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I love these questions to spark conversations in my brain, definitely an asset in the writing process 🙂 Have fun with some holiday queries —

1. Real tree or Artificial? Real trees are wonderful. We never had a live tree in the house when I was a kid — I don’t know if it was for a fiscal or Mama’s breathing reason. We would light up this fir tree outside with those gigantic colored bulbs. Since I’ve lived on my own, I think I’ve not put up a tree, maybe 3 times…. my favorite tree story is one from the years I was in my apartment — I wanted a tree, had very little cash. So, I went to the tree lot on the 23rd or 24th and told the guy I had $10, and did he have any “Charlie Brown” trees. He was lovely, and picked out the largest tree he could strap to my Tercel, charged me $5 (because I insisted) and wished me a “Merry Christmas, little lady.” I got the tree home, called a bunch of friends, used the other $5 for a couple of gallons of cider. We decorated my tree, had the cider bubbling on the stove all cinnamon-y and orange-y, and had a memorable, joyous night. afterwards: every year I (and then we) went back to that lot until we moved to TN…..

2. When do you put up the tree & when does it come down? Well, it could be the night before Christmas (and has been) — but generally, it’s up for about 10 days to 2 weeks before Christmas. I’m not one of the everything goes away Christmas afternoon, my general rule is anytime up to January 6th works. Staying longer than the Magi is kind of outstaying the welcome….

3. Lights on the tree? We’ve found a combination of mini white and colored lights looks most festive on our trees.

4. Angel on the tree top or a star? Usually we have an angel — the girls picked her when they were little. This year, the treetop scrapes the ceiling, so we have a perky, golden bow tied way up there.

5. Favorite ornament theme or color? One year as a kid, we did a blue, silver and white tree to match the room, and it was gorgeous. For me, I love kitschy trees, full of ornaments gathered through the years, each one sparking a story (OK, a story that’s told every year as well). We usually have a wreath, but seldom have outdoor, Griswold-ish lighting displays.

6. Favorite for Christmas dinner? For the past several years, we’ve done sushi on Christmas Eve — love the tradition!! For the feast, I’m all about the sides. Growing up we did turkey, while Chris’ family does roast beast. I adore the potatoes, the salads, the lovely wines and of course the desserts (see next question).

7. Christmas treat of choice? There are four: 1) Red Band candy canes — there is nothing more Christmas-like than their soft and pepperminty deliciousness. My mom used to poke them into the center of a big, juicy orange and suck the juice through the porous, mint and sugar stick. The daughters love it, OK, so do I. 2) Starbucks cranberry bliss bar — I have this one time during the season. I’m not usually a white chocolate girl, but mixed with the zing of the cranberries and orange it really works. 3) wedding cookies — I usually make several batches and give away the majority (hi Kristi!!), but they are knee-weakeningly good. and 4) dark chocolate peppermint bark — homemade, cheap, expensive — it doesn’t matter. It tastes better in December.

8. Christmas beverage of choice — eggnog, cocoa or cider? All, please — the eggnog needs good bourbon & fresh nutmeg, the cocoa needs to be homemade with a candy cane, and the cider needs to simmer long enough to make the house smell like Christmas. Also, champagne is an excellent Christmas beverage, don’t you think?

9. Mail or email Christmas cards? Horrid confession — I had all the cards ready last year, and forgot to send them out. So, I’m determined this year to send them. I love to send cards as far flung reminders that we’re all connected and we’re thinking of each other at this time of the year. There have been years where I sent almost 200 — I think it’s a little more manageable now.

10. Favorite Christmas Movie? I love Holiday movies — I enjoy getting caught up. I still choke up a little when General Waverly stands at the top of the stairs and granddaughter Susan tells him he looks “wonderful.” I love when George Bailey finds Zuzu’s petals in his pocket and kisses the ball on the banister (if you like It’s a Wonderful Life, check out Meet John Doe — it’s not a “Christmas” movie, but there’s a tie-in). And oh, when Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan are in the runaway sleigh or Sydney Greenstreet says everything is a “cat-a-strophe,” I want to go to Connecticut and frolic for the holidays. A new favorite is Love Actually, but I assume if you put Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman in a cereal commercial it might be entertaining. We also must watch George C. Scott’s Christmas Carol. Chris loves Scott, but for me, Edward Woodward’s Spirit of Christmas Present just rings in the holiday. We always share the joy that’s the Nutcracker. We love to see it live, however if life intervenes — we catch the best of all possible versions. This year, PBS aired a fantastic version created by the San Francisco Ballet.

11. Favorite Christmas song? This is impossible — I can’t do one song for brushing my teeth. Gun to my head, I would say I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Joy to the World, Winter Wonderland, the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah — but there are dozens of others, so I feel like I’m slighting them.

