Holiday Blessings


In the Norther Hemisphere,
Summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Though there may be nasty weather days ahead,
The light has begun its slow return or retreat.
In just nine days, the New Year will be upon us,
And a new cycle of life will have begun.
In the spirit of these holidays we too often forget,
May the coming days be filled with the gifts of
Peace, joy, hope, healing, courage,
And new beginnings
For each and every
One of you.

There’s No Place Like Home

Bryant Park

Bryant Park

I’m just back from New York City, where Bill and I spent five days taking a break from the “same old, same old.”  It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Bill, especially. His computer crashed with the play he’d been revising for an upcoming spring staged reading here in Charlottesville and another reading in New York City in May at the Dramatist Guild.  There is, however, a new computer in the works and the techies who are transfering data to the new robotic brain believe that the script and other files of value came through without a hitch.  We’ll know for sure tomorrow.

I’ve not been to the city this close to Christmas since I was a little kid, living on Long Island.  On several occasions my dad took my brothers and me into the city to shop at Macy’s for Christmas gifts.  I remember it as lots of fun.  My brothers sat on Santa’s lap, while I checked out the latest lipstick shades, picking one I thought would look good on my mother.  We ate lots of chocolate and candy canes, while we looked for those special trinkets we’d wrap and put under the tree, emptying the piggy banks that we’d stuffed all year long with allowances.

Shop Window at Rockefeller Center

Shop Window at Rockefeller Center

After this trip I’ve promised myself I won’t return again this close to Christmas and Hanukkah.  The Streets and sidewalks were jammed with shoppers and tourists from all over the world.  New York is an international city where languages from around the world can be heard, especially at this time of year. I was overwhelmed by the walls of people heading in my direction. Listening carefully, I realized I was not alone with my panic. As we passed one vacant doorway, I overheard a man telling his wife that they would just stay put until there was a break in the crowd.  A while later, a young woman rushed by, pulling her boyfriend along, who was pleading, “Please get me out of here.  I can’t do this.”

We saw three broadway shows, two of which I thought were good, but still nothing that inspired me.  We also took in three movies, the best of which was, St. Vincent, with Bill Murray, which was delightful and whose main character I could relate to.  We also saw, Citizenfour and Whiplash. Though both are great movies and award material, their serious nature left me feeling a bit raw.

The Tree at Bryant Park

The Tree at Bryant Park

We also went to the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan where we took a 90 minute tour of one of the buildings the museum has redone, where I got a glimpse into what living arrangements were probably like for my grandparents, who came to the States from Poland in the early 1900’s. I look forward to going back some day to do the museum’s food tasting tour which sounds quite yummy.

I was whisked away into the whirl wind of city life, but am so happy to be home again. When our train pulled into Charlottesville on our return, we both joyfully realized that going away is what one needs in order to understand that coming home to the “same old, same old,” is where we really want to be.

Being Perfect

DSC00553.JPGEven when there there are no holidays looming we live in a rush-rush world. But this is the time of year when the push to the finish line is most noticeable. In the past few days out on the road I’ve seen several near misses, with drivers not paying attention, talking on cell phones, or not indicating that they want to change lanes. I’ve had two incidents lately myself with people riding my bumper. I wasn’t dawdling. I was going the speed limit. But they insisted on pushing me so that they could get to their destinations in record time. I slowed down and got off the road as soon as I safely could, probably making them angry in the process.

When I find myself joining this Speedy Multi-tasking Club, I try to stop myself and ask, “Where do you think you’re going?”  Usually the answer is simply, “I don’t know.”  All I seem to know is that I have a lot to do and the days aren’t long enough for me to accomplish it all. I become somewhat unconscious, anxious, headachie, grouchy, and resentful.

My next question is, “What on your list can be eliminated?”  That’s probably the toughest one for me since everything on my list is so hugely important and absolutely must be done. What it takes for me to see the error of my ways is to sit down with my list and really concentrate on all of things I’d planned on doing. Being a perfectionist for a good portion of my life, it’s usually about finding the best gift for a friend or relative, and making it even more perfect by finding lovely wrapping paper and ribbons to tie it all up with.

It’s about NOT being outdone.  It’s about bringing a delicious blue ribbon casserole to the pot luck dinner.  It’s about knowing more than we know, so that we can be on top of every situation, always having the best solution to everyone’s problems. And might I mention having The Last Word. It’s about NOT taking the time to appreciate how the Christmas tree spreads its lovely pine scent through the house.  It’s about eating without tasting our food, missing the juicy sweetness of the clementine we seem to swallow whole as we rush out the door to pick up one more last minute item. It’s about NOT stopping to rest when we’re about to fall over with exhaustion. It’s about being out of sync with our own body rhythms. It’s about  driving ourselves to distraction and being miserable because we don’t think we’ll be loved unless we’re perfect.

