For most of my life, my Holiday Season was centered around traditions that originated in the Anglican community. We celebrated Advent, then Christmas, and finally Epiphany. For forty years, beginning when I was 7 years old, I sang in an Episcopal Church choir and spent a good portion of my Christmas break in rehearsal and in church. The birth of Jesus was the reason for the season, and I never told my children there was a Santa Claus. The first gift they unwrapped was always the wooden Christ figure for the creche, in a golden box marked “Unto Us”. These traditions were rich, comforting, and firm. I think they provided many benefits to my four young children. As the children grew, our family made Christmas about broader values. We supported needy families, donated to organizations that contributed to world causes, and gave gifts that were homemade or from sustainable sources. As my children became young adults, we approached our holiday traditions with hard questions about life and meaning and community. What is truly holy and valuable to us? How do we celebrate the divine spark in all of life? Perhaps the most poignant question became “What is our family now that Dad has died?” Transitions are the hallmark of growth. Things that are growing change; living things evolve. There are Universal transitions that are holy. December 21 is the Winter Solstice, when the Earth is furthest from the Sun and daylight is at its ebb. This year, Saturn and Jupiter will align on that day. And three of my children will be living in Oregon with me. The list of transitions our family has braved over the last year is weighty. It includes several moves, relationship changes, and my mother’s death. In the midst of all these changes, we remember and celebrate the thing that makes a Holy Season: the invitation to Love and the recognition of divine presence in every living thing.
I’m sure that for many people around the world, this will be a Holiday Season that seems very unusual, perhaps quite unsettling. I wish us all the Peace of knowing that transition and change is intrinsic to Life. May we reach out in holy Love and celebrate the divine presence in all living things, expressing our gratitude and committing to doing good.
Thank you, Ann-Christine, for hosting this week’s challenge.
“The secret of life
Is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it,
There ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got
To the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down,
We might as well enjoy the ride…
The secret of love
Is in opening up your heart.
It’s okay to feel afraid,
But don’t let that stand in your way.
‘Cause anyone knows
That love is the only road.
And since we’re only here for a while,
Might as well show some style.
Give us a smile...
Isn’t it a lovely ride?
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride…
Now the thing about time
Is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view,
How does it feel for you?
Einstein said he
Could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space,
The smile upon your face,
Welcome to the human race.
Some kind of lovely ride.” ― James Taylor
Amy, the Lens-Artists host this week, invites us to “share some of the precious moments we have had, before or during the pandemic”. These images are favorites of mine, as is the James Taylor song. In my days alone of late, I have often returned to the pictures and music etched in my mind. I am grateful to have a rich array and a powerful memory.
Trick or Treat? It’s all in the attitude. An attitude of gratitude can turn your perception around completely.
“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.” — Tecumseh
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire
Today, I am most appreciative of being able to spend the last two months caring for my mother in hospice. She died on Thursday evening, quickly, peacefully, willingly and with the promise to “haunt us”, a comment she delivered in the last week with a twinkle in her eye. What a treat to have been able to move cross-country in pandemic conditions and to find myself unemployed and free to be at her side when her illness became apparent. Those circumstances might seem upsettingly tricky, but truly, I wouldn’t have missed these last weeks by her side for anything on earth. My mother was a widely acknowledged treasure!
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Learning how to work with your thoughts and receive the pleasures that are all around us is a great trick, one that contributes to wisdom and health.
“Stressed is desserts spelled backwards.” — Unknown
May all your sorrows become sweetness in the joy of being!
Thanks to Tina for hosting this challenge and sharing her amazing wild animal photos! I am so grateful that there are still some wild places left on the planet, and so concerned about their destruction. I recommend the documentary David Attenborough: A Life on This Planet (Netflix) as an excellent narrative on this issue, with hopeful solutions.
Was Goethe, the celebrated poet and scientist and author of The Theory of Colors, crying out his final request in an effort to quench his thirst for enlightenment of the mind, the soul, or the eye? Or all three?
I am sure they are all interconnected.
Coincidentally, his deathbed wish became the motto of Lawrence University in Wisconsin, where I sent my oldest child to college.
