Category: holiday

The New Year waits

I love this lazy time between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  It is the time when I can finally relax and enjoy Christmas.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas, time and responsibilities come at me like a loud, fast freight train.  I cannot work, run, clean, cook, fast enough… and that holiday train catches up to me when, like a character from a thriller, I finish it all just in the nick of time.  By Christmas morning I am bleary-eyed and dizzy with exhaustion. So, this time, this languorous space, is when I catch up on sleep and I eat whatever I want, open a book, shop for a new pair of shoes online with my Amazon gift card, write reviews of the make up received in Birchboxes, and admire my new socks. IMG_4193

This is when I recharge.  In the frenzy of preparation for this holiday, I seldom get to truly enjoy it, so this time is Christmas to me. Unfortunately, the rest of the world thinks that Christmas ends on Christmas day.  The radio station immediately stops playing holiday music :(.  My neighbors throw their naked trees into the street and take down their lights and wreaths.  I am saddened by this and I turn to my itunes library to continue my personal holiday right on through to the Epiphany on Jan. 6th [and, honestly, sometimes longer].

This is perhaps my favorite time of year because of the feast of possibility. Saturdays are my favorite days for this reason.  They are generally the only day when there are no responsibilities on the calendar, so they dawn bright with possibility.  For an eternal optimist, this is the piece de resistance- possibility in all its glittering glory.  This time of year, when we put the past behind us, reflect on what went well and what went wrong, and then leave it behind; when we look toward a ribbon of road that twists off into the horizon just ever so slightly.. giving us nothing but miles and miles of hope.

So, I spend these last few days of 2015, mesmerized by the lights on my tree.  FullSizeRender

This year’s unseasonably warm weather has also found me contemplating the evening sky from Bean’s front porch.  IMG_4089

A new year waiting is the best kind of blank canvas.  Happy 2016!

 

 

Lean Into It

 Reading the latest IndyWeek this morning with my coffee I stumbled upon my horoscope.  Ok, I didn’t stumble upon it… I purposefully sought it out and read it….  Nonetheless, I felt compelled to share it because I definitely needed to receive this planted suggestion this morning.
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Libra (September 23-October 22)

Philosopher William Irwin Thompson says that we humans are like flies creeping along the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We literally cannot see the splendor that surrounds us. As a result, we don’t live in reality. We’re lost in our habitual perceptions, blinded by our favorite illusions, and addicted to beliefs that hide the true nature of the universe. That’s the bad news, Libra. The good news is that every now and then, each of us slips into a grace period when it’s possible to experience at least some of the glory we’re normally cut off from. The veil opens, and previously undetected beauty appears. The weeks ahead will be the closest you’ve come to this breakthrough in a long time.

A perfect example of this shortsightedness has been my summer so far, my summer that is almost over: I have been so hyperfocused on the work list I need to do this summer for my other job and its heft and length, the unfairness of this, and the minutia required to either work at chunking off sections or avoid tackling it at all, that I have missed so many opportunities to enjoy simple splendors surrounding me.

I have been that fly crawling around on the Sistine chapel, unable to see anything except menopause webpages, files in black notebooks, and small avenues of temporary escape.  So, starting today, I plan to back it up and take notice of the beauty around me at any given moment.

I am also reminded of some advice I recently read on a Pema Chodron link for dealing with uncomfortable situations or any human suffering or pain:  change the way you see it and lean into it.  At the time, I did not completely “get” what she was advising.  The change your perspective part seemed too simple and the lean into it seemed obtuse.  Now it makes sense.  I have a few more days of work before I set out on what might be my last getaway of the summer.  I am also reminded of a friend’s facebook post the other day that asked people to stop all the whining and complaining.  She said:

There is too much negativity out there. Folks need to stop complaining and count their blessings, stop looking at everyone else and judging them, etc. Who is perfect? Be happy, peeps. AND, if you took a vacation this year… what do you have to complain about? Nothing. Nada. Smile already. Oh, and stop watching Fox News, yo. That was on at the gym this morning and all they did was spew more negativity, but the Today Show was highlighting the Olympics and I would have much rather watched that because that, my friends, is a positive. Positive begets positive. Add more happy to your life. Happy = GOOD!

