the best and worst Christmases

Xmas-Garfield-TreeOur days-until-Christmas chain is almost gone. I’ve been looking forward to this Christmas very much — the celebrating, the presents, seeing friends and being generally festive. And I was thinking this morning about the best Christmases I can remember, and contrarily, because I’m a glass-half-empty kind of gal, about some of the worst.

We were really poor when I was growing up. Thanks to a father who’d decided he wasn’t responsible for the kids he’d had, nor was particularly worried about his nine-year-old daughter having a roof over her head, my mother struggled a lot. There were some years where it was hard for her to keep up with the bills and the groceries, let alone presents. I never felt like I went without, though, so lord only knows how she managed. I remember one year about a week before Christmas, when I was 11 or so, she gave me twenty dollars to shop for presents to give, of my own. She said, “For the person who loves Christmas and loves to give gifts more than anyone, you should have a chance to do that this year.” I don’t remember any of the gifts I received that year, but I remember that twenty bucks, and buying little trinkets for my family, feeling so thrilled. It was barely anything but it must have been hard for her to scrape that together for me, and it makes me sad thinking about that now. Was that one of the worst Christmases? I worry it was — for her. But for me, it was one of the best.

Norman Rockwell and a legion of retailers’ advertisements aside, some families fight during the holidays. It’s the heightened emotions, the gathering of people who often aren’t together, the complicated traveling plans that make you anxious. My family was no exception, and I can remember a few humdingers over the years. I mean, only once did someone throw a punch. 🙂 Some people have never experienced this, and I applaud your relatives’ self restraint and mastery of passive aggression. For most, it’s just the occasional rolled eyes and those awkward, mildly ugly moments. That kind of thing is worth overlooking. But in my opinion, when the words (or fists) get too harsh, though, it’s time to make different plans for the holidays.

There’ve been some really nice Christmases in there, too. The Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls was always so beautiful. I would go with family, later with friends; they stopped doing much on the US side, but the Canadian side still has amazing displays that Dave and I went to every year we could. My cousin and I used to go to Fort Erie, enjoy Chinese food at Happy Jack’s, then drive up the Canadian side to look at all the gorgeous houses and their decorations. Christmas concerts at school (once our chorus sang backup to Andy Williams on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”; let’s just say Andy’s personality wasn’t very wonderful) and nice festive times shopping, meeting friends, having fun.

The nicest Christmas I remember was in 2002. Mom and I went to Wegmans to do our grocery shopping for the holidays, probably on the 20th or so, a few days before Christmas. While we were still working hard to make ends meet, things were a little better. We’d moved into a nice duplex a year or so before, we both had steady jobs and benefits. We had debt and we couldn’t afford a lot of luxuries, but we were okay. And we were looking forward to having a great Christmas feast at home (ham? roast? I don’t remember) with a yummy dessert for just the two of us. We were at the Wegmans on Alberta Drive and it was packed with holiday shoppers, but it was wonderful. Everything was decorated and festive, there was a band playing Christmas carols at the cafe, and everywhere you looked there were treats and tidbits and holiday concoctions, families getting ready for gatherings, everyone in a cheery mood. We shopped and lingered and later agreed it was the nicest thing ever, just being out in the holiday crowd, together, getting ready for our Christmas at home.

Right around now, everyone from your co-worker to the guy driving next to you with his bumper sticker to Linus wants to tell you what the true meaning of Christmas is, but I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon. Christmas is what you make of it, good or bad. It can be about your faith, about your family, about presents or egg nog or about the Grinch. My only advice is to spend it just the way you want to, and not the way you feel you should, unless those two coincide.

Merriest of merries, to one and all.

our nation’s capital

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We’d been told it was too late for cherry blossoms, but there were lots of trees still in bloom.

For my birthday this year, my very nice husband took me to Washington, D.C. I’d never been there. Somehow I missed the 8th grade trip that every kid apparently takes (and, given that I attended three different schools in that year, it’s not all that surprising). It’s only about a five hour drive away from us here and we had a great time.

IMG_2144We stayed at a nice if quirky hotel, The Churchill. It’s up near Dupont Circle and our room was very nice. I picked it for its quirkiness — sometimes I get zoned out by corporate chain hotels — so I can’t complain too much about the air conditioning that blew hot air or the long narrow bathroom that felt like a maze. Our window opened wide to a fresh cool breeze and the water pressure was good. It worked out fine.

The Churchill was also right across the street from the Washington Hilton where we would pick up our Big Bus tour each day. It also just happened to be where Reagan was shot in 1981. Dave looked up the footage on YouTube and found the exact spot the Secret Service pinned Hinkley up against a wall, which was cool if you’re history dorks like us.

