Advent Day #24 – Love

This is the last entry from my series of posts two years ago.  Not much has changed in my love for my family, except that those “significant otters” have become more formally (and legally) incorporated into the clan and that the arena of family celebration has moved from my duplex to my daughter’s house (and will take place on Saturday).  The snow is deep and sparkly here in Milwaukee.  Steve was out the door before 6 a.m. to deliver mail and packages for the US Postal Service.  Last night, he didn’t come home until 8:30 p.m.  The temperature is -2 degrees Fahrenheit (without the wind chill factor) this morning.  If you get a mail delivery today, give your carrier a warm smile and your gratitude and appreciation.  Remember the free gifts that come to you each day, regardless of season, with no carbon footprint.  Live life in gratitude and happiness and peace.  The world will benefit.

How About Love?

My December countdown was completed yesterday.  I did not have a chance to post about the gift of love because I was living it.  My four children plus two “significant otters” came over for feasting and gifting and sleeping over.  All six of them ended up on the living room floor under mountains of sleeping bags and pillows and blankets, just like they used to when they were kids in a cousins pile.  Except now, they’re all adults — beautiful, interesting, caring, amazing adults who actually like each other.  And me.  How did I get to be so blessed?  This morning, I repaid them all for years of running in and jumping on my king-sized bed full of eager energy at an early hour on Christmas.  I dived onto their sleeping bags one at a time and gave them a great big hug and kiss.

We have lived through a lot together.  And we have lived through a lot separately.  Their lives matter to me in a way that I can barely describe.  Steve keeps challenging me to come up with ways to articulate what this is.  He has no children, and philosophically wonders why family is esteemed so highly.  “Oxytocin,” my daughter replied one day.  That explains one level of it, I suppose.  My biology has loaded me with hormones that make me love my kids.  My religion loaded me with beliefs that urged me to love my kids.  My experience of life has loaded me with the joys of loving my kids.  And my kids are just plain lovable.  I can agree with the reasoning behind his argument that all people are equally valuable, but I just can’t help feeling that my kids are more valuable…to me.  Yes, I’m playing favorites shamelessly without really understanding why.  Is it possible that evolution favors fiercely loving families?  Do they tend to be larger and survive better?   This might have negative effects on the planet in terms of population.  Would it be better for the world if we were less filial and more agape in our love?  Less sentimental and more altruistic?

 

Table fellowship

I don’t think that I am going to do justice to the topic of love in a scholarly way when I am full of mince pie, chocolate, and happy memories of the hours I just spent.  I am starting to sink into that melancholy that bubbles up when all of the guests have gone home and you ask yourself if you can be truly happy without that rush of energy and affection.  Of course, I am happy and even more peaceful living without all my children still under my roof.   I am in love with the world, in love with my partner, and in love with my children every day.  And it is marvelous.

Advent Day #22 – Joy

Joy to the World

Gift of the Universe #22:  JOY!

I truly believe that joy is available to everyone.  No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful.  Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”  – Richard Wagner

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”  – Joseph Campbell

My late husband was ill for many years.  He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31.  He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control.  When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick.  I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy.  I choose happy.  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”  I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it.  The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner.  Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me.  We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches.  Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her.   Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV.  When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light.  We fell asleep holding hands.  He never woke up.  And he never complained.  Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  I don’t buy that.  Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.

Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle.  Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”  – Julian of Norwich

This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today.  My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”.  Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present.  Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is deeply felt.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – George Bernard Shaw

I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering.  I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful.  I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being.  Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!).  I always felt that mothering mattered.  That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world.  I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged.   Never underestimate the effect of a smile.  Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

 

My joyful (and crazy!) kids

Are you smiling every day?  I’m sure I am.  I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background.  He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s bullshitting me.  I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself.  Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”.  I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement.  I so don’t need to be.  There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.

Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along.  Rejoice, my friends.

