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.
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.
I haven’t done holiday baking for years. It’s hard to make dozens of cookies when you can’t stand for more than 5 minutes at a time. It’s impossible to make breads and sweet rolls when you don’t have the energy to do the kneading.
It seems odd that I would take on a project about sweets 5 months after a gastric by-pass. But in my twisted mind it makes perfect sense. If I’m seriously limited in what and how much I can eat I want what I choose to be exactly what I want. If I take a bite of a sugar cookie I don’t want a grocery store bakery model.
My sense of proportion has changed too. I don’t feel any need to make dozens of cookies for everyone I know. Most of the people I know have 1. Dietary issues related to allergies 2. Weight concerns 3. General health concerns 4. Bake themselves – for the same reason I want to. They know what they like!
So in spite of the surgery, and in spite of the car accident I decided I wanted to do some baking this weekend. I trimmed the tree. I gathered up groceries over the course of the week. I spent some time cleaning too. My cookie cutters haven’t seen the light of day in ages. In fact, I discovered many of the one’s I remembered moved out with my daughter 3 years ago.
Thanks to the surgery and subsequent weight loss I wasn’t so exhausted from doing the prep that I couldn’t do the actual cooking. I’ve had plenty of days like that. It’s exciting just to be able. But there was a small snag. I had to babysit this weekend. Karina’s puppy Minnie was over while she attended a conference.
Minnie could have been the one thing too many that put me over the top. And I am definitely feeling like I may have over done it a little this weekend. But the weather was crazy warm (it got into the 50’s!) which made putting the dog out at 4am a little less unpleasant.
What I hadn’t expected was for Minnie to be such a “helper”. It never occurred to me to worry about the dog climbing up on the table. I did wonder what she’d gotten into when I saw her with a nose full of powdered sugar, but thought I’d dropped something onto the floor. However, she didn’t hide the evidence of my date walnut tart.
I guess I’ll have to find something else to bring to that pot luck. I certainly won’t be tempted to eat too much. Luckily I got most everything packed away before I took the tart out of the oven and left it alone to cool. I’m just grateful Karina is the one who’ll have to deal with doggie diarrhea. That I’m not up for.
It seems early to consider things like New Years resolutions. (I don’t really work well with those anyway.) Still I seem to be getting lots of push from the Universe to review the past year and think about dreams, wishes and goals for the next. My women’s business group is working on creating our vision statements for 2014. Our Yule ritual planners have asked us to consider where we’ve been in this past year and what our hopes are for the next. Even visiting with old friends at the funeral last week and digging through the holiday ornaments put me in that reminiscent state of mind.
Luckily having a blog gives me a handy record of the past year. My first post in 2013 was about the family egg nog challenge. This year our “secret ingredient” is sugar. I have desert, which seems easy at first until you start thinking about having an impact after a full meal where every course features sugar in some form. All I’ll say is that this year I’m playing to win.
Then in February I took a trip to sunny California. Given our early sub-zero temperatures I’m looking forward to giving a workshop presentation at Pantheacon this year. March was Paganicon where Orion and I hosted the con suite. This year I’m seriously considering proposing a new workshop (that will likely cause much controversy – my middle name.) It’s good that I’m planning so many presentations since I’m really hoping my second book “When Gods Come Knocking: A Continuing Exploration of Relationship with the Divine” will be released (through Immanion Press) early in the year.
April and May were all about welcoming spring. I didn’t garden last year and I really hope to do at least a little in 2014. I also hope I’ll manage to get my taxes in early for a change. In June this year we had that big storm. I expect a little (metaphorical) storminess about that time in 2014 as well. Karina is turning 21 (my baby is all grown up!) and I’m planning to have bariatric surgery. My big wish for 2014 is to get my health back on track and that surgery will go a long way towards making it happen. My weight is aggravating my back problems to the point where some kind of surgery seems necessary. This one will potentially address more than one problem.
