Friday, December 24, 2021

St. Charles Christmas Traditions

Last year, while hunkered down at home, Emma learned a TON about the history of the 50 United States and the start of our country.  And since she was virtual schooling in our living room, I got to listen and learn along with her.  If I'm honest, as a student, I always hated history.  It seemed so boring and irrelevant to my life.  In my late 20's, however, a visit to Washington D.C. changed that for me.  I saw pieces of history in front of my eyes and I couldn't deny that it was amazing.  I began to have a much greater appreciation for the history that existed in my world, and have since become more fascinated by it.  As Emma learned last year, my eyes opened even more to the beauty of our country's history.

For over 20 years, I have lived a mere 20 minutes from St. Charles, MO, the first capital of Missouri and starting point for Lewis and Clark's two year expedition to the West.  Here, history is literally on every corner of Main Street, which is still a brick road.  For decades, the city has been a historic area full of block after block of small businesses that were once homes, hotels, shops, and more.  Every Christmas, the area steps back in time as they have what they deem an outdoor festival every weekend in December.  Characters from Christmas past, both fictional and historical, are dressed in time appropriate clothing and wonder the 8 blocks with trading cards for children to collect.  When you meet them, they tell you about the history of different Christmas traditions from their countries and time periods.  It. Is. Magical.

This year, with a more historical perspective & appreciation for simple thing, the details that I might have missed before, now stood out.  As we walked the blocked streets, I paused to take in the houses, 100's of years old, many decorated with simple greenery and bows.

Another simple Christmas tradition that overflows on Main Street are the groups of Christmas carolers at every turn.  Not only do they look smashing, but their voices and personalities are FANTASTIC.  My dad would have loved them!

Some of the characters we saw are, well, characters!  Jack Frost has a very pun-filled and sarcastic banter about him and is always a favorite!  We saw several characters from Charles Dickens', A Christmas Carol, including the Fezziwigs, who were Mr. Scrooge's boss from his Christmas past.  We watched the inventor and toy maker, Herr Drosselmeyer, interact with his creation, the Nutcracker Prince, who inspired the 1816 tale The Nutcracker and Mouse King.  We also saw many four-legged friends, definitely a popular guest families bring along, as well as getting to take pictures with the Sugar Plum fairy wings painted by a local high school student for young visitors to enjoy!

Of course, what would the traditions of Christmas be if they didn't include the Santas from history?  We got to meet and learn about the Civil War Santa, Pere Noel from France, Father Christmas from the United Kingdom, and Saint Nicholas - the bishop from ancient Greece.  We learned that Saint Nicholas was famous for secretly distributing his riches amongst the poor (sound familiar?) and later became the story for children receiving gifts in their shoes on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th.  We also got to hear of the Russian Snow Maiden, Snegurochka, who helps to bring in the New Year half way around the world.

Of course our time wouldn't be complete without a stop to see the North Pole Staff, Mrs. Claus, learn a little Christmas Tree history, and finally see ... 

the big guy himself - Santa.  Our girl got to have a very quiet moment with Santa (behind glass) and share her simple ask for under the tree.

We were so thankful for this chance to engage in some Christmas traditions from history and look forward to doing it all over again next year!  Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

It's the Little Things, 2020

My mom and I were recently reflecting on how life is built of the little things, as my son slowly approaches the end of his high school days.  In many ways, the last 18 months has been a magnifying glass on that idea.  So, since my girl has been begging me to write a blog post (reading them has become a new favorite past time of hers), it felt like the perfect nudge to reflect on our little things of 2020 and why my blog posting suddenly hit a wall.  

The start of 2020, in many ways, was much like years previous.  We had just finished spending Christmas with my mom, only our second one since my dad had passed.  We had our new puppy and were ready to start a new year.  Little did any of the world know, it would be a year with very little of what we had seen before.

We welcomed 2020 with our growing puppy at the front door, as we resumed back-to-school life.  We cashed in The Gift of Time presents, to spend more time together (oh, the irony), as we painted pottery at our local pottery shop.  Aaron got his Eagle Scout Project approved and began collecting materials for what seemed to be the next big thing on the list, and we participated in Girl Scout events with friends, including viewing the super moon in February.

When March 2020 hit, I already had a clear understanding that any virus can be dangerous for me as a diabetic.  When my condition was on the top 5 list for high risk complications, this was suddenly a whole different game.  The world seemed to also acknowledge the seriousness, which made staying safe much easier.  We watched life slow down through both our physical and computer windows.  School and group functions went purely online, and our backyard and short walks around the block became our new world.

In some ways, it was rather beautiful to mark things off our calendar and begin to learn things that we loved about spending time together.  My husband built my daughter a swing for her favorite tree and my son got papers signed off for his Eagle Project.  We designated nights for each member of our family and spent many of them learning about what made us individually tick, as well as what we could have fun doing together as a family.  We had plenty of backyard fire pit nights with s'mores (at least some people did), and I was able to witness my first ever Mother's Day book addition, which consists of handprints and hand written notes, always done in secret until 2020.

We sought out a few families that we asked if they were remaining mostly separated from others and  Aaron worked to finish his Eagle Scout Project outdoors with masks.  The project portion of his rank was complete by the end of May, leaving him 1 badge, installation, and paperwork.  We were so excited for him to be able to mark this off his list.

