holidays

As The Darkness Descends

I now obsessively click on inciweb, checking the status of evacuations and wind patterns and burn scars up the canyons close by.

With the fires mere miles away from my home, I spent the weekend nervous and wondering. I signed up for text alerts and began making lists of items we would take should we get a call that could change our life.

My prayers centered on surrender and asking for protection. While I prayed, people in my community lost their homes. Whole lives burned up as bricks stood witness to the incineration.

New fires sparked further down the Front Range cooridor and I ask, “Is being witness enough?”

And if my witnessing is filtered through a screen, liberal media outlets, and through the stories on my social media feeds? Does this count as standing witness to pain?

I know what it’s like to get a phone call that can change your life. I also know what it’s like to hunker down and wait, with bated breath, for the wind to shift.

I’m trying to balance panic with presence. Reframe what could be to what is. Taking moments to identify the gifts residing in this natural disaster space.

Community members rally together to raise funds for those who have lost livelihoods.

Voters wait for hours to fill in bubbles with black ink.

The laundry is done and the sourdough is active.

I use my words to meditate – sending hope and love and peace to myself and others.

As I become accustomed to skies darkening with smoke, I slice oranges and lemons and toss them into a pot with cinnamon and cloves. Cool water covers the mixture and simmers slightly on my stove, trying to reclaim the air with fresh scents.

Ash rains down, falling in thin layers on my back patio, reminding me an essential part of my human experience is surrender.

I can click refresh but I can’t change the outcome. I can sweep away the mess, but things have still burned. The remnants smear black on concrete.

So much has turned to ash this year. Plans and dreams. Jobs and homes. Trust and a sense of safety. Community. Connection. A sense of time.

The other day I was checking the status of an online order we placed in August. The stressed customer service agent shared plans for the item to ship on October 20th. I texted Dylan, “Think we’ll get it before Christmas?”

His response?

“Christmas is really not that far away.”

I suppose he’s not wrong.

I’d forgotten it WAS October 20th. My brain is still stuck in April. Or September. I did grow a garden, right? Who knows if we’ll holiday, or give thanks over cardboard takeout containers. Wouldn’t it be alright to take a pass on tradition this year? Nothing else has been conventional. I’m not willing to risk a life for a turkey dinner.

The days are growing shorter and the nights are now long. I’m working on turning off my screens and taming my clicking finger’s tick to satisfy the need to know more of the madness we’re witnessing.

I’ll be here, turning on warm lights inside as the darkness descends. May that be a beautiful thing.

Daaad, can I have one beer?

“Daaaad, can I have one beer?” he squeaked out from the corner of the table.

A little boy wearing a navy winter coat stood a foot behind his father, pulling on the older man’s black puffy jacket.

“Can I please have one beer?”

The dad stopped, put down a bulky baby carrier and turned to address his curly hair child.

“Yes,” he said, “but how will you choose which type to have first?”

“Blue sprinkles,” said the little boy. “That’s the one I want to have here.”

I had heard the young one incorrectly, and perched on my orange bar stool, I started to laugh.

Sitting in a busy donut shop on the morning of Valentine’s Day, I watched families stream in with little children. Grub hub delivery people stood patiently in the corner with their branded red bags. Office managers waited patiently as steaming-hot clumps of dough got dipped in strawberry frosting, rainbow sprinkles, and the good part of Lucky Charms cereal.

One man in his twenties was working hard solo, filling the orders with patience and frosting smears. His eyes opened wider each time another person walked in the door.

It was a simple Friday morning. I was invited for a coffee and a donut with a dear friend. We sat on orange bar-stools, and sipped bad drip coffee, and filled our tummies with sugar and dough fried in lard. I watched the woman scrape mounds of lard into the fryer.

We need not go far to be delighted.

Hard working people. Lines of people on their way to work waiting patiently for fried dough. Sprinkles. Smashed cereal and chunks of chocolate and raspberry glaze.

