Monday, December 27, 2010


What was best? The houses bedecked and be-lighted. Singing the old carols at the Christmas Eve service. The oohs and ahs and smiles on the faces I love as their presents were revealed. The food (and coffee, thank heavens) throughout the day. Watching my grand nieces’ delight over every package. And their rapt attention as I opened the presents they had chosen for me. Then the pleasure of working with my nephew to prepare a triumphant Christmas dinner.

I loved my presents – every one. Especially the sacred carving by my brother. And the clutch of DVDs from my son that actually arrived before Christmas – fully (and imaginatively) wrapped. And the sweater and the candle and the wildflower seeds and the hand blown glass humming bird feeder and magic glass box and butterfly ring and … and … and ….

But most of all, an entire day in the company of my wonderful family.

It’s not over. Tomorrow and Wednesday I’ll have some one-on-one time with my nephew and an entire day with his 14-year-old daughter. And Thursday my dear friend and her doofus dog will arrive and stay until 2011. And other friends will join us for dinner. Then on Sunday, my other nephew will spend the day with me.

My heart is warmed. I am cocooned in layers of love and joy, ready to begin a new year.

So it was worth it – the hours decorating the house and tree, all the cards and purchases, wrapping and mailing, cooking and cleaning.

Most of the year, love is assumed or expressed in passing. But this particular grand slam holiday allows us to celebrate each other, honor each other, and shower tokens of our love on each other.

It’s a good thing. I am grateful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Ending

The over-sized toy clown fish (see Dec. 21 post) has found a home.

When I shared my dilemma (custody of a large/plush/stuffed orange and white fish that was too scary to be a present for my grand niece) a friend came by to see for herself. She wasn't scared at all. She thought the thing was rather cute. Plus, she thought she knew someone who might like the thing.

Her daughter was waiting in the car. When her mom returned bearing the large/plus/stuffed orange and white fish, it was love at first sight.

The young woman happened to be a Nemo fan. She is also a girl/adult who has endured much. Ricocheted from family to family, never quite sure where she belonged, she is still not sure . . . about where she belongs or who she is. But at that moment, she knew one thing with certainty. The fish was hers and its name was Howard.

She sleeps with it. They comfort each other.

And the over-sized clown fish that was way too big and scary for my grand niece is just the right size for my friend's daughter.

I love happy endings.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ominous Dilemma

I give money to several wildlife protecting organizations because I believe that in protecting our wildlife we protect our sanity and ourselves. Many such organizations encourage you to 'adopt' an animal [donate money] and in return send you a plush/stuffed version of that animal. I adopted a polar bear mom and her two cubs and a clown fish (like Nemo) intending to give the toys to my five-year-old grand niece, Iris.

I have a problem. The polar bear group is small and cute -- fitting easily in my outstretched hands. The clown fish is as big as one of my cats (both of whom weigh about 13 pounds). It looks like the fish could eat the bears. It's scary.

I know (or assume) that my niece wouldn't care ... or think of the environmental implications. Still. The polar bears' habitat is melting and seas are warming. Might it be possible that, in adapting to changing conditions, polar bears could become increasingly smaller and clown  fish grow to giant proportions?

Is this plush anomaly a foreshadowing of doom?

Well, of course not. I'm just tired, a little overwhelmed by all the holiday hullabaloo. There's no need to read portents of disaster in these fluffy creatures.

Still. I don't think I'll give both species to Iris. Just one -- the little polar bears. I've got other things for her. It will be enough.

I have no idea what to do with the giant clown fish. Is anyone out there interested?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A New Tradition

It was my son’s idea. While here for Thanksgiving, he helped me put up my Christmas tree. After a few hours of putting on ornaments, he had a great suggestion: why not set a dozen or so aside and invite visitors to put them on – wherever they want.

So I did. And it’s been a delight. Older people want to know the ornaments’ stories. Younger people just proceed with big smiles and eyes, adding their own special magic to the tree. My tree now reflects not just my memories but also all the good vibrations of all of those who have added the ornaments they selected. And I have the fun of finding out where my favorites might be hiding.

I know I already posted something about my tree but this year, because so many have ‘had a hand in it’, it is the most wonderful tree I have ever had

AND I have just addressed and stamped my last Christmas card! Now the only holiday chores are wrapping and cooking.

Sometimes I wonder why I make it Christmas such a big deal. Then I remember … it’s just an excuse to tell and show the people you care about that you care about them – a chance to celebrate connections. And maybe even make so new ones.

So ho, ho, ho!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Memories in the Mailbox

Another thing I like about the holiday season are the memories that show up in my mailbox. One of the first cards I received this year was from a woman with whom I collaborated when we both worked for Rotary International (RI). About twelve years ago, when east/west tensions had eased dramatically, the organization’s leadership decided it was time to make serious overtures to the Russian government. It was going to be tough to explain a volunteer service organization. Especially since it was proving difficult for Rotary clubs outside the country to ship needed goods to Russian communities where clubs were just getting started. The shipments were regarded with suspicion and held up (in every sense of the word) by custom officials.

