Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another Post on Gifts and Giving

It all started with my annual holiday confusion. New traditions, old traditions, blending of Yule and Christmas. Practicality butting up against wistful ideals. Each year I personally crave a simpler holiday season, a homemade, less commercialized gift giving routine and yet I also want to make everyone happy and create a successful holiday for the ones I love, taking into consideration what the holidays mean to them. Each year my thoughts bounce back and forth between the two views inside my head, like an old fashioned Pong game, and each year I end up with a different blending of choices. It's an exhausting process and quite honestly, I'm not sure if my gifting philosophy makes any more sense or is any more realistic or necessary than those of people with different perspectives. I can see a lot of different sides to this.

And this year, the plot seems to thicken.

Already getting started on my own "this year I'll do things right" resolutions, I stumbled upon two posts by Artist Reborne (dated Nov. 4 and Nov. 17) Basically she proposed that the value of the gift was in the process of making it, the value of the gift was to the person making it. I didn't say that quite right, maybe you should just go read it. I liked what she said and I agree, in theory. But I also think that it's important to give a gift that you truly believe the other person would like, not just a gift you want to make for them (although I'm not implying that she said to give someone an old dirty sock!). It's a delicate balance between the two points and I'm not sure where the fulcrum should be set.

I'm not even sure if homemade is the whole point.

I've stumbled upon a few other great blog posts on giving recently which would be a far more salient point here if I'd actually remembered who said what and where, so that I could share it with you. I bring it up only to say that some of these commentaries have had opposing but equally valid points of view. Could it get any more confusing? Well, since you asked, yes, it can.

We also have to factor in the eco issues, and there are two of them. Eco - economics and Eco - ecology. Already I've moved past most of my angst into the pragmatic stage where I just have to make some decisions and act on them. But there's still a lot of things to juggle when making each decision.

I made a homemade gift for my son the other day and realized I needed a secure, sealable container in which to send it to him as it is going to be shipped overseas. Easy enough, I put "holiday tin" on my list of things to buy while I was out shopping for Thanksgiving supplies yesterday. I got to the "holiday tin" line on my list, went to the holiday tin aisle in the Holiday Department at Walmart (yes, an entire aisle of holiday tins!) and stood in front of the bewildering array trying to decide on style and size. And then I realized it was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. An entire frickin' aisle of tins!!! Thrift stores and garages and top shelves in kitchens and landfills all over this country were filled with empty tins. The world needs NO MORE TINS. Not for years and years and years.

Yes, the new tins in front of me were pretty. I thought about gifts I'd received from others. Did the package it came in matter to me? I certainly enjoyed gifts that looked like they were packaged with love, attention and/or creativity. But it didn't matter to me if that meant a store bought tin or a re-used gift bag or a box wrapped in brown shipping paper with a bit of twine and a few pine cones tied atop or a child's attempt at gift wrap with six extra corners and a half pound of tape.

I didn't buy a tin, at least, not for that gift. I remembered a perfectly good tin I had in my kitchen cabinet. Of course things aren't that easy. I did end up buying a tin. A different tin for a different purpose and a different person but only because I thought it was a perfect gift that would be saved and used for years to come.

I am happy to report however that I also waivered around a half dozen other impulse additions to my gift list and ultimately had the will power to leave them all on the store shelves. I also went back and forth at least five times with different sized and priced choices for a gift that was on my list to buy, alternating between my determination to cut costs and that guilty idea we all carry that more gift means more love. It's really hard. Those extra little $5 or $10 or $20 buys seems like such a small thing (for me, fortunate to have some stretch in the budget), but when I add it all up at the end of the season, all those little buys aren't so little any more and it's a huge stress to pay it all off. I ended up sticking to my original, moderately priced decision. Yah me. I also managed a lot of restraint at the supermarket. Even with the extra cost of food this year, I bought everything I needed for Thanksgiving dinner (note I said needed, not wanted) for HALF what I usually spend!

So, one day's shopping done, only a few weeks more shopping days (and studio days) to struggle with decisions. Like every year, I guess I'll take it one decision at a time.

Maybe what's eating at me with the whole "less is more" confusion, the battle in my brain between wanting the Martha Stewart, bacchanalian, magazine display, perfect overabundance and the..... the... oh, I don't know... the purity of NOT having it, isn't about gift giving at all. It's about something bigger. I stumbled upon this video, and, despite the fact that I don't celebrate a Christian Christmas, I think the video speaks to what's really been bothering me about how we all celebrate the holidays.

It's not about whether we buy gifts or not, whether we make them or buy them, wrap them or offer then zen-like in the palm of our hand. It's whether we do any or all of these things with consciousness and balance.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


First I'll discuss the books, then we'll get to the movie. There are a few general comments about themes but no real spoilers.

I finished up the last two books in the four book Twilight series recently, which, if you spend any time at all listening to the world around you, you'll know practically has a Harry Potter sized fan base around them! For some reason that I can't really put my finger on, this annoys me. But, I had read the first book years ago, before all the hoopla started. I discovered it because I like both vampire books and young adult fiction and the fact that the story is set in a place I know and have visited pulled me in. I really liked the first book, Twilight, although I had some issues with it.

My main problem with the book was that I just couldn't turn off the "mom filter" while reading it. Yeah, I liked the book, but in the back of my head I kept returning to the thought that Bella was a terrible role model for teenage girls. She had no plans, no thoughts for the future, and was willing to throw it all away on the first boy she fell for. Not only that, but what about her parents!? They get no chance to discuss things with her, it's all going on behind their back. It really disturbed me even while I realized that this very perspective was what probably made it so successful with teens. They could undoubtedly identify with Bella in a very strong way. Heck, more than three decades later, I can still remember being a teenager and how the world used to revolve around me. Still, it was a fun read and I looked forward to reading the second book.

That's where issue number two reared it's head. The publishers did some stupid thing with holding back the soft cover edition of book two in the series (New Moon) even after book three came out in hardcover. Book three came out in softcover and still book two was only available in hardcover. It seemed spiteful and greedy to me to force readers to buy a hardcover book, especially when the book was aimed at young readers. So I refused to buy the books on principle even though I liked the story. My anger wasn't at the author or the story though, it was at the publishers. I finally had a "duh!" moment and realized I could get the books from our inter-library loan and I read the second book early this year. Again, I liked the book but I continued to have some problems with Bella's egocentric view of the world.

About a month ago my daughter-in-law discovered the series and was completely hooked. She read all four books in about a week's time. Can you say "no sleep"! She lent the books to me and I finished up book three (Eclipse) and four (Breaking Dawn) so we could talk about the series. I felt like the last two books finally addressed some of my role model concerns. Bella grows and matures and starts to think about the consequences of her choices on all those around her. And ultimately some of the decisions are pulled from her hands and settled by larger forces that gather all around her, so I was pleased with the story as a whole as it plays out through the entire series.

The movie is based on the first book in the series. I knew I probably wouldn't have another chance to see the movie here in town if I didn't catch it this last weekend, so I went to a Sunday matinee. I'd seen the trailer and I went in with a few pre-opinions. It looked like it would have great special effects. Edward didn't look quite like I had imagined him to look (what is with the hair!?) although I thought they got Bella right. I also saw a photo of the Cullen's house and it wasn't even close to the house in my imagination. Still, I'm pretty good at allowing a book and movie to live in my brain side by side without matching. Look at Wicked - the book and the play are nothing like each other and yet I love them both for different but equally valid reasons. So, I went.



geeze, this is sort of embarrassing...... but...

