Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Blooms for a New Year

For the past few years, I’ve been the recipient of an amaryllis bulb for Christmas.  This year’s bulb is the usual impressive specimen and I potted it at once.  I also received a box of organic mushrooms that will grow on my kitchen counter.  I’ve envied these kits for some time and was particularly pleased to receive one.  This morning, I started the process of getting my box of mushrooms ready.

The mushroom box is now in its assigned windowsill, getting ready to grow me some delicious fungus for the new year.  

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do like the idea of the new year as both a fresh start and an opportunity to try new things.  So my new amaryllis bulb and my box of mushrooms will provide weekly inspiration and growth, a reminder in the midst of the sometimes dreary Winter season that renewal is everywhere, if we just look for it.  For the next few Thursdays, I’ll post photos of my changing blooms so I can share the progress.

Happy New Year, y’all.  May 2016 bring you peace, renewal, and some moments of unmitigated joy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Unexpected Lessons

When JT took up the sport of wrestling in the 8th grade, I had some misgivings.  My associations with the sport were largely stereotypical, and, like most stereotypes, these weren’t positive.  I thought of wrestlers as grunting beasts.   I wasn’t interested in that path for my son.

But I indulged JT’s 8th grade choice to try the sport because our school’s wrestling coach is one of the finest human beings I know, a strong man with a kind heart, incredible patience for kids, and a terrific sense of humor.  JT could do worse than learn some lessons from Coach L, and so I supported his choice to wrestle.  

Two years later, he’s begun his third season of wrestling under the care of Coach L.  I’ve had to acknowledge that my stereotypical view of the sport was wrong.  There is still some grunting, of course, but the sport is far more than that for my son and his teammates.  It’s a lesson in strength, perseverance, and preparation.  Despite the fact that an individual wrestler is alone on the mat for the contest, the team element of preparation for those matches is incredibly powerful.  The boys work hard together and are proud of one another for facing the challenges of the sport.  Last season, JT’s proudest moment wasn’t a victory of his own, it was the victory of a teammate who started the season barely able to complete 10 push ups.  That’s not a bad way for a 15 year old to see the world.  

Wrestling has taught JT many things.  He’s learned the power of a team to support an individual venture.  He’s learned that preparation and resolve are skills that pay off in a myriad of ways when it comes time to persevere.  He’s become both physically stronger and more emotionally durable, thanks to a sense of self that he’s learned as he prepares to face a match on the mat.  When I watch him wrestle, I can see from his face that he’s up to the challenge.  So I haven’t yet screamed, “get off my son,” while he’s engaged in a match, a victory of my own.

We’ll have to hope that I can continue to demonstrate this self-restraint as the 2015-2016 season unfolds.   As for the boy, well, he’s learned some important lessons about strength and endurance, about being a teammate.  I’m looking forward to the rest of this season’s lessons.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Season of Rest

When Winter Break first began, I was weary and ready for some unscheduled days.  One week into vacation, with Christmas just past, I’m starting to feel rested.  I’ve had time for books, both familiar and new; there’s been cooking and extra sleep.  We’ve played games and I’ve had the chance to try out all of my new coloring books.  The days between Christmas and the arrival of the New Year feel like time has slowed down.  It permits me time for renewal before we return to busy school days.  That’s happy!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Santa made a visit to our house last night and left his presents just where the boy expected them.

One of the things I most enjoy about the holidays is these little traditions; ones that still feel special long after my little boy has grown taller than me.  I enjoy all the secret planning and I love cooking special holiday meals.   Something about the holidays says cheese ball to me, and I happily stir one together for Christmas Eve, when we have snacks and appetizers.

For our Christmas supper, we had baked ham, roasted brussels sprouts, roasted parsnips with horseradish butter, potatoes romanoff, and fresh-baked rolls.

