Cynthia's "Little Christmas"

Cynthia Ewer and dog Dicksie

Does it feel like Christmas morning?

I celebrate a tiny personal Christmas on this day each year. It's the Sunday in August that kicks off our earliest holiday plans: the Holiday Grand Plan and the Houseworks Holiday Plan.

On the Web, this site comes alive again on this day! Quiet and sleepy since the previous January, wakes up to a new surge of traffic--and this Webmaster wakes up along with it.

This morning, that wake-up call came at 4:30 a.m. I simply couldn't stay in bed a moment longer, knowing that "little Christmas" is dawning.

Like Christmas morning, there's no snoozing and stretching as I wake up; I spring out of bed and hit the studio without even a drive-by collision with the coffee machine.

My mind buzzes with questions: "Have the scheduled stories appeared as they should? Are the links working correctly? How's the traffic?" I move around behind the scenes, editing stories, checking error logs and patching up problems that the surge of traffic brings to light. Fingers fly over the keyboard as I try to be everywhere at once.

But after two or three hours, I take time to pour some coffee, admire my back yard, and think about this day, and where it came from--and what it means. Because this site is only the latest iteration of a movement that goes back nearly 20 years!

In 1990, my husband and I inherited a computer: a then-robust 286 PC. Neither of us knew how to operate it, and let me tell the children out there how little there was that could be done with it! We had simple word processing programs, a little spreadsheet application--and what graphics we had were done in ASCII: using text characters to "spell out" simple pictures.

But there in the pile of receipts and software licenses was a 5.25-inch floppy disk, emblazoned with "Prodigy Online Service". One evening, my daughter and I decided to check it out. We put in the disk, installed the software, hooked a phone to our computer and went online for the very first time.

To say it rocked my world would be an understatement, but from where I sit today, it's hard to remember just how EARLY an experience connecting to Prodigy truly was.

For instance, I'd click on the "Homelife Get O" message board link, and go clear the table after dinner. About 3 minutes later, the first page of new messages appeared. Click one, and go load the dishwasher. Two minutes later, I'm squealing, "Look! There's a new message from ML in Midlife!"

Can you say, "S-l-o-w?"

But at the time, this new medium was state-of-the-art--and what it gave me was a whole new community of friends.

Today, no one raises an eyebrow at the idea of online friendships, but back then, the concept was new and strange. Our group of female early adopters were pretty unusual. At the time, only about 10% of online users were women. But we bonded and began to share our lives in ways that seemed inconceivable at the time: friendships served over the phone lines, hammered out in lines of text.

I remember my first meeting IRL (In Real Life) with friends from the Prodigy boards. In 1991, three or four of us met up at a restaurant--and the conversation picked up as if we'd been the oldest of friends for the longest of times. Our waitress kept pausing by our table and saying, "I don't get this. You guys never met until today? You know each other HOW? But you haven't stopped talking for four hours .....?"

That early community was the inspiration for the site network I publish today. One slow message at a time, we got organized together. Beginning in about 1992, Katie Leckey began working on what would become the Holiday Grand Plan--and I started writing a series of essays, called the Scrooge Society, that examined ways to simplify and deepen our holiday celebrations.

As the years passed, our group split and divided and seeded new online resources. AOL came on the scene, and we met on text-based services like GEnie. In 1995, the Web became available to users outside academia, and in 1998, I opened my first Web site, Organized Home. Of course, at that point I couldn't spell HTML, but I learned quickly!

In the Autumn of 1998, I brought the Christmas Countdown to the Web, forms and all, in Beta Test. People seemed to enjoy it, so ....

And here we are. It's 2010--and this site continues to bring planning resources, holiday plans, printable forms, gift ideas, crafts and holiday tips to you: my very dear online friends. Today, there are thousands of you; I may no longer know all your names, but I am so grateful for you company and companionship!

And if that's not worth feeling like Christmas, I don't know what is!

Blog Topics: