Tag Archives: Christmas

A Very Merry Christmas ©

A Christmas story by Will Jones

christmasOn July 18, 1983, I made this entry on the first page of a new spiral notebook: I started training for the Central Coast Marathon.  The race is in December.  Running a marathon had been a goal of mine for many years.  My wife and I were celebrating our second anniversary, she was pregnant, and the baby was due in December.  What better time and what better motivation would I ever have to put in the work necessary to run twenty-six miles?  After all, wasn’t my wife training for a marathon of her own, giving birth?  I dedicated my training to Melinda and our future child, and I maintained a thorough journal all the way through to two great events: completion of my first marathon on December 18th, and the birth of our son on December 21st.

Thirty-five at the time, I was managing a small restaurant and coaching a women’s softball team in a local recreational league.  I worked long hours and it was a struggle sometimes to stay true to my training, especially on the weekends when increasingly long runs were scheduled.  My goal was to run eight-minute miles and finish the race in three hours and thirty minutes.  There was no way I could accomplish that goal without rigorous preparation, so, despite the devil on my shoulder tempting me to skip a day or stay in bed on Sunday morning, I usually came close to my weekly mileage totals.

As I trained I ran in local races from 10 K’s to a half marathon, matching my goals in most of them.  But it’s journal entries like this one that kept me going: Felt the baby move in Melinda’s belly this morning.  Not much, but enough to bring home the realization of what’s going on.  My wife is a wonderful woman. What a fine baby we’re going to have!

On race day I lined up early in the morning with a couple hundred other brave souls, some of whom were friends.  On instructions from me, when the gun went off a friend in the crowd shouted “Slow down, Jones!” and I quickly relaxed into the pace I hoped to maintain.  Detailing the thoughts and challenges I experienced during the race are for another BOBB post.  I crossed the finish line in three hours and twenty six minutes, met there by Melinda in her red maternity top.  We embraced for a long time.

christmasThree days later our son was born.  A long labor ended in a caesarean, so my family didn’t come home until Christmas Eve.  By then I had decorated a tree in our small apartment, and that night, to give Melinda a break a slept on the couch with our boy on my chest.  The next morning I dressed him in a red sleeper, and when Melinda came out of the bedroom she found him in his baby seat under the tree.  Twenty-nine years later, it’s still the best Christmas morning of all.

photo by Walt Stoneburner and Tammy Lewis

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Secret Santa, Texas Hold’em, Gift Exchange, aka, North Pole Give’em

by Shinazy

This year I celebrated Christmas in California where the majority of my family lives.  All members of this branch are now adults.  I love Christmas, I love everything about it.  But, this year the idea of all that shopping and spending just felt uncomfortable.  To counter that feeling I considered various gift exchange ideas and, similar to many families, the Secret Santa gift exchange seemed best.  Even after making that decision I still felt less like a Secret Santa.  You see, as a boomer, I really have everything I need; I have no need for more stuff.  Did any of us really need more stuff?  My answer, “I think not.”  But if not, then what?

More days of weighing possibilites.  Then the ah-ha moment – you know the one: You’re in the shower with a head full of suds and wham . . .  the perfect thought forms and you just know it’s The Answer.  The answer to my problem was a spin on the traditional Secret Santa gift exchange.  Instead, we would have a Charity Exchange.  No shopping.  No stuff.  Just giving.
The only rule was that the charity had to be legitimate, a 501 (c)(3) organization.  www.irs.gov/charities/charitable
The process was easy: each person would bring a gift-wrapped note stating his or her charity and each of us would put $25 into the pot.
Now, there were many ways to decide which charity to contribute the collected $250.  But, since my family is a card-playing fun group, I decided we would play winner-takes-all Texas Hold’em.

