Routine

Little stones create ripples that disturb the calm waters of the pond. The once smooth waters become clouded and, as more stones are thrown in, turn choppy. It takes a long time for the waves to pass and the stillness to return.

That is how I feel my last week has been. With the pre-Thanksgiving preparations to the post-Thanksgiving recovery, it has been a week since my last post. I had been pretty disciplined about setting aside time to write on most days, but once the little stones started falling in my path, the obstacles to writing built up and I could not make my way back to the path until they had been cleared.

I like my routines. I am very organized and, while I can be flexible and adapt to changing situations, I much prefer to know what lies ahead. You would think as a mom of two kids and two dogs, I would know better. Nothing is ever predictable, whether it is a last-minute school assignment for which supplies are needed, or a sudden illness that requires attention. Even the dogs get  into situations that throw stones in my path…like yesterday when they both required bathing after what I intended to be a relaxing walk.

The holiday season is especially loaded with distractions, school events, parties, writing cards, mailing packages and shopping for presents.  All I can do is stay calm and try to chart the smoothest path through the waves of demand that vie for my attention. At least I had a few minutes today to post my thoughts- one of which is this…

While many of us have enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather of this November, it has dreadfully confused the plants in my garden.

I have never before seen either of these flowering at this time of year.          They have come out of dormancy because they think it is Spring.

I couldn’t resist this shot of my Holly and Sedum alongside a sprig of Forsythia.

    It is a beautiful three season bouquet, but I would prefer something more routine for this time of year. Dried grasses and evergreens anyone?

A reflection on giving thanks

As I head out to the grocery store to shop for my Thanksgiving meal, I am thankful that my family is coming to gather at my home. I am thankful that I have the means to host everyone and provide a delicious meal. Several of the dishes I plan to serve have been grown in my garden, either frozen when they were harvested over the summer (beets) or still waiting to be picked, gathering sweetness from the cold nights and days (brussels sprouts). The other vegetables were purchased at the farmers market from a vendor who was still able to grow food in his greenhouse. The items I have to purchase from the grocery store are the staples and desserts ( although I will be using the apples we picked at the orchard for my pie). It gives me a happy feeling to eat what I have grown, as much as is possible, on this symbolic day.

Aside from the historical aspect of what happened in the years after the first feast, the picture of the Pilgrims and Wampanoags feasting together, celebrating their bounty and sharing their customs, is really what the spirit of Thanksgiving has become. It is a time of families to gather-to laugh, to cry, to share. It is the most travelled time of the year. The great distances that people are willing to cover to be with their loved ones on this day demonstrates that principle. The ones who can not join their families, often find friends or neighbors to share the meal with. Others volunteer their time serving meals to the less fortunate.

Unfortunately, those numbers are on the rise. The local food pantry is expecting to serve 1800 meals this Thanksgiving, up 28% from last year. When I think of all the people who have lost their jobs or homes, who will find this the only place to get a good meal for the holiday, it truly makes me thankful. So, as I wrap up my purchases I will make sure to drop a few items in the collection bin as a small way of helping others in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving Art Show

Only three days left until Thanksgiving and I am still not ready! Oh, I’ve got the turkey thawing and the menu planned out, my linens are washed and pressed, my guest room is clean- that was the easy part. What is not complete is my project for the Thanksgiving Art Show. As usual, we have all procrastinated until the end. So now I am scrambling to figure out which genre to submit-  photography, music, interior design (does that count?). My husband is working away on something in his workshop and my daughter goes back and forth between the computer and the dining room where she has set her project up. Everyone is trying to keep an element of secrecy until the unveiling at the show.

Our annual show has become the most important part of our holiday ritual. It is an unusual tradition, not just for its theme but also due to its origination. When one thinks of traditions, they tend to come from the older generations and are passed down to the grandchildren. This one, however, was created by the grandchildren and imposed on the grandparents, as well as everyone in between.   

It all started 9 years ago, when my daughter bemoaned the fact that Thanksgiving was so boring. She and her brother were the only children present and had to sit through hours of adults chatting and drinking cocktails. So she decided to change the course of action and create an assignment for everyone. That first year, we were instucted to bring up to two pieces of original art and give a presentation. We would then vote on the entries by category, with awards being given in each. I don’t remember what my first submission was, but the 2 hour experience of appreciating what each person had made was so wonderful that we all promised to do it again the following year.

Each year, our entries have gotten more complex. People have been encouraged to try new mediums- culinary arts, floral arrangements, photo editing, sculpture and fabric design.