Being at home had its ups and downs in the beginning, but it was about to get much more difficult than we could imagine.  In May of 2020, people started getting together with others.  The phase of life in our area that was "masked and six foot apart" began.  In the mean time, my doctors were advising me to remain out of stores and restaurants and to not engage with people who were in high contact with others.  By then, almost everyone we knew had resumed spending time with people several times a week or had jobs that were considered front line workers, so that left us without options.  As life began to get into a rhythm outdoors, we continued to celebrate from indoors or our backyard.  There was a Father's Day scavenger Hunt, front yard July 4th fireworks, virtual driveway Girl Scout bridging, and a 16th birthday with a night long video game celebration.  All of which, while done with a smile, was always done with an understanding, but heavy heart.

School started back up and life around us resumed for most people we knew.  I had to pull myself off social media many times because it was so very painful to watch people posting as their lives were returning to normal and ours was remaining the same to keep me safe.  The few times we considered re-engaging with a group outdoors, we would later find out that someone at the gather had gotten COVID and it made my heart skip a beat to think we could have been there.  My kids continued to attend school and Scouts virtually, our family attended church and care group virtually, and I attended my Moms group and lunches with Annie virtually.  I was SO very thankful for the ways that people helped us to stay connected, but it was also so hard on our hearts to still be on the other side.  I emailed and called my doctors frequently, just to double check that they would give the same advice.  I was advised to continue the same path: my household was to remain out of stores, out of restaurants, out of group gatherings, and away from people in high contact jobs.

With so many people around us getting back to normal, it was difficult for some to understand why we weren't, especially as the holidays arrived.  My family stood firm with me in following my doctors' guidance.  They loved me so deeply; more than I am sure I could ever know.  They made sacrifices for me that I will never fully comprehend.  I have always listened as people would tell me they could "never do" the things I have to do to stay alive.  They could never turn away from sweets or count carbs or take shots or be limited in their day to day lives.  I have always responded that if their lives depended on it, they would find a way.  Over my almost 4 decades with this disease though, I have learned that that actually isn't always true.  I have watched as people didn't take the medicine, didn't say no to the food, or didn't listen to the advice of their doctors, and this disease took their life because of it.  Or worse, they did do all the things, and diabetes still won.  However, there are, in fact, people who COULDN'T do what I do, and couldn't do what the people in my home did for me this last year.  I will never be able to tell my people how deeply grateful I am that they did THE biggest things in their lives in 2020 (and 2021) to keep me not only healthy and sane, but feeling so very loved.

Our holidays were as low key as the rest of the year.  We made our first turkey, and masked up to quickly snag a Christmas tree in a parking lot instead of our usual tree hunting with large groups in hayrides and shuttle buses.  We decorated our way-too-large tree with decades worth of sentimental ornaments and celebrated with Charlie Brown reminding me that I have so much to be thankful for, even in the darkest and hardest of years.  That my little family, who loves me with a level of sacrifice that speaks beyond my words, is one of my greatest gifts.  That 2020's little things, really did amount to being the biggest things of all.

Until next time,

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Papa Tom's Fairy Garden

For those of you that are loyal followers, you may have noticed the very long delay in posts.  I promise, I'll talk about that at some point, but not in this post.

Our family has some wonderful neighbors and friends, Mr. Tom and Ms. Karen.  When we first moved into our house, we met Karen when she brought us over a meal after a day of moving in boxes, because that is the love of Ms. Karen.  It was fantastic to have real food and a lovely start to a friendship that has lasted well past a decade.  Our girl became good friends with Mr. Tom.  She would ride her bike or scooter on the sidewalk in between our houses and chat with Mr. Tom from his usual perch in his garage.  It became a sweet routine and constant in our lives.  I wish I had real photographs of it, but it always felt like an intrusion into their space, so I didn't ask.  I only have 1 from very far away, and I deeply regret not asking.  When Mr. Tom's on and off sickness took an unexpected sharp turn this summer, it left us all so very lost that he would not be returning to his perch.

Karen and I had talked about trying to get some photos in with their family the next time their grandkids came into town, but things moved so very fast that we never had that chance.  Instead, Karen, her daughter, and her grandchildren decided to create a beautiful memorial Fairy Garden for Papa Tom and I was able to photograph it.

While the creating began, Kathryn, Tom's oldest daughter, and I chatted about how the beginning of this wasn't as picture perfect as it appears.  Between figuring out all the details, there were small voices that were desperate to make sure the pieces they picked in the store landed safely in their garden for Papa Tom.

Of course, you can understand why that matters.  Papa Tom was pretty fantastic.  I have no doubt that under the normal parts of being kids, were the more sullen parts that were understanding these were no ordinary fairy gardens.

Everyone worked so diligently as they began to lay out their designs.  When rocks ran low, Karen was quick to find more with her granddaughter.

It was really very beautiful to watch the kids work on something that was so special to them.  Of course, there were still those in between moments where pieces were being held to tightly for fear of being relocated to a neighboring garden, but that was ok.

As the kids continued to work, I found myself watching Karen and wishing Tom were there with them all.  I know I wasn't alone with those thoughts.  He would have loved watching those kids pour themselves into those gardens.

Before the end came, there was rock sharing and piece giving and lots of pride to be had about the creations they had made.  But there was just a little more left to do - picking the perfect location.

And the real beauty of any fairy garden - pixie dust.  The kids each took some and shared what they loved about Papa Tom.  I found myself catching my breath as I shot through memories of Papa Tom going fishing with his grandson or how his granddaughters just loved spending time with him and knowing that he was so kind to everyone.  Indeed.  Emma and I would second that.

The glitter caught the sun and the wind and scattered everywhere.  I loved to watch it fall and think that Tom was all around.  I could see him poured over each of those beautiful children he was a part of.

The final products were so beautiful and such personalized pieces to hold memories the kids shared with Papa Tom.

There was one final send off with glitter to the wind.

And a for sure feeling of all the love felt for Papa Tom that would remain behind like the glitter of the world.

Until next time,