Weekly Photo Challenge: One

A box of chocolates.  Exquisite chocolates.  But you can only pick ONE.  Which will it be?  Caribbean Fire? Honey Lavender?  Lemongrass-Citron? Orange Rosemary?  Thai Peanut Butter?  Remember…..just ONE.  Choose wisely.  (Luckily, no Earwax or other such disgusting options here!)

one

Advent Day #15 – Music

The sun is rising in the east, lighting the low clouds with a brilliant pink-orange glow and silhouetting a raven in the large oak next door.  We awake this Sunday morning in a gloriously celebratory mood.  This is the only day in the week that Steve doesn’t wake at O dark 30 to get out the door to work.  He goes to his 7-foot stacks of CDs (did I tell you he collects and sells CDs as well as books?) and selects a favorite.  The timpani boom out the announcement of Christmas. Boom-bo-bo-bo-bo-boom Boom!  Bach’s Christmas Cantata is a great, rousing morning piece.  Now we are at the Grand Canyon, listening to the bird flutes and the donkey hee-haws of Grofe (accent on the ‘e’).  Music is a truly wonderful gift that we enjoy every day.

I’ve Got Music

How to unwrap this truly spectacular gift?  It pulsates and glows and pulls you in, as your heart resonates and your soul throbs.  Music received and believed regenerates like faith.  I cannot think that it is merely a human construct, yet I cannot prove the music of the heavenly spheres.  Is it invented?  Is it natural?  Is it free?  Perhaps it is everything.

All deep things are song.  It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls!  ~Thomas Carlyle

Without music life would be a mistake.  ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.  ~Ludwig van Beethoven

My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.  ~Edward Elgar

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.  ~Victor Hugo

Is there a culture on earth without music?  Rhythm: sound and silence are as basic as biology.  Heartbeat, breath.  Melody is anything with a voice.  Do animals make music?  Do plants?  Does the earth itself sing?  Sound waves flood space.  Is that music?

Does music have an important part in your life, in your living?

Steve has a mental invention: “the sound pack”.  He imagines carrying around a device that would provide a soundtrack to your life as you live it, matching music to your moods and experiences.  It differs from an iPod in that it is all original music.  Of course, he hasn’t actually built a prototype. I have never gotten into the habit of wearing ear buds and listening to music constantly.  My arachnoid cyst would probably explode if I did.  It’s more comfortable for me to take my music in without other distractions, especially as the white noise in my head increases.  Imagine that you lived 200 years ago, before recorded sound.  What place would music have in your life then?

I sing to myself when I drive, making up lines and verses as I go along, like the Spirituals of the south, especially if I’m anxious.  Driving up to Steve’s house from Illinois, I’d get off the Interstate at Swan Blvd and hum, “Here I am on a street like a long-necked bird…”, the murmur of a bluesy minor key calming my nerves.  I would sing to my little brother on the drive home from the beach when he was a boy.  He’d be asleep by the time we reached the driveway, damp head on my shoulder.   I loved singing to him.  When he was an infant, I would reach into his crib and lift his sleeping body so that I could take him to the rocking chair and sing him back to sleep again.

Of course, I sang to my own children.  And they sang back.  Harmony is an amazing satisfaction.  I am looking forward to my kids visiting me on Christmas Eve.  I’m hoping we can take a stroll around the neighborhood and trot out some of our favorite carols….and maybe some Beetles.   Have you ever heard people singing in the streets?  Do you look up in delight?  Wonder why they seem so happy?  I do.

One morning, I awoke to the sound of my sweetheart singing beneath my window.  “Michelle, ma belle, Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble….”  Instead of the melody, though, it was the baritone part of a barbershop arrangement.  Didn’t matter.  It was in French and warmed by a May breeze.  I opened my window and drank it in.

I have not experienced oneness with an instrument except my own voice.  I am truly impoverished by that fact, I think.  I did buy a harmonica this year with high hopes, but I am just too impatient.   My mother-in-law was a concert pianist.  My mother is an accomplished accompanist as well.  I wish that I had been more disciplined and practiced the piano more.  I wish that I had spent more time with the guitar, too.  I suppose having a good voice tempts you to be lazy in that way.  If Jascha Heifetz could sing, would he have been the violinist that he was?

What if we required our politicians to be experienced ensemble musicians?  Would they come to office with a better understanding of unity, of teamwork, of collaborative leadership?  Imagine a string quartet of President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader practicing long hours together on an Adagio by Schubert.  Perhaps the entire country would be in better shape.

