How I Got Rid of the Holiday Blues

Could I be any more behind this holiday season? Is my current situation any different than last year, the year before or the year before that?  The answer is no. No, it isn’t. If you compared me to when my kids still lived at home, you’d be shocked…or not. I bear little resemblance to the woman I was four years ago. I am a disgrace to the Virgo astrological sign–I’m supposed to be super organized. I used to be! What changed? What happened to me? Is this change a good thing? Read all the way to the end to find out!

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I was the woman who had two fresh family Christmas trees up on Thanksgiving Day with fresh garlands of greenery on the staircase banister, along the fireplace mantle, and holly and ivy everywhere you looked. The trees had different themes, of course, and they matched every pillow in the room, to include the drapes in that particular room. And I only used white lights, much to my children’s dismay, who loved the primary colors of our neighbor’s Christmas tree lights. Not in my house, thank you very much. Every year of my 25 years of marriage, I wrote a family newsletter, complete with photos (friends, please forgive me for those), which I stuffed in no less than 125 Christmas cards to family and friends. I bought gifts for my family and friends, wrapped way ahead of most of my friends, and prepared a sumptuous holiday meal for my family, friends and my favorite priest, Father Vincent, when he could join us. As a family, we visited Christmas markets from Germany to Holland, where I bought special ornaments for the trees…for the following year. Yes, I already knew what I wanted for next year’s tree as I decorated that year’s tree. I volunteered for holiday church events, participated in the Angel Network, and Toys for Tots. I still ran out of batteries for toys and gadgets on Christmas Eve, but doesn’t everyone?

After 25 years in a traditional marriage, I separated from my husband and moved from Belgium, back to the United States. We divorced, I went back to school and worked, but I still hung onto our (my?) holiday traditions like a woman clinging to her fading beauty. My kids were at were university in Washington, DC and Harrisonburg, VA, so we enjoyed four Christmases in our rented home in Northern Virginia with one fresh Christmas tree. I sent out less than 50 Christmas cards and we celebrated the holiday season with new friends and family. I hadn’t spent a Christmas with my single sister and her children in 13 years. My sister hosted us for Thanksgiving and I, newly single, hosted her family for Christmas dinner. We did this for four years and had a ball creating many happy, wonderful memories together. My son is the official turkey carver of the family for both holidays and my daughter is the most creative gift-giver. My job is to cook, take photographs, and enjoy my beautiful family, which I do! I’m good at that.

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In 2010, I decided to quit renting in Virginia and bought a great, old house in Berkeley County, West Virginia, two hours from my children, who’d graduated from college and were working in the Northern Virginia area. By the time Christmas rolled around, I still had boxes to unwrap and several rooms left to paint. The house wasn’t ready, but I longed to host my family in our new home. Was it really our home or my home? My kids were in their early 20’s now and very independent. I lived alone with a dog and a cat. We ended up spending Thanksgiving with my sister and her kids, which was great, and my daughter, who’d moved in with her boyfriend, offered to host Christmas dinner for our family and his mother. It was wonderful and let me tell you, my daughter was excited about this coming of age moment. I recognized it, too. She prepared our family favorites and decorated a beautiful tree. They had a huge kitchen versus my tiny kitchen, so it made sense, and we had a great time. No one had to drive two hours to my home and I didn’t have to wash sheets, towels, buy groceries, put up extra beds, and…decorate my home. For the first time in forever, I didn’t put up a tree. Why bother? It didn’t make sense as I was spending four days away from my home.

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Now, although I’d prepared myself and I understood I wasn’t ready for company just yet, it was tough for me. My mother’s heart grieved for the past. I tried hanging on with our changing family dynamics, and as much as I hated to admit it, I was afraid of my future as a single woman. I’d never lived alone. I’d left a good job in the city and now wrote full-time in a new city. There were many sacrifices to make, but I kept my focus on the prize–a published book. I moved where I could pursue my dream. I wrote every day, researched every day and soon, the house was ready for Christmas. I was ready! But…it didn’t happen. My kids were now working, my niece and nephew were in college, and our schedules just didn’t work out. I acquiesced and did the right thing–I drove to Virginia for the holidays. When would we ever spend Christmas at my house? I was bummed, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy doing very little to prepare for the holidays. I didn’t have to stress, clean my house from top to bottom, cook from sunup to sundown. I prepared one side dish, bought a pie (hello?), and away went down the road with my dog, Ozzy, as my co-captain. Not bad, really. I didn’t go home with holiday left-overs, but I went home with the turkey carcass, which I used for turkey soup for future cold, wintery days.

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Fast-forward to 2014. My daughter is no longer with her boyfriend and is living with a good friend until she finds a one-room apartment in Northern Virginia. My son is back from Thailand, where he lived and worked for three months, and he’s leaving to live and work in Amsterdam in January.  We spent Thanksgiving with my sister, had a great time and she has graciously offered to host us for Christmas. Sigh, I know. I could do that, right? I could ‘make’ everyone come to me, but I won’t this year. It’s much easier for one person (me) to drive to the family instead of messing with their schedules. No one can take much time off work right now; I get it.

In February 2014, I received a book contract from Booktrope Books and I hope to see my historical novel, A Decent Woman, in print around that same time, next year! It’s been a wonderful, but challenging year, but I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Will my kids and I ever enjoy the kind of Christmases we used to enjoy when they were little? I no longer have the big house, where everyone gathered for the Holidays, and I don’t have extra money to rent a large cabin for the Holidays, which I’d love to do one day. It’s just not in the cards. But this year, I purchased a five-foot tall Christmas tree from Big Lots. I decorated that sketchy little Charlie Brown tree and my home with garlands of greenery from Michael’s, and I put a wreath on the door. But I won’t send out Christmas cards. Facebook is awesome for that and no more nauseating holiday newsletters, either! I was feeling good last week, but then began thinking about my non-Currier and Ives Christmas. What a pain. I tried keeping busy to get my mind off the past and then I visited two neighbor down the street. I sat listening to my friend as she dealt with her first holiday without her precious son, who died last year. I sat and listened to my other friend, who described how she’d crammed 13 people for Thanksgiving in her home, which is the same size as mine. Family, good health, and love; that’s all that matters.

