Nothing Wrong With a Little Lunacy

English: Green Hill Beautifully rolling hills ...

rolling hills abound here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I still get an uncontrollable urge to roll down a grassy hill, especially on a summer day, with the grass mown smooth and the earth smelling warm. There is a simple wholeness to it, a clarity of cause and effect. The best part is the beginning, at the top, feeling the rolling first in the dreaming of it: rolling straight and fast, faster still, gathering force as I fall.”  ~ Elizabeth Long, “Life in the Clearing”, The Harrowsmith Country Reader

I remember rolling down gentle hills when I was a little girl. Dressed in plaid shorts and a jersey I would throw my whole self into the activity. There was nothing more important. No thought of grass stained clothes. Or getting twigs and bugs and leaves in my hair. Just the lovely freedom of falling, and knowing that at the bottom of the hill, I would get up, brush myself off and run to the top again to repeat the pursuit of freedom—the letting go and just rolling down the hill.

As we get older, we lose that freedom. We care about getting our clothes stained. We care about keeping our hair just so. We care that someone will see us and judge our lunacy. If I tried rolling down a hill today, I would probably break a hip, or turn my ankle running back up the hill, or get too dizzy to jump up again. (My dad was right, getting old is hell, though I will never admit to getting old, I understand his sentiment.)

There are ways to roll down the hill if not physically, actually and literally—at least metaphorically, symbolically and representationally (yes I am using my thesaurus again).  The hill is still there to conquer and I am still that little girl in plaid shorts with my tangled pony tail and huge smile. There is still a lot of life left and I am going to take Erma Bombeck’s advice to herself when she found out she had cancer:

            “…(if) given another shot at life, I would seize every minute; look at it and really see it; live it and never give it back….”   

Tell me what your little bit of lunacy would be…………..

Published in: on July 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm  Comments (42)  
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When One Door Closes

As many of you know, I am a municipal reporter and columnist. For the newspaper this week I combined the two elements in my column, and though this may seem a local story, it is one that is played out across the years and across the miles:

Stone One-room School (c.1820)

Stone One-room School (c.1820) (Photo credit: origamidon)

INTRO

            “At the Board meeting of November 20, 2012, the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) approved the closure of the Ruthven Public School effective June 30, 2013 and declared the school surplus to the needs of the Board.”

            The above paragraph was included in a notice to the Town of Kingsville in April along with the announcement that the GECDSB was issuing a proposal to offer the property for sale at a fair market value to a number of organizations. Yes, that is a door you hear closing.

WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES

            School closings are hard. They are hard on the children who called the Ruthven Public School their school. They are hard on the teachers and staff who taught and worked at the school. They are hard on the community. And they are hard as they close a door never to be opened again.

            The saying “when one door closes another one opens” is trite but true. The students from Ruthven will be transferred to other schools, the majority to Jack Miner, and I am here to say that the transition will work. How do I know? Because many many years ago my school was closed and I was transferred to Jack Miner Public School (at the time it was Gosfield South Public School). The difference was I went from a one room school house to what we referred to as the “big school”. The transition for the Ruthven students should not be as daunting.

            At the time I was transferred a lot of the one room school houses in the area were closed so I was not the only deer caught in the headlights of a big change. At my school, six grades were taught in one room, while the grades ones and twos were taught in the boys’ and girls’ rooms—the rooms that housed our coats and bathrooms. We were civilized though—the bathrooms were closed off from the main part of the boys’ and girls’ rooms—so the six and seven year olds were not being taught how to read with Dick and Jane, Puff and Spot in the presence of the toilets.

            I remember my first day at the “big school”. I had to take a bus to get to the school which was a scary adventure in itself. Then when I arrived at the school there was some confusion as to where to go. The newbies had not been introduced to the new school beforehand (which on reflection would have been a really really good idea). When things were sorted out, I found myself sitting in a classroom of about 30 kids all the same age. We were pretty well all ten years old, and in my class many of us were like fish out of water—joining kids whose home school was Gosfield South. I guess we were somewhat of a foreign entity, and I heard rumours later that our intelligence was in question as no one was certain if the kids coming from the one room schools were up to speed.  Speaking on behalf of my cohorts— we were.

