Monday, November 29, 2010

Putting the Holidays in Their Place

For many years of my adult life, I stressed over the details of Thanksgiving and Christmas, wasting tons of time during November and December working to achieve the perfect holiday. I fretted over where were we going to spend the holidays or who was coming to visit. How would I find the time to write and send cards to friends and family? What would each person on my list want for Christmas and would they even like the gift I sent them? How was I going to get everything done and still find time to enjoy the season?

Rather than discovering how to enjoy the holidays and the time leading up to them, I just wanted to scream Bah Humbug! To do away with all of the needless lighting and spending, giving and general wasteful merriment. To stop everything in order to receive the peace that idle quiet would bring. To not let Thanksgiving and Christmas take over the entire months of November and December...that there were many other days in those months that seemed to be forgotten or wasted in the hustle and bustle of things.

Just before stepping over the ledge into Scroogedom, I figured out a way to celebrate without all the stress and put Thanksgiving and Christmas in their place so to speak. Basically, it involved scaling back holiday preparations, enlisting the help of others, and getting everything done early. Not letting the holidays take over...


Scaling Back Holiday Preparations: For Thanksgiving, my family and I decided on a permanent menu that we have every year and we made up a shopping list and production schedule that is replicated each year. From year to year, we make our turkey the same way and use the same sweet potato recipe and every other menu item for that matter. This saves time of planning. On Thanksgiving day, we don't set an elaborate table or use our fine china or silver (we don't have any) and instead set a buffet on the stove top using our pots and pans as serving dishes.

Enlisting the Help of Others: In order to make the day enjoyable for all involved, we are each responsible for a different menu item. For instance, I may handle making the turkey and gravy from start to finish while my son may do the mashed potatoes. If we have invited guests, they take part in the food prep fun as well. Last year when my niece and her mother were visiting, they enjoyed feeling like they played a part in the meal. All the kids at the table especially enjoyed noticing how well their menu item turned out and loved saying things such as "my green beans are wonderful" or "the stuffing is fantastic". After the meal, we all helped clear the table and clean up which made the day enjoyable for all.

Getting Everything Done Early: I shop early in the morning on Thanksgiving week or many days before the holiday when the crowds are sparse. This saves me time and my sanity.


Scaling Back Holiday Preparations: Reduce, reduce, reduce! My family and I have reduced the amount of lights hung outside (or skipped it altogether), the decorating done inside, gifts purchased, cards sent, people visiting, parties attended, obligations met. I soon found the enjoyment of Christmas isn't dependent on any of the above but is dependent on the amount of time spent just hanging out and enjoying the company of friends and family in an easy relaxed style. Having coffee in our pajamas easy. Leftovers from the night before easy. We skip wrapping presents and put our gifts in cloth bags. We create wish lists with online links for easy shopping and share them with one another. We just click and we're done, knowing that what we've purchased is appreciated and wanted and won't find its way to the back of the closet or the landfill.

Enlist the Help of Others: All of us take a part in putting on the holiday. Ryan is in charge of the Christmas Village set up and enjoys covering the dining room table with it each year. Mike hauls all of the decorations out of the basement or from the attic. I oversee the card effort and divvy up the list so I don't get stuck doing all of the writing. We all take part in shopping and preparing any food eaten on this holiday and we tackle the meal on Christmas Eve in much the same way we handle Thanksgiving. Anything we don't feel like doing, we don't do. Some years we don't hang lights, some we do. Other years we have a Christmas Eve party, other years we don't. Mostly we just do what feels right to us, not what is expected of us to do the holiday right.

Getting Everything Done Early: While many non-consumerist folks scream against Black Friday, I love it! I enjoy the thrill of finding a deal in order to save money and getting all of my shopping done on this day so that I can free up my calendar for other pursuits. Armed with my list of both needed yearly household items and the Christmas wish lists of my family, I hit the stores early. Most of the crowds head to the big ticket items like TV's and I find myself in empty areas of the stores buying new pillows for the house or shoes for myself at drastically reduced prices. I have now deemed Black Friday my "Buy Everything Day" where I try and buy everything I need for the year to take advantage of the savings offered. In fact, I have decided to keep a running list of things we need at the house to purchase each year on Black Friday and stay away from stores as much of possible the rest of the year.

So, here I sit, at the end of November, just coming off one of the most relaxing Thanksgivings ever. I spent about two hours shopping for food last Tuesday morning and another six making dinner before we ate at 2pm. After dinner we lit a fire and sat by it talking until late in the evening. Spending time with family and savoring the day as it came to a close. Thanksgiving didn't deter me from enjoying the rest of my November as I prepared for it and it is my hope that my Christmas preparations don't take me away from enjoying my December either.

