Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Be One With The Tapestry

Have you ever fallen in love with a work of art or music or location? When you tried to share how you felt, did the other person's eyes start to glaze over? Yeah, I can relate.

There's more going on than terminal boredom on the other fellow's part. The answer finally dawned on me the other night as I sat listening to a favorite piece of music. If you compare music, art, landscape, or writing to a tapestry, the answer is simple. Some people--maybe most people--don't perceive all the strands in the tapestry.

That's all right. I figure all of life is one gigantic tapestry. No one could possibly see the tapestry in it's entirety. Some people see (or hear) certain bits more closely than others. Each person has his or her own bit.

Where the bits overlap, we share the experience. I suspect some fortunate individuals have been given the gift of extra perception. They see colors the rest of us don't. They hear music we don't hear. They fathom the universe in ways we can't imagine. Words dance and flow in a ballet of the senses conveying ideas we can barely grasp.

I know a woman who can knit garments using only the vision she carries in her mind. When finished, they fit perfectly. I am a reasonably proficient knitter. Yet I can barely finish a scarf even with a pattern to follow.

I know a young man who looks at a paper full of numbers (most of them I swear are random) and can tell you in a few seconds where the error is located. Some of these gifts or talents the human race seems to prize and others we have little respect for but all are part of the tapestry.

The next time you try to explain why something particularly touches or excites you, remember... Your friend or family member may not share the same bit of tapestry. Their particular bit may be over a few feet to the right or left. That's probably why you can't understand why they're raving about the hum in the engine or the way that trout leaps into the air. Maybe they have a dancing soul. They might have a healing touch. Whatever they possess, stop for a moment and give thanks for each unique bit of the tapestry--whether or not you understand their part or not.

Be one with the tapestry.



Traditionally, as we reach the end of the year, we pause to reflect. Was it a good year? Bad? What can we do to improve things next year? What goals should we set for the upcoming year? Decisions, decisions.

I suppose the end of a year is a natural time to think about these things though some people do so on their birthdays. Since my birthday is at the end of the year in the midst of the holiday hoopla, consideration of the year gets postponed until after the Christmas rush.

I don't think it's accidental. There is a natural depression after Christmas. We run around, cooking, shopping, decorating...and then with jarring abruptness it's over. Family and friends go home. We're left with the debris and leftovers from Christmas littering our homes and the Mt. Everest of decorations to put away.

In the wind-down from the frenetic pre-holiday rush, we finally have time to think. We look forward--and back--and reflect on our life. Most people heave a sigh of relief for the year's passing while they eagerly look forward to the possibilities of the new year. It seems we're ever positive when looking forward and ever negative when looking back. I wonder why that is?

Perhaps it has something to do with uncompleted goals and unexpected roadblocks in life. Goals are easily adjusted. Sometimes I think we sabotage ourselves by piling too many expectations on the goal pile. Why not set just one? My goal for 2012 is to take better care of myself...whatever form that might be.

As for unexpected roadblocks--why are they unexpected? All of life is a series of unexpected detours leading us down back roads. I've never met anyone who mostly traveled the freeways of life. All of us are on the back roads. Unfortunately, most of us are not taking the time to enjoy the scenic byways we're traveling. We're too busy moaning and groaning about how slow the trip is.

This year, I plan to take the time to enjoy the scenic byways. Who knows what life will bring? None of us live in a vacuum, though. Perhaps we should pause to absorb whatever each new day brings to us. It might be grief or sadness, but those things are part of life just as joy and happiness are. We should embrace each new bit of life--the peaks and the valleys.

Without the valleys, I suspect we would fail to appreciate the peaks. Blessings for the forthcoming year.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Help Wanted: Bicycle Mechanic

Christmas 1979. That was the year we stretched the budget to get the kids’ bicycles. At our house, Santa always brings a stuffed animal. It was my feeling that Santa bringing tons of presents sets up kids for unrealistic expectations. No matter how the year goes, a stuffed animal is always doable. And after that, whatever Mom and Dad can come up with is great.

My kids had a realistic idea of our money situation from the time we sat them down and let them pay the bills with real money. My house hunk had his check cashed at the bank in $1 bills. Then we sat down with the kids and let them count out the money for each bill. We did that for six weeks. If there was any money left over after the bills we let them do the grocery shopping with a calculator and count out the money for the food.

After that when we said there was no money, they understood that reality. To this day, they’re all very good managers. This particular Christmas was important to us as a family as the previous Christmas had been very, very bad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a bit more than usual so we decided that we could afford to buy bicycles.