Dawn is on point.  This is my second vacation this summer.  I have nothing to complain about.  I am happy and that equals good.

Gratitude

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.  ~Meister Eckhart

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  ~G.K. Chesterton

My Thanksgiving holiday began yesterday afternoon at 3 o’clock when I left my classroom until next Monday morning.  Today [Wednesday before] is always a day of cooking and preparation for the holiday.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Jason always says that it is his favorite.  There is no pressure to buy gifts or decorate extensively.  It is a simple, beautiful holiday that is all about abundance– family, food, laughter.  We meet at Shana’s house in Wake Forest and everyone brings food.  We used to go to Wilmington to Mom’s but she finally found that she could not handle all of us descending upon her with our families that were expanding so quickly.  The chaos of all of us staying in her house, even given its size, was just too much and she found it exhausting instead of exhilarating.  So, now she comes to us.  Shana volunteered to be the host for this annual event at least 5 years ago-  maybe more.  She & Scott and the kids wouldn’t have it any other way.  Mom makes a huge turkey and Scott likes making his alternative Turkey– sometimes deep-fried, sometimes cooked in a pit, or under a large trashcan.  Hannah likes decorating and making her homemade applesauce.  Mom makes her s’mores on sticks for all the kids.  I always make the greens, this year they will be curly kale, organic, from Whole Foods made with uncured smoked and peppered bacon.  I also make sauerkraut with diced apples and bacon, corn pudding, and tiny chocolate pie tarts for the kids [Jim loves them too].  I might get ambitious and make a Mexican Chocolate Pound Cake.  Every year there is family, Mom, Jim, us three girls and our families, sometimes Julian, Andrew & now Courtney, and most years there are also others.  Last year, Scott’s cousins from MI joined us along with my new friend, Duane.  Duane will be back this year with his kids. In some other years we have had other random guests– our coworkers or friends with no family close by.  Each year we take family photos, some of us for our holiday cards- and Mom always wants one of her grandchildren.  This one is from two years ago– 2008.  It was my boys’ first Thanksgiving after losing their Daddy.  Before we divorced, when Thanksgiving was still in Wilmington, Kenney would have a huge pig pickin’ or oyster roast at his parents that weekend and/or again on New Year’s Eve each year, so these holidays are times Jason & Alex remember their Daddy cooking and entertaining and making things happen at his parents’ home in Myrtle Grove.

So far, Mom has 10 grandchildren including Jenny and 2 great-grandchildren and another about to arrive at any time– Cooper Thomas Whitman will be her 3rd great-grandchild bringing the grand total to 13!

Thanksgiving is a holiday centered on gratitude and over the past ten years or so, I have truly come to realize what a sacred gift gratitude really is.  I have always expected goodness in my life, and that is what I have received.  I have had my trials, some more challenging than I ever dreamed I would face.  I have felt deep emotional pain, fear, and doubt; but underlying any adversity in my life, I have always been able to draw from a reservoir of hope.  I continually believe that good triumphs over evil- not only in the world at large- but in my small world.  I look for it and I find it every time.  In between times of great sorrow or happiness, I simmer gratitude.

I have so many things in my life to be grateful for:  my children are smart, healthy, happy, and they are close to me– they make me laugh daily.  I am surrounded by dozens of other children who also give me great joy– Cameron, my students, my foster children, nieces and nephews, and children of friends. I not only have a job– I have two that I love.  I am healthy enough to work hard and sleep deeply each night.  I am in love with a man who is kind, funny, loving, and gracious.  I am blessed with two sisters and close friends to share stories, secrets, and laughter. I find beauty in small things every single day.

And so, this Thanksgiving, I will savor every moment of a day shared with the people I love most in the world, and the prayer I will live this day will be: ‘thank you.’

