Traditions

Sometimes, traditions come about in unusual ways.

For example, this Christmas, I was visiting my mom, and I brought her some cookies. This is something I do every year. I bake a gazillion different types of cookies, and I make up plates that I then distribute to neighbors and friends and coworkers.  It just so happens, I have a plastic container that I fill with cookies for my mother, so she gets more than anyone else. Most of these she puts in the freezer so she can enjoy them throughout the long months of winter.

Keep in mind, these are homemade cookies that have been baked with much love.

This year, I brought an extra plate with me. These cookies were on a paper plate—the type I typically use for people other than my mother. I had made the plate up as an extra, and I brought it with me so I wouldn’t feel bad about eating some cookies while I was visiting. In the car on the drive there, a couple of the cookies on this plate were broken by the bumps and potholes of the journey.

Somehow, my mother came to call this extra plate, “the garbage plate.” One night, she walked into the living room with a cookie in her hand. “I took this from the garbage plate,” she told me. I’m not sure where the name “garbage plate” came from. These cookies were far from “garbage cookies.” They were simply “extras” as I decide that traveling with extra cookies might be a good idea.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that in future years, the “garbage plate” of cookies will become a new tradition. I will bring the normal cookies, and I will also bring a “garbage plate” of cookies, so there will be extras. After all, once you have brought extra cookies, you can’t go back to the normal quantity.

Traditions are funny things. Sometimes they have important and respectable beginnings, and sometimes they emerge out of a silly joke. But joke or not, you can never have too many cookies!

Present

At this time of year, I find myself actively avoiding shopping. The crowds, the lines, the traffic, the people… really, these things are exhausting. But every now and then, I put on my big girl pants, wrap up in my thickest skin, and head out into the wild. On a recent shopping experience, I stumbled into a disaster of a store. All of the salespeople were manning the cash registers to keep up with the lines, and I noticed the store shelves looked like they had been ransacked. Clothes were carelessly strewn on piles of others that had been pawed through, held up, and discarded. There was no order and no rhyme or reason. There was just a disastrous mess.

Did I mention that the salespeople were frantically running the cash registers, and every register in the place was open and cashing out customers as efficiently as possible? They were doing a great job of moving the customers and keeping the lines from growing too long.

So honestly, people, do y’all have maids at home who follow you around and pick up after you? How long does it take to refold the items you look at so you might place them neatly back on the shelf? How much care would it take to not throw all of the packages of underwear on the floor while you look for the one package in the size and style you need?

Any direction I looked in this store on this day (this past Sunday), I saw signs of people moving through life without being present. These people are shopping and buying, searching for a present (not the right present, but any present) so they can cross one more thing off their lists. They are moving through the season like robots, checking in on their phones and posting their finds on social media. They are not paying attention to their surroundings; they don’t care about the people who work in the stores; and they have no regard for the other shoppers who will come to this same shelf and look for a gift in these same piles.

Is this what Christmas has come to? We have so lost touch with the reasons for giving that we destroy everything in our paths like mini tornadoes in order to get things done and get through the holiday. Then we can cross the holiday season off our list and move on into the new year.

We can do better, people. I know we can.

On this day in this store, I looked over my shoulder at all the salespeople working hard to accommodate the shoppers. I pocketed my car keys, and I set about folding and organizing the sweaters on one side of one display. It wasn’t much. And when I turned from my work, I could see so many other messes that I knew I barely made a dent in the clean up of this store. But my gesture might have given an atom of peace to one salesperson. Or my work might have been destroyed by the very next customer who couldn’t find the exact right sweater in the exact right size. Either way, I knew I had taken a few minutes out of my day to attempt to make things better for someone.

As we move through life in the coming days, perhaps we might all take a little time to think about what it means to be truly present in life—especially in this season of love and light and peace. What would your life look like if you paid attention to the things around you? Perhaps we might commit to taking one small step toward being more present—both for ourselves and for those around us. The world needs each and every one of us. But we can only be useful to the world if we are willing to be fully present.

Wrecked

Over the past month, I’ve taken to watching an occasional cheesy, feel-good movie on a certain well-known television channel. While I don’t spend a lot of time watching tv, every now and then, I turn on this channel just to get my “fix” with one of their very predictable movies.

Christmas is a good time to tune in because they have a number of good holiday movies, and they repeat them often enough that if you miss a good part, you can catch up the next day.

Needless to say, when my kids came home from Christmas with their father, I had been watching these movies, and I continued to watch when they were home. Initially, the kids would pick on me—and on the movies—relentlessly. But then my daughter warmed up. Even though she still had lots of complaints about the acting, the predictable story lines, the staged settings, etc., she could see some of the good points, as well. Perhaps she even liked the feel-good ending of all these movies….