Of course when your kids are pre-teen age, hiding bicycles is a pretty tricky proposition. Finally, we simply made the garage off-limits. Late Christmas Eve the house hunk and I were out there trying to assemble three bicycles. The store would have assembled them, but that cost money that we couldn’t afford. One needed training wheels. Things did not go well.

Around 2 AM, the door opened and my second son trotted out there with his hands in his pockets. First of all, I was startled that he was still dressed. And then of course I demanded to know why he was awake.

“Well,” he said, “I thought I would see how long it took you to put them together. But it’s late. I’m tired. And I would like to ride my bike tomorrow. So I gave up. Do you want me to put them together?”

His father handed him the wrenches. “If you think you can do better than we are, go for it.” Thirty minutes later all three bikes were assembled and parked by the tree.

My son was nine years old that Christmas. Until he left for the Navy, it was always his responsibility to assemble all the gifts marked “Some Assembly Required.”

That year Santa brought the kids stuffed Safari animals—lions, tigers, and such. Up until a few years ago, they still had them. And then they decided to donate them to a kid’s program. As I recall, that was the sum total of Christmas gifts that year, except for the perennial favorite… new underwear. To this day, that’s a family in-joke. Every Christmas the kids receive new underwear. Now of course, it’s pretty fancy stuff.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Mouse

It was two days before Christmas and Herald, the Christmas Mouse was too tired to move. When humans started the Christmas Shopping Season, they didn't think about how hazardous all those busy shoppers were for the mice. Why, a mouse could barely scurry across the wide hallways in the mall without someone stepping on his tail--or worse! It was up to Herald to take care of all the tiny mouselets while their harried parents shopped.

Some of the mouse children didn't want to stay in the nursery. Some pulled on Herald's tail because they wanted to shop with their Mamas. There were fifteen children from the Snow family and they all wanted something to eat! Little Angela Tree sucked her paws and bawled for her Mama.

Herald ran from child to child, wiping whiskers, offering cheese crumbs and toys, and refereeing arguments between the two oldest boys in the Star family, Twinkle and Shiny. Herald desperately wanted a few minutes of quiet.

Then he heard a beautiful sound drift through the nursery door. It was the sound of someone singing. One by one the mouse children grew silent. As the singing grew louder, the mouselets all gathered on the rug in the center of the room and they sat down in small groups, listening carefully to the music. Soon Herald realized that some of them were humming the melody.

In the still, quiet nursery, Herald crept to the door and peeked out into the corridor. A young human woman sat on a bench in the center of the mall, singing all alone. People were smiling and stopping to listen. Cranky children who had been crying, grew quiet and leaned against their weary parents as the young woman continued to sing. Slowly, peace fell over the mall to the strains of a Christmas song. Then Herald recognized the music. She was singing the Christmas Lullaby--Silent Night.

Herald turned to look at the mouse children and saw that they were all asleep. Twinkle Star was even snoring!

Softly, Herald crept out to the young woman and stood near her foot with his whiskers twitching and his beady little eyes shining, listening to the beautiful song. And then, wonder of wonders, she bent and offered him a perch on her fingers. It seemed to him that she even perhaps invited him to sing with her.

Suddenly, Herald wasn't so tired. He opened his tiny mouth and began to sing. And as he sang with all his heart, the Christmas Spirit swelled within him so that when the song was finished, he roared out, "Merry Christmas Everybody! And a Happy New Year!"

©2007 Anny Cook

Friday, December 16, 2011


Many men are totally inarticulate when it comes to talking about their emotions--especially love. If the woman says "I love you" they give her a hasty pat on the butt and say "me, too" and that's it! I'm married to one of those men. A friend once asked me how I could live with that. I said you get used to it. And she countered that she wanted it all.

Articulation is fine, but words aren't enough, are they? Women know there is a certain class of men who are as suave and debonair as they can be, incredibly articulate with their fine lines, but absolutely no follow up with their actions. I'll take the guy that demonstrates love everyday over the one who just is talk, but no action.

What is love?

Love is getting up and going to work everyday through rain, snow, fatigue, bad bosses, and all those other irritations in the workforce. Love is taking responsibilities seriously for over thirty-seven years through thick and thin.

Love is coming home from work, passing me in the hall as I rushed off to work, and taking care of three small tired children--bath, supper, and reading a story before bed--even though he's ready to drop and would rather sit in front of the TV with a beer.

