Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Time of Peace

Today Christmas is behind us -- all of my lists, shopping, wrapping, cooking and creating culminated in a warm and lovely family day, with delicious food, lively conversation and abundant love. By bedtime last night I was completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, but thankful for the joy of our Christmas Day.

Now I can wind down a bit and relax; of course, there are still a few more days of the Christmas season, and I have some guests dropping in here and there, but for the most part, my work is finished. What a lovely time this is -- the house still carries the scents, sights and sounds of Christmas. I can delight in the carefully placed decorations and lovely flower arrangements, nibble at the leftovers, and listen to soothing Christmas music as I sip a cup of tea. While the week before Christmas is filled with a mixture of anticipation and stress, the week after is one of relief and peacefulness. With the hectic earthly celebration of Christmas a memory, we can turn our thoughts to the spiritual gift of this little baby who so changed the world.

May Peace Be With You

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Simple Christmas

Christmas past was a carefully orchestrated celebration when my children were young. From the moment I carried the first box of decorations down from the attic on the day after Thanksgiving until I tucked it back at the New Year, our house was a whirlwind of activity. We spent many hours baking cookies to give to elderly neighbors and to fill little tummies. We built our share of gingerbread houses (not my favorite endeavor). We had a special tradition of buying a new decoration for each child every year, then taking a short trip to the country to cut down our tree and returning home to decorate it while Christmas music played in the background. Of course, this wasn't the idyllic scene you might think -- often by the time we got the tree into the stand we had three tired and cranky children.

Each year we tried to visit a local historic site dressed in its holiday finery. I helped organize the holiday parties at school and for the Scout troops, which often required lots of telephoning and baking. Buying and wrapping gifts for our extended family and my children was a daunting affair.

Christmas Eve was a marathon. Most of my day was spent in the kitchen preparing for dinner the next day. Then, we took three cranky children to the evening service at church. I still have memories of those late-night sessions putting together the toys from Santa - bleary-eyed and exhausted. But, nothing can compare with the sight of a child's face in the morning as he holds a longed-for toy in his arms and truly believes in Santa.

Sometimes it seemed I spent my entire holiday cooking, setting the table, and cleaning up after meals -- Christmas dinner for extended family, an after-holiday family party, dinner celebrations with friends. By the time the New Year rolled in, I was physically exhausted, but the warm memories we created remain with my children to this day.

Now, it tires me to even think of all the physical and mental labor involved in those celebrations. I have pared down my traditions over time as my energy level has decreased. The house is still lovingly decorated, but on a more subdued scale. Christmas cookies are non-existent in our house, although I'm sure as my grandbabies grow we will resurrect some cookie-baking. My gift giving is far less lavish. My celebrations with friends now involve more dinners out and less work for me. Last night I invited my sister and her husband for a simple meal of soup and bread, served on my lovely china by candlelight -- a most peaceful and enjoyable evening.

Christmas Eve will be quiet this year -- mass with my son and his in-laws at 4:00, and then an evening at home. Christmas dinner will be large, with an abundance of food, flowers, candles, special table settings and family togetherness. Today I will be shopping for the food and flowers for this special meal. I will have the time to savor the process of wrapping the gifts this afternoon. Probably I will bake my pies and enjoy the aroma of pumpkin and pecans lingering in the house.

Most importantly, I will remember the hectic years with fondness, but be thankful for this time of life when I can step back from the whirlwind and savor the simple joys of the season.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Memories of Dan Fogelberg

I read the obituary for Dan Fogelberg this morning with sadness -- I was touched by his music in the 1970's & 80's and join with other fans in mourning his untimely death.

The obituary described his songs as having "a weighty tone, reflecting on emotional issues in a serious way." It then quotes Fogelberg in a 1997 interview as saying his music did not represent his personality. "That came from my singles in the early '80's....I'm not a dour person in the least. I'm actually kind of a happy person. Music doesn't really reflect the whole personality."

This quote lingered on the edges of my mind throughout the day. I realized that for the most part, I am drawn to sad music -- the lonely, mournful ballads of heartbreak and lost dreams. Outwardly I am a happy, loving woman -- always known for my easy smile and cheerful nature. And, for the most part, I really am that happy person -- the most simple pleasures bring me great joy and contentment. Waking to a peach-colored sunrise and sipping coffee from my flowered mug while watching the birds at the feeder make my spirits soar for the entire morning. I thoroughly enjoy the sheer beauty that surrounds us in so many moments of our days.

However, sorrow lives deep inside my soul -- sorrow for the losses in my life and the innocence of that hopeful young girl I once was. The songs I cherish are usually the ones that give voice to that inner sadness.

My husband, during one of his many depressed moods, asked me sarcastically, "Why are you always singing and humming to yourself -- are you ALWAYS that happy?!" I replied simply, "What you don't realize is that I am usually singing sad songs."

Thank you, Dan Fogelberg, for your songs that spoke to my heart.