I LOVED IT! Totally! Like giggly school girl LOVED it! I'm way too old to have a teen crush on a teen movie but, I did. So, sue me.

The music was great, the scenes and characters might have been slightly different than in my imagination but in some cases they were perhaps better and there wasn't anything jarring that bothered me. Okay, so Jasper's expression looked a little like a bewildered Edward Scissorhand. Apparently it was supposed to be his "trying to hold back my blood lust" look. Edward's hair and his five o'clock shadow were a teensy bit distracting. But these were small complaints. Edward seemed more like Edward once he started moving and talking and I didn't know him as just the movie poster image. (and it totally went past me until my daughter-in-law mentioned it tonight - the actor who plays Edward also played Cedric in Harry Potter!)

What more than made up for these things is the fact that Bella's character seemed to finally "click" for me. I saw her in a completely new way and her personality made sense to me in a way it just didn't in the book. And the scenery - just WOW. And most of the other characters were adorable, so so so so adorable. Jacob - adorable. Alice - adorable. All the Cullens - adorable. The movie ended and I wanted to stay in my seat and see it all over again. Which I couldn't. So instead I went home and looked up the soundtrack online, which I'll be adding to my wish list immediately.

Oh, and last but not least - During the previews I got to see the new Harry Potter trailer for the first time. I'm so bummed they've put it off until next July instead of this December. For me the HP movies will always be winter movies, NOT summer movies. But summer or winter, I can hardly wait to see it. I'm thinking of rereading the books again between now and then. Or maybe I'll just try to watch all the movies before the new movie comes out. We'll see what I can fit into my busy schedule.

Back to Twilight, Hubby just asked if someone who hadn't read the book could enjoy it and I think definitely yes. It's nicely self contained. Go. You'll get so swept up in the story that you'll come out of the movie surprised you're not slightly damp from all that rain.

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Longer Grounded

My self imposed grounding on posting here until I got some work done around the house was quasi-successful. The main success being I stuck with the not posting. The work being done, not so much. Lots of things got in the way - football (the last play off game, which was exciting until half time and then we went out with a big loss), travel, dentist appointments, sinus and flu issues, anxiety attacks, and all those little day-to-day time eaters like last minute errands and what not. Still, I finally got the laundry caught up (although I saw last night that it's piling up again, mainly with football gear) and I started in on my swap creation.

This leaves me with two days in which to do my Thanksgiving Dinner shopping, get my house ready for my daughter's family of eight to descend (where we are going to find room for everyone I have NO idea!), finish my swap gift, make/package/mail something overseas, and go to a doctor's appointment (a long overdue general check up). I've already gone waaaaay past the point of even pretending I'll get it all done and so that's a big stress gone.

Perhaps the most successful part of my post free week was reflecting on my chaos and coming up with some new insights into what I want to do with my life. No, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, but I think I know a bit more about what I don't want to be, always good to narrow the focus a bit more.

One thing I realized is how much my environment is a factor in my mood or general lack of energy or whatever you want to call it. I've lived here in this small town longer than I've ever lived any place else in my life and we have many memories, some difficult, most happy, and yet, I am absolutely certain now that for me, this location is a backwater eddy, a dead end street. I won't be going anywhere with my life if I stay here because, to do a twist on Getrude Stein, "There is no here here." There is stark beauty and friendship and kindness and peace and clean air and water here. And for some people, there is also inspiration here. Just not for me.

There, I said it. I haven't wanted to say it because it sounds like I dislike this town, which is not true, and it sounds ungrateful for all the good things it has given me and my family. So many people talk crap about this area and it makes me feel protective towards it. But it's a relief to finally admit that I can love something while still knowing it's not right for me anymore. It's not like I haven't learned this lesson before, but apparently it's time for another spiral through it again. It's important to know when it's time to let go, when it's important to move on.

Speaking of general lack of energy, I discovered a few weeks ago that it's not all in my head. Well, it IS all in my head, but not, like I thought, in my mind. It's in my nose. Apparently over the years, slowly and insidiously, probably from airborne alergies, I've developed polyps. I finally went to the doctor with a list of symptoms, feeling rather silly about the whole thing, not even sure if the symptoms all had anything to do with each other or, if they did, sure I was having a stroke or a brain tumor or something equally dire - maybe an alien eating my brain. The doctor listened to me rattle on nervously for a couple of minutes, then shone a light up my nose and seconds later announced "Well, there's your problem." He gave me some steroid spray that he hopes will shrink them over the course of months. The most severe symptoms went away in less than a week, so I'm hoping that this means the spray is working.

You'd think I would have noticed a little thing like NOT BEING ABLE TO BREATH long before this but in fact I did not. Like I said, it was a years long process and I just adapted and adapted and adapted.... but now that I know, realizing I was getting far less oxygen than your average person, it explain a lot, doncha think? This last week some of my symptoms are back. I'm pretty convinced it's because of a sinus cold however, as it's been making the local rounds, including Hubby and William. So, feeling tired and uninspired wasn't just because I'm a lazy ass. What a relief!

Back to the whole geography thing, William has another year and a half before he graduates from high school and then, if Hubby can retire (depending on health insurance issues, where William decides to go to college, the general economy, the real estate market, and if we can figure out where we want to go) we can make a move. The idea bubbles up an entire cauldron of feelings - excitement, fear, anticipation, and confusion. It's almost a relief to know that I can't even begin to plan something as large as a move until I can get a handle on something as simple as cleaning my house. Although I secretly suspect that it will take tackling the big issue, where do we want to move and how do we get there, to solve all the little issues that probably shouldn't even be issues at all.

Bottom line, I'm glad I grounded myself. And I'm glad to be back. If, in my physical community, there's no here here for me in many ways, it's nice knowing I have here here, in this blogging community, which is, ironically, not really here at all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Brief Apology - With Photos

Oh my stars, will you look at the time! Where did it go!?

I've got several post ideas I'm just itching to type, but I have to get away from the keyboard for awhile.

For, you see...

...the laundry is really piling up.

.... there is yard work like you wouldn't believe.

.... and I don't even want to admit to how out of control my dust bunny population has become.

..... And that's before I even get to all the unfinished art projects I have that are screaming for my attention.

So, I have to do it. I have to cut back on my computer time for a wee bit. Maybe two or three days, maybe a week. (honestly, I really need a month or two) If I can get my butt in gear and get some progress made, perhaps I'll reward myself with a quick peek in to say hi. But only if THINGS ARE ACCOMPLISHED! What I really need is a mom to do for me what I must pretty regularly do for my teenage son - give me a cheerful but firm ultimatum.

"Chores done by X:XX o'clock or you lose your ipod/car/allowance/time with friends for a day/weekend/week!"

It's hard to give oneself an ultimatum. I'm hoping this publicly announced, self imposed ultimatum will be a workable equivalent. I mean, there's every possibility that I'll just ignore it, like William ignores all but my fiercest ultimatums to him. I'm sort of depending on you guys to be fierce for me. Although, whaddya gonna do? Stand over your monitors with my blog page on it, folding your arms, tapping your toes and growling "I mean it girl!"