 

Advent Day #14 – Time

It’s About Time

Marching on in the parade of days is today’s icon: time.  Ever seen George Carlin’s stand-up routine “Does the time bother you?” from 1978?  He goes into his typical absurdity rant about time, and as usual he asks a pertinent question in an impertinent manner.  We get obsessed with time, we humans.  It’s a construct we invented to cause ourselves anxiety, it would seem.  Animals have no sense of time.  They have seasonal behavior, but they’re not checking their calendars or pocket watches to know when to do something.  We have this ability to conceptualize past, present, and future and make decisions about what to do when.  What are we doing with this ability?  How are we spending our time?

Coincidentally, Steve woke this morning to say that he had been dreaming that we were having a fight.  “About what?” I asked.  “Small fires,” he replied.  To Steve, “small fires” are the things that take up our time or distract us from the important things in life.  We have spent a lot of time discussing what we consider valuable and how we want to use the time we have.  I consider it a big part of a working relationship to have those conversations that clarify how you will spend time.  The trick is to have them in a way that doesn’t waste time.  “Where are we going to spend Christmas Eve?” could cause you to fall into a vortex of possibilities and consequences.  “What do I want to be doing at this time?” is a bit more specific.

For what do I make time?  On what am I willing to spend a lot of time?   When you ask yourself these questions, does a sense of obligation begin to settle on you?  Are there a lot of things you spend time on because you feel you have to, even though you don’t want to?  How much of that have you accepted unwillingly because it’s easier than making changes?

Years ago, I went to a workshop that focused on a book called “Unplug the Christmas Machine”.  My church sponsored this event because there were a lot of women in that affluent community that took on an incredible burden of expectations and effort around the holiday.   I would often be asked, “So, have you got everything ready for Christmas?”  This was a conversation opener that often segued into a litany of tasks and obligations that they hadn’t completed and a lament of how stressed they were and how little time there was.  It was a victim’s complaint.  It’s taken me years to realize that victimization is often a choice.  There is a way to live that includes deciding what you will and will not spend your life’s time doing.

Some things I will not spend time doing: watching TV.  (I don’t own one, I don’t want one.  I have plenty of things to look at and listen to that entertain me.)  Networking on Facebook.  (I already have e-mail and a blog, so this seems completely superfluous.  Apparently, I am now in the minority in this country.  Hurrah!)  Working in a cubicle 8 hours a day.  (Been there, done that, then lived without any employment for 11 months so far.  I prefer being unemployed.) Showering and putting on make-up every day.  (I shower a few times a week.  I wear make-up to the opera.  I still feel hygienic and pretty.)

I might spend time taking a TV apart. The insides are cool!

Some things I will spend time doing:  cooking and dining.  (The worst part about feeding a family of 6 when everyone is employed or a student full time is that no one has time to enjoy this necessary and basic part of being human.)  Washing dishes by hand.  (It’s reminds me of camping.)  Doing laundry.  (Going to the laundromat for 2 hours every 3 weeks actually takes less time than owning the machines and doing a load whenever I felt like it.)  Sleeping. (I have always been a napper and a morning person.  I go to bed by 10pm most nights.  Did that even in college.)

What I really want to spend time doing: being outside, hiking, camping, traveling.  Reading books and listening to music.  Writing.  Being aware.  Being present, especially when I’m face to face with another living being.  Learning and loving and being happy.

We don’t any of us know how much time we will have to be alive.  We all have the responsibility and the opportunity to decide how we will live in whatever time we have.  That’s an awesome gift.  Jim’s sister quoted Abe Lincoln at the memorial service we held: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.”  So maybe there’s no such thing as ‘time’, only ‘life’.