We’ve called our family, played some games, colored in our new coloring books, and enjoyed a quiet day.  I made Christmas supper wearing short sleeves and flip flops, but, native Californian that I am, that feels festive instead of a sign that end times are hand.  Merry Christmas, y’all!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

I Believe

When JT was 6 years old, the year that I was first a single mama, he announced that Santa “knows my brain better than I do.”  The moment was a much-needed dose of the magical for me.  It confirmed that I was making it as a mama on my own.  It reminded me to get out of my head and to establish my own new normal.  Though I was braced for the holiday to be another new, unhappy tradition, that Christmas was an epiphany for me.  There was joy to be found and I welcomed it.

JT believed in Santa Claus a little longer than most children because I maintained the illusion.  Though he expressed doubts as a fifth grader, as late as the sixth grade he was still willing to believe.  I encouraged this because childhood doesn’t last long enough.  And, let’s face it: I loved playing Santa.  In a way, playing Santa had helped save me and I wanted to hold on to that blessing.

A few days ago, we were talking about Santa and I announced that I would be pulling up the Norad Santa tracker on Christmas Eve.  JT revealed that when he doubted Santa’s existence, the Norad updates always provided the solid proof he needed.  I hadn’t known this and was charmed to learn it.

I know that Christmas has become a commercialized juggernaut and that for some of us, the holidays are less a pleasure than a pain.  But I love the simple traditions of the December holidays —— the lights, the cards, the wrapping paper, the tags and ribbons, the homemade treats, and choosing a special gift for someone I love.  I remember that in 2006, at a time in my life when I was struggling mightily to find some happiness, Santa and my Christmas traditions, two things that I feared would magnify my sadness, instead eased it.

So that is the Santa I believe in —— the excitement and magic of a child on Christmas Eve, the belief in something good and pure, the happiness of a surprise, the smell of evergreen and glimmer of lights, the pleasant remembrance of a kindness received, and the blessing of giving to others.  

Thank you, Santa.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Planning and Preparation

I did my best to stay organized as the holiday season arrived, wrapping packages as they arrived in the house, keeping lists, and organizing stocking stuffers in one location instead of tucked into bags hidden in my closet.    I made my holiday Costco run on Monday; on Tuesday I organized the dining room so that we were no longer overwhelmed by boxes of chocolate and gift-wrapping supplies.  Today, I wrapped up the rest of my Christmas errands.

Wearing flip flops, my glitter red toenails and I headed out in the warm rain to pick up our holiday ham.  I ran some other errands and then I came home and got things ready for the holiday feasts.  I made a cheese ball and baked potatoes for the potato casserole we’ll have on Christmas day.  I swept the floors, cleaned the bathrooms, and treated myself to an extra chapter of my book.  I wrapped some packages.  Then I poured myself some bourbon and watched Poldark on Masterpiece Theater.  I’ve been holding on to these shows on the DVR since the late summer, planning to enjoy them during my holiday.  It felt indulgent and lovely to finally watch.  

It’s a present to myself, time to watch this show.  As I watched, the rain came down outside and the lights on my Christmas tree twinkled to keep me company.  Merry, merry!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pretty Packages

I’m nearly done wrapping holiday gifts for this season, though I never tire of the pleasures of a pretty present.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Real Life Conversations with JT: Apple and Tree edition

The backstory:  Lucy the cat likes to eat holiday ribbon, especially the curling kind that shows up on holiday gifts.  Though she eats it, she shouldn’t, because it makes her sick.  Years ago when I made this realization, I quit using that kind of ribbon.  But there are holidays gifts from friends and students in the house, and Lucy is on the prowl for the ribbon.  Sunday morning, JT and I heard Lucy make the yowling sound that proceeds a cat hurl.

Me: She’s gonna hurl….get out of the way.

Then we watched as Lucy hurled up a pile of ribbon.  Twice.

JT:  Ribbon.

Me:  She can’t help herself when ribbon is involved.

JT: Well, given how much she enjoys it, I’m thinking of eating some ribbon myself. 

