Monday, December 31, 2012

Putting Off and Picking Up

Have you ever put something off for a really long time? Silly question - of course you have. Me, too.

My Christmas cards were mailed just before Christmas after an absence of two years. For good reasons, mind you, not that I need a reason or have to feel bad about it.  But I kinda do. They were addressed in 2010, the year my mother-in-law died. I always write a Christmas letter but didn't have the heart to and one day dragged into another until it was New Year's Day and I put the envelopes away with the cards. Last year, my husband almost died - cards were shelved again.

My year of simplifying has had a side benefit in that I am getting back on the ball and doing some of the things I have put off. Occasionally, I table them for good - not necessary to my well-being anymore. Like keeping a budget book.  If I don't know where the money is going by now, I never will.

With the long New Year's weekend home from work, I have been doing a few things. The one which is bringing me the most satisfaction is finally making the lined drapes for the bedroom. The fabric was bought  ummm..ahhh a few years ago. Really more than that but I won't tell if you don't. My measurement notes will probably turn up when I am done. I know what they look like, just can't put my finger on them.

My work surface is a little low and the fabric panels for the sliding door are huge, but seams are being sewn and pressed and I am just about to attach the lining. My back isn't particularly happy about the bending and pinning so frequent breaks break up the action. Nice. Breaks are always nice - especially on days off.

It is New Year's Eve. Snow blankets the ground and makes the inside feel that much more cozy. On this day, ten years ago, we signed the papers to purchase our house. We have been here ten years now and are celebrating our milestone tenth anniversary in Massachusetts together. We will stay at home, perhaps play Scrabble and eat pizza from our favorite shop, enjoying each-others company just as we did then. We will light a sky lantern filled with our wishes for our loved ones and set it aloft over the lake. As it fills with heat and expands with our hopes and wishes, we will let it rise to the heavens with our prayers.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Later That Same Day

The promised snow started falling late in the afternoon. Minute flakes drifted down with increasing speed and by mid-evening every surface that had been cleared yesterday had reached the same depth again.

The cottony snow lay thick over the azalea branches. It drifted under the deck where it dusted the patio with a confectioner's coating. I am entranced by the hushed silence outside just as I am every time I experience it. How lucky I am to have the opportunity to enjoy this wonder of nature.

Snowy Saturday

It is the last Saturday morning in December and I am waiting for the snow to begin. Our plans to drive to Hartford to meet our new grand-niece, Lila, have been thwarted by the weather. While disappointed about today's trip, I am excited to go with plan B to spend the first day of the new year with her. I will relish my anticipation until then!

With a 'free' day at home, I am planning how I will make the most of the snowy weather and it will surely involve lighting the fireplace, a good book and stitching (maybe with some housekeeping thrown in). I am out of grape jelly so perhaps I will make a batch from the grapes I pressed and stored in the freezer.

Clutter from the holidays is scattered here and there. As I bend to pick things up while waiting for my tea to brew (a lovely Ronnefeldt Red Berries blend), delicious options skip through my head. I can do anything I want...or not.

It occurs to me that I am going into the new year more settled than I have been in a long time. My focus is renewed and priorities adjusted. There are still a few rough edges which need smoothed - I supposed there will always be - and I will deal with them when they warrant it.

Fotopastele Photography
I am savoring the ordinary moments - the taste of the rich fruit tea on my tongue, knowing that some of my grandmother's family-famous spritz that I make last week are still in the cookie tin and I can get one any time I want to. Cozy socks, our snoozing dog tucked into the crook of my dozing husband's legs in the other room and music played softly in the background soothe me.

I will make a rich beef stroganoff for dinner. By then, the snow will be flying in earnest and the comfort food will be welcome - perhaps in front of the fireplace. Hmmmm. I wonder if I can find an old movie from the 50's on TV - that wonderful time when entertainment was joy-filled.

There is a lot to be said for ordinary moments. While they mostly scoot by me unheeded, paying attention to them is creating a whole different mindset. Today, I will take note of each one and savor their simplicity. Paying attention is my reward.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Love Enters, Hearts Expand

I settle into the corner of the couch with a Christmas book I have been reading the past few days and our dachshund jumps up beside me stretching his body out along my leg in scrumptious comfort. The room is softened by the glow of Christmas lights and dark chocolate cocoa releases fragrant steam beside me. He sighs with contentment as do I.
Mario has been one of our pleasures this year. Rescued from an abusive home, he warmed up to us over those first few months last summer and is now fiercely loyal, thrusting his 16 pounds of quivering toughness between me and any supposed intruder until the all clear is sounded. He is so loving and so in need of love. He gives as good as he gets and is devastated if he disappoints me. While he knew most of the house rules before he came, there have been a few ‘accidents’ which he hung his head over even before I discovered them. That no one had played with him was so sad. Now he plays fetch and loves his unstuffed toys, neatly folding them in his mouth on retrieval so he doesn’t trip on them. So smart!

Each time love enters your house, it is hard to remember a time devoid of it. As your heart fills with the wonder of it, your live expands to accept the new feelings. Whether new acquaintances which grow into friendships or tiny creatures added to the family we all grow from the experience.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Early Resolutions

from A Cup of Jo
After burning the candle at both ends for the past week or so, the last package is wrapped, cookies are made (and some devoured) and I spent a wonderful Sunday morning dozing on the couch with my husband while listening to Christmas music.