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls “ blossom.” — Marcel Proust

Egg Hunt at the Senior Center

If you read the title first, no doubt you might be imagining a sweet spring scene– a green, grassy yard with a spattering of kindly elderly folks slowly and happily making their way about the lawn and joyfully collecting a few eggs.  That is what I would picture– but no, that is not what happened at the hunt our students helped with last week.

disclaimer:  I am writing about this secondhand.. as told to me by fellow teachers and students who were actually there at this senior free for all.

Last week, my co-workers, Holly and Tammy, took their EC high school students to the local Senior Center to hold an Easter Celebration that included lunch, a visit from the ‘Easter Bunny,’ and an egg hunt outdoors.  They came back exhausted, but laughing with a new perspective on the elderly:  and I quote:  “they are mean.”

Now before I even heard the story, I did agree, that indeed, a lot of old people can be mean.  As a younger person, I had the notion that all elderly people were sweet and kind, but as I have gained more experience in the world [and met more old people], I have come to the conclusion that the state of getting and being old does not make one nicer.  In fact, it might make you less nice.  I think if you were charming and had good social skills as a younger or middle-aged person, then you might keep that into old age.  You might lose some of your positive edge, if getting old involves some physical or emotional pain or if life has dealt you a lot of hard knocks, but if you were mean in youth, you will be mean [or meaner] in old age.

I have a neighbor who used to drive me crazy being rude and hurting my feelings all the time.  I used to wonder how an old woman could be so awful, and then one day I had a lightbulb moment and realized that she had been like this all her life.  As a young person, she was most likely controlling and socially and verbally inappropriate, as she aged, instead of getting softer and more enlightened, she just became a harder version of herself.  That finally explained why even her children and grandchildren who lived in town, rarely came to see her.  But, I digress.

The senior center egg hunt went something like this:  Our students carefully hid three large grocery bags brim-full of plastic eggs filled with jelly beans along with some wrapped candy eggs.  The senior hunters were then escorted down the ramp and out to the yard.  Some of them were in wheelchairs, mind you, or had canes to assist them, but they all had their bags or baskets ready and were then let loose to find eggs.  According to Tammy, it was a indeed a free-for-all, with the younger seniors who were more ambulatory, raping the green canvas of eggs in less time than it takes the average person to brush his/her teeth.  The less ambulatory seniors had hardly maneuvered their wheelchairs down the ramp and onto the grass or used their canes to amble out onto the grass before it was over, and “poof” and they were left holding empty bags and baskets.

I asked if there were any acts of altruism– if perhaps, any of these more physically fortunate seniors shared their vast egg bounties with the others who were less competitive?  The answer was “no; no one shared.”  In fact, on their way to the grassy egg containment area, a few of these very excited seniors almost knocked over some of their less steady friends to get a jump on those eggs.

The stunned students and teachers who would have gladly helped the less physically able stood helplessly by as the eggs were swooped up by crazed ‘seniors’ running wildly about.  These ‘fast ones’ were the ones who drove to the senior center that morning from their homes and parked their cars in the parking lot between Main and Foushee; some of them seemed like they were barely seniors at all.  Much of the older and slower crowd had arrived by van from nursing homes and senior housing projects.

Prior to this, all had gathered for lunch inside the center.  Even this was not pleasant.  Many of those lunching complained about the food.  “Is this all we get for our money?,”  a few of them were heard to exclaim.  Now, I have to tell you that the cost of the meal was $2.00 [yes, two dollars], and for this price they were given a hot dog, chips, two cookies, and a milk.  One student serving was asked by a scruffy-looking man with very few teeth, if he could have two hot dogs.  When the reply was negative, he asked for another buttermilk, and when told that each person was to have only one, he yelled, “I don’t see why; I’ve already had four!”  This was the same man who later, after stepping outside, asked the student who was dressed up as the Easter Bunny [in a full bunny suit] if she had a cigarette.