IMG_20200214_080010

Say what you will about donuts, sugar, health food and habits, but for just that one morning, I felt the love.

What a beautiful thing.

Mary Wasn’t Ready Either

“Nine days til’ Christmas!” the radio announcer proclaimed in a voice much like a Who in the 2000 version of The Grinch.

I imagined his tiny teeth and coiffed hair proclaiming the minutes ticking by to the Big Holiday as I turned the corner on to the major highway on my way to work.

We’ve been hustling and bustling with packages and bows. Dodging Suburbans in parking lots and honking at stop lights. Just like the travels on their way to Jerusalem for the Census. Right?

Christmas is coming and I’m not ready.

I’m not ready for the waves. Waves of excitement. Waves of grief. Waves of anxiety that come with the planning for pulling people who love each other together in a room for a purpose we easily forget in a gift giving world.

As I drove and listened to celebrities sing about holy nights, I paused and thought of Mary. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t ask for this baby at all.

I didn’t ask for grief. For missing. For aching. For the need for reinvention and the embracing discomfort to push through to potential. I didn’t ask for the mystery of the “What the heck – this wasn’t quite how it was supposed to be” moments.

Mary didn’t either.

And yet, Jesus came.

alasdair-elmes-ZiCz-oW1LXA-unsplash.jpg

Hope in the form of an infant, on a cold dark night and with him came the angels and the promise of healing and restoration and wholeness. Can you imagine witnessing all that potential just laying in scratchy straw?

A woman surrounded by men in awe. Probably telling her what to do – how to swaddle, where to sit, what to consider next.

And in the confusion, I’d like to hope peace came to her that night. In some form or another as she sat and wondered, “How will God use me in this?”

I’m not ready for the mysterious of mix of hurt and hope and sparkle. I’m not ready for the shadows looming, his empty chair, the small talk at holiday parties.

I’m not ready.

And yet here we are. “How will God use me in this?”

So, I start to pray.

I’m praying for the miraculous possibly found at a home-made table surrounded by beautiful, broken, seeking, healing people. I’m praying for peace as we sit among the fallen nettles of a tree-farmed pine tree under twinkling lights.

I’m praying for toasts and witnesses and a squeeze of my hands or shoulders or a kiss on the cheek. I’m praying for the Holy to come and be with us and those who can’t or won’t be in my living room.

Nine days ’til Christmas!

Turning left, I pulled into an icy parking spot at the local King Soopers.  I rushed in to buy green pears and soft cheese. Simple offerings for the Holiday lunch at the office. After paying and slipping on wet linoleum, I started to fumble for my keys in my pit of a purse. Looking up, I caught sight of something special.

Both wearing printed pajamas and snow boots, two small children walked hand in hand with their tired- looking mother. They stomped and they hopped and they wrestled for a cart. Children in pajamas at the grocery store. Beautiful.
Whispered prayers and wondering hearts. Beautiful.

Incomplete to-do lists, anxieties, hopes and healing. Beautiful.

I’m not ready for Christmas – I’m guessing Mary wasn’t either.

What a beautiful thing.

Good enough for this year.

miroslava-mTtuQIrDZMg-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

I walked in the door to grief group tonight with my arms full of bags – the worn canvas stretched as I turned to open my arms and hug the once-strangers who I now consider my friends. I bent at the waist and removed my clogs and turned and slid my mismatched socks towards the table.

Twelve courageous women laid out crackers and creamy cheese and plates of cookies to frost with store-bought frosting. We swiped crumbs off of islands and sprinkled flour on the clean counter. Relying on our resourcefulness we used a pepper grinder to roll out the dough. We cut shapes and dunked morsels in chocolate and shook green, red, and white sprinkles over pre-made cut-outs. We sat around a table and said their names and shared the multitude of complex things we feel during the holiday season.

And I stopped and thought, “Yes, this is good.”

Good enough for this year.

