Kind reader, I feel compelled to correct a sentiment from my previous post. There, if memory serves, I lamented about how it took hours to put up Christmas decorations on, for example, the foyer staircase but only two minutes (if) to take it all down. I was dragging my feet, if you recall over even getting started on packing away Christmas for another eleven months. My family will attest that I usually have everything down and put away with lightning speed on January 1st! But this time around was different. Chalk it up to this whole aging thing I suppose. I simply was not ready to stop my nightly ritual over the past month of sitting in the near darkness of my living room to admire the lights and decorations on the Christmas tree and fireplace mantle. I wanted to keep all the Christmas memories alive from years past, swirling in my head and heart..yes, even the not so good memories. I did not want to forget the stories of some of my most treasured tree ornaments: The ornament from our week in Hawaii or our long weekend in Alaska… or the two that represent baby’s first Christmas, nor the ornament purchased years ago in a German Christmas market on a frigidly cold day in December….
…so many ornaments (simple and inexpensive, I might add) and with each, a recollection dear.
So, when I took the tree down on January 6th, I managed to spend as much time (if not more!) with its “undressing” as I did in its adornment. I didn’t plan it that way but after five minutes into the process, it evolved quite naturally and I think it may become my new post holiday ritual. It came, however not without caloric implications. Sigh.
Indeed, I do believe I actually gained a pound in my effort to slow the process of putting away Christmas (which is not quite how I wanted to start my New Year’s fitness resolution). How did I accomplish such a feat you may wonder? My strategy was genius–so it seemed at the time–and took the better part of the day. So, if slowing things down is on your list of things to try, say for next holiday season, here is what you must do:
Take one or two (max) ornaments down from the tree and take special care to wrap them just so and place them thoughtfully, mindfully, in the appropriate storage container…
Then take a break. This step is paramount. Step one was, after all, emotionally taxing…
Fix yourself a cup of coffee and grab a holiday cookie. In my case, I had a large holiday cookie tin filled with homemade Pizzelles.
Sit down and savor the cookie whilst admiring the tree. Then, of course, you’ll need to spend time cleaning up the powdered sugar that has fallen everywhere.
Return to step one to begin the process again.
So, I have packed it all away, save for the outdoor lights which is not in my job description (hint, hint Rocket-man!) and am officially kissing Christmas 2019 goodbye. Now begins, in earnest a scaling back on all things coated with powdered sugar and the like.
I’m okay with that. Christmas 2020 is 351 days away. Besides, patience is a virtue, right?
No…It’s not due to fatigue, although I am tired from a small get-together I threw on Friday evening. It’s been many moons since I’ve properly entertained, and it was a spur of the moment decision, so I was anxious about the whole thing. I was relieved to have my sis’s help hours before folks started ringing the doorbell. While the planning, cooking and cleaning was a wee bit stressful since I was out of practice, in the end–I’m happy to report– it was all a delightful success. We noshed on an assortment of Italian munchies I had put together such as an Italian version of deviled eggs–uova in funghetto— which are boiled eggs bathed in a spicy tomato sauce. Polenta bites and dips of delicious sun-dried tomato and chickpea and spinach and artichoke were a hit. It was the muffaletta sliders that would steal my husband’s heart. Stuffed with my favorite Italian “deli” meat, mortadella, as well as provolone, soppressata, cappacolla, and a heavenly olive tapanade, he would have eaten a dozen of them before guests arrived if allowed. My heart went for a new recipe I tried of stuffed mushrooms–so delicious was this recipe that my soul was singing with joy as the smell of garlic, cheese and white wine permeated every room in the house.
…and don’t get me started on dessert. Between my ricotta cheesecake squares, pecan pie from Mom’s pie shop in nearby Occocuan, and homemade pizzelles at the hands of my nephew Alexandre-the-Greatest, you can, kind reader, understand why I am not hopping on the weight scale anytime soon!
To be clear, I’m dragging my feet for an entirely different reason than post-party “hangover.”
I’m simply not ready to pack Christmas away for another eleven months.
