Thursday, December 27, 2012

CHRISTMAS RECAP


Well.  I'm glad that's over!  There is perhaps something a little wrong with me that I don't adore Christmas as much as I think I should.  I blame Hallmark.  And Andy Williams (my mom's fave).  And Lawrence Welk (my grandma's fave).  And all those "very special episodes" of my favorite TV shows growing up.  How can something real possibly live up to the fiction that was so firmly embedded in my developing psyche, watching all those shows as a kid and imagining on some level of fantastical thinking that I could re-create what was portrayed with soundstages and costuming and traditional carols sung by choirs and cheerful holiday tunes played with full orchestration -- or with accordians.  Oh, but I tried.  For years and years, I certainly tried.

Actually, this year I had a pretty good holiday season, if somewhat different than usual.  For one, I cut back on socializing.  I hosted one small afternoon party -- a "housewarming" for a few women to help a friend with gifts to set up a new apartment.  I said no to several invitations and events.  I stayed home a lot more than usual.  I bought fewer gifts and decorated less.  I was not stressed, overwhelmed, resentful or exhausted.  And by Christmas night I had this thought:  "That was really nice, but not as festive as usual."  Now what does THAT mean?  Do I equate "festive" with the craziness of bygone holidays?  If I am calm and and not swirling in chaos, have I let something slip by that I should have attended to in order for the holiday to be more magical?   We did all the usual family traditions and everyone seemed to be in good spirits.  What more could I have asked for?  I just need to adjust to a new normal -- myself at peace.  Who knew how weird that would feel?!?

One disappointment, however, is my willingness to finally admit (denied for years in the face of all good evidence to the contrary) that the tradition of sending Christmas cards in the mail is just about completely obsolete.  I have been a hold-out -- I send out abut 40 Christmas greetings every year.  Over the past 3 years those I've received number about 15-20.  I don't sent them to people who I see all the time -- mostly to distant family, old friends, or "locals" who I don't see as often as I used to, or those I do, but for some reason we always still exchange cards.   I am pretty tenacious about friendships and I am usually the last to let go.  And at Christmas time I get sentimental when I go through my old address book and recall the memories attached to those names.  I've sent out a family photo for 27 years (since Son-One was born) and for the past 10 years, I've also sent a Christmas letter (with a personalized handwritten note) -- some too long, I'm sure, and this year's but a few sentences.  I suppose some people have hated them -- they seem to be universally dissed.  But I actually LOVE receiving them myself.  I love hearing the highlights of family life--trips, travels, moves, jobs, etc.

This year I got about 15 cards, (some signed with no personal note,  just names), one letter, and three family photos.  Paltry.  So, maybe I need to wake up to the fact that this tradition is on life support. Choosing a card, making a photo, writing a letter, addressing and stamping and mailing...some say they don't have time for all of that.   I guess...but it makes me sad.  It is a gift I have loved both as a giver and as a receiver.  I sit and read each card over and over, enjoying the scene, the note, the photo (bonus!), the feeling of connection over the years and the miles.  But I'm drastically trimming my card list for next year; I'm starting to feel embarrassed.

The highlight, absolute and unforgettable was the Christmas Eve service at my church.   We are Unitarian Universalists, and Christmas is our most Christian celebration of the year.  We decorate and sing carols and wish each other a hearty "Merry Christmas!"  Extended families come to the service and this year my family took up a whole row!  My favorite moment was at the end of the service, the lights dimmed and each hand-held candle lit person-to-person as we sang Silent Night together.  Angel was sitting next to me.  She, at three, was "iffy" for holding that candle unaided (as she insisted), but she was oh so careful and sat very still and looked around her with such wonder and delight.  I glanced left toward Hub to try to catch his eye at the end of the row, but he was staring straight ahead, no doubt lost in his own Christmas Eve memories and experiences.  I glanced the other way to the other end of the row and saw Son Two, Son One, and Future Daughter In Law all grinning ear to ear as they watched Angel with her candle in the dim light.  We smiled at each other and my eyes welled with tears of utter joy.  My family, on Christmas Eve, passing on the traditions that bind us together, through some years of chaos and some years of peace.

