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Two Pairs of Keds

"One for dress, one for everyday."

A howler.

via A howler.
From “Sometime, I cook.”

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A howler.

howl [ houl ]


verb (used without object)
to utter a loud, prolonged, mournful cry, as that of a dog or wolf.
to utter a similar cry in distress, pain, rage, etc.; wail. [dictionary.com]

This week is a real howler. No, not like the one delivered to Ron Weasley, although I’ve had those, too. This is just one, long series of intense work-related tasks. There’s an end in sight, but there is also a piece to go. How to alleviate stress? I already ordered myself a cranberry velvet swing jacket – happy birthday, me – for the holidays and a pair of cheetah flats for the fall. So, let’s cook. And bake.

Zucchini & Navy Bean Soup

It’s not quite fall-fall, but it’s in the 70’s, so soup is fair game. This will make you feel like a true home economist, using up quite a few garden items in your kitchen.

Ingredients
1 m zucchini, about 1-1 1/2 c sliced in quarters (I like the skin on)0828192037b
2 T olive oil
2 c clean spinach, stems removed
1/4 c basil chiffonade
2-3 c diced San Marzano tomatoes
1 1/2 c tomato sauce
2 c navy or white beans
1 c water
s&p

This could not get any easier. I started with dry beans, but use canned if you’ve got ’em.

In large sauce pan, saute sliced zucchini in olive oil until crunchy tender. Sprinkle w/ salt & pepper. Add tomatoes and sauce, bringing to a bubble. Add spinach and basil. Stir in beans. We like a bit of broth in our soup. You, too? Add the water. Heat through. Serve with a nice bread, sharp dry cheese. Swizzle the top of the ladled soup with EVOO.

Note: You can freeze this beauty for the dark, winter months, when the wind is truly howling.

Nectarine Almond Cobbler

I get excited when I see crates of nectarines and peaches. Then, I get them home and realize it’s just me and Bill. Cake lasts longer, right? Although I’ll admit this reads more like a pudding right out of the oven. No, you’re right. This is not a diet dish. You saved calories with the soup. (Adapted from Grits & Gouda.)

Ingredients
4-5 decently ripe nectarines (peeling optional), stoned, and cut into 1/2″ slices
1/3 c butter
1 c self-rising flour
1 c sugar
3/4 c milk (not skim)
1 T good almond extract
1/4-1/2 c sliced almonds
cinnamon & sugar

Heat oven to 350F. Use a 9×9″ baking dish. Cut butter and place around bottom of dish. Melt in oven.

Make batter, stirring together flour and sugar. Mix with milk and almond extract. Gently fold in nectarines or peaches. Remove melted butter from oven. Spoon batter directly onto butter without stirring. Repeat: do not stir batter into butter. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon & sugar. Bake 40 minutes.

Note: I just bought a beautiful almond extract from Horrocks, so I went with it, rather than vanilla. Following the cited recipe, I did draw off some of the bubbling butter with a baster, when I removed the dish from the oven. This is why I reduced the butter to 1/3 c. A dollop of whipped cream would not go amiss. It’s dense and moist. Eat warm.

This brought the week down to a whimper, at least.

Lost People

via Lost People

Lost People

At some point in my 30s, I was drowning in people. I had so many people to care for, I often couldn’t remember their comings and goings, so I wrote my friends’ itineraries on my calendar: so-and-so goes here, this one has a doctor’s appointment next week (cancer), friend back from trip to (insert location) now.

At the holidays, I kept elaborate lists of gifts, shipping times, and a budget. Throughout the year I would keep my eye out for good deals on great things or small things, but I got earnest in September. If I spread the spending out, it was more a slow bleed than a hemorrhage, but everyone got their share right down to the grandparents who, I’m sure, were never surprised to receive a Christmas towel or framed picture of the kids.

At work, I coordinated over 200 volunteer positions a year. I made it my goal to know personal bits about everyone, if possible. This was a lesson I learned by my mother telling me on my wedding day that one of the guests shared our now anniversary. In the receiving line, I said to Eleanor, “And congratulations to you, too.” You’d think I’d hung a star in her name. Note to self: people need to be seen and known.

