Inspiration, Taste the Season, Uncategorized

Do You Hear What I Hear ?

Here we are again at the end of another year and it’s Christmastime. Let’s set aside the shopping, baking, and sparkling baubles for a moment and ponder a familiar seasonal conundrum. Why didn’t we finish all the things we set out to do or at least make an appreciable dent in moving along that elusive path we’re on? By December, the year-long cacophony of what ifs and why nots has achieved a tormenting hold. If you strip away the pageantry of Christmas, we’re still just us trying to carve out and extract the best from this life we’ve been given, and it’s simply the end of another year. What was I expecting? I didn’t do much differently this year, though I AM still alive (no small feat). Was I honestly counting on the year to press out all those wrinkles, and now that it’s December, am I really going to STILL fixate on them? ‘Tis the season of trying to wrap it all up with a pretty bow, I suppose. 

Darkness and light

I do love this time of year. The air is crisper and the lights are brighter–little twinkly smiles that beam at you from inside windows–and there’s a big ball of hope and love that swells up so full you think it might just burst. For me, this joyful yuletide crescendo continues until sometime around Christmas night, after all has been unwrapped and revealed and then things deflate, leaving behind a gentle return to life as it was, in many ways a welcome relief. Each season, we get this glittery December window in which to dispense this magic over others, but the window is narrow, producing an urgency to harness it and spread it, but hopefully saving some for yourself. Of course, the window is actually as wide as we make it and we’ve got a full 365 days to work with.

My siblings and me Christmas morning in the ’60s.

Christmas isn’t just a calendar day or a season, it’s a billowy set of sails that charts our course for December and beyond. By the twelfth month, before us is a rich end-of-year stew–chock full of different ingredients, some quiet and lovely, sunny or lonely, some full of remembrance and yearning, dreaming or improving. When we’re young, this season takes forever to get here, but when it finally does, it brings weeks of anticipation with which to plan and savor. As adults we set about intentionally mining for that magic that only Christmas can bring. The season moves at rapid speed and that fairy-tale attention once placed on you now lives inside you, yours to harness and give, though at the end of a tough year, you wonder sometimes if it will even appear. When you least expect it, however, you find yourself pulling from way down deep to do something nice for someone, and you keep doing it again and again. THIS is Christmas.

Walking through our city’s botanical garden recently, I felt some of the magic, but it was a diluted strain and not the intimate experience I’d treasured years earlier under this same canopy of twinkly trees. The last time I came here acapella carolers’ drifting wintry notes drew me in, and I moved in closer to sing with them. These sounds brought sweetness out of the dark and filled me with a renewed appreciation for familiar carols I will forever know the words to. On this night I’d wanted the sparkle to grab my hand, and lead me into the season. Instead, I just saw lights, albeit choreographed spectacular ones, which seemed more fact than emotion. As I meandered along to piped-in familiar songs—The Nutcracker Suite, New York, and All I Want for Christmas is You—the music swallowed up any traces of silence I’d hoped to get lost in or those quiet conversations you hear along a path. It was an orchestrated noise you could hear, see, and even taste if you were willing to stretch your budget further. Directional signs led people to lines for s’mores kits and marshmallow roasting stations, light necklaces, and other tempting extras for purchase, but for us our entry ticket was enough. Off the main path was a tiny Christmas village around which an electric train circled, which I found mesmerizing.

A Christmas choo-choo

It must be my brain, noisy in all seasons, that craves the quiet, that prefers the sound of snowfall versus sled blades cutting the ice, an intimate conversation over a pulsing party, acapella singing under the stars to brightly lit choirs. Thankfully I’ve got a detailed loop in my head that can recall past merry moments, but I’ve gotten better at noticing which bits soothe and inspire me. It gets noisy starting in Halloween and ramps up until the new year, but if you work at it, you can extract a version that works for you.

These are a few of my favorite things in no particular order:

Lucie in her element

❄️That first snow falling softly and your dog pressing her paws in it, incredulous, as if it appeared solely for her wonder and enjoyment.

