Tag Archives: Christmas

huzzah

The Best Advice So Far - huzzah

I use the interjection “Yay!” a fair amount, though mostly in text messages.

Then there’s “Hooray!” which I say as well as write.

But far and away, my favorite exclamation is this one:

HUZZAH!

It just … sounds right (pronounced huh-ZAH, with the accent on the second syllable).

It looks right.

What’s more, it feels right, what with that buzzing double ‘zz’ and all.

It’s the kind of utterance that stirs speaker and listener alike, all but demanding a rousing stir of fist.

Aw, go on — say it. (You know you want to.)

HUZZAH!

I believe the first time I heard the word — or at least the earliest association I’ve made with it — was in an early film version of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge turns down his nephew Fred’s invitation to Christmas dinner with his telltale “Bah! Humbug!” After his ghostly change of heart, however, Scrooge shows up after all, upon which Fred exclaims, “Why, Uncle, you’ve joined us! Huzzah!”

And so, Huzzah feels Christmasy to me as well.

Need I further explain my penchant for using it?

Well, today I offer up a hearty Huzzah!

On New Year’s Eve of 2016, I set a goal for myself: to… [click the button below to continue reading this post at the main site]

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candy canes

The Best Advice So Far - candy canes

I finally got my tree this week.

The front lot at Hanson’s Farm up the road glistened with new-fallen snow. They had fewer than a dozen trees left, having started with nearly two hundred just three weeks ago. This actually worked in my favor, given my longstanding tradition of choosing the Charlie-Browniest tree I can find — the one least likely to be picked due to some flaw or other.

Some I had to rule out on account of their being too tall or too fat to fit in the space, nestled between a window, the bookshelf and the low pitched ceiling in that corner of my second-story farmhouse living room.

Yet even with the further reduced selection, they all seemed perfect. Too perfect.

I gave them a second looking over and then a third, before deciding on the only one that appeared to have any gap at all in the branches — a little Fraser fir.

The owner, a kind-faced farmer with weathered skin and calloused hands, sold me the tree for just twenty dollars, including trimming the trunk by half an inch and settling my purchase into the trunk of my car.

It started to snow again on the drive home — that kind of gentle snow that looks like tiny perfect circles and falls straight down.

Once home again, I hoisted the tree onto one shoulder and edged my way up the narrow, steep stairs, seemingly without losing a single needle. As I settled the base of the tree into the heavy cast-iron stand, I noticed that the trunk was actually bent. I’d have to work a bit to get it to stay upright. I smiled. I’d chosen the right tree after all.

Lying on my back, branches outspread above me, I steadied the tree with one hand while turning the three keys bit by bit.

Check.

Tighten this one three times.

Check.

Loosen that one twice.

As I worked, my face mere inches from the stand, something rather magical happened. So cold was the tree still that, though the room was plenty warm and cozy, I could see my frosty breath.

At last, the tree was standing plumb.

I gave the frigid tree a day for its branches to settle. And by the next morning, the house was already permeated with the rich scent of evergreen. All of the water I’d poured just the night before was gone, having slaked the thirsty tree, and so I added more.

It was time to string the lights.

My lights are white, never the colored variety. No LEDs. No blinking. No fading. Just the old-fashioned, steady white bulbs — the kind where the whole strand goes out if one of them fizzles.

It’s very important that the lights wind deep inside the tree as well as to the tips of branches, as opposed to simply wrapping them round and round the outside. It gives the tree depth. And as much as possible, wires should be strategically hidden, since they break the magical effect.

Once the lights were in place — with just the right number remaining to weave into the wicker star on top — I gave myself an evening to enjoy the tree in that simple state.

Friday night, serenaded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, I decorated the tree with ornaments spanning a lifetime.

A set of six intricately painted Fabergé-style eggs, unpacked from their rectangular, satin-lined case.

Cookie-cutter shapes — a holly leaf, a stocking, a gingerbread man and others — each made by hand with nothing but applesauce and generous amounts of cinnamon, and smelling exactly as you might expect them to.

