Ho Ho Horrible?

It’s officially December, which means Christmas will be here before we know it. This year is our first in a house–a real home with a garage and trash day and lawn service–so we thought we’d celebrate Jesus’ birth in fine style with a real Christmas tree, which is something we’ve never had. It’s been up for two days, and the floor is covered in needles. But the house smells great (as does the cat’s head).

My grandmother was kind enough to give us a box or three of ornaments to save us a little money, but we wanted the tree to have a few things on it that were uniquely us. My parents’ tree is covered in different items gathered over a lifetime spent celebrating together, and there’s a story behind almost every piece. Wayne and I began that tradition this year. Here’s what I picked…

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Yes, it’s a very traditional choice, I know. However, it didn’t seem fitting to have a tree without a Rudolph themed ornament on it. Also, it’s a tree decoration depicting something decorating a tree. It was too meta to pass up.

Wayne chose to go with something a little less traditional but very much him.

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Yep, that’s Animal (his favorite Muppet) wearing a Santa hat. It’s positively festive if I do say so myself.

There are also a few musical notes and instruments—mostly French horns due to the fact they’re ubiquitous at Christmas. Sadly, few people associate the trombone (or even the sackbut) with the holidays.

I look forward to building our collection of tree trimmings, but there are also things my parents have that I look forward to owning one day. None more than the lovely and gracious decoration we fondly call Ho Ho.

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My mother made this guy when she was in middle school. Originally, the thing was supposed to be a pillow, but she got fed up with it less than halfway through. Instead, it’s pinned to what looks to be a piece of cardboard. There are six large circles about the size of liter glass bottles, and I swear I can see the faint impression of 7UP in one of them. The “Ho Ho” is done skillfully in the best felt her craft basket could offer. (Who cares if it’s one “Ho” short!?) You will notice that he is a bit askew. That’s because she lost count several times and made a few extra loops without changing colors first. Also, she didn’t have any black yarn, so Santa’s boots and eyes are an electric shade of purple. When I was a kid, I imagined Ho Ho was phasing, like someone on Star Trek, or he was a ghost taking shape. (I think I was mostly concerned because the poor little guy doesn’t have any arms.)

It started as a joke of sorts really, putting Ho Ho out in the house. For years, it was set above the doorway separating the den from the living room at my grandparents’ house in Arkansas. But when we moved to Florida, Ho Ho was placed in the box with essential decorations like the manger scene and precious and irreplaceable homemade ornaments. It wasn’t even a question of where it deserved to be.

At first, I think we gleefully put it out in a place of prominence to give my mom some grief. But every year, we’d all cheer when it came out of the box. Someone was given the honor of placing him on a table or a shelf where everyone who came to our home could see him in all his glory. And it was a big deal to do it! The first time Wayne was asked to do the honors, his face lit up because he knew he was truly a member of the family. I think Elisha handled Elijah’s mantle less carefully. (Okay, that may be gilding the lily a bit, but you get the idea.)

One of the many things I love about Christmas is that we all celebrate it, but no two families do so in exactly the same way. Last year, I wrote about Chipmunk Day, which is something I’ve always thought was fairly unique to my clan. However, there are tons of other things we look forward to. Getting new pajamas, making my dad sing “Two Turtle Doves” because it irritates the snot out of him, watching Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, eating party pizzas, reading the Christmas story from Luke, playing hearts and dominoes, my grandparents sneaking into our rooms on Christmas morning to sing and wake us up—this is the stuff that a truly joyful yuletide is made of. Other families may do totally different things to celebrate, and I’m willing to bet they look forward to their traditions as much as we do ours. Whatever you love as a family, that’s Christmas.

It’s pretty safe to say that no one else in the entire world has a Ho Ho. And that’s what makes him perfect. Martha Stewart might not call him a “good thing,” but we sure do.

Do you have some Christmas traditions you’re looking forward to? Do you have a “Ho Ho” of your own that’s already in a place of honor at your house? I’d love to hear about your traditions. Tell me about them in the comments section below!

Merry Christmas!!!

Writing (No Longer) on the Wall

The last few blogs I’ve written have been about patience and trust, two things I desperately needed as I waited for word on my new job. I am happy to report that I received a call from In Touch Ministries last Thursday and that I will begin work as a copy/content editor for their company as of June 20, 2011! The timing could not have been more perfect, and I know for a fact that it is God’s will for my life that I take this position and move into the next phase of my life where I will use my talents and grow in my faith.