I believe I am not alone in thinking that this holiday season flashed by in blink of an eye. For me anyway, It is still a blur of lights, wrapping paper, bows and pomegranate martinis. Furthermore, it confounds me every year that it takes days to decorate for the holidays but minutes to take everything down! For example, it took me the better part of an hour to get Christmas greenery with lights and pretty silver bows to look just so on the entryway stairs. It took two minutes to take it all down. Two minutes!
Now It is the last night of the twelve days of Christmas, the eve of Epiphany when the Magi visited the newborn baby Jesus, carrying with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is an intentional slowness about me today knowing that tomorrow morning I’ll be taking the Christmas tree down and once again, packing away with a certain tenderness, mixed with nostalgia, all the ornaments and Christmas decor. I struggle too with memories of Epiphanies long ago when my children were young. How excited they were about the coming of La Befana, the Italian good witch…an old woman flying around the world on her broom bringing sweet treats and small gifts to children everywhere. In our home, on the eve of Epiphany, I’d leave a basket by a window and watch with delight as the kids found La Befana’s gifts of candy and a small toy the next morning.
Sigh. My eyes well up with tears as I type. So many memories. It’s all good though…even the less than stellar holidays. I’m lucky to have them all…so much better than the alternative!
So kind readers, Happy New Year! Cheers to 2020. May the year be filled with love, joy, kindness and even 2020 insight. But, more importantly, may there be an abundance of blissful moments for you and yours.
Where has the time gone? Or, more importantly, you may be asking (no worries if not)…did I fall off the planet?!
Regrettably, it has been awhile since I’ve put pen to paper, so to speak, but yowza has time flown! November is but a blur. How is it possible that Thanksgiving has come and gone? In fact, really….Did November happen at all? I may have been abducted by aliens or temporarily sucked into some black hole in the universe because…honestly my normal routine, for inexplicable reasons fell by the wayside. I fell off, for example, the gym wagon preferring Hallmark Christmas movies to pumping iron. Nor did I make homemade tortellini for our Thanksgiving meal, something I have done for a handful of decades.
For goodness sake…did I even eat turkey and my favorite stuffing?
Oh silly me. I kid. Why yes! Whew! My waistline knows for sure!
Through the fog of sweet treats and libations memory serves (thankfully) that turkey and all the delicious trimmings, to include a pecan pie to die for, was enjoyed at my house. As a matter of fact, Sis and Company hauled their dishes to share through the modest pathway that connects our back yards. Of course, we ate ourselves silly and as we did so our lively chatter included everything from tortellini making strategies, what gifts were left to purchase and wrap and Christmas traditions, past, present and future.
Which brings us to a few days shy of the end of December. Where in heavens name did that entire month go? Remnants of holiday ribbons and bows that adorned packages are piled in a glass bowl still on my coffee table. As I regarded them this morning over my second cup of coffee I realize I’m stunned. What? Christmas is over? Christmas– and with it, the sounds and sights of the season– has come and gone?!
Poof. Just. Like. That. Gone for another year.
Still…If I sit very quietly with eyes closed, the days leading up to Christmas return. I listened to Christmas music and hummed my favorite carols from morning to night. I gushed like a kid over the twinkling, bright holiday lights that lit up everything from neighborhood trees to greenery on our mantle. And I smiled from ear to ear when I attended my nephew’s holiday concert. Oh the joy in his parents eyes, and mine, to watch our little man play his saxophone!
Yes, I hold dear all the sweetness, love, joy, laughter and holiday lattes as well as a few tears thrown into the mix too…because, well…it is that time of year! It never fails, nor arguably should it; the time of year when we often reflect upon not only a host of Christmas memories from long ago but also on a lifetime of relationships with family and friends. The good and the bad and everything in between.
So….this Christmas eve had Sis and I in my kitchen kneading pasta dough. Nothing quite gets one into deep rumination like kneading dough for eight to ten minutes, by hand. Sure, I could use dough hook to do the deed but it is so much more satisfying to put heart, soul and muscle into the dough.
“Mom would be so proud that we are carrying on her tortellini tradition,” said sis as she pressed the heals of her hands deep into a ball of dough.
