The Yule Log

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advent_yule_log (18)
Which is to say Christmas. As in Yule. Yule log. Not a log. I don’t have a log. I mean, you know. If I had a log, not in the sense that you think I said I did.

 7:23 a.m.

Ohhh. That last Christmas ale wasn’t the best idea. What’s that horrible taste in my mouth? Oh yeah. I smoked a cigarette last night like a moron.

*Looks at clock*

Well. This is it. Christmas. Sweet.

*Grabs phone*

*Responds to blog comments*

I should get out of bed and do something productive.

*Plays Tetris for 45 minutes*

8:16 a.m.

*Gets out of bed, walks downstairs*

Shit. I still have to wrap my son’s presents.

I’m a little hungry. I want to go out to breakfast. Nothing is open. Swell.

*Eats brownies and drinks coffee*

*Lays on couch, stares out window*

8:58 a.m.

My first “Merry Christmas” text. From one of my best friends who got a little irritated with me the night before after I called him a negative scrooge for disliking It’s a Wonderful Life.

9:05 a.m.

I can either go to church in a half hour, or at 11:30…

*Plays Tetris for an hour with the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas playing in the background*

9:55 a.m.

The jewelry store girl texted me a Merry Christmas note. She doesn’t write me very often, so it was unexpected.

That was nice.

10:01 a.m.

*Pacing around my house I notice footprints in the snow on the deck behind my house*


*Texts two friends who might have left them*

The first one says it wasn’t him.

The second one says: “Merry Christmas! Must have been Santa!”

“Footprints back there. Makes me nervous, actually,” I typed back.

He confirmed it was him.


(That was the second-most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

I started thinking about getting ready for church. In my experience, the church gets REALLY busy on Christmas Day because of all the people who only show up on Christmas and Easter. My ex-wife calls them “Chreasters,” which is a pretty cool name. With mass beginning at 11:30 a.m., I figured a bunch of families will be there after opening gifts in the morning. I wanted to get there 45 minutes early to find a parking spot.

10:46 a.m.

I pulled into the church parking lot. There were, literally, only two other cars there.

*Plays Tetris*

I’m sure all the other cars will start pulling in any second.

11:05 a.m.

Three more cars showed up. I saw an attractive twenty-something blonde frantically typing onto her phone, muttering to herself, and looking as if she had been crying. She was walking down the sidewalk toward where I was parked.

She was wearing pajama pants. She wasn’t there for church.

I was having the internal debate about whether to offer help when a gold Ford Edge with a dented rear-driver’s-side quarter panel, pulled up behind me. The blonde got in and they took off.

(That was the third-most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

11:20 a.m.

I walked into church. I was shocked at how empty it was. Glad I got here 45 minutes early! But it’s not like I had anything to do anyway.

Everyone must go to Christmas Eve mass, or the earlier one, because I had never seen it like this. Really sparse. A little sad.

I knelt down in my favorite pew, next to my favorite stained-glass window. It’s the one that reads “Fortitude.”

11:28 a.m.

I spot a couple I’ve been seeing at church for as long as I’ve been attending (more than seven years)—but hadn’t seen for at least a year or more. They’re Indian. They often sat behind us on Sundays past. My ex-wife and I always talked about trying to be friends with them, but both of us were always too shy to say anything to them.

They have a little girl now. She’s beautiful. I don’t know any of their names. But seeing them—seeing that little girl, who I hadn’t seen since she was a tiny infant—made me almost tear up, similar to when I walked into my former brother-in-law’s place a couple days after Thanksgiving and spotted my niece I hadn’t seen all year.

Mass began. And I tried so hard to be in the moment. To keep my mind focused on the spiritual significance of the holiday. But it was virtually impossible.

The opening hymn was “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It’s one of the most-magnificent songs ever written. It was one of the songs played at my wedding as guests arrived and were being seated. One of my few contributions to the ceremony. It was impossible for me to not think about that even though we weren’t married in the church I now attend.

11:50 a.m.

One of the ushers came by and asked if I could be one of the guys who helps with the collection baskets. Some churches pass around baskets. Ours uses long-handled baskets. I was nervous that I might mess up somehow, but there’s really not a lot to it. I did a good job and even managed to smile at everyone as I passed each row.

(That was the fourth-most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

12:31 p.m.

