No lines

We had heard the best time to ski was on New Year’s Day because there were no crowds. That was true, for all the wrong reasons.

Story_squareOur group of 20-somethings arrived early at Winter Park, hauled equipment to the lodge, and began preparing.

I discovered that the temperatures that day were colder than I had expected and I decided to spend the day with hot chocolate beside the fireplace.

But that decision hadn’t gotten to one of the guys in our group who had scurried to purchase lift tickets for all of us.

I couldn’t leave him hanging for my ticket and I couldn’t spend that kind of money just to sit in the lodge. So I buckled up the boots, popped into the  bindings and skied to the lift.

Surprise! There was no line at all. Up I went, getting a quick glance at a blackboard that read -38 degrees.

I was outside at 38 degrees below zero? I pulled my cap a little lower.

“Follow me.” This was the same guy who had bought the lift tickets but we followed anyway. The group arrived at another lift.

“Where are we going?”

“To the top of the mountain. The skiing is great up there.”

So we went further in. It doesn’t get warmer as you go up the mountain. The snow squealed with each turn of the ski.

We got to the top, made a fast run to the midway lodge and ducked inside for hot chocolate and a fireplace. The guys with mustaches sported icicles from their upper lips.

Any exposed skin was either bright red or white.

This was fun, right?

An employee wandered by. “We’re watching for frostbite. If we see anything suspicious, we’ll send you back to the lodge.”

Out we went for round 2 and one of the gals who had sat in the lodge the longest flunked. Her cheeks were white and she went back in to thaw out.

The rest of us made another fast run back to the midway lodge.

“Are we going to ski all day?” I asked.

“Why not?” Yep, it was that guy again. “The snow is fantastic.”

We’d already made two runs from the top. Maybe I was getting my money’s worth on that ticket.

Another employee came up to the table. “You all OK?”

“Yeah, but minus 38 degrees is pretty challenging,” I said.

“Well, it’s minus 50 on top with wind chill.”

So I’ve survived a ski trip at 50 below zero. And they were right: no lift lines. Not everyone had frozen brains.

Chasing trains

Harry topped off his Thanksgiving feast with a project he looked forward to every year. The stack of VHS tapes beside his TV contained this year’s travels.

SeasonsHarry had spent the summer with his wife hunting down trains and filming striking angles of trains thundering past him.

He selected campsites based on their closeness the train tracks and he had pulled himself out of bed before dawn to set up some of the shots.

Now it was time for the editing. 

Harry pulled his legal pad in front of him and began taking notes. He played a tape, stopping to jot the location of cuts and edits.

Two weeks into the process, his wife checked in. “Do you have good footage this year?”

“Oh, yeah, this shot of the steam engine against the sunrise is stunning.” He leaned toward the television and flicked his remote control.

In three weeks, he had created a master tape containing trains churning across his screen in the mountains, on the plains, at dawn, at midnight.

“All right, Dear, you have to see this!” He pointed to the TV screen as the train images blasted across it. “This is the newest tape.”

Harry spent a week making a stack of copies of his master tape and distributed them to family and friends.  He wrapped each VHS tape in layers of tissue paper and stuck a red bow on top.

Many got a train tape under their Christmas tree.

In January, Harry had a stroke. 

Harry has now stowed his camera in a back closet and donated his camper. He shuffles from the recliner to the refrigerator, leaning on a walker. 

But he’s doing OK. He has 20 years of train tapes to review and those images are new every morning.

Cookie Cutter Dreams

Long before Pinterest could puncture my wanna-be creative bubble, there was the nativity Christmas cookie cutter set.

I sometimes call Pinterest the dream site: I can only do those projects in my dreams.

The cookie cutter set was like that. The box seduced me with photos of beautiful cookies in the shape of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in a manger. A little piping of frosting, a few sparkles in the right place and we would have a unique nativity set.

And the best part was that we could do this project as a family with everyone helping.

I bought the set.

Yes, I knew we wouldn’t get the cookies quite as perfect as the photos. We had a two-year-old at the time. He’d produce a cute but goofy little cookie.

It was OK.

I forgot to factor in his mother.

I knew we were in trouble when I pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven. Baby Jesus in the manger more resembled a toasted marshmallow.

The sheep – and I’d made lots of them – all were blimps. Some had short fat legs but, since you couldn’t tell where the head was, the legs could have been porcupine prickles, too.

The camels’ longer legs had grown together while baking. “Is this an elm tree?” asked the six-year-old.

The shepherds had morphed into tall planks of wood and kneeling Joseph was now a giant S.

The kids were game, anyway. They slathered on frosting that was too thin so that the blues and oranges dribbled into each other making a muddy brown on the kings.

Well, I thought those were the kings because of the lumps at the top which I identified as crowns. Maybe they were cows, in which case the muddy brown might make more sense.

I had planned to assemble the stable printed on the back of the box but tossed that after our older son frosted a angel as though it were a donkey. I was not displaying these.

When we were done, with sticky frosting on our fingers and sparkles drifting to the floor, I studied the blobs of cookies. “Well, this didn’t work out quite like I had hoped.”

My husband surveyed the table, surrounded by sets of eager young eyes, and picked up a cookie. “Then we’d better destroy the evidence.”

More than a sign

After three wrenches, a hammer and a torch, my husband freed the faded nameplate from the mailbox, 40 years after my father had bolted the bracket into place.

SeasonsFlash back 40 years to a time when my siblings and I had somehow saved some money from selling rabbits. When we spotted the little ad in a farm magazine for a nameplate that bolted onto the mailbox, we knew this was the perfect anniversary gift for our parents. 

