Monday, December 31, 2012

Counting Time

"In the beginning..." Around large parts of our world, people are looking forward to a new beginning, a new year, a starting over point in life.

In my youth, New Years Day was not a day of great importance. Generally, it signaled the end of Christmas (now renamed Winter) vacation. And as I grew older and owned a television, it also brought the lovely experience of watching the Rose Bowl parade with the gorgeous floats. That was it.

I've noticed many folks sharing brief (and some not so brief) retrospectives of their lives over the last year. A few of my friends have had their lives turned upside down because of catastrophic illness. Others seized this last year to make positive changes in their lives. I pretty much end this year as I began. And that realization was sobering.

After reading about the progress or changes others have experienced, I pondered my own life this last year and much to my disquiet, I discovered there were no highs, no lows, no exciting changes, nothing of particular note. If we didn't commemorate the passing of another year, I wouldn't have any reason to notice it.

I wonder. Is that a facet of aging? Is it simply that we finally reach a point where there are fewer dramatic events to deal with? Is it because I yearn for peace and quiet moments of enjoyment now?

When others are joyfully discussing parties and gatherings I'm sitting in my silent office rejoicing for my solitude. And yet, there is a tiny bit of guilt as the days slip by and I feel like I SHOULD be doing something exciting. But I find no desire within myself to seek it out. I am content.

For all my Friends and Family--Blessings for you New Year.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Late Christmas Child

My last Christmas post for 2012...

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our younger daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.
She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when Daisha Monet made her entrance. 

Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

She's nine this year. Happy Birthday, baby!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.

Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell my husband that he needed to come home. My husband's father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided that he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew that he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed my. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I did not have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out that they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was short so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted. It was an action made more remarkable because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe in observance of holidays… not even Christmas.

A miracle.


As a footnote... in 2011 I found Linda on Facebook and we've reconnected. Isn't life grand?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Gifts

Over the last few days I've read several social media posts and statuses where adults are mourning their lack of Christmas (gifts, lights, tree, decorations, etc.) They're not mentioning the lack for their children's sake. No...they're speaking up for their own lack.

Since this is something I can speak about from vast experience, I had to have my say. For the last innumerable Christmases (not to mention birthdays, Mother's Day, etc., etc.) I could count all my gifts on one hand. Some years I didn't need even a finger to count. And yet, I feel blessed.

I have four reasonably healthy children with their attachments, one healthy husband, two still independent parents, and three healthy siblings with all the attachments--spouses, children, grandchildren. Speaking of grandchildren, I also have four brilliant, healthy ones of my own.

None of them live anywhere near us. But I love them and I am blessed by their very existence.

I have shelter. I have food. I have everything I need to be comfortable, plus some to spare. It was not always so. There were years when I wondered how we would feed our children, but that is not the case this year. And so I am blessed.

I have a closet full of decorations for the holidays. This year I chose not to haul them out. But even if that closet was empty, it wouldn't leave me less blessed. Christmas isn't about decorations or carols or gifts. It's about love.

For those of you feeling loneliness or depression, my heart goes out to you because you are devoid of the greatest of gifts--love. Love for yourself. Love for another. Love for your neighbor. If you have any of those, you are blessed.

Light a candle and give thanks.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Bikes

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.”

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 18, 2012

Long Road Home

Every year I reprint a few of the Christmas memories I've shared from the past. This is from Christmas 1989. May all those traveling this Christmas be safe...

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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Forty-Five Years

FORTY. FIVE. YEARS. I know a lot of people who haven’t been alive that long, let alone slept with the same person. I always have to smile when someone asks me what the secret to a long marriage is. There IS no big secret. You do it the same way you do everything else in life—one day at a time.

What? You think the luminous bride and groom have any idea of the things they’ll face in the future? Not a chance. If so, they’d be racing each other to be the first through the exit. I reckon it’s a good thing none of us know what life will bring. Otherwise, most wouldn’t dare to get married to begin with.