Sigh. I really wish I had a bit more Type A Personality in my gene pool.

So there you go. Goodbye for a bit. Hopefully it's just an "A Bientot!", which means only a little goodbye.

And now, no more procrastinating.... I must take off.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Have I Mentioned Books Lately?

I don't think I have. But since I was laid low by a stomach bug this weekend, it seems like a good thing to do. Curl up in bed or on the couch with a good book. Or a laptop, and write about a good book.

The last several years I've set annual reading goals for myself. Last year I set a couple goals, the first to read at least 50 - I signed on a 50 Book Reading Challenge Group on Shelfari - and another goal was to read a greater variety of genres, including more classics and more nonfiction. I barely made the 50 as I hadn't realized how much the combination of travel and visitors would cut into my assumed reading time, but I did squeak through and I was satisfied with how much I'd branched out from my typical diet of cozy mysteries and urban fantasy. (Not that I don't still love me some cozies and UF's!)

This year my goals were similar, only I upped my goal to read 60 books - five a month. I did a quick count the other night because I was sure I was woefully behind where I was even last year. I was surprised to find I was pretty close to "on schedule". Perhaps, having discovered what slowed me up last year, I made unconscious adjustments for it, or maybe it was the fact that I'd gone back to my old routine of reading two books at a time that increased my reading time. When William was homeschooling I was always reading two books simultaneously. One book, I read during the day. Although supposedly this was "William's book", it was always a book we both wanted to read. In fact he often insisted I make the final selection. Then I would have another book that was just for me which I read in bed each night.

When William went to school, he didn't have time for us to read together anymore. (sniff) And - momentary digression - isn't it one of life's saddest ironies that school kids don't have TIME TO READ FOR PLEASURE! I found that to be true for me as well, from grade school all the way through college. I remember being excited about summer break because it meant I could finally hit the library and bring home a stack of books all of my own choosing! Digression over. So, William off to the land of probably outdated, undoubtedly boring textbooks, I went back to reading one book at a time. This year I decided to go back to the two book routine, only tweaked for my own purposes.

I have a nonfiction book that I carry around with me so I can read it in snippets in the car or a waiting room. I set it on the end table where I sit in the living room and also read from it occasionally during commercials when I'm watching television or throughout a show if the television is on someone else's show and I want to sit with the family. I leave my fiction for right before bed, to help me clear my head of daily life and stress - my nightly nonpresciption sleeping pill. Although, if the book is an exciting one, I probably lose more sleep than I gain from it. I've been known to read until dawn. Anyway, all those little two to five minute chunks of time during the day must add up because I was surprised at how many books I'd managed to read this year even though I think we've had even more family trips and more visitors than last year.

I also wanted to continue to read a variety of books including a list of specific books. I don't remember where I put that list (somewhere in my great forest of paper piles!) or which books exactly where on it. My reading priorities are constantly changing as I discover new detours from online reviews or read a new author and find entirely new vistas opened up before me. I add books to my list at a rate far faster than I can read the ones already on it. But I do think I've managed to read some of those original titles from my lost list.

Another goal I didn't officially set for myself, but which I've had in the back of my mind for awhile, was unexpectedly met this year. I've joined a book club. A woman, a stranger who I ended up having a lively conversation with in a local bookstore last year (or maybe the year before that) and exchanging phone numbers with, called me out of the blue early this year. She had rounded up a number of interested friends and wanted to know if I would like to help start a new book club in town. The first meeting was fun as it turned out, small town that this is, I already knew and were friends with about half the people there. I missed one book (which, honestly, disinterested me entirely) and one meeting because I knew I'd be out of town, and another meeting because I screwed up and hadn't read the book on time. I could have still attended that meeting but I really do want to read the book and I passionately hate spoilers.

So, what have I been reading lately? I finished Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series, which I will save for a post unto itself.

I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris, in order to be ready for the paperback of the sequel, The Girl With No Shadow, to come out in the US in January. I read a different edition, with a different cover, but isn't this cover a pretty one?! The Girl With No Shadow was published in the UK as The Lollipop Shoes, which seems a far more intriguing title to me. I wonder why the change? A cultural difference, like the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone thing? I'll be curious after I read it to see which title I think fits it best.

I love this cover. Before I went back to Paris this spring I found an intriguing photo of this street somewhere online and for months I used it as my desktop wallpaper. I didn't know where the street was, I knew it wasn't a street I had visited, but it captured Paris for me in a single frame. In particular I became fascinated with a young woman in the crowd in that photo that seemed set apart and I wondered endlessly what her story was. Without any plan to do so, I actually discovered this street in real life, from the very angle captured on the cover above. I was walking up the steep street, head down, a bit out of breath, and I looked up. With a delighted gasp, I recognized it immediately as the street. It is a well known corner in Montmartre, which I had not visited on my first trip to Paris but which our entire party adored on this last trip. I wonder if the woman in "my" photo might be a character in Harris' story? And if she isn't, I wonder if I need to write her story myself?

I also just read the last two in a fantasy mystery genre combination, Shirley Damsgaard's Ophelia and Abbey Series. These aren't "great literature", but they're fun, usually keep me guessing for awhile, and I've become really attached to the characters. I find that I'm willing to overlook a lot of writing issues that pop up in fastly written series (fastly? Is that a word?) when I love the characters. Not that I think this author has made any noticable gaffes in her writing. In fact, now that I think about it, except for the expected difficult path of developing her characters from book to book, I can't think of any. I did notice some dumb copyediting snafus though. Still, my point is, this is a fun series and I also like how the magic in the book is described surprisingly accurate - occasionally exaggerated for literary purposes but, still, well done.

I've pointed out before that one of the reasons I shied away from the fantasy or mystery genres for the longest time was because they both seemed completely made up with series instead of the solo books I was used to reading. I was confused and intimidated at the thought of figuring out where to start or how to break into an author without finding myself somewhere in the middle of a number of connected stories. This was, remember, long ago, PRE-internet, when it wasn't just a matter of googling an author's website or to find out the publication dates or order the books in a series were arranged in.

I've come a long way from there, I have literally dozens of series dangling between the last book I read and the next one to find or awaiting publication. It can get very confusing in my mind. If a long time goes by before I read a new book in a series, sometimes I forget important information that is necessary for the reader to already know. Or I confuse two series, blending characters or story lines - before I knew them well I confused Gaiman and DeLint (although Gaiman isn't really a series author and not all of De Lint's are either), and I still sometimes get Kim Harrison and Kelley Armstrong's series mixed up although I'm far more caught up on Harrison's series and woefully behind on Armstrong's even though I liked her books a lot.