And earlier this week, while taking my turn at a four-way stop I apparently cut off a car coming round the blind corner. The horn shook me out of a something-thought and I proceeded to find a parking spot. I walked gingerly to the favorite kitchen store in town and met Mom to wander through familiar aisles.

Looking up from the shortbread display I grabbed my mom and I hissed, “Pause here.”

Around another blind corner, old acquaintances stood eyeing their own gifts and goodies. We pivoted, avoiding the unnecessary moment of awkward eye contact. Running into “before people” in stores on holidays earns you a pity tilt of the head and a sympathy sigh. If they are really unsure, you may get a pat on the hand as well. We turned towards the tea pots and moved through aisles to make our purchases on the other side of the store.

We had planned to spend hours together shopping, just like we used to, and instead we spent three hours talking at a new taco shop in town. At a small table in the back, next to the kitchen, we wept and we wondered how we can let go of the old and create something new.

New traditions. New expectations. New hopes and new chances to shape togetherness because the old holiday traditions will never be the same.

And as we paid the bill and walked into the winter sun, I stopped and thought, “Yes. This is good.”

Good enough for this year.

As I held my mom’s hand and looked her in the eye she said to me, “You know, we never started baking gingerbread snowflakes with the intent of that being tradition. We tried them. They were good, so we did it again.”

I’m borrowing loosely from holiday expectations this year. Different formats for making cookies. Different time spent shopping on Amazon rather than in stores. Different routines and expressions of grief and making space for the sadness our culture demands we package away in pretty red bows.  Maybe we’ll do them again. Maybe we won’t.

I spent year one through three trying, pushing, forcing the holly and the jolly and it was horrible.

This year I’m stopping and thinking, “Yes, this is good.”

Good enough for this year.

What a beautiful thing.

 

December Favorite Things – 2019

I wrote my Christmas card this weekend and thought to myself, “Wasn’t it just August?”

You too?

Welp, here we are at the end of the year and the end of a decade. Hard to believe.

Here are a few of my favorites as I decorate my house, buy gifts for others, and blow my nose continuously because the winter cold has hit me.

Merry Merry to you and yours.

    1. Advent Devotional by Ann Voskamp
      It’s the season of light and I get excited to remember how we can choose to welcome the Holy Spirit back into our lives. I read this one every year
    2. Dried oranges – I followed this simple recipe and used the oranges as ornaments on my tree and tucked them in on a home made wreath. I left the sugar off because I know my dog would eat them …. Another recipe suggested tucking whole cloves in the slices. I didn’t have any and dried allspice instead and wasn’t that impressed.
    3. Simmer Scents to make your house smell great naturally

    4. Pair this shortbread with Scotch and toast to Roy

5. “Eight is a lot of legs David.” – the best line from Love Actually


 

In a completely separate request, I’m gathering answers to the question:

As a reader of 52 Beautiful Things,  what do you like most about the writing?

Send an email to 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com with your response

Chim Chim Cher-ee

“Winds in the east, theres a mist comin’ in
Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin.
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,
But I feel what’s to happen all happened before.”
– Bert – Mary Poppins

It was 60 today. They are saying snow on Tuesday.

It was August just yesterday.  Thanksgiving is on Thursday.

bert.jpeg

Here I am, tonight, writing in the now, while and temperatures drop and Christmas lights go up, and lists get written down to prepare for the holiday season. Movement.

I’ve moved out of our safe-zone and into the holidays and I’m thinking of Bert and his cautionary storytelling.

Awhile back, I shared how my grief safe-zone was from the day AFTER Father’s Day to the week before Thanksgiving. As Thanksgiving is a week late this year, I promptly walked out of the safe-zone and into the field of grief triggers last Thursday. Was it 8 am or 3 pm?I couldn’t tell you. But I noticed.

The wind’s blowin’ in.