Classic glass bulbs, their crackled gold paint casting multiple reflections.

And, of course, the candy canes.

Actually, the candy canes are the first to adorn the tree. There are only five left from the set of twelve that first decorated the tiny tree in my dorm room during my freshman year of college.

That makes them exactly three decades old this year.

And, yes — they are real candy canes.

When Chad was still in high school, I had a group of his peers over around Christmas time. The crowd was bigger than anticipated, so I ran out quickly to grab some more food. When I returned, Chad told me, a look of comical disgust on his face, “I think something’s wrong with your candy canes. I ate one of them. It tasted gross and…[click the button below to continue reading this post at the main site]

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not so silent night

not so silent night - The Best Advice So Far


For the first time in my four-and-a-half years of blogging, I took a risk and published a post that peeled the curtain back a few inches on personal family dysfunction, illustrated by some attempted manipulation at this year’s family Christmas party that resulted in my choice to remove myself from the situation by leaving the event.

Also for the first time in my four-and-a-half years of blogging, I have deleted a post – the one that was previously here.

Names and identities were not revealed in the original post, since that was not the goal of the piece. Rather, the intent of the post (which I wrote after three days of consideration) was to benefit the readers of this blog, to let those who have less-than-perfect families know that you are not alone, that you are not somehow “the unlucky ones,” and that you are not powerless – that you always have a choice, even in the tricky and downright complicated situations life may bring. That goal, I feel, was accomplished. The comments here, as well as many personal notes of thanks and appreciation, would seem to attest to that.

However, within mere hours of the post going live, a steady onslaught of social media messages, emails, calls and texts came in from extended family members, the dysfunction and array of manipulation tactics of which made the original incident at the party seem like a sunny day at the park. In one case, I was essentially disowned via text (a message which was sandwiched, strangely, between smiley emoticons). What initially involved three people grew within twelve hours, through a chain of phone calls and link-sharing, to include upward of fifty best I can tell, some of whom were not even at the event, let alone part of the situation – but all of whom have expressed strikingly strong opinions about what happened and who was to blame (i.e., yours truly), nonetheless.

If only family talked this much when there wasn’t a problem. Alas …

At any rate, this created an interesting dilemma for me. The post itself was about a choice I’d made to not bend to the dysfunction and manipulation. And yet, due to the mounting aftermath of continued dysfunction and manipulation, I’ve ultimately decided to remove the post as originally written. I’m still not sure what to make of that. I guess this replacement explanation is the best I could do – retaining the acknowledgment of my less-than-perfect family, while at the same time removing all reference of any kind to “any actual persons, past or present.”

Honestly, if it were just me being frowned upon, guilted, called names, character bashed, cut off forever and ever amen, and what have you, I’d be OK with that, even as exhausting as it’s been. But for the sake of the growing number of family members being drawn into the fray, divided into sides and recruited to put more stones in proverbial walls – some of whom are not as prepared or able to handle the emotional ramifications at this time – I’ve made the choice to remove the post. (I shudder to think what would/will happen when we all have a real problem to contend with; but I suppose that is “future-me’s problem.”)

As my friend Dib wisely says and often, “Save yourself.” In the end, some ships just aren’t worth going down with. I’ve decided that this is one of them.

A heartfelt thanks to the many readers who shared your own comments and stories, who chose to be vulnerable so that you could encourage others, and who emailed with appreciation and support.

To uninvolved family members who found yourselves caught in the crossfire, please know that this was not my intent. I trust that removing the post, while certainly no cure for what ails us, will at least serve to stem the bleeding for the time being.


Happiness is a choice,” I remind myself. “And misery is also a choice.”

Happiness is a choice.


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tradition

The Best Advice So Far: tradition - ornaments on Christmas tree

My friend Jed, whom I met this past year online, asked me if I’d be willing to write a short blog entry to be included on his site, wherein I would talk about one of my favorite holiday traditions. For anyone who knows me at all well, you’ll understand what a challenge it presented, since he asked that the mini-post be between 250 and 350 words. Well, I was inspired, and I do love a good challenge; so I wrote the piece (which, after much work, I was able to whittle to exactly 350 words).  I thought I’d share it with you here; and I invite you to pop over there and read some other short posts about Christmas traditions of other bloggers in Jed’s circles.

