Christmas in review

29 Dec

When I tell someone that I am driving to Buffalo or Manhattan from the other, the response is usually a look of incomprehension that implies I’m driving to Mars.  But I love the drive.  I obviously don’t have a car in the city but more so than just the novelty of driving (and yes, bringing all my dirty laundry home at the age of 30…), being alone in the car is a great opportunity to decompress and leave any stress behind – at least once you deal with the stress of making your way through the Lincoln Tunnel and actually out of the city.  But once you’ve maneuvered the correct exits off the New Jersey Turnpike and are well on your way to the Delaware Water Gap and eventually Scranton, you can let your mind relax and just enjoy the trip.  With the unseasonably warm weather this year, I was able to roll my window down a bit, allowing fresh air to flood the car.  I turned the radio up louder than is probably appropriate for a Tuesday morning at 11 am and chugged coffee at a rate that would give the car’s mpg a run for its money.  I’m also going to share a secret: I am an absolute slob in the car when driving long distances alone.  I just cannot concentrate if the passenger seat and floor aren’t utterly cluttered.  It’s totally weird; I know.

The holidays for my family this year sadly included a sense of loss and remembrance as we came together following the death of two family members.  Although there is never a good time to say good-bye, the loss was undoubtedly intensified by the holidays.  Despite everything, I am so thankful that I was able to travel home early to be with my family during this time.  Since there are rarely words at a time like this, I took the inspiring words of someone else, Scottish poet Thomas Campbell:

“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

I spent the two days leading up to Christmas Eve, despite the circumstances, getting into the holiday spirit – and was relatively successful doing so!  I decorated the tree, finished our shopping, planned appetizers with my mother, picked up wine to take to my cousin’s house, blogged about my Christmas playlist and wrapped presents.  The sheer hatred for wrapping presents must not be genetic because despite my mother and grandmother’s utter disdain for it, wrapping presents might be my favorite holiday task.  (Thank god I don’t have a big house or else I’d probably turn into one of those weirdos with a wrapping paper and ribbon room just off the kitchen and VIP status at Jo-Ann Fabrics.  I wish I was kidding.)

Christmas Eve morning and afternoon were spent at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the Denver @ Buffalo game with the girls.  I don’t have the opportunity to say this often but following a stellar tailgate, the Bills dominated the game, winning 41-14.  It was pretty much the Christmas (Eve) miracle I had hope for, meaning two things: first, I saw the Bills win for only the second time in my life; and second, my best friend and I were finally at our first winning game together after years and years of attending games together.  As I later tweeted, “Merry Christmas to ME.”

For years, Christmas Eve night has been spent celebrating at my oldest cousin’s house.  I was there for less than 20 minutes before: (1) I was exhausted from chasing my cousin’s 2-year-old daughter around on the kitchen floor; (2) my cousin held up my Buffalo Bills purse and said “Really, Kate?” (hey, I was coming from the game!); and (3) I desperately needed (and found!) a glass of wine.  The kids eventually tore into presents with energy I could charge by the bottle for while the adults (yikes, that’s us!) overindulged in appetizers and wine.  Absolutely exhausted by the events leading up to the day, and Christmas Eve itself, my brother, mother and I forwent our tradition of exchanging presents when we got home and instead all crashed within 10 minutes of walking through the door, electing to open gifts the next morning.

Christmas Day is always spent at my father’s house with his older sister, younger brother, my mother’s older sister and all my cousins and the cousin’s kids that go along with this crowd.  My parents, brother and I make a point to visit my great aunt (who turned 90 this year!) every time we’re home and Christmas was no exception.  An incredibly independent woman for her generation, my aunt used to visit New York City regularly so my brother and I started a tradition last Christmas of purchasing a new ornament for her every year at the Bryant Park holiday shops.  This year’s ornament was a beautiful hand-painted image of Central Park covered in snow (I wish I would have snapped a picture of it!)  Once we got back to my dad’s, it was our usual Christmas Day antics – exchanging presents, eating and drinking too much, lounging around until late into the evening.  This year my little cousin and I made our very first gingerbread house…although my aunt and I were accused of decorating our gingerbread men in the style of “deranged” while my uncle raided the cookie tray for “bushes” and we scoured my father’s cabinets for extra building material (in the form of red and green M&M’s)….

