We are the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you will come and carry me out into the palace of winds. That's all I've wanted — to walk in such a place with you, with friends, on earth without maps. -The English Patient
We travel when someone tells us the story of her life.
Or, as my friend Chip would say; "Let the mild rumpus start!"
I have been waiting for this week since Thanksgiving. I have the entire week off. Actually, I've been off since Wednesday evening, but I've been in scramble mode for the last several days.
I spent most of Thursday wrapping things. I got a bit of a chuckle over how much my attitude toward Christmas has changed since before the kids came along. I used to be quite a fussbudget about gifts and getting every little detail right, down to the perfect wrapping. Now, I let Piper get gift certificates for most people on our list, I drove out to my favorite jewelry store and got earrings or bracelets for each of my nieces and a few other women on my list. I even let Pumpkin help with the wrapping. It's not pretty and I don't have the time to care. How liberating!
Side note 1: Pumpkin is so enamored of the miracle properties of Scotch tape, that I put a few rolls in his stocking. I'd credit the blogger I got the idea from, but I've forgotten who it was. If it was you, brilliant! I figure when he's in his 20s he'll graduate to duct tape, like most men.
Christmas for us started around 6 or 7 AM Christmas Eve morning. It started as many mornings do, with an argument between the boys. I don't remember what it was about, and it really doesn't matter. More than likely Tigger was teasing his brother, and his brother was hollering SHUUUTTUPPP! It's like a call and response thing between them, like clockwork, most mornings. I used to set an alarm, now I have children.
Since I knew I had a million things to do, I didn't even try to go back to sleep, but took my shower right away and got started on "the list." Having the day before off was the way to go, because the stuffing was already made and half the Christmas dishes were already washed. I just had to prep the potatoes, and talk Pumpkin into cleaning up the mudroom so we could go get bagels for the next morning.
Side Note 2: Yes, I have Christmas dishes. They were my mother's. She gave them to me a few years ago and they have sat in boxes in the basement along with the my wedding china which was also hers. Piper and I have been married 18 years and have never used the china. My mother has made noises about wanting it back, but I can't imagine what she's going to do with it either.
Side Note 3: Bagels and lox for breakfast every Christmas morning. I take some perverse pleasure in having Jewish food for Christmas. I don't know why, but Christmas wouldn't be the same without it.
Our trip to get bagels also involved a trip to a big box hardware store for my last gift. Piper had been looking at table saws and I was thinking to get him one, but got overwhelmed at all the choices. I got him a gift card so he can make the decision. While we were there, Pumpkin insisted on looking through a book about designing bathrooms. I'm not sure where this interest came from or whether anything will come from it as his geography obsession clearly has, but on the way home, Pumpkin asked why we didn't have a bathroom with a "standing bath." Unfortunately, he got rather frustrated with me as I had no idea what he meant. Finally, I handed him a notebook and asked him to draw one for me. What he drew turned out to be a clawfoot tub! Found in translation!
Back at home I stuffed the turkey and put it in the oven. I have learned to pour a little water in the bottom of the roasting pan, not touching the rack, so the raost doesn't dry out, the drippings don't burn at the bottom of the pan, and you have the start of a fabulous gravy.
Tigger needed to be at the church at 2:30 for reading rehearsal. In past years I have gone with him and staked out a pew. The family Christmas service is the most well-attended event at the church and rows of extra chairs have to be pulled into our small sanctuary. My in-laws arrived around 3 and the service began at 4.
In addition to reading, Tigger was one of four kids who sung all the music. T is in the 4th grade, there is another girl in the group who is in grade 5 and the other two are 8th graders. One of the reasons that I chose this church was its willingness to let kids be kids. There is no time when that sentiment is more evident than this Christmas Eve service. Our attendence there began on Tigger's first Christmas Eve with us. He spent the entire service asking if we could leave now. The priest ended the service with "the Mass is ended, yes Tigger, you can leave now, go in peace."