That is not to say that this transition has been without stress. Yes, I love the idea of never having to grade another essay or quiz ever again. I’ve been in the business of education for eleven years now, and my life has always been filled with papers, red ink, parent conferences, continuing education, lesson plans, tutoring, and all the other rigmarole that comes with that territory. I’ve worked hard to teach students not just to read and write but to think for themselves. I’ve tried to show them the value of reasoning and evaluating the world like they do the novels, poems, stories, and essays we’ve analyzed together in class. Some have come back and told me about how they sailed through college composition courses because of what we covered in high school; others have even taken the bold step and become English majors and English teachers themselves (despite my insistence that they choose something practical like engineering or business management!)

Granted, I was never the best English teacher; there were others who had been at it much longer than I and who had it down to an art form. After many years, I still struggled to find the best or most efficient way to teach a lesson, but I can honestly say that I tried each and every day to do my best and that I did grow and develop during my decade behind the big desk.

I am now moving into a new field, one that will allow me to continue using my ninja editing skills to their fullest, and I find the prospect both wildly exhilarating and utterly terrifying. After all, since graduating from Valdosta State University with my Bachelor’s Degree in English in 2001, I have been involved in the business of making someone somewhere smarter in some capacity. I’ve taught middle school, high school, and college classes in literature, language arts, theater, creative writing, music, and Bible. I’ve been a tutor, a student aide, and a manager of other teachers at a Sylvan Learning Center. I’ve been a teacher for so long that I honestly don’t know if I’m ever going to excel at anything else. It’s become so much a part of who I am that I’m afraid to let go of it.

No matter how much I want to do away with teaching MLA for the nine billionth time or grading another persuasive essay, I find myself holding on to them both. I think the reason why is because they’re “safe.” They are “known entities.” Yes, I’m tired of them, and I no longer fully enjoy the tasks themselves, but they have become the devils I know. I don’t have to worry if someone looks at me and says, “Hughes! Your task today is to teach students how to craft an introductory paragraph!” I could do that with my eyes sewn shut and my thumbs tied firmly to my big toes. No need to worry, and no stress involved.

Now, that all changes. I’ll no longer be the master chief on deck or the lieutenant colonel in the field. I’m back to private first class status with very few medals on my chest and a lot of unanswered questions in my head. No longer am I recent college graduate with a shiny framed diploma and a litany of excuses as to why I don’t know something. Instead, I’m thirty-three and making a jump into a new industry. I’m expected to know quite a bit, and I don’t know if I do just yet. I’m becoming a member of a large, well-established, and well-respected publishing house, one that has the high calling of spreading the Gospel around the world in order to create disciples. It takes some time to process to say the least.

I decided that in order to make myself feel a little less “teacherish,” a little less like my old self, I needed to do a Publisher’s Clearing House impression. I’m talking a total, full on freebie giveaway. In case you aren’t a teacher or know someone who is, teachers tend to be savers by nature. We enjoy finding ways to keep things in files, folders, drawers, or boxes just because we might one day find ourselves in need of them. Whether it be handouts, example student essays, a well-written editorial from the local newspaper, a comic strip that happens to make a literary joke, or a poster, teachers will poke things away like squirrels preparing for an eternal winter.

I gave away a few non-literary things when I left my high school job, and I even left my lesson plan notebooks for the teacher replacing me to use and copy for herself. (Naturally, I got those back first thing.) 🙂 However, I was going to another teaching job and was loath to loosen my grip upon my precious teaching materials.

Now, the job has nothing to do with education, and so many of the things I treasured have been rendered unnecessary. I am also moving into the city and must do what every good move dictates–perform a culling. I am aware that this is at odds with the teacher’s inborn need to save everything, but what can I say? I am a multifaceted creature.

I have learned the need for organization and efficiency through a lifetime of experience. Growing up, I moved a lot, usually every two years or so. As a result, I have a very low tolerance for clutter. If I didn’t want to put it in a box, lug it to the new place, put it back out, and then repeat the same action a scant two years later, I decided someone else could use it more than I, and off to Goodwill it went.

As you can see by the photo, the items I chose to give away first are the laminated posters I brought with me. These have decorated the walls of every classroom in which I’ve ever taught. They filled space, gave the room some color, and even helped the occasional astute student who thought to look at them during a poetry terminology quiz! I packed them up and toted them over to the learning support center where a crew of wonderful and able-bodied teachers serve as student tutors and editors for a portion of our student body. Their shared space is very bland as their budget is non-existent and teachers cannot often afford to shell out their hard-earned pennies for something as trivial as posters. They were thrilled to get them, and I was pleased to see that these things I’d purchased with my own classroom in mind can now be used in another to help further educate people I might never meet.

I know that shedding posters like a snake sheds its skin will not automatically transform me into a new person. That process requires time and focus as I test the waters of my new career and see where and when I excel. However, today I feel like I took the first step towards a fruitful and fulfilling change in my life. I’m truly looking forward to the new things I’ll learn, the new friends and contacts I’ll make, and the new things I’ll use to define myself with in the future.