Third time's the charm

122508

Christmas 2008

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This is Girl from the East’s third Christmas. She’s been alive for four observances, but in 2005 she was only a few weeks old and living in a land where Christmas is not celebrated.

Sometimes I try to image what she looked like as a newborn. Sometimes I try to imagine what her first December must have been like, without a family cuddling and adoring her. I hope it wasn’t too cold where she lived. I hope she wasn’t too lonely. 

Thankfully we arrived that following autumn and carried her home in loving arms all the way to her first birthday cake. Soon after we scooped heaping spoonfuls of food into her mouth on her first Thanksgiving, and then set her in Santa’s lap for her first real Christmas.  I think most of what she experienced on her first wave of holidays with us was overwhelming and incomprehensible.

 

Christmas 2006

Christmas 2006

But it also awakened something inside. Slowly afterward she began to unfold like a spring bud responding to the sun’s warmth. By Valentine’s Day she was walking and babbling and becoming the roly-poly baby she was meant to be. Is there any better gift for her or for us?

 I have only one early picture of her, taken at two days old. The thumbnail-sized image is safely locked away and not for public consumption. It’s a grainy shot, taken quickly and from overhead, so that I barely recognize the girl she is today in that first image. 

Much has changed over the course of three Christmases. This year she understood the simplest concepts of Christmas: the celebration of a birth; the giving and receiving of gifts; the decorating of a tree; and the pleasure of sharing the experience of a nuclear and extended family.

This year was the real charm for her. While it was a simple holiday by past standards, her joy at the smallest touches: frosting on a cookie, silly ornaments on the tree, hugging her new Care Bear, made all the worries of the everyday world wash away.

What ever happened to …. ?

 
card

… old-fashioned holiday cards, printed on nice stock paper, with breathtaking scenes embedded with glitter?
And inside those old-fashioned cards were heartfelt messages — get this — hand-written in pen. Can you believe it? No. It’s true.
Things like:
“I hope everyone in your household is doing well. Bill had a good year at the firm and the girls are busy, active teenagers. See you at the Fourth of July barbecue.”
Oh! And sometimes folks would have a sense of humor and send one of those Shoebox Greetings cards with a Far Side holiday scene on the front and a witty note inside. But always there was the signature in ink. 

The thing about these now rare gems — we received three in total this year — is that is showed that someone took the time to sit down with a stack of cards on one side and an address book on the other and thought for a few moments about the addressee.
Then came the dreaded Holiday Newsletter. Can you tell I’m not a fan? OK. I’ll clarify: Not a fan of most newsletters. Some are written just right. As our English teachers used to advise us on essays and skirts: Both need to be long enough to cover the subject and short enough to be interesting.
But when newsletters tread into this territory, I’m heading for the shredder at a fast clip:
“I suppose it goes without saying that our little Jimmy earned an all-A report card again this year.”
“No one was surprised when our super-talented Jennifer was selected to represent her school on the European tour this past summer.”

Puh-lease.
I wonder: Is there a connection between perfect families and holiday newsletters? Do the dysfunctional just keep quiet?
Then, even more insulting than the photocopied newsletters sent out en masse, are the mass-produced family picture cards with the pre-printed messages and the computer printout envelope labels.
This, to me, has reduced holiday card sending to the level of junk mail.
I so look forward to receiving news and information about family and friends far away. I suppose the Internet is to blame for a lot of this. What with Facebook and other social networking systems, people can find out how Little Jimmy has grown every time a friend posts an updated picture. We don’t have to wait until Christmas.
But when every last shred of personalization is removed from a holiday greeting, it’s hard to feel, well, important or special. Do some people just have a computer do the whole thing for them? Is this a task conducted just after Halloween?
I’m out of the loop on this as you can guess. I still hand write my cards and spit-seal the envelopes.
I’m just old-fashioned that way.

Most wonderful time of the year

icicles

Mother Nature, you’re so funny.

When I submitted a request for holiday weather, I was thinking of gentle white flakes of snow cascading to the earth in time to “The Little Drummer Boy.” And when those gentle flakes reached the earth, they would gather in a neat configuration on the grass and the dirt, politely avoiding the paved areas where they would get in the way of  walkers and drivers.

The fluff would then attach to bushes, tree limbs, fenceposts and rooftops like a frosted accessory, blanketing the landscape in a sparkling woolen coat. It would be so picturesque.

Apparently weather patterns cannot be compared to department store window dressing.

Mother Nature knows she’s the only one in control; she decided to be a rhymes-with-witch and send us her holiday potpourri. Too lazy to handcraft the appropriate holiday weather, she apparently went to Wal-Mart and grabbed some pre-mixed horror show in the bargain bin and tossed it overboard. Sort of the ultimate Chia-Pet gift from above.

In the past week we have had, in succession: light snow, heavy snow, more snow, rain, pouring rain, ice pellets, sleet, subzero temperatures and high winds. Then, more rain and melting followed by refreezing. This weekend we should be on the lookout for “thunder snow.”

