Happy Birthday, UGA!

About twenty seven years ago I walked beneath the black iron arch marking the north entrance to campus at the University of Georgia, my Alma mater, for the first time. Legend has it no student should walk beneath it until they have graduated. That was a significant day for me because walking under that arch marked the end of my career as a student at UGA and the beginning of my life with a college education. As the years have passed, I have become even more proud of my degree and my school. I am proud to be a Bulldog, proud to have attended and received my degree from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and proud to have been a student when Herschel Walker played football and took us to two Sugar Bowls. Most of all, however, I am proud to have been a part of the historic tradition of excellence at the University of Georgia.

The University of Georgia is the first ever Land Grant College founded in the United States. Founded by the state of Georgia in 1785, it was located in 1801 on a tract of 633 acres on the Oconee River in Athens, one of the greatest towns on the planet. Like all land grant institutions, it was established using the funding from the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 to teach agriculture, science, engineering and military science, a reflection of the concern people had at the time to respond to the industrial revolution, but still retain a classical education. Since its inception, the university has grown to include seventeen colleges, the first of which was the Franklin College named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, which carry on the work of teaching, research, and service for which the university has become known.

My paternal grandmother, who became a teacher as I have, attended the State Normal School located in Athens in the area known as Normaltown, made famous by the B52’s in their song “The Deadbeat Club”, and the Normaltown Flyers. The Normal School’s function of training teachers was later incorporated into the university. After that the university’s Department of Education began training teachers, so the State Normal School became Coordinate College and later was used to house freshmen and sophomore women. During the 1950’s the Normaltown campus was taken over by the Navy for their Supply Corps School, a development which would later directly affect my life. During my last quarter of school at UGA, I went out with my friend Laura Wyatt to O’Malley’s Bar on the Oconee River and met my husband who was in Athens for a three week class at the Navy’s Supply Corps School. There is an odd sort of symmetry about those connections that I find immensely appealing, like our finding each other was somehow preordained.

Since I graduated in the 1980’s the university has continued to grow. I’m sure north  campus remains very much the way it looked when I was there—at least Park Hall hasn’t changed—but the last time I went to Athens a new bypass(which is old by now) greeted me as I entered town from Highway 15. I couldn’t find the little gas station where I used to buy boiled peanuts on the way into town on football weekends. The road bypassed where I used to turn to take a shortcut to South Milledge Avenue via Five Points to get to the Tri Delta house where I lived, and new buildings and the bypass completely disoriented me. Growth and change is good, however. It could be a metaphor for life, growth and change being a disorienting experience, but I miss the Athens of my memories.

Although I was a reluctant Bulldog fan at first having been raised a Georgia Tech fan, I soon was cheering on my Georgia Bulldogs and Herschel Walker in Sanford Stadium, and walking the streets of Athens feeling like a native. I enjoyed a cheeseburger at the original location of The Grill, a place I still miss, viewed second run movies and ate pizza and drank beer at the Carafe and Draft House, now known as the Georgia Theater, a fabulous live music venue. I even bought some of my trousseau at Heery’s Clothes Closet in downtown Athens. My time in Athens feels like a dream, one I could never repeat, but one which forged my musical preferences and political opinions and taught me to appreciate life. I have come a long way from the country girl I was who used to walk through downtown Athens and pass beside the arch on her way to Park Hall. I owe much of my success, such as it is, to UGA and the men and women who taught me to think and question and enjoy what life has to offer.

My school, the University of Georgia turned 228 years old on January 27, 2013. Knowing how long it has been an institution of higher learning makes me feel proud and fortunate to have been a part of such a grand tradition. One day I hope to return to Athens to stroll through campus, take in another football game, walk up the steps of Park Hall in the depressions worn by thousands of feet, and stand on the bridge to look into Sanford stadium. One day I also hope to be classified as a scholar so I can enter the rare books room at the library, a place I longed to explore as an undergraduate.  I have always wondered what treasures are hidden within its walls.

