Stranded in Nowhere, Florida

landscape photography of four coconut trees

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

I was hoping to blog about all my adventures during the week-and-a-half I spent in Washington DC over Christmas.

I’d hoped to recount spending New Years Eve on the Pennsylvania/Maryland border with my Aunt Barb and her Biker Gang, and the few days I spent with her in her mansion and sanctuary for rescue pigs.

I’d planned to tell the tale of driving to North Carolina, spending the night in my car at the airport, flying to Oregon, and spending a week desperately trying to catch up with everyone. (Spoiler alert: I failed miserably, but at least I had ample time with my family.)

And finally, I meant to chat about the weekend I spent with my Aunt Margaret, Uncle Chad, and cousins Austin, Emma, and Nolan, in South Carolina.

But alas, I suppose I’ll have to save all that for my book. Stories are like iPhones. No matter how good the last one was, there’s always a newer and better one. Keeping up feels impossible.

So instead, I’ll tell the story that began roughly 24 hours ago. After spending the weekend with my Aunt Margaret, I prepared to drive south to Florida. Florida! I’d never been to Florida in my life.

Throughout my stays in Tennessee and Ohio, I had asked everyone I could think of if they had Florida connections. I’d heard so many stories of Pinecraft, the Amish Las Vegas, that I wanted to see it for myself. Finally, my friend Rani told me that her husband’s grandmother had a house in Florida, and was willing to let me stay with her!

I’d had a bit of communication with Rani’s grandmother, Erma, but not a whole lot. So that whole 9 hour drive, I had a niggling fear that things wouldn’t work out.

What if I showed up, and she’d forgotten that I was coming?

What if no one answered the doorbell?

What if everyone was already in bed when I got there?

Erma is from Holmes County Ohio, where people get up at insane hours of the morning. I think 5 am is typical. Early to rise means early to bed, right?

I called her, but she didn’t answer. So I left a message. I told her that I’d get in around 9 pm, and if there was anything I should know about getting into the house, she could call me back.

She never called.

So I drove along, and day turned to night, and my phone battery began to dwindle. I figured I ought to buy one of those chargers that plugs into the cigarette lighter. I almost never run out of battery, which is why I’ve never bothered to purchase one, but I am aware that routinely spending hours on the road, going to strange places, and not owning a car charger, is a pretty bad idea.

So I pulled into a gas station in nowhere, Florida, and went inside. Bought a car charger. I was starvingly hungry, so I used their microwave to heat up some food that my Aunt Margaret had sent with me.

But when I settled back into my car and prepared to resume my travels, I realized that the charger didn’t work. So I impulsively dashed back in to exchange it.

And when I returned to my car, and looked in the window, my heart froze.

There were my keys. My phone. My food. Just sitting there, neatly, inside my car that was most certainly locked.

“Cry now, find a solution later,” is my body’s natural response to situations such as these. So I dutifully burst into tears.

“Are you okay?”

“No,” I said to the kind female stranger who was watching me, concerned. “I just locked my keys in my car.”

“Oh man. Well, let’s see. Normally I have my tools with me, but…”

The kind stranger, who I later learned was named Annette, scanned the gas station for a solution. Her eyes rested on a truck full of tools, and she made a beeline for it. It was owned by a skinny guy with floppy hair. I never caught his name, but Annette talked to him, and he followed her back to me, carrying an antenna and a couple screwdrivers.

The two of them, along with a steady stream of strangers who passed by and offered their ideas, and the gas station cashier who gave us duct tape when we needed it, tried a number of strategies. With the screwdrivers, they pried the car door open a quarter inch, before switching to a crowbar and getting it open a bit more. The antenna, with duct tape on the end to keep it from slipping, pushed the door release button.

Nothing.

Annette looped the antenna through the inside handle. Some car doors unlock when you open the door from the inside, but not this one, apparently.

