Decorating a Christmas tree is a tradition I have always loved. When I was a kid, everyone in the family helped hang the many ornaments, some home-made and others store-bought, on the real pine tree that had a place of honor in the living room. Back in those days, people embellished their trees with strands of tinsel, which my mother insisted had to be placed individually on our tree. No throwing handfuls of tinsel at the tree and hoping it would magically spread out for us!
(Of course, we all did “cheated” as soon as Mom wasn’t looking.)
When Dan and I established ourselves as a family, we continued this tradition that was cherished by both of our families. Again, decorating the tree was a family endeavor. How I loved our Christmas trees! I would play the song “O Christmas Tree” in its honor while I admired the ornaments and the twinkling lights. Christmas without a tree was unthinkable!
Then my husband died four months before Christmas in 2012. Celebrating Christmas became a chore, and decorating a tree lost its allure. My daughter came one year and put the tree and other decorations up—and I did appreciate having the holiday cheer around. But I never felt like dragging all of the boxes out of the garage and going through the effort doing the job by myself. I settled for a two foot tree that I could decorate with a few small ornaments. It wasn’t the same—but at least it was a tree.
About a week ago, I decided to put up the tree and decorate it like we used to.
Removing each ornament from its storage box brought back many memories. Seeing ornaments that were gifts from students, or that I made reminded me of when and where I acquired it. Some of them date back many years. For instance, I have two decorations that I bought when I went to Toronto many, many years ago with a good friend. There are ornaments I made, including a stuffed Santa and several ceramic pieces. A strawberry that a dear friend made for me twenty years ago has a place of honor on the tree as does a heart shaped ornament inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday’ that I received from my Aunt Noel and Uncle Jack when I turned forty. Another beloved aunt, Virginia, gave me one of the original “Elf on a Shelf” figures back in the 1970’s—and it, too, occupies a space on the tree. Needless to say, a few of the decorations were made by my now-adult daughter when she was in preschool. Hanging those ornaments on the tree brings back memories of the delightful, curly haired child she was. I love the idea of Santa, so quite a few of my decorations are Santa-themed.
It seemed that each ornament held some memory that reminded me of someone I love—many of whom are no longer with us. Two very special ornaments were made by my Mom many years ago. She cut ovals out of red velveteen fabric and then she embroidered our names on them. Originally they were embellished with paper bells which disappeared long ago. Whenever I touch these ornaments, I feel closer to my Mom.
When I was finished with the tree, I was delighted! Not only was it beautiful, but it reminded me of all of the people and happy times who were part of my life.
Another mass shooting today—it must be morning in America.
I don’t know which is worse: the feeling of helplessness that overwhelms me when these things happen, or the fact that they happen so often.
This one hit especially close to home for me. San Bernardino, where 14 people died for going about their daily business and 17 more were injured, is where my daughter works. Thankfully, she was never in danger. The shooting occurred at a county agency and she teaches at the university several blocks away.
Still, I was anxious—at first because I didn’t know exactly where the shooting had taken place. It took almost 15 minutes to find out. And because my daughter has friends who teach on that campus, too, people I know and like. I worried for their safety as they traveled home later in the day.
Then I found out that my daughter was traveling through the city to another campus. I hoped that she wouldn’t be affected by the manhunt that was underway for the perpetrators.
Now I wonder how she and her colleagues will handle this tragedy when they gather with their students tomorrow. I feel deep sympathy for the people who tonight are mourning loved ones or keeping a bed-side vigil for an injured friend or family member.
Both my daughter and her closest friend posted on Face Book that they were safe and had not been in immediate danger. Then they both admitted to being exhausted from the stress of dealing with the events of that day.
The fallout from this incident will play out for many days ahead.
Those of us who were not directly involved will forget and move on. Those who were in San Bernardino at the time will have to process what happened and attempt to make sense of it.
I wonder if we are safe—anywhere. Shouldn’t people be safe at work, at school, in movie theaters, in restaurants?
We all know we aren’t.
Instead, we try to compensate for our lack of safety. We’ve armed our police with combat gear. We’ve taught teachers how to properly lock-down their classrooms. Children understand the terms “active shooter” and “mass shooting.”
