Monday marked the beginning of my favorite season. The Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years triad of holidays. I love this time of year for other reasons of course. The smell of burning leaves on the weekends, the ‘smell’ of football season and tailgating (yeah it has its own scent), children trick-or-treating, the beautiful anticipation in the eyes of a child before Christmas. The list goes on. Probably my favorite part of Thanksgiving is the dressing though. I love the way it smells, tastes and just completes Thanksgiving dinner. For the easiest ever Dressing this Thanksgiving, try my Crock-pot Dressing recipe. Not only does it save that valuable oven real estate, its super simple and fool proof!
The holidays have always been exceedingly stressful around our house. There’s the getting to grandma’s house, the traditional Thanksgiving spread, the stress of having the house ”just” so for guests, the perfect decorations, the tree that’s not too tall, not too short and still fully clothed with needles by the end of the week before Christmas. With all of those have to’s I rarely had the chance to enjoy the holidays. And by the time the season was over on January 2, I’d sworn off EVER having anything to do with it all ever again. Til the next year. The deaths of both my parents in 2000 pretty much eliminated the ‘getting to grandma’s house’ issue, but other stresses kicked in and I began to look for ways to end the stress and maintain some of my sanity and actually ENJOY the season.
I’ve found that keeping a calendar from November 1 though January 1 of things ‘to do’ actually helps me. Today I noticed over on Southern Living they actually have a calendar dedicated to organizing and de-stressing the holiday season ! Wonderful ideas from SL and you’ll like em too, I’m sure!
I’ve long been one to carry a fairly large handbag, usually too large for my short stature, but I carry it anyway. It holds all sorts of mysteries like napkin chapters of my next book, quickly written recipes on the back of restaurant checks, tattered business cards, gum wrappers, empty cigarette boxes, old lighters (I can usually find one that will work for a couple more strikes down in the bottom), and change. Lordy, the change in the bottom of my handbag. usually aimed at the change purse, but hurriedly thrown at my bag in an effort to get out of the way of the huffy person with the grocery cart on my heels, there’s always change. It gets heavy. Quickly. I decided one day in 2003 to clean out my large hand bag, completely (I know). Disposing of tatters of Lord knows what papers, receipts and old lip balm, empty boxes and the whole magilla, I discovered almost $10 in pure change in the bottom of my bag. I first tried the change purse, ha! There’s not a change purse on the face of the earth that would hold that amount, I’d need a purse within a purse, not happening.
So, I relegated the change to an antique soup bowl which sat on my dresser. After that day, I tried to keep my ‘suitcase’ handbag a little neater and would check the bottom for spare change more often. The bowl soon filled and I searched for another vessel.
Now, any good southerner will tell you that no kitchen pantry is complete without homemade jams, jellies and canned vegetables. Mine is no exception. I had a few large mason jars, complete with lids and rings, stored away for the next years canning and spied them sitting on the bottom shelf of the pantry. TA~DA! Perfection. I decided that the coins fit perfectly in the mason jar, with lots of room to spare and made a homey addition to my Hoosier Cabinet in the kitchen. Not to mention, a convenient place. Long story short, the jar soon filled I placed a lid and ring on the top and stored it on the bottom shelf of the pantry and began with a fresh jar. By September, 2004, I’d completely filled 3 jars with odd change. One night, I decided to sit down with the jars and count out my stash, thinking I’d use the funding for some extra Christmas money, buy some things I’d wanted or needed or just blow it. It was, after all, my money. Just happened to be loose change. After rolling almost $50 dollars in nickles. I took a break and began going through my wish books (that ubiquitous stack of catalogs that invades my mailbox every year ). I looked through each, plotting my big spend. I dog-eared corners, book marked with post it notes. Each item carefully selected with intent and the same visions of wonder our children might have while perusing the Sears Christmas catalog. I was rudely interrupted by the weather alerts on our TV, brought back from visions of sugar plums to reality in a jolt.
There was a storm. It was a category 5 Hurricane and was taking aim at the southern gulf coast. This bully of a beast wasn’t supposed to have even been in the gulf. It should have turned east and become a fish storm. Instead it blasted past Cuba, through the Yucatan straight and into the Gulf of Mexico. Evacuation warnings began to be posted on tickers of every channel on the tube. We’d discussed what we should do. Stay. GO. Stay. GO. Winds fluctuated. We wavered. (I know) I’d only built and moved into this house the year before. My dream house.