My grief has mellowed into a reverent thankfulness. Priorities have shifted, commitments have been renewed. I have touched base with friends and family I have not talked with in quite awhile and checked in with those who need comfort or a little attention. A new baby has been born in our family this past week and her beautiful countenance warms my heart. We gladly welcome a new generation in the Swanson/Starybrat family.

It is usually New Year's Day which prompts resolutions and promises to better ourselves in one way or another. This year, my desire arrived early for tragically obvious reasons.  I have felt agitated and words have been darting around inside my head in a mad attempt to make sense of the world's violence and my part in it.

I do not have to condone it by sitting in front of the tube watching blood and gore, degradation and pain. I have been moving away from this type of entertainment for several years and have never watched horror movies or abusive stories so favored on Lifetime but my husband still watches a few shows which, although milder in content, still disturb me. Bones, Castle and NCIS, where the good guy wins and humor softens the human aspect of the shows, still have victims, still
offer entertainment through violence. I do not need it in my life, it does nothing to enhance it. I have been putting off more pleasurable creativity in order to keep him company but I have really had enough. I will explore other ways to spend time with him. If there are still things to pass along to younger souls at this late stage, I want them to be positive things, uplifting things.

I want what my dog offers me - uncomplicated affection. Relationships that expand my heart and broaden my horizons. If hurt, pain or sadness strikes, I want to be there to support and console.

Bob and Mario
I crave simplicity in mind as well as home. I am making good headway on both scores.We have set four years from August 2012 as goal for deciding our plan for what comes next in the scheme of things - retirement date, where we will live, downsizing - all the big questions facing those in their later years.

In the meantime, I plan to lighten my load, put my priorities in the right place for me and go with the flow. Life will happen, there will be tough things to face but there will also be countless joys to savor.

The Christmas music plays quietly in the background, the ornamented tree warms the room and there is a spritz or two in the cookie tin which will go perfectly with my tea. Time to move on....

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Coming to Terms

Like everyone in the world, I have been trying to come to terms with the horrific deaths of children and teachers in Newtown, CT.  It would have hit home no matter where it happened but I grew up in Bethel, have friends in Newtown and have myriad memories of beautiful days spent there.

This does not tarnish my memories but grief ravages my heart to know that these lives were taken and innocence lost. It is mostly the innocence of children which comes to mind but I know it also encompasses the innocence of adults, too.

I responded to Barrie's post on Bloom this morning and found myself writing probably much more than she bargained for. Since I could not articulate my words and the path they took any better than I already have (nor do I want to delve back into the pain again to do so), I hope she will excuse my repeating them here. Be sure to go to her blog to read her thoughts, too.

There is no need to know why he did this unspeakable thing. It is totally inexcusable. For me, it is about the vulnerability of our minds and our children's minds and the effects of what we experience in this country where trauma is foisted on us by multiple 24-7 news feeds which turn tragedy into entertainment.

Over the past few decades, the United States has developed a fascination for violence that does not exist in other countries. Only here do we raise the criminals who shoot our innocents to an elevated status. We do not just report the news, we force feed it to the public over and over and over, flashing images of the perpetrator until his face is burned into our brains and his actions are graphically discussed or, worse, exhibited. Without realizing it, we also condone opinion in the guise of news. To fill air time, the topic is discussed ad nauseum until the reporter's opinions have crept into the story which then extrapolates it into fact in our minds.

Stores sell violent video games and the players get points for 'kills'. Children play these games. Played mostly in isolation, some can spend hours in front of the screen. Is there any wonder that they might become desensitized to the value of human life? Look at the television lineup. Our TV and much of our movie entertainment are comprised of crime and mayhem. A number of the reality shows do nothing to portray healthy family participation or competition with honor. Some TV shows resort to lewdness, ridicule and injury for entertainment. Even 'America's Funniest Home Videos' runs a laugh track when someone gets hurt. It is supposed to be funny. How awful.

Is it any wonder that we can list the mass murders by name easier than we can list the last ten presidents? That we know what Charles Manson did in detail but we may not know what Mother Teresa did for her country's people? Our country's values have morphed over time and are influenced by our environment and our society and what we accept as the norm in the media and play. We all have the means to follow our own special path. If we do so with creativity and compassion, we will be better for it. If we understand the importance of love and support for those around us, we will be better for it. I agree with you there.

There is no placating our psyches, though. It is not just about us healing from the damage wrought by this event. It is about what we choose to accept into our lives, to embrace wholeheartedly and what we do for others in our sphere. We need to face the things that have contributed to our society's unrest and its morbid fascination for violence. Until we move towards more healthful entertainment, this will happen again. Another person will grow angry and his anger will fester and he may see his shot at fame rests in violence. To make concrete changes, we must assess our own role in it in order to promote change within our families and our society as a whole. In order for us, our children and our society to grow with grace and compassion, we need to practice it ourselves and show, by example, that there is another way to live.

I know that I have been ranting a bit but it stems from me trying to come to terms with my own grief. I want to discover how I have contributed to this horrible phenomena by accepting the things which have become commonplace in our lives. My travels overseas have shown me that we have, indeed, become a nation onto its own in this matter. I feel sorry for that. No one action will turn it around. My challenge is to find more creativity in my life and welcome others into it through sharing my joy. If we create, we are not destroying. The two cannot coexist in the same action.

PS These are my opinions and I am still working everything out in my mind. One personal note I will share with you...on Saturday, I went to the memorial service of a close friend's mother. Sitting in the church with them, hearing stories about her life was uplifting and comforting. When they tolled the church bells 91 times, one for each year she lived, I lost it. Newtown's children only get six bells. I could not stop crying.