I started Googling different variations of “What’s open on Christmas?”

There’s a Denny’s-like place called Eat’n Park that’s generally open 24 hours per day. I checked their Facebook page to see if they were open on Christmas. They weren’t.

I altered my Google search query.

Hallelujah! My local Chinese joint was open. I laughed to myself as I thought about the Chinese restaurant scene in A Christmas Story. Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra!


I spotted the gold Ford Edge with the dented quarter panel on my short drive to the Chinese restaurant. Weird.

I ordered sweet and sour chicken with white rice because that’s what I always order when I’m not craving anything in particular.

The Chinese ladies behind the counter were grumpy and no-nonsense as they always are. They never smile. One of them is super-hot, too. There was one old lady waiting for food before me. They handed her her food. The grumpy Chinese lady said “Merry Christmas.” That surprised me. The old lady said nothing.

The song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” started playing. The entire situation was hilarious. I wish I’d been happy enough to laugh.

A few minutes later, they called my order, handed me my food, wished me a smile-less “Merry Christmas,” which I returned, but with a smile, and headed home.

I turned on Home Alone 2, because I couldn’t think of anything better to do.

I ate all of the sweet and sour chicken and rice. There was a lot of it. It gave me a stomachache.

I opened the fortune cookie.

I was hoping for the most-profound fortune cookie message of all time…

“A focused mind is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.” (In bed.)


1:33 p.m.

I called my father. I talked to him, my stepmom and my 15-year-old step-niece for an hour and 12 minutes.

2:47 p.m.

*Wraps son’s gifts. Poorly.*

I should go volunteer. Seriously.

3:15-ish p.m.

*Falls asleep*

I’m such a fraud sometimes. Honestly.

4:33 p.m.

*Wakes up*

My ex-wife texted that she’d be bringing our son over after dinner so he could open all the gifts at my house.

I spruced up the kitchen and cleaned off the bar from the night before.

6:05 p.m.

My son and ex-wife arrive.

Within a few minutes, he’s opening all the gifts under my tree. My ex-wife, for the third-consecutive visit to my house, sits on an old chair rather than the new couches, making me wonder for the third time whether she does that because I once wrote on this blog: “Don’t even think about sitting on my new couches.”

I kind of feel bad about that now, but didn’t want to bring it up on Christmas.

The boy mowed through the presents because he’s five years old.

Toy snakes, because he’s really into reptiles right now.


Beyblade and Pokemon items, because he’s really into the Japanese stuff for reasons I don’t understand.

A Nintendo 3DS and a few games.

And other odds and ends.

Then we all sat around playing with his stuff for a while. Just the three of us.

The family that isn’t.

But it wasn’t as bad as I expected. When my ex decided to leave, I hugged her. Kissed her cheek. Said “Merry Christmas.” And meant it.

I felt sorry for her heading home to be by herself, if that’s what she even did. I wouldn’t know. We don’t know what one another does anymore.

Because I’m a dad, I’m going to miss a lot of parties over the next week. One on Saturday, and at least two New Year’s parties.

I wonder if that will be as depressing as Christmas was?

Probably not.

8:40 p.m.

I put my son to bed. I laid with him for a while. He assured me he had a nice Christmas. That he was happy. I hoped he was telling me the truth. He’s old enough now to fib a little while trying to be sensitive to our feelings.

(That was the most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

He fell asleep a little after 9 p.m.

I walked downstairs. Looked around.

So this is Christmas.

I ate a little of the cranberry-jalapeño-cilantro dip I’d made the night before. My stomach still hurt, but the dip is so good, I didn’t care.

I played a little Mario Kart 7 on my son’s new 3DS hand-held video game system. Fun game.

Then I went to bed around 10 p.m. I arbitrarily decided to watch Groundhog Day and laugh at Bill Murray.

I fell asleep during his third time reliving Groundhog Day.

I didn’t cry, though I felt like it.

And I didn’t die.

I’m here.

Still alive.

With every opportunity to make today better than yesterday.

And next year, better than this one.

Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy.

