It’s not been a “holly jolly” kind of year. In this season, the struggle to maintain without being overwhelmed can be particularly difficult. Some of it is of course the darkness. For those of us who live in more extreme latitudes the difference in the length of days between midsummer and midwinter is considerable.
North of the Arctic circle (or South for the Antarctic) We have the land of the midnight sun. At the summer solstice the sun never sets. That means at winter solstice it never rises. Think about that for a minute. A day where the sun doesn’t rise. It’s kind of creepy.
I will tell you truthfully that even here on the 45th parallel there are winter days when it’s so dark and overcast it feels as though there is no sun. The snow helps. It reflects what little light there is and bounces it so things seem brighter. The holiday lights help. They add not only brightness but a little color to the black and white photo landscape.
The darkness can also be emotional. Birthdays during the season that get “lumped in” with everyone else’s celebrations can be great. They can also build a lifetime of resentment. A death during the season can bring people together. It can also be a wound that gets reopened every year. Being overwhelmed with Christmas Cheer, especially when that’s not part of your religion, can be an opportunity or an oppression.
Then there is the demand. There is a huge demand on time, both socially and for many people, because of year end, on the job. If you work in retail or in the food industry you can wave goodby to days off for awhile. There is a demand on the pocketbook. All that socializing costs, as do the expected gifts. When the bills are already scary this time of year can be devastating. Despite all the seasonal sales, somehow it seems that expenses still go up and up.
I lean heavily on just do it. Daily Practice becomes focused on small nitty gritty things. Cleaning up the kitchen before I go to bed is not always easy, but better to do it than not. Making my bed in the morning when I get up (even if I might want to go back) makes it less likely that I will go back. Even paying the bills is better than the alternative.
So I put my head down and write the blog, clean the kitchen, make the bed. I make the phone calls and appointments. I meet the obligations and shop the sales with an eye on my budget. I put in a few extra hours where I can hoping for some extra padding on the weekly income. I wait in eager anticipation of the Solstice. Because after the longest night each day has a little more light.
Thanksgiving this year was at my sister’s house. She and her husband have a lovely space with a beautiful kitchen and it’s close to my parents so it’s the logical spot for family gatherings. I keep saying that I’m grateful that she’s the one doing the work!
My little sister and her family didn’t make it this year, which is no surprise. Karina also didn’t make it. She just got a promotion at work and was assigned the Thanksgiving Day buffet. She spent a lot of time with decorations and set up. Karina is a hard worker and she wanted to impress on her first event for the restaurant. She did a beautiful job and got lots of kudos. Hopefully she’ll learn fast how to delegate some of that work.
We missed Karina, but she sent up a cheesecake. She may not be baking at work, but her love for doing that hasn’t stopped. It was a great treat, especially for me. With a cinnamon allergy most pumpkin and apple pies are death to me.
Orion and I came up Wednesday evening and stayed at my parent’s house. We planned to spend the weekend visiting and helping with some of the housework. Just keeping up is getting harder for my parents. Wednesday’s mail brought 36 catalogues. Mom can’t get through them, and doesn’t really need anything. Unfortunately that depression era mentality makes it hard for her to just toss them without at least looking at them. I can sort through the pile, hand her 3 catalogues and send the rest to recycling.
Friday morning we all slept in a little bit. The plan was for a lazy day. Mom was thinking about sorting through one of her old jewelry boxes. She was also pretty sure there was a box of Christmas ornaments we had sorted that needed to be taken over to my sister’s Saturday for her and her kids. I got up and my Dad greeted me with, “Good Morning. You need to go home – today.”
The problem wasn’t me (thankfully), but the weather. We were having an unseasonable thaw. All that deer from hunting was frozen in coolers on the back porch. It wasn’t going to stay frozen based on the weather report. I needed to take it home and get it in my and Karina’s coolers!
So we spent the day packing, setting up leftovers into meals, and taking a memory lane trip through Mom’s jewelry box. We called Karina, who was back at work, and arranged to stay through close so she could haul and carry meat. At least we didn’t have to drive home though holiday traffic.
It all turned out well in the end. Sad that we were unable to spend more time with my folks, but happy to have a few “extra” days at home. I kept off the internet, didn’t tell anyone I was back, and started making space for the rest of the holiday season. I just have to figure out how I’m going to do the baking in my torn apart kitchen!
