Christmas Then and Now

Is it wrong that the first thought that crossed my mind when the toaster oven caught fire was that now I could get the red one to match our mixer? It was an instant waker-upper moment though, when I first smelled burning toast and called to my younger daughter that her waffles were burning…BURNING! With Flames! She grabbed the fire extinguisher…which was a “gift” from our neighbors when we first moved into the house 19 years ago…not useful the very first time we need it! I unplugged the toaster with an oven mitt and kept the door of the oven closed to try to smother the fire. Eventually it went out, but not before filling the house with smoke. Happy Christmas Eve morning at our house!

I remember when the toaster oven was new and was the mainstay for cooking our Christmas dinner six years ago. We had spent over a year planning our renovations, working with an architect so that our house would maintain its Queen Anne Victorian charm, yet meet the needs of a modern family. We’d worked for months with the bank to secure the construction loan and we’d carefully requested bids from builders and selected the best one. But, the best laid plans…

With our plans approved by the city and our permit properly executed and issued, we moved ahead with the demolition portions of our plans…off came the old saggy porch, off came the ill-conceived added-on room in the back, down came the garage. The roof was stripped of three layers of shingles and the siding removed. Our plans had been to build the garage first, with a carriage-house-like space above it where we’d live during the rest of construction…but it was not to be. The stop-work order was like a left-hook to the head and a gut-punch combined…then a big kick to the kidney to finish us off.

We hunkered down in our house through the coldest Thanksgiving we can remember, afraid to leave town as planned to spend it with family. By Christmas we were in a catch-22 between the city, the bank, and the builder with no one willing to move. It was time for us to move out, but we had no where to go. I called numbers I read off of signs in front of houses around town that declared they were for rent…but no one was answering or returning my calls. Finally, our builder said he had an open rental and we struck a deal. But first we celebrated Christmas in our house, the kitchen now demolished leaving a very large opening between the dining room and the basement stairs.

The toaster oven and microwave oven would have to do for making dinner. We couldn’t make a turkey, so we opted for a ham…but it wouldn’t fit in the toaster oven either, so we cut it in half. Everytime we tried to run the toaster oven and microwave at the same time it would work for about 5 minutes then blow the circuit. One of us would grab the flashlight, move the plastic sheeting to the side and venture through the snowy old kitchen space to the basement stairs.  We’d memorized the circuit by then and would quickly give it a flip off then back on again, then back up the stairs and back through the plastic sheeting to the dining room.

As I look back on that day, when our spirits were down, our bodies cold, our financial future and home hanging in the balance, I shiver. I thank God every day that we survived the next two years of fighting with the city and calling the bankers (we had three…one for the construction loan, one for the home equity loan, and one for the mortgage-to-be…all with the same bank but all in different cities) almost daily to convince them to proceed with the plan or else have the whole thing fall apart like a deck of cards. Then there was the builder…they stopped everything for 5 months and then, the momentum lost, inched along with putting our house back together. It was Easter more than a year later when we moved back home…still with no kitchen, but home-sweet-home.

And today, on this Christmas morning, I am so blessed to have my children and my husband all home. We made cookies, decorated our tree, went to the family Mass at church, listened to Christmas carols, put out milk and cookies for Santa, and slept warm in our beds. The kids are all giggly and we laugh about our “Brave Little Toaster”, now cooled-off and set by the trash cans.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and in the darkest hours, hold your loved ones close and know that better days are ahead.

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