I could never make my mother happy with any number of visits. I think she would’ve planned years in advance, if I’d let her. No sooner did we put away the dishes on a family dinner, she would ask about the next moment, holiday, or trip. One year, I was packing up the car from a visit with the kids (and without Bill) where I had struggled over the long weekend with a sinus infection. To this day, the thought of sitting in an aquarium watching dolphins leap for tiny fishes through hoops dangling high in moist, humid air brings the onset of a headache. I digress.

Kids were shouting, restless with energy they would pack into the car on the drive home. I carried last pieces, all the bells and whistles necessary to divert them on the five hour drive or six with potty breaks. My mom had the snacks.

And she said, “So about the holidays…”

The holidays?? I wasn’t even out the door on a sultry Indiana day in August. The anticipation of a return six hour drive made my head pound.

I replied, “Gee. I don’t know. I need to check with Bill and his family,” helplessly shrugging my shoulders, sensing impending doom, ten bags shifting in my hands.

“But, it’s just that with our calendar, we need to plan,” she pressed.

“I don’t know, mom. Can’t it wait until I get home?” I stalled.

“Well, if it’s too hard to make plans with your own mother, I just won’t ask,” she banged the door on our conversation. But I wasn’t done.

“Mom,” I heaved, “Quit making yourself a martyr.”

Her response? She threw a three pound bag of apples at my head.

mom christmas 2012
Mom: Who taught me how to wear the hats and keep plates spinning, at the same time. I owe my calendar to you.

At home, my kids were growing up. Not only did I work with a group of over one hundred preschool through elementary kids, I tried my best to fit in band, PTO, musicals, choir, soccer, a bit of la crosse, tennis, and befriend the good parents and volunteers. There were little gift bags and notes of thanks to make, signed in childish scrawl.

Oh, and the parties. There were Christmas parties for eighty-some people, open houses that I was sure no one would attend, and within the first ten minutes I wanted to cancel, until everyone showed up and the house was rocking. There were kids’ themed birthdays right up through Anne’s junior year (Sesame Street – another story), prom photo parties, Halloween trick-or-treating. One year, I thought my Sweeting side of the family should come and look through all the old photos my grandpa had shared with me. Another, when my dad’s health took a turn, I thought it was important to have his wife’s people over. When those photo booths were popular, I made enough snow man hats and Santa beards for about fourteen people, who all smiled through an open gilded frame.

shirley christmas 2012
MIL: Shirley. The best. 

We’d get phone calls on Christmas day: “What time will you be here?” My eyes would roll. Bill’s eyes would roll. We would say to each other, “It’s like the party can’t start until the grandkids arrive.” What time should we eat? Is it okay that Uncle Jim wants to sit by the TV and watch the Lions while we’re all in the dining room? Who wants a glass of wine? Or two? Or three? Who bought Sam a siren-ringing police car, roaring fire truck, and honking long-hauler, all in one year? Can someone just turn out the lights?

And then, we lost people. A few of those school mate parents stayed around, but my job change divorced me from the life of the church. Family members moved on or passed away, one by one. Within several years, we lost three of our parents, my dad gone years before. Siblings now take care of their own grown up families.

me christmas 2012
Me. Wearing all the hats.

Our last Thanksgiving comprised the five of us and my sweet nephew.

I said to my friend Kathy, over breakfast this summer, “I have to find some people.”

Do I sound like a martyr?

I feel like one. I’m not hard-wired for this. An extroverted introvert, I get myself up for the festival, the family, the finale. I love each and every one. I never, ever, in my wildest dreams, anticipated running out of people, of losing so many loved ones who can’t be replaced.

I don’t think I’m done. I’ve been thinking about it, what it takes to bring people into your heart. To create family. To make spaces where people can reside, rest, have fun. But this summer and last, in somber retrospect, have been about facing the lost people. I miss you all more than words can say.

____________________________________________

Photo credit: National Lampoon, “Christmas Vacation,” 1983.

