Wild & Precious Life – Holidays 2020

End of summer and beginning of autumn life update can be read here.

As so much of this year has been filled with uncertainty and unknowing, with the shadow of worry close at hand, that feeling unsurprisingly poured into our holiday seasons but no holiday greater than Halloween. How would we celebrate Halloween? What would be safe? With Ryland rapidly approaching two years of age, he suddenly was well aware of everything. He saw costumes and candy and pumpkins and loved it all, and we felt we would be missing something if we didn’t partake in some way.

We live on the edge of town in an older neighborhood filled with empty nesters and young families. On Halloween, we hiked in the afternoon and upon returning home with the sun quickly settling behind the still-leafy trees, we set out to celebrate. We placed a table with candy outside our door with signs greeting trick or treaters and put lit candles into our pumpkins. Well before sundown, we dressed Ryland in his outfit–a little fat raccoon–and set off to try and take a stab at trick or treating.

We wandered the streets of our neighborhood looking at the various Halloween decorations and were happy to find many other homes put out candy for trick or treaters. Only a few others were out at this point, other families with toddlers, and we happily accepted the bags of treats from these little stations and made our way along the leaf covered streets and marveled at pumpkins aglow. We spoke to neighbors from opposite ends of their driveways and there was such a sense of community, despite that we were all so spread apart, but surely drawn together over the excitement of a holiday that worked out.

Per tradition, we ate beef stew before tucking Ryland off to bed and watching a spooky movie. The next day, I took away our Halloween decorations and replaced them with our few Thanksgiving decorations of turkeys and a pair of pilgrims my mother painted long before I was born.

November barreled along and the election came and then lingered for days. We chose to vote early in October and stood on long lines for nearly an hour each in order to do our civic duty. When Biden was announced the winner, we could hear car horns, shouts and cheers, despite not living in a city. But the year has been hard and we found ourselves desiring cheer, and so when our local tree farm opened particularly early, we opted to get a tree before Thanksgiving.

Ryland helping Daddy cut down our tree

This, for us, was odd because we often get our tree Thanksgiving weekend. But this year being what it has been, we were happy to bring home a freshly cut tree. Ryland was immediately in love with it and we had to swiftly decorate it over his nap then circle it within the confines of Ryland’s former play pen walls. Each morning, if the lights of the tree were turned on, he would gasp and loudly say “Wowwww” upon the sight of its glowing cheer.

Our tree, all dressed up, and the fresh-cut branch garland I made for the doorway

Thanksgiving itself was small and quiet, as it was last year. However, it wasn’t without chaos. I had saved herbs from summer and let them dry so as to prepare an herb mix for our turkey. A week prior to Thanksgiving I went to the store and purchased the last small turkey they had, popping it into the freezer immediately and taking it out to defrost in time for the night before Thanksgiving. When we opened the bag, preparing to cover it in its herb mix, we were hit by an overwhelming stench.

Our turkey was bad and it was after 8 at night, the day before Thanksgiving.

In a panic, I called the closest grocery store to see if they had any turkeys that were fresh and sent Bruce off to purchase the smallest one they had available which was still a 17 pound turkey. I dressed it all the same and altered the time to cook it, simply glad we had a turkey at all for Thanksgiving.

It came out perfect and our meal was delicious. We prepared additional food for our neighbor and happily thrived off of left overs for days. The day of Thanksgiving we watched the Macy’s parade and were glad to see Ryland deeply entertained by the event despite the missing sound of the crowd. With the tree up, I brought out the rest of our Christmas decorations the following day and we happily sunk ourselves into the holiday spirit.

Ryland watching the Macy’s Day parade

Due to the pandemic, we opted to get our Christmas shopping done in October and November. This is probably the earliest we’ve been done Christmas shopping and seemingly all for the better as the mail began to slow up. We wrapped our gifts and placed the ones from extended family under the tree but hid away Ryland’s. I baked an assortment of cookies to celebrate the various holidays we celebrate through the month of December: pepparkakor and saffron buns for Sankta Lucia; white chocolate macadamia nut, snickerdoodle, and peanut butter blossom cookies; and an apple tart for Yule.

