Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tomorrow, December

Tomorrow is December 1st, and though I can hardly believe it is already here, I thought it would be fitting to write a note about the lovely Christmas season which is now upon us.  However, all that I really want to say has already been written by the man himself, Mr. Lewis.  Please allow Clive to express the sentiments I share but cannot write nearly so eloquently.

And please remember while reading this that I adore Christmas.  I love everything about it.

Except the song Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.  I despise that song.

I always have, and I don't have any definitive reasons as to why.

But I digress.

Back to Clive, and his delicious essay, "What Christmas Means to Me," from God in the Dock:

Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs.

But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business. I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out — physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself — gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?

4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.

I also fully appreciate this video put together by the people at Advent Conspiracy.

I like it all.  And just to be clear, I mean no offense to those who love the shopping side of Christmas.  I never enjoy shopping, so when you add rude Christmas crowds to the equation, it becomes particularly dreadful to me.

Happy December!  Tomorrow I make my red and green chain, which will complete the Christmas decorations of the Swenson home.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Mouse that Ruined Christmas

Yesterday afternoon, I put my Pandora account on "Carpenters' Christmas," and began to hunt for my Christmas decorations.  In my mind, there is no better way to spend an afternoon in late November than listening to Christmas music, either the Carpenter's or Sandi Patty, and decorating my home for the season.  Even when I was little, it brought inexplicable joy to watch my dad bring everything down from the attic and see my mom put everything in it's place.  I couldn't wait to put everything together, minus the tree, to surprise Sam when he got home.

We have a little storage closet on our back porch where we keep our big bin of decorations, along with all of my ornaments from when I was growing up.  Our family had a tradition where we got a new ornament every year, and many years my Grandma Wuth made Christmas ornaments and sent them to us.  I have quite an impressive collection of ornaments, and each one is very sentimental to me.  If you know me at all, you know that the monetary value of something means nothing to me - it's all about sentiments.  My ornaments are invaluable.  They might be one of the first things I would save in a fire.  I even made a list of all my ornaments when I was quite young (partially because I love making lists) just to be sure I collected each one when I put them away after Christmas.  I would check them off as I took them off the tree, and if one was missing, I dug through my siblings' boxes until I located my lost ornament.  Every time I got a new ornament I'd add it to the list.

I'm just sharing this with you so you can understand my dismay when I opened our storage closet and discovered this:

It appeared to be signs of a mouse.  First I freaked out, but then I thought there was no way a mouse could have gotten inside.  I was wrong.

I strapped on a pair of gloves (and boots, in case the little guy was still close by) and I opened my precious box.

Here's what he thought of my ornament list:

The more I pulled out my ornaments, chewed through and covered in the smell of disgusting mice, the more sad I became.  I knew that even though I can always buy new ornaments, some were irreplaceable.  Then I just kept getting mad.  Who did this mouse think he was, ruining my things like that?  As I kept digging, I kept hoping I did find a live mouse so I could introduce him to these two:

They would have made certain Mr. Mouse paid for his crimes.

My siblings will be happy to learn that one of the casualties was a paper candy cane I made when I was who knows how old.  They always insisted I put it on the back of the tree and I insisted I never throw it away.  Alas, I threw it away yesterday.
Other casualties included a stuffed Christmas bear and my stocking, which I think provided a cozy little home for my little nemesis for awhile.
Also ruined were all the homemade ornaments from my Grandma and one I made myself when I was nine.

Fortunately, a lot were also saved.  My sleeping angel ornament from when I was born, a tiny egg made by a dear friend when I was two, and mine and Sam's "First Christmas" ornament from my mom.

After a time of being very sad, I realized I have so much to be thankful for.  Thankful that it was just a mouse, not a fire, that destroyed my things.  Thankful that though I don't have the evidence anymore, I still have the memories from years and years of many happy Christmases.  Thankful that I have a loving husband who understands just how silly and sentimental I am and loves me anyway, and who was very sorry and sympathetic upon learning of my misfortune.  Thankful that God sent His son many years ago, and that we can celebrate Jesus' birth.

I made my way to the Dollar Store where I found a lot of fun little decorations, made myself a cup of Candy Cane tea from Trader Joe's, and started to make it feel like Christmas in our little home.  No pictures until we get our tree, but then I'll show you all the finished product.  

One who isn't so crazy about all the Christmas fun I'm having and the fun things I found at the Dollar Store?  Willow.

She did not like her Christmas necklace with bells.  Morty was sleepy enough to allow me to put his hat on just long enough for a picture.

And if anyone has any ideas for how to sanitize my surviving ornaments, I would love to hear them!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ike Box and Fall

My friend Jessi is an aerial artist who is the featured performer this week at a show at Willamette University.  Sam and I decided to go watch her perform, only to be told at the box office that the show was delayed.  Rather than wait around for an indefinite amount of time, we thought we'd keep the date going by heading to Ike Box for some delicious fall-inspired lattes.  Their dirty chai is, well, amazing. 

