Happy Thanksgiving!

(photo credit: Priscilla du Preez/unsplash)

We’re feeling very grateful and blessed this Thanksgiving – in spite of a load of change, Brett and I have had a very good year, with more to be thankful for than we can count.

Wishing all a very happy Thanksgiving, and may the blessings of the season fill your hearts with love, joy, and gratitude.

My Secret Vice

I don’t smoke. I have a small glass of wine twice a week and a gin & tonic on Friday evenings, but otherwise don’t drink alcohol. I’m not a shopaholic, and I don’t gamble (too scared of losing money). I monitor my calories every day and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. I drink a couple of cups of coffee every day but otherwise stick to water.

However, I do have one secret vice. It’s seasonal, and appears around this time every year.

That little vice? Cadbury Creme Eggs.

The minute they show up on the shelves I am unable to resist temptation. I like chocolate but can avoid eating it the rest of the year if I have to. However, can’t stay away from these creamy chocolate eggs that appear every year for the Easter holiday.

They’re so sweet they can make my teeth hurt, but I don’t care. I adore the combination of smooth but milk chocolate and the sweet white creme filling with its spot of orange for the yolk. One year Cadbury offered them with an orange creme filling and I thought I had died and gone to heaven – orange & chocolate is my favorite combination. Sadly, those never appeared again. I don’t care for the caramel filling at all, but the newer chocolate creme filling is quite good. Apparently Cadbury offers a white chocolate cream egg and an Oreo cookie creme egg in the UK. I’d be willing give them a try although neither excite me as I’m not a fan of white chocolate nor Oreos. However, I can imagine a Cadbury egg with mocha filling might be close to nirvana.

I’ve been having one of these scrumptious eggs a day, occasionally two, since their appearance this year, adjusting everything else I eat to fit their calories into my daily eating plan. I know they’re not healthy but in my book they’re more than worth it.

Easter is this coming Sunday, and after that the eggs will disappear for another year. I’ve had my fill this year and am ready to say goodbye.

I know they’ll be back.

Have Yourself a Simple Little Christmas

(Updated from an earlier post)

I didn’t always enjoy Christmas as much as I do now. In the past I felt compelled to create a perfect holiday experience for everyone. Every year we put up and decorated a big fresh-cut tree, and I festooned the house inside and out, hosted a big Christmas Eve open house, and bought lots and lots and lots of presents. I baked hundreds of cookies, cooked special meals and ate too much. I overdid it all, and we always spent way too much.

From our son's first Christmas in 1978
A stuffed gingerbread man, made for our son’s first Christmas in 1978

It was exhausting, and I came to dread the arrival of the holiday season each year.

I let my own past get in the way of being sensible when it came to the holiday. Christmas was one of those things growing up that I always wished was a big deal but never was at our house. Raised during the Great Depression, neither of my parents had celebrated Christmas in a big way and saw no reason to change. Christmas always seemed to be pure drudgery for them, not only for the presents that had to be bought (and the money spent), but for the decorations and other holiday cheer that had to be endured. Still, my siblings and I eagerly awaited Christmas morning each year although the few gifts we received were typically uninspired. It was difficult to visit my friends’ beautifully decorated homes, or go back to school after the holidays and see and hear about all the wonderful, thoughtful gifts they had received.

I made a vow that when I grew up and had my own family, Christmas would be fabulous. It took me many years before I figured out I was using my own childhood disappointments as a reason to overspend and overdo Christmas, that I was trying to create the perfect Christmas that I had longed for and never experienced. However, for everything I did to make Christmas bigger and better, it still never seemed to be enough.

I don’t remember exactly when the switch flipped, but for the past few years Christmas has been a much, much simpler event at our home than it was in the past. I finally had enough of all the hoopla, or noticed, bit by bit, that it really didn’t matter to everyone else if the entire Santa collection got put out or not, or if there was garland down the staircase or around the door, or if there were lights around the house. It wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t bake ten different types of cookies or didn’t put out the Santa cookie jar. It didn’t matter how many presents were under the tree. What I realized was it was more important that we were together, and the gifts given and received were thoughtful and something the receiver truly wanted.

One of WenYu's many rabbit ornaments (she was born in a rabbit year)
One of YaYu’s rabbit ornaments (she was born in a rabbit year)

Christmas is a very simple affair around our home these days. Everyone pitches in some way so that no one (especially me) feels overloaded. We maintain a few simple traditions that are meaningful to us. Until recently we still decorated a big tree with ornaments that had been collected for over 40 years. The ornaments marked places we were stationed in the navy, our son’s early life, the girls’ Chinese heritage, our travels, and other milestones and occasions. These days a little twig tree holds just eight ornaments: one representing the Chinese zodiac animal of each family member (Brett and WenYu share the tiger); a sumo wrestler representing Japan; a felt chicken for Kaua’i, and a blown glass ball in colors of the ocean to mark our island life and travels across the seas. The rest of the ornaments have been divided between the children to be used on their own Christmas trees.