The post:


I decorated my Christmas tree this past weekend, and the first thing to don the branches after the lights are strung is what remains of a set of candy canes I’ve had for more than 25 years – all mottled and sticky and dripping in places from cracked wrappers. But they’re a tradition, so on they go.

My first official listen-all-the-way-through Christmas album of the season is the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, by Vince Guaraldi.

And every Christmas morning, I head over to mom’s house where, joined by my sister and her son (my nephew), we all sit and watch him open each of his Christmas gifts – a tradition that has likely become a little awkward for him at this point, since he is now twenty-two.

But of all my traditions come Christmas time, one stands out among them like a shining star. If I had to forego the others in order to keep this one, I’d bid adieu to my sticky college candy canes. I’d pass up the gift-giving at mom’s (as would she). I’d turn off “Christmastime is Here” (and even replace it with “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses from 1981, but please – don’t make me!).

Every year since before I was born, we gather at my grandparents’ little cape home for Christmas Eve. Over the decades, the specifics have changed. A crowd of twenty has become eighty. Traditional Polish fare like gołąbki and kiełbasa has have been replaced with newer dishes. And Grampa has since passed away. But one thing has not changed: Nana, now ninety-one, has always told the Christmas story to the new generation of kids, who will huddle round, sitting cross-legged on the floor in their pajamas.

Last year, despite having had pneumonia and a broken collar bone, Nana still managed to tell her story. Her voice grows a little weaker each year, but she still tells it with every bit the same conviction she’s always had. And while the other adults may not notice it, I still sit cross-legged on that floor every year and listen with the wonder of a child.


P.S. Still need a thoughtful and potentially life-changing gift for someone special on your list? If you order The Best Advice So Far today directly from Amazon’s printing house, Create Space, you can still have your copies in time for Christmas!

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in between

in between 2 - The Best Advice So Far

So, Thanksgiving was last week. Using my superpower-status deductive reasoning skills, I’ve concluded with reasonable certainty that Thanksgiving, then, is not also this week. And what a relief that revelation is! Sure, sure, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with the best of people. But all that … thankfulness! It’s such a drain, isn’t it? Which is why it’s a darned good thing that a day for being thankful only comes round once a year. Who could handle more?

And this applies, naturally, to other holidays and occasions. What a bother it would be to celebrate and affirm people on days other than their birthday, for instance. Can you imagine! Getting someone a card and filling it up with positive things about them, or taking them to dinner for no reason – in between birthdays? Preposterous! Not only would this be an extreme inconvenience to the giver, but the receiver would certainly tire almost immediately of being treated with this kind of special care and appreciation.

Anniversaries? I mean really, I’m surprised it hasn’t yet become a federal law that anniversary celebrations should be limited to once every five years – or, better yet, ten – instead of every single year.

“I love you.”

“I’m glad I picked you and that you picked me.”

“You look as beautiful to me today as ever.”

“Congratulations on another year of marriage. You two are an inspiration.”

Blah. Blah. Blah. Drivel! Imagine the tedium of speaking or having to hear such cloying rubbish more than once a year! What a waste of energy – energy that could be better spent on more important things like … like work, or like paying attention to the plot of a favorite television program, for instance.

The same goes for Valentine’s Day. I mean, not everyone even has a “somebody” on Valentine’s Day. Shouldn’t there be some kind of mandated baseline of solidarity on this? But, no! Seriously, wouldn’t it be so much easier for the “haves” among us to just act like the “have-nots” and go about their day without all the hoopla and distraction and nonsense? At least there is the small comfort in knowing that the in between days are refreshingly free of ridiculous notions like doing nice things for one another, expressing ourselves in creative ways, having romantic dinners out or exchanging little tokens of love.

