Happy Birthday to ME!

Karina gets creative with her camera

Karina gets creative with her camera

For someone who’s trying to recover from a major surgery I’ve been awfully busy.  It’s hard not to celebrate a birthday, even when you’re not feeling entirely up to it.  This is my first birthday since the bariatric surgery, and my birthdays have historically been about food.

Raw oyster shells are prettier and yummy.  A sampler one from the east coast and one from the west

Raw oyster shells are prettier and yummy. A sampler one from the east coast and one from the west

When we were kids one of the things we got for our birthday was the opportunity to choose the menu.  We didn’t go out to eat a lot as a family, but my parents cooked.  Favorites ran the gamut, but I discovered seafood early and stuck with it.

More oysters - Rockefeller (her favorite) and a "Crab Cake" that's more crab than cake!

More oysters – Rockefeller (her favorite) and a “Crab Cake” that’s more crab than cake!

This year has been a challenge in many ways.  The hysterectomy has me moving slower, not getting around easily and pretty achy.  In addition, just having the surgery has decreased my food tolerance and portions.  That’s kind of normal, except given that I was already working on tolerance and portions it seems a little extreme.

Beautiful lobster bisque - this counts as a main course for me.

Beautiful lobster bisque – this counts as a main course for me.

Of course where there is a will there is often a way!  My dreams of baking myself a cake to take to a party, or making myself a special dinner were very unrealistic.  I’m not that far along in my recovery.  But I have friends and family who managed to keep me eating all weekend long.

The main dish off the Restaurant week menu was a mahimahi on dirty rice with a pineapple glaze.  Karina devoured it.  I had a bite.

The main dish off the Restaurant week menu was a mahimahi on dirty rice with a pineapple glaze. Karina devoured it. I had a bite.

Thursday my daughter took me out to Oceanaire for birthday dinner.  We ordered one Restaurant Week meal, a couple extra appetizers and a cup of lobster bisque and shared it out.   Beautiful food, well prepared, very tasty and oh so very much to eat!  I may not have had much (and took home leftovers) but I was more than satisfied and had a delightful evening besides.

The waitress brought our forks first.   This is what desert looked like when it occurred to us to take a photo.

The waitress brought our forks first. This is what desert looked like when it occurred to us to take a photo.

Saturday I was taken out for sashimi by my ex and my son.   That was also a treat.  Again we managed to shuffle the meals around so that everyone got something they liked and there wasn’t too much extra.  I had time enough for a nap before going out again that evening with friends.

This is what the "death by chocolate cake" with a dark cherry vanilla ice cream looked like in the kitchen.

This is what the “death by chocolate cake” with a dark cherry vanilla ice cream looked like in the kitchen.

That wasn’t specifically for my birthday and much of the “pot-luck” was vegan, but it was good to see some old friends and catch up.  I brought a bag of clementines – not something I would buy for just me.  I can eat a couple of segments at a time.  It was a treat and definitely qualified as a vegan dish.

Sunday was our annual women’s ritual.  Again the food was lovely and in huge quantities.  I did manage to “cook” Tzatziki  to go with my frozen appetizer spanakopita from Trader Joe’s.   There were ribs, meatballs, and spiced nuts,  liver pate,  stuffed clams and scallops, and hummus, olives, and a variety of cheeses.  I definitely needed a nap!   The liver pate came especially for me to help with that anemia problem.  Yummy!

Lunch with Orion was good too.  But not quite so dramatic.

Lunch with Orion was good too. But not quite so dramatic.

I have so much to be grateful for this year.  The hysterectomy took care of the cancer – no chemo or radiation necessary.  I have had incredible support from my friends and family to get through these past few weeks.  I may be grumpy I’m not improving fast enough, but I do continue to be able to do a little more each day. I’m also reassured that I really am doing well, I’m just impatient.   And I have some great leftovers to help me through the coming week!

A Big Wrench

800px-MonkeyWrenchAs Burns said (after his language was updated) “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”    According to Murphy, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”   One way or the other, as the idiom goes, “someone has thrown a wrench in the works.”

