Monthly Archives: December 2016

Christmas Stories

Now that Christmas is over, perhaps you’re willing to hear snippets of three unforgettable Christmases I’ve shared with my family.

December 1975: My daughter’s birth was expected in mid-December. That meant, as a mother of a three-year-old son, that everything had to be done ahead of time — before December 1, in case she arrived early. I wanted to make sure Son had a good Christmas even though his world was about to be turned upside down. When December arrived we had only fun stuff to do — those things we never had time for in previous years. We made Advent cookies, after I read about them in a Christmas magazine. Son got to eat one cookie every day — often for breakfast — all the way til Christmas. That was the beginning of a family tradition that lasted 25 years and expanded to include all of my young children’s friends.

December 1993 or 1994 or 1995: I don’t remember the exact year. Our Christmas was planned for December 26. I spent all day thinking about my college age children, preparing their favorite foods for an appetizer supper, and awaiting their arrival when darkness fell. A fire blazed in the stone fireplace, Christmas carols filled the silence, and the table was spread.  The anticipation was magical. The door opened and there they stood on the front porch with flakes of the first snow sticking to their hair and coats.  We ate. We visited. We ate some more. I finally asked when they wanted to open gifts — tonight or in the morning. As best I can remember, it was my daughter who said, “The gifts aren’t what’s really important.” And she was right. That’s not why we were together — and we all knew it. We watched a movie, enjoyed the fire and continued to share the feast. At a time I no longer remember, we opened our gifts.

December 2016: Because of my December travel plans to visit family, Christmas had to be ready by the end of November. Everything was actually finished by mid-November — and it was wonderful. For me, October and November offered no Christmas pressure. I could plan, I could think things out, I could make purchases in uncrowded stores. My holiday schedule was independent of the usual December deadlines. Like the Christmas of 1975, December was filled with fun stuff, people time, being present-in-the-moment experiences, and the pressure-free time we always say we want during the holidays.

I tell you these stories because I know it’s possible to have hassle-free holidays. Plan now for how you will do it differently next year — not to have a more perfect Christmas like the magazines suggest — but to spend December savoring the people and moments of your life.

That’s all that really matters.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Iced Over

I’ve neglected my backyard bird feeder in recent months. Pure and simple neglect. As a result, bird activity dropped to an all-time low.  Birds who once enjoyed a daily bird bath were noticeably absent.

With winter’s arrival, I’ve taken pity on the birds and filled their feeder. They  are having a great time, feasting on the sunflower seeds. They flit from feeder to fence to bird bath all morning long, often lining up for a turn to splash in the water.

All was well, until the water froze.

I watched a blue jay pecking and pecking at the ice, with no success. He worked a long time. Finally he walked to the middle of the bird bath, without sinking, and flew away. I can only imagine his frustration with his inability to access the water he knew was under the ice.

I’ve been wondering how often, like the blue jay, we peck at the ice — or a situation or perhaps a person — with no success. I suspect we work longer and harder, and give up less easily — if ever. And our success rate is often similar to the blue jay’s.

Persistence is a good thing, but we often don’t know when to stop our hammering. Our blindness in pursuit can prevent us from looking for an alternate route, a different solution, or an understanding that the problem and/or solution doesn’t belong to us.

Sometimes we need to stop pecking at the frozen ice. Give it up as a lost cause. Forgive ourselves for misplaced actions. Go in search of another source or a different solution.

I suspect the blue jay went looking for water elsewhere. I hope he found some.

While he was gone, I broke up the ice so plenty of water was available for all the birds.

Until next Tuesday . . .




Stocking Up

Planning is a good thing — especially during the holidays. Our normally busy lives get crammed with even more activities, leaving us less time to shop, less time to think ahead, less time to be at our best.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m an inveterate list-maker, planner, and ponderer — often bordering on obsessive and incurable.

Perhaps you can imagine my dismay at the state of my pantry as I began my holiday baking. I always have at least ten pounds of all-purpose flour on hand — always. On baking day, I discovered a mere two cups of flour in the canister. The flour shelf was full — 2 bags of rye flour, 2 bags of bread flour, 1/2 box of cake flour, nearly a bag of whole wheat flour — but my usual stash of all-purpose flour had been used and not replaced. Granulated sugar was in a similar state: 4 cups in the canister, but no extra bags on the shelf, though both powdered and brown sugar were in abundance.

