musings

What I got for Christmas this year…

When I was a kid, my former best friend and I had a Christmas ritual. I’d call her, or she’d call me, and we’d talk about what we got for Christmas. In those days, Christmas was all about the presents. I remember getting a lot of toys that were exciting and fun, although she usually got more stuff than I did. She had a computer and usually got a lot of cool games to play. On the other hand, I had a horse and she didn’t.

As we got older, the phone calls were less frequent and less animated. We grew apart and eventually had a “silent” falling out. Christmas had become less exciting to me for a lot of reasons, most of which involved family drama and abusive behavior. Add in the fact that I was broke, and really couldn’t afford Christmas, and the prospect of the holiday season brought on true depression for many years. I hated the stress of it and the tears that would usually come after a family visit. There were always high expectations and they were never met. I’d spend the weeks after Christmas recovering from whatever drama was unearthed.

It took a long time before I started to enjoy the holidays again. Since we swore off drama at Christmas, Bill and I have become more fond of the festive holiday season, even as we welcome things getting back to normal in January. We usually stay home and have a low key holiday, with me in my nightgown and Bill cooking a nicer than usual meal. We’d open presents, listen to music, drink wine, and enjoy each other’s company. Low key, low stress, zero drama, and almost no excitement.

This year, I didn’t get “much” for Christmas, in terms of what was under the tree. Bill didn’t have time to shop and has a hard time choosing gifts for me, anyway. He did buy me a lovely soft wool wrap at a Christmas market in Weiden, which is in Bavaria. I used it last night, since it was a bit chilly in the house. I think it’ll get a lot of use in the house rather than out and about. It’s just big enough to cover my shoulders and arms, and it’s super warm. Bonus points that it’s navy and grey, which are favorite colors of mine!

Bill also got me a Homepod, so I can stream my huge music collection from my computer. I have a Bose Sound Dock that basically sounds great, but doesn’t easily stream anything from Apple. Instead, I had to stream from Amazon, and since I usually buy albums rather than “renting” them, this was a problem. I’d end up buying my favorite albums twice. I’m sure I could have figured out a way to stream on the Bose, but it involved a lot of hassle and/or using my iPod, which is also pretty much obsolete now. I use mostly Apple products now, so it just made sense to get the Homepod, which works with both Apple and Amazon, but presents its own logistical hassles, as I discovered last night. I’m sure I’ll figure out workarounds, though.

My mother-in-law sent fun, colorful socks to Bill and me. Socks are a good thing, since I wear them all the time when it’s cold. I sent her Keb’ Mo’ albums, since we are considering seeing him play when she visits later this month. After our latest trip, we may decide to skip another trip so soon… maybe we’ll focus on finding a new furry friend instead. Now that the holidays are about over, it’s time to think about giving a home to a dog that needs one, if we can find someone willing to let us adopt.

I got Bill things for the house. A few of the gifts– the first ones I ordered, actually– haven’t even arrived yet because they came through APO (our U.S. government run postal system). What was under the tree for Bill included a new waffle iron (since we have a 110 volt one in storage), a new coffee grinder, because the old one is wearing out, bellows for the fireplace, yet another book about cocktails, and storage containers for leftovers. The stuff that is probably sitting in the post office includes a new shirt, gloves for carrying firewood, and a canvas fire log tote.

So… it was a fairly lean Christmas in terms of tangible gift giving… and yet, it was probably one of the best Christmases of my life. This year, we were invited to France by my dear friend Audra, and her husband, Cyril. Audra and I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia. When we were growing up, Gloucester was a very rural, very small town. It’s grown a lot over the years. In fact, in the mid 80s, it was the fastest growing county in Virginia. We’ve both seen it change, and we’ve both found our ways out of Gloucester. Many of our contemporaries still live in Gloucester and have raised their own families there. Audra and I have both wound up in Europe long term. Audra will probably stay in France for many years– maybe even the rest of her life. I’ll probably stay in Germany for as long as I’m allowed to… European life mostly agrees with me, although it takes me away from friends, family, and being at “home”.

