it out and hold it, and remember the feeling I felt that morning, that can’t possibly show in the picture, that I was alone, for once, in my father’s heart.

So yes, Mom and Dad, I know how it must have felt. It felt like you were dealing with children. I know now how that feels, and I’m sorry that so often it feels so thankless. But I want you to know that you weren’t only dealing with children. You were laying down memories in the minds of adults. The minds of parents. You remember the scraping? I see the widow’s mite. You think of all the gifts that were lost, forgotten, or broken? I hold, decades later, a little blue-green sweater that taught me, and continues to teach me, that although I am one of nine, or one of billions, my Father knows me, and cares whether I smile.

The gifts that you gave us had nothing, and yet everything, to do with the actual presents you put your two dimes together to buy. Because this year, as each of us thinks of how best to bring Christmas to those around us, we’ll remember the feeling that was in our home every year, that we were known, that we were worth sacrificing for, and that we were loved.

Merry Christmas,

Love, Erin

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Stories

Emily (#9): I had completely forgotten about hiding stuff in each other stockings. Ha! That was the best! Christmas morning always had Santy-Clause's stuff and then a spoon from the kitchen or an old pair of socks. Hilarious.
One year, Mamie, the boys, and I got up at the crack of dawn and sat in the living room with only the tree lights on. I remember Mamie and I were both curled up in Dad's old chair and the "magic" of Christmas was blanketing the whole room so heavily that none of us wanted to say anything and risk breaking the spell. I remember looking at that MOUND of Christmas presents, and in my childish mind, thinking, "I wonder how many of them are for me!?!?" The funny thing is, the only thing I actually remember getting that year is THAT deep-cut picture of being curled up with my sister under the twinkle of the lights. Interesting how that works.

Josh (#2): One of my first Christmas memories was in Mauldin in about 1983. I don't think that I had been especially good that year and halfway expected ashes and switches. Most of us,(at least Mark and I) lived in one of the downstairs bedrooms and the big living room was also downstairs. I remember trying to hear Santa Claus make some noise so I could catch him in the act as I lay there wondering whether reindeer really know how to fly. I must have dozed off but when I awoke all was quiet so I silently strode out of the bedroom, down the hall, and into the living room. In one corner was the Christmas tree but the couch was obscuring the bounteous spread. As I walked around the back of the couch I could see the wheels, shiny paint, and chrome handlebars of a new BMX bike. I had no idea what time it was and I was not completely sure that bike was for me due to my conduct throughout the year. It did occur to me that I was the only one big enough for that bike and Mark probably already had one. Then it hit me--if Santa caught ME, then there was no chance that bike would be mine. I sprinted back to bed and lay there for a lifetime until I heard someone from upstairs start down. Like Joseph and Will I rode the wheels off that bike. So I say again, "thank you, Santa Claus!!"

Me (#2): Who could ever forget those reindeer dad worked for hours to make for GJ -- I'm hoping as the oldest granddaughter, that those will pass down to me :)

Erin (#5): Was that the year we tarped all our presents to the top of the Suburban and bungee-corded the "Santa Crossing" sign to the front of it?

Me (#2): I believe it was! And I think it was the first year I ever saw snow at the beach and Dad taught us all a little defensive driving in the snow lesson.

Will(#7): Dec. 25, 1996. For Christmas that year at the beach, Mark and Laura Sue gave each of us kids a MatchBox car as you all remember. Im sure that they just got them at the dollar store, and that was all that they could afford for our army that year. I'll be honest, this gift paled in comparison to the bikes, Tonka Trucks and Super Soakers of years previous. But guess what? AFTER 13 YEARS, I STILL HAVE MINE. (see attachment for proof). I guess It wasn't that bad of a gift, since I still have it. With the gift is attached a great memory. The "Tonka Trucks" have long since been forgotten, buried in the mud of the stream on Woodhaven Dr., and this little matchbox car, as with every physical gift in this life is bound for a similar fate. The memory of that Christmas at the beach under a freakish 9 inches of snow in an uninsulated house on stilts, however, is mine and y'alls to keep forever.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Memories

Lara Sue (sister in law married to #1): I remember showing up at the house in Franklin one year and Emily was MAD at Erin because she kept not letting her do something. Then on Christmas morning Emily opened Erin’s gift and it was a WHOLE bunch of doll clothes and furniture and such. All of a sudden Emily was Erin’s best friend. I thought it was so neat the Erin had put that much work into Emily’s gift, and that Emily, once she saw the gift, knew how much work it had taken.