The tickers came more rapidly, the suggestions to evacuate became more stern, but still no mandatory evacuation orders. We prepared. Pulling the shutters tight, filling the rubbermaid plastic containers with important papers, pictures and jewelry. We bought prescriptions we might not be able to get filled if we needed them. All the things we were supposed to do.
And then the storm took that eastern jog. I looked my then husband in the eye and said, ‘we’re going.’ He looked back quizzically and said ‘where?’ ‘Anywhere but here’ was the easy answer, but not the easiest thing to do. It took us 6 straight hours to pack the back of his pick-up truck (which blessedly had a camper shell). We loaded 3 cats and two dogs in crates and clothing and personal items, the containers I’d packed earlier. An ice-chest filled with perishables and water. Flashlights, batteries, computers and bits and pieces of what was our life together there. He turned off the water and the natural gas. I turned off the power, took one last look around my dream and remembered my ‘money jars’. I quickly loaded them into the truck and went back to lock the doors, checking each again from the outside as if locking them would keep the storm out. When I locked the front door and turned back toward the drive, we both wiped a tear from our eyes. We headed north. Two hours later a mandatory evacuation was called for our town. Another tear worked its way down my cheek. I didn’t try to hide it.
You all know what Hurricane Ivan did to the gulf coast that year. I’ll remember it the rest of my life. But we had each other. We had what was important . We had the papers, the pictures, the pets and more. We would be alright.
We celebrated Thanksgiving in a special way that year. Thankful for what the Lord had given us and had taken away.Those jars. Those 3 money jars sat on the counter of a rented home for two months. Those jars, haunted me. This was the perfect chance to spend that money. I couldn’t. I tried. Oh I tried. I still couldn’t. I clung to those jars for comfort (odd as that is). That was what Ivan couldn’t take from me. We joined the local VFW, went to the ‘new local’ restaurants, tried to become regular residents of the new town we’d landed in. It never felt like home.
I tried to believe in Christmas that year, I so wanted everything to be ‘just so’ for the grand-kids, for us. We bought a Christmas tree forgetting we hadn’t loaded the decorations in our evacuation efforts. We bought lights. I cried. A lot. One day, sitting in the middle of the floor wrapping presents, my eye was drawn to the money jars. The sun was shining through the window in the kitchen, and bounced off the coins in such a way the reflection was almost blinding. As I shielded my eyes and looked toward the kitchen I thought, those ‘jars’ have got to go! I’m gonna spend that money TODAY! So, I loaded myself and my three jars into the truck, headed toward the local Kroger (they have those machines yanno that count coins) . I made a stop by a new friend’s house on the way. We chatted a bit and she told me her husband had been laid off. With three kids to feed and medical bills out the ying -yang and right at Christmas. (Yeah, big companies have such great timing don’t they?) We chatted a bit more, I asked her if she needed anything. I was headed to Kroger after all, I could pick up Christmas fixins for them.. She said no, but thanks, they’d be OK. I didn’t want to push it so I left. Feeling guilty about shopping with found money while my friends weren’t sure where their next money for groceries or clothes would come from. I made a U-turn and headed for home. The husband and I talked that evening about our friends and their predicament and how we could help and it finally struck me. THE Money JARS!
We took them to the Kroger, exchanging all the change we could for bills. Crammed almost $300 dollars into one jar, attached a large Christmas tag to the jar and made way to our friends house. We discussed how we’d present this ‘gift’ and knowing that they’d never accept our ‘help’ decided that we’d just leave the jar on the door step. But what if someone else saw it and took it? Not wanting that to happen, we left the jar, made our way around the corner and made a phone call. “Meet us at the hot spot. We’re getting Barb q for dinner, we won’t take NO for an answer.. Bring the girls!”
When our friends walked through the door, their three girls ran to the table! Mamma’s in the car cryin an so is Daddy. But, they’ll be here in a minute. They walked through the door of the restaurant carrying the mason jar, wiping tears from their eyes. We asked innocently, ‘what was in that mason jar?’ My friend replied, ‘You’re not gonna believe this!’ I must have looked a little puzzled when she pulled the tag from her purse and all it said was Merry Christmas. Love Santa.
I found Christmas that year and every year since. I keep a mason jar for spare change and each year I place it on the door step of some one who needs it more than I do. In 2005 Jason F Wright published Christmas Jars (a fictional tale about the same type of giving) and what an impact he’s made. You can read more about Christmas Jars and buy the book Christmas Jars at Amazon.com (yes that’s an affiliate link, but the story is true). Maybe you and your family can find a way to share a Christmas Jar this year. The amount of money in the jar isn’t what’s important. Its the gift from your heart, your passing hope to someone who may have lost it. Give it a try!