My four years at the University of Georgia seems at once like the shortest and the longest time in my life. I lived a lot in those four years, making friends and memories in the dorms and at the Tri Delta house, learning about people, life, and what I was capable of in my classes. I learned the intricacies of the English language in Park Hall from distinguished professors like Dr. James Kilgo who has since been inducted in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. When I was taking his class, The American Short Story, he challenged me and the rest of my class to write a story ourselves so we would know how hard it was to do well. I struggled to produce something which wouldn’t embarrass me, but was unsuccessful. I would give anything to be able to tell him that I have now completed my first novel, all because of his challenge which sparked an interest in writing that has since become a flame. His passion for the written word became mine as well.

I couldn’t be prouder of my education and the traditions and connections I have to Athens. That town molded my mind and gave me a wonderful education, role models to pattern my professional life after, friends who have lasted a lifetime, and my wonderful husband. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Bulldog and to claim Georgia as my alma mater.  Happy birthday, UGA!


A Southerner’s Guide to Surviving Midwestern Winters

We moved to Wisconsin in early November with the agreement between Bruce and me that I would never have to shovel snow or use the snow blower, an agreement that still stands, by the way. Less than a week after we moved in, it snowed for the first time. Only a couple of days after that first snow, my daddy called. The conversation went something like this:

“What’s your favorite color?” he asked when I said hello.

“I don’t know, Daddy. Blue?”

“Well, you can have blue, green, or burgundy. Which one you want?”

“Blue, I guess. Why?”

“I’m sending you a parka from L. L. Bean.”

Daddy didn’t want me to freeze to death, and I might have. When we moved here from Pensacola, Florida, I didn’t own a winter coat. I had a jacket, but nothing warm, and I was to find out that Wisconsin winters required just such a parka as my daddy sent.

Learning about winter and how things are done here took a while for me, a Southerner moved north. When I was little, it snowed in Georgia, but not often. I remember only having a couple of inches on the ground and looking for anything that was slick so we could somehow manage to slide down a hill. That meant cardboard, Formica veneer, and even one of those round Coca-Cola signs that antiquers would kill for to slide down Evergreen Circle before it was part of our subdivision. Once, when I was in third grade we even had fifteen inches of snow and were out of school for what seemed like a week!

The thing was it snowed so seldom we didn’t have the proper clothes to wear to play in it. We just wore our regular clothes and when we were cold and wet, we came in, threw our clothes in the dryer and waited for them to dry while we sat by the fireplace sipping hot chocolate. Later we donned the same clothes and went back out to play again.

When Erik, my oldest son, started school here in first grade, cold weather was well advanced. There was snow on the ground and on the playground at school. He came home from school one afternoon and told me his teacher said he needed snow pants and boots to play outside. I was indignant but also wondered, what in the heck are snow pants? I didn’t have friends here yet to ask about said snow pants and had no idea where to buy such an item, so I sent him back to school the following day without any. He came home that afternoon and told me his teacher wouldn’t let him play outside anymore until he had snow pants.

When Bruce got home that day, I confronted him with what Erik had told me. “Can you believe she isn’t going to let him play outside without them? They are only out for about twenty minutes.”

Calmly Bruce reinforced the teacher’s decree. I found Erik some snow pants at The Family Center here in town, and Erik was able to play outside from then on. I soon found out how to survive winter here in the Midwest and learned the season is not something to take lightly. Winter here, like summer in the South, is deadly if not respected, but it can be surprising. Southerners pay attention; Midwesterners, try not to laugh too hard at what I have learned about surviving winter in the Midwest.

  • For instance, in below zero temperatures the little hairs in your nose freeze, a particularly strange sensation.
  • In winter in the Midwest, your nose runs in wild disproportion to how cold it is especially if you are exercising. Finding myself without a Kleenex on occasion, I have deemed it necessary to use the gym teacher’s handkerchief, known in Wisconsin—according to author Michael Perry—as the farmer’s snort. (I hope my mama never reads this.)
  • Hats in below zero temperatures are not optional and usually not fashionable, so if you spent all morning on the perfect hairdo, don’t count on keeping it. Learn to love a hood on a coat instead.
  • In winter conditions fashion must, at times, be sacrificed for warmth. You know those lovely coats we Southerners like to wear, the wool ones with the perfect cut of fabric and beautiful stitching? Midwesterners wear those, but not transplanted Southerners. We need Gore-Tex and down and end up looking like stuffed sausages next to our sleek northern friends who are impervious to the cold.
  • Snow doesn’t mean you get to stay home cozy by the fire and wait for it to melt. People here actually drive in blizzards! Snow days only happen if the blizzard occurs at the time the busses start their route. Otherwise, if the roads are passable, kids go to school and parents go to work.
  • Snowstorms don’t usually bring everybody and their brother to the grocery stores to stock up on staples and batteries. Who knew?
  • There are different kinds of snow, packing snow, dry snow, grainy snow. I never knew that before I lived here. And despite the old wives’ tales in the South, it never gets too cold to snow.
  • When the temperature stays below zero for a few days, snow actually evaporates rather than melts. Now that’s cold!
  • Below zero temperatures actually can make your window sills look like a scene from Tolstoy’s Dr. Zhivago.