Finally, the male stranger with the floppy hair said he had a grabber tool, but it was at his house, a few minutes away. So he left his crowbar and screwdrivers with us so that we knew he’d come back, and drove off.

Annette and I chatted while we waited. She’s an electrician, which I thought was really cool. Both she and the stranger with the floppy hair have the life philosophy that if you drive everywhere in a truck full of tools, you can fix any problem you might run into. I was really enchanted by this. I’ve never really understood why you’d drive a gas-guzzling truck when you could, instead, drive a car with good gas mileage, but after this experience I could definitely see the appeal of constant access to tools.

Floppy hair returned with a pole that had a little grabber on the end. He used his crowbar to pry open the door a bit, stuck his grabber tool through, grabbed onto the lock tab, and pulled it up.

We’d done it! Well, not “we.” They’d done it. But we all got really excited, and floppy hair shook my hand vigorously and said, “Thank you!!”

Then, perhaps realizing that I should be the one doing the thanking, clarified: “Thanks for letting me help! That felt great!”

Annette gave me her phone number, in case I should ever be in the area again. After once more expressing my deep gratitude, I got in my car and drove away, the wind whistling through my slightly-bent car door.

The roads were wide and empty. I ate my now-cold plate of food, and prayed that Erma would still be up, despite my delay. She had never called me back.

A few hours later, the GPS led me to a dark, deserted-looking house.

I parked, and walked to the front door. Then pulled out my phone and called Erma again.

She answered. “Oh! You’re here! I didn’t expect you until tomorrow!”

She let me in, and we tried to figure out where our communication had broken down. My private opinion is that I told her the wrong day, because despite her age, I still seem like the most likely candidate to make a mistake like that.

She hadn’t gotten the message I’d left earlier that day. “But I don’t always check my messages,” she said.

Thankfully, it turns out that Holmes County people let loose in Florida, staying up later, and sleeping in until 7 am! So I hadn’t woken anyone out of slumber.

So yes, I’m in Sarasota Florida now. If you happen to be here also, or will be in the next three weeks, hit me up!

 

Christmas in the City with Angie

I’m doing the holidays a bit haphazardly and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-skirt-ey this year. It’s been fun, but it makes small talk very strange and complicated.

Person making small talk: So, where are you girls from?

Me: I’m from Oregon.

Angie: And I’m from Delaware.

Person making small talk: So…what are you doing in Washington DC on Christmas eve?

Me: Well, my brother lives here. But he went to Oregon for Christmas. I couldn’t afford to go until January 4, but it’s okay, we’re having our family Christmas later anyway. He said I could stay in his apartment.

Angie: And my sisters are having Christmas with their in-laws, so I decided to come spend Christmas here too.

Person making small talk that’s now turning into big talk: And…how do you two know each other? College?

Angie: No, actually, she lived with me for a month. See, she’s doing this thing where she lives in a different place each month…

Once people start asking questions, the explanations are never ending, and far more numerous than anyone asked for. Awkwardness ensues. I guess I’m living a pretty atypical life at the moment.

We each had something in the city we particularly wanted to do. Angie wanted to go to the Passion City Church for their Christmas Eve service, because she’d watched Youtube videos of the pastor, Ben Stuart, and knew he was a good preacher. I wanted to go to the Christmas Day service at the National Cathedral, because my mom went to the cathedral once and was in absolute awe.

Angie got in Christmas eve, and after a brief rest we went down to the subway and attempted to find our way to Passion City Church. It was remarkably easy. The green line went basically from the back door of Matt’s apartment to the back door of the church.

Based on Angie’s description of Ben Stuart’s preaching abilities, as well as the church’s affiliation with the Passion conference, I assumed we’d be in a mega church. We weren’t. Oh, it was bigger than Brownsville I guess, but it had a small church feel. Chat-with-the-preacher-on-your-way-out-the-door small.

It was like the perfect modern church service. Great worship band. Fantastic and engaging sermon. Theologically sound. Great chats with the friendly people around us who call Passion City home. Candles for everyone.