This year I’ve made a huge effort to slow down and live more simply. I almost ran off the road a few times because I wasn’t paying attention to the essentials. But luckily I caught myself before it was too late. I started being more mindful, considering what my intentions were and why. I actually stopped making lists and instead began listening to want it was I wanted to do, rather than what I absolutely had to do.  Sure, those “must dos” still exist, but by allowing myself to sit back and close my eyes as I listen to good music, I’ve actually gotten more done than I do when I pressure myself with the proverbial lists of what to do in order to be the perfect friend, wife, and mother.

How can that be? I don’t really know. What I do know is that what I thought were the most important things on my list, weren’t so important after all.  Those we spend our love and time with would prefer to be with someone who is cheerful and grounded. That fabulous piece of jewelry or the best toy in the world will not make Christmas a happy time. It is the spirit of the day and being with happy, healthy family members that will make it  memorable. Being mindful of where we are and how we feel helps slow us down making life a lot easier and free from holiday blues.

 May your holidays be filled with ease and the New Year bring you peace and joy. 

Keeping The Holidays Simple

Christmas in New York, 2007

Christmas in New York, 2007

Here we are just a little over two weeks before Christmas and I’m not in panic mode.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent a Christmas without being completely overwhelmed by all that had to be done and the impossible expectations I set for myself.  I’ve run into a number of people over the past week or two who have mentioned that they have way to much to do and little time to accomplish even the most important things for them.  That sounds very familiar to me but I’ve had to smile at myself and pat myself on the back for not being driven to distraction by the usual holiday stress mess. So what’s the difference between this year and the past?  Firstly, we usually go down to North Carolina to be with our daughter, her partner and grandkids.  Last December we all decided that it might be fun to just have our own individual holiday celebrations this December.  It sounded like a great idea to me and though I’m especially going to miss Noah and Zoe, I think it will be good for them to just be with their two moms, doing something more laid back and simple, than entertaining their grandparents. I’m extremely grateful that I don’t have to prepare for a trip. I generally don’t like to travel on holidays of any kind because of the traffic and the rush-rush attitude I tend adopt in order to get ready to hit the road on time.  And to be honest, long car trips are not one of my favorite activities at this point in my life. Being fairly active, even an hour of sitting in the car, brings on joint stiffness and it takes a lot of work to iron it all out. It’s at least a six hour trip down to North Carolina, without pit stops. After our trip to London in October and the almost eight hours of sitting on the plane, one-way, I’m particularly happy to stay put this year. Mark and his family, who live nearby, will be away, so Bill and I are planning a very quiet day.  We will  go to a few parties in the neighborhood during the week and treat Christmas itself as a day to relax, without stuffing ourselves with way too much food.  Maybe we’ll go out a see a movie, and if the weather is nice spend some time wandering about with our dogs, who always love to visit new walking spots.  The smells are different from their usual stomping grounds and they may well get to make friends with dogs they’ve never met before. The other thing that’s helped keep my stress at a low level is that since the day before Thanksgiving I haven’t been shopping except to go to the grocery store.  Everyone in the family will get gifts, but they’ll be things I’ve purchased on line, and sent directly to the recipient. In other cases a gift of some money will help those out who need a little extra cash this year.  By staying away from all of the stores, I keep myself from being in contact with the holiday grouches and those in such a hurry that they mow everyone down in front of them. We’ll keep our Christmas meal simple like we did at Thanksgiving when I made Eggplant Parmesan, a big tossed salad, and apple crisp for desert, all gluten-free and delicious. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll make for Christmas dinner, but you can be sure it will be something simple. Gone are the days when I enjoy an overloaded table of food and then have to take five mile hikes for the next two months to lose the pounds I gained. If there will be any stress, it might be over some renovations our house will be undergoing come January sixth.  We’re getting a new hardwood floor installed in the kitchen. The hard, uneven slate floor that was in place when we bought this place has not been easy on my legs and back. I’m very excited about spending more time cooking comfortably.  We’re also demolishing the powder room on the main floor and will be moving the washer and dryer into that space from the basement, making it unnecessary to climb steep stairs while clutching an overloaded basket of laundry. They’ll be situated right next to our bedroom, making doing laundry much more easy. I’m sure there will be stress enough living without a kitchen and laundry facilities for about four weeks. But in the end when it is done I’ll be able to swing back into my regular life and proceed as usual, but much more easily. In the meantime I’m working on Part Three of my memoir.  I am pleased that I allowed myself to forget my October first deadline for finishing the first draft of the entire book. The trip to London, even though I was sick for part of it was just what the writing doctor order.  Taking my time with it has opened up a new avenue for the way I’m handling the last part of my story and so far it’s it’s really going well. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to reduce strain and worry, especially during the holiday season.  Do you have special ways of handling holiday stress?

Gift Of The Magi

Christmas in Black Mountain, North Carolina, with Deena, Lisa, Zoe and Noah

Christmas in Black Mountain, North Carolina, with Deena, Lisa, Zoe, and Noah

My annual Christmas doldrums stayed away until the week before the big day. They slowly made their way into those early mornings hours when I worry myself awake. They like to sit on my chest, heavy and soggy with tears, insisting on staying put until I get up and take Sam for his walk.