Oh, and … whatever it is each person is calling the upcoming winter holidays. Christmas. Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. Seems to me that it’s just another cause for irritating one another. First, you have to worry about how you’re going to well-wish anyone. God (or whomever) forbid that you bestow the wrong wish on someone, or they on you. Really, why bother trying to be nice at all, when you know you run a high risk of offending or being offended each time?

And then there’s this weird phenomenon where strangers talk to one another at all – on city sidewalks, at the mall, in offices. How intrusive! All this interrupting one another with smiling and “good cheer”and whatnot. Isn’t it exhausting? Do you know there are even songs that wish for this kind of collective mood and behavior to “last the whole year through”? One even encourages people by saying, “Don’t save it all for Christmas Day”! Oh, Pop music and your eternal silliness.  Who could handle such interactions steadily during all those months in between?

Couple this with yet another big meal with too many people gathered in one house, all the noise of those clinking glasses and laughter and the music of the same old songs. I guess all one can do is plow on through to that long, uncomplicated stretch of normal winter on the other side of it all, when we can take down all those lights, get our noses back to those grindstones and, for Pete’s sake, stop being so darned nice to one another.

Alas, you know what they say: “You can’t fight City Hall.” So, it seems for the time being at least, we’re stuck with these little holidays – once a year, every year. I guess we’ll just have to suck it up and deal with it. But please, please … don’t perpetuate the problem by coloring outside the lines. You have your allotted days for love and appreciation and gifts without reason. Don’t go upsetting the apple cart by doing and saying holiday-like things or dishing out the lovey-dovey appreciation and kindness with the people around you during the days in between.

Who’s with me on this?

(The answer, I hope … is “no one.”)

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The Best Advice So Far is about choice. Filled with wit, humor and poignantly real stories, The Best Advice So Far shares collective wisdom through a new lens, as well as practical application for living like it matters (because it does).

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our gang

cast of

Today’s post is a tribute to some of my very favorite people in the world. But it’s a tribute with a point and a challenge for us all.

In my writings, I talk a lot about the many interesting and cool people I meet day to day by taking positive social risks. Today, I want to tell you about a different group of people – an inner circle of friends that make for a pretty wonderful life.

Our little gang centers around two sisters, Holly and Dib. Their real names are Charlotte and Olivia, which adds to the atmosphere somehow, because they are truly classy, classic and traditional while at the same time being entirely down-to-earth, modern and cool.

Gatherings typically happen at one of their homes in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Holly’s home is right on the actual marsh of Marshfield – the house where she and Dib grew up. It holds a rich history of personal stories, with new ones emerging all the time, even after the decades some of us have spent together there. Dib’s home is near the sea wall, where you can hear the ocean and smell the salt in the air the moment you step outside. Everything from the lighting to the hand soap feels like a beach escape, yet without the slightest hint of pretentiousness.

Both are gardeners extraordinaire. You’ll never see such personal and beautiful spaces as their gardens; and while dropping in, it is likely you’ll be offered an artisan salad made with their own herbs and tomatoes in an array of colors.

But Holly and Dib aren’t the only members of our hodge-podge family, nor the only ones with interesting pet names. Spanky, Alfalfa and Froggy had nothing on our gang, which includes the likes of Fluffy, Tipster, Pinky and Richie Rich.

I’ve spent twenty holiday seasons with this group of friends. Though there have been additions along the way, it is difficult to imagine a time when we all weren’t there together.  The Christmas tree is always perfectly imperfect, and laden from stand to star with decorations spanning a hundred years: bubbling baubles and tiny trains that run their tracks on heat from the bulbs. Food is made from scratch with old family recipes, and we all clap when it is at last presented by our host, Holly, who is beaming and covered in flour. It’s as close to stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting as anyone will ever get.

It would be hard for me – even as a writer – to describe the feeling when we are all together.  On the surface, we couldn’t be more different. The age range spans 40 years. Some are single and some are married with kids. Some are tech geeks. Some are connoisseurs of cigars, wine and spirits.  Some get serious about Magic: The Gathering while others discuss Nietzsche. Some are boisterous and others as quiet and reflective as I imagine Abraham Lincoln to have been.

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