Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter White

Early this morning I slipped on my boots and winter jacket, grabbed my camera, and went out into the icy cold air to take some photos of the new snow.  We have had two snowstorms in the days following Christmas, leaving our neighborhood blanketed with gentle mounds of white.  There is a hint of January in the crisp coldness, and the late afternoon light on the snow speaks of cozy kitchen hours as I prepare supper while watching the birds linger at the feeder for a last-minute meal before darkness falls.
Today I slowly "untrimmed" my home -- packing away the Christmas decorations for another year.  I savor every minute of the holiday season, but by the last day or two of December, I am ready to replace the warm hues of Christmas with a soothing palette of winter whites. 
As I sit here in this last hour of my Sunday, the house is filled with the serenity of white candles garlanded by ivy and white roses, a white ironstone soup tureen on the dining room table, a white swan vase in the living room, and a garland of tiny white birds on the top of the china closet.  The white candles in the front windows will remain until New Year's Day, spilling their soft light onto the snow which covers the porch floor.
Today I bid good-bye to the clutter, chaos and magnificence of the Christmas season, and to the year 2012 as well.  I look forward to the quiet month of January, when snow and cold will prevail, and we will seek out the warmth of home at the end of each day.  Tomorrow we will look back on the year past and let it slip away -- both its joys and heartaches -- and we will prepare for the unknown in the new year ahead. 
May this new year be filled with blessings, simple pleasures, good health and contentment for us all -
Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Morning After


The morning after Christmas -- the day you wake up and realize that the craziness of Christmas preparations is over.  I wander slowly through the house this morning, gazing at the decorations that have just a bit more time left on display.  There is a peacefulness in knowing that this most beautiful of seasons is drawing to a close.  Yesterday was the culmination of a month of planning and frenzied activity, and today I can relax in the knowledge that all went well and I can now savor the few remaining days of the season in more quiet pursuits.

I have many lovely memories from this Christmas to hold in my heart -- a holiday tea, my afternoon at the Altamont Victorian Celebration, my grandson's preschool pageant, a visit with a beloved aunt & uncle, a quiet supper with my brother-in-law, Christmas Eve church services, and an after-church gathering in my nephew's home.

On Christmas morning we lingered over coffee, bagels and cinnamon buns, and then I prepared a casserole of mushrooms, onions and shallots to roast at my son's house.  We gathered there in the afternoon -- all of my children, their families, a family friend, my father-in-law, sister-in-law and her family -- sipping wine, enjoying  appetizers, opening gifts, and savoring the aroma of an herbed beef tenderloin slowly roasting.  The little ones were precious in their Christmas finery -- giggling and tumbling together like little puppies.  I helped set the tables, enjoying the breathtaking view of the Berkshire mountains from the dining room window.  A dusting of snow covered the ground, a fire softly burned in the woodstove, and dusk slowly turned to the darkness of a winter evening. 
Dinner was delicious, and we lingered at the table, talking and laughing -- not really wanting the day to come to an end.  But, with tired body and full heart, I finally acknowledged my sleepiness, and we headed for home.  Better than any gift I received, were the hugs and kisses from my precious little grandchildren -- children filled with the wonder and innocence of Christmas.
And, now I sit here quietly, so thankful that the day ahead is unscheduled.  I look forward to the days between Christmas and the New Year with pleasurable anticipation -- time for myself, with no holiday activities that require planning or work -- time to relax over tea with a favorite cousin, maybe a trip to the bookstore to use one of my gift certificates, early mornings when I can linger as I am now, with coffee at hand.  I love the Christmas season in all of its harried splendor, and I still feel the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, but I think possibly what I love best is the morning after.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Light of Love -- The Preschool Nativity

We sat together in the front row -  Luke's parents, sister, great-grandfather, aunt, and two sets of grandparents -- and watched the sweet faces of four-year-olds acting out the age-old story of the Nativity.  Their teacher was at their sides -- coaching them with their lines and encouraging them.  Some of them spoke so softly they could barely be heard, and others belted out their parts.  Watching a tiny little Mary wrap the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes was precious.  They sang Christmas songs and then hurried offstage to the loving arms of their families.

Last year I sat in this same room watching my granddaughter, Alivia, play an angel in her Nativity program.  There was only one difference this year -- as I looked at the innocent faces onstage, tears filled my eyes as I thought of the shooter who looked into faces such as these last Friday and shot them, point-blank and repeatedly.  How and why could he slaughter these innocents???  

I pushed these thoughts from my mind as the birthday party for Jesus began -- a long table of happy little children celebrating Christmas in their safe little preschool world, with loving families close by. 

