So This Is Christmas…

Oh Christmas Tree...

Oh Christmas Tree…

Christmas Day 2013 and lots to reflect upon. On this day more than any other you think about the many things for which you are grateful as well as precious times past. Those thoughts can bring both smiles and tears as you revel in the holiday spirit but miss those that can no longer share it with you. For me, Christmas is the time to reflect on the past year, the good, the bad and the ugly and to begin the process of creating the hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. So here goes:

All in all, 2013 was a pretty good year. It started out rocky but is ending up positively. In January I began feeling pain and numbness in my legs that took me on a health roller coaster of doctors, vein procedures, physical therapy and finally a diagnosis of spinal stenosis. Scary as it may sound, finally getting the diagnosis and having an operation to fix it is what I am most grateful for this year. Not having pain in my legs and the feeling of having “my old legs” back is a gift I am not taking for granted. I laughed when a friend told me that I basically had a “roto-router” procedure on my spine but call it whatever you want, it did the trick. So this year I am looking forward to being physically able to work on a healthier life style without experiencing pain in the process.

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

I am also grateful for being retired and now just working on things that I choose to and that I love. Who would have ever thought that I would love working part-time in retail? Not me, that’s for sure. And I am sure that working retail in general could never be something that I would enjoy, but working at Crate and Barrel has been a blast. A great company, great people and working in customer service has really, for all intents and purposes, “cranked my switch”. I have just enough hours to effectively learn the business (I am so enjoying learning the ins and outs of corporate America) but not too many that it prevents me from pursuing my other interests. So it is a win-win situation and as long as it continues to be fun I will do it. And working on the two NRPA schools is really a joy for me. My first love was always teaching and to be able to work on schools that attract the best of the best in the field of Parks and Recreation is a gift I treasure.

I am also so grateful for my friends and to be able to have regular contact with them either the “old fashioned” way, by telephone, or the more popular ways by texting, emailing (although this is becoming less popular these days) and through social media. I love seeing what is happening in their lives and sharing what is happening in mine. To be able to maintain contact with people that I taught some 30+ years ago, colleagues from work days long gone by and new friends made along the way brings untold joy into my life.

The Christmas Village

The Christmas Village

Having had the opportunity this year to vacation with some old friends was the best. True friendship exists when you can spend time apart but, when finally together, pick up right where you left off without regret or awkwardness. We laughed so hard we cried, and we enjoyed each other for who we are now as well as for our past connections. Those friendships last a lifetime and I am so grateful to have those kinds of friends in my life.

I am particularly grateful for a special surprise gift I got this year from a former student. Nothing like getting some Lou Malnati’s pizza and popcorn to bring you back to the good ole’ Chicago days. The gift was totally unexpected and brought about tears of joy, the best kind of tears. This gift was a great reminder to me that it is the small things, the unexpected kindnesses in life, that truly matter the most.

Paying it forward by performing random acts of kindness, that is becoming a tradition for me during the holidays and really should be a year-long tradition. Buying an unsuspecting person their Starbuck’s order and looking at the smile on their face when they were told – that was a good one for me this year. But I think I am going to try to spread this out during the rest of the upcoming year as well. It makes you feel so good to do something for someone, just because, with no expectation in return. That is the true act of giving and what I’ve learned along the way is that giving is just as rewarding, if not more so, than receiving.

Me and My Dad By The Tree...

Me and My Dad By The Tree…

I can’t escape thinking about my parents at the holidays. They were the ones who always went out of their way to make my holidays special. The annual downtown Chicago shopping trips, consisting of a march up and down State Street (always ending at Marshall Fields), coffee and a treat at the Walgreens buffet (yes they used to have one), several walking trips back to the car (my dad’s job) to drop of the myriad of packages and dinner at Millers Pub (always their lamb chops for me). I remember one year my mother having too many of a drink called a “Tom and Jerry”, that was one of the more memorable dinners! We always did our trip on the first Saturday in December and even as an adult I would look forward to doing this with them. These are special, special memories. Needless to say I now miss my parents terribly at this time of year, but I know they would want me to be happy and the best way to honor their memory is to work through the sadness and revel in the joys of the past and look to the future with unrelenting optimism.

The scamp, Cody...

The scamp, Cody…

This was the second year we did not put up a Christmas tree. I can tell you the reason in one word, Cody. Cody is our orange tabby that we adopted in 2012. He is a big boy, tipping the scales at 12 pounds, and he is very rambunctious. We knew if we put a tree that it would wind up on the ground. We were hoping this might be the year we could put it up, but he is still in full blown scamp mode and so we decided against it. Next year there will be a tree for sure, whether it stands or lies down.

And as always there is the holiday baking ritual. This year was an enormous success with two new recipes (caramel butter bars and frosted cinnamon chip cookies) leading the way. I try to make at least one new recipe a year but now I am at the point were I make eight different cookie recipes, all articulated favorites, so it will be interesting to see if next year I’ll have the courage to discontinue one in order to try a new one. There are only so many types of cookies a girl can make before she becomes tuckered out! But seeing the joy in the eyes of my neighbors and co-workers when the cookies come-a-callin’ is worth all the time and energy. This year a plate even made it to a Christmas Eve dinner at the Denver Children’s hospital. I am sure those attending that dinner more than appreciated something made with such love during a difficult time in their lives.

Holiday Cookie Platter

Holiday Cookie Platter

And last but not least, there is always the sojourn to some sort of holiday theatrical production. One year it was to see the Radio City Rockettes perform their holiday extravaganza, another time it was to see a production of my favorite story, A Christmas Carol and last year I saw the stage version of “White Christmas”.

A Holiday Performance...

A Holiday Performance…

This year it was front row seats to see the Denver Ballet perform The Nutcracker. My theatre going friend had never seen The Nutcracker before, so it was an extra special treat. Seeing a holiday production always gets you in the holiday spirit. This has become a tradition that I really enjoy and plan on continuing.

So this was Christmas, 2013. All in all a pretty good one. Can’t say that every year but happy when I can. And as I reflect upon this year, I can only hope that yours had more joy than sorrow, more ups than downs, more successes than failures and was filled with friendship and love. Merry Christmas and to quote Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

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