We were hungry after the service, so we rode the subway to Chinatown in search of food.

Long story short, we ended up at a busy McDonalds with no seating. We decided to streamline things by using the self-order stands. Which was a bad idea.

First, my screen went back to the start screen after I’d inserted my credit card. No recipt. Did the order go through or not? I had to get in the looooong line after all, just to ask.

Apparently it did go through, and I was given my cheeseburgers. Angie, however, had to wait ages for her food. The restaurant closed. The orders disappeared from the screen one by one. Still Angie had no food.

Finally, the lady called out Angie’s number. As she reached for it, a cute guy reached out too. “I think that’s mine,” he said teasingly.

“No,” said Angie, taking her food and heading for the soda dispenser.

“You’re beautiful!” He called after her, just to make sure she knew he was flirting.

“Thank you,” she said without turning around.

I was highly amused by this incident, especially when Angie told me that she didn’t even notice that he was cute. “I just wanted my food!” She said.

Usually I’m the one who doesn’t notice when guys are cute. But maybe I noticed because I thought his joke was funny, and Angie didn’t notice because she was not amused.

Note to men: joking about taking food from a hungry woman is not an effective flirtation technique.

We went home to eat our food while watching White Christmas.

The next morning we put a youtube video of a fire on the TV, played Christmas carols, and opened the gifts we’d purchased for each other.

Spoiler alert: we bought each other mugs. She also gave me a small box of tea.

After that we dressed and went to the National Cathedral.

The cathedral was a bit of a walk from the subway station, but we were walking through the most enchanting neighborhood.

“Do you hear the music?”

“Yes, what is that?”

“It’s the church bells!”

We rounded the corner, and there it was. Huge. Magnificent.

Well, the pictures I took don’t remotely do it justice, so this is the only one I’ll post.

The cathedral service was the perfect old-fashioned Christmas service. Huge and awe inspiring. Church bells. Organ and choir music. Scripture readings and liturgy.

It was breathtaking.

I generally avoid driving in the city but I realized that I could have easily driven to that service. The roads were empty and there was plenty of street parking, free because it was Christmas.

So here’s a tip for all you Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, etc people who are just a few hours from the city. If you want to see the cathedral but don’t like traffic and paying for parking, consider coming Christmas day.

However, if you do so, coming early would be a good idea. Angie and I arrived right on the dot, and all the best seats were taken.

Back home after the service we embarked on the task of making Christmas dinner.

First, the oven didn’t work. We decided to fry the ham.

Then, my attempt at mashed potatoes turned into such a gluey mess that the beaters wouldn’t even spin. It was lumpy and sticky and awful.

I googled. Apparently red potatoes make gluey mashed potatoes. Here I thought I was saving time by buying potatoes I didn’t have to peel, LOL.

“We could make baked potatoes instead,” said Angie.

“The oven doesn’t work.”

“Well, we could fry potatoes.”

So Angie sliced potatoes very thin and fried them up. The broccoli turned out fine, and overall we had a fantastic, if a bit breakfast-like, meal.

We ate, lounged around, took naps, and then decided to hit the town again.

We ended up walking down the National Mall, checking out all the outdoor monuments. Then, tired of walking around, we sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and chatted.

The cold wormed itself into our bones.

“Where’s the nearest metro station?”

Angie checked on her phone. We had to use hers, because I’d forgotten mine at home. “We could walk to this one up here.”

“Or look! We could walk across the bridge and catch the Arlington cemetery metro! It would be so magical, walking across the bridge at night!”

So we took a loooooong walk across the bridge, and it wasn’t quite as magical as I’d hoped, due to aching feet and bones.

“What’s that?” Angie asked when we were across the bridge. A white wall loomed up in front of us.

“I don’t know.”

We found an elevator that led to the metro. But we were so close to the big white wall, we just had to check it out.

So we kept walking.

A strange phenomenon occurred. We might as well have been on a treadmill, because though we walked and walked and walked, the white wall remained just ahead.

