The Holiday Card

Keoni's first snowball fight (Christian's handiwork!)

Keoni’s first snowball fight (Christian’s handiwork!)

My mother used to joke that as far as holiday cards were concerned, “the Holidays” should mean not just Christmas, but also New Year’s—and probably Martin Luther King Day, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day as well. In other words, if the holiday cards got sent out before the end of February, they shouldn’t be considered late. On reflection, it’s interesting to note how frantically guilt-ridden people can become about the Christmas-card “deadline”—particularly given that it truly isn’t a mandatory activity in the first place. It’s a pleasant one, though, and (especially before the advent of Facebook) it certainly used to serve as a way to keep tabs on distant acquaintances and relations.

Christian hurling snowballs! (Right-handed... He's mostly a Lefty, he writes Lefty and BATS lefty, but he throws Righty...)

Christian hurling snowballs! (Right-handed… He’s mostly a Lefty, he writes Lefty and BATS lefty, but he throws Righty…)

There’s the potential down side as well: the “traditional” Christmas letter about which people joke (often with gritted teeth), the epistle in which a family boasts of how well everyone is doing, painting accomplishments in rosy hyperbole that leaves the recipients rolling their eyes or gagging…  I’m actually blessed with a number of friends and family members who write wonderfully anecdotal and amusing annual letters, so I’ve largely been spared the competitive clashings of those clandestine Christmas combat-cards…

In my turn, I’ll shy away from Tradition by calling THIS our Holiday Card for 2012.

my parents' front window, Christmas Day

I’m happy to report that Keoni and I finished 2012 Sober (a little over two years now) and Joyful. We’ve been blessed with a great deal more time with our three youngest children than we were able to spend in 2011. If anyone wanted to see the antics we’ve been up to, I’d just refer them to the Kanacles (er, chronicles?) archive here…  My only boast is that we keep finding fun in our life!

Composting

“Yet time, and showing up, turn most messes to compost, and something surprising may grow.” ~Anne LaMott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Elena Grace and Grandy baking Christmas cookies

Elena Grace and Grandy baking Christmas cookies (my Grandma’s recipe, my mom’s home-made apricot jam)

Keoni and I drove our two youngest kids north to spend Christmas with my parents—the first time in a decade that I’d been Home for Christmas. The kids were excited about this, but if it came to a contest of who was MOST excited, I suspect it was a tie between my mother and myself! She posted on Facebook: “The only thing better than going over the river and through the woods… is being the Grandma!”

teaching Elena Grace (in her made-by-Grandy Christmas bathrobe) how to do crosswords

teaching Elena Grace (in her made-by-Grandy Christmas bathrobe) how to do crosswords

My family is definitely one for Traditions, so I knew I could anticipate all the same things that made my childhood Christmases so special: baking my Grandma’s vanilla-with-home-made-apricot-jam sandwich cookies, the Christmas tree with all the decorations we picked up in our travels (memories attached to each one), my mom’s Coconut Orange rolls on Christmas morning, the fireside Christmas-caroling-party my parents host every Christmas Eve… And the added layer of enjoyment: watching my kids enjoy the same things.

A visit to my parents is one of the rare occasions when I don’t pack books for a trip—because I know there’s plenty of reading-material to browse at their house! I picked up Anne LaMott’s “Plan B” from my mom’s shelf (a book that’s on my to-read list but not on my own shelf) and enjoyed not only her insights, but the myriad of little ways in which my reading intersected with my life

a sign spotted on our drive northward... "THAT explains a lot," commented Christian.

a sign spotted on our drive northward… “THAT explains a lot,” commented Christian.

One of the topics that regularly features in Keoni’s and my prayers together is giving thanks for the opportunity to regain and re-earn my parents’ trust after our relapse of two-plus years ago—the chance to rebuild our relationship with them. It’s a process that takes time (and showing up), and a process only made possible by their willingness to forgive, and to accept us and love us now, even with our messy past.