I don't know why I am more caught up on some series than others - a combination of what I feel like reading at any particular moment, what books I already own, which I can find at the used bookstore, which have more buzz in the popular media, which fit the time of year it is, what I've just finished reading (I don't like to read similar themes or styles back-to-back).... It's not completely about which series are more compelling or better written, although obviously both those things would be assets. Still, I have series I really enjoy languishing on my shelves, where I'm three or four books behind what's already available. I have other series that I'm only waiting for the author to finish writing the next book so I can start reading. (Jim Butcher, I'm going through Harry Dresden withdrawals! Hurry up!) I have the next Cara Black mystery, that I couldn't even wait for the paperback to come out I was so excited to read it, sitting unread on my shelf for months because I've been waiting for a time when my every day life isn't as busy or distracting. I've got a hankering to start the Sookie Stackhouse books all over again from the beginning (I've read all except the latest hardcover) because I'm loving the HBO miniseries, so I can compare the books and the show, but I lent them all to my daughter-in-law who is gobbling them up now that she's raced through the Twilight series and been infected with the vampire genre! I think instead I'll reread that little series by J. K. Rowling again, just because it's been a year or so since I reread them all.

Maybe what I should do is make myself another list with all my series written down a column and then in each row all the books in order for each series, highlighting each title as I read it. Of course I'd just lose the list. Hmmm, maybe I could keep it on the bookshelf. Good idea.

Anyway, at the moment I'm reading a stand alone book, I'm finally reading a book that my friend Kristen recommended to me years ago, The Eight by Katherine Neville. Apparently her favorite book. She knows I hate spoilers so she didn't give me any more information but, if she'd mentioned that the book starts out in France, I probably would have given it a try long before this. I'm only 75 pages into it but so far so good. It seems like it's also about the oil industry (not sure how important that will be yet) so it seems a good time in history to read it. Maybe the author was ahead of her time in writing it!

I'm also reading an autobiography that's about place, Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. Doesn't just the title make you want to open it? It's stories and reflections from five years that the author and his wife spent raising their young son in Paris. It's a fairly new book but the story takes place in the last five years of the last millenium and it's surprising how much has changed since then. Not that this makes the book out-of-date, it's just surprising to be shown, inadvertently, how quickly modern life is morphing into new norms, each gone before we can even adapt.

I'm only a short way into this book as well, but I'm really enjoying both the rich imagery and vocabulary. It's lovely to read a book that assumes you know the "big words". And we're well matched as author and reader for this book as he states that the main reason and excuse for moving to Paris was because he simply, inexplicably fell in love with the city. My story is different, but the love affair seems to be the same, I love Paris for a million different reasons but mainly just for being Paris.

What are you reading lately? Did you set goals for this year? As the year slides towards an end, how are your efforts matching up to your long ago expectations? Are you reading more now that the hours of light are short and the weather turns cold and keeps you inside? Or did you read more this summer when you were on holiday time and life wasn't so busy?

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Giving Season

I'm not a person to send cards or gifts for birthdays or anniversaries and if I do, they are rarely on time. This in no way reflects my level of love for a person, it speaks only of my inability to follow through on good intentions. I'm not making a statement of any kind except for the obvious point that I'm a wee bit unorganized, but I will admit that I do have some issues with the concept of obligatory giving. To me, a personal gift, given primarily because it's expected, has little value for either the giver or the receiver.
So here we are on the verge of another season of giving and just like every year, I have mixed feelings about the whole deal.

One one side, I love giving gifts. I love giving gifts more than I like getting them. (Although, getting them is fun too.) I love making a list and thinking up just the right thing for each person. I love the busy, crowded malls filled with traditional music. I even love the traffic getting to the shops. I love making things, my studio all a buzz like Santa's shop. I like wrapping paper and ribbons and tags. I love boxes full of secrets sent in the mail or placed under the tree.

But it's not all fun and silvery bows. I don't like trying to balance how much time and money and - if we're talking kids - number of boxes -I spend on each person. I don't like trying to "even it all out". I don't like spending too much. I don't like buying something I have no idea whether the person needs or even likes just because they have to be on my list. I don't like "going with something safe". I don't like the stress of trying to do it all, whether bought or made. I don't like.... well, I have mixed feelings about wish lists. Kids making wish lists are adorable. I appreciate a few hints from a person or someone who knows them well if I'm truly stuck. On the other hand, an unsolicited phone call saying "Have you bought anything for so-and-so yet? You can buy them a widgawocket." just annoys me.

The only gift is a portion of thyself. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Long ago when I was a fresh young adult with no money, I bought delights and surprises for people through out the year and felt happy and proud. I picked one or two people a year to make something handmade for, since time didn't allow me to make things for everyone, and I felt good about that instead of guilty, knowing I'd work my way through everyone over the years.

When we had a house full of kids and still very little money, I worked hard to come up with a few special gifts for everyone and knowing that was the best I could do, I felt good about those years too. Even though I spent far less than I do now, the spirit of giving seemed to fill the air. One or two years during that time we found a way to splurge and, instead of seeming commercial, it felt special and in the true spirit of the holidays.

But over the years things have become muddled and ..... less fun. I feel as much dread as excitement at the task of making lists and buying gifts. It's all started to feel too obligatory and now that we have a bit more disposable income, the boundaries of what is expected have become vast and blurred and unclear.

I've tried a lot of different approaches over the years to make things feel right again. I've tried to go back to making everything homemade. Of course that's easier for some than others. A teenage boy is hard to make something for, a mom or sister easier to please. A few years I've succeeded in making a lot only to be frustrated when the supplies or, more so, shipping, costs more than the items themselves. I would have saved myself a lot of time and trouble and expense by simply spending a few hours setting up gift certificates for everyone and calling it a day. Not that a gift certificate can't be a perfectly lovely gift, in fact it can be just the thing on occasion. And honestly, if you suspect (or know from past experience!) that someone is going to simply stuff your lovingly handmade item into the back of a drawer or closet, why bother wasting your time? But it seems to defeat the whole point of giving if the whole thing becomes a task I "check off my to do list" with little personal thought. If it becomes more about giving "something" than giving..... of yourself, why are we doing it? Everyone on my list is perfectly capable financially of buying "something" for themself.

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Some families try the "pick a name" idea to help reduce the cost and stress of giving to everyone. Although it's a practical plan, I don't like the idea of getting stuck with Uncle Bignose who I have no idea what to buy, and not be allowed to make a gift for Niece Smileyface when I have the perfect gift idea for her!

My mom called me the other day and asked if I was planning on exchanging gifts with extended family this year. We've always exchanged gifts, although over the years, as the nieces and nephews have grown up, I've stopped sending gifts to Hubby's family as, honestly, we're just not that close. (although sometimes I miss doing so) None of my siblings have kids so the only family they do exchange with is me and the folks. I hate to think of them not getting anything. And I do love getting packages in the mail throughout the holiday season, even if it's just a box of tiny cheeses or a video for the family. It's not what is in the box, it's getting FUN MAIL that's the best part of the gift!

And yet, it strikes me as silly that I spend $XX on my sister and another $10 to ship it and she does the same thing for me, when we could have just bought the same items for ourselves, sent each other a lovely card, and collectively saved ourselves $20. I don't know what to do. There's only so many ideas one can come up with when the person you love has a life a thousand miles away and you don't know a lot about it. But, I'd miss those boxes arriving in the mail. Sigh.