❄️A fresh boxwood wreath on your door

❄️Children peeking from the top of the stairs ready to bundle down the steps and discover their surprises

❄️Ball jars of eggnog chilling in the refrigerator, gifts for delivery later

Biscotti

❄️Caroling with neighbors.

❄️Silent night sung by candlelight at church on Christmas Eve

❄️The sight and smell of cranberry pistachio biscotti cooking 

❄️Newscasters on Christmas eve reporting Santa sightings

❄️It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie.

❄️It’s a Wonderful Life, the experience.

❄️A fresh cut fraser fir stretching out its branches and feeling at home in your living room.

❄️Noticing your tree is drinking water and filling it up every morning. 

❄️Stringing lights on your tree and then running outside to see the pretty view from the street.

Important post for Mr. “Claws”

❄️Stuffing holiday cards into a nearly full post box. 

❄️Taking your children to the PO to drop off a letter to Santa in the North Pole

❄️Grocery store lines and talking with strangers about the meals they’re planning.

❄️Christmas Eve night when all the packages are wrapped and there’s nothing else to do but look around and soak it all in.

❄️Wishing strangers a Merry Christmas

❄️Letting the tired mom in the minivan with a Rudolph nose and antlers cut you off in traffic. 

Christmas comes on little cat feet

❄️Finding coins to give the Salvation Army bell ringers. 

❄️Finding bills to give a homeless person on the ramp to the interstate.

❄️Wintry pillows and pets who snuggle.

❄️Ornaments you’ve never loved but grew up with which you now appreciate and carefully hang. 

❄️Champagne and clam chowder on Christmas Eve.

❄️Sweet rolls Christmas morning. 

❄️Realizing how much time and energy your parents gave to make your holidays as special as they were.

❄️Christmas Eve brunch with your best girlfriends. 

❄️Finding the perfect gift for someone and beautifully wrapping it.

❄️Opening your mail to find Christmas cards, some with a heartfelt handwritten personal note. 

Thank you for the best day ever!

❄️A living room strewn with wrapping paper Christmas morning and your cats joyfully romping in it.

❄️Going to bed Christmas Eve knowing you gave your very best and excited to watch it all unfold in a few hours.

❄️Your dog gnawing a bone from her stocking and beaming lovingly at you in gratitude.

❄️Cats on their sides humping their catnip toys, dizzy with delight

❄️Napping Christmas afternoon sleepy from mimosas and sweet rolls and secrets that finally got unwrapped

❄️A Christmas cactus that has bloomed 

❄️A paper white narcissus, standing tall and thin, blissfully unaware of its glorious scent.

My neighborhood is going to sing carols again like they did last year which was my first time participating. For any locals who want to join me, please reach out. It’s on Sunday the 18th. Here’s a sampling from December ’21:

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Nothing is perfect but trying to watch the chaotic tennis match between past and future Christmases only robs you of this Christmas. Believing the purpose of the end of another year is for all to be solved feels short-sighted and shallow and surely sets you up for failure. Instead, I believe our takeaway should be simply, “All is calm all is bright.” Remember? From the song? As the following clever poem illustrates, the power just might reside in our lungs of all places. 

My brain and heart divorced a decade ago over who was to blame about how big of a mess I have become. Eventually, they couldn’t be in the same room with each other. Now my head and heart share custody of me. I stay with my brain during the week and my heart gets me on weekends. They never speak to one another; instead, they give me the same note to pass to each other every week, and their notes they send to one another always say the same thing: “This is all your fault”

On Sundays my heart complains about how my head has let me down in the past and on Wednesday my head lists all of the times my heart has screwed things up for me in the future. They blame each other for the state of my life. There’s been a lot of yelling – and crying so, lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my gut who serves as my unofficial therapist. Most nights, I sneak out of the window in my ribcage and slide down my spine and collapse on my gut’s plush leather chair that’s always open for me and I just sit sit sit sit until the sun comes up. Last evening, my gut asked me if I was having a hard time being caught between my heart and my head. I nodded. I said I didn’t know if I could live with either of them anymore. “My heart is always sad about something that happened yesterday while my head is always worried about something that may happen tomorrow,” I lamented. My gut squeezed my hand.