At least that's the view from here...©


Friday, December 21, 2012

SOLSTICE-LIGHT-WORLDEND-BIRTHDAY-CAKE-DOC

Happy Solstice!  The light is returning!  We are alive!  I had a birthday!   I love Costco Tuxedo Chocolate Mousse Cake!  I have a doctor's appointment today!

1.  When I was flirting with "Wiccanism" I latched onto all the Solstices and Equinoxes and pagan holidays of the earth-based spirituality that Wicca actually is, but  I was a "lone practitioner", so it was a lonely little foray into that flirtation with a personal spiritual practice that didn't have much staying power.  Yet the Winter Solstice stuck more than others -- I used to make the boys go outside with me, clippers in hand, and cut away at the fir branches, holly, ivy, and laurel and bring it all in to make swags and wreaths and "bouquets" for the house.  I thought it was great fun and really beautiful.  The kids went along with it when they were young (kids just want something novel and "fun" to do); not so much as they got older, but I still enjoy bringing the greens in and decorating with them by myself.  So, Happy Solstice!

2.  It has been raining sort of non-stop for ... I don't know... years?  Not really, but we have been enduring the usual winter wet and gray and gloom for weeks now.  It gets light about 8 a.m. and dark again at 4:30 p.m.  In between is a sort of light-to-dark gray "Twilight" (Yes!  Perfect for vampires!) that never feels like true daylight.  It is a challenging time of year for sun lovers like me.   But today marks the start of the (at first imperceptible) return of the sun.  Yay!  In 6 months it will be light at 4 a.m. and not dark until 10 p.m. and that will be so totally great!  Hello sunshine!

3.  I am confident that June will come again because the world didn't end today as predicted.  Studying the Mayan calendar has been all the rage for some time since the prediction of the Mayans, according to some interpretations, was that this was the day the world would end -- 12/21/12.  I didn't follow the prophesy closely enough to understand why...but I recall we've had many such predictions and somehow we keep on keepin' on, so there's that.   Plus, the Mayans should have been focusing their prediction closer to home and they maybe could have warded off the end of their own civilization...just sayin'.  World without end, amen!

4.  So now I'm 62.  That used to seem pretty old and significant in a way that had something to do with some people retiring then and collecting social security.  At least that's what I recall about conversations between my parents and their friends.  For me, I got to get into a musical performance at the local historic theater last week on the senior discount (begging to be given the $2.00 off a few days prior to my actual birthday...nice box office worker took pity on this senior citizen and agreed to honor it).  I also thought I'd get the Denny's discount now, only to be told by Son Two that Denny's starts their senior discount at age 55, so I've been eligible for YEARS.  Of course, 7 years of Grand Slam breakfast consumption might put one at risk of even making it to 62, so I guess it's a good thing I was confused.  That and I haven't been inside a Denny's restaurant in about 15 years.  But the lure of using my age to advantage is hard to resist.  Happy Birthday to ME!

The family was all here for my birthday dinner on Wednesday.  I loved that.  I am in love with my family.  Seriously.  Oh, there are individual irritations and worries and frustrations here and there, but when we gather for special occasions, we rock!  Best behavior abounds and smiles and laughs and good cheer usually prevail.  (Hmmm...now there's some sugar-coated wishful thinking...but it's MOSTLY true, honest!)

5.  We capped the festivities with a birthday cake, naturally.  We don't bake, but we do search for really good store-bought birthday cakes and this year's was stand out.  Costco Tuxedo Chocolate Mousse cake.  OMG!  Killer good.  Literally.  No one could finish their piece of cake after the lasagna dinner (calories be damned on birthdays!), it was so rich.  But I discovered yesterday...and today...that it is the perfect breakfast dessert.  Toast and mousse cake!  Yes!  The list of ingredients, starting with "sugar", goes on for a good long paragraph and I don't know, nor can I pronounce, all the words.  But I'm telling you, it is so good!  Once a year I indulge in this kind of thing and I trust my body to get to the detoxin' post-haste once consumption has ended.  Gnosh Pit!

