“…the only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”.
from Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
The snow falls and falls for so many this week, and we have much to do…too much…and the holidays are upon us now, ready or not.
And maybe we’re stuck with a less-than-Currier&Ives scenario that’s a bit out of our control. Maybe we’re suddenly the default hotel of choice for more out-of-towners than we know what to do with. Or our pipes have a leak and we all have the flu. Or maybe we cleaned out the fridge days ago before leaving town, and are now stranded right back where we started due to flight cancellations and delays.
If some of our plans fall apart, as oftentimes happens, what are some simple ways to “keep warm” even in the midst of the unexpected? I mean the really simple things. The things you want when your bronchitis is flaring up, dinner won’t happen if you don’t get it, the car won’t start, the dog is chewing the holiday presents, and all your kids have had way too much sugar and far too few naps. When Calgon has not yet taken you away…
Here are some things that spell home comfort to me. Even one of these is a gesture of kindness, a touchpoint of warmth…things nice to receive and to give:
A smile and a touch to the hand, or arm around the shoulder.
Help cleaning up the dishes.
A warm mug of anything…tea, water and lemon, coffee, cocoa, mulled cider.
Reading a book aloud to the kids.
Some soothing or favorite music.
Clean sheets on the beds.
Board games or jigsaw puzzles set up on card tables off the main drag.
Shared potluck dinners.
Children making up their own skits and “fashion shows”
Personal mail in the mailbox
A phone call from someone you miss
Flannel PJs worn all morning…or sometimes all day
Watching a movie with all the lights out, and popcorn
Lying on the floor (by yourself, with the kids, with hubby, etc) and watching firelight/candlelight/twinkling lights
Storytelling, preferably with kids, under a bedsheet “tent”, with a flashlight
Very warm socks
Comfy afghan/throw/fleece/stadium blanket to curl up with
A crackling fire
A bowlful of nuts and nutcracker
Brushing or braiding the girls’ hair
Handheld string games
Flashlight finger-silhouette “puppets”
Scents…cinnamon, clove, bayberry, pine, vanilla
Everyone pulling the sleeping bags into the family room and falling asleep watching the lights/fireplace
Bringing in chopped wood from the woodpile for fireplace refreshers
A pot stewing all day on the back of the wood stove
Setting/clearing the table
Refilling people’s drinks throughout the day/night
Laughing at old home movies
Remembering those who’ve passed away…keeping them close in memory by retelling some of their stories
Nail care and hair care “spoiling” for elderly family members at home or in facilities
A quick sweep or vacuum when things get messy
Emptying the trash cans
Kisses, mistletoe optional !
Roasting mini-marshmallows over unscented candles with toothpicks, making fireside S’Mores
Simple, warm comfort breakfast served any other time of day …oatmeal thick with cream/cream of wheat/grits with real butter/biscuits with sorghum molasses/fresh bread, butter, honey
Well, you get the idea. None of these things are hard, and most of them just entail some togetherness, or some kindness.
Or humor. Don’t have a lot of gifts to give, but want to make the time together fun? Something we’ve done a lot in the past is to make treasure hunts, where the person opens a box to find a clue, which then leads to another box with a clue, etc. We had a lot of fun one year when my sister gave her husband a punching-bag-on-a-stand, but had no idea how to wrap it. The next door neighbor was a co-conspirator and allowed her to hide it in the garage (unwrapped) till Open Sesame time. We wrapped up a series of “hints,” except each one had to be performed before the next was revealed. We were merciless…heehee! A couple I remember were his having to stand in the front yard and sing God Bless America at top voice; another was his holding the lawn tiki torch and reciting the famous Ellis Island “bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; and phoning a family friend and having to serenade her with a few verses of “You are my Sunshine.” We have photos of all of the poses, of course! My daughter has always loved these clue sorts of gift hunts, and as she grew older, she got pretty creative herself. The last one she did for me was all in poetry…pretty saucy poetry at that, ha!
During one holiday season in my childhood, my parents came up short just before the holidays, and there simply were no gifts…none. You might imagine this would have been sad to us sisters, but it was harder on our mom. She became despondent over it, and very depressed. We girls made handmade gifts (very small ones) that year, in a few days, but the one that got saved and reread every year was the set of scrolls, one for each family member, entitled “What I’d Give You if I Had Million Dollars.”
Another year at holiday time, we had to stick to the practical only,and I believe that was the year Grandma and Grandpa found themselves the recipients of dozens of rolls of toilet paper stacked into a tree shape with a huge red bow on top. Glad they had a sense of humor
Of course, some people take this a step further, and the humor takes on a life of its own. I used to live a few minutes away from a friend I’d known from college, back in the days when practical jokes were how we showed our appreciation. Each year at this season, he would come up with the most ridiculous white elephant gift imaginable, and we’d try to top each other’s. We were both broke, so the items were always free…and awful. And they were given with great presentation and fanfare, usually as our two families shared a potluck meal together. A couple examples were a wreath I made him from old sprouting potatoes wired together with a really gaudy bow tied on. This was positioned in the place of their tasteful holiday wreath on the front door without their knowledge in advance. The most memorable gift I received from them was a real classic: Arriving home after a week out of town, we pulled into our driveway when this sight met our eyes–the most awful metallic garland had been draped over all the front of my house, a plastic pink flamingo with fake antlers tied to its head was underneath, and a HUGE sign read (and this is exactly how it was spelled) “MARY CHRISTMAS, Y’ALL!!!” In front of those were the toilet my friend had recently replaced, except it had been spray painted bright red and green and had a fake poinsettia positioned sprouting from the bowl.
It had been up the entire week.
I suggest a kinder, gentler gesture of affection…
It’s not going to always be picture-perfect, but hindsight often edits memories more kindly when all’s said and done. It’s not always words, food, or activities that warm us. Real life includes those who are in trouble, who are in mourning, the lonely, the ill, the awkward, those with disabilities, the grumps, the prickly personalities, the obnoxious…you name it. Real life’s messy…but can be meaningful even if in just the small ways. I’m often surprised at how a simple act of kindness can warm the chilliest atmosphere.
May we all find a way to smile during the rough times, and experience warmth– give and receive warmth, not just in the next few days, but as we come together more and more, sometimes inconveniently, but in so many ways, so very necessary to each other.