I really wanted to spend last weekend in California at Pantheacon.  I was scheduled as a presenter and I was really excited about the workshop I planned.  It was about energy management, specifically in ritual settings, called “Sitting down or sitting out”.  Maybe the universe thought I needed a refresher course first!

It has been a busy month with lots of medical appointments.  My regular readers have heard me talk about dealing with a DVT (blood clot) and blood thinners and anemia.  Every single appointment I’ve had since the beginning of the year has started with the statement, “You need to know I’m getting on a plane February 13th.”

Orion taking me to the doctor.  That's the hospital in the background.

Orion taking me to the doctor. That’s the hospital in the background.

I didn’t get on the plane.  Instead I got scheduled for surgery.  In fact, if you’re reading this on President’s Day Monday, I’m certainly at the hospital and may be “under the knife” even now.  Scheduled publishing is one of those handy WordPress features.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve known for several weeks that surgery was the plan.  I just insisted that I get the California trip out of the way first.  In looking for ways to address the anemia I was referred to a Gynecologist who, as part of a standard exam, did a biopsy.  It turns out that I have endometrial cancer.

It’s been 24 years (to the MONTH!) since the last time someone told me I had cancer.  Back then it was colon cancer and I was relieved to get the news that being sick wasn’t just in my head.  There was a little bit of relief this time as well.  My first thought was that my PAP smear was off, and it was cervical cancer – which is really nasty.   Endometrial cancer tends to stay localized.  Most of the time it’s an easy fix.  Have a hysterectomy and you’re good to go.

Even the idea of a hysterectomy is kind of a relief.  I’ve been experiencing peri-menapausal symptoms for a very long time.  I have ZERO interest in more children.  I’m a lousy candidate, medically, for any kind of pregnancy.  Happy to be done with all of that.

In the ER getting fluids and told I can't go to California.  Trying to look on the bright side.

In the ER getting fluids and told I can’t go to California. Trying to look on the bright side.

The concern is that it’s a second occurrence of cancer.  The concern is that this cancer doesn’t explain the blood clot.  The concern is that maybe I’m one of those people who is prone to getting clots and cancers.  Unless you’re me, in which case the concern is missing the trip to Pantheacon.

I’m not a great candidate for surgery either.  This will be my (count them) sixth abdominal surgery.  The last one was the bariatric surgery less than a year ago.  The nutritional complications from both the bariatric surgery and the cancer can impact recovery time.  The scar tissue could prevent the procedure from being done laparoscopically – significantly impacting recovery.  The blood thinners and anemia add additional complications.

So please send warm thoughts and prayers for an easy surgery and rapid recovery.  I’ll add an update a little later in the week so you’ll know how I’m doing.   I may take a bit of a blogging break while I process all of this and try and get a handle on another version of “my new life.”

And if you’re interested in what I’m missing, here are links to the blogs I’ve written about Pantheacon and flying to California in years past.

https://lisaspiral.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/pantheacon-2014/https://lisaspiral.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/california-2/https://lisaspiral.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/california/

 

Home from the hospital.  Everything went really well.  They managed to do the surgery both laproscopically and robotically!  Got everything and no surprises.  Now it’s recovery.   I hurt and I’m really tired, but I’m glad to have that part behind me.  Thanks for the well wishes!

Travel

 

The Polaroid when I started at Gilda's in June 2014.  I finally made them take a new one.

The Polaroid when I started at Gilda’s in June 2014. I finally made them take a new one.

A friend at Gilda’s club asked me if I planned to have a big party when I hit my goal weight.  It hadn’t occurred to me at all, so I gave it a moment’s thought.  No, I could take or leave a big party.  What I’d really like to do is travel.  I want to go somewhere and do something fun.  Like go dancing, or take a hike in the mountains or something I haven’t been able to do for years.   Maybe New Orleans, maybe Italy, maybe my dream trip taking the train across Australia.