Ike Box is easily my favorite coffee shop ever.  It's located in downtown Salem in a 120 year-old renovated former mortuary.  The building itself creates a great atmosphere - not because it was a mortuary, that would be weird - but because it's old and has character.  On any given day, you'll find a random mix of patrons enjoying coffee - businessmen, students, homeless people.  It has a very community-centered vibe.  But the thing that makes Ike Box so awesome is the story behind it, the reason for it.

Isaac's Room, a school for at-risk kids, is upstairs, above the coffee shop.  It was founded by a couple whose infant son, Isaac, died.  They developed Issac's Room as a way to give kids opportunities they would have wanted for Isaac, kids who have been left behind by society.  The school is funded through donations and the profits from the coffee shop and is designed to teach these kids how to be successful in all areas of life.  In addition to classroom learning, the students train as baristas and work at the coffee shop.  In so doing, they develop a good work ethic, master the responsibilities of a job, and help fund their own school - how awesome is that?  It is the ultimate "teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime" situation.  I love it.  I love knowing that by supporting this business I'm supporting the youths in the community, not just some greedy business owners.  For more info on Ike Box, check them out on facebook or on their website.

As I said, the dirty chai at Ike Box is awesome.  Sam and I both got one, and ordered the same size.

Is it just me, or does Sam's mug (the blue one) look way bigger than mine?

I like Salem in the fall.  The other day it was clear and sunny and I went downtown and the leaves were golden and topaz and ruby.  It seems fall is when trees really show off, almost like they know they're about to be naked so they want our last glimpse of them in their fully-clothed glory to be stunning.  And it is.  There is brick everywhere downtown, especially by Willamette (pronounced will-AA-met, not WILLamet like I thought) and if you squint your eyes and use your imagination, you can pretend that you're in Boston.  Mmm, Boston.  Top spot on my list of favorite cities.  Salem, you're slowly but surely making your way on that list, too.

By the way, is anyone else in disbelief that Thanksgiving is less than a week away?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Seal Beach Sweetness

Thought I'd share some pictures of my weekend in Seal Beach.  Even though I didn't enjoy the flying part, I got to hang out in one of my favorite towns, see some of my family, hang out with sweet Marcela and my friend Jason, and enjoy the glorious southern California beach weather.  It all added up to a great time.

Samantha loves being outside, and Aunt Kimmy loves being with Samantha, so when she said, "Kimmy outside," I followed her.  She decided to set up a little picnic in the middle of the sidewalk, because of course that's the right thing to do when it's so gorgeous outside.
 And here's Samantha's adorable brother, Nathan.  Can you tell they are related?
This little guy loves to smile, but I was having a hard time capturing his grin with my phone.  This is as close as I got.

Nathan and I decided to go for a walk because it was so nice out and because Joni lives in downtown Seal beach, about a two minute walk from this:

Soaked up all the Vitamin D I could.  I was in heaven. 

Then, of course, it was time for Joni's bridal shower.

Marci has been one of my best friends since seventh grade, knows all my flaws, and still loves me.  Gotta hang on to people like that.  Love her.  Miss her.  Thankful we got to hang out.  Wish I could see her more.

And here's me being totally smitten with my nephew:

Can't wait till the wedding in December when I get to see all these people and more!

Monday, November 7, 2011

How Not to Fly

Now that I live in Oregon and most of my family and friends still live in California, I find myself flying more often to visit.  Over the past few years, I have actually had to fly pretty often for weddings and other events.  This past weekend I flew down to Seal Beach for my sister's bridal shower and bachelorette party.  I was so happy to visit and be part of such a special time, and I'll write more later about the weekend.  But tonight I wanted to display my complete ineptness when it comes to flying.

Here is what you do if you want to have a bad experience:

1. Schedule your flight for a time when it's really inconvenient for anyone you know to drop you off at the airport, and don't bother to call a taxi or shuttle to pick you up.  Just be so cheap that you ask someone to drop you off four hours before your flight so you can hang out at the airport for a really long time.

2. Make sure this airport is one that is very small without anything to do to keep you occupied.  The Long Beach airport is perfect.  It is tiny, and once you go through security (which, pleasantly, only takes thirty seconds because remember you showed up very early and there's no one else there yet), there is a single magazine stand surrounded by some chips, candy, and drinks.  Not a Starbucks or other shop in sight to make the time pass more quickly.

3. Make sure to buy candy at the small kiosk because you're grumpy and you think it will make you feel better.  Though you've only had coffee all day and yesterday you brilliantly ate about thirty pounds of taffy, you assume the Reese's Pieces will be a healthy, energizing breakfast that will make your unsettled stomach suddenly settled.  In fact, it will probably give you a headache and make you sleepy.

4. Don't read either of the two books you brought with you.  Instead, buy three magazines from the overpriced magazine stand so that you can read different versions of why Kim really called it off with Kris.  (Also, think about how this Kim has soiled your name and how you are even more adamant about not being called "Kim".)  Throw a Self magazine in there as well so that you can experience self-loathing while you eat your candy and look at pictures of women with six-pack abs.

5. Smile at the little girl who walks past you.  (You'd think this would make for a pleasant trip, except that this little girl makes a creepy, scary face in response and you swear she hisses your name and that you've possibly just encountered one of Satan's minions.)