When we finally managed to catch up with it, it was disappointing. It really was just a white wall. It was a memorial to women in the military, but there were no fountains or anything…just a white wall and locked gates.

“Look,” said Angie softly.

I turned around. Right behind us was a white temple, lit golden in the night.

“What’s that?” I asked, confused.

“That’s the Lincoln Memorial,” said Angie.

I tried to wrap my head around this information. We’d been walking away from the Lincoln Memorial for what felt like a lifetime and a half, and yet here it was, looking so close.

My only conclusion is that if you construct something huge out of white marble, and light it brilliantly in the night, it will seriously screw up people’s depth perception.

We trudged back to the metro. The up escalator was running, but the down one was still. I began to descend it like a staircase, before I noticed that the entrance at the bottom was gated off.

We went to the elevator. Pushed buttons.

Nothing.

Angie pulled out her phone.

It died.

Thankfully she had an external battery pack. We sat on a statue and waited for her phone to charge. Weary to the core, we had no interest in taking one more step.

Now, we decided, would be a great time to figure out how to use Uber.

It really was quite fairly simple. We could’t remember Matt’s address, so we just typed in the Metro station that’s basically in his back yard. And pretty soon we were in a warm car, zooming home, while “Silent Night” played softly on the radio.

That was our Christmas in the city. The next day we did more sight seeing, since things were open again, and then Angie left.

I should note that until I get another computer cord, I can’t promise a blog post every other day. The last two posts were partially written when the cord met its demise, but this post was 100% done on my phone and it’s been brutal. The wordpress app gets really glitchy when things get this long.

Here is a parting shot, of me at the Cathedral, taken by Angie.

Blogmas 2018: Cozy Books to Read During the Holidays

Nonfiction

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking

“Hygge” is a Danish word that doesn’t really have an English translation, though it could be described as “cozy togetherness.” Think of a group of friends sitting in front of a fire, sipping hot cider. The Danes carefully construct their lives so that they experience as much Hygge as possible. For instance, having candles burning at the office and in school classrooms.

Wiking decided that the rest of the world was missing out, so he wrote an entire little book on the subject. I don’t usually read much nonfiction, and I only picked it up because I was looking for cozy/winter-themed books for this blog post. But I thought it was irresistibly charming.

It has some etymology, some recipes, some exploration of culture, and various tips on how to incorporate Hygge into your life. After reading, I promptly went out and bought an oversized wool sweater from a thrift store.

Christmas Stories

P.S. These are all children’s books. I don’t know why there aren’t more good Christmas stories aimed at adults, but alas. I tried to find some and had little luck. If you know of any good ones, let me know!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is probably my favorite Christmas-themed story ever.

First, because Robinson has a John Crist-level grasp on the idiosyncrasies of American Christian culture. They’re a wee bit outdated, as this book was written in the early ’70s, but still hilarious.

And you know how I wrote, once, that you can tell when an author knows her/his subject because they know what goes wrong? Well let me tell you, Robinson certainly knows what goes wrong while directing a Christmas Pageant.

The Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatri

This little book is so charming and delightful. The Christmas theme isn’t super heavy-handed, but the book hinges on the fact that a wonderful coat needs to be finished for the mayor to wear on his wedding day, which is on Christmas morning.

Somehow this books makes getting married on Christmas morning seem like the most charming thing ever.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

This classic introduction to the Narnia series (and trust me, it’s a much better introduction than The Magician’s Nephew) is the perfect cozy book to read over the Christmas holidays. So wintry! So charming!

While it’s not a “Christmas story” per se, Christmas is an important part of the plot. I’m not quite sure how Christmas existed in Narnia at that point, as Christ had a different name there, and hadn’t even died yet. But it’s still a cool bit of symbolism to play with. You know, Christmas coinciding with the savior coming, the end of winter’s grip, etc.