So it fell to me and to my counterpart in RI’s Zurich office to coordinate the delegation’s visit and design English/Russian literature that would confirm Rotary’s benign and beneficial intentions. That’s when Myla became more than a name. We worked for a while by email and occasional telephone conversations before she was brought to our Evanston, Illinois headquarters for more direct communication.

She stayed in a modest hotel apartment with her little girl. We worked together daily and often I’d have the two of them (and perhaps others) over for dinner. I remember driving them around a Chicago neighborhood known for its extravagant Christmas lighting displays. She was stunned by our excesses.

We grew to respect each other and to thoroughly enjoy encounters – both work-related and just for fun. We worked hard together, under considerable pressure. We did a good job. Too soon, she and her daughter went back to Zurich. The RI ‘mission’ went forward and was as successful as it could have been. And I have never seen her again.

Still, once a year, she sends a card updating me on her life and that of her daughter (now 14!). And I send her my news. Neither of us works for Rotary International any more. That’s irrelevant. We are still connected and probably will stay connected for many years to come.

To me, connections -- refreshed, restored, or launched -- are the whole point of all the holiday hullabaloo. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Obsession

All who really know me, know that I am totally obsessive about my Christmas tree. Not as bad as I once was (when each decorative element needed to go on in a precise order, in a precisely specified place on the tree – angels on the top, un-breakables on the bottom, etc.) I have mellowed a little. Still, I have amassed a formidable collection of ornaments. And they all have to go on the tree – just not in a particular place.

There are still a few ornaments from the early marriage trees -- some made by or evocative of the kids.

One year, I bought dozens of miniature instruments – trumpets that could actually make noise (they don’t any more) and curly French horns.

Then, way back when I was still married, I went on a business trip with my husband and, while in New York, saw the ornaments in the United Nations’ gift shop. Appropriately, they reflected most of the world’s cultures. And so it began. At first, landlocked – in Detroit, then in the Chicago area – I sought out baubles reflecting the nations of the world. Later, after my divorce, I had a job that took me to more than twenty different countries – all of which (even Turkey) have token symbols on my tree.

Then I decided the tree should be about light – so I gathered in reflecting ornaments. Then I decided it was too anthropocentric and birds and animals joined the holiday gang.

Because I put my tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving and often do not take it down until Epiphany, I have an artificial tree. It’s safer. When I bought my first pre-lighted tree (my sons no longer living close enough to string the lights) only all white lights were available. This year, for the first time, I found a multi-colored lighted tree in a catalog. I decided I was old enough. I gave the (deteriorating) one-note tree to Habitat for Humanity and now have a full-spectrum celebration.

And I have cut back a little. I only bought one (count it, one!) new ornament and actually gave away several vintage decorations.

My new Technicolor pagan shrub was a little tricky to put up but there was a number to call for assistance. My first tree requiring tech support! One of its advances is a remote control. When I go downstairs in the morning, I just click a little button and SHAZAAM – the tree and all its memories shines into my living room, and into my heart.

It may not be a magnificent obsession but it’s mine and I love it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Time Warp

What happens to time in December?

Every year, I try to do as many preparations as possible before Thanksgiving. I go into the family/friends/food holiday almost smug, thinking I have an entire month to finish the decorating, cooking, buying, wrapping, mailing, cards etc., etc. Plenty of time.


So here it is, the evening of Dec. 5. I’m late posting a blog. I’ve not wrapped a single present or written a single card. I have three (no, it’s actually four) special events to go to and/or prepare for in the week ahead. And I have already spent too much money.

Thank goodness the house is decorated. And the cats have not destroyed anything – not even an ornament on the Christmas tree. [One year they knocked the whole thing over – twice!] That’s done and helps keep me going.

The race is on.

With luck, I’ll stay focused enough to get everything done … and done with the love I intend.

I wish the same for you. And I know you will understand if this particular (and belated) blog is a bit skimpy.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It is always a little sad when a visitor leaves. Especially when that visitor is your kid. (Especially since we are, finally, both grown up enough to enjoy each other.) My kid flew back to Chicago yesterday. A longer visit would have been better but, all in all, it was a good time. We shared good food and wine – time with other members of the family – cleaning up the yard -- putting up the tree -- seeing some movies -- playing some cards. Plus that amazing day when we saw elk and deer and magpies, a coyote and a big horn sheep.

So. I dropped him off at the airport and drove back, north up I25-- not the most spiritual of corridors – even on a brilliant sunny afternoon.

Just as I was about to exit, I noticed an unusually large bird soaring in the bright blue sky. It was heading south, just to the west of the highway. I could monitor its progress without endangering anyone.

‘Could that possibly be an eagle?’ I wondered. Most often, when I see something that might be an eagle, it turns out to be something a lot less glamorous – like a turkey buzzard.

Not this time. As it came closer, its astoundingly white head shone in the sunlight. It was not just an eagle, it was a bald eagle! Beautiful, rare and grand.

The eagle seemed both a benediction to Thanksgiving and my son’s visit and also, somehow, a promise that there will be other visits, other good times.

Hallelujah! And thanks