80-10-10 and Adult Kids

There are so many blogs about raising little kids today. There’s an almost tyrannical glee expressed by people who believe they’re doing it perfectly: perfect whole foods, perfect playthings, perfect play dates, perfect parties, perfect vacations, while you maintain the perfect career and perfect date night with your partner, all which culminate to make you perfect parents. And then, there’s the counter-culture: relax, let go, don’t let the primadonnas get to you, you’re doing the best that you can. My favorites in this category are Kristina Kuzmic and Tiffany Jenkins.

Where’s all the help and encouragement for parenting once they’ve grown and left the house? Because it doesn’t end. Am I right? (I see you nodding.)

There’s a conversation with my mom that I often replay in my head. I’m newly married. Bill and I have bought a house. We’re inordinately proud and have my younger brother (by only 18 months) to visit often. This time, he’s at our house because he managed to cut the tip of two fingers off, one to the first knuckle, in a tire changer at work. I’m looking at him, while I’m talking to her on the wall-mounted phone in the kitchen, tethered to a long cord.

“I don’t know, mom. He looks pretty good. A little pale, but he’s got painkillers and he’s here. And he’s okay.”

Sniffling.

“Why are you crying?” I ask, clearly having provided her all the comfort she could need.

“It’s just that I worked so hard to keep him intact,” she trembles.

Oh, momma, do I get it now.

Example. This past weekend, we were all together to celebrate a late Father’s Day and birthday. These are great times, filled with good eats, good conversation, laughs, moments treasured. At some point, I walked out to the garage to find my son on his dirt bike (still stored in my garage, but I have dreams) without a helmet. Twenty-nine years old and no helmet.

So, I say, “Don’t forget your helmet.”

And he says, “Ma, it’s not like I’ve never been on a dirt bike before.”

And all of sudden, he’s twelve. I want to ground him from his bike and ask how smart he’ll be when his brains are scrambled, for the love of Mike.*

Later, the three of them and two girlfriends go kayaking. A couple of hours go by. Then, the third. Really? How long does it take to go down the river from Island Lake? I start texting. No response. Could all of them drown together? Aren’t there odds against that? Why can’t anyone respond?

They finally cobble together enough responses for me to get the drift: a wait for enough kayaks for all, a longer paddle than expected, a wait for the livery to get them back to the parking lot. All is well. I breathe.

That night, they drive home, promising to text when they’ve arrived. The baby is particularly on my mind; her roommate is on vacation and she’ll be alone in a mostly decent neighborhood in Madison Heights for a week. Still. Crazy people abound.

You know what happens. Or doesn’t. No text. No reply to mine. The next day, she posts this meme on Facebook:

no text
[All credit to the Simpsons creators and all acknowledgment given to copyrights.]
Hysterical. Of course, her brother “liked” it. He probably fell at some point without a helmet, so anything is funny.

Parents of adult kids, I’m feeling you. I’m feeling me. They warn you that it never ends. They’re right. And these are just little things.

There’s no manual for the biggies – we can only reflect our own, real, lived experiences.  (Yikes.) Parents can’t mend broken hearts when kids are teenagers, much less adults. We can’t fix crappy jobs and worse bosses. We have no magic wand to ward off anxiety and depression. We may see their lives dimly, when they’re away. We’re protected from the worst of it or we’re not. We may see it in full, living color. We can try to advise, but it’s not always welcome. When we do advise, even if we’re on a roll with actual wisdom (some days, it flows more freely than others), we hope we’re not just making it worse. I mean, what do we know? We’re vividly aware we’re not perfect, and we’re not just soothing egos when they haven’t made the high school soccer team anymore.

Way back when, my dad attended a conference, I think through work, that got him really excited. He came home and said, “Studies have shown that 80 percent of the things we worry about never happen. Ten percent of the things we worry about, we have no control over. There’s only about ten percent of our worries that we can change.” This fit my dad’s personality to a T; he was a glass-half-full, simple man and this affirmed his belief that he should just let go. He would frequently toss out to me, “80-10-10,” as a way to say, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

As an oldest child, ruler of the world, Virgo, Type A, full-stop control freak, this blithe dismissal of worry frustrated me to no end. Thank you, no. I prefer to be in charge of my entire life. (It will come as no surprise that I’ve also had an on-again, off-again relationship with turning my life over in prayer. Heavenly Father, you know me.)