My dad (a retired Professor of Agriculture and a dedicated gardener) used to have a hat that said “Compost Happens.” If I were to add a tag-line to that hat, it would say: Compost Happens. But look what can grow from it!

“Things are not perfect, because life is not TV and we are real people with scarred, worried hearts. But it’s amazing a lot of the time.” ~Anne LaMott

Breaking Out the Bubbly (no, not the alcohol)

“Another secret [of life] is that laughter is carbonated holiness.” ~Anne LaMott

snowball fight

Keoni & Elena Grace behind the table “fort”

I’m not a great fan of snow, but the kids adore it. We don’t get a lot of it at home (“high desert” climate–we don’t get much of any kind of precipitation), but 300 miles north we were greeted by a sizable dump of snow the day after our arrival. (Hmm, do you think my word choice—“dump“—reflects my own feelings about snow?) The kids, of course, were delighted, and asked Keoni if he’d join them for a snowball fight after they built forts.

the "human shield" maneuver...

the “human shield” maneuver…

He good-naturedly agreed, and we expected he’d have an hour or so of fort-building time before his snowball services would be called for. Five minutes later, little voices at the back door announced their readiness. Wait, what? You built snow forts already? Well, not precisely snow forts… They tipped the pair of patio tables on their sides, each of them standing behind one, ready to get right to the snowball fight.

Having grown up in Hawai’i, “snowball fights” were not a part of Keoni’s childhood memories. In fact, he shared at dinner that this was his first one. Thinking of the hour’s worth of giggling in the back yard, I once again blessed Keoni’s Hawai’ian-sized heart (and his arthritic bones) for his willingness to play.

“You want to protect your child from pain, and what you get instead is life, and Grace…” ~Anne LaMott

A Welcome Ghost of Christmas Past

“Here’s what the priest said: ‘I promise you it will all work out, in its own perfectly imperfect way.'” ~Anne LaMott

My parents' Christmas Eve caroling party

My parents’ Christmas Eve caroling party

We lost my Grandpa this summer. I still haven’t been able to write about him—largely because there’s so much to say. Maybe I’m not meant to write a single, all-encompassing “Grandpa post”—maybe he’ll just find his way into posts-about-life. He was very much present this Christmas, maybe in part because so many of my childhood Christmases were spent with him (and of course my mother’s as well)… Grandpa was the son of German immigrants (didn’t speak English until he started school), so my mom grew up with delightful German Christmas customs. Real candles on the tree, her grandfather dressed as Santa (she says she never wondered why Santa had such a strong German accent), and O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung in German. And the Christmas-tree pickle: a glass pickle-ornament on the tree, and whoever found it first would be the first to open a Christmas present. (Elena Grace found it this year.)

Christmas Eve with the kiddos

Christmas Eve with the kiddos

A number of years ago, my mom taught me a soprano descant to “Silent Night,” and the two of us have always sung it together at the Christmas Eve church service. It’s absolutely beautiful, and the high soprano notes carry so well that two voices are all that’s needed to make it soar through the whole church. The thought of Singing the Silent Night descant with my mom is the single thing that has made me most sad every Christmas Eve that I have not spent at home. This year the two of us knew that we’d be singing it for Grandpa—his favorite song, even in the English.

Things don’t always go the way we imagine them… “Silent Night” has always been done at my parents’ church with guitar accompaniment (it was originally written when a church organ broke), but the new music director used the organ—and at a pretty quick clip, too. We were a little breathless at the end, and pretty sure that we were the only people who could hear the descant with the organ drowning out voices. But hey, what we wanted—what we’d been looking forward to—was singing it together, for Grandpa. I’m sure he heard it.