I’ve learned a lot in my seventeen years of living in Wisconsin. I have, under duress and out of necessity, learned to live with winter. It lasts about six months here. I’ve even become a cross-country skier and walk with my dog on days temperatures are mild, (that’s anywhere above 20 degrees) but I’ve never learned to embrace the cold. When Bruce and I first married, I told him I would never live above the Mason-Dixon line. I don’t remember saying that, but it sounds like me, so I believe him. My adventurous nature got the better of me, however, and I have made my home here for now.

Each winter come January, however, I think about my friend Rebecca, a native Texan whom I worked with at Stevens Point Area Senior High School when I first began teaching. She has since come to her senses and moved back to Texas, but I remember what she told me one summer. She said she stayed outside in summer as long as possible so she could remember how it felt to be warm come January. Amen, Rebecca.

Winter is long in Wisconsin, but I’ve learned to cope. I’m certainly not a fashion icon in the winter months. My daddy saw to that with his gift of a very warm and serviceable, but unattractive parka that I still have. I have added to the coat collection now with two more down coats that fluff me out like the Michelin man. I even have a pretty wool coat that gets use in late September and early to middle October. Come winter, my nose hairs freeze and my hair is flat under my hat. But I’m warm!

The Gift of Time

When I was a teenager, I had only one fully formed goal for my life. I wanted to marry and have a family. Not many women these days would probably admit that. We have been conditioned to believe we can have all things, a career, family, happiness and fulfillment in our professional lives, so how could I not want a career? Maybe because my parents divorced when I was fifteen I only wanted a family of my own. That dream has come true, and I have been blessed with two children and a loving husband who I am still deeply in love with even after twenty five years of marriage. I found my calling of teaching only after becoming a mother, and I found my passion for telling stories only after I saw the effects of stories on my own children.

My husband and two sons have given me my life’s work and my happiness, my reason for being in this world. When I left my teaching job this past June, I never expected not to have another one this past fall. I have missed teaching, but this time in between jobs has given me a gift far more precious than money and a job. It has given me time to spend time with my oldest son Erik. He leaves to join the U.S. Navy in only a couple of days, but he has been home with us since May when he graduated from college with a degree in English.

I know he has struggled being home when all his friends have moved on in their lives while he waits to fulfill his obligation. He told me the other day when we were talking that he joined the Navy because he wants to serve the country that has given him so much. Many mornings he and I have conversations about life while I sit at my computer and he sits in the rocking chair by my desk looking at his tablet computer (he’s very tech savvy)  tweeting or finding funny or thought-provoking things he wants to share and which often lead to more meaningful talks. These conversations remind me of the conversations we used to have in the car. Boys don’t talk when you are face-to-face. They talk when you are side-by-side doing something together. Mothers of boys, I’ve found, must be patient and ask roundabout questions to find out about their son’s lives.

Since his graduation in May, Erik has been my in-house computer tech support, my editor, my companion, dog walker, audience for my weak writing, and most of all, my friend. I never expected to get to know Erik as an adult this way, but I am so grateful I’ve had the opportunity. So often I remember having been impatient with my mother, and I marvel at Erik’s maturity and feel grateful beyond measure he is my son. We have shared a love of literature, a love of writing, and a desire to be published one day. I know he will succeed at writing because he is so far ahead of where I was at his age. He and his friends from college have started their own literary magazine called Delusion. They are taking submissions now. Check it out at this address: http://www.delusionmagazine.com/.