I went looking for the citation on this, but it was so long ago, the studies have changed. Today’s headlines are more like “Yes, 85% of what we worry about never happens.” Here’s one version: Researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that eight-five percent (yes – 85%) of what we worry about never happens. Moreover, the study found that 79% of us handle the 15% that does happen in ways that surprise us with our ability to turn the situation around. 

Does this settle your mind? Your own adult children, whom you love and cherish (most likely) will handle things in surprising and adaptive ways, during the 15% of their lives when their worries manifest in ways they can manage.

Yeah. I thought not. I see you, friends. We’re in this together.

_______________________________________

*See photo. He does usually wear a helmet.

Showing Up

I live with a man who frequently thinks he will not have a good time. This summer, we were travelling to Quebec City. He said, “I am not looking forward to this. I heard you have to speak French, that they don’t like people who don’t honor their language. I don’t want to go there, but I will go because you planned it.”

He loved it. It was his favorite. We walked Old Quebec, the Citadel, and the Plains of Abraham. He said he’d go back. I’ve heard him tell any number of people (who will listen–it’s sort of like watching someone’s slide shows).

This past weekend, we were headed to his family reunion in Ohio. He said, “I don’t know what to expect. I haven’t seen these some people for years. We’ll probably leave early.” I asked him about bringing food, but he knew nothing of the plans and said, “My cousin Julie said not to worry about it.” I immediately began to worry, though I’ve never gone hungry at a potluck. I wore my whitest sneakers.*

He loved it. He saw a cousin who was last seen sitting atop his motorcycle, getting ready to ride away, in 1970. Bill was thirteen. They instantly starting laughing. Now, they’re texting.

The thing is, in order to have any experience, not to mention to change your own preconceived notions or to change your mind, you have to show up. In order to have people believe you care, you need to be there.

These days, I have any number of people in my life who talk a good game.

“So busy.”

“My job.”

“I was sick.”

“The kids.”

I have previously quoted my mom on this one, but it bears repeating: “Everyone finds the time to do what they want to do, Jeri Lynn.”

And my dad: “Everyone has their own little bag of rocks to carry.”

So, you’re not fooling anyone.

Don’t want to attend? Don’t. But no one believes any one of the excuses that we’ve all heard before. It’s a choice. Barring cancer, destitution, or some other trauma, you are right where you want to be.  People who want to get a thing done will face fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, and any number of hurdles to make it so.

Who among us hasn’t had someone say, “We should get together.” The truth is, yes, we should. People thrive through human contact. But if they don’t reach out, the genuine pleasure felt through being verbally wanted gradually withers in the harsh lack of invitation.

Often, I am exasperated by Sweet William’s reticence to step into the unknown. That part is easy for me. If I don’t know anyone, I can traverse the globe with none the wiser. I can ghost through a place like nobody’s business. But he’s made of different stuff. He meets people. He learns names. It’s personal for him. I try to exercise a measure of understanding for this.

Where he excels is in the clutch. In the dark spaces. I’ve told you, the man has attended more funerals and memorials than I ever will, because he leans in. Goes to hospitals. Sits at bedsides. He could counsel learning disabled adult men, people who most avoid, and who are almost completely overlooked by society, because he was present.

There are those of you who make yourselves available. You volunteer. You babysit. You deliver meals. You listen to the same stories, day after day, on the phone. You wipe tears. You laugh until you cry. You give a hug. You say, “Good lord, I have missed you.” You provide balm to the human condition in very real ways.

What about you? We all have fears. And we all have “rocks.” Okay. Alright. I hear you.

Now make the call. Hold the hand. Arrange the meeting or the lunch. Get in the car and go, even if you don’t know what will happen when you get there. What we need are more people showing up.