In other corners of the kitchen, the ground ginger was nearly empty, as was the onion powder, and the coarse ground black pepper. Only one stick of margarine remained from the usual two pounds I always keep on hand.

In the freezer, I still had three bags of frozen cranberries from last year’s holidays. I always buy ahead lest I run out during the year. I hadn’t used a single bag since last Christmas.

Something is alarmingly amiss with my planning: the pantry is bare in places, yet freezer treasures haven’t been touched.

I’ve been pondering the situation, beyond the mere inconvenience of not having what I need on hand. Two principles are at work here:

  1. Expectations: because pantry staples abound, I expect them to always be there — even without my periodic checking. I kept using the supplies without noticing their depletion, didn’t replace them, which required an unnecessary grocery trip in the midst of cooking.
  2. Fears: last year’s cranberries are still in the freezer because I was afraid of running out before cranberries returned to the supermarket this November. I was saving them for a special occasion — which apparently never arrived. I missed fresh baked cranberry orange muffins in June because I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough for later. And this November I bought more cranberries to last through 2017 — now there are seven bags to get me through next year.

This post is really about being attentive to “what we do” and “why we do.”

  • When I operate on auto-pilot, oblivious to the present moment, I assume my planning and organizational habits also continue on auto-pilot. Well, they don’t. Maintaining the supply cannot happen without my attention to such details.
  • When I save things only for special occasions, sometimes the food item goes bad before I ever use it. So why have it in the first place? And I, and my friends and family, have missed the specialness altogether, because of my fear of running out. When I see cranberries in my freezer I should think, “What can I make that will make this week, or this day, special because I have cranberries in the off-season?” I could create an occasion to share coffee and a fresh baked muffin with my neighbor.

Beware of complacency with the usual and fear of the special.

Until next Tuesday . . .



Stumbling Backwards

A few weeks ago I returned to the church of my young adulthood, the church where my children grew up.

I’ve been gone for more than twenty-five years, though I’ve had occasional visits. On this particular Sunday I saw some familiar faces, though everyone had aged more than I expected (way more than I have!).  A few people called me by name, though I didn’t recognize them. Strangers (to me) outnumbered the people I remembered.

The building had changed a bit, though not in exterior ways. The atmosphere of worship felt different: louder voices, exuberant children, new hymnbooks. The Presbyterian “decently and in order” mantra had taken on a life I didn’t quite recognize.

The experience reminded me of returning to my university some forty-five years after I graduated. Most streets were closed off making access limited. I searched and searched for anything familiar. My dorm, one of the best at the time, was fenced off and boarded up, awaiting renovation. The trees now obscured the view across campus.  Even the road to my hometown looked unfamiliar on this particular day. My disappointment was deep enough for tears.How could a place I loved and knew so well, change so much?

I spent the next few days in my hometown, but decided not to drive by houses where I’d lived, schools I’d attended, or wander through downtown.  I’d had enough unsettlement for one trip. I felt like a lady who couldn’t fight my way out of a paperbag when I tried to find a highway I remembered well, the one that took me to my grandparents house, several hundred miles away.

Of course, it’s normal for towns and universities and churches and people to change over time. It’s inevitable. Some say it’s progress. Some say it’s necessary. Some say, “That’s the way life is.”

When we go back to those once familiar places, we mistakenly expect things to be like they were. We’re hoping to somehow go back in time, to relive those moments, to be young again, to re-experience the energy and vitality and excitement of other years. In my mind, I don’t think I’ve changed that much, since college or my young adult years. However, my mirror doesn’t lie.

Time has marched on, with more changes than we ever imagined, and left us in the dust — at least it feels like that sometimes.

I’ve come to realize that often memories are best left undisturbed. We look at photos of our life as it was then; we reread letters and remember times that have long since passed. We remember, thanks to the things we’ve saved.

Don’t rush to go back. Keep your memories — as sacred as they are — but don’t try to make them happen again.

Create new memories — of this day, this place, this moment.

Until next Tuesday . . .