My mom really wanted an answer, yes or no. I told her to let me think about it, but why does it have to be a yes or no? When did a gift become something we only give if we get in return? I didn't think a gift was supposed to be conditional, or come with strings attached. "Here's yours - what did you get me!?" Honestly, I think my first choice would be to say "let's not exchange" and then just send a gift if I feel like it, if it comes from the excitement of finding an idea or a gift that matches that person exactly. Or, if nothing comes to mind, skip them by only to send them a surprise in June for no reason at all. Or skip gifts entirely one year and not the next with no expectations that I might not coordinate my giving to match up with my getting. I'm not worried about it. Have we learned, as culture, that we should? If so, are we still truly practicing the gift of giving or are we simply practicing the ritual of exchanging? True giving should be a gift to both the gift giver and receiver, a complete alchemical equation that works backwards and forwards without another equation, a gift received, factored in.

Love is, above all, the gift of oneself. ~Jean Anouilh

For immediate family - kids and grandkids - it's more a matter of money management than WHAT to buy them. Each year I remind everyone, including myself, how much we spend in "invisible" gifts. Or should I say, "unboxed" gifts. We spend money on travel expenses so we can all be together. We spend extra money on food for the hordes. We spend money on decorations to create a holiday mood and activites - dinners out and stops at Starbucks. Before I spend a single dollar on packaged gifts, we've already spent more money than we can pay for without whipping out the credit card. I have to remind myself that all those things ARE gifts and if push came to shove financially, would be the only gifts I'd try to salvage. Being together and creating memories are more important than unwrapping boxes for a few hours in the holiday season.

I tell my family every year that I'm not going to spend a lot on gifts, in part to forewarn them, in part to convince myself, and in part so they don't feel they need to spend a lot of money in return. Every year though, by the time I've bought this and that and just this little thing and then something for that person because I bought those for that other person..... it adds up anyway. I have fun doing it, but when the wrapping is all ripped and the gifts are all put away, the bills come and that part is no fun at all.

Christmas is the season when you buy this year's gifts with next year's money. ~Author Unknown

I'm not complaining. No one else complains either. (Okay, maybe Joe complained the year I somehow managed to forget to give him a single personal gift - it was so funny sad. I was totally shocked that I could do that armed with all my lists! And I've been making it up to him for years!) I think all my kids have a good attitude towards gifts and giving. Probably more so than me. I've had decades of different issues and situations built up, complicating my intentions.

If that's not enough confusion, warring with my intentions to give homemade or less or create a less commercialized holiday, is my guilt for not plunging into the shops and infusing the bad economy with lots and lots of money. I feel the guilt but yeah, I'm not gonna act on that. I don't believe we can or should maintain an economy that depends on overconsumption. We might shore up our immediate crisis but only by creating more and more imbalance with our planet and ultimately causing more damage in the long run. It's not good for anyone no matter how good it feels in the moment.

The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants. ~John Andrew Holmes

So, here I am at the bottom of another longwinded post, no closer to discovering how to balance fun and frugality, commercialism and spiritual meaning. Maybe there's no balance to find, only the lesson, the gift of juggling, of giving and receiving, of finding meaning somewhere between the magical, perfect life we imagine, and the warty, confusing, imperfect life we muddle through each day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

7 Weird and Random Facts About Moi

I had another post in mind today but on a whim I decided to do this meme instead.

I've seen this meme around forever but I don't think I've ever been tagged for it (hmmm, maybe once long ago) until Julie tagged me today. Which is probably just as well as it's a lot harder to think of 7 weird and random things about oneself than you'd think. I mean, I know that I'm made up of probably 80% weirdness but apparently one of those weirdnesses is a complete brain freeze when trying to think of them. So I took a stroll through old photos to see if it would jog my memory. Which it did. Randomly. Which was the whole point. So, in random order below, some weird things about me.

1. Old walls fascinate me. Old anything fascinates me. New, although sometimes a good, useful, and practical choice, like a new laptop or refrigerator, just doesn't have the same appeal.

2. I love rocks. I suspect I could have happily studied geology and made a career of it. But instead I just collect them, big and small, and put them in my yard or in jars in my house or along windowsills. Funny though, I'm not terribly interested in the New Age sort of rocks, I don't collect crystals for channeling power or hematite for absorbing negative energy or... well, that's about where my knowledge on that sort of thing ends. I do like to "communicate" with rocks, but I just go with what I'm drawn to and don't bother what the official name or what the purpose of a rock is supposed to be. I do have a few quartz crystals and some hematite, most of them were gifts, but I mostly just have things I find on the ground. More weirdness - I prefer them in their natural state as opposed to all tumbled and shiny.

3. I love to go to stores like Home Depot or Lowes. I like the smell of cut lumber and the tangy metal smell of hardware. I love the rows of pretty tiles and the magical stalactite department of lighting fixtures. I like to pick paint colors and rub my hands along the rolls of carpeting. I get a thrill of excitement at the possibilities of a new project and the warm fuzzies at remembering projects already completed. Hubby on the other hand, groans at the idea of new projects. So that sort of balances out my enthusiasm. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Bad in that it stops me from starting all sorts of new projects but probably good because neither of us are much in the way of finishers.

4. I'm a bibliophile. Not just "Oh yes, I like to read." I mean I could see myself reading ALL THE TIME. Well, maybe not all the time. I'd have to eat and shower occasionally. So, okay. Maybe I like other things too - like gardening and hiking and spending time with others. But I do love me a good book. And I love books on my walls. I love libraries and bookstores. I love authors. I love movie scenes about books and books about books.

One weird thing about my reading is that I read both fiction and nonfiction as a child and teenager but as a young adult I read almost 95% nonfiction. For a couple of decades. Then suddenly I started to read fiction again and read it almost exclusively for another decade. Just in the last few years have I gone back to reading more of a variety of choices. The photo is a random stack of books I bought during a visit to the library book sale last summer.

5. I love old cemeteries and churches. This is weird in itself probably. I know others love these things as well but I think we're all considered odd ducks. But what's even weirder is that although I love old churches, I don't have any desire to attend church and while I love old cemeteries, I don't have any plans to be buried in one.

6. This one is a two photo answer. And this weird fact is one that's been sloshing around in my brain a lot lately as Hubby and I are fast approaching the need to make a decision on what to do when he retires. Here it is -

I love the big city. I could see myself happily living in a neighborhood filled with coffee shops, art galleries, bakeries, restaurants and parks. I like the sounds of traffic below, the energy and buzz of people and projects all around me. It wouldn't have to be a huge city, although that would be just fine. It could be a small city, or even a small town that was really alive with tourists or a university or art so that it was never stagnant. The point would be that I would live within it, where I could walk to most anywhere I needed. But...

... I also love the rural countryside. I can see myself living far from neighbors with nothing but the sound of the birds and the wind to keep me company. I'd hear the lowing of cows from my nearest neighbor. I'd have big gardens and a tiny copse of trees where I could talk to the faeries or do ritual or just sit quietly and soak in the silence.

The only place I can't picture myself is in the suburbs. To me the suburbs are just the worst of each without the advantages of either.

For most of my life if handed the choice, which I was not as generally jobs and family and other factors made the choice for me to large degree, I would have had no problem choosing the countryside. But as I get older, I find my love for the city has caught up with my love for the country and I am truly and completely torn between the two now that I'm finally coming to a point in my life when, knock on wood, I have a choice in where I live.

Maybe I just need to write that bestseller novel, sell the movie rights for millions of dollars, and have BOTH. Good idea. That solves THAT problem.