JT’s sense of humor is perhaps the most obvious evidence that I am his mama.  World, you’ve been warned.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Relaxation Mode

Winter Break has begun and JT and I are settling into the realization that relaxation has arrived.  He still has wrestling practice and there are a few meets over the holidays but he doesn’t have much schoolwork and the alarm clocks don’t need to be set.  The pace of our days is eased for the next two weeks and we welcome this time.  Both of us are feeling happy about the leisurely days on the horizon.  That alone feels like cause for celebration.  Add in the holidays, and we are feeling blessed and lucky in equal measure.

This morning, I made a few extra cups of coffee and started my holiday lists.  This afternoon, I’ll go grocery shopping to stock the fridge and pantry for the week.  There are a few more gifts to be wrapped.  There are stocking stuffers to be organized and holiday cards to address and slip in the mail.  I especially enjoy this part of the holidays; the small chores, lists, and, plans are surefire proof that relaxation has arrived.  That’s happy!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Winter Nest

One of the things I most enjoy about Winter is the need to sleep under a heavy down comforter.  I like the weight of the covers and the warmth of the down, both of them protection from the night’s chill.  I like to swap out comforter covers throughout the season (I do the same with quilts in warmer weather).

This comforter cover is soft and lovely; the pattern reminds me of something I might see in my coloring book.  As of this afternoon, we’re on Winter Break and this nest and I will spend a little more time together.  That’s happy!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pretty Package

This week, I’ve been treating myself and wrapping a package or two every evening.  

That’s happy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cookie Day 2016

Each year for the last 10 years, I’ve baked a truckload of cookies and brought them in for my students, as a gift to thank them for all the ways they make my life rich and full.  Every group gets a tray that look just like the one below.  This a tradition that I enjoy as much as the kids. 

This year, there were iced Christmas cookies, chocolate chip, molasses spice, oatmeal butterscotch, brownies, and sugar cookies.  That’s happy!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Unseasonal No More

The neighbors removed the Halloween flag sometime on Saturday the 12th.  We looked up and it was gone.

I won the bet and I’m on a roll of victories so now T says she won’t bet me anymore.  Safe money says she’ll be back in the betting business soon enough.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Holiday Spirit

There is one more week of classes remaining before our two week Winter Break begins.  With five more days of busy, excited school days to complete, those two weeks of blissful holiday relaxation so close at hand are a tempting mark on my calendar.  I am so looking forward to time off and some less-scheduled days.

This past week, I’ve been working each evening to get things ready for the holidays. First and foremost,  I’ve been getting ready for my annual cookie day tradition.  Each day last week, I came home and made a new batch of cookies.  By Wednesday, I had 10 dozen cookies in the hopper.  Each morning, I would plan the batch to be baked that evening.   Between baking, I’d wrap a present, organize treats for our workplace Secret Santa exchange, and finish all the other daily chores that ensure my household hums.  I’m not complaining about this; my evenings were busy with the sort of happy activities that make my life rich.

At the end of each night of preparation, I’d take a few moments to sit by the Christmas tree and enjoy the quiet and the lights, the luxury of a warm home and the comfy bed that awaits me.  It’s not lost on me that these blessings are lovely; that they feel infinite is perhaps the biggest blessing of all.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Unseasonal and Unkind: Week 7

When T and I made our original bet about this flag, I picked December 15 as the over/under day for flag removal.  T selected over and I selected under.  We’re rapidly approaching the 15th and it’s looking more and more like I am going to lose this bet.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Pretty Packages

Wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, gift tags…..I love all the trappings of wrapping packages.

Merry, merry!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Real Life Conversations with T: State Identity edition

The backstory: T and I have apps for identifying license plates and we play competitively, texting the other and bragging when a rare state is sighted.  On Sunday, we were together when we rolled up on a car featuring a plate with a license plate that looked - briefly - unfamiliar.  I saw the blue and the yellow and thought “Kansas”, a state neither of us has seen in this round of the game.