Mom’s making turkey hats, I’m writing Christmas lists, and I ordered my holiday cards. I bought a wreath hook and gingerbread cookie mix (blasphemy … sorry Mom) and started the joy-filled planning tasks while honoring the Dad-size bubbles of mash sitting on the back burner for the last few months.

The grief, still warm, starts steaming and stewing and mingling with pine and plans and memories of tree trunks and his strong love of going around the table and sharing our thanks for the miracles God provides.

Later this week I’ll share my 52 Thankfuls for this year with you.

Tonight, I’m getting out my wind-breaker to brace for the back and forth blowing all of us humans feel while crafting Hallmark holidays in a broken world.

As my grief moves, I drove through the Target parking lot and stared at the pretty trees glowing yellow with magical space in between bare branches. I stole a taster from the cookie store. I ate brunch with my family and drank a latte with another who gets the scratchy feeling our frayed heart holes have when rubbing up against the Christmas sweaters of others. Beautiful, beautiful things.

Celebrate, yes, and witness the beautiful things around you. Tend your hearts with toasty socks and mugs of something warm, and twinkly lights on boughs of delicious smelling trees.

And bring a friend some tissues, or invite your co-worker to lunch, or take an extra long bath because, while wondrous, magical, and sparkly, this time of year tends to rub on our healing wounds like the scratchy wool socks waiting for your cold toes in the back of your drawer.

Year four. Worn. Familiar. Something that’s happened before. “Can’t put me finger on what lies in store.”

Air Laced with Love

There’s a storm rolling over us right now.

God, does it sound gorgeous.

At my feet my little dog sits, her eyes slowly drifting to sleep, eyelids heavy and half open.

Rain smacks against our roof. Thunder claps.

The birds still keep tweeting.

I’ve got the windows open, despite the storm, and my little family basks in the dewey light of spring. Toes splayed out on our worn comforter we sit with devices on our laps. These are the things gratitude is made of.

Inhale deeply.

Social media is full of messages of motherhood today. I know the national holiday holds significance for women all over the country. I’m touched and feel tender from the shift happening on the internet.

The shift towards real.

So many of these posts exclaim an appreciation and understanding of how holidays, while meant to celebrate, can also exclude.  For the women longing to be mothers, those estranged from their mothers or their own children. For those who kissed weary lashes and watched last breaths exit those beautiful bodies ready to be done.

Today, some men and women and children wonder and hurt and pray crying out, “F Mother’s Day”.

Thankful to those who see those who are yelling or are perhaps banging their fists silently against their own hearts.

I spent Mother’s Day weekend with my grandma and my mom in a hospital room. Grandma’s fine – had to have a few procedures done and was released earlier today. Our plans of champagne and hollandaise got replaced with jello and apple juice in small plastic cups.

I showed up. I sat in the blue chair with plastic that crinkled each time I moved my legs. From the corner I watched as caring nurses attentively gave their time and talents to Grandma. We ate cookies from plastic sandwich bags and listened to beeping screens. We breathed in the sacred air. Air laced with love tinged with concern and the miracle of modern medicine.

chair

Down the hall, in the ICU, families waited and breathed slowly and slept on couches in waiting rooms. I did not have to celebrate in that space. Not yet. That space holds a heavier kind of pain.

Losing someone has heightened my awareness and piqued my ears up towards all the ways our culture tells us we should be celebrating.

Today, I do not dread, but I know my time is coming. Father’s Day lurks quietly around June’s approaching corner. Soon start the advertisements for ties, barbecue grills, beer and outdoor adventures. Lowes and Home Depot will taunt me. My dad didn’t like many of those things anyway and he already had so many ties.

I’ll swerve and veer and navigate my own loss as we move towards another national day of recognition.

So today, here I sit, with toes splayed out, resting in the delicious balance of rain, of unknowns, of love. I say thanks for imperfection and for storms and for nurses. For those who have mothered me in a million trillion ways. And for another beautiful opportunity to remember those who live – in hospital rooms, in text messages, in our hearts and our dreams.

 

 

Nope. Not this year.

