Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Childlike Christmas #4, Plus Quilts

I've not been blogging much this month, mostly because I've been making quilts--and getting ready for Christmas, which as you know, is a huge undertaking, one that often leaves you muttering, "Bah! Humbug!" under your breath as you roll out yet another round of cookie dough.

I never muttered "Bah! Humbug!" when I was a kid.

Christmas was a much dreamier affair for me way back then than it is now. The days between December 1st and the 25th seemed a million years apart. My brothers and I counted them ... a million days until Christmas, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand days before Christmas ...

And every day, it got darker a little earlier. When I was a kid, I didn't know anything about the Winter equinox, so I didn't understand why the sky started darkening around four o'clock. I must have thought the darkness meant the mystery of Christmas was closing in. Christmas does seem the most Christmas-like when the sun goes down and the lights in the windows you pass on your way home burn all the brighter, and the lights in your own window burn brightest of all.

Now my Christmases are filled with lists and errands, and two weeks before Christmas I tell all my friends how much I hate it, and they tell me how much they hate Christmas, too. I calm down once the shopping is done and the out-of-town presents are mailed. But the fact is, I don't really start enjoying the season until right about now. When I was a kid, I enjoyed it all December long.


I have been making quilts for Christmas presents, and I wanted to share two of them I've finished (I'll post a picture of the third soon).

This quilt is called "Razzle Dazzle," and it's for my sister-in-law, Jessica, who sent me the fabric last year for Christmas. She didn't send it so that I'd make her a quilt, but these are definitely her colors:

And this is the finished pinwheel quilt, for my editor, Caitlyn:
I finished a third quilt last night, and now I'm not sure what to do with myself!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Childlike Christmas #3: Presents

(Me and my little brother seeing what Santa brought us, circa 1969)

We put up the Christmas tree on Saturday, and immediately Will went to work making presents to put under it. Actually, I think he's been working for a while, drawing things and cutting out pictures. Will is a big believer in homemade presents.

I was, too, when I was his age, mostly because it was fun to put gifts under the tree, especially in the early days of the season, when you wanted that space to fill up quick! I still like making gifts, come to think of it--check this space soon for pictures of the quilts I've been working on and just might have finished in time for Christmas.

I'm actually not a great gift buyer. Mostly what I like to receive is books, and sometimes it's hard for me to imagine that other people like gifts they don't have to read. I still give a lot of books, but I also fill boxes with handknit socks and quilts, and lots of pink stuff for the nieces, since my boys don't much appreciate pink stuff.

In third grade, I took lots and lots of quarters to the post exchange, where there was a vending machine with small plastic NFL football helmets inside clear plastic domes. That's what I got for my brothers that year. I think my brothers liked them.

Every year at Christmastime, I had a 6" tree on my beside table that my mother made by wrapping pink tulle around a Styrofoam cone. I wrapped up small white cardboard jewelry boxes and matchboxes, put them around the little pink tree, and imagined what might be in them.


How old was I when my grandparents started sending me money instead of gifts? Second grade? Third? Ten dollars--a huge amount! I never wished they'd sent a gift instead, and yet I still can't bring myself to send my nieces and nephew gift cards, no matter how much I suspect they'd like them.


My parents gave us all sorts of presents via Santa Claus, but probably the best present they gave us was the gift of family traditions, many of which I still keep. Today I spent the afternoon making small loaves of bread for the boys' teachers. Will, coming down the stairs as if drawn by the wonderful smell of good things baking in the oven, asked, "Is it time for banana bread already?" I thought it was nice that he knew the scent of banana bread by heart. My mother made banana bread for friends and neighbors every Christmas, and it's what we nibbled on as we opened our Christmas presents on Christmas morning. It is one of the most distinctive smells of Christmas I know, and now Will knows it, too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Childlike Christmas #2: Magic

My younger brother and I used to sit in front of a lit Christmas tree in a darkened room and tell each other stories about Santa Claus and Christmases past. We were transported from our living room to some place larger, grander. When we were really little and talked about what would happen on Christmas Eve--Santa landing on the our roof and bringing presents through our sliding glass door (we didn't have a fireplace)--we would get all shivery and exited. Magic was about to happen in our very own house!

What I loved at Christmastime: how pink the sky got around 4:30 on the shortest days of the year. Driving through other people's neighborhoods to look at the lights. The smell of banana nut bread, my mother's traditional Christmas gift to our neighbors, baking in the oven on the day before Christmas Eve, what my brothers and I called Christmas Eve-eve.

I loved the holiness of Christmas, which is what people are really talking about when they talk about the magic of Christmas. I loved running my fingers over the ceramic figurines of the manger scene my mother set out every year, lightly touching the folds in Mary's violet-blue dress. I loved lighting our Advent wreath on Sundays, each Sunday a new candle adding its glow to the table.

I loved when my father put Christmas tapes on his reel-to-reel player. Did you have a reel-to-reel tape player when you were little? Do you remember the smell when the motor heated up? And the loud click of the buttons as the reels were set into motion? Those were Christmas sounds and smells to me, just as much as the smell of the tree and Christmas cookies baking.

Mostly I loved sitting in front of the tree and dreaming, all the lamps turned off. It's still my favorite part of Christmas, and I think that's why I'm always a little sad after all the presents are opened on Christmas morning. Ah, the possibilities that exist in a wrapped present! That's a wonderful moment, isn't it--the moment you lift the package toward yourself, test its weight in your hands? The moment right before you open it, and everything is possible?

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Today at church our preacher was Sister Helen Prejean, best known for her book Dead Man Walking. One of the perks of attending a university chapel is that you get amazing guest preachers, and Sister Helen was quite moving. Part of her sermon touched on awakenings, how grace awakens us to God's purposes and plans. It can start with just a nudge--her work as a counselor to death row inmates started as a casual suggestion she be a pen pal with a prisoner--followed by another nudge, and another.

That is how my faith life has seemed to me--a series of awakenings. A chain of nudges. People showing up in my life unexpectedly. Angels stopping by to be entertained unawares. The other day I prayed to be more obedient, and five minutes later I got a phone call from someone who needed my help. Took me half an hour to make the connection. A year ago, it would have taken all day. Maybe I'm a little more awake this year. Maybe I'll be even more awake next year, and it will only take me five minutes to figure out why the phone rang.

I don't know if we're ever fully awake in this lifetime. I imagine that in the coming kingdom we will be astonished by we did not and could not know during our time in this world. All the angels unawares will be revealed to us. All the things we called coincidence. All the wake-up calls--the ones that we heeded, and the ones that we ignored because we wanted to sleep for five more minutes.