Despite the time we’ve shared, I know he won’t be here long. All parents face this moment when their child leaves the nest and makes his way in the world. Part of me wants to hold on to him and never let go, but I know I can’t, and truly I wouldn’t want to. How I feel right now reminds me of when he was three years old on his first day of preschool. When we entered the building, I was holding his hand having doubts about whether he was ready for school, but they were my fears not his. As we approached his classroom, he heard the kids down the hall and saw the open door. He dropped my hand and ran to the door without looking back. When he arrived at the door, he was all smiles and said, “I’m here!” He was ready then and is ready now.

His choice of the Navy seems preordained. Because Bruce was a Marine, Erik spent his formative years near or in the ocean and around aircraft. When his dad was on deployment, I would point to helicopters and tell him about Bruce. He was only one at the time, but when his dad came home, he associated the helicopters with Bruce. The obsession with aircraft had begun. Later, when he was only about four or five, Bruce took him to NAS Whiting Field and out onto the flight line. Erik still remembers that and still thinks it was cool. Then one summer when he was in middle school, I was taking him to town around the time of  EAA AirVenture. We were exiting the highway when we saw a group of helicopters flying in formation. He watched the helicopters, then said to me, “I really miss seeing airplanes, Mom.” I wasn’t really surprised that after he gave up his NROTC scholarship he enlisted only a year later. I would have been far more surprised had he not enlisted, and I couldn’t be prouder of the choices he has made.

God has given me a gift, the gift of time to come to know my son as a man, as a person, not just as my son. What a precious gift. I know it’s only natural parents feel grief and loneliness when their children leave home, the empty nest syndrome, but grief and loneliness are not what I feel right now. Well, maybe a little. But I also feel inordinately lucky to have the two sons I do, both of them kind and sweet, smart and funny.

Even though Erik is leaving home now, my sadness at his leaving is tinged with pride. My longing for him to stay is tinged with curiosity to see who he will become. My memories of him are enlivened by the anticipation of sharing the life he will live, to see how he will contribute to our world. I don’t pretend to think my time of mothering him is over. I know it isn’t, but it will be different, and I hope I can embrace the changes in our relationship with grace and gratitude. I look forward to long friendships with my boys as Bruce and I become a couple again, expanded by love for our two sons who will forever live in our hearts no matter where they walk the earth.

I wrote the following poem four years ago for Erik when he was leaving home for college. It feels right to share it now. It’s called “The Pull of the Tide.”

The Pull of the Tide

When you were four, I taught you to make drip-drop castles.

I sat beside you on the sugar white beach,

The sun warm on our skin

Waves lapping our feet,

We felt the pull of the tide.

I watched your tiny hand sink into the watery sand,

Rising to extend your index finger.

The sand dripped in tiny blobs and rose in sandy towers,

A replica of underwater coral forests and seaweed.

I watched the sun glint off your blonde hair.

I heard your giggles mingle with the crash of surf.

Delight bubbled up in your, “I did it!”

And as the seagulls swooped and fell on thermal breezes,

I stood with your fingers twined with mine

And watched the waves receding with the tide.

Only Time Will Tell

Beginning a new year is comforting. It allows us to reinvent ourselves at least for a year, to examine our lives, what we’ve accomplished from the year before and what we want to do in the year ahead. For some reason at the beginning of January, I am still in the Christmas mindset.  Too many indulgences have left their mark on my waistline and on my usually active imagination. I’m sluggish and need time to recharge with a little introspection. Maybe all the hype surrounding the New Year or leaving our tree up until the Epiphany keeps me out of spirit of making a fresh start until the second week of January. I don’t belong to a gym or to Weight Watchers, but perhaps I should. I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds and to get in better shape. Who couldn’t? But that’s not why I make New Year’s resolutions, at least not now. I make resolutions as incentive for change, as goals for my life, to become the person I want to be or at least more like the person I would like to be.

Last year, my husband and I hosted a New Year’s Eve dinner for our friends, something we do most years at our house. Since I had been contemplating what I wanted to change in my life, on a whim I asked everyone to write their new year’s resolutions on pieces of paper. We didn’t sign our names to our resolutions. Then we folded them and threw them into a hat. We took turns passing the hat and trying to guess whose resolution was whose. It was a fun exercise that allowed us to learn more about each other’s aspirations and also have a little fun. Few people guessed which resolution was mine. It was a little vague, but I felt shy about being specific. What I wrote was to be more creative. What I should have written was to take my writing seriously by finishing my novel and starting my blog. I succeeded on one front—starting my blog—and almost succeeded on the other. I have two scenes left to finish my novel, which I am writing today and tomorrow.