6. Forget your ipod and headphones.  This is especially effective if you're flying JetBlue because they actually have in-flight movies and television that you could have watched if you hadn't forgotten your headphones, and your forgetfulness makes you even more frustrated.  You might be tempted to buy the $2 headphones they offer, but since you've already spent so much money on magazines and candy, you refrain.

7. Underpack.  This is a good way to ensure that you will not be as comfortable flying home.  When you only pack just enough for what you think you'll need, you forget to take into account that you have a five month-old nephew who might spit up on you and thereby cause you to wear the same outfit twice.  You don't think you'll want yoga pants and a sweatshirt and warm socks to fly in?  You're wrong.  And who are you trying to fool anyway, wearing those skinny jeans and not-very-warm cardigan?  You're normally in yoga pants and sweatshirts, so why, when you travel, do you force yourself to not be as comfortable and make an attempt at fashion?  This, too, is meaningless, and a good way to make your flight less cozy.

8. Forget to remember that when people fly, they assume they are the center of the universe, and consequently be annoyed by everyone around you.  That couple that tries to board during the pre-boarding time who are then sent to the end of the line but conveniently slide in front of you - they will annoy you.  You can roll your eyes at them and make sure they see that you are in no hurry because you are not as stupid as they are.  Why are they in such a rush to get on the plane anyway?  Do they really find those seats comfortable?  Are they afraid the plane will be full if they're at the back of the line?  They are assigned seats, people.  Be sure to let them in first because they must need that affirmation of being on the plane before you.

Follow the above directions and you are sure to be miserable at the end of your nine-hour traveling experience.  And by all means, don't learn from your mistakes and make any changes for the next time you travel.  This will make for mildly-entertaining blog ideas that occur to you while you're sitting at the airport.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


This day is really very sweet to me, for several reasons.  Here they are, organized in a nice list, though the list is in no particular order:

1. The numbers.  I just really like when numbers line up so beautifully, and 11.1.11 is just aesthetically pleasing, don't you think?  It's like make-a-wish-all-day.  (Does anyone else make wishes when it's 11:11, or 3:33 or whatever?  No?  You're all grown up adults?  Okay, moving on....)

2. It happens to be this girl's birthday.

Yes, she's the one on the right, and yes, I apparently used to be a blonde.  It is my cousin Erin's birthday today, and she's spending it in China where she lives with her husband.  So, maybe her birthday was actually yesterday there?  I don't know.  But it's November 1st in Oregon today, so that's when I celebrate Erin.  She and I have been soul mates for as long as I can remember - exchanging many "Best Friend" necklaces, making movies, playing Ditch 'Em, talking, laughing, arguing over song lyrics (both in Wizard of Oz and Moulin Rouge, and I'm ashamed to admit that both times Erin was right), and generally growing together.  She and I are different in a lot of ways but so alike in so many others.  She also loves animals, loves to dance, and has an amazing sense of humor.  We like to say that we're each others drug because we generally act insanely awesome when we're together.  Erin is wise beyond her years, brilliant (a philosopher), and asks questions that others don't dare to ask.  She admits she doesn't always know the answers, but really seeks understanding.  I love it that she's in China, being her adventurous, awesome self, but I really, really miss her.  And Erin, if you're reading this, Sam and I both want you guys to move to Oregon should you ever decide to return to the States.  And I have a few words for you.  Roxanne.  "Boy, that really scared me!"  And of course, happy birthday.

3. I had the day off today.  Last night was my first shift as a supervisor and it was a little stressful, especially because I've only been back with the company eight weeks and I never, ever close so I sort of had no idea what I was doing.  But last night was a success, thanks to my competent baristas, and with that off my shoulders I was able to relax today.

4. Halloween is over, which means I can start listening to Christmas music.  This album is on my wish list:
The She and Him Christmas album.  There is one She and Him song I cannot stand (Jacquie, you know the one I'm referring to), but I do love Zooey's voice and I do love Christmas.

5. Today this happened:
Starbucks came out with their red cups.  This marks the beginning of holiday season, which I love.  This will be my fifth holiday season with Starbucks, which is weird, but fun because Christmas is my favorite time to work for Starbucks.  Everyone is generally happy, it's really busy, and we get to play Christmas music.

I always love it when the red cups make their appearance, but this year it's a little bittersweet.  Sara loved the red cups.  Last year around this time, she was in Petaluma, and I got to spend an afternoon with her, Noreen and Woody.  We had lunch at the Himalayan Kabob and Curry House, walked around downtown, went to Powell's for candy, and I forgot my keys so the four of us were locked out of our house.  I just remember talking about how much we loved Starbucks Christmas cups and how we looked forward to them every year.  I wish she was here, and I wish we could go get coffee together, or candy, and I wish I could just talk to her.  One thing I know for sure is that every time I see those cups at work I'll think of Sara.  I'm so thankful for the reminders of her joy-filled life.  So thankful.  I just wish she were here. 

Overall, this day is a blessing and a gift.  Welcome, November.
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