            I do not remember the transition taking long. I liked my new school, and my teacher went to my church so that was comforting. There were quite a few of us in the same boat so it seemed to go pretty smoothly. There were a lot of advantages to going to a bigger school though I missed some of the community feel of my little school. To this day I do not regret the opportunity afforded us.

            Kids are resilient. They cope because they have to—and what is at first strange and weird becomes normal. I feel badly for the students who may no longer be able to walk to school, and be “hugged” by their tightknit community, but speaking from experience, adopting a new school is not insurmountable. Economics govern and we may see some other closures and adaptations in the future. I know if my kids were affected I would be concerned—but moms and dads, students and teachers: consider this a new and exciting adventure. It is the only way to at first, muddle through; second: assimilate; and, third: enjoy the ride.

CONCLUSION

            I leave you with these words from Anna Quindlen, from her book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Life”: “I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and today is the only guarantee you get.” Enjoy your summer vacation knowing a new “today” is awaiting you.

Do you have a similar story?

Life is Not Pure Bliss-But Surviving Is

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find I cannot do this post justice today as there are so many emotions that bubble to the surface, but I still felt I had to commemorate the day:

Twenty-seven years ago today I welcomed my first-born son into the world. Welcomed though is such a calm and happy word and in this context it does not tell the whole story.

Adam was born 11 weeks prematurely. He was obviously in a rush to come into this world, but in his rush, I did not get to hold him for at least a month after he was born. I visited him in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for those four weeks, and was only able to touch him through the holes of his incubator. And then it was only to brush a finger along his tiny arm, or touch his leg ever so lightly. I decorated his incubator with cards and cut-outs and little stuffed animals.  My mom knit him the tiniest of hats and booties to wear with his cut in half diaper (whole diapers were huge for his 2 pound 5 ½ ounce little body).

So many memories—some frightening, some wonderful—but the end result is that today he is a healthy thriving 27 years old. A basketball player, a musician, a reader, a boyfriend to a lovely girl/woman, a man with so much potential—and it is potential he will reach and surpass.

Of course, I am his mother, and I am proud of him. I remember the journey to get here—and though life is not pure bliss—having survived and come through to tell this happy story today is.

Can Routines be Blissful?

January 2010 Snow Scene

January Snow Scene (Photo credit: ς↑r ĴΛϒκ❂)

It is January. Yes, I have always been one for the obvious. Christmas seems like eons ago, New Year’s resolutions have been (for the most part) forgotten, and we are supposed to get on with our lives. School is back in session; everyone has returned to work. But do you suffer from holiday hangover? Not quite up to getting back into the stream of things? Want to make this year a little different than past years, and rid yourself of drudgery and delight in the things you found no pleasure in before?

Well, sorry – I don’t have a solution, other than the fact that holidays that go on too long are dangerous in and of themselves. At first, we luxuriate in time spent with family and friends. We read the new books we got for Christmas, listen to the new CDs, play our new games, and eat our little hearts out. Then what? Boredom starts to creep in. We get a little antsy. We want to get back to our routines even if we are not all that fussy about some of the things we have to do.

I looked up some quotes about “routine” on brainyquote.com, and out of three pages of quotes I found only a few that were even remotely positive about routine. A quote from Cardinal Henri de Lubac serves to sum up the masses: “Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy.” Rather heavy handed in his assessment I think, he was never-the-less in the majority when it came to thoughts on routine. But I beg to differ with the masses. Routine can be defined in two ways. de Lubac’s definition would have most likely included the words dull, repetitive, tedious, and mundane. And when looked on in this fashion, routine is none too inviting.

But routine has another side. A more pleasant cousin. Routine encompasses the regular, the everyday, the habitual, the scheduled, and the customary. And these attributes, if used wisely, can achieve a lot. Routine does not have to be mindless or boring—it can just be the set of procedures you use to get things done. And is not the everyday what we experience every day on a regular basis. Do we not use schedules to tamper down chaos? And much can be said for the customary, which gives us a bit of a map to either use or reject to forge forward.