It’s fun to dream about travel, even when coming up with the money seems impossible.  But it’s travel season.  The stores are stocked with “sale on cruise wear” for people who stayed through the holidays and want to get out of the cold now that family obligations have been met.  This month the tags on my car and my drivers license need to be renewed.  Maybe I should take a look at my passport while I’m at it.

She really is sweet, when she's sweet.

She really is sweet, when she’s sweet.

Karina was off on a short trip, not too far from home, this weekend.  This means I had Miss Minnie.  She looks sweet and adorable all cuddled up in a blanket on the couch.  That’s because she’s all worn out from running away from me every chance she got!

Pantheacon is coming up again in San Jose.  I’m trying to get all packed, making lists and making arrangements for Orion.  I’m excited about doing another workshop this year.   This one is about mobility issues and energy management.  I think I could use a refresher!

Here's me and Jesse before.  He's got big ideas!

Here’s me and Jesse before. He’s got big ideas!

I’m fighting anemia while I’m trying to pull this all together.  My brain doesn’t work at 100% and I get “the dizzy”.   The extra doctor appointments haven’t helped either.  I start every one of them with, “You need to understand that I AM getting on a plane.”  It’s all about managing the blood thinners and continuing to dissolve the DVT without setting off a thrombosis.

To give myself a boost I made Karina make me an appointment with her fancy hair dresser.  Jesse at Hair Police is a dear.   He was very sweet, fussed over me, didn’t mind that I am incapable of making any decisions about my hair and I think he did a nice job.  It certainly brightened my mood.  It will also look a lot better in California!

It took me a minute, but I do like it.

It took me a minute, but I do like it.

Hope

The thaw sometimes confuses the plants

The thaw sometimes confuses the plants

It is that time of year when it becomes really apparent that the days are getting longer, light is returning.  Groundhog’s day may be a big deal in some places, but here we are pretty well guaranteed another 6 weeks of winter.   Usually we see a “midwinter thaw” around this time of year.  With climate change it seems that thaw is coming earlier.  Much of our snow cover melted a few weeks ago with temps in the 40’s.  Now it’s cold again.

I’ve written blogs in previous years about the light and about seasonal celebrations.   I’ve written about our long winters and how easy it is to get cabin fever.  What I haven’t written much about, at least not here, is hope.

This is a time of year when hope is in short supply.  Historically, stores are starting to deplete and some household rationing sets in.  In the natural world food is scarce.  It is not uncommon to see herd die off in this late winter season, before the new shoots sprout.  Likewise, in a harsh year predators will struggle to find enough calories to continue to hunt.

Hens start laying again with the return of the light.  Some of us think of this as the dairy fat, fish and smoked meat sabbat.

Hens start laying again with the return of the light. Some of us think of this as the dairy fat, fish and smoked meat sabbat.

In the British Isles and in the Southern and Eastern United States this marks the time of year when there are signs that spring will come again.  Siberian squill, crocus, magnolia – the early bloomers are sprouting.   None of these first blossoms are food plants.  They are precursors.  Signs of hope.

In an interfaith analogy I liken our northern climate Imbolc to the story of the rainbow after the flood.   There was no land in sight, but there is a promise of hope in the light.  It is a time to prepare, a time to invite hope in.  The cleaning that goes along with this time of year is a little like Field of Dreams.   “If you clean it, spring will come.”

There is a metaphor that circulates in the Sufi and the Buddhist communities about hearts breaking open.  The notion is that it takes experiencing true heartbreak to be open to compassion, to shared human experience.  If you’ve never felt it, you are not fully human.  Those breaks, those scars, become the windows in your heart and soul that allow the light of the sacred to shine through you.    By allowing the pain, and not resisting, you also allow the opening.

Spring will come again

Spring will come again

The midwinter thaw is like that for me.  The days are so dark and so cold and everything is frozen into ice.  And then the ice breaks, and the light seeps in and the warmth can begin to reach the waters.  It is a moment.  The ice will come again, just like heartbreak will come again.  But it is also an opening to hope, that after the ice there will also be spring.