It helps to watch the eastern sky begin to glimmer with the rising sun in the crisp air of dawn. Robins not yet chilled enough to fly south, greet us with cheery chirps as they scatter dead leaves and broken twigs, looking for a small breakfast morsel of worm or bug.  As the night fades my spirit lightens. The heaviness begins to drop away and when I catch my first glimpse of that brilliant orb of light, the burden is gone.

A few other early risers and their dogs, shuffle by, nodding and raising a sleepy hand in greeting.  When we meet in broad daylight, we often stop and share stories about what is happening in our lives. But early in the morning, it’s far too cold and blustery to stop and chat.  We all rush home for eggs over easy, bacon, and toast. The stretch of daylight before us won’t last long enough for all of the things we need to get done.

The days are hopscotch quick and this year it’s difficult to get things organized for the coming holidays. In order to avoid the madness of Christmas crowds, I order gifts online or buy them from friends who create simple things like bees-wax candles, gingerbread soap, or spicy brown sugar scrub for making one’s skin feel like the softest silk.

I sometimes make a few things myself, like the elderberry syrup that my son loves. It is medicinal and filled with the goodness of not only dark and delicious elderberries, but also elder flowers, rose hips, licorice, orange rind, all steeped together in raw honey and brandy for four to six weeks. Mark pours it over ice cream and other sweets. His interest tends toward the gastronomic, but if his luscious desserts happen to keep a cold or the flu at bay, so much the better.

This year I couldn’t seem to get it together and as the holiday grew ever closer the pall of the shootings in Connecticut stayed with me.  Christmas eve was especially difficult and I’m still bereft for the families who lost their loved ones that cruel, sunny day.

I did make Mark his dream syrup, but the rest of the things I told myself I’d get together didn’t really happen. Despite my sadness, somehow it all worked out and everyone is happy with the tidbits I did managed to gather and pass around.

When Mark and Lisa were little, Christmas often found too many packages under the tree. While unwrapped toys littered the floor, they preferred rolling in torn gift wrap or hiding in empty boxes. When they got beyond that stage, the looks on their faces were more confused than filled with Christmas joy, when they couldn’t figure out which toy to play with first.

As grandchildren have arrived on the scene I’ve become what some kids might consider a Grinchy grandma. I’ve sworn off buying them toys. I go instead for books, games, puzzles, art supplies, or once, it was a fun pair of dinosaur PJs for Noah and a frilly dress for Zoe. Last year, I asked their mom what they needed most. We gave Noah a new pair of prescription glasses, while Zoe got the running shoes, with pink accents that she wanted in order to participate in Girls On The Run.  It may not sound very exciting, but everyone was happy.

This year we gave them a few books and money that they are required to spend on helping others rather than on themselves.  We did that a couple of years ago and they spent their money at the local nature center, adopting wild animals that live there. The money helps pay for food and other expenses for the red wolves, otters, black bears, or other native species that they choose to adopt. Noah and Zoe loved the idea so much that they asked if we could do that again this year.  This proud grandparent thought that it was an awesome request. I was once again reminded of the true spirit of Christmas.

The kid’s handmade gifts to us are magical. Noah built a colorful hanging bird feeder with the help of Deena. Zoe created a small and hysterically funny version of our dog, Sam, using pipe cleaners and small fuzzy balls.  We’ll treasure them for years to come.

We especially treasure the few days we had to spend with them, seeing the fantastic one-man show, Marley’s Ghost, and walking around Lake Tomahawk, while trying to keep hissing geese from chasing us. The ease and simplicity of Christmas day itself was a gift.

Zoe, at age twelve, is suddenly as tall as I am. We now stand eye-to-eye and nose-to-nose when we talk. She has a fantastic eye for fashion, especially when it comes to shoes.  I’ve always teased her that once we wear the same size shoe, I’d be borrowing hers and maybe even taking them home with me if they are comfortable enough. This year Santa brought her a pair of black and pink zebra striped running shoes. I was sorely tempted to try them on, but even though I love wild shoes, I must say they were just a tad over the top for a woman of seventy.

Noah, at nine, is into Big Foot, looking for signs of the beast that so many claim really does exist.  When I told him that I’d probably be scared to death, if I met Big Foot in the forest, Noah told me that Big Foot is a guardian of the earth and would never hurt me.

Christmas is not about the glow and glitter that is touted in the media. It’s not about electronic gadgets, toys, and having more. Christmas is about the birth of one of the greatest teachers of all time. And though I do not consider myself a Christian, I celebrate Jesus along with all of the other great spiritual teachers, as I learn from their lessons in kindness. We all need to remember that when the Magi brought their gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh to the child asleep in the manger, they were gifts of spirit …  irreplaceable symbols of love.