Three things converged earlier this week to illustrate to me the power of light and its affect on my soul.
First, on Sunday, we switched our clocks back from Daylight Savings Time. The sun slips further away from the Northern Hemisphere, and daylight hours are noticeably diminished. Nights fall early, and mornings are dark.
On Tuesday, the U.S. had midterm elections. An ominous gloom has settled and hung over this country since our last election. I am anxious for my children, the planet, and the future. I feel the grip of darkness in my soul.
I suspect that I am susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I feel physically drained, deeply depressed, cold and vulnerable. Cloudy, dark days bring questions of personal survival to my mind. And then, Thursday night, temperatures dropped and the first snow fell.
Fortunately, the next morning I was scheduled to volunteer in a Nature Center class of fourth graders. I drove carefully through the falling snow, noticing changes all around. The minute I arrived in the parking lot, I saw a small child lifting her face to the sky with her tongue out, hoping to catch a falling flake. Her face was lit with joy.
Light from the souls of the children flooded my day. Snow angels, snowball target practice, a hike through the woods to the river, and the emergence of a distant but brilliant sun made my mood by the late morning sparkle. There is magic in light, in warmth, in proximity to the energy of our home star, the Sun. The magic brings life to every living thing. I am aware of its sustenance and my dependence on it. And I give thanks for it every day. Thanks, also, to Amy for inviting us to share the magic with this Photo Challenge!
Moving a 20.5 lb turkey, already cooked, from my house to my son’s house 116 miles away. Hoping the bird doesn’t suffer too much in transition. I’m too involved in this project to post new photos, so here’s one of the bird we dined on last night ‘a deux’ – a pheasant courtesy my boss and his bird dog, Bhodi.
10 Family Foods. 10 Fabulously Festive Family Foods! (Ah, ah, ah…*thunder and lightening*)
Is this a Muppet Count-down? No, not really. This is Day #2 of my mother’s birthday present. Yesterday’s post introduced the project and 10 Background Bits of my mother’s life. Today being Christmas Day, I want to tell you about my mother’s culinary talents. This is a day that we would spend feasting and in high spirits. Christmas Eve Mass having been accomplished and Mom’s choir commitment completed, she’d turn her attention to Christmas dinner. There’s so much I could write about, but I’ll keep it down to 10 things, and I’ll limit them to things that I have actually made myself. Except for this first item…
1) Fruitcake — You may shudder, but wait! My mother’s fruitcake is a triumph of dark, rum-and-brandy-soaked cake popping with candied fruits and savory nuts. The recipe is from Julia Child herself. Mom used to make it weeks ahead of Christmas in a huge, plastic tub (which later served as an infant bathtub for my baby brother), wrap it in cheesecloth, douse it with brandy and let it age. A dozen foil-wrapped parcels went out to the most appreciative friends and neighbors. Now my sister Sarah makes it, and if I’ve been good, I may get one in the mail this year, too. I have NEVER attempted this on my own. I doubt I could live up to the legacy.
2) Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook — Fannie and I have become good friends, and though my original copy is pretty trashed, I am partner to a bookseller and have a few new editions at my fingertips. Yes, I can make this…and have!
3) Cran-orange relish — The recipe is on a postcard my mother sent to me when I moved back to the Midwest from California. It simply says, “1 bag cranberries, 2 navel oranges, 1 cup sugar. Grind and enjoy!” I should mention that I’m still using Grandma Marion’s food grinder from the 1940s. I’ll probably keep using it until that worn out cord and plug start a fire.
4) Pecan pie (and mince pie) — Again, from Fannie Farmer.
5) Lobster — When we lived in Massachusetts where I was born, Mom learned how to cook a live lobster. I didn’t end up cooking the first one on my own until we were living in California, and I was in college. My fiance Jim drove home from the fish market with the live lobster on his shoulder just to freak out passing motorists. I showed him how to hypnotize the lobster by holding it head down and stroking its tail. When it was limp, dropping it into the pot of boiling water (don’t forget a bit of Vermouth!) was a cinch.