July and August were about adventures in camping. I’ll be recovering so it’s hard to say what will be possible in 2014, but I remember doing a lot of similar post-surgery travels in my 30’s so anything is possible. As we moved into the fall I got caught up in a rush of busy. I can hope for more of the same in 2014. Hopefully I’ll find some time out amidst the crazy. Maybe I’ll be editing my third book by then.
That will pretty much bring us around again to the holiday season. My wishes for next year are that my family will stay happy and healthy – and that I will myself on that bandwagon. I hope my writing influence expands out into the world and finds its audience. I also hope that my readers will find my work inspirational and affirming. I hope that I can do my part to make the world I live in a kind place and that we can live in beauty and bounty.
Thank you all for being with me this year. I hope you will continue to read, comment and share in the next.
I’ve been culturally conditioned to start my year with the beginning of school. I don’t go to school. I no longer have kids in school. I don’t work at school. Still, here at the brink of autumn I feel the pull to begin anew.
Several districts and colleges in the area actually start back to school today. I remember bemoaning the years when school started “early”. Somehow those August days don’t seem to count the same way, at least not until June when school lets out early. School should start the day after Labor Day. Oh my gosh that’s next week!
Since I no longer plan my days around the school calendar I don’t have a “big summer vacation”. I do my wandering in bits and pieces throughout the year. Autumn is actually trying to cram itself full of events on my calendar. Maybe that’s some of the “back to school” feeling I’m having. I’m gearing up to be off and on the go.
Summer is grand, but the older I get the less I enjoy it. The heat and allergies keep me indoors rather than out soaking up the sun. The gardening and yard work puts my back out when I make the effort. Mostly it’s beyond me. I like to putter, I enjoy sitting in the sun reading. All of those things are easier when it’s not unbearably hot.
Of course this year the heat has been restricted to about two weeks. Sadly this is one of them. It’s time to move forward with my business plans. It’s time to get caught back up on my reading (I’m no longer “ahead” on the book review site). It’s time to explore new options and take some chances.
I was told a few weeks ago, “You like change.” Well, I do enjoy new things. I like learning and exploring and variety. Change, that’s a little scarier. Maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. Time to get a new one. Time to go back to school, or whatever my life holds that brings new information and opportunity. Time to learn and grow. One more week for planning allowed, then it’s jump in with both feet. School is Starting!
Regardless of what you call the celebration where you get together with friends and family and exchange gifts in this darkest part of the year, it seems like there’s a lot of it. I thought I cut back this year. I skipped several Yule rituals due to double booking, rather than trying to do two things at the same time. I declared that Santa didn’t need to come to a household were no one lived who was under the age of 18. I am not hosting any holiday parties, attending any of the parties for my December birthday friends and am going to ONE place for New Years.
Even with that I had 2 Yule rituals, 2 Christmas dinners (I was sou chef at both), Family gift night (we can’t decide if it’s Yule or Christmas) which also meant cooking dinner, and 2 holiday parties still to come. That’s 7 distinct events over the course of 2 weeks! I’m thinking that’s a lot even with cutting back.
When I grew up we had a long Christmas. It started Christmas eve, went through much of the night and started up again after a long winter’s nap with Santa first thing in the morning. We’d finish up presents, get dressed and head to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas dinner. 24 hours of Christmas. Really one long day, even if it took two. If there was a New Years event at all it was a small party (3 couples) just for grown-ups or being allowed to stay up and watch Dick Clark until the ball fell.
Depending on the weather we might travel to my other Grandma’s but that could wait until the following week or even until the February thaw. That visit wasn’t really any different than any other visit to Grandma’s. There was no special event that distinguished it as Christmas, except a small present exchange. We usually got handmaid knit slippers or mittens.
A busy Christmas season meant getting outside to go sledding or skiing. It meant getting to go to the movies. It meant ice skating and cookies and hot cocoa. The ‘busy’ part of the season was from Thanksgiving on when all the baking was going on, not during the actual holiday.