But with surprising frequency we marry, and remarry, and marry again, regardless of our past mistakes and failures. The longevity issue is mostly a matter of timing and mule-headed stubbornness with a tad of poverty thrown in.

I’m often asked if I ever thought of leaving the hunk. Of course. Any spouse who says otherwise is fibbing. Everyone has a day or twenty when they search their deepest, most secret heart and wonder if they could get away with walking out the door. There are days when the kids are all sick and the sink is overflowing with dishes and the bill collectors are calling and the simplest solution would be to go. Some people do just that.

The rest of us pull up our socks and wade back into the fray because we know something the quitters don’t know. Nothing lasts forever. Not the best days. Nor the worst days. Overall, life is an undulating mass of good, bad, and yes, even the mediocre. There will be days when there’s enough money to go to McDonalds or Burger King and we’ll feel positively euphoric and victorious. And there will be days when we have enough money to go on a cruise and we’ll wallow in the depths of depression and defeat.

There will be nights when our erotic fantasies are left unfulfilled and others when our spouses delight and surprise us beyond all expectations or dreams. Some youngsters think married sex must be incredibly boring after the first few years. Well…no. I expect that all depends on whether the two people involved are small-minded. True lovers delight in exploring multiple avenues of pleasure, whether it’s the simple comfort of cuddling in a warm bed or trying out the strange possibilities of Shibari.

As in all of life, there will be disasters and triumphs. The deciding factor is whether you pull together or pull apart. Pulling together is harder sometimes. Maybe it means one of you has to surrender control for awhile. That’s okay. We learn a lot when we place our lives in someone else’s hands. Everyone should have the experience of being the giver and being the receiver. There’s nothing wrong with learning humility and acceptance. Because you never know what life will hand you down the road.

Faith. Hope. Love. If you’re really fortunate, Love. 

The pics: Top--our wedding picture (that dress cost me $10!) Middle--The summer before we married (I was seventeen.) Bottom--The year we were married twenty-five years, with our four children, also the year I graduated from college.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Day After

The day after a catastrophic event--whatever it might be--is always a day of adjustment and the beginning of coming to terms with a new reality. If there is loss of life, acceptance of death and mourning begins in earnest.

And all of those nice peaceful terms in the paragraph above are so much nonsense. The truth is lives have been irretrievably torn apart by one selfish man. I don't know why. I don't expect anyone will truly know, no matter what the official investigation digs up.

There is one thing I know. The shooter's family is mourning just as surely as all the other victim's families. Regardless of what relationships they may have had with each other, they also have to deal with death of family. And stagger under a tremendous load of guilt--whether justified or not--because there's no denying their link to the perpetrator.

Just as surely as the victim's families will have to deal with Adam Lanza's actions, so too will his family. Their lives will also be changed forever.

What impels someone to do what he did? I don't know. I don't believe anyone really knows. I do know parents don't have control over their child's actions after they reach adulthood. I for one refuse to blame his parents, his brother, his friends and family, his acquaintances, his past teachers, or any other of the hosts of influences in his life.

The unpalatable truth is he made the choices. He made the plans. He is responsible.

All we can do is pick up the pieces and mourn.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Homeless Christmas

 The question posed on someone's Facebook wall..."What does Christmas mean to you?"

The answer: "this year it means being alone, and unwanted
 I am in a home for homeless disabled vets, there are 46 vets here that xmas aint gonna mean much to"

I looked it up. The place is TOMORROW'S HOPE, 6062 Heaverly Blvd., Coalport, PA 16627 

Look it up on Google. Send a Christmas card. Send a donation...they have a list of needs. If you're close enough, gather some friends and go sing Christmas Carols. If you have students, ask them to write letters telling these veterans how much they appreciate their service. 

I bet there are other places like Tomorrow's Hope. If they're closer, look them up. 

I don't know about you, but I don't want this man--and his fellow veterans--to be able to say "xmas aint gonna mean much" this year. 