Love is packing me off to my parents when I'd reached the end of my endurance--and spending Thanksgiving alone with four kids. I don't know what he told my parents, but when I arrived they ushered me into a bedroom and told me to let them know when I was hungry. Otherwise, they wouldn't bother me. I spent a week sleeping.

Love is supporting me in every possible endeavor I could think up to try. Genealogy? We traveled literally thousands of mile to research in remote libraries. Calligraphy? He learned how to mat and frame my work so I could afford to display it. Writing? He provided time, space, and computer. College? Oh, yes, he pitched in at home after commuting four hours a day so I could spend my evenings in classes.

Love is pulling together. It's crawling under the house through cold mud and spiderwebs so we could repair a water pipe. It's lying side by side underneath a car during an ice storm in February to fix the muffler so one of us could go to work. It's standing side-by-side as each of our children graduated from high school. It's holding hands while we watch fireworks on the fourth of July.

Love is having sex almost everyday, even though we're both wrinkled and saggy. Love is accepting all the little irritations in our mate, shrugging off the toilet tissue turned the wrong way, accepting the absolute refusal to load the dishwasher because he makes the bed.

Words? Anyone can say words. Give me a man of action. Fourty-four years ago we stood in church and vowed to stick together through thick and thin. And did. That is love.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Long Road Home--1989

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.”

For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a our family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. My husband was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.

“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.

The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. The older one pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but my older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets.

Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make some extra beds.

We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.

 It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Two came from Guam. Others came from all over the United States. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards there were games, carols, and visiting.

A couple of days later the trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.

Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.

A miracle. Several, in fact.

© 2007 Anny Cook

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Let There Be Peace on Earth

The first time I heard this song was at my oldest daughter's Christmas pageant the year she was in fourth grade. The elementary school had no place big enough to hold the pageant so it was held in the high school auditorium. The program was creative and joyous and enjoyed by all the parents and families.

Near the end of the evening, teachers dressed as reindeer took the stage with a rolicking skit and song. As I was enjoying it, awareness of a shuffle and hiss crept in and I realized that the children were silently lining the walls around the auditorium.

The lights went out. A deep silence filled the huge room.

And then one young voice soared in the darkness. "Let there be peace on earth..." A tiny light flicked on lighting her face.

A few more voices joined in...just a few from points all around us. "And let it begin with me."

More lights. More voices until we were ringed in light and earnest small voices singing about peace on earth. I think about that song often. I think about how we still don't understand the underlying truth of the words..."let it begin with me" for peace does not begin with warriors. Peace is protected by warriors when all else has failed. Peace begins with each of us.

Most people believe that peace is an absence of war. That isn't true. Peace is an absence of conflict. And true peace will not arrive until we as humans refuse to countenance abuse, intolerance, genocide, greed, and famine. As long as we turn away from the less fortunate ignoring the needs of the many in favor of the wants of the few, there will be no peace on earth.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."

©2006 Anny Cook

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aging Christmas

It's a Holly, Jolly Christmas...or is it? As I sat knitting a gift this afternoon, I considered all the aspects of celebrating the holidays as a senior citizen. I'm somewhat computer literate so I spend a bit of time on the Internet.

Conversations about Christmas shopping and baking and decorating leave me wondering about the relevance of those holiday traditions--especially for the elders. Think about it.

If an elder is alone (like the house hunk and I) and on a restricted diet (like the house hunk and I) then what point is there to baking six dozen cookies? Or cakes? Or...whatever? Most of that stuff is on the forbidden list so, baking as a holiday tradition has ceased.

Shopping was an early casualty to living five hours to three days travel away from the rest of the family. Everyone receives gift cards in their annual Christmas card.There really is no point in buying something, packing it, mailing it, paying postage(!), when I can save the postage and send it directly to the gift recipient. See how that works?

Truthfully, our gift giving is also limited by dwindling income and living on retirement/Social Security. It's a good thing presents aren't a major part of my family's Christmas expectations.

As for decorations--well, let's just admit we don't bend as well as we used to. The tree branches close to the floor are a little barer each year. The wreathes and hangings that are at eye level are getting a more strenuous workout, while the tinsel and ornaments that normally hang from the ceiling remain in the box. Ladders aren't recommended for folks with bad hips and knees...or those who use walkers.