Since I made a concerted effort to succeed last year, I am continuing my resolution of being more creative this year, but this time I am being specific. This year I will revise my novel at least once and be brave enough to ask three people to be readers for me. (Scary!) I will write two blog posts a week rather than one and learn to incorporate pictures and media effectively. Also, I committed to making something by hand for three of my friends on Facebook. I’m not sure people know I am actually creative, sort of a repressed artist, because I only had three people respond! The idea was to make something for the first five people who responded to the pay it forward 2013 post. My friend Lee Schultz responded to my post. Talk about pressure to make something really impressive for her! She is a talented artist and also a high school art teacher. Five people responded to her post almost immediately (including me) because everyone knows how creative she is!

One last resolution I am making is health related I resolve to give up eating sugar. There. I said it, in public, in writing even! I have failed miserably in the past when I’ve tried this. Sugar is like crack for me. If I have a little bit, I want whatever sweet is around: cookies, cakes, pies, or divinity. It’s sad really. I’m a cookie junkie, a cake addict. My fix is the white stuff. Look away! Over the past few months, though, I’ve made progress, so maybe this is it. Maybe this is my time to succeed. I no longer take sugar in my coffee, a huge accomplishment for me and no longer sweeten my oatmeal in the morning. Giving up sugar will take sustained effort and vigilance on my part. I don’t know if I can do it, but I will let you know how it goes. Time will tell.

This year my resolutions center on ways I can change my life for the better. My resolution last year was open-ended and allowed for me to make what I would out of it and still claim victory at the end of the year. I have another one like that this year. I want to take time to be grateful and happy each day, but it will include a measurement. I am blessed to have really good friends in my life and don’t show them often enough how important they are to me. This year I will show my appreciation for my friends far and near by doing something, as yet unspecified and very likely tailored to the friend, for someone each week of 2013. Since I am starting a week late, that is 51 gestures of friendship in 51 weeks. To document my progress I will include a post about each person and each gesture this year.

Most of my resolutions will be immediately measureable, but not all, and they will all take time to accomplish or at least to see the effects of the change. When we make resolutions, aren’t we really trying to change our habits? In my January edition of Health Magazine, the statistic that popped out at me was this: 66 days is the average amount of time it took for people to form a new habit. That’s a little over two months, a long time if measured without sugar. J If you make resolutions to lose weight or write everyday or practice yoga or meditate or give up sugar, give yourself enough time to succeed. If you started your resolution on January 1, 2013, then check in with yourself on March seventh to see if your resolution stuck. Check in with me to see how my sugar free existence is going periodically. I’m sure I will have some success and also some failures to report, but I find it more helpful to take change day by day and to forgive myself for inconsistencies in the process.

Will I succeed in changing my life this year? Will 2013 bring me success, happiness, joy, a published novel? Only time will tell, and time is what it takes to make changes. We have 526, 600 minutes to live, 365 days to fill, 52 weeks to enjoy. How will you change your life this year? Will you accomplish what you were meant to do with your life? Will you connect with friends and family you’ve neglected? Will you work toward your dreams? Will you be happy? Only time will tell.

Lutefisk or Fruitcake?

Today in the shower I was mulling over my New Year resolution to give up sugar, something I will find all but impossible to do. I was considering the fruitcake I had made a couple of weeks before Christmas and wondering why so few of my relatives on my husband’s side were willing to try it. In a sudden revelation I realized fruitcake to Southerners is like lutefisk to Midwesterners, at least of Scandinavian set lineage! Suddenly all the wrinkled noses and polite excuses of “I’m really full” and “Couldn’t eat another bite,” make sense.