7. Last weird fact about me, I like my tea with milk and sugar. (I have no idea why it looks like William is reaching for MY cup in the photo.) This is only a weird fact because I don't live in England where this would be a boring, normal fact. But it's weird for an American. And weirder, I like most of my tea this way - not only black tea but also green or white tea (which made Rob, one of the owners of our now defunct tea room, shudder in horror), even on occasion a spicy herb tea, turning it into a chai latte sort of concoction.

I do drink most herb teas without (although I don't drink herb teas anywhere near as much as I do black tea), as well as the tea served at a Chinese restaurant. And I drink my iced tea without milk as well. But pretty much everything else gets a spoonful of sugar and a dollop or two or three of milk.

So that's it - were those random and weird enough for you?

It's probably a good thing I don't get tagged very often because here's the part where I'm supposed to tag others and I just don't do that anymore. Folks have either been tagged already, or don't want to play, or they're friends and the ones who tagged me in the first place or I feel too weird tagging a blogger that doesn't know me that well. So, if you want to play, consider yourself tagged. And let me know and I'll add a link to you and come see what sort of weird people I hang around with these days!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Football, Rainbows, and Good Food

I just like this pic - the glare of the stadium lights, the leaves clinging to the tops of the trees on the right, the goal posts so clear against the dark sky.

Friday night was the last league game of the season. The team we played was considered a worthy opponent but we still managed to rip apart the scoreboard with a 54-12 win. Lassen won all their league games (although not all the games we played, some of our games were with teams in a bigger league) and we're League Champions. YAH! Next week we get home field advantage for the first of two play off games for the Northern California District Championship. We have such a big state, and we're not a large school, so we don't have a state title. This is the equivalent of that. It's sudden death - if we win next week, we go on to play again the following week. If we win that, we play the Championship game the day after Thanksgiving. Which, now that I think about it, will be interesting, as we'll have a ton of family here to attend the game with us.

After the game the fans all go down on the field, the head coach talks to the kids. Look at William's dirty but happy face - that's a kid who worked hard for the win.

A rare photo - I'm in it. Proud mom. Short mom. Or is it - Tall kid?

Saturday hubby got a unexpected weekend day off work and so in midafternoon we decided to take the rare opportunity to have a family day. We drove to Reno to take care of a few errands and have dinner out, do the mall thing. (I wanted to see if they had any of those cool Obama t-shirts left at any of the mall shops - I bet you already know what happened - they were ALL sold out everywhere!)

The weather was sunny but rain and clouds peppered the high desert with a big ol' kick ass storm headed in over the western mountains. It was one of the most beautiful days in the valley I have ever seen. Everywhere you looked, the clouds were different - feathery, or big sailing ship storm clouds or dark strips highlighted by sunlight edges. This was one of about a half dozen rainbows we saw on the long drive. You really have to click on the two vista photos to see all the detail.

Here's another beautiful vista. We left really late in the afternoon with no time to dawdle and it was almost painful not to stop more than this one time to capture all the beauty we experienced.

We had a lovely day in Reno. We went to the mall. We went to this mind boggling new store called Scheels. I'll post about that tomorrow. We splurged on the weekend tourist priced buffet at the Atlantis Casino. It's always rated the best in town but we usually don't hit it at the highest rates.

In the past, we've only gone during the middle of the week for lunch when for the price of a ordinary coffee shop meal you can stuff yourself until you can't walk. I didn't think it would make that much difference, but for the dinner weekend they add steak and more types of seafood than I even knew existed! It would have been worth the price just for the mound of snow crab legs in drawn butter that I devoured. But of course I went back for about six types of shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, oysters, fish, salmon.... Then there was the salads, Mexican food, soups, breads, prime rib, ham, vegetables, mashed potatoes, Chinese grill, fruit. And to top it off, several tarts, pumpkin cheesecake, ice cream and a cream puff. If that sounds impossible for one small woman to eat all by herself, than you can't even begin to imagine how much William, a 6'4" athlete, managed to put away. To say we got our money's worth would be an understatement.

Not Worth Mentioning...


The day after the election last week I asked William what the reaction was at his school. Except for one friend on the football team who championed Obama (which William wasn't brave enough to join, instead he just kept quiet, my chicken kid) he said everyone was bemoaning McCain's loss.

Well, I guess that's understandable. Teens often follow in their parents views. But, I said, at least your history teacher must have mentioned it. I mean, it's an American History class and if this isn't a historical American moment, I don't know what is!

"Actually, we had a sub."

Oh. So every day when he came home from school (came home from practice after school, actually), I asked - "So, did your history teacher mention the election."

Every day the same answer. - "No."

I wonder if the teacher is afraid of repercussions, incompetent, or simply has a mouth full of sour grapes.

Okay, okay, I'll post about something other than the election next.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post Election Reflections

Tuesday night William and I were glued to the television screen. Earlier that day I'd have a moment of giddiness when I marked my ballot. But I was nervous. If the last eight years has taught me anything, it's that anything was possible and often that didn't mean anything good. I didn't want to spend the night pacing but I also didn't want to be too optimistic. We flipped channels. Ate apple/quince/pear/cranberry cobbler. I allowed myself to be the teensiest bit excited when Obama took Pennsylvania. I was cautiously ecstatic when Ohio turned blue. But then...

it all happened so fast. I was about to leave the room. William started pointing and shouting. I turned to the television. I think, although I'm not sure, that it was Wolf Blitzer talking. Projecting a winner. And then, before I could even wrap my head around it, announcing it was official. Obama won. Mostly I remember this:

I remember crying. William answering the phone, that I didn't even hear ring. William grinning. Talking to my daughter-in-law on the phone. Hearing the same shouting crowds in the background at her house. Hearing the same tears and smiles in her voice. Then my daughter called to be part of the moment as well. I hung up so William could call and tell Hubby the news as he was all alone at his work station.

I thought, if the moment came, it would be exciting, that we'd whoop and holler. I had no idea that instead we'd all be overwhelmed with emotion, wet with tears, weak with relief, wobbly as the walls of fear and protection we'd been wearing melted away. Eventually, of course we did whoop and holler too. I wished there had been some celebration somewhere that I could have joined. But we live in a tiny red town in the middle of nowhere and the best I could do was join with the cheering crowds and dance about in the living room in front of the television screen.

We watched McCain's incredibly gracious speech. We watched Obama's speech and were moved to tears once again. It all seems like a fairytale somehow. In his speech he reminded us of two very important points - a) this isn't the happy ending but rather, the beginning of a lot of hard work and b) this is the time for gracious reconciliation with all Americans regardless of how they voted. Wise words and I will do my best to follow them. But....

It has been a long eight years, a long exhausting road. I don't want to let go of the moment just yet. I want to bask in some well deserved celebration for just a little while longer. Apparently this isn't necessarily going to happen.

I woke up Wednesday morning and the first thing I thought was "Obama still won". I turned on my laptop to check, just to make sure it hadn't all been a dream. I got ready for the day and went out to run some errands, hoping to bask in the communal spirit of joy that this historical moment in history created.

The problem with my plan, folks around here aren't basking in any joy. This county voted more than two to one for McCain and the mood around town was more like someone had just died than like someone had just won anything. Even though I knew that at least every third person I saw had cast their ballot for Obama, no one was willing to take the chance of interacting, no one in this ordinarily very friendly town seemed to want to make eye contact.