“I just can’t live with my mistakes of the past or my anxiety about the future,” I sighed. My gut smiled and said: “In that case, you should go stay with your lungs for a while,” I was confused, the look on my face gave it away. “If you are exhausted about your heart’s obsession with the fixed past and your mind’s focus on the uncertain future, your lungs are the perfect place for you. There is no yesterday in your lungs, there is no tomorrow there either. There is only now. There is only inhale, there is only exhale, there is only this moment. There is only breath, and in that breath you can rest while your heart and head work their relationship out.”

This morning, while my brain was busy reading tea leaves and while my heart was staring at old photographs, I packed a little bag and walked to the door of  my lungs. Before I could even knock, she opened the door with a smile and as a gust of air embraced me she said, “What took you so long?”

   ~ John Roedel (johnroedel.com)

Did You Know? The happiest healthiest trees are ones that are sung to. I made this up, but give it a whirl anyway. xoxox
Inspiration

Be Like Glenn.

It’s been a week. I’ve had a cold from hell, which I kept thinking could be Covid, because along with the initial sore throat and runny nose and headache, the headaches and the sore throat hung on. Then I got hoarse, really hoarse, like I’ve been a smoker my whole life. In your late 50s with a cold, you no longer emit a sultry voice.  Instead it’s the gravelly middle-aged utterings of someone with thinning skin and hollowed out eyes. Do yourself a favor and if you, too, get laryngitis, don’t google Covid voice, because you’ll swear your voice box has called it quits.

Off to my Covid test.

Obviously with this nasty virus crisscrossing the globe, I got a test. Just a five-minute walk and I was the first appointment of the day. The instruction was to simply spin the swab in your nose several times, nothing too exaggerated or high up your nostril, then swirl it five times in a test tube containing solution. An hour later, an official email and text concurred: I have a cold. 

The cold continued its headache, sore throat and now cough nonsense, peaking with a cough so incessant it required I make a 3am visit to CVS for Delysym, cough drops and Gatorade. There I found one car in the lot and a single employee inside, a nice lady restocking shelves in the brightly lit quiet. Her location? The cough medicine aisle, of course.

I approached her with our new 2022 greeting, “Hi, I’m fully vaxed and tested negative for Covid,” but still, she found another task to occupy her further down the aisle. Can’t say I blame her, with my coughing up a lung behind my KN95 mask with a disposable medical mask over it.

Good and good for you.

“This stuff is flying off the shelves,” she offered, as I hunted for my brand on a lower shelf. I started to get cough drops, too, but the boxes today have so many evil warnings. I wanted to stop coughing and sleep, but geez, at what cost? Found some natural ones instead with honey as the chief of three ingredients. A self-checkout and sweet goodbye from the store clerk, and I was off for home for several hours of sleep before being awakened to banging on the roof.

We’re renovating and after many years of wishing for a new roof, we’re actually getting one, the heavy-duty variety.  Insulated and over that, another layer of wood, and then an ice and water shield before the shingles go on. A kitchen cleanup, coffee, and an hour later, and we had a knock on the door. The contractor had found a squirrel nest with three babies inside. Alive. I checked my usual go-tos for wildlife rescue, and they were full, not answering or didn’t take squirrels. One place gave me the name of a guy I quickly contacted. There are angels among us and this one, named Glenn, a married, middle-aged, mild-mannered squirrel whisperer/rescuer could take them, but the caveat is he’s all the way up in Cumming, an hour away, but agreed to meet me halfway. It was clear he knew this species well, asking questions about their coloring etc., trying to discern their age. Pumping gas, I peered into the box I’d lined with washcloths and saw three adorable tangled hairless grey creatures with bulging closed eyes, pink outstretched arms and sweet little splayed hands.

Snug as a bug in a rug.