Audra and I spent the time bonding over this whole European/American lifestyle thing… and we have a tremendous number of things in common. We went to the same high school, the same college, are both Air Force brats, and have had some similar life experiences. The older I get, the more I realize how rare and valuable true friends are, and I think that we have them in Audra and Cyril, who so kindly opened their home to Bill, Arran, and me over the holidays and gifted us with local beer.

We talked about so many things, shared so many memories, and enjoyed so much good food and wine with Audra’s French family. It was overwhelming to us on so many levels, since neither Bill nor I had ever experienced Christmas in France before. One common thread, though, was the love of family, which we were allowed to share with Cyril’s parents, brother, sister-in-law, grandmother, and an adorable dachshund named Merlin. I don’t speak French, and yet I felt like I really felt at home with Cyril’s family, who were very loving, accepting, generous, and kind. And they were also so patient with Arran, who can quite literally be a little stinker sometimes… just ask Audra’s cats!

We also received spectacular French hospitality in Beaune. Yes, it partially involved us being crime victims, but the locals there were so kind and welcoming to us. We are especially indebted to the owners at Au Miracle du Pain Doré (The Miracle of French Toast), who even gifted us with a free night in their gite. We were blown away by their generosity and kindness. And since I am the type who likes to pay it forward, I’m spreading the word as much as I can about their gite!

It was a true gift to get to see two very different French cities, too. Nimes is nothing like Beaune in terms of weather, architecture, or local color. Nimes has a large population of people from North Africa, which gives it a real Mediterranean flair. Beaune is in Burgundy, which really isn’t like Germany, but is probably more like Germany than Nimes is. Nimes has almost a Spanish flavor. We could have driven to Barcelona in the same time it took us to get to Beaune. It was amazing to get a change of scenery and a reminder why we love living in Europe so much.

It was even more amazing to have loving friends and family to celebrate with– especially since there wasn’t a single awkward, traumatic, or shitty moment. We were all free to be ourselves and, in fact, we never ran out of things to talk about! And no one was critical, mean-spirited, rude, or attention whoring (Audra knows of what I write). It was just a lot of fun! Bill and I will always be grateful to Audra and Cyril and their family for the wonderful gift they gave us in welcoming us to their home in 2019! We’ll never forget it!

Every year, I try to remind myself about what Christmas is supposed to be about. It’s always fun to get new stuff, but it’s so easy to get “stuff” year round. And we really have too much stuff– as I learn every time we have to move. What’s more important and ultimately more valuable are loving relationships with friends and family… having life changing experiences… seeing beautiful sights and hearing glorious music and eating good food. It’s already a gift to have enough, and we certainly do. We’re very, very fortunate to have all we do, but we are especially blessed to have each other. And even if all we had was just each other at Christmas, in the grand scheme of things, that would surely be enough to make it magnificent!

I know I’m cranky, irritable, and sometimes downright bitchy… people probably read my blog and come away with the idea that I’m a total curmudgeon. I know some people believe I’m clueless and “privileged” (trust me, I’m not as shallow as I might seem). Underneath my crabby exterior is someone with a big heart, and I definitely gave part of it to France over the past ten days.

I hope all my readers had a great Christmas and will enjoy a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!

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holidays

Christmas adventures in France…

Merry Christmas, everyone. Here’s another quick post for Christmas Day. I don’t have a lot to write about today. I suppose I could come up with something from the news, but I like to keep things light on major holidays like Christmas.

I’m in Nimes, France right now, visiting my friend from high school and college. We became close in recent years because we have a lot in common, and because we grew up in the same area and know many of the same people. She’s been in France for years and has children and family here, since she married a local.

It’s really been nice to be welcomed into Audra’s home and treated to a French style Christmas. In fact, this may be the best Christmas I’ve had in many years. Bill and I usually have very low key holidays, bordering on the boring. This year, we’ve had the gift of being able to make new friends and enjoy the old… and Audra and her husband are especially great to be with, because they don’t mind my unconventional sense of humor. They’re great for other reasons, too.