What I learned: Never again feel sorry for myself during the Holidays. Forget the Christmas pasts, not the people mind you, only the things that I thought made Christmas because they really don’t. Embrace, kiss and love my family again! Thank God we are happy, healthy and together. And…prepare everyone NOW for next Christmas because we’re cramming together at my house for dinner and an overnight!

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Merry Christmas! Happy holidays to you and your family! Much love from me to you. xo

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Prayers Answered and Now What?

I’m sorry that I don’t have any writing advice this morning nor any great quotes from the Masters to share. I know this an author blog and it is also a blog where I write about the writing life–my life as a writer. This morning, I have to get this off my chest or I won’t be able to write. Thanks for reading my stream of consciousness writing! I’m not going to bother checking for typos or catching grammatical errors. I’m just going to write it, so I own it and move forward today!

In January 2014, I began a Happiness Jar. I’ve kept journals for prayer requests from friends and family to remind me that if people pray for me, I must reciprocate and I’ve also kept journals of blessings in my life. I don’t know who started the Happiness Jar idea, but I got the idea from on Eat Pray Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page. I was immediately on board!

By February, my jar was 1/4 full and I worried that I’d bought too small a jar. Wonderful things were happening to me and my family that needed to be included. No matter, I decided that I would press the little folded pieces of paper down if I had to, I am going to reach the end of this year in the same jar. On Valentine’s Day morning, I received an email from Booktrope. My historical novel, A Decent Woman, had been accepted for publication. I was stunned and very, very excited! My first thought was, I have to add that to my Happy jar and so, I did.

Later that evening, my beautiful daughter called me in tears. “I’m engaged!” “But, those are happy tears right, Sweetie?” I asked. A mother hears tears and usually thinks the worst, or at least I do. My first thought was how I wished I’d told her and the world about my book being published the next day! Actually, my first thought was how incredibly happy I was for her and her long-time boyfriend, now fiance. Then, I wished the day had been all hers, but c’est la vie. That’s life! Well, it was easy to write on the little scraps of paper that day! I must have added twenty thoughts on how happy I was for my daughter, her fiance, my family, myself and for my book. My daughter went back to school, doing her Masters in Counseling and finally doing what she is passionate about. She has found her niche as have I. A February to remember. My daughter and her fiance will be very happy and I am ecstatically happy that she is marrying her best friend. Not as excited that they plan on moving to Wilmington, NC in a couple of years, but that’s a long way off yet! I’m not dealing with that yet. Yes, denial is a beautiful thing.

So Spring is here, kinda sorta and plans for the 2015 wedding are gearing up. All good! We’ve visited great venues for the wedding reception and at the same time, I continue to edit my book and try to secure permission to use the image of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s painting for my book cover. My Booktrope Creative Team was formed and we are on a roll with my book. I’m fortunate and blessed to work with such a fantastic group of creative people. The children are busy, I’m busy, and it seems my friends are just as busy doing fun and wonderful things.

NOTE – I wrote a letter to the Louvre, where the painting hangs, had it translated by my good friend and sent it off to the Louvre. This morning, I was directed to New York City to the company that handles all that stuff. Back and forth, across the Atlantic I go in search of this permission for the perfect book cover for my book! I’m on it!

Great things are happening this month and I started thinking that perhaps I need another large Bell jar and hope they wouldn’t stop making them! So last night, my handsome son called. I don’t give out details about my children, so let’s just say that he works with a fantastic company, makes the bucks, and is very highly thought of. He wants to make a change. A huge change. I support him and he was shocked when I told him that I supported him moving to London…………………………………….. you see those dots? Those are the rapid beats of my heart as I was telling my youngest child that I supported his move overseas after I listened to him give me the pros and cons. I told him that I was okay with him starting a life in London Town. My son confessed that he hadn’t told me of this plan for fear that I would collapse and have a nervous breakdown. He was stunned when I sounded excited about the new prospect. I was and I told him that his happiness meant more than my sadness. My daughter’s, as well. We lived overseas for 16 years, what did I expect? They have the travel bug as bad as I do.

I didn’t collapse or break down, but, after we hung up, I sure did have a good cry. Happy and sad tears, all at once. It’s a happy time and I prayed that God would help my children find their way in life and be happy. I just hadn’t thought about them leaving to be happy 😀 I had to write those little papers, but I couldn’t do that until this morning. Today, the skies are blue and it’s beautiful. My heart is happy for my children. I raised them to think for themselves and they know that all I want for them is their happiness. My family, friends and I would be thrilled for him if this is what he wants to do. It’s exciting as hell. My daughter’s wedding will be beautiful and we are thrilled for her and her fiance. My sister and I texted back and forth last night, planning which English pub we’d hit first, second and third.

This morning, my best friend sent me a text that reads:

“Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to ponder upon. Such is life…kids going on into adulthood..he has foreign opportunities in his blood. You did it to him! As I have done to my kids…you opened up a huge world as I did, now we pay…heartache for sure.”

Well, that sums it up, folks. God did indeed answer all my prayers for myself and my children. I just didn’t think it would all happen in the February-March timeframe! Ha! Thank you for all my blessings, God. Now, I please send me some calm and a clear head to make this all happen 🙂

Warmly,

Ellie