Great-grandpa and both sets of grandparents headed home with Luke to enjoy a "family lunch."  It was a simple lunch -- soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream cones -- but to Luke and Emma it was special -- a gathering of people who celebrate each of them as individuals and who will strive to help them become the very best people they can be.   They basked in the light of love at that dining room table -- the same light of love that filled the preschool this morning -- the light that was born on that long-ago Christmas morning.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Terror in Connecticut

This morning when the shooting began, Alivia was settling into her day at kindergarten; Lucas was "safely" delivered at preschool, and Emma was with me, picking up Grampy for a trip to Walmart.  My three precious ones in their secure Friday morning locations -- and yet, not so far from here, little ones like them were terrified by the sounds of gunshots, and twenty of them  the fatal targets of this shooter.
I didn't hear about it until mid-afternoon, long after the terror had taken place.  My first emotion was agony for the victims, the parents, everyone personally touched by this tragedy.  My second emotion was to hold Lucas tightly in my arms, thankful that Emma was peacefully asleep upstairs, Alivia's class was safe, and Luke was snuggling with me watching Scooby-Doo.
My next thoughts were, once again, what is wrong in our society that produces people who are so angry or psychologically scarred, or violent that they vent their personal hatred on those they have never met -- those innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
When these terrible things happen, we talk about stricter gun controls and stronger security measures, but these are not the crux of the problem.  The problem is something much deeper.  When I was growing up in the 1950's and 1960's, many of my classmates had guns and they knew how to use them -- they hunted with their fathers, and did target practice at the local gravel pit -- but we never had to worry about them shooting US.  The thought never would have crossed their minds. 
What is our failing as a society, or as parents??  Is there too much violence on TV, in the movies and on video games?  Do children grow up with the lines blurred between fiction and reality?  Are their lives too regimented?  Do we talk to them enough and let them express their feelings, and help them to understand these feelings?  Are we too involved in our own "dramas" to recognize when our children have psychological problems, or too ashamed to admit it and seek help for them? 
I don't know the answers.  I just know that tonight my heart bleeds for this quiet little Connecticut community -- and all I can think of is the terror of those precious little ones, and the agony of their parents. 
Please God, Bless Us All --

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas in Altamont

This past weekend a good friend and I attended the Annual Altamont Victorian Holidays, a lovely celebration in a small village nearby.  As part of the festivities, they sponsor a Holiday House Tour, which is of particular interest to me, a lover of eighteenth century homes. 
Walking the streets of this village is a pleasure in itself, but we instead boarded the trolley, which was all decked out in holiday attire, with Christmas music playing onboard.  Each of the homes on the tour was beautiful.  One of my favorite homes has a first floor cupola, with mullioned windows, a stone floor, and two wicker rocking chairs flanking a small Christmas tree.  Another home which stole my heart is a cozy Victorian with warmth and charm throughout.  How peaceful it was to sip hot cider as we enjoyed the Christmas greenery, flickering fireplaces and candlelight.
At the end of our tour, we stopped in at the Altamont Free Library, which is housed in the beautifully restored train station in the center of the village.  What an enchanting place to linger, so different from the large contemporary libraries in surrounding towns.  This library is a "must-see" for anyone with a penchant for reading.
With tired feet and renewed spirits, we drove back to my own old Victorian house, to sip a glass of wine, open our gifts to each other, and enjoy a simple supper of beef stew and biscuits.   This day was a peaceful interlude celebrating both the pleasure of good friendship and the spirit of Christmas so carefully tended in this little country village.. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Missing Pieces

Each Christmas season, Alivia and Lucas have enjoyed playing with my Nativity set, but I could not find it in its usual place in the storeroom this year.  I then remembered that my brother-in-law had passed on my childhood Nativity set, which I had packed away with other family "heirlooms."   Alivia and I took it carefully from its wrappings and I placed it on a table.  It is obviously well-worn and missing figurines, but beautiful in my eyes.

As I look at it, though, I also feel a deep sadness.  I am the only one left of my original family of six -- parents, grandparents and younger sister.  We lived together in a small house in a rural community, and my childhood was happy and secure.  It feels strange, though, to know that they are all gone.  There is no one to tell me what happened to the missing figurines.  There is a tiny ceramic Mary looking down lovingly at a sweet little ceramic Baby Jesus; she doesn't fit with the larger, unbreakable figurines.  Are these two figures original to the set, and if so, I wonder if the remainder of these ceramic figures were broken or lost.  I don't remember -- I felt a flash of recognition as soon as I unwrapped the little Mary, but only questions remain.  There is no one alive now who knows.

This happens frequently -- this feeling that I can't quite put all the pieces together.  Fleeting memories or names drift through my consciousness, but I cannot bring them clearly into focus.  After my mother's death almost twelve years ago, my sister and I relied on each other to share the family stories and sift through the confusing memories that sometimes surfaced.  Usually between the two of us we could somehow unravel the mysteries of long-forgotten names and moments.  And then, in 2009, a month shy of her 53rd birthday, my sister passed away.  Suddenly, I felt like an orphan.   There is no one left to remember the little questions that come to mind -- where is Great-Grandma's portrait that hung in the stairway; who were the couple that our grandparents were friends with for so many years; where is my father's recipe for waffles; what happened to the Nativity figurines??

I miss them all -- my grandfather's teasing, my grandmother's soft, warm lap, my father's strength, my mother's gentleness, my sister's laughter.  But, most of all, I miss the relationships -- of being someone's granddaughter, someone's daughter, and someone's sister, a continuity of sorts.  There is a security in being loved just because you belong to someone -- because you are part of them -- and that security is missing.  What I wouldn't give for a few moments again with each of them to ask the simple questions that have arisen, as well as the deeper questions that sometimes haunt me.  I look into the placid face of my tiny Mary figurine and feel the pull of a long dormant memory that will not quite surface.  Maybe the memories of this old Nativity set will find their way into my consciousness -- or maybe they, too, will remain just beyond my reach -- missing pieces of my past.