12. Travel at Christmas or stay home? I had never spent Christmas away from home until Chris and I started dating. That first year I got to experience my very own, “Christmas in Connecticut,” complete with snow flurries, church bells and family festivities. There wasn’t enough snow for a sleigh ride — one day, I’d love to do that, although I think I would have to accept that I’ll be cold — for me winter starts at 40˚. I love that the girls have experienced all sorts of holidays, at home, and traveling to family. I think it might be fun to take them to a big city for the lights and pomp of a holiday season. And someday, I think I’d like to have a tropical Christmas, sing “Mele Kalikimaka,” while sipping a cider smoothie on a beach somewhere….

13. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? Catching myself so caught up in the “busy” that I forget to enjoy what I’m doing. There’s tizzies where you’re spinning around to silly Christmas songs or can’t catch your breath for laughing, and there’s the 2am tizzy where you find yourself counting how many checks you’ve put on the “to do” list. Every now and then, I need to remind myself to take time for the former.

14. When do you start shopping for Christmas? I always tell myself that I’ll have everything finished before Thanksgiving, and I’ll spend all of December sitting by the fire caroling and sipping wintery beverages. That’s usually a delusion that comes crashing down around mid-December as I’m crossing things off the list. I learned it from my Dad, who loved to hit the stores on Christmas Eve. We would go to a Mall, which both parents loathed, he would get us each an Orange Julius, and we would sing with the muzak, and smile at the frenzy.

15. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Usually things like wine can be shared, but when it comes to an item picked specifically for me, I’m a little leery.

16. Wrapping paper or gift bags? hmmmm….. I love Christmas wrapping paper. I’ll use gift bags for the convenience and for oddly sized parcels, but there’s something so satisfying about the “rip & tear” factor on neatly wrapped packages. My parents “cherished” the paper so much they wanted us to peel each bit of tape carefully from the paper, and it was reused over and over and over.

17. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I don’t like this question — if you get a gift, by its very nature, it’s lovely as a gesture of caring from the giver, right? I’ve only had a couple that just caused the jaw drop reaction. My favorite is probably the Christmas the year after my mom’s death. I had my own apartment, a dashing boyfriend and was coming home for Christmas with him in tow. Well, my dear, sweet, clueless Daddy presented me with a gilt-framed portrait. Of me. Dressed for the prom. Not so awful you say. Did I mention that it was five feet tall. Proportioned to hang over a mantel at, perhaps, Biltmore Estate. My brothers still laugh remembering my expression, and the “oh, ****” that came out of my mouth, before I could cover. I used the frame for years — it was truly lovely.

18. Favorite gift received as a child? Always books, at Christmas I would get a hardcover of one of the “Children’s Illustrated Classics,” and I would spend days poring over the pictures of Gulliver, or David Balfour, or the lovely Rowena. As an adult, probably a bracelet Chris gave me our first year together as we opened presents under the tree to the sound of the “Beavis & Butthead” holiday special.

19. Hardest & easiest person(s) to buy for? Chris is kind of a combination — it’s awfully difficult to surprise him. It can be done. Often, the trick is buying something close enough to the holiday that he hasn’t bought it for himself. There’s nothing more fun than finding a perfect gift, sometimes, however the chase becomes arduous.

20. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Sometimes we do the one present on Christmas Eve, but generally it’s a Christmas morning as early as the girls arise tradition. However, lately it seems Chris and I wake up before our sleepy heads.

21. What do you want for Christmas this year? I got the best gift ever, when Chris made it through his heart attack. I want my friends nearby, the girls to be healthy and happy, and no hints before the day… I’m pretty easy when it comes to gifts — go sentimental and I’m a pushover.

Christmas Shuffle (the perfect Christmas song rotation is supposedly 3 to 1): I’ll be Home for Christmas (try Harry Connick’s version, or Linda Rondstadt’s), Little Drummer Boy (I like Ray Charles and the Bing/Bowie duet is oddly compelling); Must Be Santa (the Mitch Miller version, of course — unless you want the really odd Bob Dylan version, which kind of grows on you); Hey Ahab (Elton John & Leon Russell — The Union album is just cool); Wish List (Neon Trees — upping my cool cred with the teenager); Hark the Herald Angels/Angels we have heard on High (Straight, No Chaser does this awesome a cappella mash-up); Linus & Lucy (Vince Guaraldi version is classic, though Bela Fleck’s cover is impressively wonderful); How Deep is your Love (the Bird & the Bee’s cover is unusual); Joy to the World (Aretha has it cold); Someday at Christmas (Jack Johnson has a nice cover — do you think he’ll grow up to be Jimmy Buffet?); Sugar Rum Cherry (Duke Ellington); River Deep-Mountain High (the girls like the Glee version, but Tina Turner just rocks out the original); Merry Swiftmas (Evan Taubenfeld, Chris loves this song); It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Perry Como’s cover for my Mom); I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Sarah McLachlan’s version is ethereal); Just Breathe (Pearl Jam); Snow (from White Christmas with Bing, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye); Go Tell it on the Mountain (Mahalia Jackson’s version is spectacular, but I also love James Taylor’s restrained take); Grown-Up Christmas List (Amy Grant, although Michael Bublé has a great cover) and You’re Not Alone (Mavis Staples – wow!!).

the girls, 2008 @ Opryland

It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us, every one!” – Charles Dickens

Take care,
Aly

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