Thursday, December 21, 2017

Snow Magic

Last week the landscape turned solidly to white. It was good for the winter-lover’s soul. The timing even works for the folks (you know who you are) who only like snow for Christmas. Like holiday magic, snow in December covers the starkness of November with glittering brightness.

Trees that dropped their leaves months ago and had seemed simply bare became graceful, the twists and spread of their limbs outlined in a layer of crisp white. Evergreens, their branches drooping gently under a perfect layer of snow, now resemble the frosted trees of a gingerbread house village. The field that before looked cold and dull sparkles white in winter sunlight, a glimmering sea of tiny crystal reflections.

Snow makes the mountains glow. It magnifies moonlight. It amplifies quiet. It inspires joy and creativity in children – and the young at heart. (Trust me, snow-haters, it’s much more fun to go play in the snow than to grumble about it.)

The day it snowed the most last week I had two kids home sick from school. All day they lay on the couch, not wanting to move or eat. Outside, the snow sifted steadily from a gray sky, the white piling up to six inches or more. Late in the afternoon, they could bear it no longer. When the boy child arrived home from school, the girls pulled on snow pants and boots, left the coziness of inside for the chill of out. They rolled snow into huge balls and started forming a snow fort. They shoveled and piled and tossed snowballs toward the dog when her wild antics threatened to ruin the rising frozen fortress.

Over the weekend, after a full day of skiing through new snow, back out the kids went, over to the big hill at their grandparents’ house around the corner. They sledded until it was dark, and then kept going. They shaped snow into start ramps at the top of the hill and, further down, built jumps to fly off. They made endless trudging trips up the hill for the repeat joy of flying back down.

Partly, I know, this full-on love of snow is because it’s early in the winter. Snow in December seems a bit like a novelty in this new season. It’s like the first flower blooming in spring, the first hot day and cool dip in the river of summer, the first perfectly crisp morning of autumn.

“Nothing gold can stay,” the sage Robert Frost once wrote. And nothing white, either. We are embracing the season, wrapped up in the magic of snow while it lasts, twinkling in the moonlight and sparkling in the sun and lining the paths through the woods in perfect, delicate white. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 22, 2017 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

'Tis the Season - of Calm AND Crazy

The winter holiday season is, to me, a bit like summer vacation. Let me explain. Every June, as the last day of school arrives, I get giddy with summertime excitement. This began, of course, when I was a kid, but persisted through my college years of working summers, when I moved on to the workforce and no longer had a summer break, and now – when my own kids anticipate that delicious freedom of warm, unscheduled days – although summer often means more complicated juggling of various tasks for me.

Ditto with Christmas. In my mind, I picture calm evenings curled up by the fireplace with a good book, the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling peacefully nearby, everything tidy and cozy, and – of course – sprinkled with a good dose of holiday magic. Because that’s what Christmastime should be, right? Cocoa and cookies, peace and joy, everything wonderfully exciting while simultaneously calm and bright.

In reality, this is crazy time in our household, further magnified these next few weeks by all the hustle and bustle associated with the holidays.

Because much of my writing work focuses on skiing and winter recreation, I am – thankfully – extra busy on that front this time of year. The kids jumped into their ski racing program the day after Thanksgiving, and that occupies – happily, I will point out, but also exhaustingly – most of every weekend from now until April. I also coach in that program, which means there is little downtime for any of us. Throw in a lengthy list of home improvement projects and the related upheaval those bring, and I often feel as if I’m barely afloat in a sea of household chaos.

But here’s the thing… I love it. Yes, the decorations we shoved partly in haste back into the storage closet last January cause me some consternation as we try to figure out where to fit all our favorites – the ones that make it feel like Christmas, like OUR Christmas. And we have to move the living room furniture around to find space for the tree, then trim said tree with lights that actually work and our assorted plethora of ornaments that seem each year like they’ll never all fit on the tree.

The extra stuff can seem overwhelming in an already sometimes cluttered house, and the added tasks can be challenging to shuffle into an already overflowing calendar. But this is a good kind of crazy.

It’s fun – and amazing – to pull ornaments from the bin and remember what each one means. There are decades-old ones from my childhood and my husband’s, handmade ornaments the children created in their earlier years, and others from places we’ve visited. Likewise, there are homemade and school-made decorations that join store-bought ones on the mantle and windowsills. There’s no color coordination or underlying theme – just a hodgepodge of holiday treasures that maybe look good only to us.

This week, we have pulled out the bins of decorations and cleared the mantel of its non-holiday d├ęcor to make room for Christmas. Some evening this week, I hope, we will get our tree from a local tree farm, stand it in its regular place by the front windows, and string it with lights. This tree – with its woodsy fragrance and twinkling decorations – will be the centerpiece of our living room for the next few weeks. 

The very sight – and scent – of it inspires a bit of calm in me, calls me to take a breath and focus on the bright rather than the crazy.

On Christmas eve – when the children are tucked all snug in their beds, when the presents have been selected and wrapped, when I have prepped as much of Christmas dinner as I can and set the table to festive, when the stockings have been hung hopefully by the chimney – I will sit by the tree. I will pause and take it all in and thank my lucky stars – and those twinkling Christmas tree lights – for holiday magic, and for the moments of calm and bright amid the wild and crazy of the season. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 8, 2017 issue of the Littleton Record.