Category: Holiday

Time Changes Everything, Most Notably On New Year’s Eve

Is it me or does New Year’s Eve come with a lot of pressure? Why the big deal? Yea, it’s the end of the old year – time moves on, just like it does every day. But we celebrate this particular end of time as if it’s truly the end of time so we better kick it up a notch or three. The build-up mounts in the weeks ahead, “What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?” If you say “nothing” you kind of feel like a loser.

img_2616-1I’m happy to do nothing and cozy up with my honey, a roaring fire, a good movie and a bottle of bubbly. But this year we went out to a jazz club I haven’t been to in over a decade. I was pretty excited actually. The millennial offspring had dispersed after a week of family time and Sir Husband and I were loaded up with Visa gift cards for our night out on the town. Zero pressure.

So there we were sitting in the dim light at our awesome tiny table inches from stage, drinks in hand, waiting on the show to begin while people poured in to the cozy space, and my phone lights up with img_2620a text from my youngest.

“Hey did you hear about the shooting in the nightclub just now? A couple of people dressed up like Santa started shooting everyone.”

BUZZKILL. And startlingly uncomfortable. OMG where? I wrote him back, silenced my phone, stiffened up and started scanning the room. It was on the other side of the world, but Jesus that can happen anywhere, even here, on our big New Year’s Eve night out – you know the important night of celebration and romance without the pressure of worrying about the kids. Shit.

This is what we’ve come to now in the world. Miserable, nasty, sick people think they can shoot you because they want to. You see it on TV and you cringe then disengage, going about your business trying not to think about that kind of horror in your own airspace. By the way, the Times Square ball-dropping celebration was surrounded by SWAT teams and homeland security. Wow.

Change is everywhere. I was surprised when we got to the club (I had frequented annually with my former husband,) to learn it had not only doubled in size, they moved it down a few floors in the building and eliminated the cityscape view from the walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. Bummer.

I said a little prayer in my head thanking the invisible Divine for keeping my boys and us safe while we all did something special on New Year’s Eve in our own respective locations, then I sat back and enjoyed the scene with the love of my life.

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Anyway, Happy New Year. It’s here with plenty of new pressures – like resolutions. Mine is to learn to really embrace change. Although you know what they say about resolutions. Statistics show…they don’t last.

 

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There’s No Place Like A Home For The Holidays

That Irving Berlin song – Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep – from the 1954 movie classic White Christmas – is a great little tune I’ve heard every holiday season my whole life. I love it, and it only took a few decades for its meaning to sink in.

We’re a week away from Christmas and winter truly arrived last week with a polar vortex that brought record-breaking, dangerously cold temperatures to the Northeast and we felt it. Really felt it. So much so that I shed a tear for the poor animals who live outside when I could barely get from my car to my front door without legitimately feeling pain. Although we live in the city, our home is on 23-acres of conservation land where all kinds of creatures make their homes – deer, wild turkeys, birds, fox, coyotes, it’s quite amazing. I worry about them in the brutal cold.

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On the first day of the nasty vortex, grey and dreary, winds whipping over 30 miles per hour, I stood in the window and watched a flock of wild turkeys pecking for food around the front lawn. They had to be cold. There I was in my house, all decorated for the holidays and cozy, and I was overcome with gratitude. I not only have heat, but a big wood-burning fireplace we enjoy using several nights a week. It wasn’t just the warmth, it was everything. I was bursting with  gratefulness.

Finally feeling the peace, Sir Husband and I are finding this a lovely place to be – on the other side of hardship – dreams seized and nurtured. Sure we still have stress, but normal stress, the manageable stuff that doesn’t seem so huge when you realize you are overjoyed to have heat. And other things, like food, clothes, jobs, and a roof over our heads with indoor plumbing.

I never realized how valuable those things truly were until I was standing in the hallway after a holiday carol service a couple of Sunday evenings ago while it was still fairly warm out (funny that 40 degrees is now considered warm.) I noticed two people right outside the window sitting down on what looked like a ground-level ledge of the building.

161211carolservices32We were in a big, old Catholic church built in the early 1900s. It’s stunning actually, and the floor to ceiling windows reveal the fairytale-esque city square that looks like it’s right out of a movie. It was hard not to be mesmerized by the magic of this extraordinary church let alone the amazing voices of the choir performing there that night. And there these two people were, sitting there huddled together talking. I thought it was two college students since we were in Harvard Square. But when I looked closely I could see they were layered in clothing partially-wrapped in sleeping bags, next to them was a full plastic garbage bag – of something. They were homeless and settling in for the night.

