Traditions Take Two


What goes around, comes around. Isn’t that the saying? While my country is receiving a healthy dose of past bad decisions come back to haunt it, I’ve concluded that the ghosts of Christmas past also employ this karmic trickery during the holiday season. For many years, they didn’t find me at home, but this year was a different story, of course.

In my childhood family, Christmas traditions were enforced with a rigid (very Germanic) iron fist. There was always a real tree no matter how prickly, crooked and infested, draped with tangled strings of burnt-out lights carelessly thrown into a box the previous January, the ponderous Christmas stollen made with pounds of butter festooned by labor-intensive slivered almonds boiled from their skins, the unlightable plum pudding that everyone hated unless you buried it in hard sauce, my mother’s exhausted bad mood Christmas morning from staying up all night wrapping gifts, and the tense, awkwardly polite visits to estranged relatives on Christmas day.

After we were married, my husband and I had to agonize over whose family to visit for Christmas, keeping New Year’s celebrations to ourselves, thankfully. When our daughter came along, however, the pressure to travel increased considerably. Following a disastrous holiday trip where all three of us spent most of Christmas holed up in a guest bedroom with the flu, I made the decision to stay put and start new traditions, for all of our sakes and sanity. Out went the obligatory stollen and rock-hard pudding, the dragging of the child (and adults) away from their new toys to uncomfortable visits with relatives, the long road trips under threat of bad weather. In came the fake white tree with non-traditional ornaments, alcohol-infused morning coffees, a Christmas Day outing to the movie theater, and our own list of alternative holiday music.

As empty-nesters we even abandoned our rented apartment for inns at state parks, where we adorned the hotel rooms with our own decorations, watched Christmas DVDs and indulged in homemade snacks while leaving the real cooking to the professionals. Our holiday activities consisted of walks along park trails and daytrips to little towns and local shops. Recently, we’ve spent Christmases with my daughter, since she loves the Christmas traditions that are special to her, including a Christmas Eve brunch at her favorite cafe and watching the grand-cat rip through his presents on Christmas morning.

This year, it was time, yet again, to start new traditions. I suspect that a lot of families came to the same conclusion. We are lucky to be together as a family, while many are grieving the absence of loved ones and homes right now.  Since the future is more uncertain than ever, we were determined to make the most of it without needing Scrooge’s nocturnal wake-up call. We’re back to being homeowners, with a tabletop artificial tree in a traditional green color, hung with ornaments from our childhoods as well as purchases over the years. There’s a Christmas puzzle continuously in the works, a diverse holiday music list playing on bluetooth, the streaming of old holiday shows or cheesy Christmas romances, and an occasional neighborhood stroll to see the lights and decorations. We’ve even expanded our holiday season with a special dinner at home now for Winter Solstice with lots of candlelight. My husband purchased an advent calendar that is a chest of drawers which he fills with tiny treats and gifts, plus a slip of paper with a holiday activity that the receiver can do. We look forward to continuing this new tradition with new and old gifts for the drawers.

With so many gluten-free flours and dairy-free options available, I even brought back the almond sugar cookies I loved to decorate and eat as a kid. On Christmas Eve my daughter and I cut out new shapes while listening to holiday tunes. Once again I can sip on a delicious (spiked) dairy-free eggnog, indulge in dairy-free caramels and take a big bite into turkey sandwiches plump with gluten-free stuffing. Maybe the taste and appearance aren’t quite the same as what I remember, but I’ll gladly trade the old unhealthy holiday ghosts dripping with guilt and obligation for newer spirits full of wholesome pleasures more in line with who I am and want to be.

My hope for you, dear reader, at the end of such a cataclysmic year, is that you find new traditions in the rubble of our old lives that bring you joy in the dark days to come.

Mellow Yellow


June was better. The house and garage are painted, our gardens flourish and we finally enjoyed a visit from our adult offspring after months of separation. Slowly, we’re getting to know the new neighbors, and they are becoming more familiar with us. Apparently painting a house yellow inspires reactions and conversations. Perhaps yellow is friendly and welcoming, I don’t know.

Flower beds are filling up and so far the vegetable garden has managed to escape the attentions from two fairly large bucks, several groundhogs and innumerable rabbits, not to mention a family of skunks and a digging outdoor cat or two. We have not received much rain, which worries me although the nearby reservoir is still full. My spouse and I continue to order grocery and farmer’s market pickups, and wear masks to stores first thing in the morning to avoid germs and crowds. There is no end in sight.