14352_2
It takes any number of people to make a plan a priority. But when they do, it’s fabulous. (And by the way, the dog is sitting down. No messes were made in the taking of this photo.)

*You will recall that this blog is called “Two Pairs of Keds,” because I had one for play and one for going to family reunions in the summer. I was prepared. Thank you, momma in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Clouds Overhead

You can blame it on the season.

Here in Michigan, winter hangs tenaciously on, while spring tries to bat its way home. In the morning, you leave in your commuter parka. That afternoon, you walk out of work sweating with your coat flapping, jumbling around for your sunglasses that have plummeted somewhere to the bottom of your purse.

Up? Down? Usually, you can chart me by whether the sun’s shining, at least until the weather regularly tops 60º.  But not this year. This year, there are dark clouds overhead.

It might seem sunnier if I wasn’t a social media coordinator. I’m pretty sure, at this point, that it’s not good for me…or anyone to follow the trends and messaging so closely. This past weekend, our campus had an active shooter alert. When we got the all clear, it was a relief, but not the kind that makes you smile. Instead, I wondered if we’re ready, if there’s someone out there that will copycat something terrible, if the rumored popping balloons were a malicious prank to remove persons at the New Zealand shooting vigil.

It might seem sunnier if there wasn’t a threat of funding removal from libraries, and the arts, and public television. Did you know that PBS is the most trusted news outlet we have? Why do you suppose someone or some people would want to do away with that? Dale Carnegie (no saint) said of libraries:

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

It might seem sunnier if our ever-overreaching government would leave anything alone. [You should know there was incredible restraint exercised in keeping swear words from that sentence.] But we now have another false promise of loan forgiveness, which we have yet to fulfill, as the brain trust that is Washington DC considers limiting student borrowing for college education. Who is government to say how much someone can borrow? They forgave the banking industry for loaning homeowners too much money. Now we need restrictions on the ONE THING that has proven to increase life opportunity? There are darker days ahead.

You might see me as the harbinger of rain, a personal nimbus cloud of doom. If so, you might be interested to know that, along with my co-writer and beloved colleague, I lead a group of incoming first-year undergraduate students through a curriculum of digital citizenship. Over seven weeks, we offer online navigational tools for transitioning to college from high school. We talk about fake news, self care, and global responsibility. We talk about ‘netiquette’, a mash-up term for internet etiquette.

A majority of students participate. They engage in online discourse, even before they meet each other face-to-face, including setting standards for their interactions. At the onset, most reference the “Golden Rule” (Do unto others…), although some call down the “Threat of Grandma” (Do you want your grandmother to…). Usually some light is shed when we prepare and lead the course, as well as when we read their considered comments. We have not once had to arbitrate an argument between over 550 students in the last two years. And believe me, we read it all.

But the sky is falling. How does one hold students to a standard of kindness, while our acting president bashes a dead man? Refuses to see that his white nationalist commentary has impacted public opinion and behavior? Refutes his responsibility to provide not only military might but education, informed public news outlets, national parks, and ecological protection?

There are dark clouds overhead. The storm? Oh, it may blow over, but I doubt it. Already, we’re looking at national elections, while our Midwest states are drowning from the rains.

 

 

No, we definitely had it worse than you.

Talking about your generation. (With apologies to The Who.)

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation) [My Generation|The Who]
~c 1965. In which I was five years old…but I played the hell out of the song years later.

My youngest and I were discussing a recent article about the terrible burnout of the Millennial generation. Both the parents and children of this generation were led to believe things would continue an upward economic trajectory. The promise was alive: if you went to school and worked hard, you would prosper – at least as well, if not better – than the previous generation. And then 2008 struck America.

The gist of the author’s point.

They’re tired, this group. Turns out, their college costs escalated. Even though they’re one of the best educated generations, they owe enormous debt, took jobs that used to require less formal schooling, and are battling for their careers in the trenches with middle-aged people who had to restart, reset, and are frantically trying to cover retirement expenses. Move over, punk.