I stood there wondering who they were and why they were there, tucked into the nook of a big, brick church trying to stay warm. They looked unfazed actually, I could hear them chatting as if it were two people talking over a dinner table at home. I assumed they would be there all night and wondered if this was their “home.”

While we were inside completely moved by the choir’s angelic voices singing beautiful carols in Latin, German, and old English by candlelight …  Silent night…holy night…all is calm…all is bright … they were outside with only the clothes on their backs and a garbage bag by their sides.

Count your blessings instead of sheep. Because baby, it’s cold outside.

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Happy holidays ~ See you next year.

 

 

(*winter scene photo courtesy of NOAA)

Spare Me Your Toxicity, I’ll Take Insight and Kindness Instead

This is the little story that caught my eye on social media the morning after Thanksgiving.

Thinking of the young woman walking in a dress and high heels on the cold Thanksgiving day; the young man that had the nerve to leave her at the gas station when she was in the bathroom; all of the people who passed her by; and my brother and niece who picked her up and went way out of their way to take her home.

Wow. Hmmm.

Until the heartfelt kindness shown by someone’s brother, it’s safe to assume there was no Thanksgiving spirit going on for that woman in the dress and high heels. No feasting on good food, family togetherness or reasons to feel gratitude, seems more like pain and cruelty. There are a good amount of people who don’t enjoy a Normal Rockwell family portrait no matter how much they want it or how hard they wish for it, or even pretend they have it.

shoesThere’s always one, or maybe a few, sitting or standing next to you who make you stop and wonder. You are just trying to live your life happily, peacefully, you know – the way you are entitled to by the simple fact you are alive. But like the noxious smell of gasoline, there are some who make you feel sick.

You ask yourself if it’s you. You look in the mirror again and again, maybe even for years, you have tried to understand why some people don’t see how they come across – or more like won’t see. Because to them it’s you, it’s always you not them. You are the problem no matter what.

But you know deep down in your heart of hearts that just isn’t the case. You’ve worked hard, learned, evolved, grown, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will likely keep living from their own little closed-up space that prevents them from valuable soul-inspired insight.

It takes work – insight – it’s hard and uncomfortable, it’s so much easier to blame instead of waking up and really seeing who we are and what we are putting out there into the world. It becomes a right-wrong thing. You were wrong so I left you at the gas station. No you were wrong to leave me there.

A few minutes after I saw that little story, I heard a news report that statistics show more and more young people are having heart attacks and strokes. They didn’t say it was due to one particular thing because there are so many thingspeople…situations… that create stress. These physical repercussions, including illnesses like cancer, are sometimes referred to as “wake up calls” to living better – more healthily, more clean, less stress, less toxic whatever it is.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the wake up call came before our life was threatened? How do we feel better in spite of things or people who make us feel sick, who have no interest in addressing their own poison?

We’ll never really know what happened with the woman in the dress and high heels. But when you really think about it, truthfully it’s our journey and ours alone. Thank goodness for kind strangers who stop to lend a hand along the way.

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Where Can I Find A Little Peace And Is There Room For It In The Budget

 

black-fridayOnly 17 days until Black Friday, the countdown has begun. There were years when my children were growing up that I had all the gifts purchased, wrapped, and hidden long before this enticing annual event. All it took was a trip to Toys “R” Us filling up back of the old Volvo wagon with the items on their lists, done.

Although it didn’t seem easy at the time, I had the time, energy and budget back then. Time only proved, that while the gifts got physically smaller, the price tags got much bigger. The boys got older, technology got newer, and gift-giving got harder.

vintage-christmasBut no matter our circumstances, my children have wanted for nothing really, despite my incessant frugality. To this very day I still prefer scoring the absolute best bargain on anything from clothing to food to holiday gifts. I’m far from extravagant but always provide a suitable stash for my kids.

This year though, we’re in a bit of a bind. We’ve had to shoulder some hefty unexpected expenses for the boys that required our hard-earned holiday stash. It’s no secret that our lives drastically changed after Mr. Ex revealed his gambling addiction, we ended up nearly homeless with empty bank accounts, retirement and college funds. That was 10 years ago, and he is happily recovered.