It’s a good time to have that reminder of hope in the world.

Privilege

The conversation about privilege is difficult, because it’s easy to get defensive right off the bat.  The thing is that most of us have experienced privilege in some form or other over the course of our lives.  It’s hard to see that when we’re feeling downtrodden, but it’s true.  Likewise many of us have experienced some form of discrimination based on sex, or height, or handed-ness and feel that gives us some insight into systemic racism.  Having a discussion about issues of race can’t even begin until first privilege is understood.

You pay a premium price for a left-handed can opener.

You pay a premium price for a left-handed can opener.

Let’s start with the notion of systemic privilege and discrimination.  There is systemic handedness bias in our culture.  Left handed people live inherently more dangerous lives simply because the world is designed for their non-dominant hand.  But generally handedness isn’t going to get you put in prison.  It isn’t cause for shop owners to eye you suspiciously.  It isn’t going to prevent someone from renting you an apartment and in most cases it won’t cost you a job or an education.  Right handed people are privileged, the world is designed for us.

There are plenty of statics out there that back up an argument for systemic discrimination against women.  (Google gender discrimination if you’re interested in going down that rabbit hole.)  Women continue to make less in the workforce.  We continue to be less upwardly mobile with families.  When the same essay is graded by teachers with a male name or a female name the male name paper scores on the average significantly higher.  When #allwomen first came out documented how prevalent street harassment is.  It became clear that #allwomen have experienced being dismissed in a group, their ideas lauded when reintroduced by a man.  There’s a universal uphill climb.

The counter argument is that there is privilege that goes with being a woman as well.  The problem is that those cultural privileges are not as universal as the discrimination.  Yes, some women can bat their eyes and get out of a speeding ticket.  Yes, some women always have doors opened for them (I’d give that up for equal pay – it’s not really an equivalent argument.)  And yes, in some cases being a woman means you can hit a guy and he won’t hit back. (Domestic abuse statistics will give some sense of how NOT universal that “privilege” really is.)  But I would bet that most women have tried to lean on those alleged privileges to avoid something, or get something they wanted.  That doesn’t make this a good counter argument.

There are too many women supporting the men in their lives to argue that being a woman means you can expect the man to pay your way.  There are too many women in the workforce by necessity to argue that being a woman means you get to choose to work or stay home.  There may be privilege, but the woman privilege may not even be the one that applies.  It may be privilege by education.  It may be privilege by “pretty” (being blessed with good genes).  It may be age.  It may be socio-economic status that gives any given woman her privilege.

Don't park here if you don't really NEED to.  (Running late isn't a real need)

Don’t park here if you don’t really NEED to. (Running late isn’t a real need)

The argument/counter-argument trap comes up a lot in discussions about privilege.  It takes a willingness to actually parse out value to realize how silly this argument can become.  For instance, my son who has never walked and uses a wheelchair and an aid everywhere gets “special parking privileges”.   What people who make that argument don’t understand is how impossible it is to get in and out of the car without the extra space.  What people who make that argument don’t understand is how much energy goes into adaptive mobility.  Legs are made for walking, arms aren’t.  Shoulders of wheelchair uses wear out much faster and more regularly than knees in walkers.

Most of the people I know with handicapped stickers are grateful for the days (few and far between though they may be) when they feel good enough NOT to park in those “special” spots.   The handicapped parking spots aren’t guaranteed.  I’ve driven around the parking lot, or decided not to shop on more than one occasion because the spots were full up.  All they do is give an underprivileged population a fighting chance to be able to participate in the daily economy.

