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.

Time On My Hands

I see by the date of my last post in July that many moons have passed since I posted. Indeed, the act of writing itself has become foreign to me while my hands were used to weed, water and plant seeds. The cultivated earth mistress that demanded most of my attention this year has finally been put to bed, all 5,000 square feet of her. I look at my hands beat up by countless days of cuts from the soil knife or spines off the squash vines, and can actually see clean fingernails as familiar calluses fade into the paleness of my skin.

For the first time in months, I have time on my hands and I find myself a bit lost. The house cries out for attention–closets full of items tossed in randomly for lack of space or safety from sharp kitten teeth, floors that need a good scrubbing to rid them of ground-in garden soil, receipts piled in a drawer with budgets long neglected, paintings and craft projects waiting to be finished before spring. (I could go on, but it’s too early in the day to start drinking.)

I look around in amazement and wonder what happened to that obsessive-compulsive overachieving minimalist who used to inhabit this body sitting here on another dreary mideast morning, the sun that I used to curse for heatstroke by midmorning in the summer, now nowhere to be seen. Wild birds huddle at the feeders outside my insulated windows and the nearly full-grown cat I rescued is squeezed into her favorite cardboard box that’s now three sizes too small for her.

Like a growing child who puts on last year’s winter clothes, I find that my old ways and concerns no longer fit me in this new life of organic gardening, rural living and community consciousness. I’ve learned so much beyond what not to plant next year, or how to manage when the power goes out. I’ve tested my physical limits and personal boundaries this year, and found out when to say no. I’ve become more of a realist and less of a dreamer, although my imagination is still sparked by the light glinting off of dewy spiderwebs and ice-encased red berries.

I’m back to long walks on the wild trails down by the river with my spouse, a patient man who has put up with my obsessions and depressions for over 30 years. Finally, we have the luxury of staying home on snow days without the guilt or grueling commute on dangerous roads. And because of the little community we live in, we can avoid the isolation that rural life often demands in the winter. Gathering together on cold, dark nights before solstice for food, music and laughter, or organizing a trip to the college town close by, are perfect anecdotes to the winter blues.

Meanwhile, there’s still some kale sleeping under its winter blanket, pale parsnips waiting to be harvested from frozen ground, and plenty of sweet potatoes to last us through the holidays. It’s been a good year and time to celebrate.

Maybe I’ll even paint my fingernails.

Thinning of the Veil


Last year, I was preoccupied with all the fearmongering and polarization going on in my neck of the woods, and my nation. This year, after some of those fears have been realized (or threatened), I feel the presence of the ancestors, and take solace in their company.

As mankind’s old wounds are reopened and exhumed, they are waiting with us while the sins of past human horrors fly screeching from tombs of our denial to join with present atrocities. Just when you think all are accounted for, yet another evil pops out of the Pandora’s box to be addressed in brazen light of day.

Last year, I talked about being afraid of the dark, but this year I welcome it. Limiting my vision within velvety shadow shields me from the glaring justifications and blinding boasts by a narcissistic chorus of cons and culprits, criminal in their actions while they preen themselves with angelic posturing and shameless self-promotion.

Meanwhile, since last Halloween and the apocalyptic national election that followed my ancestors have been nudging me back to life, whispering those long-forgotten lullabies, breathing deserted dreams and destiny back into my heart, resuscitating the inner child pulled from a deep pool of adult despair.

Instead of the anticipated fear, I’ve been surprised by a spooky joy, one that jumps out from the country hayloft or city parking lot. Hope and possibility reveal themselves in the swallow’s swoop and stranger’s smile, the clasp of a trusting child’s hand and the brush of a cat’s whiskers.

I’ve witnessed in wonder the gathering of all ages to make art, and had my breath taken away by the incredible beauty that is birthed every living moment by reawakened creators surprised with what takes flight from their hands.

There is no doubt that this has been a hard year of endings, of death, of an inconsolable loss for what we used to believe and know with absolute certainty. And we have a right to lament what has been lost while grieving the absence of many who have recently left this path for other worlds.

But still, in starlit moments on inky-black nights, I’ve seen that they haven’t deserted us. They are still there, at the end and along the way.

The Scariest Halloween

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A truly frightening local exhibit of overly zealous holiday decorating. (And this is only a PORTION of the display!)

As a kid, better holiday plunder was only to be had at Christmas; as a young adult, the all-important party behavior was a gateway persona to an alter ego; as a mom, my photo albums are still full of my child’s timeless cuteness from costumes’ past. This year, there is nothing, the scariest Halloween of them all.

That’s right, no holiday decorations, no industrial-size bags of candy, no never-ending stream of trick-or-treaters, no holiday parties, no laborious dressing up for those same parties, no spooky music or creepy movies. “The Great Pumpkin” has already aired, and the Halloween aisle is currently being packed up to make way for its jollier rival.

We have downsized ourselves into a whole new world, and I can’t say that I miss the old ways of celebrating All Hallows Eve that much. I can get my fix from streaming favorite music and shows on demand, or walking around our nearby affluent neighborhood with a “more is better” philosophy in decorating. The kids in our apartment complex trick or treat at the fire station across the road, or leave in cars to canvas distant housing developments more expertly than door-to-door salesmen.

But this year, I find that what scares me the most comes from turning on the TV news, or scrolling through Facebook, or even reading the homemade billboards showing up in concerned citizens’ yards. I am horrified by the hateful viewpoints and polarizing contempt exhibited by people I thought I knew, much less strangers.

Lately I find myself frozen with fear like the small child lost in the night who can’t discern what is real from unreal. But as an adult who thought I had the dark all figured out–I am truly more frightened than ever–not by the masks, but what I see when the masks fall away, mine included.

May we all find our way home to the light after traveling dark paths, and forgive us our own mischief.

Real Life

Day 26: Real Life
Day 26: Real Life

Sigh. After spending Christmas with gushing waterfalls and babbling brooks in extraordinarily warm temps, it’s back to the real life set in dreary concrete.

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.

Love Is . . .

Day 25: Love is . . .

Love is . . . always present, no matter where you are. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and happy Full Cold Moon to everyone!

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.

Jingle Rail

Day 24: One Year Ago

A year ago we were surrounded by tiny trains. A good way to honor the child in all of us.

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.

Salmon With A Side of Tornado

Day 23: Delicious

Nothing like baked salmon with a side of tornado drills at the inn where we’re staying. Strangest Christmas ever. At least we enjoyed the lightening show over the river while we dined.

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.

Confirmation

Day 22: Solstice Sunset
Day 22: Solstice Sunset

Our celebrations of song and feasting last night must have worked because the sun finally came back today.

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.

My Days Are Numbered

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Day 21: Numbers

This dark solstice day marks the beginning of my new datebook. I haven’t used one in ages, but couldn’t resist We’Moon’s version for 2016 that I ran across last month. Now I’ll have all the numbers (and answers) where I can find them.

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.