Only one hen a-laying

Every year about this time the strangest thing happens. I discover that it is almost Christmas and I am not ready. I am never sure how that works. Holiday signs are all around us — earlier every year it seems, but for some reason the date sneaks up on me. At my age one would think I'd know that year after year, Christmas falls on the same date. Why am I always surprised?

I gave up sending cards about 10 years ago. I now exchange e-mails with many of the people I knew growing up, family members, college buddies, and people who used to live here. So sending cards or an annual Christmas letter seems a bit superfluous. That should have freed up some pre-holiday hours.

Anyone who knows me knows I rarely do the Christmas baking thing. My family prefers to enjoy the holidays without gastric crises. (I have to admit, however, that I did do some cookie baking this year so I could make my contribution to the Peabody Main Street cookie walk a week ago. To my knowledge everyone who attended the event survived so I must have been at my best!) At any rate baking generally does not clog up my holiday calendar.

Long ago my sister and I gave up the gift exchange amongst our family members. My brother and I never got it started in the first place. I have apples shipped to my mom and every other year or so send bottles of her favorite Peabody Sausage House mustard. Got that down to a fine art. So I no longer worry about postal deadlines for shipping packages across the country. Scratch that from the "to do on time" list.

And decorating is pretty perfunctory any more. The tree goes up and The Mister and I put the lights on. Then I set out a box of decorations and whoever is passing by the tree hangs up two or three ornaments until the box is empty. So far it has always been done by the time the presents are wrapped and placed under the tree. It works; why mess with a good thing?

I think I have probably streamlined holiday preparations as much as I can. So why am I worried that the big day is a week off and I am not ready?

Because I have shopping to do . . . maybe . . . I think. This year I tried to do as many of my friends do and shop during the other 11 months of the year. I've made this effort in the past with disastrous results and I am thinking I may have fallen into the same trap this year. I know people who carry a mental Christmas list all year and they buy gifts as they find them. They are the people who pronounce themselves finished with shopping before the Halloween pumpkin is carved.

I have tried to do that. But I forget what I've purchased and where I've put it. Sometimes I even forget who is supposed to get it. I'm afraid forgetting is my predicament once again. I remember that I bought a stuffed hen at Alan and Dianne Yock's garage sale in the spring. I was pretty excited to find that amongst the treasures they were selling. My intention was to give it to the Married Daughter and What's His Name, because the look on his face when they get gifts like that is just priceless.

But I can't find it and I'm sure I can't find another one at this late date. And Christmas is next week!

While I was looking for it, I did run across a Janis Joplin lunch box I bought for the Youngest Daughter when she was still living in Colorado, four years ago. I don't think she is a big Janis fan any longer, but I may wrap it up to give to her anyway. Well, as long as it doesn't make the gift piles "uneven." I try pretty hard to make sure everyone has the same number of presents under the tree. I would hate to mess THAT up. And if that stuffed hen doesn't turn up, the numbers will be a problem. I may have to hide the lunch box until some other year. And so it goes.

On top of everything else we are on a crazy publishing schedule and I have to write yet another opinion column before the end of the week. If I find the hen, I have my topic and I'll tell you where it was hiding! If not, I will be out frantically shopping for one and you won't hear from me until the New Year's issue. So just in case, you have a merry one, you hear?