Do I sound like I'm having a pity party? Well, not exactly. But I do want to make a point. In the rush and hustle and bustle don't forget those elders around you who might be alone. They may not be physically able to decorate their living spaces. Maybe they'd like a helping hand to hang a wreathe on the door--and take it back down after the holiday. It might be they'd really enjoy a small tin of cookies or fudge. You know, one of those really small tins? One they could put in the refrigerator and sneak out for a nibble or two?

And if you're going to the church Christmas pageant, you might want to consider asking if they would like to go too. As you get older, it's more difficult to get around, especially in the evening.

How about inviting them for Christmas dinner? I live way too far from my folks to fix them dinner. I call down blessings every holiday on the friends and neighbors who live nearby and make sure they invite them to share their meal.

The holidays are a lonely time. Many of our elders suffer depression more this time of year than any other. If your family becomes involved with including an elder in your celebration, your family will likely receive an unexpected blessing in return. Our elders have wonderful experience and knowledge to share with us, if only we let them know we're interested.

Take an elder to Christmas!


Friday, December 2, 2011

What is Christmas?

Every year I post the Christmas memories and thoughts I've written over the years. This is a post I like to begin the season with...

© Anny Cook 2007

As I sat at the computer waiting for inspiration to appear, I thought about what Christmas means. Is it shopping? Is it the story of the Christ Child? Is it the presents under the tree on Christmas morning? Christmas Carols?
For each person different things are the true essence of Christmas. For some, if they are not with their families, then it isn't Christmas. For others, certain decorations are the true meaning of Christmas.

As for me, I'm not sure what it is exactly that makes it Christmas. I have spent Christmases surrounded by a vast family and friends. I have spent Christmas alone. There was more than a Christmas or two that was tinged with grief and sadness and others that were filled with joy. Both sides of the coin had their place because our lives are not static. We are constantly moving on, constantly dealing with changes in our lives.

Traditions help us stay grounded as life rushes past but we must not be so buried in tradition that we are lost when the traditions fade away. We must be open to establishing new traditions to take their place. Sometimes a new tradition begins with a whimper. Sometimes with a bang. Some are born of desperation.

One Christmas we were so broke I wasn't sure where we would find the money for the yearly stuffed animal from Santa. My friend called to let me know that a local pharmacy had all their teddy bears on clearance. We drove down to the store, found four different ones and for the princely sum of six dollars, Santa would be making a house call at our place Christmas Eve. They were plain. Stone cold plain, but my friend rummaged through her sewing supplies and located enough fancy ribbon to outfit each bear with a jaunty bow.
And then I had the notion to issue a "gift certificate" to each of the kids. I designed them and printed them out on an old dot matrix printer and colored them with colored pencils. Each one was for a specific sum to be payable when we received our income tax refund. Looking back now, I wonder what my kids really thought about receiving a colored promissory note. But I give them a lot of credit. They acted quite excited about it.
Income tax time finally arrived and we spent hours at the stores spending their gift certificates. The next Christmas rolled around much too soon. Things weren't a whole lot better. With a faint heart I asked them what they wanted for Christmas. Unanimously, they all declared that they wanted the gift certificates again. And so a tradition was born. For many years after that, we had the Cook family gift certificates.

Heh. I was just ahead of the curve as usual. Now we do gift cards. And they're still excited.
In the last five years, we've had more of a turnover in traditions than at any other time in the past. One Christmas we witnessed the birth of a grandchild. Another Christmas Eve I brought my husband home from the hospital after surgery. Most years we've done minimal decorating due to various circumstances.

Three years ago I completed seventeen calligraphy pieces, matted and framed, and mailed them out. They were all 11 X 14 and miracle of miracles they all arrived safely. Two years ago I made memory books for my kids. They were a hodge-podge of pictures, short stories, recipes, and memories. The kids call them The Christmas Book and they hold a place of honor in their homes.

New traditions. Old traditions. They stretch back through the years providing the tapestry of Christmas past and present. Perhaps that is the meaning of Christmas... the wonderful tapestry of memories and traditions that hold us together through the good times and bad.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Birthday and A Book

Forty one years ago I was in labor with my second child. It was worth every minute! Today's he far away, working to deliver mail and packages. And I miss him. Happy Birthday, Tony!

Today is also the release of my holiday story, Yule Be Ours! I hope you'll click on the book cover to check it out! I love this book cover--it's so cheery and happy! So is the story.

And finally, tomorrow I'll start posting my annual Christmas memories series. Many of you are familiar with them, some aren't. I was considering not posting them this year, but after an informal survey, decided to post after all. So check in often from tomorrow through Christmas!