So what did Santa bring??!  Here are a few of my sentimental favorites:

From my brother, an olive oil & vinegar bottle set and salt & pepper mills because of “all the cooking [I’ve] been blogging about”…

From my mom, proof she reads my blog (other than reminding me that she doesn’t need details about any boys…) – the Zoku Quick Pop Maker…

Also from mom, this awesome ornament…which will obviously stay out all year long!…

And finally from dad, muuuulah!  Part of which is going to bankroll tomorrow’s morning at Bliss Spa at the W with the birthday girl

In addition to purchasing gifts for my family this year, I did something different, making a $50 donation to The Water Project in my family’s name.  This small donation to the area “where most needed” will provide one family with clean water.  In researching where to make my donation, I quickly learned that nearly one billion people do not have access to clean, safe water.  The Water Project is digging wells in five countries in Africa – Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Kenya – and donations help with all the project’s expenses, including operational costs.  Once the donation was made, I received a link to track updates to my family’s specific project.

Within one day of making this $50 donation, the link informed me that our project was a new well for a family in Rwanda.  This project is in the early stages of site selection and initial construction preparation.  During this phase, teams are working to ensure that the community is mobilized and ready for the work to commence.  They are working with them to gather supplies, prepare the site and organize a local water committee to oversee the project in the long term.  Estimated completion date is August 30, 2012 and my family and I will receive updates as they become available.  Very cool!

Finally, we spent Monday with family and friends and I just want to share one quick story, which I found  both comforting and inspiring.  Anyone who knows me, or has kept up with my adventures over the past 18 months, understands how incredibly important my friendships are to me.  Despite my ex-fiancé’s belief that “relationships shouldn’t be work“, those of us who live in the real world realize that relationships of all types, not just romantic relationship, do of course take a bit of work.  It is far too easy to let days, or weeks, pass without a call, email or “friend date night”.  It’s easy to let friendships hide in the shadow of the relationship we (okay, you – ha) have with a significant other.  My closest girlfriends in the city and I have not allowed this to happen, and while I never take for granted how lucky we are to have each other, I continue to be truly inspired by my mother and her best friends from middle and high school, who decades later are an incredible group of women who cherish their friendship and energize (okay, and technically sometimes exhaust!) those around them.  I was able to spend Monday morning with these woman and although it was under sad circumstances that we found ourselves together, I couldn’t help but look around and make a tiny wish for the same someday – at the core – twenty years down the road for myself and the girls I love: unconditional friendship, strength in numbers, the ability to find laughter in warm memories…and still, after so many years, having so much to talk about that it takes hours to decide on a movie showtime…right ladies?!  (“Cue the transition girls!”)

And then finally-finally, there’s the absolute random from my trip home…which always ensues in one form or another!

Laundry: 19 loads of laundry later, I went home with suitcases full of clean clothes, dresses washed on gentle cycle and towels and bedding fluffy with fabric softener.  In my defense, my mother has a smaller, apartment-sized, stackable washer / dryer so it wasn’t 19 real loads of laundry!  (Shout out to my mother who never lets the piles and piles and piles of laundry – and hangers of drying clothes – that are, literally, everywhere, bother her.)

Safety first: With the roll of my mother’s eyes, I was busted my first night home for setting the sliding chain lock on the front door before going to bed.  My mother lives in a small town where locks of any sort are pretty much unnecessary…but I’m clearly a city girl.  My mother asks me if the “chain lock is really necessary” every single time I’m home.  I continue to set the chain lock every single time I’m home.

Shopping bonanza: The true danger of driving back to the city?  So. Much. Space. To. Fill. With. Stuff.  Significantly cheaper at home, I always load up on groceries, toiletries, cleaners, alcohol (including cases of wine and champagne!) and most other imaginable (and some non-imaginable) items.  The end result is a livingroom back in the city that resembles a small natural disaster.  And I snapped this picture after I had cleaned out closets and put away about 85% of what I brought back with me.  You are correct in your audible gasp…I know, yikes.

Loose change: I have a vase on my bedroom windowsill that I’ve tossed change into for months.  It got to the point that it was too heavy to carry to a CoinStar in the city…so I threw the bags of coins in my rental.  When my dad raised his eyebrows at me, I told him that it was my “Old Maid” fund and that I was going to put the cash under my mattress.  He wasn’t laughing (anymore) when I became $167 richer from quarters, nickles, dimes and over a thousand pennies!  Cha-ching!

Meeeow: Let me start by saying that I am not a cat person.  I never will be.  It took more than a few days for me to get used to having my brother’s two kitties from Vietnam with us at my mom’s place but by the end of the week I had definitely warmed up to them.  Here’s Petunia guarding my suitcase the morning we left.  (Disclaimer: Despite the cuteness level of these two kitties, I continue to not be a cat person).

Merry Belated Christmas!

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4 Responses to “Christmas in review”

  1. Mandy January 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Glad you are back to blogging for 2012! Miiiised you 🙂 And a few things:
    1) That Gingerbread house ROCKS! You definitely had the help of a 5 yr old.
    2) Ask mom if we can fill those ice pops with “iced tea?”
    3) The Chain lock is absolutely necessary. Anyone who watches Criminal Minds knows you can be murdered any minute.

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