Thursday – A Rushed Morning

7:05 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.  Olive pounces on me as I reach from my comfy flannel sheets to read the message.

Dylan: Can you bring me my jacket?

Type type type.

Katie: Sure – do you need it this morning?

No response.

We’re up late. Rush out of bed.

8:02 am

Katie puts cushions in bathroom so the dog won’t eat them, shuts all doors, unplugs curling iron, grabs jacket and says a silent prayer that Olive won’t chomp on the unlit Christmas tree while away. Drive to Dylan’s work.

8:17 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.

Dylan: No – I don’t need it this morning. Just for later tonight.

Said coat sat on my drivers seat as I waited for a stop light to stamp out a reply.

8:18 am

Katie pulls into Dylan’s work parking lot.

Type Type Type

Katie: I’m in the parking lot. I have your coat.

Dylan came out to greet me, walking up to the driver side door. He said thanks, and then repeated he didn’t really need the coat until later that night.

Katie swallowed down emotion and said out loud, “Ok, I’m feeling frustrated.”

And then Katie promptly started crying.

In the parking lot, Dylan came round and sat in the car as Katie shed some tears, holding her hand.


I wept about how pissed I am at my dog for peeing in our house all the time. I wept about feeling like schedules need managing and tasks need completing, and dishwashers need unloading and like I need help. That’s what I told Dylan.

What I didn’t tell Dylan –

At 7:40 am I also got an email from The Dinner Party. This group hosts grief tables for 20 and 30 somethings who have experienced significant loss all around the country.  I’ve been on the waiting list since October. Waiting to get placed in a group of people who get it. Just how total suck-fest this thing called grief can be.

I’ve got lots of supportive people in my life, yet I still crave connection with people my age who can say, ‘yup – me too – I’ve lost someone big and their them-sized hole will never be filled.’

As I read the email, I think I stopped breathing a bit. The Dinner Partiers might have a spot for me soon. I hate that I can belong to this club. She ended her note, “I hope you’re finding ways to take care this holiday season.”

So there I was, in the parking lot, crying tears and blurring my mascara and trying not to calculate how late to work I would be. Sure, I was pissed at my dog and helping people get their needs met. More though, I was pissed that I’m not sure I have been taking care of myself this month as others have so wisely recommended.

We got through Thanksgiving with grace and smiles this year. We decorated for Christmas and I was doing just fine. And then I opened that gracious, hope-giving email, and I sank right into the hard truth that my dad isn’t with us this Christmas.

Damnit.

Worse, too, that I haven’t been giving myself space to expect the slide backwards. Because who want’s to expect that?

I wiped off my face and drove to work, finished out another week and started asking myself – how can I take better care of myself this Christmas season? A beautiful reminder that sometimes even strangers can nudge us towards the self-care we didn’t know we needed.

I’ve found freeing answers in unexpected spaces. The beauty in saying, “Nope, not this year.”

For example. This season I can’t bring myself to make Christmas cookies. I bought the ingredients to make peppermint shortbread for Dad and then I just couldn’t stop thinking – well where would I bring them?we don’t have a graveI certainly can’t eat them myself. And why would I give them away. They are Dad’s.

And Mom and I were going to make gingerbread snowflakes like always but really I just wanted to send my Christmas Cards instead. Our time got eaten up as the grief gremlin gnawed on my heart. Sneaking cookies from tins in the morning reminds me of him and so I just can’t do it. Not this year. The weight of grief has pressed pause on our cookie tradition. The red snowman tins shall remain empty til next year.

Today, as we Christmas shopped I bought a Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Cake Mix  . We came home after a lovely afternoon out downtown and I whipped up the batter in ten minutes. After thirty minutes my house smelled lovely. I cut a warm square that looked  beautiful my white plate, gummy ginger crystals still melted from the oven. I ate a piece while watching The Santa Clause and got choked up as Santa calls Charlie Sport. Dad always called me Sport too. More feelings of Damnit. Let’s put that word in caps shall we? D-A-M-N-I-T. Let’s YELL it at the mirror!