On my last shopping sojourn, I traveled with a snow brush, a snow shovel and an umbrella. Our house’s eaves sprouted giant icicles that stretched nearly to the ground, threatening to tear the gutters from their mountings. And this formation of heavy and thick ice preceded a freak warm-up to 40 degrees that then melted the snow like butter in a microwave oven, but not the ice in our gutters, which then forced the liquid to seep between the walls of our house and trickle into our basement.

Thank you Mother Nature, thank you.

What? It’s not your fault we didn’t get our roof fixed? You warned us, you say?

What do you mean I could use the exercise and shoveling is a good cardio-vascular workout? I have a gym membership I don’t need you as a cardio coach!

What’s next? A hurricane of icicles? A tornado of snow? Fireballs plummeting from the sky?

I know you’re under a lot of pressure lately, what with so many threats to your well-being and all the bad media exposure. I suppose you think I’m asking too much to request a particular type of weather when you are inundated with such queries from around the globe. Perhaps I should back off and let you straighten out your disposition. 

Meanwhile, don’t look for me. I’ll be in my basement, wrapped in a blanket, under a tarp, wearing rubber boots and gloves. And I’ll be laughing because you are so funny.

Classic holiday moments

dreidel

When Girl from the West was much younger, she questioned the many holiday cards, decorations and symbols around our home.

She asked about the Creche and I explained the Birth of Christ story. She asked about Santa Claus and I told her what I could recall of the history of St. Nicholas and the many variations of the story of gift giving and helping the less fortunate.

She asked about the candles and the decorated tree and we talked a little about Yule and the Winter Solstice. 

Then she picked up the Dreidel placed between a wooden reindeer and a merry snowman character. The item was given to her in a Sunday school class at our church. Ours is a non-denominational house of worship and often  includes special celebrations of other religious holidays. I thought the Dreidel was an interesting piece and added it to our holiday collection.

“Mom,” she asked, spinning the four sided wooden item in her hands. “If Christians celebrate Christmas, who celebrates Hanukkah?

“Is it the Hanukkanians?”

Such an innocent question. We still laugh about it today.

Apologies to all my Jewish readers and friends; Happy Hanukkah.

A study in procrastination

I think it’s safe to assume that Martha Stewart won’t be visiting our household on her tour of amazing holiday homes. We here at Zombie central are a case study in procrastination.

Here is our tree, stalled in the decorating process due to a light string malfunction. The second light string fiasco in a 48-hour period. I can only imagine all the cluster-f’s back in the day when folks put lighted candles on their trees.

oops

While a lovely once-live specimen, our tree was a hard-fought purchase. All the local lots were down to their last Charlie Brown specials when the husband and Girl from the East went hunting yesterday. Apparently they had to drive some distance to find this beauty, which also cost a bit above the budget. (Sorry brother, it just might be the Clapper for you this year.)

Ah, well. It smells divinely piney and fresh and the boughs are so supple they can be bent and will not release a single needle. On the other hand … fresh branches mean pine sap. I’m starting to wonder from what lot this tree really came? Was it a residential lot? Is there a gap in someone’s landscaping?

Now that I am a day behind, it will take me — Ms. Obsessive-Compulsive — an additional evening to fix the messed-up lights as well as artfully arrange the ornamentations so that they are balanced, symmetrical, logical and have the proper feng-shui. Even Rain Man would approve. What? You think this is a joke?

Other last-minute panic inducers:

Getting the holiday cards mailed.

Shipping the out-of-town gifts. (Sorry MIL and FIL; I guess at this point it’s just tradition that we are late.)

Completing the other 50 percent — yes, you read that right — of  our shopping.

What we are doing right: We are on our second box of Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe-Joes cookies, our second package of candy canes, and have blown through a glass candy jar of Reese’s holiday miniatures.

The CD player has been rockin’ holiday tunes for weeks.

Priorities. That’s what it’s all about.

Coffee on the keyboard

oldway

These are times of great change.

Today I learned another element of daily living soon will cease to exist in its current format.   Beginning next Spring, Detroit’s two downtown dailies will reduce home delivery to three days a week. Those who wish to read the newspaper seven days a week will have to log on to the Internet. The news in some printed format will continue to be published for distribution in sales boxes and at newsstands. 

This bold move, said to be the first of its kind in the country, is the result of rising fuel and print costs and declining ad revenue. It also aims to move the newspaper business into the future, embracing new models of information dissemination.

While this may seem a logical step to many if not most readers who do their information gathering online anyhow, for those of us *ahem* of a certain age, the tactile experience of the morning newspaper will be a huge loss. I’m not sure how this works for folks without Internet access or computers. 

My morning routine consists of firing up the coffee maker, filling the cat’s dishes with food, opening the front door and reaching down to grab the newspaper encased in a plastic sleeve. For as long as I can remember, everywhere I have lived, there always has been a folded paper on my doorstep in the morning. Always.

delivery

I spread open the paper on the table and inhale deeply as the pages release their ink-scented smell of fresh news.  I scan the headlines.  I make breakfast and pour a cup of coffee.