Ramona and her Father, by Beverly Cleary

This book begins with the start of a new school year, and ends with a Christmas Pageant. It’s a very rainy Christmas, being set in Oregon, and that felt like a nice touch.

P.S. Did you know that Beverly Cleary is 102 years, 8 months, and 12 days old?

Lovely Classics that Feel Wintry

There’s something about a classic novel that feels cozy and wintry, like it should be read in front of a fireplace. Here are some that feel dramatic and wintry, but still feature a good cozy happy ending.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

I actually looked up a timeline of this book to see if it was set in winter. It takes place in all seasons. But I still feel like, between the orphanage and the giant mansion, Jane is cold a lot. So it feels like a winter book to me.

Persuasion, by Jane Austin

I read on a random blog that Persuasion is the most wintry of all Jane Austin’s books. I agree. I have no evidence to back this up. It just feels wintry for some reason, Haha.

True-ish Books Set in Harsh Climates

Mrs Mike, by Benedict and Nancy Freedman

A young girl moves to Alberta for health reasons, and falls in love with a Mountie. What follows is a fascinating account of the harsh realities of life up north.

There are several scenes in this book which really fascinated me and stuck with me. But I’m afraid telling them would spoil key parts of the story.

Tisha, by Robert Specht

Tisha is similar to Mrs. Mike, only with more idealism and less tragedy. The book follows a girl named Anne who moves to Alaske to become a teacher, or “Tisha,” as her students call her.

I haven’t read this book in ages, but I recall it being lovely.

Kyra, by Kyra Petrovskaya

While all three of these books are based on true stories, Kyra is an actual memoir of a woman who lived in the Soviet Union during WWII.

Her story was enthralling. I could hardly believe so many things, and so many husbands, had happened to one person. Particularly fascinating was her account of living through the Siege of Leningrad.

It’s interesting to me that although we have countless books, movies, etc based on WWII, most of them are from an American, British, or German perspective. But the Soviet Union had far and away the most deaths. Kyra was the first WWII book I’d ever read from a Soviet Union perspective.

That’s all for now. I was going to add a section. I was going to add a section about cozy topic memoirs, like food memoirs and home renovation memoirs, but it’s Christmas eve y’all and I’m too tired.

Blogmas 2018: Christmas In the City, Part 2

I opened my computer.

BANG!

There was a mild explosion, as my charging cable gave up the ghost.

Since my computer won’t work unless it’s plugged in, this means I’m finishing this blog post via thumbs tapping on a smart phone.

Fun times. Where were we? I have extra catching up to do, since I didn’t post yesterday.

I’ll try to post tomorrow as well to make up for it, so long as my thumbs don’t give out.

Thursday

Matt’s apartment was much too warm. I slept without a blanket.

Friday

Matt made steak and eggs for breakfast. He gave me his keys, and showed me how to deposit the trash.

“Anything else you need?” he asked, packing up his stuff.

“Is there any way to turn down the heat?”

He laughed. “Sorry, the building has central heating, and it doesn’t always keep up with changes in the weather. But here, let’s open two windows and get a cross breeze.”

Matt left for the airport. The cross breeze didn’t help much. I was absolutely sweltering.

I checked my weather app. It was 67 degrees outside.

67 degrees!!!

Outdoors I bounded, wearing a t-shirt. I stuck a couple sweaters in my backpack just in case, but it was decidedly short sleeved weather.

With the weather that nice, I didn’t exactly want to be in some indoor museum. So I went to the downtown holiday market and looked at a lot of stuff I couldn’t afford. And bought an empanada and some tea. And listened to live Christmas music.

For a bit, the weather slipped into my favorite weather pattern–sunny with a slight sprinkle of rain. But then the sunshine disappeard and the rain dumped, and I dashed over to the National Gallery of Art to wait out the storm.

Saturday

Saturday was colder and less rainy, so I spent most of the day in museums. Particularly the American History Museum. The display of First Lady dresses may be my favorite part of the entire Smithsonian.