Advent Day #13 – Touch

This morning, I happen to be the featured writer at Into The Bardo (or The Bardo Group), and my post for Advent Day #19 is showing there.  If you’re a follower here, I encourage you to check out Bardo; I guarantee that you will be edified by the writers in the group.   If you’re visiting here from Bardo, you get an extra gift to open today (and Divinity will show up again on the 19th).  The idea is this: in lieu of an Advent calendar with a little icon or chocolate or something to count down the days to Christmas, I am posting reminders of the fabulous free gifts that we enjoy every day in this marvelous Universe.  Who says that Christmas comes once a year?  Every day, every moment is full of the incarnation of sacred Life.  I’d like to be in a “holiday mood” every day of the year and reverence every day as a Holy Day.  I created this daily series two years ago, when I had a handful of followers.  Today, I have more than 500.  So I’m re-gifting!  (for someone in the used book business, you have to expect some of that!)  Here’s the original post for today:

I’m Touched

I have an image in mind as I parade out these gifts for each day of December.  Described beautifully by D.H. Lawrence in The Plumed Serpent, it is that ritual wherein the devout remove the icons and statuary from inside the Catholic Church, bedeck them with flowers, and hoist them onto portable platforms so that they can move about the throngs of people and allow them to worship, touch and reverence these symbols of their blessings.  So here is the thirteenth symbol of a holy experience – we write it ‘touch’.

It occurs to me that taste involves a certain amount of touch.  Foods caress your lips and taste buds.  That involves direct contact with substance, as opposed to sight, hearing and smell which seem more indirect.   Touch is all about that direct contact with substance, and it can happen anywhere on your body.  Fingertips are often the first touch sensors that come to mind.  They are sensitive and yet resilient.  They detect temperature, pressure, texture, shape and probably a million other bits of data.  The temperature sensors are interesting.  I remember an exhibit station at the Exploratorium in San Francisco that alleged that you could not tell the difference between intense cold and intense heat by touch.  It sounds like nonsense, but here’s how they proved it:  two metal coils were intertwined evenly.  One coil was extremely cold.  The other was vaguely warm.  When you touched them individually, that was evident.  When you touched them together, you immediately drew your hand away because it felt like it was burning hot!  Apparently your brain combines the intensity message with the heat message and warns you right away to back off.  Of course, I wanted to test how long I could endure the sensation, knowing that I wasn’t being burned.

My sister and my daughter are both certified massage therapists.  I think they are perfectly suited to this profession.  They are caring, intuitive, kinetic, and highly skilled.  They are also whip smart at math and able to comprehend systems and memorize terminology.   You probably don’t think about that as you enter a spa, and maybe you have stereotypes of “massage parlors” somewhere in your consciousness.   That’s the mystery of the grace of touch.  It transcends all that scientific knowledge and meets you on a very intimate level.  “How’s this pressure?” they ask you, and you only need to respond by relaying your comfort.   “I don’t know what you’re doing or why, I just know that it feels good.”  And I’ve also learned that it feels good to them, too, in a different way.  They get in touch with their own bodies, how they perceive what’s going on beneath the skin, how they balance their own weight against you, how they move down a long muscle or manipulate fascia.  It’s very rewarding work.  It’s also tiring.  Schedule a massage, enjoy the experience, and tip your masseuse well!  If you live in San Francisco or DeKalb, I have one to recommend.

Intimacy.  Touch is a wonderful conveyance of feeling and thought.  It may take a while to trust it for many of us.  It’s sad that in our society it is often manipulative, dishonest and damaging.   The touch of someone I truly trust can instantly change my mood.  When I was in labor for the first time and about to deliver, I was approaching a very intense experience of the unknown.  I knew that I would have to surrender my control in order to get through it, but I was scared.  Jim was very interested in all that was going on down at the doctors’ end, the episiotomy, the vacuum forceps, the bells & whistles.  I felt a bit abandoned by my “coach” until he came close to my face and laid the back of his hand on my cheek.   I relaxed completely in that instant, and Susan was born.  I will always remember that touch.  When I stand at the sink washing dishes, I love it when Steve comes up behind me and kisses the back of my neck.  It sends a shiver through me every time.   To be in contact with someone I love gives all my labors meaning.  My body doesn’t live in a vacuum; I am interconnected with everything in the universe.  I like to be reminded of that.

