coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Time Enough

It is New Year's Eve and I guess I should review and evaluate the past year if for no other reason that it is an interesting ritual.  Plus, I am a big copycat.  Other bloggers are posting 2015 reviews today and I thought I might like to do the same.

If you had asked me last night what I thought about 2015 I would have grumpily replied that it was a hard year.

This morning I started the day by organizing my digital photos for 2015.  It took me all morning and by noon I began to see 2015 in a different light. Seeing the year documented in pictures was like a slap upside my head - you know, the kind that sharply implies "quit yer bitchin!" I was surprised to see how much fun I had in the previous 12 months. Why didn't I realize that in real time?

Perhaps 2015 was hard, but what year wasn't?  I appreciate 2015. I will respectfully put it to bed tonight. One never knows what might happen next, but perhaps there is still plenty of time.

Which brings me to my New Year's resolution: I am going to enjoy myself more in 2016. 
I hope you do, too.

Sand Lake at Wekiwa Springs State Park, Central Florida

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Out of my mindfulness

There is a lot of talk these days of living in or experiencing the moment, of being "mindful."  Unfortunately, words are cheapened when we overuse them. Then it takes a really long time before we can use them again with sincerity.  Okay, that phrase in itself sounds like a long buzz-phrase and means almost nothing like what I really meant. Let me try that again: Once a word becomes trendy it takes a long time before I can use it without the word sounding like meaningless crap to me. 

Of course the words themselves continue to mean what they mean. We are the ones who can no longer see or hear a word in its original context once it becomes trite.

For example, consider the first time you heard the phrase “thinking outside of the box.” It is one of those phrases that became over-popular 10-15 years ago in the workplace as a means to get people to re-evaluate a practice, to rethink a concept. The first time I heard it I thought, “That’s brilliant.” Then everyone used it, and used it, and used it.

When it was thrown out yet again by the millionth facilitator at still another focus group or workshop I could no longer even hear the original intention behind the phrase. I was too busy wanting a different facilitator, one who owned a thesaurus. One who thought their own thoughts and used their own words. I wanted to be facilitated by the first person who came up with that phrase.

I guess I am feeling more ornery than usual today; probably because I have been eating too much fruitcake.  And fudge.

But seriously...I find that being “mindful” actually does help alleviate anxiety.  I just need to come up with a new word for it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Ghost of Christmas Past

Will the sappiness never end?  Sorry, but it IS Christmas time which just turns me into a simpering wimp.  Or maybe a whimpering simp.  I can't help it.  Here is my most potent Christmas memory.

T and I have been together for a long time. In fact, this will be our 45th Christmas together. The years provided many good Christmas memories for us, but I have a particularly warm and fuzzy memory of Christmas Eve 1978. That one holds special meaning to me not because of anything we received, we were young with limited resources, but because of the uniqueness of it; Christmas Eve 1978 had a nearly perfect Christmas “feel” to it.

Setting the Stage:

Our daughter, M, was 6 years old. T and I were both 26. T had spent the first half of 1978 living in in New York City where he and his band mates were trying to make a go of it. We were physically separated, but we were still together. I stayed put and kept the home fires burning where I had a job and where little M was attending kindergarten. T came home one weekend a month to visit. It was really hard on all of us. The idea was that if the band worked out then M and I would move there, too. Truthfully, it was a relief when the band broke up and T came home. He got a job at a record store after he came back.

Christmas Eve 1978:

He had to work on Christmas Eve. After the store closed at 5:30 p.m. there was a holiday party for the employees and their families. We lived about 10 city blocks away. That seemed like a comfortable walking distance back then. It must have been one of those periods where we did not have a car, or perhaps it had broken down? It is hard to remember. T had walked to work. M and I probably took the bus downtown to meet him at the party. The buses did not run late, so we intended to walk home together, which we did.

The party was great fun, very festive. It was dark and snowing by the time we left, but not bitter cold. The night sky was filled with big, heavy snowflakes. One of us was only 6 years-old, so as trite as it sounds we made a game of catching the snowflakes in our mouths. T hoisted N onto his shoulders and the three of us proceeded to walk home in the dark, in the midst of the most beautiful snowfall I can remember. Houses were decorated and multi-colored lights lit our way. 1978 had been a struggle, a crossroads, a difficult year for our little family. We were happy to be together. We laughed and talked all the way home. I will never forget how magical it felt to be the three of us against the world that Christmas Eve.