IMG_2148The Big Bus tour is a double-decker bus tour with numerous loops that will take you around the city. We’ve taken similar tours in New York and Boston and we’re big fans. I can’t do as much walking as I’d like to but this way, we get around to everything we want. You can get off at any stop or you can just view sites from the bus (which I cannot enough stress the beauty of in Manhattan, especially — you get to stay off the streets, away from the dirt, away from annoying people, and often have a better view above all the traffic). If the weather’s nice (which it gloriously was, this trip) you get to enjoy riding around outside all day. We had a two-day pass for DC and covered the whole city, all the memorials, Arlington, the National Cathedral, lots of Georgetown, the White House, the Capitol Building, and so on.

IMG_2103We spent most of our time off the bus at the Lincoln Memorial; that’s the one I most wanted to see. It was a lot of walking but worth it. It really is something, standing in that beautiful building and looking at that incredibly detailed and downright lifelike sculpture. There are crowds of people there all the time, but the throng is always in motion and you can walk right up to Lincoln and say hello. (He doesn’t respond, but it’s still nice to be friendly.) And as you leave and walk back down the steps you have the grand view of the National Mall before you. I felt a little like Forrest Gump, but Jenny or no Jenny, nothing in the world would have induced me to run into that murky water.

The first night we ate at a place called 1789, a small upscale restaurant with the snootiest of French waiters. I asked for the horseradish sauce (offered in the menu!) for my steak and he sniffed and said, with a disapproving shrug of his shoulders, “If you like.” He was so disdainful, it was actually kind of fun. We had a more congenial dinner at an Italian bistro on the second night, and we also had lunch at Good Stuff Eatery, a burger place owned by Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef. I got the Prez Obama Burger; it was yummy. The milkshakes are good, too.

"Jenny, I'm glad we were here together in our nation's capital."

“Jenny, I’m glad we were here together in our nation’s capital.”

What we didn’t do: we didn’t visit any museums. On one hand we sort of wanted to, especially the National Air and Space Museum, the Newseum, and the National Archives. Those would have been amazing, but it was just too nice out — the weather was so gorgeous, and after the long cold winter, we just couldn’t bear to give it up to spend the days inside. I mean, just looking at the line at the National Archives (to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I assume) was a big deterrent — we could’ve spent the entire day just standing in that. There are amazing treasures in the museums of DC, I know, but maybe that’s a focus for another trip. For this one, we just enjoyed the city.

All in all, it was a great birthday present and a fun trip. Visit over, the drive home was quick and included a stop at Wegmans. Who could ask for anything more?

helping hands

HH3A couple of days ago, I hurt my back. You know, as a side note, once upon a time I foolishly thought having rather serious back surgery would mean that I would stop saying things like “I hurt my back”. Silly me. Especially when the full sentence is, “I hurt my back cuddling kitties on the bed, and lying on my stomach for more than five minutes.”

Anyhow, as a result, I’m mostly down for the count this weekend, resting up with the heating pad and subsisting on Ibuprofen and Lortab. And watching a seemingly endless marathon of Game of Thrones episodes on HBO. I had a few bloodhtirsty dreams last night, as a result. And one about dragons. I’m okay, pain-wise, and I can get around okay if I’m careful. Rest is best, though.

I’m very grateful to have been able to order groceries from Fresh Direct; easy to order, and they should be delivered in an hour or so. It’s handy. We’re not crazy about using them in general; one bad delivery experience out of three so far isn’t good odds. It’s handy, especially on a day like today. Given my druthers, though, I’d rather do the shopping myself.

The worst part is, though, that what I really wish is that we had Wegmans. I mean, obviously, I always wish that. But this weekend especially — because I could do the shopping, if we had Wegmans. I’m up to walking the aisles — sometimes walking is good for my back. But I can’t bend, or lift, or carry. At Wegmans, I wouldn’t have to. I could use a motorized shopping cart, if I wasn’t up to walking. I could ask for help reaching anything — there are always employees everywhere in the aisles, and they’re always happy to help. I could count on the cashier to bag my groceries without comment, which never happens here. I could get the Helping Hands to load them into my car. True, they can’t follow me home, but Dave could bring most things up there, later. Here, there’s no help anywhere in the stores. Finding an employee is near impossible. The other day I stopped in Waldbaums and all of their freezers were broken — the thermometer on the one I was looking at was at 65 degrees — and I spent ten minutes finding anyone who worked there that cared. There’s just no one interested in doing anything above and beyond. That’s not a Long Island thing, though — it’s a non-Wegmans thing. At Wegmans, they don’t think helping their customers out is “above and beyond”. They think it’s the least they can do.

Cosumer Reports just named Wegmans the best supermarket in America, and Forbes says it is one of the best companies for customer service, along with the Apple Store and the Ritz-Carlton. And Fortune Magazine regularly names it as one of the best companies to work for. I guess that’s all for a reason, and I guess that’s why I miss it so much. Mostly, I’d give anything to see one of those orange jackets, because I could use a helping hand.