Then I went to a Starbucks to do some writing. DC doesn’t seem to have a lot of cute independent coffee shops, so Starbucks it is, I guess. I peeked into the windows of a different shop but they had very little seating.

Starbucks seating was rather limited too. One artist had a huge canvas that took up two tables. Yep, he was just sitting there, painting in Starbucks.

I’d just sat down on a bar stool when a little round table near the back door opened up. Woo hoo! I snagged it.

It was terribly wobbly. It’s hard to get writing done on a wobbly table. I grabbed some wooden coffee stirrers and tried to wedge them underneath to stabilize it, but it didn’t work.

The table was round, with one post in the middle, and a base. Maybe it was coming unscrewed? So I spun the tabletop in a complete circle, and it was still wobbly so I spun it in another complete circle, and just about the time I was looking like an idiot who just spins tabletops around and around like they’re lazy susans, everything tightened up suddenly and what do you know! The table was no longer wobbly.

I felt very proud of myself. I get such a kick out of fixing things in public. When I relayed the story on Instagram, Mom thought I should do a blog post about fixing things in public places. Bit really, it’s mostly just been toilets.

Sunday

This morning I put on my fuzzy red sweater and walked across the street to Christ United Methodist Church. I knew nothing about it, but it was a church, so I went.

There were very few people there, but they were extremely friendly and excited to see me.

At least, the adults were. One confused teenager looked at me and asked, “so where you from?”

“Oregon,” I said.

“Is that why you do your hair like that?”

Anyway, everyone greeted me and shook my hand or hugged me, and I was given a welcome gift and two Christmas cards. So it was a nice morning.

This evening hasn’t been so great. After my charging cable exploded, the sink overflowed. Sigh.

Oh well. It’ll be a Christmas to remember, I guess.

Blogmas 2018: Christmas in the City, Part 1

selective focus red baubles

Photo by Deena on Pexels.com

Well, it was bound to happen. I looked at the clock and it was 11:30 pm and I hadn’t yet written a blog post. So here is a slap-dash bit about my day.

Tomorrow morning my brother Matt is leaving for Oregon for Christmas. I’m not going home until January 4, because cheaper tickets. And also, my sister Amy is in Thailand over Christmas, so our family Christmas won’t be until Three King’s Day anyway.

So Matt said I could stay in his apartment over the holiday.

Well it turns out that Angie, my Delaware roommate, didn’t really have Christmas plans. Her siblings were hanging out with their in-laws, and her parents weren’t coming until After Christmas. So we’re going to have Christmas together in the city.

So yeah, today I went out for tea with a friend in the morning, and then lazily packed everything up in the afternoon, and then said goodbye-but-not-goodbye to Angie and drove over to the city and spent the evening with Matt. (Angie’s not coming until Christmas Eve.)

I should start Googling fun stuff to do in the city, so that I’ll have a more interesting blog post on Saturday.

Blogmas 2018: The Lowly Manger Scene (Guest Post)

shallow focus photography of religious figurines

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Today, I’m sharing a guest post by author Rebecca Greenfield. I met Rebecca when we sat next to each other at a book signing in Ohio. She arrived prepared, and I arrived without even business cards to hand out. When I went looking for post-it-notes to write my contact information on, she said, “I have extra!” magically producing them from her bag and handing them over.

She also provided me with hand sanitizer when I needed it. And now, she’s providing me with a lovely Christmas-themed devotional musing for me to guest post on my blog. Enjoy!

The Lowly Manger Scene

Mary, Joseph and a sweet little baby sleeping on a patch of straw. There is something so humble, yet inviting, about this scene. So often our best laid plans are thwarted. Sometimes the failed expectations can be heartbreaking, but that is where we must trust that God is behind it. He is working, and He can bring purpose out of senselessness. When we find ourselves in our own lowly manger scene, we must recount His goodness and muster up a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

-We thank God for the manger– how utter pure, simple, organic it was, but yet the Son of God was protected, safe and sheltered. The prophesies of the long awaited Messiah were finally fulfilled.