My children, who are 18 and 23, have never had a holiday season that didn’t involve multiple events at multiple households. Their father and I were divorced when the youngest was 2. That meant holidays at 2 households, even though we often continued to double up so Dad would stop by Christmas morning and I would go to his parents for dinner. Practicing a different religious tradition than our parents also meant that we had Yule and Christmas.
To throw a wrench into the works, or maybe an odd spice like tamarind, my son has special needs. He had a caregiver who was with us from the time he was 3 until adulthood. She’s like a second Mom to him, and her family and ours have grown very close over the years. When they were little, we’d pack all the kids (hers and mine) up into the van and take them all downtown to see Santa. As her kids are now as grown as mine, we’ve skipped the holiday exchange there as well. Incidentally, they are Muslims.
I have no idea what kind of holiday traditions my children will develop as adults. Will my son collect invitations to everyone’s party and go to as many as he can? Will my daughter decide that she wants family traditions and invite (or uninvite) the rest of us to join her? Will they both continue to attempt to satisfy everyone’s traditions adding more and more events to their celebrations?
I know that many of their peers will face similar problems. We have raised a generation that has multiple families, and that considers their chosen families to be just as important. I am grateful that, so far, pretty much everyone gets along. There is no reason to exclude a family member just because they can’t be in the same room with someone else. My ex-husband’s family is not so fortunate. From what I see and hear, the ‘who doesn’t get to come’ scenario seems more common.
So as hectic or as lonely as you may find yourself this holiday season, I would encourage you to try and play nice. Play up the love and understanding, the peace on earth. Because the first place to start with peace on earth is in our own households.
I’m sipping at my wild rice soup and thinking about what to do with the rest of the leftovers. I have a hand with leftovers. I’m very good at reshaping them, freshening them up and making them seem like something new. Of course there are some leftovers that are best untouched like lasagna or the nibbles out of the turkey meat.
I have done a lot of event cooking. Planning and preparation for groups of 20-50 for an entire weekend , usually Thursday night through Sunday lunch. I plan those meals with an eye for leftovers. I know if I cook extra of something on Friday and I can use it in a meal on Saturday it will save time as the program gets more intense and I won’t have as many leftovers at the end. It saves money too as I can buy more ingredients in bulk when they are shared throughout the weekend.
Then I started thinking about leftover time. You know, those little pieces in the day where there isn’t enough time to start a new project before the next scheduled event. The time spent waiting, for someone to arrive, for the Doctor to call, and in line. The time that shows up suddenly because you finished a task early. The time you know from experience will show up because something or someone always runs late. Even the commercial breaks could be considered leftover time.
I must admit that I am not nearly as proficient in my use of leftover time as I am with my leftovers from dinner. I squander it away like dropped pennies. I have a tendency to eat when I’m bored, so while it may not be a great surprise that I’m good with food leftovers that doesn’t serve me when it comes to leftover time. I am a reader and there are some kinds of books that don’t mind being picked up and put down in small pockets of time. Those tend to be fiction without much suspense or action. Anything else I’m liable to stay up until 4 am to finish rather than put them down. Not good candidates for leftover time.
I’ve certainly been given plenty of suggestions over the years of things to occupy me in those leftover moments. Most women have had kegels suggested to them. There are breathing and stress release exercises. There is the one minute meditation. Every physical therapist I’ve ever worked with has made a suggestion about exercises during those leftover moments, “when you think of it.” I am sorry to report that physical therapy exercises are about the last thing that comes to mind in those little bits of leftover time.
The reality is that even if I do think to take a quick walk, or pick up a little around the house, or empty the dishwasher I’m more likely to reach for a video game on my laptop. I have whiled away hours of leftover time pressing the buttons on an online slot machine or matching slingo dots. In fact I feel almost virtuous if I reach for the crossword puzzle book rather than the computer games.
So maybe, with the crazy mad rush of the holiday season upon us, I could make better use of those leftover moments. Maybe I could be a little more conscious of breathing and letting go. Maybe I could reach for the computer and write for ten minutes rather than find something to eat. Maybe I could even try a physical therapy exercise or two.
What do you do with your leftovers?