One of the four quotes I found that did not skewer routine was from novelist, William Golding who said that: “Novelists do not write as birds sing, by the push of nature. It is part of the job that there be much routine and some daily stuff on the level of a carpenter.” Being a self-proclaimed writer married to a carpenter, I cannot agree with him more. Without deadlines and the rules of the trade, where would any of us be?

Cropped screenshot of Hedy Lamarr from the fil...

Screenshot of Hedy Lamarr from the film Dishonored Lady. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actress, Hedy Lamarr seemed to be putting routine down, but she really wasn’t when she said, “Some men like a dull life – they like the routine of eating breakfast, going to work, coming home, petting the dog, watching TV, kissing the kids, and going to bed. Stay clear of it – it’s often catching.” Admittedly today’s men are a bit more well-rounded than in Hedy’s day, but a lovely and homey routine is nothing to shake a stick at.

Another champion of routine, actress Andrea Martin says: “For pragmatic reasons, I love…routine. I love the structure of it. I know my life is kind of orderly. I just like that better.”

I am giving the last word to Yale educated actress, Jordana Brewster who says simply: “I like to have a routine, because everything else…is so unpredictable.”

None of us want predictability all the time—we need a little room for magic and miracles, but if you woke up every day not knowing what to expect, it would certainly not be a very productive day. At one time I railed against routine and predictability, the regular and the customary, but now I see the benefits of these little “organizers”. I love a break from routine, from the everyday, from the rules, but though I have not achieved the holy grail of wisdom, I am now more studied in my acceptance of those things I once rejected.

Like many of you, I am ready to get back to work, ready to take on the day, ready to return to routine. But not the routine of the rote or boring, but the routine that keeps chaos at bay. (And who says you cannot include some delights in your routine?)

Can returning to routine be part of a blissful life?

(This is my column for the January 15th edition of  The Kingsville Reporter)

Clean Slate

English: The Great Dining Room. Chatsworth House

NOT MY DINING ROOM: The Great Dining Room At Chatsworth House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Daily Post prompt “Clean Slate” wants us to explore the room we are in as if it is the first time we have encountered it and describe the person or people who inhabit(s) it. Or this is the prompt I am attempting with a little of my own paraphrasing.

The room I am in right now is an office slash dining room. Most of the walls have bookshelves starting from about four feet off the ground to the ceiling. They are jam-packed. Fuller than capacity. They hold mostly books but also a lot of mementos–not just bric-a-brac–but things that seem to be meaningful.

There are two desks which are really doors professionally finished off to look like furniture placed on six filing cabinets. One might wonder what it is in the filing cabinets as there are a lot of files and paperwork neatly piled on a shelf, under a shelf and on the desks. The room  looks neat as if it had been cleaned up for Christmas.

The dining room table has a lace tablecloth on it, and though one at first glance would not know it, the table is pretty clean compared to its usual state. The people who live here probably do not eat at the table formally every night, but on occasion.

The room has a laptop, business phone, an old fax machine unplugged so that no incoming faxes can be received, a combination printer/scanner/photocopy machine, and a calculator.

Book shelf

Book shelf (Photo credit: jayneandd)

If you were to come into this room you would think that the people who live here read a lot. And you would be right. You would think that there is a writer in residence from the titles of some of the books, and the names on some of the files. You would think they were running a contracting business from the names on the other files, and the calculator sitting on the dining room table may mean they do their own book work. You would think looking at this room that these people had potential. And you would be right. The people who live here have lots of potential, some of it still unrealized.

There seems to be an attempt at organization  in some areas. The rug is worn and in need of replacement. Kids were brought up here. You can tell by some of the pictures and memorabilia–basketball trophies, some Lego figures, pictures of boys at different stages of their school and athletic careers. And you see signs of creativity–homemade things, written things, projects unfinished. There is a picture propped up on one of the desks of a young happy couple on their wedding day. Seems to be from the early 1980′s from the style of the clothing.

This is a well-used room. It has a TV in one corner and an old stereo that is over a quarter of a century old. A CD player has been added to the works, but the record player still holds a place of honour. There are a few records and lots of CDs.

This is obviously a room where life is lived and work is done. It has seen blissful times and hard times. And it will see more of both.