If it’s not enough, insult to injury means that the same old geezers who took these entry level jobs are the very folks who raised them to believe that every season of soccer participation deserved a trophy. That their inventive spelling was A-okay. That Disney stars and starlets were leading real lives. Then we handed them a mobile phone, thinking it was a safety feature while we were working dual careers, and flipped opened the world of digital unreality.

Now? Well, now, they are ‘adulting’, a verb applied to the types of transactions formerly associated with being an adult, but which do not always happen in 2018. Buying a home? Maybe not, because their student loan payments are the same as their parents’ house payments. Buying furniture? Not at Ethan Allen (my mother’s preference), sister. Maybe Ikea. Having families? Yes, but the birth rate is decreasing in the United States. They have less hope for the future, thanks to the national and global scene. In short, they are tired.

Our conversation turned.

At this point, I was ready to launch into my trek to school, uphill both ways. Ten miles. In the snow, in every season. It occurs to me, now, that this is the point of telling familial stories, of the recitation about how grandma and grandpa came to own the farm, how our great-grandparents found a way to craft a better boat.

Who the hell isn’t tired?

My generation? Oh, well, one of my earliest memories is of JFK’s funeral procession. And then Bobby Kennedy’s. And MLK’s. It’s blurry to me, through my child’s eyes, the sequence. But I can still see the war in Vietnam playing out over the TV during the dinner hour. My uncle was a pilot and I wrote a child’s letter to him, while he was…somewhere. Far. While my aunt and their four children lived at my grandpa’s farm, we waited for his letters back to us.

And the twins from around the block had an uncle who wasn’t quite right, who was home from the war. He slept on the couch. We weren’t supposed to bother him. He scared me. Nixon was impeached.

And the drugs. Everyone was worried about the Charles Manson gang, while a small book called The Electric Koolaid Acid Test was secreted about. Because, freedom, man. And free love. And Woodstock was somewhere in here, but these were all blurry, too, because we weren’t supposed to know. But a rocket landed on the moon. And again.

My dad lost his job at Plumbrook in Sandusky, OH, because nuclear power, turns out, was not something that the American public was ready to embrace. Cue China Syndrome. Goodbye, Norwalk. Hello, Cleveland. Then, one year later, Jackson, MI, which was already slightly depressed and which I hated.

There was a gas crises in high school; I can remember idling the car in a line at the Clark Station. Our nation celebrated its bicentennial. We painted fire hydrants in a show of patriotic loyalty (whose idea was that?). I graduated two years later.

Oh, but we were talking about the promise of adulting.

My version of adulting? No help applying for college. No one really cared where I went. No help with money, either. Some pocket change. My parents’ relationship was in trouble before the fall I entered college. My mom had received the equivalent of full-time expenses for her high school achievement as valedictorian in a class of 16 students, 24 years prior. She had no idea. Neither did I. I accepted WMU and off I went.

During those years, the energy crises worsened. One holiday season, President Carter asked American families not to hang electric Christmas lights outdoors, in solidarity. And they didn’t.

Hostages were held in Tehran. Not just one or two. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held 444 days, from November 1979 to December 1981, the month and year I graduated.

Jobs were still in short supply, particularly because of the poor automotive market, which tanked Michigan in particular. I moved to Los Angeles, where Bill had been transferred. I took two suitcases and two Pier One baskets tied with twine. From this point, I worked in the crazy-ass LA mortgage industry, got married, moved to Philadelphia, worked three months in accounts payable, moved to Detroit, went back into mortgage banking, and watched the whole preliminary to the mortgage banking crash by packaging jumbo loans (100K+), as real estate agents qualified just about any monkey who applied. Oh, and I was paying back my student loans.

I took every stick of furniture thrown my way. The first time my brother came to our apartment in Farmington Hills, he said, “You’ve done alright with what you had to work with.” And wasn’t that the truth?

“You’ve done alright…”

This is the T: every generation before us, and I do mean each one, sat down at the end of the day with a heavy sigh. A worry. An insecurity. A fear.

I am no historian, but one thing I do understand is the ever-present trial of mankind. Sometimes we get it right. And many times, we do not. Sometimes, we benefit from our cleverness. And other times, we suffer as fools.