Joy in the Little Things

“My pastor, Veronica, says that peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet.” ~Anne LaMott

Christian & Elena Grace opening each other's presents

Christian & Elena Grace opening each other’s presents

Our family enjoys a lot of Blessings–but “money” hasn’t been among them this year. Our gifts were of the home-made and hand-made variety, of necessity. But a couple days before Christmas, Elena Grace crept up to me with a distressed expression and whispered to me: “Mommy, I don’t have a present for Christian.” I asked if she could find him something he’d like if she and I went to WalMart with ten bucks. After a similar conversation in the other direction, we ended up taking both kids to WalMart, each with ten bucks for a gift for the other.

Don't look now---they're playing together!

Don’t look now—they’re playing together!

I confess I went on Mom-alert when Christian came back with a Beyblade—one of the battling tops he collects—but my suspicion (that he might be giving her something he wanted) proved entirely unfounded, based on her squeals when she opened it. “She’s always wanted one,” he told me, with a smug certainty that I admit he’d earned. She picked a Hot Wheels ramp that had him bouncing on his knees and swooping in for an impromptu hug (which he promptly disavowed—“You did NOT just see that”—so you’ll just have to take my word for it).

The two of them took off downstairs to play with the Beyblades Arena, leaving Keoni and me to reflect that—despite their day-to-day snarking at one another—they’ve each got a pretty good line on the other. That’s a little shot of joy right there.

Hamming it Up

reading aloud from "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

reading aloud from “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

The first essay in Anne LaMott’s book was titled “Ham of God” (a play on the “Lamb of God” lines of church-liturgy), in which she wrote of a day when she unexpectedly won a ham at her supermarket, and didn’t want it, but figured she shouldn’t turn down whatever God sent her way. In the parking lot she ran into a friend who had gotten Sober with her, and who was in tears because she couldn’t afford to feed her kids. LaMott gave her the ham.

The same day I read that essay, Elena Grace and I curled up to read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”—a favorite from my childhood. A family of six rowdy kids (the Herdmans) show up at church and bully the other kids into letting them have the lead roles in the Christmas Pageant. Unlike the kids who have been hearing the Nativity story their whole lives, the Herdmans are hearing it for the first time—and they have a lot of questions. They raise some good points. They end up reminding everyone of the human element at the heart of the Christmas story.

my parents' cat, Mila, watching Elena Grace play in the snow

my parents’ cat, Mila, watching Elena Grace play in the snow

And when the three Herdman-Wisemen come down the church aisle, they aren’t carrying the prop-jars for gold and frankincense and myrrh; they’re carrying the Christmas Ham from their own welfare basket.

And as we were about to pull out with the packed minivan to head home again, Dad wondered if we’d like to take the extra ham from the freezer. Hey, we don’t turn down whatever God sends our way. God has sent us amazing gifts—starting with family. Ham is welcome, but family is wondrous.

About Kana

I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a minister, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a cartographer, a joyful wife, a mom (and Granny)... a list-maker! :) View all posts by Kana

40 responses to “The Holiday Card

  • Chatter Master

    Ahhhh….I always enjoy a visit with your family. That was a super nice visit. :)

  • Rivka And Her Wit

    I allow myself the deadline of February 14th (St. Valentine’s Day) as my holiday card deadline, so I have to say I am in agreement with your mom. But this year I am holding back because the only commentary I can think of is this: “Don’t mean to be crass, but life is a pain in the ass!” Not exactly the “stuff” holiday cards are made of. :)

    On a serious note (not that the above wasn’t), your writing in this post is of storytelling quality. You have done a magnificent job of bringing us into many aspects of your life, including but not limited to, the glass pickle, the quips of kids, the parental love of 3 generations, the varying climate of Idaho, and the beauty of tradition.