Do you have a room that has seen blissful times?

Published in: on January 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm  Comments (66)  
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Christmas Dreams Meet Reality ~ A Collision Course?

Cover of "The Best Christmas Ever"

Cover of The Best Christmas Ever

As I sit down with my first coffee of the day (stirred not shaken) I am contemplating all that needs to be done before the big day.

I always have such grandiose plans in my head—everything will be wrapped to perfection preferably in the most environmentally pleasing way possible; the house will be clean and neat as a pin (really, how neat is a pin?); and I will pull out all the culinary stops and serve food of such delight I will be written up in Gourmet magazine (which I think may be defunct).

It is not too late to face the reality of the situation, but since I am somewhat pragmatic and know my limitations, here is what is probably going to happen:

1. The presents will get wrapped, but mostly bagged as that is easier and I will probably be doing it on Christmas Eve. No need to rush. I did buy an extra package of scotch tape just in case though. I am thinking I should bona fide wrap at least one gift for each recipient and bag the rest.

3. Did you notice I skipped number 2? I think it was the one where I polish the silverware for the Christmas table. Yes, I have real silverware. I inherited it. No, I will not be polishing it until I can afford a butler to do such things.

4. I will be neatening up the house and spraying some furniture polish around to give it that clean smell. I will get the vacuum out—and possibly use it. It is a beast though and after a while I just get tired of using it and close the doors to the rooms that I do not get to (usually the bedrooms upstairs).

5. I am on a quest. It is going to be quite an adventure. I need to locate the top of my dining room table which is now covered with all manner of things—some last minute Christmas shopping which has not been delivered to my bedroom which is covered in bags where I have hidden the presents in plain sight; book work, a purse, a calculator, mail, books, newspapers, Christmas cards, receipts—okay, you get my drift…

6. Food. Okay we are having ham on Christmas Eve and prime rib (because it is on sale) for Christmas Day. There is still much shopping to be done in this category—I always overbuy food for Christmas, but is there really such a thing? My mother always had lots of food in her house, and I try to maintain that tradition. She though actually cooked and prepared the food—I have to realize my limitations: I think like a gourmet, but cook so the masses will not starve.

7. I have all the stuff to make cookies and fudge—so Saturday is reserved for a baking spree. I do it for my family—I derive little pleasure from the making of it, but much from the eating of it—so I keep that firmly in mind.

I do love Christmas, and as the devil is in the details, I have to take care of my devilish duties in order to get to the good parts. Should I reach my financial potential, I dream of coming up with the ideal Christmas and dispensing my elves to do my bidding. Until then, I will do my best, and then enjoy—for is that not what this season is all about?

So what Christmas dreams do you have—and which ones will you realize?

Family Life – You Gotta Love It!

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” ~ Harry S. Truman

Wise advice that I have learned the hard way. My sons are in their twenties. They are wonderful, kind, and considerate except when they are not. I live in a 1950′s sitcom world where the young kids are fresh faced and innocent, and the older ones always willing to lend a hand to mow the lawn or carry in groceries. In my little world, there is no discord. There are no raised voices. There are no arguments.

Cut to real life. I am just going to have to realize that real life has facets of my ideal 50′s sitcom life, but that is not always how things are. My youngest son came home from college for the Christmas holidays on Saturday, and on Saturday night, my husband and I were in the living room. Youngest son joined us, then oldest son came in and sat down. Then the cat came and laid on the floor. It was bliss. We were all warm and fuzzy, and all together. It is the way I imagine Christmas Day should be, but it happened on a nondescript Saturday.

I paused. I took note. And I enjoyed the camaraderie. I enjoyed having my family all in the same room, under our roof. It was cozy and we watched TV and snacked and joked. And I decided right then and there to enjoy the moment and not wish it away, or wish that it would happen at a prescribed time and place.

Since Saturday, there have been a few arguments, there has been a bit of discord–we are, after all, a normal family. There are going to be good times and bad. There are going to be warm and fuzzy times, and times with raised voices. I am just going to have to deal with the times that are not perfect, and recognize and enjoy those times that are.