Glenn and I met in an empty lot of a closed Bank America, and he joked that this exchange of ours must look like a drug deal. I gratefully turned over the babies to him and he greeted them one by one, assigning each a name with the letter J, like you do hurricanes. Juliana, Jasmine and James, Jasmine later changing to Joey because she was a he. Glenn lovingly lifted the babies from their flea infested nest material and lowered them into a soft magenta blanket he had ready, and off they went. I’ve been getting regular updates and they’re all eating heartily and thriving. Here is Juliana enjoying a meal:

Glenn asked me if I had Covid, and said baby squirrels are quite susceptible to it, and I told him about my negative test. I did a second test two days later, again walking a few doors down for the first morning appointment. This time it was a different woman administering the tests, and I asked her about the best swabbing method.  She suggested big large circles up reasonably high in your nostril, and so that’s what I did. This time I was going to find this evil Covid, which surely was hiding out in the upper walls of my nose. Two hours later, another text and email arrived, and what do you know? I have a cold. 

Smushed Kleenex boxes make the nicest pillows.

With this cold/Covid hyperfocus now off my plate, I could get my cat Louie to the vet to pick up his meds and weigh him. He’s got a growth on his sternum that has fortunately shrunk some from the steroids he’s been on, and we’re hoping our sweet boy has put on weight. He and I were enjoying the sunny day car ride when all of a sudden, I got an urgent light in my dash alerting me that my key is not in the car. Well, the car is either an idiot or morphed into some crazy magical carriage that needs no key. Either way, that ignition was staying on. Pulling over to call the dealer, there was little to offer other than maybe the fob battery they gave me recently was bad. I would need to investigate fobs and ignitions later, but for now pressed on toward the vet when I heard the strangest sound. My typically quiet car rider, Louie, decided he would vomit, not once but twice, so we pulled over again to clean up. Always carry trash bags and paper towels in your car. Despite the barfing, Louie had still gained a pound. A big deal. 

Back home to find the upstairs bathroom ceiling now gone, I looked up at the sunshine spilling over the fixtures now smeared with dust, the already cracked sink now chipped and containing ceiling chunks. Just this morning, I’d gone in to brush my teeth in this very space before a clean sink and mirror, and it seems a hurricane tore through it while Louie and I were away. 

With no upstairs bathroom for who knows how long, the showerless, dingy downstairs bath was up to bat. I went to clean off those fixtures and noticed the sink was slow to drain, the tub too. We’ve had some tree root problems in the past, and know we need to replace these lines, but first, those roof invoices. No Drano on hand and work assignments to get to, the clog would have to wait, but now with an email from the YMCA alerting us that they had no hot water, even our back up was backed up. So what’s another day?

I think my car fob and cell phone have been teaming up in this week of all weeks because, without notice, the next day my cell phone alerted me it had no Sim card. After failed attempts at resuscitating it, I learned on an AppleCare call the phone needed a network reset, so for now the Sim card has returned from her sojourn and taken her seat. It’s an old girl, 8+, but she’s never pulled this kind of crap before.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Anne Lamott
Noelle with previous rescues, and Glenn’s caption, “Every time you try to take a family photo there is always one kid that messes it up.”

Glen and I are now texters, and I get frequent Juliana and Co. updates. She and her brothers are lapping up the formula and now out of Covid confinement, have made the company of other squirrels, one a little younger than them and an adult, Noelle, who will be their foster mom as she has to other littles. Glenn wants Noelle to be the first thing they see when they open their eyes so they can bond with a mama squirrel instead of a human. 

It was at least two days before I could tackle the drains and even think about bathing. I’ve now fluffed up the space with soft things like towels and rugs, and we’ve hauled in our toiletries from upstairs. I drew a bath last night and enjoyed a soak with my Spotify ‘quiet songs’ list going. It was lovely and I let the music carry me somewhere else. After three or so songs came Yo-Yo Ma performing Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. I put my head back against the edge of this old claw foot, and sunk lower in the warm water. Then out of nowhere everything went dark, lights out, the room somehow even more spectacularly full of dreamy, crisp cello notes.  Our new electrical panel is in place, but maybe we have too many dehumidifiers (from our recent pre-roof tarp times) on one circuit?  I don’t know, but if you find yourself suddenly in darkness while taking a soak, this is your music. It was perfect, enchanting, even.  Believe me, as I’ve never before used that word. 

All is right in the world. I got a bath, Louie is eating, we’ve a roof overhead, and three squirrel babies have checked into the Ritz-Carlton.