Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holidays: 4. Celebrate!

When a holiday arrives, focus on simply enjoying it in whatever fashion you choose. Once the "big day" is here, it's time to celebrate! If priorities have been set, preparations planned and carried out beforehand, then everything should fall into place. If not, you know what you need to do for next year. Even with the best of intentions, however, unexpected things can occur that might disrupt the best-laid plans. Adjusting your attitude and rolling with the punches certainly can help get you through. Concentrate on what is most meaningful.

The home-made part of our Christmas this year was again the baked goods and special meals. My sister flies in from Montana to spend a week with us, which is one of only two times a year we see each other, so is much anticipated. I planned the week's meals, leaving enough wiggle room for any changes that might come up, including a meal or two out. Good thing, too, as those things did occur! While shopping, I happened upon locally-made potato sausage, which is one of my husband's favorites from his childhood and Scandinavian heritage. Although it was not on my carefully planned list, I did buy some and his delight with that meal made the change well worthwhile.
For weeks before Christmas, I worked hard to create two special rag quilt bedspreads for our grand-kiddos. These took hours and hours to make, but I felt they were well worth the effort. With matching sheet sets, they seemed to be much appreciated. Although not as much fun as age-appropriate play things, my hope is that these will be a longer-lasting reminder of the love we have for each of them.
One of our family traditions that my husband got from his dad is a cleverly-written hint on each gift tag. He also delights in wrapping all sorts of noisemakers, weights, etc. into a package so as to confuse the recipient who may (will) carefully inspect and shake the gift before opening it. This usually involves all sorts of containers of nails, screws, or BBs, and heavy bricks or pieces of wood. It makes the unwrapping of gifts a lot of fun, regardless of what the gifts are. This year I wrote a poem hint to go on each of the quilt packages. Here is the one for the blue jean quilt:
Blue Jean Dreams
Grampa wears blue jeans,
Your Dad, he does too.
And you may have noticed,
These jeans don’t look new.
Grampa’s worn Levis
501s for a while,
Your dad seems to wear
Whatever’s in style.
These jeans have seen things
You and I never will,
So study at each piece
As you lie there, so still.
With garden soil and sawdust,
Oil and gasoline,
These jeans have been dirtied
Through good times and lean.
And maybe you’ll notice,
There’s a ladybug, too.
Gramma stitched it in the ‘70s -
It now belongs to you.
Pieced carefully together,
As families sometimes are,
And stitched with much love,
These jeans have come far!
So wrap it around you,
It’s yours now to keep,
We wish you sweet dreams,
Each night as you sleep.
A large snow storm was predicted for our area on Christmas morning, so we warned our son that we might need to celebrate with him and the grand kids on another day. That morning, as the snow arrived and began to accumulate, my mind began spinning out ideas for another celebration - "just in case". Fortunately the snow turned to rain and all went off as planned. With laughter, gift unwrapping, cameras clicking and boxes, bows, and paper strewn across the living room, we enjoyed the time we had to the fullest. The turkey came out of the oven, the table was set, and every single person - the small and the tall - helped in some way to prepare our feast. For those not with us - nieces and brother-in-law far away and the sister we lost last year at this time - we remembered, spoke of, and talked to by phone, so our important connections were made and maintained.
Glitches? Oh yes, there were those! The week before Christmas, my husband suffered an accident in his workshop that necessitated a 911 call, trip to the ER, and 13 stitches to close a large rip in the palm of his hand. He's mending well, and even sported a bright red wrap on that hand on Christmas Eve day, put there by a wonderful "Mrs. Claus" at the medical clinic.
I did not get our cookies baked before my sis arrived, so we baked a batch a day for 3 days. These were all new ones I wanted to try - none of my usual ones, but they were well-liked.
 Our church is in the middle of a large building project which necessitates most of us parking along the edge of the adjoining cemetery. The usual Christmas Eve services were changed to only one in the late afternoon and parking was muddy and messy, but a lot of people made it and the candles glowing in the growing dusk still brought tears to my eyes as we sang Silent Night. I remembered that humble birth from so long ago, the precious sister no longer with us, and the loving one beside me. What a special night spent with special people...
Because of the "hand incident" and other things, my final week of sewing was disrupted, so the second rag quilt did not get finished. No worries, though, because our grand-daughter got her sheets, a couple of other things, and this poem with the beginnings of her quilt: 