That’s actually the same argument for title IX to promote women’s athletics.  It’s the same argument for affirmative action.   It’s not a guarantee.  You still have to fight for it, and earn the place.  It just gives an underprivileged population a chance.  That’s why it’s such an insult to assume that a minority in college or at a workplace got the position because of affirmative action.  Remember the comment about grading papers?  The same thing applies to resumes.  Without affirmative action, with equal qualifications the female or ethnic name doesn’t get the interview as often as the “white guy”.  In fact, even with better qualifications employers will often go with a lesser resume that doesn’t look “ethnic”.  (National Bureau of Economic Research paper)

Crystal Blanton is a social worker in Oakland CA.  Tyler Ellwood is my publisher at Immanion Press.

Crystal Blanton is a social worker in Oakland CA. Tyler Ellwood is my publisher at Immanion Press.

In order to better understand systemic racism it is important to actually listen to the experiences of people of color.  I am proud to be a contributing author in the new anthology Bringing Race to the Table.  This anthology is focused in the Pagan community, but the points it makes are universal.  In the first section People of Color describe both overt and covert racism in our community.  The second section talks about the historical and mythological context of racism.  The third section talks about being an ally and shares ideas about awareness and support.   I’m pleased and honored to be able to participate in this ongoing dialog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-do

1988

1988

It’s occurred to me in this past week that I’m spending a lot of time going “been there, done that” with this current health set-back.  I knew, as soon as my leg swelled up, that I was dealing with a blood clot (a DVT) because I’ve “been there, done that”.

I’m finding the same thing to be true with the weight-loss journey.  I’ve lost a large amount of weight several times in my life.  I lost 70 lbs   with medical complications before they found and identified that I had cancer.  Several years later, when I actually GOT the cancer diagnosis, after surgery and chemotherapy I realized I had to do something about my weight and again lost about 70 lbs.

.

Cancer and blood clot probably present but undiagnosed    1990

Cancer and blood clot probably present but undiagnosed 1990

The experience of planning to start an exercise program and being sidelined with medical complications is not new to me at all.  The two steps forward one step back process of building a lifestyle, or a career, or a new routine is the story of my life.  There is a reason I have the magical name Spiral.

This weight is where I was in my mid 20’s, when I got married for the first time.   As I go digging through old clothes desperately seeking something that will fit I am reminded of where I was in my life each time I crossed “this number”.   I may be the same weight, but my body is not the same shape.  I’m no longer in my 20’s, or in my 30’s, but I still catch myself falling back on old patterns.

Apparently I get married at this weight 2000

Apparently I get married at this weight 2000

Most people have “life lessons” that come around again and again.  The hope is that each time we confront these issues we have a different perspective on the problem.  Each time we are tested we learn new skills and have new (better?) ways to tackle our problems.

I am better at accepting the compliments when people tell me I’m looking good.  I’m better at recognizing the traps in the back-handed compliments (“You’re wasting away!”).  I’m much more willing to accept ownership of my journey and not depend on others for confirmation of how I am doing.  I’m much more willing to seek help and advice from others who have had similar experiences.

I’m less flexible – change at this age is harder than it was when my kids were little.  I don’t have as much resilience, especially physically.   It takes longer to take those two steps forward after a set-back.   As a single woman, I don’t have the same kind of support.  (This is as much a plus as a minus, depending on the day!)

My goals are different.  My motivation is different.  My perspective is different.  I may have “been there, done that”.  I just hope that this time I don’t do it quite the same way.

I still haven't mastered the selfie 2015

I still haven’t mastered the selfie 2015

Interlude

I seem to be stuck in “whiney” mode and I don’t like it.  So my thoughts for today are consciously choosing to look a little more positively on the world and to be grateful.

I’ve been really busy.  Getting the DVT diagnosis doubled my appointments last week.   But I have a great team.  All of the medical personal in my life (the one’s I keep around anyway) tend to be exceptional.  They listen, they talk straight to me about risks and advantages and choices, and they seem to “get” the circumstances of my crazy life.

Treating a blood clot seems to work a lot like faith.  Once they find it, they put you on meds and don’t bother to really look again.  The doctors trust that the blood thinners will eventually dissolve the clot and in the meantime reduce the risks of complications.  The only evidence it’s working is a reduction in swelling and pain.  I’m grateful that I’ve got a team I can trust.