The other night, as she and I watched a new movie, W began to comment on all of the problems he noticed.

“That’s some great acting there,” he commented in a tone that dripped with sarcasm.

“We don’t expect great acting,” I informed him. “Just a cheesy, feel-good movie.”

“I bet I can tell you how it’s gonna end,” he continued.

“So can I,” I replied. “That woman right there,” I pointed to the screen, “Is going to end up with the guy in that last scene. And… I knew that in the first five minutes of the movie.”

“You know,” he ventured. “I think I’m going to start a new channel. My channel will entertain viewers with movies where nothing turns out right and nothing ends up all nice and tidy. The guy and the girl will never get together.”

“You’re not likely to get many people to watch,” I informed him, though in the back of my mind, I considered whether this was true.

“They’d all be first time watchers,” he informed me. “They would think they were getting a movie with a nice, happy ending, but nothing would turn out well in the end.”

“And they’d all be so shocked by the ending, no one would watch a second time,” I informed him. However, I later realized that people might watch again just because they wouldn’t believe that all the movies would end badly. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized there might just be a niche market for this type of programming.

Creating these movies might not be a good strategy to reel in the viewers like me, but train wreck tv is a thing. It’s generally a reality tv thing, but who’s to say these same viewers might not want to watch a movie every now and then? I think he might be on to something.

Sweater Hugs

It’s been cold here in New Hampshire. And by “cold,” I mean take-your-breath-away cold. In fact, if you stay outside for more than a minute, one of your vestigial—but important—parts might freeze off: ears, nose, fingers, toes…. If you’ve ever lived in a cold climate, you know just the kind of cold I am talking about. It is C-O-L-D!

The cold sneaks through the walls of the house, around the windows and doors, dancing across the floor as a draft that brings the cold inside. The furnace is struggling to keep the temperature comfortably warm, so we need to bundle up in extra layers, even around the house. Turtlenecks, sweaters, and warm socks are necessary.

* * *

Back in the days when oversized sweaters were all the rage, I might (or might not) have usurped my dad’s old red wool sweater. I have a vague recollection that he let me borrow it for something when I was a senior in high school, and he decided he wasn’t going to wear it any more anyway (something about it being too small and not really something he was likely to wear), so it became mine. Now, I’m not sure if he really thought he wouldn’t wear it, or he wanted me to have it, but over the years, I have held onto it and worn it every now and again. Each time I sort through clothes to donate, I pass by the sweater, leaving it in the cedar chest just in case I want to wear it someday.

* * *

It has been almost a year since Dad passed away. The pain of loss was renewed with the holidays and the approaching new year. As I looked to bundle up against the cold this morning, I remembered Dad’s sweater, folded and ready for wear at the bottom of the cedar chest. I took it out and put it on, knowing that it was the perfect sweater to keep me warm today. Throughout the day, I cherished both the warmth of the sweater and the feeling of being wrapped in a gentle hug.

Since the cold is going to drag on, I think I might wear Dad’s sweater again tomorrow….

The Right Tools

On Christmas morning, we woke up to the quintessential “white Christmas.” Snow was falling thick and heavy, sticking to the trees and piling up on the lawn and driveway. It was the scene everyone longs for on Christmas.

But a white Christmas does not come without its challenges, most notably, the need to deal with snow removal. Snow doesn’t simply go away, and it can’t stay on the driveway and walkways… unless we want to be immobilized until spring, that is, and I’m pretty sure that was not in the cards. So I donned my warm winter snow boots, jacket, and gloves, and I trudged to the shed where—it was promised—I would find my dad’s “snow shovel.”

Let me take a moment to explain my use of quotes on the term “snow shovel.” In my parents’ house, the shovel that had been used (for many years) to rid the walkways of snow seems to be more of a lightweight garden shovel than an actual, dedicated snow shovel.

Sure enough, the shovel that I expected to find was standing at attention on the floor of the shed, waiting for me, taunting me, no doubt. Mom had also offered me a beautiful, rusty child’s snow shovel that I had when I was a child, back in the Dark Ages. This shovel held a picture of a cheerful snowman, and the handle was wiggly and just a few sizes too short for my adult frame.

I used the child-shovel to do a quick scraping of the stairs before I grabbed the larger shovel and headed out toward Mom’s car. After I removed the snow from the car (with a proper tool, not with the shovel!), I started to clean out the snow around the car. I shoveled, removing the snow so she would be able to get to the drivers side door without incident. The shovel was heavy with a long handle. It wasn’t flat like the scraper I was used to, and I struggled with it. With each scoop of snow I threw, I could hear Dad’s voice: “I’ve used this shovel for 40 winters, and it has always served me well. It’s a good snow shovel, nice and light.” Clearly, Dad had not held one of the newer plastic shovels designed specifically for snow. If he had, he’d know it was the right tool for the job.