I missed posting last week because of hunting season. We went up to my parents for the week. They don’t have the internet. We were up before dawn bundling up to sit in the cold and back again at dusk. In the meantime there were meals to make, housekeeping to tend to and just visiting.
The area we were in was pretty unrestricted but we did need to have everything inspected. There is a prion, like mad cow disease, that has been invading the deer herds. The state is trying to track its spread. Given that we hunt for meat rather than for trophies this is kind of important.
There are a lot of views on hunting and a lot of reasons to hold those views. I like wild meats and having them makes a significant impact on my very tight budget. My family has always supplemented the grocery budget this way, even the farmers. It makes sense to me to know that something has to die for me to eat.
Participating (even if it just means sitting with a gun in my lap waiting for Karina to shoot something) in this annual ritual is a way to connect to my heritage, my ancestry. Through both lines I come from northern climates, where hunting was an essential food supply. My people were not city folk, and even when they were they stayed involved with natural cycles.
Growing up in my family I’ve cleaned fish, tapped maple trees and weeded gardens. I’ve tried my hand at milking a cow and had pigs, chickens, and goats butchered to accommodate my visiting the farm. I’ve always known where my food came from.
Karina’s generation is even further removed from food sources than mine. As a chef food is important to her. In taking up hunting she is also committed to learning how to field dress an animal, how to process it and of course how to prepare the meat. The fact of the matter is that she’s the one doing all the work. I’m just making space in my freezer.
This year hunting was also an exercise in support. As my parents age it is become difficult for them to be as independent as they’d like. My Mom worries about my Dad’s eyesight. She worries about him carrying a loaded gun through the woods, tracking a deer on uneven ground. My Dad worries about my Mom being left alone too long. She has trouble getting around and has taken a fall or two herself.
Going up this year we could pretty much be sure My Dad wouldn’t have to go out alone. We could set Mom up for comfort and give her a “check-in” call before we wandered too far off. Orion stayed inside so they could “look out for each other”. Karina took charge of all the carrying. She says the beer kegs she’s been weighing each week at work are heavier than the deer. She also appreciates how easily things slide when you drag them on snow.
Now that I’m home I can look forward to some tasty meals. When I have them I’ll be grateful. I will be grateful for the deer that sacrificed its life. I’ll be grateful for my daughter taking care of me. I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to make memories with my parents. I’ll be grateful for my heritage.
The temperatures are dropping and the wind is gusting. The cold and damp are fitting for the season, they set the mood. There are ghosts walking.
I am at that age where parents die in clusters. This is the way of things, of course, but that doesn’t make it easy. I worry about my own parents as they approach their “end years”. I see that gradual decline isn’t so gradual any more. It’s getting harder for them to keep up, to get by, to get things done.
This year in particular I find myself trying to offer comfort to friends whose loss simply can not be consoled. Grief comes in waves, it takes its own time. Those “stages” are neither sequential nor independent. They can come in any order, repeatedly and sometimes all at once. And I take those phone calls. I listen. I witness. Sometimes that’s enough.
I’m looking for comfort too. I want to escape in a good book. I want a fire in the fireplace. I want a pot of soup on the stove. For my ancestors those things were just part of the days. Now I can go to the grocery store and buy mirepoix, precut and measured. (I didn’t, but I can.) Bone broth is on the shelf in boxes because much of our meat is already removed from the bones. Soup is no longer the ever present cauldron, but a can in the pantry.
Baking is part of that comfort factor as well. A good bread, warm from the oven, and I can feel myself relax into the smell. Pop-up biscuits from the refrigerator case do not elicit the same affect.
There is no time for this kind of comfort in most of our lives. We rush through our days, rush through our meals, rush through our grieving and just “get on”. Perhaps the most important part of this season is to make a point and take some time. In most of the U.S. we have an extra hour coming to us this coming Sunday. How are you going to use it?
I love this time of year. I like the cooler weather. I like wearing sweaters. I like the light and the colors in the leaves. Fall harvest has me making soups and baking.
I struggle at this time of year. I have serious mold and dust allergies that always gets worse until we have a good hard freeze. The temperature swings (I live in Minnesota. It can be 35F one day and 80F the next) are tough to navigate. I cherish the sunshine and dread the days getting noticeably shorter.