I have to clarify that my fruitcake, which is actually my great-grandmother’s recipe, is not the traditional fruitcake and deserves a place if not on the desert tray at fine restaurants at least far above the lowly place reserved for lutefisk on a Christmas menu! Great Grandma’s cake is a layer cake without those awful candied fruits in it. It contains dates, raisins, currants, and preserves (fig, strawberry, and orange marmalade), and pecans, of course. It isn’t one dense brick of cake either. It is a layer cake held together by a coconut lemon curd suitably sweet but offering the pleasant pucker of citrus and a coconut texture. I think it’s heaven, but I know I’m biased. Part of that bias comes from the memories I associate with this delicacy.

I remember Mema and Mama converging on our house where we had a double oven to make fruitcake before the holidays, and they made a lot of it. My grandmother would use a big enamel washtub and her hands to mix the ingredients together. The smell of the batter even before it was baked was sweet and redolent with blackberry wine, and it was lick-the-bowl good.  When the thin layers had cooled completely, they were spread with the coconut lemon curd then stacked three high. Lastly, they were decorated on top with red and green candied cherries just to make them pretty. One year they left the cakes on our kitchen table overnight, and my dog Misty, a miniature schnauzer, nibbled the end of one of the cakes. My mother was outraged! The fruitcake tradition continued for years, but then stopped when my grandmother couldn’t manage to do what she once had. I think Mama just didn’t have the heart to continue making them alone after she and her mother made them together all those years.

A few years ago my mom came to my house for Christmas, and we tried to recreate the fruitcake of my childhood, but it had been a long time since Mama had done it, and back then she hadn’t been in charge. We tried to interpret the recipe which was vague at best. We discussed what we could find here in the Midwest, filling in amounts and flavors of preserves from what Mama remembered and from the “large jar of preserves” directions on the recipe. That year we must have done something wrong because we ended up with very little batter, only enough for one two layer cake. It was okay, anything with coconut lemon curd on it would taste heavenly in my opinion, but it wasn’t what I remembered. Mama tried to reassure me that it tasted wonderful, but I knew better. It’s odd how our taste buds have memories. We know when something is just right and when it is only an approximation.

This year I tried again. My mom couldn’t be with me this year, so I tackled the recipe myself with many phone consultations with my mom as I made my way through the recipe and the process of baking this heirloom. The phone calls were good because the recipe is one that needs talking through with a loved one. That’s part of the recipe I think. It is a cake that must be learned with the one who made it before you. Maybe Great Grandma and Mema intended it that way so we would be together to keep this tradition. This year when I made the fruitcake, I made it the right way. I had enough batter to make two cakes, one which was the test cake (I tested it and it was fantastic!) and the other which I saved for Christmas Eve dinner at Bruce’s mom’s house.

I don’t know why I expected anyone to set aside their preconceived notions about fruitcake to taste this cake of my childhood, the embodiment of love and special riches of preserves and dried fruits so hard to come by in winter at one time. In my family these cakes were savored and anticipated each year. Only my mother-in-law ate a piece that night, and I still have that cake. It is in the freezer as I write this. I can’t bear to throw it away, so I’ve decided to send part of it to my mom to see if I did as well making this fruitcake as she remembers from long ago.

I don’t know that I will make my great grandmother’s fruitcake next year. For me it was enough to figure out the recipe and bring an heirloom back to life along with the memories of those I couldn’t have with me on another holiday in the Midwest.  I think more than the cake I was trying to feel close to my mom and brother and sister, just all my Georgia family. I miss them more than they could ever know, especially at the holidays. I wish I had been there to share a slice of fruitcake with them. They might not have liked it, but I know they would have tried it since it was a part of our family tradition, kind of like lutefisk is for Bruce’s side of the family.

I still contend that my great grandma’s layer fruitcake is FAR better than lutefisk, cod soaked in lye, then dehydrated and reconstituted for serving with cream sauce. Yikes! It’s kind of like fish pudding. No one actually likes it. Bruce says he does, but there would not be as many jokes about it if people actually liked it. Wait a second… I take that back. How many jokes are there about fruitcake? Okay, okay, I get it, but I still contend I would rather eat fruit and nuts baked in a lovely spiced batter than dried and reconstituted fish. Which would you rather have?

My Favorite Time of Year

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. This year, however, the holiday felt strange. Gone are the giddy, excitement filled days finding just the right present for our kids. Gone are the days of my baking six or seven different kinds of Christmas cookies because these days Bruce and I are the only ones who eat them and Lord knows we don’t need any more cookies. Gone are the days of being woken before dawn on Christmas morning by Erik and Travis, their faces only inches from mine, saying, “Mom, get up. It’s Christmas.” I miss needing coffee to wake up enough to open presents, and I treasure those memories, but our family has changed and grown up.