Eh, si cara I thought as I reached for the bag of Tipo 00 flour. “Yes, and she’d really love our new tradition from the past four or five years… the “tortellini wars”… with our Italian family in Italy,” I said. Indeed…my favorite cugino of all time, Paolo, had just days before messaged from Italy. “Tortellini Team Udine” had thrown down the gauntlet preparing a whopping 516 tortellini!
Lord have mercy! Who is going to eat all that tortellini? Are they feeding the Italian Army?! There’s no way we’re going to beat them this year,” I thought.
Sis, in a deeply pensive mood, lamented for a moment as we kneaded away. “I’m so glad my young son loves helping in the kitchen,” she said. “It makes me sad though that after I’m gone there will be no one to carry on this holiday tradition.”
“You don’t know that sis,” I said stopping for a moment to take a sip of red wine…because….well, one cannot possibly make tortellini without a glass of wine nearby. “He loves helping us with tortellini and he’s getting good at rolling the dough through the pasta machine and knowing when the thickness of the pasta is just right to begin the next step in the process: adding the filling and folding the dough into the requisite ring (belly button) shape. Mark my words sis, all that you do, especially during the holiday season, willnot be forgotten by that great kid of yours. And, truth be told, I’m still amazed that my daughter holds certain traditions dear. With our less than ideal relationship I would have never thought it possible that she too would carry on the pasta-making tradition.
This seemed to lift my sis’s spirits. And so, on Christmas eve, with some extra hands to help (my nephew, and even my husband!) we got into a steady rhythm with peaceful Christmas piano music in the background as we worked, churning out 496 tortellini–my half filled with a leek mixture and my sister’s half filled with a finely ground mixture of mortadella, prosciutto cotto (the cooked variety) and pork loin. Yes, dear reader, this mixture proved to be absolutely divine with butter and sage!
And indeed…I will confess that my competitive spirit kicked in. So much so that since some of my prepared leek and parmigiano filling remained after I ran out of dough, I was fully enthusiastic to knead up another batch of dough to move us triumphantly over the finish line to a first place victory. Alas, my team was apparently exhausted and were a sip of red wine close to revolt (full disclosure: we would have been perilously close to missing Mass) so my plan was summarily overruled. Harrumph.
Next year, Tortellini Team Udine!
As 2019 comes to a close I can only let out a long, slow breath filled with infinite gratitude. The next moment could bring heart wrenching pain or joys beyond belief; there may be harmony or incongruity, love or extreme dislike (you get the gist) …that is the journey of life. Really, the mess of it all is not for the faint of heart. Still, up or down, great or small, I’m eagerly anticipating it all. So tonight, as I ponder on past, present and future, I’ll raise a glass to those I’ve lost, to those who are still here and to whatever awaits in the new decade.
As I walked in the woods this morning I reflected on my current funk. Waking up to post-election news of Northern Virginia started my day off blue, exceedingly blue, and that’s not the color I had in mind. I was content enough with purple. There’s a balance in that, I thought, as I stood for a moment to watch a heron perched high up in a tree. I supposed he (or she) was surveying the lake below for something decent to eat.
As I took a deep breath of the cold morning air I let it out slowly. The mantra, This Too Shall Past surfaced again; it seems to be my recurrent sentiment as of late. It bubbles up countless times a day now. Actually, I’m grateful that it does; it keeps me grounded in these deeply polarizing times.
I’ve never worn politics on my sleeve which is odd I suppose considering that forty years ago I graduated with honors from the University of Colorado with a degree in Political Science. After all these years…after marriage, kids, a divorce, remarriage- in a word, life--I still think back to those four college years. Back then, my mother complained on more than one occasion that university life was turning me into a “bleeding heart liberal.” In truth, my easily swayed nature during those years simply gave in to the student masses, that, and the need for a good grade. I’ll never forget the one “C” I had on a pol. sci. paper was due to my opposing opinion on an assigned reading. That’ll teach you. The game is: tell the profs what they want to hear if you want to get a good grade. So I did, sweeping conservative leanings well under the carpet.
Still, I considered myself a moderate then..not right, not left but somewhere in the middle, which, on the whole seems perfectly rational given that I am a Libra.