But unfortunately the boys and I have been unable to recover from his losses, even to this day. What they say about the lasting domino effect of someone’s addiction is completely true. So when things come up, like college tuition or emergency car repairs, we find ourselves hard-pressed. Sadly Mr. Ex says he can’t assist, so unless I find a way, my boys are on their own.

behaviorNot whining, I totally have their backs. Except, as the most wonderful (and most expensive) time of the year approaches, I am worried about how to manage. Like Charles Dickens writes in A Christmas Carol, it’s not about the gifts. But do kids really buy into that? Will they feel happy waking up on Christmas to a tree with no gifts underneath? Sure it’s about feeling the love – of family, of the season, of life. But how will it really feel this year when our small gift budget went to their emergency expenses instead? Let’s be real, they will be disappointed, and I will feel pretty bad.

Mr. Ex says he is at peace. That’s great, we all could use some peace.

Peace is an interesting concept. It’s easy to imagine, it’s highly desirable and naturally sought-after. We hear about it, read about it, sing about it, talk about it, and we’re even told it’s already there inside, so why, for some of us, is it so hard to really feel?

This is what I want to give my children this year – the feeling of peace – which could possibly be the best gift I could ever give them. First though, I have to believe it’s possible. In order to receive we have to believe, right? Just like in the beautiful story The Polar Express, believing is seeing…and feeling.

It is a special season, full of miracles and magic – and if we believe hard enough – even peace. Beginning of course on Black Friday.

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Halloween Is Over, Bring On The In Between

Welcome to the Christmas Season! It’s just two days after Halloween – the official holiday launch. We can tune in to Christmas music on satellite radio now, and we better start shopping for all the popular gifts.

Nah. I’m headed to the store to get a bag of Halloween candy for 50 percent off. We didn’t really get to celebrate Halloween this year, nearly empty-nested for the first time. Our 16-year old wasn’t interested, and we live in a big old house-turned-condos that sits well off the road in the woods, nobody rang the bell here.

At first I didn’t mind the lack of festivities – much to my holiday-loving surprise – the last halloween-04-064-copyoctober-05-010-copytwo decades of hazy Halloween memories were more than enough. No costume quandaries this year, messy pumpkin carving or mad dashes to the front door making idle chit chat with wee fairies and movie characters who aren’t old enough to eat a Skittle. No boys up past their bedtime sitting in a pile of open wrappers in the middle of the floor, no candy coma, no weeks of chocolate sitting around the house. Yea it’s all cute, and I loved it year after year…including raiding their bags when nobody was looking. But they’ve grown up and moved on.

Then the sun started to set on Halloween night…and some sadness crept in.

Halloween was over and it hadn’t even begun. I didn’t miss the hoopla or mess, I missed tradition – the anticipation of the doorbell ringing, trying to keep our hands out of the candy fullsizerenderbowl, pumpkin seeds toasting in the oven, glowing amber candle lights in each window, decorations, black and orange everything. Nope, none of that this year. Just a couple of full-size candy bars that Sir Husband sweetly brought home and placed near our teeny pumpkin. We missed the kids.

But “it’s whatever” as our millennials say. They are able to move forward in time without batting an eye, something I continue to try. I think there is an “in between” phase for parents, when we’re conscious of the big change adjusting to the empty nest. The shift in circumstances is noticeable.

But why do we always try to hurry our way on to the next thing, the next phase, even the next day?

water-restIn between is underrated. Nobody wants to hang out in between anything. Whether it’s between life phases or in between holidays, the world just pushes forward instead of embracing the void in between. What’s so bad about the void? That’s where we can pause, take a breath, and just be for a minute or three.

There’s something cool about being in the gap. Suspended between destinations or phases, hanging out in this space of has-been and will-be. Like when you are looking at a candy bar sitting on your table and you know it’s there and you are psyched about eating it but you don’t go for it. You wait. You anticipate. In between.

That was my favorite part of Halloween back in the day. The part just before the sun set when everything was ready but it was too early for trick or treating. We just hung out in those moments of peaceful readiness for whatever was ahead. We enjoyed the scenery. We enjoyed the pause.

Anyway…in the meantime, Merry Christmas.

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Father’s Day Is What You Make It, Even When It’s Tough

Here we are on Father’s Day weekend, a precarious holiday in our house. We simply do not have 11350476_1097027170311056_8666506750957732273_na traditional family situation. In fact, I’m not sure what traditional means anymore anyway, that is not wished for or imagined. It has taken a lot of years for us to come to terms with some of the facts of our life. And the only thing we have learned is that we simply have to accept the way things are.

When we become parents we don’t think about much beyond the happiness of having our own child and forming a happy family. Holidays take on new meaning. We establish traditions and dedicate ourselves to celebrating joyfully with our child.