Memory Quilt
The best-laid plans
Of men and mice,
Sometimes don’t work,
And that’s NOT nice!
People have problems,
And time gets short,
So try as we did,
This ship “missed its port”.
It might look quite ragged,
Pieced together just so,
And it’s barely big enough
To cover one toe.
But – WAIT – there’s still hope!
If you can patient be,
Another week, or two,
Or maybe even three…
It will come together,
We’ll add so much more,
And we think this warm gift
Will be worth waiting for.
When complete, it will warm you
And make quite a set,
For it matches some other
Warm things you will get.
One thing to remember,
Imperfect as we be,
Love sometimes takes time,
To get to you from me!
And ain't that the truth!!
To add to the fun, one of our nieces called back on Christmas Day to say she'd like to drive up the next day with her dog and significant other (not necessarily in that order...) for a short visit. We see each other seldom, so welcomed this chance to see her. She's recently learned that her body is intolerant of gluten and other things, so we quickly put our heads together and with some internet searches and a few things she brought from home, we managed to share the remnants of our Christmas feast in a form that worked for all of us. Although I sometimes curse it, technology really can be a marvelous tool at times like this.
And so our Christmas holiday, although certainly not perfect, was considered a success by all in our family. We connected in meaningful ways - gave, received, shared, ate, laughed, cried, and are left with the sweet, mellow afterglow of times well-spent. What more could we want?



Sunday, December 23, 2012

I Don't Do Angels

"Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains"

 I don't do angels. I mean it - I really don't

 I don't mean real angels, of course, but the myriad little cutesy decorative items found everywhere these days. You know the kind - everything from chubby naked babies, long-haired beauties in flowing robes , and masculine types with armor and swords to puppies, kittens, bears and monkeys - all depicted with wings, fluttering in air, and totally adorable. I don't do those!

The word "angel" comes from Hebrew and Greek words which mean “messenger” and is used to describe any agent that God sends to do his will. Angels are mentioned at least 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament of the Bible. They are often depicted as spirits, rather than physical beings, and don't have to be visible at all. But they can take on the appearance of men or women and sometimes appear in dazzling white and blazing glory. Sometimes an angel appears to be a man with highly unusual features.

Although some Bible passages picture angels with wings or talk about angels flying, most references say nothing about wings. And it does not always refer to heavenly beings; sometimes, the Bible uses these words for human beings, sometimes it speaks figuratively of things or events as "messengers", but it usually describes the whole range of spirits whom God has created, including both good and evil angels, and special categories such as cherubim, seraphim and the archangel. However, angels in the Bible never appear as cute, chubby infants - they are always full-grown adults. When people in the Bible saw an angel, their typical response was to fall on their faces in fear and awe, not to reach out and tickle an adorable baby.

In art, angels are often depicted with wings on their back, a halo, robes and various forms of glowing light. But angels are not limited to Christianity. The term "angel" has also been expanded to various notions of supernatural beings or spirits found in many other religious traditions, as well as occultism. Is it any wonder, then, that we find decorative angels in all shapes and sizes?
It appears that angels serve a valuable purpose. Their job descriptions might well include worship and praise, revealing, guiding, providing, protecting, delivering, strengthening and encouraging, answering prayer, and caring for believers at the moment of death.

So have I ever actually met a real angel? My first impulse would be to say no, but considering all of the above, I do believe I have - many times and in many different forms. I believe we all have.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them. "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord..."  
Luke 2:9-11  


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holidays: 3. Forge Ahead

If you don't yet know your priorities for the coming holiday, then it's definitely time to figure them out. Don't stress or panic - maybe this year you will just decide how you want your holiday to be next year.  You'll notice I didn't say decide next year - decide NOW.

