Monday, November 28, 2011

‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple, ‘tis the Gift to be Free”

I’m not a big fan of the Shaker lifestyle. Enforced celibacy, communal living, gender segregation, and plain, stripped-down houses and clothes aren’t exactly my idea of fun, but I appreciate the Shakers’ efforts to live more simply as stated in the Shaker hymn in the title. That part is inspiring. However, I don’t apologize for being in to fashion, and holiday decorating is practically a sacrament for me.


Thanksgiving was simpler this year -- just the five of us in our humble home. Tim and I cooked our buns off and involved the boys in preparing each of the side dishes.


For an assignment in his culinary arts class, Matthew was tasked with making one dish and bringing in the recipe, so I put him to work making mashed potatoes.

Nicholas, my foodie who truly loves cooking, helped prepare the cranberry apple relish.


Wesley put all the ingredients in the bread maker for fresh wheat bread.


Tim roasted a beef brisket! As all of us were a bit "turkey'd out", we decided it was a good year for eating outside the box.

I did a little of this, a little of that, making sure it all came together.


As the weather was unseasonably warm, we ate out on the deck in the sun.

So much to be thankful for.

Matthew read the first proclamation of the pilgrims written in 1676 -- one big, long run-on sentence in old English.

Had not those people braved the elements and suffered sickness and hunger (and probably some despair), we mightn't be here today. They knew sorrows as well as joys. I know them too and can't always reconcile the two. One day at a time.


One day at a time. "Now thank we all our God...with hearts and hands and voices..."


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gratitude List

Expressing gratitude has the power lift us out of anger, fear, anxiety, self pity and a host of other maladies. 
Yes, it’s that time of year – the proverbial retelling of our American story. Some families do the round-the-table recitations. Many of us show our gratitude by stuffing our faces with food and then zoning out in a carb coma in front of football. From turkey skin to pig skin. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, in a “Saturday Night Live” skit called it a “Baroque festival of overconsumption”. The great American tradition.

I’m trying to go deeper. Each Thanksgiving week, I read the story to at least one of the children and to myself and talk about how it really was for the Pilgrims. I never tire of rereading the accounts, and never cease to be amazed and overwhelmed at how raw and arduous life was on a daily basis. I wonder how many of them silently wondered, never to speak aloud: “Was it worth this?” as they shivered in the cold, got sick on the wobbly ship before the houses were built, or watched another member die of sickness that first winter:

When I see suffering or experience it myself, either presently or learn of it in the past, I am starting to make gratitude lists to remind me of the goodness that still exists to keep me from sinking into melancholy that takes too long to emerge from. When I write them out to share in a blog, they sound so trite. They’re different each time and don’t all encompass everything I’m grateful for.

But here’s my humble, short list, for today:

  1. For the wondrous changing of leaves in autumn. To me, it means relief.
  2. For music that can stir a heart that has stiffened in trying to protect itself from pain.
  3. For weather cold enough to make me need socks and sweaters.
  4. For the familiar warmth of a fire in the fireplace.
  5. For a society free enough to express praise, criticism, new ideas.
  6. For the way caring people send food – always food, our sustenance – to those who are suffering.
  7. For the simple lessons of Charlie Brown.
  8. For the unconditional love of dogs.
  9. For “The Splendid Table” on NPR radio on Saturday mornings.
  10. For my three children, who remind me of what it’s like to be a child: the joys, the wounds, the freshness of living.
  11. For tufts of hair sticking out from under the ruffled covers.
  12. Yes, for mismatched socks lying around on the floor. There was a time when I would have paid big money just to have little bodies in the house to cause extra laundry.
  13. For servicemen and women who put their lives on the line daily to keep us free.
  14. For “Saturday Night Live” which makes fun of everything.
  15. That God can be found in the midst of chaos.

What does your gratitude list look like?


Friday, November 11, 2011

First Fire

A few days ago my seven year old Wesley said to me, “Mommy, I think we need a tradition just for our family. It can be called ‘First Fire’ -- when we light a fire in the fireplace for the first time.” I thought it was brilliant. We waited until it got really cold and windy outside (and it just so happened that the moon was full, making it feel even more “official”).

Rituals are very important  – we all have them -- even for people who think they don’t like ritualistic or liturgical worship or events. Even for people who have no identified faith traditions. We all participate in certain rituals in our lives even if we make them up.

To see me in fall you’d think I was a pagan who worshipped pumpkins and fall decorations. No, I don’t dance crazily around a blazing fire. But I do celebrate seasonal changes with the bounty from that harvest, be it colorful leaves, pumpkins, gourds and nut-filled glass vases in autumn (yes I go to the trouble to collect them) or bittersweet berry branches, Nandina, cypress greens and waxed magnolias in winter. Or forsythia (that I force into bloom), daffodils and cherry blossoms in spring. Summer’s easy with so much in bloom; I have to say gardenias and hydrangeas are my favorite. And then there’s food. Who couldn’t love the Macintosh apples and Scuppernong grapes that hit the grocery stores in September, or the pumpkin and potato soups and meat stews to be made and savored in winter? Or fruit smoothies, fruit pies and endless fresh produce in spring and summer? These are just celebrations of nature’s cycles.