30 thoughts on “The Yule Log”

  1. It was my first Christmas as a nearly Ex wife. I really struggled with it’s arrival. I drank too much Christmas Eve after work. Christmas morning I really just wanted to stay in bed, but forced myself to ignore the headache (nice hangover gift to myself) and eventually made the 2.5 hour drive to be in the same town as my two adult kids, my 20 year old daughter and almost 18 year old son. Both knew I was giving the only gift I could afford, my time, only my daughter gave me an hour this morning, the day after. Still, I am trying not to get too caught up with the whole not giving or receiving of material objects and instead focusing on that one hour with one child. I didn’t have to make the drive only able to spend less than 24 hours in my old town. I work tonight, so that is all I was able to give them.

    Well, we both made it through Matt. Next Christmas will be better, I agree with you about that. I am actually looking forward to a New Year. 2014 is my year of re-birth and new beginnings. I may be here with my aunt and uncle, but I don’t care that I won’t be spending it with my kids. This is where my home is temporarily as I get back on my feet. I have hope that 2014 will be wonderful compared to the death of my marriage in 2013. I’ve mourned a full year, it’s time for me to move on.

    1. It is absolutely time to move on.

      Thank you for sharing that deeply personal story. I appreciate that very much.

      Hugs, lady. And to 2014…

  2. I can’t believe you said “in bed” after the fortune cookie thing. No one EVER gets that… Too funny.

    It must be a thing with five year olds… The pokemon/beyblade thing. We also have about a zillion Legos floating around the house, which honestly, I’m glad they aren’t snakes… ick!

    One Christmas closer to another magical one, Matt. There will be one. I’m sure of it.
    May God bless you with more magic than you can even tolerate. 🙂

    1. 🙂

      Yeah, the “In bed” thing goes back to high school. Just another juvenile trick in the arsenal.

      And thank you. God-willing, this is the all-time shittiest Christmas. I will look forward to better ones and 2014 delivering some good things.

      1. My hubby and I say it, every single time…

        Guess we’re all juvenile! 😛

        You have Karma on your side. For all the ways you’ve helped others, you certainly deserve some of those good things.

  3. You always manage to get things just right in your blog. I would have made this either boring or over sappy. This was touching and made me smile too.
    One good thing about working in a hospital is it makes me not take health and happiness for granted on any holiday. My hubby had to go work at his job there yesterday as “patient safety companion” which is basically keeping an eye on fall precautions/suicide risks since there aren’t enough nurses to go around. His person yesterday on Christmas? A nine year old who had been making threats to others and self. His parents going through a bad divorce. G said they never made an appearance but the kid kept asking when his mother was going to come and bring his presents.
    We ate really early because G had to work at three so about seven Erik said he was hungry and he’d always wanted to eat Chinese on Christmas like they did in A Christmas story so we headed out to find a Chinese restaurant but the only thing open was Ruby Tuesday’s. So we drove around on the deserted streets for awhile just talking and then came home and ate leftovers. =) It was a good day.
    We’re so lucky. We really are.

    1. This made me smile. Thank you.

      Your nice compliment about my storytelling. Let’s be honest–this was a HUGE stretch. An account of my boring and quasi-pathetic Christmas day? *eek face*

      But I appreciate you saying that. A lot. I just didn’t know what else to write about today.

      What a devastating story about the nine-year-old.

      I’m so sorry you didn’t find a Chinese restaurant. It would have been awesome if I’d had someone with me. And maybe next year, I will.

      It’s also not lost on me that you and your son believe that Ruby Tuesday’s < leftovers.

      I'll keep that in mind moving forward.

      Thank you for sharing these stories.

      There is a decent chance I'll whine a lot less in 2014.


      We are lucky. Lottery winners. All of us.

  4. “OK, just cry. Don’t be afraid of it,” says the guy who found a mini-catharsis from some tears. I don’t want to be prescriptive or judgmental though.

    Reading about your day, it actually sounded alright which, for a day with historically high expectations is pretty damn good.

    1. Ehh.

      I’ve cried plenty this past year. Like, significantly more than any other point in my life.

      I think it’s possible that you and I have different definitions of “alright.”

      If the turkey got a little dry, or we didn’t have gravy for potatoes, or someone insisted we not watch ALL 24 hours of “A Christmas Story,” or if I got a shirt from an aunt that I didn’t really like, that would be an “alright” Christmas.

      I spent almost the entire day alone, eating Chinese takeout.

      My Christmas day spent with mentally handicapped people and a bunch of strangers in 2001 was INFINITELY more fun than yesterday.