             

The kids have taken the entertainment to a whole other level with their emcee talents, keeping things moving along and making  everyone laugh.

This tradition seems to have influenced us in our daily lives as well. Each one of us has become more creative in ways that we don’t even notice- how we plate our food, arrange our flowers or play our music. In fact, we have incorporated art into our lives so much that I am now faced with the dilemma of choosing which project to submit? I wonder if my blog counts as a genre…

How to Keep the Fun in Winter- Family Style

With only  a week until Thanksgiving, it is time to admit that it will soon be winter here. I picked up downhill skis for my son and myself today. If you live in the Northeast, you better like winter sports. It is funny how our preferences change with age, though. And I’m not talking about old age…

When I was young, my parents taught me how to cross-country ski. We regularly broke trails on the historic battlefield that was open for winter recreation. My parents touted the benefits of aerobic exercise and appreciated the relatively safe terrain. As my sisters and I got older, the repetitive motion with little opportunity for speed bored us to tears- literally. My parents finally agreed to try downhill skiing. During the next several years, we spent long weekends or February break at rustic lodges in Vermont or New York. I have many fond memories of watching my ski go down the hill without me, or swinging in a chair that had been temporarily stuck and teasing my sister that we would have to jump down. Of course, there were also the near misses of the giant chair lift poles as I went flashing by, out of control down the steep, icy slope. Which is probably why, once I reached adulthood, I no longer desired to participate.

One of the first big gifts my boyfriend bought me, was a set of cross-country skis.  

We spent that winter exploring winding nordic trails that led us through thick woods. These sometimes ran along narrow ridges and descended in hairpin turns, in which case I would sit on my skis and slide down on my bottom.  My skills improved each time we returned. We picked our honeymoon destination because of its proximity to a ski area. When kids came into the equation, we carried them in backpacks or towed them along on a sled. Once they were old enough to ski on their own, we set them up with a rental program that would accommodate them as they grew.

Within a few years, they were skilled enough to take on the black diamond curves

and had the stamina to ski all the way across the lake.

Last year, they decided that the excitement of skiing down from the top of a long climb  

did not make up for the hard work of getting there. 

My husband and I could not convince them to cross-country with us. Instead we experimented at a local downhill resort. Surprisingly, the technique of slalom skiing came back to me and I quickly weaned myself off the bunny hill. My son was thrilled with the black diamonds and finally convinced me to try them out. I have learned how to be more cautious and stay in control, probably due to my cross-country training. I think it helped him pick up the sport easily,too.

So here I am, with two sets of season rentals in my car, looking at brochures for ski resorts in the area. I am sure my parents think this sounds like a deja vu. I am just looking forward to spending some fun times with my kids this winter. We do whatever it takes, right?

Downhill Skiing

Image by RenoTahoe via Flickr

Fall Leaf Collecting: Relaxation and Inspiration

 Sometimes the words just don’t come. I meditate through my yoga routine, I steam in the shower trying to clear my head; but my thoughts are too clogged with distractions. What to do? Thankfully, I have two dogs who recognized I needed to get out and refresh my mind. One went and sat obediently by the closet door, showing me where her leash is. The other kept nudging me, whimpering and begging me to stop being so foolish and just go outside. It was a gray November day, but surprisingly warm for the lack of sun; so I put on my coat and we headed out. Just watching them sniff and run through the leaves cheered my thoughts, and before I knew it their interest in fallen foliage had attracted me as well. I slowed my pace, stopping to look at the varying shapes and colors, observing the hints of moss peeking through the layers of mulch. The tiny shrubs valiantly clung to their leaves, in unusual shades and patterns. Normally I would have zipped by them all, trying to get a power walk in while the dogs ran around; but today, they also slowed down, taking time to turn over logs and dig through beds of leaves for scents of deer or rabbits. I picked up two leaves to admire the differences in size and shape, and almost immediately I began collecting them.

  Did you ever notice how many different shapes and sizes Oak leaves come in?

 Or how many shades of brown? Dark, light, golden, rust, tawny and olive are just a few versions I found.

These are all in yellowish tones.

  And what about red? Burgundy, orange, magenta, peach and even some I might classify as pink. Who knew?

I think these qualify as shades of black.

  And then there are these leaves, which couldn’t make up their minds. One even caught my eye as it had almost every color of the rainbow on it. It was laying off to the side of the trail, under some dried grasses. I would never have noticed it if I was not already alert to leaf watching.

  Finally, there are the stubborn ones. The ones who fight against the bitter reality that winter is coming, the days are getting too short to produce chlorophyll and soon it will be very cold. Kudos to them!