Friday, December 14, 2007

To Grandma With Love

Tomorrow is my grandmother's birthday. She has been gone from my life for twenty-three years now, but each year when December 15 is upon us I look back. I grew up in simpler times, in a family with very few material riches, but surrounded by love and security. My grandparents lived with us, so I never lacked for loving arms and attention. I look at a photo of my grandmother when she was the age I am now -- she was sitting beside me at the picnic table with her silver hair, housedress, apron, and sturdy shoes, looking so much more grandmotherly than women do today.

She loved me unequivocably. She taught me the cardinal rules for girls of the fifties -- be ladylike at all times, don't eat with your mouth open, keep your legs together when you sit down, speak like a lady. She also guarded me carefully with her superstitions -- I still cannot walk under a ladder or rock an empty rocking chair without thinking of the dire consequences, and Lord help me if I break a mirror. She taught me silly nursery rhymes, how to cook, and how to do laundry on an old wringer washing machine.

She also passed down to me some of her very annoying characteristics -- skin that is irritated by any clothing that isn't soft and natural and a tendency to be too cold if it is below 70 and too hot when it is above 75.

Our birthdays both fell within the month before Christmas, and we shared a love for white cake with whipped cream as our birthday cake of choice. Money was always tight at our house, but I remember so well the scent of Chantilly cologne & dusting powder my grandfather gave her each year on her birthday -- it seemed so elegant to me in its pink container. The scent lingers in my memory.

Her life was not easy -- she wasn't a particularly happy woman -- but she loved me intensely and showered me with care and affection. Tomorrow I will think of her on her special day and miss her and be thankful for the gift of her love. Who knows, maybe I will even make our special cake.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"This Too Shall Pass"

Snow falling silent and heavy soothes my soul -- I love to walk down the snow-covered street in the darkness and absorb the deep silence of a snowstorm. However, even as the fluffy snow was piling up today, my stress level was at a maximum. Tonight I feel a bit overwhelmed with worries and tension -- stresses from business, financial concerns, issues with my children. I feel a twinge of guilt, because I realize that these worries of mine are nothing compared with people who are facing serious illnesses and tragedies. My problems are small when measured against so many others.

Why is it that suddenly one day or one week, everything seems to happen at once, and we just don't have enough inner strength to handle it all with any degree of serenity. We know these problems are not life-altering, but somehow we have just reached our personal limit, and feel powerless to cope.

Hopefully, a good night's sleep will help to put it all in perspective. Before I close the curtains I will turn out the lights and enjoy the pristine beauty of the newly fallen snow on the trees and the fenceposts and the bird feeders. I will savor its quiet serenity, and remind myself that no matter how difficult the moment, "This Too Shall Pass!"

Monday, December 10, 2007

Snow Day

We woke this morning to ice-coated cars and driveways, and a snow day was declared for our school district. This meant that in addition to caring for my 4-month old granddaughter, my 13-year old grandson would be here for the day, too.

I was a stay-at-home Mom when my children were growing up, and unlike working parents who dread snow days, I always loved them. When we actually had snow, much of the day was spent bundling children into snowsuits, stripping off the wet, icy outerwear and throwing it into the dryer, and then starting the process all over after everyone was warmed up by a cup of hot cocoa. These were days that formed pleasant memories for my children and for me.

Today there was no snow, and I was busy working in the office while the baby napped, but I watched as my grandson set up an old train set he had as a child and shared reminiscences with him, and in the late afternoon we spent a half hour making a batch of Toll House cookies together. These unexpected days with our children are a gift to mothers and grandmothers who are fortunate enough to be home. And, more importantly, they will serve as warm memories for these children as they move out into the sometimes cold reality of our world.

I give thanks to have shared this day with my two precious grandchildren.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Influence of Oprah

One of the segments on the evening news yesterday was the personal endorsement Oprah Winfrey is providing for Barack Obama. It amazed me to see the people who were at the rally because of Oprah. I do not watch much TV and very seldom see more than a single segment of Oprah's show; she seems like a very genuine, intelligent woman with an honest desire to improve our society at all levels. I must admit I am a little weary of seeing her name in print everywhere -- her book club, her magazine, her Best Life Diet. However, I also avoid the magazines and scandal sheets in the checkout line at the grocery store because I tire of hearing about Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, etc, etc.

Oprah seems to epitomize the good in our society -- she provides a sterling example of the rich helping the poor improve their condition, which is not the norm today. I hope that Oprah's popularity is in part due to her ability to reveal to us the serious issues facing some of the more powerless among us, and her desire to use her own wealth and influence to encourage change.

However, as I watched the news last night, I had this nagging question in my mind. Were these people at the rally to listen to Barack Obama's ideas and evaluate them, or were they there solely for the glitz of Oprah. Will they actually vote for a candidate because Oprah says they should, just as they read the books that Oprah promotes. Is Oprah's star power that strong. And, then, what does that say about our society. In a Presidential election as crucial as this one, are we actually willing to vote for someone based on the endorsement of an entertainer?

Although I think Barack Obama is a viable candidate, and in a political climate where media exposure is critical to success, Oprah's endorsement is a "plum", I have serious concerns about the influence of "star" power as opposed to serious evaluation of a candidate.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Heirloom

Sometimes special gifts are so difficult to find, and other times they fall into our laps at just the right moment. My daughter has cherished a silver cross that my mother gave her for her confirmation twelve years ago. My mother was far from wealthy, and she was so excited when she found this cross on sale. Even though Jen was only eleven years old at the time, she remembers how happy her grandmother was to be able to give her this gift.

