Thank you, all, for sharing and learning together! and thank you, Grace, for a great class!

Whenever I encounter something particularly crazy or out of touch, i just step back and say, “That’s amazing!” It works every time. - My wise, therapized friend

I used to wear puffed-paint sweatshirts as a child. Not screenprinted or glittered sweatshirts. But real, God’s-honest, hand-puffed-painted, knee-length sweatshirts.

No, let me correct that. I used to make and wear puffed-paint sweaters.

I particularly enjoyed wearing them long over my favorite pair of leggings, which were covered in lavender, blue, and green flowers, and my multilayered socks pulled tight and turned down to reveal the various colors underneath.

It. was. amazing.

I consider it no small feat that I eventually learned decorated clothing isn’t actually an acceptable form of dress. It was, in fact, with stodgy reluctance that I adopted my new beau’s ugly Christmas sweater tradition. There is this fantastic picture of us in our first year of dating: I’m wearing my version of festive (a smart, green corduroy blazer and navy blue t-shirt) and a bewildered smile while he hugs me close in his too-tight, too-bright Christmas sweater and fantastic, clashing 1982 beanie, his face alight with ironic delight. What you can’t see are his blue polyester pants and white, patent-leather lounge shoes. The ensemble was dazzling and broke my prim fashion sense.

It was while rearing this fledgling new fashion sense that I contacted Claire, the earnest middle- aged mom selling Christmas sweaters on CraigsList.

Want to buy two or more? You can get them for just $5 a piece!

That’s when I knew. No hipster or yipster (yippie hipster wannabe) would part with a Christmas for less than $20. This woman earnestly, honestly, deeply loved her Christmas sweaters, every single one in the collection of 30 some-odd she had tenderly and carefully curated and stored away in plastic tubs and on satin hangers.

Venturing deep into the suburbs wasn’t our idea of a relaxing afternoon, but it felt like a holiday quest for our holy grail. I was also terrified and excited to meet this person who seemed so attached to her festive wardrobe.

Her house sat squarely in a row of identical brick and vinyl two-stories, but inside, it was anything but ordinary. Giant exotic plants lined the walls from the dining room to the living room, and cream and mauve wallpaper peaked through their leaves. The tiny lady huffed and puffed like she was carrying the toy bag of the jolly man himself.

“The sweaters are in these tubs. And then there are these!” She held up a few still on hangers, beaming, and laid them gingerly on the back of the kitchen chair.

“So just look through them! Take your time! Don’t you just love this one!” The sweaters carried her away as she began to pull them out, one by one, describing all they had to offer. There were red ones and green ones, blue ones and white ones. There were black ones with neon patchwork and cream ones with purple Christmas bows. There were winter scenes, glittery snowfall, beaded starshine and giant teddy bear embroidered among wrapped gifts and winter fires.

“Just look at the beadwork,” she squealed, holding up an elaborately decorated white sweater with a golden horn that wrapped front to back and around the padded shoulders.

I smiled and took the sweater from Claire, admiring it as she had urged. Then I held it up to my body and turned to Nick, who was so afraid of what he might say that he barely said anything at all.

“Honey, just look at this beadwork! Isn’t it amazing! This sweater is just AMAZING!”

He smiled largely enough to contain his laugh and agreed, his eyes begging me to just decide already!
After much deliberation, I chose my four, yes my four, sweaters, parted with my $20, and thanked her for everything.

“You’re just such nice young people. You know, you can never be too careful with these CraigsList things. Me? I just always keep this ready just in case. I’m here all alone, you know. You can never be too careful.” She prattled on as she pulled a small chrome revolver out from behind a scattered stack of mail.

“You know, one time, this man came to buy some jewelry from me and I wouldn’t even let him in. No sirree, and I wouldn’t let him cross the threshold. He was Russian I think. Up to no good, I’m sure about that much. He was a bad man . . . But you kids are just so nice. You can never be too careful!”

“Wow, that’s amazing!” Nick offered as we casually moved toward the door. “You really can never be too careful!”

“Thank you so much for everything!” I added as we quickly walked through the garage. “You have a Merry Christmas!” as we locked the car doors and waved goodbye.

Of course, no holiday story is complete without a Christmas miracle. Ours was humble but one worth risking our lives for. We made it out of Claire’s suburban jungle whole. A month or two later, I couldn’t have been prouder when Nick won Best Sweater at the annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party for his finely crafted choice, complete with plaid bows and brass bells in the shape of a Christmas tree.
And the beadwork! Oh, just look at the beadwork! It’s AMAZING.


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