One of the things that’s come up is that it’s time to start a serious exercise program.  (Something more than ‘be more active’.)   I actually bought a swimsuit.  I have no idea how long it will fit, but the chances of my actually going to the pool have just increased significantly.  Not today of course, but my goal is to get there sometime this week.  Once I go, it will be easier to go again.  I’m really lucky to have those resources available to me and it’s high time I took advantage of them!

I wasn't sure the delivery truck and metro mobility wouldn't drive at the same time!

I wasn’t sure the delivery truck and metro mobility wouldn’t drive at the same time!

I still have swelling in my leg so it’s a balancing act between moving and elevating the leg.  I acquired a brand new recliner to help with that.  I’m not sure why I thought Monday morning between 7-9am would be a good delivery time.  It will be easier on my back than trying to lounge on the couch with my leg up!  Again, I am grateful to be able to do this, and I’m grateful for the recliner that died to make room for the new one as well.

In the land of debatable for my physical well-being, but phenomenal for the attitude adjustment is Karina.  She’s also been “in a mood” and so she called me and took me out to the movies.  We saw Mockingjay.  When she was a snotty teenager, I read the books and literally MADE her go to see the first movie.  She was not happy, didn’t want to, wasn’t going to like it.  She came home from the movie and read all three books and has waited in anticipation for each movie since.  I’m grateful that she took me.  She’s grateful that I introduced her to the series.   It’s nice to know I did something right.

I think I’ll start the week with Monday morning coffee and breakfast at Gilda’s Club

Gilda's Club Twin Cities (on a slow day)  That kitchen back there is divine!

Gilda’s Club Twin Cities (on a slow day) That kitchen back there is divine!

That’s another thing I’m grateful for.  The people are fabulous, the services the club provides powerful and necessary.  Being able to be a volunteer there takes me out of myself and puts me in service.  It also means I have the opportunity to take advantage of the wonderful programing.  Just walking in the red door is enough to create an attitude adjustment!

New Year

When the year starts off in ways that are difficult or annoying I like to think of it as though I’m getting the “bad stuff” out-of-the-way up front so the rest of the year can go off without a hitch.   I don’t really have anything to complain about.  I’ve not lost a family member, or been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  There have been years like that, but this isn’t one of them.

This year has simply set off the desire to throw a huge pity party.  Old habits I suppose, but the new lifestyle doesn’t allow for eating to solve those emotional problems.  This of course frustrates me even more.  Maybe the stress of the holidays and making choices and being challenged by food (and cold!) has just caught up with me.  Or maybe I’ve just spent a little too much time being sociable with my ex.  (Family gatherings and all that.)

New years day – evening – put the final cramp in my style.  I’d been sitting most of the day.  Too tired to move and too stupid to take a nap.  When bedtime finally came around (or rather when my ex finally came by to bring Orion home, and left) I stood up.   Then I walked around the house going “shit, shit, shit, shit……”

Looking good, but a little run down.  Is that right calf a little swollen even before Christmas?

Looking good, but a little run down. Is that right calf a little swollen even before Christmas?

I’ve had a blood clot, a DVT, before.  20 some odd years ago, in that same leg, as a result of my colon cancer.   With the calf swollen to the point the skin was tight (and I’ve got plenty of excess skin these days) and pain to stand or walk it sure looked and felt familiar.    I also knew that at that time, on that day, with the ex just out the door and Orion looking forward to going back to his day program in the morning it was pointless to do much that night.

I walked around a little more.  I packed a bag, knowing that a day in the ER was a distinct possibility and that being admitted, though less likely, wasn’t out of the question.  I brought my phone into the bedroom (because if I wasn’t going to be able to walk in the morning I needed to be able to get to a phone.)  I elevated the leg and tried to sleep.

