My wife and I are in a different phase of our lives now, have been since August when our youngest left for college, making our nest a littler emptier.

So that means we spend most days by ourselves with our aging basset hound and cat to keep us company.

On weekends, our children, Claire and Alek, return from college, sometimes accompanied by their respective boyfriend and girlfriend, shaking us from our routine.

That makes Christmas a little different.

Years ago, we passed the Santa Claus stage, but that didn't make the holiday any less special just more expensive.

Young parents should never think that once their kids get older, the wish-lists become more sparse.

What the lists lack in length, they make up for in dollar signs.

Not that Claire and Alek's expectations are so outlandish, but their interests change.

Claire has, and always will, love clothes.

The toys and dolls that used to dominate her letters to Santa have been replaced by clothes and a few other requests sprinkled in.

Alek loves electronics. He and Claire's boyfriend, Trevor, are the tech-support guys.

If something doesn't work, I tell them what's wrong, and they fix it.

When I needed a new phone, Alek told me which one to buy. When we looked at televisions, Alek did the research.

But as much as things change, some things never change.

Much like in the days of Santa, Claire and Alek still like to wake up Christmas morning and see what's under the tree for the first time.

There's no putting out presents days or weeks early for them.

Of course, Christmas morning comes a lot later these days.

Excited, anxious, curious kids are no longer waking up Mom and Dad in the wee hours.

These days, Mom and Dad are up first and wait for the kids to wake up.

This year will be a little different.

With a wife in the medical profession, sometimes Christmas day for Kelly is a work day.

She will work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so our family won't celebrate until Christmas night.

That's just fine.

It's hard to complain about having to wait a little while to celebrate when my wife and others will be trying to bring some comfort to those who have to spend the holidays in the hospital.

Our family Christmas is not our only time to celebrate.

We'll get together with Kelly's family before Christmas and my family after Christmas.

By the time it's all over, we'll be happy to just sit at home and relax.

We feel so blessed this year to be in our new home, in our new community and with our new business.

Every day holds promise, and you never know what surprises life holds for you.

It's good to take a little time to pause and gather with the people who make our lives a littler happier and a little fuller.

No matter how things change or how traditions are altered, there's nothing more special than getting together with family and friends.

Patrick Murphy, of Humphrey, Neb., is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.