Wesley was not living in a modern microcosm of smart phones, social media or “to do” lists; he was feeling close to the earth and wanting something to celebrate. Who can blame him? We all need things we can rejoice over – as Julia Roberts’ character said in the film “Eat Pray Love”: “I just want to go some place where I can marvel at something”. Don’t we adults lose that fervor for life somewhere along the path? Especially those of us are task-oriented and who seem to get a lot accomplished? Experiencing life in all its color, both light and dark, doesn’t happen when you live in the future (i.e. constantly on the go, planning, planning, planning, shuttling, shopping online, micromanaging logistics for Christmas…). Not that any of those things are inherently bad – it’s just when we don’t carve out a “pause” for BEING. Who is as much to blame for this as anyone? Moi. It’s so hard with so many distractions and demands pulling you in all directions.

 As the passion of young flames calms down as the wood burns, the fire becomes hotter and more mesmorizing. It's the kind of dark, quiet one can get lost in. Settled but fluid, constantly moving. Our Labrador Chelsea (may she rest in peace) used to sit and stare into it for long periods of time. I often wondered what was going through her head.

Wesley’s simple suggestion was a great reminder to me to slow down. We lit the fire last night, amidst lots of silly, grandeur from the mom like, “And now we draw from the ancient and noble traditions of our ancestors and pass the gift of fire lighting down to the youngest of the tribe, who will honor his forbears to carry to torch to future generations…” as I gave him the gas flame torch to click on the logs. And speaking of enrichment, the hot chocolate that ensued was enriched with all kinds of unnecessary but highly celebratory additions like sugar, cream, caramel sauce, and marshmallows ….to make it really worth it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

“Another Halloween Come and Gone”

 …said my seven-year old, quoting “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. He finished trick-or-treating a bit earlier than his older brothers, ready to call it an evening and come inside to count his candy stash and watch Charles Schultz’s classic round-headed crew on dvd. He still has the childlike excitement, running in his boxy robot costume (minus the head) to the next house to see who's there and what they'll offer, then the next house with a neighbor friend dressed as Mario...Reminds me of a "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry waxes about how men don't just like to see what's on t.v. but continually change the channel to see "what else is on t.v.".

This was his first time trick-or-treating beyond our street, going to the road around the corner -- the place for older, more ambitious trick-or-treaters. Residents close off each end of the road and come dusk, the place transforms into a gleefully ghostly place where kids and adults alike can be mischievous. I just love seeing grown men in costume. You kind of expect the women to adorn themselves because women love to dress up anyway, but men who are willing to make themselves look silly and wander up and down the street feeling just fine in a preposterous-looking wig and costume somehow tickle me pink. Last night I saw a few ghouls, a snowman, Gumby, the (typical) sports buff complete large beer cup in hand, and an Arab sheikh. Of course, Halloween is an excellent excuse for adults to imbibe as they escort their children around the neighborhood. This ancient, pagan holiday is really a reclaiming of the village festival in which small communities come together to celebrate, ale and all. In a city of nearly six million people who are always on the go, it’s nice to occasionally share the experience of the small-town feeling.
There are only a few crickets left now, barely scraping out a tune and sounding and like old men croaking around a fire. Hay bales, pumpkins, and other harvest decorations are out, recalling a long since past agricultural society. People in my generation don't have a clue what it's like to live close to the earth, season by season, as farmers.

Nights are cool and crisp now. Atlantans complain about the very cool, almost cold weather; I absolutely love it. Must be my New England blood; I'm always ready for the dry chill of autumn, the great relief from oppressive Southern summers. Unfortunately for me, this craving for cool starts in August and I often have to wait until nearly Halloween to get it.
Anyway, our family used humor this year in their choices of costumes. The kids pretty much made their own(the Dad helped our littlest one) which included a home-made robot costume constructed of spray-painted, cardboard boxes; a sheet ghost with a ghoul mask; and a tacky rocker-wannabe complete with afro wig, muscle shirt, blow-up guitar balloon and grimace.
I threw mine together at the last minute and it took great effort to conjure enough brain cells to come up with a clear identity. I never succeeded. I bought a platinum blond wig that reached my thighs, super glitzy (read: tacky) silver glasses and an orange feather boa.  I began imagining myself as a Wall Street hippie occupier, then morphed into a tacky person from the 1970’s era (I write as if I didn’t live through it), and then thought I looked like a drag queen. Not quite the family friendly image I wanted to project. My youngest son asked me if I was Rapunzel. One neighbor said I looked like one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta. I certainly never intended to make the costume so complicated. My husband dressed as an aging hippie, has-been, stoned-out rocker loser -- the father of the younger tacky one – wearing an insanely stretched-out afro wig and darkened face to appear worn by the sun and hard-living. The best part was the vacuous, dim-witted look on his face in the photo.  

For this year's Feast of All Hallows Eve, I thought the costumes were fun, creative, blessedly inexpensive and low labor – my dream for Halloween, one of the most irritatingly consumer holidays, second only to Christmas. It wasn’t until I pulled up the photos on my laptop that I started laughing uncontrollably until I cried at how ridiculous we looked.
Oh well -- hopefully we all sufficiently stimulated the economy. And God knows we need an injection – of humor too.