 

Pinkle Purr: warm, furry, soft, silky

With all the holiday greetings being sent around the world this month, it’s nice to know that people “reach out”.  It would be my hope that we also get the chance to really touch.  I’d take a hug above a twitter every time.   And I miss having a cat to stroke, big time.  I admire animals for the way that they instruct us humans in some basic lessons in touching when we are often too uptight to understand what they know instinctively.  For all the cuddles that they elicit from us reluctant brain-heavy types, I am in awe.  Especially from men who are often not permitted to indulge in touching.  I love seeing my son being physical and affectionate with the dog and cat he lives with.  It reminds me of when he was young enough to have stuffed animals.  He had quite a collection, and he enjoyed their softness openly, frequently nuzzling into a huge plush dog named Buster.  Today, he is interviewing for a job at a kennel.  I think it would be great for him to have an opportunity to spread that gift of loving touch to some lonesome boarders.

I am grateful for the ability to feel the universe around me in so many different ways, externally and internally.  Thanks be!

Advent Day #12 – Taste

Today’s Advent door opens up a world of heaven.  Taste is something that I appreciate with my whole being, like a baby wriggling in delight.  I baked bread twice this week, and made turkey soup and deep dish pizza from scratch.  I am looking for Whole Foods markets within driving distance so that I can taste their Truffle Gouda one more time.  I get really excited about food!  My Christmas magic is gradually boiling down to simply cooking and eating good food.  I’m not decorating or exchanging gifts or going to church or to parties, but I am going to enjoy being busy in my home making tasty things for people I love.  

You’ve Got Taste

And what a gift it is!  Today is the 12th day of appreciating things we often take for granted, and our sense of TASTE is on the docket.  If you can, grab something to snack on while you read.  You might suddenly feel hungry.

Taste and smell go hand in hand, but there are foods that smell better than they taste.  Movie popcorn for instance.  Vanilla extract.  Coffee.  Lavender.  (Steve and I debate whether this can really be a food.  I say it is, and lavender/lemon cookies are delicious.  He thinks they taste like old lady soap.)   Cinnabon rolls.  McDonald’s fries.  Feel free to add from your list.

Last night, Steve & Emily & I ate at an Algerian crepe restaurant.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Flavors exploding all over the place.  Fresh mint tea with honey, served in tiny glass mugs.  Lamb stew with chick peas.  (Lamb fat is a flavor that will always be a comfort from my past.  It is distinct from all other meat flavors and tends to polarize people into two camps.  I’m definitely in the ‘thumbs up’ camp.)  Roast garlic, brie and escargot. (Yes, together in a crepe.  Tres decadent.)  Sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, caramelized onions, olive tapanade, pomegranate seeds.   And strong coffee, poured from a copper pot with a long handle into a demitasse cup that made me think of the film “Notorious” (Alfred Hitchcock).  After sipping my cupful, I found a substance at the bottom that I could have used to make adobe.  It smelled of allspice, I think.

 

Fried Chicken picnic at Ravinia on my birthday

Taste and texture are also inseparable experiences.  “Mouth feel” seems a totally inelegant way to communicate the pleasure, but it seems to be the term of choice.  Creamy, crunchy, grainy, watery, smooth.  I’m not sure how to characterize ‘fiery’ spice.  Is that a taste or a texture or a mouth feel or a chemical reaction?  “Tastes like burning!” as Ralph says on The Simpsons.  In the documentary “El Bulli” (about the famously avant garde restaurant in Spain), they experimented with serving a cocktail that was simply water with a little hazelnut oil floating on top.  It was all about feeling the smoothness of the oil on your upper lip while the clear, cold water glided below it into your mouth.   Ah, concentrating on a singular sensation.  How wondrous!  How hedonistic!  How delightful!  Why not?  “I’ll have what she’s having!” the old lady says, pointing to Harry & Sally’s table.  Have you ever had a taste experience that bordered on climactic?  I have.  I savor them.  Here’s one that pops in mind: my sister’s homemade Mexican chocolate ice cream.  The first time I ate it, I almost passed out.  Chocolate ice cream has never meant the same thing to me since.   Hungarian fry bread rubbed with a garlic clove at Paprikas Fono in San Francisco.  I was pregnant for the first time and STARVING.  Seriously, I hadn’t been able to keep food down and I was depressed.  I craved that bread with goulash for nine months.