I bumped into a quilting friend in Walmart and she stopped for a chat. She seemed cheerful enough that I bravely asked her if she was happy with the election results. Mistake. No, not a mistake. A really fascinating opportunity to see how thoroughly people can be mislead and misinformed. She went on and on about her fears of socialism. About how afraid she was because black people hate white people so much. About how her taxes were going to go up and small businesses were going to collapse all over the place and how the terrorists will be racing up onto our shores any minute now. About how Obama could not legally become president and how he'd faked his Hawaiian birth certificate and really he'd been born in Kenya and gone to a Muslim madrassa there. How his best friend growing up was his communist mentor. That Obama lived next door to William Ayers and that his presidential campaign was both funded by him and hatched in his very living room. That we can only judge someone by the company he keeps and that Rev. Wright (although she didn't actually know his name) was proof that Obama felt the same anger and unpatriotic rage.

Inside I was pretty much blown away that someone I knew could swallow whole so many of the propaganda and lies that were circulating out there. On the surface I stayed friendly and tried to respond non-agressively to her concerns. "I think your information might be a bit confused." "I do not believe Obama ever lived with his father." (this in response to her assertion that his father was a communist and a socialist) "I don't believe he ever lived in Africa, but he did spend some of his childhood in Indonesia." "He didn't live in Hawaii with his Muslim father, he lived in Hawaii with his grandparents." (The impossibility of his being able to live in two places simultaneously apparently wasn't something she'd stopped to consider) "By your argument, if you know someone and call them a friend then you agree with them on everything, but clearly the two of us, friends, standing here disagreeing shows that you can like someone and even admire them and yet disagree strongly with some of their beliefs."

No matter what I said she was sure I was wrong. I asked who her sources were and she assured me they were all 100% trustworthy. I asked "But WHERE did you hear ...this.. or that" She said from people she knew would never lie to her. In the end she refused to tell me who she got her information from but later in the conversation she informed me she only watched Fox News as they were the only unbiased news station. I suggested she might feel better, less apprehensive about our future if she read Obama's book The Audacity of Hope. That I had read it and was quite surprised to discover that Obama was much more of a moderate than the news media painted him as being. She patted me on the shoulder and said "You know I love you but honey, you are so naive. Do you really think he's going to tell us the truth about himself?" She went back to her argument that black people had no reason to be so angry at white people. I pointed out some personal experiences I had in my own life being in a minority group of one kind or another. I told her how that felt. I pointed out that this was nothing compared to the history of slavery and poverty, segregation and prejudice that many African-Americans have had to experience. She pointed out that this was silly, that it was all in the past. She said white people didn't hate black people like black people hated white people. I reminded her of the KKK. She poo-poohed that as being all "cleaned up".

I told her I'd go home and research all her concerns and honestly compare them to my own beliefs. She told he she couldn't do the same because she didn't have a computer. We moved on to discussing what was going on with a new quilt group that was starting up in town and then hugged and went our separate ways.

And just for the record, I have friends who voted for McCain who believe little to none of the media garbage. Some of them have different base views on which they built thoughtful and intelligent arguments for their decision. Some even liked Obama but in the end chose to vote their heart on one or two issues that they shared with McCain. Those are the type of voters that will probably take a watchful but fair wait and see attitude on how the new presidency handles itself. It's the woman I talked to yesterday though, that make me realize just how wide a canyon there is in this country, filled with fear and confusion.

After the 2000 and 2004 elections, I had to walk around town keeping my disappointment and fear to myself. I had to politely bite my tongue or agree to disagree with all the Bush supporters. I've spent the last eight years in my little Subie pulling up behind the bumpers of big ol' trucks plastered with I "heart" Bush/Cheney stickers right next to the Jesus fish and the America - Love it or Leave it stickers. It doesn't seem fair that now, when I should finally be able to smile, that it's all about wearing mourning black and the end of the "good ol' days", a time when truth was as easy to understand as black and white. Now truth is both black and white and that's making a few heads spin in confusion.

Eventually I ran into one lone person who I knew voted the same way I did and we did a quick little hug and happy dance together outside the supermarket. Then, determined not to let the gloom clouds over this small town ruin my jubilation, I went to the French Restaurant for a celebration dinner, just me and my book (Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyers - I'm finally on the final book in the series!). The irony was not lost on me - that on a day when I felt the most patriotically proud, that I'd had to take refuge in a French Restaurant to feel amongst other happy Americans. It's frustrating to have no doubt that I would have shared far more congratulatory moments if I was actually on the streets of Paris yesterday than on the streets of Susanville. After a nice dinner I came home to spend more time in front of the television and my laptop, where I could get a happy fix, where I can connect with all those others who voted for change.

I know, eventually life has to get back to normal. Hopefully a new normal, but normal nonetheless. And I'll do as our new president has asked. I'll be conciliatory and reach across our differences a hand of compromise and friendship. Hell, I do that all the time here in this town where I love the people but not necessarily their views.

But please, can't I have just a few days to feel happy dance giddy and smug!? Don't I deserve at least a little cherry on top of my ice cream? I'm still walking around with a sense of wonder. The news clips still make me tear up and our new president- elect's face still makes me smile back in awe. I feel sort of silly and school girl crush about it. Or alternately, like a proud mom who wants to crush her successful son in a big ol' hug. But I can't help it. It feels soooooo good. It feels like a new beginning not just for America, but for the world. History has had another "one giant leap for mankind" and I am humbled and proud to have been a molecule sized part of making it happen.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Monkey Dance

Even the animal world is excited about the election results!

Monkey Dance

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


And don't forget, after you've gone to the polls, if you stop by Starbucks and tell them you voted, you'll get a free coffee tomorrow.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Dia de Los Muertos - Part 2

A follow up to my Dia de Los Muertos post I put up yesterday for the Dia de Bloglandia celebration. Because yesterday was the last day I could spend with my Lisa and Joli before they left for home early this morning, I'm still working my way slowly through the party attendees. I have to leave in a few minutes for a dental appointment (oh joy!) and I'm looking forward to settling in on the couch afterwards, me and my numb face, finding distraction by catching up on political news shows and finishing up the party.

So, gotta make this quick -

Here is the wee altar we put up on the table for our dumb supper.

There's a cauldron with water and rosemary sprinkled in it. Rosemary for remembrance. Flowers. I bought the fresh mums at the store when I went shopping for dinner ingredients as our garden has been dry, abandoned and frozen for many weeks now. But then, on a whim, I went out to at least pick a few dried marigolds from the back garden and found a tiny miracle. The recent wet more mild weather caused a few last marigold flowers to bloom!!! Tiny skulls, the closest I could get to sugar skulls. Joli has been playing with these "baby skehtons" for days. A candle from Joshua's funeral. A couple paper ACEO's and a wagon filled with photos and names of our loved ones who have passed.

Here's Lisa marking the gravestone cookies. Joli is helping of course.

I think she managed to give everyone in the family their own gravestone or coffin. Of course these are for live members of the family, still able to munch up the cookie.

