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After Work: All Part Of The Christmas Package

...And itís one of those facts of life that much like the saying, ďYou canít make a cake without breaking a few eggsĒ, you canít decorate a tree without breaking a few ornaments...

Dona Gibbs tells of the stresses and strains of preparing for this BIG DAY.

Let's hope that Dona is now cool, calm and relaxed, that her tree is well-decorated, and her turkey and mince pies are tasty.

Everybody who celebrates Christmas has his little annoying, yet must-be -done chore that is put off until the last minute. Itís the one that nags at you. Makes you mumble to yourself, Scrooge-like. Or gives you Grinch-like moments.

Years have taught me a few things. Iíve learned how to take things a little easier, starting with toy assembly. One misaligned bolt is all it takes for a major mishap. Which is why thirty years ago I happily slipped ď a little something extraĒ to the after-school helper in the bike store so that all Santa had to do was load that bright yellow, banana seat bicycle into his sleigh.

Iíve also learned that as inviting as the New York Times cookie recipes sound, Iím probably not going to be baking any. And as charming as the American author Truman Capote made baking fruitcake with his eccentric aunt sound, I wonít be doing it. Ditto for any Yule-shaped confections.

This self-knowledge has been hard won. The height of my Christmas baking came about ten years ago when I baked huge sheets of gingerbread for a gingerbread house. I was too ambitious. The sheets kept cracking in the oven. It was past four o-clock in the morning before I managed four that were not fatally flawed.

When the house was finally constructed and decorated, it had been handled so much that it was inedible. However, it was pretty close to being indestructible and even survived intact after being unceremoniously tossed in the garbage.

ďHey guys, look what I found,Ē I heard the sanitation guy yell.

I rushed out the door. He was holding the house aloft. I warned him not to eat it. He shrugged and carried it off to the cab of the garbage truck.

Iíve learned that forking over a couple of dollars for a box is the only way Iím going to be able to wrap a Christmas sweater so that it doesnít look like an oversize cat toy.

Iíve also stopped worrying that thereís no way to disguise a tie box. Or a book.

Ready-made bows are not a cop-out Iíve discovered.

Iíve found that a couple of bright red poinsettias go a long, long way in making a house look Christmassy and nobody but me cares that I didnít make a dried fruit wreath for the front door. Since Iíve weaned myself from crafty magazines published by lifestyle divas, I no longer feel guilty about any of this.

Storing the red candles along with the other Christmas decorations saves rummaging through the cupboards with a growing sense of panic.

Iíve found that taking out the vacuum cleaner before I put up the tree is a practical idea. And Iíve learned to live with the fact that Iíll still be finding needles about the same time that Iíll be stuffing the green cellophane grass into Easter baskets.

And itís one of those facts of life that much like the saying, ďYou canít make a cake without breaking a few eggsĒ, you canít decorate a tree without breaking a few ornaments.

At the very last minute there will always be someone who sends us a Christmas card thatís not on our list. What to do? Send it now and itíll arrive too late. And end up in their mailbox after the Christmas flurry. Itíll be so obvious they didnít make the first cut, right? Years ago, I would have dithered away, weighing the pros and cons. Now I say, O.K., theyíre on the list next year, and I hope the relationship will survive without an embossed ďSeasonís Greetings.Ē

So just as I was congratulating myself on eliminating needless Christmas stress, I found myself creating some.

I took a long hard look at the tree. There were bare spots. Indeed, there were scores of branches unfestooned. They needed, no, cried out for ornaments. The tree was soon going to be subjected to the critical gaze of a discerning toddler and his never-misses Ėanything one-year-old brother. Or so it seemed to me in my grandmother-crazed state.

So I dashed off to the mall, or the fourth ring of the Inferno, as I think of it. The good news is that ornaments were already on sale. Twenty percent off. Score one for granny. The bad news was that they were picked-over, a tawdry lot relegated to a corner.

Oh well, theyíre better than nothing, I rationalized.

I scooped them up.

Now came another problem. I needed the wire hooks. Off to the big-box super hardware store, I raced.

I cornered a burly man climbing down from a forklife. He was busy moving boxed artificial trees out of the seasonal merchandise area and replacing them with rolls and rolls of garden hose. This, two weeks before Christmas.

ďNope, sold out weeks ago,Ē he replied to my question.

That was the first stop in the ornament hook quest. There was a second, a third and a fourth before I found the ninety-eight cent item that was about to make or break my Christmas.

So life continues to teach me these little lessons. And I guess Christmas stress just goes with the heightened expectations of the season. Nothing that a few deep breaths and a couple of sticky kisses from my grandsons wonít cure.


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