My funk in this moment really isn’t about “losing” per se. Sure, I would have liked my candidate to win. My disappointment is really over a loss of civility. It’s been on a downward spiral for years now, starting well before our current President was even considering a White House run. Can’t we not be kinder, more civil, to one another even as the “color” changes? One cannot say, for example, “I’m sorry your candidate lost,” and be done with that. Instead there is rallying, tribal, sophomoric chest pounding combined with social media comments that are beyond the pale. Take that you evil “red” (can’t repeat) , or…Democrats won you fascist rag. The sentiment is: We are going to slay you now that we have ALL the control. There is not even a smidgen of pretense to worktogether anymore. Our polarization has, in my humble opinion, limited our future and we are weaker for it.
How will this blue, Hear-Me-Roar, chest pounding, get anything of substance accomplished?
Add to that: Seriously, is it really necessary to stomp on the heads and hearts of those who believe–or voted– differently as your victory cry? Don’t get me wrong, toxicity is rampant from the “red”camp too. Social media comments from the right side of the isle have been just as egregious as those on the left. This whole incivility business, as well as our current state of extreme ideologies has me wanting to curl up under a warm fuzzy blanket with a stack of escapism books and my Poodle-love snuggled at my side….at least through the end of 2020. That, and a fabulous bottle (or two) of Cabernet. Okay…and dark chocolate as well.
Have no fear kind readers. I know what I must do.
Smile…and just keep on saying: This too shall pass.
Lord have mercy, where as October gone? In a few days trick-o-treaters will be running through the neighborhood tripping over themselves as they rush from door to door to fill plastic pumpkins or pillow cases full of Halloween candy. Then, bang… we’re into November….which means only one thing: Christmas. Yep. We may as fell forget about turkey day and all the Thanksgiving trimmings, or unhurried long afternoon walks through heaps of leaves crunching beneath our feet as we inhale (hopefully) fresh, crisp autumn air. I say this because….as God is my witness, we’ve got two houses in our neighborhood that already have Christmas lights up.
I kid not.
If you think I’m being a tad hum-bug consider that Christmas music is already playing on Sirius/XM. Yes indeed: Channel 70 is, through January 1st, the dedicated Hallmark channel and it’s has been playing Christmas music for days now. I was perplexed at this because last year I remember it starting on November 1st (which is, IMHO, still a tad early…but that is just me.). Don’t get me wrong…I love the sounds of the season like nobody’s business but it’s still October people! What is wrong with slowing down a bit to enjoy autumn in all her orange, brown and golden glory, thank-you-very-much?! The hullabaloo of Christmas seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. In fact, we may be well on a path that pushes the festivities of Christmas to, say …July.
Okay. Clearly an exaggeration and such a silly thing to get my knickers in a twist over.
So move on Missy, says the voice in my head.
Yes, my silent protestations (except obviously in this here space) are assuredly of the First World variety. I readily admit that I’m extremely lucky to be able to listen to subscriber music services and the like. I acknowledge as well that I have a choice. There is nothing forcing me to listen to Christmas music and I can wait…as I usually do, until the day after Thanksgiving.
I know. I’m old school. Or perhaps…to the younger crowd out there, ancient is a better term.
To just to prove how old school I am I’ll happily share what I have been listening to for weeks now: SiriusXM channel 105. Nope….it’s not classical music, and of course not the sounds of the season…and it’s not even Classic Vinyl, Love songs or Seriously Sinatra. In fact, I found out about Channel 105 programming quite by accident. One could say it was through unintentional ease dropping on a conversation at Starbucks, although, honestly, the three ladies from two tables away were loud enough that I could hear them with my earbuds on.
“Did you hear the episode with Johnny and Joan Embery with animals from the San Diego Zoo? That was a riot,” said the one gal with strikingly silver hair.
I wasn’t sure I had heard the conversation correctly so after my coffee the first thing I did when I got back into my car was surf SiriusXM and voilà…there it was: The Johnny Carson channel.