Some years ago, when my life was exceptionally busy and my head was literally spinning with ideas, I discovered a mode of operation that worked well for me. After the busy Christmas rush, and into the lull of the New Year, I'd work on researching, planning, and creating for the following Christmas. This has included gathering ideas for gifts, packaging, home-made cards, decorations or events to attend. I've collected recipes for baked goods or for new dishes to include in holiday meals.
I have a small storage box, which I pull out each year right after Thanksgiving that is stocked with re-purposed gift tags, cards, small bags and boxes for baked goods, gift card holders, and any printed ideas I've found that I'd like to use.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, now is the time to make those plans. After-holiday sales are a great way to stock up on needed items for the following year.
Because we are attempting to be much more "green" in everything we do, I find this a good time to work on making more progress in this area. Excess packaging is the most difficult to deal with ecologically, but there is a lot of information out there - it's just a matter of looking for/finding it and then putting it into practice.
This takes time (and a lot of determination) to sort out and consistently do, so phasing it into your life gradually is the way to go, I think. Determine now how you can reduce your waste during the next holiday.
Once you have your top couple of priorities, it's time to get crackin'. Making time to connect with those near and dear can be a challenge, but it's ever so important. Again, there is no set way to do this, so do whatever works for you and the others.
Perhaps have a small gathering in your home or, if that is too difficult, plan to meet somewhere else. Coffee time is nice, but so is a lunch, breakfast or brunch. Beware of gift exchanges - they tend to "ramp up" over time and can become excessive. At one breakfast I attend we used to exchange tree ornaments, but decided we all had enough of those. We now bring gloves, hats, socks, etc. to be donated to a local charity. At a monthly coffee with three friends, we gather mostly to visit and share a home-made goody, only occasionally gifting each other with something simple, yet meaningful.
Write those letters, make those phone calls, send those emails (with those pictures), bake cookies with those grandkids, visit that nursing home, make that apology... Just DO IT!
If you want to change something about the way you spend your holiday, now is the time to decide what, why, and how. Of course this may need to be discussed with others in your family, but if you feel strongly enough about it then don't hesitate to do so. Reaching a consensus can be tricky, but at least they'll know your feelings and who knows - maybe they're ready to make some changes, too. Again, perhaps the actual changes are in the future, but those first steps need to begin sometime. Sooner is better than later.
Tired of heavy family dramas that leave you frazzled and exhausted? Plan to spend the next holiday somewhere else. Finding cooking that large feast alone too much? Ask for more help, dine out, order in, or scale back. Spending waaay to much? Cut back on the number of gifts, set a price limit, or create your own. Cut back on the number of activities/parties you attend, add a concert or play to the mix, attend a church service, volunteer at a homeless shelter, or stay home and relax. Decide what needs to change and DO IT!
"The Journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step."
Lao Tzu
I operate with lists. While I often have more on my list than I can do in a day, it does help me visually set down what to do and in what order. The order doesn't always matter, but in some cases it really does. Having daily, weekly, and monthly goals helps and I'm constantly amazed at all that can be accomplished one small step at a time.
And about those glitches - you will have them. Life is full of miscalculations, errors, and just plain failures. We are only human, after all. So do consider alternatives, just in case your plans should run amok. Although there are exceptions, in most cases these glitches won't ruin your holiday unless you allow them to. That's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Or, as my granddaughter put it "Now this one will be known as the cracked ginger bread man.."  And my grandson added: "And this one is headless, and this one is one-leg... but they all taste really good!"

(Click here)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holidays: 2. Figure It Out

"Next to a circus
there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster
than the Christmas spirit."
Kin Hubbard

For some of us, it might be a difficult thing to figure out just what a holiday means to us and how we can best celebrate. Some would say this is easy, because - perhaps - they come from stable, functional families, already have time-honored traditions, and/or have well-established "modes of operation" for preparing for the big celebration. If things have always been done a certain way, and one is comfortable with that, all may seem well. Why make changes? Indeed, none may be needed and my premises worthless.
On the other hand, not all of us may be as fortunate. Life has a way of throwing us a curve every now and again; times, situations, and people do indeed change. I believe we know innately, deep down in our gut, whether or not holiday preparations and celebrations ring true for us. And if, for whatever reason, they do not, then what can/should we do about it?

What is your general feeling - do you love the preparations just as they are and can't wait to delve into the fray? If so, GO FOR IT! But if not, then take some time to figure out what needs to change. Perhaps you feel over-extended - too much of the good (and sometimes not-so-good...) things can wreak havoc. Maybe you feel like you're just going through the motions, doing the "same ol', same ol'" as you've always done, and your heart just isn't in it. If you've suffered loss of any kind - a job, home, relationship, loved one - could be you're depressed and really feel no joy in the season. Whatever you're feeling, acknowledge it, and then try to move on.