So with a bag full of leaves, I headed home and spent  an hour arranging them in various snapshots and editing them for today’s post. Leaf collecting turned out to be a great way to clear my mind and be creative. I advise everyone to step out of their busy routines and retreat to some simple, physical activity. This is a stressful time of year and we all need to find a way to relax.

I just want to thank my wonderful dogs for reminding me of that and for taking me out for walks every day.

Ebony

Cooper

Black Friday ad nauseam

A mother plays the guitar while her two daught...

Image via Wikipedia

Why do I need to be reminded that Christmas is on its way when I am still planning for Thanksgiving? It seems that every time I flip stations on the radio, I always come across one that has been playing Christmas music since the day after Halloween. Not only that, but the retailers have started putting their jingles on the air, telling me how many shopping days are left. It makes me sick that we have become so materialistic as a society and that no one seems to be bothered by all this commercialism.

The retailers used to wait until after Thanksgiving to gear up, but then Black Friday was created. Now there are even other groups claiming shopping days- like Cyber Monday. This year Saturday has been designated  Small Business Saturday, as a way to support locals rather than big corporations. At least that one, kind of makes sense. And speaking of corporations, now I am seeing ads reminding consumers that layaway options are available. What they don’t do is remind people that this just sinks them further in debt, the very hole they are trying to get out of.

Why do we seem to “need” so many presents under our trees? Even Hanukkah has been roped in to the consumer loop as Jewish children try to keep up with their Christian playmates. I know, because we celebrate both traditions in my house. At first we tried to make Hannukah more like my husband remembered it, with one gift per day including one major present. But we quickly realized that it was more important to recognize the symbolism of the menorah and the traditional foods, latkes and applesauce, than to shower the kids with gifts; especially since they would get more for Christmas less than a week later.

While I am not talking about spoiling the fun of Santa Claus and a pile of presents under the tree, do we really need to place so much value on toys and gadgets? If we could lower our childrens’ expectations and prolong their ability to wait for a birthday or other gift-giving opportunity, perhaps the quality vs. quantity and anticipation of the gifts would be a reward in itself. While giving is a part of Christmas, it is also important to do so within your means, like the Little Drummer Boy. As a child, I was equally happy with a new album or book as I was with a hand-knitted set of mittens- or at least I tried to be since I knew about manners.

I don’t know how to combat this issue as a parent, trying to pass valuable lessons on to my children without making them frustrated that they get less than their friends. As you can see, this has made me very cranky; but it all started because of the Christmas music ad nauseam. It is a vicious cycle. I wish we could return to simpler times when holidays had more meaning, and Christmas music was only sung during its celebration.

A New Thanksgiving

When I looked at my calendar this morning, I realized that Thanksgiving is a mere 10 days away. For most of us, that is a reason to celebrate, especially if you are a kid who gets the holiday off from school. I am not going to get into the political correctness of the holiday, because we all know the conflicting historical views. I am only looking at Thanksgiving as a family gathering, a time to be together and celebrate life. And in my family, that is what is most important.

Ever since my wedding, I have spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. That adds up to 18 years over which we get together and share traditions (not to mention all the celebrations they had before I joined). My mother-in-law has prepared essentially the same meal every year, roast turkey, stuffing, twice baked potatoes, gravy, marinated brocolli, white onions and sweet potatoes. The appetizers and desserts change from year to year, put there always has to be a pumpkin pie. Not only is the food part of the tradition, but there is often a chess match and a long walk while we digest. My children started our most fun tradition, though, the annual art show. Between appetizers and dinner, every family member presents a piece of art and gives a presentation. It started out very simply, but it’ s been recurring for almost 10 years and has become quite sophisticated. (I may have to write a whole post on this sometime)

Anyway, back to this year’s celebration…

Over the last two years, we have lost two family members and the only ones who have not relocated are my own family. My mother-in-law now lives in a lovely apartment in Boston, which is the perfect size for her but not for a lot of people staying over. With all of the changes she has been through, I think she finally felt ready to hand over the reigns of hosting Thanksgiving to me. I am happy to have this honor, but at the same time I know it is a big responsibility.

The biggest challenge will be planning a new menu. Of course we will have turkey and stuffing with gravy. My husband has already said he will take care of that. My daughter wants to make the twice baked potatoes. So now I am in charge of some different side dishes and desserts. I have already ordered oysters and am incorporating a cheese fondue into the appetizers. It is fun to try new things and I think everyone will be up for it, as long as I don’t get too carried away.

We’ll still be able to talk a nice walk, play a game of chess and hold our art show. Some traditions just don’t change.

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