For Thanksgiving and Christmas are each just one day. One day in a cast of hundreds each year. I don't want to waste any of my days in the pursuit of a perfect holiday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Call of the Wild...

The twittering in the eaves troughs unnerve me in the middle of the night. Must be mice I figure. Will they find a way in and soon be skittering across my floor? And what of the ticks, gaining access into my house on the back of my chocolate lab and within time latched onto me, enjoying a meal? Ugh! I am not so sure I want to get this close to nature!

Seems just a few months ago, it was so easy to embrace nature. To walk or bike along a path and become rejuvenated by it. To decide when and how I wanted to be in the wild. To be able to go back to my city or suburban lot after a hike and keep the natural world in a neat little box to enjoy when I felt like it. But now, out here, on this rural piece of land, I am surrounded by wildness and feel less in charge. Nature basically decides what happens around here, I don't.

Its funny because nature ultimately decides what happens in a city too, but we as humans just feel more in control there. We groom the wild to our satisfaction. But in the process of grooming, we lose something. Our street lights dim the stars in the sky. Neighborhoods filled with homes destroy the habitats animals need to survive. Rainwater is diverted into gutter systems sending it raging into our rivers rather than allowing it to nourish the land.

Grooming nature gives us a diluted picture of it. We decide how we want it to work for us and what we want the natural world to look like. Maybe it becomes a wildflower garden in our yard or a tidy bike ride along the river. I have enjoyed nature in this diluted form up to this point in my life. It has felt easy and safe and I have felt in control.

The folks that have lived around here for a long time accept mice in their houses and ticks in their midst. They have figured out how to be in relationship with not only these things but also all of what nature brings their way. I need to learn from their examples and begin to understand how to connect with the natural world in a new way myself. To lean into nature and learn to see ALL of it as something to be cherished.

The bright stars in the sky, the vivid sunrises, the raccoon paw prints on my breakfast window, the baby squirrel zipping along my deck, the bird calls, the deer siblings playing near the pond, and yes...the ticks looking for a meal. The good with the bad. My time here will bring me closer to wildness than I ever imagined and I look forward to this new relationship and the discoveries I will make.

The sky is burning red out my window as the sun sets into the horizon, nature's beauty on display, coaxing me into its fold.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dawn breaking

I took these shots every 15 minutes this morning, starting at 6:20am, when the sky was getting lighter, but the sun was still way below the horizon. I took the last shot at 7:50am, just after the sun had cracked the tree line. What surprised me most was how long it seemed to take for the sun to rise on this morning. Most mornings, as I rush about getting ready for the day, the sun seems to rise quickly and be shining brightly, mid sky before I even notice it. Taking the time to stop, breathe and notice the natural occurrence of things made me appreciate the start of this new day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Weaving some Meaning...

Something drew me to the table in my church sanctuary where a Native American woman was selling some items she had collected over the years. "I have so much of this stuff", she proclaimed when I asked her how she could bear to sell her things. Being new to the church, I had no idea who this woman was nor what her role was on that Sunday. Within minutes, I found myself the owner of a small weaving about the size of a place mat. Not wholly understanding why I had made the purchase, I made my way into the sanctuary for the start of the service.

Imagine my surprise when the service started and the woman I had purchased the weaving from began to beat upon a drum and tell the story of the Rainbow Crow. Rainbow Crow? The crow featured on my weaving? Before long, as the story unfolded and I began to understand the significance of the story, chills began to run along my spine.

There were deep parallels between the sacrifice the crow had made for the good of the freezing forest animals and the sacrifice my brother had made in his life to teach me about love. Both the crow, his feathers burned black and voice destroyed, as he carried fire in his mouth to the freezing forest animals, and my brother's life, as he loved all, when loving all was so incredibly hard, were ruined in the process it seemed.

But that day in church, as I listened to the good that came of the crow's life. The fact that under its blackened feathers were all the colors of the rainbow and that the crow would never be hunted and would forever be free, I thought of my brother. His sacrifice resulted in teaching me a lesson that I will carry with me forever more. To love everyone fully, unconditionally, without fear, just as he had. Like the crow, the memories of my brother will be filled with beauty and thankfulness for the lesson he brought my way.

The weaving, the story, it all came together in a synchronicity of sorts. The story without the weaving or the weaving without the story would not have yielded as powerful a lesson. As I gaze upon the crow weaving, I notice the crow's feathers and how beautiful they are and I can't help but think of my brother and smile.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pennsylvania Primitive Antiques...

I started collecting country and primitive antiques in earnest about 25 years ago, just after getting married and buying my first house. Over the years, as the supply of good antiques has dwindled, I wondered where all the good stuff had gone off to. After a day spent on the back roads of Pennsylvania, now I know. It is all in Pennsylvania! Below are some pictures of what I discovered in just a few short hours. Enjoy! Now I just have to decide what to buy...