The bright spot is that our daughter is moving to our city in July and renting a house up the street. We will be a family again and for that I am rejoicing. Sure, there will be adjustments and boundaries, but we have all missed each other terribly this spring. Her new freelance business enables her to work from home, which is a luxury these days. Not all are so lucky but for her and her parents, this is the best solution in the short term.

While I still get overwhelmed at times, the tasks are not as frustrating and futile as they were the last two years. I answer to no one as I tend my small garden that will still feed two and maybe three people nicely in the coming months. We are on a waiting list for a small chest freezer, but hopefully we can stock up on frozen vegetables and local meats before winter. There are a few perks that I miss from the country, but not enough to give up my independence.

Even in the city, nature makes its home with us. Every night, my husband and I sit and watch the fireflies flicker in the backyard, while mama skunk ushers her youngsters under the neighbor’s shed in single file. She makes sure all are accounted for. Soon, I hope to feel the same about my little family.

Fave Photo

Day 9: Fave Photo of 2015
Day 9: Fave Photo of 2015

I’ve been very fortunate to capture many spectacular sunsets and scenic nature shots this year but these two trying out the camera on my new phone the other day still capture my heart.

I’ve decided to participate in Susannah Conway’s December Reflections  photo prompts again this year. During this hectic and stressful season, won’t you join me in mindful reflection from life’s photographic window seats and contemplative comments that provide refuge from the madness.

Legacy

 
It’s been quiet here at Suburban Satsangs this month, but I’ve still participated in a daily photo prompt on Instagram. The final prompt is “legacy,” somehow appropriate as I finish out September in my parents’ house helping with my ailing father.

I didn’t grow up in this house and always feel like a guest despite the 25 years my parents have lived here. While primitively beautiful, I’ve never felt like this or any other place I’ve lived was truly home for me. I’m a bit of a wanderer, I guess. 

In the bedroom I sleep in I’m surrounded by artwork I made over 30 years ago. Sometimes I lie in bed and ponder what was created in another time, by another person.

And I often wonder where she went, while searching for what she left me.

Empty Nesters

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Day 20: Two

After 24 years, we are back to a duo. No matter what you are told, believe me, it’s harder than you think.

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. I’m looking forward to my third go at participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break by posting prompts here on the blog and on my Instagram account. There are no rules, really. Simply take a photo every day for the month of August, based on the prompts or not. I take a photo a day all year long, but you can’t lose no matter how many days you keep this up. And the more, the merrier!

The Downsizing Dozen: Shifting Into Single Gear

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One of the major changes we’ve made in the last ten months, much to the shock and dismay of friends and family, is to pare down to one car. That’s right, when the third resident of our apartment moved out earlier this month, she took one of our cars with her. And with it went the fuel expenses, insurance rates, repair bills, registration fees, and that reassuring sense of independence that the second vehicle provides.

We had already transferred ownership last year, but the second car was still available to us as a backup. Since my daughter was born, the second vehicle was usually assigned as my main mode of transport, and our newer “travel” autos were taken by my husband for his longer, and daily, commutes.

When my old car finally drove away to greener pastures, we heaved a sigh of collective relief that our offspring had a dependable way to get to work, but the reality of what we would be giving up finally smacked us in the rear bumper:

  1. Making appointments without checking with each other constantly.
  2. Use of an alternate when one car is in for repairs.
  3. Something to follow and pick us up in at the auto repair shop (see above).
  4. Another vehicle to haul an overflow of extra people, or stuff.
  5. Driving downtown to meet the other for an impromptu meal or a wild hair.

Well, you get the idea. None of these are deal breakers, and since we both work from home now, neither of us is left without transportation for very long. Plus, we can better afford to maintain our single vehicle and pamper it in a nice garage, instead of leaving two out in the cold (and hail).

As our first full year of downsizing looms closer, we hope to continue our monogamous vehicular affair for the foreseeable future on the roads ahead. After all, we’ve already driven off the cliffs of suburban conformity, so why slow down now?

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, Finding Focus in January, Forgotten Food in February, and Travel Time in March.

Grandmother

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I only

know you

from

photographs,

yet your

legacy speaks

through

flowers.