The risks that come with a clot are a little lower for me than for most.  Because I had one, and still needed the surgery to remove the cancer, they installed a device designed to keep clots from traveling through the main vein into my heart and lungs.  It’s not the sort of thing you can have removed – I’ve asked.  Elevating the leg did seem to help, it wasn’t quite as swollen in the morning.

None-the-less I am starting off the new year with a “medical complication” and a whole bunch of new meds.  I have just doubled the number of doctors appointments I need to have in the next few weeks.  I have reduced mobility (just when I was enjoying being able to get around more!) because it still hurts to walk and stand.  It’s also bad to just sit so there’s a lot of up and down.

Maybe this is just a little wake up call to remember to continue to pay attention.  It’s a reminder to stay active and not fall back into old habits.   It’s getting all the bad stuff out-of-the-way at the beginning of the year so that the rest of the year can go swimmingly.   When you start from here the rest of the year is likely to go up!

Food

PART_1419860637603_20141223_220053It has been my blogging tradition to do a post about my family’s holiday meal.  This year everything was different – literally everything!   My whole perspective on food is shifting because of the bariatric surgery I had in July.  I’m eating pretty normally now – normal apparently for normal people.  I’m still astonished by how little food it takes to make me feel satisfied.  The problem is that my volume is so low I can’t seem to get enough protein.  So not only is protein a priority, it has become the priority.

The second thing most different thing was the menu – or perhaps how the menu was established.  Entertaining at this level has become a little too much for my Mom and Dad.  (They still do it occasionally, but we won’t “make” them do it for us anymore.)  We see how long it takes them to recover.  That won’t stop them from contributing!  You may recall that although my sister hosted Thanksgiving my Mom made the turkey (and stuffing and wild rice) and my Dad baked bread and there were contributions to the appetizer table.

This year my 21-year-old daughter (the baker) decided she was going to take on the family holiday.  She’s worked in a production kitchen.  She’s helped plan and prep meals for weekend retreats.  She’s had lovely dinner parties for 4, and hosted (with help) dinner parties for 8.  But the family holiday is a whole new level of stress.  She’s got her Grandmother’s china setting for 12.  She’s got enough open space in her apartment.  She’s got the culinary chops to pull it off.

She doesn’t have place settings for 20, or 19, or 21 or Who is coming to this event anyway?!?   She doesn’t have table space or seating for that many – room, but not the furniture.  She doesn’t have linens or enough silverware or glasses.  She also is waitressing, covering shifts for everyone who asked off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day along with her regular shifts.  Five busy and under staffed work days followed by a dinner party for 20ish you’re hosting on Saturday is something only to be undertaken by someone that young.  Oh, and my parents coming into town planning to stay with her as well.

She really was brilliant.  She told everyone what she was making (ham and mashed potatoes) and what they were to bring.  She rented tables and washed up my old linens and dug out my stored silverware.  She did everything in her power to make sure everyone would be comfortable, contributing, and welcomed.  For most everybody that was enough.   The few lines in the sand she drew (no you can’t bring him he wasn’t invited/if he doesn’t want to be here he can go home) were appropriate and as gracious as possible.

Dinner at Merlin's Rest and a German Chocolate Cake from scratch.

Dinner at Merlin’s Rest and a German Chocolate Cake from scratch.

I ate all week.   Karina, Orion and I opened presents to each other Christmas eve and I made king crab and beef tenderloin.  I had a crab leg and maybe an ounce of beef.  On Christmas day Karina panicked and I went over to help her decorate her tree and get the house ready.  She took me out for lunch – Chinese of course.  Friday my parents came into town and we went to the restaurant where Karina was working for dinner.  Mom had mussels, Dad had a vegetarian pot pie, Orion had fish and chips (and my fries and Mom’s fries) and I had a steak and Stilton pie (mostly just the insides).  I baked my Mom a birthday cake and so we had some of that as well.  The restaurant staff was happy to have their share of cake too.  Plenty to go around when a “piece” amounts to a few bites.