I also remember the Christmas, early on in my history with y’all, we were at the beach. It was the day after Christmas and the girls all went out and found a cross-stitch store. They had $5 grab bags that were stapled shut in just brown paper bags. Every one of us ended up getting one and we had such fun opening them up and seeing what was in them. It was like a mini-Christmas all over again.

There was also the year in Franklin that Mark kept joking about stealing the silverware since it was real silver. The funniest part of it was after we got home, the following Sunday, Mark found a silver fork in his jacket.

Also, one of the earliest years, I had totally spaced stockings. We were all at the beach and for some reason I just forgot to pack the stockings, and forgot to even worry about filling them. I mean I really spaced the stockings. Yet somehow, Christmas morning there were stockings there for us that were filled as full as everyone else’s. I don’t know who packed the extra stockings but thank you.

Emily (#9): Who? Me? Mad at someone? Never! Preposterous! Even-tempered is more my style.

I do remember the doll with the hand-sewn clothes, though Erin. I think it's still in my closet at home. She had a Christmas dress and a kilt and a tiny sweater. I think the doll was originally yours and you just remade her to be mine with new duds. I LOVED that doll and I love it even more now that I'm old enough to appreciate it.

Mamie (#6): I can still remember the Christmas that Grand Janie let us all choose an ornament off her tree and I chose this ratty old Grandma Doll because I thought it was adorable. She then proclaimed that Meg had chosen the ornament of the most worth, but I didn’t agree because even though Grandma’s hands are on backwards and she has holes in her face, she was my favorite. She is still in my box of decorations today.

I remember those years that we hid things in each others stockings, and asked Mom if we could sleep in the living room with the Christmas Tree lights on weeks before Christmas Day even came.

Whatever your family does together that makes it special and that you remember is what tradition as all about. I am sure we didn’t look up one day and say that dancing around the Christmas Tree is tradition. I bet those before us didn’t have any idea that we would read “Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas Tonight” and shout “We’re in the Christmas!” every year.

Traditions are those things that make the time special and meaningful and easy for you and your loved ones to remember what is most important and what really is just fluff. Thanks for all the great Christmas memories folks. They have made me who I am.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Spies in the yard and other Christmas rememberances

It's Monday madness -- the day that Mom demands the house deep cleaned and de-junked in prep for Christmas. If this guy in the yard is really a spy, I just know he can hear the household discontent all the way out out there and his report most likely won't be pretty.

So while I hold the trash bags in the upstairs hall, waiting for grumpy children to fill them with accumulated garbage ... here's more happy Christmas memories.

Mark (#1): Yelled from the bottom of the stairs-- “Thank you, Santa Claus!!” (Most of you probably don’t remember that one. This would have been the Christmas of 1979. We all—what there were of us at the time--woke up Christmas morning in the Davenport apartments and went downstairs to find stuff all over the place that Santa had left during the night. For Josh there was a train in a box with a gray track and Josh yelled ‘Thank you, Santa Claus!” from the bottom of the stairs.)