-We thank God for the journey to the manger– how rough, long and exhausting it was, but it stripped away the pride of the heart and created an interdependence on the Father.

-We thank God for the closed doors at the inn– the “no” seemed so harsh, ungenerous, and selfish but yet in the “no,” Mary and Joseph found themselves together with ox and lamb privately and so intimately welcoming the Creator of the Universe into His creation.

This is the Christmas Story– so simple, so unassuming, so raw, so unannounced- but in it we see that God uses all things for His glory and purpose. In it we find that thwarted plans and ordinary moments are exactly where God likes to place His fingerprint of divinity. And in it, we see that God does not need the lime light, power, prestige, or popularity to make Himself known. He is not limited by Inn Keeper “no’s” or “Caesar Decrees” or flawed individuals. His good and perfect will transcends the false, earthly presuppositions because He is faithful, trustworthy and capable of finishing the good work He has begun.

May you find comfort this Christmas in the meek and mild.
May you find peace in ordinary simplicity.
And may you find hope in the One who came over 2000 years ago to save you and love you forever.
“God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

www.Rebecca-Greenfield.com
@greenfieldmills
Follow at https://millsmanna.wordpress.com/

Blogmas 2018: Christmas Parties in Delaware

Friendsgivingmas

I’m part of a friend group in Delaware, which is quite nice. It’s a way to get social interaction without the stress of feeling like you have fifteen people you should call up and schedule a time to hang out with.

My first week here they hosted a Thanksgiving dinner/$5 gift exchange, which they dubbed “Friendsgivingmas.”

For some reason I always struggle with these white elephant type gift exchanges, feeling like I should get something cool and impressive. And in the end I always buy something tea related, which I guess means tea is my love language, but that’s a little silly because lots of people don’t even like tea.

So this time I showed up with a funny mug I’d bought at a thrift store and some Oregon Chai chai latte mix. I thought it was fitting, you know, since i’m from Oregon.

I don’t know why I stress about things like this. There is always, always, something worse. Like this time, Matt opened the gift that Mike had brought. It was a hat.

“Hey!” said Matt. “This came from the dollar store!”

Matt knew this because his own present had also come from the dollar store, though he had actually spent the required $5 on it. Within the heavy box, tied up in duct tape and decorated with sharpie snowmen, were five jars of pickles and a pair of robot socks.

Noah ended up with a red Christmas mug in a clear plastic gift box. “You can give it to Dad and tell him you got it at The Branch ten years ago!” joked his brother Nate.

“What’s The Branch?” I asked.

“A Christian bookstore that closed down ten years ago,” said Nate.

“So…where did this mug come from?”

The other Nate, who had brought the gift, piped up. “I bought it back then, and have saved it ever since. You know, for something like this.”

A Christmas Carol

One evening we all went to see A Christmas Carol at a nearby church. I was excited, hoping for some nostalgia, as I haven’t seen the play since I was in it in 2011.

The nostalgia didn’t exactly come, because it was a different version. A musical version. I kept waiting for the Cratchit children to march around the table chanting “The goose! The goose! Yeah, the goose!” but it didn’t happen.

Still, I mean, I love musicals. So I wasn’t exactly disappointed.

The Christmas Mystery Supper

This was technically a youth group event, but most of the friend group members were there. We had a “mystery supper,” where you choose menu items based on funny, misleading names. You might think, for instance, that “Christmas cheer” would make a good appetizer, but when it arrives you find that it is nothing but some sprinkles.

My enjoyment of mystery suppers, I’ve noticed, has decreased drastically with age.

There was a gift exchange this time too, only it was for a $5-$10 gift.

Now, when you have to pack up everything you own once a month and shove it into your car, you become a big less enthusiastic about receiving gifts. At Friendsgivingmas I’d had the good fortune to snag a large bag of peanut m&m’s, which of course didn’t last very long. But at the mystery supper I deliberately chose a very small bag, hoping for something useful and portable, like a gift card.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be…nine chapsticks. With a festive note attached.