Sometimes I miss snow

Friday, December 18, 2015

Zig Zag

In one week it will be Christmas. I think I am ready. I believe all my purchases have been made and the packages are wrapped. The tree and decorations are up. Our Christmas cards are mailed and I made the fruitcake! My daughter makes most of the Christmas cookies now, so I do not have to worry about that. All that is left for me to do is make frosted cut-out butter cookies with my grandkids. Oh yeah, I also have to clean the house. Aaaack! There is still that.

I am kind of a quirky house cleaner. I like to clean a couple different rooms at the same time. If I only do one room I end up getting bored. If I run from one room to another, doing a little bit here and a little bit there, eventually it all gets done and I keep myself amused.

My husband is a different kind of animal. He also cleans, but in his true-to-form linear fashion he concentrates on one room at a time. He likes to move directly from point A to point B. I prefer to zig zag my way through life. We both get to the same place eventually. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nutty as a Fruitcake

I made fruitcake for the holidays. I know – Ick.  Many people hate it. I like my mother’s dark fruitcake recipe, which I make without the icky stuff she put in her version. I use dates, dried apricots, raisins and walnuts. No red or green candied cherries! As a result, I feel disgustingly superior and virtuous.

Only my
daughter and I will eat fruitcake these days. I could easily skip it, but this is my first Christmas since Mom died. I miss her and I really wanted to make it. It will make my daughter happy. Maybe I can talk my granddaughter into trying it? Stranger things have happened.

Mom made fruitcake every Christmas I can remember until the slow progression of that hateful Parkinson’s Disease made it impossible for her to bake. Then I started making the Christmas fruitcake. I would send her one in the mail, just like she used to to do for me after I got married and moved far away. They weigh a ton, so the postage probably cost more than the ingredients; but it was my special gift to her. I felt I was honoring her in the making of it, and I knew she liked that I was carrying on her tradition. As a mother and a grandmother I understand that now.

Food-related holiday traditions are the legacy of the common woman. As long as someone is still making our recipes we have achieved some form of immortality.

Of course, as a daughter (or son), you have to make these things a little different than your mother did. We must put our own spin on it to reflect our uniqueness, our modernity, our necessary and never-ending rebellion. Who among us actually wants to BE their mother? Not many.  We adjust and tweak to insure we are different. How much we have to tweak depends on who our mothers were.

I must confess that I stopped making them a few years ago, in 2012 - that fateful year when the fruitcakes I made went moldy. It made me so mad, that mold.  I threw a big, stinkin’ fit and stopped making the effort in subsequent years.  I guess I showed them! Now I regret that and so many other things. I was not the best daughter I could have been.

I cannot go back and make my mother a fruitcake for 2013 and 2014. Instead, I made a memorial fruitcake in 2015. I am storing it in the fridge because in Florida I do not have a cool basement, or any basement for that matter. I am going wild with the brandy. If it gets moldy I am going to throw it out without saying a word. I am keeping my anger in check. This is now a ritual, a sacrifice, an act of love. From here on in it is the making of fruitcake that is important, not the eating of it.    

It occurs to me that s
he may not have liked my version of the fruitcake. As I shamelessly bragged above, my version does not include candied green and red cherries, and who knows what other carcinogenic or candied crap she used to put in her version. She never believed those things could be bad for you. She liked the bad stuff, my Mom. It used to drive me crazy.

She definitely did not soak her cheesecloth in brandy. She used apple juice and wrapped the cakes in muslin. I am quite sure she also liked thinking that her fruitcake was better than mine. And, of course, it was. To be completely honest I miss the red candied cherries. I probably should not admit it or the thought police might come and haul me away. Out of sheer orneriness, let me say it loud and proud: the red candied cherries were my favorite part. I was a fool for not realizing that earlier. Next year I will put them back in.

I just realized that instead
of giving her the fruitcake she wanted, I gave her the fruitcake I thought she should have. Aaaack! It is a good thing she loved me, because I can be insufferable.

