Seasons of Lights

I have always loved the Christmas lights. They lend warmth to a bare, cold room or a tree bereft of leaves, a city gray and stark in the chill of winter. They beckon a traveler toward the warmth of home; provide illumination in the absence of the sun.

When I was a young child, much of our simple seasonal excitement revolved around lights. Returning home in the early darkness, as the car topped the 12th Street hill, my brother and I would look to see if grandma was home.  Did the plastic, seven-place, fake candles  burn blue in the south-facing window? If the window was dark, no one was home. In those days, everyone knew it was not safe to leave lights plugged in and unattended.

A fall schedule properly checked off, meant that Daddy or Grandpa put up Christmas lights late in fall as part of the waning yard work. Lights remained ready and waiting all through November, but not plugged in until after Thanksgiving.  A sigh of completion escaped the ladies the year lights festooned every gable of the old house. It can take several painstaking years to garner enough by prudently adding a string each year. A Christmas Eve drive through expensive neighborhoods where homeowners competed for the annual Christmas decorating prize, was an unbreakable tradition-something you had to do between the oyster soup and unwrapping gifts.

Lights were a part of my childhood Christmases, but  they were only a manufactured replica of the beauty that makes Christmas season so magical.  A few days ago, I was drawn outside just before bedtime. The full moon cast light across the hills and onto the snow. Sheer planes of icy frost glittered like frozen fireflies.  Suddenly, I knew whence came the inspiration for Christmas lights.

Could it be entire generations have traded electric lights, battery operated LED lights for forgotten natural beauty?  Musing, I wonder if I have been content all these years splashing in a mud puddle when there was a holiday at the seaside available to me (C.S. Lewis).

But oh, if the imitation of nature yields so much peace and goodwill and joy and memories, how much more the real thing?

I wish you plenty of strolls in the moonlight; plenty of:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  Anton Chekhov

“The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, gave the lustre of midday to objects below.”  Clement Clarke Moore, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1823)


Be gentle with yourself; it’s almost Christmas

Be gentle with yourself; it’s almost Christmas. Be extra gracious to others; we are in the darkest, coldest time of the year.

It is such a comfort to have close family or friends with whom to spend the holidays. Yet,
no matter how hard we try to be realistic; all of us harbor secret hopes and dreams and unmet needs. The most beautiful time of the year can be a time of extreme loneliness – even in a crowd.

Though the snow and dawn and twilight are delightful, the shortened daylight and frosty temperatures leave precious little time for rejuvenating hikes in nature and endorphin raising exercise. The very energy once gained through the ministrations of Mother Nature is now drained and diverted toward crowds of strangers in shopping malls or trying to encourage disgruntled, circadian disrupted, significant others with
seasonal affective disorder.

But, don’t weep, darling. Crying only stuffs up your nose and makes it more difficult to sing. And sing, you must! After all, it is Christmas!

I wish you PEACE, JOY, LOVE – and the fulfillment of HOPE! Because, hope deferred makes the heart sad. Be gentle with yourself. Be gracious to others!

Wherein I contemplate a cozy bowl of soup

Some things have changed since I was young. When I was young, I didn’t much like soup. I did like my mom’s creamy tomato, but I suspect it was the saltines I liked best. With chicken and noodle, I liked only the broth. The noodles were too smushy and the chicken bits always dark meat. Were there any other kinds of soup? You can hardly count cream of mushroom as soup. It is merely a casserole ingredient.

If it didn’t come in a red and white can, it wasn’t really soup. Other kinds of soup were just leftovers reinvented; turkey bone soup, ham bone soup, – and what’s with buying special stew meat, anyway? Isn’t stew just another reincarnation of left-overs?

Near the close of my second decade of life, I spent nine months in Germany. Here I encountered oxtail soup. My taste buds couldn’t get past its name. However, at the General Walker Hotel in Berchtesgaden, I became a fan of cream soup-du-jour. The correlation to leftovers continued. I noticed each soup-du-jour was a spruced up offering of the vegetable or entree served the evening previous.

In my thirties, business lunch at Furr’s cafeteria was a favorite activity. There I learned to savor cream of broccoli. As one of my colleagues described it, “I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” During the intermittent lean years that followed, I taught myself to make pretty good cream soups from broccoli stems and milk – cartoned, canned or even powdered. These days, I avoid milk.

Enter the Martha Stewart disciples and my daughter-in-law with fresh, savory meatless soup recipes. Welcome the proliferation of alternate “milks” such as soy, almond, coconut and hemp.

This week, I made soup to share from a recipe! A recipe. Not from a can. Not to stretch the budget. Not from leftovers. It was rich, creamy, savory and satisfying. I spent about $10 gathering the special ingredients and a morning pureeing and assembling them. Will I do it again? Doubtful.

But then, again, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for savory comfort food on frosty winter nights.

The Perfect Puzzle Piece

I had a difficult time getting to sleep the other night. It was not tossing and turning due to guilt or unfinished business, or even a cup of coffee, that kept me wakeful. It was peace and joy and anticipation.
Like the child who simply cannot fall asleep Christmas Eve for the anticipation of Christmas morning; I lay awake contemplating and luxuriating.  It had been a usual and satisfying evening.  An hour at the piano, micro-zapped leftovers for dinner, a bit of writing, tying up some cyber loose ends from work.
About the time I settled in, sighed and pulled the covers to my chin, the realization hit me.

The puzzle piece I had been holding so tightly as a precious souvenir of my past; the beautiful priority piece, reminder of who I am and want to be; the piece I feared belonged only in a box long discarded and given away?  That piece fits perfectly in the puzzle now in construction on the table of my life.

Baby it’s cold outside

What a beautiful morning. It was good to wake up with the sun and find I am still alive, for there are things to do, places to go, people to see. At 1:00 a.m. I wondered if I would live to see another day. It is so unusual for me to be any thing but healthy. My first thought was, “How have I compromised my system?” Stress? I did talk to support tech online for 90 minutes during the day and I am taking on more responsibility at work. Food allergy? Mom fed me, as good moms are wont to do. Everything is home-cooked at her house, but sometimes she forgets to tell you she added bullion or MSG laden flavor packets until you are half way through your serving.
Air borne allergies? Hot water heat is the best thing ever for my respiratory health. Now, those afghans, what germs cuddled in them last? Or was it the dryer lint? (in which case, I am allergic to my work clothes). The Cold? Oh, yes, the cold is bitting-and dry. The earache that stabbed me at a few minutes to nine -just before I walked out the door of my parent’s warm house, extended all the way from my right ear down into my throat, making me think of strep throat. Tucked into my car, I raised it a level to pneumonia. “I gotta get home and nip this in the bud, my bronchials have never hurt this bad.”

Fifteen minutes later, cup of herbal tea in hand and hot wrap heating in the microwave, I was still puzzled whence came the pain. No stuffy nose, no congestion, just griping, constricting pain moving into my chest, radiating toward my back. Wait a minute, did I say constricting? 10:00 p.m. and peacefully in my own bed, was I about to get my wish? My S-I-L and I have an agreement: No cancer. Just massive heart attack. Best way to go. Should I get up and open the blinds so anyone coming to check on me when I turn up missing can look through the window instead of knocking incessantly? No. I think I will drift off to sleep instead. One a.m. wide awake with upper chest pain, bargaining, “Yes, God of the Universe, I want to die peacefully with a heart attack, but I wanted to pay off my debts first. I want to have a legacy to leave for my children. And, oh, could it be out on some beautiful beach or hiking trail?”

The pain is now bearable and I am quite functional and calm. And that is why, I think I’ll grab this last opportunity and go for a nice long walk in the sunshine.