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Emma loved her boots. It had taken her a whole year of babysitting the brats down the street to save enough to buy them. Before she went to sleep each night, she would count and tally the total of the bundle of bills that had accumulated in an old shoe box under her bed. Then she would subtract that total from the cost of the coveted boots.
Chastity, her best friend, went with her every time she stopped at the store to try them on. Emma would slip her feet into the boots, feeling the stiff leather as it touched her calves. The fur on top sometimes tickled her legs, but she didn’t mind.
The sales clerk had gotten used to seeing Emma and Chastity at the store. Emma even knew her name, Marcia Anderson. Emma would seek Marcia out and look hopefully at the woman. Marcia would peer over the glasses that were perched on the end of her nose.
“Sure,” she’d sigh, “go ahead and try them on—again.” Then she’d shake her head and lean toward the other clerk and whisper something. They both could barely contain their amused smiles. Neither woman would admit it, but they enjoyed watching Emma prance around the store in the camel colored boots.
Now the boots were hers. She carried the clumsy square box into her bedroom and set in on her unmade bed.
Emma reverently removed the boots from the box, and caressed them as if they were kittens. The special silk blend socks she purchased to wear with them made it easier to get them on.
She turned each foot this way and that, marveling at how the boots looked. Then she walked in front of her full length mirror, watching her feet. She squealed with delight.
“I can’t wait until everyone sees them,” she exclaimed.
Then Emma grabbed her beach bag and towel from the closet floor and rushed downstairs.
Her mother’s expression said it all. She raised the spatula she was wielding like an extension of her arm.
“For Pete’s sake, Emma. Why are you wearing those boots today? Aren’t you going to the beach? I told you they were impractical for Florida!”
Emma sighed and rolled her eyes. “You just don’t get it, Mom.”
The door slammed.
And Emma clomped out into the bright sunshine and 80 degree weather.
The most unwelcome of all visitors called on me recently.
This visitor is never welcomed and usually not greeted with any enthusiasm.
If fact, when you, your friends, and family find that it has called upon you, they, like you, are worried concerned and fearful.
The visitor was cancer. The “Big C.”
It intruded into my life sometime in late January with the “incidental” discovery of a (thankfully) small tumor in my right kidney. Unbeknownst to me, it had been there for two years—but recently had started to grow.
I felt overwhelmed at first with the myriad decisions I had to make. Where to seek treatment? Should I go back to where my family is (now that I am a widow) in Buffalo? Stay here in Florida and lean heavily on my circle of friends? Could I still go on my much anticipated trip to Hawai’i? Would I survive? What would be the financial and emotional cost to me, my daughter, family and friends?
I finally came up with a plan—and after much consultation, thought, and prayer, I decided to stay in Florida and seek treatment at the Moffitt Cancer Center in nearby Tampa.
Happily, my surgeon Okayed my Hawai’i trip and I blissfully spent some magical time there.
My friends have rallied around me, doing all of the things I need. My family supported me in my decisions—and best of all, the surgery was a great success—so far.
I still have weeks of recovery to look forward to, but I’m trying to do more and more every day.
Writing this blog post is a huge breakthrough for me. Up till now, I’ve kept the “news” of my cancer limited to family and friends. I did make a onetime status update on Facebook as a courtesy to those who correspond with me on that venue.
Sometimes I wonder why I was so reluctant to go public (as it were) with my cancer diagnosis.
I wonder if by not announcing it, I’ve made it less real to myself. Or if I was trying to fool myself.
No matter what, I’m looking forward to being a cancer “thriver”—which is what my many friends who have looked this unwanted intruder right in the eye, and stared it down–call it.
In the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon is the Lan Su Chinese Garden which is built on the site of a former parking lot. It’s modeled after gardens found in Portland’s sister city of Suzhou, China. The name Lan Su means Garden of Awakening Orchids.
The gardens are enclosed by buildings that were typical of a wealthy person’s home and feature rooms including a study and meditation room. The gardens are filled with lovely flowers, a bridge and beautifully serene walkways.
The walkways are interesting because they are fashioned from a variety of stones arranged in patterns that massage your feet as you walk. At the end of our tour of the Gardens, my feet didn’t hurt at all—which surprised me. I think the massage built into the walkway worked!