So, dear readers, I have to say that I have been experiencing a lovely blast from the past so far. In fact, memories of me, well past my bedtime, sitting at the foot of my mom’s bed while we watched the show together, are some of the best memories I have of time with my mother. For nearly thirty years The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was a late night ritual for her. Among her favorite episodes were those featuring a wide variety of animals, exotic and domestic, and of course the comedy sketches featuring Carson as Carnac the Magnificent. I can almost hear my mamma laughing even as I write these words….
There is bliss in that…
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, the “sounds of the season” that I am currently listening to begins with….
You’d best hurry because it’s only available for a few more days.
and….I hope this makes you chuckle, just a little:
Birthday number sixty-two came and went a few days ago. Today, As my feet hit the floor my knees were annoyingly effective in reminding me of my thirty or so years of running. The snap and crackle sound of my joints continued as I moved downstairs to the kitchen. Geez. I thought. I’d never be able to stealth my way into anywhere with these knees; I would be heard from a mile away! Before the ritual of morning coffee, I give my achy knees a gentle rub to warm them up and as I did so vowed to move with as much grace as possible through year sixty-three, arthritic knees and such be damned!
What a blessing it was to celebrate another year around the sun with sis and company. The day was lovely, albeit unseasonably warm, and it was capped off by a divinely delicious dinner prepared by sis. On the menu that night was a first for me: 40-clove garlic chicken. How is it possible that in all these years I’d never enjoyed such a delight to the taste buds?
Time is flying. Be opento new things, came the whisper…
Each year that passes now reels me into a “deepening” of sorts….ever longer moments in a quieter space filled with moments of brutal self-reflection, sadness for what was and what wasn’t, but also joy for heart-warming memories and moments of complete fulfillment. There are many more moments in a day that I realize that there is far less time ahead of me. The sound of the clock ticking as each minute passes grows louder, almost thunderous. Some days I handle this preoccupation exceedingly well, at least I’d like to think I do. Others, well…not so much. For example, my husband will say or do some thing–silly, in the scheme of it all–that makes my head pop in purple minion fashion. It’s been twenty-plus years of this same song I’ll mutter under my breath enough times that in a flash of Italian anger I’ll tell him that I don’t want to spend one more minute of my precious golden years with that tired old slide guitar-of-a-song clamoring in the background…
..if you get my drift.
Thankfully, I catch myself quickly now. Perhaps its simply due to age–the mellowing of every fiber of my being, or my new milestone…369 consecutive days of a meditation practice. In the midst of an angst-filled moment, with a long, slow inhale and exhale– a wave of crystal clear awareness will smack me between the eyes and with it comes the wisdom from a thousand sages before me: this moment is all that there is…so stop projecting Missy that you’ll be dealing with silly husband sh**t in the years ahead.
I’m working harder still on childhood baggage and forgiving those who knew not what they were doing, as well as those who did. The journey is not for the faint of heart. But, while the clock ticks on, moment by moment, I am cheerfully optimistic that this whole “grace in aging” thing keeps its firm hold on me until my last breath. Slowly but surely, “Awakening” more as the years tick by…
and yes, there is bliss in that.
An excerpt from “Blessing in the Chaos” by Jan Richardson seems appropriate in the moment….
Let what distracts you cease.
Let what divides you cease.
Let there come an end to what diminishes and demeans.
“I’ve got an interesting article to share with you,” I told my nephew some days ago while on the way to Five Guys for burgers. We were lucky to have him for a spell while his parents attended Back to School Night.
“Okay, what’s it about?” was his cheery reply.
“It’s about the day the dinosaurs died,” I replied. “Let’s read it together after burgers.”
I’ll admit I was a bit reticent about sharing the article with him. He is not quite twelve and though he has experienced two grandparents passing within three years he’s sweet and sensitive as can be. I certainly didn’t want to cause nightmares. And, when I thought about it for a moment longer I realized too it was because of my fear…specifically the whole gloom and doom thing. I had read the article just hours before over morning coffee. Geez-louise! We could get hit by a similar catastrophe, very much like the one that catapulted the earth into the ice-age.
Note to self: Stop reading stuff like that before the roosters are up and crowing!