The basic nameplate was $5.95 but we had enough to spring for a metal scroll above the name so we put $6.95 in an envelope with our order  form and mailed it off. We wanted classy, after all.

When the package appeared in the mail, addressed to me, my mother snatched it up.

“What is this?” Her eyes narrowed and she held the flat cardboard in both hands.

This was  problem because it was a gift for her, too. I gulped, knowing my younger siblings had scattered like bugs when you turn on the light.

“Well, it’s a present,” I said. She thrust the package into my hands.

“Show me.”

So I did. What else do you do at 14?

She studied the contents for about three seconds. Today, I know she was a little embarrassed at her distrust. “I guess that’s all right,” she said. 

Only then did we get to see the dark green background, the silvery glitter on the name, the silvery scroll. It was all we had hoped. 

So we gave the sign to our parents for their anniversary and Dad was surprised, anyway. Mom smiled, though. 

The nameplate withstood blizzards, wind, rain, hot summer sun for many years. The green background faded until there was little contrast between background and letter. But it stood solidly on the mailbox.

When we sold the family farm, I wanted to keep the nameplate.

Not just a reminder of my parents’ years on that farm, but also a legacy. Because that sign signaled the day when my mother learned she really could trust this wild band of children.

We ordered the gift awkwardly but, as it turned out, we really did it all right.

All About the Making

I believe Christmas sugar cookies are all about the making. It’s that time when I drag out my cookie cutters, rinse them off, and produce a countertop full of camels and reindeer (same cutter) and candy canes so dry that they only served as coasters for the frosting.

And my younger son wanted to make sugar cookies. At age 5, he still liked to hang out in the kitchen so I seized this wonderful teaching opportunity before he got bored of hanging out with me.

“Here’s how we roll out our dough for the cookie cutters,” I explained. I formed a handful of dough into a nice round ball, then flattened it with the heel of my hand. “Then we can roll it out to a nice even thickness for the cookie cutters.”

Oh, yeah, he was in. That first batch featured trees and stars and a manger. Once those were baking, he announced he could do the next round.

Motherly pride is a dangerous thing and it got me that time. I was thrilled that he had watched and learned so quickly. I took a step back to watch.

Yep, he scooped out a hunk of dough and rolled it into a ball. Nice start.

He placed the ball on the counter top and then raised his hand in the air before punching that dough ball with the side of his fist.

We’re talking a round of middleweight boxing here. Bam! Bam! Bam!

Then he dusted off his hands and calmly reached for a cookie cutter.

“Um, aren’t you going to use the rolling pin?”

He gave me one of those “I got this, Mom, so go fold laundry” looks. “It’s already flat.”

Yes, it sure was.  Christmas cookies are all about the making, right?

The Christmas Pickle

Late on Christmas day, we bundled our family into the car and headed for a ski trip in the Colorado mountains.

The gift-giving had been trimmed back so that we could enjoy this ski outing but my husband wanted to do something special for the family during our travel that evening.

“Let’s stop at that nice steak house on the interstate,” he said.

So we did. They were closed. It was, after all, Christmas day.

Hmmm. We hadn’t thought of that so we continued to the next town and pulled in, thinking the Chinese restaurant there might work well.

Closed.

We were starting to get a clue, finally. But we had five kids in the car and the Christmas cookies were wearing off. They were restless.

“Let’s try a fast-food place.” My husband had set his heart on a special mealtime family gathering but his stomach was growling, too.

Closed.

Grocery stores were closed. Walmart was closed.

We were about to inventory old snacks left in coat pockets when my husband spotted a 7-Eleven convenience store.

We turned the kids loose. “Find something to eat.”

Because there’s virtually nothing healthy in a snack place like that, the kids were not bound to a balanced meal. They grabbed chips and popcorn and gallons of fountain drinks.

Their parents have felt guilty for years for not having enough foresight to avoid such a disappointment. We wanted to give them a nice steak dinner but instead offered candy bars and peanuts.

But I have been assured by our older son not to worry.

“I got a fistful of dill pickles,” he said. “Best Christmas dinner ever!”

Already decided that

The day that my father went searching for his pajamas in the attic, I thought it was time to have a talk about forgetfulness.

Seasons

He cocked his head to the side like he had done a million times in my life and I knew he was digging in for the long fight. “I’m not forgetful.”

“Well, sometimes you are.”

“Prove it.” He hadn’t moved his head yet but his chin was pointed toward me now. When I was younger, this was when I took cover.

But not this time.

“Remember the time you couldn’t find your back brush? And it was hanging in the shower where it was supposed to be.”

His eyes glazed for a moment and then sharpened. “Everyone forgets things sometimes. You forget things, too.”

I didn’t want to do this. “Not like that.”

“Give me a test.”

“All right. Do you think you can count backwards from a hundred by threes?” I’d read that test in an article somewhere and figured it was worth a try.

“Of course I can. One hundred. Ninety, uh, —“He drew in a long breath. “I don’t want to do it right now. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. You can’t do it either.”

So I did, counting from 100 to 90 before stopping. “Please, Dad. I just want to see if there’s something to help you. That’s all.”

“You think I have Alzheimer’s, don’t you?”

“I really don’t know. That’s why I’d like a diagnosis.”

“Well,” he tossed his head back now. “I don’t. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to get that. So I don’t.”

I gave up.

He lived two more years and never visited a doctor about his forgetfulness.

We didn’t learn how severe the dementia was but I do know that, without a doctor’s assistance, my dad remembered his family members until the moment he passed on.

And maybe that was enough.