      Maybe I’ve just been spoiled. But holidays were always awesome until now.


      1. Perhaps I’ve had more than my share of icky holidays to bias my opinion. If you say it sucked, it sucked. So, if I ever start a punk band (Marmot Armageddon), I’ll write a screamer in honor of your Christmas.

        Now, your post did not suck. I’m wondering, for example about a dented car and why the restaurant staff was grumpy.

        1. 1. I REALLY wanted to know the story of the disheveled pajama-pants-wearing girl and the dented Ford Edge.

          2. The Chinese restaurant staff is ALWAYS grumpy. if they were really nice, it would have been too weird. Not grumpy, like mean. Grumpy, like New York City. Just dispassionate busyness. No time for dawdling!

  5. I have always enjoyed low-key holidays. My father is a serious loner; I am not quite as bad as he, but I think the hymn “Blessed Quietness” is on to something. We woke up about 8 am; my niece was here, so it was a mad rush with four of us trying to use one bathroom. We were over at my sister-in-law’s at 9 for the opening of gifts while we watched the Disneyland Christmas Parade on TV. When they began cooking breakfast, I left and headed home alone, as the smell of bacon frying makes me ill. Went back to bed until 3:30 in the afternoon, skipping Christmas dinner with family (they ate ham; I am a vegan). My mother-in-law had left me some dairy-free mashed potatoes, which I ate alone. Worked on my blog for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet. About 6 pm, my wife and mother-in-law returned home, bearing leftover salad. I added tofu and enjoyed it while we all sat around and relaxed. About 7 pm, my niece came over with her baby; we had agreed to babysit so she could go to the movies with her friends. The little one gets into everything and it took the three of us to run after her. We were exhausted by the time my niece returned.

    The moral of the story is that Christmas is what you make of it! 🙂

    1. Indeed. Life is what you make it. My problem is managing expectations and wanting to repeat good feelings from my last which can never be had again. Trying to repeat good times is futile. Just have to make new good times.

      I’ll get there eventually. Probably. I’m so glad you had a nice Christmas with your family. 🙂

    2. Every time I read your comments here I wish I could “like” comments!

      It’s generally a mistake to hype a holiday with expectations; this is the sure way to disappointment, But on the other hand I guess we owe it to our families and loved ones not to be total introverts.

      1. A like feature on comments would be awesome. I am going to try hard to manage expectations moving forward!

        Hope your family had a wonderful day. 🙂

    1. 🙂

      Thank you very much. I’m so glad my ridiculously boring day could entertain you. And I hope you know much I mean that.

      I appreciate you saying so.

      1. You made it sound anything but boring, truthfully. Coming to terms… moving forward, while writing beautifully about what was going on around you

  6. I did it too. For the first time since the divorce… It was just me Christmas Eve and morning. I didn’t cry. And I didn’t die. Never truer statements bc I thought I might do both. Divorce. Just. Sucks. But… At least we’ve got
    Christmas 2014. 🙂

    1. *sigh*

      Seems wasteful. I’m sorry you did it too.

      Christmas 2014, indeed. I’d really like it to be wonderful. For all of us.

  7. Sorry to hear that it wasn’t the best Christmas, but glad to hear that you made it through. Most of all, that you got to spend some of it with your son. Plus, Chinese food isn’t so bad for Christmas dinner. I would have gotten sesame chicken if it were me. 🙂

    1. Yes. My ex-wife was under no obligation to bring him over and or anything. It was really very nice on her part to carve out time for that and then let him spend the night.

      I need to spend a little more time being grateful.

      I’ll look forward to seeing some of the art you and your son create. 🙂

  8. The family that isn’t. Some day (you probably won’t even notice it sneak up on you) you’ll look back and realize that the majority of the pain is behind you. You’ll realize that your family of just Dad and Son is family enough.

    But of course, I’m praying for a pretty little lady to join the ranks in due time.

    Blessings, friend.
    To you.
    To your son.
    To the family that is, and to the one that will be.

    1. This is an extraordinarily sweet and thoughtful note. Thank you so much.

      In due time, indeed. I was having this conversation yesterday. What I want is for whatever’s best to happen. Maybe that’s in three months. Maybe that’s in three years. But so long as whatever happens is good, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes.

      I hope the holidays are bringing you peace and healing.

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Matt Fray

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