Mothers understand these things, though. At least I do when my daughter now makes many of "my" Christmas cookies just a little bit different than I did. To become our grown-up selves we must separate from our mothers.

I am beginning to understand why a mother will always love her children more than her children will love her. Otherwise, none of us would ever leave her and no one would ever grow up.
  It is as it should be.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Seeing and Not Seeing

I love Christmas. I love everything about it except for the rampant materialism. I DO like giving and receiving presents, though. I am not the kind of person who is against giving Christmas presents. I am absolutely, 100% FOR presents.  What I am against is wanton excess - unless, of course, it is displayed on the front of your house for the world to see.

Most of our neighbors started putting up the outside Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving. I really want to bitch and moan in a self-righteous, disapproving way about how early they get their Christmas on; I certainly feel cranky about that issue. But I think not. Not this time, anyway. I get tired of being self-righteous and judgmental. Today I am going to take a break.

In fact, I love seeing normal, everyday people decorating their houses. We could all benefit from using our imaginations occasionally. I am encouraged when the Average Joe is inspired to spend a few precious hours on his/her day off decorating the house. I think of outside Christmas decorations as legitimate folk art.

I have this wacky idea that most people have a need to express themselves creatively. I first experienced the "public display variety" of self-expression when I was a child, back in the 1950’s. On June 14 (Flag Day) all us neighbor kids would take rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper and decorate our bikes. I lived in one of those post-WWII housing developments where all the parents were the same age and each house was filled with rambunctious baby booming children. My friends and I would then get on our fabulous patriotic bikes and parade our handiwork around the block in a proud and colorful parade. We were so freakin' cute!

When my mother was in the assisted living home each resident decorated the outside of her or his door with signs, dried flowers, wreaths, and more. Each door was different and decorations changed with the seasons.

The residents clearly wanted us to see their doors. But you know, there is a little bit of Miss Havisham in all of us as we age. At first glance those doors seemed super damn creepy to me! I have an overactive imagination. Crocheted Santas seemed to be staring blankly into my eyes as if trying to steal my soul. Wildly perky dancing reindeer invited me to come hither. And that was just at Christmas. At Easter there were ratty birds nests affixed to some doors. Crazy felt and wire birds challenged me to look deep into their googly eyes. And the signs said things like, "Come In!"

Honestly, it was hard not to look the other way and not see them at all. I made a sincere effort to fight that urge. I could easily have looked at each door with a critical eye and been put off because I was not really looking at the doors with a mind to see them. I was blinded by my fear of aging, my fear of sickness and of death.

What a coward I was. I was only visiting that place. Those old folks were living their final days and facing those fears head on. They were trying to let their light shine in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The least I could do was look at their parade of handiwork.

I tried to enjoy those doors and really "see" what the residents were showing me, because in a real and tangible way they were presenting me with a gift. Being judgmental is unseemly at best. In the context of receiving a gift it is always bad manners.

I was an art student back in the day. I had a professor who tried to teach us there is no such thing as bad art, there is only art you do not understand. He was trying to introduce us to abstraction at the time. Making us rethink our perceptions was a helpful exercise in that context. It challenged us to take a deeper look and get beyond our knee-jerk expectations of what art is "supposed" to be. I am not sure if he was right about there being no bad art, but I liked the sound of it. I still do.

His concept freed me from some youthful conceits and those stubborn literary hang-ups that were keeping me from really "seeing" the purely visual. Art doesn't have to tell a story. It is more than simply illustration. It can stand alone, without context. Once I surrendered to the visual I suddenly started seeing art everywhere. And I was drug free, dammit! Well, most of the time. :)

So…I like nothing better than driving through our usually homogeneous subdivision streets during this time of the year, oohing and aahhing my way down each block. I silently thank each householder for taking the time to entertain me, for wowing me, for strutting their creative stuff.  

Everyone does it differently. Some houses are garish, some are beautiful.
Most of these houses shine in living color, others are resplendent in snowy white. A few VERY special ones are ridiculously over-the-top and I would drive ten miles to see one of those - with or without my grandchildren.

Standards and good taste be damned! You may not decorate as I do, but if you choose to decorate your house (or your door...) for the holidays you simply cannot do it wrong in my book. I approve! Go wild! Because if not now, when?"
Not the least bit creepy, right?