After Christmas dinner, instead of Secret Santa, each person opened a lovingly wrapped package declaring the charity they would represent in our Texas Hold’em Gift Exchange game.  We followed Hoyle’s rules.  I followed my son’s strategy.  He followed his betting system.  My daughter followed her instincts.  Our card-shark followed his Vegas ways.  His wife followed his tutoring.  Our jolly, white-haired patriarch followed . . . his giving ways.  We all followed fun.  We posted the blinds, and bet, and raised, and called, and checked.  Several of us “went all in” and won, others lost.  (Y’all gotta know the lingo.)  At the end of this festive evening, the winnings were donated to Oakland Children’s Hospital.  One of our family members works at a company who will match our $250, so our total Secret Santa, Texas Hold’em, Gift Exchange gave $500.  Now, that feels good.

Everyone enjoyed the concept and we had just as much fun opening our one gift and playing to win for a charity.  This is now my family’s Christmas tradition and we named it North Pole Give’em.  
Next year, try North Pole Give’em at your home . . . I guarantee a fun and rewarding experience.
I think Santa is happy.
 Here are the organizations in our ‘gift’ exchange
  • Camp Grace-South Austin, providing programs for children with special needs
  • Friends of the Urban Forest, making San Francisco greener
  • Muzart World Foundation, restoring music and art programs to public schools
  • Oakland Children’s Hospital, full-service hospital just for children
  • Save the Children, creating change in the lives of children
  • SPCA – East Bay, welfare of cats and dogs
  • The Human Society, animal protection

Holiday Traditions

  by Shinazy

Ah, December, the month of festive merriment — Homes filled with the sound of the Kitchen Aid mixer blending…2 cups flour, 1-cup sugar, ½-tablespoon cinnamon…warm delightful fragrances filling each breath.  All efforts focused to honor the season with one well-planned celebration.

Except in my childhood home – there the Tasmanian Devil reigned.  December was a bustling whirlwind: Hanukah, 3 children birthday parties, 2 adult birthday cocktail revelries, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, my parent’s anniversary soirée, and, of course, the New Year’s Eve bash.

For us Black Friday was “Decorating Day.”  My grandmother would arrive in an overloaded sleigh, resembling a Ford pickup, packed with the products of her yearlong effect.  Every year she designed and crafted the decorations.  I have memories of her 5, 6, & 7 feet tall candles, made from 10 inches diameter cardboard tubes, painted with military precision red and white stripes.  Fanciful gold and silver driftwood on which hand-made ornaments floated from spider silk.  Copper tubing contoured into all manner of holiday shapes.  And, there were all those decorations for the various one-day events – installed in the morning, dismantled at night to ready the house for the next fête.
Our Christmas dinner table was equally diverse.  Yes, there was the ham studded with its array of clove pegs aligned in their juicy trenches.  Yes, there was that green-bean dish with its golden tanned globs of white goo.  (I firmly believe roasted marshmallows have one purpose: to sit on a chuck of melting chocolate, barely contained between two pieces of graham crackers.)  In my multi-ethnic family, the all-American ham and green beans were surrounded by an array of international delights.   Lumpia, hand-rolled by any child over the age of 7.  Nigerian yams, so shiny from the corn syrup and butter you could see your reflection.  Fried udon noodles, seasoned with exotic spices I still find unpronounceable.  Stir-fried snow pea leaves.  Transparent layered croissants.  The United Nations represented on one table.
After I became aware of the outside world, I discovered everyone had a tradition – something that heralds this time of year.  On Christmas Eve, my friend goes to a local dairy to buy fresh eggnog with the intention of bringing it to the gathering of friends the next day.  However, she always arrives with a bottle of wine because . . . that quart of nog only has a sip left in the container.  This has become her holiday tradition.
When it was time for me to form my holiday traditions, I wanted something calmer than the activity of my youth.  I also wanted my children to have memories, a tradition we could claim as ours (but, one without ham and marshmallows.)  So, every year we select a country and celebrate that country’s seasonal customs and foods.  This year is Peru, with a few modifications: I’ll set the clocks ahead five hours so that they chime midnight when it’s only 7:00 PM and use corn nuts rather than chulpe.  However, I’m still conflicted about roasting guinea pig –I wonder, is it really just an itsy bitsy tiny ham?
photo by Laszlo-photo