    I also had to laugh at the hotel marquee, for I do believe Santa left new undies in my daughter’s stocking! heehee

    • Kana Tyler

      That’s the thing about the “Christmas card mentality”—everyone has this idea that our lives are all supposed to be perfect, and the Christmas card is the place to boast about it… I think it would be a lot more useful for people to reach out with their REAL lives—but then, we accomplish that with our blogs, don’t we? :)

  • Widdershins

    What a wonderful Christmas Letter! Thanks, to all of you for sharing.
    The last pic of Mila watching Elena Grace had so many layers of wonderfulness, it brought me to tears! :D

    • Kana Tyler

      I’ll have to dig up the “companion piece”… I have a picture from eight years ago: Elena Grace as a baby, sitting at the window (just like Mila) with a big tear rolling down her cheek, and Christian in the background, playing outside without HER. I’ll have to see if I can find that photo! :)

  • El Guapo

    Sounds like a perfect holiday, with everything a holiday should have!

    So who’s more excited to see snow again – the kids or Keoni?

    • Kana Tyler

      um, the KIDS! Keoni’s a great sport, but he HATES being cold! (I say that with today’s thermometer ringing in at THREE degrees Fahrenheit. Hawai’i is calling!)

  • valeriedavies

    It sounds like a better version of Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol” !

  • asklotta

    Your post just proved when you accept the imperections in life/people/holidays there lays perfection! I always struggle with the Christmas Holiday, I will now be joyful of the good that is woven through all the pieces and parts! Thank you!

    • Kana Tyler

      I think sometimes our expectations can kick us in the butt (when reality doesn’t match up to whatever we’d imagined)… And even more so on Holidays, with all their hype and build-up… But if we expect & embrace (and even expect) the IMperfections, it can end up perfectly–just as you say. :)

  • The General's Wife

    I love how you look so freely happy in all of your pictures!! Thank you for warming my heart with your family’s Xmas story.

  • Pat

    Such a delightful post! Wishing you and your family all the best in 2013!

    • Kana Tyler

      Thirteen HAS always been my lucky number! ;) And actually, we’ve already had a slew of unexpected blessings in the first couple weeks of ’13… But that’s another post! ;)

  • Lucas J. Draeger

    Happy New Year, Kana. Many blessings on you.

  • Sandy Sue

    So much good stuff here. I love Anne LaMott.

  • free penny press

    What a wonderful holidays you had.. Thank you so much for sharing your family with us and I love the “snowball in the face” picture..
    Yes, you truly are indeed blessed beyond….

  • Linda Shelton

    Beautifully written story! I love how you intertwined Anne Mott’s quotations with the happenings at the Dwelle’s. I’m so glad you’re willing to share your lives with all their ups and downs. Now I need to read Mott’s book! Happy New Year!

  • lameadventures

    This lovely post peppered with those spot-on Anne LaMott quotes completely captures what I like most about Christmas, Kana, the togetherness aspect and the food. Those apricot cookies sound great. I was able to get my cards out before the day proper, but I send fewer and fewer every year for most people I know have stopped sending them altogether or gee, maybe they’ve just stopped sending them to me … Naaaaaa.

    I often refer to snowfall as a dump, too. That term has the Lame Adventures seal of approval!

  • LizzieCracked

    Kana,
    I loved reading this and about your family and your holiday, there are so many things I wanted to comment on, laugh with you about – mostly though thank you for your candidness and for reminding me – and I wouldn;t doubt many of your readers, of every thing we have in life to be grateful for, Your joy is infectious and I am thrilled that life is going so well for you and yours.. I have seen where you are one of those very special people who find joy, or laughter or gratitude in every part of life (even the darker parts, if not right away you do in hindsight from what I see) – and thank you for sharing that. you are a really neat lady. that was meant a lot bigger than it looks right there but I think you will get it :-)
    Lizzie

  • Coyote

    At my eldest son now enjoying their and the grand kids company. Life is good :)

  • judithatwood

    Oh, Kana, thank you for giving me a view of your wonderful Christmas, and your loving family — Congrats on the 2+ years to both of you, and a very happy and healthy 2013, full of promise and joy. Beautiful post, my friend.

  • Eliza Shane

    A pleasure to read, as always. Happy Holidays, Kana!

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