Then there was the big dinner Saturday.  Dad made a tin of his caramel corn (a tin the size of a 4 gallon tub) and several loaves of bread.  He swore they’d eaten all the gravlax (he makes that too) for breakfast.  (Some found its way to my refrigerator, but no bagels.)  Mom brought shrimp dip, oysters and caviar, and artichoke dip.   I added a cheese ball (Mom’s recipe) and some pomegranate salsa and chips.   Just a little to whet the palate!   I managed to have a bite of everything but some of it waited until the next day.

This is what a LARGE portion of carmel corn looks like to me these days.  A big change from several handfuls!

This is what a LARGE portion of caramel corn looks like to me these days. A big change from several handfuls!

Dinner was the lovely bone in ham that Karina made, along with her mashed potatoes and gravy.  Darcy put together a beautiful spinach salad with almonds and blueberries.  My Mom dug out her homemade blue cheese dressing.   I roasted up some vegetables.  My little sister, Janine, made desert – a raspberry bomb – a tradition from our childhood that I haven’t had in years.  What a treat!  (2 bites worth, but I know where the leftovers are….)

You’d think I would have taken photos, but I was busy helping out in the kitchen and getting the tables set.  Kept me from drooling all over the food that I couldn’t eat. (Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t have done it.  There was too much!)    It was actually a more simple meal that we usually have, but it was especially tasty and more than enough.

We were missing Andrea (part of the reason Karina hosted was because our Thanksgiving hosts were out with his family) and my niece.  But we did have Janine  and her boys (another coup for Karina).   Everyone left early.  The elders were tired, Janine had to get home, Darcy and Zac had more relatives to visit before the day was out.   Karina was asleep in my lap within an hour of everyone leaving.

I’m so proud of my daughter for pulling off a daunting affair at her age.  She may even be willing to do it again next year (paper plates?).

Yuletide Greetings

Yule log from a community solstice celebration

Yule log from a community solstice celebration

We’re in that space between the winter solstice and the New Year.  Unless you are a committed last-minute shopper, most of the hustle of the season has ended.  It is time to raise a cup, relax, and enjoy the celebrations.  It is a time of quiet, a breath before the round of New Years eve parties and Super Bowl buffets.

It is the darkest time of the year.  The solstice marks the sun’s return, but we won’t really notice that the days are getting longer for at least a month.  The holiday lights reflected on the snow bring a hint of magic to the darkness.  It is a time to review the past year and make plans (goals and dreams) for the next.

"candles" light up the neighborhood.

“candles” light up the neighborhood.

This is a family time of year.  That family may be blood, or may just be your close friends.  But it is a time to connect with those we love and care about.  It is a time to share, not only in our exchange of presents but in our presence.

The darkness can be bittersweet, especially for those who have suffered a recent loss.  I have had years where much of my silence was missing companions.  I have had years where I couldn’t afford to purchase gifts and had to make due.  I have had years where my children and I were adopted by secret Santa’s who made our holidays bountiful in spite of our poverty.

At the heart of the darkness is the light that comes from gratitude.  I am grateful for the loved ones in my life.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to spend time and share laughter.  I am grateful to have food, and warmth, and shelter, knowing there are many who go without.  I am grateful to have the energy to participate in the holiday season in ways I couldn’t even imagine a year ago.

lights in the middle of nowhere

lights in the middle of nowhere

I am grateful to people I’ve never met who have bought my books and who read my blog.  I’m grateful for the opportunities and ability to express myself and for my voice to be heard.  I’m grateful for the family and friends who support me, promote me, and direct others to my work.

I am grateful to still be open to growth and learning.  I’m grateful for the opportunities I have to further my education either through independent research or through classes.  I’m grateful for the writers who inspire me, who make me think, and who challenge my world  view.  I’m also grateful for the one’s who express what I feel more eloquently than I could manage on my own.

May you find the space to take a breath in this part of the seasons celebrations.  May you welcome in the magic, and the darkness, and the light.  May you find renewal at the center of the unknown.  Please cherish this Yuletide Season.    Happy Holidays!PART_1419259969090_20141220_185211

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