Me:  Maybe that’s Kansas.

T:  Nope.  Ohio.

And, in fact, it was Ohio.

Me:  But it could have been Kansas.  You know, with one of those state mottos written on the plate: “Fields of wheat, skies of blue, and intolerance as far as the eye can see.”

T laughed and then we were off and running, writing new state mottos for all 50 states.  No state is free from our critical eye.

I sense a new blog feature.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Enter December

Thanksgiving Day and the Friday that followed were mild days with sunlight and enough warmth to make hanging outdoor holiday lights a pleasant chore.  I’ve hung lights in the bitter cold, so it was a treat to have warmth for the transition.  There's colored lights on the porch, a Christmas flag flies, and wreaths and greenery abound.

The front porch table is seasonally cheerful.

There is an evergreen wreath on the front door.

Over the course of  the coming week, I’ll set out Christmas decorations inside the house, a tradition that I enjoy more and more each year.  We’ll head out to get our Christmas tree.  Its twinkling lights will greet us when we come home in the evening.  As the dark night descends sooner and sooner each day, I’ll welcome this spot of magical light in my December world.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Unseasonal and Unkind: Week 6

It’s worth noting that in the last six weeks my neighbors built an impressive back deck for their house.  But the Halloween flag, it still flies.  

Need some tips for getting past your Fall decor?  Check out McSweeney's.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Aren’t We Better Than This?

I know I am not the only person in the nation who opens her computer to news of yet another mass shooting in America and asks herself when we will try to find solutions to the terrifying cycle of gun violence in which we seem to have trapped ourselves.  We are a violent society, a fact that we don’t seem inclined to discuss.  There is no easy solution to the problem of gun violence and mass shootings, a fact we do acknowledge before we move on, hoping that the most recent shooting will the last.  Many of us seem to realize this is magical thinking.  We hope that the most recent shooting will inspire our leaders to take political action.  When nothing but moments of silence and offers to pray for the victims and the first responders materialize, we sigh and move on.

How many of us sigh and move on, just a little more afraid of the nation we have become?  The leaders of this nation and our states didn’t come to power in a vacuum; we chose them.  This is our nation and this problem belongs to all of us.  It’s time we took action.

First of all, we must recognize the fact that while mass shootings attract the most attention, seemingly indiscriminate gun violence kills people every day in America.  On average, 88 people die from gun violence each day the sun rises in this nation.

Second of all, let’s acknowledge that the guns are already out there.  Most of the guns used in high profile mass shootings are legally owned.  Any action we take will not be an immediate, magical solution.  It must be the first in a series of policy adjustments that will begin the process of reducing the amount of guns in the hands of our fellow citizens.   The task at hand might seem overwhelming but we can't continue to do nothing.

There is action we can take.  Public opinion polls show consistent and increasing support for expanded background checks for prospective gun owners.  There is growing support for repeal of a Congressional prohibition on the collection of social science data and research on gun violence.  Read more about that here.  Strengthened background checks and quality data on gun violence will not immediately stop gun violence or mass shootings.  But they are a step in the right direction at a time when mass shootings are on the rise.  If you want to know additional action we must take, you'll find that list here.

We must not accept the status quo.  Contact your state legislators, your governor, and your members of Congress and tell them you want action against gun violence.  Ask them to sponsor and support legislation to require more vigorous background checks.  Tell Congress they must support NIH and CDC research on gun violence.  Hand-wringing and prayers are not enough; we must be better than this.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

December 1st: Peach Tree

As our warm November came to a close, cold weather crept in.  Even so, the peach tree stubbornly held on to the last of its leaves, seemingly reluctant to admit that Winter is coming.

Last night, a rainstorm blew in and all of the peach tree leaves are gone.  The tree is stark and plain, guarding its corner and ready for Winter.  The days are getting shorter by the minute and the impulse to seek cover and rest grows stronger for me as well.  So I tuck under my down comforter as the tree holds its own in the corner of the yard.