We had a lovely dinner of favorite foods my paternal grandmother used to cook. Poor William had a relapse of feeling sick with the bug that's been attacking everyone in town the last few weeks so he went to bed early and missed the dinner. Lisa and Joli went to bed after dinner because they had to get up and leave early this morning. Hubby and I had our graveyard pudding and cookies. And dang, rushed, gotta go visit my dentist. Nice guy. I'm making progress on my dental phobia. Instead of feeling the least bit frightened and anxious, I'm more feeling only frustrated and annoyed to have to waste an hour and a half or so sitting in the dentist chair. My dentist is a friend so he and the assistant will probably keep me entertained with local tales, travel stories, and questions about the football team (although how I'm supposed to answer him I'll never know!)

Later 'gators!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dia de Los Muertos

Me dressed as La Catrina last Halloween

It's finally time for the Dia de Bloglandia blogger's celebration! I hope I'm getting this up in time for everyone 'round the globe to visit. Wee grandbabies and teens and chihuahuas and visiting granddogs and family Dia de Los Muertos planning all take time, time, and more time, so I'm sitting here late at night hoping my party post will be at least reasonably coherent, typos kept to the minimum. The lamp light, warm cats cuddled by my side, the soft pattering of raindrops is creating a quiet, island of reflection on a rare rainy night.....

I haven't always celebrated Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In fact, I didn't even know about the holiday until some time in the last.... well, I don't remember when I first heard of it. All I know is that I've celebrated it for enough years that what started out feeling like wearing somebody elses shoes now fits like an old favorite pair of slippers.

The first thing that drew my interest was discovering the odd and joyful art that is associated with the holiday - the frighteningly adorable skeletons, the bright folk colors. I also liked how the rituals and traditions embraced a lot of favorite parts of both my Catholic childhood and my adult pagan beliefs. Since I have always loved the traditions of Halloween - the candy, the scary stories, the costumes, the grinning jack-o-lanterns, I eventually came to think of Dia de Los Muertos as the perfect way to enjoy the secular activities of Halloween and carve a new and separate space and time for the more spiritual aspects of this autumn season that I yearned for but often found shoved to the side in all the busyness of having fun.

Now, that's not to say that Dia de Los Muertos isn't fun. It's bright colors and families gathering, it's hot cinnamon spiced cocoa and sugar skulls. It's decorations and candles and laughing and story telling and dumb suppers enjoyed with everyone invited, those still with us in the flesh and those with us in spirit.

As someone who has lost many beloved family members and friends, I've come to realize first hand how important it is to be able to continue to remember them in comfortable and happy ways that move past the initial grief and sadness. Relationships, as most of you probably have also discovered, are hardly over after a loved one dies. The sum of our relationship includes all the time before death and all the time since that person's passing. The period wrapped around the death is usually a time soaked in pain and grief, confusion, numbness, fear, and loss. But to remember only that stretch of our relationship is a cruel punishment for both us and for the one we love. More important is all the love and memories, laughter, perhaps conflicts and growth, that we shared with each other.

I certainly remember my loved ones more often than a single holiday a year. If the truth be told, I think of most of them each and every day. I talk with them. Some of them even talk back. I'm reminded of moments shared. But the Day of the Dead rituals allows us to be with our loved ones in a way that's more public, more concrete and acknowledged ways than our small private moments.

Think of a living friend or family member that, because of distance or busy schedules, you rarely see. Something happens, maybe a wedding, a trip, a phone call, and suddenly we find a bit of time carved out to be together. Often we leave that time spent together feeling warm and full and joyful in a way we forgot was possible. We think "How come we let so much time go by since we last spent time together?!" We tell each other that we won't let months or years go by before we get together again. Sometimes we are serious enough to make more of an effort. But probably, more typically, life gets busy, time slips by, good intentions are, well, good intentions and we end up letting long stretches of time roll out again.

Well, it's the same with our departed friends and family. Life is busy and we let time spent thinking and reflecting and laughing about old times get squeezed and snipped until those moments are more "sound bites" than they are the real stories, the heart of our memories. Having a day when everyone agrees to set aside our busy regular schedule in favor of a long, happy chat with those we miss ensures we don't miss visiting with them, remembering how much they shaped our lives, were apart of our lives, are still a part of our lives whether they've been gone a year, or ten years, or forty years.

For those of us who live in communities that don't collectively recognize Dia de Los Muertos, we often have to work to create personal or family traditions that work independently. Our family has no nearby family graves to visit or decorate, no extended family nearby living or dead, so we have focused on creating annual dumb suppers. This is where we cook and gather the foods and drink our ancestors or departed family enjoyed and, setting a plate for them at the table, invite our departed and ancestors to join us. Some years we add ritual, other years it's a simpler affair. Regardless, the conversation around the table is always full of laughter and perhaps a few teary eyes. We also set up an altar with photos, flowers, candles, symbols and whatever needs to be included, either directly at the table or on a nearby space where it can stay up awhile.

Another aspect of the holiday I appreciate is the acceptance and acknowledgement of life and death as partners. You can't have one without the other. It seems our mainstream culture tries very hard to get us to forget this. We focus on life and youth and hide aging and death and tragedy behind the scenes. And yet hiding death doesn't seem to make any of us any more comfortable with the inevitable. If anything it seems to make it more frightening and unknown.

A quirky Halloween tradition our family has embraced is Graveyard Pudding. I tried to find a photo from past years but, alas, couldn't find one. But imagine chocolate pudding covered in Oreo cookie "dirt". A few gummy worms or sometimes candy bones sprinkled on top. And stuck in each individual serving bowl, a gravestone shaped cookie with the name of each family member written across it. It's a bit disconcerting, seeing ones name on a gravestone, and yet the family looks forward to the holiday treat every year.

In fact, this year I was so busy that I let Halloween slip by without it and today William asked me when were we going to make it. He didn't care about missing Halloween (he had a football game on the night of the 31st), he didn't care about going to the pumpkin patch or carving a jack-o-lantern or picking a costume. He only missed this one seemingly unimportant part of the season. I assured him I had picked up all the ingredients and would be happy to make it and midsentence I suddenly realized that it was actually more of a Dia de Los Muertos tradition than it was a Halloween one and it would be a great addition to our dumb supper tonight.

Very exciting, after years of searching, I finally found some gravestone shaped cookie cutters this fall, so last night I made my very first homemade gravestones! Today we'll be setting up an altar, cooking up some favorite foods, making graveyard pudding, and spending time around the table. It will probably be one of the smaller celebrations as Hubby and William both have to work and Joli and Lisa I are making the most of our time together before they have to leave early tomorrow morning. Sniff. But smaller is fine. Another important thing the Day of the Dead reminds us of is how important it is to prioritize spending time together with those we love while we are still on this earth together, building all those blessed memories that make the gift of life and death worth all the work.

I know, this was a party, perhaps I should have simply offered you some pretty photos of altars and steaming mugs of chocolate instead of this wordy pondering. But it felt right, to reflect on my love of this special day. I'll probably have those altar and cocoa photos for you later though so, I hope you stop back by again soon.

Day of the Dead ACEO's I made last year.

And while I have your attention, I want to let you know I'm hosting a Magical Yule artist's swap for the upcoming winter holiday season! Please click on over to my studio blog to find out more about the creative fun. Or scroll down to the post below this one to find a link directly to the swap guidelines post.

Also, don't forget to click on the Dia de Bloglandia button in my sidebar to visit other bloggers celebrating today.