He was enthralled of course and even shared some tidbits on geology and sedimentary rock which impressed the snot out of us. After our nephew left, I stayed out on the screened-in porch for quite some time. As I cradled my glass of wine in the quiet of the evening I realized I was becoming lost in a thought pattern of gloom. I should not have read the article…things like that really get to me. Which is why I do not watch horror and shoot-em-up movies. Doris Day and Rock Hudson…now that is my happy place!
When hubby joined me I again I brought up the topic of asteroid doom…but not before asking for more wine.
“You want another glass?’ he asked with a look of feigned concern.
Full disclosure, I wanted the entire bottle of wine.
(fear not dear reader. I was a good girl.)
“Well, why not? No time like the present. After all, we could get hit by a massive asteroid before the next sunrise.”
“Ah,” he said. “I see where this is going.”
So, in a professorial manner he tried his best to convince me that asteroid doom was quite unlikely to happen imminently and furthermore we would know of an asteroid hurling in our direction years in advance of causing a cataclysmic event. .
Well, that’s reassuring…..
For those of you who watched the hilarious show Bing Bang Theory, perhaps you’ve guessed by now kind reader that I am the “Penny” to this “Sheldon/Leonard” husband of mine. So I ask: But what would we do? Would we like…um… shoot the thing down?
Sheldon/Leonard:Actually what we would do is deflect it while it is still in space. The object would be to knock it off course….get it into another orbit…so that it misses Earth.”
My Sheldon/Leonard guy said a lot of other stuff but honestly my eyes began glazing over pretty darned quickly. Sadly, I cannot blame it on the wine.
Still, I couldn’t shake the asteroid doom. It made me think once again about the impermanence of everything…the fragile nature of our lives and every little thing we know, love or care a wit about. So many of my problems are First World. Why bother getting attached to anything…good or bad? Why agonize, for example, about what to get my daughter for Christmas or that my son is still a mess? Why be in such a hurry to bag autumn leaves that are already piling high on my front porch just to make everything neat and pretty… or even continue another debate with hubby on whether we spring for yet another year of expensive pet insurance for our aging poodle.
My ruminating went on and on with the voices getting louder and louder. In meditation circles–or more precisely, Buddhism– it’s called the “monkey mind.” It’s our minds filled with endless chatter: negative, positive it matters not. It can be a hundred monkeys all vying for your attention and before you know it you’re a whirling dervish of thoughts and emotions. It’s my mind, caught between bliss and doom and everything in between. It can be exhausting….at the very least.
Before I knew it tears are streaming down my face. Oh I must stop this pity party I think as I move to get up. Pain seared through both knees as I shifted my legs off the chair in front of me. As I rub my little “gargoyles” (bone spurs) that have somewhat disfigured my arthritic knees I am keenly aware that my knee issues and host of other things are nothing compared to the challenges others face. Like my dearest friend who is battling a rare cancer and another who struggles with depression or a friend’s husband undergoing heart surgery. There is a whole world out there that seems upside-down; it often seems dark, chaotic and in a turmoil that borders on insanity to me.
Wowza. Is there a full moon or something? Just yesterday I was basking in the glow of a perfect workout, happy as a clam with a new read…. and ready for all the blessings of autumn…
Clearly I need to guzzle a boatload of chamomile and get out of this negative bubble…not to mention glue myself onto the meditation pillow .
I managed a decent sleep in spite of too much Cabernet. By morning I was back to feeling a bit more chipper. Still, as I walked down into the woods with The Poodle I could feel a slight edge. He wanted to stop and mark EVERY. SINGLE. TREE that lined the heavily wooded path.
“Come on boy…get a move on,” I huffed impatiently as I pulled on his lead. I’ve no idea why I was in such a hurry; it’s not like I had places to be and important things to do.
And then, just as I was about to yank on the lead yet again I stopped dead in my tracks. The sight before me was mesmerizing. It gave me such pause that I stopped for several minutes. The Poodle stood patiently beside me as my breath became quiet. I could actually feel my heart expand in joy. I was instantly lighter, as if the weight of my sixty plus years had been lifted….
and all because of a dancing leaf, held well above the path by a whisper of a spider’s web.
The monkey mind is much quieter and that’s Bliss a hundred-fold.