There is so much to do at this time of year. I need to bring in the plants and repot. I need to get ready for Halloween (both trick or treat and the Sabbat). I need to swap my closet and bedding over to the winter wear. All I want to do is curl up in a blanket with a good book and a warm beverage, or maybe take an outing to the movies.
There’s also the food issue. My body wants to eat more. I’m not hungry, as the post-bariatric pouch won’t allow that. It’s not even head hungry. It’s more like hunger in the bones. My genetics expect a winter and have kicked into survival mode. I can tell I’m not getting enough protein, even though my diet hasn’t really changed. It’s another push and pull.
This year it seems I’m especially aware of the paradox of the season. As I struggle with balance in my own life I become more alert to the push and pull around me. I recognize that I can allow any of these things to buffet and batter me, throwing me off course. I can also simply acknowledge them and let them wash over me. There is a peace in simply appreciating the variety of moods the season brings.
So I do small things. I get apples and squashes for baking and decorating. I tidy the house. I pick up a few things in the yard as I walk by. I’m playing the grasshopper, not the ant. I’m not ready for winter. I am simply trying to be present in each day.
This weekend I had the honor and privilege to officiate a wedding. The best part was that the bride was one of the girls my daughter grew up with. It is a joy to see them “all grown up” and functioning in the world as strong, competent women.
We were lucky to live in a neighborhood with natural boundaries. Many of the residents grew up here and came back to live in their parent’s homes. There were a lot of kids my daughter’s age, and she knew them all. Because of the natural boundaries my daughters childhood was a lot more like mine than many of her peers. The kids ran freely through the neighborhood all summer long. They were back and forth between houses, cutting through yards and “exploring” in the overgrown “woods”.
The girls formed close ties, and maintained them into their adulthood. The one whose family moved away came back for the wedding. The one who is a little less socially inclined drove in to town. The one who got married first (at the Justice of the Peace) found a sitter for the baby so she could party with the gang. This was an EVENT, not to be missed.
The bride was determined to have a great party. As the maid of honor, my daughter was very involved, so I’ve been hearing stories since the date was chosen. The bride invited people to come in costume. She had her dress specially made to her specifications and assigned each bridesmaid a color/character. She kept the guest list under 100, just the right people. She was also pretty serious about the marriage thing.
I take the responsibilities of being a minister seriously. Vows are a big deal for me and the words spoken in sacred space carry weight. I had several conversations with the couple, not just about what they wanted in a wedding, but about their expectations of a marriage. I made sure they knew what they were going to promise before they had to stand up and make those promises.
I haven’t performed a lot of weddings, but I’ve done more than a few. The thing is when I get asked it’s usually because the couple’s beliefs don’t quite fit into a standard religious framework. They want a ceremony, a ritual, a rite of passage. They don’t want a church, or a synagogue or a stranger. I’ve had a bride and groom hand me a ritual they wrote and ask me to do it. I’ve had a Wiccan wedding in my tradition’s circle. I wrote two for myself. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to do something that is open enough for the couple but that won’t offend the more traditional family.
It was a rite of passage for them, but it was also a rite of passage for me. These are the girls I watched grow up now building lives of their own. The officiant at a wedding blesses the union and then sends the couple on their way. That’s what the Moms (and in the bride’s case her Dad) are doing as well.
I’ve said many times that this notion we have of balance is active and not a point of stasis. But sometimes balance is easy, once you get the hang of it, like riding a bike. Other times it’s like crossing a rope bridge on a windy day with a big pack.
This season my experience of balance has been a lot more like the latter example. I’m off, the world is off, my home is off, it’s just crazy. I suspect I took advantage of the little surgery I had to just check out for a bit. Unfortunately that has made getting back on track even more difficult.
On the good side are my kids, my work and a lot of unexpected support. On the rough side is money, time, and overall despondency. I’m frustrated with people who are fixed minded about an issue that they clearly don’t actually understand. I’m frustrated with the vile, demeaning attitudes that people have decided are okay to unleash. I’m frustrated with the notion that being polite and having good judgement are somehow not positive attributes.