From the car, I shoveled a narrow path down the driveway, a temporary walkway until the plow arrived to remove the snow from the driveway. When I was done, I retreated to the cozy warmth of the house.

The next day, I went out and purchased two new shovels for Mom, one large with a wide, flat blade and one, a very small scoop with a telescoping handle. It was far from an extravagant purchase, but Mom now has the tools she needs for the next storm. However, I am willing to confess it was maybe a little selfish of me. Now, when I’m at Mom’s house and it snows, I have the shovels I need so I don’t feel like I’m stuck and trying to dig out from the 1950s!

Rediscovered Treasure

This weekend, winter decided to move in. On Saturday, the temperature dropped several degrees, and the snow began to fall just before noon. And Saturday was the day I chose to sort through my Christmas ornaments to decide what I would keep and what I would give away. After all, some of the ornaments in my collection have been kicking around since I was just out of college. And even earlier.

Nowadays, I tend not to burden my tree with an overabundance of ornaments like I did when the kids were younger. Mostly because I like it simple—lights and a few sparkly ornaments to reflect the light back into the room. But there is also the fact that my teenagers are excited about decorating the tree, but not so excited about taking it down after Christmas.

So I sat on the couch and opened the large, green plastic tote, removed the first cardboard box, and began to unwrap small tissue paper balls to rediscover what was inside. Plastic animals dressed in Santa hats with wreaths, hand-painted cinnamon sticks and wooden disks picked up at a long forgotten craft fair, needlepoint plastic canvas squares… these were the items that found themselves in the ever-growing “give away” pile.

As I sorted, I came upon a yellowed box that said, “Mom’s dwarfs” in the handwriting of … I’m not really sure … one of my aunts, maybe? And in pencil, in a similar handwriting, it said, “For Suzanne from Nana.” More recently written were a number of notes in Dad’s handwriting: instructions about being careful, about the fact that there were extra parts wrapped up by themselves, about the things that Dad would typically warn me about as he removed these very fragile items from their carefully crafted tissue paper cocoons.

And now, I pulled one out of the box and placed it in my lap. I unrolled the tissue, getting closer and closer to the treasure it held. The weight of the ornament was less than one might expect, making it easy to fumble or accidentally drop it. But it was cradled securely in my lap. Finally, I was rewarded for my care when I spied the first glint of pointy shoes, a leg, and then a jolly face, its paint cracked and peeling from years of use.

My breath caught in my throat as I could feel Dad’s large hand carefully placing the “dwarf” ornament in my own then small hand. Each year, without fail, before he let go, he would ask, “Got it?” double-checking that this delicate figure was secure and would not fall to the floor where it might meet its demise.

The fact that these old ornaments had seen better days did not make them any less precious. The memories they evoked were worth the extra care needed. Of course, now that I have carefully unwrapped these very fragile ornaments on my own, I believe they are less fragile than all the past fuss would indicate. No matter. I still took great care as I hung them on the branches of my tree.

My one question that will never be answered: why, with elves all around at this time of year, did these ornaments end up being labeled “dwarves” rather than “elves” that might be more fitting for the Christmas season? I suppose I’ll never know. I will be left to devise my own theory.

 

 

Journeys

It’s been a tough week of walking the line. Some days, it seems gremlins have attached themselves to my brain, and they are sneaking around the edges, working their way into my thoughts when I least expect it. There has been much going on around me—accidents, illness, suffering, loss—all way too close. So many of these situations demonstrate how quickly our paths can veer off course and life can change. But these are also the things that tend to bring my blessings into focus. Being an eternal optimist, I always look for the blessings.

This year, our Thanksgiving table was filled with many family members. But throughout the day, I couldn’t help thinking about the one who was absent… Dad. There was much laughter around me, and I spent the day tip-toeing the precarious line between laughter and tears. Wanting to flee to a quiet spot to cry, but being drawn by the warmth of the laughter. I chose to show up and be present.

Life is a one-way trip, and we’re all going the same way. The clock always moves in one direction. We continue to move forward because… well, it’s the only worthwhile choice. There is no going back for a do-over. If you make a mistake, learn from it and keep moving. If there are gremlins in your brain, holding you back, figure out a way to get rid of them or sneak by them. Just. Keep. Moving.

Life is a journey. Pack what you think you might need, show up (with as much confidence as you can muster), and be present. If you need directions, I can help. Forward. Go forward.

And along the way, be the eternal optimist. Always look for the blessings.