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I was delighted.

See, there are certain things that I tell myself I will have when I am rich. Like pretty pajamas that match each other. Or a really nice, precise pair of tweezers. And one of the things I dream about is having enough chapstick that I never run out of chapstick. So that I can literally have a stick in every purse, every coat pocket, my sewing basket, and beside my bed.

(Yes, I grew up poor. And put myself through college without any debt. Hence the poor-person-you-can’t-treat-yourself-like-ever mentality, LOL.)

I was terrified that someone was going to steal those nine precious chapsticks away from me. But round after round passed, and I kept them each time. I wasn’t in much danger. No one really seemed to want chapstick. But I suppose if it had come down to chapstick or the Tupperware container of coal, the chapstick would have been stolen.

So now I feel quite wealthy. I even had an extra chapstick to give away to Angie one evening when she needed chapstick.

The funniest moment of the whole exchange, though, was when someone opened a square-ish packing and, what do you know! There was the red mug from The Branch again! Noah had re-gifted it from Friendsgivingmas.

We played several games, some sillier than others, and ended with musical chairs. The first and second place winners were promised a cash prize. Oh my!

Goodness, it had been years since I played musical chairs. Like, probably eighteen years. But eighteen years ago I was really good at musical chairs. Would my talent hold up?

We marched around the circle of chairs, stepping in time to the music, scrambling to our seats whenever the music stopped. Slowly the circle grew smaller and smaller. And I discovered that musical chairs is the opposite of mystery suppers. The delight of it does not diminish with age.

Then there were six of us, five of us, four of us, three of us. “You’re all crowding so close to the chairs!” One boy complained, watching us.

It was two of us, now. “This time, you have to stay an arm’s length away from the chairs,” said Johnny, who was organizing the game. “Actually, you have to hold out your arms like this. And you have to skip.”

So the two of us remaining, me and a girl in white I didn’t know, skipped around the chair holding out our arms like airplanes. All strategy was out the window at that point. If I was on the far side of the chair when the music stopped, I would lose. So I just had fun skipping.

And lost.

Or rather, got second place, and a $10 prize. The girl in white got $20.

The Ugly Sweater Christmas Party.

Nate declared that it was an “ugly sweater Christmas party,” not an “ugly Christmas sweater party.” This mattered because the 5 lb wool monstrosity he wore was not Christmas-related at all. It was purple, with giant mismatched buttons and a tag that read “made with love by granny.”

I took my ugliest sweater and added a $0.25 bow from the thrift store.

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This party was full of adults, so there was no mystery to the meal, and no one played musical chairs. There were, however, plenty of silly games. Like, one where we drew pictures on paper plates that we held on top of our heads. And one where we shoved balloons into pantyhose to make reindeer horns.

For the last game, we split into three teams and played a quiz game called “Family Feud.” We could discuss ideas as a team before guessing, but some people’s ideas were getting lost in the frantic shuffle. So I, utilizing my Prestigious Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, started writing down people’s ideas as they tossed them out, using the other side of a paper plate we’d used for the first game.

For the last round, we had to list the five worst gifts from “The 12 Days of Christmas.” I started frantically listing them. “Maids a milking!” “Lords a leaping!”

We won the game. No prize, but someone shouted “no fair, they have a writer on their team!” and that was a prize in and of itself.

The Progressive Christmas Supper

Finally, tonight there’s a progressive Christmas supper, where church members go over to each other’s houses to eat Christmas food together. One place serves dinner. One desert. One soup. Etc.

My landlord Rachel, who lives upstairs, hosted the soup course. So the whole friend group came here last, and ended up down in my and Angie’s quarters in the basement.

Fun times.

I’m going to be leaving Delaware in less than a week, so I won’t spend Christmas here. But the Delaware Christmas parties so far have been second to none.