Category Archives: winter
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.
I’ve maintained for some time now that the older I get the longer I get to celebrate. This year I’m pushing that edge with everything I’ve got. I’ve got a lot to celebrate!
I feel good. There have been many years where I haven’t. Two years ago I was recovering from surgery. Five years ago I couldn’t move. 25 years ago (or was it 26) my birthday party felt like a wake because I was in chemotherapy. Feeling good, willing to go out, having fun finding dress-up clothes, those are all worth celebrating.
I still have family. I started celebrating my birthday at the beginning of the month when I made a cake and packed it up to my parent’s house. My Mom and I share a fondness for german chocolate and a homemade cake is particularly appreciated by both of us. At this point neither of us needs a cake to ourselves so we share. Her birthday is in December and mine is the end of February so there is usually a freezer involved along the way. Having her around to share and appreciate the cake she taught me to make is definitely worth celebrating.
My kids seem to like spending time with me. I got Orion buying me flowers for valentine’s day and Karina’s “step-son” picking out roses for Oma’s birthday. We all went out to dinner (restaurant week falls close enough to my birthday to make that easier). Karina has also just said “hey, want to go out for drinks” and swept me up late night just because it’s my birthday. Orion and I have been to the movies, twice, and he’s also joined me out to brunch with friends. All worth celebrating.
My friends are finding time to “catch-up” I’ve had three brunches this month. I’ve had lunch and a trip to the Swedish Museum. I’ve had dinner with some old friends, and am still making plans into March. I’ve spent a lot of time on the telephone. Birthday presents have appeared unexpectedly. I have acquired a significant amount of birthday cheesecake. It’s really nice to know that people I care about are thinking about me. It’s great to touch base and reconnect. I’m not good at reaching out so having people reach out to me is very much worth celebrating.
I know that extending my birthday celebration means sometimes I decide it’s about me when really it’s not. Today (Monday 27th) I’m having “birthday breakfast” at Gilda’s Club. It’s really the monthly “Euro-Cafe Social”, but hey for me it’s birthday breakfast. I’ll get to visit with people I work with and when I call it birthday breakfast they’ll all say happy birthday.
It feels good to be acknowledged and it gives me a lot of reason to be grateful. I have places to go, things to do and people to do them with. I have generous friends and family. I have enough energy to go out and enough control to bring home leftovers. Extending the celebration means I get to really spend time with people rather than being overwhelmed by a crowd at one big bash. I am truly blessed.
Happy birthday to me.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions for a lot of reasons. The biggest is that I don’t keep them, so why make them. Not that I object to having goals and dreams, but that success builds on success.
I’m much happier with big dreams and small achievable goals than with the notion of creating a resolution for change at a time of year when I’m already reeling. I find it difficult to start something new at the same time that I’m trying to re-coop – (physically and financially) from the holiday hoopla.
This particular year, this particular “cultural transition” from 2016 to 2017 has been filled with a lot of public angst. The notion that 2016 was “so bad” that 2017 “has to be better”. I’ve always been reluctant to tempt fate that way.
There’s a lot of fear going into 2017. I’ve written about a shift in tone in human interactions. I’ve talked about the disenfranchised who feel particularly targeted and threatened by the new political climate. I’ve got personal fears as well, with aging parents and tightening purse strings. My “safety nets” are not what they used to be.
Sometimes I think I talk because I need to hear what I am saying. I talk (and write) a lot about practicing gratitude to fight depression. Fortunately I got to spend New Years Eve with some lovely people who chose to apply that practice.
It was an event designed to set the tone for 2017. The dinner guests were chosen specifically to suit our host’s preferences. No one was there “just because”. The decor was elegant, the food abundant, exotic, and heart warmingly delicious, and the atmosphere both festive and a little nostalgic. There was warmth and laughter and acceptance and I was grateful to be included.
When the champagne was poured we went around the table and each had to talk about something wonderful that happened for them in 2016. There were several people who had milestone moments that they could point to. A few of the guests spoke of unexpected opportunities that had become available to them. Clearly, Facebook memes aside, not everyone had a horrible year.
I didn’t have a “horrible” year either, but I did have a really difficult time finding something to be grateful for. Then I stopped going over the events of the year that I recalled (most of which were attached in some way to a funeral) and looked at the room.
I got to have a night out. I got to have a few days without Orion in tow. I got to have a beautiful fancy dinner that I didn’t have to pay for. I got to have an opportunity to dig up the dress-up clothes. I got to reconnect with a friend (our host) and acknowledge that connection with hope to deepen our relationship in the future. I got to have fun. I got to be in the room.
Then I looked back at the year at all the other friends I’ve connected with. I looked at the new friendships I’ve worked at strengthening. I looked at all the “rooms” where I’ve had the privilege of being included. There have been a lot. Even those funerals provided opportunities for me to reconnect.
This is what I’m grateful for and what I hope to find more of in 2017. Connection.
Happy New Year!