April Love Prompt: An Inspiring Person

This year I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by combining  NaPoWriMo’s daily poetry challenge with Susannah Conway’s April Love daily photo prompts on Instagram. Each day of April, you will observe the same photo in my Instagram feed on the righthand sidebar that you see in my blog post along with an instapoem. We shall find out at the end of the month whether this was a brilliant career move, sheer laziness or a fool’s errand. 

Until then, care to join me in these creative waters where even fools fear to tread? The water’s fine.

Death and Pansies, Revisited

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Each year I procure these cheerful little faces of newborn spring, brushed with velvet smudges, the simple sweet smell taking me down a flowered path to my childhood. When very young, I played with scoop and pail in sandy lands of nursery beds, where the earliest seedlings overwintered and hardened off to face a strange new world.

According to family lore, this is where my great-grandfather took his last breath, an immigrant from a war-ravaged empire who began a twilight rebirth in the land of his conquerors. I plant them by the front door to catch that inherited fragrance, to welcome in the newly budded breezes and fresh starts.

They found him in the pansies, already on his way.

NaPoWriMo #11

*I planted this year’s pansies today.

I’m writing a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. Won’t you join me in poetry?

Westbound

We’ve traveled this road many times, he and I. It is on automatic, an urge, a duty, a need, a love. We do it for family, friends and the call from home. We take it first as a couple, and then I look back and there is a puppy strapped into the seatbelt, a toddler grasping her juice bottle, a girl with stuffed animals and smudgy art bag, closely followed by a teenager off in the remote lands of iPod.

Now the backseat is empty, waiting to be piled high with souvenirs of an honorable age. We will find his school pictures and vacation slides, beloved toys and sick-bed trinkets, ancestral war medals and a grandmother’s silver, the letter sweaters and sorority pins worn by parents gone to rest, collections of yellowed pages inscribed with a familiar hand, other ordinary pieces of past that still hold the scent of childhood.

And when we have let the sunset burn into our skin like memory, we will turn back east. Head toward the dawn.

A Minimalist Moment: What Do You Give A Minimalist?

Every few months my mother asks me the following: Do you want the ________ that was great-great-________’s? (Fill in the blanks with an assorted array of dishware, spoons, nicknacks and relatives.)

And my answer?

Well, there is a reason why, when my mother visits, she marvels at the empty space in my house.

I’m pretty much over the guilt-in-refusal tactic, but the lady is persistent. I guess my mom thinks she’ll catch me at a weak moment. For the record I have accepted well-loved heirlooms and hand-selected oddities over the years. I enjoy them for a while — and then return them so another relative can have a chance. (Cough)

Her latest offering of monogramed silver plate has prompted me to imagine how difficult it must be to pass along the ancestral hoard to a minimalist in the family. The good news is that, as far as I know, I’m the only one. The bad news is that I’m the only “girl” as my mother would say, and the last possible depository for certain categories like jewelry and similar girly stuff.

There are those out there who would label me an ungrateful wretch, that I should count my blessings there is evidence of my family’s rich history, that it wasn’t destroyed by war or sold for food. (Actually, some of it was, but we don’t know what, so we can’t whine over specifics. Just in general.)

While I certainly understand this point of view, I have also been burned by dragging “priceless” or “antique” treasures through many moves, afraid to sell or give them away because I might incur the wrath of the ancestors.

Believe me. I had no illusions that I was going to end up on the highlights of the Antiques Road Show with any of the family artifacts. But I learned the hard way that beauty (and worth) is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes, there’s a reason why that interesting bed pan of great-aunt Ethel’s or the frighteningly ornate armoire from the Transylvania side is moving on down the family line.

Are any of you having a vision of the Petrie family brooch from The Dick Van Dyke Show? If you’ve never seen “The Curse of the Petrie People” check it out on Hulu (Season 5, Episode 18).

Let’s face it: All the valuable stuff has been sold long ago for food. Or land. Or passage over to a new land. What remains are remnants that hold sentimental value. And if you are not particularly sentimental, then you’re an odd duck. And one of those ungrateful relatives.

What do I value? Family photo albums full (unfortunately) of unknown faces since most of this information has been taken to the grave. My family is reduced to sitting around the table after a holiday meal making educated guesses.

And the most important treasure I keep? When I walked through my grandmother’s house for the last time, I was told to take whatever I wanted, whatever was important to me.

I came out empty-handed.

I already had everything I needed. The gift of memories.