6.  Speaking of health...I have my annual physical today.  I think I'm holding up rather well.  I had that bout of fainting episodes for no reason a while back that landed me in the hospital and caused me near constant "queasy" nausea and anxiety for about a year, but hey, small price to pay for the ability to finally lose the 25 pounds of flab I'd accumulated over time.   My last trip to Hawaii I finally stopped obsessing about how I looked in my swimsuit and didn't even delete all the photos we took!  But since I've been feeling better, I've been back "on my feed" as they say and the scale is starting to be my enemy again.  So, I did think for a moment this morning about wearing a cotton blouse rather than a wool sweater for the weigh-in at the doctor's office.  Yes, that's my "old familiar" way of thinking about how to cheat the  truth.  But then I thought... Really???  I'm 62 flippin' years old!  I'm done lying to myself.  I'm gonna eat some mousse cake, wear whatever I like, and read the numbers on that scale with acceptance and gratitude.

The world did not end, the light is returning, and I'm still alive!  Halleluja!

At least, that's the view from here....©

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

LET IT SNOW?

It's 6 a.m. and there's a dusting of snow on the ground.  I'm a little annoyed.  I have a coffee date this morning with one of my gal-pals and a haircut appointment this afternoon.  I drive a Prius...not known for great handling in snowy conditions.  And I live at the top of a hill in the Pacific Northwest....not known for timely, or even adequate, snow removal.

Around here a dusting of snow gets everybody all worked up.  There was a huge headline in this morning's paper just to announce the possibility of snow in the lowlands (anywhere not in the mountains, where it belongs).  We have a love/hate relationship with snow where I live.  Skiiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers pour over snow reports daily (hourly!), trying to time the best 'powder' at the resorts.  On snowy days, the rest of us just try to guess whether we will make it to work and back.  Or to the grocery store, where we need to stock up on supplies in case we can't get out again for a day or so.  And no one really knows how to drive in the snow here.  It's bumper car time.

I used to find all of this laughable.  Hello!  I grew up in northern Illinois.  Snow falling and snow plowing went hand-in-hand.  Salt trucks dumped de-icer in quantities huge enough to immediately turn snow and ice into slush to be scooped away by the plows.   Of course there were times when the snow fell so fast and so heavy and so thick that things sort of came to a standstill there too -- but we are talking like 6-12-18-24 inches of snow, not one inch, which is all it takes to cancel schools and panic people here.

I moved from the Chicago area in 1980, first to South Carolina and the relative balmy Christmases of sunshine and beach walks; then moved here to the damp, drizzly, and green, green, green Christmases of the Evergreen State.  I still miss a white Christmas season, so if it's going to snow, this would be the week to do it.

As long as it doesn't interfere with my holiday haircut.

At least, that's the view from here....©

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME UNTO ME..."

Here we are, right in the middle of the fa-la-la-la-la Christmas season, caught up in shopping, baking, decorating, planning, organizing, socializing....a time when our hearts sometimes have a hard time finding "Christmas Spirit" amidst the "to do" lists that this holiday has become.  And then an act so unspeakable and at odds with the season of peace and love shakes us to the core and focuses our attention away from ourselves and our petty troubles.

On Friday, a crisp blue sky day in Newtown, Connecticut, a troubled young man, carrying at least two rapid-fire weapons, entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and started shooting.  Within only a couple of minutes, 6 adults and 20 children, between the ages of 5-10, were dead, as was the shooter, who took his own life.

Facts are slowly emerging of acts of heroism by teachers and school staff, whose first thoughts were to keep their students safe.  Facts are slowly emerging about the perpetrator, who had also killed his mother in their home before descending upon the school, who seems to have suffered his whole life with significant mental health issues; as we so often hear, he was intellectually brilliant but socially withdrawn, even pathologically "shy" and reclusive; a loner.