Then we do something like attend the Kaposia Gala. This is Orion’s day program and work placement group. I see Ramsey county, being the second county in the country to pass legislation allowing them to directly employ people with disabilities. I see a group of people encouraging young performers who have to work a little harder for clear speech or to get through a piece of music. I sit at a table with people in all manner of dress knowing that they all “dressed up” for the occasion, that what they have on is the best that they have.
When I speak with the disabled community, or those with chronic illnesses, I recognize that we share an understanding outside of “normal” experience. When I spend time talking with members at Gilda’s Club there is an inherent desire to make that most out of what we have. When I find the small things that make me smile I remember how important those small things can be.
So I struggle to stand in my own truth and not be blown over by the winds of the world. I shift and adjust and accommodate and work to hang on to the notion that things can be better. I go back to daily practices of gratitude and just take a moment to recognize all the privilege I have in my life. I may be swaying pretty heavily, but at least I’ve got a bridge.
It’s been years (well, a year and a half anyway) since my kitchen cupboards started falling off the walls. I’ve looked at bank loans, city loans, housing support, county programs, Habitat for Humanity and in the end gotten nowhere.
My regular readers might have an inkling of how much time I spend in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking. A lot. I’ve been making do without my serving dishes, casserole collection, my Tajine and other specialty cookware, and about 1/2 of my already limited counter space. (All those machines that were in the cupboard are on the counter.)
This week I’ve finally found a friend who’s willing to step in and see what he can do. It may get much worse before it gets better. In fact, I’m sure this week it will.
This is not a kitchen re-model. The overhead cupboards are coming down before they fall down all the way. Then we’ll see. Either they will go back up more securely attached or they will go away. I might have a better idea of why they came down in the first place.
If the overhead cupboards go away I’ll still need to figure out something to do in the kitchen. I can’t afford new cupboards (and they wouldn’t match). I might be able to put in some open shelving. That would be serviceable, but still a bit down the road.
In the meantime I’m trying to pack away what’s left in my kitchen. Can Orion and I really get by with 2 plates, 2 bowls, 4 cups and no cream pitcher? Do I pack it all and pull out paper plates and frozen dinners? What do I do with the jar of lentils, the jar of pasta, the jar of black beans, the can of coffee and the olive oil? Can I really survive without access to my spices?
I sound like an ad for a mystery series. “Stay tuned and find out!”
We, as a nation, are being buffeted about by hurricanes and firestorms, floods and droughts, protests and political manipulations. It’s a scary world out there. Today, September 11, is the anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers in NYC. For many Americans, it was the day we learned what it was to be afraid.
In spite of all that, people persist. They stand up in the winds of change and hardship and continue on with their lives. This morning Orion listed all the people he knows, and there were a lot, who have birthdays today. Forever, their birthday is 9/11. How odd that must be to want to celebrate in a world determined to grieve and remember.
I know the other side too. I understand what it is to be overwhelmed with circumstances and appalled that the rest of the world doesn’t just stop alongside you. I know what it feels like to dig into a huge job, to work, eat, and sleep, and then come up for air and find you’ve lost days, weeks or even months.
Sometimes standing in the wind is taking an opportunity to use a public platform to call out bad behavior, racism, terrorism (thank you Miss Texas Margana Wood even when it might cost you a crown. Sometimes standing in the wind is choosing to skip a few meals this week to buy a birthday cake for your kid with food stamps. Sometimes standing in the wind is getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed, and doing one of the 100 tasks that have been put off because it just seems too hard.
I know people who are on the front lines fighting fires in the western states. I know people hoping that they have homes to return to on the gulf. I know people who are in the streets day after day fighting against injustice in many forms, in many ways.
We have a culture (white culture) that allows us to take credit, take pride in the work other people are doing. We sit in front of our TV’s watching people standing in the wind and say, “Yes! They are US!” None of us can do all the work. No one can stand in all the storms at once. No one can stand again and again in all the storms. But cheering on the workers and having pride in what others have done isn’t enough.
How can we shift our culture, our attitudes in a way that allows us to truly stand, acknowledge our own storms, our own ability to survive and still reach out and honestly support others? Can we recognize our own work, with strength and pride, and still be grateful for the support we had that allowed us to stand there? Can we encourage people to celebrate and still recognize the work that needs to be done? Can we find a way to come together when the storms rage, and to stay connected when the storm is over?