PBS made An American Experience of Coney Island (1991), in which they talk about the fire that burned New York’s favorite amusement park, Luna Park, in 1944. The owner posted a sign on the fence to encourage future guests: “I have trials today I did not have yesterday. But I had problems yesterday that I do not have today.” Although the park never reopened, the indomitable spirit of hope shone through.

Who had it worse?

Possibly the worst thing we could do to our children is to leave them without a possibility of hope. The problem with the trekking-in-the-snow-uphill story is that it negates the current suffering. Oh, suffer, we will. But we will also have moments of the sublime.

You laugh. You see a sunset. You breath in. You dance. You hold hands. You taste. You love.

No more, with the self-pity. My generation definitely had it worse.

[Source: Wiki. Luna Park, 1905, “Electric Tower” in the foreground.]

. . .And faith.

You’ll have to look this up, if you want sources, but studies have shown that people of faith have more hope than those without. This may mean Christianity, but more, it understands faith in divinity and a hope for tomorrow. I’m not here to preach, but if you find yourself short on hope, you might look into faith-based cultures. I have a
C.S. Lewis book I’m willing to lend.

 

 

And Over Again.

It’s five days before Christmas and I’m home with the day’s tasks before me: finding a sirloin roast (Marv’s Meats) and wrapping gifts (where did I put that one for Sam?).

There’s a joke that runs around each year, something about Christmas only happening because of women. As if our hustle and bustle make it so. As if the perpetrators don’t know the story of Christmas: it came, just the same.

it came just the same
From “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” 1966

They also don’t know my dearly beloved. My husband suffers through the long preliminaries, only to get fully in the spirit in the final few days, but get into it, he does. He loves to make spritz cookies. He likes shopping at Pier One. It was my son who planned a go-together gift for his dad with my youngest. And decided to bring his new significant other to meet us on Christmas Eve Eve.

So, it’s not about gender and we need to stop joking that it is. Maybe your partner – of any gender – wouldn’t do it the way you prefer, but if you’re celebrating, you’ve both got some vision of what makes it special, holy, and worthy of remembrance.

About that vision. This week, a colleague announced at the lunch table, “I hate Christmas.” He’s from another country, which, in and of itself, doesn’t factor so much, except he has none of the fond childhood memories: favorite foods, particularly. But also the decorating season was short. And it doesn’t sound as if his family was much into the spirit, either.

As a child, I can vividly recall the wonder. It started every year with the Sears toy catalog. My brother and I would play a game: pick a present from every page. The letter addressed to Santa would miraculously find its way. The elementary choir concert brought in all the families, kids dressed in red and green and white. At the church pageant, lines and cues might be missed, but the reading of the Gospels rang out. The wonder of the star was proclaimed.

Later, in our own homes and in our own ways, we sought to create that wonder. For Bill, his memories are of receiving a boost of holiday cash from his parents that always smoothed over the financial rough spots. He recreates this again and again for his own children, placing envelopes in the tree boughs, included with a note from dad that speaks of pride and love. For myself, baking cookies, decorating to the nines, and planning special menus is repeated time and again for my loved ones.

Whatever religion you celebrate, whatever way you bring tradition into your home, these are the ties that bind. You illustrate caring in remembering, in repeating, in sharing. When it would be so very much easier to pull the blankets up over your head and ignore it all, bringing yourself and your family into the light is a great, good gift.

I believe our culture would like to demolish this spirit of goodwill. If evil can get us to criticize, to give up, to bend down to petty daily demands and to profess we have no time to give, it wins. To show love, in the ways of celebration and the joyous marking of time passed, is the purpose. To do this again and again centers us in a way that very little else will.

Even the smallest ways are significant. Light a candle. Tell a story. Watch the clock strike twelve and press a kiss. Express love in your own way. Again, and again, and again.

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Inset: Gfycat [https://goo.gl/images/NfJpUX] (Usually, I would completely avoid a misspelling – in this case, that Christmas isn’t capitalized – but I wanted to have the .gif.)

Cover photo: Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church [https://goo.gl/images/uqX1b3]

 

 

 

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