This is such an individual thing that each person needs to figure it out for themselves. This is why I think it's important to try to do so independently, without undue outside influences such as the vast commercialism that is rampant these days. Consider the following...

Treat yourself kindly: Take care of yourself so that you have enough of yourself left to give to the tasks you've set out to do. That means, as we all know, eating healthy food in moderation, getting enough sleep, getting some daily exercise in whatever way you can. I also like the idea of practicing positive thoughts and looking for the small, everyday things that I'm thankful for. Find time each day to be still - treat yourself to a cup of tea, listen to your favorite music, read a bit, or just rest. Consider the magnificent gift of life itself.

Choose your priorities: No one can do it all, so don't even try. Decide what matters most to you and yours - choosing one to three things is a good start - to concentrate on. Church services and programs are a must for us, as is connecting in meaningful ways with friends and family. My husband and I enjoy our home and creating things, so we concentrate our efforts there; many of our decorations are home-made and we've had them for many years. Our tastes are simple, lean towards old fashioned, and are sometimes a bit quirky.

Maintain or establish connections: With our family and friends who live far away we've made the effort to keep in touch, giving our time to communication rather than material things. Yes, we do send emails and I use some social media, but nothing can replace a phone call or hand-written note. I especially enjoy meeting a friend for a cup of coffee or lunch to get caught up on each other's lives. One of my long-distance friends has given up on getting her Christmas letters mailed on time. I know to look for hers sometime in January or February and really enjoy reading them during this less-frantic time.

Try something different: There are no hard and fast rules for how one spends their holiday, so don't be afraid to branch out. Some people celebrate on whatever day works best for them, some leave town and spend it doing totally "untraditional" things, and some don't observe the day at all. It's really up to you if, and how, you celebrate it. If you're not happy with the current situation, try something different - what can you lose?

First things first: I find it best to tackle the tough jobs first, if for no other reason than to just get them off my list! I also keep in mind the things that might not get done, so put those at the bottom. And, because not all things come together exactly as planned, learn to be flexible and have a sense of humor. When all is said and done, the very best things we give are memories and sometimes those are of very odd, funny situations!!
Put giving before receiving: Gift-giving is a large part of our Christmas celebration, but that has changed through the years. Mostly, we've lived far from family, so all gifts have needed to be planned in advance and mailed. We also don't believe in going in debt, so there's a budget to live with. In our early married years, we made all of our gifts; now we buy most, but still enjoy creating some of them. As our extended family grew, we decided when it seemed prudent to stop exchanging long-distance gifts, notifying those affected with a heart-felt note well in advance. Baked goods or other small creations are always given to close friends as well as those who regularly "serve" us - the mail and paper carriers, trash collectors, etc. We have become much more earth-conscious and try to gift responsibly - buying local, hand-made, and re-purposed goods as much as we can. As the older members of our family have passed on, we've filled those spaces with giving what we can to the needy in our local community. We find true fulfillment in providing a bit of food and a carefully-chosen gift, especially for a little one.

Expect and roll with glitches: As our parents aged, my in-laws would send money for us to buy each other gifts from them. We were both aware of the multiple packages that each of us carefully stashed away for future wrapping to go under the tree. One Christmas Eve, as we sat content among the piles of ripped wrapping paper and assorted gifts, feeling content and relaxed, my husband suddenly blurted out "Hey! Where's all my presents from the folks??" OOOPS - in the midst of all the pre-holiday preparations I'd completely forgotten about those. Sheepishly, I retrieved them and presented them to "his Nibs" in their plain brown boxes and bags. Although it wasn't so funny at the time, we now look back at that with great humor - LIFE happens!
"I wrapped my Christmas presents early this year,
but I used the wrong paper.
See, the paper I used said 'Happy Birthday' on it.
I didn't want to waste it so I just wrote 'Jesus' on it."
Demetri Martin

Simplify: There is no rule that says you have to have the perfect holiday or that there's something wrong with you if you don't. Not all things happen quickly, so practice patience. If you're not in a particularly good place right now, take each day as it comes and be grateful for what you do have. If you want your holidays to be different, make that conscious decision, figure out where you are and where you want to go. Just begin - step by step, you will get there.
"He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!"

Dr. Seuss

For other Christmas glitches click here: