Holidays

Promises of Paris

Posted by on Apr 15, 2011 in Holidays, Spirit | 0 comments

It’s almost 2 AM, too early to wake, but Paris and hunger has roused me from a restless four hour nap. I recall very few times in my life that I have been too excited to eat, but the last few days before my trip have been so packed with preparations and anticipation I have lost track of even meal times. Now with my suitcase ready for zipping, my traveling outfit selected and my job put to bed for the month, my stomach wakes me complaining. I cannot decide it it is too later or too early to eat, but after months of being too bound by responsibilities to take time for myself I find that more than food, more than sleep, I need to write. So, let me tell you about Paris.

In Kentucky where I was reared, many early pioneers left a stamp of incongruent place names across the young wilderness, names that were doomed to be twisted into unrecognizable pronunciations by the uneducated tongues that followed them into that dark and bloody land. My high school French teacher did nothing to dispel the ignorance in myself or my classmates concerning the butchered names. The rules of pronunciation that I learned in class were not applied locally. It was my first husband that made me aware that the Versailles Highway and the palace of the Sun King were spelled exactly the same way, but that Louis would have gone into the French equivalent of a hissy fit if he heard the locals speak the word. We even named the largest city in the state after him, Louisville, but I can almost see his sneer if he heard it spoken. Hopefully I will not see the same sneer Sunday morning when I arrive in his native land and open my mouth.

In an effort not to rise above my raising I have diligently fallen asleep for weeks with the headset Rosetta Stone sent me wrapped around my head whispering barely remembered words from long ago. The only thing I have learned for certain is how to ask politely for the toilet and a translator to understand the directions to same. Last night I admitted to a bit of terror along with my excitement. Come what may however I will be on the airplane in six hours, ready or not.

I wish I could say I yearned for Paris as I sat eagerly on the front row of Mrs. Render’s French class but truthfully I just wanted to be anywhere but in Beaver Dam Ky. It was later that Paris assaulted me, so deftly I am uncertain of when the blow was struck. I do know the longing is there and a bit of it seems to be in many of my friends and acquaintances, for when I tell them about Paris they get a dreamy look in their eyes. Some say, well, the people are rude I hear, or the city is dirty, but under it all they know romance waits there in the air, in the water, in the food, and especially in the language. La ville éternelle m’appelle, et je vais…

To be continued…

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Excelsior!

Posted by on Dec 31, 2010 in Death and renewal, Holidays, Mother in Laws | 1 comment

I sit with a blank page on my laptop watching my reflection in the large black monitor on my son in law’s desk. The picture I see looks like a ghost of either Christmas past or Christmas future, perhaps both. It seems a line has been drawn across my life this year with bittersweet endings on one side and uncertain beginnings on the other…

The long and arduous relationship with my mother in law appears to be coming to an end as she lies in a hospital in Roanoke gravely ill. I have never been able to feign any words of endearment toward her, although I recognize that she has accidently taught me many lessons. It still makes my stomach churn to think of her lying there alone, even though it is doubtful that she is aware of much around her. I cannot count the times I have wished her out of my life, but now I find there is no triumph for me in her passing. I believe that in this I have followed my children’s example of forgiveness and acceptance. My husband’s mother passed before he and I married and my mother lived far away and died when they were young. So with all her faults she has been the only grandmother that has had a relationship with them.

My mother would have been proud of my daughter for taking on the duties of Christmas this year. Although my children do not remember much about my my mother, the ceaseless work and attention to detail Eva showed preparing a wonderful meal for friends and family reminded me so much of her. In contrast, I did not so much as put up a tree this year. I admit that the passing of the reins is not without some trepidation. After so many decades of sitting in the driver’s seat it was strange hearing the words I used to tell everyone else directed at me. “Just sit back and relax”. I have no practice at this indolence and I find it bewildering, like being a child told to stay out from underfoot.

I empathize with my newly mobile grandson who clammers at the baby gate, wishing to be in the thick of things. Looking at him I know I should not waste a second bemoaning times past. Both of us just need to acquire the necessary tools and understanding to function in this new order. It’s nice to have so much in common with him actually, although I doubt he would see it that way. I am bursting with optimism about the future and it is obvious he feels the same. He is unaware of how much I am learning from him about persistence and ignoring barriers.

My favorite inspirational phrase this year is on a card at my work desk, “Life rewards those who let their actions rise above their excuses”. This quote is reportedly by Lee Colan, an organizational guru, and it was passed to me in an email from my director. The same email also quoted Jedi Master Yoda “Do or do not, there is no try”. I am ashamed to admit that although I have read an reread them, I have not taken the words to heart like I should. Instead of doing I have been trying. As I have watched my grandson Logan progress from being stuck where ever he was placed by an adult to a fearless independent locomotion I recognize his total grasp and application of the attitude I am striving to learn. The fact that he would walk straight off the edge of a cliff with his newfound skills is not lost on me and neither is the inordinately strong and ultimately ineffectual will to live exhibited by my step mother in law. I however have no excuses not to succeed at anything I want. I have the common sense not to walk to the edge of the Grand Canyon and jump, but the health and fortitude to strap on a parachute and leap out of an airplane. I’m not saying skydiving is in my immediate future but perhaps something equivalent, only slightly less terrifying. I’ve never quite overcome my fear of heights you see, but like the young Jedi I am not trying. Let me just say welcome to the fresh new year and give you one more homily, this one from tinybuddah.com.

“Death is more universal than life. Everyone dies but not everyone lives.” ~Alan Sachs

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Welcome Christmas

Posted by on Dec 12, 2010 in Holidays | 3 comments

I waited in line at the Beaver Dam Deposit Bank for what seemed like hours to get my few minutes sitting on the lap of a suspicious looking man in a red suit and fake whiskers. He gave me a candy cane and asked me if I had been a good little girl all year. I had been full of conversation at the beginning of the line, but I became more and more anxious and hushed as my turn approached. I mentally scanned back through the past year, like the dead approaching the seat of judgment. It would do no good to lie, since he “knew when I was sleeping, and he knew when I was awake”. Faltering for an eternity in his flannel lap, I could not utter one word in my defense. I tentatively nodded my head in the affirmative at his question, hoping he had been looking at some other child when I stole the spoonful of icing from the bowl in the refrigerator, or stuffed toys under my bed instead of putting them away where they belonged. Clutching my peppermint tightly, I headed back to our Pontiac with a guilty conscious, wondering if some other family member, perhaps my older sister, who was behind me in line, had spilled the beans. She acted nonchalant, but I wasn’t sure, so I resolved to be as good as gold for the 10 remaining days before December 25, just in case she had said something, and he was checking for himself. Little did I know she had her own guilty secrets, one of which included finding the hiding place for Santa’s private stash, high up in the living room closet.

That Saturday afternoon we decorated the house with golden electric lights in the windows, and a pungent sweet cedar tree that arrived like magic from somewhere, perhaps my Grandfather’s farm in Echols. My Dad and brother were in charge of making it stand straight and sturdy in the window, right beside our front door. I don’t remember which year Kurt had tried to even up the branches, cutting first from the front, then the back, till they had to wire limbs back on the tree to make it presentable. Mom told the story so often it has passed into the lore of Christmas. My brother was responsible for the electrical aspects of the tree in those pre female liberation days, when work was divided by gender. He went carefully through the bubble lights to make sure each bulb in the series was working, removing them one at a time and working down the string till it came to life. Mother was the decorator, positioning the lights evenly around the tree, and nestling the glass ornaments carefully on the strongest branches. My sister an I were allowed to add the icicles, one at a time, till the plain green shrub was transformed into a fairyland tree. It was my job to hang the efficiently abbreviated “Merry Xmas” wreath from the front door, till several years later when Mother read an article stating that the shortened greeting “took the Christ out of Christmas”. Since none of us were schooled in ancient Greek, it languished in the attic ever after, less anyone mistake us for a nest of unbelievers.

My mother had a simple and unfailing faith that sustained her, and all of her family during her lifetime. A child of the depression who lived through the Great War, she totally embraced both the spiritual and material side of the Christmas season, with a combination of faith and patriotism. In my mind Santa and Jesus often converged into one concept, an all seeing, all knowing, and loving father figure, who rewarded good and punished evil. On one Christmas morning, long before dawn, my brother, sister, and I tiptoed through the house, knowing it was too soon to disturb Mom and Dad. Standing in the still dark kitchen, my brother noticed the beautiful night sky outside the window and pointed out a brilliant star that was high in the sky. Awestruck, we all agreed that it had to be the same Star of Bethlehem that foretold the birth of Jesus. I found no inconsistency in believing it was now shining to guide Santa on his way. My faith in Santa transitioned seamlessly into a belief in God, just as my parents planned. I remember the Christmas when I asked my Mom if there really was a Santa. I was about 6 and she was hanging ornaments on the tree. She had her answer ready, but was unprepared to give up the Santa fantasy for her last child. “There is a spirit of Christmas”, she replied, unable to meet my eyes. I took it quite manner of fact, pleased that I had been let into the adult’s inner circle. I still pretended belief for a while, just like my youngest child did years later, sitting out the milk and cookies, with a carrot for the reindeer, hedging our bets on the chance that he was real.

Even though I was youngest, and the last to let go of the fabric of fantasy, we were still always awake at dawn, probably only hours after our parents had finished putting the last tab A into opening C1, C2 and C3. We were allowed to tiptoe through the dark living room and see dimly what Santa had left, but only to pick up our stockings from the mantle and scurry back to our beds. Stockings were candy, nuts and citrus fruit, and an occasional tiny toy, just enough to entice us for the frenzy of unwrapping, and the amazing Christmas breakfast that followed. My parents always strained their budgets in those early years to make sure we had an abundance of everything. We were oblivious to their struggle, because money was not an open topic of discussion in our home. Our gifts were not expensive, but they were chosen with love and care. In that pre-electronic age, it was easy to believe that they came straight from Santa’s workshop. My little set of metal dishes looked like they could have been made by elves, and my doll house with the printed wallpaper and doors, and hard melamine furniture, obviously came straight from the north pole. My gifts were stylized, tiny ironing boards, stoves, dust mops and nurse’s kits, while my brother got chemistry sets, wood burning tools, and cars. One memorable year my parents caved in to my constant begging and gave me a train set with an engine that puffed real smoke. My Dad and I played with it for hours, but oddly enough I have no memory of what my brother or sister did during that time.

Back years and miles away from those childhood memories, I plan for my adult children’s holiday homecoming. Many of the same traditions I have established with them came from the treasured early days of my life. None of them have had the experience of becoming Santa, but someday I hope for them that they take that most humbling, exhausting, and rewarding journey. I know they will take the best of their childhood, like I did, and make their own traditions. My newest daughter told me that she got a little tree for their Seattle apartment and waited for my son to find time to trim it with her. After days passed with no help forthcoming, he finally told her he was waiting for the cookies and eggnog that you have to have to put the ornaments on the tree. She succumbed and searched the internet for recipes for elf drops and peppermint sandwiches, thus sealing her fate as a future keeper of the Christmas torch. I hope he will be just as accommodating when she honors her own family’s traditions. We all have our nostalgia about childhood memories and some are certainly worth keeping like the Christmas tree trimming party, but I am happy with the modern holiday that is less guilt ridden than the 1950’s. I would not wish for any child to lie awake wondering if their stocking will be filled with lumps of coal, because of some normal childish mischief. If you go seeking the true meaning of Christmas, I wish you luck. I for one will content myself with the spirit of Christmas I have come to believe. A jolly elf all clothed in red is a delightful part of childhood fantasy, and if Christians wish to intersperse the birth of Christ with the winter solstice, I will hold my tongue and ignore the guilt trip they try to impose. As anyone who has read Dr Susse knows, the true joy of the season is in family, sharing, and spending time together. All the Whos in Whoville were right; no Grinch can steal the Christmas you keep in your heart.

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Christmas 08

Posted by on Dec 8, 2008 in Holidays | 0 comments

I did not make any cookies this year and the world does appear to be shrugging off this news with grace. My oldest son, a cookie monster of the first degree, is staying in Seattle with his wife and baby son, a foot of snow, and all my cookie recipes. I know his wife has probably made some of them and some of her own to comfort him on his first Christmas ever away from home in all his 39 years. The four of us that will be here sat down Tuesday night and came up with a comprise plan for food over the holidays. We will not be having my Mama’s Christmas dinner boys and girls. My husband is disappointed but the people voted and his menu did not win.

In my mind’s eye I can see the look on his face the first time I took him to my parent’s house for the holidays. We came in through the frigid garage where Mother had kept three long tables situated between the two cars. Mother had spent weeks mass producing jam cakes to give as gifts and for us to eat but she did not stop there. Neither could she make just one of anything. Pound cake as well as coconut, chocolate, banana and orange slice were standards, but she also made some new ones every year. My husband loved the pecan pies best, but if he got tired of that he could have pumpkin, mince, chess, chocolate, lemon, coconut, mincemeat, butterscotch, or the children’s favorite, peanut butter. She made enough to put every member of the house into a diabetic coma of epic proportions. In the refrigerator she had my weakness, boiled custard, rich and soothing and loaded with fat, it was the perfect side for the shortbread and ginger snaps and coconut crinkles. With a dessert menu like that I will just leave the overabundance of the main meal to your already taxed imaginations.

My parents believed alcohol was a sin and classified all who drank as morally bankrupt, a short step away from the gutter. It took me many years to realize that gluttony was on the same level as alcohol abuse and that drinking, like eating, could be done sensibly and with moderation. Still when we sit to talk about Christmas treats the old days tug at my husband so strongly and myself to a lesser degree. My daughter and son say they want no sweets at all. I know my husband will be at the store buying a pecan pie if I do not make one, so I stand firm for him on that point. It’s a good dessert to make because neither my daughter or I are tempted by treacle or fat, the main components. What did we come up with? I thought you’d never ask.

Free Range Organic Turkey with defatted Pan Juices
Apple Celery Gluten Free Stuffing

(The Ham that my husband thinks he has cleverly hidden in the downstairs fridge)

Fresh Organic Cranberry Sauce with Port Wine

Garlic and Olive Oil Winter Vegetable Roast with Yams, Red Potatoes, Onions, Rutabagas, Butternut Squash and (yuck) Beets.

Brussel Sprouts with Roasted Chestnuts and Orange Peel

Corn and Limas

Green Beans with Almonds and lemon

(Homemade rolls that no one knows I’m making)

Pecan Pie

(A lower fat version of my Mother’s Boiled custard that no one knows I’m making)
(English Trifle with Port and fresh Raspberries that no one knows I’m making)

(What ever else the rest of them are hiding, hopefully made of dark chocolate)

Some Lovely Pinot Noir that the wine steward at Whole Foods suggested and a Petit Sirah that I picked out myself.

For all my friends, and any out there who think themselves my foes, my wish for you this Christmas is that picking a menu is the least of your worries and that the next year puts more of all the good things in life on everyone’s plate.

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