  • “I see Dad’s present in the tree, but I’m not gonna tell him what it is!” (Most of you won’t remember that one, either. That was Meg on Cherry Hills Drive in Bettendorf about Christmas of 1980. Mom had gotten Dad a nice set of chrome pens and, so he wouldn’t shake the wrapped present and figure out what it was, she had hidden the present way up in the branches of the Christmas tree itself, instead of under it. Only problem was, she didn’t keep its whereabouts from Meg.
  • “Every good southern boy has a knife in his pocket.” (The first time I ever heard this was the Christmas of what was probably 1982, in Mauldin. I don’t remember anything else I got except a Camillus pocket knife from Grand Janie. Though I would hear this statement many, many times more, I think that day was the first time I can remember having heard it.)
  • “Mark, sing the ‘Wild People Sing’ song again.” (In Mauldin, just before we moved up to Franklin, I was in the 8th grade chorus at Hillcrest Middle School. We sang a concert in the Greenville Mall at Christmas time and one of the songs we sang was “Hark, How the Bells.” Mom spent the rest of that Christmas calling it the ‘Wild People Sing’ song.)
  • So, okay, you’re not Mark Watson, but I’m Melody Longnecker. How about that?” (The year after I got back off of my mission, Marlowe and I were at BYU together. It was the Christmas of 1991 and we both wanted to go home for Christmas but didn’t have much money and our parents’ didn’t either. In those days you could just buy a plane ticket off of someone else and use it. The airlines, despite the fact that they DID put the purchaser’s name on the ticket, didn’t care who actually used the ticket. Marlowe and I had bought a couple of tickets out of the newspaper and off of the BYU sign board to get back to Atlanta. I said something offhand about me not being Mark Watson right now and it feeling a little weird. I hadn’t paid any attention before, but sure enough we’d bought her ticket off of someone named MelodyLongnecker. What has stuck with me through the years is how thankful I am that my last name isn’t Longnecker.)
  • “Hello, Mark! (Hello, Mark!)Merry Christmas to ya! (Merry Christmas to ya!)” (The first Christmas I absolutely, positively, could not be at home for any (good) reason came the Christmas of 1989. I was in Uruguay on my mission and Christmas day was somewhere around 100 degrees with no air conditioning. We were allowed to call or be called from home for Mother’s Day and Christmas, and I’d only been down there since October. I hung around the phone in our house on Christmas Day waiting for Mom and Dad to call, which they did. When I answered, I got my first dose of global satellite telecommunications. A Christmas I’ve never forgotten.)

Now, go eat some piggy pudding everyone. It’s made with figs....and bacon!


Mark T. Watson

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas magic and more correspondence

It's like I've hit a mile marker. School is over. Teacher gifts are finished and given.

Cranberry - walnut granola. I love disposable gifts.

Waking up a little later than usual to a gently falling snow and time to make a great breakfast while enjoying my family -- it's Friday Christmas magic. I just feel more relaxed today.

The heat lamp in the coop must be working. Happy hens are laying hens.

I'm off to appreciate the little things in life. In the meantime, here's a little more of my email chain.

Emily (#9 and obviously the baby):
Some of you may have noticed, some not, but there is a perma-string-o-lights on the front eaves of Mom & Dad's porch. Wanna know how they got there? Will and I (and perhaps Joseph but he might have been missioning in foreign lands) waited until Mom & Dad went to nap and then backed the Tahoe up and over the grass out front (and truth be told, nearly over the flower bed too), perched a ladder on the back bumper, and then leaned the ladder against the top eave of the house. Will told me to hold the base of the ladder but of course my gloves were from Gap so I couldn't touch the rusted metal. He climbed up anyway. The things we do for Christmas. Is it any wonder they've been up there 4 years?

Will (#8): Heh, THAT was a pretty good day!

Joseph (#7): I think it was 1989 when I came down the stairs and there were 2 of the coolest little BMX bikes ever, right beside the tree. Will and I rode those bikes until the tires wouldn't hold air and the handles had worn through to the metal. In 1992 Dad refurbished those bikes complete with new chains handles and tires. We had not left for the beach yet but when we started packing up, I threw a stink about having to leave my bike at home. I promised it wouldn't take much space and that i would travel curled up in a ball and gave it my all to try and convice Dad. He finally said, "Fine, we can take your bike but we have to leave one of your siblings home." Evidently the reverse phsycology didn't work on me because I immediately said, "Yes! Leave Meg!" Evidently I thought I could kill 2 birds with one stone. Don't know what I had against Meg but I am glad that Dad stood firm and made me leave my bike home because Meg is still around while heavens knows where that little BMX bike is now.

Erin (#5): Do you remember, Meg, the Christmas we came home from college on the same flight as Josh coming from Ricks? We'd packed a whole footlocker with professionally wrapped gifts we'd gone in together on at the BYU Bookstore to take home to everyone. Josh had a cardboard box full of Idaho potatoes and a duct-taped locker full of moose steaks. All the way home on those cheap, change-planes-many-times flights, he babied that bleeding cooler into and out of the overhead compartments, much to the disapproval of the tidy stewardesses. Oddly enough, I don't remember how those steaks and potatoes were received when we got to the house, but I do recall thinking that our sweatshirts and baseball caps paled in comparison to the thought and care that went into Josh's gift for our family that year.