I spent this service marvelling at how old everyone had gotten. Not in a bad way. My neighbor's boys were up at the altar with Tigger. I've known them since they were babies. They are teenagers now, all dressed up in ties - real ties, not the clip on kind. The daughters of other friends are back home from college. Time marches on.
After the service, there was turkey. Then there was dessert and gifts across the street. I gave the older teenager a chef's knife. He is constantly asking me how to make the things I cook. Later this week I will put together some recipes for him. That's part of the gift. The younger boy got a book on making cheap special effects for video. There are some gifts I can still get just right.
It's late when we get back, but most of the wrapping is done, so all we have to do is pull things from their hiding places after the kids go to bed. Tigger is pretty sure that we are Santa, but not certain. Pumpkin still wonders if Santa can see him in the bathroom.
Christmas Day begins at 5:30. Piper finds the boys sitting in the dark, waiting for 6:00 when they can wake everyone up. He has figured out how to use the timer on the coffee machine. It worked. Piper's big present was a video camera. Mine was a chest freezer that I have wanted since we got the vegetable garden going again. Tigger got a skateboard, and Pumpkin got his own camera, which I hope he'll use instead of my iPhone.
There were a few hours of resting and playing with gifts. I got in a quick nap. We packed a change of clothes and headed for Easton to spend a few hours with Piper's family before heading down to CT.
After Thanksgiving, I wanted to spend as little time as possible in Connecticut. The storm gave me a good reason to leave early. We spent less than 24 hours at my mother's. Obligation fulfilled. The storm started just before we left at noon. It took us 6 hours to get home, including the bookstore break we took just to get out of the car. Getting stuck behind plows is no fun at all, but it is probably safer than being in front of them.
We woke this morning to find the power out. It remained out until 6:30 PM. We had a blissfully quiet day full of Lego kits, Calvin & Hobbes, games and naps. My iPhone was the only connection to the outside world.
I have the rest of the week off. I look forward to not doing a whole lot.
The United States might have a problem with his particular form of democracy, if you can even still call it that, but there's no denying that he restored some much-needed order to Russia after the disastrous free-for-all of Boris Yeltsin.
For one thing, he significantly straightened out the international adoption system so that prospective parents encountered less bribery, and more information in the process.
He used the Russian court system to send Mikhail Khordokovsky to prison for opposing him politically. That particular celebrity show trial was going on when we were there to get Pumpkin. After six years in Siberia, they brought him back to face new charges designed to keep him out of the political arena.
Putin has, shall we say, streamlined elections so that citizens now vote for a whole slate of "approved candidates."
But he is rumored to have a single personal photograph on his desk - that of himself taken with children from a St. Petersburg orphange.
He is said to remain the real power behind current President Dmitry Medvedev.
He has Teddy Roosevelt-like enthusiams for athletics, and is frequently photographed bare-chested or on horseback, sometimes both.
And so this is Christmas, and what have we done, Another year over, and a new one just begun...
"Happy Christmas" became one of my favorite Christmas songs the year John Lennon died, 30 years ago today.
I had lost my own father earlier that year and there was something so bittersweet in Lennon's voice and his lyrics that resonated with me. In that moment when John and Yoko whisper "Happy Christmas" to each other, for a split second, you understand why they were together in the first place.
"Happy Christmas," and "Starting Over" were on the radio constantly in tribute and I never got sick of them. When I think of those days, it is the candlelight vigils from John's millions of fans that stand out in my memory; light against the darkness of his murder. No doubt, the next 24 hours will be filled with radio remembrances before we go back to talking about Christmas sales and the stress of the holidays.
I've always been a bit of a romantic about Christmas. My husband and I started dating and got engaged during the Christmas season. There's something about those old time carols and Christmas concerts that I treasure. Unlike Valentine's Day, Christmas is a holiday I can truly appreciate. On New Year's Day, there is nothing better than opening a new calendar, or starting a new journal. I love that fresh start, the promise of the possible.
But the thing about the holidays that does not get enough attention are those times of quiet after all the festivity is done. Even the traditional Nativity scene is a moment of peace after the struggle of birth and the hardship of travel. You can almost believe that war is over and there is peace on Earth.