How about you?


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deck the Halls

If someone came to our apartment, they would have no clue Christmas was just two weeks away. At times during my past, I spent hours decorating the house, hanging wreaths, putting up the Christmas tree, stringing lights.

I'm not particularly in the mood this year to do all that--and I'm not sure why that is so. The idea of putting everything away after the holiday just makes me tired. Am I depressed? Not particularly. Mostly, I just want a bit of peace and quiet.

My idea of decorating centers around small things. A candle tart shaped like Santa. The ceramic nativity we've had for at least thirty five years (wasn't that a good buy?) We have a Rudolph hanging a friend made for us about thirty years ago when we first moved to New York. That's about it. Just enough to remind us it's Christmas. Not enough to engender hauling out boxes and boxes of stuff.

It's the same for cooking and baking. To be brutally practical, the hunk and I are not supposed to eat most of the goodies people look forward to gorging on during the holidays. Cookies, pies, fudge, and all that other stuff just upsets our innards and makes us grumpy. Why make it, then? Oh, maybe one batch of cookies, but after that...well, I'd rather read a book or knit.

Shopping at our house is a non-event. I mail my kids money to shop for the grandkids. And I send my folks a giftcard. And that's it. Retirement is not a time of life where you can afford to spend widely. We have sufficient to live frugally, but that's it. Fortunately, our kids understand.

I think this year's watchword is contentment. This year I'm content with less instead of more. Not only content, but at peace. There were times in the past when I was not. Perhaps as I get older, I'm finally understanding the truth.

Christmas isn't about things. It's love for our family and friends and thankfulness for what we have.

I have to go now. There's a candle tart to light and music to play and memories to share.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas 1963

The end of that year was an incredibly turbulent time. In November on my fourteenth birthday, President Kennedy was assassinated. It was in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. The Cuban Missile crisis was not long before that. Uncertainty was everywhere. So herewith, the story of Christmas 1963.

Christmas 1963. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.

Now that I am a parent and grandparent I realize how difficult it must have been for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner. Back then there were no such things as food banks or church assistance.

Soberly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.

Then, a couple weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened them. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.

Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Piles of beautifully, lovingly decorated boxes with bows and trinkets. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.

As I stood in the open doorway, I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we didn't get rich overnight. I shut the door before walking around the rooms gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen where two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates sat on the table. A special Christmas dinner indeed!

In a little while, when my brothers came home from school and my dad arrived from work, we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received--not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers.

Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.

The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.

As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.

A miracle.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Bits and Pieces

This is my first grade picture. My mother and grandmother made the dress...back when women sewed. I attended first grade at age five in Pima, Arizona, a small crossroad with one blinking light. If you yawned as you approached it, you missed it.

I have shaky memories of turkeys, cows, picking cotton, cranking the phone to make it work, learning how to count in school using pinto beans and tongue depressors, helping my mother to do the laundry with an old wringer washer, and the night the mountain lion tried to get in our small house. This was also the year my grandmother from Indiana came to visit and we were caught in a tropical storm while camping out on Mt. Graham. Oh, yeah. That was also the year I met "Dick and Jane".

My memories from this period were either vivid or misty with no apparent in between. It's surprising what we remember from our childhood--memories that linger for no particular reason.

Today is the day we commemorate all those lost in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. That was seventy-one years ago and an astonishing number of people have no idea why we have Pearl Harbor Day. If you're one of those people, click HERE and find out about an important piece of American and world history.

For those of you patiently tolerating my knitting socks shenanigans, I finished the first sock while on vacation and started the second one. When I have TWO finished socks, I'll post a picture. Actually, the first one came out pretty good!

Currently, I'm in a writing doldrums. Not sure why, but I seem to spend a lot of time staring at a blank screen. Perhaps it's the approaching holidays. Or maybe simply the steady creeping winter. Hopefully, I'll move past it really soon.

In the meantime, blessings on anyone who read this. I hope you have a wonderful day.