Jen has worn the cross every day for twelve years, and it has become very fragile, so she cannot wear it any more. Recently while sorting though a dresser, I found another tiny cross, which was given to Jen by her other grandmother when she was christened. In the same box was a tiny gold ring which my grandmother had given me when I was young, and I had passed on to Jen. Today while Christmas shopping I found an exquisite small jewel box of etched glass which would make a perfect home for all three pieces of jewelry. Tonight I cut a piece of black velvet to line the bottom and placed the precious items on the velvet.

For the next hour I sorted through old family photos to find a tiny picture of Jen's grandmothers and her great-grandmother. This is always a pleasure -- gazing into the eyes of loved ones and ancestors is a heartwarming experience. Many of these people are long dead, and yet they are captured forever with their hopeful smiles and youthful faces. Finally I found pictures of all three women -- each one taken when they were in their early twenties -- the same age as Jen is now.

Overnight I will think a bit about how to combine the jewelry and the tiny photos into a pleasing design that will complement the beauty of the etched glass -- sometimes our most wonderful ideas come as we sleep.

And, soon I will present this special gift to my daughter. It will be a reminder to her of the love passed down from mothers and grandmothers, and I will pray that someday she will have a precious daughter of her own to cherish this tiny new heirloom.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Then and Now for Politicians

As the Presidential primaries hover on the horizon and the debates heat up, I am particularly distressed by the tendency of each party to penalize candidates who change their views on issues.

In my opinion, all people with intellect and sensitivity formulate their opinions based on the facts at hand and their own life experiences, and then through the years revise these opinions as they gain insight and wisdom. What may have seemed perfectly logical and just to me ten years ago sometimes seems more ambiguous when viewed through the filter of time. Do we really want our leaders to cling to their beliefs no matter what the consequences. Often in history the people who have most damaged society are those who believe their ideology to be indisputable, regardless of any negative outcomes that arise.

Obviously, I am not talking about the politician who provides three different answers to one question during the course of a campaign, in order to pander to his constituency -- this type of waffling gives voters no real basis for educated choice.

I do, however, find it troubling when candidates are criticized relentlessly for changing their minds over time, or even for admitting mistakes in judgement. The longer I live in this world, the more I am aware of the subtleties of this life, and the more I support a candidate who is willing to periodically revisit his views in the context of the world situation, and make any changes he feels are beneficial to our society as a whole.

Instead of pouncing on each candidate when he presents a viewpoint that differs from his previously stated beliefs, let's take the time to listen and evaluate his reasons -- he just might have our best interests at heart!

Monday, December 3, 2007

In Loving Memory

The world lost a special man this fall. There were no obituaries in the New York Times or the Washington Post, just a short death notice in the local newspaper, but, nevertheless, a man of stature was taken from us prematurely. While we usually equate importance with power, affluence or fame, Walter had none of these. He was a man who followed the road less taken and in doing so, provided an example to all of us of the important things in life.

Walter was a social worker who moved his family to upstate New York to enjoy a more rural environment. He found an old house with enough land for a small garden. He had a small counseling practice from an office in his house -- changing from his old blue jeans to a suit whenever a client arrived. As soon as the session ended, he was back into his comfy jeans and out in the garden, or chopping wood for his woodstove, or sitting on the back porch gently strumming his guitar.

Walter could have donned a suit every morning and worked in a lucrative counseling practice. He could have run at the frantic pace necessary to purchase the fancy cars and impressive homes which speak of success. He could have served on the proper committees and boards and been a real driving force in our community.

However, Walter knew the meaning of "enoughness". While others were racing through their days, forever striving for the good life, Walter was living the good life. He lived gently on this earth -- helping people in his professional life, providing love and guidance to his family and friends, tending the earth. Walter led a life filled with riches -- his family & friends, his gardens, his music -- this was enough!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Dusting of Winter

I sleepily rose from my warm bed this morning and opened the curtains to the most lovely sight -- a world covered with the first dusting of snow for the season. Growing up in the northeast mid-century meant long, snow-filled winters, with the certainty of a white Christmas each year. As our climate has gradually changed, snow is much less common here and our traditional white Christmas is seldom a reality. But, my expectation of Christmas remains cold and white, and the first dusting lifts my spirits with the possibility that more will follow before the holiday.

The tiny juncos in my garden share my love of snow, I believe -- on snowy mornings they perch in my Rose of Sharon branches and nibble at the thistle feeders -- hopping happily in the powdery blanket of white. When snow is forecast I always make certain my bird feeders are filled, because the birds come in droves on snowy mornings to feast.

When my children were little, we always celebrated the first snow by baking a batch of Christmas cookies. Today, though, I have numerous other chores and errands, and a birthday dinner to prepare for a friend this evening, so the cookie pans will remain in the cabinet.

For now I will spend a few minutes at the window with my coffee mug at hand, watching the tiny birds celebrate this lovely morning.