The crisp newsprint crackles in my hands as I leaf through the sections, working my way from the  news, editorials, letters to the editor and features all the way to the comics.  (Yes, I read the comics.) The table arrangement is as follows: newspaper on the left, breakfast center and coffee to the right.
By the time I’ve drained the last cup of coffee, I’ve worked my way through the pages. I rise to deposit the bundle in the recycling bin and then wash the ink from my hands. It’s been a lifetime ritual.
I’m no stranger to the Internet (If you are reading this, then it’s obvious.) and I’m looking forward to being a part of the new media movement. 
However, there are a few unresolved issues this plan didn’t consider:

  • Almost any well-read newspaper will sport a coffee ring or pages glued together with peanut butter or jelly or syrup. Most computer keyboards don’t take too kindly to blasts of hot coffee and showers of doughnut crumbs. Frankly, it’s a little awkward to eat Cheerios and maneuver the laptop keyboard. It can be done, but the hazards are far greater.
  • newway

  • Will I have to download and print the daily paper to place under the cat’s litter box? What about bird cages, what will line their floors? Obviously some household tasks will become more labor intensive.
  • The concept of the newspaper clipping attached to the refrigerator with a magnet now seems as outdated as waiting for the ice man to make a delivery.
  • I was going to mention how awkward it will be to balance a computer on your lap and read the news while riding a bus or train, but the husband says this is done already: Users of Blackberries and I-phones have been doing this for some time. Like I said ….. I’m of a certain age.
  • Without a weeks’ worth of newspapers, how on earth will I hide all those wine bottles in my recycling bin?

Momentum

Sometimes it’s good to know when to say “when.”

I may have reached that point in one of my latest quests. Pushing myself out of the comfort zone — thinking outside the box — is a good thing if it results in finding new interests, new friends or connecting with others toward a greater good.

Sometimes a poorly defined quest results in nothing but frustration, confusion and regret. 

When I volunteered for Obama’s Campaign for Change, I felt driven and motivated to be part of a movement. It felt good to connect with neighbors and work toward something. Ultimately, I was unable to fulfill my agreed-upon duties due to illness.

I felt a little guilty. A little left out. A little like I wasn’t reliable.

I know no one really noticed. But it bothered me personally.

By the time I felt well enough to say good-bye, the field office had been dismantled and the volunteer forces had gone their separate ways.

When the opportunity arose to continue the momentum, I eagerly signed up. But after attending a neighborhood meeting, I feel more like Sarah Palin after the Katie Couric interviews than a revolutionary.

Sitting among hardcore political activists, lifelong volunteers, and community doers, I quickly realized I wasn’t prepared. I was out of my league. I felt like the weakest link.

I realized that I had done this on impulse, a whim, without much thought as to what I could bring to the table. Is having a desire to do something enough? Can you contribute to a team when you don’t know the rules of the game?

I still feel moved to get involved. Perhaps it’s too early in the game to know my position.

Y'all come back now

 

Not the Rocky Mountains

Not the Rocky Mountains

 

My brother, who has the pleasure of living in the Rocky Mountains, came home for Thanksgiving. It’s been a while since he lived here full-time. I’ve never lived anywhere but here. I’ve visited a lot  of places, most nicer. Some make me miss home.

I guess out West we here in the “flyover zone” are referred to as the flatlanders. I’ve had a few cowboys call me that. I thought it was a nod to the topography. Maybe it’s more of a veiled reference to the fact that we are apparently flatlining.

He, who hails from the land of eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, observes about life here:

It is cold.

It is dark and dreary.

No human forms can be found anywhere.

It is depressing.

To him I say: Isn’t that why you left? We all want to leave. It is dark and dreary. It’s December. Depressing? Not always. Lately, yes. Don’t even turn on the TV, radio or log on to the Internet. Just do what the rest of us do, hide behind a good micro brew, or a decent vintage, or just go to bed with a bag of chips, strew crumbs all over the sheets and pull the covers up over your head.

Oh, wait, maybe that’s the problem …

Sadly, there’s evidence to back his claims. First, there’s this bouquet of black roses delivered to our dying region.

Then,  a box of chocolates with a skull and crossbones on it, sent by Mr. Grim Reaper.

Seems like we’ve been in the spotlight a lot recently and our warts and chin hairs are not lookin’ pretty to the rest of the country. Not like the rest of the USA is shaving on a regular basis either.

I meet folks transplanted from all over the world who come here for automotive-related jobs. Many of my good friends were born not only away from this region but on a different continent. It’s all a matter of perspective. While some of them hail from beautiful places, those places lack something that we have here. Something they like about here.

Don’t ask me to produce a list of “things.” Those details vary from one person to the next. One woman likes the urban sprawl. She comes from a place where people are crushed together and space is too precious a resource. Another friend likes the grittiness, the diversity of race and culture. She comes from a very homogenous, orderly society. Homogenous can mean uneventful.

The worst offenders are those who leave and then return for a visit. I hate to say it but most who have left have no intention of returning. I have other relatives who sometimes only stay a night and then cut a hasty retreat to the airport. I know it’s nice where you live, but jeez …

All I can say is: If you hate it here, don’t come. We’ll just visit you in your nice place, sleep on your couch. If you left and are visiting, don’t rub our noses in the very obvious pile of poop on the ground. Buried somewhere in all this dirt is a diamond. 

I’ll take it with me when I go.