For years now, out of necessity, we have made our own traditions rather than going to our respective parents’ houses for the holidays. When we first married, Bruce was an active duty Marine. We seldom could go home to either parents’ houses because we lived far away and never had enough money, so we learned to replicate the most important traditions from both sides of our families and shared them with each other. Each year we prepared a Scandinavian dinner complete with lingonberries and Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve as Bruce’s family had always done, but Santa always came to our house on Christmas Eve night after the kids were asleep, just as he did when I was growing up. Over the years one tradition remained a constant: cutting our own Christmas tree. This year, however, for the first time since Bruce left active duty, he was not with me to cut a tree. Neither was my youngest son Travis.

Erik, my oldest son, and I went to the tree farm where he cut our tree, a beautiful Frazier fir, ten feet tall. He cut and hauled it to the wagon with a little help from me. (I don’t like aging. I can’t do nearly what I once could.) A week passed before we brought it indoors. Another four or five days went by before we decorated. I’d like to say we waited because we wanted Travis to help when he got home from school, but that wasn’t it. I would like to think we just didn’t have the time, but that wasn’t it either. I just couldn’t muster the usual excitement I have had on previous Christmases. I haven’t even sent out Christmas cards this year!

Where is my enthusiasm? I used to get upset with my mother and Bruce’s mother when they wouldn’t put up a tree because it was too much trouble. I couldn’t understand how it could be “trouble” but I think I do now. When children grow up, the magic of the season becomes diluted. Heck, Bruce and I even contemplated one of those pre-lit artificial trees this year, a passing moment of weakness which I’m sure won’t happen again, not for a few years at least.

A couple of days ago Cindy, one of my college friends, updated her Facebook status that she was un-decorating her tree alone and separating the ornaments by child so she could give them to her girls while she was still breathing. I didn’t react with horror or sadness as I might have not so long ago. Instead, I thought what a good idea. She wants to take a tropical vacation next Christmas rather than decorate alone again. Although I won’t be able to fly away next year, my imagination will go with Cindy as she jets off to ports unknown. What I realized reading her post is I’m not alone in my funk about the holidays. I know at least one other person feels as I do.

Maybe the magic of Christmas is still present. Maybe I need new traditions to bring back the anticipation of the past and liberate me from the indifference I feel. Maybe I need to begin new traditions Bruce and I can share as a couple again. Maybe, like Cindy, I can separate the ornaments belonging to each of my boys and put them away for when they marry or have a home of their own. Erik and Travis are beginning new lives, separating from me and their dad… as they should. I can’t count on them to be here to decorate the tree with me or hang their own special ornaments up anymore, and I no longer want to expect them to. I want to recapture the feeling I once had about this time of year.

Maybe part of that process is embracing the change in our family. Our tree still sports every ornament our kids made and all the ones we collected from the places we’ve traveled and lived over the years, including a starfish snowman and a dried okra pod Santa. Perhaps I can finally have a “grown-up” tree like my friend Mary whose tree sparkles with glittering glass ornaments she has collected over the years. Glass might not be the way to go in our house since Bruce usually breaks breakable things, but maybe I can decorate our next tree the way I did when I was poor and single, using only white lights and bunches of baby’s breath and purple heather stuck in the branches here and there. Maybe, like Cindy, Bruce and I will wing our way to a tropical location to enjoy the sun on our skin and the trade winds in our faces rather than tromping through the cold and the snow.

Maybe all I need is a new perspective on the holidays. Our children are adults now, with girlfriends and obligations of their own. I can feel left out or I can feel grateful to have adult children who have forged lives of their own. I choose to look at these changes in our lives as a beginning of new and exciting traditions I don’t even know about yet, which will breathe new life into our old memories. Maybe for Bruce and me that means a pre-lit tree in our future or a tropical vacation, or maybe it only means joining our kids at their houses rather than ours one day. What I will never forget is the excitement I remember in my children’s voices and their faces long after they have children of their own. That is the magic of Christmas, and that is what has always made Christmas my favorite time of year.