I could probably go on forever, but I won’t.  I am so appreciative of my taste buds and the way they enhance my life every day.  I did know a guy who’d suffered brain damage from 2 car accidents and couldn’t smell or taste much.  I feel much compassion for his predicament.  Not that it is insurmountable, but I’m happy to be able to enjoy the sensations I have.   Thank you, Universe.

Advent Day #6 – Movement

In the Christian Church calendar, today is the sixth day of Advent and St. Nicholas Day.  In my Advent countdown, today is the day to celebrate the gift of Movement.  We live on a moving planet.  Impermanence surrounds us in increments from nanoseconds to evolutionary ages.  Steve’s revelatory phrase about his identity is “I am the joy in change and movement.”  If this is reality, why fight it?  I am re-blogging a post from two years ago that illustrates the grace and artistry and discipline of movement – ballet.  Watching movement can be magical and mesmerizing and put us into a “dream mind.”  But waking up to the present moment puts movement back into the realm of consciousness.  Our hearts are beating, our lungs are breathing, we pulse and move and live.  It’s not a miracle, but it sure is something to celebrate!

Fairy Princess Dreams

Last night we went to see the Bolshoi production of Sleeping Beauty on the cinema screen.  The newly restored Moscow theater features gilded woodwork and royal red upholstery, a royal box and no “cheap” balcony seats.  It is Old World magnificence  and romance in itself.  Add Tchaikovsky’s  lush orchestral score (which includes not one, but two harps!) and the lavish beaded, satin costumes and tutus of classic ballet and you have a Spectacle of epic proportion.  We sat in the 5th row and felt like we were actually on the proscenium during the close up camera shots.  It was breath-taking.  Princess Aurora showcases all her most difficult moves in Act I at her 16th birthday party, partnered by 4 elaborately dressed foreign suitors.  Cymbals accentuate each technically challenging pose, and she becomes the prima ballerina superstar of all my girlhood dreams.  Suddenly, I am 10 years old and sitting next to my father at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.  The ballet is so beautiful and I am so lucky and so loved and I miss my dad so much that I can’t hold back the tears.   My heart is too full.

My dad proudly attended to the cultural education of his 4 charming daughters.  We had classes at the Art Institute and ballet lessons at a studio on Michigan Avenue every Saturday.  He had season tickets to the ballet for the whole family and to the opera for my mother.   I was absolutely stage-struck as a kid and couldn’t resist trying on poses and gestures in the lobby during intermissions.  I was the youngest of his daughters and probably tried the hardest to please him.  I suppose I felt like a princess in many ways.  I counted on my father’s kingly protection and generosity.  I sometimes slept through life, waiting for Prince Charming to appear and carry me off to a dream of happiness.  I met my prince when I was 15, married him when I was 21, and almost lived the whole freakin’ fairy tale.   But no, I lived a real life.  And I’m glad of it.

I found out that grace takes a lot of hard work, that fathers are imperfect people, and that love is stronger than death and more powerful than beauty.  And it also requires a lot of hard work.  Discipline and commitment can be more lovely than romance.  Facing reality is more invigorating than dreaming.  Pinch me when the spectacle seems overwhelming; I want to know I’m alive.

And David Hallberg is my new fascination.  Not only is he a supremely graceful human being, he blogs, too.  Yup, he’s real.

David Hallberg

photo copyright Andrea Mohin

Re-inventing Advent

Two years ago, when I first started blogging, I ran a series of posts every day in the month of December.  This series was in lieu of an Advent calendar, which had been a big tradition of my family.  Back then, I had only a handful of faithful blog followers, instead of more than 400.  So, I intend to re-gift these entries.  After all, I am in the resale business! (Check out Scholar & Poet Books – there’s  a link in the side bar.) For my family and for Helen (God bless you!), these will be repeats.  For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy opening your daily presents!