Then life happens and suddenly we realize we have lost all control over how things turn out. Kids get older and move away. Parents get divorced. People pass. People change. Holidays change.

I wonder how Sir Husband’s children feel on the day that honors their dad when their mother has totally alienated them from him. They are starving for his love, and he for theirs.

I wonder how my children feel remembering a dad whose addiction ruled their lives until later when they were long gone.11015944_936861529658422_3739953528114582534_n

I wonder how children feel who have a step-dad. Or who lost their dad. Or who don’t even know who their dad may be. And what about dads whose child died?

My father lives far away, and while we get along, he’s busy in his own world. Sir Husband’s father isn’t alive. Even as adult children, we long for happy, meaningful holidays with family members – which isn’t always possible.

Anyone who intimately understands the name Dad has an individual perspective of this nationally recognized – although not universal – day.  And we’re sort of on our own to figure out how to feel.

How do we celebrate a holiday that brings so much pain, memories and grief to the surface, that rises up and imbues the air?

We opt to minimize the occasion with a card, an acknowledgement and then we get on with our day. Sure it’s easier when occasions feel good – but that’s the bittersweetness of life. We have to somehow put a neutralizing shield on our emotions which can be really hard to do.

11000562_938035466207695_8884132164395392603_nAcceptance – like holidays – means something different for everyone. It’s maybe one of the biggest feats in life. Learning to be ok or at least tolerate our discomfort takes a lot of hard work. There’s a whole lot in life that isn’t fair, and I mean downright doesn’t-make-any-sense-hurts-like-hell-isn’t fair. That’s the first thing to digest.

Somebody once said life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. I hate to say it, but after coming through some impossible stuff, unfortunately it’s true. There are no set rules on how to accept and feel better, and it for us it took several years of ups and downs that seemed like life and death. But we were determined, and we persevered until we felt that shift into a better emotional spot.

Acceptance doesn’t take away the pain especially on holidays, but it dilutes it. The most important thing to do is to honor how we feel. If we can do that then move on, that’s when life gets real.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Memorial Day Reminds Us of An Unconditional Gift

Today we rest, and enjoy what so many sacrificed their lives for – freedom and peace. I don’t know anyone who died in service to our country. And here’s the kicker – they don’t know me either.

It’s hard to wrap my head around men and women who would put their lives on the line for me, for my children, for my family, friends, neighbors, and basically everyone, as I move through my day-to-day life in comfort. When I stop to think about it – which most of us rarely do – I deeply appreciate their unconditional giving.

It’s only in the last several years that I have truly come to understand the meaning of “unconditional.” It’s not even a word, as much as it is a feeling – that absolute, without hesitation, without a doubt, without thought or reservation or any ounce of impurity, overwhelming sensation of bright, white, pure Divine Love that just happens when it’s condition-less.

It feels good, and there’s no room for anything other than goodness, nothing else matters except that. 

We live in a world of imposed conditions, so it’s almost hard to define the mystical experience of “unconditional.” I don’t know if we are born with the ability to offer it, or if it’s learned, or if we even recognize it when it’s happening to us, by us, or for us.

While I can’t say I know what it feels like to sign up to protect a nation, and to literally and consciously put my own life at risk for others, I do know what it means to give of my whole self – heart and soul – in my own little life. It’s the action of caring about the well-being of others in any circumstance without worrying about personal reward. Period.

It’s beautiful, it’s rare, and it’s to be honored.

I’m not a military person. I’m anti-fighting, anti-war, and truly cannot understand the internal inspiration, or the bravery and sacrifice of armed service-people. But I can be grateful, unconditionally.

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April Fools! The Joke Was On Us

April Fools’ Day is probably the only pseudo-holiday in my house that we do not recognize. For a family who embraces holiday cheer, it’s curious why such a silly and fun day would fall by our zestful wayside. But we have our reasons.

April 1st is not our favorite day historically speaking. It was that day many years ago, that we passed papers on a beautiful antique farmhouse that not only turned out to be a money pit, but actually was haunted. Maybe you wouldn’t think that buying a house on April Fools’ Day is any big deal. If you believe in harmless pranks, then this shouldn’t count. But we got a lot more than pranks, we got a nightmare mess of horror.