We will open our presents on Sunday, when we get back to Germany. We don’t have many to open, mainly because of this trip to France. It’s been nice to get out of Germany for a few days, and I look forward to writing the story of our travels, as I always do…

I hope those of you who celebrate the holidays are enjoying yourselves. And I hope those of you who are feeling depressed or lonely find some way to make the holiday season less painful. It’s hard to believe 2019 is just about over. The year flew by. A lot has happened, and I expect more will happen in 2020… the year of perfect vision.

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musings

This time of year is depressing…

A lot of people love Christmas. They love shopping, decorating, baking, eating, exchanging gifts, drinking libations, and all of the other stuff that comes from Christmas. When I was a child, I loved Christmas. It was fun to get presents and hang out with my sisters, who would come home from college for Christmas. My parents were into their musical stuff, so I’d get the house to myself a lot. When I joined choirs myself, I’d have musical stuff to do, which was great. Then I finished school, and wasn’t in choirs anymore.

When I got to my twenties, I started finding Christmas depressing. That was mainly because I was forced to spend the holidays with my family, and there were often a lot of fights during that time. Also, during that time of my life, I was always broke, yet I was usually working in retail or restaurant environments where people were spending money. I couldn’t afford to buy presents, and even if I could afford to buy them, I didn’t know what people liked or wanted.

When I married Bill, I started enjoying the holidays again… that is, when his ex wife or my family weren’t causing problems. Now, we’re at a point at which we can afford to have nice holidays. We can buy presents, enjoy good food, and since we live abroad, there’s no pressure to hang out with people who start fights. I like that. I still kind of find Christmas depressing, though. This year, I think it might be because of the weather.

It’s actually not very cold in Germany right now. I just took Arran for a walk, and didn’t even need a jacket. It’s about 50 degrees. I’ve been having some back and hip pain lately, so the walk was a bit painful. But it was also depressing because the sun hasn’t been out in ages. It’s dark, gloomy, and wet outside. There’s mud everywhere, and the balmy temperatures remind me of global warming. I remember eleven years ago, we were living in Germany and I would never dream of going out in December without a jacket. Since then, it’s been getting warmer and warmer. It makes me worry about the future of the planet.

Then I think about my friends and family. I haven’t been “home” since November 2014, and several aunts and uncles have died since then. I feel like I don’t know my family very well anymore, and most of them probably don’t care to see me anyway. This week, Bill is TDY again at a place where I can’t easily join him. So I’m going to be here alone all week, probably buying presents… but we won’t be here for Christmas. We’re going to France to see a friend of mine. I’m looking forward to that, at least. I hope it all goes well. I’m actually a little worried about finding places to eat on the ways there and back. We’re staying two nights in Beaune both ways, and the lady who owns the apartment recommended making dinner reservations. But I have no idea where, and I worry that we’ll be stuck eating Domino’s Pizza or something.

I know I shouldn’t feel blue… It would probably help if I got out more. This morning, I went back to bed after Bill went to work and started reading Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments. Honestly, I like the sequel more. I find it more compelling than the original novel, which I struggled to get through. However, I seem to fall asleep every time I start reading. I can’t need to sleep that much, can I? I think it’s because it’s so dark and cloudy outside, and the bed is so comfortable, I just want to stay in my nest. I finally made myself take Arran for a walk, but then my back and hip started hurting. I managed to do the whole loop, but I definitely needed ibuprofen. And that was kind of depressing too, since I’m not that old yet. Give me a few more years before I start getting decrepit, please.

Anyway… I can think of a few things to do, I guess. I hate it when Bill is gone, but I can usually find stuff with which to occupy myself. I realize I’m very fortunate, too, because he has a good job and we have plenty. Not everyone is that lucky. I still really miss Zane, but maybe the new year will bring a new dog into my life. If I can stand to walk it, anyway. And nobody does Christmas quite like Germans do. The local Christmas market is very festive. I just find this time of year dark and depressing.