I cut snowflakes for the windows, made a garland from branches of our Christmas tree, and dried orange slices to make a bright garland to hang across our living room window.

Sankta Lucia buns and pepparkakor
Paper snowflakes and dried orange slices decorating our window

By the week prior to Christmas, I was exhausted. And then we were hit by a nor’easter. Our first snowstorm since moving to New York (there was one in 2019 but we were out of town), we gazed out the window at the rapidly falling snow that lasted through the night and into the next morning. We received a foot of snow and it was the first time in years that I had to clear a car off of such substantial snow. By the next day, I was even more exhausted with sore arms and shoulders but the snow kept coming. Another inch from lake effect, another inch a few days later. It seemed that we would be gifted a white Christmas, but then we had warmer than average temperatures for the remainder of December, leaving only snow drifts for Christmas day.

But I get ahead of myself. Christmas Eve came and with it the general excitement of the holiday mixed with sadness. Even though we had every intention of remaining in New York for Christmas before the pandemic occurred, the situation of it all still hung heavily. A year prior, just after Christmas, my parents visited for a week and now we sat without knowing when we would be able to see them next. We still made the best of it, watching Christmas movies all day and making our traditional Swedish meatballs for dinner. We watched the Catholic mass of our local church via livestream and put Ryland to bed in his Christmas pjs we opened earlier in the day.

Being able to place out cookies and milk for Santa, then help in the magic of Christmas morning, was so much fun. We went to bed and got up a bit earlier on Christmas day so that we could pull back the baby gate around the tree and properly expose the presents to the rest of the room. With a yule log stream on the TV, Christmas music we traditionally listen to each year playing, and candles lit, we opened Ryland’s bedroom door and he walked into the living room gripping three toys close to his chest…until he saw the tree and the gifts. One by one, each toy fell to the ground as he stared, then he was off to grab presents and bring them to us, one at a time, only pausing to rip off bows.

Christmas morning

He was certainly more thrilled with the bows until his gifts were unwrapped, then came the playing. He still is deeply thrilled by his Christmas gifts nearly a month later. We also had three gifts that came as a surprise. Earlier in December, we sent off Ryland’s first letter to Santa. We suspect his letter ended up on the Operation Santa list because to our great surprise, we received gifts in the mail from Santa. Pajamas, a book, and a little car for Ryland to scoot around on, and a gift card to the local grocery store for mom and dad. Receiving this package was so heartwarming and precious. I must say, I do hope if you are reading this and happen to be a US resident, you look into Operation Santa and partake in it if you can next year. My tears of appreciation are luckily not captured on film, but they were there. What magic to behold on this our strangest, and possibly one of the sadder, Christmases we’ve ever had.

For dinner, we had ziti, perhaps a new tradition for our little family. For the remainder of the holiday weekend we watched TV and did a puzzle. It was overall perfection. New Year’s Eve weekend was much the same, although I went to bed before midnight. Another puzzle was done and more TV watched and delicious meals made.

Entering January, we are happily in a new schedule and settling into it. Bruce lost his contracting job at the end of August but began a new job at the start of January. This has allowed a semblance of normalcy we’ve lacked for months and we’re grateful for it.

Just prior to New Year’s, Ryland officially mastered climbing out of his crib, and so we had to switch his crib to a toddler bed. Luckily, our crib is a transitional one, so it only involved taking off the front of the crib and putting up a safety rail. After a week of adjusting to the new bed and teaching Ryland it was meant for sleeping in and not climbing out of and playing when naps should be had, he’s sleeping well and consistently in his bed without much issue.

Ryland’s toddler bed

Snow has still been fleeting. The nor’easter being what brought 95% of the snowfall we saw this winter thus far. It’s certainly concerning, as we had such a horrible drought this past summer and we hoped for the snowmelt to help make up the difference, but perhaps the remainder of winter will help provide. I suppose we shall see.

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