My first thought, as is my first thought every time there is an eruption of gun violence (which is frequent), is that troubled people with access to guns leave more carnage in their wakes than those who do not have a readily available gun.  I am an unequivocal proponent of gun control.   Within hours of the shooting, I re-joined the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence and wrote to my Senators and Congressman.  I might finally be giving in to my frequent impulse to "get involved" in an issue or cause again.  I've always known this would be the one.  For me, it's the only action I can take to try to mediate the overwhelming sadness and frustration I feel when something like this happens, something I believe could be prevented.

But right now, I don't have any energy for "organizing".   Instead, I am reminded of a saying that comforts me:  "We are spiritual beings having a human experience."  Humans are flawed, vulnerable, confused, loving, compassionate, violent, crazy, amazing creatures.  So, my energy is going into creating havens of peace for the human experiences in my little world. My energy is going into advocating for "radical kindness" within myself and others I know.  My meditation practice teaches me to "stay in the moment", to be aware of the vast cosmic consciousness that exists in and around us, connecting us all, and that the only answer to the troubles of the human experience is to be kind, to love, to act with compassion.

There is a meditation in the Tibetan tradition called Tonglen, where one invites on the in-breath the suffering of another into our consciousness and on the out-breath sends out love, peace, and healing to that person.  I have been practicing this meditation since Friday, both in sitting silently and at random times during the day when I am going about my life's busy-ness.   Meeting violent, unspeakable acts with compassion for those impacted (which on one level is all of us) is the only response I know right now.

For Christians, this is the season celebrating Jesus' birth.  He was an example of love and acceptance and also acted to upset the status quo.  His example might be one we can  emulate in the days and months ahead, beginning as we gather around our Christmas trees holding those we love with special care.

So, my prayer is this:  May all those little children and the adults who gave their lives for them, the families left to mourn, and the person who fired the gun, all find peace in the compassionate, loving presence of Divine Consciousness.

At least, that's the view from here....©







Wednesday, December 12, 2012

MAKIN' A LIST...

I guess the obvious theme of this month's posts will be "Christmas/Holidays".  Today's topic, Dear Readers, is my continuing attempt to create some modicum of magic...with lowered standards.

But here's the thing.  So far my decorating consists of a kitchen countertop covered with scraps of paper upon which I've started various lists:  gifts to buy, groceries to shop for and prep, guests to invite, cleaning to do,  RSVPs that need a response.... And there are duplicates, naturally, of lists I started and lost and re-wrote...

Without my lists, I would get nothing done.  But today I feel like the ONLY thing I am doing is writing more lists!  This is the point where my inner Scrooge is screaming, "IT'S NOT WORTH IT!"

Yesterday I had a long talk with Hub about this annual struggle of mine.  He pointed out that, while he didn't love being out in the rain and the wind stringing festive holiday lights on the bushes and house, he just kept visualizing how great it would look when he was done.  He said I get stuck in the "hassle-factor" processes of things and lose sight of the goal.

Bingo!  I've never been much of a goal-setter.  I react more often than act...at least in some places in my life.  I have a vague notion of an end result of some endeavor, fantasizing a soft focus magical feat of perfection, but to back up and  figure out how to make that happen, then do all the work required (some of it no fun!), and know it will NOT be perfect, I just conclude, "Not worth it!"

Writing this sort of stuns me.  I am known as a pretty organized and responsible person.  I take leadership in lots of things.  One might mistake me for being mature.  But what I wrote in the previous paragraph is anything but.  It's lazy, whiny, and damned immature, in my judgment ... and I am EXCELLENT at judging myself!

So, now I am making a list of all the events (goals) of the coming weeks:  Parties to host and to attend, dinner out with friends, family birthday party (mine!), Christmas Eve/Christmas Day family festivities, church services and emcee-ing a retirement program for our minister.  All of them are going to require planning, purchasing, organizing, and prepping in a myriad of ways.

But I will keep my eyes on the "prize" of being there, with family and friends, the work of it all behind me.   And once at my goal, I will be present with what is....not critiquing the imperfection of the end result, but appreciating the perfection of being blessed enough to have such an abundance of love and connection in my life.