It’s cold and it’s dark. Thanksgiving was late, so it feels like the other holidays are coming early. I’m having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit – for any of the holidays. Yule is fast approaching. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, is this week. All I want to do is crawl under the covers.
Maybe it’s the politics. Maybe it’s the news stories. Maybe it’s just a general sense that certain people feel like they now have permission to be rude, racist, misogynistic and all together nasty. It definitely feels like the longest night.
The thing is, most of the winter holidays are celebrations of hope. They are a coming together of families, of communities. Many of them are directly linked to survival, either as an acknowledgement of the ancestors surviving or as a sacred working towards surviving the rest of the winter.
Both Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrate the faith, perseverance and fortitude of ancestors in the face of insurmountable odds. Even the Christmas story has Mary and Joseph finding shelter where there was none to be had. If our ancestors beat the odds, so can we. We have their support, their example, and when our own faith wains we can lean on theirs.
The Islamic calendar is lunar, without some of the “corrections” in the Jewish calendar that keep festivals seasonal. Currently Muslims are also celebrating the birth of the prophet, not Jesus but Mohammad. Along with the longest night comes the birth of the sun. In Christianity the savior is born. There is hope in the metaphor of birth. There is potential for something better to come along. There is a new way of approaching the world being born.
During the longest night people came together to share stories. Like Hans Christian Anderson’s the Little Match Girl they create visions of the futures they wanted to see. Dreams of sugarplums dance in their heads. They’re visited by ghosts, ancestors, departed friends, spirits with teaching visions. Hearth fires are tended, and gifts are exchanged.
In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi it is the wise (or foolish) sacrifice that is a gift of love. Yet some of the pressure of our season is that consumer culture that measures how much or how many above how thoughtful, how generous. Finding the “right” gifts, or making them, is often how I come to the spirit of this season. And again, this year that has been more difficult.
I’m finding more seasonal joy in sharing a protein bar with a homeless man on the street corner than in exchanging packages. I’m finding more seasonal joy in being able to encourage a teen I’m driving to school than in writing a holiday letter. I had more fun shopping for my women’s group ritual (where the presents represented themes rather than being for specific people) than I had baking for the family.
I’m hoping for the hope. I’m leaning heavily on tradition to see me through. I’m going through the motions, believing that movement brings movement. I am reminded of being 9 months pregnant, miserable, impatient and not really knowing what the future would bring.
Let the bells ring out. May joy and peace be shared with all. May love and kindness fill the world and vanquish cruelty and hatred. May you all have a blessed holiday season.
Previous blogs about Yuletide:
So I missed last week’s blog because I was still in California – giving my presentation. I had a great trip. I talked to some fabulous people. I learned some things and was inspired. I also hope I taught some things and was inspirational.
I think I’m pretty much back in Central Time, but even that’s challenging. My darling daughter wrenched her ankle in a bad fall coming home from work this weekend. 2am in Urgent Care doesn’t help me adjust. But the sun has been shining, the days have been warm. (In Minnesota if the snow is melting it’s warm – even at 39 degrees.)
Looking at traveling as part of a career I’m going to have to find a way to do the body/time adjustment thing a little more gracefully. At least I was kind to myself with scheduling. Aside from the unexpected (there was a trip to the Apple Genius Bar as well) I haven’t had any “extras” on the calendar. That’s about to change!
One of the things I got to do at Pantheacon was Tarot readings. When I do readings I always get good feedback from the clients. This was no exception. But I also had some down time with the cards, so I asked a question for myself about preparing for my presentation. That was a little frustrating. I was committed to being “on my game”. I wanted to be a professional level presenter. I’m invested in preparing to do my best. The cards kept saying, “Give it up. This is something you can’t prepare for.”
My time slot was unfortunate. I presented early in the morning on the last day of the convention. Most people are packing to check out or catching early flights. The audience I was targeting are, as a rule, worn out by this point. I had no idea what kind of crowd to expect and the cards were not helping.
However unhelpful, they were correct. I had a small enough group that sitting down and having a discussion, a personal conversation, was much more appropriate than a presentation. In that kind of setting my goal is always to address the specific needs of those present. It’s not something you can prepare for. You just have to know the material inside and out. I do and I thought the workshop went really well.
I didn’t take a lot of photos. I did get a lovely sashimi dinner one evening. My roommate (who I met when I arrived) was fabulous and we had a pleasant evening together over dinner as well. I sat in on conversations about accessibility for People of Color and for the Gender fluid community. I actually went to one of the ritual presentations (something I’ve not had the energy for in previous years) and enjoyed myself. I spent some time with old friends and made some new ones.
I still have to finish unpacking. I need to sort through all the cards I picked up and find new contacts on Facebook. I need to remember to check my email and gather all my receipts. It’s less than a month until the next one. At least I won’t have to change time zones!
My parents are 80 years old. My Mom had her birthday last month and my Dad is this spring. It is becoming more and more apparent I won’t have them around forever and so the time I spend with them becomes precious.