Family life is not perfect~but I would not trade it for anything else in the world. (Okay a couple of million would be a nice addition but not instead of.)

Do you have some perfect and not so perfect family times?

Christmas Cookies from Mom’s Recipe Box or It Must Be Saturday ‘Cause I Am Giving You Another Recipe

A cone and holly.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fifty-six years. That is how long it took me to bake my favourite Christmas cookies.  It is a simple recipe {with just a few more than my usual five ingredients}, or I would not have even attempted them. I am now wondering what took me so long. Was it my fear of flour, my impatience, or my lack of confidence in my baking skills? Most likely all three.

Actually making the cookies was quite a breakthrough for me. My fear of flour was conquered. Being able to follow a recipe to its fruition, then eating the fruits of my labour was truly satisfying.

Of course, this is no ordinary cookie—it is a recipe I remember my mom making Christmas after Christmas. She would sometimes make them during the year but never with the seedless raspberry jam dropped oh-so-elegantly into a little indentation in the middle of the cookie.  That was saved for the special occasion of Christmas alone.

During the year they were known as Ice Box Cookies and had chopped up walnuts in them, but at Christmas they became Thumbprint cookies with a bright dab of jam. I can, and do eat these by the handful with a glass of cold milk.

Cookies!

Christmas Cookies! (Photo credit: .imelda)

For years, my younger sister, who does not share my aversion to baking, brought me  big tins of these cookies at Christmas because she knew how much I love them. And while I would share some of them with my family, I always hid away a little cache of them {if you lived at my house you would understand: cookies get inhaled whole}.

One day, my youngest son asked me why we did not make them. I did not have a really good answer, other than the fact that I probably did not have the ingredients. Well, he wasn’t buying it. So, I found the recipe, which I had copied from my mom years ago and kept safely in a little recipe book that I rarely used.

It turned out that there were no strange or unknown ingredients in the cookies, and that in fact the only thing I really had to make a special trip to the store for was the seedless raspberry jam. These cookies did not even need baking powder, but are content to rise with baking soda, which I always have on hand.

Buoyed  by my son’s enthusiasm I bought the jam and set about to make the cookies. The recipe makes a large batch, which is great for a newly minted baker of cookies. I had to email my sister to ask a couple of pertinent questions, like temperature, length of time to bake the cookies, and should I put the jam in the thumbprints before or after baking. The answers came back: 350 degrees, 8-10 minutes, and put the jam in before baking.

The cookies came out just perfect! I prefer a soft cookie and they are wonderfully soft. And the raspberry jam adds just the right festive note. They also bring back all the lovely childhood memories I have of Christmas—munching on these wonderful cookies while reading a new book left by Santa.

So, if you are someone who is not fearless in the kitchen, or have a strange fear of flour as I did, this is the recipe for you:

Ice Box Cookies:  FROM THE RECIPE BOX OF LOUANN’S MOM

Bake in 350 degree oven for 8 – 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

3 ½ cups flour

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup chopped nuts

Seedless raspberry jam or jam of your choice.

Mix ingredients (except for jam) and roll into two rolls; wrap in wax paper. Chill, slice and bake.

OR

Roll into balls, make dent, and put in small amount of jam. I never use the walnuts–but you get to make that call.

Because this is a generous cookie recipe I have made all the cookies at once using the second method; but have also made just some of the cookies and rolled up one roll of cookies and put them away to make another day.

So, have you set your fears aside and made a special recipe for Christmas?

 

The Christmas Walnut

"Old Fashioned Christmas Tree"

“Old Fashioned Christmas Tree” (Photo credit: CARDS 4 NID Catherine.Clarke)

I remember it like it was yesterday. Every year at Christmas, from the time I was about nine years old, I dove into the depths of the carefully wrapped Christmas decorations to find the fragile walnut that said Christmas to me. Proudly, I would hang it on the tree near the top, front and centre.

Miniscule, the brass coloured shell holds great tradition. It was on every one of my childhood Christmas trees; it was on all the Christmas trees my mother put up when I left home; and today it is on my Christmas tree. It is the one thing I made sure I got from all of my parents’ Christmas treasures.