One of the highlights of our visit was having tea in the Tea House in the Gardens. The menu has several pages of teas, and it is served in unique pots. The food was delicious—and the tea was even better. The teas have a distinct aroma and flavor. Tasting these teas is much like tasting wine.
The windows in the Gardens are unique. They are called Lan Su Yuan Leak windows and are designed to reflect either a geometric pattern or an element from nature.
Visiting the Garden transports you to a different place and time. You feel immersed in Chinese culture and marvel at how nature and a man-made structure harmonize like a beautiful melody.
My daughter had a milestone birthday recently, she turned forty. What a wake –up call that was!
It made me wonder how I could have a forty year-old child. Can you even call a forty year old a child? And how did my kid get to be almost as old as me?
There’s something about becoming forty—it signals the start of a new stage in life. You’re still youthful, maybe even in some people’s minds, young. But you are (or should be) more mature and hopefully more established. Forty year old people are probably married or in a significant relationship, hopefully launched in a career, and able to look back on life experiences to aid in making decisions.
My forties were a great time in my life: my career was blooming and I think I may have looked my best, and my family was thriving.
I celebrated my fortieth birthday by having a big birthday party—by that point in my life I had dealt with several difficult situations, and I felt like I was finally truly an adult.
My daughter said that she was excited to be forty—and I was pleased to hear that. Instead of fighting it every inch of the way, she embraced it and was excited about celebrating this milestone.
Isn’t that what maturing should be? Looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead while celebrating the victories and accomplishments in the years leading up to the birthday you’re observing?
Why not go for the gusto?
So, I wish my daughter many more happy years.
And I hope that every future birthday is a celebration.
Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art
I was supposed to celebrate this Christmas with my daughter and her spouse in Oregon. That didn’t happen. I needed to have unexpected surgery on December 11th and came home from the hospital a few days later. Luckily, my daughter was able to travel here to be with me while I was hospitalized. But she had commitments back on the West Coast, and had to go back soon after I returned from the hospital.
The word disappointed hardly begins to explain how I felt when I realized that I would have to cancel all of my plans for Christmas. I was angry at my situation, and I wondered why me?
This is my second Christmas without my husband—and it hasn’t gotten much easier. The Ghosts of Christmases past haunted me: the party we gave and the ones we went to, the Gala, festive decorations, decorating cookies and visiting my daughter were memories from other Christmases— and would not be a part of this one. There was no reason to bake Christmas cookies, and I did all my shopping on Amazon.com.
You can imagine how I felt.
And there was no miraculous reprieve. I woke Christmas morning with just my dog Sparkle for company.
Luckily, several good friends came to the rescue. I was invited to a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner by one friend and to Christmas Day dinner by another. Several other people extended invitations to celebrate the holiday with them. And my family called every day to bolster my spirits.
Before she left, my daughter decorated the house, and together we put up my table-top Christmas tree. Having a festive house did lift my spirits and made the holiday feel a lot more cheerful.
Best of all, I went to a meaningful Mass with a dear friend who recently became a widow, too.
So even though the Ghosts of Christmases Past hovered in the wings, I did have a merry Christmas.
I hope you did, too.
In our modern world, living in an industrialized country, we have water at our fingertips. It flows freely into our bathtubs, from our showerheads, through our garden hoses, spouts out of sprinklers, and fills our kitchen sinks…until it doesn’t.
The faucet on our kitchen sink broke recently. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I called a handyman neighbor who very nicely came over and diagnosed the problem. He then told me that the manufacturer of the faucet would replace the broken part free of charge. So I called the faucet company and sure enough, they agreed to send a replacement part as soon as possible—promising that it would arrive in a few days.
Meanwhile, my daughter (who was visiting us) jerry-rigged the faucet with pliers. It worked for a few days—we were able to turn the water on and off with little effort. Then a little piece broke off the metal thing-a -ma-bob that we attached the pliers to. And now I had a kitchen faucet that was no longer functional–and my daughter had gone home. Not a big problem—right?