My blogging buddy Andra Watkins speaks about the importance of making memories. She walked the Natchez Trace with her Dad, and then wrote a book about her experience: Not Without My Father. She’s got a twitter feed at #makeamemory where people share their stories.
When we asked my Mom what she wanted for her 80th birthday she said she wanted to go out with just her girls. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. There are schedules to shuffle, kids to arrange for, and some history of unpleasantness between us. But it’s what she wanted, so I got on the phone.
We kept it a secret until Mom’s actual birthday. Then my middle sister (the one who lives closest) gave her a card with an “invitation” inside. Lunch with your daughters, January 2nd. She was SO excited! We didn’t “do Christmas” until just this past weekend so it was nice for her to have something to carry her through the actual holiday.
Even on the day we had a few minor scheduling issues. I volunteered to pick up my little sister and forgot she’s outside of the GPS maps so we were a little late arriving. My middle sister was babysitting and needed to drop off her Grandson “on the way”. She was driving Mom, who also wanted to stop and pick up a few groceries.
In the end we all made it to lunch. The waitress snapped a photo to prove it. It was a pleasant leisurely afternoon. We sat and ate and chit-chatted about nothing important. We kept it all light and friendly.
My Mom was thrilled. She still talks about how wonderful it was for us to do that for her. She says finally, for the first time in her life, she got exactly what she wanted for her birthday. We made her a memory.
For me, it’s not the lunch that’s the memory. It’s being able to make my Mother so happy, with such a simple thing. Aging is hard for her. She struggles to continue to be relevant, to be heard, to participate and she does better than she thinks. But this day, for her birthday lunch, she could be the center of attention, “the Mom”, and not have to work at all.
It’s finally starting to feel like winter. We’ve had enough snow to cover the ground and temperatures are falling. In Minnesota we are known for being the “frozen North” but most of December our temperatures remained above freezing. This is nice in theory.
The warmer temperatures did make getting out and about a little easier. Navigating sidewalks wasn’t a problem as there was no build up of snow. On street parking was available and none of the commercial spaces need to use their handicapped parking spots as the “logical” place to pile the snow shoveled off the lot.
On the other hand, there was no White Christmas. The magic of the season, the lights the sounds, are all shifted when there is a crispness in the air and snow on the ground. Instead of clear starry nights we had clouds and sleet. Many people I spoke with were having a hard time finding the spirit of the season, and I blame that on the weather.
The snow cover protects our plants in the frigid cold that January often brings. Because most of our precipitation has been rain, that snowy blanket isn’t as effective. We can hope that we will continue to remain warmer this season, but there is a difference between climate and weather.
The climate is shifting. The lines for gardening zones have moved quite notably in my lifetime. But in any given year we can see any kind of weather. I complain that the forecasts often compare our temperatures to the “average”. Here that is meaningless.
When temperatures on any given day from the highest high to the lowest low range anywhere from 40-80 degrees what’s 5 or 10 degrees above or below “average”? I suspect there are days when the “average” high or low is a temperature than doesn’t exist in the historical listing for highs and lows on those days.
January often sees days below zero. It is not uncommon to see weeks where temperatures never rise above zero. We’ve had three-week stretches of unrelenting, bone chilling weather. Finally we’ve dropped the temperature to a point where maybe we can remember what winter is really like.
I’m not the only one blogging about the weather this week. If you want a warmer POV check out Monica’s Tangled Web.
We live in a world where time is measured with precision to the second. Even so, our experience of time seems much more subjective. In this season when the nights are long and dark there is a natural slowing down. In this season when the holiday rush is upon us there seems to be an imposed speeding up. Maybe it’s this juxtaposition that has me struggling to make a schedule, stay on track and get anything accomplished.
I love the nights at this time of year, especially when there is snow on the ground muffling the sounds. There is a peacefulness that descends with nightfall. Lighting a fire in the fireplace and wrapping up in a warm blanket, hot drink in hand is clearly what’s called for on evenings like this. I look at my “to do” list and think that all I really want is to curl up with a good book.
I have shopping to do. Of course there is holiday shopping, but there is also the every day kind of shopping that is somehow more complicated this time of year. Even the grocery store seems more crowded, parking is harder to find and stopping in anywhere requires shopping to a soundtrack of carols. Getting anything seems to take forever. In addition to these complications are my allergies.
Thankfully I’m not allergic to pine, as are several of my friends. They come out of the stores stuffy and sneezy and it doesn’t let up until January. My allergy is cinnamon, and it’s bad. Even the scent of cinnamon will puff up my face and start my tongue swelling, my throat closing. At least it’s easy to identify and I can usually walk away. But the grocery stores have started stocking cinnamon brooms and cinnamon scented pine cones!
Maybe if I should start exploring grocery delivery. Then I could stay home curled in my blanket while the delivery drivers did my shopping. But I don’t want to return to the days when I couldn’t do anything. I enjoy being able to be out and about (and carry my 1 grocery bag to the car rather than going to drive-through). I have the energy to spend browsing the shelves for gifts. I just don’t have the time.