So this is what taking care of myself looks like. Saying no to tradition because tradition hurts like hell. Finding substitutes that make life easier – like cake mix. Asking for help with Olive and holding hands. Reading my Advent devotional and remembering Jesus is coming – bringing light and banishing darkness.

And saying hello to my grief gremlin friend as she waves her candy cane Christmas wand from my heart pocket. She’s here this season too.

greyson-joralemon-464998

P.S. – I told Dylan all of this before I shared here. He’s in the know. You can be too.

P.P.S. – The Give Light Giveaway is still going on. Send me your entry soon!

Ode to the Eggnog Latte

It’s pretty simple this week. I choose to share a poem.

Because I’ve never met an eggnog latte I didn’t like.

justin-leibow-62

Enter a caption

You come a teasin’ every November first

in pretty red cups, taste buds ready to burst

But you know my rule, hard deadlines a must

no holiday drinks til turkey bones turn dust.

With each pass by coffee shops, a favorite of places,

your scent escapes wafting right in our faces.

The vanilla beans mixing with nutmeg and spice

taunting, ‘You know just one sip might be nice’.

You beckon me bashfully right in the door

breaking rules, pushing boundaries just a little bit more.

“One eggnog latte” this woman requests

ignoring her scruples and feeling distressed.

The coffee comes quickly, in that beautiful cup.

One sip. Sigh. Two. Now drink it all up.

You may be bad for me, BUT you fill me with cheer.

How many magic concoctions will be consumed this year?

366 Pages

I just read a post by  Jayme Henderson on her blog Holly and Flora with the title “Making Cozy a Priority” and I want to send a major hallelujah to the author. This phrase beautifully captures my priorities for this past weekend. I wanted to steal the title, but you know… plagiarism, so instead I am sharing my delight in her creativity and wonderful way with words. Jayme, I think I can relate to how you feel.

This week, my beautiful experience was reading a whole book in one day. 366 pages read in a total of five hours . Blissful hours sitting on my comfy red couch and glancing, ever so often at the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree. It feels luxurious to be able to devote so much time to an experience that brings me such joy – dabbling in the story, texture, vibrancy of someone else’s creation through words, ink, and heart.

Death_to_stock_photography_weekend_work (10 of 10)

In an article in The Atlantic written in 2014, they reported that only a quarter of Americans read more than one book a year. ONE BOOK! I know I’m an anomaly and that I enjoy reading at a level higher than the average bear, but this year, I’ve read 42 books. I think it is shocking and slightly disappointing that the average American can’t stomach one book a year.

This weekend I brushed off other commitments and chose to devote a full day to a novel experience. I love reading, love story, love words, love authors, love creativity and individual’s efforts to share their experiences with others.

You know what else is beautiful about reading a whole novel in one day while choosing to prioritize the cozy? Beautiful treats. I have this red, fleece lined cable knit blanket that accompanied me on my literary journey. Thank you PotteryBarn for taking creature comfort to a whole new level. Breaks included nibbles of gingerbread, a glass of egg nog, and the lighting of a flickering cinnamon candle. Tastes and smells of the season that in two weeks will simply lose their charm.

I know that next week will be full of wonderful celebration, exercises in traditions, family, people, gifts, lights, and magic. It, too, will require immense and wonderful energy.  For just this weekend, I was able to rest and invest time to allow myself to get lost in literary worlds.

At times, our priorities pull us in all kinds of directions. Have I done laundry? Nope. Gone to the grocery store? Nope. Cleaned, or tidied, or stocked the pantry? Nope. But hey, the gifts are wrapped and the lights are on the house, and the Christmas Cards sent. I choose to embrace the beauty in welcoming the gift of  time to fully experience literature. I’m adding 366 pages to this year’s total.

How do you take care of yourself during this crazy time of year?