the Grinch finds fun at Christmas

I never liked holidays growing up--there was always something--I will leave it at that.

When I lived out East at the farm I stayed there for every single holiday for nearly three years, absorbing some of the farms traditions; and then continued to go back for some of the holidays even after moving back to Michigan. Now with Dad gone I know that I am especially dreading this Christmas.

I went to a Christmas party a couple of weeks ago at a friends house and someone overheard me say that I hated Christmas music; this after talking about how marginalized the real idea of Christmas has become, and how our culture has taken Christmas and made it into this horrible "shop-fest." My friend Chris called me Grinch. Maybe he is right.

So, I have decided in the spirit of my 14 things that make me happy mode, I will list 14 alternative things to do this holiday season. And maybe even share some of the memories too.

1. Make pinecone bird feeders. This link will take you to directions if you have never done it before. I did it the easy way last time I did these with friends at the farm--peanut butter slathered over pinecones and then rolled the pinecones in bird seeds.
Memory: After we did these you could see the pinecones hanging on trees all around Main House where we had our meals and meetings. It was fun to see the fruits of our labors.

2. Pick-up games of broomball (or hockey). We used to occasionally have pick-up broom ball games after breakfast, which lasted about fifteen minutes--to get people going in the morning and partly in celebration of our frozen pond behind Main House. Unlike the official game using "brooms," which look like a form of hockey stick, we used either hockey sticks or actual "sweeping the house" brooms and a rubber ball. Also, most people would run around in shoes on the ice.
Memory: Celebrating the farms annual Winter Olympics we had a pick-up broom ball game and I remember running around on the ice wearing my Olympic torch bearer toga (yes, I have pictures) and stepping on my toga and falling hard on the ice. My butt hurt all day. I don't think I could sit still for a few days.

3. Read Twas the Night before Christmas at some point before Christmas. We always read this at the farm the night of "Bringing Down the tree. "
Memory: There was an eldery blind woman named Harriet at the farm, who was in her 90s, and who had worked at the farm for many years. She knew the story by heart and would recite it to enthralled children. It was very cool.

4. Decorate a tree with friends, even it is one in someone's yard, this is a really fun activity. Have music playing, good snacks, homemade hot chocolate, friends talking, all while the tree is being dressed.
Memory: Every December at the farm we hike through the woods and get a tree. The tree is pre-selected, even pre-cut and put back into a hole in the ground. While we are walking this path up into the woods we are asking the kids which tree we should take. Of course the adults always steer them towards the one that has already been chosen, but it makes the kids feel as though their opinion mattered. This ceremony is called "Bringing down the tree." Once the tree is dragged back down to Main House and put up in the living room (one of the oldest sections of the house) we take out the ornaments and start putting it together. And as many hands make light work, it is done in no time. The most beautiful thing too is that the youngest person in the community--a staff person's child-- puts the angel on the top of the tree. My last Christmas at the farm Mummy Dearest and I bobbed and weaved around each other and the tree to help with the lights, laughing and talking as we went. A truly good memory.

5. Sledding. I love sledding. I love sledding so much that even when I am in my 90s, crooked and bent over my cane, I am still going to go sledding. I feel sorry for people who grow up in climates where they do not have snow. I remember in high school my cousins from Florida came up for Christmas and they had never gone sledding or built a snow man...and they were TEENAGERS!! We rememdied that quickly.
Memory: I remember my first winter at the farm, after a good snowfall and ice storm, I went sledding down Rawson Brook. Rawson Brook is this steep road with a slight ravine on one side, and a few cabins along the road, which eventually sharply curves down around to a bridge that takes you to the sauna. We used old wooden sleds on runners that someone dug up out of somewhere. I went with Lacey, Danny, and Eric and someone came up with the good idea of linking sleds two together to have two teams of two race down the hill. I went in front and hooked my feet in Danny's sled behind me. Eric and Lacey did the same. I am sure I have never gone that fast on a sled before and I don't exactly remember what I hit but I remember flying through the air and flipping completely over--starting on the sled on my stomach--landing with a flump in a huge mound of snow in a sitting postion. I laughed so hard I think I woke up John O, who's house I was outside of. Good times.

6. Make homemade hot chocolate. It is so easy and can be stored in the fridge for a few days and reheated on the stove at a low simmer. This is something you can never go wrong with.
Memory: We used to make this really great recipe of Mexican hot chocolate , even making ours vegan(which of course I don't have with me--this link is for a recipe I found online, this link is for the history of hot chocolate-cool). I remember working over a big pot with the contents of the recipe multiplied by by 20, stirring in the ingredients, greeted by the smell of cinnamon and a deep, rich chocolate. So good.

7. Watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Christmas Story"
Memory: It seems that we watched It's a Wonderful Life almost every year growing up. It was my parents favorite Christmas movie. I remember getting into my pjs and settling in for a night of watching "The Christmas Story" at Topside with roomies TSOldtimer, Mummy Dearest and Hubby my last Christmas at the farm.

8. Make snow angels.
Memory: I remember running outside in my pjs to do snow angels as huge, downy flakes came down while we were on retreat at Subiaco. It was perfect, even the cold snow felt amazing on my bare feet.

9. String cranberries and popcorn. I always was amazed when I heard people tell stories of how they strung cranberries and popcorn for their Christmas trees. I had never done it until...
Memory: I think it was B1 who took it upon herself to make sure we did this for our house Christmas tree. It took forever, but I remember the sense of satisfaction I felt when our "masterpiece" was on the tree.

10. Go for a walk on a winters night.
Memory: I remember walking Diane's Trail one winter's nights with some housemates. I can't recall who all was there: Marc, Val? B1? TSOldtimer? We all dressed warmly not knowing how cold it would be while plodding through the snow on the trail. The moon was out, though hidden for a greater part of our hike, but we brought a flashlight and by that made our way around the mile and a half loop of the forest. It is one of my favorite times on the trail. So quiet and peaceful; even our laughter died off and we fell into our own thoughts and an admiration for the stillness all around.

11. Bake something.
Memory: Every Christmas our Mom makes her family recipe Christmas cookies: chocolate nut squares and nut rolls stuffed to the gills with sugared walnuts and so good straight out of the oven when they are just cooled enough to eat. I remember the old hand crank nut grinder that I would crank on continuously until my strength felt like it was about to give out and then I was done. And the little work I had done--as my mom smoothed the dough and my sister busied about the kitchen--it mattered. Ah, the first bite of those cookies. Glorious.

12. Wear pajamas all day.
Memory: I remember doing this on a day off in Topside. Wrapped in my comforter, clad in flannel pj bottoms and a tshirt, with a mug of coffee and a book. I will never forget TSOldtimer walking into the house after he finished with work, taking one look at me and saying, with much incredulation, "ARE YOU STILL IN YOUR PAJAMAS?!"

13. Read a good book. I love that around the holidays there are always some bare moments or a half day that can be devoted to holing away somewhere and reading.
Memory: I remember reading the Chronicles of Narnia aloud in Topside with B1, Amos and TSOldtimer. TSOldtimer and I had to drive B1 to the train station to go home for the holiday and we were trying to finish the book before she left so we were reading it in the car. I can still remember how I cried at the end of The Last Battle.

14. Have coffee with friends.
Memory: I always loved tea time at the farm. Coffee, tea, and juice, as well as munchies--always something wholesome, sometimes something sweet. I loved sitting around and drinking coffee and catching up with friends after a day of work. Some of the best conversations I have ever had have been over coffee.

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