I was surprised and relieved when I found that none of my siblings had imbued this tiny prize that I so coveted with the same sentiments I had.

I wish that I could remember where the gilded walnut came from, but I like to think that before I made it on the scene, it was one of the first decorations my parents put on their first tree when they were married in 1944. Their first Christmas tree was cut down by my Grandpa Geauvreau specifically for my eighteen year old mom, who was pregnant with my oldest brother. My parents lived with my father’s parents when they were first married, and Grandpa made sure my mom had a Christmas tree.  Strangely it was not a tradition my grandparents followed—but grandpa knew it was important to his son’s barely out of childhood wife. My mother told the story fondly many, many times and it is a part of our family lore.

English: Walnuts

English: Walnuts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was crushed when a couple of years ago my beautiful but delicate walnut hit the floor. It broke, but luckily not into tiny pieces, and most of it is still intact. Now when I hang it front and centre near the top of the tree, I position it so the undamaged side faces out. The tradition has not been broken, just adjusted a little—something all traditions have to endure.

My Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown (Photo credit: Elizabeth/Table4Five)

Last year I was about to buy a new Christmas tree when I had a conversation with my son who is away at college. That conversation resulted in this offering (slightly edited for you) which I wrote for my weekly newspaper column.  As I get ready to put up the tree this year, I am not even thinking about getting a new tree–the die is cast–and until it falls apart, it will be part and parcel of our Christmas traditions.

The decision has been made. No new Christmas tree this year. I bandied the idea about and even went so far as to look at some of those fancy pre-lit trees. But I talked to my youngest son, Tyler, who is coming home in a couple of weeks from college, and he said no to a new tree. He wanted our traditional, though far past its prime, spindly Christmas tree. I call it our Charlie Brown Christmas tree, as I have to finagle with the branches to get them not to droop, and wedge it back into a corner, forcing all of its branches forward, thus producing a thicker, more (seemingly) luxurious tree.

Now you may be thinking to yourself that if I want a new tree, I should get a new tree, and not necessarily listen to the nostalgic whims of my son. But, I too, had doubts about getting a new tree. And some of the new ones I looked at were really no better than the one I have, once I put my magic spell on it.

I decorate our Christmas tree as if there is no tomorrow. The branches are layered with ornaments we have received over the years. Homemade and store-bought share space on a tree that groans under their weight.  But the stars of the show are all the decorations that both my sons have made over the years, carefully wrapped in tissue until they are brought out  to be placed lovingly on the tree.

Macaroni sprayed gold and arranged in wreath shapes, reindeer made from those old large Christmas light bulbs with antlers shaped out of chenille pipe cleaners, sleighs cleverly fashioned from popsicle sticks, tissue paper stained glass bells and stars, and pinecones with glitter galore will adorn our tree again this year. Of course we have a million other ornaments, each imbued with memories, or just purchased because we liked them. But really, our tree, like yours, is just an excuse to walk down memory lane for a few weeks in the dark bleak midwinter.

In honour of our cat, we don’t put tinsel on our tree, as a choking cat is not a festive thing to see—and as the rest of the members of my family are quite taken with Kitty Bob, I make this exception without much regret. But if that cat does to the tree what he did to the tree last year, one of his lives is going to be threatened. Thankfully a teddy bear took the brunt of his indiscretion and could be thrown in the washing machine, but I was none too happy.

On a more festive note, once I wrestle the lights onto my “old” un-pre-lit tree, the rest is gravy.  At one time I made my husband do this job, as I found it frustrating. Now I just wind the lights around the tree in a “come what may” fashion, and they actually look better than if I do it carefully. I have learned over the years that by dressing the tree with about a thousand ornaments, those obnoxious wires will effectively be hidden from sight.

A Christmas tree, no matter how battered, is the repository of memories past, present, and future. Maybe next year I will get a fancy dancey pre-lit tree that has all its branches, but this year I will be happy with what I have.

(Note: 1. This is next year, and I will not be getting a fancy dancey pre-lit tree. 2. The cat did not do the unspeakable to the tree last year.)

What traditions do you have that cannot be broken?

English: Closeup of a string of decorative Chr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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