In modern times, it might be having the tree all to yourself after the kids have gone to bed, Christmas cookies awaiting Santa's arrival, a walk in the snowy woods, children playing with their toys without fighting, or animal tracks in the backyard snow. It could be your church, empty, but still decorated in celebration of the season. It's those moments when you can breathe deeply and realize that there's no more to be done; the party's over or you've wrapped your last gift.
This holiday, I'm inviting you to pay attention to those moments, appreciate them, document them and share them with others. It will be nice to see how each of us defines peace.
Here's how it works:
During the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, take at least one photo of a peaceful moment or scene. Post on your own blog. Include a link back to this post.
Leave me a comment on this post or email a link to firstname.lastname@example.org . Please be sure to include a description of your photo to give us some background.
On New Year's Day I will include all of the links I get in a roundup post with my own Peace on Earth photo. Hopefully, a tour of them will be a wonderful, calming experience for many.
All the Black Friday hysteria, the frantic post-Black Friday counting of the numbers, and the speculation about the health of the economy/Christmas season has brought to mind something that's been bothering me since the recession began.
Commentators discussing our annual spending spree pointed to the higher-than-last-year numbers almost universally spoke of them being a good indicator of things to come and the importance of the retail sector to the overall recovery.
Here's where I get concerned. Although, much of the downturn had to do with the abuse of banks and investment firms playing while the cat (SEC and others) were looking away, a fair amount of the trouble can be atttributed to the ridiculous amount of credit card or mortgage debt people were carrying vs. the appalling lack of savings. That's why it seemed so wrong when President Bush asked people not give up their way of life, but to "go shopping." This encouragement of excess contributed to the extreme difficulty people found themselves in when the housing bubble collapsed. Because they had no savings, many of them had nothing to fall back on when they lost their jobs or got upside down in their mortagages.
Now, the savings rate is up; higher than it's been in decades. People are waiting to make big purchases and forgoing many smaller ones. But economists are talking about how much the economy relies on people, not just corporations, but average people, exercising buying power.
It just seems foolish to rely so heavily on people buying crap they don't need.
Especially when so much of that crap is not even made here in the USA.
What that means is that we are counting on Walmart and perhaps Macy's to make a dent in the unemployment picture. But what kinds of jobs are these? Not only do they pay poorly, but many of these businesses dependent on hourly labor seek to keep these jobs from straying into full-time, benefits earning territory. They might artificially lower the employment rate, but these are not growth producing jobs, either for the economy as a whole, or the people in them.
Thirty-one years ago, Jimmy Carter gave a speech discussing our way of life and the challenges we faced as a nation; economically, culturally, and spiritually. The country was in the midst of an energy crisis and a recession. In it, he implored Americans to face the reality of our situation and its implications.
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.
He never actually used the word, but this became known as Carter's malaise speech, and he was castigated by Republicans and others who felt that Americans should never have to make sacrifices.
Unfortunately, our failure to pursue serious energy saving technologies has helped to put us right back in the same situation 30 years later. Refusal to do serious R&D into hybrid and alternative power technologies contributed to the near demise of GM and Chrysler, resulting in large bailouts and enormous job loss. George Bush's "ownership society" quickly turned to owership, with relief efforts that are either non-existent or badly botched, and with many banks still making money hand-over-fist, but not contibuting to the economy in the form of loans.
Yet here we are again, talking about consumerism as the key to economic recovery. This strikes me as irresponsible and dangerous. Buying crap we don't need is not going to lead us to investment in the kinds of things we do need, either as families, or as a nation.
What do we need that hasn't been invented yet? A cure for cancer? Large-scale water purifying technology? More efficient vaccine or medication development? Better public transportation? Less polluting energy sources? Cleaner, less disease-prone aquaculture?
If you had $50 to invest in something meaningful with a host of other people what would it be?
P.S. If you leave a comment, don't be afraid to get a little silly, as long as it would truly be useful. Great inventions have sprung from impossible ideas.