It doesn’t help that Carroll Spinney, who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died yesterday. Granted, he was almost 86 years old and lived a long, wonderful life. Still, it made me emotional to get that news. In fact, I cried more over Carroll Spinney’s death than my own father’s. When I heard about Spinney’s demise, I had to watch him at Jim Henson’s memorial, during which he sang “Bein’ Green”. I had a good cry, right there in front of Bill, who picked that time to ask me if I didn’t see that everyone– even me– has worth. I got a little irritated with him, because the video had made me all verklempt. I said it wasn’t the right time for that discussion. He said I was right, then we finished off the chocolate cake I made for Thanksgiving.

This makes me cry every time.

Well… if Christmas is depressing, January is usually even more depressing. And so is February. But then the spring comes, and it’s nicer. And maybe we’ll have an idea about how much longer we’ll be here and what the future holds. Maybe I’ll even have a puppy by then.

Perhaps I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder, though. These really short days are depressing and make me want to hibernate. I’d probably feel less guilty about hibernation if it was snowing outside.

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family

The holidays are coming…

I expect ours will be drama free this year, since we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in Germany and it’s not a German holiday. Christmas will be spent in France, with my friend from high school and college. She’s married to a Frenchman, so we’ll have the chance to experience a French Christmas. That should be fun, too.

I have had my fill of dramatic holiday seasons. Bill and I have talked about this a lot, especially since he’s also been through quite a lot of dramas over the years. We both treasure “heavenly peace” at this time of year. However, I must admit that it’s kind of fun to read about family dramas on www.exmormon.org. Who needs the Hallmark Channel when you can read about all of the control issues and high expectations that come from religious families?

Shunning, threatening, fighting, forced church attendance, forced praying, underwear checks, and leading questions abound, and people write about this stuff all the time on that site. I sympathize with them, even though I have never been LDS myself. I think stress during the holidays among family members is a given for many people. Christmas, especially, is a day that a lot of folks fill with great expectations and hopes for magic. It pretty much never works out that way, because Christmas is just another day. In some parts of the world, it’s not even a holiday!

Peter’s home for Christmas. Break out the Folger’s! Only the best for family, right? It’s all just a fantasy.
“O Holy Night”… that’s a challenge to sing even when you’re not emotional, missing your brother!

Should Christmas be a little “magical”? Well, sure… if you can manage to make it that way. Everybody likes it when friends and family can come together and be happy as a unit. But if you can’t make it magical, there’s no need to go nuts. It really is just a day.

Thanksgiving doesn’t tend to be quite as crazy as Christmas is. That’s why it’s my favorite holiday. Historically, I’d spend it with my extended family in Virginia, which has a reunion every year. There’s a lot of music, dancing, drinking, singing, game playing, football watching, and visiting. The best part about it is that everyone stays in the hotel, so there’s little fighting. And if a fight does erupt, there are plenty of other people to talk to and places to go to get away from the squabbling. Our Christmas celebrations were usually a lot more stressful, since most of us would stay in the house and spend too much time together. Inevitably, there would be a fight– as there was the last time we celebrated with my family, back in 2003. I swore them off after that year!

Last time we went to my family’s Thanksgiving party was in 2014, and we flew all the way from Germany to attend. We were mainly there to honor my father, who had died a few months prior. To be honest, as much as I had always loved those gatherings, they had become very crowded and chaotic. And now, even though I’ve always loved the family shindig, I kind of appreciate staying home and having a quiet time with my husband. This year, it’ll just be him, me, and our dog, Arran, since we lost Zane a few months ago. Maybe we’ll just go out to dinner… or we’ll cook something at home. Our oven is kind of too small for a whole turkey, though, and even if it were big enough, there are only two of us.

I’m always grateful to have a spouse who not only respects my preferences, but enjoys peace as much as I do. He doesn’t pressure me to hang out with his family during the holidays, and I don’t pressure him to hang out with mine. I miss some of my relatives, but I don’t enjoy fights. So I’m for staying home… and reading up on RfM for all of the inevitably outrageous stories that occur at this time of year. More people need to realize that they have the right to say “no” to drama, especially when the holidays are afoot.

Here’s a little mood music for this post! 😉

God bless Paul Thorn… he gets it!

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