WenYu is our tiger girl
WenYu is our tiger girl

On Christmas morning, when the kids were small, stockings were opened early, long before Brett and I got up but these days we either don’t do stockings or everyone gets someone else’s to fill. When we’re all awake and up, Brett still serves coffee or hot chocolate with marshmallows in the Christmas mugs we’ve had for over 30 years, followed by bagels with cream cheese (or scones), smoked salmon, and fresh fruit, the Christmas breakfast our son asked for when he was seven years old, and that we’ve served ever since. As we eat presents are opened. One of the children serves as the “elf,” and chooses the gift each person will open for their turn, always in order beginning with the oldest person present to youngest. Gifts are opened one at a time, so that we can all admire each one. We still do a family Secret Santa exchange, and no present can cost more than $35. Not as many presents are under the tree these days as there were in the past, but each one is selected with care and love.

A horse our neighbor made for our son from old shoji paper - he was born in a horse year.
A horse made from shoji paper by our Japanese neighbor for our son, born in a horse year.

Although our Christmas celebration these days is not the grand affair of years past, it’s immensely more enjoyable, especially for me. The season no longer wears me out, but the magic and meaning of the holiday remains. We save every month throughout the year to cover our Christmas expenses and purchase gifts, and we no longer go into debt. We are able to give more to others outside our family as well, both in time and money. It’s been the best gift for all of us.

Meiling was born in the Year of the Pig
One of Meiling’s many pig ornaments. Yes, she was born in the Year of the Pig.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Photo credit: Unsplash/Thanksgiving)

The gift of wonderful readers is one of the nicest blessings of all, and I am giving thanks for all who stop by The Occasional Nomads every day. Wishing everyone good health, good times, whatever is beautiful and meaningful, and whatever brings happiness this holiday season and throughout the coming year to you and yours.

Doing Christmas Differently These Days

Our little twig tree is small and simple, but still loaded with memories

Christmas was not a happy, festive time at our home when I was growing up, and I don’t have warm, fuzzy memories about it. Although we were far from poor, my parents always made the holiday another seem like another financial burden and nuisance for them to bear. While my dad didn’t deliberately choose a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, we often seemed to get the nearest thing to it, with our tree shedding most of its needles before it ever came through the door. Christmas lists were eagerly drawn up by my siblings and myself every year but I don’t remember ever receiving even one thing I asked and hoped for. Parsimony and cheapness ruled the day unless it was for hockey gear for my brothers; then no expense was spared. The worst Christmas gift I can recall (and there are many to choose from) was the November and December volumes from a Time-Life series of books my parents subscribed to for the family – they were my “gift” under the tree that year, but went up on the family bookshelf later in the day.

The gifts we children gave were unimaginative as well, but there wasn’t much you could buy for five others with a dollar or two. We never received an allowance, so our Christmas shopping funds were from pennies we had saved throughout the year, and maybe a few dollars our dad gave us. I remember giving Dad a bar of Dial soap for several years (and him acting thrilled) and giving my mom a bottle of dime-store “Evening In Paris” perfume one year (and her not being thrilled, but then who could be?). I dreaded going back to school after the holidays because it was painful to hear about or see all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts my friends and classmates had received.

As you might imagine, I packed up a lot of baggage along the way about Christmas and how it should be celebrated. When Brett and I got married, I was determined that Christmas was going to be the happiest, most exciting time of the year for our little family, with a big tree, the whole house decorated, lots of baking and parties, and presents, presents, presents! Money was no object – even if we didn’t have it – and I tried to fulfill every wish on everyone’s list as well as knock everyone’s socks off with something totally unexpected and wonderful. As you might imagine, we often incurred a lot of debt every year at Christmas.

The year we started to pay off our debt was when I finally got serious about putting together a real budget for Christmas, one that we continue to adhere to. It was amazing how freeing that one simple step was. No agonizing over how we were going to pay for “the perfect Christmas,” no anxiety about the bills coming after. The girls still received one big, special gift that Brett and I chose carefully, another smaller gift from us, and a few things in each of their stockings, but that that was all. We helped the girls earn funds for their Christmas shopping throughout the year, and they had fun thinking of useful or asked-for gifts that would fit within their budgets. We stopped exchanging gifts outside of our immediate family other than homemade treats. We also downsized and kept decorations to a minimum, and went with a smaller tree for years versus our usual (and expensive) 8-foot noble fir, although before moving to Hawaii we purchased a 7.5 foot artificial tree that could display all our ornaments.

No matter where we’ve gathered these past ten years, and how we’ve celebrated, we’re all just as excited about our family Christmas as ever. Being together is what’s important, even though this year some of our celebration will be done via Zoom. Downsizing to a smaller, more simple Christmas has not stifled anything; in fact, we’ve found that our holiday can be a lot more fun as well as more creative when we’re more thoughtful about our gift-giving and other aspects of the holiday.

Getting ready to sort through over 100 ornaments and divide them up for our children.

This year, because of our small apartment, we’ve downsized to a small but pretty twig tree, and I’ve gone through our massive ornament collection and divided them up among our four children. Brett and I have kept a few ornaments for ourselves along with favorites from my once-huge wooden Santa collection. It’s more than enough now, and the things we’ve kept come loaded with memories. All the other ornaments will go to our children next year, to let them begin building a connection between our past Christmas celebrations and memories and their own traditions for the future.

Christmas is smaller and lighter these days at our home, but more meaningful than ever. All that old baggage I carried for so many years has been tossed out for good, and I’m so much happier and satisfied with the quieter, smaller holiday we celebrate now, no matter where we are. It took me a while to get here, but I’m grateful to have arrived.