6) Roast leg of lamb — Make slits in the outside and insert slivers of garlic cloves before putting it in the oven. I like rosemary and gravy more than mint sauce with it. I have a picture of myself one Christmas with a Lambchop puppet on my arm; we’re both looking aghast at the serving platter.
We can’t feast like Christmas all year long, so here are some samples of every day fare.
7) Soup — My mother kept a stock pot in her ‘fridge all week. On Wednesdays, when she’d be going out to choir practice, she’d make a batch of soup from leftovers and stock that we could eat ‘whenever’ and clean up without her supervision. To this day, she makes soup every week for the Food Pantry. Steve and I have dubbed her “Our Lady Of Perpetual Soup”.
8) Chili — The family recipe is pretty mild. Steve adds Tabasco and cheese and oyster crackers, and if I let him really indulge his Milwaukee roots, I’ll serve it on spaghetti noodles. Texas folk, please avert your eyes!
9) Chicken and rice — Basic dinner memories: the smell of onions and mushrooms sauteing in butter as the sun goes down. Add the chicken, rice and liquid to the same pot. Season with your favorite flavor combinations.
10) Brownies — Not from a box! Made by melting Baker’s chocolate and butter on a double boiler and adding it to the creamed butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and the flour and dry ingredients. Memorable mishaps: pouring hot, melted butter and chocolate into the creamed butter and sugar AFTER having added the eggs and watching bits of cooked scrambled eggs emerge. And my sister putting in half a cup of baking SODA instead of half a TEASPOON of baking POWDER. The brown, bubbly stuff spilling out of the pan and all over the oven resembled lava! Cool!
Tomorrow, for St. Stephen’s Day, 10 Musical Memories…
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”
Well, this is an obvious one. After all, I am a widow. How can I forget the love of my life, my one and only husband, the father of my four children and the man who bought me my first Canon (an AE-1 for Christmas when I was 17)? I am in a wonderful relationship now with a new partner, Steve, and he’s featured in many of my posts. But Jim is my first love, the man who was beside me for 30 years, from the time I was 15. So much of my adult formation took place in those years, even though profound change has happened since. Shortly after Jim died, I became an empty-nester, I sold our home, and I stopped practicing evangelical Christianity. Gone are my ‘suburban mom’ characteristics…the van, the mortgage, the disposable income, the salaried position with a Christian company in my home town, the prayer groups and Bible studies, the daily involvement with my kids. My life is definitely different. I am much more independent and self-reliant now. But I haven’t forgotten how well loved I was, how dedicated Jim was to taking care of me. As his best friend said at his memorial service, he was a Prince of a man. And he was definitely Charming.
Yesterday was a wonderful day, a triumph of change, of many changes coming together. Thanksgiving is Steve’s favorite holiday, and what’s not to love? Fall colors, harvest time, lots of great food, a crisp chill in the air, wood smoke, and an all-pervading sense of gratitude for the process of life.
We’ve hosted Steve’s family for dinner at our place for the past 4 years. “Our Place”, however, is not just a home. It’s an online book business, which means that our inventory is stored under the same roof. That roof was replaced this year, bringing inches of old cedar pieces and dust down on top of our piles of books. It was a mess. The clean up and resorting was enormous. But Thanksgiving was the deadline: we wanted to host as usual. Piles of books, CDs, video tapes and packing materials carpeted all the rooms and stairwells in the house. We literally had to pick our way through for months. Steve took infinite trips up the narrow, steep stairs to the attic, laden with heavy boxes and stacks. But yesterday was a triumph! The place was clean, the table glistened, the food was colorfully delicious, and everyone had a great time. And Steve got to put his feet up and read aloud in Italian.
We are really getting good at team work. The next triumphant convergence will occur tomorrow, when we get together with all my children and their ‘significant otters’ for a holiday which we call ‘Galassoween’. Five couples, two generations and as many various lifestyles merge to create a feast of conversation and edible togetherness. And it will take place in the house that my daughter and her fiance have rebuilt. (see this post, “Harvesting Hope”) I’m looking forward to it! (but first, I have a lot of dishes to wash…)