Something to add to the Gratitude List.

At least, that's the view from here...©



Monday, December 10, 2012

CHRISTMAS FAIL



I am already thinking this post should probably be in my personal pity-party journal, rather than here to be endured by my readers.  But since this blog is about honesty and maybe validating the thoughts and feelings of others, here goes:

I am a failure at Christmas.  Take this morning.  Hub headed up to the mountain for a day of snowboarding.  I pretended I was going to clean the house. (He should have seen through that).  But, no!  Sneaky girl that I am, I saw it as a day to go out there and do some Christmas gift shopping!  I had a couple of ideas in mind, a couple of little things for Hub, as well as this's and thats for the rest of the clan.   I brushed my hair out of my face, put on a cute little outfit and sensible shoes and timed my drive to the "big mall" 20 minutes south of where I live to arrive not long after opening so I could park within 1/2 mile of the entrance.  It went swimmingly.

Then I went directly to the store where I just knew I'd have success with the items for Hub.  That's where it went wrong.  (I can't be specific here, cuz Hub reads this blog regularly, bless his heart -- "Hub, close your eyes!")   The items in question are not exotic; they should have had them.  The first, nada.  The second, a dumb and crazy-expensive version of what I wanted.  And the clerk was rude, so I left...right after purchasing the cute, cuddly jacket for myself which I found on the sale rack.  And a pair of gloves I've been wanting.  The dress didn't fit, so I vowed again to cut back on sweets and to hop on the treadmill when I got home.

I was a little flustered with my lack of success at what was supposed to be the easy part of this shopping expedition.  I got outside that store and started heading to the department store across the mall to shop for others, and with each step, visualizing that huge store, my unfamiliarity with where things were there, the plethora of overwhelming choices I would face....my steps slowed.  I stopped, closing my eyes as happy shoppers streamed around me, and decided I just couldn't do it.  I did an about-face and headed for the parking lot.

By the time I got back to my town I had thoroughly chastised myself for wimping out.  I decided to give it another go at a smaller version of the same store north of my town.   (Yes, that's a lot of miles, gas, time....Shush!)  But first I had to do something, I don't know, comforting.  Hello Starbucks!  (Forgetting that lose weight vow of only 20 minutes earlier).  Eggnog Latte and Cranberry Bliss Bar in hand I was back in the car and heading north....for 2 blocks.  Again, the store loomed in my imagination, parking, going in, choices, indecision, expense....grrr...I turned and headed home, kicking myself for not being more creative about gift-planning the other 11 months of the year.

That's where I go wrong.  I detest shopping in general.  I'm OK at specific things at specific stores, but to "go shopping" just for fun, or "nose around" for no particular reason, or "I'll find something eventually" adventures do not appeal to me.  So every December I am in this same predicament.  I didn't plan ahead, I didn't "craft" anything appropriate, any imagination or brilliance I might have had, say, in July is now as soggy and wet and inhospitable as this morning's weather.

Oh, I'll figure it out and pull it together.  I always do.  But I am not a fan of the season.  I think it's because, like with so many things as I look back, I did not pace myself.  I used to be really good at this. I was the friggin' Christmas Fairy around here, creating holiday magic and rituals and traditions, as if my children's childhoods would be bereft without them.  Then they grew up and I grew tired.

Yes, I know it's not about gifts.  But I don't even feel like decorating this year.  I'm slowly turning into the biggest Scrooge ever, if scored on the "Outward Displays of Christmas Spirit" scale.

What I want and what I will get, for sure, (gifts or not, decor or not) is... time with my beautiful family, a fire in the fireplace, yummy food, board games, jigsaw puzzles, holiday music, special gatherings and services at my church, parties with friends....

As for something to open on Christmas morning, I wish I could just wrap my heart, so full of love and devotion and pride and compassion, and offer it to everyone I care about as a talisman to keep them safe, content, and in love with life forever.  That's what I wish.  No shopping required.

At least, that's the view from here....©