Except it was—every time I went to rinse my hands while cooking, rinse glop off a plate, wash coffee down the sink, or wash a pot, I had no water. I lugged water from the near-by bathroom—and as, you know, water is heavy. So then I started to use paper towels to wipe off plates and a wet towel to wipe my hands. While this may not seem like a big deal, as the days passed, it became more and more inconvenient. I began to think about the pioneers and how hard it must have been to lug water in buckets from a stream. I thought about people who camp, and choose to do dishes this inconvenient way. Mostly, I longed for the day my faucet would again be functional.
The necessary piece came in the mail as promised. I called the handyman and he was able to come and fix the faucet—it took about 15 minutes.
So, now I joyfully turn my newly functional faucet on, reveling in the freely flowing water. And feel very grateful that I live in this century not earlier times when a kitchen faucet was unheard of and water was lugged by the bucket.
We celebrated a wonderful Christmas with our daughter and her partner in California. Both families were invited to come and enjoy everything Christmas implies: family time, beautiful decorations, gift giving, fabulous food and togetherness. We baked and decorated Christmas cookies and strung popcorn and cranberries to festoon the tree. We drove around to see the decorations that graced so many of the homes in Riverside, California. We walked through the venerable Mission Inn Hotel which has an amazing light display. And even though we went away for a good part of the Christmas season, we decorated our home in Florioda with a lovely tree and other bits and pieces.
It was a Christmas to remember.
Then came New Year’s which we welcomed with good friends at a party here in Solivita. We drank champagne and enjoyed music and a ball drop.
So, our holidays were suitably festive.
Some people as they get older stop going for all the falderal associated with holidays. It is tempting to do that. Decorating a tree and dusting off all the little angels, Santas and so on that I love seeing at Christmas takes time. You have to drag the boxes out of the garage and unwrap it all. Then a month later, you have to put it all back again.
I am happy that we went to that trouble. I take great pleasure in seeing my little tree and enjoy the Santas and other decorations I place around the house. To me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without those trappings.
I think that if we stopped celebrating holidays, our lives would be diminished. What would we look forward to, if we didn’t see the holidays as a special time? Just another day—another Sunday or Monday or whatever? Holidays give us a reason to stop and savor life. For many of us, it is a time to think about those we love, to spend time with them, even to tell them that we love them. For many, it is a time to observe certain comforting rituals: baking cookies, going to church, giving gifts, enjoying a feast with family and friends.
No matter what holiday you celebrated, I hope yours was a happy as mine. And I hope that the holidays have given you the energy and strength to face the coming year with joy.
I recently returned from a visit with my only child, my daughter Brenda, who lives across the continent from me in California.
We spent a lot of time sitting and talking, time that was precious for us all. We talked about a range of topics and reminisced a little.
One night, as my husband and I drove back to our hotel, it occurred to me that visiting our daughter always makes me feel proud of her. I see a very competent young woman who is intellectually curious, who cares about the students she teaches, and who works hard all the time. Seeing her in the cozy home she and her partner have created, I realize how well she copes with many challenges. I know that we are fortunate to have a daughter like Brenda, one who is independent, true to herself and passionate about life.
The last afternoon we spent together, she asked a question that caught me unaware.
“Do you tell your friends that you are proud of me?” she asked.
It made me think—having a child with a doctorate isn’t something that you can work into everyday conversation.
“Oh, did I mention that my daughter’s Ph.D. is in English?” isn’t a conversation starter.
And it’s really hard to pull out photos of her degree hanging on the wall of her office that overlooks the San Bernardino Mountains. Showing people photos of her teaching a graduate level composition class doesn’t have the same cachet as photos of the adorable grandchild taking his/her first step.
In addition to that, I make a point of not bragging about my family—although I could very easily.
Brenda’s question made me think.
I read an article a few years ago about adult children in therapy. These adults were trying to resolve their feelings about whether or not their parents really loved them. Imagine a man or woman into their senior years wondering, did my parents love me? It seemed very sad.
So, I have always made it a point to tell my daughter that I love her—as does her father. It is part of our conversation. And we mean those words.
But now I wonder if I ever told her in a concrete way, that yes, I am proud of her.
So this is for Brenda.
I am proud of my daughter Brenda and all that she has accomplished in her life. I am proud to be her mother. And I am blessed to have her in my life.