All in all, this was an eye-opener for many of our students and for our teachers as well. Holly said she couldn’t wait to get out of there, but looking back on it, she did have to admit it was all pretty funny.  By the way, Tuesday evening was the county egg hunt for children, which is always another really keen study on human nature.  Virtually all of the children act nice, and most of the adults act like idiots trying to help their offspring ‘win’ and in turn teach them what is really important in life:  getting the most eggs is much more important than the fun of helping someone else or sharing.  And, we wonder how elderly people ever become greedy or mean..

National Pancake Day

Apparently today is National Pancake Day, and IHOP is offering all its customers a free short stack for the asking in celebration of this auspicious “holiday” [that might have just been made up by marketers at IHOP].  In fact, if I had signed up for it in time, I might have had Marie Osmond, Miss America, or some celebrity I have never heard of call and wake me up to remind me!   I was intrigued to read this information online this morning, even though it did not make me want to go and get some free pancakes.  I usually would be all about eating some pancakes and especially at IHOP with their parade of multi-flavored syrups, but I had my fill of those last week on Fat Tuesday [or Shrove Tuesday] in the church parish hall at St. Mark’s.  The men of the church cook up large trays of bacon and sausage and serve up all the warm, delicious pancakes you care to eat the night before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.  So, I was confused to find that today was designated National Pancake Day because I would have thought that Fat Tuesday would have this honor.  In fact, in England, Shrove Tuesday is known as ‘pancake day.’  So, I did a little Internet search, and, yes, IHOP does sponsor this “holiday.”

In case you just moved to the US, IHOP stands for International House of Pancakes.  It seems that IHOP is only a few years older than me, originating in 1958 in Toluca Lake, California.  They spread like wildfire, though, because now there are now over 1400 of them all serving exactly the same menu.. which has, in fact, changed very little since I was a small child and frequented the International House of Pancakes somewhere in Maryland– probably Rockville or Gaithersburg.

I remember sitting in a large round booth with red vinyl seats and loving the seemingly giant, map-sized, colorful, laminated menus filled with pictures of perfect pancakes topped with apples, strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate chips, or bananas.  My favorite as a small child were none of these.  I usually settled on silver dollar pancakes–about the size of silver dollars, which we still used back then as currency.  With all these little pancakes I could taste each and every syrup like an official taster and judge which was the best.  The syrups came in pitchers that were like tiny coffee pots with latches you used your thumb to pull back.  They reminded me of the toy coffee pitcher I had in my play kitchen that was made with a coffee looking liquid trapped in an outer layer that bubbled and looked like it was being poured when you tipped it.  The syrups were usually choices like southern pecan, traditional maple, blueberry, and my personal favorite, deep purple in the pitcher and bright magenta on my pancakes– boysenberry.  I am still not exactly sure what a boysenberry is and I don’t think I have ever seen one, but when I step into IHOP and pour some on a pancake, I am eight years old again.

The tradition carried on with my children who, of course, loved going out for pancakes any time of day.  They too loved IHOP for many of the same reasons I did thirty-some years ago.  We even have a family story that gets told every time we mention or visit IHOP.  We were vacationing in Williamsburg one year when the boys were about 4 and 10 years old.  The restaurant was very crowded and we had to wait a long time for our order to be taken.  While we were waiting a man at a neighboring table cried out in pain and spit blood into his plate.  He then uttered a few choice words and was quickly surrounded by staff trying to assist him and calm him down.  You see, somehow shards of glass had ended up in his scrambled eggs.  We were quick enough to avoid the eggs when ordering, and afterward made sure to check our food carefully for glass before eating it.

It’s after 8 o’clock, and so there less than two more hours to go by IHOP and get your free short stack.  They ask only that you make a donation if you choose to do so the Children’s Miracle Network.  I am still wondering why they don’t merge their National Pancake Day with the day only one week prior when everyone wants to gorge on pancakes anyhow, but then the men of our church might lose their claim to fame;)

Silver Dollar Pancakes