It was cold and rainy on April 1 – a typical New England spring day. We had been in our new-old house only a few hours, exhausted after trying to move in as much as we could from our cars, the moving truck was coming the next day. We hadn’t had a thing to eat, and we were too tired to care. When I went to draw a hot bath for my young boys, no water came out of the bathtub faucet. Certain I was doing something wrong, I checked the sink faucet, and got no more than a couple of drops. I had no idea what to make of that, beyond my concerned confusion.

After an hour of chaotic exploration, it turned out our well was dry. We never had a well before, we moved from the city to the ‘burbs, where the apple orchards and hills rolled by in a picture-postcard kind of way. We had a home inspection and thought we learned about private wells (and everything else country-farmhouse,) but apparently they skipped the part about when the well runs dry. And, when the well runs dry, the hot water furnace burns out. We had no water, we had no heat and that was just the beginning.

The owners knew of all the problems starting with the well, and booby trapped the house so it looked in perfect shape. It passed inspection only because we later learned the inspector was paid off. Windows fell out of the walls from rot that had been plastered over. The electrical was rigged together and the floors had been patched so seamlessly underneath that the broken joists were unable to be seen, at one point they fell through. We had $140,000 in repairs the first three months after we moved in.

And that was just in repairs. Never mind the cosmetic renovations we had in our budgetary queue. Those hopes were long gone, along with our savings after hiring a lawyer to sue the former owners. We “won,” but only recovered a third of our losses, so the April Fools’ Day joke was on us.

I mentioned that the house was haunted, and I have photos to prove the facts. The house was the original school house in the town, circa 1757. Previous owners had reported it haunted and there were records that said as much. But before the house went on the market, we learned they had been hidden. Of course this was after the fact too – are you sensing a theme here?

Buyer beware is the message, but we thought we were savvy and wise. This was our fourth home purchase, we just didn’t expect the disguise. April 1 is a day that lives on in our memory, but not for any tomfoolery. We don’t live in that house now, we lasted just a few years. Life changes and we move on, but the moral has remained. April Fools’ Day is for fools.

 

Norman Rockwell Holidays On The Outside Looking In

whole foodsMid-afternoon on Easter eve and Whole Foods was a mob scene. The lines wove down the aisles half-way through the store and I was not even there to get anything for the next day’s holiday. I was only there for that night’s dinner. Like the Europeans, I often buy my food the day I’m going to cook it. But this particular day everyone on the planet was doing the same thing.

Holidays in any grocery store are relentless hours before the big day. People are preparing for their feasts with families, friends and those special in their lives. Not me. Holidays for us are kind of a buzzkill – not by desire, but by reality.

Growing up we celebrated holidays to the extreme – steeped in traditional flare, maxed out in both preparation and execution – we lacked for nothing, and our Norman Rockwell painting-type gatherings were worthy of the day. Packed around a table fully expanded by its removable leaves, Rat Pack records stacked high in the stereo console, whiskey sours and kiddie cocktails in hand – generations of people gathered on each holiday, ensuring a hearty celebration. Those were the days and they are since so long gone.

Now we are lucky to have just two or three of us. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles now mostly passed away, friends disappeared, family dispersed and busy with their own lives – gatherings for us do not exist. It’s hard for many reasons. Sir Husband’s family a mess of toxic crazy that we just are not a part, and what’s left of my extended family not acknowledging its ties beyond a text or phone call, we are left to share as much as we can long distance with our five kids. We wish we could all be together, but miles, finances and circumstances keep us apart on days that family matters.

So Sir Husband and I acknowledge the holiday with what sparks of glee we can. Happy to have each other, we wake up in the quiet morning, recognize the day in solace, say out loud we would like being part of the large family celebrations we see in pictures on social media, and then enjoy our own special day. In the great scheme of tradition, this has become our new norm.

This particular sunny Easter Sunday, we enjoyed our coffee together before heading to my mother’s with our teenager. She had braved the grocery-store masses and made enough food to feed an army – a tradition she continues in spite of minimal headcount. She always offers her Sunday best – dishes, decor, flowers and food – and works hard to make the occasion be all it can possibly be.

Aside from her festive spread for four, there’s something to be said for a no pomp and circumstance holiday. Minimal expectation is actually underrated. The freedom and flexibility of little pressure and massive unruliness is worth its weight in salt. We can do what we want without chaos or somebody else’s commands, and we focus on the peace of that.

When we returned home from our little brunch, it was like being in the grocery store parking lot the day before. Cars lined our cul-de-sac, we could barely get in the driveway. You could see through the big front windows of our neighbors’ homes and glimpse at their festive gatherings. There’s a beauty in simplicity, even on the outside looking in.

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