‘Tis A Season

When I was a kid, I always had an Advent calendar to count down the days from the first of December until Christmas Eve.  I had the same tradition with my own kids.  The secrets hidden behind each door were often Scripture verses.  It was important to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and make sure my kids knew that was “the reason for the season”.   There are other little treasures we could open each day, though.  When my son was taking German in high school, they sold Advent calendars with chocolates in them.   My father used to make us calendars out of magazine pictures and various old rotogravures with fortune cookie strips for the daily message.  We made our own calendars for each other, too, with simple crayon symbols behind the cut out doors.   The season has multiple images in my mind, and now I’m trying to figure out what it means to me at this point in my life.

I will always have respect for Jesus and the Christian story.  They were supremely important in my life for many years.  My spirituality was formed around them.  I think it is good to examine and re-examine beliefs, though, and strive for genuine and authentic expressions of experience.  My experience is expanding as I age, and I want to include more of those experiences in my belief system.  I want to include respect for other cultures, other religions, other parts of the planet and the universe.  I have a sister who is Sikh, a son who identifies with Buddhism and Native American spirit stories and a father who once taught science.  There is a lot going on all over the world in this season.  What do I want to acknowledge or celebrate?

My youngest daughter has always loved this season.  She used to go to the local Hallmark store in the middle of the summer to look at the Christmas village set up there.  What was that about?  Sparkly, pretty, cozy, homey, yummy expectations of treats?  Possibly.  Peace, love, joy?  Possibly.  Emotions?  Definitely.  Why not focus on pleasurable human senses and emotions?  Up in the northern hemisphere, we are spinning away from the sun and plunging into a cold, dark time.  Light becomes more precious, warmth becomes holy, food is life itself.  Why not celebrate that dependence?  We are sustained by the sun and the producers of this planet that make food from its energy.  Evergreen trees remind us of that.  Gifts remind us that we receive from the producers; we are consumers.  Gratitude is the attitude of the season.  Giving is the action that sustains us.

Vernon Marsh, sunset (click to enlarge)

I sent a text message to each of my kids this morning saying that the gift for Day #1 this season is sunshine.  The sun is shining here, showering us with Vitamin D and all kinds of other goodies we need to be healthy and happy.   We are blessed, saved, sustained, given life in this universe by an amazing set of circumstances that we did not originate.   However you acknowledge that and whoever taught you to acknowledge that deserves attention.  May you be happy as you think and act in awareness of this.

Winter Holy Days

The world did not end yesterday. We are in a new cycle, heading closer to the Sun once more.

In years past, I would have spent this day at an Episcopal church, practicing with the choir, ushering my children through the Christmas pageant, greeting friends, and sneaking private moments in the candlelit darkness whispering devotions to Jesus and His Father. I would have sent more than a hundred letters through the mail to people far and wide with Scriptural messages and personal anecdotes illustrating the great salvific actions of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the world. I would have asked for and promised prayers for numerous specific ailments and misfortunes. I would have spoken and written my heartfelt greetings using words like “blessings”, “gifts”, “faith”, “Emmanuel” and “Savior”.

 This year is different.

 I have no tree; I have no gifts wrapped and waiting; I have not sung a hymn or carol; I have no creche with empty manger awaiting the figure of a baby. I am the same person, though, with the same heart and breath and life blood. I use a different language now to try to express my deepest hope for peace and love to rule my life and the lives of those with whom I share this planet. I no longer profess to know a single Truth; I no longer presume to belong to a select portion of humanity; I no longer pretend that the concepts in my brain adequately reflect very much at all of reality.

 The posture I hope to adopt is openness. To face the world, the people in it, the marvel of change and mystery beyond my control, without hiding behind a mask or label or system, is a severe challenge. Had I not already buried a husband, fledged a flock of four, sold a home I had for 20 years, and left employment, I might not believe that I could live without clinging to conventional structure. I test my ability to be flexible, graceful, alive and aware every day. I hope to learn. I hope to grow. I hope to love the world (and myself) more genuinely as I do. This is my holy quest, and every day is a holiday. I celebrate the mingling of material and spirit, the incarnation of life in the substances of Earth. I will eat and drink and hug the bodies of people I love with festive joy as before – but differently.

 I include the entire Universe in this celebration. Yes, this means you! Peace to you all. Love, joy, humility and grace be with us all together….scillagrace.

front porch view